Kate Tuttle is president of the National Book Critics Circle. A freelance critic and writer, she writes a weekly book column for the Boston Globe; her work appears frequently in the Los Angeles Times and elsewhere. Follow her on Twitter @katekilla
PositiveNew York Times Book ReviewTelfer profiles those whose misdeeds are more of the grifting than the murdering variety ... Collected here are 13 tales, each around the length of a juicy podcast, about women whose relationship to truth and justice was, at best, a bit wobbly ... The farther away from our own time and place, of course, the easier it is to find charm and romance in these tales. Still, Telfer narrates them with great verve, grace and even humor.
PositiveThe New York Times Book ReviewMcGarrahan’s obsession with rooting out the truth in the case leads her (and her unfailingly loyal husband) to Florida, Ireland and Australia, where she tracks down any detail that might potentially help her know what happened. It’s not a triumphant story ... At one point she writes that she’s wrecked her life with her quest for the truth. Some of those McGarrahan talks to feel she’s wrecked theirs; one yells at her, \'What you are doing is pointless and hurtful.\' It feels like an accusation that could be aimed at the entire true-crime genre, no matter its intentions. Two Truths and a Lie is often extremely entertaining, but there’s a deep pain in its core.
RaveThe Boston Globe... [a] powerful, searching book ... this book is more ambitious than the run-of-the-mill true crime narrative seen so frequently these days. For one thing, Cooper is a stylish and fearless writer, relentlessly self-interrogating. She’s smart enough to examine her own motives in searching for the truth about Jane’s life ...The book is at its most solid when Jane’s old friends talk about her—they are enduringly loyal—and their feelings seem to rub off on the author. ... In the end, Jane’s mystery is at least partially solved (though questions will likely always remain). But Cooper remains unsatisfied ... one hopes that Cooper, with her searching curiosity and probing questions, will soon find another [crime] to examine.
PositiveThe Boston Globe... wide-ranging, angry, and sadly relevant ... Lavin is of course not the first to write about the problem, but her book feels particularly insightful, perhaps because she understands so deeply both the modern idiom in which these bigots operate today and their historic roots in race science, eugenics, and anti-Semitism.
RaveThe New York Times Book ReviewLesser isn’t here to win converts, but even those unmoved by its subject will thrill to the book, a beautifully crafted inquiry into fiction, reality, crime and place ... The book’s first half...is a spellbinding long essay in which Lesser tells us what she has learned in four decades of reading Scandinavian noir ... Her engagement with the source material, hundreds of titles’ worth, is rigorous yet playful. She’s interested in the art on the walls in the characters’ homes, as well as the psychology behind the books’ most frequent themes — children in danger, female sexuality, the political ramifications of immigration ... She manages to interview several real-life police detectives, while also seeing the region’s museums, castles and tourist attractions. It’s charming and illuminating, if not quite equal to the brilliance of the first section. Perhaps when it comes to fiction and reality, what we need most are critics like Lesser, who can dissect the former with the tools of the latter.
RaveThe Los Angeles Times... part multi-generational family saga, part medical mystery, written with an extraordinary blend of rigor and empathy. The reporter in Kolker seeks accuracy above all, but there’s a notable lack of judgment in the book that feels remarkable in light of the stigma long felt by those who have the condition in their families ... despite the lonely battles fought by both patients and researchers, Kolker’s Hidden Valley Road is at heart a book about how progress, personal or scientific, can never be achieved on our own.
RaveLos Angeles TimesNemens, editor of the Paris Review, demonstrates deep knowledge not only of baseball but also of American desperation ... Nemens has a keen eye for detail, from the semi-feral unfinished tract homes in a suburban subdivision to the glittering routine of the players’ wives ... She’s brilliant with lists and with compression. Whole worlds are sketched in miniature ... With her sharp eye for the details of unremarkable lives, Nemens at times reminds one of Joan Didion ... For a book about the notoriously languorous sport of baseball, this is a quick and often thrilling read. For a debut novel, it’s remarkably self-assured.
PositiveNewsdayDisney’s Land is Snow’s exhaustively researched, jam-packed chronicle of how Walt Disney conceived and created a new kind of amusement park ... It’s an extremely entertaining story, if one occasionally crowded with an abundance of detail and minor characters. At times, the book’s narrative feels as if it’s in danger of being overrun by a swarm of midcentury white male engineers: Mad Men with slide rules. But this is part weakness, part charming; how else would readers learn about how carousel horses are made, or that the original Dumbo ride was meant to carry visitors in flying pink elephants, before that reference to drunkenness was squashed for not being too wholesome? ... More troubling are Disneyland’s (and Disney’s) politically incorrect elements ... One wishes for more authorial context, and even judgment, but Snow seems inclined to defend Disney on this score, quoting from PR fluff to make the case ... Too bad about the past, which remains vexing, and in this otherwise excellent book, imperfectly addressed.
Marie Ndiaye, trans. by John Fletcher
RaveThe Boston GlobeWith such tough, sinuously winding sentences NDiaye chronicles how women survive whatever life puts in front of them, whether in the form of mortal or moral peril. Each occupies some space that takes place in both Africa and Europe. Although NDiaye rarely writes of the racism they face (Rudy’s mother rejecting his son for his African features is perhaps the most overt), the vestigial scars of colonialism are evident throughout. Invoking repeated imagery of birds and trees (not the pretty versions: These are attacking birds and overripe, rotting fruit trees), NDiaye’s storytelling approaches something of the power and simplicity of folklore ... There is good and evil here, and as in the world they are blended confusingly and only slowly revealed. In the interplay between Europe and Africa, between men and women, NDiaye finds both beauty and beasts.
RaveThe Los Angeles Times... covers much of the same territory, but, here, West is more overtly political and angrier. The result is bracing: The essays consider such varied topics as Grumpy Cat, climate change and the on-screen depiction of abortion. But they cohere as a unit, bound by West’s humor, outrage and — in the end — hope ... West isn’t satisfied sticking to politics. Too much of her best writing is about pop culture, after all ... a bit uneven, with throwaway rants about such trivialities as pockets in dresses (West, shockingly, is against them). And some readers will be put off by the dedicated and enthusiastic swearing ... But even the weakest essays have searingly smart lines in them, and the best among them are brilliant. Most thrilling of all is the overarching tone of swashbuckling courage: West knows what she wants to say, and she really doesn’t care what you think ... In the end, the book is a stirring manifesto for honesty.
MixedNPRI wish Phelps-Roper were able to tell us more about how her grandfather came to his bizarre theology, especially given that his early career as a lawyer was that of a white man from the South who represented primarily African American clients in Topeka ... what will be difficult for most readers, I suspect, is understanding, as Phelps-Roper writes, how \'people who were otherwise bright and well-intentioned could believe and behave as we did as members of Westboro\' ... The story of how Phelps-Roper extricated herself (and one of her sisters) from Westboro unfolds like a suspense novel.
RaveBarnes and Noble... magical, revelatory ... Children who burst into flames seem like a pretty good metaphor for the standard-issue terrors of parenting, and Bessie and Roland’s affliction, while extreme, will feel familiar to anyone who has seen a child on the verge of a horrible tantrum ...Told in Lillian’s voice, the prose hums with humor ... Family is the great proving ground of character, and it’s the setting of the questions at the heart of Wilson’s fiction: what it means to belong, what we owe one another, how to forgive and keep loving, even amid inevitable hurts. In Nothing to See Here, these themes play out in a book as deceptively simple as a fable, as disturbing as a fairy tale.
RaveThe Los Angeles Times... one of the most compelling memoirs of recent years, a book with as many twists and turns as any mystery, a family history of great emotional resonance ... strong and graceful writers...combines richly layered narratives and descriptions ... Perhaps that love is what makes this book so compelling, it bestows a kind of grace that allows, in the end, for no villains ... an extraordinary story, and an even better book.
PositiveLos Angeles TimesThis is a story of great evil eventually brought to justice ... Pesta’s empathy for these girls and women is palpable, and powerful. There are times when the book threatens to veer toward cliché (the \'triumph of the human spirit\' is invoked), and I wish Pesta had spent more time probing Nassar’s own story (to explain how the monster was made) ... Where she’s able to go beyond newspaper accounts is in giving voice to the survivors’ stories. At its best, the book has the effect of a chorus of righteous anger, and some of the survivors’ words ring with a beautiful fury.
PositiveNewsday... a book that spirals outward, gathering and illuminating stories of ancestors, family and community. It’s a book with more people in it than an encyclopedia — so many it can be difficult to keep track of everyone — and its universe of people and stories is complex, layered and ultimately ravishing ... Writing these families’ stories, in the context of American history, politics and literary taste, is itself a radical act ... offers a corrective, providing a boldly woman-centric view of history, as large as migration and as small as the act of braiding a child’s hair. It’s a book about survival, motherhood, and love, and it’s as big and messy and beautiful as all of these things.
RaveThe Boston Globe...announces a major talent in the art of the essay ... In an essay titled \'Always Be Optimizing,\' Tolentino looks at \'the ideal woman,\' the one you see posting about her workouts, children, and garden on Instagram ... Tolentino isn’t mocking such women — she writes (often hilariously) about her own experiences in yoga and barre class and wolfing down yet another chopped salad. What makes the essay more than simple cultural observation is Tolentino’s critique of the economic and societal forces that twist women into such an unsustainable set of contradictions ... Pessimism about false promises might turn out to be the cultural legacy of Tolentino’s generation, the much-maligned millennials. The best essays in the collection aim directly at these outrages — the few that stray from it tend to work less well ... If anything can save us, it just might be the snap of Tolentino\'s humor, the eloquence of her skepticism.
RaveNewsday[A] gorgeous new dual memoir ... The writing contains both immediacy and a thrillingly historical long view ... The stories Hemon tells about his parents and their histories are by turns harrowing and hilarious ... There is all the love and frustration here that anyone feels for their aging parents, with the additional heft of sympathy for their pain ... While My Parents unrolls in great skeins of storytelling, its companion book, This Does Not Belong to You, is a series of short, spikier pieces, untitled, none longer than a single paragraph ... This is some of the best writing about what it really feels like to be a child that I can recall reading.
RaveNPRThe protagonists in Lisa Taddeo\'s new book, Three Women, are not unusual in their complicated sexual histories; what makes their stories revolutionary is the exquisite candor with which Taddeo gives them voice ... Taddeo\'s book — her first — is a work of deep observation, long conversations, and a kind of journalistic alchemy. Taddeo spent years with the subjects of Three Women, and the investment pays off ... she seamlessly weaves together everyday details and startlingly intimate moments into narratives that feel as real, as vital, as the pulse in your wrist ... The book is sexually explicit — you might blush when reading it — but it never feels gratuitous or clinical. Its prose is gorgeous, nearly lyrical as it describes the longings and frustrations that propel these ordinary women. Blending the skills of an ethnographer and a poet, Taddeo renders them extraordinary.
RaveThe Boston Globe... thoroughly absorbing, lively nearly outpaces her admiration, though the book passionately evokes both. Fuller, so often misunderstood in life, richly deserves the nuanced, compassionate portrait Marshall paints ... Marshall makes good use of her subject’s own writings and that of her contemporaries, especially in the book’s earlier sections, when Fuller was living and writing in New England, and later, New York. It’s in the book’s final section, set in Italy, that Marshall most ardently argues for our reappraisal of a woman inadequately remembered as too smart, too bossy, ill-tempered. Fuller’s Marshall, seen in the round, was flawed and human and magnificent ... Having grown to know the woman Marshall so stirringly portrays, it’s impossible not to mourn her early death.
MixedThe Times Literary Supplement (UK)The Apology attempts a kind of ventriloquism that seems nearly impossible to achieve convincingly. Indeed, the book’s conceit is not always flawlessly executed. There are insightful moments, and Ensler expertly unpacks the intergenerational trauma that led to her childhood experiences ... But Ensler’s prose can get awfully purple ... Other sections read like a self-help manual written from beyond the grave ... Still, the book knows who it’s for ... For these intended readers, Ensler’s act of conjuring will no doubt provide both catharsis and comfort.
Rachel Louise Snyder
PositiveLos Angeles Times\'Michelle was buried with her children in the same casket, oversized, with her arms wrapped around each of them,\' Rachel Louise Snyder writes, a detail almost unbearable in its poignancy ... Her empathy for the victims is powerful, and infectious. But so is her interest in the perpetrators, some of whom may be able to recover, to change and atone. And as she makes very clear, those who undertake reform — studying and quantifying risk, asking smart questions about whether women’s shelters help or hurt, counseling survivors and getting them the support they need — are heroes.
RaveThe Los Angeles TimesThis stunningly beautiful, original memoir is driven by a search for the divine ... funny and harrowing and deeply tender. As Rush recounts his adolescence, which becomes increasingly terrifying, it’s impossible not to worry about how badly things might turn out ... Although the book’s arc bends toward Rush’s eventual sobriety, this doesn’t read like a typical recovery memoir. His descriptions of his own drug use are unapologetic and even affectionate. And he never soft-pedals how difficult life becomes after he goes straight ... both a coming-of-age book and an account of an artist’s development.
PositiveThe Empathy Exams...[a] brilliant collection ... It’s a rallying cry, almost a manifesto ... Jamison wants us to pay attention to both heart and head, to feeling (in all its messiness and pain) and truth-telling (in all its qualifiers and inadequacy). Not every essay in the book is...ambitious, nor are they all equally successful ... Jamison exhibits a powerful ability to dwell in uncertainty while still training rapt attention ... in The Empathy Exams Leslie Jamison has announced herself as its rising star.
PositiveThe Boston Globe\"In Maid, Land displays a keen eye for how her clients live, what their houses say about their lives ... More than any book in recent memory, Land nails the sheer terror that comes with being poor, the exhausting vigilance of knowing that any misstep or twist of fate will push you deeper into the hole ... In a way, then, this is a survivor’s tale. But it’s also a cautionary one, not only warning of the fragility of prosperity in a nation where social mobility goes both ways, but admonishing those of us not currently poor to remember the humanity of those who clean our houses, mow our lawns, cook our meals.\
PositiveLos Angeles Times\"As is the pattern in these books, Harris braids together the personal and the political — readers might find themselves tempted to skim through what feels like a campaign speech to return to a life story that genuinely entrances. But that would be a mistake; Harris provides a very clear picture of the kind of leader she hopes to be, as well as the way her mind works when she confronts various issues, including crime, healthcare and foreign policy ... Throughout, there are unmistakable echoes of the kind of inclusive tone often struck by former President Obama.\
PositiveLos Angeles Times\"... exquisite ... But this isn’t a book powered by plot. Instead, McColl’s gift is in distilling a lifetime — the relationships, hopes nurtured then dashed, joys still sought, even at life’s end — into vignettes of great beauty, ordinary moments held up for loving examination ... Joy Enough is a slim book that feels expansive, both in its ideas and its spirit. The pleasure is in the closely observed, deeply felt moments between mother and daughter. If the book has a misstep, it’s in a section introducing friends and describing a group vacation — not because the writing here is anything less than lovely, but because our attention doesn’t want to leave the duo of Allison and Sarah.\
RaveThe Boston GlobeThe honesty with which Chung grapples with...racial erasure is a hallmark of her stunning debut memoir, a book that confronts enormous pain with precision, clarity, and grace ... in addition to being deeply thoughtful and moving, the book is a fiercely compelling page-turner ... what shines through this beautiful book is her clear-eyed compassion for all her relations, her powerful desire for connection, her bold pursuit of her own identity, and the sheer creative energy it took to build her own family tree, to \'discover and tell another kind of story.\'
PositiveThe Boston GlobeIn her sharply-observed, big-hearted memoir, Heartland, Smarsh chronicles the human toll of inequality, her own childhood a case study ... Smarsh writes movingly of her father, Nick, an itinerant carpenter, and her grandfathers, whose hard work defined and often shortened their lives. But its her mother, Jeannie, and grandmother Betty who occupy the book’s emotional center ... Throughout the book, Smarsh writes in a form of address to an imagined child — an unborn, perhaps never-to-be-born daughter she names August. As a literary convention, it’s occasionally unsuccessful — much like novels disguised as diaries, the second-person narrative can strain good sentences into bad — but there’s an emotional power that comes through, a resonance that keeps readers focused on the weight and importance of Smarsh’s project.
PositiveThe New York Times Book ReviewLike Dickens, Tyler sketches a well-peopled larger community, bustling with friends, lovers and bit players. But the book’s real action centers on Willa and how, in lending Denise and especially Cheryl some of her steadiness and predictability, she reclaims something of her younger self: a bolder, messier person than the superficial one she’d become, the \'cheery and polite and genteel\' woman who ended up living near a golf course and wearing expensive clothes ...the novels of Anne Tyler seem simple because she makes the very difficult look easier than it is. Her books are smarter and more interesting than they might appear on the surface; then again, so are our mothers.
RaveThe Los Angeles Times\"Dean deftly and often elegantly traces these women\'s arguments about race, politics and gender, making a kind of narrative of the ideas at play in the pages of the New Yorker, Vanity Fair, the New York Review of Books, the Partisan Review and other publications ... Dean\'s prose is mostly plainspoken, and often persuasive. The book is consistently entertaining and often truly provocative — especially for anyone who makes or loves art or literature ... It would have been nice to see Dean include more critics of color, but the world she\'s writing about was even less diverse than publishing and journalism are now ... the women Dean profiles here were willing to be unpopular. That made them not only sharp, but brave.\
RaveThe Boston GlobeIn A Kind of Mirraculas Paradise: A True Story About Schizophrenia, Allen interprets and contextualizes her uncle’s autobiography (including some of his idiosyncratic spellings). It was a process she compares to a musician covering another musician’s song ... Folks like Bob have a lot to teach the rest of us about what good mental healthcare might look like.
Svetlana Alexievich, Trans. by Richard Pevear & Larissa Volokhonsky
RaveNewsdayThe book is composed of oral histories Alexievich gathered in the late 1970s and early ’80s. Alexievich weaves their testimonies together until their individual voices become a haunting chorus ... In undertaking the hundreds of interviews that led to this vast, emotionally riveting account, the author wants us to consider the women’s voices ... The deceptively simple form Alexievich deploys allows for an emotional range from utter despair to a kind of transcendent hope.
PositiveThe Bosotn GlobeLively, gossipy, and at times quite moving, Thompson’s is fine addition ... The Six is at its strongest when mapping the complicated family dynamics; where Thompson occasionally falters is in making sense of some in the family’s repugnant politics.
RaveThe Los Angeles Times...dazzling, dizzying history of time travel ... Gleick’s a wide-ranging enthusiast and a graceful explainer — though some readers (like this one) may need to slow down and focus very hard as we move through the thorny thickets of theoretical physics ... one of the great charms of this book is its author’s willingness to embrace multiple points of view and to credit art and experience as much as theory.
PositiveThe Boston GlobePart natural history, part scientific inquiry, but most of all a deeply thoughtful human meditation on how we walk through life, Moor’s book is enchanting.
RaveThe Boston GlobeIn poet Kim Addonizio’s unflinching, often hilarious 'confessions,' the excesses and debauchery are not prelude but process, not a state from which to be saved but a series of experiences and memories to save, and savor ... Much as it revels in the poet’s life as a fun-loving bad girl, this stunning book is at its most gorgeous when it reveals its author’s great big heart.
PositiveThe Boston GlobeThe author skips back and forth in time, with accounts of her learning to care for and eventually run sled dogs providing thrilling moments, but it’s her portrait of this friend and father figure that lends a warm glow to this thoughtful meditation on a lifelong attraction to the cold.
PositiveThe Boston GlobeIn this compact yet powerful memoir, Cooper tells the story of Zoë’s cancer and her treatment — more than that, he meditates on fatherhood, childhood, aging, safety, and love. A children’s book illustrator and author, Cooper writes with the plainspoken grace and sharp eye of an artist ... Cooper’s an astute observer of his own reactions to Zoë’s illness, which made him 'angry and protective and wild.' Because he’s a good father, he keeps those feelings from the children — but because he’s a good writer, he shares them with us, the readers. The result is something special, a tough, tender book that gets at the heart of what it means to make a family and a life.
RaveThe Los Angeles TimesThe Girls is gorgeous, disquieting, and really, really good ... [Cline's] prose conveys a kind of atmospheric dread, punctuated by slyly distilled observation, not unlike the early cinematic style of Roman Polanski, whose wife, actress Sharon Tate, was killed by the Manson family. That deliberate tone remains throughout, though it’s somewhat less successful in the sections set in the present ... By far the strongest writing comes when Cline limns the nearly exquisite boredom and anticipation of early adolescence ... brings a fresh and discerning eye to both the specific, horrific crime at her book’s center, one firmly located in a time and place, and the timeless, slow-motion tragedy of a typical American girlhood.
RaveThe Boston GlobeWeaving together cultural context and a rich cast of characters, Silberman casts the history of autism as a medical page-turner. By the end, as he describes how people with autism have sought to empower themselves, the book is as emotionally resonant as any this year.
RaveThe Boston Globe[Ghettoside functions both as a snappy police procedural and — more significantly — as a searing indictment of legal neglect ... Leovy’s powerful testimony demands respectful attention.
RaveThe Boston Globe[Seierstad's] taut narrative also reveals a series of heartbreakingly incompetent official decisions, without which many lives would have been saved. It would be an unremittingly dismal book if she hadn’t also profiled many victims and their families — in particular, the politically engaged youth gathered on Utoya, a tiny island owned by Norway’s Labour Party, whose loss to their parents and to their nation is clearly incalculable. The juxtaposition of their stories with their killer’s is what makes this book unforgettable.
PositiveThe Boston Globe...rather than focus on the gory details, Tillman instead is interested in how Brownsville itself has been wounded, and how it sets about to recover. As a good reporter must, she talks to everyone from lawyers and psychiatrists who consulted on the case to local people who still regard the building as a site housing evil. Her investigation goes in so many directions that the book can feel unfocused. Yet there’s a strength in Tillman’s rejection of a single narrative. Pondering poverty, mental illness, and a belief in demonic possession as three of the motives raised at the trial, Tillman concludes that '[t]he truth can be more than one thing.'”
PositiveThe Boston GlobeNewman’s self-awareness is what makes the book work; it’s a portrait of striving toward a perfection that never existed, while loving the imperfection that surrounds us. 'The parent I want to be floats in and out of life,' Newman writes, sometimes helpfully present and other times as elusive as 'a shaft of sunlight I want to capture.'”
PositiveThe Boston GlobeIn a book this delirious with ideas, a few land more firmly than others. It may not be literally true that '[b]urglars are as much a part of architecture as the buildings they hope to break into,' but it’s hard to argue with Manaugh’s contention that burglary is 'a new science of the city, proceeding by way of shortcuts, splices, and wormholes.'”
PositiveThe Boston Globe...a terrific book: fast and furious, if a little ugly at times. Abramovich listens to the Rats as they gossip and feud; as they get older, he notes when they marry, have kids, and drift away from the club. Oakland is both backdrop and character, a city whose booms and busts, racism and violence mirror anything the Rats could dream up.
RaveThe Boston GlobeCotkin explores what Susan Sontag and Tom Wolfe, among others, dubbed 'the New Sensibility,' a term he admits contains so many possible definitions that 'trying to reach one is a game that has its delights but never ends with victory.' He’s right about its delights — the book fascinates on every page — and also about the inevitable failure of assigning any single meaning to the label. It doesn't matter.
RaveThe Boston GlobeIn Murray’s letters to Roosevelt, as well as Bell-Scott’s masterful, understated narrative of their historical context, we can see the evolution of a powerful, important American voice.
RaveThe Boston GlobeBy turns raw, wry, and meditative, Lisicky offers a painfully honest accounting of his own failures and limitations; ultimately, this is the story of how a heart opens, and the endless, literally death-defying work of keeping it that way.
Irin Carmon and Shana Knizhnik
PositiveThe Boston GlobeAlong with delivering the standard biography, complete with a raft of charming photos, Carmon and Knizhnik write powerfully about the progression of Ginsburg’s legal career. In particular, they make vivid the development of her trademark arguments — particularly her longstanding belief that cases involving women’s rights, inextricably tied to reproductive freedom, should be tried using standards of equality, not privacy.
RaveThe Boston GlobeIn this lively, deliciously gossipy dual biography, Karin Wieland treats both with great sympathy but also clear-eyed assessment.