Laurie Hertzel is the senior editor for books at the Minneapolis Star Tribune and the author of a memoir, News to Me: Adventures of an Accidental Journalist. She sits on the board of the National Book Critics Circle and holds an MFA in creative nonfiction from Queens University in Charlotte, N.C. She can be found on Twitter @StribBooks
RaveThe Star TribuneMusician Richard Thompson mentions a lot of names in his new memoir, but you never get the feeling that he\'s name dropping ... More than a typical celebrity memoir, Beeswing is thoughtful, well written and at times very funny. Thompson writes with real grief about the horrendous car crash that killed two people as the band was returning from a gig, and he talks frankly about how that accident affected him for years ... He\'s a generous memoirist, giving credit to musicians who influenced him and downplaying his own remarkable skills ... With his sophisticated songs and distinctive guitar work, Thompson, 72, has long been the thinking person\'s musician. Turns out he\'s also the thinking person\'s memoirist.
RaveThe Star TribuneImmediately upon finishing Raynor Winn\'s 2019 memoir, The Salt Path, I went to the computer and called up Google. \'What happened to Moth?\' ... Winn\'s gorgeous new memoir, The Wild Silence, answers that question and does a whole lot more, exploring love, the importance of nature and the meaning of home ... The Wild Silence is less adventure narrative and more interior than her first book, but it is just as moving and beautifully written. Once again, Winn\'s connection to nature and to Moth are at its heart ... The Wild Silence is deeply reflective; Winn is a firm believer that physical activity in the out-of-doors is crucial for any human to thrive ... Read this lovely book. Go to Google and check on Moth. And then go outside and take a walk.
PositiveThe Star TribuneIn this fast read of a biography, Leslie Brody brings to life the spirited, ambitious and deeply independent Fitzhugh, whose early life was straight out of a Southern melodrama and whose later life was straight out of — well, Suzuki Bean, perhaps, the novel she wrote with Sandra Scoppettone about the \'baby beatnik\' who lived in Greenwich Village ... Her fierce devotion to art, her intense friendships, her fights with her editors, her rebellion against her father are all sketched out here. This book lacks a deep sense of Fitzhugh — intensely private, she left behind few letters or journals from which to draw and only allowed two photographs of herself to be published during her lifetime — but provides a fascinating window on the life of 1950s Bohemian New York.
RaveThe Star Tribune... starts out in black and white and then opens up into glorious Technicolor ... feels larger than Joyce’s other books — more expansive, swashbuckling, a wild adventure. It is the best so far of her novels, and the most inspiring ... At the heart of the story is the slow, unlikely friendship that builds between the two women and how that friendship enables them both to grow stronger, more capable and more self-reliant. And if this sounds hokey, well, it’s not. It’s thrilling ... There are delightful flashes of humor in this novel they fight, they bicker, they betray each other. Secrets and hurt from their past threaten to jeopardize their present. Joyce is excellent at depicting their pain and revealing their failings, and she has no qualms about repeatedly placing her characters in harm’s way ... The ending is not pat, nor fully happy. But it is hopeful. There is resilience, there is redemption, and there is beauty — great beauty. In Technicolor.
PositiveMinneapolis Star TribuneThis sense of wonder in the ordinary permeates Field Notes From an Unintentional Birder, a thoughtful, engaging and sometimes humorous memoir that documents Zarankin’s evolution from shy novice birder to confident expert ... Her bird descriptions are witty and apt.
RaveThe Star TribuneThe Searcher is a departure for French in all kinds of ways—the third-person narrator, the American protagonist, the rural West of Ireland setting, the abandonment of her beloved Dublin Murder Squad. But in other ways the book is classic French. It has her keen eye for character, her excellent ear for dialogue and, above all, her narrative control, as she winds the tale tighter and tighter, upping the tension higher and higher. The character of Trey is endearing, a near-feral kid who comes from poverty and trauma, like so many of the children in French’s books ... as much about solving a crime as it is about the near-impossibility of breaking into an insular society with a history, traditions and memories that go back hundreds of years ... In French’s hands, the unspoken affiliations and ancient grudges become borderline terrifying, even for an old Chicago cop.
RaveThe Star TribuneI Saw Him Die is great fun ... Wilson\'s Christie is a great character, filled with self-doubt and angst, eager to leave Skye and get on with her wedding to her lover, Matt, but at the same time swept away by the possibilities of the investigation. The mystery takes innumerable twists and turns, and while I thought I knew who the killer was, my conclusion kept changing as the story moved forward. This book is great, engrossing fun—just what we need right now when the world feels too dark.
Bobbie Ann Mason
RaveThe Star Tribune...poignant ... a profound examination of grief, regret and memory, wrapped in a compelling story of first love. Mason’s confident writing does not miss a step ... this book is as true as they come.
Jonathan C. Slaght
RaveThe Star Tribune... an absolute marvel of a book. Part science narrative, part memoir, part adventure story, it is captivating, thrilling and beautifully written ... Slaght’s book abounds with vivid descriptions, colorful characters—Russian scientists, researchers and woodsy hermits—and death-defying adventures ... Slaght is a terrific, thoughtful writer, and he tells his story well, with cliffhangers and drama, careful scientific observation and a dash of humor and humility.
MixedThe Star TribuneThe Duchess’ creator is anonymous, and that is the biggest problem with the new memoir, Becoming Duchess Goldblatt. We don’t know who the narrator is, which makes it impossible to understand her transformation — or, frankly, to much care ... Becoming Duchess Goldblatt is one of the summer’s buzzy books...but, frankly, I’m not feeling it ... The bar is and needs to be high for anonymous memoirs — with no names or identifying characteristics, where’s the accountability? Is all of this true? Is any of it true? ... For all its flaws, the Goldblatt memoir does carry a hopeful message, one we certainly need now: People can be kind, the world can be a giving place, unhappiness can change into happiness, and there are many different ways to find community.
Torbjørn Ekelund, Trans. By Becky L. Crook
PositiveThe Minneapolis Star Tribune... thoughtful ... Like a hillwalker on a ramble, this book meanders pleasantly ... Ekelund’s writing — deftly translated from the Norwegian by Becky L. Crook — is direct and clear, sprinkled with vivid metaphors ... This lovely book taps into something primeval in us all.
PositiveThe Star Tribune... a hugely entertaining mashup of a beach read / murder mystery / rich-people’s-lives-porn / romance. It doesn’t make a lot of sense, but it’s sprawling and fun, so read and enjoy and just don’t try to think about it too much ... There are plenty of surprises, including the identity of the murderer. (You will never figure it out. There are no clues.) Big Summer is the very essence of the big summer novel. Forget about the world for a while, and have some fun.
RaveThe Star Tribune... meticulous reporting and sensitive, compelling storytelling ... the gripping story of anyone navigating life in a war zone ... The structure of Inge’s War works brilliantly, moving back and forth between Inge’s life in the 1940s and O’Donnell’s contemporary action ... O’Donnell has told a riveting and important story, one that focuses so tightly on Inge and her family in its level of detail—physical, temporal and emotional—that it becomes universal. The reader can see these places, feel what these people felt, understand their trauma and pain. Living in wartime becomes palpably real ... By the time Inge reveals her dark secret to her granddaughter, the reader has slowly, breathlessly figured it out. It is just one more shattering detail in a life forever damaged by war.
RaveThe Star TribuneLawrence Wright’s harrowing new novel...is fascinating, detailed, true to life and so terrifying it will scare the sleep right out of you ... Wright is a brilliant reporter and an excellent writer ... The scenes in Saudi Arabia shimmer with desert heat and thrum with the complexity of Wright’s Muslim characters and their sometimes conflicting beliefs. Wright is excellent at gracefully working the science of viruses into the narrative, and the first half of the book, though fiction, is a great primer, in many ways, of what is happening now with COVID-19. But if the first half of the book is a slow build, the second half is almost pure action—pure, heart-stopping action ... This book will wake you up, and keep you awake. All night.
MixedThe Star TribuneI found it hard to admire until I got to the last third—and then I was both moved and entertained. But I suspect a lot of readers will not make it that far ... Some of it is painfully funny, a lot of it is exaggerated (Remington’s many near-death experiences), and much of it rings true. The book lacks the subtlety of Shriver’s earlier novels. Very little is left to the reader to figure out. We know what Shriver thinks because she bangs us over the head with it for 300 pages. She also takes time to mock the modern cultural conventions that have been eating away at her for the past few years: the issue of cultural appropriation in the arts; identity politics; the #MeToo movement; even trendy phrases such as bucket list and boomer. Nothing escapes her scorn, and it’s a pity because most of that scorn is unnecessary. Her brutal mocking of the concept of white privilege is certain to appall and infuriate many readers ... I’d like to recommend that you just skip the first 200 pages of Motion and get right to the good parts ... But without the troublesome first part, you wouldn’t know how good it actually becomes.
PositiveThe Star TribuneThere are very few confessions in Confessions of a Bookseller, Shaun Bythell’s second memoir. He entertains, but he keeps things close to the vest ... picks up shortly before the first book leaves off, and it is, mostly, more of the same ... This is, however, a darker book than Bythell’s first. He portrays customers less as figures of fun and more as petty people who want to bargain down prices. His romance with his American life partner is ending, and he feels regret ... Bythell is a skillful writer. Through these brief entries, he creates a full, appealing world populated with colorful characters. The annual Wigtown Book Festival seems raucous and fun...The Scottish landscape — geese flying over the salt marsh, the meandering river where he likes to fish — is gorgeous ... Though darker and marred by...odd discrepancies, Confessions is, like Diary an endearing and thoughtful book. We cannot browse bookstores right now, but we can read about browsing, and that will have to be enough.
RaveThe Star TribuneTyler’s brief novel covers just a few weeks in Micah’s life and it moves so quickly and seamlessly you might think it slight. You would be wrong. As in a short story, each observation, each detail, carries meaning ... like so many Anne Tyler characters over the years, Micah Mortimer has trouble seeing what is right in front of his eyes. His inability to do so suffuses this poignant book with almost unbearable loneliness.
PositiveThe Star Tribune...a surprising and intimate look inside the life of a graffiti writer ... [Bloch\'s descriptions of how he created the graffiti — the way he controlled the paint spray, the little tilt and sway of his body as he wrote — are pure poetry ... Somehow, he came out of these dire circumstances to become an ethnographer, and he writes this memoir with the perspective of an academic, telling the story in a measured way, with context that gives it scope and meaning.
Eliese Colette Goldbach
PositiveThe Star TribuneGoldbach’s story has many threads, and for the most part she weaves them skillfully, pausing only a beat or two too long for lengthy explanations of the history of the steel industry, or the rise of Donald Trump ... Politics suffuses this book, as Goldbach tries to understand why her conservative, religious parents—as well as so many of her working-class colleagues— admire Trump, who, as the book unfolds, is about to be elected president. In this, she is nuanced and thoughtful, avoiding easy conclusions or stereotypes of working-class people. But the glowing core of this book is the steel plant. In scene after vivid scene, Goldbach brings to life the massive campus, the worn down and crotchety workers, the heat, the machinery, the dust, the physically grueling and dangerous work ... At times, she is a difficult protagonist to like—prickly and scared, and her bipolar disorder makes her paranoid and unreasonable. But as the book progresses, she...slowly grows from someone who feels that she doesn’t belong in the mill—or anywhere—to a capable and confident woman.
PositiveThe Star TribuneHolston’s memoir of losing his hearing at age 62, is a graceful and compelling read. As the title hints, and as Holston himself admits, he has never met a pun he didn’t like, so consider yourself forewarned—there are plenty ... But puns aside, the story moves quickly, with anger, frustration and humor, as Holston navigates this new, silent world ... The technical and medical details, the frustrating fights with the insurance company, the failed first operation, the better second one—all are folded seamlessly into the narrative.
Christine Feret-Fleury, Trans. by Ros Schwartz
PositiveThe Star TribuneThis quirky little novel is part fable, part romance, and wholly a love letter to books ... Very little of this novel makes sense and even less of it lives in the realm of the possible. It\'s a fairy tale. But it\'s charming to read, and its central theme that books can change lives is indisputable and satisfying.
PositiveThe Minneapolis Star TribuneThose of us who are members of that enormous, sad club — the club of people who have lost loved ones to cancer — will find much that resonates in Michael Korda’s new book ... Written in plain, straightforward prose ... We all know about the agony of surgery, radiation, recovery, hope, recurrence, despair. But in Korda’s careful, unsentimental prose, we can see reflections of our own loved ones ... There is only one place for this story to lead, but Korda’s book keeps you reading because of the graceful, understated way he conveys his anguish, his love and his admiration for his spirited wife ... a moving book. Those of us who have lived through such loss might not learn a lot from it, but we will recognize in Korda a sympathetic and eloquent member of the cancer club.
Ed. by Lise Funderburg
RaveThe Star TribuneUndoubtedly, parents influence us more deeply and irrevocably than any other people in our lives ... This topic is given its rich and thoughtful due in Apple, Tree: Writers on Their Parents, an engrossing anthology of 25 delightfully diverse personal essays ... In a wonderful array of entertaining and very different stories, they reveal their parents’ quirks, their heroism, their hobbies, their secrets, their successes and their failures ... But if those faults can be examined and explored and wrestled into such fascinating and insightful essays as these, they’re well worth the trouble.
PositiveThe Minneapolis Star TribuneRuby’s voice is peppy and thoughtful — with her literary quotations and romantic flights of fancy, she brings to mind the character Anne Shirley from Anne of Green Gables — but this brief novel contains an awful lot of sadness ... In previous novels, Sullivan has excelled at bringing to life the rhythm of small towns, and in Ruby & Roland the labor and beauty of farm life dominate the story. The laundry, the egg-fetching, the milking, the \'dusty with wheat chaff\' farmhands, the hardworking, capable women — all make up a vivid world.
RaveThe Star TribuneFunny, wry, steeped in nature and as sharp as the needles on a pinyon pine, these essays will make you rethink your view of the American West. Meloy’s wise and unexpected observations are a pure delight.
Svetlana Alexievich, Trans. by Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky
RaveThe Star TribuneLast Witnesses...is devastating. The language is simple, the chapters are short, and the book is agony to read ... Alexievich edited the interviews tightly—some are less than a page, none longer than a couple of pages. That distillation gives them enormous power ... Alexievich’s decision not to include a preface was not an oversight, but a stroke of brilliance ... Almost certainly many of these narrators are gone now. Their voices, though, live on. They haunt us.
PositiveThe Star TribuneThe Sentence Is Death is...fast-paced, lively ... there are twists and turns and unexpected developments. The fact-fiction blurring continues to the last page ... I’m totally flummoxed, but I am looking forward to the next book in the series.
RaveThe Star TribuneThe Farmer’s Son is part memoir, part classic father-son battle and part history (of Ireland and of cows), and all of those pieces work quite well together; it is a fascinating read. Connell is a thoughtful, serious writer, deeply observant. The book moves slowly, covering just four months in 200 pages, but it never drags ... His memoir is infused with his love of nature... but it is devoid of sentimentality ... Connell’s writing style is formal—no contractions, sometimes arcane constructions ... A bestseller in Ireland, The Farmer’s Son is a powerful, beautiful story about the tug of land, the meaning of home and one man’s place in the world.
RaveThe Minneapolis Star TribuneWhen the flatmates do finally meet, it’s in a sexy, hilarious and deeply embarrassing way. Such fun ... springs from a classic rom-com setup...But her book, while definitely romantic and comedic, has an underlying seriousness that gives the story heft. Her themes of ambition, domestic violence, thwarted justice, childhood cancer and closeted homosexuality turn this engaging summer read into a thought-provoking work of fiction ... But fun. Definitely fun.
PositiveThe Minneapolis Star TribuneHere’s my advice: Don’t think too much about this book — just enjoy it ... an entertaining, endearing story about a late-middle-aged, morose divorced guy who accidentally acquires a dog ... Miller’s charming and funny novel grows complicated in a hilarious sort of way, a way that you don’t want to examine too closely, with con men and drunkards, minor story lines that go nowhere, and all kinds of implausible twists and turns ... the ride is so much fun that you’d be a spoilsport for demanding that it all add up ... In the blurbs, critics compare Miller’s work to Lorrie Moore, early Ann Beattie and (oddly) Ernest Hemingway. I’d tuck Biloxi somewhere between Stewart O’Nan, who writes so knowingly about the small details of a quiet life, and the comic novels of Jonathan Evison. But why compare it to anyone? Miller’s good all on her own.
RaveThe Star TribuneIt’s all about the context. And in Marion Turner’s brilliant Chaucer: A European Life ... you will learn not only about the life of the man behind The Canterbury Tales, you will learn about the bustling, fast-changing world in which he lived and traveled ... It’s a long book, and very detailed. But if you are interested in history, poetry or the man who invented iambic pentameter, it’s fascinating.
RaveThe Star TribuneI was hooked after the first paragraph—maybe after the first sentence ... Packer’s writing is lively and quick, packed with voice and with asides to the reader that only add to his credibility. Read it for the first 150 pages alone—the best primer on Vietnam you’ll find.
RaveThe Star TribuneGood Talk...is wise, serious, poignant, thought- provoking and funny. It’s also very, very necessary ... The topics? Race, mostly, but also love and sexuality, first against the backdrop of being the bisexual daughter of immigrants from India and then of being the mother of a mixed-race child during the time of Trump.
PositiveThe Minneapolis Star Tribune\" ... the Old But Not Dead club continues its escapades, someone is stashing fruit in illicit places all around the home just to be annoying, and the book’s darkness is leavened with moments of hilarity ... thoughtful, entertaining and wise. Long may he live.
PositiveThe Star TribuneThe Salt Path begins in the dark interior of a cramped closet, and ends in bright sunlight on a cliff above the sea. Taken together, the opening and closing scenes are symbolic of what this thoughtful memoir is about: coming out of darkness into light, moving from despair to serenity ... Winn’s prose is powerful. She excels at description, and her apt metaphors are rooted in nature ... Shortlisted for the Costa Prize in biography, The Salt Path is an inspiring read, reminding us that there is salvation in nature, movement and the out-of-doors.
RaveThe Star Tribune...Binstead’s Safari explores themes of loneliness, marriage, passion and impossible love. Impossible, but told in such a matter-of-fact way that the reader is entirely swept along ... Binstead’s Safari is a page-turner, a romance, a comedy, a tragedy, a domestic novel and a fish-out-of-water tale, with a bit of magical realism thrown in. It’s amazing and original, and it’s great to see it back in print.
MixedStar TribuneFirst of all, to enjoy this book, you have to set aside your skepticism and common sense. You have to embrace your inner romantic, and you have to believe, just for a few hours, that love at first sight is a reasonable thing and that we all have a soul mate. If you can do that, then you will find Josie Silver’s One Day in December a sweet, entertaining read. If you can’t, then you will spend a lot of time rolling your eyes ... What follows is a touching story ... If you’re heading out of town anytime over the holidays, this would be the perfect airplane read.
RaveStar TribuneIn her fascinating new memoir, Inheritance, Shapiro ... begins a remarkable, dogged, emotional journey as [she] digs into the past to find the truth. Inheritance reads like a mystery, unfolding minute by minute and day by day. The reader experiences the grief, surprises and setbacks right along with the author ... She juggles all of these threads and—it must be said—all of this overwhelming emotion quite deftly, while spinning the story out smoothly ... Shapiro’s book is a wise and thorough examination of how this news affected her. She is a good guide for the bombshells that are yet to explode for so many families.
RaveThe Star TribuneIt is a wonderful book, keenly observed, a breezy, thought-provoking read in which McGrath and his wife, Ellen Block, live and work in this small country that hardly anyone has heard of. They throw themselves wholeheartedly into life in Lesotho ... it is all so wonderfully fascinating ... He is scrupulously careful not to make judgments of the people or their culture, and when terrible things happen, he recounts them but does not condemn ... The people he writes about—other teachers, students, elderly mountain people who sell bootleg alcohol, shepherds, random children—are sharply and affectionately drawn ... McGrath is a likable, curious guide, embracing whatever adventures come along ... that first extended visit [to Lesotho] was magical, for them and for readers.
PositiveStar TribuneBecoming is a warm, intimate coming-of-age story of a strong-minded girl who grew up to become one of the most powerful and influential black women in the country. It is filled with determination, love of family and many subtle and not-so-subtle lessons about being female, black, and black and female in America. She talks openly about things that many people are uncomfortable discussing ... The most interesting part of the book is the first half, about growing up in Chicago ... More interesting than the politics are the details of life in the White House, where she couldn’t even open a window (bulletproof thick and sealed shut for protection) and where sneaky incognito trips to PetSmart and Target make her feel, briefly, free.
RaveThe Minneapolis Star TribuneAn excruciating read ... Beard’s book has all the required elements of a great memoir — a compelling story, deep introspection, fine writing and an unflinching quest for factual and emotional truth. This haunting book is a profoundly moving study of memory, denial and grief.
PositiveThe Star TribuneThis lovely, wise book is illustrated with black and white paintings that are childlike in their simplicity—the big eyes of the border collie, the smile of the pig—making this appear to be a book for children. It could be. But it could also be a book for anyone who has ever been entranced by another living creature. (Border collie lovers, beware: You will need Kleenex. Everyone else should be OK.)
PositiveMinneapolis Star TribuneIf you like your bookstores warm and cozy and your booksellers chatty, you might not like Shaun Bythell or his shop. You might, however, like his memoir, which is entertaining and dryly humorous ... Over the course of that year, not much happens ... And yet, the book is fascinating ... his gorgeous descriptions of the countryside reveal a deep love for that corner of Scotland.
MixedMinneapolis Star-TribuneSmall Fry is not a book you would read unless you were interested in Jobs — the writing is capable but doesn’t sparkle, the anecdotes are depressing and just pile up ... Small Fry is an excruciatingly sad read.
PositiveStar TribuneIf Miriam Parker’s debut novel were a wine, it would be a super-fizzy Champagne rather than a serious, heavy port ... Set in the wine country around Sonoma, The Shortest Way Home is told by Hannah, a young woman about to graduate from business school and head for a lucrative Goldman Sachs job in New York. But during a getaway weekend in wine country with her almost-fiancé, Ethan, she visits a historic, down-on-its-heels winery and surprises everyone — especially herself — by impulsively giving up New York, putting Ethan on the back burner, and taking a marketing job at the winery ... Yes this is a romance, but it is also a novel about a young woman finding herself, figuring out the difference between what she wants to do with her life and what others want.
RaveMinneapolis Star Tribune...a moving, funny homage to women and friendship ... there is more to this very English novel than first meets the eye ... Dear Mrs. Bird is a delightful read — funny and poignant, yet with horrific descriptions of bombed-out London.
RaveThe Star TribuneIf you learn nothing else about Brockes from this book, you will learn that she does not like having decisions taken out of her hands. I’m not sure what she would be called in her native Great Britain, but here in the United States we might call her a control freak—a personality quirk that just adds to the pleasure of this splendid and fascinating book ... She is cool, methodical and, at times, insanely funny, with a great eye for the ironies and amusements of life ... And in the end, there is no doubt that her decision—at least for us readers—was an excellent one indeed.
PositiveMinneapolis Star TribuneThe story — which involves a crime, an accident, an aging father, a connection with an old flame, and various other dramas — whirls briskly. Hyde has a fine ear for dialogue ... She handles the many narrative threads deftly, moving back and forth in time and highlighting various points of view.
Clemantine Wamariya and Elizabeth Weil
RaveMinneapolis Star Tribune...[an] unforgettable memoir ... Memoirs by immigrants and refugees are growing in number; they are important stories that need to be told, and told in the kind of bug-and-mud-and-dysentery detail that Wamariya’s is told ... this book is crucial.
RaveThe Minneapolis Star Tribune\"Fontaine’s memoir is astounding, amazing, inspiring and a little bit terrifying ... Voice is crucial in memoir, and Fontaine’s is just right: trustworthy, intimate and thoughtful ... Fontaine has a great eye for detail, and she depicts the other circus performers with real affection — not as freaks, but as interesting and fully realized people ... Fontaine’s circus adventures are nicely juxtaposed against her mother’s long journey of recovery, as both women learn to overcome their fears and meet life’s challenges.\
Witold Szablowski, Antonia Lloyd-Jones
RaveThe StarTribuneYou jerk the chain to make the bear dance. I learned these depressing details from Dancing Bears, a weirdly fascinating book by Polish journalist Witold Szab?owski (translated by Antonia Lloyd-Jones) ... Szab?owski’s analogy is clever but perhaps too clever; what he has in Dancing Bears is two halves of two good books. Each should get its due.
Audur Ava Ólafsdóttir, Trans. by Brian FitzGibbon
RaveThe Star TribuneÓlafsdóttir’s prose, eloquently translated from the Icelandic by Brian FitzGibbon, is just flat enough to give this quiet novel the feel of a fable. In short sentences and minimal dialogue, she tells the story of a man’s rebirth. The book rises above the obvious metaphor (handyman can fix everything but himself) and the clearly signaled ending, moving naturally and powerfully from despair to hope.
MixedThe Minneapolis Star Tribune\"The most powerful section is the first, which Westover writes from the point of view of herself as a girl. She recounts her bizarre life dispassionately, as though it was perfectly ordinary, and it is that sense of normality that gives this section its power ... It is the third section that is the most difficult to read — the least polished, the most painful, perhaps because it is the most recent. It lacks distance, both temporal and emotional ... the rawness of this last section suggests that despite her amazing transformation and this powerful book, Westover’s remarkable education is not yet complete.\
RaveThe Minneapolis Star TribuneThe book toggles between Bob’s memoir and Allen’s research. She does not reproduce her uncle’s prose verbatim, which apparently would be unreadable. Instead, she translates it into proper English, preserving occasional all caps and some of the odd spellings and punctuations, perhaps to give a flavor of the original. But we lose something in not seeing those tobacco-browned pages as they are; we get, instead, a rewritten diary that sounds, well, perfectly sane ...Bob never seems scary or dangerous, and perhaps this book will help readers understand that mental illness does not automatically turn people into murderers. Bob is endearing, fascinating and, almost certainly, exhausting — for himself and his family ... She interviews Bob’s parents and stepparents, and even when they disagree she draws no conclusions, just relates their differing perspectives flatly. At the end of the book she seems as conflicted about Bob’s memoir as she was at the beginning.
RaveThe Minneapolis Star Tribune...[a] riveting memoir ... Her stories are harrowing, but the purpose of these essays is not to frighten. It is to affirm. She did not die; she lived through all of these experiences and now recounts each one in vivid, fully alive detail.
RaveThe Minneapolis Star Tribune...it’s a classic rom-com structure. But Joyce makes it fresh. As with her earlier novels, it is the madcap ensemble cast that brings the book to wacky, poignant life. Like Anne Tyler, Joyce has a knack for quickly sketching characters in a way that makes them stick ... This is a touching, sometimes funny book about surviving change, the power of music and the importance of having a community — wacky or not. As with all of Joyce’s books, it will surprise you.
Peter Stamm, Trans. by Michael Hoffman
RaveThe Minneapolis Star TribuneFrom the opening paragraph, Peter Stamm’s To the Back of Beyond is mysterious and mesmerizing … The book moves smoothly between [Thomas’s] point of view and Astrid’s, so skillfully that this inexplicable adventure seems completely plausible. Thomas hikes through forests and up mountains, sleeping rough, foraging for food, occasionally finding shelter. He knows where he is headed, although we do not … Stamm’s pivot halfway through the book is masterful: The story opens up, moving forward and backward in time almost simultaneously. The outcome becomes murky, but Stamm’s control never wavers.
RaveThe Minneapolis Star Tribune...an elegant, thoughtful examination of his life as a neurosurgeon. The book is not just a recounting of memorable patients and cases, but a steady, fearless look in the mirror: at what brought him to medicine; his regrets (patients he lost; patients he wished he had lost, if only to save them from a slow, difficult death); his anxieties with each new case; his successes and failures; and his mixed emotions about his imminent retirement, which he views both as freedom and as empty, purposeless void ... Marsh’s writing is elegant and tactile. He is sharply observant, both of people and of nature — the smell of cut wood and chain-saw oil, the color of faded reeds along the riverbank, the haughty glide of swans on the water. His descriptions are precise and careful, laden with meaning ... It is a pleasure to get lost in such a wise and beautiful book.
RaveThe Minneapolis Star Tribune...[a] stunning biography ... Eig is far too precise of a biographer to draw conclusions based on conjecture. He lets the details of the story speak for themselves — and he has a lot of details, and a lot of stories. Ali is a big, fat, entertaining and illuminating read ... What makes Eig’s book stand out is its broad scope, its detailed reportage and its lively, cinematic writing ... Although race is a crucial theme, it is boxing that is at the heart of this book. The fight scenes are beautifully wrought — vivid and detailed, rich with description and metaphor...Eig’s research into the effects of head trauma make those scenes particularly excruciating to read. If Ali did not understand the damage that was being done, the reader most certainly does.
PositiveThe Minneapolis Star TribuneCyril, who narrates the book, is wry, observant and funny, and it is his voice that gets us through what are sometimes horrific events. The book’s main theme is the Catholic church — its hypocrisy and its power over people’s lives in post-World War II Ireland. That Boyne tackles such a serious issue with great storytelling and humor is to his immense credit; much of the book is very, very funny. And much of it is tragic ... After Cyril emigrates, about midway through the novel, the tone shifts. The book becomes more serious, a bit didactic, and some conversations and situations seem less integral to the story and exist more as examples of social wrongs and individual cluelessness ... Despite these missteps, the book never really flags, and Cyril’s intelligent, witty voice takes us all the way through to the end of his life. The Heart’s Invisible Furies is a brilliant, moving history of an Irishman, and of modern Ireland itself.
RaveThe Minneapolis Star TribuneIt’s a pity that Deborah Campbell’s new book has such a Nancy Drew-like title, because it is actually a serious, riveting work about a part of the world that too many of us know too little about ... One of Campbell’s great skills as a writer — besides her formidable reporting chops — is her ability to clearly explain complicated politics without oversimplifying ... The book is steeped in atmosphere and sensual details, bringing Damascus to vibrant life, a reminder that the war-torn neighborhoods we see in the news are only one part of a sophisticated ancient world ... This important book opens our eyes to the lives of the people who are trying to find peace in a world of chaos.
RaveThe Minneapolis Star TribuneThis tender, affecting novel takes place over several days when Gerry and Stella Gilmore fly from their home in Scotland to Amsterdam for a short vacation. Married many years, they have grown accustomed to each other’s quirks and to reading each other’s thoughts. But both have secrets ... MacLaverty tells the story first through Gerry’s eyes, then through Stella’s. The trip unfolds almost moment by moment in quotidian details that are somehow mesmerizing... The slow pace and intimate details magnify the distance between the two. That they love each other is not in question; whether or not the marriage will survive most definitely is ... MacLaverty’s gorgeous prose is tactile and understated... It might seem contrived from a lesser writer, but in this case it feels just right.
PositiveThe Minneapolis Star TribuneHarpham's writing is tender and frank; Gracie's character comes alive on the page — she's a spunky, funny child who accepts her illness stoically. She smells of 'French-milled soap and sourdough bread, almost too good to bear.' Harpham also writes honestly of her relationship with Brian — the cracks and fissures between them began with his initial rejection of their baby, but the problems continue because of her own prickliness. Happiness is a fast read, a compelling story about life and death, illness and health, and, above all, family.
PositiveThe Minneapolis Star TribuneIn these 10 appealing essays, Hood deftly recounts pivotal moments in her early life, recalling not just what happened, but how she felt and how wonderful it was that the right book seemed to appear at the right time.
RaveThe Minneapolis Star Tribune...funny, pointed and very smart. With its madcap plot (embezzling mom goes on the lam), its dry tone, and its sly digs at upper-crust culture, the book does for Brooklyn what the novels of Maria Semple do for Seattle. The title character, Marion Palm, has no apparent moral center and few likable qualities, and yet you will root hard for her — Culliton is that good at revealing what makes her tick, earning Marion our empathy, if not our admiration ... This is a hugely entertaining book, a page-turner, laugh-out-loud funny in some parts. But it is also a study in loneliness and family dysfunction, selfishness, motherhood (and fatherhood), and the sad way that it is so easy for anyone — homely or not — to be rendered invisible.
RaveThe Minneapolis Star TribuneAmerican Fire: Love, Arson, and Life in a Vanishing Land is a page-turner of a true-crime book, even though we know pretty early on (by page 11) who did it ... In Hesse’s capable hands, Charlie’s story becomes a metaphor for the desperation and sadness of a rural county on the decline. 'The county went about its business,' she writes. 'The county burned down.'”
PositiveThe Minneapolis Star Tribune\"Everyone I know loves David Sedaris, but I have been a holdout...but now I have read the first volume of his diaries and wouldn’t you know, now I love him, too. This book is flat-out mesmerizing ... We get poignant glimpses of his sister Tiffany, who clearly felt like an outsider in the family (and who committed suicide in 2013) ... Sedaris writes openly of his poverty, his insecurities, his substance abuse. But most of his entries are observations of others, often just random people he meets on the street ... This is not to say that the book is without problems. My original complaint about Sedaris’ veracity still holds: He has made a name for himself writing essays about his life — essays that are clearly exaggerated, embroidered and embellished — and he calls them \'memoir.\' This makes me crazy. Memoir is nonfiction. Deliberately changing facts turns nonfiction into fiction. But hardly anyone else seems to care. Sedaris makes us laugh, and people are willing to overlook a lot for that ... Save the unedited 156 volumes for the academics. If this book is not the literal truth, well, at least he makes us laugh. For many readers, that will be enough.\
RaveThe Minneapolis Star TribuneHourglass looks at how a marriage endures over time, and at how time changes the marriage — changes the people, but also the relationship, with strengths and weaknesses toggling back and forth … The book moves around deftly in time, anchored by Shapiro’s clear writing and excerpts from her old journals. The young Shapiro, headed to France with M. on their honeymoon, seems ridiculously naive. (She had ‘all the self-knowledge of a Labrador retriever,’ Shapiro writes.) She had no idea what lay in store, the problems they would face, the way that love and passion would turn into something else.
RaveThe Minneapolis Star TribuneKristen Radtke’s serious, haunting Imagine Wanting Only This [is] a long, complex examination of abandonment, the fleetingness of life, the impermanence of everything ... Radtke’s [memoir] you feel that there is no grounding, that everything can go flying off at any moment. It is powerful and bleak, but strangely thrilling.
RaveThe Minneapolis Star TribuneFlower Moon opens with the feel of an Erik Larson book — Devil in the White City, perhaps: an entertaining murder mystery set in the historical context of 100 years ago. But Grann’s book quickly grows darker, and then darker still. It is superbly done — meticulously researched, well-written — but it is hard to be entertained by a story of such unmitigated evil ... Grann digs deep. He spent years on the research, examining FBI files, court testimony, private correspondence, field reports from the Bureau of Indian Affairs, diary entries and scores of other documents. The result is a powerful book — not entertaining, no, but fascinating; an outrageous, devastating read.
PositiveThe Minneapolis Star TribunePetrushevskaya writes plainly yet movingly about growing up in Stalin’s Russia as the granddaughter of an 'enemy of the people' ... But there is also lightness: sneaking into circus tents, befriending a stray cat, playing cops and robbers with shards of broken glass for treasure. One night she climbs a fire escape to the fifth floor of the opera house and is allowed inside during a performance of The Barber of Seville. She returns the next night, but the door remains shut. 'I crawled back home like a punished dog,' she writes. 'My whole life I remembered that duet between Rosina and Count Almaviva.'”
MixedThe Minneapolis Star TribuneThis romantic figure, this mysterious man who had abandoned society for the forest, was nothing more than a common thief, stealing blocks of cheese and packages of bacon from little kids. This is the problem with Finkel’s book. Finkel does his best. His writing is vivid and clear, his reporting is diligent. He is careful not to overstep the journalistic boundaries of what he knows...His research is comprehensive. And it leads us — nowhere. There is no big moment when Knight decided to jettison society, no reason that he or anyone else can give for choosing this strange life, no lesson to be learned ... There is no wisdom here. Sometimes a hermit is just a hermit. Sometimes a thief is just a thief. Finkel did his best. The book is interesting, but it is not illuminating.
MixedThe Minneapolis Star TribuneAt times Tisserand’s book moves slowly, especially in the first 100 pages, when he describes seemingly every cartoon and comic strip that Herriman drew, as he hops from newspaper to newspaper and coast to coast, slowly moving toward the creation of Krazy Kat ... Tisserand paints a fascinating picture of early 20th-century newspaper offices and the growing importance of cartoonists to cover the news and provide commentary. He also writes knowledgeably of race relations ... But Herriman remains an enigma throughout the book, shown as a cutup who performed in a minstrel show and who liked to hang with his fellow cartoonists. Readers do not get inside his head, and Tisserand does not delve deeply into his private life ... He primarily tells Herriman’s story through the prism of his profession and, save for a few letters, through the only written record he left behind — his comics.
RaveThe Minneapolis Star TribuneJoe Jackson’s important biography of the visionary Black Elk is much more than the story of one man’s life. It is a sweeping, comprehensive, elegantly written history of white and Indian relations; bloody, deadly battles; and the steady, deliberate destruction by the U.S. government of the native culture, language, traditions and way of life. It is a fascinating, heartsick read.
PositiveThe Minneapolis Star TribunePerhaps a bit too much exposition takes place in conversation: French relies on long interviews with witnesses and suspects. But she also keeps things moving at a snappy pace, and even when you figure out who did it, you still have no idea how Conway is going to prove it ... The Trespasser” is a rich examination of how we tell ourselves stories in order to get through life. And it’s a gripping whodunit, too.
PositiveThe Minneapolis Star Tribune...[an] entertaining, delightful biography ... Cliff does a magnificent job of setting things in historical context, breaking away from Cliburn’s story to vividly recount the last hours of Stalin as well as the rise of the 'voluble, roly-poly' Nikita Khrushchev ... Cliff has a great eye for entertaining stories and lively anecdotes, and he seems genuinely fond of everyone he writes about (even Stalin, sort of). At times, Khrushchev and his colorful escapades threaten to steal the book from the more one-dimensional Cliburn ... If the book has a flaw, it is that Cliff never gets inside Cliburn’s skin.
PositiveThe Minneapolis Star TribuneThis absurd, gently humorous novel satirizes our impossibly burgeoning debt; our materialistic society; our mad, insatiable need for more and more and better, and our suspicious and ever-watching governments. It is, especially in these days of so many depressingly similar novels, refreshingly original and thought-provoking.
RaveThe Minneapolis Star TribuneThe story is told not chronologically, but as a mosaic, in chapters that skip around in time (the book covers roughly 1940 to present day) and from multiple points of view, slowly revealing secrets that reverberate through the years and haunt the present … As with O'Farrell's earlier novels, This Must Be the Place is seamlessly written and engrossing. And as with her earlier books, it is also is shot through with wisdom about families, relationships, forgiveness and love.
PanThe Minneapolis Star TribuneIf you think you are getting a book written by Talese, you’re wrong; Talese’s own words serve as little more than transition to lengthy passages of Foos porn ... I am a great admirer of Talese’s other work, but I read this book with growing discomfort, looking for some larger meaning, waiting for some nonprurient reason for publishing it. He tries, toward the end, to draw larger, possibly ironic conclusions about constant observation in today’s Big Brother society, but they are halfhearted and not at all convincing ... What a sad ending to a long and stellar career. In putting this book together, the vastly talented Talese has tarnished his reputation and made voyeurs of us all.
PositiveThe Minneapolis Star TribuneThis is not one of those cute talking dog books; these dogs are subtle. We are not privy to their thoughts, just their actions. They remain distinctly doglike even as they gently herd Jonathan toward a happier existence ... [Rosoff] explores the compromises and decisions we make trying to fit into our lives with wisdom, a light touch and a lot of humor. And dogs!
PositiveThe Minneapolis Star TribuneVinegar Girl is funny and endearing, the quirky characters vintage Tyler. She follows the general story line of the play, but she takes plenty of liberties with the details, deftly tweaking Shakespeare’s violence and misogyny ... You might wonder how Tyler handles the sexism of Shakespeare’s play — will the tart-tongued Kate be 'tamed'? No worries. Tyler defines the conflict as one between cultural views of the genders rather than between the genders, and Kate’s speech at the end is not submissive, but defiant.
PanThe Minneapolis Star TribuneThe plot of Emma Straub's new novel, Modern Lovers, is one near-miss after another. A couple almost break up. A business almost burns down. A man almost loses a fortune to a cult. A naive boy walks into a party of tough strangers and — well, something almost happens, but then it doesn't. Chapters of Modern Lovers end on cliffhangers that, later, turn out to be nothing. The book's momentum starts and stops, gasps followed by shrugs ... a pleasant enough read, and it is not without wisdom and a little drama. But mostly it is, itself, a near-miss.
RaveThe Minneapolis Star TribuneHer drunken adventures are harrowing (and sometimes funny), and the hold alcohol had over her life is terrible and strong. Still, what could have been just a string of flippant, obnoxious drunken war stories followed by redemption (she does get dry, eventually) is made riveting by one thing: her writerly voice. Tough and street-smart (and a little vulnerable), honest (as far as I can tell), she’s sassy and funny, mouthy and flip, hard on herself and without a shred of self-pity.
PanThe Minneapolis Star TribuneSittenfeld is a skilled writer, and the book is an entertaining, fast read. And yet this might be a project that was flawed in its conception: So much of Austen’s premise does not translate to modern times. The ditsy Mrs. Bennet’s passion to marry off her daughters to rich gentlemen doesn’t ring true, and Sittenfeld had a heck of a time finding an appropriate modern-day transgression for the wild Mr. Wickham. (And failed, I’m afraid.) The biggest sin, though, is Sittenfeld’s lackluster Liz — snappish, not witty; bossy, not proud; and occasionally what my mother would call 'potty-mouthed.'”
MixedMinneapolis Star TribuneHorne's book is well worth reading for the crisply presented history. But as a grand examination of the ancient Greek sin of hubris, it fails to make a new case.
PositiveThe Minneapolis Star TribuneThe Art of Memoir is useful, for sure, but unlike many books on the craft of writing (or on the craft of anything), it’s also a pleasure to read.
RaveMinneapolis Star TribuneThe first collection in more than 10 years by Rea Award winner Joy Williams brings together 46 remarkable stories — bleak and flat, desolate and bizarre, always enthralling.
MixedMinneapolis Star TribuneTheir secrets — and they both have them — are predictable, though, right down to the last one, the shocker, which the reader will almost certainly see coming and will be saddened by, but not shocked.