Colette BancroftColette Bancroft is the book editor of the Tampa Bay Times. She joined the Times in 1997 and has been a news editor, general assignment features writer and food and travel writer, as well as a frequent contributor of reviews of books, theater and other arts. She became book editor in 2007. Before joining the Times, Bancroft was a reporter and editor at the Arizona Daily Star in Tucson and an instructor in the English departments of the University of South Florida and the University of Arizona. She can be found on Twitter @colettemb
RaveThe Tampa Bay TimesProulx's delicious prose is often at its most vivid when she's writing about the harshness of frontier life and the tremendous dangers of its occupations, and that's certainly true of this book ... Barkskins has a large cast — there are four pages of family trees in the back of the book — but that's a showcase for Proulx's gift for creating lively, complex characters. Even minor characters get memorable descriptions ... As the decades passed, I often found myself wishing to know more about one character or another, but the author braids all those people and all their plot lines together so skillfully that the book becomes a satisfying whole. Proulx's style is inimitably her own, but it echoes here with those of great influences: Dickens, Melville, Twain, Faulkner and more.
Grief is the Thing with FeathersMax Porter
RaveThe Tampa Bay TimesSurreal, sometimes disorienting and sharply emotionally resonant, it is a beautifully written distillation of the experience of shocking loss ... its shifting forms, its beak-by-jowl juxtapositions of the quotidian and the hallucinatory, render perfectly the bafflement of extreme grief, which can never be anticipated, only survived ... literary allusions enrich Grief, but it stands without them as well — the reader need not ever have heard of Dickinson or Hughes to feel its emotional dive and soar. It's a novel about grief that in some ways mocks the traditional novel about grief.
Ink & BoneLisa Unger
PositiveThe Tampa Bay TimesFinley is a believable 20-year-old, often impatient, sometimes too confident for her own good and careless about consequences, but smart and open to the ever-stranger experiences the case brings her, despite her skepticism about her own powers. Ink and Bone takes the reader into dire places, but into the light as well. And Finley? My psychic vibes predict she'll be back.
Rise the DarkMichael Koryta
PositiveThe Tampa Bay TimesIn Rise the Dark, Koryta again constructs a hold-your-breath thriller around believable characters and the bonds, familial and romantic and ideological, that bind them. It's a wild ride, and if you're out West, you might never want to drive over a cattle guard again.
Blood Bone and Marrow: A Biography of Harry CrewsTed Geltner
RaveThe Tampa Bay Times...a deeply researched, fascinating and even-handed biography of an enormously complex figure ... Geltner doesn't flinch from the dark side of Crews' character. He details how often the author's drinking and drugs derailed his classes and public appearances, how many friends spent enormous amounts of time and patience looking after him, how often Crews got into physical fights (and, Geltner notes, usually came out on the losing end; a lifetime list of his injuries occupies nearly a third of a page) ... On the page and in the flesh, Crews was a controversial figure, and Geltner gives us the rough edges. Crews was as improbable as many of his characters, and so was his success.
Kingdoms in the Air: Dispatches from the Far AwayBob Shacochis
RaveThe Tampa Bay TimesHe melds his personal experiences of some of the globe's wildest places with incisive analyses of history, culture, politics and more, crashing the postcolonial hangover into future shock to see what sparks it sets off ... The book's title piece [is] a rip-snorting adventure yarn about traveling to the mind-boggling elevations of the Himalayas ... Some of the book's shorter pieces are fascinating, deeply researched journalism ... Shacochis' accounts sometimes boom with macho swagger, but it's balanced by wry self-awareness, a tender heart and a brilliant, analytical intellect. His writing is simply splendid.
The Underground RailroadColson Whitehead
RaveThe Tampa Bay TimesThis brilliant, elegant novel is a ruthless and moving look at America's original sin ... blends historical fiction with magical realism to create a striking, beautifully crafted novel.
End of WatchStephen King
PositiveThe Tampa Bay TimesKing wrote the first two books of the Hodges Trilogy as straight crime fiction, without major paranormal or supernatural elements. This time around, the powers Brady develops go beyond that realistic territory, to chilling effect. King, who has occasionally been dinged by fans for not offering enough explanation for how some of his fantasy elements work, is careful in End of Watch to walk us through exactly how Brady came to be an even more formidable threat than he was before the brain injury. It's fantasy, sure, couldn't really happen. But, as always, King creates such a compelling scenario that it will leave you wondering. And maybe rethinking your kid's video games.
PositiveTamp Bay TimesLaRose fits like a carefully cut quilt piece into the world of Erdrich's fiction...[which] is woven from some of the darkest, bloodiest threads of the history of the collision of indigenous and European cultures — and from the bright beauty of the bonds of tradition, family and friendship that the survivors share.
Everybody's FoolRichard Russo
RaveTampa Bay TimesAs good as Russo was in 1993, he's even better now. And Everybody's Fool is a delight...In the novel's two-day time span, there will be enough bizarre events, startling revelations, unlikely heroes and touching moments to supply a dozen small towns. Although Everybody's Fool, like all of Russo's fiction, is driven by engaging and believable characters, he is also a master of plotting, from cliffhangers to twists that deftly link apparently unrelated threads. This book's tone is largely comic, but Russo writes with uncommon insight about love, families and friendship.
The Veins of the OceanPatricia Engel
RaveTampa Bay Times...The Veins of the Ocean is [Engel's] best yet...Reina's own voyage toward freedom is never smooth sailing, but Engel makes it a worthy trip, filled with fascinating characters and beautiful prose.
Katrina: After the FloodGary Rivlin
RaveThe Tampa Bay Times...a riveting, wide-ranging but detailed account of Katrina's immediate impact and its aftermath, as a city that has long been one of America's cultural jewels struggles to repair not only its infrastructure but its social fabric.
Charlotte Bronte: A Fiery HeartClaire Harman
PositiveTampa Bay Times...a deeply researched and highly readable look at an extraordinary life...
The Ancient MinstrelJim Harrison
PositiveTampa Bay TimesMemoir in general has always been a pretty slippery genre, and whether the narrator of The Ancient Minstrel is the real Jim Harrison or some carefully constructed performance might just be a distinction without a difference. Whoever he is, he tells a fine story. All three of these novellas traverse Harrison's familiar turf: the human relation to nature, how we live in it and consume it, how we believe we can rise above our natural urges and how often that makes us fools, and how nature's mortal effects on humans always win in the end.
PositiveTampa Bay TimesGratitude collects four of his essays, one written before his illness and three written during it. Each one expresses his characteristic, unquenchable curiosity about the world around him, a thirst for experience and understanding that seems to have sustained him until the end.
My Name is Lucy BartonElizabeth Strout
PositiveThe Tampa Bay Times...a memorable story of a mother and daughter ... Lucy Barton is a novel, but it too layers many stories, many of them told by Lucy's mother, whom she has not seen for years.
The Dogs of LittlefieldSuzanne Berne
RaveThe Tampa Bay TimesRevelations will come, but the real payoff of this novel is getting to know the characters Berne creates. Littlefield is a great place to visit — although you wouldn't want to live there.
Cries for Help VariousPadgett Powell
PositiveThe Tampa Bay TimesSome of the stories are dreamy, such as the nostalgic 'Dusk' and the trippy 'Solitude'; others are nightmarish, like 'Wearing a Meat Shirt and Killing a Snake': 'We hoped that olive loaf would appeal even less to them than it did to us.' Others lean toward political satire, like 'Change of Life,' about a man who discovers the great secret of capitalism in a machine that shoots cookies, or simply play with the surreal nature of politics, as in a cluster of stories about former Russian President Boris Yeltsin, who tells us, 'To Putin I have given over everything but the nuclear suitcase...I have found the nuclear suitcase to be a superior chick magnet.' And then there are a few that will flat crack your heart ... Every one of them is a voice worth hearing.
PositiveThe Tampa Bay TimesPurity is not a litmus test, it's a notable literary accomplishment — and it's also the most fun I've ever had reading a Franzen novel.
PositiveThe Tampa Bay TimesIn some ways, it isn't [revealing]. But in many others, Margo Jefferson's Negroland shines a spotlight on a fascinating slice of the American experience of which many people are barely aware.
Fates and FuriesLauren Groff
RaveTampa Bay Times...Fates and Furies takes a leap into unforgettable territory. It's a swoony love story, a complex mystery, a modern fairy tale, a comedy of manners, a dark and shocking revenge drama, all expertly interwoven and told in prose so lyrical and lovely that its sentences can sweep you off your feet.
The Bazaar of Bad DreamsStephen King
PositiveTampa Bay Times...[King] has always had a wicked (in more ways than one) sense of humor, too, and it's often on display along with the scary stuff in his new short story collection, The Bazaar of Bad Dreams.
The MuralistB. A. Shapiro
PositiveTampa Bay TimesShapiro keeps her story moving at a brisk pace as she cuts back and forth between Alizée's life and Danielle's reconstruction of it. It's a portrait in bold strokes, and one well worth experiencing.
The CrossingMichael Connelly
PositiveTampa Bay TimesFinding the connections between the parts of the case — the crossings of the title, the places where apparently unconnected people encounter one another — gives readers Harry at his best. We get the bonus of seeing Mickey take that case to court for one of his bravura performances.
Avenue of MysteriesJohn Irving
PositiveTampa Bay TimesAvenue of Mysteries is entirely Irving's, his best novel since the years of The Cider House Rules and A Prayer for Owen Meany. Like Lupe and Juan Diego's quest to visit Guadalupe's shrine, it has an ending you may anticipate —but the journey is full of richly imagined surprises.
Unfaithful Music and Disappearing InkElvis Costello
PositiveTampa Bay Times[R]eading Costello's Unfaithful Music & Disappearing Ink feels like sitting next to him at a long, tipsy, laid-back party and listening to him spin tales until the sun comes up.
The Wrong Side of Goodbye (A Harry Bosch Novel)Michael Connelly
PositiveThe Tampa Bay TimesConnelly is an old hand at weaving together several major plots. The two he creates in The Wrong Side of Goodbye are just the kind of plots that make the Bosch books so irresistible: They combine the procedural, with its emphasis on the detail-oriented mechanics of investigation, with engaging human stories to which both Bosch and the reader connect. Sometimes an investigation turns on something as small as a still-warm bag of fast food or that solid-gold pen; sometimes what leads Bosch to the truth is his talent for seeing into the human heart, for good or ill.
Razor GirlCarl Hiaasen
PositiveThe Tampa Bay Times...[a] rollicking new book ... Hiaasen sets all those plots spinning and then whirls them closer and closer to one another. Will Buck make it back home, and will Coolman keep his job? Will Blister get a role on Bayou Brethren? Among Trebeaux, Brock and the actual rats, who will survive?
Cruel Beautiful WorldCaroline Leavitt
RaveThe Tampa Bay TimesLeavitt gets the reader inside Lucy's head so that we understand the mixture of rebellion and desire that makes William's plan so enticing ... Leavitt builds her story around characters who are warm and engaging but very much flawed. The 1960s setting provides a few unsettling details that murmur in the background — the Manson murders, the Kent State shootings — but this is essentially the timeless story of a family, one that's unorthodox and fractured but rings emotionally true.
Harry Potter and the Cursed ChildJ.K. Rowling, Jack Thorne & John Tiffany
PositiveThe Tampa Bay TimesAs a reading experience, Cursed Child has much to recommend it. The characters are vividly drawn, and the plot is full of great twists yet consistent with the earlier stories ... Cursed Child might not be quite a magical as Rowling's novels, but it's enough to hold me until I find a spell for putting one of those [play] tickets into my hand.
American Heiress: The Wild Saga of the Kidnapping Crimes and Trial of Patty HearstJeffrey Toobin
RaveThe Tampa Bay TimesToobin skillfully enlarges and deepens the story I remembered, filling in gaps with material that will be new to many readers ... American Heiress may never quite get us inside Patricia Hearst's head, may not definitively answer the question of whether her conversion was real or a survival tactic. But this book certainly gives us a panoramic picture of her times and a gripping, insightful account of her place in them.
Kill 'Em and Leave: My Search for the Real James BrownJames McBride
PositiveThe Tampa Bay TimesThe author brings special strengths to the recounting of Brown's life ... yields an illuminating portrait of Brown and the culture that rewarded and rejected him.
Born to RunBruce Springsteen
RaveThe Tampa Bay TimesThe book is an affirmation that, along with his musical brilliance and matchless performance skills, the man is a terrific storyteller and writer ... Much more than most celebrity autobiographies, this one has a distinctive voice, and one that bears a wide range of literary influences.
Innocents and OthersDana Spiotta
RaveTampa Bay TimesIn Dana Spiotta's dazzling new novel, Innocents and Others, movies play a starring role. But they are just one form of storytelling examined in this smart and fascinating book, a hall of mirrors full of shifting identities so intriguing it's hard to look away...Spiotta keeps us always eager for the next twist, and her characters are both believable and freshly original. Their lives also give her a path to explore the art of narrative that is her own medium.
Swing TimeZadie Smith
RaveThe Tampa Bay TimesThe narrator's wry voice, mostly sharply self-aware but occasionally painfully not so, is just one of the strengths of Swing Time. Smith creates a large cast of convincing, vivid characters and moves them through a plot that finally partners the two timelines of the narrator's life, bringing all those dancing shadows together. It's a story that's surprising, sometimes shocking, but filled with energy and grace.
RaveThe Tampa Bay TimesMoonglow is a marvel of melancholy enchantment, the story of one man's life seen, as its title suggests, through last lingering light before darkness. But it's as rich and strange as any dream ... In this novel, told in a voice droll and tender and sometimes dark, in language as lovely as its title, Chabon makes those secrets into riches for readers.
Difficult WomenRoxane Gay
RaveThe Tampa Bay Times...in these stories, [Gay] writes fearlessly and with insight about love and power between men and women, about the horror of sexual violence and its inescapable aftershocks, about the fierce and flawed tenderness of mothers for their children ... 'Strange Gods' is a heartbreaking, powerful tale of betrayal and assault and the long-lasting effects — and the courage it takes to live with them.
The Blood of Emmett TillTimothy B. Tyson
RaveThe Tampa Bay TimesTyson's account of the times helps the reader to understand the climate in which Till's murder occurred. The early stirrings of civil rights grew as black veterans returned from World War II unwilling to accept the old racist hierarchy ... Carolyn Bryant's confession adds yet another layer of tragedy and irony to Emmett Till's story. Tyson reminds us that it's a story that is not over. Young black men still die for no good reason, no reason at all ... Just as Mamie Bradley's decision shone essential light on what happened to her son, so does this book.
The Gulf: The Making of An American SeaJack E. Davis
RaveThe Tampa Bay TimesJack E. Davis, it seems, had as many questions about the gulf as there are sand grains on a beach (mostly quartz, washed down over millions of years from faraway mountaintops, plus finely ground shell) or feathers on a snowy egret (one of many bird species nearly wiped out by the plume hunters of a century ago, now happily recovered). He has answered a tide of those questions in his splendid new book ... The bulk of the book focuses on the gulf coasts of five U.S. states in the 18th to 21st centuries, and Davis brings that history alive by couching it in the stories of individual people ... Davis is a historian, and this book is packed with research, but The Gulf does not read like a textbook. He is a graceful, clear, often lyrical writer who makes sometimes surprising, always illuminating connections.
Lincoln in the BardoGeorge Saunders
RaveThe Tampa Bay TimesHis formal innovation, beautiful use of language and signature blend of postmodernism and surrealism are compelling — but what really resonates in his fiction is its deep sense of empathy, even for the strangest of characters in the most bizarre situations. Lincoln in the Bardo, his first novel, is a showcase for all of those qualities ... I rarely read a single book straight through, because I'm always shifting among several. Lincoln in the Bardo was an exception, because I couldn't put it down, reading it in a single afternoon ... Saunders is a satirist and a masterful comic writer, but he is up to something deeper as well. Lincoln in the Bardo is a virtuoso show of surrealism, but it also lets us, along with its ghosts, feel what is in the heart of a father who has lost his boy — and who must face the responsibility of sending countless other boys to battle. It is, finally, a human story, no matter which side of the veil those humans are on.
Truevine: Two Brothers a Kidnapping and a Mother's QuestBeth Macy
PositiveThe Tampa Bay TimesMacy puts their story into its larger historical context, giving the reader an understanding of the virulent, often violent racism of the Jim Crow era, which affected the Muse family deeply. She also provides a fascinating history of the circus ... Macy also offers an understanding of people like the Muse brothers that goes beyond our contemporary tendency to dismiss their plight as a relic of the past.
Krazy: George Herriman a Life in Black and WhiteMichael Tisserand
RaveThe Tampa Bay Times...[an] engaging, revealing biography ... 72 years after his death Herriman and Krazy Kat are a footnote in our popular culture. Tisserand's book just might change that by bringing back into the conversation not only Herriman's remarkable artistic creation but his extraordinary, very American life story ... As befits its subject, Krazy is a gorgeously designed book. It incorporates not only dozens of Herriman's cartoons (Krazy Kat and many others) but elements in page design and numbering that reflect his style ... Whether you're a longtime Krazy Kat fan, as I am, or a new acquaintance, this biography will enrich your knowledge of the Kat and its creator.
Sunshine StateSarah Gerard
PositiveThe Tampa Bay TimesSunshine State, her new collection of essays, is animated by the awareness of a native who knows Florida, for better and for worse, and wants to get at the truths inside the cons ... Florida is often played for laughs in literature, but Gerard knows it too well to do anything that simple. The shadows bring depth to Sunshine State.
Anything is PossibleElizabeth Strout
RaveThe Tampa Bay Times...[a] richly resonant new book ... Having read My Name Is Lucy Barton will certainly enrich your understanding of this book, but it's not necessary — these stories stand on their own ... Shame is a nearly universal motive in Anything Is Possible, which addresses class in a way that's rare in American fiction.
Since We FellDennis Lehane
RaveThe Tampa Bay Times[There is] an opener worthy of Raymond Chandler or James Cain, and the rest of this novel — a sleek thriller that, despite its turbocharged pace, explores the nature of love and evil — is just as gripping ... Since We Fell feels distinctly cinematic. Its dialogue is crisp and often darkly funny, its characters vividly drawn, its plot a tightening wire of well-crafted suspense ... Suffice it to say that anyone who has read Mystic River or Shutter Island knows that questions of identity, memory and reality have long been Lehane's raw material — and that, along with being one of the best crime fiction writers in the business, he's also an adept, insightful chronicler of romance.
A Visit from the Goon SquadJennifer Egan
RaveTampa Bay TimesWhat an exhilarating, aching, mind-blowing dance to the music of time this book is. Jennifer Egan's A Visit From the Goon Squad mashes up experimental technique with rock-solid realism to create a book that is at once a joyful blast of youth and an unsettling evocation of that universal phenomenon of middle age: Wait a minute, how the hell did we get old?