The House by the Lake: One House Five Families and a Hundred Years of German HistoryThomas Harding
RaveThe Minneapolis Star TribuneThe House by the Lake is an epic, fact-filled, multivoiced saga told with pace, verve and warmth, and rich in fascinating revelations ... through rigorous research, sleuth work and a range of interviews with key players he shows how one house stayed standing throughout a world war and the Cold War. He regales us with murder, espionage, de-Nazification trials and simple family drama, and at the end of his masterful tale we understand more about Germany’s difficult past and appreciate what makes a house a home.
Sons and Daughters of Ease and PlentyRamona Ausubel
PositiveThe Minneapolis Star TribuneIn her new book, Ausubel’s approach is straight storytelling that mines emotional truth without recourse to fabrication or the fantastic ... Ausubel alternates her drama, detailing in one chapter the next stage of the family unraveling in 1976, and in the next describing how the family formed in the late 1960s. Both time frames have their fair share of fresh, witty and skillfully imagined scenes, from young Edgar dodging Vietnam and ending up 'a misplaced toy soldier' in Alaska, to Fern going into labor and having her twins delivered by the two Swedish men who have come to assemble her desk ... One pivotal scene fails to convince — a dinner party that almost descends into a swingers’ evening — due to Edgar’s implausible behavior. Otherwise, Ausubel’s characters steer her bold and absorbing novel and keep us emotionally invested in their foibles, ideals and desires.
The Seven Good YearsEtgar Keret
PositiveThe Minneapolis Star TribuneThe book carries the subtitle 'a memoir,' although in actual fact it resembles a colorful assortment of brief episodes, anecdotes, ruminations and opinions ... In these more sober sections Keret remains as candid as ever, to the extent that some of his accounts start to feel like heart-on-sleeve revelations, even confessions. Occasionally what Keret tells us borders on the whimsical — an altercation with a taxi driver, the decision to grow a mustache — especially when it follows something as alarming as an anti-Semitic experience or as absurd as 3-year-old Lev's impending military service. But these are rare lapses on what is otherwise a brilliant and bizarre trip through the years with one of the most original writers at work today.
Gold Fame CitrusClaire Vaye Watkins
MixedThe Minneapolis Star TribuneWatkins has crafted a powerful, innovative and hallucinatory novel from a bleak yet all-too-real vision. Her landscapes feel primordial and postapocalyptic. Each is brilliantly mapped ... The novel bursts with grand ideas and original scenarios. However, it becomes distinctly uninvolving every time Watkins deviates from Ray and Luz to give case studies of secondary characters, or to meditate upon matters geological, historical and ecological. More critically, it is during these interludes that Watkins’ fluid prose turns into an unregulated torrent.
H is for HawkHelen Macdonald
RaveThe Minneapolis Star TribuneWhite’s personal tragedies prove sobering and Macdonald’s descriptions of Mabel swooping in on furry or feathered victims are not for the squeamish. What saves the day is her sumptuously poetic prose ... Running through the whole proceedings like a fine red thread is the impact of a father’s death — the heartache Macdonald feels among family congregated at his memorial service or while standing alone in a field watching her hawk flying free. There is deft interplay between agony and ecstasy, elegy and rebirth, wildness and domesticity, alongside subtle reminders about the cruelty of nature and our necessary faith in humanity.
All Tomorrow's PartiesRob Spillman
PositiveThe Minneapolis Star TribuneEach chapter comes with an epigraph from a famous writer or musician and a 'soundtrack' that ranges from Beethoven to the Sex Pistols. Neither adds anything to what we go on to read, but they do underscore Spillman’s absolute commitment to art — creating it, being influenced by it, living for it. Sometimes he goes on about it too much, but in the main his memoir says exactly the right things in the most engaging way.
The Year of the RunawaysSunjeev Sahota
RaveThe Minneapolis Star TribuneThere is a moment in The Year of the Runaways when a character declares that 'the best Indian families were the ones big enough to get lost in.' At almost 500 pages, Sahota's multi-stranded novel about young illegal Indian immigrants carving out a new life for themselves in the north of England is also big enough to get lost in. We do so, and emerge blinking and emotionally drained from a unique reading experience.
Cities I've Never Lived InSara Majka
RaveThe Minneapolis Star TribuneAll [these stories] provide spellbinding portraits of people in a state of flux or going nowhere fast, and they show Majka as a writer attuned to the depths and complexities of human emotion.
Lingo: Around Europe in Sixty LanguagesGaston Dorren
RaveMinneapolis Star TribuneIn keeping with a book about language, communication and the art of being understood, let’s not mince words and instead come straight to the point: Lingo: Around Europe in Sixty Languages
The BlizzardVladimir Sorokin, Trans. Jamey Gambrell
RaveMinneapolis Star TribuneThe colorful language, whether out-loud repartee or inner thoughts, together with several vibrant daydreams and psychedelic hallucinations, provide a neat contrast to the all-engulfing whiteness of the blizzard. That intensifying blizzard becomes a perfect metaphor, for the deeper we get into the novel, the more lost we are. But Sorokin’s storytelling is so mesmeric and so richly inventive that being snow-blinded is half the fun.
The Double Life of LilianeLily Tuck
PositiveThe MillionsTuck enlivens her narrative by regularly breaking off and changing tack, using tangents, flashbacks, fast-forwards, and stories within stories to give us a fuller, more complex but also more interesting picture.
Fates and FuriesLauren Groff
PositiveMinneapolis Star TribuneGroff’s novel comes furnished with trapdoors and distorting mirrors, but it isn’t all trickery. Far more striking is her lyrical prose. Every page contains at least one rich metaphor or dazzlingly original image...Some of this is laid on too thick, clogging paragraphs and stymieing narrative development. Also, Groff’s characters’ words enchant but don’t always convince. However, the bulk of the time Groff gets the balance just right and produces stunning results.
One Out of TwoDaniel Sada
PositiveMinneapolis Star TribuneOne Out of Two comes in at under 100 pages and, as such, feels more like a breezy, witty novella than a gutsy, ideas-rich novel. But thanks to Sada’s controlled artistry and Katherine Silver’s sparkling translation, it manages to enchant and amuse.
The Story of My TeethValeria Luiselli
PositiveThe Minneapolis Star TribuneOn occasion, the book feels like a patchwork of mismatching material — a collage of quotes, photos and mad antics. For the most part, though, Luiselli thrills with her kaleidoscopic mix of narrative styles, metafictional riffs and Borgesian fantasy, and delivers a comic 'dental autobiography' and a shrewd meditation on the worth of art and literature.
Katherine CarlyleRupert Thomson
RaveMinneapolis Star TribuneThis is a stunning, thought-provoking novel about a young woman out to prove that she is not 'a freak, an experiment' but vibrant and alive. We should read it and then read everything else by this very fine writer.
Thirteen Ways of LookingColum McCann
RaveMinneapolis Star TribuneThese remarkable tales expertly articulate either conflicting feelings...or ungovernable feelings...Throughout, McCann makes us share his characters’ pain and their eventual cathartic release, and he helps us to understand and appreciate that there is 'A lot of volume in this life. Echoes too.'
ReputationsJuan Gabriel Vásquez
RaveThe Minneapolis Star Tribune...while it may be his shortest, it doesn’t stint on incident, revelation or suspense. Mallarino is a fully-fleshed creation: an artist who in pursuit of the truth has assiduously humiliated and incurred the wrath of ruthless generals and drug barons, but who has also damaged weaker and more vulnerable personages ... reinforces the fact that Vásquez’s fiction is closer to that of Mario Vargas Llosa. With more smart and provocative novels like this one, he could well become his natural heir.
We Show What We Have LearnedClare Beams
RaveThe Minneapolis Star TribuneClare Beams’ voice rings true throughout her masterful first collection ... Cannily, she covers more than one base, appealing to readers who prefer disjointed, otherworldly scenarios and those who like their fiction grounded in recognizable reality. She also ensures that every situation or flourish, fantastic or otherwise, is infused with or informed by credible human instincts and emotion ... Beams’ collection skillfully and alluringly navigates the border between the familiar and the unexpected, and beguiles and unsettles in equal measure.
The Pigeon Tunnel: Stories from My LifeJohn le Carré
PositiveThe Minneapolis StarOnce again, Le Carré remains tight-lipped about key details of his intelligence work, but he offsets this reticence by offering fascinating insight into the people and places that have informed his writing ... No other story in The Pigeon Tunnel is as substantial [as the chapter on his father], but practically all contain some wry anecdote, deft character study or nugget-like revelation.
Christmas DaysJeanette Winterson
RaveThe Minneapolis Star TribuneThroughout it, she alerts us to the true meaning and message of Christmas — subtly, not by way of strident preaching or saccharine storytelling ... Winterson’s trove of 12 stories and 12 feasts feels like a literary advent calendar, a series of surprise treats to savor slowly. It is a joyous collection, one we should read this Christmas, and in Christmases to come.
All That Man IsDavid Szalay
RaveThe Minneapolis StarWhat does unite Szalay’s segments, however, is his rigorous scrutiny of masculinity and consistently arresting prose ... Szalay shows he is skilled at depicting human transactions — get-rich schemes, sexual relationships — and exposing vanity, stupidity and ruthless self-interest ... Szalay does so much and so well that we come to view his snapshots of lives as brilliant, captivating dramas.
The MarchesRory Stewart
RaveThe Minneapolis StarOnce again, Stewart proves to be a captivating tour guide. As he clocks up miles, he covers a range of topics, from Highland dancing to Border ballads, his childhood in Malaysia to his days in Parliament (or 'the nuthouse'). He brings archaic languages and traditions vividly alive, wrestles with nationalism and nationhood and, in a poignant closing section, traces his father’s war years and last days ... Beautiful, evocative and wise, The Marches highlights new truths about old countries and the unbreakable bond between a father and son.
The Lesser BohemiansEimear McBride
RaveThe Minneapolis Star TribuneHappily, her stunning second novel shows that [McBride] has not only acquired fresh surfaces to work on, she has also developed exciting new brush strokes ... McBride’s prose sings, whether describing the erotic ('I halfly dress'), or the alcoholic ('enslithered by pints,' 'drinks and draggeldy home') ... The Lesser Bohemians recalls Samuel Beckett and Henry Miller. Ultimately, though, it is a fiercely original work, an extraordinary novel crafted by a fearless modern writer.
A Gambler's AnatomyJonathan Lethem
RaveThe Minneapolis Star Tribune...the zaniness in Lethem’s new novel is tangential rather than central, highlighting episodes, not imbuing the whole proceedings ... Such outlandishness can be extremely funny. Lethem’s main section in Berkeley, the most successful part of the novel, is an effortless blend of comic hijinks and madcap tragedy ... Lethem ensures that the biggest laughs come from Bruno’s brash benefactor Keith Stolarsky and dazzles with a number of set pieces ... a punchy, stylish, relentlessly entertaining novel which, during quieter moments, asks us to consider whether we make our own luck and how best to deal with what life throws at us.
The HorsemanTim Pears
RaveThe Minneapolis Star Tribune...substantial enough to be a stand-alone novel and a vital first installment. Pears steadily and satisfyingly branches out, unfurling his canvas and introducing characters we want to see more of, plus a raft of unresolved issues and emotions ... As with Thomas Hardy’s pastoral pockets of Wessex, Pears delineates a specific topography, conveys a rough-and-smooth mode of living and gives voice to an all-important manner of speaking. His lucid prose is peppered with colorful regional dialect ... The lay of Pears’ land is the other main delight of this beautiful and engaging novel. Bring on the second act.
RaveThe Minneapolis Star TribuneAutumn is another breathless feat. It might sound unseasonal, as if inhabiting another time, but in actual fact it engages acutely and beautifully with topical concerns and perennial issues ... Autumn feels less like a standard novel and more like an intricate collage of ideas and impressions. Smith's most substantial components speak volumes with poetic intensity and lucidity about an enduring companionship, a fractured Great Britain, the tragedy of aging and the cyclical nature of time ... If this brilliantly inventive and ruminative book is representative of what is to come, then we should welcome Smith's winter chill whatever the season.
PositiveThe Minneapolis Star TribuneReaders expecting her tales to be as flat and featureless as her backdrop will be pleasantly surprised, then impressed. These original and sure-footed stories remap bland terrain and reconfigure ordinary lives, revealing mystical goings-on, unpredictable outcomes and unsettling truths ... While strange happenings routinely disorient us, we are always alert to Johnson's more striking descriptions ... Only Johnson's final three tales, which make up a section of their own, disappoint...Otherwise, Fen is a potent, sometimes riotous blend of convention and invention.
Those Who Leave and Those Who StayElena Ferrante
PositiveThe Minneapolis Star TribuneThose Who Leave and Those Who Stay covers a great swath of social and personal history and, as a result, features many messy lives that twine around and collide into one another … The novel's driving force is Elena's candor, particularly in the scenes where she makes apparent her disillusionment in the roles of wife and mother and in the powerful finale … Ferrante's women end up as single-minded and as sexually liberated as D.H. Lawrence's women in love. The more she opens their hearts and minds to us, the more her novel grips and moves us in equal measure.
A Girl Is a Half-formed ThingEimear McBride
RaveThe Minneapolis Star TribuneThis is a novel that initially intimidates, but after we have adapted to McBride's rhythms, its creative and emotional power renders us awe-struck … Our narrator grows up acclimatizing to the ‘empty spaces where fathers should be’ and finds those gaps sporadically filled by a fearsome grandfather who wants to discipline her and a loathsome uncle who sexually assaults her … McBride forces us to look on voyeuristically as her heroine, ‘full with marks of going wrong,’ spins out of control. It is a harsh and unsettling experience, intensified by the author's jerky, fragmented and syncopated prose.
A SeparationKatie Kitamura
RaveThe Minneapolis Star TribuneA Separation is a different kind of beast. Structurally, it is a book of two halves — the queasy run-up to a tragedy, and the fraught aftermath. Both sections are stylistically ambitious and psychologically rich, as Kitamura eschews pace and puzzles for measured and rigorous inquiry into human motivations and desires ... A Separation is a work of great intensity and originality. Kitamura’s Greek setting is off the tourist track, all empty hotels, vandalized churches and wildfire-ravaged landscape. There are deft meditations on the art of translation and the ritual of mourning, and sharp insight into what binds and divides lovers. All is conveyed in strangely long yet lilting sentences. This is the book that elevates Kitamura to a different league.
Homesick For Another WorldOttessa Moshfegh
RaveThe Minneapolis Star Tribune...psychologically astute, astringently funny and wonderfully entertaining ... she digs deep into the human psyche to explore oddities, frailties, warped agendas and reckless desires. A discernible cruel streak runs wild, but so, too, does a toxic trail of black humor ... One male narrator’s voice doesn’t ring true, and one broken life is relayed as random acts of self-destruction. Otherwise, Moshfegh’s singular stories are unified by bold ideas, intoxicating detail and perfectly calibrated humor and pathos.
The Reason You're AliveMatthew Quick
RaveThe Minneapolis Star Tribune...an entirely original work, at once poignant and uproarious, thanks in no small part to the uncensored opinions and audacious exploits of its compelling protagonist ... This is a novel that thrums with energy, and the source of it is its foul-mouthed, big-hearted, larger-than-life narrator. Granger, a 'dangerous right-wing grandpa,' is an unstoppable force whose presence fills each page and dominates every scene ... When Granger veers close to caricature, Quick tones down his antihero’s brashness and reveals a tender side — doting on his granddaughter, looking after his troubled wife, mourning those who have 'bought the bullet.' The end result is a vibrant and compassionate tale of a complex man finding his way in a divided America.
Golden HillFrancis Spufford
RaveThe Minneapolis Star Tribune...[a] magnificent debut ... Its 18th-century setting and protagonist’s picaresque exploits bring to mind the lavish yet elemental fiction of Fielding and Tobias Smollett. But like Hilary Mantel’s historical novels, Spufford’s period drama is also imbued with modern sensibilities — polished prose, well-paced storytelling, unabashed intimacy and ingenious twists and turns. The combination works wonders ... Instead of a grand plot, Spufford serves up a series of well furnished, finely realized scenes in which Smith either makes his mark or burns his bridges ... Golden Hill is a stunning evocation of a town before it boomed into a metropolis.
The Essex SerpentSarah Perry
RaveThe Minneapolis Star Tribune...a novel that triumphs on every level, whether in its rich, evocative prose or its authentic Victorian detail, its credible, multifaceted characters or its high-stakes drama ... The Essex Serpent mines the sensation novels of Wilkie Collins, the antiquarian ghost stories of M.R. James and the social woes that run deep in Dickens’ later works. The book’s focal point, though, is Perry’s network of relationships, not least the dynamic interplay between polar opposites Cora and William.
A Legacy of SpiesJohn Le Carré
RaveThe Minneapolis Star Tribune...an intricately plotted and richly satisfying new novel ... A Legacy of Spies sees Le Carré doing what he does best: blending cloak-and-dagger intrigue, psychological insight, murky expedience and moral complexity to produce first-rate fiction ... skillfully straddles past and present: It reads like a polished period piece within a modern framework. Peter’s interrogators update his antiquated spy-speak — and yet by falling back on old tradecraft tricks, Peter manages to stay one step ahead. For more than 50 years, Le Carré has also stayed ahead. In this, his 24th novel, there is no trace of waning power, only bold new creativity.
Little Fires EverywhereCeleste Ng
PositiveThe Minneapolis Star TribuneAs with Ng’s much loved and lauded 2014 debut, Everything I Never Told You, this is a novel about class and race, privilege and prejudice, and unraveling family ties. For a while Ng treads water with mildly involving teen antics and suburban strife. However, after characters pick sides, reveal their true colors and clash, we become in thrall to a multilayered, tightly focused and expertly plotted narrative ... In places, Ng overdoes her fire-and-flames imagery. This niggle aside, she has crafted a deeply impressive novel with the power to provoke and entrance.
Home FireKamila Shamsie
PositiveThe Minneapolis Star Tribune...an absorbing and incisive study of race and roots, attachment and affiliation — to a cause, a country, a person, a family — which encompasses five fascinatingly divergent viewpoints. After a stuttering start that relies too heavily on coincidence (that fateful, catalytic meeting), Home Fire quickly ignites and roars into life ... The novel is marred in places by some unconvincing dialogue. Fortunately, though, Shamsie’s heavy-hitting drama and piercing insight provide more than adequate compensation ... a timely and incendiary read about the differences that divide and break us and the shared strengths that keep us together.