PositiveThe Minneapolis Star Tribune[The Doll-Master's] six stories are especially bone-chilling because they contain no element of the supernatural. All could have happened in your city or town ... At the heart of each story is a predator-prey relationship, and what makes them so terrifying is that most of us can easily picture ourselves as the prey, at least at some time during our lives. If you're feeling vulnerable, this is not the book for you. Or, perhaps it is — a warning not to trust or give too much when you're not sure of The Other's motives.
Napoleon's Last IslandThomas Keneally
MixedThe Minneapolis Star TribuneKeneally creates an intricate, intense world driven by power plays, culture clashes, secrets and deceptions. Napoleon, whom Keneally manages to make both appealing and repulsive, plays people like chess pieces, and the Balcombes' devotion to him is ultimately their ruination ... Betsy's passage from child to woman, which occurs during a shocker of a scene, is jaw-dropping and extremely affecting. But it's hard to wade through the labyrinth of endless, seemingly pointless mini-scenes and navigate the scores of characters to follow the story's main thread. One grows bored even as one admires Keneally's mastery of his subject and sentences. This is a book you get lost in, but not in the hoped-for way.
The Lonely CityOlivia Laing
MixedMinneapolis Star TribuneYet, she says, there is beauty and meaning to be found in [loneliness]. On an artistic level, that’s a fetching argument. But on a psychological one, it is not. The lonely people in this book, including Laing, are damaged and struggling. Thus does her courageous attempt to celebrate loneliness fall short. But there is bravery in helping us recognize and ease it, in ourselves and others.
PanMinneapolis Star TribuneWere this the work of a lesser talent than Allende, now 73, it would be a charming romance. But it’s hard to give up the belief that she is capable of more complex, subtle stories of the heart, which she undeniably knows very well.
Welcome to the Goddamn Ice Cube: Chasing Fear and Finding Home in the Great White NorthBlair Braverman
PositiveThe Minneapolis Star Tribune...[a] nuanced, witty, wise, eccentric story ... In some ways, this book is the story of Arild as much as it is of Braverman. He’s the unlikeliest of heroes, a puttering, low-key, mild-mannered, married man old enough to be Braverman’s father. He offers her shelter, safety, humor and kindness, becoming a platonic father figure, someone she can completely trust when she most needs to trust someone ... Braverman is a lyrical, understated writer, but her story’s pacing is often confusing, as she moves back and forth in time, and some of her anecdotes veer off into nowhere, with no point. Still, this unusual memoir will resonate with anyone who has ever chased a dream through a thicket of difficulty.
The GuineveresSarah Domet
RaveThe Minneapolis Star TribuneIt's a bizarre plot that becomes a beautiful, sad, engaging story in the hands of American author Sarah Domet, one that gracefully jumps from the girls' present lives to their pasts to their futures, not necessarily in that order. This, her very first novel, belongs in the ranks of the best books of 2016.
No One Is Coming to Save UsStephanie Powell Watts
PositiveThe Minneapolis Star TribuneWatts’ novel, although far from perfect, would stand on its own even without that [Gatsby] inspiration, but knowing what she’s doing lends extra depth to some of her story’s more startling plot twists. It’s a brilliant, timely idea — demonstrating that a quintessentially American classic is just as effective with a largely black cast ... The premise and plot are so clever that one forgives the novel’s main flaw — the sort of loosey-goosey writing one often sees in works by young writers. Watts’ characters’ dialogue is quite well done — so much so that we blanch with irritation at the paragraph or two of psychological explanation that seems to follow almost every conversation ... [Watts] has done something marvelous here, demonstrating that the truths illuminated in a classic American novel are just as powerful for black Americans.
The LacunaBarbara Kingsolver
RaveThe Minneapolis Star TribuneIn this sprawling story, Kingsolver does what she does best – craft characters whose fates are shaped by culture and era – better than she's done before … Kingsolver does an admirable job of turning Rivera, Kahlo and Trotsky into fictional characters you can believe in, thus bypassing the downfall of many historical novels … Kingsolver shows how the McCarthy era was a toxic time in history without saying as much, simply by showing how those who embraced the hysteria, from the press to longtime neighbors, ruin the life of one man by twisting his words and misinterpreting his dreams. The parallels to modern America, where untruths, nonsense and trivia often serve as our culture's bread and butter, are painfully obvious.
Mattaponi QueenBelle Boggs
RaveThe Minneapolis Star TribuneBelle Boggs grew up in Virginia's Tidewater region, in a rural area near the Mattaponi River inhabited by hardscrabble whites, blacks and American Indians. Her respect for that land and its people, as well as a profound understanding of what's unique and what's universal about them, shine through in Mattaponi Queen, her debut collection of linked short stories... The quality and power of this young writer's imagination and writing are such that even if you've never been to that area, never plan to go, don't know, don't even care, where it is, you can't help but be snared good by these stories and characters ... That's Boggs' gift, for infusing mundane moments with magic. It's what the finest fiction does for us, helps us see what we might otherwise not. Belle Boggs' arrival is a gift to those who read looking for just such insight.
Flight BehaviorBarbara Kingsolver
RaveThe Minneapolis Star TribuneDellarobia's discovery launches one heck of a good story full of colorful yet subtle characters. The town's chief pastor, a blessedly likable fellow named Bobby Ogle, declares the insects' visit a divine miracle. An enigmatic entomologist, Ovid Byron, arrives from distant parts to pitch a trailer laboratory in Dellarobia and Cub's back yard, explaining that the monarchs once migrated to Mexico, but have been confused by dire weather there and could be near extinction if the Appalachian winter lingers. Others, including Dellarobia's in-laws, see dollar signs … So captivating is this grand, suspenseful plot and the many subplots rising and falling beneath it that it takes some time before we realize what this story is really about – climate change. Kingsolver's social conscience has fueled all of her novels, but in this one, the issue plays second fiddle to the story, and frankly, that makes for a better book.
My Absolute DarlingGabriel Tallent
RaveThe Minneapolis Star Tribune...[a] brutal, brilliant debut ... Tallent is an amazing writer. His prose is expansive and ornate, wild and bold. Much of it is spent describing the beautiful, dense, dangerous landscape and seascape that both imperil and shelter Turtle. Nature is as powerful a force as it is in a Jack London novel — mighty, beautiful and indifferent to human fortunes. Reading this book is like watching an electrical storm, both beautiful and dangerous. Works of fiction about child abuse, such as this book, Emma Donoghue’s Room, Hanya Yanagihara’s A Little Life and several works by Joyce Carol Oates, can be excruciatingly hard on a reader, even when they are admirable as literature. A story about that subject had better have something more to offer than hypnotic horror. My Absolute Darling is worth it, with fragile tendrils of beauty and hope tenaciously emerging here and there in the gothic web the story weaves. There’s a faint sense that Turtle will survive, despite profound damage. Her story is mesmerizing, though occasionally unbearable. May the aptly named Tallent tell us many more.
Sing Unburied SingJesmyn Ward
RaveThe Minneapolis Star TribuneAs long as America has novelists such as Jesmyn Ward, it will not lose its soul ... Sing, Unburied, Sing is nothing short of magnificent. Combining stark circumstances with magical realism, it illuminates America’s love-hate tug between the races in a way that we seem incapable of doing anywhere else but in occasional blessed works of art. But first, it tells a great story ... The book’s title could be read two ways — as an ode to the haunting music of the undead, whose histories shape our own, or as an exhortation to those still living to stand tall and proud against every form of bondage ... This novel is her best yet. Her voice is calm, wise, powerful. Politics and outrage are wholly absent from Sing, and yet it beautifully illuminates the issues that wrack our nation through the story of one American family that we finally recognize as — us.