Critical Notes

Awards and honors! Reviews galore! A little rock and roll. And Rudolph!

By Laurie Hertzel

During this darkest time of the year, we celebrate the light cast by wise reviews of good books. But first, some good news:

Hearty congratulations to NBCC board member Tess Taylor, whose book, “Work & Days,” was selected by the New York Times as one of the best books of poetry of the year. Woot!

And board member Gregg Barrios' play “7-Card Stud” will premiere in February at the Overtime Theater in San Antonio, Texas. Again, Woot!!

Truthdig contributor Tim Riley won first place at the National Arts & Entertainment Journalism Awards sponsored by the Los Angeles Press Club for his review of author Peter Guralnick’s “Sam Phillips: The Man Who Invented Rock ‘n’ Roll,” Once more, woot!!!

And a new biography by Lloyd Sachs, “T Bone Burnett: A Life in Pursuit,” has been published by the University of Texas Press.

“O wonderful, wonderful, and most wonderful wonderful! And yet again wonderful, and after that, out of all hooping.”

And now, on to the reviews and interviews.

This week's Lit Hub column by board member Jane Ciabattari focuses on the winner of the Center for Fiction's First Novel Award, Dava Sobel's new book, Sarah' Lohman's Eight Flavors and more.

NBCC board member Kerri Arsenault talks to Colin Robinson at OR Books for her column “Interview with a Gatekeeper” for Lithub.

Board member Laurie Hertzel reviewed Astrid Lindgren's “War Diaries 1939-1945” for the Minneapolis Star Tribune. She also wrote about books to look forward to in 2017.

NBCC Board member and past Balakian winner Katherine A. Powers settles on some of her favorite books of 2016 in the Barnes & Noble Review.

Sara Elaine F. Tankard reviewed “Borders,” by Roy Jacobson, in the January 2017 issue of World Literature Today. She also reviewed  Ann McCutchan's memoir “Where's the Moon?” for The Woven Tale Press.

Rayyan Al-Shawaf reviewed “Confronting Political Islam: Six Lessons from the West's Past,” by John M. Owen IV, for the Los Angeles Review of Books. Owen's book was published in 2014 and is newly released in paperback.

Amy Brady reviewed “The Long Room” by Francesca Kay for the Dallas Morning News, while over at Chicago Review of Books she asked 13 authors to each recommend one book to give this holiday season.

Diane Scharper's review of “The Enthusiast” by Jon Sweeney was published in the November 18, 2016 issue of the National Catholic Reporter.

Kathleen Collins' ahort story collection, “Whatever Happened to Interracial Love”, was reviewed by Joseph Peschel in the Raleigh (N.C.) News & Observer.

Philip Belcher writes on Claudia Emerson in “Beyond Autobiography,” for Shenandoah.

Clifford Garstang reviews “Stony River” by Tricia Dower in his blog, Best New Fiction.

For The Barnes & Noble Review, Heller McAlpin extols Alex Beam's “The Feud” as a “spellbinding — and sobering — cautionary tale.” And for Christian Science Monitor, she recommends “Dorie's Cookies” to chase away worries.

Joseph A. Esposito reviews “Bedlam's Door: True Tales of Madness and Hope,” by Mark Rubinstein in the Washington Independent Review of Books.

Matthew Price reviews “Victoria the Queen,” by Julia Baird for Newsday.

For the Washington Post, Mike Lindgren reviews “Set the Boy Free,” a memoir by Smiths' guitarist Johnny Marr; and “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer: An American Hero,” by Ronald D. Lankford Jr.; and 

For the Kansas City Star, Denise Low reviews Kevin Young’s “Blue Laws: Selected and Uncollected Poems 1995-2015.” 

Your reviews seed this roundup. Please send items–including news about your new publications and recent honors–to Please include title and author of book reviewed, name of publication, and a link. Make sure to send links that do not require a subscription or a user name and password.

Laurie Hertzel is the senior editor for books at the Minneapolis Star Tribune and a member of the NBCC board.