Heller McAlpin

Heller McAlpin is a New York-based critic who reviews books regularly for NPR.org, The Los Angeles Times, The Washington Post, The Christian Science Monitor, The San Francisco Chronicle and other publications.

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Book Reviews
5:03 am
Tue August 14, 2012

Screwball Satire With A Warm Heart In 'Bernadette'

What happens when a talented, Type A, hyperachieving woman married to an even more successful man quits working? In former television writer Maria Semple's experience — which she's channeled into her first two novels — the mood swings, loss of bearings, and toxic dissatisfaction aren't pretty, though she plays them for laughs.

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Critics' Lists: Summer 2012
5:03 am
Tue July 17, 2012

Laughing Matters: Five Funny Books With Substance

Harriet Russell

Originally published on Tue July 17, 2012 6:56 am

It's great to laugh, but so much of what is labeled "entertainment" is, well, toothless. I'm a carnivore where my humor is concerned — I want it to have meat and bite. The following books will give you plenty to chew on if you like a bit of nourishment along with your kicks.

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Book Reviews
5:03 am
Thu July 5, 2012

Dethroning The 'Drama Queen Of The Mind'

Originally published on Thu July 5, 2012 11:26 am

Here's one less thing for Daniel Smith to worry about: He sure can write. In Monkey Mind, a memoir of his lifelong struggles with anxiety, he defangs the experience with a winning combination of humor and understanding.

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Book Reviews
5:03 am
Tue July 3, 2012

'Gold' Offers A Winning Take On Cycling

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You're going to be hearing a lot about Chris Cleave's gold-medal performance in his first novel since his mega-best-seller, Little Bee. That's because Gold is a heart-pounding, winning tearjerker about three elite cyclists fiercely competing through three successive Olympics — including, most topically, the one about to take place in London this summer. If Olympic medals were awarded for dramatic stories about what drives athletes to compete and succeed, Cleave would easily ascend the podium.

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Book Reviews
5:03 am
Wed June 13, 2012

'Red House': A Kaleidoscope Of Family Dysfunction

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Originally published on Wed June 13, 2012 6:03 am

You can get to know people awfully well by spending a week with them on vacation. In The Red House, Mark Haddon brings together two long-estranged siblings and their disjointed families for a shared holiday at a rented house on the Welsh border six weeks after their mother's funeral. Seven days comes to feel like an eternity — for his characters and his readers.

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Book Reviews
5:03 am
Wed May 16, 2012

'The Chemistry Of Tears' And The Art Of Healing

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Originally published on Wed May 16, 2012 3:28 pm

Peter Carey's dazzling new novel, The Chemistry of Tears, encompasses heartbreak, the comfort of absorbing work, the transformative power of beauty and the soul of an old machine. If you've never read the Australian-born, two-time Booker Prize–winning author of Oscar and Lucinda and True History of the Kelly Gang — or, most recently, Parrot and Olivier in America — his 12th novel is a terrific introduction to his work.

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Book Reviews
5:03 am
Tue May 15, 2012

'Home': Toni Morrison's Taut, Triumphant New Novel

Timothy Greenfield-Sanders Courtesy Knopf

Originally published on Tue May 15, 2012 7:24 am

There are topics you may think you've had enough of — racism, slavery, anti-Semitism, the Holocaust — but then you read a book like Toni Morrison's new novel and realize, as Samuel Beckett put it, "All has not been said and never will be." Home is gorgeous and intense, brutal yet heartwarming — and could only have been written by the author of Beloved and Sula. Deceptively slight, it is like a slingshot that wields the impact of a missile.

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Book Reviews
5:03 am
Thu May 3, 2012

'Newlyweds': A Big, Fat Cross-Cultural Marriage

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Originally published on Tue May 8, 2012 3:27 pm

American literature is rich with books that illuminate our culture from an immigrant's fresh perspective. The most powerful tend to be written by the newcomers themselves, or their offspring, but there are exceptions. Nell Freudenberger's latest novel, The Newlyweds, is about a young Bangladeshi woman determined to find a better life by marrying an American she meets on a dating website. Coming from a native New Yorker, it's an act of sustained, cross-cultural ventriloquism and empathy.

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Book Reviews
5:03 am
Tue May 1, 2012

'Mother' Dearest: Alison Bechdel's Graphic Memoir

It's a lot easier to write about a dead parent than a living one. Alison Bechdel's new "comic drama," Are You My Mother?, makes this abundantly clear. Fun Home, her amazing 2006 graphic memoir, was about her difficult, closeted gay father, who died shortly after she came out as a lesbian in college. This fascinating but demanding followup volume explores her uneasy relationship with her emotionally distant mother — who is not only alive but openly critical of Bechdel's work.

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Book Reviews
5:03 am
Tue April 24, 2012

'Lots Of Candles': Growing Older Ecstatically

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Originally published on Tue April 24, 2012 12:09 pm

Before mommy blogs and the now ubiquitous parenting columns about the life-work balance, there was "Life in the Thirties," Anna Quindlen's must-read New York Times column weighing in on everything from baby gear and baby sitters to flannel nightgowns and abortion. When Quindlen left newspaper journalism (and her Pulitzer Prize-winning "Public and Private" op-ed column, which succeeded "Life in the Thirties") to become a full-time novelist in 1995, many of her readers felt as if a close friend had suddenly stopped calling.

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Book Reviews
5:00 am
Wed April 4, 2012

'The Beginner's Goodbye': A Grief Observed

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Anne Tyler is the patron saint of misfits. In novel after novel, this wry, warmhearted writer introduces us to awkward, shy, often eccentric or mismatched people, mostly residents of Baltimore. Embarking on an Anne Tyler novel is like heading off on vacation to a favorite destination: You're filled with anticipation of pleasure, even though you know the place is likely to have changed since your last visit.

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Book Reviews
3:52 pm
Wed February 22, 2012

What Happened In 'Watergate': An Alternate Take

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Nearly 40 years after the Watergate scandal, Watergate, Thomas Mallon's latest historical novel, captures both the metastasizing dishonesty and the ludicrousness of this great American tragedy of political ambition run amok.

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