Independent Booksellers List
2014
The Bohemians : Mark Twain and the San Francisco writers who reinvented American literature
Book Jacket   Ben Tarnoff
Kirkus Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission. Four ambitious writers star in this literary history. Journalist Tarnoff (A Counterfeiter's Paradise: The Wicked Lives and Surprising Adventures of Three Early American Moneymakers, 2011) tells a lively story of mid-19th-century San Francisco, focused on champagne-swilling Mark Twain, foppish Bret Harte, poet and essayist Charles Warren Stoddard, and little-remembered poet Ina Coolbrith. Despite the book's hyperbolic subtitle, Tarnoff does not make a case for these writers' revolutionary impact on American literature; nor, in fact, that Stoddard and Coolbrith had any impact at all. In the 1860s, Harte was well-known for humorous short stories about California life, but by 1871, when he came East for a speaking tour, his career was over. "It was the corpse of that Bret Harte that swept in splendor across the continent," Mark Twain announced. Although Twain had by then reconciled with his one-time rival, he did not mourn Harte's literary downfall. His star was rising, partly due to his recognition by William Dean Howells, the influential editor of the Atlantic Monthly; partly due to his status as a brilliant performer who attracted huge audiences to his one-man shows; partly due to the fact that readers east of the Mississippi were enthralled by fiction set on the raunchy frontier. Exuberant stories gave the young nation new myths, establishing the West as "a place of paradox and incongruity, where conventional rules of sentiment and syntax broke down, and humor overlaid everything." Twain proved to be a master of this new genre. In such works as Innocents Abroad, a best-seller in 1869, Twain's characters were ordinary middle Americans, honest, open and free of an old-world veneer of sophistication: "They belonged to a country of the future: an innovative, economically ascendant nation with a style all its own." It may be, as Tarnoff asserts, that these writers spent the best years of their lives in California, but only Twain, living in New York and Connecticut, left a lasting literary legacy.]] Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.
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2014
Bar tartine : cooking with fermented, cured, pickled, and sprouted flavors.
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2014
Poetry deal.
 
  Book Jacket
2014
President Taft is stuck in the bath
 Mac Barnett ; illustrated by Chris Van Dusen
Horn Book (c) Copyright The Horn Book, Inc., a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted. 9780763663179 The apocryphal story referred to in the title is what most people know about Taft. Whether or not it's based in fact, it's a good subject for a picture book, and Van Dusen's gouache cartoons suit the escalating silliness detailing progressively more absurd proposals of methods to dislodge the portly Chief Executive from the tub. A refreshing look at presidential indignity. (c) Copyright 2014. The Horn Book, Inc., a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
Kirkus Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission. Barnett spins a probably apocryphal but nonetheless hilarious incident into a Cabinet-level crisis. In a natural extension of his rotund cameo in Judith St. George and David Small's So You Want To Be President! (2000), the heaviest commander in chief finds himself immovably stuck in his (standard-sized) tub one morning. "Blast!" he fumes. "This could be bad." Forced to seek help, he calls on his vice president and the secretaries of state, agriculture, war and the restbut their advice ("Dynamite!" "A huge vat of butter") have obvious flaws. Will he be forced to resign? Like Small in the aforementioned Caldecott winner, Van Dusen goes for a humorous, rather than mean, caricature. He depicts the porky president as a corpulent, bare figure sporting artfully placed suds, plus a fierce glower and a bristling handlebar mustache over multiple chins. Eventually, the luxuriously appointed White House bathroom fills up with likewise caricatured officials. At the suggestion of the (petite) first lady, they pull together so effectively that they send their lardy leader rocketing out the window. Noting that when Taft denied having a bathtub custom made "[h]e was lying," Barnett closes with a summary of his own research topped by an actual photograph of the oversized tub with several men posing inside. The soapiest, splashiest frolic featuring a head of state since Audrey and Don Wood's King Bidgood's in the Bathtub (1985). (Picture book. 6-9)]] Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.
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2014
The fourteenth goldfish
Book Jacket   Jennifer L Holm
Horn Book (c) Copyright The Horn Book, Inc., a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted. 9780375870644 Ellie's science-obsessed grandfather finds a way to physically be thirteen again, and his grumpy seventy-six-year-old personality and the limitations of early adolescence make for a comical combination. With its richly entertaining premise, this novel is a breezy read, but it also manages to show off the potential of science and raise big questions about age and ethics. (c) Copyright 2015. The Horn Book, Inc., a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
Kirkus Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission. What would it be like if your grandfather turned up in your house as a 13-year-old boy?For sixth-grader Ellie, this leads to a recognition of the importance of the cycle of life and the discovery of her own passion for science. After her scientist grandfather finds a way to regain his youth, hes denied access to his lab and must come to live with Ellie and her mother. Although he looks young, his intellect and attitudes havent changed. He still tells Ellies mother what to wear and when to come home, and he loathes middle school even more than Ellie does. Theres plenty of opportunity for humor in this fish-out-of-water story and also a lesson on the perils as well as the pluses of scientific discovery. Divorced parents, a goth friend and a longed-for cellphone birthday present are among the familiar details setting this story firmly in the present day, like Holms Year Told Through Stuff series, rather than in the past, like her three Newbery Honorwinning historical novels. The author demonstrates understanding of and sympathy for the awkwardness of those middle school years. But she also gets in a plug for the excitement of science, following it up with an authors note and suggestions for further exploration, mostly on the Web.Appealing and thought-provoking, with an ending that suggests endless possibilities. (Science fiction. 10-14) Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.
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2014
I'll give you the sun
Book Jacket   by Jandy Nelson
Kirkus Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission. Twins Noah and Jude used to be NoahandJudeinseparable till betrayal and tragedy ripped them apart.Nelson tells her tale of grief and healing in separate storylines, one that takes place before their art-historian mother's fatal car accident and one that takes place after, allowing readers and twins to slowly understand all that's happened. An immensely talented painter, Noah is 13 1/2 in his thread, when Brian moves in next door to their coastal Northern California home. His intense attraction to Brian is first love at its most consuming. Jude is 16 in hers, observing a "boy boycott" since their mother's death two years earlier; she is also a sculpture student at the California School of the Artswhich, inexplicably, Noah did not get into. Haunted by both her mother and her grandmother, she turns to an eccentric sculptor for mentoring and meets his protg, a dangerously charismatic British college student. The novel is structurally brilliant, moving back and forth across timelines to reveal each teen's respective exhilaration and anguish but holding the ultimate revelations back until just the right time. Similarly, Nelson's prose scintillates: Noah's narration is dizzyingly visual, conjuring the surreal images that make up his "invisible museum"; Jude's is visceral, conveying her emotions with startling physicality. So successful are these elements that the overdetermined, even trite conclusion will probably strike readers as a minor bump in the road. Here's a narrative experience readers won't soon forget. (Fiction. 14 up) Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.
Horn Book (c) Copyright The Horn Book, Inc., a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted. 9780803734968 Jude (a girl) and Noah are fraternal twins; once very close, they now hardly speak to each other. The reasons for their estrangement gradually come to light over the course of the novel through the twins' alternating voices from different points in time (Noah at thirteen, bullied for being gay; and sixteen-year-old artist Jude). A compelling meditation on love, grief, sexuality, family, and fate. (c) Copyright 2015. The Horn Book, Inc., a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
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2013
An unnecessary woman
 Rabih Alameddine
Kirkus Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission. A 72-year-old Beiruti woman considers her life through literature in an intimate, melancholy and superb tour de force. Alameddine has a predilection for highly literary conceits in his novels: I, the Divine (2001) is constructed out of the discarded first chapters of its heroine's memoir, while his 2008 breakthrough, The Hakawati, nests stories within stories lush with Arab lore. This book has a similarly artificial-seeming setup: Aaliya is an aging woman who for decades has begun the year translating one of her favorite books into Arabic. (Her tastes run toward the intellectual titans of 20th-century international literature, including W.G. Sebald, Roberto Bolano, Joseph Roth, Vladimir Nabokov and Fernando Pessoa.) Though, until its climax, there's little action in the course of the day in which the novel is set, Aaliya is an engagingly headstrong protagonist, and the book is rich with her memories and observations. She's suffered through war, a bad marriage and the death of a close friend, but most exasperating for her are her pestering mother and half brothers, who've been lusting after Aaliya's apartment. As she walks through the city, she considers these fractures in her life, bolstering her fatalism against quotes from writers and the tragic histories of her beloved composers. Her relatively static existence is enlivened by her no-nonsense attitude, particularly when it comes to contemporary literature. ("Most of the books published these days consist of a series of whines followed by an epiphany.") And though Aaliya's skeptical of redemption narratives, Alameddine finds a way to give the novel a climax without feeling contrived. Aaliya is an intense critic of the human condition, but she never feels embittered, and Alameddine's storytelling is rich with a bookish humor that's accessible without being condescending. A gemlike and surprisingly lively study of an interior life.]] Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.
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2013
Men Explain Things To Me
 Rebecca Solnit Haymarket
Kirkus Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission. Acclaimed author and Harper's contributing editor Solnit (The Faraway Nearby, 2013, etc.) expounds on the way women are perceived in American culture and around the world.Despite years of feminism and such activist groups as Women Strike for Peace, much of the female population in the world is often powerless, forced to remain voiceless and subjugated to acts of extreme violence in the home, on school campuses and anywhere men deem they should dominate. "Rape and other acts of violence, up to and including murder, as well as threats of violence, constitute the barrage some men lay down as they attempt to control some women," she writes, "and fear of that violence limits most women in ways they've gotten so used to they hardly noticeand we hardly address." The few women who do stand up and shout to the world are the exception, not the rule, and Solnit provides a platform and a voice for them and the thousands who are too overwhelmed by fear and guilt to speak up. Solnit's thought-provoking essays illuminate the discrepancies in modern society, a society in which female students are told to stay indoors after dark due to the fact that one man is a rapist, as opposed to an alternate world in which male students are told not to attack females in the first place. Same-sex marriage, Virginia Woolf, the patrilineal offspring of the Bible and los desaparecidos of Argentina are artfully woven into the author's underlying message that women have come a long way on the road to equality but have further to go.Sharp narratives that illuminate and challenge the status quo of women's roles in the world. Slim in scope, but yet another good book by Solnit. Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.
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2013
Flight Behavior
Book Jacket   Barbara Kingsolver
2013
Gone Girl
Book Jacket   Gillian Flynn
Kirkus Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission. A perfect wife's disappearance plunges her husband into a nightmare as it rips open ugly secrets about his marriage and, just maybe, his culpability in her death. Even after they lost their jobs as magazine writers and he uprooted her from New York and spirited her off to his childhood home in North Carthage, Mo., where his ailing parents suddenly needed him at their side, Nick Dunne still acted as if everything were fine between him and his wife, Amy. His sister Margo, who'd gone partners with him on a local bar, never suspected that the marriage was fraying, and certainly never knew that Nick, who'd buried his mother and largely ducked his responsibilities to his father, stricken with Alzheimer's, had taken one of his graduate students as a mistress. That's because Nick and Amy were both so good at playing Mr. and Ms. Right for their audience. But that all changes the morning of their fifth anniversary when Amy vanishes with every indication of foul play. Partly because the evidence against him looks so bleak, partly because he's so bad at communicating grief, partly because he doesn't feel all that grief-stricken to begin with, the tide begins to turn against Nick. Neighbors who'd been eager to join the police in the search for Amy begin to gossip about him. Female talk-show hosts inveigh against him. The questions from Detective Rhonda Boney and Detective Jim Gilpin get sharper and sharper. Even Nick has to acknowledge that he hasn't come close to being the husband he liked to think he was. But does that mean he deserves to get tagged as his wife's killer? Interspersing the mystery of Amy's disappearance with flashbacks from her diary, Flynn (Dark Places, 2009, etc.) shows the marriage lumbering toward collapse--and prepares the first of several foreseeable but highly effective twists. One of those rare thrillers whose revelations actually intensify its suspense instead of dissipating it. The final pages are chilling.]] Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.
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2013
A Memory of Light
 Robert Jordan
Kirkus Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission. "There are no endings, and never will be endings, to the turning of the Wheel of Time." Even so, with this volume, the late Jordan's hyperinflated Wheel of Time series grinds to a halt. Jordan (Eye of the World, 1990, etc.), here revived by way of the extensive notebooks, drafts and outlines he left behind by amanuensis Sanderson (Creative Writing/Brigham Young Univ.), was an ascended master of second-tier Tolkien-ism; the world he creates is as densely detailed as Middle-earth, and if the geography sounds similar, pocked with place names such as Far Madding and the Blasted Lands, that's no accident. Tolkien-esque, too, is the scenario for this saga-closer, namely a "last battle" in which the forces of good are arrayed against those of darkness. The careless reader might take this to be a battle of hairdressers in a West Indian neighborhood: "The Dreadlords came for him eventually, sending an explosion to finish the job. Deepe spent the last moments throwing weaves at them. He died well." That's not the case, of course; instead, saga heroes Mat Cauthon and Perrin Aybara range the lands beyond the Dark One's prison to do all manner of good and adventuresome things. It's a strange world, that: Perrin finds the pit to end all pits, "[a]n eternal expanse, like the blackness of the Ways, only this one seemed to be pulling him into it." But then, what kind of epic would it be if it weren't a strange place? Will wolves and orcsor whatever they aretake over the world, or will the good guys prevail? Jordan's fans, who are legion, will most decidedly want to learn the answer to that question.]] Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.
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2013
Tenth of December: Stories
 George Saunders
Kirkus Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission. A new story collection from the most playful postmodernist since Donald Barthelme, with narratives that can be enjoyed on a number of different levels. Literature that takes the sort of chances that Saunders does is rarely as much fun as his is. Even when he is subverting convention, letting the reader know throughout that there is an authorial presence pulling the strings, that these characters and their lives don't exist beyond words, he seduces the reader with his warmth, humor and storytelling command. And these are very much stories of these times, filled with economic struggles and class envy, with war and its effects, with drugs that serve as a substitute for deeper emotions (like love) and perhaps a cure (at least temporary) for what one of the stories calls "a sort of vast existential nausea." On the surface, many of these stories are genre exercises. "Escape from Spiderhead" has all the trappings of science fiction, yet culminates in a profound meditation on free will and personal responsibility. One story is cast as a manager's memo; another takes the form of a very strange diary. Perhaps the funniest and potentially the grimmest is "Home," which is sort of a Raymond Carver working-class gothic send-up. A veteran returns home from war, likely suffering from post-traumatic stress. His foulmouthed mother and her new boyfriend are on the verge of eviction. His wife and family are now shacking up with a new guy. His sister has crossed the class divide. Things aren't likely to end well. The opening story, "Victory Lap," conjures a provisional, conditional reality, based on choices of the author and his characters. "Is life fun or scary?" it asks. "Are people good or bad?" The closing title story, the most ambitious here, has already been anthologized in a couple of "best of" annuals: It moves between the consciousness of a young boy and an older man, who develop a lifesaving relationship. Nobody writes quite like Saunders.]] Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.
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2013
The Burgess Boys
Book Jacket   Elizabeth Strout
Kirkus Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission. Two squabbling brothers confront their demons, their crumbling love lives and a hate crime case that thrusts them back to their Maine roots. The titular boys of this follow-up to Strout's Pulitzer-winning 2008 short story collection, Olive Kitteridge, are Jim and Bob Burgess, who are similar on the surface--lawyers, New Yorkers--but polar opposites emotionally. Jim is a high-wattage trial attorney who's quick with a cruel rejoinder designed to put people in their place, while Bob is a divorc who works for Legal Aid and can't shake the guilt of killing his dad in a freak accident as a child. The two snap into action when their sister's son in their native Maine is apprehended for throwing a pig's head into a mosque. The scenario gives Strout an opportunity to explore the culture of the Somalis who have immigrated to the state in recent years--a handful of scenes are told from the perspective of a Somali cafe owner, baffled by American arrogance, racism and cruelty. But this is mainly a carefully manicured study of domestic (American and household) dysfunction with some rote messages about the impermanence of power and the goodness that resides in hard-luck souls--it gives nothing away to say that Jim comes to a personal reckoning and that Bob isn't quite the doormat he's long been thought to be. Speeding the plot turns along are Jim's wife, Helen, an old-money repository of white guilt, and Jim and Bob's sister, Susan, a hardscrabble repository of parental anxiety. Strout's writing is undeniably graceful and observant: She expertly captures the frenetic pace of New York and relative sluggishness of Maine. But her character arrangements often feel contrived, archetypal and predestined; Jim's in particular becomes a clichd symbol of an overinflated ego. A skilled but lackluster novel that dutifully ticks off the boxes of family strife, infidelity and ripped-from-the-headlines issues.]] Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.
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2013
Life After Life
Book Jacket   Kate Atkinson
Kirkus Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission. If you could travel back in time and kill Hitler, would you? Of course you would. Atkinson's (Started Early, Took My Dog, 2011, etc.) latest opens with that conceit, a hoary what-if of college dorm discussions and, for that matter, of other published yarns (including one, mutatis mutandis, by no less an eminence than George Steiner). But Atkinson isn't being lazy, not in the least: Her protagonist's encounter with der Fhrer is just one of several possible futures. Call it a more learned version of Groundhog Day, but that character can die at birth, or she can flourish and blossom; she can be wealthy, or she can be a fugitive; she can be the victim of rape, or she can choose her sexual destiny. All these possibilities arise, and all take the story in different directions, as if to say: We scarcely know ourselves, so what do we know of the lives of those who came before us, including our own parents and--in this instance--our unconventional grandmother? And all these possibilities sometimes entwine, near to the point of confusion. In one moment, for example, the conversation turns to a child who has died; reminds Ursula, our heroine, "Your daughter....She fell in the fire," an event the child's poor mother gainsays: " I only ever had Derek,' she concluded firmly." Ah, but there's the rub with alternate realities, all of which, Atkinson suggests, can be folded up into the same life so that all are equally real. Besides, it affords several opportunities to do old Adolf in, what with his "funny little flap of the hand backward so that he looked as if he were cupping his ear to hear them better" and all. Provocative, entertaining and beautifully written. It's not quite the tour de force that her Case Histories (2004) was, but this latest affords the happy sight of seeing Atkinson stretch out into speculative territory again.]] Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.
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2013
A Delicate Truth
 John le Carre
Kirkus Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission. The distinguished chronicler of Cold War espionage and its costs casts his cold eye on the fog of war and its legacy when the war sets terrorists against the mercenaries and independent contractors to whom international security has been farmed out. A colorless midlevel civil servant is plucked from the anonymous ranks of the Foreign Office, given a wafer-thin cover identity as statistician Paul Anderson and packed off to Gibraltar, where he's to serve as the eyes and ears and, mainly, the yea or nay of rising Member of Parliament Fergus Quinn, who can't afford to be directly connected to Operation Wildlife. On the crucial night the forces in question are to disrupt an arms deal and grab a jihadist purchaser, both Paul and Jeb Owens, the senior military commander on the ground, smell a rat and advise against completing the operation. But they're overridden by Quinn, who says, "I recommend but do not command" that Operation Wildlife be completed. Shortly after its execution, Paul, promised "[m]edals all round," is bundled back into a plane bound for home. Sure enough, he emerges from the hush-hush affair with a knighthood and the unspoken thanks of a grateful monarch. Three years later, however, he happens to run into Jeb and hears the ruined soldier tell a decidedly less glorious story of the operation that involves extraordinary rendition, a dead mother and child, and a callous coverup. At the same time, Quinn's Private Secretary Toby Bell also becomes painfully aware of irregularities in the official record and confronts Jay Crispin, the Houston-based head of the private intelligence firm Ethical Outcomes, for answers. What he gets instead are more questions and personal danger. Resolutely keeping potential action sequences just offstage, le Carr (Our Kind of Traitor, 2010, etc.) focuses instead on the moral rot and creeping terror barely concealed by the affable old-boy blather that marks the pillars of the intelligence community.]] Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.
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2013
Inferno
 Dan Brown
Kirkus Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission. Brown's (The Lost Symbol, 2009, etc.) latest, in which a very bad guy is convinced that there are entirely too many people roaming the surface of the planet, and, because he's a fan of Dante and the Plague both, he's set to unleash inferno upon the world. Naturally enough, this being a Brown novel, someone is in possession of a piece of occult knowledge that will save the day--or not. The novel is populated with the usual elements in the form of secret, conspiratorial organizations and villains on the way to being supervillains, and readers of a literary bent may find the writing tortured: "This morning, as he stepped onto the private balcony of his yacht's stateroom, the provost looked across the churning sea and tried to fend off the disquiet that had settled in his gut." To his credit, Brown's yarn is somewhat more tightly constructed than his earlier Langdon vehicles, though its best parts are either homages or borrowings; the punky chick assassin who threatens Langdon, for instance, seems to have wandered in from a Stieg Larsson set, while the car-chase-and-explosions stuff, to say nothing of Langdon's amnesiac wanderings around the world, would seem to be a nod to Robert Ludlum. (Being chased by a drone is a nice touch, though.) If you want more of the great medieval poet Dante woven into a taut thriller, see Matthew Pearl's The Dante Club. Ace symbologist Robert Langdon returns, and the world trembles. Perfect escapist reading for fans.]] Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.
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2013
And the Mountains Echoed
Book Jacket   Khaled Hosseini
Kirkus Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission. After two stellar novels set (mostly) in Kabul, Afghanistan, Hosseini's third tacks among Afghanistan, California, France and Greece to explore the effect of the Afghan diaspora on identity. It begins powerfully in 1952. Saboor is a dirt-poor day laborer in a village two days walk from Kabul. His first wife died giving birth to their daughter Pari, who's now 4 and has been raised lovingly by her brother, 10-year-old Abdullah; two peas in a pod, but "leftovers" in the eyes of Parwana, Saboor's second wife. Saboor's brother-in-law Nabi is a cook/chauffeur for a wealthy, childless couple in Kabul; he helps arrange the sale of Pari to the couple, breaking Abdullah's heart. The drama does nothing to prepare us for the coming leaps in time and place. Nabi's own story comes next in a posthumous tell-all letter (creaky device) to Markos, the Greek plastic surgeon who occupies the Kabul house from 2002 onwards. Nabi confesses his guilt in facilitating the sale of Pari and describes the adoptive couple: his boss Suleiman, a gay man secretly in love with him, and his wife, Nila, a half-French poet who high-tails it to France with Pari after Suleiman has a stroke. There follow the stories of mother and daughter in Paris, Markos' childhood in Greece (an irrelevance), the return to Kabul of expat cousins from California and the Afghan warlord who stole the old village. Missing is the viselike tension of the earlier novels. It's true that betrayal is a constant theme, as it was in The Kite Runner, but it doesn't work as a glue. And identity? Hosseini struggles to convince us that Pari becomes a well-integrated Frenchwoman. The stories spill from Hosseini's bountiful imagination, but they compete against each other, denying the novel a catalyst; the result is a bloated, unwieldy work.]] Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.
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2013
The Ocean at the End of the Lane
Book Jacket   Neil Gaiman
Kirkus Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission. From one of the great masters of modern speculative fiction: Gaiman's first novel for adults since Anansi Boys (2005). An unnamed protagonist and narrator returns to his Sussex roots to attend a funeral. Although his boyhood dwelling no longer stands, at the end of the road lies the Hempstock farm, to which he's drawn without knowing why. Memories begin to flow. The Hempstocks were an odd family, with 11-year-old Lettie's claim that their duck pond was an ocean, her mother's miraculous cooking and her grandmother's reminiscences of the Big Bang; all three seemed much older than their apparent ages. Forty years ago, the family lodger, a South African opal miner, gambled his fortune away, then committed suicide in the Hempstock farmyard. Something dark, deadly and far distant heard his dying lament and swooped closer. As the past becomes the present, Lettie takes the boy's hand and confidently sets off through unearthly landscapes to deal with the menace; but he's only 7 years old, and he makes a mistake. Instead of banishing the predator, he brings it back into the familiar world, where it reappears as his family's new housekeeper, the demonic Ursula Monkton. Terrified, he tries to flee back to the Hempstocks, but Ursula easily keeps him confined as she cruelly manipulates and torments his parents and sister. Despite his determination and well-developed sense of right and wrong, he's also a scared little boy drawn into adventures beyond his understanding, forced into terrible mistakes through innocence. Yet, guided by a female wisdom beyond his ability to comprehend, he may one day find redemption. Poignant and heartbreaking, eloquent and frightening, impeccably rendered, it's a fable that reminds us how our lives are shaped by childhood experiences, what we gain from them and the price we pay.]] Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.
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2013
The Cuckoo's Calling
 Robert Galbraith
Kirkus Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission. Murderous muggles are up to no good, and it's up to a seemingly unlikely hero to set things right. The big news surrounding this pleasing procedural is that Galbraith, reputed former military policeman and security expert, is none other than J. K. Rowling, who presumably has no experience on the Afghan front or at Scotland Yard. Why the pseudonymous subterfuge? We may never know. What's clear, and what matters, is that Galbraith/Rowling's yarn is an expertly written exercise in both crime and social criticism of a piece with Rowling's grownup novel The Casual Vacancy (2012), even if her hero, private detective Cormoran Strike, bears a name that wouldn't be out of place in her Harry Potter series. Strike is a hard-drinking, hard-bitten, lonely mess of a man, for reasons that Rowling reveals bit by bit, carefully revealing the secrets he keeps about his parentage, his time in battle and his bad luck. Strike is no Sherlock Holmes, but he's a dogged pursuer of The Truth, in this instance the identity of the person who may or may not have relieved a supermodel of her existence most unpleasantly: "Her head had bled a little into the snow. The face was crushed and swollen, one eye reduced to a pucker, the other showing as a sliver of dull white between distended lids." It's an icky image, but no ickier than Rowling's roundup of sinister, self-serving, sycophantic characters who inhabit the world of high fashion, among the most suspicious of them a fellow who'swell, changed his name to pull something over on his audience ("It's a long fucking way from Hackney, I can tell you..."). Helping Strike along as he turns over stones in the yards of the rich and famous is the eminently helpful Robin Ellacott, newcomer to London and determined to do better than work as a mere temp, which is what lands her at Strike's door. The trope of rumpled detective and resourceful Girl Friday is an old one, of course, but Rowling dusts it off and makes it new even as she turns London into a setting for her tale of mayhem as memorable as what Dashiell Hammett did with San Francisco in The Maltese Falcon. A quick, fun read. Rowling delivers a set of characters every bit as durable as her Potter people, and a story that, though no more complex than an Inspector Lewis episode, works well on every level.]] Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.
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2013
Never Go Back
 Lee Child
Kirkus Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission. Jack Reacher pokes a head into his old D.C. office, and things promptly go ballistic. Reacher wants to get a gander at Maj. Susan Turner, his successor as head of the 100th Military Police Special Unit. But she's been sent to Afghanistan, he's told, and he'll have to deal with her temporary replacement, Lt. Col. Morgan. Morgan's idea of dealing with Reacher is to accuse him of beating Juan Rodriguez to death 16 years ago and shortly afterward fathering Samantha, a 14-year-old whose mother, Candice Dayton, is now looking for child support. To make sure Reacher doesn't run off, as he's certainly wont to do (A Wanted Man, 2012, etc.), Morgan recalls him to active Army service and restricts him to a five-mile radius surrounding the building. Naturally, things promptly get worse. A pair of thugs offer to beat Reacher to a pulp if he doesn't go AWOL. Maj. Turner turns out to be in jail, not Afghanistan. And when her lawyer, Col. Moorcroft, is beaten into a coma a few hours after one of Reacher's own lawyers--Capt. Helen Sullivan, the one handling the Rodriguez charge--witnesses Reacher's fraught meeting with Moorcroft, Reacher is escorted to an adjoining cell in the same building. But Reacher, never one to let temporary reversals get him down, escapes from jail, taking Turner with him, and sets out to escape the District, rustle up some cash and some wheels, elude the two thugs (now four) who remain in hot pursuit, and hightail it to L.A. to satisfy himself as to whether Samantha Dayton really is his daughter. Any questions? For the pure pleasure of uncomplicated, nonstop action, no one touches Reacher, who accurately observes that "I trained myself...to turn fear into aggression."]] Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.
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2013
W Is for Wasted
Book Jacket   Sue Grafton
Kirkus Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission. Kinsey Millhone finds yet another way to be connected to a sudden death: as the victim's executor and sole heir. The first contact Kinsey has with Terrence Dace is in the Santa Teresa coroner's office after investigator Aaron Blumberg phones her to say that a homeless drunk has been found dead with her name and phone number in his pocket. Kinsey's ignorance of the man is so profound, and his recent companions--Felix, Dandy and Pearl--are so closemouthed about supplying information about him, that it takes her quite a while even to track down his name. Once she does, though, things start to happen. A safe deposit box in Dace's name reveals assets of over half a million dollars and a will that leaves it all to Kinsey, who's also appointed his executor. Taking this unwelcome job as seriously as you'd expect, Kinsey drives out to Bakersfield to inform Dace's son Ethan and his daughters Ellen and Anna that the father from whom they've long been estranged for perfectly logical reasons is dead and that he's disinherited them all in favor of a woman they've never heard of. Kinsey's ticklish dealings with these ill-assorted mourners are deliciously fraught. But the case takes a turn toward more conventional waters as Grafton (Kinsey and Me, 2012, etc.) begins to connect it to the shooting several months back of unsavory private eye Pete Wolinsky, whose death was anything but the by-product of a robbery that it first seemed. Throughout it all, Kinsey, practically unique among her professional cohort, is driven not by greed, lust or revenge, but by the simple desire to do the right thing. As she approaches the end of the alphabet, Kinsey waxes ever more reflective and philosophical.]] Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.
Kirkus Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission. Kinsey Millhone finds yet another way to be connected to a sudden death: as the victim's executor and sole heir. The first contact Kinsey has with Terrence Dace is in the Santa Teresa coroner's office after investigator Aaron Blumberg phones her to say that a homeless drunk has been found dead with her name and phone number in his pocket. Kinsey's ignorance of the man is so profound, and his recent companions--Felix, Dandy and Pearl--are so closemouthed about supplying information about him, that it takes her quite a while even to track down his name. Once she does, though, things start to happen. A safe deposit box in Dace's name reveals assets of over half a million dollars and a will that leaves it all to Kinsey, who's also appointed his executor. Taking this unwelcome job as seriously as you'd expect, Kinsey drives out to Bakersfield to inform Dace's son Ethan and his daughters Ellen and Anna that the father from whom they've long been estranged for perfectly logical reasons is dead and that he's disinherited them all in favor of a woman they've never heard of. Kinsey's ticklish dealings with these ill-assorted mourners are deliciously fraught. But the case takes a turn toward more conventional waters as Grafton (Kinsey and Me, 2012, etc.) begins to connect it to the shooting several months back of unsavory private eye Pete Wolinsky, whose death was anything but the by-product of a robbery that it first seemed. Throughout it all, Kinsey, practically unique among her professional cohort, is driven not by greed, lust or revenge, but by the simple desire to do the right thing. As she approaches the end of the alphabet, Kinsey waxes ever more reflective and philosophical.]] Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.
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2013
Bleeding Edge
Book Jacket   Thomas Pynchon
Kirkus Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission. Pynchon (Inherent Vice, 2009, etc.) makes a much-anticipated return, and it's trademark stuff: a blend of existential angst, goofy humor and broad-sweeping bad vibes. Paranoia, that operative word in Pynchon's world ever since Gravity's Rainbow (1973), is what one of his characters here calls "the garlic in life's kitchen." Well, there's paranoia aplenty to be had in Pynchon's saut pan, served up in the dark era of the 9/11 attack, the dot-com meltdown and the Patriot Act. Maxine Tarnow is, on the face of it, just another working mom in the city, but in reality, after she's packed her kids' lunches and delivered them at school, she's ferreting around with data cowboys and code monkeys, looking into various sorts of electronic fraud. Her estranged husband, apparently a decent enough sort, "to this day has enjoyed a nearly error-free history of knowing how certain commodities around the world will behave," but Maxine has a keen sense of how data flows and from whom to whom. One track she follows leads to a genius billionaire and electronic concoctions that can scarcely be believed--but also, in a customarily loopy way, to organized crime, terrorism, big data and the U.S. government, with the implication, as Horst later will ponder, that all are bound up in the collapse of the Twin Towers. ("Remember the week before this happened, all those put options on United and American Airlines? Which turned out to be exactly the two airlines that got hijacked?") If you were sitting in a plane next to someone muttering about such things, you might ask to change seats, but Pynchon has long managed to blend his particularly bleak view of latter-day humankind with a tolerant ability to find true humor in our foibles. If he's sometimes heavy-handed, he's also attuned precisely to the zeitgeist, drawing in references to Pabst Blue Ribbon longnecks, Mamma Mia, the Diamondbacks/Yankees World Series, Office Space, and the touching belief of young Zuckerbergs in the age before Zuckerberg that their bleeding-edge technology--"[n]o proven use, high risk, something only early-adoption addicts feel comfortable with"--will somehow be put to good use rather than, as Pynchon assures us, to the most evil applications. Of a piece with Pynchon's recent work--not quite a classic la V. but in a class of its own--more tightly woven but no less madcap than Inherent Vice, and sure to the last that we live in a world of very odd shadows.]] Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.
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2013
Doctor Sleep
 Stephen King
Kirkus Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission. He-e-e-e-r-e's Danny! Before an alcoholic can begin recovery, by some lights, he or she has to hit bottom. Dan Torrance, the alcoholic son of the very dangerously alcoholic father who came to no good in King's famed 1977 novel The Shining, finds his rock bottom very near, if not exactly at, the scarifying image of an infant reaching for a baggie of blow. The drugs, the booze, the one-night stands, the excruciating chain of failures: all trace back to the bad doings at the Overlook Hotel (don't go into Room 217) and all those voices in poor Dan's head, which speak to (and because of) a very special talent he has. That "shining" is a matter of more than passing interest for a gang of RV-driving, torture-loving, soul-sucking folks who aren't quite folks at all--the True Knot, about whom one particularly deadly recruiter comments, "They're not my friends, they're my family...And what's tied can never be untied." When the knotty crew sets its sights on a young girl whose own powers include the ability to sense impending bad vibes, Dan, long adrift, begins to find new meaning in the world. Granted, he has good reason to have wanted to hide from it--he still has visions of that old Redrum scrawl, good reason to need the mental eraser of liquor--but there's nothing like an apocalyptic struggle to bring out the best (or worst) in people. King clearly revels in his tale, and though it's quite a bit more understated than his earlier, booze-soaked work, it shows all his old gifts, including the ability to produce sentences that read as if they're tossed off but that could come only from someone who's worked hard on them ("Danny, have you ever seen dead people? Regular dead people, I mean"). His cast of characters is as memorable as any King has produced, too, from a fully rounded Danny to the tiny but efficiently lethal Abra Stone and the vengeful Andi, who's right to be angry but takes things just a touch too far. And that's not to mention Rose the Hatless and Crow Daddy. Satisfying at every level. King even leaves room for a follow-up, should he choose to write one--and with luck, sooner than three decades hence.]] Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.
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2013
The Lowland
 Jhumpa Lahiri
Kirkus Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission. A tale of two continents in an era of political tumult, rendered with devastating depth and clarity by the Pulitzer Prizewinning author. The narrative proceeds from the simplicity of a fairy tale into a complex novel of moral ambiguity and aftershocks, with revelations that continue through decades and generations until the very last page. It is the story of two brothers in India who are exceptionally close to each other and yet completely different. Older by 15 months, Subhash is cautious and careful, not prone to taking any risks, unlike his impetuous brother Udayan, the younger but the leader in their various escapades. Inseparable in their Calcutta boyhoods, they eventually take very different paths, with Subhash moving to America to pursue his education and an academic career in scientific research, while Udayan becomes increasingly and clandestinely involved in Indian radical militancy. "The chief task of the new party was to organize the peasantry," writes the novelist (Unaccustomed Earth, 2008, etc.). "The tactic would be guerrilla warfare. The enemy was the Indian state." The book's straightforward, declarative sentences will ultimately force the characters and the reader to find meaning in the space between them. While Udayan characteristically defies his parents by returning home with a wife he has impulsively courted rather than submitting to an arranged marriage, Subhash waits for his own life to unfold: "He wondered what woman his parents would choose for him. He wondered when it would be. Getting married would mean returning to Calcutta. In that sense he was in no hurry." Yet crisis returns him to Calcutta, and when he resumes his life in America, he has a pregnant wife and, soon, a daughter. The rest of the novel spans more than four decades in the life of this family, shaped and shaken by the events that have brought them together and tear them apart--"a family of solitaries [that]...had collided and dispersed." Though Lahiri has previously earned greater renown for her short stories, this masterful novel deserves to attract an even wider readership.]] Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.
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2013
The Goldfinch
Book Jacket   Donna Tartt
Kirkus Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission. A long-awaited, elegant meditation on love, memory and the haunting power of art. Tartt (The Little Friend, 2002, etc.) takes a long time, a decade or more, between novels. This one, her third, tells the story of a young man named Theodore Decker who is forced to grapple with the world alone after his mother--brilliant, beautiful and a delight to be around--is felled in what would seem to be an accident, if an explosion inside a museum can be accidental. The terrible wreckage of the building, a talismanic painting half buried in plaster and dust, "the stink of burned clothes, and an occasional soft something pressing in on me that I didn't want to think about"--young Theo will carry these things forever. Tartt's narrative is in essence an extended footnote to that horror, with his mother becoming ever more alive in memory even as the time recedes: not sainted, just alive, the kind of person Theo misses because he can't tell her goofy things (his father taking his mistress to a Bon Jovi concert in Las Vegas, for instance: "It seemed terrible that she would never know this hilarious fact") as much as for any other reason. The symbolic echoes Tartt employs are occasionally heavy-handed, and it's a little too neat that Theo discovers the work of the sublime Dutch master Carel Fabritius, killed in a powder blast, just before the fateful event that will carry his mother away. Yet it all works. "All the rest of it is lost--everything he ever did," his mother quietly laments of the little-known artist, and it is Theo's mission as he moves through life to see that nothing in his own goes missing. Bookending Jonathan Safran Foer's Extremely Loud Incredibly Close, this is an altogether lovely addition to what might be called the literature of disaster and redemption. The novel is slow to build but eloquent and assured, with memorable characters, not least a Russian cracker-barrel philosopher who delivers a reading of God that Mordecai Richler might applaud. A standout--and well worth the wait.]] Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.
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2013
Thomas Jefferson: The Art of Power
Book Jacket   Jon Meacham
Kirkus Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission. A Pulitzer Prizewinning biographer lauds the political genius of Thomas Jefferson. As a citizen, Jefferson became a central leader in America's rebellion against the world's greatest empire. As a diplomat, he mentored a similar revolution in France. As president, he doubled the size of the United States without firing a shot and established a political dynasty that stretched over four decades. These achievements and many more, Time contributing editor Meacham (American Lion: Andrew Jackson in the White House, 2008, etc.) smoothly argues, would have been impossible if the endlessly complicated Jefferson were merely the dreamy, impractical philosopher king his detractors imagined. His portrait of our most enigmatic president intentionally highlights career episodes that illustrate Jefferson's penchant for balancing competing interests and for compromises that, nevertheless, advanced his own political goals. Born to the Virginia aristocracy, Jefferson effectively disguised his drive for control, charming foes and enlisting allies to conduct battles on his behalf. As he accumulated power, he exercised it ruthlessly, often deviating from the ideals of limited government he had previously--and eternally--articulated. Stronger than any commitment to abstract principle, the impulse for pragmatic political maneuvering, Meacham insists, always predominated. With an insatiable hunger for information, a talent for improvisation and a desire for greatness, Jefferson coolly calculated political realities--see his midlife abandonment of any effort to abolish slavery--and, more frequently than not, emerged from struggles with opponents routed and his own authority enhanced. Through his thinking and writing, we've long appreciated Jefferson's lifelong devotion to "the survival and success of democratic republicanism in America," but Meacham's treatment reminds us of the flesh-and-blood politician, the man of action who masterfully bent the real world in the direction of his ideals. An outstanding biography that reveals an overlooked steeliness at Jefferson's core that accounts for so much of his political success.]] Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.
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2013
Help, Thanks, Wow
 Anne Lamott
Kirkus Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission. A refreshingly simple approach to spiritual practice in a pint-sized reflection on prayer. As the title of her book implies, Lamott (Some Assembly Required: A Journal of My Son's First Son, 2012, etc.) has taken an enormously complex and often debated topic and boiled it down to three basic elements that transcend doctrine or creed. Though in her previous books the author has been forthright about her Christianity, here she begins with a prelude that assures readers she's not even remotely interested in trying to tell them who or what God is; she's simply asking them to consider that there's a Divine Being willing to run the show. How is one to get that process going? Prayer. More specifically, Lamott touts the spiritual power in powerlessness, gratitude and wonder. The three sections of the book aren't solely about each one-word prayer; they're more a running conversation about their collective influence in her life. "Help" is a complete prayer, writes Lamott, and uttering it creates space for solutions that humans have neither thought of nor could pull off on their own. In what at first may seem like a jumbled mashup of stories and reflections, Lamott manages to deftly convey the idea that in trying to control things, we've largely lost our ability to see the good and the miraculous in everyday life. And those commodities go a long way, she writes, in terms of making a Divine connection that brings a measure of hope and peace. Though fans may be dismayed at the brevity of the book, there's more here than meets the eye.]] Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.
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2013
My Beloved World
 Sonia Sotomayor
Kirkus Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission. Graceful, authoritative memoir from the country's first Hispanic Supreme Court justice. As a child in South Bronx public housing, Sotomayor was diagnosed with juvenile diabetes. Her Puerto Rican parents' struggles included a father's battle with alcoholism that would claim his life when Sotomayor was 9, leaving her mother, a former Women's Army Corps soldier turned nurse, to raise her. Time spent with her cousin, Catholic school friends and her beloved grandmother helped to calm the chaos of life in the projects. As Sotomayor entered adolescence, her mother's strong belief in education spurred the author to thrive in school and develop an appreciation for justice and the law. The author vividly narrates her scholarly adventures at Princeton, where she advocated for Latino faculty, and Yale Law School, where she dealt with smaller cases in preparation for the complexities of work in the district attorney's office. In 1992, she received an appointment to the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York. The author's text forms a cultural patchwork of memories and reflections as she mines the nuances of her parents' tumultuous relationship, fondly recalls family visits in Puerto Rico and offers insight on a judicial career that's just beginning when the memoir ends. Sotomayor writes that her decision (a shrewd one) to close her story early is based on both a political career she feels is "still taking shape" and a dignified reluctance to expand upon any recent high court "political drama," regardless of the general public's insatiable curiosity. Mature, life-affirmative musings from a venerable life shaped by tenacity and pride.]] Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.
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2013
Lean In: Women, Work and the Will to Lead
Book Jacket   Sheryl Sandberg
Kirkus Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission. Facebook COO Sandberg (ranked fifth in Forbes' 2011 list of the most powerful women in the world) reveals how gender discrimination still operates against her and other less-fortunate women. When she learned about the list, she reports, "I felt embarrassed and exposed." Even in her position, she still felt the pressure of social conditioning, the expectation that women should subordinate themselves to men. Taking examples from her own experience, Sandberg shows how expected gender roles work against women seeking top jobs, even though they now earn "63 percent of the master's degrees in the United States." Not only are women forced to juxtapose family and job responsibilities, but they face more subtle pressures. From early childhood, females are discouraged from being assertive. "Aggressive and hard-charging women violate unwritten rules about acceptable social conduct," writes the author. While it is assumed that men who are committed to their families can have successful careers, for women, the choices are more difficult due to the fact that they will usually be the primary caregivers. The failure of social provisions--extended family leave, flexible working hours, etc., which are the norm in many European countries--make life especially difficult for middle-income families (and single parents) due to the high cost of good child care. Women internalize this, frequently making career decisions to accommodate their expectation of the demands that will be imposed by having a family in the future. In Sandberg's case, this involved rejecting a desirable international fellowship. She argues the need for a redefinition of gender roles so that men expect to share primary responsibility for child care, parents receive social support to accommodate work and family responsibilities, and stereotyping of male and female behavior is recognized as pernicious. A compelling case for reforms that support family values in the continuing "march toward true equality."]] Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.
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2013
Let's Explore Diabetes With Owls
Book Jacket   David Sedaris
Kirkus Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission. A more varied and less consistent essay collection from the noted humorist. In middle age, Sedaris (When You Are Engulfed in Flames, 2008) no longer aims as often for laugh-out-loud funny as he did when he attracted a popular following almost two decades ago. Most of these essays revisit many of the areas he's previously mined for hilarity--the dysfunctional family stuff, the gay stuff, the American-living-abroad stuff--but much of what he returns to in memory seems less antic and more melancholy than before. In the funniest piece, the penultimate "The Happy Place," he discovers his Eden by embracing what others of his generation resist: the colonoscopy. "Never had I experienced such an all-encompassing sense of well-being," he writes. "Everything was soft-edged and lovely. Everyone was magnificent.I'm not sure how long I lay there, blissed-out and farting." Amid characteristic riffs on book tours, foreigners who eat funny (and Britons who talk funny), his underwear-clad, alcohol-swilling father, and his adventures in a variety of countries with his partner, Sedaris engages readers with a number of pieces in which he writes from a perspective that is obviously not the author's, raging about the decline of liberty, morality and Western civilization in general in the wake of Barack Obama. With Jesus riding shotgun, the narrator of "If I Ruled the World" froths, "I'll crucify the Democrats, the Communists, and a good 97% of the college students." Funnier and sharper is "Just a Quick E-mail," in which what appears to be a justifiable complaint about a chintzy wedding gift becomes ever more revelatory about the monstrosity of the sender. Those who have followed Sedaris through the years will find plenty to enjoy, though not much in the way of surprise or revelation.]] Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.
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2013
Zealot
 Reza Aslan
Kirkus Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission. A well-researched, readable biography of Jesus of Nazareth. Jesus of Nazareth is not the same as Jesus Christ. The Gospels are not historical documents, nor even eyewitness accounts of Jesus' life. In fact, most of the incidents in them are pure fiction. Aslan (How to Win a Cosmic War: God, Globalization and the End of the War on Terror, 2009, etc.) has made the study of religion his life's work, and it shows. After explaining the origins and evolution of Islam, the author now turns to Christianity and its unlikely beginnings. The Gospels weren't written during Jesus' lifetime, but rather between A.D. 70 and 120, and they certainly weren't written by the men whose names are attached to them. In fact, every word written about Jesus was written by people who never knew him in life--even though Paul claimed to know Jesus intimately, not as man, but as God. Jesus neither fit the paradigms nor fulfilled scriptural prophecies to meet the requirements of being a messiah. As he described himself, the historic "Jesuswas a Jew, and nothing more." He was concerned only with Israel and his fellow Jews. For readers who believe that the Bible is the true word of God and its meaning must be taken literally, Aslan's book will awaken doubt. The ancients did not see a difference between myth and reality, and eyewitness history did not exist; it was all propaganda. The authors of the Gospels were writing for the express purpose of explaining that Jesus wasn't just another professional wonder worker; one thing set him apart. Why has Christianity taken hold and flourished? This book will give you the answers in the simplest, most straightforward, comprehensible manner.]] Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.
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2013
Killing Jesus: A History
 Bill O'Reilly
Kirkus Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission. Conservative commentator O'Reilly, working with frequent collaborator Dugard (Killing Kennedy, 2012, etc.), settles on yet another liberal victim of politically motivated killing. Though O'Reilly has protested that Jesus Christ is above politics when the question turns uncomfortably to giving away everything to the poor, he's quite happy to suggest that Jesus was killed because, among other things fiscal, "he interrupted the flow of funds from the Temple to Rome when he flipped over the money changer's tables." It probably didn't help that he proclaimed himself to be the son of God, but, write the authors, it's more that the lineage of Jesus and Annas the bad priest had been bound up for generations, the one hardworking and steadfast, the other a debauched class of bureaucrats who took a cut of the temple action in the form of "taxes extorted from the people of Judea," sending a hefty cut back to the bosses in Rome. Jesus was the original tea party protestor, and never mind all that rendering unto Caesar business (or, for that matter, the Sermon on the Mount). O'Reilly has said that the Holy Spirit directed him to write this book, and we must suppose that that particular tine of the Trinity has it in for the Pharisees, whom religious historians are inclined these days to treat more sympathetically than do the authors. A virtue of the book is that O'Reilly and Dugard employ a broad range of ancient sources; a detriment is that they seem to regard these sources overly credulously and follow them into long asides (including enough of a recap of events to break this book into two: Killing Jesus and Killing Julius Caesar). Otherwise, the book has some novelistic, noirish touches, as if the New Testament had been mashed up with some lost pages of Erle Stanley Gardner. A pleasing read if you're inclined toward the authors' selective views. Otherwise, the four Gospels will do just fine.]] Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.
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2013
David and Goliath
Book Jacket   Malcolm Gladwell
Kirkus Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission. A far- and free-ranging meditation on the age-old struggle between underdogs and top dogs. Beginning with the legendary matchup between the Philistine giant and the scrawny shepherd boy of the title, New Yorker scribe Gladwell (What the Dog Saw: And Other Adventures, 2009, etc.) returns continually to his main theme: that there are unsung advantages to being disadvantaged and overlooked disadvantages to being "advantaged." Though the book begins like a self-help manual--an early chapter on a middle school girl's basketball team that devastated more talented opponents with a gritty, full-court press game seems to suggest a replicable strategy, at least in basketball, and a later one shows how it's almost patently easier to accomplish more by being a big fish in a small pond than a small fish in a big pond--it soon becomes clear that Gladwell is not interested in simple formulas or templates for success. He aims to probe deeply into the nature of underdog-ness and explore why top dogs have long had such trouble with underdogs--in scholastic and athletic competitions, in the struggle for success or renown in all professions, and in insurgencies and counterinsurgencies the world over. Telling the stories of some amazingly accomplished people, including superlawyer David Boies, IKEA founder Ingvar Kamprad, and childhood-leukemia researcher Jay Freireich, Gladwell shows that deficits one wouldn't wish on anyone, like learning disabilities or deprived childhoods, can require a person to adapt to the world in ways that later become supreme benefits in professional life. On the other hand, children of the newly wealthy who have had every good fortune their parents lacked tend to become less well-equipped to deal with life's random but inevitable challenges. In addition to the top-notch writing one expects from a New Yorker regular, Gladwell rewards readers with moving stories, surprising insights and consistently provocative ideas.]] Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.
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2013
Things That Matter
Book Jacket   Charles Krauthammer
Kirkus Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission. Pulitzer Prizewinning columnist Krauthammer collects 30 years of his work. The author is well-known for the pungency and forcefulness with which he expresses his political views, which have led some, like the Financial Times, to rate him "the most influential columnist in America." His starting point is the reaffirmation of his commitment to politics, "the crooked timber of our communal lives [which] dominates everything because, in the end, everything--high and low and, most especially, high--lives or dies by politics." Krauthammer's autobiography emerges in chapters organized around themes like "Follies," "Man and God," "The Jewish Question, Again" and "Three Essays on America and the World." Educated in medicine and psychiatry, the author came to Washington, D.C., to work for the Carter administration. He began to write for the New Republic and the Washington Post and found a new direction for his career. Presenting himself as a charming polymath, he writes on a variety of subjects, not just politics--e.g., a defense of the border collie as a working breed from the American Kennel Club, where it was admitted in 1994. Krauthammer draws on his scientific training to examine the arguments surrounding both creationism and global warming, and his interest in world championship chess and mathematics helps him ably convey the magic of the convergence of science and art in monumental expressions of man's political concerns and strivings. Among other topics, Krauthammer explores Washington's Holocaust Museum, New York's Hayden Planetarium ("it wraps an enormous cube around interior curves and spheres, just as science creates the lines that give order and solidity to the bending ephemera of nature"), NASA, Winston Churchill, the Transportation Security Administration, Woody Allen, ground zero and Social Security, which is not just "a Ponzi scheme," but "also the most vital, humane and fixable of all social programs." A sparkling collection that frames each of the particular contributions anew.]] Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.
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2013
The Bully Pulpit
 Doris Kearns
Kirkus Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission. Swiftly moving account of a friendship that turned sour, broke a political party in two and involved an insistent, omnipresent press corps. Cantor and Boehner? No: Teddy and Taft. Pulitzer Prizewinning historian Goodwin (Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln, 2005, etc.) may focus on the great men (and occasionally women) of history, but she is the foremost exponent of a historiographic school that focuses on the armies of aides and enactors that stand behind them. In this instance, one of the principal great men would revel in the title: Theodore Roosevelt wanted nothing more than to be world-renowned, change the world and occasionally shoot a mountain lion. His handpicked successor, William Howard Taft, was something else entirely: He wished to fade into legal scholarship and was very happy in later life to be named to the Supreme Court. The two began as friends of what Taft called "close and sweet intimacy," and the friendship ended--Goodwin evokes this exquisitely well in her closing pages--with a guarded chance encounter in a hotel that slowly thawed but too late. A considerable contributor to the split was TR's progressivism, his trust-busting and efforts to improve the lot of America's working people, which Taft was disinclined to emulate. Moreover, Taft did not warm to TR's great talent, which was to enlist journalists to his cause; problems of objectivity aside, they provided him with the "bully pulpit" of Goodwin's title. She populates her pages with sometimes-forgotten heroes of investigative reporting--Ida Tarbell, Ray Blake, Lincoln Steffens--just as much as Roosevelt and Taft and their aides. The result is an affecting portrait of how networks based on genuine liking contribute to the effective functioning of government without requiring reporters to be sycophants or politicians to give up too many secrets. It's no small achievement to have something new to say on Teddy Roosevelt's presidency, but Goodwin succeeds admirably. A notable, psychologically charged study in leadership.]] Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.
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2012
Gone Girl
 Gillian Flynn
Kirkus Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission. A perfect wife's disappearance plunges her husband into a nightmare as it rips open ugly secrets about his marriage and, just maybe, his culpability in her death. Even after they lost their jobs as magazine writers and he uprooted her from New York and spirited her off to his childhood home in North Carthage, Mo., where his ailing parents suddenly needed him at their side, Nick Dunne still acted as if everything were fine between him and his wife, Amy. His sister Margo, who'd gone partners with him on a local bar, never suspected that the marriage was fraying, and certainly never knew that Nick, who'd buried his mother and largely ducked his responsibilities to his father, stricken with Alzheimer's, had taken one of his graduate students as a mistress. That's because Nick and Amy were both so good at playing Mr. and Ms. Right for their audience. But that all changes the morning of their fifth anniversary when Amy vanishes with every indication of foul play. Partly because the evidence against him looks so bleak, partly because he's so bad at communicating grief, partly because he doesn't feel all that grief-stricken to begin with, the tide begins to turn against Nick. Neighbors who'd been eager to join the police in the search for Amy begin to gossip about him. Female talk-show hosts inveigh against him. The questions from Detective Rhonda Boney and Detective Jim Gilpin get sharper and sharper. Even Nick has to acknowledge that he hasn't come close to being the husband he liked to think he was. But does that mean he deserves to get tagged as his wife's killer? Interspersing the mystery of Amy's disappearance with flashbacks from her diary, Flynn (Dark Places, 2009, etc.) shows the marriage lumbering toward collapse--and prepares the first of several foreseeable but highly effective twists. One of those rare thrillers whose revelations actually intensify its suspense instead of dissipating it. The final pages are chilling.]] Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.
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2012
Canada
Book Jacket   Richard Ford
Kirkus Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission. A great American novel by the Pulitzer Prizewinning author. This is Ford's first novel since concluding the Frank Bascombe trilogy, which began with The Sportswriter (1986), peaked with the prize-winning Independence Day (1995) and concluded with The Lay of the Land (2006). That series was for Ford what the Rabbit novels were for Updike, making this ambitious return to long-form fiction seem like something of a fresh start, but also a thematic culmination. Despite its title, the novel is as essentially all-American as Independence Day. Typically for Ford, the focus is as much on the perspective (and limitations) of its protagonist as it is on the issues that the narrative addresses. The first-person narrator is Dell Parsons, a 15-year-old living in Montana with his twin sister when their parents--perhaps inexplicably, perhaps inevitably--commit an ill-conceived bank robbery. Before becoming wards of the state, the more willful sister runs away with her boyfriend, while Dell is taken across the border to Canada, where he will establish a new life for himself after crossing another border, from innocent bystander to reluctant complicity. The first half of the novel takes place in Montana and the second in Canada, but the entire narrative is Dell's reflection, 50 years later, on the eve of his retirement as a teacher. As he ruminates on character and destiny, and ponders "how close evil is to the normal goings-on that have nothing to do with evil," he also mediates between his innocence as an uncommonly nave teenager and whatever wisdom he has gleaned through decades of experience. Dell's perspective may well be singular and skewed, but it's articulate without being particularly perceptive or reflective. And it's the only one we have. In a particularly illuminating parenthetical aside, he confesses, "I was experiencing great confusion about what was happening, having had no experience like this in my life. I should not be faulted for not understanding what I saw." At the start of the novel's coda, when Dell explains that he teaches his students "books that to me seem secretly about my young life," he begins the list with The Heart of Darkness and The Great Gatsby. Such comparisons seem well-earned.]] Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.
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2012
Mission to Paris
Book Jacket   Alan Furst
Kirkus Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission. A historical spy novel that takes the reader back to the 1930s, when Europe hurtled toward the abyss. The dashing Austrian-born actor Frederic Stahl returns to France from Hollywood to film the movie Aprs la Guerre. On loan from Warner Bros., he'll star as a soldier who survives The Great War and personifies its futility. All Stahl wants is to do his job on the movie set, have a pleasant dalliance or three and return to the States. But the Nazis have other ideas. Germany's goal in the '30s is to weaken France's will to fight. Germans infiltrate French society; citizens of both countries form alliances for peace while Germany quietly gathers all the intelligence it can about French military preparedness. Wouldn't Frederic Stahl like to come back to Austria to judge a movie competition? One day, good pay, and he'd be in the limelight promoting both German filmmaking and the Reich itself. Repulsed, Stahl declines. Nazis increasingly pressure him to reconsider until his life is in danger. How can he finish the movie and return--no, escape--to America? Furst doesn't make it easy on his hero, spinning strand on strand in a web of tension that's big enough to hold a lot of victims. Will the web snare Stahl and his lover? The seductive Soviet spy? The resentful waiter? The Hungarian count? No one is safe, but readers will care about all the characters, whether wanting them to survive or die. They all either live under the cloud of doom that gathers over Europe, or they are part of the cloud. Furst conveys a strong sense of the era, when responding to a knock might open the door to the end of one's days. The novel recalls a time when black and white applied to both movies and moral choices. It's a tale with wide appeal.]] Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.
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2012
The Age of Miracles
 Karen Thompson Walker
Kirkus Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission. In Walker's stunning debut, a young California girl coming of age in a dystopian near future confronts the inevitability of change on the most personal level as life on earth withers. Sixth-grader Julia, whose mother is a slightly neurotic former actress and whose father is an obstetrician, is living an unremarkable American middle-class childhood. She rides the school bus and takes piano lessons; she has a mild crush on a boy named Seth whose mother has cancer; she enjoys sleepovers with her best friend Hanna, who happens to be a Mormon. Then one October morning there's a news report that scientists have discovered a slowing of the earth's rotation, adding minutes to each day and night. After initial panic, the human tendency to adapt sets in even as the extra minutes increase into hours. Most citizens go along when the government stays on a 24-hour clock, although an underground movement of those living by "real time" sprouts up. Gravity is affected; birds begin to die, and astronauts are stranded on their space station. By November, the "real time" of days has grown to 40 hours, and the actual periods of light and dark only get longer from that point. The world faces crises in communication, health, transportation and food supply. The changes in the planet are profound, but the daily changes in Julia's life, which she might be facing even in a normal day, are equally profound. Hanna's family moves to Utah, leaving Julia without a best friend to help defend against the bullies at the bus stop. She goes through the trials and joys of first love. She begins to see cracks in her parents' marriage and must navigate the currents of loyalty and moral uncertainty. She faces sickness and death of loved ones. But she also witnesses constancy and perseverance. Julia's life is shaped by what happens in the larger world, but it is the only life she knows, and Walker captures each moment, intimate and universal, with magical precision. Riveting, heartbreaking, profoundly moving.]] Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.
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2012
A Hologram for the King
 Dave Eggers
Kirkus Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission. A middle-aged man scrapes for his identity in a Saudi Arabian city of the future. This book by McSweeney's founder Eggers (Zeitoun, 2009, etc.) inverts the premise of his fiction debut, 2002's You Shall Know Our Velocity. That novel was a globe-trotting tale about giving away money; this one features a hero stuck in one place and desperate to make a bundle. Alan Clay is a 50-something American salesperson for an information technology company angling for a contract to wire King Abdullah Economic City, a Saudi commerce hub. Alan and his team are initially anxious to deliver their presentation to the king--which features a remote speaker appearing via hologram--but they soon learn the country moves at a snail-like pace. So Alan drifts: He wanders the moonscape of the sparely constructed city, obsesses over a cyst on his back, bonds with his troubled driver, pursues fumbling relationships with two women, ponders his debts and recalls his shortcomings as a salesman, husband and father. This book is in part a commentary on America's eroding economic might (there are numerous asides about offshoring and cheap labor), but it's mostly a potent, well-drawn portrait of one man's discovery of where his personal and professional selves split and connect. Eggers has matured greatly as a novelist since Velocity: Where that novel was gassy and knotted, this one has crisp sentences and a solid structure. He masters the hurry-up-and-wait rhythm of Alan's visit, accelerating the prose when the King's arrival seems imminent, then slackening it again. If anything, the novel's flaws seem to be products of too much tightening: An incident involving a death back home feels clipped and some passages are reduced to fable-like simplicity. Even so, Eggers' fiction has evolved in the past decade. This book is firm proof that that social concerns can make for resonant storytelling.]] Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.
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2012
Beautiful Ruins
Book Jacket   Jess Walter
Kirkus Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission. Hollywood operators and creative washouts collide across five decades and two continents in a brilliant, madcap meditation on fate. The sixth novel by Walter (The Financial Lives of the Poets, 2009, etc.) opens in April 1962 with the arrival of starlet Dee Moray in a flyspeck Italian resort town. Dee is supposed to be filming the Liz Taylor-Richard Burton costume epic Cleopatra, but her inconvenient pregnancy (by Burton) has prompted the studio to tuck her away. A smitten young man, Pasquale, runs the small hotel where she's hidden, and he's contemptuous of the studio lackey, Michael Deane, charged with keeping Dee out of sight. From there the story sprays out in multiple directions, shifting time and perspective to follow Deane's evolution into a Robert Evans-style mogul; Dee's hapless aging-punk son; an alcoholic World War II vet who settles into Pasquale's hotel to peck away at a novel; and a young screenwriter eagerly pitching a dour movie about the Donner Party. Much of the pleasure of the novel comes from watching Walter ingeniously zip back and forth to connect these loose strands, but it largely succeeds on the comic energy of its prose and the liveliness of its characters. A theme that bubbles under the story is the variety of ways real life energizes great art--Walter intersperses excerpts from his characters' plays, memoirs, film treatments and novels to show how their pasts inform their best work. Unlikely coincidences abound, but they feel less like plot contrivances than ways to serve a broader theme about how the unlikely, unplanned moments in our lives are the most meaningful ones. And simply put, Walter's prose is a joy--funny, brash, witty and rich with ironic twists. He's taken all of the tricks of the postmodern novel and scoured out the cynicism, making for a novel that's life-affirming but never saccharine. A superb romp. ]] Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.
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2012
Bring Up the Bodies
Book Jacket   Hilary Mantel
Kirkus Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission. Second in Mantel's trilogy charting the Machiavellian trajectory of Thomas Cromwell. The Booker award-winning first volume, Wolf Hall (2009), ended before the titular residence, that of Jane Seymour's family, figured significantly in the life of King Henry VIII. Seeing through Cromwell's eyes, a point of view she has thoroughly assimilated, Mantel approaches the major events slantwise, as Cromwell, charged with the practical details of managing Henry's political and religious agendas, might have. We rejoin the characters as the king's thousand-day marriage to Anne Boleyn is well along. Princess Elizabeth is a toddler, the exiled Queen Katherine is dying, and Henry's disinherited daughter Princess Mary is under house arrest. As Master Secretary, Cromwell, while managing his own growing fortune, is always on call to put out fires at the court of the mercurial Henry (who, even for a king, is the ultimate Bad Boss). The English people, not to mention much of Europe, have never accepted Henry's second marriage as valid, and Anne's upstart relatives are annoying some of Britain's more entrenched nobility with their arrogance and preening. Anne has failed to produce a son, and despite Cromwell's efforts to warn her (the two were once allies of a sort), she refuses to alter her flamboyant behavior, even as Henry is increasingly beguiled by Jane Seymour's contrasting (some would say calculated) modesty. Cromwell, a key player in the annulment of Henry's first marriage, must now find a pretext for the dismantling of a second. Once he begins interrogating, with threats of torture, Anne's male retainers to gather evidence of her adulteries, Mantel has a difficult challenge in keeping up our sympathy for Cromwell. She succeeds, mostly by portraying Cromwell as acutely aware that one misstep could land "him, Cromwell" on the scaffold as well. That misstep will happen, but not in this book. The inventiveness of Mantel's language is the chief draw here; the plot, as such, will engage only the most determined of Tudor enthusiasts.]] Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.
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2012
In One Person
 John Irving
Kirkus Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission. Billy Dean (aka Billy Abbott) has a difficult time holding it together in one person, for his bisexuality pulls him in (obviously) two different directions. Billy comes of age in what is frequently, and erroneously, billed as a halcyon and more innocent age, the 1950s. The object of his first love--or at least his first "sexual awakening"-- is Miss Frost, the librarian at the municipal library in the small town of First Sister, Vt. While Miss Frost's small breasts and large hands might have been a tip-off--and the fact that in a previous life she had been known as Al Frost--Billy doesn't quite get it until several years later, when the librarian seduces him. At almost the same time he becomes aware of Miss Frost as an erotic object, he develops an adolescent attraction to Jacques Kittredge, athlete and general Golden Boy at the academy they attend. And Billy also starts to have conflicted feelings toward Elaine, daughter of a voice teacher attached to the academy. (As Irving moves back and forth over the different phases of Billy's sexual life, we find he later consummates, but not happily, his relationship with Elaine.) We also learn of Billy's homoerotic relationships with Tom, a college friend, and with Larry, a professor Billy had studied with overseas. And all of these sexual attractions and compulsions play out against the background of Billy's unconventional family (his grandfather was known for his convincing portrayals of Shakespeare heroines--and he began to dress these parts offstage as well) and local productions of Shakespeare and Ibsen. Woody Allen's bon mot about bisexuality is that it doubled one's chances for a date, but in this novel Irving explores in his usual discursive style some of the more serious and exhaustive consequences of Allen's one-liner. ]] Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.
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2012
Calico Joe
 John Grisham
Kirkus Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission. Only one player in Major League Baseball history has been hit and killed by a pitch, but bean ballsballs thrown near the headhave ended careers. Grisham's (The Litigators, 2011, etc.) novel imagines the act and its consequences. It's 1973, another magic baseball season. The National League East has six teams contending, among them the traditionally hapless Chicago Cubs, soon jinxed once again when its first baseman is injured. Now the Cubs must add a minor leaguer to the roster. That's Joe Castle, a kid from Calico Rock, Ark. Calico Joe immediately begins to set rookie records, leading the Cubs to the top of the standings. Watching from New York is Paul Tracey, a baseball fan as avid as only an 11-year-old boy can be. In fact, Paul's father pitches for the New York Mets, but Warren Tracey, "accustomed to getting whatever he wanted," is a jerk. Warren is a journeyman pitcher, solid in an occasional game, kicked around from one team to another, never an All Star. Warren also abuses his family, drinks and chases women. The novel unfolds from Paul's adult perspective, with flashbacks. The crucial plot point comes in a flashback when Calico Joe, putting up "mind-boggling" numbers over 38 games, meets Warren in Shea Stadium and hits a home run. During his next at bat, as part of some unwritten "code," Warren goes head-hunting and beans the young player. Calico Joe's career is over, and he drifts home to Calico Rock, partially paralyzed, speech impeded, to work as a groundskeeper rather than earning a plaque in baseball's Hall of Fame. Decades later, long estranged from his father, Paul learns that Warren is dying of pancreatic cancer, and he decides to force his father to confront what he did to Joe Castle. Interestingly, the novel's most fully formed character is Warren, and while the narrative and settings are solid, the story drifts toward a somewhat unsatisfying, perhaps too easy, conclusion. A reconciliation story, Hallmark style.]] Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.
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2012
Gold
Book Jacket   Chris Cleave
Kirkus Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission. After the enormous popular success of his second novel (Little Bee, 2009, etc.), British author Cleave turns to the world of Olympic speed cyclists to explore the shifting sands of ambition, loyalty and love. Tom, who just barely missed his own medal in 1968, is coaching Kate and Zoe to represent Britain at the 2012 Olympics, which the 32-year-old women know will be their last. They are best friends but fierce rivals. Zoe, who already has won four Olympic golds, lives only to race and will do anything, including sacrifice friends, ethics and her own emotional needs, to come in first. Though technically as fast, Kate is a perpetual runner -up, and compared to Zoe, she seems almost soft; her willingness to put family needs first has caused her to pass up two previous Olympic competitions. And then there is Jack, who has his own Olympic golds. He met Zoe and Kate when the three were stars in a program Tom ran to train Britain's most talented adolescent cycling prospects. Jack was the sexy boy down from Scotland obviously bound for glory. Although he and Zoe shared a brief, highly charged and emotionally fraught affair, Kate was the one he fell in love with and married. Their little girl Sophie is the novel's real heart. Cleave has a gift for portraying difficult children who pull every heartstring. Battling leukemia and obsessed with Star Wars, Sophie furtively watches her parents' reactions to her illness. Kate both embraces and resents that she is the one who must make the sacrifices for Sophie, while Jack's commitment to his wife and daughter is deeper, if more complex, than Kate recognizes. Meanwhile, emotionally stunted Zoe is facing a personal crisis of her own, both public and private. Then higher-ups change the rules, and father figure Tom must choose whether Kate or Zoe is going to the Olympics. In weaker hands this would seem a bit contrived, but Cleave knows how to captivate with rich characters and nimble plotting.]] Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.
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2012
Wild
Book Jacket   Cheryl Strayed
Kirkus Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission. Torch, 2006) life quickly disintegrated. Family ties melted away; she divorced her husband and slipped into drug use. For the next four years life was a series of disappointments. "I was crying over all of it," she writes, "over the sick mire I'd made of my life since my mother died; over the stupid existence that had become my own. I was not meant to be this way, to live this way, to fail so darkly." While waiting in line at an outdoors store, Strayed read the back cover of a book about the Pacific Crest Trail. Initially, the idea of hiking the trail became a vague apparition, then a goal. Woefully underprepared for the wilderness, out of shape and carrying a ridiculously overweight pack, the author set out from the small California town of Mojave, toward a bridge ("the Bridge of the Gods") crossing the Columbia River at the Oregon-Washington border. Strayed's writing admirably conveys the rigors and rewards of long-distance hiking. Along the way she suffered aches, pains, loneliness, blistered, bloody feet and persistent hunger. Yet the author also discovered a newfound sense of awe; for her, hiking the PCT was "powerful and fundamental" and "truly hard and glorious." Strayed was stunned by how the trail both shattered and sheltered her. Most of the hikers she met along the way were helpful, and she also encountered instances of trail magic, "the unexpected and sweet happenings that stand out in stark relief to the challenges of the trail." A candid, inspiring narrative of the author's brutal physical and psychological journey through a wilderness of despair to a renewed sense of self.]] Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.
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2011
Unbroken
 Laura Hillenbrand
Kirkus Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission. The author of Seabiscuit (2001) returns with another dynamic, well-researched story of guts overcoming odds.Hillenbrand examines the life of Louis Zamperini, an American airman who, after his bomber crashed in the Pacific during World War II, survived 47 days on a life raft only to be captured by Japanese soldiers and subjected to inhuman treatment for the next two years at a series of POW camps. That his life spiraled out of control when he returned home to the United States is understandable. However, he was able to turn it around after meeting Billy Graham, and he became a Christian speaker and traveled to Japan to forgive his tormentors. The author reconstructs Zamperini's wild youth, when his hot temper, insubordination, and bold pranks seemed to foretell a future life of crime. His talents as a runner, however, changed all that, getting him to the 1936 Olympics and to the University of Southern California, where he was a star of the track team. When the story turns to World War II, Hillenbrand expands her narrative to include men who served with him in the Air Corps in the Pacific. Through letters and interviews, she brings to life not just the men who were with Zamperini on the life raft and in the Japanese camps, but the families they left behind. The suffering of the men is often difficult to read, for the details of starvation, thirst and shark attacks are followed by the specifics of the brutalities inflicted by the Japanese, particularly the sadistic Mutsuhiro Watanabe, who seemed dedicated to making Zamperini's life unbearable. Hillenbrand follows Watanabe's life after the Japanese surrender, providing the perfect foil to Zamperini's. When Zamperini wrote to his former tormentor to forgive him and attempted to meet him in person, Watanabe rejected him. Throughout are photographs of World War II bombers, POW camps, Zamperini and his fellow GIs and their families and sweethearts, providing a glimpse into a bygone era. Zamperini is still thriving at age 93.Alternately stomach-wrenching, anger-arousing and spirit-liftingand always gripping.]] Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.
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2012
The Amateur
 Edward Klein
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2012
Darth Vader and Son
Book Jacket   Jeffrey Brown
2012
Imagine
Book Jacket   Jonah Lehrer
Kirkus Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission. Wired and Wall Street Journal contributor Lehrer (How We Decide, 2009, etc.) explores creativity from the inside out, looking at the mechanics of the brain and the effects of mental states from sadness to depression to dementia. He takes readers to laboratories where neuroscientists and psychologists are conducting controlled experiments on creativity, and he gets inside the talented minds of songwriter Bob Dylan, graphic artist Milton Glaser, cellist Yo-Yo Ma and engineer/inventor Arthur Fry. Lehrer examines how social interaction and collaboration promote creativity within a company, using Pixar studios as an example, and how these factors operate in communities, citing Silicon Valley and Tel Aviv as places that foster innovation by enabling people to interact, converse with strangers as well as colleagues and encounter new ideas. Shakespeare's London was just such a place, and the author presents factors that made it so, such as a critical density of population and an explosion of literacy. Lehrer also explores what he calls the outsider factor, showing how newcomers to a field or people working in tangential areas generate new approaches to old problems. America, he writes, can increase its collective creativity if it so chooses. The author points out that our schools already do so with athletes, encouraging and rewarding them from a young age, and the same steps can be taken to nourish our brightest, most imaginative children, as demonstrated by the success of schools like the New Orleans Center for the Creative Arts and San Diego's High Tech High. Further, Lehrer argues for policy changes to enhance our nation's creativity: immigration reform because immigrants account for a disproportionate number of patent applications in the United States, and patent reform, in order to reward and thereby promote innovation. Lehrer writes with verve, creating an informative, readable book that sparkles with ideas.]] Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.
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2012
Lots of Candles, Plenty of Cake
 Anna Quindlen
Kirkus Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission. A humorous, sage memoir from the Pulitzer winner and acclaimed novelist. Like having an older, wiser sister or favorite aunt over for a cup of tea, Quindlen's (Every Last One, 2010, etc.) latest book is full of the counsel and ruminations many of us wish we could learn young. The death of her mother from cancer when she was 19 had a profound effect on the author, instilling in her the certainty that "life was short, and therefore it made [her] both driven and joyful" and happy to have "the privilege of aging." In her sincere and amusing style, the author reflects on feminism, raising her children, marriage and menopause. She muses on the perception of youth and her own changing body image--one of the "greatest gifts [for women] of growing older is trusting your own sense of yourself." Having women friends, writes Quindlen, is important for women of all ages, for they are "what we have in addition to, or in lieu of, therapists. And when we reach a certain age, they may be who is left." More threads on which the author meditates in this purposeful book: childbirth, gender issues, the joy of solitude, the difference between being alone and being lonely, retirement and religion. For her, "one of the greatest glories of growing older is the willingness to ask why, and getting no good answer, deciding to follow my own inclinations and desires. Asking why is the way to wisdom." A graceful look at growing older from a wise and accomplished writer--sure to appeal to her many fans, women over 50 and readers of Nora Ephron and similar authors.]] Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.
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2012
The Passage of Power: The Years of Lyndon Johnson
 Robert A. Caro
Kirkus Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission. The fourth volume of one of the most anticipated English-language biographies of the past 30 years. This installment covers Johnson's vice presidency under John F. Kennedy, his ascension to the presidency after the Kennedy assassination and his initial nine months as president. As in the earlier volumes, Caro (Master of the Senate, 2002, etc.) combines a compelling narrative and insightful authorial judgments into a lengthy volume that will thrill those who care about American politics, the foundations of power, or both. Even Johnson acolytes, sometimes critical about portions of the earlier volumes, are less likely to complain about their hero's portrayal here. While documenting the progression of his subject's character flaws, Caro admires Johnson's adroit adaptability. Though he chafed as vice president after giving up the leadership of the U.S. Senate, Johnson seems to have developed a grudging admiration for JFK. However, Johnson and Robert Kennedy could not put aside the animosity that had taken root on Capitol Hill. When Robert became not only his brother's confidant but also his attorney general, Johnson resented the appointment. Caro documents the feuds between them and vividly relates how the warfare between the two men continued after JFK's assassination. On a more upbeat track, the author explains how Johnson's lifelong commitment to helping the dispossessed led to passage of unprecedented civil-rights legislation. The evidence seems strong that JFK could not have engineered passage of much of the civil-rights legislation because he lacked Johnson's influence over members of Congress. The fifth volume is in the works, and it is expected to cover Johnson's election to the White House and his full term, with the conduct of the Vietnam War ceaselessly dogging him. The author writes that the next book "will be very different in tone." Before beginning the Johnson biography, Caro published a life of Robert Moses, The Power Broker (1974), a book many scholars consider a watershed in contemporary biography. The Johnson project deserves equal praise.]] Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.
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2012
Quiet
Book JacketImage by: Amazon   Susan Cain
Kirkus Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission. Jersey Shore narcissism and American Idol fame really be inhabited by reserved, sensitive types? According to Cain, yes--and we better start valuing their insight. Extroverts have their place, but things can quickly go haywire when we start confusing assertiveness with competence--the economic meltdown on Wall Street was the most stunning recent example. Had there been a few more conscientious, contemplative introverts in the boardroom (and had they made themselves heard), Cain writes, the country's fortunes would now be decidedly different. But today's prevailing susceptibility to "reward sensitivity," as embodied by alpha-dog Wall Street types, wasn't always the norm. Cain provides fascinating insight into how the United States shifted from an introvert-leaning "cult of character" to an extrovert-leaning "cult of personality" ruled by the larger-than-life Tony Robbinses of the world. Readers will learn that the tendency for some to be reserved is actually hardwired, and as every evolutionary biologist will tell you, innate characteristics are there for a reason--to help humans survive and thrive. The author also boldly tackles introverts themselves, as well as the ambivalence many often feel about being relegated to the corner. "Stick to your guns," writes fellow introvert Cain. The author's insights are so rich that she could pen two separate books: one about parenting an introverted child, and another about how to make an introvert/extrovert relationship work. An intriguing and potentially life-altering examination of the human psyche that is sure to benefit both introverts and extroverts alike.]] Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.
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2012
The Presidents Club
Book Jacket   Nancy Gibbs
Kirkus Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission. Two Time magazine editors chart the zigzag arc of relationships among the men who have occupied the White House since the mid 20th century. With their knowledge of the territory of presidential politics and personality, Gibbs and Duffy (co-authors: The Preacher and the Presidents: Billy Graham in the White House, 2007) assemble a compelling account of their tangled relationships. When Truman called on Hoover to help with postWorld War II recovery in Germany, the latter was in political purgatory, reviled by his own party. Throughout this massive work, the authors present numerous instances of presidents warming to their predecessors in surprising ways. Sometimes mutual admiration was already in place (Truman and Eisenhower--though it later disintegrated); sometimes, antipathy (Clinton and Bush II). But almost always the sitting presidents found in their predecessors some solace, willing ears and sound advice. Jimmy Carter emerges as a loose cannon, combining vast international experience (and a deep humanity) with a maverick spirit and a yearning for the limelight that caused some of his successors to cringe and curse. (Oddly, the authors do not say much about Carter's relationships with Bush II or Obama.) JFK turned to Ike at crucial times (Bay of Pigs); Clinton and Nixon developed a close relationship, though Nixon once threatened to write a negative op-ed if Clinton did not consult him about Nixon's upcoming trip to Russia. It was Reagan, write Gibbs and Duffy, who first called Nixon back from exile. Gerald Ford emerges as a genial soul, telling scandal-ridden Clinton that he'd better confess his lies. Perhaps the closest of all relationships was between Clinton and Bush I, a friendship literally birthed by a tsunami. In a well-researched, disinterested analysis, the authors show that collisions of ego, personality and politics can often result in creation, not destruction.]] Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.
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2012
Let's Pretend This Never Happened
 Jenny Lawson
Kirkus Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission. A mostly funny, irreverent memoir on the foibles of growing up weird. In blogger Lawson's debut book, "The Bloggess" (thebloggess.com) relies entirely on her life stories to drive an unconventional narrative. While marketed as nonfiction, it's a genre distinction the author employs loosely (a point made clear in the book's subtitle). On the opening page she defends the subtitle, explaining, "The reason this memoir is only mostly true instead of totally true is that I relish not getting sued." Yet Lawson also relishes exaggerative storytelling, spinning yarns of her childhood and early adulthood that seem so unbelievable they could hardly be made up. Nearly every line is an opportunity for a punch line--"Call me Ishmael. I won't answer to it, because it's not my name, but it's much more agreeable that most of the things I've been called"; "And that's how I ended up shoulder-deep in a cow's vagina"; "there's nothing more romantic than a proposal that ends with you needing a tetanus shot"--and while the jokes eventually wear thin, by that point readers will be invested in Lawson herself, not just her ability to tell a joke. The author's use of disclaimers, editorial notes and strike-thrus leaves the book feeling oddly unfinished, though it's a calculated risk that serves well as an inside joke shared between writer and reader at the expense of the literary elite. While Lawson fails to strike the perfect balance between pathos and punch line, she creates a comic character that readers will engage with in shocked dismay as they gratefully turn the pages.]] Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.
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