New York Times Bestsellers
Week of April 05, 2020
FICTION
#1  (Last Week: 1 Weeks on List: 82)  
Where The Crawdads Sing
Book Jacket   Delia Owens
Kirkus Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission. A wild child's isolated, dirt-poor upbringing in a Southern coastal wilderness fails to shield her from heartbreak or an accusation of murder."The Marsh Girl," "swamp trash"Catherine "Kya" Clark is a figure of mystery and prejudice in the remote North Carolina coastal community of Barkley Cove in the 1950s and '60s. Abandoned by a mother no longer able to endure her drunken husband's beatings and then by her four siblings, Kya grows up in the careless, sometimes-savage company of her father, who eventually disappears, too. Alone, virtually or actually, from age 6, Kya learns both to be self-sufficient and to find solace and company in her fertile natural surroundings. Owens (Secrets of the Savanna, 2006, etc.), the accomplished co-author of several nonfiction books on wildlife, is at her best reflecting Kya's fascination with the birds, insects, dappled light, and shifting tides of the marshes. The girl's collections of shells and feathers, her communion with the gulls, her exploration of the wetlands are evoked in lyrical phrasing which only occasionally tips into excess. But as the child turns teenager and is befriended by local boy Tate Walker, who teaches her to read, the novel settles into a less magical, more predictable pattern. Interspersed with Kya's coming-of-age is the 1969 murder investigation arising from the discovery of a man's body in the marsh. The victim is Chase Andrews, "star quarterback and town hot shot," who was once Kya's lover. In the eyes of a pair of semicomic local police officers, Kya will eventually become the chief suspect and must stand trial. By now the novel's weaknesses have become apparent: the monochromatic characterization (good boy Tate, bad boy Chase) and implausibilities (Kya evolves into a polymatha published writer, artist, and poet), yet the closing twist is perhaps its most memorable oddity.Despite some distractions, there's an irresistible charm to Owens' first foray into nature-infused romantic fiction. Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.
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#2  (Last Week: 2 Weeks on List: 2)  
The Boy From The Woods
Book Jacket   Harlan Coben
Kirkus Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission. Coben's latest darkest-suburbs thriller sets a decidedly offbeat detective on the trail of a crime with overtones unmistakably redolent of once and future presidential elections.Wilde is called Wilde because nobody's known his real name from the moment a pair of hikers found him foraging for himself in Ramapo Mountain State Forest 24 years ago. Now over 40, he's had experience as both a lost boy and a private investigator. That makes him an obvious person to help when his godson, Sweet Water High School student Matthew Crimstein, expresses concern to his grandmother, attorney Hester Crimstein, that his bullied classmate Naomi Pine has gone missing. Matthew doesn't really want anyone to help. He doesn't even want anyone to notice his agitation. But Hester, taking the time from her criminal defense of financial consultant Simon Greene (Run Away, 2019) to worm the details out of him, asks Wilde to lend a hand, and sure enough, Wilde, unearthing an unsavory backstory that links Naomi to bullying classmate Crash Maynard, whose TV producer father, Dash Maynard, is close friends with reality TV star-turned-presidential hopeful Rusty Eggers, finds Naomi hale and hearty. Everything's hunky-dory for one week, and then she disappears again. And this time, so does Crash after a brief visit to Matthew in which he tearfully confesses his guilt about the bad stuff he did to Naomi. This second disappearance veers into more obviously criminal territory with the arrival of a ransom note that demands, not money, but the allegedly incriminating videotapes of Rusty Eggers that Dash and Delia Maynard have had squirreled away for 30 years. The tapes link Rusty to a forgotten and forgettable homicide and add a paranoid new ripped-from-the-headlines dimension to the author's formidable range. Readers who can tune out all the subplots will find the kidnappers easy to spot, but Coben finds room for three climactic surprises, one of them a honey.Now that Coben's added politics to his heady brew, expect sex and religion to join the mix. Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.
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#3  (Last Week: 3 Weeks on List: 10)  
American Dirt
 Jeanine Cummins
Kirkus Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission. This terrifying and tender novel is a blunt answer to the question of why immigrants from Latin America cross the U.S. borderand a testimony to the courage it takes to do it.Cummins (The Crooked Branch, 2013, etc.) opens this propulsive novel with a massacre. In a pleasant Acapulco neighborhood, gunmen slaughter 16 people at a family barbecue, from a grandmother to the girl whose quinceaera they are celebrating. The only survivors are Lydia, a young mother, and her 8-year-old son, Luca. She knows they must escape, fast and far. Lydia's husband, Sebastin, is among the dead; he was a fearless journalist whose coverage of the local cartel, Los Jardineros, is the reason los sicarios were sent, as the sign fastened to his dead chest makes clear. Lydia knows there is more to it, that her friendship with a courtly older man who has become her favorite customer at the small bookstore she runs is a secret key, and that she and her son are marked for death. Cummins does a splendid job of capturing Lydia's and Luca's numb shock and then panic in the aftermath of the shootings, then their indomitable will to survive and reach el norteany place they might go in Mexico is cartel territory, and any stranger might be an assassin. She vividly recounts their harrowing travels for more than 1,000 miles by bus, atop a lethally dangerous freight train, and finally on foot across the implacable Sonoran Desert. Peril and brutality follow them, but they also encounter unexpected generosity and heroism. Lydia and Luca are utterly believable characters, and their breathtaking journey moves with the velocity and power of one of those freight trains.Intensely suspenseful and deeply humane, this novel makes migrants seeking to cross the southern U.S. border indelibly individual. Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.
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#4  (Last Week: - Weeks on List: 1)  
The Glass Hotel
 Emily St John Mandel
Kirkus Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission. A financier's Ponzi scheme unravels to disastrous effect, revealing the unexpected connections among a cast of disparate characters.How did Vincent Smith fall overboard from a container ship near the coast of Mauritania, fathoms away from her former life as Jonathan Alkaitis' pretend trophy wife? In this long-anticipated follow-up to Station Eleven (2014), Mandel uses Vincent's disappearance to pick through the wreckage of Alkaitis' fraudulent investment scheme, which ripples through hundreds of lives. There's Paul, Vincent's half brother, a composer and addict in recovery; Olivia, an octogenarian painter who invested her retirement savings in Alkaitis' funds; Leon, a former consultant for a shipping company; and a chorus of office workers who enabled Alkaitis and are terrified of facing the consequences. Slowly, Mandel reveals how her characters struggle to align their stations in life with their visions for what they could be. For Vincent, the promise of transformation comes when she's offered a stint with Alkaitis in "the kingdom of money." Here, the rules of reality are different and time expands, allowing her to pursue video art others find pointless. For Alkaitis, reality itself is too much to bear. In his jail cell, he is confronted by the ghosts of his victims and escapes into "the counterlife," a soothing alternate reality in which he avoided punishment. It's in these dreamy sections that Mandel's ideas about guilt and responsibility, wealth and comfort, the real and the imagined, begin to cohere. At its heart, this is a ghost story in which every boundary is blurred, from the moral to the physical. How far will Alkaitis go to deny responsibility for his actions? And how quickly will his wealth corrupt the ambitions of those in proximity to it? In luminous prose, Mandel shows how easy it is to become caught in a web of unintended consequences and how disastrous it can be when such fragile bonds shatter under pressure.A strange, subtle, and haunting novel. Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.
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#5  (Last Week: 7 Weeks on List: 3)  
In Five Years
Book Jacket   Rebecca Serle
Kirkus Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission. After acing a job interview and accepting a marriage proposal, Dannie Kohan has had the perfect day. That is, until she awakens to find herself five years in the future with a completely different man.Just one hour in that alternate reality shakes Dannie to her core. After all, highly ambitious Dannie and her boyfriend, David, have plotted out their lives in minute detail, and the sexy man in her dreamwas it a dream?is most certainly not in the script. Serle (The Dinner List, 2018) deftly spins these magical threads into Dannie's perfectly structured life, leaving not only Dannie, but also the reader wondering whether Dannie time traveled or hallucinated. Her best friend, Bella, would delight in the story given that she thinks Dannie is much too straight-laced, and some spicy dreaming might push Dannie to find someone more passionate than David. Unfortunately, glamorous Bella is in Europe with her latest lover. Ever pragmatic, Dannie consults her therapist, who almost concurs that it was likely a dream, and throws herself into her work. Pleased to have landed the job at a prestigious law firm, Dannie easily loses her worries in litigation. Soon four and a half years have passed with no wedding date set, and Bella is back in the U.S. with a new man in her life. A man who turns out to be literally the man of Dannie's dream. The sheer fact of Aaron Gregory's existence forces Dannie to reevaluate her trust in the laws of physics as well as her decision to marry David, a decision that seems less believable with each passing day. And as the architecture of Dannie's overplanned life disintegrates, Serle twists and twines the remnants of her dream into a surprising future.A heartwarming portrait of a broken heart finding a little healing magic. Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.
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#6  (Last Week: - Weeks on List: 1)  
The Last Odyssey
Book Jacket   James Rollins
 
#7  (Last Week: - Weeks on List: 1)  
The Sinner
 JR Ward
  Book Jacket
#8  (Last Week: 4 Weeks on List: 3)  
The Mirror & The Light
 Hilary Mantel
  Book Jacket
 
#9  (Last Week: - Weeks on List: 1)  
The City We Became
Book Jacket   NK Jemisin
Kirkus Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission. This extremely urban fantasy, a love/hate song to and rallying cry for the author's home of New York, expands her story "The City, Born Great" (from How Long 'Til Black Future Month, 2018).When a great city reaches the point when it's ready to come to life, it chooses a human avatar, who guides the city through its birthing and contends with an extradimensional Enemy who seeks to strike at this vulnerable moment. Now, it is New York City's time to be born, but its avatar is too weakened by the battle to complete the process. So each of the individual boroughs instantiates its own avatar to continue the fight. Manhattan is a multiracial grad student new to the city with a secret violent past that he can no longer quite remember; Brooklyn is an African American rap star-turned-lawyer and city councilwoman; Queens is an Indian math whiz here on a visa; the Bronx is a tough Lenape woman who runs a nonprofit art center; and Staten Island is a frightened and insular Irish American woman who wants nothing to do with the other four. Can these boroughs successfully awaken and heal their primary avatar and repel the invading white tentacles of the Enemy? The novel is a bold calling out of the racial tensions dividing not only New York City, but the U.S. as a whole; it underscores that people of color are an integral part of the city's tapestry even if some white people prefer to treat them as interlopers. It's no accident that the only white avatar is the racist woman representing Staten Island, nor that the Enemy appears as a Woman in White who employs the forces of racism and gentrification in her invasion; her true self is openly inspired by the tropes of the xenophobic author H.P. Lovecraft. Although the story is a fantasy, many aspects of the plot draw on contemporary incidents. In the real world, white people don't need a nudge from an eldritch abomination to call down a violent police reaction on people of color innocently conducting their daily lives, and just as in the book, third parties are fraudulently transferring property deeds from African American homeowners in Brooklyn, and gentrification forces out the people who made the neighborhood attractive in the first place. In the face of these behaviors, whataboutism, #BothSides, and #NotAllWhitePeople are feeble arguments.Fierce, poetic, uncompromising. Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.
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#10  (Last Week: 11 Weeks on List: 43)  
The Silent Patient
Book Jacket   Alex Michaelides
Kirkus Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission. A woman accused of shooting her husband six times in the face refuses to speak."Alicia Berenson was thirty-three years old when she killed her husband. They had been married for seven years. They were both artistsAlicia was a painter, and Gabriel was a well-known fashion photographer." Michaelides' debut is narrated in the voice of psychotherapist Theo Faber, who applies for a job at the institution where Alicia is incarcerated because he's fascinated with her case and believes he will be able to get her to talk. The narration of the increasingly unrealistic events that follow is interwoven with excerpts from Alicia's diary. Ah, yes, the old interwoven diary trick. When you read Alicia's diary you'll conclude the woman could well have been a novelist instead of a painter because it contains page after page of detailed dialogue, scenes, and conversations quite unlike those in any journal you've ever seen. " 'What's the matter?' 'I can't talk about it on the phone, I need to see you.' 'It's justI'm not sure I can make it up to Cambridge at the minute.' 'I'll come to you. This afternoon. Okay?' Something in Paul's voice made me agree without thinking about it. He sounded desperate. 'Okay. Are you sure you can't tell me about it now?' 'I'll see you later.' Paul hung up." Wouldn't all this appear in a diary as "Paul wouldn't tell me what was wrong"? An even more improbable entry is the one that pins the tail on the killer. While much of the book is clumsy, contrived, and silly, it is while reading passages of the diary that one may actually find oneself laughing out loud.Amateurish, with a twist savvy readers will see coming from a mile away. Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.
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NONFICTION
#1  (Last Week: 2 Weeks on List: 5)  
The Splendid And The Vile
 Erik Larson
Kirkus Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission. The bestselling author deals with one of the most satisfying good-vs.-evil battles in history, the year (May 1940 to May 1941) during which Churchill and Britain held off Hitler.Bookshelves groan with histories of Britain's finest hour, but Larson (Dead Wake: The Last Crossing of the Lusitania, 2015, etc.) employs a mildly unique strategy, combining an intense, almost day-to-day account of Churchill's actions with those of his family, two of his officials (Frederick Lindemann, who was Churchill's prime science adviser, and Lord Beaverbrook, minister of air production), and staff, including private secretary Jock Colville and bodyguard Walter Thompson. Since no one doubted they lived in extraordinary times and almost everyone kept journals and wrote letters, the author takes full advantage of an avalanche of material, much of which will be unfamiliar to readers. Churchill remains the central figure; his charisma, public persona, table talk, quirks, and sybaritic lifestyle retain their fascination. Authors have not ignored his indispensable wife, Clementine (Sonia Purnell's 2015 biography is particularly illuminating), but even history buffs will welcome Larson's attention to their four children, especially Mary, a perky adolescent and his favorite. He makes no attempt to rehabilitate Winston's only son, Randolph, a heavy-drinking spendthrift whose long-suffering wife, Pamela, finally consoled herself with a long affair with American representative Averell Harriman, which was no secret to the family and was entirely approved. Britain's isolation ended when Germany invaded the Soviet Union on June 22, 1941, but Larson ends on May 10. The Blitz was in full swing, with a particularly destructive raid on London, but that day also saw Rudolf Hess, Hitler's second in command, fly to England and engage in a wacky attempt (planned since the previous autumn) to negotiate peace. Nothing came of Hess' action, but that day may also have marked the peak of the Blitz, which soon diminished as Germany concentrated its forces against the Soviet Union.A captivating history of Churchill's heroic year, with more than the usual emphasis on his intimates. Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.
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#2  (Last Week: 1 Weeks on List: 3)  
Untamed
 Glennon Doyle
Kirkus Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission. More life reflections from the bestselling author on themes of societal captivity and the catharsis of personal freedom.In her third book, Doyle (Love Warrior, 2016, etc.) begins with a life-changing event. "Four years ago," she writes, "married to the father of my three children, I fell in love with a woman." That woman, Abby Wambach, would become her wife. Emblematically arranged into three sections"Caged," "Keys," "Freedom"the narrative offers, among other elements, vignettes about the soulful author's girlhood, when she was bulimic and felt like a zoo animal, a "caged girl made for wide-open skies." She followed the path that seemed right and appropriate based on her Catholic upbringing and adolescent conditioning. After a downward spiral into "drinking, drugging, and purging," Doyle found sobriety and the authentic self she'd been suppressing. Still, there was trouble: Straining an already troubled marriage was her husband's infidelity, which eventually led to life-altering choices and the discovery of a love she'd never experienced before. Throughout the book, Doyle remains open and candid, whether she's admitting to rigging a high school homecoming court election or denouncing the doting perfectionism of "cream cheese parenting," which is about "giving your children the best of everything." The author's fears and concerns are often mirrored by real-world issues: gender roles and bias, white privilege, racism, and religion-fueled homophobia and hypocrisy. Some stories merely skim the surface of larger issues, but Doyle revisits them in later sections and digs deeper, using friends and familial references to personify their impact on her life, both past and present. Shorter pieces, some only a page in length, manage to effectively translate an emotional gut punch, as when Doyle's therapist called her blooming extramarital lesbian love a "dangerous distraction." Ultimately, the narrative is an in-depth look at a courageous woman eager to share the wealth of her experiences by embracing vulnerability and reclaiming her inner strength and resiliency.Doyle offers another lucid, inspiring chronicle of female empowerment and the rewards of self-awareness and renewal. Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.
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#3  (Last Week: 4 Weeks on List: 110)  
Educated
Book Jacket   Tara Westover
Kirkus Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission. A recent Cambridge University doctorate debuts with a wrenching account of her childhood and youth in a strict Mormon family in a remote region of Idaho.It's difficult to imagine a young woman who, in her teens, hadn't heard of the World Trade Center, the Holocaust, and virtually everything having to do with arts and popular culture. But so it was, as Westover chronicles here in fairly chronological fashion. In some ways, the author's father was a classic anti-government paranoiacwhen Y2K failed to bring the end of the world, as he'd predicted, he was briefly humbled. Her mother, though supportive at times, remained true to her beliefs about the subordinate roles of women. One brother was horrendously abusive to the author and a sister, but the parents didn't do much about it. Westover didn't go to public school and never received professional medical care or vaccinations. She worked in a junkyard with her father, whose fortunes rose and fell and rose again when his wife struck it rich selling homeopathic remedies. She remained profoundly ignorant about most things, but she liked to read. A brother went to Brigham Young University, and the author eventually did, too. Then, with the encouragement of professors, she ended up at Cambridge and Harvard, where she excelledthough she includes a stark account of her near breakdown while working on her doctoral dissertation. We learn about a third of the way through the book that she kept journals, but she is a bit vague about a few things. How, for example, did her family pay for the professional medical treatment of severe injuries that several of them experienced? Andwith some justificationshe is quick to praise herself and to quote the praise of others.An astonishing account of deprivation, confusion, survival, and success. Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.
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#4  (Last Week: - Weeks on List: 1)  
Lady In Waiting
Book Jacket   Anne Glenconner
Kirkus Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission. An insider's look at the world of palaces, princesses, and the pressure of public life.Readers who've already binge-watched the third season of The Crown needn't fret. Glenconner's meticulously detailed memoir of her life in service to the crown will whet the appetite of anyone hungering for more tales of Britain's royals. Opening with her childhood on the fifth-largest estate in England, the author chronicles her personal and professional life as lady-in-waiting and confidante to her childhood friend Princess Margaret. In Glenconner's capable hands, we learn about a motley cast of characters including her horse- and Harley Davidson-riding mother, a Scottish great-aunt who was a Christian Scientist, and the formidable Queen Mary, who intimidated her grandchildren but gave the author good life advice. A pleasing blend of detail and balance, the book provides sufficient glimpses into sumptuous palaces and shooting parties to inspire awe and keen insight into the people who inhabit them. Glenconner's candor about wealth and privilege enables readers to sympathize as she describes the emotional coldness of her parents and her father's undisguised disappointment at her not being born a boy. The fun of racing with the princesses Elizabeth and Margaret through her family's palatial estate and various royal residences could not make up for the fact that the author's worthor lack thereofwas predicated on her sex and marriage. The poor-little-rich-girl story is hardly new, but what makes this account fresh and poignant is Glenconner's use of affluent characters to demonstrate the extent to which class trumps power; even those at the top seem helpless to challenge tradition. By unflinchingly examining everything from her troubled marriage and her fraught relationship with her children to the solace she found in service, the author emerges as a flawed yet steely woman worthy of respect. In laying her life bare, she demonstrates the limitations of being a woman in the British class system, showing that privilege is no insulation from suffering or pain.A must-have for loyal royal fans. Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.
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#5  (Last Week: - Weeks on List: 1)  
The Office
 Andy Greene
Kirkus Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission. An oral history of the long-running, mega-popular American sitcom.In this behind-the-scenes trove for the countless fans of The Office, Rolling Stone senior writer Greene pulls together comments, context, and insights in a round-table style that tracks the sitcom's origins and success. Inspired by its British TV namesake, created by Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant, the American version of The Office, created by Greg Daniels, initially "faced a lot of resistance" as it struggled to find a place as a "single-camera, laugh-track-free show about a struggling small town paper company." The narrative, ably curated by Greene, features the creators, actors, writers, and reviewers that spanned the show's nine-season run on NBC from 2005 to 2013. With cogent chapters about key episodes, lead characters such as the boss, Michael Scott (Steve Carrell), and assistant to the regional manager, Dwight Schrute (Rainn Wilson), craft talk, and nuts-and-bolts details, Greene smartly lets the contributors elaborate how a workplace mockumentary became a cultural phenomenon. Lively anecdotes reveal the closeness of cast and crew, and we see the writers' room as a highly collaborative, intense training ground that fostered talents such as Mindy Kaling and BJ Novak. Director J.J. Abrams characterizes the show as having "a kind of timelessness to it," a point driven home in reflections on what The Office did that differed from prime-time shows of its era: establishing a strong point of view, resisting glamorous actors, and building a set away from the traditional studio. Greene doesn't just rave, however; the book includes respectful candor about episode ideas that didn't pan out and late additions to the cast who didn't fit. When Carrell left after Season 7, The Office rallied for another two seasons, to mixed response. Amid rich trivia for pop-culture buffs, relationshipsboth fictional and realstand out. Everyone involved notes Carrell's genuine personality and professionalism; the text also serves as a tribute to his role in defining the series.A fond, funny, informative trip down Memory Lane for series buffs and newcomers alike. Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.
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#6  (Last Week: 3 Weeks on List: 15)  
The Mamba Mentality
 Kobe Bryant
Kirkus Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission. The future NBA Hall of Famer explores his process and craft.Love him or hate himthere seems to be little sentiment in betweenformer Los Angeles Lakers star Bryant is one of the greatest basketball players of all time. He was always known for his laser-sharp focus, exacting preparation, diligent attention to details, and extreme competitiveness, and all of those qualities are on display in this photo-heavy look back on his career. The key word is "career," as the author provides almost no biographical detail unrelated to basketballwhich is probably appropriate given that he has displayed little interest in anything beyond the game. Conveyed via short, no-nonsense snippets and accompanying photos on nearly every page, the narrative, such as it is, reflects Bryant's commitment to the game. From training to practice to recovery to mental preparation to highly technical descriptions of his mechanicsand those of his opponentshe delves into it all. The book will appeal to die-hard basketball fans intrigued by one of the game's brightest minds, but the structure is somewhat haphazard and may lose general readers. The real stars here are the stunning photographs (at least one on every page, with many double-page spreads), all taken by Andrew D. Bernstein, the longtime Lakers official photographer. Each photo effectively demonstrates what Bryant is discussing, and some feature hand-drawn embellishments by the author, showing the angle and direction of a pass or cut or some other element of a particular play. Bryant also delivers capsule assessments of many of his teammates, opponents, and coaches over the years: "Pau [Gasol] was my favorite teammate ever"; "Phil Jackson was more than just a coachhe was a visionary"; "Tex Winter was a basketball genius"; "Jerry West and I had a father-son type of relationship"; Lamar Odom "was the cool-ass uncle who took care of everybody and always came through in the clutch."There's little that dedicated Kobe fans don't already know, but the book is a visually beautiful presentation that would make an ideal gift for the Lakers fan in the house. Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.
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#7  (Last Week: 7 Weeks on List: 68)  
Becoming
Book Jacket   Michelle Obama
#8  (Last Week: 5 Weeks on List: 8)  
Open Book
Book Jacket   Jessica Simpson with Kevin Carr O’Leary
 
#9  (Last Week: 6 Weeks on List: 3)  
The Gift Of Forgiveness
 Katherine Schwarzenegger Pratt
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#10  (Last Week: 8 Weeks on List: 29)  
Talking To Strangers
 Malcolm Gladwell
Kirkus Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission. The latest intellectually stimulating book from the acclaimed author.Every few years, journalist Gladwell (David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling Giants, 2013, etc.) assembles serious scientific research on oddball yet relevant subjects and then writes a bestseller. Readers expecting another everything-you-think-you-know-is-wrong page-turner will not be disappointed, but they will also encounter some unsettling truths. The author begins with a few accounts of black Americans who died at the hands of police, using the incidents to show how most of us are incompetent at judging strangers. Countless psychological studies demonstrate that humans are terrible at detecting lying. Experts such as FBI agents don't perform better. Judges interview suspects to determine if they deserve bail; they believe it helps, but the opposite is true. Computers, using only hard data, do much better. Many people had qualms about Bernie Madoff, but interviewers found him completely open and honest; "he was a sociopath dressed up as a mensch." This, Gladwell emphasizes, is the transparency problem. We believe that someone's demeanor reflects their thoughts and emotions, but it often doesn't. Gladwell's second bombshell is what he calls "default to truth." It seems like a university president resigns in disgrace every few months for the same reason: They hear accusations of abusive behavior by an employeee.g., Larry Nassar at Michigan State, Jerry Sandusky at Penn Stateconduct an investigation, but then take no action, often claiming that they did not have enough evidence of deceit. Ultimately, everyone agrees that they were criminally negligent. Another example is CIA official James Angleton, who was convinced that there was a Soviet mole in the agency; his decades of suspicion and search ruined careers and crippled American intelligence. Gladwell emphasizes that society could not function if we did not give everyone the benefit of the doubt. "To assume the best of another is the trait that has created modern society," he writes. "Those occasions when our trusting nature is violated are tragic. But the alternativeto abandon trust as a defense against predation and deceptionis worse."Another Gladwell tour de force but perhaps his most disturbing. Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.
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