Publishers Weekly
2015
Beauth Is a Wound
Book Jacket   Eka Kurniawan and Annie Tucker
Kirkus Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission. English-language debut of a celebrated Indonesian author. "One afternoon on a weekend in May, Dewi Ayu rose from her grave after being dead for 21 years." With this surprising sentence, Kurniawan sets the stage for an epic picaresque that's equal parts Canterbury Tales and Mahabharata. Weaving back in forth in time, moving from character to character, the author tells the story of Indonesia from its Dutch colonial days, through the Japanese occupation during World War II, and into independence as a modern state. Kurniawan's characters are broadly drawn, but they aren't one-dimensional. Dewi Ayu, the most sought-after prostitute in the seaside city of Halimunda, is a shrewd, fearless, and resourceful woman but an ambivalent mother. Her lover, Maman Gendeng, is a romantic thug. The soldier Sodancho is both an illustrious revolutionary and a self-serving racketeer; he's also a rapist. These contradictions are more mythic than psychologically subtle, a reminder that few heroes are purely heroic. The great warriors of yore often come across as bullies and thugs, and when Homer called Ulysses "wily," it wasn't meant as a compliment. Some readers may object to this author's blithe depiction of horrorsincluding incest, bestiality, and murderbut that, too, makes good folkloric sense. In fairy tales, monstrosity is a sign, and violence is a catalyst; the concept of lingering trauma has no hold on the folk imagination and no place in the world Kurniawan has constructed. There are undoubtedly references and resonances here that are meaningful only to those well-versed in Indonesian history and indigenous storytelling traditions, but that's as it should be: Kurniawan is an Indonesian writer. That said, Anglophone readers are lucky to have access to this exuberantly excessive and captivating novel. Huge ambition, abundantly realized. Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.
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2015
Crow Fair: Stories
Book Jacket   Thomas McGuane
Kirkus Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission. Seventeen stories, straightforward but well-crafted, that cement McGuane's reputation as the finest short story writer of Big Sky countryand, at his best, beyond. These days, McGuane's writing could hardly be further from the showy, overwritten prose of his breakthrough novels like Ninety-two in the Shade (1973). His sense of humor remains, but it's wiser, more fatalistic and more Twain-like; he writes beautifully about the wilderness but always with an eye on its destructive power. As with much of his recent fiction, most of the stories here are set in Montana and turn on relationships going bust. In "Hubcaps," a young boy observes his parents' breakup through the filter of baseball and football games, capturing the protagonist's slowly emerging resentment; in "Lake Story," a man's long-running affair with a married woman collapses during an ill-advised public outing, exposing the thinness of the connections that united them; in "Canyon Ferry," a divorced dad's attempt to prove his intrepidness to his young son during an ice-fishing trip pushes them to the edge of disaster during a storm. One of the best stories in the collection, "River Camp," displays McGuane's skill at pairing emotional turmoil with the untamed outdoors, following two brothers-in-law whose attempt to get away from it all leads them to a tour guide of questionable mental stability, bears rustling through tents and plenty of exposed raw nerves about their marriages. "Stars" tells a similar story in a more interior mode, following an astronomer who increasingly fails to contain her anger at the workaday worldMcGuane skillfully depicts the small but constant ways life goes off-plumb for herand how she fumbles toward balance in the forest. The conflicts throughout this book are age-oldindeed, the title story evokes "Oedipus"but McGuane's clean writing and psychological acuity enliven them all. A slyly cutting batch of tales from a contemporary master. Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.
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2015
The Argonauts
 Maggie Nelson
Kirkus Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission. A fiercely provocative and intellectually audacious memoir that focuses on motherhood, love and gender fluidity.Nelson (Critical Studies/CalArts; The Art of Cruelty: A Reckoning, 2012, etc.) is all over the map in a memoir that illuminates Barthes and celebrates anal eroticism (charging that some who have written about it hide behind metaphor, whereas she's plain from the first paragraph that she's more interested in the real deal). This is a book about transitioning, transgendering, transcending and any other trans- the author wants to connect. But it's also a love story, chronicling the relationship between the author and her lover, the artist Harry Dodge, who was born a female (or at least had a female name) but has more recently passed for male, particularly with the testosterone treatments that initially concerned the author before she realized her selfishness. The relationship generally requires "pronoun avoidance." This created a problem in 2008, when the New York Times published a piece on Dodge's art but insisted that the artist "couldn't appear on their pages unless you chose Mr. or Ms.You chose Ms., to take one for the team.' " Nelson was also undergoing body changes, through a pregnancy she had desired since the relationship flourished. She recounts 2011 as "the summer of our changing bodies." She elaborates: "On the surface it may have seemed as though your body was becoming more and more male,' mine more and more female.' But that's not how it felt on the inside." The author turns the whole process and concept of motherhood inside out, exploring every possible perspective, blurring the distinctions among the political, philosophical, aesthetic and personal, wondering if her writing is violating the privacy of her son-to-be as well as her lover. Ultimately, Harry speaks within these pages, as the death of Dodge's mother and the birth of their son bring the book to its richly rewarding climax. A book that will challenge readers as much as the author has challenged herself. Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.
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2015
Black Earth: The Holocaust as History and Warning
 Timothy Snyder
Kirkus Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission. A prominent historian brings the Holocaust under new scrutiny and wonders if the right confluence of modern forces could bring genocide back. Snyder (History/Yale Univ.) polarized academics and other experts on the Holocaust with his study Bloodlands: Europe Between Hitler and Stalin (2010), and he largely continues that line of thinking here as he attempts to contextualize the events that led up to the systematic extermination of 6 million Jews. The author argues that Hitler saw the world in terms of a twisted kind of ecology, one in which he saw Jews as a mistake to be removed. He also glances off the myth of Judeo-Bolshevism, the mistaken concept that Jews were behind the Bolshevik Revolution in Russia, but he admits that there's no excuse for claims of ignorance of these graphic events. "What happened in the second half of 1941 was an accelerating campaign of murder that took a million Jewish lives and apparently convinced the German leadership that all Jews under their control could be eliminated," Snyder writes. "This calamity cannot be explained by stereotypes of passive or community Jews, of orderly or preprogrammed Germans, of beastly or antisemitic locals, or indeed by any other clich, no matter how powerful at the time, or how convenient today. It would have been impossible without a special kind of politics." In addition to probing the intellectual origins of the Final Solution, the author also offers thoughtful portrayals of Jews who survived execution and how institutions and states, as well as specific individuals, were crucial in these rescues. Snyder argues that the Holocaust should stand as a warning for our own future, but his conclusion is rather tepid in its analysis, with simplistic pronouncements that "our forgetfulness convinces us that we are different from Nazis by shrouding the ways that we are the same." A scholarly examination that poses important questions but ultimately offers less in the way of original reportage than Nikolaus Wachsmann's KL (2015). Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.
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2015
Between the World and Me
Book Jacket   Ta-Nehisi Coates
Kirkus Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission. The powerful story of a father's past and a son's future. Atlantic senior writer Coates (The Beautiful Struggle: A Father, Two Sons, and an Unlikely Road to Manhood, 2008) offers this eloquent memoir as a letter to his teenage son, bearing witness to his own experiences and conveying passionate hopes for his son's life. "I am wounded," he writes. "I am marked by old codes, which shielded me in one world and then chained me in the next." Coates grew up in the tough neighborhood of West Baltimore, beaten into obedience by his father. "I was a capable boy, intelligent and well-liked," he remembers, "but powerfully afraid." His life changed dramatically at Howard University, where his father taught and from which several siblings graduated. Howard, he writes, "had always been one of the most critical gathering posts for black people." He calls it The Mecca, and its faculty and his fellow students expanded his horizons, helping him to understand "that the black world was its own thing, more than a photo-negative of the people who believe they are white." Coates refers repeatedly to whites' insistence on their exclusive racial identity; he realizes now "that nothing so essentialist as race" divides people, but rather "the actual injury done by people intent on naming us, intent on believing that what they have named matters more than anything we could ever actually do." After he married, the author's world widened again in New York, and later in Paris, where he finally felt extricated from white America's exploitative, consumerist dreams. He came to understand that "race" does not fully explain "the breach between the world and me," yet race exerts a crucial force, and young blacks like his son are vulnerable and endangered by "majoritarian bandits." Coates desperately wants his son to be able to live "apart from feareven apart from me." This moving, potent testament might have been titled "Black Lives Matter." Or: "An American Tragedy." Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.
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2015
The Invention of Nature: Alexander von Humboldt's New World
Book Jacket   Andrea Wulf
Kirkus Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission. Engrossing biography of "a visionary, a thinker far ahead of his time," who "revolutionized the way we see the natural world." For most of his life, explorer and naturalist Alexander von Humboldt (1769-1859) was a household name. Never just a simple collector or adventurer, he poured out his ideas in lectures, conversations, and books that made him the public face of science during his era. In this fine account of an unbelievably energetic life, British commentator and historian Wulf (Chasing Venus: The Race to Measure the Heavens, 2012, etc.) emphasizes that his insights marked the end of the universal view (at least among scientists) of animals as soulless automatons and the belief that humans were lords of the Earth. He ushered in the modern era of natural science, includingalthough he usually gets little creditenvironmentalism. Humboldt, writes the author "saw the earth as a great living organism where everything was connected, conceiving a bold new vision of nature that still affects how we understand the world." The son of a wealthy Prussian aristocrat, he used his money to finance his iconic, grueling 1799-1804 expedition through the jungles and mountains of Latin America, ending with a long visit to President Thomas Jefferson, a lifelong correspondent. He eventually returned to Europe, wrote of his experiences in 34 bestselling volumes, and continued to travel, lecture, write, and excite artists, poets, scholars, and scientists for the remainder of a very long life. Wulf pauses regularly for chapters on other great men who acknowledged Humboldt's immense influence, including Goethe, Simn Bolvar, Charles Darwin, Jefferson, Ralph Waldo Emerson, and Henry David Thoreau. Humboldt was the Einstein of the 19th century but far more widely read, and Wulf successfully combines a biography with an intoxicating history of his times. Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.
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2015
The Story of the Lost Child: Neapolitan Novels, Book Four
 Elena Ferrante and Ann Goldstein
Kirkus Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission. Inexorable seismic changesin society and in the lives of two female friendsmark the final volume of Ferrante's Neapolitan series. Elena and Lila, the emotionally entwined duo at the center of Ferrante's (Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay, 2014, etc.) unsentimental examination of women's lives and relationships, advance through middle age and early old age (perhaps) in this calamitous denouement to their saga. The more fortunate Elena, an author who struggles to assert herself in the misogynistic world of 1970s and '80s Italy, is drawn back to Naples and its internecine bloodshed; Lila, who has stayed in the city of their youth, is at odds with its controlling families. Elena's "escape" and attempts at personal and familial fulfillment, on her own terms, hint at the changing roles of women in that era, but it's Lila's daily struggle in a Camorra-controlled neighborhood that illuminates the deep fractures within contemporary Italian society. The paths to self-determination taken by the lifelong friends merge and separate periodically as the demands of child-rearing, work, and community exert their forces. The far-reaching effects of a horrific blow to Lila's carefully maintained equilibrium resonate through much of the story and echo Ferrante's trademark themes of betrayal and loss. While avid devotees of the Neapolitan series will be gratified by the return of several characters from earlier installments, the need to cover ground in the final volume results in a telescoped delivery of some plot points. Elena's narrative, once again, never wavers in tone and confidently carries readers through the course of two lives, but the shadowy circumstances of those lives will invite rereading and reinterpretation. The enigmatic Ferrante, whose identity remains the subject of international literary gossip, has created a mythic portrait of a female friendship in the chthonian world of postwar Naples. Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.
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2015
Delicious Foods: A Novel
 James Hannaham
Kirkus Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission. A Southern farm provides the backdrop for a modern-day slavery tale in this textured, inventive and provocatively funny novel.The second novel by Hannaham (Creative Writing/Pratt Institute; God Says No, 2009) opens with a harrowing prologue: Eddie, a black 17-year-old, is manically driving a truck from a Louisiana plantation that he's escaped. His hands have been cut off for reasons not explained till the end of the novel, and he's desperate to get to Minnesota. The story then snaps back to six years earlier, as Eddie's mother, Darlene, descends into crack addiction after the murder of her husband, a shop owner and community organizer who fell afoul of local bigots. While working as a prostitute, she and other addicts and indigents are corralled by a woman into a van and coerced to sign a contract that effectively makes them the property of Delicious Foods, a produce farm that plies its workers with drugs and alcohol to extract cheap, unquestioning labor. What's so funny about any of that? Partly Hannaham's daring approach to style and point of view: Much of the novel is narrated by the crack Darlene is addicted to. Nicknamed Scotty, the drug first shows up as a few rocks in her purse as she works the streets and throughout has a voice like the devil on your shoulder. ("I rushed into the few doubting and unbelieving parts left in Darlene's mind and I shouted, Babygirl, surrender to yes! Say yes to good feelings!") The plot turns on Darlene's struggles at Delicious Foods and Eddie's efforts to find her, and in the process, Hannaham finds room to comment on and satirize a variety of racial (and racist) iconographies, from watermelons to David Duke to voodoo to the sexual demands of plantation owners. In that context, the fate of Eddie's hands becomes a potent allegory for centuries of black men and women stripped of the power to control their destinies. A poised and nervy study of race in a unique voice. Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.
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2014
On immunity : an inoculation.
Book Jacket   Eula Biss
Kirkus Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission. National Book Critics Circle Award winner Biss (Notes from No Mans Land,2009) investigates the nature of vaccinations, from immunity as myth to the intricate web of the immune system.The fears surrounding vaccines are not late-breaking news, as the author notes in this literate, rangy foray into the history and consequences of vaccination. In the 18th centuryand frankly, little less todayit was understandable to associate vaccination with the work of witches: The ideathat pus from a sick cow can be scraped into a wound on a person and make that person immune to a deadly disease is almost as hard to believe now as it was in 1796. Indeed, the idea of poking yourself with a dose of virulent organisms to save yourself from them is not an intuitive leap. Biss ably tracks the progress of immunization: as metaphorthe protective impulse to make our children invulnerable (Achilles, Oedipus); as theory and science (the author provides a superb explanation of herd immunity: when enough people are vaccinated with even a relatively ineffective vaccine, viruses have trouble moving from host to host and cease to spread); as a cash cow for big pharma; and as a class issuethe notion of the innocent and the pure being violated by vaccinations, that people without good living standards need vaccines, whereas vaccines would only clog up the more refined systems of middle-class and upper-class people. Biss also administers a thoughtful, withering critique to more recent fears of vaccinesthe toxins they carry, from mercury to formaldehyde, and accusations of their role in causing autism. The author keeps the debate lively and surprising, touching on Rachel Carson here and Dr. Bob there. She also includes her fathers wise counsel, which accommodates the many sides of the topic but arrives at a clear point of view: Vaccinate.Brightly informative, giving readers a sturdy platform from which to conduct their own research and take personal responsibility. Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.
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2014
Barbarian days : a surfing life.
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2014
Thirteen days in september : carter, begin, and sadat at camp david.
 Lawrence Wright
Kirkus Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission. A Pulitzer Prize-winning author reconstructs and reflects on "one of the great diplomatic triumphs of the twentieth century" and the men who made it happen.Even though the contemplated regional framework for peace collapsed, the 1978 agreement forged at Camp David between Israel and Egypt has held, a remarkable achievement in the tortured history of the Middle East, "where antique grudges never lose their stranglehold on the societies in their grip." New Yorker staff writer Wright (Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood, and the Prison of Belief, 2013, etc.) presents a day-by-day account of the tense negotiations, artfully mixing in modern and ancient history, biblical allusions, portraits of the principalsJimmy Carter, Menachem Begin, Anwar Sadatand thumbnail sketches of key participants: Americans Cyrus Vance and Zbigniew Brzezinski, Israelis Moshe Dayan and Ezer Weizman, and Egyptians Mohamed Ibrahim Kamel and Boutros Boutros-Ghali. The author examines all the forces that shaped these historic talks: the isolation imposed by the presidential retreat high in Maryland's Catoctin Mountains; the divisions within the Egyptian and Israeli delegations; the almost unprecedented nature of detailed negotiations conducted not by subordinates but by the heads of state; the hazardous political stakes for each leader and the powerful role played by their deeply held religious beliefs; the critical part played by President Jimmy Carter, who moved adroitly from facilitator to catalyst to secure an agreement. Throughout, telling detail abounds: Rosalynn Carter spontaneously suggesting to her husband that the intransigents should come to the beautiful and peaceful Camp David to revive stalled talks; Begin startling his hosts on a brief outing to the Gettysburg battlefield by reciting Lincoln's entire address from memory; Carter dramatically accusing Sadat of betrayal and, at one point, thinking to himself that Begin was a "psycho"; Israel's fiercest warrior, Dayan, by then going blind, bloodying his nose by walking into a tree; Begin bursting into tears as Carter presents him with conference photos inscribed to each of the prime minister's grandchildren. A unique moment in history superbly captured. Yet another triumph for Wright. Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.
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2014
The corpse exhibition and other stories of Iraq
 Hassan Blasim ; translated from the Arabic by Jonathan Wright
Kirkus Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission. Blasim debuts with 14 surrealist stories about his beleaguered homeland, Iraq, and its people. Expect nothing but the impressionistic here--magical realism, bloody allegories and macabre parables--elusive tales, each one a different window into modern Iraq's tragic history. "An Army Newspaper" alludes to stories sent from the Iraq-Iran war front, a conflict costing a million dead, one generating a "flood of stories [that] did not cease" requiring a "special incinerator" to consume. "The Madman of Freedom Square" seems a parable about the U.S. invasion of Iraq, swirling around "two young men...their blond hair and their white complexions." In each piece, there's no happy ending, but Blasim's language is powerful, moving and deeply descriptive, thanks to Wright's translation. Saddam Hussein may be referenced in "The Killers and the Compass," a story of evil Abu Hadid, a brute who seduces his brother into burying a deaf man alive. Expect no tale here that translates war and tragedy into reportorial-style fiction stories. One of Blasim's less obscure tales is "The Reality and the Record." It chronicles the travails of a humble ambulance driver, kidnapped and forced to act in propaganda videos variously as an Afghan jihadist, a Sunni terrorist, a Shiite martyr, a Kurd, an infidel Christian, a Saudi terrorist, a Syrian Baathist intelligence agent and a Revolutionary Guard from Zoroastrian Iran. The most accessible story, and the most powerful fable about war and its consequences, is the last effort, "The Nightmares of Carlos Fuentes." A man escapes the abattoir of Baghdad and happily takes up Netherlands residence and then citizenship. He changes his name to Carlos Fuentes and quickly adapts to all that is Dutch, only to be plagued by nightmares. All the stories share a complexity and depth that will appeal to readers of literary fiction, while some focus more plainly on evil's abyss, much like biblical parables. A collection of fractured-mirror reality stories for fans of Gnter Grass, Gabriel Garca Mrquez or Jorge Luis Borges.]] Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.
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2014
Limonov
Book Jacket   Emmanuel Carr re ; translated by John Lambert
Kirkus Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission. The life of a controversial Russian writer and adventurer.Journalist, novelist, screenwriter and director Carrre (My Life as a Russian Novel, 2010, etc.) was amazed when he heard some of Russias liberal intellectuals warmly praise Edward Limonov (b. 1943), infamous for his right-wing views and incendiary fascist remarks. That paradox inspired the investigation that resulted in this book, winner of the Prix Renaudot when it was published in France in 2011. Combining biography, political history and memoir, Carrre places Limonovs romantic, dangerous life in the context of what he calls his own bourgeois bohemian experiences. Limonov, a Russian Jack London, has been wildly impetuous: A rebel, thug and poet, he left his native Ukraine when he was 24; moved to Moscow, where he eked out a living sewing pants; married a beautiful model with whom, in 1974, he immigrated to New York, imagining a radiant future as a writer. Despondent after his wife left him, he became a homeless tramp; then, in a sharp twist of fate, he got a job as butler to a multimillionaire, through whom he met a literary agent who placed his first bookautobiographical fictionwith a French publisher. Paris was next, where the literati treated him like a bit of a star. But he was restless. Learning of conflict in the Balkans, he decided to fight with the Serbs. When Carrre interviewed him in Moscow in 2007, he was leading a national assembly of opposition forces. Limonov has been opposed to political leaders (most recently, cold and cunning Putin), to the adulation bestowed upon such writers as Joseph Brodsky, Pasternak and Yevtushenko, and to glasnost, which led his countrymen to believe that they had been duped by a gang of criminals. Limonov prefers his Russia powerful and morose.A searching portrait of an arrogant, heroic and willful mana mix of Jean Genet, Don Quixote and King Lear. Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.
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2014
Those who leave and those who stay.
Book Jacket   Elena Ferrante and Ann Goldstein
Kirkus Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission. This third volume of the Neopolitan trilogy continues to chronicle the turbulent lives of longtime friends Lila and Elena, as begun in the enigmatic Ferrante's My Brilliant Friend (2012) and The Story of a New Name (2013). With Naples and the looming specter of Vesuvius once again forming the ominous background to the girls' lives, Elena travels from the city of her childhood, first to the university in Pisa, and then beyond upon her marriage to Pietro, the intellectual heir to an influential Milanese family. Lila's existence in Naples follows a more brutal and mundane course, but both young women are confronted with the social and political upheavals that echoed across Italy (and the world) during the late 1960s and early '70s. Always rivals as well as friends, Lila and Elena struggle to assert themselves in a landscape of shifting alliances and growing corruption in Naples as well as in a culture where women's desires almost never direct the course of family life. The domestic balancing acts performed by both womenone leading a life of privilege, one burdened by poverty and limited choiceilluminate the personal and political costs of self-determination. The pseudonymous Ferrantewhose actual identity invites speculation in the literary worldapproaches her characters' divergent paths with an unblinking objectivity that prevents the saga from sinking into melodrama. Elena is an exceptional narrator; her voice is marked by clarity in recounting both external events and her own internal dialogues (though we are often left to imagine Lila's thought process, the plight of the non-narrative protagonist). Goldstein's elegant translation carries the novel forward toward an ending that will leave Ferrante's growing cadre of followers wondering if this reported trilogy is destined to become a longer series. Ferrante's lucid rendering of Lila's and Elena's entwined yet discrete lives illustrates both that the personal is political and that novels of ideas can compel as much as their lighter-weight counterparts. Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.
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2014
A brief history of seven killings : a novel
 Marlon James
Kirkus Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission. An assassination attempt on Bob Marley stokes this sweeping portrait of Jamaica, encompassing a host of gangsters, CIA agents, journalists and businessmen.Marley is never mentioned by name in the third novel by James (The Book of Night Women, 2009, etc.). But the singer is unmistakably him, and the opening chapters, set in late 1976, evoke an attempt on his life sparked by tensions between gangs representing rival political parties. (In reality, as in the novel, the singer was wounded and went into exile in England.) And though we never hear Marley in his own voice, James massive novel makes room for pretty much everybody elses. Most prominent are Papa-Lo and Josey Wales, kingpins of the Copenhagen City gangs; Barry, a cynical CIA agent with orders to stop the march of communism though the red menace is the least of the islands problems; Alex, aRolling Stonereporter assigned to cover Marley who becomes enmeshed with the gangs; and Nina, who had a fling with Marley. As in his previous novels, James is masterful at inhabiting a variety of voices and dialects, and he writes unflinchingly about the violence, drug-fueled and coldblooded, that runs through the islands ghettos. Moreover, he has a ferocious and full character in Nina, who persistently reboots her life across 15 years, eventually moving to New York; her story exemplifies both the instinct to escape violence and the impossibility of shaking it entirely. But the book is undeniably overstuffed, with plenty of acreage given to low-level thugs, CIA-agent banter and Alexs outsider ramblings about Jamaican culture. James fiction thus far is forming a remarkable portrait of Jamaica in the 19th and 20th centuries, but the novels sprawl can be demanding.An ambitious and multivalent, if occasionally patience-testing, book. Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.
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2014
Bark: Stories
 Lorrie Moore
Kirkus Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission. One of the best short story writers in America resumes her remarkable balancing act with a collection that is both hilarious and heartbreaking, sometimes in the same paragraph. With the announced retirement and Nobel coronation of Alice Munro, Moore (Birds of America, 1998, etc.) seems peerless in her command of tone and her virtuosity in writing stories that could never be mistaken for anyone else's. There's nothing particularly "difficult" about her fiction--except for the incisive reflections of the difficulties, complexities and absurdities of life--nothing academic or postmodern in her approach (except perhaps for the deus ex machina motorcycle gang that inadvertently crashes the unusual wedding in the astonishing closing story, "Thank You for Having Me"). And there is no title story, though the two longest (and two of the best) stories suggest the dual reference of the word "bark," to a tree or a dog. In the opening "Debarking," a man in the aftermath of a painful divorce becomes involved with an attractive woman who is plainly crazy--and perhaps the craziness is part of the attraction? "Oh, the beautiful smiles of the insane," he ruminates. "Soon, he was sure, there would be a study that showed that the mentally ill were actually more attractive than other people." He is a man with a protective bark, and one whose ex-wife accused him of "being hard on people--You bark at them.' " In "Wings," a singer involved with a musician who may be crazy, or just deceitful or manipulative, befriends an older man, who responds to the adage "his bark is worse than his bite" with: "I don't know why people always say that. No bark is worse than a bite. A bite is always worse." Every one of these stories has a flesh-tearing bite to it, though all but one ("Referential") are also fiendishly funny. In stories both dark and wry, Moore wields a scalpel with surgical precision.]] Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.
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2014
The dog
Book Jacket   Joseph O'Neill
Kirkus Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission. Lost love impels a New York lawyer to try to change his life with a job overseas in this circuitous, unsettling novel.ONeill (Netherland, 2008, etc.) returns to his previous novels theme of displacement as he depicts a man, known only as X., doing legal work in Dubai for a wealthy Lebanese family. He gradually reveals how he and his lover, lawyers in the same Manhattan firm, grew distant and then broke up over the question of starting a family. In the emirate, he shuffles paper, visits prostitutes, has pedicures and provides an informal travelogue on the nouveau riche of his new realm. He ponders the disappearance of another expatriate in Dubai named Ted Wilson, a scuba diver nicknamed the Man from Atlantis after a 1970s TV show about the lone survivor of that mythical civilization. X. learns of bidoons, stateless persons common throughout the Persian Gulf. He hears of an Iranian who runs into visa problems after going through passport control at the Dubai airport and decides to live in its duty-free area. X. himself was born in Switzerland and raised in the U.S. He mulls enlisting in the French Foreign Legion. While the variations of displacement resonate engagingly, the reader must navigate a patchwork of prose styles, from slang to 200-word sentences to syllogistic gobbledygook to deadly legalese. Its as if the narrator is seeking a viable language to communicate from his inner Robinson, as in Crusoe, and the inward island on which he must be marooned. ONeill gets some much-needed comic effects from the linguistic jigsaw puzzle, although hes also capable of outright funny momentsa scene on a yacht includes confirmation that gratuitous domestic nudity is prevalent among the rich and famous.Shades of Kafka and Conrad permeate ONeills thoughtful modern fable of exile, a sad story that comments darkly on the human condition and refuses bravely to trade on the success of Netherland. Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.
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2014
Deep down dark : the untold stories of 33 men buried in a Chilean mine, and the miracle that set them free
Book Jacket   Hector Tobar
Kirkus Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission. The mind-boggling story of 33 Chilean miners trapped 2,000 feet underground for 10 weeks. Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and novelist Tobar (The Barbarian Nurseries, 2011, etc.) spins a gripping narrative, taut to the point of explosion, of the 2010 story that made international headlines for weeks. He doesn't rush a complex story with many strands: the men below and their cacophony of woes, the families above, the political maneuvering of the Chilean state, the tightfisted mine owners and the company of rescuers. The locale featured "harsh, waterless surroundings [that] serve as a laboratory for studying the possibility of life on other planets," and the mine itself was a sweltering jackstraw of tunnels, some nearing 100 years in age and ripe for disaster, the rock groaning and hissing as the great tectonic plates collided deep below. Tobar's depiction of the cave-in is cinematic: The ceiling and floor became "undulating waves of stone," then the lights went out as colossal wedges of rock collapsed to seal the exits. The author fully invests readers in the men's plight by portraying the crushing realization of the dire circumstances, individual acts of decency and pettiness, and moments of sublimity and madness. He also devotes sympathetic attention to the gathering tent city of relatives who refused to leave, certainly not until the bodies were recovered. When the first bore hole punched through, suddenly, "the devil is present in the mine, taking form in all the greed, the misunderstanding, the envy, and the betrayals between the men." Ultimately, once the miners made it out alive, via a frightening escape vehicle, life was gooduntil all the other stuff that surfaced along with the miners began to bring many of them down. An electrifying, empathetic work of journalism that makes a four-year-old story feel fresh. Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.
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2014
The empathy exams : essays
 Leslie Jamison
Kirkus Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission. A dazzling collection of essays on the human condition.In her nonfiction debut, the winner of the 2011 Graywolf Press Nonfiction Prize, Jamison (The Gin Closet, 2010) presents 11 essays that probe pain alongside analyses of its literal and literary trappings. Whether tackling societal woes such as strip mining, drug wars, disease and wrongful imprisonment, or slippery abstract constructs including metaphor, sentimentality, confession and "gendered woundedness," Jamison masterfully explores her incisive understanding of the modern condition. The author's self-conscious obsession with subjectivity and openness to the jarringly unfamiliar become significant themes. In the title essay, for example, the author uses her job as a medical actortasked with pretending to be a patient afflicted with a predetermined illness in the service of measuring medical students' diagnostic skills and bedside mannersas a springboard for examining the meaning of empathy and her relation to it. "Empathy comes from the Greek empatheiaem (into) and pathos (feeling)a penetration, a kind of travel," she writes. "It suggests you enter another person's pain as you'd enter another country, through immigration and customs, border crossing by way of query: What grows where you are? What are the laws? What animals graze there?" Jamison's uncanny ease in crossing boundaries between the philosophical and the personal enables her both to isolate an interiority of feeling and capture it in accessible metaphorical turns of phrase: "Melodrama is something to binge on: cupcakes in the closet." Throughout, Jamison exhibits at once a journalist's courage to bear witness to acts and conditions that test human limitsincarceration, laboring in a silver mine, ultramarathoning, the loss of a child, devastating heartbreak, suffering from an unacknowledged illnessand a poet's skepticism at her own motives for doing so. It is this level of scrutiny that lends these provocative explorations both earthy authenticity and moving urgency.A fierce, razor-sharp, heartwarming nonfiction debut. Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.
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2013
Going clear : Scientology, Hollywood, and the prison of belief
 Lawrence Wright
Kirkus Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission. A devastating history-cum-expos of the Church of Scientology. Wright has written about religion on several occasions (Saints and Sinners, 1993; Remembering Satan, 1994) and received a Pulitzer Prize for his book on terrorism (The Looming Tower: Al-Qaeda and the Road to 9/11, 2006)--all of which clearly served as excellent training for this book. It begins, of course, with the life of L. Ron Hubbard, a manic-depressive, wannabe naval hero, sci-fi writer and self-styled shaman who "believed that the secrets of existence were accidentally revealed to him" after receiving a gas anesthetic in the dentist's chair. After that experience, the visions kept arriving, leading to his 1950 self-help best-seller, Dianetics, which laid the groundwork for a "religion" where "thetans" (souls) are stymied by "engrams," self-destructive suggestive impulses lodged in the brain (not a few of which were inflicted on mankind following an intergalactic war that took place 75 million years ago.) Through personal, deeply revelatory counseling sessions known as auditing, adherents deal with these obstacles, and for wealthy celebrities, Scientology (and its many Hollywood connections) has supposedly cleared the path to success. It has also destroyed many others, usually less well-heeled people from within, who raise questions or try to leave, or outside forces (journalists, the IRS, family members) investigating the church's multiple personal or financial abuses. Wright exposes the church's many sins: covert espionage, psychological torment, threatened blackmail using confidential information from auditing sessions and constant physical assaults on members by tyrannical current leader David Miscavage. The author is also interested in something deeper: If it's all a con, why is everyone involved (especially the late Hubbard) so deeply invested in its beliefs? Wright doesn't go out of his way to exaggerate the excesses of Scientology; each page delivers startling facts that need no elaboration. A patient, wholly compelling investigation into a paranoid "religion" and the faithful held in its sweaty grip.]] Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.
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2013
The silence and the roar
Book Jacket   Nihad Sirees ; translated from the Arabic by Max Weiss
Kirkus Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission. In this short, satiric fable, a formerly famous writer silenced by an authoritarian regime finds himself in a predicament where Kafka meets Catch-22. In self-imposed exile from his native Syria (where this book has been banned), the author never names his homeland in the novel, originally published in 2004 and subsequently translated for European publication but only now receiving its first English translation. It details one tumultuous day in the life of Fathi Chin, once a well-known writer who has resisted the demand that the entirety of the culture be devoted to celebration of the ruler known only as the Leader. On this very day, there is a parade to pay 20th-anniversary tribute to the regime, and those who don't participate must at least watch on television. Once "a well-known personality," the writer has done his best to disappear from public life and stay below the government's radar, not resisting, just abstaining. But the parade draws him outdoors, where he sees uniformed thugs beating a young man for no apparent reason. "I had spent twenty years trying not to get involved in affairs involving the Comrades, purposefully avoiding them, but the sight of that young man's beseeching eyes pressed me to do something." His intervention results in the confiscation of his ID card, which he is told he will need to go to the government to retrieve. His problem is that "in order to get inside the Party building you have to show your ID card. Several times I told the Comrades at the door that I had come there in order to reclaim my ID card." Has he become enmeshed in the madness by coincidence or conspiracy? As the day progresses, a visit with his mother and a distracted sexual interlude with his girlfriend add comic intrigue to his dilemma. Since language is important to both the writer and his culture, it's hard to tell from the translation whether what is rendered as slangy clich is meant to be, as the protagonist's reflections don't seem particularly well-written.]] Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.
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2013
A Constellation of Vital Phenomena
Book Jacket   Anthony Marra
Kirkus Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission. A decade of war in Chechnya informs this multivalent, heartfelt debut, filled with broken families, lost limbs and valiant efforts to find scraps of hope and dignity. Marra's vision of Chechnya in the years following the fall of the Soviet Union is inevitably mordant: religious and separatist battles have left the roadways studded with land mines, the buildings pockmarked with bullets and many residents disappeared and tortured. The characters Marra brings to this landscape, though, are thankfully lacking in pieties about the indomitability of the human spirit. At the core of the story is Sonja, a longtime doctor with a flinty, seen-it-all demeanor who, as the story starts in 2004, has taken in an unlikely pair: Akhmed, a barely competent but well-intentioned doctor who is protecting Havaa, whose father has been abducted. Akhmed is quickly put to work learning to saw off shrapnel-flayed legs, and as the novel shifts back and forth in time, each of their stories deepens. The most affecting and harrowing subplot involves Sonja's sister Natasha, who is missing as the story begins; we quickly learn the various indignities she suffered in the years before, forced into prostitution and addicted to heroin but later recovered enough to help deliver babies alongside her sister. Marra has carefully threaded his characters to work an everybody-is-connected theme, and some of those connections ultimately feel contrived. But he's a careful, intelligent stylist who makes the most of his omniscient perspective; one of his favorite tricks is to project minor characters' fates into the future; by revealing their deaths, he exposes how shabbily war treats everybody and gives the living an additional dose of pathos. The grimness is persistent, but Marra relays it with unusual care and empathy for a first-timer. A somber, sensitive portrait of how lives fray and bind again in chaotic circumstances.]] Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.
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2013
Miss Anne in Harlem: The White Women of the Black Renaissance
 Carla Kaplan
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2013
Lost Girls: An Unsolved American Mystery
 Robert Kolker
Kirkus Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission. In his debut, New York magazine contributor Kolker delves into the disappearances and murders of five women, all working as escorts in the New York metropolitan area. More than 100 years ago, London prostitutes were targeted by Jack the Ripper, a serial killer whose identity remains an enigma. In our brave new world of Craigslist advertisements, cellphones and escort services, one group of lost girls--Shannan, Maureen, Melissa, Megan and Amber--faced similar threats from the anonymous client(s) who eventually killed them. The author unflinchingly probes the 21st-century innovations that facilitated these crimes, which launched a media blitz that shook the integrity of a secluded Long Island community called Oak Beach. What sets his investigation apart from many true-crime tomes, however, is the attention he pays to the girls' back stories and to the efforts of their families and friends to bring the killer to justice. We know from the title that the crimes are still unsolved, leaving Kolker free to present the bewildering array of theories held by law enforcement, neighbors, online communities and even potential suspects. Nor does the author shy away from the dysfunction that permeated all five girls' lives: foster homes, absent parents, drug and alcohol abuse, teen pregnancies and domineering boyfriends all play prominent roles in this narrative. Fortunately, he includes both a timeline and a list of characters for reference, as the deluge of names, dates and details can prove intimidating. Kolker also does a fine job of describing the girls' lives without patronizing their decisions or unnecessarily inserting himself into the proceedings. Most commendably, he points out inconsistencies and dubious motives on the part of some of his interviewees; one mother, who had little to do with her daughter while she was alive, reinvented herself as a crusader for justice. Still, "[t]he issue of blame itself, in the end, may be a trap," Kolker concludes. An important examination of the socioeconomic and cultural forces that can shape a woman's entry into prostitution.]] Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.
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2013
The People in the Trees
Book Jacket   Hanya Yanagihara
2013
Men We Reaped: A Memoir
Book Jacket   Jesmyn Ward
Kirkus Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission. An assured yet scarifying memoir by young, supremely gifted novelist Ward (Salvage the Bones, 2011, etc.). Like the author's novels, this study of life on the margins--of society, of dry land against the bayou, of law--takes place in the stunning tropical heat of southern Mississippi. Her parents had tried to leave there and make new lives in the freedom, vast horizon and open sky of California: "There were no vistas in Mississippi, only dense thickets of trees all around." But they had returned, and in the end, the homecoming broke them apart. Ward observes that the small town of her youth was no New Orleans; there was not much to do there, nor many ennobling prospects. So what do people do in such circumstances? They drink, take drugs, reckon with "the dashed dreams of being a pilot or a doctor," they sink into despair, they die--all things of which Ward writes, achingly, painting portraits of characters such as a young daredevil of a man who proclaimed to anyone who would listen, "I ain't long for this world," and another who shrank into bony nothingness as crack cocaine whittled him away. With more gumption than many, Ward battled not only the indifferent odds of rural poverty, but also the endless racism of her classmates in the school she attended on scholarship, where the only other person of color, a Chinese girl, called blacks "scoobies": " Like Scooby Doo?' I said. Like dogs?' " Yes, like dogs, and by Ward's account, it's a wonder that anyone should have escaped the swamp to make their way in that larger, more spacious world beyond it. A modern rejoinder to Black Like Me, Beloved and other stories of struggle and redemption--beautifully written, if sometimes too sad to bear.]] Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.
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2013
Dirty Wars: The World Is a Battlefield
 Jeremy Scahill
Kirkus Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission. Scahill (Blackwater: The Rise of the World's Most Powerful Mercenary Army, 2007), the Nation magazine's national security correspondent, questions the legality and command methods of the ongoing war against al-Qaida. Focusing on the career of Anwar al Awlaki, an American citizen and reported al-Qaida leader killed by a drone in Yemen, and the evolution of special forcesled global strikes, the author seeks to establish his case that Barack Obama's military policies are best seen as a continuation of the policies of George W. Bush. He characterizes the death of Awlaki as an "assassination by his own government" and insists that Obama's policies "keep intact many of the most aggressive counterterrorism policies of the Bush era." Scahill traces the arc of Awlaki's career, from the aftermath of 9/11, when he appeared to be a spokesman for moderate American Muslims, to the government's later determination that he was a terrorist leader operating from Yemen. For the author, the surveillance and other methods employed to track and kill Awlaki exemplify the continuation of Bush's policies in the war on terror. He shows how, after 9/11, laws governing covert and clandestine operations were subverted to shut out oversight from Congress and competition from the intelligence community and the military chain of command. Scahill demonstrates how al-Qaida members found refuge in Yemen from November 2001 onward, while Bush's administration concluded agreements with the country's government. However, the author does not consider the possibility that the end of the Iraq war, the death of Osama bin Laden and the overthrow of governments that assisted the Bush administration's secret prisons and torture constitute a change in policy. Scahill's case against the Bush administration's practices is firmer than his assertion that Obama is following the same policy, and he fails to consider the difficulties of unwinding Bush's legacy. Not always convincing, but a surefire hit for fans of Blackwater and studded with intriguing, occasionally damning material.]] Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.
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2013
Sea of Hooks
 Lindsay Hill
Kirkus Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission. A remarkable and multifaceted novel--philosophical, poignant and puzzling. The central event of the narrative is Christopher Westall's discovery of the body of his mother, Evelyn, who died by suicide. Christopher was 22 when this happened, and the novel moves chronologically both backward and forward from this one event. Although a few weeks after his mother's death Christopher goes to Bhutan, most of the book is taken up by Christopher's life before his mother's suicide. We find a number of complexities in his character--for example, although he was a fairly mediocre student, he was a prodigy at bridge. At a young age, he'd gotten sexually involved with a Stanford graduate student, and later in his adolescence, he became intrigued with Dr. Thorn, whose philosophical mind appealed to the many questions Christopher was raising at the time. The central relationships of his life, however, remained those with his mother and, to a lesser extent, with his father, Westy, a gruff atheist with little emotional subtlety. In contrast, Evelyn was hypersensitive and always a tad strange. The form of the novel is fragmented and recursive, with chapters ranging from one sentence to several pages. While there's a linearity of sorts, Hill is far more interested in moving the narrative along through image patterns (fire, destiny, the "knife-people" lying flat and "sharpening themselves against each other") as well as through the preoccupations and questionings of Christopher's mind. A tour de force, but definitely not for every taste.]] Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.
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2012
Stolen Prey
Book Jacket   John Sandford
Kirkus Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission. Lucas Davenport takes the scenic route toward a confrontation with the two practiced crooks who had the bad luck to rob him. Just as he's leaving an ATM with $500, the star of Minnesota's Bureau of Criminal Apprehension is held up by a pair of obvious meth users, a man and a woman. Naturally, Lucas vows vengeance. Before he can catch up with the pair, however, he and his team will have to wade through a thicket of unrelated violence visited on the Midwest by a trio of Mexican gunslingers. The hit men, whom Sandford (Buried Prey, 2011, etc.) inventively dubs Uno, Dos and Tres, first pop up on Lucas' radar when they torture and execute Patrick Brooks, founder of Sunnie Software, and his wife and children. A preliminary investigation ties the murders to a money-laundering operation that crosses the border, and the connection is strengthened when the Mexican government sends Inspector David Rivera and Sgt. Ana Martnez north as observers. They end up doing a lot more than observing because the three killers are just getting started. On orders from their mysterious boss, Big Voice, they're pursuing a fortune in gold that's gotten stuck halfway through the money-laundering chute and cauterizing any leaks among the system's conspirators while they're at it. Despite the high mortality rate, the procedural work is more grueling than fascinating, and the criminals are mostly as nondescript as their monikers. But the climactic gunfight is deeply satisfying, and the very last line of dialogue is perfect.]] Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.
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2012
11th Hour
Book Jacket   James Patterson
 
2012
The Columbus Affair
 Steve Berry
Kirkus Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission. Was Columbus Jewish? The answer may matter a lot more than you think. Five hundred years after his fourth and last voyage to the New World, the Admiral of the Ocean Sea is back in the news again, and wealthy Austrian Jew Zachariah Simon and Jamaican crime lord Bne Rowe have taken notice. Convinced that Columbus, of whose life nearly nothing is known for certain, took to his grave the secret location of a gold mine in Jamaica, they team up, at least briefly, to put pressure on disgraced ex-journalist Tom Sagan to tell them what he knows. And since Tom, who's fallen into depression since a questionable Mideast news story forced him to return his Pulitzer and condemned him to life as a ghostwriter, is about to kill himself, he's going to need special motivation. This Simon supplies in the form of a live video of Sagan's estranged daughter, Alle Becket, groped by mercenaries as she writhes bound and gagged on a bed. Tom's not to know that Alle, still seething with hatred for the father who neglected her, has helped stage her videotaped victimization. Also in the hunt are Brian Jamison, who says he's an American intelligence officer from something called the Magellan Billet; Frank Clarke, of the Charles Town Council of Elders; and the 102-year-old Rabbi Berlinger, of Prague's Old-New Synagogue, who's convinced that the apostate Tom is the latest Levite. This being a Berry production (The Emperor's Tomb, 2010, etc.), every alliance is of course fragile, and the bonds among even the heartiest teammates are up for grabs. So is the ultimate goal, for the author gradually reveals that Columbus' lost gold mine is only chicken feed compared to the real bonanza at stake. Less The Da Vinci Code than American Treasure. Think of Nicolas Cage tearing up the scenery as Tom Sagan to the background beat of popping corn, and you're halfway there.]] Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.
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2012
Deadlocked: A Sookie Stackhouse Novel
 Charlaine Harris
Kirkus Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission. Vampires and werewolves and fairies, oh my: just another day in the life of Harris' navel-gazing southern belle. This one makes it an even dozen in the lingering chronicles of Sookie Stackhouse, but don't expect the old girl to call it a day anytime soon. Not when there are hangovers to conjure, love triangles to traverse, and enough extraneous characters in this convoluted fantasy serial to make Game of Thrones look under-populated. For the uninitiated, don't even attempt to gain entry here, even if you've seen an episode or two of HBO's more sexually blatant adaptation, True Blood. Suffice to say that part-fairy, vampire-loving barmaid Sookie remains much the same, if a bit more tedious than usual. The book opens with Sookie out on a girls' night at paranormal strip club Hooligans, uncomfortably watching her relative, Claude Crane, strip for a rowdy crowd. The night tosses a sour note to Sookie, whose relationship with vampire Eric Northman is never easy. "Just because I wasn't pregnant and wasn't married to someone who could make me that way, that was no reason to feel like an island in the stream," she says. Sookie is also justifiably anxious about the motivations of those around her, as she continues to hide her possession of the powerful magical artifact called a cluviel dor, an ancient fairy love gift. But protecting her hidden treasure becomes a secondary concern when Sookie discovers her lover at one of Bon Temp's infamous parties, drinking from Kym Rowe, a younger woman. Unfortunately Eric's bedtime snack bites it within a matter of hours, winding up on the sheriff's front lawn with a broken neck. Naturally it's up to Sookie, with some significant help from her other vampire lover, Bill Compton, to navigate the dizzying conflicts between the vampire, were and fae hierarchies to root out the cause of the girl's untimely death. A dull, overly complicated entry in the swampy gothic romance that feeds fans and starves newcomers. ]] Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.
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2012
Calico Joe
Book Jacket   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
Innocent
Book Jacket   David Baldacci
 
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
Wind Through the Keyhole: A Dark Tower Novel
 Stephen King
Kirkus Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission. The bestselling novelist scales down his literary ambition with a return to the Dark Tower series. Though King has expanded his thematic terrain and elevated his critical reputation in recent years (11/22/63, 2011 etc.), he remains a master of fantastic stories spun from a very fertile imagination that seek to do nothing more (or less) than entertain. Some readers might be surprised at this return to the narrative that King had apparently concluded with the massive The Dark Tower (2004), the seventh book in the series. Yet rather than extend and revive the plot in this installment, he mines a seam from earlier in the series, suggesting that "this book should be shelved between Wizard and Glass and Wolves of the Calla...which makes it, I suppose Dark Tower 4.5." He also makes a point of reassuring readers new to the series that they can start here, that the novel can be understood as a stand-alone title (with just a little contextual background, which he summarizes in a couple of paragraphs). Short by King's standards, the novel draws inspiration from tales of knighthood and Old West gunslingers, as its story-within-a-story (within a story) details the rite-of-passage heroism of Roland Deschain, who saves a terrified boy in Mid-World from a shape-shifting marauder. "These tales nest inside each other," explains Roland at the outset, as he prepares to recount a story through which its characters drew courage and inspiration from a story. If it weren't for the profanity which liberally seasons the narrative, it could pass as a young adult fantasy, a foul-mouthed Harry Potter (with nods toward The Wizard of Oz and C.S. Lewis). It even ends with a redemptive moral, though King mainly concerns himself here with spinning a yard. Will more likely serve as a footnote for the many fans of the series than a point of entry to expand its readership.]] 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
Road to Grace
Book Jacket   Richard Paul Evans
Kirkus Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission. Evans' third novel in a series (Miles to Go, 2011, etc.) about a troubled man who must learn to forgive. Alan Christoffersen is well into his walk from Seattle to Key West. He's a widower who still grieves. Friends had cheated him out of home and business, so he up and walked away from it all. Maybe at the farthest point on the map he will find grace in his heart. Along the way, a series of interesting people test his character and help illuminate his soul. His mother-in-law, Pamela, is the first of them as she tracks him down along the road and begs to talk. Alan refuses, but she will not be denied. Although well told and moving, this part of the plot tests credulity. Pamela had abandoned her young daughter McKale, who years later married Alan. Now Alan is so bitter at her treatment of McKale, he won't give Pamela five minutes to talk. Really? Maybe earlier books make this premise easier to buy. Anyway, this is at the core of the story. Who needs forgiveness more: the offender or the offended? If Alan can forgive, perhaps he can shuck his burden and find grace along his path. In one small town, a lonely woman comes to him in the night and begs for his love. Perhaps no other scene in the book better shows his character. Although the book is not specifically religious, Alan clearly shows his spirituality and cares deeply about who he is. A fast and pleasurable read with plenty of local color and enough sentiment to evoke a tear or two. Although this installment can stand on its own, a reader's best bet is to begin with the earlier books.]] Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.
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2012
The Amateur
 Edward Klein
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2012
Skinny Rules
 Bob Harper and Greg Critser
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2012
Passage of Power
Book Jacket   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
Art of Intelligence
Book Jacket   Henry A Crumpton
Kirkus Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission. Indifferently written but nonetheless fascinating glimpse into the CIA's most secret--and secretive--department. Crumpton's quarter-century career with Clandestine Services, he writes, began as a childhood reverie: "As a young boy, I dreamed of becoming a spy." It took some doing to get recruited, he recounts ("I had no military service, no foreign language, no graduate degree, no technical skill, and no professional pedigree"), but once in, he excelled at the tough physical work required of a CIA agent in the field, adopting the enthusiasm for the mission that long periods spent under difficult circumstances requires. Some of what Crumpton describes is mundane--e.g., the daily administrative affairs that surround spy work, particularly the politics of intelligence. Only when the agency is threatened does he become piqued enough to go beyond colorless descriptions, as when he writes indignantly of the outing of Valerie Plame (a "horrible breach of trust" on the part of the Bush administration). In fairness, the author is also hard on the current administration ("When President Obama assumed office in January 2009, his Justice Department threatened CIA officers with jail--because they had carried out lawful orders under the previous administration"). His narrative is more vivid, if full of expected turns, when he discusses his time in the field as a commander of operations in Afghanistan, battling Taliban and al-Qaida fighters while trying to smoke Osama Bin Laden out of hiding. Of particular interest is his account of the prison uprising that led to the killing of CIA operative Mike Spann in 2001. Even though heavily vetted, if without the black blocks of many other CIA-related texts, a useful inside look at what goes on behind closed doors--and iron curtains.]] Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.
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2012
Charge
 Brendon Burchard
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2012
My Cross to Bear
 Gregg Allman
Kirkus Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission. Assisted by rock journalist Light (The Skills to Pay the Bills: The Story of the Beastie Boys, 2006, etc.), Rock 'n' Roll Hall of Famer Allman confronts the ghosts of his past and emerges with new insight into the familial and artistic bonds that bound--and continue to bind--the Allman Brothers Band. Addicted to drugs and alcohol for much of his adult life and married multiple times, the author certainly has a hayloft full of celebrity scandal to sift through. While ABB's principal songwriter and lead vocalist covers all of his lowlights, he's much more interested in exploring the fantastic blend of blues, rock and jazz that so famously bonded he and late brother Duane to four other maverick musicians starting in the late 1960s. This is a story about musical brotherhood. With gentlemanly charm and compassion, the author vividly recounts how a guitar first transformed the lives of two restless boys living in Florida with their widowed mom. Allman's portrayal of his complicated relationship with Duane is rich and moving. Although dead by the age of 24 following a tragic motorcycle crash, Duane (considered one of the greatest guitar players of all-time) nonetheless looms large in these pages. The author's ability to share his enduring guilt in the aftermath of Duane's tragic passing is nothing less than profound. After successfully receiving a new liver in 2010, Allman appears to have at least one more silver dollar left in his pocket. As his many-faceted memoir so effectively demonstrates, the road does, indeed, go on forever for the Allman Brothers Band. Life, love and music from one of the most influential American recording artists of the last 40 years.]] Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.
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2012
Most Talkative
Book Jacket   Andy Cohen
Kirkus Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission. The Bravo network executive who green-lighted the Real Housewives franchise shares backstage insights into reality TV. In this uneven memoir/gossip fest, Cohen attempts to strike a balance between the story of his upbringing in a close-knit Jewish family and dishing on the antics of "Bravolebrities." In the former, he often succeeds, portraying his parents as warmly and humorously as you would expect from someone who implored his mom to send him updates on All My Children while he was away at camp. Cohen's youthful obsession with soap maven Susan Lucci further highlights his eventual lionizing of the Real Housewives, and he sprinkles his awkward encounters with his diva idol throughout the text. He also effectively captures the fear of coming out in the 1980s, a time when homophobic jokes and AIDS misinformation were rampant. Cohen is candid, but he will try many readers' patience with his devotion of several pages to the most mundane details of the Housewives' fame-mongering: e.g., tweets from their dogs, transcripts of interviews gone awry and defenses of their shallowness that ring--surprise!--hollow. In one tortured instance, he reveals how the Bravo team recut all episodes of the Real Housewives of Beverly Hills after a participant's husband committed suicide, then claims that what they presented on TV was "real life." The disclosure that the film crew shoots 85 hours of footage for every hour aired gives the lie to the claim that reality TV is any such thing. By the time that Cohen's father tells him, "I just can't get over that people speak to each other this way, in public places," most readers will agree and likely stop reading. Anyone except the most devoted Housewives fans will wish that Cohen were less talkative.]] Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.
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2012
I Am a Pole (and So Can You!)
Book Jacket   Stephen Colbert
 
2012
How Will You Measure Your Life?
 Clayton M. Christensen
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2011
Killing Lincoln
 Bill O'Reilly
Kirkus Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission. Cable-news talking head O'Reilly (Pinheads and Patriots: Where You Stand in the Age of Obama, 2010, etc.) and historian Dugard (To Be a Runner, 2011, etc.) serve up a sensational, true-crime account of one of the most shocking murders in American history.In this fast-paced narrative history, the authors recount the weeks leading up to and immediately following the assassination of Abraham Lincoln.They pick up the historical thread in the waning moments of the Civil War, as two bedraggled armies attempted to outmaneuver and outlast one another.A reflective and anxious Lincoln was near the battlefront, conferring with General Grant and waiting for the fall of Richmond that would signal the last phase of the war.Meanwhile, a disgruntled Confederate sympathizer, John Wilkes Booth, traveled around Washington, D.C., and its environs fomenting unrest among his co-conspirators. In response to the fall of the Confederacy, Booth transformed the group's longstanding kidnapping plan into a vengeful and flamboyant plot to assassinate Lincoln and several key Cabinet members. The authors profess to be writing history that reads like a thriller, and their account of Lincoln's assassination makes ample use of tricks like cliffhanger endings, hypothetical psychological insights and fictional dialogue. Yet such narrative propulsions seem hardly necessary when chronicling the rapid-fire succession of major events that occurred during those fateful weeks: several of the bloodiest battles of an already brutal war, the surrender of the Confederacy, tumultuous celebrations in the North and the Good Friday assassination of a leader who was both beloved and despised. This moment in history is already dramatic, thrilling and shocking; applying the "thriller" motif delivers on the subtitle's description of a "shocking assassination" but fails to elucidate how the authors believe this event "changed America forever."An entertaining tale that neither adds to the vast bulk of Lincoln scholarship nor challenges the established theories of Booth's plot and the subsequent trial of the conspirators. Readers seeking a consequential thriller-like portrayal of the assassination should turn to James L. Swanson's Manhunt (2005).]] Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.
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