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New books guide.

We read hundreds of book reviews each month to select the works to include in each issue. We seek a balance among three categories: highly-rated books that received many reviews, highly-rated books that received less comprehensive coverage, and lower-rated books that were widely reviewed and well publicized.

The collective wisdom of critics

Each critic offers an individual perspective. We quote and summarize the reviews studied to provide an informed, balanced critique and to make sure that unique insights do not get missed. We apply a rating to a book from each review we study--those ratings are assessed to provide a final rating.

Spoiler-free book descriptions

We hereby pledge not to reveal the ending or revelatory plot points when discussing a fictional work.

APPLYING RATINGS TO WORKS OF ART IS FRUSTRATINGLY REDUCTIONIST

It is also helpful in navigating through myriad choices. As with any rating system, it is solely a guide--a summing up of several informed perspectives. Th ere is no substitute for reading the book yourself and forming your own opinion.

literary

FICTION

EXCELLENT

Call Black Horse

By Robert Olmstead

A not-so-civil war.

May 1863, Virginia's Transmontane region. Hettie Childs, the clairvoyant mother of 14-year-old Robey, senses that Robey's father, a Confederate soldier, is in imminent danger. The boy secures provisions--including the horse of the title (the blacksmith who gives the horse to Robey warns, "It's a horse that leaves quite an impression. It is the kind of horse that can get you killed")--and heads off in search of his father. Against the backdrop of some of the war's most disturbing and eerie sights, he arrives in Gettysburg in the days following that famous battle. Part rescue mission and part coming-of-age, Robey's journey transforms him from an innocent child to a man who starts to understand war, vengeance, and redemption.

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Algonquin. 224 pages. $23.95. ISBN: 1565125215

Chicago Tribune EXCELLENT/CLASSIC

"Coal Black Horse, Robert Olmstead's magisterial sixth book, is as sensate as poetry and forbidding as any squall, steeped in detail but bound by few storytelling conventions. I wondered, as I read it, if ... readers of The Red Badge of Courage and The March and Cold Mountain will make room for another novel of a certain era that is rife with the shattering lessons of war." BETH KEPHART

Milwaukee Jrnl Sentinel EXCELLENT/CLASSIC

"Coal Black Horse explores the themes of maturation, violation and creation in a coming-of-age story. Olmstead is an extraordinarily lyrical writer whose book, in focusing on a young man tested by war, perhaps more closely evokes Stephen Crane's The Red Badge of Courage." CARLO WOLFF

Cleveland Plain Dealer EXCELLENT

"Coal Black Horse will be the one that finally brings him the attention he deserves.... In stark, simple language, and a grammatical structure that echoes the work of Cormac McCarthy, Olmstead has found his own voice, one you will not easily forget." SARAH WILLIS

Denver Post EXCELLENT

"Writer Robert Olmstead fully flushes out the atrocities of war as Minie balls whiz past and explode, the sights and sounds of war alternately suffocating and mesmerizing.... In Coal Black Horse, Olmstead follows his true narrative voice and writes like a man on fire." ELISABETH A. DOEHRING

San Diego Union-Tribune GOOD/EXCELLENT

"[Coal Black Horse] is not The Red Badge of Courage, but aside from its traces of oddball language, it is a gripping read, with much extremely vivid rendering.... Sex, violence, revenge, sympathetic young protagonist, maiden in distress ... it's all there, enveloped in a plausibly dark take on life and death." JAMES LEIGH

Washington Post GOOD/EXCELLENT

"To the steady drumbeat of powerful Civil War novels that continue to arrive, you must add Coal Black Horse.... More troubling are fl ashes of pretension that mar Olmstead's prose. The book's epigraph comes from Job, and the voice of God seems to keep butting in throughout the story." RON CHARLES

NY Times Book Review GOOD

"It is men, destroying one another in ways Olmstead describes with gory extravagance--'hair, brains, entrails and shreds of human flesh cooking black in the heated air'--who come off as beasts. Yet for all the novel's success as a grueling adventure, its depiction of Robey's inner journey from boy to man works less well." ROY HOFFMAN

CRITICAL SUMMARY

Robert Olmstead has previously published three novels, a short story collection (River Dogs), and a memoir. Brief and intense, Coal Black Horse has generated high praise and seems destined to become the author's breakout book. Critics inevitably compare the novel to Charles Frazier's masterpiece, Cold Mountain, and other classics of Civil War and postapocalyptic fiction: Stephen Crane's The Red Badge of Courage, E. L. Doctorow's The March, Cormac McCarthy's The Road, and Michael Shaara's Killer Angels. Some critics note passages of purple prose and convenient plotting, though most agree that Olmstead has written a stark, beautiful novel whose powerful, disturbing, and ultimately redemptive vision negates any flaws.

BOOKMARKS SELECTION

EXCELLENT

A Thousand Splendid Suns

By Khaled Hosseini

Afghan life--the female perspective.

In The Kite Runner (GOOD/EXCELLENT Sept/Oct 2003), Khaled Hosseini, a native of Kabul who came to the United States in 1980, depicted boyhood friendship and adult redemption in war-torn Afghanistan. A Thousand Splendid Suns, in chronicling three decades of turmoil leading up to and after the Taliban, again offers a terrifying perspective on Afghan life. Mariam, an illegitimate daughter of a successful businessman, is forced as a teenager to marry an older, brutal man, Rasheed. When Mariam fails to bear children, Rasheed takes an even younger wife, Laila, whose liberal, intellectual parents were killed when the Communists took over Kabul. As the two women forge strong bonds with each other despite their household's--and society's--repression and violence, they suffer, sacrifice, and learn to have faith in love and hope.

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Riverhead. 384 pages. $25.95. ISBN: 1594489505

Charlotte Observer EXCELLENT/CLASSIC

"In A Thousand Splendid Suns, Khaled Hosseini does something highly unusual: He surpasses the power and depth of his first novel, The Kite Runner.... It brings to life a part of the world that the average American knows little about, and makes real for us the very human implications of our foreign policies, long after Afghanistan faded from the headlines." JEAN BLISH SIERS

Chicago Sun-Times EXCELLENT

"The violence is as graphic as you would expect in any book that details the atrocities of war.... More than likely, A Thousand Splendid Suns will tear at your heart and make you better understand the legacy of violence our soldiers are fighting against in Afghanistan." CHERYL L. REED

Los Angeles Times EXCELLENT

"Suspended in my otherworldly zone, I discovered the fictional village of Gul Daman, the minarets, bazaars and gardens of Herat, the snowcapped mountains and communal tandoors of Kabul.... [A] worthy sequel to The Kite Runner." JANE CIABATTARI

Minneapolis Star Tribune EXCELLENT

"The texture of these characters' journey around the craters of their country is no doubt well known to readers of international news. Rendered as fiction in A Thousand Splendid Suns, however, it devastates in a new way." JOHN FREEMAN

San Francisco Chronicle EXCELLENT

"Readers will also gain a better understanding of the effects of what Hosseini calls the 'cultural vandalism' of the Taliban, which shattered Afghanistan's arts and culture, and the devastating impacts of Shariah law on women's lives.... Hosseini's bewitching narrative captures the intimate details of life in a world where it's a struggle to survive, skillfully inserting this human story into the larger backdrop of recent history." JULIE FOSTER

Washington Post EXCELLENT

"But just in case you're curious, just in case you're wondering whether in yours truly's judgment it's as good as The Kite Runner, here's the answer: No. It's better. This is said in full knowledge of Hosseini's literary shortcomings." JONATHAN YARDLEY

Christian Science Monitor FAIR/GOOD

"The fact that Hosseini began by thinking of his main characters as 'other'--to the extent of wondering 'about their inner lives, whether they had ever had girlish dreams'--is a huge hurdle.... If A Thousand Splendid Suns is a little shaky as a work of literature, at least a reader feels that Hosseini has more at stake than where the book ends up on the bestseller list." YVONNE ZIPP

Denver Post FAIR

"The somewhat overly ambitious plot extends from the relatively peaceful 1960s to the fall of the monarchy in 1973, to the Soviet war, to the Taliban years, to the U.S. invasion, and to the UN and NATO reconstruction efforts.... One senses Hosseini's reluctance to get close to his female characters, making them seem flat as opposed to the fully realized males in the first novel." DIANE SCHARPER

CRITICAL SUMMARY

A Thousand Splendid Suns raises inevitable comparisons to The Kite Runner, which sat on The New York Times best seller list for 103 weeks. Most critics agreed that Khaled Hosseini's second novel is as devastating, if not even more powerful, than his first. A natural, if not always the most eloquent or subtle, storyteller, Hosseini gives voice to two women trying to survive in a despotic household while caught up in the throes of war. Most critics thought that Hosseini successfully evokes his female characters' inner lives--not an easy feat for a male author--while a few observed that Mariam and Laila fail to resonate emotionally. Others noted some melodrama and predictability. Despite these quibbles, the novel offers a chilling, all-too-real portrait Afghan life. "It is, for all its shortcomings, a brave, honorable, big-hearted book" (Washington Post).

EXCELLENT

The God of Animals

By Aryn Kyle

Coming of age while breaking wild horses.

It's the hottest summer in years. Twelve-year-old Alice Winston lives on the family horse ranch in a small Colorado town, and she's realizing that her life will never be roses and rainbows. Her clinically depressed mother never leaves the bedroom. Her beautiful older sister ran off with a rodeo cowboy. A childhood friend has turned up dead. And Alice's father Joe, upset over his dwindling business, concocts a moneymaking scheme that relies on a rich woman and her daughter, an untalented rider who needs lessons. And Dad needs her help to make his plan work.

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Scribner. 320 pages. $25. ISBN: 1416533249

Boston Globe EXCELLENT/CLASSIC

"[A] first novel that's so strong, startling, and moving, that it's a thoroughbred from the first page.... [An] eloquent and haunted testament to grief, family attachments, and the rocky coastline of the human heart." CAROLINE LEAVITT

USA Today EXCELLENT

"A memorable novel gracefully compares and contrasts the vast landscapes of the human condition.... To find these elements expertly handled in a debut novel--as they are in The God of Animals--is reason for readers to rejoice." CAROL MEMMOTT

Washington Post EXCELLENT

"[Alice is] smart but uninformed, close cousin to the little girls in To Kill a Mockingbird and The Member of the Wedding.... Readers whose daughters yearn for horses when they're reaching puberty might do well to give those daughters this thoughtful, heartsick book." CAROLYN SEE

Cleveland Plain Dealer GOOD/EXCELLENT

"The God of Animals turns out to be smarter than most [coming-of-age novels], as it moves through sexual stirrings, family disillusionment, issues of separation and deception.... Kyle can be overripe, but most of her prose is a joy, fluid on the page." KAREN LONG

St. Petersburg Times GOOD/EXCELLENT

"Like Annie Proulx and others before her, Aryn Kyle brilliantly reveals a vibrant female world pulsing at the heart of the protomasculine ranch life.... [Kyle] has a beautiful grasp of Alice's voice." JOHN FREEMAN

CRITICAL SUMMARY

Critics raised a few concerns about this debut novel (based on the award-winning short story "Foaling Season"), but Aryn Kyle's talent astounded everyone. She takes a cliched story--a lost girl approaching womanhood in a man's world--and develops it in unpredictable, emotionally thrilling ways. The business of raising horses acts as a novel-length metaphor, sometimes too obviously, but Kyle's illuminating details make it fresh. Alice sometimes veers into philosophical musings more fitting for a creative writing grad student, but her voice is still the voice of a character readers will care about deeply.

EXCELLENT

A Miracle of Catfish

By Larry Brown

A Southern gothic.

Larry Brown died in 2004 at age 53, leaving behind a nearly completed novel. Despite the unfinished nature of the work, his trademark themes--Southern backwater culture, fatherhood, alienation, and connection--emerge loud and clear through a set of downtrodden, true-to-life characters. Hoping to entice visitors, Cortez Sharp, a lonely widower, builds a catfish pond on his Mississippi farm. He attracts nine-year-old Jimmy, the emotionally deprived son of a degenerate, trailer-park father, and they strike up a companionship. Others striving to right their place in the world include Cortez's daughter, Lucinda, and her Tourette-stricken boyfriend; Cleve, an African American convict who kills to protect his daughter; and Ursula, a ravenous, 40-pound catfish. As their lives converge, secrets surface and alter them all.

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Algonquin. 455 pages. $24.95. ISBN: 1565125363

Chicago Sun-Times EXCELLENT/CLASSIC

"Miracle of Catfish is a guttural joy.... [Brown] understood the values of spacing, deep soul and wry humor. His gutsy style reminds good writers why they wanted to write in the first place." DAVE HOEKSTRA

Boston Globe EXCELLENT

"What we have is a gritty and compelling story that ranks with the best of Brown's fiction, with Father and Son and Dirty Work. And Larry Brown in progress is better than just about anyone else polished and spit-shined." JOHN DUFRESNE

Seattle Times EXCELLENT

"Bad accidents happen, conflicted men do thoughtless, selfish and brutal things; yet Brown has a way of giving heartbreak, violence, even hopelessness, an oddball, funny slant, or a moment of surprising grace that keeps you from passing early judgment on his people. His willingness to show the good, the bad and the ugly gives A Miracle of Catfish a kind of scarred beauty that loses little of its power by being unfinished." RICHARD WALLACE

USA Today GOOD/EXCELLENT

"Brown loved to go step by step through the least dramatic of actions: messing with an engine or tending to a sick cow. He's best appreciated by patient readers, the way a summer afternoon at a backwoods pond stocked with Catfish is best enjoyed. Sooner or later, the fish will bite like his sentences do." BOB MINZESHEIMER

Rocky Mountain News GOOD

"No matter how indecent a character may seem on the surface, Brown has a seemingly effortless way of making readers feel the same fondness for the character that he obviously has.... Brown had a gift for storytelling and creating characters as real as your own neighbors." GARY WILLIAMS

CRITICAL SUMMARY

In his novels and short stories, Larry Brown captured the gritty intricacies of daily, rural Southern life. A Miracle of Catfish, which Brown's editor streamlined after his death, chronicles a set of downtrodden Mississippi denizens dealing with racial tension, trust, and interpersonal and familial conflict. Brown, a native of Lafayette County, Mississippi, understood his land and people well, and, in heartrending, stripped-down prose, created a memorable human landscape. Not surprisingly, a few critics faulted the meandering, unresolved subplots and lack of finale. But A Miracle is worth reading simply for the characters alone: "[Brown] knew his corner of the world, and its people, inside out," concludes the Seattle Times. "His lasting gift to us is that he mastered their voices and got them down on paper."

ALSO BY THE AUTHOR

FATHER AND SON (1996): * SOUTHERN BOOK AWARD. A man returns home to the Mississippi Delta after serving time in prison for homicide. He intends to avenge all of the perceived wrongs done to him by the sheriff, his lover, and his alcoholic father--but he should have stayed in jail.

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BOOKMARKS SELECTION

EXCELLENT

After Dark

By Haruki Murakami, translated from Japanese by Jay Rubin

An alternate nocturnal world.

Just before midnight in Tokyo, 19-year-old Mari Asai can't sleep. She seeks refuge in an all-night Denny's, intending to read, but her solitude is interrupted by Takahashi, a young jazz musician who used to know Mari's older sister, Eri. When a Chinese prostitute is viciously assaulted by a client at a nearby "love hotel," Takahashi leads the hotel's owner to Mari, having just learned that Mari speaks fluent Chinese. Soon Mari and Takahashi are in pursuit of the villain, a bored salaryman named Shirakawa. The alternating stories of Mari and Shirakawa are intermingled with surreal chapters featuring Eri, who has been asleep for two months.

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Knopf. 191 pages. $22.95. ISBN: 0307265838

Denver Post EXCELLENT/CLASSIC

"After Dark fully fulfills expectations, but its slim size and short chapters make it arguably the most accessible of his work.... The 'aha' moment is magnificent and followed immediately by a kind of unbridled admiration for the writer--because it is right and because the reader never sees it coming." ROBIN VIDIMOS

Providence Journal EXCELLENT/CLASSIC

"This strange, mesmerizing, spell-binding, voyeuristic novel is impossible to put down.... Murakami in a postmodern sleight-of-hand keeps us aware of his point of view, as if we were cameras looking down from above, peering from odd angles, sweeping in over the city, or retreating into dark corners and silent rooms." SAM COALE

Christian Science Monitor EXCELLENT

"Like a latter-day Walker Percy or Albert Camus, Murakami raises questions about perception and existence, though he feels no compunction to propose answers. For him, the intrigue is in the engaging situations and conversations even alienated individuals encounter as they wend their hapless way through their often bewildering lives." HELLER MCALPIN

Cleveland Plain Dealer EXCELLENT

"The style is energetically cinematic, akin to reading a movie script with its detailed descriptions of surroundings, character motivations and camera movements.... In Murakami's talented hands, After Dark emerges a tightly controlled narrative, carefully constructed in both time and place." LEE MAKELA

San Francisco Chronicle EXCELLENT

"After Dark is a bittersweet novel that will satisfy the most demanding literary taste. It is a sort of neo-noir flick set in half-empty diners, dark streets and hotel rooms straight out of the paintings of Edward Hopper." JUVENAL ACOSTA

Milwaukee Jrnl Sentinel GOOD/EXCELLENT

"After Dark is Murakami condensed. It's a very good place to become familiar with some of his interests (music) and themes (loneliness) in a truncated version." ROBERT ALLEN PAPINCHAK

Los Angeles Times GOOD

"He is less successful with Eri's bedroom limbo, the least compelling component to the tripartite plot, because he rides a repetitive test pattern shtick that grows tedious.... After Dark doesn't always hit the high notes, but it is, like Takahashi's music, straight-ahead jazz--with a quiet grace as likely to be overlooked as a snare shuffle." EDWARD CHAMPION

CRITICAL SUMMARY

Other than an unexpected cheerfulness, After Dark is classic Haruki Murakami, featuring themes of loneliness and alienation, carefully crafted characters, Western references (such as an all-night Denny's where Hall & Oates plays in the background), and distinctive magical-realist twists of fate. Critics also praised the impassive, omniscient narration, like a constantly shifting video camera, which renders each scene in magnificent detail. The chief complaint was the brevity of the novel, and the Los Angeles Times felt that Eri's dreamlike scenes missed the mark as well. "For the unfamiliar, it's the perfect appetizer. For the established fan, it's a quick work that is over far too soon" (Denver Post).

ALSO BY THE AUTHOR

THE WIND-UP BIRD CHRONICLE (1998): The Los Angeles Times called this highly imaginative novel an "expansive masterpiece." In it, Toru Okada's cat goes missing, which sets off a chain of events that will turn his life upside down.

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EXCELLENT

The Savage Detectives

By Roberto Bolano, translated by Natasha Wimmer

A literary road trip.

In 1975, Arturo Belano and Ulises Lima, the leaders of a militant gang of poets called the Visceral Realists, leave Mexico City in a borrowed Chevy Impala to find the very first Visceral Realist, the mysterious Cesarea Tinajero, who disappeared into the Sonora desert 40 years before. Suddenly the narrative shifts gears, and the following three decades of the two poets' lives are mapped out in 54 fragmented, first-person interviews with the eclectic cast of characters they encounter after leaving Mexico in 1976. The final section of the novel returns to Belano and Lima in the desert, where the discoveries they make forever alter the course of their lives.

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Farrar, Straus and Giroux. 592 pages. $27. ISBN: 0374191484

San Francisco Chronicle EXCELLENT/CLASSIC

"This novel is an utterly unique achievement--a modern epic rich in character and event, suffused in every sentence with Bolano's unsettling mix of precision and mystery.... It is a moving composite of the Latin American diaspora in the turbulent years about which he writes, as well as a reminder that novelists will always be our best historians." VINNIE WILHELM

Cleveland Plain Dealer EXCELLENT

"The cumulative effect of 55 voices is a feeling for the tectonic shifts in Latin American history, alongside a vision of how transient our relationships can be, how suddenly love and friendship can shift and how books can mean so much--even though, in the end, literature does little in the face of life itself.... Every now and then, the reader will yearn for plot over fragment, but then will come the story of the neo-Nazi spying in Israel, the boy lost in a deep cave, or the writer who falls in love with a letter carrier, and Bolano's narrative powers will win you over again." CHARLES OBERNDORF

Los Angeles Times EXCELLENT

"Ostensibly about two poets and their search for another poet who has mysteriously disappeared, the novel becomes nothing less than a broad portrait of the Hispanic diaspora, spreading from Central and South America to Israel, Europe, Africa and every place in between, from the late 1960s through the 1990s.... Bolano's book throws down a great, clunking, formal gauntlet to his readers' conventional expectations." THOMAS MCGONIGLE

NY Times Book Review EXCELLENT

"The novel is wildly enjoyable (as well as, finally, full of lament), in part because Bolano, despite all the game-playing, has a worldly, literal sensibility. His atmospheres are solidly imagined, but the tone is breezy and colloquial and amazingly unliterary--Gide's novel about writers, The Counterfeiters, comes to mind, or better, a kind of Latinized Stendhal, whose characters just happen to be writers." JAMES WOOD

Entertainment Weekly GOOD/EXCELLENT

"To be honest, I never would've persevered to the end of the late Bolano's sometimes wonderful, often maddening 577-page novel if I were not paid to do so.... Taking it all in requires stamina, but the novel bursts with marvelous stories, rude energy, and eccentric voices that ultimately reward your effort." JENNIFER REESE

New York Times GOOD

"Individually some of the episodes are powerfully suggestive; but there is the effect of a character making the same point too long and too often.... Some of the book's best passages are here; but the formlessness, the cascading miscellany, the pile of jigsaw pieces with some missing, the guiding box-picture (fictional as against intellectual) purposefully withheld: these can make the book, or at least the reader, founder." RICHARD EDER

CRITICAL SUMMARY

Chilean novelist Roberto Bolano, who died in 2003, won the prestigious Romulo Gallegos Prize for The Savage Detectives (1998), a book he called "a love letter to my generation." By turns humorous and sad, this literary mystery also affirms the value of literature and serves as a modern history of the Latin American literary scene. Critics praised Bolano's vivid, experimental novel, applauding Natasha Wimmer's skillful translation from the chatty, slang-filled Spanish. Though Richard Eder found fault with the "cacophonous Greek chorus" (Los Angeles Times) and others found the work too fragmentary, most critics regarded the technique as inventive and entertaining. Readers will be happy to hear that four of Bolano's shorter works are currently available in English, and additional translations are planned.

ALSO BY THE AUTHOR

BY NIGHT IN CHILE (2000): On his deathbed, Father Urrutia recalls his life and reflects on youth, religion, politics, and literature in this lyrical and clever novella.

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EXCELLENT

Up in Honey's Room

By Elmore Leonard

The return of the hot kid.

During the waning days of World War II, U.S. Marshal Carl Webster, who starred in The Hot Kid (EXCELLENT SELECTION July/Aug 2005), chases down two German POWs in Detroit. Oklahoma detention camp escapees, the Germans find refuge with Walter Shoen, a butcher who, unbeknownst to his smart-talking, stunning ex-wife, Honey, is a Nazi spy. Attempting to use Honey to approach the Germans, Carl, though married, finds himself hopelessly attracted to the bottle blonde. Relationships and betrayals fly fast and furiously as the action involves a German spy ring, a Ukrainian femme fatale and her transvestite companion, a plot to kill President Roosevelt, an FBI evasion, and a final shootout.

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Morrow. 304 pages. $25.95. ISBN: 0060724242

Philadelphia Inquirer EXCELLENT/CLASSIC

"Leonard's novels give you a better feel for America than any of the brooding fictional meditations on the emptiness of suburbia come close to doing.... Leonard also has a keener eye for the absurd than any French existentialist has ever had." FRANK WILSON

Newsday EXCELLENT

"No living American writer has a better ear for dialogue.... The interplay between Webster and Honey is the stuff Leonard does so well." CHARLES TAYLOR

Boston Globe GOOD/EXCELLENT

"Leonard clearly loves these characters, and makes their interactions believable and a blast to read.... At times, as entertaining as they are, Leonard's silly and sparkling one-on-ones reach beyond even fictional credibility." CLEA SIMON

Los Angeles Times GOOD/EXCELLENT

"Because he can't count on our having read The Hot Kid (which has a high narrative/dialogue ratio), Leonard has Carl and the other characters here synopsize his adventures to draw us in.... This has a peculiar cinematic effect--everyone seems to be talking all the time (as in Get Shorty), but their dialogue is more about delivering information than it is about an idiosyncratic point of view. This can be disorienting." JANE SMILEY

Rocky Mountain News GOOD/EXCELLENT

"Fast moving, cold-blooded and comic, the action swerves and leaps from one character's adventure to another's, bringing echoes of the major events and everyday life of Detroit and America in the 1940s. [But] Leonard fans will find little new in style or technique." REX BURNS

CRITICAL SUMMARY

Though in his 80s, Elmore Leonard proves, in his 40th-something novel and sequel to The Hot Kid, that he's still at the top of his game. As in previous novels, character dominates plot: "What happens next is not really the point," notes the Boston Globe. Critics particularly praised the wonderful interaction between Carl and Honey, the crisp dialogue, and the chaotic threads that meld together into a coherent whole. The lack of narration, however, threw off a few critics, as did some exaggerated details and Carl's relatively uninteresting personality (he's now married, after all). But in the end, "Up in Honey's Room is a perfect example of a master storyteller spinning a tall one" (Philadelphia Inquirer). And, perhaps, a movie script.

BOOKMARKS SELECTION

EXCELLENT

American Youth

By Phil LaMarche

Coming of age, 21st century-style.

In a working-class New Hampshire town, two brothers from a new, upscale housing development visit teenage Ted LeClare. They are soon bored by his modest home, so Ted shows them one special thing: his father's handgun. When Ted leaves the room, one boy accidentally--and fatally--shoots the other. Convinced by his mother to lie about his involvement, Ted, still blamed for the boy's death, becomes the focus of a bitter public debate over gun control. Overwhelmed by guilt, he burns himself with cigarette lighters, joins a group of neo-Nazis hell-bent on preserving the blue-collar identity of their town, and watches helplessly as his life spins out of control.

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Random House. 240 pages. $21.95. ISBN: 1400066050

Los Angeles Times CLASSIC

"This is one of the most savagely beautiful, emotionally devastating and accurate readings of what it means to grow up in our soul-starved homeland that I've ever read.... Sentence by sentence, the author has created a heart-squeezing chain of violence and consequence that makes us care about the characters, who suffer and live in the pitiless rural landscape of a Johnny Cash song." JERRY STAHL

Minneapolis Star Tribune EXCELLENT

"What sets American Youth apart from other books that have explored similar themes--beyond LaMarche's writing, which is crisp and propulsive--is that it presents a world in which the teen years are fraught not only with varying degrees of emotional violence but actual violence, as well.... This is a small book, devastating in its particular portrayal of a boy who, under various pressures, approaches collapse." ETHAN RUTHERFORD

New York Daily News EXCELLENT

"This is how a teenager can grow into a fascist, and LaMarche so fully pictures Ted's world we share everything except the air he breathes.... We stumble with Ted, fear for him, too, as LaMarche makes a dark childhood an almost beautiful place if you weren't the boy in pain at its center." SHERRYL CONNELLY

Providence Journal EXCELLENT

"LaMarche sets us back in high school with all its cliques and cabals, its secret cigarettes, alcohol and drugs, the rage and submission that motivate teenage boys in their angry, hormone-driven relationships with one another.... [He] writes in a clear, crisp, procedural prose, almost claustrophobic and airless, akin to Hemingway with almost none of that writer's lyricism, but his story is so riveting and toxic that it held me every step of the way." SAM COALE

Buffalo News GOOD/EXCELLENT

"The strength of Teddy's story lies in the deep underpinnings of his character. Teddy is far from a hapless, flaw-free hero--he's a young man who's troubled in many ways long before the fateful day of the shooting." CHARITY VOGEL

Dallas Morning News GOOD/EXCELLENT

"While marred by some confusion of aim and occasionally unconvincing dialogue and characters, it often manages to be emotionally powerful and more than a little unsettling.... This is a novel that never goes in easily predictable directions, and Ted is a sensitively drawn protagonist, whose reaction to the situation he finds himself in is achingly real." CHARLES MATTHEWS

San Francisco Chronicle GOOD/EXCELLENT

"The author is so intent on swift storytelling that his characters lack much depth.... Built of spare, solid materials--dead-on dialogue everywhere and emotional depth charges strategically placed--it has a timeless, inevitable feel." DAN CRYER

CRITICAL SUMMARY

"There exists, of course, no more defining American image than death by bullet," notes the Los Angeles Times. In his debut novel, Phil LaMarche ties this all-too-common image to timeless themes (coming of age, class struggle) as well as more contemporary ones (violence in children, gun control, fascism). What results is a gripping narrative that says as much about the incongruities of 21st-century America as it does about one boy thrown prematurely into the maelstrom of adult life. Despite a few flaws--some academic dialogue attributed to teens, some cardboard characters, and the practice of referring to Teddy and his family as "the boy," the father," and "the mother"--LaMarche has delivered a powerful, emotionally devastating novel.

CITED BY THE CRITICS

AMERICAN SKIN | DON DE GRAZIA (2000): This raw, volatile novel follows its teenage narrator on the road to manhood within the violent skinhead subculture of 1980s Chicago.

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GOOD/EXCELLENT

Angelica

By Arthur Philips

A Victorian ghost story.

In turn-of-the-20th-century London, all of the characters are in place for a Dickensian spook story: Joseph Barton, the sexually frustrated husband; Constance Barton, the hysterical wife with a history of miscarriages; and Angelica, the daughter whose arrival changed both their lives. One fateful day, Joseph decides that Angelica, now four, must move out of her mother's bed so that he can resume marital intimacies in peace. Constance, knowing that another pregnancy would be murder, fights her fear, only to start seeing blue specters haunting her daughter. Random House. 331 pages. $25.95. ISBN: 1400062519

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Christian Science Monitor EXCELLENT

"Phillips appears to be enjoying himself, twisting his domestic melodrama ever tighter. He layers Victorian issues about sex and gender with modern psychology and British snobbery, and overlays it all with some truly elegant writing." YVONNE ZIPP

Seattle Times EXCELLENT

"The novel becomes rich with artfully orchestrated 'mirror moments,' in which a gesture or word that seemed threatening or unsavory from an earlier perspective appears entirely innocent or reasonable from another later viewpoint--and vice versa." MICHAEL UPCHURCH

Washington Post EXCELLENT

"Angelica, Arthur Phillips's spellbinding third book, cements this young novelist's reputation as one of the best writers in America, a storyteller who combines Nabokovian wit and subtlety with a narrative urgency that rivals Stephen King's." ELIZABETH HAND

Cleveland Plain Dealer GOOD/EXCELLENT

"Even though [Philips] takes a long time to get to the point, when he does, his artfully contrived, extraordinarily well-written view of a dysfunctional family resonates in unexpected ways." CARLO WOLFF

Los Angeles Times GOOD

"Readers of Phillips' Prague (expatriates in Budapest) and The Egyptologist (an archeological whodunit) will find Angelica to be a more seriously cast novel in which 'truth' never materializes. Every attempt is made to erase closure and finality." ART WINSLOW

NY Times Book Review GOOD

"Phillips has written a charming novel in which old-fashioned phantoms cleverly give way to Freudian nightmares.... In the end, Angelica struggles to make sense of the fascinating images it conjures, explaining them at too great a length." ANDREW SEAN GREER

Boston Globe FAIR/GOOD

"With a writer as talented as Phillips, we are willing to follow him pretty much wherever his interests take him--at least for a while. But it takes a long time for Phillips to unfurl his sails in Angelica, and the reader needs to tack constantly to catch the wind." HELLER MCALPIN

CRITICAL SUMMARY

In Angelica, the talented Arthur Phillips (Prague, GOOD/EXCELLENT Nov/Dec 2002) pays homage to Henry James's famous ghost story, "The Turn of the Screw," but piles on multiple viewpoints to add maddening and obscure layers to the story. Reviewers loved the way Phillips tackles Freudian issues and shows how men and women process the same narrative differently. His pacing may strike some as slow--it is a Victorian novel, after all--but it yields a chilling, surprising tale of great psychological depth. "Readers seeking linearity and simplicity would do well to avoid Phillips' work," suggests the Cleveland Plain Dealer. "Those comfortable with a layered open-end-edness, however, should enjoy it, then linger over its intellectually satisfying vapors."

BOOKMARKS SELECTION

EXCELLENT

My Holocaust

By Tova Reich

We had it worse than you.

Holocaust survivor Maurice Messer, chairman of the U.S. Holocaust Museum, and his neurotic son Norman, president of Holocaust Connections Inc., know how to exploit tragedy. In fact, they've made quite a profitable business of it. But their industry is not without certain complications. Norman's daughter Nechama (Hebrew for "comfort") has become Sister Consolatia of the Cross at the convent near Auschwitz; Maurice gets possessive about "mine Holocaust" as he leads philanthropic donors through the death camps and deals with trouble at the museum; and the United Holocausts Rainbow believe that everyone should own the Holocaust. Soon, the Holocaust becomes a battleground for all victims--from Native Americans to African Americans, homosexuals, and chickens.

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HarperCollins. 326 pages. $24.95. ISBN: 0061173452

Los Angeles Times EXCELLENT/CLASSIC

"Her book is subversive, painful, brilliant and, yes, both laugh-out-loud funny and illuminating.... Reich's subversiveness lies in her refusal to award sole legitimacy to any one agenda. Every mission myopically pursued can become whacked out; every character, whether seeking validation, compensation or justice, is seen through the same withering lens." TARA ISON

Washington Post EXCELLENT/CLASSIC

"Serious and hilarious and utterly scathing--no, lacerating; no, disemboweling--My Holocaust takes no prisoners in its two short, bookended chapters and its two lengthy set pieces, one inside the museum's hallowed walls and another on a special donors' tour of Auschwitz.... Reich reserves her most brutal commentary for the so-called 'universalists' who use empathy and spuriously heartfelt identification to exterminate the particular, historical tragedy of the Jewish people." MELVIN JULES BUKIET

Hartford Courant EXCELLENT

"Soon after beginning this viciously funny, head-spinning novel about the commoditizing of victim-hood and the marketing of memorialization, you're hesitant to touch its pages, lest the coruscating satire burn your fingertips.... There have been countless deeply serious, heart-rending, stomach-turning, mind-boggling accounts of man's inhumanity, Nazi-style--but this novel is clearly in its own class." CAROLE GOLDBERG

Philadelphia Inquirer EXCELLENT

"Tova Reich is fearless, in the best possible way, and her take on the culture of victimization spares no captives in the gulag of self-anointed martyrdom.... [Her] gift for satire is impeccable, her ear for absurdity pitch perfect." KAREN HELLER

Chicago Sun-Times GOOD/EXCELLENT

"Some might find such a treatment of such a subject offensive. Making fun, though not light, of a topic as fraught as the Holocaust takes chutzpah, a quality in which author Tova Reich abounds." CARLO WOLFF

CRITICAL SUMMARY

More than 70 years later, most writers still tread softly when it comes to the six million Jews (and countless others) who died at the hands of the Nazis. My Holocaust is a totally different breed. A shocking, brave satire, the novel digs into those who, in the name of avenging six million deaths, commodify tragedy. Despite her absurd, offensive characters (including a jihad terrorist who gets co-opted by a rabbi), Tova Reich never trivializes the Holocaust: indeed, by presenting the outlandishness of her characters' cheap morality, she encourages readers to ponder the gravity of the Holocaust. "I take no offense in being off ended, if the truths revealed enlighten," notes the Philadelphia Inquirer. And with humor and anger, My Holocaust enlightens.

GOOD/EXCELLENT

Black & White

By Dani Shapiro

Mother-daughter bonds?

At age 32, Clara Brodeur is happily married, living with her husband and daughter in Maine. She has abandoned all traces of her former self--Clara Dunne--the subject of a series of suggestive black-and-white photographs taken by her mother, Ruth, during Clara's childhood. The provocative photos of naked Clara, controversial and hugely successful, elevated Ruth to the upper echelon of the New York art world--but caused deep resentment in Clara. When she learns that her mother is dying, Clara returns to Manhattan. Her absence unsettles her own daughter, who believed her grandmother was dead. Clara must address her relationship with her daughter as she decides whether or not to forgive Ruth.

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Knopf. 256 pages. $24. ISBN: 0375415483

Dallas Morning News EXCELLENT

"[Black & White is] sure to cause heated discussion around the book-club table.... Ms. Shapiro's greatest accomplishment in Black & White is that she avoids making Ruth look like a complete monster; she comes off, instead, as a complex, selfish woman who simply allows her own needs to upstage those of her child." JOY TIPPING

NY Times Book Review EXCELLENT

"The strength of this novel is its particularity, its specificity, whether Shapiro is raking over the changes wrought by the years to the Upper West Side or describing Clara's sense of dislocation as she attempts to blend in with the other moms on the Maine island.... It's no bad thing to close a book and still be left wondering what happens next." ERICA WAGNER

Providence Journal EXCELLENT

"The novel reminds us that the stories of our past are just constructs of how we've chosen to remember them.... [Shapiro] writes with an economy that draws the reader into the dramatic fray of the scenes, without the curse of melodrama." ADAM BRAVER

USA Today EXCELLENT

"[Ruth's] single-minded pursuit of photographic perfection is scary but spot-on authentic. So is Shapiro's cool depiction of a mother and daughter's fraught and fiery relationship.... [Her] novel is no sappy Lifetime movie." DONNA FREYDKIN

Los Angeles Times GOOD/EXCELLENT

"The author charts the emotional disturbance of her characters' past so precisely and astutely that one wishes for the same uncompromising storytelling to infuse the novel as a whole. Still, the ideas Shapiro grapples with resonate, and she raises trenchant and enduring questions that resist easy answers." MARISA SILVER

San Francisco Chronicle FAIR/GOOD

"Shapiro's presentation of Ruth's image-making as child abuse seems overblown.... [I]n this novel, there are times when she seems to favor drama over nuance. Black-and-white takes precedence over shades of gray." SARAH COLEMAN

New York Observer FAIR

"A gifted storyteller with graceful instincts, Ms. Shapiro has discovered a rich subject in the mother/artist high-wire act, but the story she tells lacks the nuance promised by the premise.... Rather than sculpting three-dimensional characters out of action and idiosyncrasy, Ms. Shapiro clings to tired shorthand." SARAH KARNASIEWICZ

CRITICAL SUMMARY

Dani Shapiro "has developed a specialty in writing about difficult mother-daughter bonds" (San Francisco Chronicle). Yet while critics agreed that the relationship between Clara and her mother Ruth (who is loosely based on the photographer Sally Mann) presents a rich opportunity, they disagreed over Shapiro's execution. Those praising the novel found the characters well drawn, but others thought the novel uneven, with a compelling storyline weighed down by the predictability of Clara's emotional journey as an adult. The New York Observer even disparaged the novel for characters depicted with "tired shorthand" and for "calculated" plot points. Despite these criticisms, readers intrigued by the premise should take a look.

ALSO BY THE AUTHOR

FAMILY HISTORY (2003): GOOD

July/Aug 2003. A 13-year-old girl comes home from summer camp a changed child. Now sullen and withdrawn, not to mention tattooed and pierced, she starts to tear apart her once-happy family.

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GOOD/EXCELLENT

Delirium

By Laura Restrepo, translated by Natasha Wimmer

A mad, mad mirror of society.

During Pablo Escobar's corrupt Colombian regime, Aguilar, a former literature professor, resorts to selling dog food for a living. Upon returning from a trip, he finds that his beautiful wife, Agustina, has gone mad. As he tries to piece together the events that caused her breakdown, he starts to uncover her mysteries. Th rough several narrative voices--including one of Agustina's former lovers, Midas McAlister, a money launderer for the Medellin drug cartel--we learn of Agustina's emotionally troubled, upper-class past, her alleged psychic powers, her delusional German grandfather, and the painful memories that plague her. As she deteriorates, she--and the delirium of love--become an allegory for Colombian society's ills.

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Nan A. Talese. 320 pages. $23.95. ISBN: 0385519907

Philadelphia Inquirer EXCELLENT/CLASSIC

"Every word in Delirium, the English translation of this Colombian author's prize-winning novel, is perfectly chosen, painfully honest and brutally effective.... [H]ere, wrapped around what pretends to be a mystery novel, is proof that life, love and betrayal are all inescapable forms of madness." ELIZABETH FOX

Washington Post EXCELLENT/CLASSIC

"[A] book-and-a-half: stunning, dense, complex, mind-blowing.... Put more plainly, do all of us carry a series of unseen, often unnoticed neural firecrackers in the brain, set to go off randomly when we least expect them?" CAROLYN SEE

NY Times Book Review GOOD/EXCELLENT

"Delirium is a disconcertingly lovely book, and its depiction of Colombian society at an awful moment in its history (and a few awful times before) is sharp, vivid, utterly persuasive.... The central idea turns out to be the inarguable but disappointingly ordinary one that keeping secrets can be destructive." TERRENCE RAFFERTY

Denver Post GOOD

"The result is a work that doesn't always succeed, but is so lovely and daring that even when it falls short of the mark, it is worth the investment of time and treasure.... The structure of the novel is complex; each section of narrative is short and separated from its predecessor by no more than an ellipsis." ROBIN VIDIMOS

San Francisco Chronicle GOOD

"Agustina is a deeply felt, richly imagined character in this complex novel, but the overbearing weight of symbolic purpose makes her presence more didactic than entertaining.... We always want to know why, even when the 'why' is unknowable--but therein lies the biggest issue for the book." TIMOTHY PETERS

Oregonian FAIR

"Clever revelations, withheld to the final pages, provide answers.... Delirium is smart and well-plotted but cold at heart and hardly revelatory: the corruption of Colombian society is old news." MAYA MUIR

CRITICAL SUMMARY

Is it possible to remain sane in an insane place? Colombian author Laura Restrepo's sixth novel, which won the 2004 Premio Alfaguara and the 2006 Grinzane Cavour Prize in Italy, provides a multifaceted answer to this question. In exploring how madness affects many levels of society, from government to family, Restrepo offers an intriguing, superbly written (and translated), and psychologically rich novel that reads like a mystery unraveled backward. Critics agreed that some voices, including McAlister's and Aguilar's, are extremely compelling, while Agustina's is less so. That Agustina is a symbolic stand-in for Colombia's ills also bothered a few, as did the ambiguous nature of her breakdown.

BOOKMARKS SELECTION

EXCELLENT

The Raw Shark Texts

By Steven Hall

It's not just your imagination.

Eric Sanderson returns to consciousness--but has lost his memory. Contradictory notes, letters, and encrypted clues (prepared by an earlier version of himself) guide him in his effort to reclaim his identity. One letter directs him to visit his doctor, who tells him he's suffered recurring bouts of amnesia since his girlfriend, Clio, disappeared during a trip to Greece. Another note tells him not to trust the doctor. He learns that a "Ludovician shark" consumed the earlier Eric's identity and memories and continues to pursue him. The shark inhabits a nearby conceptual dimension, where memories and ideas have physical counterparts that live on even after they've been expressed in this world. As Eric, Scout (a counterpart of Clio), and an academic hunt down the shark, the novel races toward a heart-pounding climax.

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Canongate. 428 pages. $24. ISBN: 1841959111

Minneapolis Star Tribune EXCELLENT/CLASSIC

"This book is going to be a huge success; the movie is already optioned and the computer game can't be far behind. Wait for these versions, however, and you deprive yourself of its sheer verbal pleasure." EMILY CARTER ROIPHE

St. Petersburg Times EXCELLENT/CLASSIC

"[S]wift, playful and fearsomely intelligent.... It takes a strong writer to juggle memory and identity, the words people use to make sense of reality, without losing the reader along the way. Only an extremely gifted one can keep everything up in the air and keep the reader engaged with everything that's going on." KIT REED

Los Angeles Times EXCELLENT

"The Raw Shark Texts is so much more than a clever, playful book, though it is both those things.... Some of the pages contain word pictures (there's even a flip section of a swimming shark), and although they're simple, they truly enhance the feeling of swimming and being preyed upon in the water, of being part of the complex conceptual food chain." SUSAN SALTER REYNOLDS

Oregonian EXCELLENT

"The Raw Shark Texts is a fluid, fast-paced thriller. Make that a PG-13 thriller: a slightly older Harry Potter meets edited-for-TV Shaun of the Dead meets Jaws.... And it works." VERNON PETERSON

San Francisco Chronicle EXCELLENT

"Paced like a thriller, the book thinks like a French theorist and reads like a deluge.... He has written an engrossing, delirious and perfectly wacky book and, if nothing else, in his generous imagining not one of us has ever had a wasted thought." TOBIN O'DONNELL

USA Today GOOD/EXCELLENT

"The prose is often self-important and less brilliant than the situations it describes, and many of the story elements dogmatically adhere to Hollywood conventions.... A metaphysical book such as this easily could have become dense and inaccessible, but Hall's unrelenting focus on visual storytelling keeps it lucid." ELIOT SCHREFER

NY Times Book Review FAIR

"How all this will read in 20 years, or even two, is hard to say, although one suspects that what seemed so vertiginously modern will ultimately seem like so much cyber-age psychedelia--as depthless and woozy as paisley-patterned shirts.... Novels so in hock to the movies have a habit of evaporating by the time they get to the screen." TOM SHONE

CRITICAL SUMMARY

Almost everyone loves this much-hyped first novel, including, according to USA Today, Nicole Kidman, who asked Steven Hall if he'd change the main character into a woman for the movie. (He declined.) Although a few critics found Hall's prose imperfect, most applauded his achievement in transforming hefty subjects (memory, identity, meme theory, grief) into an energetic thriller, in which ideas--such as those implied by the "Ludovician shark"--come to life. Only the New York Times panned the book, finding it formulaic and overly clever. Readers who are prepared to tolerate (or be amused by) a few typographical gimmicks and manipulations, as well as an engaging story, are in for a treat.

GOOD/EXCELLENT

Fellow Travelers

By Thomas Mallon

The lavender scare.

People often remember the McCarthy Era in terms of black-and-white. The public debate on Communism--either you were or you weren't a Communist--was a thinly veiled pretext for other perceived forms of social and cultural deviancy, including homosexuality. Viewed through the romantic relationship between Park Avenue WASP and State Department rake Hawkins Fuller and idealistic, working-class, and Irish-Catholic Senate aide Tim Laughlin, this portrait of paranoid mid-century Washington, D.C., features a rogue's gallery of historical players (McCarthy, Nixon, Kennedy), as well as intrigue, romantic entanglements, and the McCarthy witch hunt. Fellow Travelers makes the personal political while exposing politics as the most personal of pursuits.

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Pantheon. 368 pages. $25. ISBN: 0375423486

Chicago Tribune EXCELLENT

"The weakness of many historical novels is that the history is reduced to a theme park in which the characters cavort but represents little more. The historical import of McCarthyism helps Mallon avoid that pitfall to a significant degree: The personalities of his characters are securely tied to the environment in which they exist and represent varied potential responses to it." ART WINSLOW

Los Angeles Times EXCELLENT

"The fairly graphic sex scenes are a surprise from this normally circumspect author, but they reveal aspects of the characters we could not have seen in any other context. They also give Fellow Travelers an edge quite different from the sorrowful poignancy with which Mallon portrayed equally ill-starred unions in Henry and Clara and Two Moons." WENDY SMITH

Miami Herald GOOD/EXCELLENT

"Mallon is an observant researcher, religiously loyal to facts. With chronological and material exactitude, therefore, he reveals the moral and political turbulences churning beneath the tranquil (or as Robert Lowell would put it, tranquilized) waves through which Ike steered a barnacled ship of state." ARIEL GONZALEZ

Washington Post GOOD/EXCELLENT

"One can't help but applaud Mallon's refusal to cede to the arbiters of good taste, not to mention his flouting of the workshop masters who insist that in novels politics must be reduced to an easily digestible pablum." DAVID LEAVITT

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette FAIR

"The spiritual journey of [Tim] Laughlin is Mallon's true focus, though, even as he layers his period piece with the personalities, movies and history of the early 1950s. Unlike his earlier books, however, this novel seems forced and the cultural references contrived." BOB HOOVER

CRITICAL SUMMARY

It's notable that many critics, even those that otherwise praise Fellow Travelers, censure Thomas Mallon for occasionally letting facts impede a good story. As in his past historical novels, including Henry and Clara and Dewey Defeats Truman, the author veils scrupulous research with well-constructed, insightful plots. This time, reviewers feel Mallon stretches to weave period references into this highly personal novel. Otherwise, Mallon, a resident of Washington, D.C., and a member of the National Endowment for the Humanities, balances the demands of history with the delights of fiction, delivering a nuanced, entertaining story of a time in the nation's capital he calls "full of juicy, play-for-keeps characters on the main stage--with a whiff of impending nuclear apocalypse in the air."

GOOD/EXCELLENT

The Pesthouse

By Jim Crace

Unmanifest destiny.

In a dystopian future, America has withered away. Ravaging diseases, armed bands, lawlessness, illiteracy, and toxic lands have created a new Dark Ages. As a mass exodus takes place, not westward but toward the Atlantic and Europe, a mudslide kills the inhabitants of Ferrytown. One survivor, 31-year-old Margaret, bears the mark of a lethal disease--a shaved head--and is sent to a pesthouse to die. Injured and searching for shelter, farm boy Franklin Lopez finds her. They soon leave the pesthouse together to discover their fate (including encounters with slave traders and a religious, antiprogress sect), to share their hopes of survival amid the wasteland, and possibly to love again.

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Nan A. Talese. 255 pages. $24.95. ISBN: 0385520751

Los Angeles Times EXCELLENT

"At one level, The Pesthouse is a suspenseful road novel; when Franklin and Margaret become separated, it joins the ranks of tales in which women fend for themselves in the wilderness. But at its heart, The Pesthouse is a meditation on deep questions about America: the costs of relentless expansion, the fate of a wasteful industrial society." EMILY BARTON

Seattle Times EXCELLENT

"The settler imagery is deliberate, reminding us of the contrast between the dark ages of Crace's near-future and America when it was a stew-pot of hope and optimism.... Together, [Margaret and Franklin] become a latter-day Adam and Eve--and The Pesthouse becomes a quintessential American story." ELLEN EMRY HELTZEL

Chicago Tribune GOOD/EXCELLENT

"He has created a fairy-tale land steeped in mythos, its people conducting themselves in accordance with a patchwork of superstitions and quasi-religious beliefs, many of those based on hand-me-down stories about the old America--a reversion to oral tradition, in other words.... One of the central concerns to emerge is the age-old consideration of whether we are each other's keepers." ART WINSLOW

Boston Globe GOOD

"The inevitable comparison for The Pesthouse is Margaret Atwood's dystopian novel from two decades ago, The Handmaid's Tale, wherein the woes of the planet were addressed with a new oppressive regime. But Crace's novel is not so elaborately depicted: The bad guys, for instance, from the rustlers to the religious reactionaries, are faceless prototypes." GAIL CALDWELL

NY Times Book Review FAIR/GOOD

"When he's on, as he often is here, the results are stellar. But that highway across the ravaged future has been traversed so frequently that keeping us on course requires a level of invention as high as the one that gives the Finger Baptists their eerie fascination." FRANCINE PROSE

CRITICAL SUMMARY

Most critics compared The Pesthouse to Cormac McCarthy's Pulitzer Prize-winning The Road (EXCELLENT/CLASSIC SELECTION Nov/Dec 2006). While The Pesthouse is equally devastating in its postapocalyptic vision, the novel, less spare in its sensory descriptions, contains a mordant wit and rounded female characters. Jim Crace, the author of eight previous novels (including the 2000 National Book Critics Circle Award-winning Being Dead), compellingly chronicles a reverse migration and abandoned moral codes while raising important questions about self-preservation, industrial expansion, and our responsibility toward others. A few quibbles: some critics cited stereotypical characters, and others noted that while compelling, Crace's subject matter has been covered in better novels.

ALSO BY THE AUTHOR

BEING DEAD (2000): The novel opens with the murder on a beach of a married couple in their mid-50s. From there, Crace looks backward on the couple's day, weaving in the history of their family, their daughter, and how they met. But he also looks forward, describing how the couple's bodies are not found for days and detailing exactly how the crabs, birds, and insects pick at their corpses.

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GOOD/EXCELLENT

The Unknown Terrorist

By Richard Flanagan

Paranoia and the 9/11 jitters.

Twenty-something Gina Davies, known to friends as "the Doll" in her adoptive Sydney, Australia, has a dream: she'll continue to work as a stripper only long enough to save $50,000--a down payment on a condo and a new future. A single night with a Muslim named Tariq leads to her connection to a terrorist organization and her branding as the country's most wanted fugitive. With the help of Richard Cody, a television journalist (and one of the Doll's customers), authorities close in on Australia's latest cause celebre. In a violent finale, Flanagan plumbs the depths of cynicism and fear in a post-9/11 world.

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Grove. 336 pages. $24. ISBN: 0802118518

Oregonian EXCELLENT/CLASSIC

"The most searing and powerful book I have ever read about how our fears of terrorism are twisting and diminishing us in chilling fashion begins in ways that make you want to fling it across the room.... In this stunning and brilliant and roaring book [Flanagan] shouts the question loudly enough ...: Is our own paranoia dragging us down faster than the coward in the cave could ever dream?" BRIAN DOYLE

Seattle Times EXCELLENT

"[A] page-turning thriller worthy of John le Carre, with a plot so credible a reader might feel it's nonfiction, except for a few too many coincidences. But even those can't dampen the chilling effect of the story, written in a fresh, exhilarating prose style in which the author makes each sentence a small work of art." SKYE K. MOODY

New York Times GOOD/EXCELLENT

"[I]f the focus of The Unknown Terrorist remains the contemporary world ... it does just as dazzling a job of limning its subject, conjuring up the postmodern, post-sci-fi world of globalized terror and trade, where drugs and weapons and human beings are smuggled with equal brazenness across borders and oceans, and money and power flow back and forth between the legitimate and criminal worlds, unnoticed by the crowds clamoring for more bytes and pixels and bandwidth.... Mr. Flanagan's vision seems to have darkened considerably since his last book." MICHIKO KAKUTANI

St. Petersburg Times GOOD/EXCELLENT

"Richard Flanagan's fourth book is a bleak look at the post-9/11 world, where governments routinely raise the terror alert to create a sense of fear without any basis in fact.... When truth becomes a casualty of paranoia, Flanagan suggests, we may believe something tangible is being done to curb terror when really only innocents are being compromised." VIKRAM JOHRI

Los Angeles Times GOOD

"Here is the vitally vicious Flanagan who can stop a reader's breath. Unfortunately these grotesque grace notes are undermined by a hammeringly simplistic moral: We're bad and we know this by the shabbiness of those who speak for us." MELVIN JULES BUKIET

CRITICAL SUMMARY

Richard Flanagan's stock-in-trade through four novels (Gould's Book of Fish, Death of a River Guide, Sound of One Hand Clapping) has been intense, often surreal, set pieces. Such disconcerting snapshots drive The Unknown Terrorist to its inevitable conclusion. Flanagan's latest effort turns a jaundiced eye on one city's reaction to 9/11. The result is chilling and plausible. At least one reviewer criticized the book's "simplistic moral"; to be sure, readers rarely doubt where Flanagan stands on the issues at hand. Still, The Unknown Terrorist is a powerful commentary on a society that, the author suggests, gorges itself on paranoia as readily as it seeks truth.

GOOD

Boomsday

By Christopher Buckley

Bloggers, boomers, and suicidal politics.

Cassandra Devine, a PR specialist by day and rabble-rousing blogger by night, is focusing on a huge cause of concern for the under-35 crowd: Boomsday. That's the phenomenon also known as the monumental budget crisis of all 77 million baby boomers taking their retirement and crashing Social Security. Cassandra's plan? Give boomers government incentives to kill themselves by age 75. And Cassandra just happens to be intimate with a rising political superstar.

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Twelve. 318 pages. $24.95. ISBN: 0446579815

Chicago Sun-Times EXCELLENT

"Duplicity runs amok--everyone for him- or herself, and no one for the country. You practically need a scorecard to keep track of the self-serving and double-dealing." ROGER K. MILLER

Los Angeles Times GOOD/EXCELLENT

"The plot manages its supreme and satisfying silliness even though it hovers around important issues of the dullest kind: Social Security, healthcare for seniors, our nation's economic future.... It would be more fun (and more interesting) to read Buckley if he were meaner and more profound." AMY WILENTZ

New York Times GOOD/EXCELLENT

"Mr. Buckley has a worrisomely tough time laying the groundwork for this premise, but his idea soon yields the exquisitely dizzy, Wodehouse-style mischief that is his specialty." JANET MASLIN

Houston Chronicle GOOD

"Since Social Security is the most boring subject in the world, we probably owe Buckley some kind of debt for putting the subject in front of us in the form of a highly readable novel with flip-page howlers. But the idea that such a movement could be a hot-button issue in a presidential race is so silly that Boomsday's momentum begins to dissipate before the midway point." ALLEN BARRA

Christian Science Monitor FAIR/GOOD

"Satire works when an author understands his target, but Buckley seems to be still too fascinated with tech-savvy youth to mock it very effectively." CRISTIAN LUPSA

St. Petersburg Times FAIR

"It's a great satirical premise, but Buckley has trouble focusing on it because he's sniping at so many other targets.... Buckley's wit is quick, but it's not [Jonathan Swift's 'A Modest Proposal']." COLETTE BANCROFT

CRITICAL SUMMARY

Once again, political satirist Christopher Buckley (Thank You for Smoking) delivers a firecracker of a novel that explodes with imagination, irony, and wit. Buckley sometimes overexplains, to show off how smart he is, but he is discussing Social Security here. Besides boring subject matter, the novel contains a completely over-the-top premise and a lead character that strains credibility. So the overexplanation works, for the most part, because it evokes laughs. "If you're looking for a lighter, frothier version of Tom Wolfe," says the Los Angeles Times, "Boomsday is your ticket." Also of note: as the first release of the new publishing imprint Twelve, Boomsday comes packaged in an eye-catching, pop-art package.

GOOD

Falling Man

By Don DeLillo

National Book Award winner takes on 9/11.

On September 11, 2001, Keith Neudecker walks away from the crumbling World Trade Center and goes directly to his estranged wife Lianne's home. The two forge an uneasy, dazed truce: Keith continues the philandering that tore them apart; Lianne remains paralyzed by anxiety--about her mother, about her genes, and about her devastated city. Through his binoculars, their son Justin scans the skies for airplanes and a mysterious man named Bill Lawton. Meanwhile a performance artist named "Falling Man" appears around Manhattan, dangling in the sky by invisible guide wires, in chilling homage to the now-infamous image of a man tumbling from the World Trade Center.

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Scribner. 246 pages. $26. ISBN: 1416546022

Boston Globe CLASSIC

"Like the sculptor who decides upon which 95 percent to omit, DeLillo has created a tableau of specificity and poetic anguish, all of it bearing the themes that have dominated his fiction over the years: the play of art and memory, the miracles and limits of language, the meaning of things trumping the things themselves." GAIL CALDWELL

Chicago Tribune EXCELLENT/CLASSIC

"At its best [the novel] creates the vertiginous sensation that the very ground beneath us--or the ledge we're standing on--may be about to disappear, sending us plunging into a world from which the bottom has fallen out.... [It is] brilliant and awe-producing, incredibly close to a full-blown masterpiece and giving us plenty to ponder for a long time." ALAN CHEUSE

Los Angeles Times EXCELLENT

"A gripping, haunting ensemble piece, much less about the public, historical event than about its psychological radiation through the lives of a single New York City family. It is DeLillo at his most bare-bones, asking, 'How do we now live?'" SVEN BIRKERTS

New York Times POOR/FAIR

"Instead of capturing the impact of 9/11 on the country or New York or a spectrum of survivors or even a couple of interesting individuals, instead of illuminating the zeitgeist in which 9/11 occurred or the shell-shocked world it left in its wake, Mr. DeLillo leaves us with two paltry images: one of a performance artist re-enacting the fall of bodies from the burning World Trade Center, and one of a self-absorbed man, who came through the fire and ash of that day and decided to spend his foreseeable future playing stupid card games in the Nevada desert." MICHIKO KAKUTANI

Newsday POOR

"It brings it back, of course, those stark moments in the burning towers when people fell or were forced to jump, but that is not a good book. It is a spectacle, a book that dangles itself in front of us, offering nothing but our own outrage to support its puppetry of human desperation." DANIEL HANDLER

Washington Post POOR

"None of the characters ever emerges from cardboard wrapping, and none of the emotions DeLillo tries to arouse feels earned. He's letting the shock of Sept. 11 do his work for him, supplying the passions that his own surprisingly limp and lifeless prose cannot." JONATHAN YARDLEY

CRITICAL SUMMARY

New York native Don DeLillo confronts his city's most horrendous tragedy. Those expecting the interwoven subterfuge and bravado sentence making of Underworld or White Noise might be disappointed. This is a stark, intensely personal story that provokes some equally impassioned--and sharply divided--responses. From the reviews, it is clear that the novel is either the best 9/11 book yet written, or a complete failure. Those championing the latter view claim that other firsthand accounts of the tragedy far overmatch the novel. But the book's supporters find that DeLillo's restrained prose and close focus are the perfect lenses through which to view the tragedy. Six years later, it's still hard to discern whether critics' responses have more to do with the event than the book at hand.

EXCELLENT

The Ministry of Special Cases

By Nathan Englander

How to mourn the disappeared.

Argentina's state-sanctioned Dirty War of the mid-1970s and early 1980s left the country in social and political turmoil as left-wing subversives and ethnic minorities--in total, possibly some 30,000 Argentines--disappeared. Amid this totalitarian regime, Kaddish Poznan, a Jewish denizen of Buenos Aires and the son of a whore, erases Jewish names from gravestones to sever the departed's family from its history. Then Kaddish's collegeage son, Pato, becomes a desaparecido. As Kaddish and his wife Lillian attempt to locate him through the nightmarish, bureaucratic Ministry of Special Cases, they try to comprehend what erasure really means to a family--and to a nation.

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Knopf. 339 pages. $25. ISBN: 0375404937

Hartford Courant EXCELLENT/CLASSIC

"Through a deep understanding of familial love and loss, and through the animated and consistent cadences of each wonderful character's voice, he makes us laugh, between gasps, at the absurdity of the Poznans' situation and hope for their successful reunion, despite improbable odds.... Written in crisp, unsentimental prose, The Ministry of Special Cases is as heartbreaking a novel as Sophie's Choice." JENNY MINTON

Los Angeles Times EXCELLENT/CLASSIC

"The Ministry of Special Cases--which may have its roots in Englander's stay in Buenos Aires in 1990--is a mesmerizing rumination on loss and memory, spun out with a fabulism that recalls Isaac Bashevis Singer and only serves to heighten the absurdity and horror of the Dirty War.... [It] builds with breathtaking, perfectly wrought pacing and calm, terrifying logic." MARK ROZZO

Rocky Mountain News EXCELLENT/CLASSIC

"While the tale is of a Jewish family, Englander's is much more than a Jewish novel.... His depiction of a citizenry terrified of its own government, unsure what words will get them help or push them into danger, is one that alludes to nations around the world throughout the past 100 years." LISA BORNSTEIN

Chicago Tribune EXCELLENT

"In Englander's wrenching political-historical fable, the Poznans' story transcends the local; they represent the fate of a Jewish family under the pressure of totalitarianism, facing erasure.... The surreal aspect of their journey ... enables Englander to enlarge the story into a moving parable about the meaning of Jewish identity, the struggle of a marginal people to stay afloat." DONALD WEBER

Minneapolis Star Tribune EXCELLENT

"There are some truly chilling moments in this book--an encounter with a general who has adopted a stolen child as his own; the confession of a pilot who has assisted in 'disappearing' people by throwing them from a plane into the ocean--but Englander is less concerned with the visceral effects of historical atrocity than he is with intellectual ones." ETHAN RUTHERFORD

Denver Post GOOD/EXCELLENT

"Along with the protagonist's first name, there are other instances of symbolism that come across as heavy-handed.... The Ministry of Special Cases is a moving, thoughtful, even humorous and carefully crafted first novel." DORMAN T. SHINDLER

Philadelphia Inquirer FAIR/GOOD

"It takes daring to make Kaddish, Lillian and Pato as deeply flawed as they are. But by dipping in and out of making them characters or constructs, and not deciding one way or the other, The Ministry of Special Cases misses out on being a definitive read." SARAH WEINMAN

CRITICAL SUMMARY

Eight years ago Nathan Englander published his acclaimed short story collection, For the Relief of Unbearable Urges. He brings the same historical profundity to his first novel. While focusing on the pessimistic Kaddish, whose name honors the dead, and his optimistic wife, Englander tells a much larger story about terrorist regimes and asks universal questions about remembering the dead, dealing with evil, and addressing assimilation, love, ritual, and generational gaps. Most reviewers praised the novel's tense, Kafkaesque qualities; others criticized the obvious symbolism (the Poznans' bartered rhinoplasties, for example) and wished for more emotional empathy. Overall, however, Englander once again displays his ample talents in this much anticipated novel.

ALSO BY THE AUTHOR

FOR THE RELIEF OF UNBEARABLE URGES Stories (1999): * PEN/MALAMUD AWARD. Drawing on his family's heritage, Englander uncovers 20th-century Jewry at a crossroads: an orthodox Jew seeks a prostitute; a Park Avenue man finds Judaism; an Orthodox man plays Santa Claus in a department store; a writer finds his voice in Stalinist Russia; and an American Jew witnesses terrorist attacks in Jerusalem.

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GOOD

Rant

An Oral History of Buster Casey

By Chuck Palahniuk

High school was never like this.

"Even as a little boy, Rant Casey just wanted one thing: to be real. Even if that real thing was stinking blood and guts." Teenaged Buster "Rant" Casey combats the boredom of small-town existence by shoving his hands and feet into animal burrows, where his bites produce near-religious and sexual epiphanies. When he contracts rabies, it proves to be a potent high--one that he enthusiastically shares with his classmates, unleashing an epidemic. Rant's quest for authenticity ultimately leads him to the big city and the Party Crashers, nocturnal thrill seekers who play demolition derby on the city's streets. Then, one fantastic car crash unearths the Casey family's darkest secret.

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Doubleday. 336 pages. $24.95. ISBN: 0385517874

Ft. Worth Star Telegram EXCELLENT

"Rant flirts with government-mandated genocide, Greek tragedy, aberrant sexuality, substance abuse and audacious fusions of religion and violence, stitching together disparate elements to craft a surreal, poignant and darkly humorous quilt of madness. Much of the book's emotional potency stems from one of Palahniuk's enduring thematic fascinations: the almost pathological need for his characters to feel something--anything--in their modern, anesthetized existences."

PRESTON JONES

Hartford Courant GOOD/EXCELLENT

"Palahniuk gives his cosmic noodling considerable heft and throws in brain-tickling concepts that will have you scratching your cerebellum far into the night. When you're not in danger of upchucking at his grossness yourself, you'll be marveling at his brilliant and provocative take on where civilization just may be heading." CAROLE GOLDBERG

Philadelphia Inquirer GOOD/EXCELLENT

"Gross, but fiercely smart, and in Palahniuk's signature way of raging against the deadening sterility of modern life.... But what seems to be his foregone conclusion--that we all rubberneck, are all voyeurs of the twisted car wrecks on the highway of life--makes parts of the book a bit stomach-flipping to those of us who don't take quite as much pleasure in that idea." KATIE HAEGELE

Chicago Sun-Times GOOD

"To get where he wants to go, Palahniuk picks up the pace so fast that, by the end, the story feels rushed, inchoate and unconvincing.... The writing is vivid, raw and mordantly knowing." JOE KOLINA

Los Angeles Times FAIR/GOOD

"The guy clearly has the imagination and linguistic virtuosity required to transport us into his outlandish worlds; that alone marks him as a major talent. But Rant also isolates Palahniuk's glaring novelistic flaw: his need to entertain at the expense of moral or emotional concerns." STEVE ALMOND

Wall Street Journal FAIR

"The stuttering rhythm produced by the change in point of view every paragraph or two creates a surprisingly putdownable book.... The other problem is that Mr. Palahniuk's imagination no longer appears as boundless as it once did." KYLE SMITH

New York Times POOR/FAIR

"In this book and its unpalatable predecessor, Haunted, his outrages feel perfunctory, and his new tricks are old tricks, executed by a writer recycling his best gambits for less and less coherent reasons.... [The book's structure as oral history] trades Mr. Palahniuk's scorchingly distinctive voice for a collection of fl at and phony ones." JANET MASLIN

CRITICAL SUMMARY

Zombies, government conspiracies, religious epiphanies, time travel, a postmodern Typhoid Mary, and a woman who mixes thumbtacks into her cookie dough--all are fair game in Rant, Chuck Palahniuk's eighth novel. Critics agreed that Rant is vintage Palahniuk, a grim thriller ride filled with his signature black humor, withering social commentary, and stomach-churning details. Some grumbled, however, that the ideas in Rant have been recycled from previous novels, particularly Fight Club. They were also disappointed with the novel's lack of depth, distracting structure (a succession of hundreds of brief eyewitness testimonies), and underlying glorification of violence. The truth is that Palahniuk is an acquired taste. Readers either love him or leave him alone, and will judge Rant accordingly.

CITED BY THE CRITICS

CRASH A Novel | J. G. BALLARD (1973): This controversial novel explores the relationship between sex and violence (offering graphic descriptions of both) by following the unusual friendship of two car-crash fetishists.

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GOOD

The Secret of Lost Things

By Sheridan Hay

Searching for Melville.

After 18-year-old Rosemary's mother dies, she packs up her things and leaves her native Tasmania for New York. Finding a job in the secondhand Arcade Bookshop (modeled after Strand Bookstore), she meets a cast of eccentrics: George Pike, the quirky owner; Walter Geist, his albino assistant; the emotionally distant Oscar Jarno, for whom Rosemary falls; and the transsexual cashier, Pearl. When a mysterious letter arrives that suggests the existence of a long-lost manuscript by Herman Melville, Walter enlists Rosemary's aid in seeking--and obtaining--the valuable Isle of the Cross. As the stakes rise, Rosemary finds herself trapped in the middle of a complex scheme.

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Doubleday. 368 pages. $23.95. ISBN: 038551848X

Philadelphia Inquirer EXCELLENT

"Sheridan Hay's debut novel, The Secret of Lost Things, is altogether enchanting, not least by virtue of its exquisitely lyrical prose.... There is a fairy-tale quality to [the novel]." FRANK WILSON

Seattle Times EXCELLENT

"Along with the theme of abandonment that permeates The Secret of Lost Things is the theme of obsession--that unhealthy lust for the desired object that is the dark underside of the collector. There are, in fact, almost no characters in Hay's novel who could be considered normal or ordinary, but somehow all this collective weirdness works; it's a memorable debut." MELINDA BARGREEN

Milwaukee Jrnl Sentinel GOOD/EXCELLENT

"The Secret of Lost Things, the debut novel by Sheridan Hay that revolves around a bookstore, conjures such a universe, one that any reader would be glad to inhabit and sorry to see end.... Hay's characters and places, from a hat shop in Tasmania to the overstuffed bookstore in New York that calls to mind the Strand, are finely and fully rendered." CAROL DEPTOLLA

Providence Journal GOOD/EXCELLENT

"The Secret of Lost Things is mildly self-indulgent, as most novels set around books and bookshops tend to be.... Those who love to read about books will enjoy Hay's delicate style, laced as it is with literary parallels and lightly spiced with intrigue." RICHARD J. RING

San Francisco Chronicle FAIR

"Sadly, though, the great potential characters in this story go nowhere.... And it's for this reason The Secret of Lost Things as a whole does not equal its too-separate parts: the great story and the appealing narrator are ill matched." DAVID HAGLUND

Washington Post POOR

"The internal and external loathsomeness of nearly every main character--in what is, at its heart, a story about bartering for love--is far from the book's least tolerable aspect.... What's most insufficient about The Secret of Lost Things is that, as its title suggests, the tale only comes alive when it concerns itself with books as things, as objects for sale." DONNA RIFKIND

CRITICAL SUMMARY

The Secret of Lost Things is many things at once: a mystery, a coming-of-age novel, and an inquiry into literary obsession. While critics noted that the novel aspires to such heights as A. S. Byatt's Possession and Martha Cooley's The Archivist, they generally agreed it reaches neither in scope or depth. Still, the characters, if sometimes caricatured, are vivid (except for Melville, whom we see only in letters); 1970s New York comes alive in its grit and anonymity; and the intriguing plot kept most reviewers on their toes. In sum, better literature about literary quests exists, but The Secret of Lost Things will please diehard fans of the popular bookstore genre.

CITED BY THE CRITICS

THE ARCHIVIST | MARTHA COOLEY (1998): Matthias Lane is an archivist at a top-tier East Coast university. Among the documents he cares for are the letters from T. S. Eliot to Emily Hale. Lane's wife, a poet, committed suicide 20 years earlier--the same year that Eliot died. Now a young scholar and poet, Roberta Spire, comes to Lane asking for permission to look over the sealed letters. Both of them have dark secrets from their pasts that are soon revealed.

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FAIR/GOOD

Flight

By Sherman Alexie

A troubled teen time traveler.

Just released from prison after attacking his foster parents, Zits, a half-Native American teen plagued by acne, loneliness, and abandonment, robs a bank and opens fire on the innocent bystanders. Suddenly he is transported to 1975, when he wakes up in the body of FBI agent Hank Storm, who pursues murderers on the Nannapush Indian Reservation. Zits travels back and forth across the centuries, emerging alternately as a young boy observing the Battle of Little Big Horn, a future pilot grappling with guilt for his part in a terrorist attack, and a homeless man in contemporary Tacoma. Slowly, Zits loses his taste for violence and opens up to the possibility of redemption.

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Black Cat. 181 pages. $13. ISBN: 0802170374

New York Times EXCELLENT

"In this slim volume (making it more novella than novel), Mr. Alexie manages to move effortlessly in and out of centuries like a person moving between waking and sleep. Rather than getting bogged down in the details of seminal historical events, he telescopes to the most intimate moments, when his characters rise and fall." S. KIRK WALSH

Washington Post GOOD/EXCELLENT

"The secondary characters are more plot props than fully developed people.... Flight lacks the depth and scope of Alexie's groundbreaking Reservation Blues, but it's original, funny and Provocative--a trip worth taking." ANN CUMMINS

Milwaukee Jrnl Sentinel FAIR/GOOD

"Alexie does move the reader through his LSD trip of a plot smoothly and without many speed bumps. But that bracing pace is also part of the problem." TIM CUPRISIN

Seattle Times FAIR/GOOD

"As always, Alexie produces many affecting moments and encounters, and there are promising themes and ideas submerged in the story, but they never really come to the surface.... In the end, with its warm message and its tidy resolution of Zits' problems, this slender collection of time-traveling vignettes feels almost like a juvenile novel." MARY BRENNAN

St. Petersburg Times FAIR

"Perhaps this novel was a young adult book that outgrew its format. But Flight seems unlikely to please adolescents either; even they know that time travel is supposed to feel a little less driven, a little more mysterious than it does in Flight." JOHN FREEMAN

Rocky Mountain News POOR/FAIR

"There are a few sparks of that signature Alexie charm in his continued poetry of the failed father and the book's humor, but Flight falls short in development and description.... Because of the lack of detail, the reader never feels transported to the past along with Zits." JENNY SHANK

Los Angeles Times POOR

"In the thin, disappointing new book Flight, Alexie's normally noteworthy prose skills are drowned by a goofy, scarecrow-ragged plot, stock characters and a knock-you-over-the-noggin message better suited to material for high school English classes than the trenchant fiction he's written before.... What's so frustrating about Flight isn't the flimsy story line or even the obvious and underwhelming message; it's that Alexie has wasted such an interesting, wisecracking little imp of a narrator." MARK S. LUCE

CRITICAL SUMMARY

His first novel in over a decade, Sherman Alexie's Flight winds themes of alienation, revenge, and forgiveness through its narrator's time-traveling adventures. Critics were impressed with the clever Zits: his thoughts and actions are both humorous and painfully genuine, the essence of troubled adolescence. However, reviewers complained about the lack of depth, of fully developed secondary characters, and of historical detail. Many critics also noted that the plot's swift pace and tidy ending were more appropriate for juvenile fiction. The New York Times, on the other hand, considered these elements part of the novel's charm. Though Alexie's latest effort may disappoint some readers, many will still find snatches of his trademark humor and moving prose.

GOOD

The Yiddish Policemen's Union

By Michael Chabon

Where Yiddish thrives.

"It's a strange time to be a Jew," opine characters in this alternate-history-and-noir detective novel. Jewish refugees of World War II have lived peacefully in their homeland--the Federal District of Sitka in Alaska--for 60 years, ever since they lost Israel in 1948. Yet a "reversion" of Sitka back to Alaska will soon occur, and millions of Jews will once again be homeless. Two months before the reversion, worn, hard-drinking detective Meyer Landsman starts to investigate the murder of a junkie chess prodigy. Aided by Berko Shemets, his half-Tlingit partner, and confused by Bina, his boss (and ex-wife), Landsman must expose the dark Orthodox underworld and a religious-political scheme before Sitka reverts back to Alaska--and his own tortured history consumes him.

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HarperCollins. 414 pages. $26.95. ISBN: 0007149824

Los Angeles Times EXCELLENT

"Chabon is after a quintessentially American synthesis, in which immigrant heritage blends with mass culture fascinations like science fiction and noir.... For him, the novel's genre tropes--the alternate history, the murder mystery--are less narrative devices than expressions of his desire to mix fact and fantasy, literature and popular entertainment, until we don't quite know where we stand anymore." DAVID L. ULIN

New York Times EXCELLENT

"The Yiddish Policemen's Union builds upon the achievement of Kavalier & Clay, creating a completely fictional world that is as persuasively detailed as his re-creation of 1940s New York in that earlier book.... Mr. Chabon has so thoroughly conjured the fictional world of Sitka--its history, culture, geography, its incestuous and byzantine political and sectarian divisions--that the reader comes to take its existence for granted." MICHIKO KAKUTANI

Christian Science Monitor GOOD/EXCELLENT

"Chabon's dexterity remains impressive; he juggles the Big Ideas with brisk narrative and amusing set pieces without breaking a sweat.... Chabon demonstrates once again with The Yiddish Policemen's Union that he ranks among the most important, and interesting, contemporary American novelists." ERIK SPANBERG

Oregonian GOOD/EXCELLENT

"The hardboiled language of pulp spills from Chabon's characters' mouths, and it's unclear whether this ripe dialogue winks and nods at the reader or if the author just gets carried away--it's a thin line between homage and parody. But it's a small price to pay for this vibrant reimagining of the roman noir." J. DAVID SANTEN JR.

Houston Chronicle FAIR/GOOD

"Let's just say that if Chabon weren't Jewish, I could imagine outraged protest upon the publication of this book. In an age when people who consider themselves educated blithely deny the Holocaust, when some groups actually insist the Israelis were the ones who flew those planes into the Twin Towers, do we really need a novel that flaunts every vicious stereotype of the Jewish people?" LISA JENNIFER SELZMAN

Boston Globe POOR/FAIR

"The Yiddish Policemen's Union is fueled with ... energy, but it's a strange, passionate misfire--obsessively constructed, meticulously researched, Byzantine in its plot line, but a thing of wonder only to itself. It's half-brilliant but half-boring, maybe because Chabon has so fallen under the sway of his creation that he lost control of its tenets." GAIL CALDWELL

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette 1/2 POOR

"What originally may have started as a good-natured gag--an insider's gentle elbow-to-the-ribs of Jewish culture a la Roth's Portnoy's Complaint, sustained over 400 pages wherein everyone is referred to as a yid, culminating in the horrifyingly ugly plot to reinstall Jews in the Holy Land by a group that looks suspiciously like Lubavitchers--is in the end cruel and mean-spirited. This is something I never thought I would find in a book by Chabon, who is usually such a warm, tender-hearted author." KRIS COLLINS

CRITICAL SUMMARY

Does The Yiddish Policemen's Union live up to Michael Chabon's formidable reputation? There is no consensus: some critics called the novel the spiritual heir to the Pulitzer Prize-winning Adventures of Kavalier & Clay (2000); others thought it a disappointing aberration. As in Kavalier & Clay, Chabon explores issues of identity, assimilation, and mass culture, but he also pays homage to the noir detective novel--with mixed results. The New York Times called Landsman "one of the most appealing detective heroes to come along since Sam Spade or Philip Marlowe," while the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette felt that the work "came nowhere close to making the cut of a Raymond Chandler novel." Critics similarly disagreed about the writing, the convoluted plot, the symbolism of the Jewish-Native American conflict, and the controversial use of Yiddish slurs and caricatures. If not a glowing success, The Yiddish Policemen's Union nonetheless illustrates the rare talents and creativity of its author.

FAIR

Burning Bright

By Tracy Chevalier

A duller offering from a beloved author.

"Tyger Tyger, burning bright,/In the forests of the night;/What immortal hand or eye,/Could frame thy fearful symmetry?" wrote printer and poet William Blake (1757-1827) in Songs of Innocence and of Experience. Just as she recreated 17th-century Dutch painter Vermeer's life in Girl with a Pearl Earring (1999), Tracy Chevalier reimagines 18th-century London. When the Kellaways move from rural Dorset to London, the father finds work with circus celebrity Philip Astley; his children, Jem and Maisie, meet the sophisticated, street-smart Maggie and their eccentric, politically outspoken neighbor ... William Blake. Against the backdrop of political turmoil, Blake finds inspiration for his poetry and a fitting symmetry as Maggie, Jem, and Maisie--from contrasting Worlds--come of age.

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Dutton. 311 pages. $24.95. ISBN: 052594978X

Seattle Times GOOD

"Her story of the young protagonists and their contrasting worlds is vibrant and involving. But her portrayal of Blake, and her attempt to link his work with the children's story, are not entirely convincing." BARBARA LLOYD MCMICHAEL

Washington Post GOOD

"[Blake] is a difficult presence to parse, though we do learn of his habit of lying naked in the garden with his wife, of his pleasure in reciting Milton and his skill with printing press and etcher's plate.... If you believe in urchins happily united in the country dusk and reciting Blake to each other, then this book will persuade." NICHOLAS DELBANCO

Boston Globe FAIR/GOOD

"A more appropriate title for the book might have been Jem, Maisie, and Maggie's Historically Accurate Adventure, since it is their increasingly bold outings from childhood and from home that provide the story's modest narrative momentum.... As in past books, Chevalier's writing is most lively and supple when depicting adolescent sexuality." JULIE WITTES SCHLACK

South FL Sun-Sentinel FAIR

"Those who've read so much as a one-paragraph account of Blake's life will learn nothing new about the great British poet and artist, nor will they gain any provoking insights to chew over.... If you squint your eyes, Burning Bright is a painless enough way to spend a few hours." CHAUNCEY MABE

Philadelphia Inquirer POOR/FAIR

"Difficult poet and talented engraver William Blake is supposed to be at the heart of it, but his fearful symmetry is barely framed--if you don't know much about his mystical poems and drawings before you read this novel, you won't come away enlightened." SUSAN BALEE

USA Today POOR

"It is clear that Chevalier has researched the man, his art and his vibrant, fascinating times.... The problem is Chevalier's storytelling." DEIRDRE DONAHUE

CRITICAL SUMMARY

Tracy Chevalier's latest novel paints a colorful, compelling portrait of 18th-century London: the teeming streets, bawdy pubs, filthy factories, working-class homes, and the political unease generated by the French Revolution. Yet setting alone doesn't create a novel, and critics agree that Burning Bright lacks a compelling set of characters and, for the most part, devolves into a formulaic plot. The biggest problem is Blake himself: Chevalier never manages to successfully connect him to the young protagonists' adventures; nor does she capture Blake's psychological contradictions and depth. Entertainment and history lite, this novel "isn't exactly burning bright," concludes the Philadelphia Inquirer.

crime

FICTION

EXCELLENT

Bad Luck and Trouble

A Jack Reacher Novel

By Lee Child

Back in action.

In the 11th Jack Reacher novel (after The Hard Way EXCELLENT Sept/Oct 2006), the loner ex-military policeman discovers a mathematical SOS signal in his bank account, which he interprets as a cry for help from former colleague Frances Neagley. Her special investigators are being hunted down one by one--the most recent thrown from a helicopter above the California desert--and she needs Reacher's help in solving the mystery of their deaths. Soon, Reacher is drawn into his old Life--and a dark conspiracy that brings him to Las Vegas, reintroduces him to an old flame, and hints at a wide-ranging plot that could kill thousands of innocent people.

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Delacorte. 377 pages. $26. ISBN: 0385340559

Daily Mirror [UK] EXCELLENT

"Child is a great storyteller, building plots that, although complex, are as compelling as they are ultimately logical.... Is it any different to what he's done before? No. Will anyone care? Probably not." HENRY SUTTON

Evening Standard [UK] EXCELLENT

"The only thing wrong with this ruthless thriller is its clumsy title. Right from the heart-stopping opening, and all the way to its cheer-provoking climax, it compels you to read on like a cokehead greedy for line after line after line." KATIE LAW

Nelson Mail EXCELLENT

"The title is lame, but Reacher fans should get their kicks from Mr. Invincible, who reveals that among his personal quirks is a fascination with prime numbers and a wizardry with mathematics. Ruthless, loyal and deadly as ever, Reacher proves again that in prime number terms he is the one not to tangle with, even if the story itself finishes on an anti-climactic note." DAVID MANNING

New York Times EXCELLENT

"The effect of this [stylistic] streamlining is electrifying. Not for nothing has the cover art of his recent books depicted a bull's-eye. Bad Luck and Trouble unfolds with the simple, immaculate logic that makes this series utterly addictive." JANET MASLIN

Chicago Sun-Times GOOD/EXCELLENT

"Bad Luck and Trouble has a few curious quirks--for example, Reacher is now a 'junior-idiot-savant' when it comes to math--and it takes longer to rev up the pace than most of Child's books. Once the plot hits its stride, however, readers are in for the action-packed thrill ride they've come to expect from this series." DAVID J. MONTGOMERY

Independent on Sunday GOOD/EXCELLENT

"The latest Lee Child is a big improvement on the last, and gets right back to basics, as Reacher and his buddies hit the road looking for the killers of the military companions who became closer than family. A bonker bestseller, even though I hated the title." MARK TIMLIN

CRITICAL SUMMARY

Nearly ever critic faulted the title of Lee Child's newest Jack Reacher novel--but that minor complaint, lost in a sea of high praise--speaks volumes about the book's great merits. Child brings to Bad Luck and Trouble the same heart-racing plots, intriguing characters, and minimalist writing for which he's known; this time, reviewers note that Child has perfected his taut, no-nonsense dialogue. Reacher, the quirky antihero, also exhibits his mathematical talents: codes and probabilities add an intellectual dimension to the plot. Some readers may find the novel a little formulaic or anticlimactic, but critics agree that Child has produced one of his finest Reacher novels.

EXCELLENT

Sovereign

A Matthew Shardlake Mystery

By C. J. Sansom

Tudor England, 1541.

In the third novel in the series (after 2005's Dark Fire), Matthew Shardlake, a humpbacked London barrister in the 16th century, is appointed legal counsel for the "progress"--the sickly Henry VIII's and his royal entourage's long march up to rebellious York, the site of a thwarted conspiracy against the monarchy. The York residents are still far from sympathetic to Henry and resent his restrictive laws. Amid this political turmoil, Shardlake and his clerk accept a commission to accompany a traitor from York back to the Tower of London. As the lawyer simultaneously investigates the murder of a master glazier linked to the York rebellion, questions about the royal line arise that may jeopardize his life.

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Viking. 592 pages. $25.95. ISBN: 0670038318

Birmingham Post EXCELLENT/CLASSIC

"The skill with which C. J. Sansom is able to conjure up the sights, smells and sounds of Tudor England is unrivalled, and if the mystery he wove for his protagonist to solve was any less compelling, his novel would be worth buying purely for the total immersion it offers the reader into an exciting bygone age.... It's a real treasure." EMMA PINCH

Philadelphia Inquirer EXCELLENT

"If you are already tired of the sexed-up vision of the period in [Showtime's television series] The Tudors, Sansom provides a sobering antidote.... Shardlake's reward may be meager, but readers will find ample dividends in this trio of novels, which deserve the praise heaped on them in England." DESMOND RYAN

Sunday Telegraph [UK] EXCELLENT

"Sovereign ... following Dissolution and Dark Fire, is the best so far.... Sansom has the perfect mixture of novelistic passion and historical detail (although Barak's 16th-century Nixonian language might have a few of its expletives deleted in the next book)." ANTONIA FRASER

Tampa Tribune EXCELLENT

"Sovereign is an example of what an excellent historical mystery should be--painless learning.... It has a truly compelling plot with a protagonist both interesting and sympathetic." LARRY GANDLE

USA Today EXCELLENT

"When historical fiction clicks, there's nothing more gripping.... Rebellion, plots, torture, fanaticism, a murder mystery and real historical scandal come alive in this deeply satisfying novel." DEIRDRE DONAHUE

Boston Globe GOOD/EXCELLENT

"Add in the usual political intrigue, including the return of an old enemy, Sir Richard Rich, and the 592 pages of this thick tome trip along nicely.... In general his story lines have increased in depth as not only does Shardlake prove the glazier's death to be a murder, but its investigation leads the lawyer into other crimes." CLEA SIMON

CRITICAL SUMMARY

In Dissolution, reformist Matthew Shardlake works with Thomas Cromwell to investigate the death of a royal commissioner; in Dark Fire, he defends a young woman accused of murder. Critics agree that Sovereign is as good as, or even better than, its predecessors. Themes of political ruses, conspiracy, religious fanaticism, and murder, combined with sophisticated plotting, meticulously researched details, and convincing characters (including a cruel, paranoid Henry) recreate the repression, tyranny, and gory minutiae of Tudor England. (Soft romance is patently absent.) A few critics commented on the heft of the novel, but in the end they agreed that Sovereign is an outstanding work of historical fiction.

BOOKMARKS SELECTION

EXCELLENT/CLASSIC

What the Dead Know

By Laura Lippman

A triumph from Tess Monaghan's creator.

Routine auto wrecks typically aren't the stuff of great crime fiction. But when the Baltimore police pick up a woman fleeing the scene of a hit-and-run accident, they book her for more than a moving violation. The curious woman claims to be Heather Bethany, the younger of two sisters whose disappearance from a mall in 1975-30 years ago--left their parents, and the city, shattered with grief. As detective Kevin Infante puzzles out the woman's story, What the Dead Know shuttles back and forth in time to reveal the deeper mysteries that the departed leave behind.

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Morrow. 384 pages. $24.95. ISBN: 0061128856

New York Times EXCELLENT/CLASSIC

"Ms. Lippman writes like a warmer-blooded American Ruth Rendell, keenly observant and giving a faintly spooky charge to every stray detail.... For a novel steeped in such elaborate gamesmanship, What the Dead Know is unusually three-dimensional." JANET MASLIN

Philadelphia Inquirer EXCELLENT/CLASSIC

"Lippman is taking a risk writing books like this, so different from the private-eye mysteries that began her career.... What is clear that, by venturing out in such a bold new direction, Lippman has not only expanded the frontiers of genre fiction, she has also enriched the body of American literature." DAVID H. MONTGOMERY

Washington Post EXCELLENT/CLASSIC

"Lippman can be funny, raunchy and caustic when she chooses, but she also can take us, with rare sensitivity, inside the hearts of all four members of this troubled family.... It's an all but flawless performance by a writer at the peak of her powers." PATRICK ANDERSON

Baltimore Sun EXCELLENT

"A can't-put-down pursuit of the truth, weighing what's happening, what seems to have happened, what really happened, and where it happened. Through it all, Charm City isn't merely Lippman's setting. It's her inspiration." DIANE SCHARPER

Cleveland Plain Dealer EXCELLENT

"Her theme ... is nothing less than the agonizing mystery of life and death, and the hope for resurrection when faith is all one has left." JOANNA CONNORS

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette EXCELLENT

"Lippman has the ability to crawl into the skin of diverse characters, from a young girl mooning for romance to a social worker who hides her emotions behind books to a rakish detective who's messy in his personal life but exacting in his investigation." CRISTINA ROUVALIS

CRITICAL SUMMARY

Laura Lippman is on a first-name basis with the mystery world's accolades. Edgar, Agatha, Anthony, and Nero already grace her mantle, and critics unanimously agree that What the Dead Know is her best effort yet. On a hiatus from her Tess Monaghan series (The Sugar House, 2000; No Good Deeds, 2006), Lippman delivers a twelfth novel that "cement[s] her new standing as a literary novelist who just happens to work in the mystery genre" (Cleveland Plain Dealer). Her multiple narrators are each vivid characters in their own right; the plot is rich with detail--and potential clues; and above all, Lippmann gives the sense that much more is at stake than a straightforward whodunit. What the Dead Know is a career-defining work from this much lauded author.

GOOD/EXCELLENT

Body of Lies

By David Ignatius

Flushing out terrorism.

As Suleiman, a master al Qaeda terrorist, plants car bombs all over Western Europe, CIA agent Roger Ferris tries to penetrate his cell and capture or kill him. His personal mantra: "This is a war.... You are a soldier. More people will die unless you do your job." Adopting tactics based on deceptions that the British used against the Nazis during World War II, Ferris tries to turn the terrorists against each other. But certain complications impede his mission, including his failing marriage, his delicate relationship with the chief of Jordanian intelligence, and his attraction to a woman who works for a humanitarian organization in Amman. As Ferris risks his life, he questions his beliefs, his morality, and his life's mission.

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Norton. 349 pages. $24.95. ISBN: 0393065030

Dallas Morning News EXCELLENT

"Ignatius is Suleiman's John le Carre.... He skillfully creates the sights and sounds and emotions of wartime Middle East, and its deceptions and desires, taking us on a tour from Jordan to Iraq to Germany to Turkey and Washington even as he pulls us deeper into Ferris' anti-terrorist scheme and deeper into Ferris' life and desires." ALAN CHEUSE

Washington Times EXCELLENT

"Unlike most of the folks writing fiction about the CIA these days, [Ignatius] understands the gestalt of the place and the internal and external pressure under which the agency's denizens operate.... Indeed, given the history of America's recent misadventures in the region, one can only hope they make Body of Lies required reading at the NSC and CIA." JOHN WEISMAN

Wall Street Journal GOOD/EXCELLENT

"Mr. Ignatius takes a dim view of U.S. efforts to fight the current war.... Yet when the author sticks to the Middle East and sinister doings there, the clever, well-paced Body of Lies is hard to put down." JOHN J. MILLER

Washington Post GOOD/EXCELLENT

"At times, Ignatius seems almost embarrassed that his villain is an actual Arab terrorist (albeit one with a high IQ and a warped sense of morality), but he needn't be: His portrayal of the Arab world is sensitive, and no one is going to confuse David Ignatius of The Post with the overnight man on Fox News.... The book works extremely well, and its imagery and characters linger in the memory." ADRIAN MCKINTY

St. Petersburg Times GOOD

"When it comes to the apparently obligatory love story, Ignatius falls into the same trap that snared so many of his predecessors ... creating female characters and romantic relationships that trade on the most cartoonish of stereotypes.... The critique of American policies in Iraq and the rest of the Middle East is none too subtle ... but it also makes a great deal of sense, coming from this superbly sourced journalist turned novelist." JOHN FLEMING

CRITICAL SUMMARY

David Ignatius, journalist and author of Agents of Innocence, has used his vast knowledge of Middle Eastern politics to write one of the most compelling post-9/11 spy thrillers. While creating psychologically deep characters and painting rich portraits of life in Iraq, Jordan, and Syria, he narrates a fast-paced search for a terrorist. A few critics noted, however, that Ignatius bends over backwards not to stereotype his Arab characters (most are wise; few are anti-Semitic), while blatantly criticizing American foreign affairs. Despite these flaws, "One hopes that he has another book in the planning stage and is already filling in form DS-4085, requesting yet more visa pages for his well-worn passport" (Washington Post).

GOOD/EXCELLENT

The Woods

By Harlan Coben

A haunted present.

Twenty years ago, Paul "Cope" Copeland and his summer love Lucy Gold, both camp counselors, unintentionally allowed four others, including Cope's sister, to venture off into the woods. Two were murdered by the reputed Summer Slasher; two were never seen again. The case reopens when Cope, now a widower with a young daughter and serving as the county prosecutor of Essex, New Jersey, is linked to a middle-aged male victim that may be one of the campers who disappeared. As Cope entertains the hope that his sister may still be alive, he comes under suspicion, family secrets emerge, and he must decide how much to pay for redemption.

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Dutton. 404 pages. $26.95. ISBN: 0525950125

Boston Globe EXCELLENT

"[A] gripping legal thriller.... The characters are authentic, the writing spare, and the courtroom drama so riveting that the clumsiness of the solution ... nearly slips by." HALLIE EPHRON

Globe and Mail [Toronto] EXCELLENT

"Before this complex tale of love and betrayal is done, Copeland is faced with many family secrets and lies. The final twist is as good as it gets." MARGARET CANNON

South FL Sun-Sentinel EXCELLENT

"While some writers use a formula to produce dry, lethargic stories, Coben turns his familiar blueprint ... into exciting, involving thrillers.... Coben also knows how to make [his] contrivances work to his advantage, sweeping the reader into the story's outcome." OLINE H. COGDILL

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette GOOD/EXCELLENT

"Don't read too fast; it's easy to miss a crucial fact in Coben's swiftly flowing style. I had to reread the denouement to get it all straight." POHLA SMITH

Tampa Tribune GOOD/EXCELLENT

"The guilt is an ever-present theme, one that propels Cope to figure out what's going on.... So what if the characters are a little thinly developed? The dialogue is sharp, and the action is fast-paced." ESTHER HAMMER

Washington Post POOR/FAIR

"Coben's fans, who've made several of his books bestsellers, will think the novel good because it's a lively, fast-moving entertainment, jampacked with the bizarre plot twists that are his stock in trade. But the novel is bad because Coben misses no opportunity to jazz it up and dumb it down." PATRICK ANDERSON

CRITICAL SUMMARY

In this stand-alone legal thriller, Harlan Coben presents a riveting courtroom drama, creates riveting players, and delves into family secrets, love, loss, mistakes, and betrayal. A few critics noted that while The Woods falls into Coben's typical formula--a past crime affects innocent people in the present--it still comes off as fresh. The trial scenes, Cope's ruminations on what really happened that night, and the back-and-forth narration are particularly well done. Only the Washington Post faulted the novel's cheap thrills, improbable revelations, and awkward conclusion. Nevertheless, few readers will remain unaffected by its emotional heft.

ALSO BY THE AUTHOR

NO SECOND CHANCE (2003): GOOD/EXCELLENT July/Aug 2003.

Kidnappers kill Dr. Marc Seidman's wife and take his infant daughter, demanding $2 million for her safe return. Marc pays them, but they don't return Tara--and he starts a yearlong search for her.

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EXCELLENT

The Book of Air and Shadows

By Michael Gruber

A race for the Bard.

When the beautiful Carolyn Rolly and aspiring filmmaker Albert Crosetti find letters from a 17th-century soldier in an antiquarian bookstore on Madison Avenue, Crosetti believes they could lead to one of Shakespeare's lost plays. He sells most to a Shakespearean scholar but retains a few encrypted notes. The scholar then turns over the letters to intellectual property lawyer and former weightlifter Jake Mishkin--and is soon found dead. As Mishkin hides from Russian gangsters, his and Crosetti's paths Cross--and they race to find the Bard's missing manuscript.

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Morrow. 466 pages. $24.95. ISBN: 0060874465

Boston Globe EXCELLENT

"If all the world's a play, and we are merely players, where do we get our scripts? That's the underlying question in Michael Gruber's smart new thriller.... The characters, even those long dead, are learning how to live." CLEA SIMON

Denver Post EXCELLENT

"What Michael Gruber has omitted in car chases and shootouts (and rest easy, those elements aren't completely erased), he's more than made up for with a rich cast of characters who are difficult to leave when the final pages are turned.... Gruber is a master of his material." ROBIN VIDIMOS

USA Today EXCELLENT

"Putting the hunt for a never-before-seen play by William Shakespeare at the center of this multifaceted story is brilliant.... The 17th-century letters are written in the Jacobean style popular during Shakespeare's lifetime. Tough going at first, but readers will quickly get the hang of it--and enjoy it." CAROL MEMMOTT

Seattle Times GOOD/EXCELLENT

"So what does Gruber's book have that something like The Da Vinci Code lacks? Well, stylish and confident prose, for starters.... Its cryptographic details threaten to swamp the narrative at times, and you may want to slap Jake around a bit and tell him to get a grip." ADAM WOOG

Washington Post GOOD/EXCELLENT

"What follows is a wild story of double-crossings, forgeries, kidnappings and murders that's engrossing even when it's ridiculous.... While twisting the plot into great knots of complexity, Gruber mixes in fascinating details about rare manuscripts, intellectual property, and ancient and modern cryptography." RON CHARLES

CRITICAL SUMMARY

With literary-historical thrillers still piling up on bookstore shelves, Michael Gruber (Night of the Jaguar, GOOD/EXCELLENT July/Aug 2006) took a risk with The Book of Air and Shadows. While the novel will appeal to those who enjoyed The Da Vinci Code or The Rule of Four, critics agree that its lively dialogue, compellingly flawed characters, sense of humor, and intelligent exploration of religion and cryptology elevate it far above the genre's standard fare. Readers expecting car chases, kidnappings, globe trotting, sex, and murder won't be disappointed, either. A few reviewers stumbled a bit over the excerpts of the Jacobean-style letters, but all agreed that the novel "hits the ground running ... until disparate plot threads are brought together in a heart-stopping climax" (Denver Post).

sf

FICTION

EXCELLENT

The Children of Hurin

By J. R. R. Tolkien, edited by Christopher Tolkien

The First Age of Middle-earth.

J. R. R. Tolkien (1892-1973) started Hurin in the 1920s, but when The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings took off, the Oxford professor abandoned the story. Now Christopher Tolkien, his son and literary executor, has combined various drafts to reconstruct the tale that precedes Sam, Frodo, Gandalf, and Aragorn by about 6,000 years. In Middle-earth, Morgorth, the original Dark Lord (Sauron's master), imprisoned Lord Hurin following a disastrous campaign by Elves and Men to topple Morgoth's forces. Hurin's young, cursed son, Turin, flees to an Elven kingdom, where he comes of age with his sister. Once he leaves the kingdom, however, he becomes a proud, bloodthirsty warrior--and the battle between good and evil marches on.

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Houghton Mifflin. 313 pages. $26. ISBN: 0618894640

Chicago Sun-Times EXCELLENT/CLASSIC

"What makes the story so readable, besides Tolkien's elegant writing, is the way Turin's benign and heroic decisions bring misery and destruction to those around him.... The story stands by itself as a monumental achievement of imagination." DAN MILLER

Washington Post EXCELLENT/CLASSIC

"There is grand, epic storytelling and a reminder, if one was needed, of Tolkien's genius in creating an imaginary world that both reflects and deepens a sense of our own mythic past, the now-forgotten battles and legends that gave birth to the Aeneid, the Old Testament, the Oresteia, the Elder Eddas and the Mabinogion, Beowulf and Paradise Lost." ELIZABETH HAND

Providence Journal EXCELLENT

"For those who already love Middle-earth, The Children of Hurin will be a chance to return there. For others, it may be an opportunity to question some deeply rooted assumptions and to learn that literature that rejects the canons of modernism and realism can nevertheless have great emotional power." MICHAEL D. C. DROUT

USA Today EXCELLENT

"Some advice for non-Ringers: Skip the preface, the intro and the pronunciation guide. Don't try to grasp the genealogy tables and appendix. Enjoying the arcane stuff comes later. Go right to the story. It's a well-told, dramatic tale." DEIRDRE DONAHUE

Boston Globe GOOD

"Hurin is like Grimm's Fairy Tales on steroids, dark, and sincere almost to a fault. None of this is necessarily a bad thing. It's simply a matter of readers preparing themselves for a narrative that's archaic and, to modern sensibilities, far from user-friendly." ETHAN GILSDORF

Salon GOOD

"The Children of Hurin will thrill some readers and dismay others, but will surprise almost everyone. If you're looking for the accessibility, lyrical sweep and above all the optimism of Lord of the Rings, well, you'd better go back and read it again." ANDREW O'HEHIR

CRITICAL SUMMARY

Shorter versions of Hurin first appeared in The Silmarillion (1977) and Unfinished Tales (1980); finally, fans of Middle-earth can read this fine addition to Tolkien's fantasy oeuvre in entirety. Hurin, illustrated by Alan Lee, is a dark, tragic tale. Readers expecting the good-trumps-evil trajectory of Lord of the Rings will instead discover Turin, a complex, tormented antihero, and Tolkien's bleak, darker side. (Think dragons over hobbits.) Critics mostly quibbled with the accessibility of the work. Influenced by Greek tragedy, as well as Anglo-Saxon and Scandinavian epics, Tolkien wrote Hurin in lyric prose that some thought archaic. Still, notes the Washington Post, "Years from now, when our present day is as remote from men and women (or cyborgs) as the events of the First Age were to the Council of Elrond, people may still tell tales out of Middle Earth. If so, The Children of Hurin will be one of them."

GOOD/EXCELLENT

Softspoken

By Lucius Shepard

If it were only just skeletons in the closet ...

Sanie Bullard, a frustrated 20-something writer, and her husband Jackson, an aspiring lawyer, return to the Bullard family's shabby South Carolina estate. He's studying for the bar exam; she's at loose ends. Jackson's brother, Will, a drug aficionado, and his sister, Louise, a true eccentric, round out the group. When Sanie hears voices, she chalks it up to Will's antics (assisted by the peyote she has ingested). The reality, she soon discovers, is quite a bit more disturbing: the family's history is a tangled web of violence and madness that makes itself known in unexpected--and horrific--ways. We can't say more!

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Night Shade. 200 pages. $23.95. ISBN: 1597800732

The Agony Column EXCELLENT

"Shepard is one of America's best-kept secrets, a great writer who produces superb work every time out of the gate, yet seems to remain beneath the radar of American mainstream readers.... [Softspoken] is a subtle and powerful novel that perfectly encapsulates the Southern Gothic." RICK KLEFFEL

St. Louis Post-Dispatch EXCELLENT

"Anyone familiar with Lucius Shepard's writing knows that his prose packs the power of myth, and he brings the same authority to his rendition of a ghost story, Softspoken.... The revelation, when it comes, is stunning and bloody; Shepard's denouement is merely perfect." DORMAN T. SHINDLER

Sci Fi Weekly GOOD

"Sanie's tale is, ultimately, after the final page is turned, a little slight: a woman, some ghosts, a bad husband, a weird fate. But while you're immersed in its ectoplasmic toils, you get the full measure of domestic creepiness and occult horror." PAUL DIFILIPPO

CRITICAL SUMMARY

Hugo and Nebula Award winner Lucius Shepard reveals himself as the master of the ghost story in Softspoken, a short novel packed with plenty of atmosphere and big scares. (Shepard's best work to date has been his novellas, which explains the success of such a compressed novel.) Critics favorably compare Softspoken to The Haunting of Hill House, Ghost Story, and Bag of Bones, among other horror classics, and to the work of Tim Powers and James Blaylock, who have similarly crossed over. They also praise Shepard's ability to balance a conventional southern gothic--including convincing minor characters--with the tautness of a well-paced psychological thriller.

BOOKMARKS SELECTION

EXCELLENT

Brasyl

By Ian McDonald

Three stories, infinite possibilities.

In his latest effort, Ian McDonald weaves together three stories in a tour de force of science fiction intrigue and fast-paced storytelling. Marcelina Hoffman, an ambitious reality-television producer with a sadistic streak, tracks down a disgraced soccer star for further humiliation; Edson Jesus Oliveira de Freitas, a grifter in a near-future, quantum-ready world, falls in love with physicist-for-hire Fia; and Luis Quinn, an 18th-century Jesuit missionary, plunges into the forbidding Amazon jungle to end the reign of a power-hungry priest. McDonald's imagination hits overdrive--the quantum knives are a neat invention--as he works his way toward an ending that even the savviest sci-fi hound won't anticipate.

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Pyr. 357 pages. $25. ISBN: 1591025436

Boing Boing EXCELLENT/CLASSIC

"[McDonald] has the incredible gift of blending the foreign and the familiar to create something at once plausible and wonderful. He can turn anyplace from Ireland (King of Morning, Queen of Day) to India (River of Gods) into a bright, unknowably weird land." CORY DOCTOROW

Speculative Reviews EXCELLENT/CLASSIC

"Last June, I reviewed Ian McDonald's most recent book, River of Gods, and I called it 'The most important SF novel that has been released in my 18 years of fandom.' So it may be a bit surprising when I say that the forthcoming Brasyl is just as strong, a bit tighter, a lot faster paced, and all-around probably a better, more enjoyable novel." WILLIAM LEXNER

Sci Fi Weekly EXCELLENT

"[McDonald] manages to work simultaneously at many levels, from the intimate and individual to the societal and universal.... The result is a tripartite thriller that whipsaws the reader's expectations and enjoyment around like a motorcycle ride straight down the Sugarloaf." PAUL DIFILIPPO

Strange Horizons EXCELLENT

"Much more often than not, McDonald's prose is a wonder, from a hundred vivid and witty details ... to sustained passages of perfectly judged atmosphere.... McDonald finds the poetry and the energy of the outcast, the refuse of society." ADAM ROBERTS

CRITICAL SUMMARY

Brasyl will be compared to many works of science fiction--William Gibson's Neuromancer and Neal Stephenson's Cryptonomicon for starters--though it is like none of them. Ian McDonald, whose Hugo-nominated River of Gods imagined a near-future India, this time sets his sights on Latin America--with stunning success. McDonald's previous efforts (Hearts, Hands and Voices, and Desolation Road among them) have been well received, but Brasyl seems poised to secure McDonald's reputation as one of the best science fiction writers working today. With impeccable pacing and an uncanny sense of place, the author brings together the threads of a complex, rich story. Science fiction writer and futurist Cory Doctorow writes, "There's an entire literary movement lurking in the bootleg quantum future of McDonald's Rio."

GOOD/EXCELLENT

Thirteen

By Richard K. Morgan

Unlucky, but for whom?

Carl Marsalis is a Variant Thirteen, a genetically engineered soldier who stays free by tracking and killing others like him as a favor to the UN. Marsalis is doubly cursed--despised by the humans who created him and viewed as a traitor by other Thirteens. Captured in Miami upon his return from a mission in Peru, Marsalis is sent to a facility in Jesusland (one of three regions of which America now consists, having been split in the near future along political and religious lines). Abandoned by the UN, Marsalis barters for his freedom, agreeing to eliminate a serial killer for a planetary-development out-fit. When death is a commodity, can a born-and-bred mercenary maintain his humanity?

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Del Rey. 560 pages. $24.95. ISBN: 0345485254

Guardian EXCELLENT

"Brilliantly plotted and unremittingly violent.... The novel's considerable achievement is to make Marsalis believable as well as humane, a product of scheming politicians and a hypocritical society keen to franchise out its dirty work." ERIC BROWN

sffworld.com GOOD/EXCELLENT

"While Morgan's imagined future is plausibly laid out and the action scenes flip the pages briskly, I found the overall pacing of the novel to be uneven.... The power of Morgan's bravado and ideas make for a significant (and entertaining) book." ROB H. BEDFORD

Strange Horizons GOOD

"For all that Morgan steps outside some of the usual conventions he is still recognisably working in the format and [Thirteen] comes with some of its bad habits.... Morgan's approach is problematic but at the same time it is so utterly different to anything else out there that it is almost impossible not to admire it." MARTIN LEWIS

CRITICAL SUMMARY

Winner of the Philip K. Dick Award for Altered Carbon (see below), his debut novel, and the author of successful follow-ups Broken Angels (EXCELLENT July/Aug 2004) and Woken Furies, as well as the stand-alone Market Forces (GOOD May/June 2005), Richard K. Morgan and his characters are hardly strangers to violent dystopias. Thirteen, published simultaneously in Britain as Black Man, tackles some difficult issues, including race and identity. The result is perhaps less compelling than some of Morgan's previous work, and the novel could have been shorter. Still, the author can hardly be accused of simply retreading familiar ground. Thirteen is a solid effort for Morgan's devotees, as well as a good read for fans of military sci-fi with a twist.

ALSO BY THE AUTHOR

ALTERED CARBON (2003): EXCELLENT Sept/Oct 2003. Death isn't so bad when your consciousness can be "resleeved," or downloaded into a new body. That's the norm in the 25th century--if you can afford it. Takeshi Kovacs, a highly trained soldier, is resleeved into a cop's body by one of the world's richest men, Laurens Bancroft--recently resleeved himself --to investigate whether Bancroft was murdered. Kovacs begins working closely with police lieutenant Kristin Ortega, who happened to be in love with the man previously in the body Kovacs now inhabits.

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general

NONFICTION

EXCELLENT

Better

A Surgeon's Notes on Performance By Atul Gawande

A matter of life and death.

In this new collection of essays, Dr. Atul Gawande questions the responsibilities of the doctor in modern medicine. "The Score" details the achievements of anesthesiologist Virginia Apgar, whose ingenuity and vigilance in a male-dominated field revolutionized childbirth practices in the 1950s. In "The Doctors of the Death Chamber," Gawande explores the ethical ramifications of physicians who attend to death row prisoners during execution. "The Bell Curve" describes the surprising success of the grading system used to rank cystic fibrosis clinics and proposes a similar practice for all institutions. Interweaving clinical case studies, statistics, and personal anecdotes, Gawande makes a convincing case for the sometimes radical and sometimes mundane, but always life-saving, medical improvements he advocates.

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Metropolitan. 288 pages. $24. ISBN: 0805082115

Houston Chronicle EXCELLENT/CLASSIC

"These are areas in which the morality is anything but clear, but Gawande's discussion of them, and the reporting he does in presenting all sides of the argument, are scrupulous and fascinating.... This brilliant, persuasive and even inspiring book, with its crisp writing and its abundance of well-told tales, might well be taken to heart by any reader." CHARLES MATTHEWS

Boston Globe EXCELLENT

"Mostly, and repeatedly, the question Gawande poses at the heart of each of his essays is deceptively straightforward and can-do: How do we get it right, or barring that, just an iota better? ... Gawande is unassuming in every Way, and yet his prose is infused with steadfast determination and hope." GAIL CALDWELL

NY Times Book Review EXCELLENT

"While fans of his work may be disappointed to find they've already read half of the chapters in The New Yorker (where Gawande is a staff writer) or elsewhere, Gawande's meditation on performance is not only an absorbing collection of essays on how some doctors manage to do better but also an exhilarating call for the rest of us to do the same." PAULINE W. CHEN

Oregonian EXCELLENT

"The chapter endings are the book's weakest points.... But a handful of so-so lines is nothing compared to what comprises a fascinating book overall." KRISTIN THIEL

Philadelphia Inquirer EXCELLENT

"It is informative, thought-provoking, and simply a good read.... Each topic is knitted together with a compelling personal story--a mother in labor, a child with cystic fibrosis, a lawyer who represents patients in malpractice cases." SANDY BAUERS

Entertainment Weekly GOOD/EXCELLENT

"Gawande's Better is more wide-ranging, as he discusses the difficulty of getting doctors to wash their hands between patients, the ethical conundrum for doctors participating in executions, and even a short history of obstetrics. There's much more, which is both blessing and curse; Gawande's multitopic approach makes for a gripping read, but sometimes suggests he's wandered off course." GILBERT CRUZ

Washington Post GOOD/EXCELLENT

"The question is whether scrutiny of such imperfections can lead patients to become better medical consumers and thus receive better care.... It is far from clear that sick patients, even if it is in their best interest, will have the wherewithal to analyze and challenge their doctors' thought processes." BARRON H. LERNER

CRITICAL SUMMARY

A surgeon at the Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston and an assistant professor at the Harvard School of Public Health, Dr. Atul Gawande succeeds in putting a human face on controversial topics like malpractice and global disparities in medical care, while taking an unflinching look at his own failings as a doctor. Critics appreciated his candor, his sly sense of humor, and his skill in examining difficult issues from many perspectives. He conveys his message--that doctors are only human and therefore must always be diligent and resourceful in fulfilling their duties--in clear, confident prose. Most critics' only complaint was that half of the essays are reprints of earlier articles. Gawande's arguments, by turns inspiring and unsettling, may cause you to see your own doctor in a whole new light.

ALSO BY THE AUTHOR

COMPLICATIONS A Surgeon's Notes on an Imperfect Science (2002): * NATIONAL BOOK AWARD FINALIST. With wit and sensitivity, Dr. Atul Gawande explores the fallibility of doctors and the uncertainties of modern medicine in this first collection of essays.

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EXCELLENT

Everything Conceivable

How Assisted Reproduction Is Changing Men, Women, and the World

By Liza Mundy

The new baby boom.

Storks don't bring babies--airplanes filled with frozen embryos do! From the early days of in vitro fertilization to cutting-edge fertility clinics, parents-to-be spare no effort or expense to have a child with at least some of their genetic material. Science has caught up with that demand: there are half a million frozen embryos in America, the fertility drug industry racks up $3 billion a year, and fertility tourism to former Communist-bloc countries like Romania is booming. This increased control over making babies for a range of parents--from single moms to gay and heterosexual couples--has raised complex cultural, legal, and ethical questions that are rapidly changing society. Everything Conceivable doesn't aim to answer them, but it makes sure they are addressed.

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Knopf. 406 pages. $26.95. ISBN: 1400044286

Cleveland Plain Dealer EXCELLENT/CLASSIC

"Everything Conceivable may be the best title of the year. And for those curious, it is an irresistible dispatch from the far frontier of parenthood. These days, as Mundy notes, the radical thing may not be to end a pregnancy, but to begin one." KAREN LONG

Dallas Morning News EXCELLENT

"Ms. Mundy opens a mind-boggling Pandora's box to issues that surely give us pause. This book is destined to become a bible for those seeking to examine the many ways of making babies and the complex questions that result." KAREN N. THOMAS

NY Times Book Review EXCELLENT

"Indeed, some of the case histories here, meant to illustrate Mundy's thesis that advances in reproductive technology have thrown the world into flux, seem more useful as backup for claims that biology remains destiny, that human nature hasn't budged since the Stone Age." POLLY MORRICE

San Francisco Chronicle EXCELLENT

"The topic of assisted reproductive technology is complex, yet Mundy keeps the narrative moving forward without dumbing down the story. She leads the reader through oblique concepts, acronyms and statistics, embedding the facts within the human stories, making her book palatable for serious students of the subject as well as the general reader." JULIE FOSTER

Boston Globe GOOD/EXCELLENT

"The insights of Mundy's book, particularly in its darker passages, stand as illuminating cautionary tales to a society as much in love with technology as with genetically reproducing itself.... It is long past time that someone laid out publicly not only the joyous pictures of cute IVF babies but also the significant health risks faced by everyone involved in the process." SHARON ULLMAN

Washington Post FAIR/GOOD

"While Mundy does not hesitate to give us the gory details, she seems resolutely determined not to draw any broader conclusions from them.... She seems so enchanted by her subjects and so sympathetic to their plights that she refuses to touch more than briefly on the questions that their stories raise." DEBORA L. SPAR

CRITICAL SUMMARY

Liza Mundy, an award-winning feature writer for the Washington Post, delivers a dispassionate, comprehensive view of assisted reproduction in the 21st century. She has clearly done her research, building the project from an initial assignment to look at infertility among minorities to a book that examines the manifold ramifications of our newfound ability to circumvent evolution. Her clear-eyed look at the world strikes a few reviewers as a bit too removed, and her interviews and case studies sometimes gloss over deeper sociocultural issues, but the overall consensus is that Mundy wades through this complicated, emotional subject with aplomb.

EXCELLENT

I Am a Strange Loop

By Douglas Hofstadter

A heady treatise on the human mind.

Douglas Hofstadter revisits the concepts of his Pulitzer Prize-winning Godel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid (1979) and the bridge between the physical brain and the less tangible mind. He posits a model of human consciousness as an abstract, self-referential loop--a strange loop: make a decision, take action, observe the consequences, and incorporate this new information into your psyche for future decisions. Humans repeat this circular pattern millions of times, resulting in self-awareness. Hofstadter, trying to comprehend his wife's death in 1993, also theorizes that we can replicate the strange loops of others in our minds, thinking with their thoughts and seeing the world through their eyes. In such a way can the souls of those we love live on.

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Basic Books. 412 pages. $26.95. ISBN: 0465030785

London Times (UK) EXCELLENT/CLASSIC

"If I spend the next 700 words raving incoherently about it, that's because it is the most gripping 400 pages I've read in years.... What is easily grasped, even by a scientific illiterate like me, is how he opens up a fascinating new possibility about consciousness." RICHARD MORRISON

Time EXCELLENT

"Hofstadter's model of the self occupies a middle ground, hard won via logico-philosophical reasoning: it's neither spiritual--he's not a religious man--nor is it locked into the cold neurological materialism of cellular mechanics.... I Am a Strange Loop scales some lofty conceptual heights, but it remains very personal, and it's deeply colored by the facts of Hofstadter's later life." LEV GROSSMAN

Washington Post EXCELLENT

"When a brilliant author uses one slippery concept to clarify another, the result for the reader can be anxiety.... Fortunately, Hofstadter is a gifted raconteur and a master of metaphor." PETER D. KRAMER

American Scientist GOOD/EXCELLENT

"Douglas Hofstadter suffers from the grave disadvantage of having written a masterpiece as a young man: the utterly unique Godel, Escher, Bach.... [His] new book, deeply thought-provoking though it is, is less engaging than either Godel, Escher, Bach or Le Ton Beau de Marot." MARGARET A. BODEN

Los Angeles Times GOOD/EXCELLENT

"Once again, the method of argumentation is as important as the argument.... I Am a Strange Loop is vintage Hofstadter: earnest, deep, overflowing with ideas, building its argument into the experience of reading it--for if our souls can incorporate those of others, then I Am a Strange Loop can transmit Hofstadter's into ours." JESSE COHEN

Scientific American GOOD/EXCELLENT

"For those without time for the scenic route, I Am a Strange Loop pulls out the big themes [of Godel, Escher, Bach] and develops them into a more focused picture of consciousness.... It is heart-wrenching to read how the author has tried to come to grips with [his wife's] death, agonizing over how much 'Carolness' and even 'Carol-consciousness'--how much of her 'interiority'--still lives in his brain and in those of the others who knew her." GEORGE JOHNSON

Wall Street Journal GOOD/EXCELLENT

"I Am a Strange Loop is by no means dryly abstract all through. Far from it: The book contains enough 'human interest' material to get the author a spot on the 'Oprah Winfrey' show." JOHN DERBYSHIRE

CRITICAL SUMMARY

Though elegantly written, it is not surprising that Douglas Hofstadter's I Am a Strange Loop suffers a bit by comparison to his acclaimed Godel, Escher, Bach: they both cover the same ground, with the more recent book elaborating on the ideas of the first one. However, I Am a Strange Loop is a much more personal effort, an "intellectual autobiography" (Time) of the last 30 years of Hofstadter's life. Critics agreed that Hofstadter is riveting when sharing his grief over the unexpected death of his wife and his conviction that part of her continues to live on in him. Some readers may not agree with his beliefs, and he draws little on findings in neurological science, but they cannot deny that I Am a Strange Loop is a heartfelt exploration of the human mind.

ALSO BY THE AUTHOR

GODEL, ESCHER, BACH An Eternal Golden Braid (1979): * PULITZER PRIZE. "This exhilarating intellectual and rhetorical extravaganza" draws on logic, neuroscience, psychology, and philosophy to provide "deep insights into mathematics, music and creativity--plus countless deliciously outrageous puns" (American Scientist).

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GOOD/EXCELLENT

Deep Economy

The Wealth of Communities and the Durable Future

By Bill McKibben

Homegrown solutions to global problems.

Exploring the economics behind global warming, Bill McKibben contradicts the popular assumption that countries should strive for economic growth. The unchecked pursuit of corporate profits and market share has led to widespread poverty and ecological crises because limitless growth isn't sustainable in a world with limited resources. Prosperity hasn't made us happy either: Our bigger houses and fancier cars generate longer work days and mountains of debt. Mental depression rates are highest in developed countries. The solution, suggests McKibben, is to think locally: Buy less. Visit a nearby farmers' market. Build self-sustaining communities that produce and consume food and energy locally. And, finally, make conscious choices instead of "wandering through the world on autopilot."

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Times Books. 272 pages. $25. ISBN: 0805076263

Oregonian EXCELLENT/CLASSIC

"To say it plainly: Deep Economy should be required reading for every economist and economics student in the developed world; for every elected official on the local, state and federal levels; and for everyone else as well. The book articulates the profound environmental and human costs caused by dominant and rutted economic behaviors while counterbalancing these sober realities with real-world examples of sane and successful 'economies that are more local in scale.'" JOSEPH BEDNARIK

Los Angeles Times EXCELLENT

"Direct, common-sensical and unabashedly sincere, McKibben is the master of stark equations, striking analogies and resonant metaphors.... He is a writer on a mission, but he is not overbearing." DONNA SEAMAN

Madison Capital Times EXCELLENT

"Don't be put off by the title, which I thought dry, dull and intellectually tedious: The title's everything the book is not. McKibben's prose is pithy and approachable." SARAH STREED

NY Times Book Review GOOD/EXCELLENT

"McKibben lives and teaches in Vermont, and his vision, for better and for worse, is suffused with a certain Vermontlichkeit.... He makes his case on anecdotal, environmental, moral and, as it were, aesthetic grounds." LANCE MORROW

USA Today GOOD/EXCELLENT

"What makes McKibben's book stand out is the completeness of his arguments and his real-world approach to solutions. He is just as comfortable calling on economist John Maynard Keynes as he is visiting neighborhood farmers." RUSS JUSKALIAN

Toronto Globe and Mail GOOD

"At times, McKibben stretches unsuccessfully, promoting social values with tenuous connections to economic or environmental issues.... His command of rhythm, language, phrasing and stories give life and possibility to ideas of sustainable change, moving beyond the shopworn doomsday rhetoric that makes environmental actions seem necessary but painful, toward examples and ideas that make change seem attainable and desirable." MARK L. WINSTON

San Francisco Chronicle FAIR

"McKibben, the author of The End of Nature, The Age of Missing Information, and Enough: Staying Human in an Engineered Age, has essayed a manifesto attacking the global economy and proposing local steady-state economies as the solution to all that ails our planet and ourselves.... [He] adds to a long line of jeremiads decrying the corruptions of civilization and longing for a revolution that would be a restoration of a more simple way of life that, alas, may never have actually existed." JON CHRISTENSEN

CRITICAL SUMMARY

In offering straightforward solutions to the looming environmental crisis, Bill McKibben has marched directly into the middle of a heated debate. Critics' personal beliefs and politics shaped their reviews, which described Deep Economy as, alternately, a "masterfully crafted, deeply thoughtful and mind-expanding treatise" (Los Angeles Times) and a "book-length sermon on what is wrong with the way we live" (San Francisco Chronicle). Some reviewers found McKibben's solutions practical and the author refreshingly unpretentious, while others considered his vision utopian and his attitude self-righteous. However, they did agree that McKibben writes compellingly--with warmth, sincerity, and a sharp sense of humor. His resolute hope for the future will resound with readers no matter where their loyalties lie. But will it change any minds?

GOOD/EXCELLENT

Monkey Girl

Evolution, Education, Religion, and the Battle for America's Soul

By Edward Humes

Monkey Trial II.

The Scopes Monkey Trial first tested the case for evolution in 1925; 80 years later, Kitzmiller v. Dover reignited the debate between Darwinism and a form of creationism, intelligent design, as well as the debate over the separation of church and state. In 2004, the Dover, Pennsylvania, school board voted to require its high school biology classes to promote the theory of intelligent design. After protest by teachers, parents, the ACLU, and others, the case against the school board (and its supporter, the religious nonprofit Thomas More Law Center) was brought to trial. Judge John E. Jones III concluded that intelligent design could not "uncouple itself from its creationist, and thus religious, antecedents." In following the story behind this decision, Monkey Girl depicts how Dover became the national testing ground for American schools, beliefs, and culture.

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Ecco. 380 pages. $25.95. ISBN: 0060885483

Chicago Tribune EXCELLENT

"[Humes] may be the most successful so far in making a complicated issue accessible and in putting human faces on both sides of the evolution divide. Clearly based on exhaustive reporting that takes the reader from the hard benches of a Harrisburg, Pa., federal district courtroom to the kitchen tables of Dover families whose children were taunted as 'monkey girls,' Humes' fast-moving, richly detailed book reads like a suspense novel." LISA ANDERSON

Seattle Times EXCELLENT

"Humes does a terrific job of evenhandedly laying out the history of creationism in America and the 150-year history of intense hostility from Biblical literalists to Darwin's theory of evolution, virtually the entire field of modern biology, and even the scientific method itself.... His writing is vivid, memorable and engaging, and a welcome breath of common sense in an area dominated by zealots and table pounding." KEVIN J. HAMILTON

Milwaukee Jrnl Sentinel GOOD/EXCELLENT

"The hero of Monkey Girl is the levelheaded judge, John E. Jones III, a lifelong Republican.... [The book] should be required reading for all who cherish education and their First Amendment rights." RICHARD HORAN

Washington Post GOOD/EXCELLENT

"Although his own sympathies clearly are with the defenders of evolutionary theory, Humes makes a strenuous effort to be fair-minded.... The Kitzmiller case was not quite the 'battle for America's soul' that Humes suggests in his subtitle, but it was an important episode in the country's ongoing struggle to reconcile faith, science and culture." CHRISTINE ROSEN

San Diego Union-Tribune GOOD

"This would be a good reading-list book for a college class on modern conflicts between religion and science. As a popular book, it's overhyped." NEAL MATTHEWS

Wall Street Journal FAIR

"All the ingredients for good narrative nonfiction are there: courtroom drama, legal quarrels and colorful characters.... But Monkey Girl (the title comes from a schoolyard taunt aimed at the daughter of another plaintiff) often reads like a college term paper written the night before it was due." PAMELA R. WINNICK

CRITICAL SUMMARY

The Pulitzer Prize-winning Edward Humes (Mississippi Mud, School of Dreams, Over Here) knows how to successfully tackle society's big issues and present them to the general reader. Monkey Girl is no exception. Humes writes clearly, makes complex scientific ideas accessible, and uses a novelistic approach to heighten the legal conflict and courtroom drama. Critics diverged only on a few points. While most thought Humes's account evenhanded (for example, his sympathetic portrait of the defense's star witness, Michael Behe), the Wall Street Journal called Humes "disappointingly self-righteous" in his criticism of intelligent design. And while most applauded his exhaustive reporting, a few cited a simplified narrative. Monkey Girl still stands as the best book for staying current on the arguments for and against the teaching of evolution in our public schools.

EXCELLENT

Once Upon a Country

A Palestinian Life

By Sari Nusseibeh, with Anthony David

Conflict--and possible resolution.

Sari Nusseibeh traces his family tree in Jerusalem back some 1,300 years to an ancestor entrusted with the keys to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. Such deep roots, however, hardly imply a parochial worldview. This former confidante of Yassir Arafat, Oxford- and Harvard-educated philosopher, admirer of Israeli writer (and boyhood neighbor) Amos Oz, former PLO representative, and president of Al-Quds University in Jerusalem examines the ongoing conflict between Palestinians and Israelis, as well as the internal struggles among his own people. Nusseibeh passionately protects his heritage while simultaneously understanding the necessity of resolution. His stance is unpopular even with many Palestinians: a "two-state solution" whose success, Nusseibeh understands too well, could be undermined at any point by politics, religion, and terrorism.

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Farrar, Straus & Giroux. 560 pages. $27.50. ISBN: 0374299501

New York Times EXCELLENT/CLASSIC

"[F]ascinating and deeply intelligent.... Refreshing self-deprecation--rare in Arab public writing--runs throughout this memoir, one of the best personal accounts of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict ever written." ETHAN BRONNER

NY Times Book Review EXCELLENT/CLASSIC

"Nusseibeh's book is written out of a refreshingly candid awareness that the reasons for the persistence of the Palestinians in their stateless misery are multiple and complicated.... [His] formidable achievement--his articulation of a liberal nationalism, his championship of nonviolence in the midst of savagery, his humane understanding of an inhumane predicament--leaves a drop of despair, because of how exceptional it is." LEON WIESELTIER

Los Angeles Times EXCELLENT

"Once Upon a Country is a big-hearted, admirable and exceptionally interesting account of Nusseibeh's struggle for an equitable peace in a conflict in which compromise is often interpreted as treason. This is a rare book, one written by a partisan in the struggle over Palestine who nevertheless recognizes--and bravely records--the moral and political failures of his own people." JEFFREY GOLDBERG

Washington Post EXCELLENT

"Nusseibeh's eloquent and compassionate book no doubt will stir yet another round of polemics; his actions usually do.... Once Upon a Country is a magnificent study of hope under siege." ROBERT MALLEY

San Francisco Chronicle GOOD/EXCELLENT

"Nusseibeh has a cause to promote, and he's skillful at shaping his life story to that end. But it's a story worth hearing, and this complicated man--shrewd idealist, pragmatic dreamer, peaceful warrior--is very much worth knowing." CHARLES MATTHEWS

CRITICAL SUMMARY

Sari Nusseibeh is the ultimate insider, and he draws on that vast experience to shed light on the prospects for peace in the Middle East. He patiently examines complex issues and offers enough nuances to please readers who want to understand the ongoing conflict on a deeper level. The author's relatively evenhanded stance (despite a less-than-flattering portrayal of former Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, as well as some contested historical details) distinguishes Once Upon a Country from other, more agenda-driven efforts, as does its call for nonviolent resolution and compromise. Nusseibeh, echoing Voltaire's notion that "the wisest course of action is surely to tend to your own garden," casts a critical eye on both sides. The result is "a deeply admirable book by a deeply admirable man" (New York Times Book Review).

GOOD/EXCELLENT

The Wild Trees

A Story of Passion and Daring

By Richard Preston

A hidden world.

Twenty years ago, scientists knew little about California's redwood forests. They contain the tallest trees on Earth--some growing to a height of 35 stories and considered too dangerous to climb. The Wild Trees tracks the adventurous researchers and naturalists whose passion led them to explore and understand these behemoths. Rather than a "desert," botanist Stephen Sillett discovered a rich, uncharted ecosystem in the redwood canopies--"what amounted to coral reefs in the air." Michael Taylor sacrificed a fortune to find the world's tallest tree. A handful of brave souls regularly risked life and limb to study these ancient trees, some of them predating the fall of Rome. The Wild Trees gives us a rare peek into a secret, complex world.

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Random House. 294 pages. $25.95. ISBN: 1400064899

Christian Science Monitor EXCELLENT

"Preston takes the reader on a compelling journey into a world experienced only by a limited number of scientists and outdoorsmen (Preston himself included).... This is a journey that I encourage you to take." LARRY SEARS

Cleveland Plain Dealer EXCELLENT

"There is something so elementally boyish in searching out the biggest and tallest, poring over maps and measurements, dubbing these trees with names lifted from J. R. R. Tolkein's Middle Earth.... Preston knows how to fold the science into the seams of his narrative, and his dry humor crops up, pleasurably, at the edges of his observations." KAREN LONG

Contra Costa Times EXCELLENT

"One of the most pleasing discoveries he narrates is his own transformation into a climber, gradual at first, but accelerating quickly. In the end, he's swinging through the redwood canopy right along with Sillett and Antoine, and we realize that all the lyrical description he's given us about the treetops and the climbing itself was informed not just by the people he writes about, but also by his own perception and experience." PETER MAGNANI

Oregonian EXCELLENT

"The Wild Trees is filled with fascinating scientific details--particularly about the lush and secret world of redwood canopies--but is more adventure journalism than environmental studies." ELIZABETH GROSSMAN

New York Times GOOD/EXCELLENT

"Once again he combines the thrill of exploration with the quirkiness of those who choose it as their lives' work.... The Wild Trees sags slightly when Mr. Preston begins describing his own climbing career, since it is no match for the book's other exploits." JANET MASLIN

NY Times Book Review GOOD

"It's probably unfair to compare this book with Preston's well-known earlier works--for drama, it's hard to measure up to a lethal virus. But the subtitle promises A Story of Passion and Daring, and too little of that passion comes across." KATE ZERNIKE

Chicago Sun-Times FAIR/GOOD

"If there is a fault to the reporting and writing in The Wild Trees, it is there is too much paper and ink devoted to the minutia of personal lives.... And when Preston includes his own personal climbing exploits, it comes off as unnecessary and self-serving." STEPHEN J. LYONS

CRITICAL SUMMARY

Richard Preston, whose previous nonfiction thrillers include The Hot Zone (about the Ebola virus) and The Demon in the Freezer (about smallpox; GOOD/EXCELLENT Jan/Feb 2003), takes a botanical detour in The Wild Trees. Most critics praised this noteworthy, if somewhat less sensational, effort. Yet while some relished the offbeat characters, the action-packed sequences, and Preston's personal climbing experiences, others found fault with Preston's detailed descriptions of his subjects' personal lives, his overdramatization of mundane stories for effect, and his self-important account of going "native" (Cleveland Plain Dealer). Many were also surprised that Preston had little to say about protecting the remaining redwoods despite their continued endangerment.

GOOD

Cultural Amnesia

Necessary Memories from History and the Arts

By Clive James

A polymathic critic's history, of sorts.

What do Louis Armstrong, Sigmund Freud, Franz Kafka, Anna Akhmatova, Adolf Hitler, Mao Zedong, and Beatrix Potter have in common? Not much, perhaps, except that ubercritic Clive James profiles each--and about 100 others--in the eclectic, encyclopedic Cultural Amnesia. Four years in the making, the book sets out to define a "necessary"--and dangerously neglected--cultural universe. In biographical essays on important poets, writers, and philosophers; musicians, composers, and actors; and politicians and despots, James opens a window on the evolution of Western thought, particularly that of the last century. "If the humanism that makes civilization civilized is to be preserved into the new century," he writes, "it will need advocates." Self-appointed advocate James pleads a passionate case for each entry--and, by extension, the mission of humanism.

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Norton. 768 pages. $35. ISBN: 0393061167

Cleveland Plain Dealer EXCELLENT

"Cultural Amnesia is not another of those dreary 'cultural literacy' books, which purport to list for us all the things we ought to know.... Rather, James wants to rescue and preserve humanism--that universal catalog of ethical beliefs affirming the dignity and worth of all people." ALAN CATE

NY Times Book Review EXCELLENT

"On the whole, the portraits are thoughtful and entertaining; James takes pains to season them with piquant details and memorable aphorisms to hold the interest of learned, jaded palates.... James probably never intended for readers to consume his massive tome front to back; and tucking into the entries on a need-to-know basis can provide rich rewards with no choking risk." LIESL SCHILLINGER

Boston Globe GOOD/EXCELLENT

"Cultural Amnesia, with its encyclopedic length and organization and the intense jostle of its ideas, is not to be read at a sitting.... If the dipper occasionally brings up exasperation, it brings up astonished delight far more often; and, best of all, exasperated astonished delight." RICHARD EDER

New York Times GOOD/EXCELLENT

"In many cases the portrait of the individual in question is simply a launching pad for the author's free-associative musings, which tend to spiral around several recurrent themes: the shattering legacy of Nazism and Communism, the two totalitarian movements that overshadowed the 20th century; the dangers posed by ideologies that try to reduce the world's dazzling complexity to simplistic formulas; and the preciousness and fragility of humanism as a cultural ideal.... In the end, one of the most valuable things about this volume is that Mr. James not only sends the reader in search of original texts written by or about his subjects, but also provides lots of other useful reading suggestions." MICHIKO KAKUTANI

Los Angeles Times FAIR

"He confesses in his introduction that his approach 'could only be internal, complex, organic.' That's fine in theory, but those are poor operating instructions, making for an unholy mess of a book." MATTHEW PRICE

San Francisco Chronicle POOR/FAIR

"As expected, James displays his intellectual virtuosity with gusto. But the result is, for the most part, rambling and misconstrued, mainly because he has too much to say and no parameters to measure it against." ILAN STAVANS

CRITICAL SUMMARY

For more than 40 years a critic, writer, and public personality, the Australian-born Clive James, prolific author of Unreliable Memoirs, The Meaning of Recognition, and North Face of Soho, among many other books, has garnered a well-deserved reputation as "an eclectic master of the high/low" (Los Angeles Times). James's wide-ranging intellect is on display here in a big way: "doorstop" appears more than once in reviews of the book. Fortunately, the book moves along--thanks to the author's deft prose, his keen sense of humor, and his ability to connect a host of disparate subjects. Though the book clearly isn't meant to be read straight through, even those skeptical of James's agenda admire the scope of the undertaking. Red flags: the seeming randomness of some of James's entries, his digressions, and his inclusion of fewer than a dozen women (including Coco Chanel and Margaret Thatcher) on the list.

GOOD

How Doctors Think

By Jerome Groopman

A second opinion on second opinions.

Sometimes, all the medical technology in the world is no match for a solid doctor-patient relationship. In occasionally unsettling detail--for example, he tells of an 82-pound young woman who suffered one wrong diagnosis after another for two decades and offers an entire chapter on the inexact science of reading life-and-death test results--Dr. Jerome Groopman establishes his thesis: today's doctors should rely less on first impressions and stereotypes; rather, they should focus on listening and looking at all the available information before making a diagnosis. Groopman writes from vast experience--not all of it good--and offers patients strategies for interacting with their doctors, as well as questions that might make the prospect of a future trip to the doctor more bearable.

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Houghton Mifflin. 320 pages. $26. ISBN: 0618610030

NY Times Book Review EXCELLENT

"This elegant, tough-minded book recounts stories about how doctors and patients interact with one other.... Here is Groopman at the peak of his form, as a physician and as a writer." MICHAEL CRICHTON

Washington Post EXCELLENT

"[Groopman's] book contains all kinds of smart, often selfless, occasionally heroic doctors making good decisions and sometimes saving lives.... It is an effort to dissect the anatomy of correct diagnosis, successful treatment and humane care--and also of diagnostic error, misguided therapy and thoughtless bedside manner." DAVID BROWN

Los Angeles Times GOOD/EXCELLENT

"Through the interviews [Groopman] conducted with physicians from a variety of specialties, he lets us know that patients are more vulnerable than ever in the current fast-paced medical system. His book, and the thinking that inspires it, provide valuable insights that may be just the right medicine." DAVID KESSLER

Boston Globe GOOD

"How Doctors Think offers patients some insight into the general shapes and contours of how doctors make life-enhancing or life-threatening decisions.... What the book does not fully address, and I think too many medical consumers refuse to contemplate, is the unsettling acceptance that mistakes are inimical to the practice of medicine." HOWARD MARKEL

Chicago Sun-Times FAIR

"Groopman explores how doctors diagnose and treat illnesses, a process that remains as much an art as a science. Unfortunately, the book reads less like his New Yorker essays and more like a succession of the TV series House, in which the series star is a cranky medical genius who always pushes the envelope in employing risky but life-saving techniques on his patients with bizarre symptoms." JIM RITTER

Cleveland Plain Dealer FAIR

"[The book] loses steam when it shifts beyond the realm of neuroscience to explore external influences on medical decision-making..... While medical students would certainly benefit from reading How Doctors Think, it's less clear what value the book holds for a general reader." JOHN VAUGHN

CRITICAL SUMMARY

Jerome Groopman, Harvard professor of medicine, AIDS and cancer researcher, and New Yorker staff writer in medicine and biology, isn't new to the popular medical-writing scene. Before How Doctors Think, he penned three other books--The Anatomy of Hope, Second Opinions, and The Measure of Our Days--that explore the role of art in the hard science of medicine. Here, Groopman's readable prose emphasizes the human element, the give-and-take so important to successful diagnosis and treatment. One critic, however, compares the book's medical pyrotechnics to an episode of the medical show House, while another takes issue with the author's stance against Big Pharma. For the most part, critics see Groopman's latest effort as a compelling meditation on the interactions between doctors and patients--an effort reminding us that mistakes and miscommunications can be minimized but not eliminated.

biography

NONFICTION

EXCELLENT

Edith Wharton

By Hermione Lee

The grande dame of American literature.

Born to privilege, Edith Wharton (1862-1937) escaped an unhappy marriage and the repressive expectations of Gilded Age New York by writing and publishing her first novel in her 40s. Highlighting Wharton's later years as an expatriate in France, Hermione Lee's biography illuminates the prolific--if late-blooming--Pulitzer Prize winner (The Age of Innocence, 1920) against the cultural and political upheaval of the early 20th century. She also explores Wharton's affair with Morton Fullerton, her divorce, her friendship with Henry James, and their subsequent effects on her writing. Though Wharton's subtle evocations of love, loss, and loneliness, set against the hypocrisy of Victorian society, reflect the dismal reality of her youth, Lee paints a spellbinding portrait of the spirited, indomitable woman who lived life on her own terms.

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Knopf. 869 pages. $35. ISBN: 0375400044

Atlanta Jrnl-Constitution EXCELLENT/CLASSIC

"In her massive new retelling of Wharton's long and eventful life, Hermione Lee has outdone all previous biographies, presenting a richly detailed, carefully nuanced portrait of this fascinating, conflicted and phenomenally gifted woman.... Marked by an elegant literary style that does justice to its subject and a clear, compassionate eye for detail, Edith Wharton is not only the best book on its subject, but one of the finest literary biographies to appear in recent years." GREG JOHNSON

Cleveland Plain Dealer EXCELLENT/CLASSIC

"With well-nigh Whartonian plotting, [Lee] confidently paces her work, marshalling her comprehensive research into a naturalistic accumulation of detail.... Even though we know the end before we begin, death being the biographer's structural straitjacket, the reader is absorbed, suspenseful, eager to find out how it will turn out." ANNE TRUBEK

Newsday EXCELLENT/CLASSIC

"Hermione Lee's magnificent new biography is by far the longest and most comprehensive study of the writer's full, populous and robust life.... Wharton lived a spirited and passionate life, and Lee captures that passion in a biography that may well be unsurpassable in scope and surely in sensitivity." LINDA SIMON

Wall Street Journal EXCELLENT/CLASSIC

"This thorough, scholarly work, with 63 pages of exhaustive notes, gets all of Wharton--writer, serious gardener, cutting-edge interior designer, war correspondent and intrepid traveler--between the covers in spite of Edith's lifelong determination that no one ever would.... The extraordinary accomplishment of her biography enables readers to feel that they have known Mrs. W all their lives and--for better or worse--with the same sort of intimacy that her closest friends enjoyed." BARBARA AMIEL

Los Angeles Times EXCELLENT

"Lee, in her resurrecting ardor, resurrects every last button and shoelace.... Sometimes, though, she goes into a sublime overdrive, never more than in a portrait of Wharton and James that has never been bettered." RICHARD EDER

St. Louis Post-Dispatch EXCELLENT

"[Lee] is exhaustive in dissecting and interpreting all of Wharton's work, not just the works on which her considerable reputation rests--The House of Mirth, The Age of Innocence, Ethan Frome--but all of her novels, critical reviews, articles and poetry.... Lee's exhaustive biography offers a thorough examination of that vanished age of ideas and culture." JAMIE SPENCER

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette FAIR

"When a book is that long, critics frequently call it 'sprawling,' but Lee's focus is so narrow, her attention so concentrated on the mundane and trivial, that the best adjective I can offer is 'obsessive.' ... There are serious attempts to interpret Wharton's writings, but in Lee's approach, the works come across as just another activity like designing a garden." BOB HOOVER

CRITICAL SUMMARY

Edith Wharton had an unfortunate habit of burning her letters, which makes her an elusive topic for biographers. Critics enthusiastically agreed, however, that Hermione Lee succeeds in bringing Wharton to vibrant life. They were impressed by Lee's scholarship and unwillingness to speculate, as others have done before her, without proof. Instead, Lee teases out the details of Wharton's life by analyzing evidence that scholars often overlook: houses she decorated, travel itineraries, and reading lists. Most reviewers consider Lee, a Professor of English at Oxford, at her best when outlining and exploring Wharton's numerous works. Confidently dispelling myths that Wharton was a prudish spinster who mimicked the style of others, this voluminous biography reveals a fiercely independent woman ahead of her time.

ALSO BY THE AUTHOR

VIRGINIA WOOLF (1999): In this critically acclaimed, exhaustively researched debut, Lee examines the life and work of Virginia Woolf--as brilliant as, but perhaps even more misunderstood than, Edith Wharton.

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BOOKMARKS SELECTION

EXCELLENT

Einstein

His Life and Universe

By Walter Isaacson

The life of a genius.

As a young man, Albert Einstein (1879-1955) declared, "Long live impudence. It's my guardian angel in the world." Einstein's rebellious nature and disregard for convention characterized his life and career. He was so insolent in the classroom that, despite his obvious gifts, his professors refused to help him find employment. As a humble patent clerk in 1905, Einstein published four papers that rocked the scientific establishment and revolutionized the field of physics. Ten years later, he developed the General Theory of Relativity, earning a Nobel Prize despite the opposition of anti-Semitic colleagues. Through two marriages, two world wars, and a meteoric rise to fame, Einstein became one of the greatest minds of the 20th century.

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Simon & Schuster. 675 pages. $32. ISBN: 0743264738

Miami Herald EXCELLENT/CLASSIC

"Like its subject, Walter Isaacson's ambitious biography of Albert Einstein radiates intelligence, wit and eloquence.... Isaacson uses simple examples to convey esoteric principles and manages not to alienate readers who may have avoided science classes." KATHLEEN KROG

Baltimore Sun EXCELLENT

"The book, thoroughly researched and well written, does an excellent job of summarizing the concepts behind Einstein's theories.... Beyond the groundbreaking physics, Isaacson does a good job of putting what Einstein himself described as 'an eventful life' into an historical context." DENNIS O'BRIEN

Cleveland Plain Dealer EXCELLENT

"Whatever your background in science, Einstein: His Life and Universe is a joy and a revelation to read--rich in detail, insightful, superbly researched and written.... Isaacson's success here is to render Einstein's largely abstract theories of time, space and gravitation into clear, intelligible English." DAVID WALTON

Houston Chronicle EXCELLENT

"Isaacson has labored mightily to make the science embedded in the life accessible even to those unschooled in physics.... Isaacson, the former managing editor of Time magazine, is a fluid writer whose narrative talents give Einstein an aura missing from many previous accounts of his life." STEVE WEINBERG

New York Times EXCELLENT

"If his highly readable and informative book has an Achilles' heel, it's in the area of science.... Over all this is a warm, insightful, affectionate portrait with a human and immensely charming Einstein at its core." JANET MASLIN

Boston Globe GOOD/EXCELLENT

"Overall, this is an excellent book and has much to recommend it.... The technical sections on the special and the general theories of relativity would have gained much from the use of figures to illustrate the concepts." AMIR D. ACZEL

CRITICAL SUMMARY

Walter Isaacson (Benjamin Franklin EXCELLENT SELECTION Sept/Oct 2003) is the first biographer to gain access to Einstein's private archives, unsealed in 2006, and critics were delighted with the results. In this highly readable, articulate book, Isaacson brings the eminent scientist to life, dismissing myths (for example, that Einstein failed math) as well as recreating the world he inhabited and transformed. Aided by 21st-century scientists like Brian Greene, Isaacson explains Einstein's theories in laymen's terms, with varying results: most critics found the explanations easy to follow; a few did not. A thorough grasp of physics, however, isn't necessary to appreciate Isaacson's feat: he writes with affection and deep admiration for his subject, but he doesn't ignore his failings.

SUPPLEMENTAL READING

UNCERTAINTY Einstein, Heisenberg, Bohr, and the Struggle for the Soul of Science | DAVID LINDLEY (2007): There are a number of books out there that struggle to make relativity and quantum mechanics accessible to the nonscientist (we've offered recommendations in previous issues). We have not mentioned this one yet, which offers a lively mix of biography and science. As the Providence Journal said in its review, "Readers will find less scary science in Uncertainty than in most other studies of physics for the general reader, and more good old-fashioned narrative and quirky characters."

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EXCELLENT

Ralph Ellison

A Biography

By Arnold Rampersad

Defining the invisible man.

In 1952, the enigmatic Ralph Ellison published Invisible Man, the award-winning novel about identity and racial tension in midcentury America. Ellison's second novel, Juneteenth, did not appear until 1999, five years after the author's death. Drawing on information gathered through unprecedented access to Ellison's papers, Arnold Rampersad offers the most complete portrait of Ellison yet: the author's early life in Oklahoma; his love of music, which led to a scholarship at the Tuskegee Institute; his complex relationships with his wives and mentors; and, finally, his years as a fixture in the New York literary scene. Ellison, Rampersad suggests, was as elusive--and at times nearly as volatile--as the unnamed narrator of his famous novel. He was also a brilliant writer whose legacy remains strong half a century after his single overwhelming triumph.

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Knopf. 672 pages. $35. ISBN: 0375408274

Charlotte Observer EXCELLENT

"As the first scholar granted complete access to the Ellison papers, Rampersad introduces us to people and places that reveal the total range of Ellison's sensibilities as a complex man. Through elegant and lively prose, Rampersad reveals sides of Ellison that are disturbing and instructive, uncovering the man whose reputation, like his novel, was shrouded in myth and symbol." JEFFREY B. LEAK

Cleveland Plain Dealer EXCELLENT

"By discovering and connecting and explaining all that is visible about Ralph Ellison, Arnold Rampersad has triumphed. His work reveals the invisible man." DANIEL DYER

Houston Chronicle EXCELLENT

"Rampersad's exemplary biography, written with a blend of deep sympathy and cool detachment, splendidly achieves the one true task of literary biography: It illuminates the life so that we may better understand what it produced." CHARLES MATTHEWS

Miami Herald EXCELLENT

"Arnold Rampersad's addictively readable and exhaustively comprehensive biography paints an unflinching picture of a talented artist who allowed success and a willful disengagement from upheaving changes and events to keep him a one-hit wonder ... Rampersad's candid biography may sour readers on Ellison. But there is no denying his influence." ARIEL GONZALEZ

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette EXCELLENT

"In his absorbing biography, Arnold Rampersad chronicles Ellison's journey from the poverty of segregated Oklahoma to the rarefied literary circles of Manhattan. The Stanford University professor, who also has written biographies of Langston Hughes, Jackie Robinson and W. E. B. Du Bois, was given unlimited access to the Ellison estate, and he uses it to stunning effect." MARGO HAMMOND

Los Angeles Times GOOD/EXCELLENT

"Arnold Rampersad's exhaustive--and sometimes exhausting--book about the author of Invisible Man offers an unflinching portrait of Ellison as a brilliant, belligerent artist.... An intensely researched, elegantly written book that commands readers' respect, but not our love." VALERIE BOYD

New York Times GOOD/EXCELLENT

"Mr. Rampersad's Ellison ... is a great artist and a deeply flawed human being: angry, touchy, emotionally stingy and cruel to the point of sadism to his long-suffering second wife, Fanny, whose warmth, lively intelligence and spontaneity ... make her a luminous if unappreciated presence in her husband's life.... With a few exceptions, Mr. Rampersad is fair to a fault." WILLIAM GRIMES

CRITICAL SUMMARY

Arnold Rampersad, professor of English and humanities at Stanford, makes the most of his access to the papers of Ralph Ellison. He sifted through mountains of previously unexamined documents for the details that give readers a glimpse--warts and all--of the man behind Invisible Man. Rampersad's experience with biography runs deep, which explains his ability to give us an honest account of Ellison's life. Ralph Ellison is engaging and far-reaching, if long. It also balances revealing anecdotes about Ellison's views on Black militarism and his relationships, for example, with an examination of the author's place in American letters and his lasting influence on generations of writers. Readers may not think as highly of Ellison when they're done, but they will come to know the man.

GOOD/EXCELLENT

The Life of Kingsley Amis

By Zachary Leader

The devil's in the details.

Kingsley Amis (1922-1995) "was not only the finest British comic novelist of the second half of the twentieth century but a dominant force in the writing of the age." So asserts Zachary Leader in his biography of the notorious British writer (and father of very bankable novelist Martin). The author's meteoric rise began with the academic satire Lucky Jim (1954), and he was prolific up until his death in 1995. Still, attention to Amis's impressive body of work often took a back seat to ubiquitous tales of sexual escapades, heroic bouts of drinking, and an extraordinary social life that cemented his reputation as a larger-than-life figure. In clinical detail, Leader examines Amis the bon vivant and Amis the writer. Often, he points out, the two were inseparable.

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Pantheon. 1008 pages. $39.95. ISBN: 0375424989

Chicago Tribune EXCELLENT

"[A] masterly biography.... In a judicious and imaginative way, the biographer moves between Amis the man's insatiable appetite for sex, drink and good jokes, and the novels that transform those lively appetites into fictional representations." WILLIAM PRITCHARD

San Francisco Chronicle EXCELLENT

"Do not be put off by the sheer bulk of Zachary Leader's massive new biography.... [T]he great virtue of Leader's biography of Amis is that you do not have to share his high opinion of the subject to benefit from the book's prodigious research and the wealth of information so well presented." MARTIN RUBIN

Chicago Sun-Times GOOD/EXCELLENT

"Extremely well told, The Life of Kingsley Amis will meet the expectations and probably exceed the ambitions of most readers.... Detail and diversion are especially distracting when you want to get to more of the funny, clever and rude parts." JOHN BARRON

Wall Street Journal GOOD/EXCELLENT

"Mr. Leader edited Amis's Letters (2000), a huge volume throughout which Amis unburdens himself of all sorts of prejudices (often about the folly of modern literature, including that of his son, Martin), complaints, anecdotes and comic commentary.... Respectful of Amis and of all who became part of the story through their association with him, Mr. Leader fulfills his mission: honestly telling the history that explains the books." JACK L. B. GOHN

Washington Post POOR/FAIR

"All these recitals of Amis's two marriages and compulsive womanizing, his astonishing drinking, his gregariousness and selfishness, his successes and occasional failures, his incredible productivity--all this stuff doesn't give us nearly as much of Amis as Leader obviously imagines. The inner man is as much a mystery at the end of this slog as he was at the beginning; the accumulation of meaningless detail ... is a poor substitute for deeply informed, genuinely sympathetic speculation." JONATHAN YARDLEY

CRITICAL SUMMARY

Zachary Leader determined to have the final word on the life and work of one of Britain's most interesting and controversial literary figures, and his earlier edition of Kingsley Amis's correspondence gives him ample credentials. Despite the book's imposing heft, The Life of Kingsley Amis can be engaging and readable. Fans of Amis will appreciate Leader's comprehensive coverage, though some lengthy literary discussions can be heavy sledding. Jonathan Yardley points out that Eric Jacobs published a similar (albeit much briefer) book shortly after Amis's death, and he wonders if Leader's obsessive attention to detail somehow undermines the very goal of literary biography: to provide insight into a life that leads, ultimately, to a better understanding of a writer's work.

FAIR/GOOD

The Mistress's Daughter

A Memoir

By A. M. Homes

The ties that bind.

It took 31 years for A. M. Homes's birth mother to track her down. The novelist and short-story writer knew from an early age that she was adopted, but like most adoptees, she knew nothing of the circumstances of her conception. Homes's mother got pregnant by her married boss, which marked the culmination of a seven-year relationship between them. The rediscovery of her needy mother (who shows up at Homes's book readings and harangues her on the phone) leads the author to track down her birth father, who insists she undergo a DNA test. The Mistress's Daughter bluntly examines this dislocated family tree.

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Viking. 240 pages. $24.95. ISBN: 0670038385

Chicago Tribune GOOD/EXCELLENT

"Homes' attempts to maintain her privacy, and her equally strong wish to be recognized by two people who it turns out are incapable of mirroring her, are poignant. Having been given up, then reclaimed, then asked to pony up a modicum of daughterly care, she withdraws." JANE CIABATTARI

San Francisco Chronicle GOOD/EXCELLENT

"In searing prose, Homes addresses the powerlessness and deracination that are the general lot of ... surrendered children." HELLER MCALPIN

Seattle Times GOOD/EXCELLENT

"Though the quest seems, at times, overwrought as Homes searches for meaning and connection where there may not be any, the writing is consistently controlled and knowing.... Though Homes gives away some of her mystery with this book, she will gain further respect as a writer." MARK LINDQUIST

Los Angeles Times FAIR/GOOD

"The only chance such material--and there is a good deal of it--has of being interesting is when we as readers have a deep investment in the implications, when we care about the people whose hereditary trail this is. We don't, alas--the distancing strategies of the first half of the memoir have ensured that." SVEN BIRKERTS

Milwaukee Jrnl-Sentinel FAIR/GOOD

"The Mistress's Daughter, like most works of autobiography, succeeds because of the writer's intimacy with her material, but also suffers from it.... In the end, you can't help wondering how much of the story is sincere, and how much is for dramatic effect." ELLEN EMRY HELTZEL

Washington Post FAIR

"Like a diligent grad student or an amateur genealogist, she turns from people to paper, from dramatic scenes to a computer screen, from factual research to endless Googling. And in the process her memoir disperses into a pattern of unconnected dots, like a newspaper photograph held too close to the eye." MICHAEL MEWSHAW

Minneapolis Star Tribune POOR

"Certainly being adopted can lead to anxiety and feelings of uncertain identity--as can divorce, blending of families, the early death of a parent, family secrets and a host of other imperfections on the shiny, porcelain face of ideal life. The problem is that Homes seems to think that this has never happened to anyone else." EMILY CARTER ROIPHE

CRITICAL SUMMARY

Critics agree that the first part of A. M. Homes's book, an expanded version of a 2004 New Yorker essay, is a riveting family story. Told in the same taut prose that gives her fiction (In a Country of Mothers, 1993; Music for Torching, 1999) its "stylish nihilism" (New York Times), The Mistress's Daughter offers a straightforward, unblinking account of meeting--and facing--one's birth parents for the first time. The mixed reviews stem from an equally mixed bag of reactions. A few critics decry the dramatic drop-off when Homes expands the scope of her genealogical research outside her two birth parents. Others find the author's indignation and tightly controlled rage poignant. Homes treads the memoirist's paper-thin line between self-discovery and egocentrism with marginal success.

history

NONFICTION

EXCELLENT

Nixon and Kissinger

Partners in Power

By Robert Dallek

Partners in paranoia.

The symbiotic pairing of Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger--egos alike in ambition, insecurity, and paranoia--produced foreign policy success (detente with the Soviet Union and new relations with China) and disaster (in Vietnam and Cambodia, and in Chile) in equal measure in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Their relationship, though mutually beneficial, was rife with Shakespearean overtones: distrust, double-dealing, and deception were de rigueur in the Nixon White House long before Watergate took Nixon down. This new history looks behind the scenes at this quintessential pair of power brokers and their lasting influence, for good and ill, on the political stage.

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HarperCollins. 752 pages. $32.50. ISBN: 0060722304

Oregonian EXCELLENT/CLASSIC

"[Dallek] probes all these history-making events in spectacular depth and has produced a 700-page book that is sure to become the standard reference on the Nixon-Kissinger collaboration. Drawing upon a wealth of new sources, such as 20,000 pages of transcripts of Kissinger's telephone conversations, Dallek's biography takes us well beyond any previous book on the subject." MATT LOVE

Boston Globe EXCELLENT

"This book does not skimp on praise for what Nixon and Kissinger did to improve US relations with China and the Soviet Union. But it is no monument to them." MARTIN F. NOLAN

Dallas Morning News EXCELLENT

"The implicit question running throughout Nixon and Kissinger is: What would Mr. Nixon's presidency have been like if he had been sane? The suspicion and backstabbing within the Nixon White House have been described before, but with the new documentary evidence that Mr. Dallek has amassed, the pervasiveness of paranoia is even more striking." PHILIP SEIB

Denver Post EXCELLENT

"Some of the detail will be daunting for all but the most dedicated policy wonks when it comes to missile treaties, turmoil in the Middle East, the ascension of Salvador Allende in Chile, summit meetings both here and abroad and, of course, discussions about how to end the war in Vietnam 'with honor.' But it all adds to the often alarming and always intriguing relationship between these two political titans who shared so much of the world stage at a particularly tumultuous time." TOM WALKER

New York Times EXCELLENT

"What Mr. Dallek has done, and done remarkably deftly, in this volume is focus on the relationship between the two men, and the ways in which their personal traits--their drive, their paranoia and their hunger for power and control--affected their performance in office and informed their foreign policy decisions." MICHIKO KAKUTANI

NY Times Book Review GOOD

"The narrow focus on character ... obscures the full extent of the two men's failures as policy makers.... Their policies, rooted in the cold calculation of American interests, generated a powerful backlash from both liberals, angered by the brutalization of the third world, and conservatives, who objected to the coddling of Communists." MARK ATWOOD LAWRENCE

Washington Post FAIR

"Early on, Dallek promises the story of a collaboration 'that tells us as much about the opportunities and limits of national and international conditions as about the men themselves.' For all his industry, he does not seem to have shaken himself free of his material to deliver on that promise." MARGARET MACMILLAN

CRITICAL SUMMARY

Armed with voluminous new source material, presidential historian Robert Dallek delivers a comprehensive view of a profoundly influential political duo. Because of their importance, very little in Nixon and Kissinger is new. But that doesn't deter reviewers from praising Dallek for this intelligent, wide-ranging synthesis. The author of the best-selling An Unfinished Life: John F. Kennedy, 1917-1963 (GOOD/EXCELLENT Sept/Oct 2003) and a two-volume biography of Lyndon Johnson, Dallek details the personal motivations behind Nixon's and Kissinger's public and private machinations, a technique that fascinates most reviewers. A few critics want more political context, but most seem satisfied with this riveting, fleshed-out story of a fascinating time in American history.

BOOKMARKS SELECTION

EXCELLENT

This Mighty Scourge

Perspectives on the Civil War

By James M. McPherson

Respected Civil War historian weighs in.

In This Mighty Scourge, James M. McPherson, retired professor of history at Princeton and a distinguished Civil War historian, collects 16 essays--some previously published, others unpublished--on the Civil War. He covers Abraham Lincoln's Cooper Union Address, the myth of the South's "Lost Cause," the role of newspapers on the battlefield, the reality of William Tecumseh Sherman's infamous military campaign, and a study of Robert E. Lee at Gettysburg, among other topics. Harriet Tubman? Her narcolepsy, writes McPherson, may have affected her ability to lead slaves to freedom. John Brown? Terrorist or martyr, depending on where you sit. Jesse James? No Robin Hood, but a killer schooled in guerrilla warfare. McPherson humanizes characters and clarifies issues that have been obscured by time--and, on occasion, by agenda.

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Oxford University Press. 272 pages. $28. ISBN: 0195313666

Boston Globe EXCELLENT/CLASSIC

"Let us now praise James McPherson, our premier living Civil War historian, for a bracing collection of essays ... that covers a lot of military and political ground in 221 pages. It will seduce anyone, Civil War neophyte or fanatic, for its authority and judgments." SAM ALLIS

Seattle Times EXCELLENT/CLASSIC

"Perhaps more than any other contemporary historian, James M. McPherson has a talent for posing provocative questions, then answering them with impeccable logic.... All these essays are crisply written, thoughtful and stimulating, the work of a master historian at the top of his game." STEVE RAYMOND

Baltimore Sun EXCELLENT

"McPherson displays an admirable transparency, showing the historian at work. He doesn't just recite the facts that readers are supposed to accept, he shows you how he arrived at his analyses, and how others went astray when they came to different conclusions." MICHAEL HILL

Washington Post EXCELLENT

"One of the virtues of This Mighty Scourge, a collection of fugitive pieces ... is that it gives us McPherson as a reader and critic of other historians' work.... Over and over again, McPherson seeks to separate myth and fantasy from fact--to the extent, obviously, that fact can be known with certainty in an area so unclear as this one." JONATHAN YARDLEY

CRITICAL SUMMARY

James M. McPherson has written and edited nearly 30 books, including the Pulitzer Prize-winning Battle Cry of Freedom. Turf battles aren't uncommon in Civil War studies, and McPherson has a wide reputation as a thoughtful, fair, and readable historian whose insight brings fresh perspective to some often-scrutinized topics. Although McPherson intended some of the essays for an academic audience, each is accessible and worthwhile, and "displays an admirable transparency, showing the historian at work" (Baltimore Sun). All pieces have been updated and revised, and each bears the stamp of McPherson's keen intellect applied to topics that continue to generate discussion among Civil War historians and buffs.

ALSO BY THE AUTHOR

BATTLE CRY OF FREEDOM The Civil War Era (1988): * PULITZER PRIZE. Lauded as one of the best single-volume histories of the Civil War, Battle Cry analyzes the military, political, economic, and social forces driving the conflict.

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science

NONFICTION

GOOD/EXCELLENT

The Canon

A Whirligig Tour of the Beautiful Basics of Science

By Natalie Angier

A science primer.

Did you know that some tiny sea creatures expel their brains from their bodies once the "thinking phase" of their lives is over? Or that the tectonic plates which move continents and cause earthquakes grow at the same pace as your fingernails? Or that we are made of stardust? The Canon is an engaging review of the fundamentals of physics, chemistry, biology, geology, and astronomy for the "nonscientist" who "can't tell the difference between a proton, a photon, and a moron." Science writer Natalie Angier stresses that science is not a collection of facts but a way of thinking about ourselves and our surroundings. Considering that adults today know less about science than their counterparts in the 19th century, Angier provides timely information indeed.

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Houghton Mifflin. 304 pages. $27. ISBN: 0618242953

Albany Times Union EXCELLENT

"This enjoyable book succeeds not only because of this kind of word play, but also because it covers an amazing breadth of information ... with a passion and cleverness that makes difficult concepts accessible." MICHAEL JANAIRO

San Francisco Chronicle EXCELLENT

"Despite its title, The Canon isn't just a rehash of your eighth-grade science class; it also offers some eminently practical information. Readers will find plenty of material to apply to their own lives, whether it be interpreting the results of a medical test or understanding the statistical trend behind the Sports Illustrated jinx." ROBERTA KWOK

Fortune GOOD/EXCELLENT

"If she reaches for a joke too often instead of relying on her admirably supple prose, she's still a matchless scientific decathlete, able to perform with equal adroitness whether examining the infinitesimal or the infinite.... My only real cavil is that she doesn't explain often enough how science knows what it knows." DANIEL OKRENT

Mother Jones GOOD/EXCELLENT

"Angier makes nerdiness fun but also points out that scientific literacy is serious business. Debates about stem cells, global warming, and alternative energy might be less contentious if the scientific issues behind them were better understood." ELIZABETH GETTELMAN

Washington Post GOOD/EXCELLENT

"[An] exuberant Cliff s Notes for grownups.... Her tete-a-tetes, which build on years of high-level access and conversation, yield particular gems when she turns to the fundamentals of the natural world." AMANDA SCHAFFER

Los Angeles Times GOOD

"The pileup of clever phrases can also become a thicket it's hard to see your way out of.... Facts and images are sometimes thrown at you so fast and furiously that it's like a sightseeing tour on fast-forward; the landscape blurs and you can't smell the flowers." K. C. COLE

Chicago Sun-Times FAIR

"Angier is no Carl Sagan or Stephen Jay Gould, who could convey complex ideas in elegantly simple sentences. If they are the Ernest Hemingways of science writing, Angier ... is the James Joyce or Dr. Seuss." GREG LINDENBERG

CRITICAL SUMMARY

Pulitzer Prize-winner Natalie Angier (Woman: An Intimate Geography), a science journalist at the New York Times, was writing an article on whale genetics when her editor suggested that she define the term mammal for her readers and confirm that mammals are animals. That was the last straw for Angier, who nevertheless writes with respect for The Canon's intended audience. She incorporates imaginative metaphors, concise analogies, and jokes into her writing, which result in clear and accessible explanations of complex ideas. A few critics were annoyed by the scientific "sugarcoating" and the dizzying pace of the book, but most were impressed by Angier's lucid prose and clever word play.

CITED BY THE CRITICS

E=MC2 The Biography of the World's Most Famous Equation | DAVID BODANIS (2000): More than a straightforward explanation of the theory of relativity, this book takes on all of modern physics in what critic Daniel Okrent calls his "favorite exegesis of complicated scientific ideas for the uncomplicated, nonscientific mind" (Fortune).

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KNOWLEDGE AND WONDER The Natural World as Man Knows It | VICTOR WEISSKOPF (1963): "Weisskopf's Knowledge and Wonder covers much of the same ground as The Canon ... in half as many words. Reading his little book is like taking a leisurely stroll up a hillside strewn with delights and at the top looking back to admire the view" (Los Angeles Times).

BOOKMARKS SELECTION

EXCELLENT

Evolution for Everyone

How Darwin's Theory Can Change the Way We Think About Our Lives

By David Sloan Wilson

Darwin's impact on our daily lives.

Mention Charles Darwin, and responses will vary from admiration to blistering hatred for the man and his notorious theory (in fact, half of all Americans do not believe in evolution). In Evolution for Everyone, David Sloan Wilson's "journey from the origin of life to human morality and religion," the author discusses all things Darwinian and attempts to reconcile the contentious relationship between evolution and religion. What can evolutionary theory tell us about how--and why--we practice religion? Why do we laugh and dance? How does evolution determine our use of language, or allow us to create culture? In 36 chapters encompassing "all things human," Wilson makes clear the sweeping influence of evolution on our lives.

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Delacorte. 390 pages. $24. ISBN: 0385340214

Chicago Sun-Times EXCELLENT

"Evolution for Everyone is built around explaining the relationships in everything from groups of molecules to groups of people, especially the balance between cooperation and individual self-interest; evolution applies to societies, not just individuals.... [The book] is full of gripping stories about the natural world, related with humor and a rare flair for language." RAYMOND T. PIERREHUMBERT

New Scientist EXCELLENT

"With a clear passion for the subject, Wilson shows that understanding evolution is easy, even intuitive--it really is for everyone. If only everyone would read his book." ROWAN HOOPER

NY Times Book Review GOOD/EXCELLENT

"[Evolution for Everyone] is a sprightly, absorbing and charmingly earnest book that manages a minor miracle, the near-complete emulsifying of science and the 'real world,' ingredients too often kept stubbornly, senselessly apart. Only when Wilson seeks to add religion to the mix, and to show what natural, happy symbionts evolutionary biology and religious faith can be, does he begin to sound like a corporate motivational speaker or a political candidate glad-handing the crowd." NATALIE ANGIER

CRITICAL SUMMARY

Evolution for Everyone is David Sloan Wilson's fifth book on the subject (including Darwin's Cathedral and The Literary Animal) and the most reader-friendly. Critics favorably compare the effort to Steven J. Levitt's and Stephen J. Dubner's runaway best seller Freakonomics. They claim that Wilson, professor of biology and anthropology at Britain's Binghamton University, does for evolution what those two authors did for economics--that is, draw interesting and unexpected connections between musty theory and its practical applications in our everyday lives. Although most of his observations are right on the mark, Wilson's desire to connect evolution and religion may strike some as overreaching or preachy.
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