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Postcolonial Africa in contemporary fiction.

The 20th Century

Western Africa

Chinua Achebe (Nigeria)

"one of the truest tests of integrity is its blunt refusal to be compromised."

Considered the father of modern African literature, Achebe (1930-2013) wrote about Igbo traditions, the clash of Western and traditional African values, the effect of Christianity on society, and the social and political problems facing newly independent African states. An active voice in Biafran and Nigerian politics until its corruption left him disillusioned, Achebe, who wrote in English, chronicled the continent's tumultuous history. Things Fall Apart (1958), perhaps the most widely read novel in African literature, depicts the life of a local leader and wrestling champion in a fictional Igbo village grappling with changes brought by British colonialism; No Longer at Ease (1960) and Arrow of God (1964) are sequels. In A Man of the People (1966), a school teacher enters a corrupt political system in a country resembling postcolonial Nigeria, and in Anthills of the Savannah (1987; * BOOKER PRIZE FINALIST), set in a West African country newly independent from British rule, a brutal military dictatorship takes over.

Ousmane Sembene (senegal)

"Real misfortune is not just a matter of being hungry and thirsty; it is a matter of knowing that there are people who want you to be hungry and thirsty."

Born in Ziguinchor, Senegal, to a Lebou family, Sembene (1923-2007) is a seminal figure in African literature and film, primarily for his exploration of the cultural practices surrounding African women (including female circumcision). Along with his films, Sembene, who attended both French and Islamic schools and wrote in French, is best known for his second novel, God's Bits of Wood (1960), about the Senegalese and Malian response to colonialism in the 1940s, as well as for the novella Xala (1973), adapted to a film of the same name in 1975 and featuring a businessman in Senegal cursed with impotence upon his wedding to his young, beautiful third wife.

Wole Soyinka (Nigeria)

"The greatest threat to freedom is the absence of criticism."

Soyinka, born into a Yoruba family in Abeokuta, Nigeria, in 1934, won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1986 and remains one of the most prominent voices in and from Africa (though he has taught in the United Kingdom and the United States). Like many of his fellow Nigerian writers, Soyinka was outspoken on the Biafran War and called for a ceasefire in 1967. He recounts his subsequent imprisonment in his memoir, The Man Died: Prison Notes (1972), and much of his work deals with oppression. Although most notable as a playwright and a poet, Soyinka is also an acclaimed novelist. In Season of Anomie (1973), he retells the legend of Orpheus and Eurydice-in the Nigerian context, particularly the chaos that led to the Biafran War.

Ayi Kwei Armah (Ghana)

"Alone, I am nothing. I have nothing. We have power. But we will never know it, we will never see it work. Unless we come together to make it work."

Descended from a royal family in the Ga nation in Ghana, Armah, who was born in 1939 and educated at Harvard and Columbia University, wields fiction to criticize a country overrun by nepotism and corruption. Armah's best known novel, The Beautyful Ones Are Not Yet Born (1968), echoes the French existential tradition as its Ghanian protagonist, a railway freight clerk, tries to make sense of both his life and his nation following the betrayal of Ghana's dreams of independence. Armah followed this classic text of Western African literature with other works, including Why Are We So Blest? (1972), The Healers (1978), Osiris Rising (1995), and The Eloquence of the Scribes (2006).

Mariama Ba (senegal)

"The flavour of life is love. The salt of life is also love."

Born in Dakar, Senegal, in 1929, into a well-to-do, educated family, Ba was raised as a Muslim. Preoccupied with gender inequalities in African and Islamic cultural traditions, she struggled to gain an education, eventually attending a teacher training college. After she was left to care for her nine children following her divorce from a Senegalese member of Parliament, she started to write in French. Her first novel, So Long a Letter (1981), a key feminist text written as a letter from a Muslim widow to a childhood friend in the United States, expresses the frustration with the fate of African women. Ba's second novel, Scarlet Song (1986), which also gained international attention for its exploration of intermarriage between a Senegalese Muslim man and a European woman, was published after her death in 1981.

Amos Tutuola (Nigeria)

"Hard to salute each other, harder to describe each other, and hardest to look at each other at our destination."

Amos Tutuola (1920-1997), a Nigerian contemporary of Achebe's, based his books on Yoruba folk tales. The Palm-Wine Drinkard (1952), the novel that earned him international acclaim, draws on the West African oral folktale tradition; Tutuola, who trained as a blacksmith, had scant formal education and wrote in broken English. The novel describes the fantastical odyssey of a palm-wine drinker who enters the land of "Deads' Town," a world of magic, ghosts, and supernatural beings. Tutuola followed this metaphorical novel with My Life in the Bush of Ghosts (1954), which explores the fate of mortals who reside in the world of ghosts-the heart of a tropical forest.

Buchi Emecheta (Nigeria)

"God, when will you create a woman who will be fulfilled in herself, a full human being, not anybody's appendage? she prayed desperately."

Emecheta (born in Lagos in 1944, educated in London, and currently living there) has influenced the newest generation of West African female writers, including Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (see below). In more than 20 books, including In the Ditch (1972) and Second-Class Citizen (1974), Emecheta explores the struggles of Nigerian women and children. She once described her work as "stories of the world ... [where] ... women face the universal problems of poverty and oppression, and the longer they stay, no matter where they have come from originally, the more the problems become identical." Emecheta left Nigeria at age 16, when she married a man who moved to London to study, and had five children; at age 22, she left her abusive marriage. Her other novels, including The Slave Girl (1977) and The Joys of Mother-hood (1979), examine the ways in which writing can become a mode of resistance within a largely patriarchal culture.

Ben Okri (Nigeria)

"I grew up in a tradition where there are simply more dimensions to reality: legends and myths and ancestors and spirits and death. ... Nobody has an absolute reality."

Born in Minna, Nigeria, in 1959, Okri is a postmodern poet, novelist, and essayist. After a childhood in London,Okri returned to Nigeria; he now lives in England. The Famished Road (1991), the first in a trilogy, won the Booker Prize. A work of magical realism, it chronicles the life of a spirit-child narrator, Azaro, as he experiences the violent turmoil of a country resembling Nigeria. Songs of Enchantment (1994) and Infinite Riches (1999) continue the story.

Further Reading


Eastern Africa

Ngugi wa Thiong'o (Kenya)

"our lives are a battlefield on which is fought a continuous war between the forces that are pledged to confirm our humanity and those determined to dismantle it."

Born into a peasant family in Kenya in 1938,Ngugi is a celebrated intellectual, playwright,journalist, novelist, and social activist who currently teaches at the University of California,Irvine. British rule, the Mau Mau struggle for independence in the 1950s, and neocolonial Kenya influenced much of his writing. Ngugi's first major play, The Black Hermit (1962), and his first novel Weep Not, Child (1964), the first postcolonial novel about the East African colonial experience, established his reputation. His second novel, The River Between (1965),involves two villages separated by different faiths during the uprising; his third, A Grain of Wheat (1967), explores the state of emergency in Kenya's struggle through multiple narrators and story lines. Ngugi 's criticisms of postcolonial Kenyan society's injustices led to his imprisonment in 1977, an experience reflected in his memoir Detained: A Writer's Prison Diary (1982). In 2004, Ngugi's fantastical novel Wizard of the Crow, set in the imaginary Free Republic of Aburiria, brought him further international acclaim.

Nuruddin Farah (somalia)

"Somalia is no longer what it was. It's past reconstruction. How can you reconstruct a country that's self-destructing continuously?"

Based in Cape Town, South Africa, but born in Somalia in 1945, Farah fled his native land in 1963, three years after Somalia's independence and following violent border conflicts. After studying in India, Farah began writing novels, plays, and essays about his native country, from which he was unofficially exiled after the publication of A Naked Needle (1976), about postrevolutionary Somali life in the mid-1970s. His three trilogies, concerning the paternalistic social dynamic of oppressions, form the core of his fiction. Perhaps the best known is Variations on the Theme of an African Dictatorship, comprising Sweet and Sour Milk (1979), Sardines (1981), and Close Sesame (1983), which offers a quasi-Orwellian portrait of life under autocratic rule.

Further Reading




Southern Africa

Nadine Gordimer (south Africa)

"Writing is making sense of life. You work your whole life and perhaps you've made sense of one small area."

Nadine Gordimer (1923-), who received the 1991 Nobel Prize in Literature, has long addressed moral and racial issues, particularly in apartheid South Africa. The daughter of Jewish immigrants and activists, Gordimer grew up surrounded by discrimination and poverty, concerns present in her fiction. July's People (1981), which was banned under apartheid, envisions a violent South African revolution by black people against an apartheid government. The Conservationist (1974, * BOOKER PRIZE) explores a white conservationist's beliefs and designs for Zulu culture, while Burger's Daughter (1979), banned by the South African government, is about the daughter of antiapartheid revolutionaries.Gordimer currently lives in Johannesburg.

J. M. Coetzee (south Africa)

"We must cultivate, all of us, a certain ignorance, a certain blindness, or society will not be tolerable."

"First and last, J. M. Coetzee is the essential novelist of the new South Africa," wrote critic Robert McCrum after Coetzee became the second South African, following Nadine Gordimer, to win the Nobel Prize in Literature. In his nearly two dozen novels, memoirs, and essay collections, Coetzee, born in 1940 and now a citizen of Australia, probes South Africa's dark history with his lean, detached poststructuralist's style. Themes of racism, politics, moral disorder, and tyrannical state power-assaults against apartheid and postapartheid violence-anchor his works. He tackles diverse subjects-from human suffering in Life and Times of MichaelK to the art of narration in Foe (1986). He is also the first writer to have won the Booker prize twice,for The Life and Times of MichaelK(1983), about a Cape Town gardener-turned-squatter accused of terrorist conspiracy, and Disgrace (1999), featuring a twice-divorced professor at a thinly disguised University of Cape Town during the Mandela era.

Further Reading





African Voices in

the 21st Century

Western Africa

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (Nigeria)

"Power is the ability not just to tell the story of another person, but to make it the definitive story of that person."

Born in Enugu, Nigeria, in 1977 to a well-educated Igbo family, Adichie, a MacArthur "genius" grant recipient, is widely regarded as one of the most important voices to emerge in contemporary African literature. Her first novel, the award-winning Purple Hibiscus (2003), reflects the violence of postcolonial Nigeria. Half of a Yellow Sun (* ORANGE PRIZE; ***** SELECTION NOV/DEC 2006) draws on her family's experience and Nigeria's history a decade before her birth to explore the Biafran War. Adichie, who divides her time between Nigeria and the United States, explores the incongruities of Nigerian immigrant life in America in The Thing Around Your Neck (**** SELECTION sept/Oct 2009), a collection of short stories, and in her most recent novel Americanah (**** July/Aug 2013).

Teju Cole (Nigeria)

"To be alive, it seemed to me, as I stood there in all kinds of sorrow, was to be both original and reflection, and to be dead was to be split off, to be reflection alone."

After a Nigerian childhood, Cole, a historian, photographer, and writer, moved to the United States, where he is now a writer in residence at Bard College. Every Day is for the Thief (2007), a novella, considers a Nigeria in rapid transformation through the eyes of a Nigerian who returns home after many years abroad. Open City (* HEMINGWAY/PENAWARD; **** July/Aug 2011), Cole's first full-length novel,features a Nigerian psychiatric resident in New York City who considers history, politics, race, and what it means to be a foreigner in post-9/11 America.

Uwem Akpan (Nigeria)

"I think fiction allows us to sit for a while with people we would rather not meet."

Hailed as a major literary debut, Say You're One of Them (**** SELECTION sept/Oct 2008), which is narrated by children, shines light on the worst hardships they and their families experience in all parts of Africa-from selling children into sexual slavery to navigating the Hutu-Tutsi conflict. The short story collection won the Commonwealth Writers' Prize, the PEN Open Book Award, and was an Oprah Book Club selection. Akpan, born in Nigeria 1971, received his MFA from the University of Michigan; now a Jesuit priest, he teaches at a seminary in Zimbabwe.

Aminatta Forna (UK; sierra Leone)

"War had the effect of encouraging people to try to stay alive. Poverty, too. Survival was simply too hard-won to be given up lightly."

Named by Vanity Fair in 2007 as one of Africa's best new writers, Forna, a Scottish-born British writer and documentary maker born in 1964, uses multiple narrators and shifting chronology to explore the prelude and aftermath to war. She spent much of her childhood in Sierra Leone, where her father worked as a physician and entered government; in 1975, he was hanged on charges of treason. Forna's investigation into his death inspired her memoir The Devil that Danced on the Water (2003). Her fiction offers an equally powerful exploration into the weight of the past: Ancestor Stones (2007), a West African family saga that spans village life to civil war; The Memory of Love (2010; F COMMONWEALTH PRIZE, ORANGE PRIZE SHORT LIST); and The Hired Man (2013).

Eastern Africa

Dinaw Mengestu (Ethiopia; u.s.)

"I'm writing about people from Africa in America, people in a state of migration."

Born in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, in 1978 and raised in Washington, D.C., Mengestu, a MacArthur "genius" grant recipient, has written two novels about the immigration experience: The Beautiful Things That Heaven Bears (2007)and How to Read the Air (**** Jan/Feb 2011), which was excerpted in the New Yorker when he was chosen as one of their "20 under 40" writers in 2010. Mengestu has also written nonfiction pieces on the war in Darfur and the conflict in northern Uganda; he currently teaches at Georgetown University.

Maaza Mengiste (Ethiopia; u.s.)

"When you are convinced that everything that happens is the will of God, what is there to do but wait until God has mercy?"

Mengiste, who was born in Addis Ababa and lived in Nigeria and Kenya before settling in the United States, has portrayed the Ethiopian revolution, the plight of Africans in the diaspora, and human rights in her fiction, nonfiction, and documentaries. In her debut novel, the award winning Beneath the Lion's Gaze (2009), set in the period of upheaval following the Communist revolution in Ethiopia in the 1970s, a family takes different paths in life. Mengiste currently teaches creative writing at Princeton University.

Yvonne Vera (Zimbabwe)

"Time is as necessary for remembering as it is for forgetting.

Vera's life was cut tragically short when she died of AIDS-related meningitis in 2005, but it was a life filled with inspiration. Born in 1964 in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe (then Southern Rhodesia), Vera studied in Canada and then returned to Zimbabwe in 1995 to direct the national gallery in Bulawayo. She soon became known as a short fiction writer and novelist concerned with female politics and issues such as infanticide, rape, and gender inequality. Her best known novel, the lyrical Butterfly Burning (1998), set in the mid-1940s black township of Makokoba in Bulawayo, tells of a doomed love story while capturing the hardships of the would-be lovers' lives.

Middle Africa

Alain Mabanckou (Congo)

"I'm giving more visibility to the Congo by writing in France. Writers are ambassadors of their countries".

Franco-Congolese novelist Alain Mabanckou, born in 1966, is among the best known poets and novelists writing in French. Referred to as Africa's Samuel Beckett, he was selected by Vanity Fair as one of Africa's greatest living writers. His fiction includes Black Bazaar (2009), a dark, comic story set in a Parisian Afro-Cuban bar; Memoirs of a Porcupine(2011), about a Congolese boy and his porcupine double who become accomplices in murder; and African Psycho (2007), a monologue of a would-be serial killer. In his best-known novel, Broken Glass (2009), a former teacher sits in a derelict Congolese bar and scribbles stories of those who drink beside him.

Northern Africa

Leila Aboulela (Egypt and sudan)

"There was definitely a weight pushing down on the world. Misfortune was always hovering close around people's shoulders. But she would fight it off, and keep fighting with all her might."

Born in 1964 in Cairo, Aboulela grew up in Khartoum, Sudan, and currently lives in Aberdeen, Scotland. Writing novels and plays in English, she explores the Muslim faith, as well as the effects of Sudan's political instability on its denizens. Lyrics Alley (2010) features an affluent Sudanese family torn apart by their country's politics and the rift between traditional and modern values. In The Translator(2006), a young Muslim widow living in Scotland falls in love with a secular academic, and in Minaret(2005), a Muslim woman in London-once an upper-class Westernized Sudanese, now a housemaid gradually embraces her faith. All three novels were long-listed for the Orange Prize.

Further Reading















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.



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. There is no substitute for reading the book yourself and forming your own opinion.



A timeless book to be read by all


One of the best of its genre

*** GOOD

Enjoyable, particularly for fans

of the genre


some problems, approach

with caution


Not worth your time




Goat Mountain

By David Vann

Born on the Aleutian Islands of Alaska, David Vann has written four bleak, but magnificent, works of fiction, including Legend of a Suicide and Caribou Island (**** Mar/Apr 2011), as well as two books of narrative nonfiction. Currently a visiting literature professor at the University of Warwick, England, he has also been a Guggenheim and National Endowment for the Arts fellow.

THE STORY: Vann's gory fable centerson a family hunting trip to California's Goat Mountain in 1978. The narrator is now a middle-aged man, looking back at his 11-year-old self-so eager to kill his first deer and please his father and grandfather. But the first victim is human: a poacher they catch on their land. The rest of the novel explores the psychological aftermath, as the characters weigh their complicity and decide whether to hide the crime. Vann's content and style are heavily influenced by religious language. Nearly every chapter opens with biblical allusions, especially to the story of Cain and Abel-which makes Goat Mountain a claustrophobic and violent philosophical treatise.

Harper. 256 pages. $25.99. ISBN:


Anchorage Daily News *****

"vann has crafted a gripping masterpiece that captures the complexity of a world where tradition and routine substitute for love, where nurture is replaced by nature and killing second-nature. This is a powerful coming-of-age story that throws you in the back of the pickup on an impassable road for a ride you can't get off and to a destination you'd never imagine, but can't stop thinking about." DON REARDEN

Guardian (UK) *****

"Part of the experience of reading vann (over time across his oeuvre, and within individual books) is a kind of uneasy curiosity about just how dark he's going to get and where he's going to go to find that darkness. . But it is also exhilarating for the least perverse of reasons: the experience of reading a novelist of David vann's rare artistry and vision." MARK O'CONNELL

san Francisco Chronicle ****

"Structurally, the novel is as reliable as liturgy. . The prose is as taut as lean muscle and creates a chilling kind of hypnosis: We begin to think as this 11-year-old boy thinks, an impossible feat of intense artistry, given his horrendous acts and inscrutably twisted mind." CLAIRE VAYE WATKINS

Washington Post ****

"David vann knows the dark interior of family tragedies-his own life is fraught with them-and he brings both witness and intense examination to stories of human savagery. . Though his theme is obvious and repetitive, vann works as a preacher might, circling continually back to the heart of his message throughout a sermon." BENJAMIN BUSCH

Economist (UK) ****

"The book has the quality of a ballad or a folk tale: in those older forms of storytelling, motivation remains opaque and action simply follows action. . Mr. vann occasionally overstates his case, reminding the reader of a parallel to Greek tragedy where no reminder is needed."

Telegraph (UK) ***

"While the themes are stark-he seems fixated on how families tear themselves apart-vann operates at such extremes with a hard-won natural authority. ... Yet all this unrelenting thesis-fodder about atavistic masculinity chokes off the artistry in vann's writing." BENJAMIN EVANS

new books guide



The Goldfinch

By Donna Tartt

Donna Tartt is the best-selling author of The Secret History (1992), about a cloistered set of students at a fictional college who engage in murder, and The Little Friend (2002), featuring a young southern girl attempting to understand the mystery of her brother's death.

THE STORY: The novel opens with Theo Decker, a 13-year-old New Yorker, narrating the aftermath of a terrorist attack at the Metro-politan Museum of Art that left his lovely mother dead and him in secret possession of a valuable painting, 17th-century Delft master and Rembrandt pupil Carel Fabritius's portrait of a yellow finch.The young orphan's ensuing geographical journey takes him from the home of a New York blue-blood family to his alcoholic father in Las Vegas, back to an antiques shop in New York, and then to the violent Euro art underworld; his psychological journey deals with the guilt of the stolen painting, the link to his mother: "if our secrets define us, as opposed to the face we show to the world: then the painting was the secret that raised me above the surface of life and enabled me to know who i am." Over ten years, as Theo struggles to define himself, his adventures plunge him into the depths of love, art, friendship, obsession, and, not least, survival.

Little, Brown. 771 pages. $30. ISBN: 9780316055437

New York Times *****

"Ms. Tartt has made Fabritius's bird the MacGuffin at the center of her glorious, Dickensian novel, a novel that pulls together all her remarkable storytelling talents into a rapturous, symphonic whole and reminds the reader of the immersive, stay-up-all-night pleasures of reading. ... It's a work that shows us how many emotional octaves Ms. Tartt can now reach, how seamlessly she can combine the immediate and tactile with more wide-angled concerns-how she can tackle the sort of big, philosophical questions addressed by the Russian masters even as she's giving us a palpable sense, say, of what it's like to be perilously high on medical-grade painkillers, or a lesson in distinguishing real antiques from fakes." MICHIKO KAKUTANI

Los Angeles Times *****

"More ambitious and accomplished than The Secret History, the narrative is tauter even as the book's scope is wider, with events spanning a decade or more and scenes set in multiple locations in America and Europe. The stakes are higher, and the characters, drawn from a wider social milieu, are downright more interesting." GEOFF NICHOLSON

NY Times Book Review *****

"Tartt depicts the friendship of these two cast-adrift adolescent boys [Theo and Boris] with a clarity of observation I would have thought next to impossible for a writer who was never part of that closed male world: the interminable talk and speculation, the endless Tv watching and pizza eating, the dope smoking and small thefts, the kind of rapport in which a single cocked eyebrow can provoke howls of helpless laughter. ... Donna Tartt has delivered an extraordinary work of fiction." STEPHEN KING


"The result is the best book of 2013 so far, and required reading for anyone who loves great literature from this or any other century." KEVIN NANCE

Christian science Monitor ****

"The Goldfinch is most often described as Dickensian, which is an apt comparison, both for the big, entertaining plot and the orphan who gets swept along on adventures." YVONNE ZIPP

Cleveland Plain Dealer ****

"Tartt has penned her most emotionally fully-realized book to date." LAURA DEMARCO

Kansas City star ****

"With cunning sleight of hand, Tartt threads into the narrative complex questions about fate and beauty and art. ... Some of the themes come together a bit too neatly, sure; as in Dickens, the abundance of coincidence seems not just a lens through which the narrator sees the world, but a plot device that tips, at times, toward the absurd." ZAC GALL

seattle Times ****

"You can see echoes of Tartt's blockbuster first novel, 1992's The Secret History, here-the poignant solitude of the young male protagonist; the long days spent drunk or high, as if time was something not just to kill, but to annihilate; the desperate attempts to squash a deed that can't be undone. . You follow The Goldfinch breathlessly, as you would a serial; things keep happening to Theo, and putting the book down seems unthinkable." MOIRA MACDONALD


Any new novel from Tartt, a one-book-per-decade author, is cause for celebration. The Goldfinch, which boasts the elaborate, meticulously detailed characters and settings of her previous novels, might be her best yet. A fantastic journey filled with high stakes and moral ambiguity, a Dickensian bildungsroman featuring a young male protagonist attempting to hide a deed that can't be undone, the novel pays homage to Dickens with an Artful Dodger, a girl named Pippa, a Miss Havisham, and a young man attempting to define himself. Critics' comparisons to Dickens are earned. if the novel could have stood a little editing in parts, the page-turning twists, gorgeous prose, and wonderful characters more than sweep readers away. indeed, Theo and Boris, a Ukrainian outsider the former meets in Las Vegas, are "the stars of this enthralling novel, who will assume seats in the great pantheon of classic buddy acts (alongside Laurel and Hardy, Vladimir and Estragon, and Pynchon's Mason and Dixon), taking up permanent residence in the reader's mind" (New York Times).

new books guide


Vann's prose has a spare poetry to it, with Goat Mountain approaching the greatness of Sophoclean drama. His examination of the violence at the root of human nature is fearless and unpredictable. Indeed, the novel is as much an ethical discourse as a novel, and it has a particularly strong sense of place. Vann's strongest debts are to the Bible and to Cormac McCarthy. Although the Telegraph critic believed Vann is merely imitating here, other reviewers praised the biblical allegories. The recreation of the protagonist's interiority is remarkably successful, even if the Telegraph critic qualified that the ret-rospective religious allegory gets in the way of the action. Despite these minor complaints, Goat Mountain is another fine offering from an acclaimed writer.


The Circle

By Dave Eggers

The founder of independent publishing house McSweeney's, Dave Eggers is a celebrated author in his own right, best known for the Pulitzer Prize-winning memoir A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius (2000) and his novels What Is the What (2006), a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award, and A Hologram for the King (2012), a finalist for the National Book Award.

THE STORY: "Outside the walls of the Circle, all was noise and struggle, failure and filth," muses the Silicon Valley superstar's newest Customer Experience employee, naive, 24-year-old Mae Holland. On the company's sprawling campus, employees are plied with free gourmet meals, exercise classes, and fully equipped dorms for those burning the midnight oil. But Mae soon discovers that the Circle, run by three young friends-the "Wise Men"-demands a high price for its amenities: complete surrender. As Mae struggles to raise her employee score by participating in online and offline Circle activities day and night, she soon finds herself ensnared in the Circle's vibrant culture, cut off from anyone who doesn't espouse the company motto. Knopf. 504 pages. $27.95. ISBN: 9780385351393

san Francisco Chronicle ****

"Eggers has a keen eye for context, and the great strength of The Circle lies in its observations about the way instant, asynchronous communication has damaged our personal relationships. ... The Circle is a speculative morality tale in the vein of George orwell: blunt, one-sided and unashamed to be so." G. WILLOW WILSON

Los Angeles Times ****

"The nagging trouble with the book is the superficial way it presents the main character. We rarely get Holland's internal response to events; she's observed from the outside, as if viewing a film. ... Despite that, the ideas behind The Circle are compelling and deeply contemporary." CAROLYN KELLOGG

New York Times ****

"Using his fluent prose and instinctive storytelling gifts, Mr. Eggers does a nimble, and sometimes very funny, job of sending up technophiles' naivete, self-interest and misguided idealism. ... It's not Mr. Eggers's best work, but it draws upon enough of his prodigious talents to make for a fun and inventive read." MICHIKO KAKUTANI

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette ****

"Perhaps our need for privacy will erode as technology continues to develop and the world continues to change. or perhaps humans will still occasionally cling to the need for privacy simply because it is an essential quality of being 'human.' Either way, the fact that these questions linger long after finishing this book is a testament to the multiple layers and potential lasting impact of The Circle." KARL HENDRICKS

USA Today ***J

"It's driven by a message, more than its characters. . By literary standards, The Circle is not one of his best novels, but for the questions it raises, it could be his most important." BOB MINZESHEIMER

Washington Post ****

"Given how self-evident these satiric points are, though, it's a shame Eggers can't trust his readers more. . on the other hand, who can afford subtlety in these latter days of Jenna Marbles and apps for babies? The Circle is Brave New World for our brave new world-and let's be frank: Aldous Huxley's classic is no model of understatement, either."RON CHARLEs

Milwaukee Jrnl sentinel ***

"What this book doesn't do is give us a single rounded character; instead it's vaguely reminiscent of Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged-another passionate manifesto pretending to be a novel and championing individual freedom, albeit from the libertarian right rather than Eggers' position on a socially engaged left. . But maybe the tired prose, predictable plot and flat characters are part of Eggers' point." MIKE FISCHER


A "relentless broadside against the corrosive effects of the connected life" (Washington Post), The Circle is an eerily compelling and timely book, a dystopian satire rife with Orwellian allusions. To get his message across, Eggers provides "spot-on, deliberately over-the-top parodies of our restless and vapid electronic surfing" (Mil-waukee Jrnl Sentinel) at the expense, unfortunately, of character depth, plot development, and nuance. It may not be his best, sighed the critics, but most agreed that a middling book by such a talented writer is still worthy of readers' attention. A "taut, claustrophobic corporate thriller" (San Francisco Chronicle), The Circle may beat readers over the head a bit, but it is nonetheless a chilling reminder of the threats the Digital Age poses to privacy and freedom.

new books guide


The Daylight Gate

By Jeanette Winterson

Award-winning British writer Jeanette Winterson has written more than 20 books for children and adults, in genres ranging from memoir to science fiction. She first came to literary prominence in 1985 with her autobiographical novel Oranges are Not the Only Fruit; most recently, she saw success with The Stone Gods (**** SELECTION July/Aug 2008).

THE STORY: The 400th anniversary of England's Pendle Witch trials inspired The Daylight Gate. Under the rule of King James I, who wrote a tract called "Daemonologie" denouncing witches,both sorcery and Catholicism were outlawed. On Good Friday 1612, Roger Nowell, local justice of the peace, interrupts a forest gathering of 13 figures: has he stumbled upon a coven? A wealthy widow, Alice Nutter, seems the least scandalous defendant; she long ago rejected the devil's ways, yet she remains mysterious: youthful yet surprisingly old, and possibly bisexual. All the characters are historical (including an appearance from Shakespeare), but their stories are significantly embroidered in this spooky tale of magic and retribution.

Grove Press. 240 pages. $24. ISBN:


Guardian (UK) ****

"Winterson's version has all the grisly freshness of a newly exhumed graveyard corpse. ... The narrative voice is irrefutable; this is old-fashioned storytelling, with a sermonic tone that commands and terrifies." SARAH HALL

Telegraph (UK)****

"This, I ought to say, is a book worth reading-utterly compulsive, thick with atmosphere and dread, but sharp intelligence too. ... For all its brevity, this is a poetically stylised and visceral read." SINCLAIR MCKAY

Los Angeles Times ***J

"Many will also read The Daylight Gate as a work of genre, mostly because Winterson gives her stylistic talents a rest as she speeds through a fast-paced plot that's heavy on dialogue (long passages read more like a screenplay) and light on description. . It's one of the weirdest cameos Shakespeare has ever made, in a book that may just be the weirdest one Winterson will ever write." HECTOR TOBAR

Washington Post ***J

"Winterson neatly shifts back and forth among various 'realities' throughout The Daylight Gate. Yet she never tries to dazzle the reader, keeping her sentences sober, precise and solemnly beautiful as the novel moves along with a steady relentlessness." MICHAEL DIRDA

Miami Herald ***

"[I]t's the un-supernatural human naughtiness-the constant medieval mistreatment that many of the characters are subjected to-that really turns the stomach (in a good way, if you're into that sort of thing.) The plot name-checks many historical figures who were involved in the trial-even William Shakespeare makes an appearance-and with such a large coven populating such a slim book, the narrative never quite lifts off on its broomstick." NICHOLAS MANCUSI

NY Times Book Review *** "Winterson is always a grand conjurer of ghoulish effects, sometimes backlighting them with visible merriment over her own excesses. . Winterson's regular readers are accustomed to sudden changes in voice and point of view that announce themselves with nothing more than a line break, but in this new book dialogue can be weighted down with the chores of exposition, recap and underlining."THOMAs MALLON


Winterson's intelligent work of horror fiction is raw and harrowing. Although the usual witchy tropes of warts and cauldrons are present, their literary setting renders them more graceful. Alice is a compelling character, and while the gory imagery is certainly arresting, the prose is not particularly noteworthy. The New York Times Book Review critic argued this short novel would be enjoyable enough if it came from anyone else, but from a novelist as gifted as Winterson, it seems a disappointment. Whether "gross-out" or matter-of-fact, the rape and torture scenes do not make up for the plainness of the dialogue and style here. If one is interested in Winterson's work,it's best to start with an earlier novel.


THE STONE GODS (2008): In the first of three postapocalyptic tales, pollution-ravaged Planet Orbus is dying, and Central Power has sent a team of scientists, including Billie Crusoe and her love, the Robo sapiens Spike, to faraway Planet Blue, an inhabitable planet that, despite some troublesome native fauna, may save the human race. The scientists are charged with eradicating the dominant species,but things go terribly wrong.

Local Souls

By Allan Gurganus

Allan Gurganus's training as a painter was interrupted by his service as a code breaker during the Vietnam War. In 1989 he published Oldest Living Con-federate Widow Tells All, which introduced the unforgettable voice of 99-year-old Lucy Marsden, of Falls, North Carolina.

THE STORY: Gurganus's first full-length work in more than a decade,composed of three linked novellas, is again set in his mythical North Carolinian town. These tales of the modern South echo Flannery O'Connor with their small-town dynamics and bawdy

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By Jo Baker

British author Jo Baker has published four previous novels, including The Undertow (2012)and The Telling (2010). In Longbourn, an imaginative Jane Austen sequel, she capitalizes on the recent popularity of Downton Abbey and Upstairs, Downstairs.

THE STORY: "There could be no wearing of clothes without their laundering, just as surely as there could be no going without clothes, not in Hertfordshire anyway, and not in september," begins Baker in her retelling of Pride and Prejudice from the perspective of the Bennet family's servants. Mr. and Mrs. Hill, young housemaid sarah,and elfin scullery maid Polly spend their days cooking, scrubbing, sweeping, dusting, and maintaining the Bennets' ramshackle if respectable estate, Longbourn. But as familiar events unfold upstairs, a parallel drama develops downstairs. secrets are revealed; lives are altered; and sarah, dreaming of something beyond chilblains and 18-hour workdays, must choose between Longbourn's mysterious new footman and Mr. Bingley's exotic manservant. Knopf. 352 pages. $25.95. ISBN: 9780385351232

Entertainment Weekly ****

"Fans will relish the background on the Napoleonic Wars, which are mentioned only in passing in Austen's classic, and dishy new gossip about Wickham, who's even more of a cad here. But Sarah's forbidden dalliances with Ptolemy and James, as well as the mystery of James' past, are the wildly thumping lady-heart of this book." MELISSA MAERZ

Guardian (UK) ****

"Baker includes enough of the plot of Pride and Prejudice so that an Austen novice will not get lost, and an Austen lover has the satisfaction of matching the novels chapter for chapter. .Baker favours excess over subtlety in her descriptions as well as her plotting, and sometimes Longbourn feels oversaturated." HANNAH ROSEFIELD

Miami Herald ****

"[Readers] who are inspired to delve into Pride and Prejudice for the first time will be amazed that most of Longbourn's plot points are not in the original novel. And Janeites who know the full text of 'it is a truth generally acknowledged' will simply nod and say, 'Well, of course. How else would it have been?'" GIGI LEHMAN

Minneapolis star Tribune ****

"I guess the real question is this: Will Longbourn appeal to readers who have never read Pride and Prejudice? of course it will ... but those readers may not appreciate it as much as readers who are familiar with the fine details of Austen's


NY Times Book Review ****

"Neither a sequel nor a disappointment, it's an affecting look at the world of Pride and Prejudice, but from another point of view-the servants' hall, where other lives are simultaneously lived, with very different concerns and dramas. ... With large imaginative sympathy and a detailed knowledge of early-19th-century housekeeping, Baker gives us a sobering look at the underside-or the practical side-of daily life circa 1812, where in a bourgeois household, however hard up, a staff of people, knowing their place, worked an 18-hour day, every day, to achieve for their employers even the minimum of comfort." DIANE JOHNSON

seattle Times ****

"Longbourn is a refreshing departure from the Austen-inspired fictionalizations that have reached a sort of nadir in the current movie, Austenland. . Baker creates an intriguing world that takes considerable license with the Austen original (Mr. Wickham is even more wicked; Mrs. Bennet has had not only the five daughters, but also a stillborn son who would have secured the family's future)." MELINDA BARGREEN

Telegraph (UK) ****

"To twist something so familiar into something quite fresh is impressive. ... Longbourn is not just nicely packaged fan fiction, or an Austenian Downton Abbey; it's an engrossing tale we neither know nor expect." HOLLY KYTE


Much to the critics' surprise, Baker has written a Jane Austen spinoff "that's both original and charming, even gripping, in its own right" (New York Times Book Review). In poetic prose, she convincingly expands on much-loved characters, but, remarkably, Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy are tangential here. This world belongs to-and is fully, and persuasively, populated by-sarah, Polly, and the Hills. And for readers unfamiliar with Pride and Prejudice, Baker is a delightful guide through its hallowed domain, including details and topics that Austen would have deemed unfit for polite literature (such as slavery, war, and the emptying of endless chamber pots). "For once," observes the Seattle Times,"here is an Austen sequel that does not dwell on Mr. Darcy's romantic prowess, and for that alone, Baker deserves a bouquet."

humor. In "Fear Not," a banker's daughter seeks the child she gave up at age 15. In "Saints Have Mothers," narrated unreliably by a satirized "tiger mother," a high school valedictorian disappears during an African trip. "Decoy" sees a doctor-patient friendship edging towards homoeroticism and the town suffering a biblical flood. Themes of transgression versus sainthood, parenthood, and death reflect Gurganus's interest in relationships-more specifically, the desperation for human understanding and connections. Liveright. 352 pages. $15.95. ISBN: 9780871403797

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Miami Herald ****J

"Decoy is so good that you want to lob all sorts of adjectives its way: warm, humane, profound, sagacious, hilarious, nostalgic, and incisive. The town of Falls becomes a vivid character, with its foibles and hidden histories." LAURA ALBRITTON

NY Times Book Review ****J

"Gurganus's vast creative and imaginative powers, still rooted in the local, are increasingly universal in scope and effect. . Like Chekhov and Cheever before him, Gurganus registers an enormous amount of compassion for the characters he holds to the fire." JAIME QUATRO

Charlotte Observer ****

"Throughout all these stories, the characters' doubts about themselves and their world take them on a meandering route through life that, in the Southern way, emulates politeness but masks deeper anxieties and raises questions about their place as individuals and as parts of a culture that teeters on a fault line perpetually threatening to crack wide open." MICHELLE MORIARITY WITT

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette ****

"The cast of characters spans the quirky and the bizarre. But it's just as all-American as the folks Sherwood Anderson brought to life in Winesburg, Ohio nearly a century ago." CARLO WOLFF

seattle Times ****

"His writing style is unique; perhaps it would not be favored by strict grammarians, but it is perfect for conveying the way his North Carolinians communicate. . After too many years, a consummate storyteller is back, telling it first from the outside and then moving away from the obvious into dark and complex interior places." VALERIE RYAN

New York Times ***

"This collection's other two novellas ['Fear Not' and 'Saints Have Mothers'] strike me as lesser stuff. They're talky and forced, and lumpy with tragedy and comedy that don't blend." DWIGHT GARNER

USA Today ***

"The first of these stories is passable, the second shouldn't have seen print, and the third, with the strongest spine and the clearest voice of the three, has definite touches of greatness in it. ... It's a book that frustrates us for what it might have been, mixing moments of tremendous delicacy and percipience with maddening slapdash nonsense." CHARLES FINCH


Gurganus has a unique, folksy writing style: he is humorous and kind, and he does not judge his characters. At their best, his stories have universal resonance and approach Shakespeare's and Chekhov's genius as they ask, "Can we really ever know another individual? Can we, in fact, know ourselves?" Yet though "Decoy" earned nearly universal praise, reactions to the other novellas were mixed. The New York Times reviewer, for example, called out Gurganus's "leering and often incestuous sexuality" in one novella and insisted he "makes human consciousness seem smaller," with characters that are "cartoons more than human beings." Despite some high praise, Local Souls is an uneven offering from a talented chronicler of Southern mores.


Nine Inches

By Tom Perrotta

Tom Perrotta is the author of six darkly comic novels, including The Abstinence Teacher (*** SELECTION Jan/Feb 2008) and The Leftovers (***Nov/Dec 2011). Two of his books have been made into movies: Election (1998) and Little Children (**** July/Aug 2004), for which he cowrote the screenplay. Nine Inches is his first collection of short fiction in nearly 20 years.

THE STORY: These 10 stories illuminate ordinary, all-American lives: a brain-injured football player, SAT test takers, a Little League umpire who regrets slapping his gay son, a doctor carrying on extramarital affairs, a bright young man who, rejected by every college, ends up delivering pizza, and neighbors engaged in a feud. The title refers to the requisite distance between teenagers at a dance-though, in reference to the male anatomy, it also becomes the inevitable subject of jokes. Perrotta offers a broad spectrum of the young and old, although all his characters are caught in middle-class, suburban despair. The stories are light on action but emotionally deep, with an inescapably melancholy tone. St. Martin's Press. 256 pages. $25.99. ISBN: 9781250034700

Boston Globe ****

"[T]he stories hang together so beautifully, the writing is so stylistically consistent, and the themes so closely related that the book feels like a novel or a collection of interlocking stories. . Perrotta isn't confronting the smugness or entitlement of suburbanites; he is their compassionate voice, the cryptographer of their sorrows." MATTHEW GILBERT

Miami Herald ****

"He revels in the ordinary, crossing generational lines with ease and chronicling the humiliating behavior, petty insecurities and surprisingly poignant regrets that plague us all. . Perrotta's not merely taking shots at suburban malaise. He's showing us the way out." CONNIE OGLE

NY Times Book Review ****

"[H]is portrait of the suburbs as an essential, if at times heartbreaking, facet of our modern lives marks him as the descendant of such chroniclers of smalltown America as Thornton Wilder, John o'Hara and Willa Cather. . Perrotta's language never announces itself; it recedes into the background, allowing the characters, with their convincing and contemporary dialogue, to drive the narrative in a way that sounds organic and true." ALIX OHLIN

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Minneapolis star Tribune ****

"Tom Perrotta has made a brand of his ability to discern and dramatize compelling truths about people and places that others may regard as mundane. ... As in his novels, Perrotta tackles issues percolating in popular culture, and in even the lesser stories here, his writing is funny, thoughtful and highly readable." NICK HEALY

seattle Times ***

"The dark humor that Perrotta weaves through much of his work is mostly

absent here. ... Strung together, the episodes of misfortune and self-pity pile so high that it's like country music for the suburban set, with 'my wife left me and took the truck and dog' replaced with 'I've got a master's degree in history but that doesn't bring me satisfaction.'" KEN ARMSTRONG

NPR Books ***

"While there are no duds in Nine Inches, when read one after another, the stories bleed together. . With less humor than in his earlier books, the ray of light in Perrotta's new stories comes from his characters' belated recognition of their foibles and failures, and their earnest and quintessentially American yearning to do better." HELLER MCALPIN


Once again, "the Steinbeck of suburbia" excels at exploring quirky hometown complications and adolescent angst. There are no big surprises here, just truths emerging quietly. Many of the conflicts are, at root, about manners and social status. Even Perrotta's unlikable characters are portrayed without judgment, and his simple style fades into the background. "The Smile on Happy Chang's Face," about a homosexual boy's relationship with his father, may be the standout in this collection. Still, the book is not without its flaws; some weaker tales are unrealistic and predictable. Moreover, read one after the other, the stories blend into one-making this collection, according to the NPR critic, "oddly weaker than its individual parts."


Quiet Dell

By Jayne Anne Phillips

An acclaimed novelist and short story writer (Lark [and] Termite **** SELECTION Mar/Apr 2009),Jayne Anne Phillips sets much of her fiction-including her latest effort-in her home state of West Virginia. Currently, she directs the MFA program in creative writing at Rutgers University,Newark. Quiet Dell is based on events that happened in West Virginia in 1931.

THE STORY: In 1931, poverty-strick-en Asta Eicher meets the charming Harry Powers through a lonely heartsad. He swiftly woos the desperate widow and convinces her to move from suburban Chicago to rural Quiet Dell, West Virginia. But Powers, a con man and serial predator, murders Asta and her three children: brain-damaged Grethe, stoic Hart, and dreamy An-nabel. When the crime is discovered, a media frenzy ensues. Chicago Tribunereporter Emily Thornhill, who is dispatched to cover the case, quickly becomes enmeshed in the investigation. Modern and independent, Emily wants justice for the Eichers as well as to challenge "the notion that a bad end awaited women who responded to invitation.

"Scribner. 464 pages. $28.00. ISBN:


Chicago Tribune ****

"Phillips gently builds the novel's opening mood of doom as it introduces Asta Eicher, a genteel Chicagoan widowed by her husband's likely suicide,and her son and two daughters. .[She] has carefully inserted imagined private moments and just a few fictional characters to create a story both splendid and irreparably sad." CELIA MCGEE

Oregonian ****

"Much has been made-beginning with the publisher's synopsis-of the story's ghastly underpinnings, but the most accurate considerations of this book will avoid fixation on the macabre, for despite the novel's appropriately chilling account of abduction early on, it is one of the miracles of Phillips' treatment that Quiet Dell's overriding quality is warmth. Here as in all her prior work, the mysterious relationships between impermanence, memory, and imaginative consciousness are Phillips' motivating concerns." M. ALLEN CUNNINGHAM

Tampa Bay Times ****

"Jayne Anne Phillips' new novel, Quiet Dell, is based upon a real-life mass murder, but it's not like any true crime book you've ever read, nor much like the average whodunit. . The family's deaths come to seem a dark and mysterious fate as Phillips subtly brings otherworldy elements into the novel."


Minneapolis star Tribune ****

"Phillips gives Powers' reckoning life and spark, but she makes some questionable decisions as well. Emily takes on a homeless boy as an assistant and ward (redemption arc, coming through!), and little Annabel returns in interludes that are appropriately ethereal ... but too thin to achieve their intended chilling effect." MARK ATHITAKIS

Boston Globe ***

"Piecing together history and fiction, [Phillips] creates an elaborate synthesis, combining imagined details with primary documents; characters pieced from research with characters cut from whole cloth; and gritty points of fact with mystical glimpses of the afterlife. ... She wisely refrains from depicting the actual murders and steers clear of titillating or prurient reconstructions."


Cleveland Plain Dealer ***

"Phillips' research is exhaustive, her pages supplemented with actual newspaper accounts and even photos. ... Yet the story would almost certainly have been more compelling had she chosen to tell it as either nonfiction or a purer piece of fiction." TRICIA SPRINGSTUBB

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The Luminaries

By Eleanor Catton

New Zealander Eleanor Catton wrote her first novel, The Rehearsal, when she was 22. With A J The Luminaries, she became the youngest-ever winner (at just 28) of the Man Booker Prize 1 in October 2013. Her book also earned the distinction of longest-ever winner, at over 800 pages.

THE STORY: set during New Zealand's gold rush, The Luminaries begins with a prospector hoping to make his fortune stumbling into a clandestine conference. Twelve gentlemen-including two Chinamen and a Maori-have convened to discuss the peculiar events surrounding January 14, 1866. On that day a genial young miner disappeared; a prostitute succumbed to opium; and a hermit's corpse was discovered alongside a fortune in gold bars and an unsigned, half-burned will.Rich in astrological references and bearing an intriguingly cyclical structure, the novel simultaneously weaves an intricate plot and questions the very nature of narrative.

Little, Brown. 848 pages. $27. ISBN: 9780316074315

Milwaukee Jrnl sentinel *****

"There's a postmodern wink in all of this: for all the language and characters in the impeccably paced and executed opening section, there's ultimately more truth to be found in the novel's moving, closing coda. ... Call me victorian for saying so, but Catton's supremely entertaining novel is a stirring reminder that what we were told when young really is true: Reading can make us better people." MIKE FISCHER *****

"But if [Wilkie] Collins' novels are rich in reversals and twists, Catton's is a veritable Gothic cathedral of plot, so complex and intricate that most readers will find themselves doubling back to make sure they've got it all straight. ... There will surely be buffs who will devote themselves to mapping the elaborate system of astronomical correspondences shaping the novel, but that's not really required to enjoy it." LAURA MILLER

Telegraph (UK) *****

"Catton is completely in control of all the bustling, brawling plot lines of 'this very circular affair,' as if they really were determined by the astrological patterns she playfully invokes. ... Just as the market seems saturated with victoriana, along comes Catton and proves herself as entertaining a mistress of plot and pacing as Sarah Waters." LUCY DANIEL

Guardian (UK) ****

"[W]hile she has set herself ... arcane formal constraints, much of the novel's appeal lies in the fact that it is a compulsive thriller. ... And yet the reason the judges gave the prize to Catton, rather than to either of the two other serious contenders ... must be for its investigation into what a novel is, and can be."JUSTINE JORDAN

Washington Post ****

"She has created an erudite, omniscient 19th-century sort of narrator. ... The result is a finely wrought fun house of a novel."CHRis BOHJALIAN

Financial Times (UK) ***

"I finished the novel acknowledging enormous talent but feeling the demands made on time and attention offered insufficient human or intellectual return. There is also the problem that such a conventional 'story' requires a conventional rounding off and bowing out; but so many hares, false and real, have been set running, no tidy resolution is possible, and The Luminaries tails off in a tangle of loose ends." CK STEAD

New York Times ***

"There are readers who will be fascinated by the structure and ambiguities of The Luminaries. But by and large, it's a critic's nightmare." JANET MASLIN


The Luminaries is a rollicking mystery and an utterly convincing Victorian pastiche that echoes the style of Charles Dickens or Wilkie Collins. And "[t]here's enough plot here to fill four novels," notes the critic. Although the book can be enjoyed simply on the level of its 19th-century sensational plot (onto which Catton piles extra, postmodern complications), it will also reward those interested in complex astronomical puzzles. The motley group of masterfully drawn characters recalls the works of Henry James or George Eliot, although there's no central character for readers to latch onto. In addition to plotting and narrative trickery, dialogue and humor are particular strengths. All the same, the novel's verbosity, slow pace, and repetitive structure can grow tedious. At times contrived, The Luminaries may engage the brain but not the heart.


The murder of Asta Eicher and her children has fascinated Jayne Anne Phillips for years; she even made brief reference to the event in her debut novel, Machine Dreams. Quiet Dell digs deeper into the shocking crime,with mixed results. The beginning of this "peculiar" (Cleveland Plain Dealer) book is striking and poetic, as Phillips explores the circumstances that led Asta to trust her fate to a man she had met only through letters. But she stumbles when the focus shifts to the fallout from Powers's crimes. Would-be heroine (and fictional creation) Emily Thornhill is simply too perfect-her "valor ... is unalloyed from beginning to end" (Boston Globe), and she serves as a plot device rather than as a flesh- and-blood character. Nonetheless, Phillips's extensive research and literary skill have produced a novel that rises above the typical crime thriller.


The Signature of All Things

Elizabeth Gilbert

Elizabeth Gilbert was a journalist and short story writer before she tried her hand at longer fiction and nonfiction,including her 2006 memoir Eat, Pray,Love: One Woman's Search for Everything Across Italy, India,and Indonesia (*** May/June 2006),which sold over 10 million copies, and Committed: A Skeptic Makes Peace with Marriage (*** Mar/Apr 2010). She lives in New Jersey with her husband.

THE STORY: The first half of the 19th century, the age of Darwin, was an exciting time for scientific knowledge.It was also a time of limited freedom for women. Brilliant, botany-obsessed Alma Whittaker, whose extensive education and forthright personality help her build a scholarly career but also make her an oddity in Philadelphia society, comes of age in this milieu.Her father, a businessman made rich by pharmaceuticals, provides for her,but Alma nonetheless goes through life mostly unloved and alone as she studies the flora of her home estate and ponders questions of romance and desire that have eluded her. In her forties,she falls for a penniless intellectual,and when forces beyond their control separate the lovers, Alma's heartbroken confusion leads her on a journey far from home-a soul-seeking quest to make sense of her world.

Viking. 512 pages. $28.95. ISBN: 9780670024858

Minneapolis star Tribune ****

"In language as lovely as the horticultural marvels she so picaresquely describes, Gilbert's The Signature of All Things will take root in the imagination of its readers. It's a joyous reminder of the unlimited paths we're offered in life." CAROL MEMMOTT

Washington Post****

"There are moments of jarring prose, of nonsensical leaps, of characters going places you doubt they would ever go. But there are far more moments of transcendence, of Gilbert reaching-with absolute confidence-for a higher sphere." MARIE ARANA

Denver Post ****

"I'll admit it: I never did read Eat, Pray, Love. But as my first real introduction to Elizabeth Gilbert, The Signature of All Things is a captivating hello." TUCKER SHAW

New York Times ****

"Plausibility grows scarce during the book's second half. But Ms. Gilbert's wanderlust gets a chance to flourish. So does the love of knowledge that animates all of The Signature of All Things." JANET MASLIN

Los Angeles Times ***

"Clearly an ambitious project, The Signature of All Things is successful on many fronts, if not all. That's all right-the most interesting writers, just like scientists, learn by experimentation."


USA Today ***

"only twice in her long life does Alma find herself truly connected in a way that gives her emotional satisfaction. The bulk of her story is a bit like the moss she studies: expansive but dense, admirable but requiring an effort of will to find compelling." MARTHA T. MOORE


Though Gilbert is an accomplished fiction writer-her story collection Pilgrims (1997) was a PEN/Hemingway finalist, and her novel Stern Men (2000) was a New York Times Notable Book-critics have compared her latest novel not to her previous fiction but to Eat, Pray, Love. Acknowledging parallels between Gilbert's journey in that memoir and Alma's journey in The Signature of All Things, USA Today reminds readers not to see them as similar books, for they have different set tings and cultural expectations. Indeed, setting is everything for this sweeping novel: for Alma, who is like "Darwin's female counterpart at a time when female counterparts did not draw much public attention" (New York Times); for her family, acquaintances, and lovers, who are vivid enough to "make novels in themselves" (USA Today); and for Gilbert's prose, which tries with varying degrees of success to evoke "[a] Dickens here, a Bronte there" (Denver Post). Gilbert's latest celebrates the wonder of learning about life and love in an era of discovery.


We Are Water

By Wally Lamb

Wally Lamb is the author of the best-selling novels She's Come Undone (1992), I Know This Much is True (1998), and The Hour I First Believed (**** Jan/Feb 2009).

THE STORY: After 27 years of marriage, artist Anna Oh is leaving to marry Viveca, her art dealer and advocate. Her ex-husband, Orion, is a psychologist forced into early retirement after sexual harassment charges. The novel traces Anna and Orion's relation-ship from courtship to the aftermath of their divorce. Lamb alternates the family members' voices, including the Ohs' children-Ariane, who has given up on love and undergone artificial insemination, Andrew, a born-again Christian in the military, and Marissa,an alcoholic actress-to let readers in on dark family secrets. Tragedy, homophobia, and racial violence saturate the novel, but hopeful themes recur from Lamb's previous novels, including the resilience of the human spirit and courage in the face of suffering.

Harper. 576 pages. $29.99. ISBN:


Miami Herald ****

"Lamb allows each of the ohs to weigh in on the past and present, and their voices are distinct and true. ... We Are Water ends on a hopeful note, maybe not with a perfectly happy ending but one that makes sense." CONNIE OGLE

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The People in the Trees

By Hanya Yanagihara

Hanya Yanagihara is an editor with Conde Nast Traveler. The People in the Trees is her debut novel.

THE STORY: In 1950, Norton Perina, a recent graduate of Harvard Medical school, traveled with an anthropological expedition to the remote Micronesian island Ivu'ivu in search of a lost tribe. The team soon tracked the tribe down and made a miraculous discovery:though exceedingly senile, its elderly members lived for hundreds of years. Convinced this longevity stemmed from the ritual consumption of a rare local turtle, Perina smuggled some of the meat back to the United states for testing. Convicted of molesting a child many years later, a smug, unrepentant Perina dictates this memoir to his assistant from prison, recounting his scientific breakthrough and its devastating consequences for Ivu'ivu. "I did what any scientist would have done."

Doubleday. 384 pages. $26.95. ISBN: 9780385536776

Boston Globe ****

"A work of medical science fiction involving magic turtle meat, pedophilia, a not particularly likable main character,and a convoluted structure-two unreliable narrators-might sound unpromising. But Yanagihara, an editor with Conde Nast Traveler, is like a chef who manages to whip up a divine dish from an unlikely combination of ingredients. Her storytelling is masterful." SUZANNE KOVEN

Chicago Tribune ****

"[The novel] provokes discussions about science, morality and our obsession with youth. But it's also a deeply satisfying adventure story with a horrifying conclusion." CAROL MEMMOTT

Minneapolis star Tribune ****

"Perina's story elicits questions about the practice of science,its responsibilities and its goals; in a footnote, [his assistant]writes, 'To be a scientist is to learn to live all one's life with questions that will never be answered ... with the anguish of not having been able to guess at the solution that, once presented, seems so obvious.' Too, Yanagihara asks what we want the scientist to be. Can Perina be a great mind without being a great-or even a good-man?" ANNA PERLEBERG ANDERSEN

NY Times Book Review ****

"It is exhaustingly inventive and almost defiant in its refusal to offer redemption or solace-but that is arguably one of its virtues. This is perhaps less a novel to love than to admire for its sheer audacity. As for Yanagihara, she is a writer to marvel at." CARMELA CIURARU

san Francisco Chronicle ****

"In Perina, Yanagihara has created a perverse and spellbinding narrator endowed with a verbal facility that is, at its best, reminiscent of Humbert Humbert's. It is her improbable achievement to render this monster not just tolerable but even fleetingly charming." THOMAS CHATTERTON WILLIAMS

Toronto star (Canada) ****

"The People in the Trees is a novel that pulses with big ideas about moral relativism and human desire and greed. ... Through it all, Yanagihara's transformative prose is so utterly beautiful in its composition that the horrors of the world she portrays become instead moments of wonder." JASON BEERMAN


Based loosely on the true-to-life story of Dr. D. Carleton Gajdusek, a Nobel Prize-winning physician and medical researcher, Yanagihara's multilayered and immensely ambitious debut novel entertains readers with "elements of fantasy, horror, and Indiana Jones-like adventure (Chicago Tribune) while challenging them with one of the most despicable protagonists in recent memory. "Thanks to her rich, masterly prose" (New York Times Book Review) and storytelling skills, she renders Perina fascinating, if not likable, and her lush descriptions of Ivu'ivu are rich with exotic detail. Yanagihara also takes on big questions about morality, science, colonialism, environmentalist!, and Western civilization's conviction that, when it comes to progress, the end justifies the means. An "audacious, beautifully wrought tragedy of Nabokovian proportions" (Toronto Star), The People in the Trees will leave readers enthralled and unnerved.

Minneapolis star Tribune ****

"one can almost imagine this being the perfect plot for a politically correct 21st-century romantic comedy of manners. ... In his singularly perceptive voice, Lamb immerses his characters and the novel's readers in powerful moments of hope and redemption and shocking descriptions of violence and abuse."


USA Today ****

"Lamb has always shown an uncanny ability to inhabit the skin and psyches of his characters, no matter the age or gender. . Art's power to provoke is a theme that wends its way through We Are Water." PATTY RHULE

Entertainment Weekly ****

"He uses multiple narrative voices with varying degrees of success (reading the point of view of a pedophile is more than a little uncomfortable). Yet despite its occasional unevenness, this family saga is hard to put down." SARA VILKOMERSON

st. Louis Post-Dispatch ****

"To many readers, a novel succeeds when the characters are flawed but likable-much like Annie and orion oh, who are the heart and soul of Wally Lamb's newest book. . Lamb picks up the pieces and weaves them back together in a way that leaves readers feeling they are pushing away from the table satisfied-but not stuffed." AMANDA ST. AMAND

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Washington Post ***

"But despite its vast registry of topical troubles, We Are Water still feels like something borrowed, something blue. ... [M]ost of the novel is burdened with inconsequential detail-usually conveyed by banal voices that are too knowing and irony-free." RON CHARLES


Lamb's novels have been Oprah book club favorites, beloved for story lines of hope emerging from trauma. In We Are Water, a commentary on Obamaera America, Lamb addresses heavy themes, including gay marriage-only recently legalized in his home state, Connecticut-and racism, through the story of a murdered African American artist. As with Lamb's other books, the title makes a musical reference, in this case to a Patty Griffin tune. However, the focus on up-to-the-minute issues and canny pop culture references cannot mask what the Washington Post critic calls "a dearth of immediacy and subtlety." Although compassionate, the novel is diluted by flashbacks and rhetorical questions, and its multiple voices are variably successful.


Traveling Sprinkler

By Nicholson Baker

Nicholson Baker has written 10 novels and several works of nonfiction,including Double Fold: Libraries and the Assault on Paper, which won the National Book Critics Circle Award in 2001. Traveling Sprinkler is a sequel to his novel The

Anthologist (**** Nov/Dec 2009).

THE STORY: In The Anthologist, Paul Chowder, a middle-aged, down-on-his-luck poet, struggles to write the introduction to an anthology. Here, Paul has finished the anthology (and it is selling well, to his surprise), but now he has come down with a case of writer's block. He's also struggling to accept the end of his relationship with his ex-girlfriend Roz. In an effort to win her back, Paul turns from poetry to songwriting. As he attempts to compose the song that will rekindle Roz's affection, Paul meditates on a range of subjects-from pop music and politics to cigars and the traveling sprinkler of the novel's title.

Blue Rider Press. 304 pages. $26.95. ISBN: 9780399160967

Minneapolis star Tribune ****

"In Traveling Sprinkler, as in its predecessor, plot is largely submerged by Chowder's thought loops: his fascinating speculations about composers and performers, his anti-government diatribes, his efforts to find lyrics that work. What gives the new novel forward motion, however, is Chowder's longing to be reunited with Roz, his former lover, who grew tired of his inactivity and left him." TOM ZELMAN

Boston Globe ****

"As for the traveling sprinkler, it isn't until near the book's end that Chowder lets us in on the nature of this ingenious, self-propelled instrument, 'a heavy slow-motion, techno-dance-trance device' that he employs to water a neighbor's tomatoes. It is also, as the title suggests, an image of how the novel works." WILLIAM PRITCHARD

Tampa Bay Tribune ****

"There's a narrative arc to this book, to be sure-it turns out to be a love story. But the real point is the language. Although Paul protests that 'I come from a long line of extremely minor poets,' he builds his narrative with vivid imagery, unexpected juxtapositions and fresh metaphors." COLETTE BANCROFT

NPR ***

"The good news about Baker's tenth novel is that it marks the return of Paul Chowder, the wacky, winning, lonely poet of minor renown who narrated Baker's 2009 novel, The Anthologist, an impassioned paean to rhyme, meter, and personality. The bad news is that Chowder is less entertaining on his new obsession, music, and borderline tiresome with his political rants." HELLER MCALPIN

New York Times ***

"Traveling Sprinkler, for all its felicities, is B-grade Baker. . It's his most aimless and least realized novel. At one point, Paul falls asleep while narrating it, and we sympathize. Poor guy. Poor us."


Washington Post ***

"Among writers today, Baker is our most genial obsessive. He'll take any topic-here, songwriting but also predator drones, cigar smoking and the sprinkler mentioned in the title-and follow it down the rabbit hole in such a delightful way that you sometimes forget that you're not really reading what most people would call a novel." DAVID KIRBY


Since his debut novel Mezzanine (1988)-about a man riding an escalator on his lunch break-Baker has never failed to inspire strong opinions. Reviewers either embrace his ingenious eye for detail or become exasperated by his wandering, digressive prose. Traveling Sprinkler is similarly divisive. Baker's wordplay is witty, and he has a knack for capturing the minutiae of everyday life, but "the ingredients don't really come together" (Washington Post) in this loose, nearly plotless novel. Some reviewers were turned off by the narrator's political rants; others criticized Paul's songs, which are "mostly not good in a mortifying way" (New York Times). (Baker's knowledge of music, however, is indisputable.) But those who warm to Baker's unique voice will likely find something to enjoy here.

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The valley of Amazement

By Amy Tan

Since the success of her first book, The Joy Luck Club, in 1989, Amy Tan has been an influential writer of Asian and American lives,especially of the bonds between mothers and daughters across generations.

THE STORY: Half-Chinese Violet Minturn grows up in Shanghai in the early 1900s, observing the goings-on of the "courtesan house" run by her American mother, Lulu. A world-weary businesswoman, but still too trusting, Violet's mother is tricked by a shifty lover who promises to help Violet join her on a ship back to San Francisco but instead kidnaps the girl and sells her into high-end prostitution. Separated from her mother and forced into the grueling realities of the world she once observed impassively, 14-year-old Violet suffers even more abuses than Lulu did before her.Violet's victimization and increasingly conflicted sense of sex, romance,motherhood, cultural identity, and freedom make each day a struggle to live-and, hardest of all, to discover herself.

Ecco. 608 pages. $29.99. ISBN: 9780062107312

NY Times Book Review ****

"Written in Tan's characteristically economical and matter-of-fact style,The Valley of Amazement is filled with memorably idiosyncratic characters. ...Here are strong women struggling to survive all that life has to throw at them,created by a writer skilled at evoking the roil of emotions and mad exploits they experience when they follow theirhearts." LESLEY DOWNER

NPR ****

"I read The Valley of Amazement quickly,intrigued by the concentric tales. It'sakin to her earlier work, yet more sophisticated, and a fine reminder that Amy Tan is herself a master of illusion, and one of the best storytellers around."


Minneapolis star Tribune ****

"[Tan] takes readers across sweeping vistas of landscape and time (from a bustling Shanghai to a remote Chinese village) and into scenes of domestic detail (the needlework of a frog clasp, the machinations of courtship and sex). ... Although the novel bogs down in the middle with disproportionate description of life as a courtesan, it mostly clips along as characters travel a collision course toward each other." CHRISTINE BRUNKHORST

Kansas City star ***

"The Valley of Amazement succeeds in its parts better than in its whole. . But given the complexities of courtesan culture, and the cultural changes in China from 1905-1939, Tan has many strands to weave." JEFFREY ANN GOUDIE

Cleveland Plain Dealer ***

"Loss and pain stalk every page of this novel, and at over 600 pages, it's hard not to get a bit numb. ... The novel, after taking its time over hundreds of pages, ends in a rush of action and information." TRICIA SPRINGSTUBB

Washington Post ***

"Even as violet unveils this exotic world for us, she's consumed with her own identity, the discovery of her true self, which becomes the story's central, somewhat facile concern. ... The Valley of Amazement is never dull-there's far too much sex, suffering and intrigue for that-but it's wearisome." RON CHARLES


No one was completely sure how to evaluate this ambitious novel by a writer who has produced little over the past eight years. Most critics called it "sweeping," which it certainly is, beginning with Violet's childhood and going on to detail her harsh coming-of-age and later existence in China while her mother and daughter live in American cities. Readers will notice that this time Tan is writing not about Chinese mothers and daughters in modern-day America but about white women affected by Chinese society around the end of the Qing dynasty-a new spin that continues Tan's tradition of writing "affecting depictions of mothers and daughters" (New York Times). Unfortunately, it is not told with the concision and organization a tale of this breadth needs. The individual story threads are powerfully emotional, but Tan's attempt to join them into a whole results in a long-winded, lopsided novel.


Bridget Jones

Mad About the Boy

By Helen Fielding

Bridget Jones's Diary (1996) and its sequel, Bridget Jones:The Edge of Reason (2000), loosely based on Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice and Persuasion, respectively,sold more than 15 million copies and were made into two movies, starring Renee Zellweger, Colin Firth, and Hugh Grant.

THE STORY: In Bridget Jones's Diary,Bridget is a 30-something, endearingly insecure and neurotic single woman in London consuming vast quantities of cigarettes and "alcohol units," counting calories, and pining for a steady boyfriend. In its follow-up, Bridget lands her true love, Mark Darcy, but still moans the pitfalls of the "unmarrieds." Alas, the story told here starts several years after Darcy's death in 2008, after he was killed in a peace-keeping mission in Sudan. Fortunately,he has left Bridget, now his 51-year-old, 175-pound widow, with plenty-of money and two children. Unfortunately, Bridget can't seem to jumpstart her love life again. Turning to screen-writing (a modern version of Hedda Gabler, misspelled), Twitter, ridding a house infestation of head lice, and a 29-year-old "toy boy," Bridget tries to right her life, despite the frazzle that always seems to accompany it.

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Tha Rosie Project

By Graeme simsion

Graeme simsion, a former IT consultant and data modeler who lives in Australia, originally wrote The Rosie Project, his best-selling debut novel, as a screenplay. sony Pictures has since optioned the screen rights.

THE STORY: Don Tillman, an accomplished professor of genetics living in Melbourne, has trouble interpreting human behavior. it's not that he's not smart (or good looking, for that matter)-it's that he exhibits characteristics of Asperger's syndrome, although he doesn't quite realize it. Determined to marry,Don, who micromanages every aspect of his life, embarks upon "The Wife Project," a detailed, 16-page questionnaire that, in theory,should identify the appropriate partner. Instead, Rosie Jarman turns up. A smoker and drinker, the charming, edgy student/bartender is,of course, quite unsuitable for a wife. But as Don becomes involved with Rosie's "Father Project," the search for her biological father, he finds that the heart, sometimes, triumphs over the mind.

Simon [and] Schuster. 304 pages. $24. ISBN: 9781476729084

Chicago Tribune ****

"The Rosie Project fits quite comfortably into the romantic comedy genre, and its inspiration, to some extent, comes from the rom-com movies the socially awkward Don studies for clues on how other men woo women. ... And as things usually happen in romantic comedies on screen and in books, the story reverts to screwball high jinks-Don uses underhanded methods to collect DNA samples from dozens of men who could be Rosie's father-and plenty of socially awkward situations in which Rosie comes to the rescue." CAROL MEMMOTT

Entertainment Weekly ****

"It's not surprising that debut novelist Graeme Simsion has a background in science-The Rosie Project, already a success in Australia, seems almost precision-engineered to keep readers turning pages. But unlike its unexpectedly lovable hero, this rom-com is bursting with warmth, emotional depth, and intentional humor." STEPHAN LEE

Guardian (UK) ****

"Whether we become what we are through our genes or through our experiences in life is the old chestnut that this debut novelist tackles with refreshing originality, wit and verve. ... This is far more subtle than two-dimensional comedy, for while we laugh at him, we also come to laugh-and cry-with him, as Simsion skillfully creates empathy for Don and his struggle to empathise." ANITA SETHI

NPR ****

"It's an utterly winning screwball comedy about a brilliant, emotionally challenged geneticist. ... Sharp dialogue, terrific pacing, physical hijinks, slapstick, a couple to root for, and more twists than a pack of Twizzlers-it's no surprise that The Rosie Project is bound for the big screen." HELLER MCALPIN

Washington Post ****

"The hype is justified. Australian Graeme Simsion has written a genuinely funny novel." CHRISTINA IANZITO

independent (UK) ****

"The quirky female as saviour of a lonely male is an infuriating trope in the rom-com genre. . The reader is in a privileged position, able to see Don's faux pas when he doesn't, but also has a huge amount of affection for the character, whose dispassionate view of illogical social norms is captured with snort-inducing deadpan accuracy." HOLLY WILLIAMS

NY Times Book Review ***

"The Rosie Project is the kind of Panglossian comedy in which everything is foreordained to work out for the best. That's not a genre that can be dismissed entirely-at least not without sacrificing P. G. Wodehouse, which no one should be prepared to do-but it's one that doesn't comfortably accommodate things like autism spectrum disorders." GABRIEL ROTH


The Rosie Project falls squarely into the romantic comedy genre, and it follows its tropes to a tee. Don's narration-"pitch perfect; a precise, formal, geeky tone conveying his rigidly scheduled, rationally detached world-view" (Independent)-recalls that of Mark Haddon's 15-year-old narrator in The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, though this time, we understand the voice of Asperger's from the adult perspective. The novel's message about finding happiness is overly simplistic, and a few critics questioned whether the romantic comedy genre was the appropriate form to accommodate a voice like Don's. Yet most readers won't care. With the novel's endearing characters, humor, and movie-ready pacing, they are in for a treat.

Knopf. 400 pages. $26.95. ISBN: 9780385350860

Economist ***

"The born-again virgin [Bridget] is at times absurd, hackneyed and a bit depressing. Yet beyond the pizza crusts and technological befuddlement lie some universal truths."

Boston Globe ***

"Fielding is still very funny and gives readers some amusing scenes featuring Bridget checking her family for nits, communicating with judgmental mothers at her kids' school (one of whom she calls Nicorette instead of Nicolette), and writing a screenplay based on Hedda Gabler, which she believes is spelled with two B's. ... But this many years later, it's getting harder to accept her long rants about summer outfits and her upper arms. Why hasn't she grown up?" MEREDITH GOLDSTEIN

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London Evening standard **

"Mrs. Darcy's sex life in this book isn't necessarily going to resonate with women who have followed her faithfully from their thirties to their fifties. ... But if Bridget loses readers by dint of the sex it'll be nothing to the numbers she alienates through her money." MELANIE


Telegraph (UK) **

"Bridget, now 51, is not struggling with her happy-ever-after with the wonderful Mark-not battling with the transformation of passion into marriage, which might actually have made a brilliant novel." SARA CROMPTON

Los Angeles Times **

"Raising two young children alone? Coping with the sudden loss of a life partner? These are real problems. Yet in Bridget's diary, they're given equal billing with concerns about her weight and how many minutes she should wait to text that guy back." ANN FRIEDMAN

New York Times *

"The best chick lit is a pleasure, and not even a guilty one. But Bridget's story, in this latest and perhaps last installment, is beginning to sound like historical fiction." JANET MASLIN

Washington Post *

"Instead of placing Bridget in an entirely new situation that might have afforded her added depth, the author has turned her into a singleton again. Despite the addition of children, this seems like a Bridget Jones story we've already read, two times before, and that, for all its references to tweeting and texting, seems out of touch with the current moment." JEN CHANEY

Guardian (UK) J

"Digested read, digested: Bridget's arrested development." JOHN CRACE


A better third novel in this series, critics agreed, might have explored Bridget's difficult transition from singledom to marriage. Instead, Fielding kills off Mark (no spoilers there), and reduces the once beloved, flawed Bridget to a character most fans won't be able to relate to. Simply, despite the profound loss of her husband and responsibilities of motherhood, Bridget hasn't grown up very much. Although she was made for the era of social media, Bridget, with all her tweeting and resulting sex, comes off as foolish and narcissistic instead of funny. The light touch that endeared readers to the Bridget of the past seems somehow wrong here, despite some comic set pieces. The last third of the novel, when Bridget starts to act her age, slightly redeems the book. But, notes the Telegraph, "as Bridget might say, v. disappointing."




Critical Mass

By sara Paretsky

Crime writer Sara Paretsky's gritty Chicago private investigator V. I.(Victoria Iphegenia)Warshawski first appeared in Indemnity Only (1982). Critical Mass is the 17th novel in the series, after Breakdown

(**** Mar/Apr 2012).

THE STORY: V. I. (Vic) Warshawki goes to a crack house to visit a des-perate junkie who has contacted the detective's close friend, Viennese-born surgeon Lotty Herschel. However, this woman and her estranged son, a brilliant computer techie who works for a top-secret nuclear research company and lives with his grandmother, Kitty Binder, have disappeared. Vic then discovers the dead body of a meth dealer in a cornfield. Soon, threads start to grow: Kitty knew Lotty in Vienna during World War II, at the start of the race to develop an atomic bomb in Germany before the Allies could, and Kitty's mother, Martina, was a physicist as well. The connections soon turn into a web of lies, secrets, and tangled histories.

Penguin. 480 pages. $26.95. ISBN: 9780399160561

Milwaukee Jrnl sentinel ****

"I think [Critical Mass] is her most accomplished work to date. . The novel leaves readers thoroughly entertained and with a deeper understanding of the role of the many long-ignored women who helped shape the sciences and whose discoveries have translated into technology that we take for granted."


st. Louis Post-Dispatch ****

"There's plenty of action, along with Paretsky's usual dry humor. ... With entombments, solved mysteries, loose ends neatly tied, good writing and a little bit of love, Critical Mass is a thoroughly satisfying read." SARAH BRYAN MILLER

Tampa Bay Times ****

"Unlike some crime fiction writers who put their series characters through the same kind of case over and over, Paretsky always explores new ground. ... The plot is a devilishly convoluted one, but the author is always in control."


Pittsburgh Post-Gazette ****

"There are Ms. Paretsky's usual colorful characters, not just the regulars who reappear from novel to novel in the superb series, but the array of figures whom v. I. tracks down, most of them as unlikable as they are uncooperative. ... The author based the atomic research element on real people and events, which she explains in a fascinating historical note at the end, although she is careful to say that the details of plot and character are entirely fictitious."



"The mystery . is the less important element" in Critical Mass. "The social and political ideas, often in a backstory, are what count the most" (Pittsburgh Post-Gazette). Certainly, the novel's exploration of atomic scientists and nuclear fission research on both the Allied and Axis sides during World War II, as well as the role of women in the sciences at that time, are provocative and educational. As the chapters switch between Vic's and Martina's stories, one in the present and the other in the past, the tension mounts. But lest readers fear there isn't enough of a mystery or a heroine to propel them forward, they'd be mistaken. V. I. is a charismatic heroine, as compelling as any hard-boiled male, and "fresh and believable" (Tampa Bay Times). For both her characters and her weighty subjects, then, Paretsky is always worth a read.

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The Double

By George Pelecanos

George Pelecanos, best-selling crime writer and a creative force for hit television shows The Wire and Treme, has been a steady guide through nearly 20 novels in as many years, including The Big Blowdown (1996), Soul Circus (2003), and The Night Gardener (**** SELECTION Nov/Dec 2006). In The Double, Pelecanos reprises private investigator Spero Lucas (The Cut **** Nov/Dec 2011),who has gone in search of a missing painting.

THE STORY: In the nation's capital,Grace Kincaid hires private investigator Spero Lucas to recover The Double,a valuable painting taken by herunstable boyfriend, Billy Hunter. An ex-Marine who "who'd left his youth in the Middle East and come back looking for a replication of what he had experienced there every day[,] a sense of purpose and heightened sensation,"Lucas takes on the case (as well as a couple of others), all the while juggling a relationship with a married woman he meets in a bar. Women like Lucas,and he never shies away from trouble-a dangerous combination when the trail leads to an Internet scam and a criminal with nothing to lose.Little, Brown. 304 pages. $26. ISBN:


Houston Chronicle ****

"A strength of this novel is Lucas' relationships with other veterans, the patriots who are willing to fight for us. ... Pelecanos has been a popular crime novelist for a couple of decades, and fans will be eager to see where he takes Lucas next." CONRAD BIBENS

Los Angeles Times ****

"It's a lot for a crime novel-any novel-to get into, but Pelecanos pulls it off because he understands that story is just a frame. More important, where we find connection, is the inner life of the characters, their struggles and their failings, their small solaces and their mistakes." DAVID L. ULIN

Washington Post ****

"[The novel's] prose is no-nonsense, its plot is agreeably labyrinthine, and its characters are people one immediately recognizes and likes-or, in a few cases, actively dislikes. But like them or hate them, they all seem real, which has been Pelecanos's stock in trade through the 19 books he's published to date."


USA Today ****

"Pelecanos' signature moves are on display in The Double: pungent, funny dialogue (especially guys jawing about women), believable black-and-white friendships (Spero's fellow vets are just a call away), outstanding scene-setting (Pelecanos' nation's capital, and nearby PG County, are gritty and real). ... But for my money, The Double is less edgy and visceral than Pelecanos' explosively violent earlier work." JOCELYN MCCLURG


George Pelecanos has been favorably compared to Dennis Lehane and Michael Connelly (among others-the latest effort gives a nod to crime legends Charles Willeford and John D. MacDonald), and rightfully so. Over two decades, expert pacing and an eye for character ensured the consistent success of three series-Nick Stefanos, D.C. Quartet, and Derek Strange and Terry Quinn-and a handful of stand-alone novels. Now, military veteran Spero Lucas embodies the author's ambivalence toward his native Washington, D.C. The PI as war veteran is an interesting idea, which enables Pelecanos to dig deep into his characters psychology, and the author's trademark wit is on display. Although The Double doesn't reach the frantic action and violent crescendo of many of the earlier efforts, Pelecanos develops Lucas with an eye toward a long-and no doubt, successful-future.



A James Bond Novel

By William Boyd

William Boyd's fiction includes numerous novels and short story collections, and he has written compellingly about Africa in much of his previous work, including A Good Man in Africa (1981), The Edges of the Great War (1982), and Brazzaville Beach (1990). In Solo, Boyd sends superspy James Bond on a mission to neutralize the rebel leader in an African civil war.

THE STORY: In 1969, British super-spy James Bond becomes involved in the messy details of an African civil war fought in (the fictional) Zanzarim for "a vast, apparently limitless, subter-ranean ocean of oil." The geopolitical implications are clear. But Bond soldiers on, tasked by his boss, M, with the assassination of Brigadier Solomon Akeda, "the African Napoleon," whose charismatic leadership threatens imperial interests in the region. "As his surroundings had grown more primitive and elemental, so, it seemed, whatever strength, capability and powers he possessed appeared more insubstantial and weak," Bond observes as he questions his role in the conflict. "What was it about Africa that unmanned you so?" The end is never the end, though, and Bond goes solo to discover the truth hidden from him by his handlers.

Harper. 336 pages. $26.99. ISBN:


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Sycamore Row

By John Grisham

John Grisham became one of the most bank-able crime writers on the planet with his second novel, The Firm (1991). In Sycamore Row, Grisham returns to Clanton, Mississippi,for the sequel to his debut, A Time to Kill (1989).This time, Jake Brigance finds himself in a high-profile case as the executor of a contested will.

THE STORY: In 1988, three years after the explosive trial and his passionate defense of Carl Lee Hailey, Jake Brigance wonders-too late, probably-if the lawyerin' life is for him. Nearing 60, Jake still can't afford the trappings of success that a lifetime of hard work should have given him (and on top of it all, he's alienated some very bad men who want to make his life miserable). When he's chosen to represent the estate of seth Hubbard, a wealthy, cancer-stricken timberman who commits suicide, Jake sees a paycheck on the horizon. But he's brought back to earth by his hard-living mentor, Lucien Wilbanks, who reminds Jake, "Everything is about race in Mississippi." Indeed, Hubbard cut nearly everyone out of his will but his black housekeeper,Lettie Lang, and that doesn't sit well with the rest of the family or a bemused populace.

Doubleday. 464 pages. $28.95. ISBN: 9780385537131

Washington Post ****

"Grisham's return to Clanton is triumphant. Sycamore Row is easily the best of his books that I've read and ranks on my list with Stephen King's 11/22/63 as one of the two most impressive popular novels in recent years." PATRICK ANDERSON

NY Times Book Review ****

"Sycamore Row reminds us that the best legal fiction is written by lawyers-Grisham, Scott Turow (who still practices), Louis Auchincloss, the Michigan judge William Coughlin-but this novel is unavoidably, and thankfully, about far more than just probating a will. ... Grisham went 13 novels before returning to Clanton as a main setting, but he seems now to land there every five books or so, rattling back and forth in time as he sees fit."


Pittsburgh Post-Gazette ****

"There are whispers of Lewis Nordan's iconic Wolf Whistle, a novel about the Emmett Till murder in Mississippi. Both Mr. Grisham and Mr. Nordan capture the flavor of a small Southern town: its reliance on newspaper stories, the resident's natural suspicion of non-locals, plenty of alcohol consumption, a constant choral gossip that is almost a melody, and the pull of a tragic story about race underneath the buzz of ongoing life."


USA Today ****

"Sycamore Row's plot doesn't deviate from [the author's] trusted twists and turns, but it is not a thriller. Grisham still scatters some shocks, but he relies more on the characters' motivations to drive the story." DENNIS MOORE

New York Times ****

"Although Sycamore Row is a bit crude at first, treating Lettie as a long-suffering saint and the Hubbards as racists who neither know or care when they insult her, it snaps into shape as soon as Clantonites realize how high the stakes are in this fight. ... As Sycamore Row finally reaches its trial phase, the author hits his full stride." JANET MASLIN


One mark of a top-notch writer is longevity. With an effort as strong as Sycamore Row more than two dozen books into his career, John Grisham the writer has come to resemble some of the lawyers who inhabit his fiction, grinders with good hearts and clear consciences (more or less) who work hard to ensure the best possible outcome. Grisham's ability to stay consistently at the top of his game places him with the most popular writers working today, including stephen King, Janet Evanovich, and Lee Child. Perhaps more tentative at the outset than Grisham's longtime readers might have expected (revisiting a character a quarter century after his first appearance must require some getting used to), Sycamore Row rushes to a conclusion that confirms Grisham's status as a pro's pro.

Ft. Worth star Telegram *****

"There are magical moments in Solo, the new James Bond-007 novel, in which author William Boyd accomplishes something extraordinary. . Parts of Solo-extensive passages, in fact-feel so authentic that the reader can almost will himself into believing that this is a long-lost manuscript, recently recovered from a secret desk drawer in Fleming's old office in Jamaica, where he wrote the original Bond books in the 1950s and '60s." DAVID MARTINDALE

NY Times Book Review ****

"While in Solo Bond continues to be motivated on some level by what le Carre called 'false patriotism,' Boyd has, by the novel's close, injected a weary disgust into his central character as the full ramifications of realpolitik-the policies that can lead to starved children hiding from the light-become clearer and clearer. . More than half a century on, Boyd proves that there are plenty of pages left in 007's passport and many miles still to fly in first class, a willing stewardess and a martini within reach."


Washington Post ****

"Each of the books in this new series has been distinctive and enjoyable in its own way, but Solo strikes me as perhaps the boldest departure-still demonstrably a Bond novel but also a Boyd one, with richer and deeper concerns coursing right alongside the Flemingesque flourishes that should keep fans satisfied, as well." ART TAYLOR

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New York Times ***

"Mr. Boyd's hero lacks the psychological detail and taut existentialism of Mr. Craig's Bond, and he lacks the tough savoir-faire of Mr. Connery's. . There is little of the original novels' pulpy energy or the movies' inventive fantasies here-not to mention less humor, and no glamour whatsoever." MICHIKO KAKUTANI


Since Ian Fleming's death in 1964, James Bond has been brought to life in fiction by such disparate writers as Kingsley Amis, John Gardner, Raymond Benson, Sebastian Faulks, and Jeffrey Deaver. In his first foray into the long-running series, William Boyd, handpicked by the Fleming estate to write the book, keeps the franchise going strong. This isn't your father's Bond. In Solo, Boyd creates a fresh take on the character-much of it in the vein of Fleming's famous spy, though some of it unrecognizable-and adds his own flourishes while not neglecting to create an especially sadistic villain. The author knows Africa, having grown up there, so his choice of geographic locale for Solo makes sense. Despite a bit of criticism that Boyd has lost sight of the true Bond, one of fiction's favorite spies endures.



An Arkady Renko Novel

By Martin Cruz Smith

The author of three mystery and crime series, as well as a dozen standalones under various pseudonyms, Mar-tin Cruz Smith has built his following his Arkady Renko novels that include Gorky Park (1981), Red Square (1992),Wolves Eat Dogs (2004), and Stalin's Ghost (**** Sept/Oct 2007). Tatiana is Renko's eighth appearance.

THE STORY: When a translator is kidnapped from a Kaliningrad beach,his notebook filled with code from high-level business meetings is discovered by a group of local children. The notebook might be the reason for the murders of Tatiana Petrovna, a journalist despised by the criminal element in Moscow, and Grisha Gregorenko, one of a new class of shady Russian billionaires. Starting with the funerals of both, Senior Investigator for Very Important Cases Arkady Renko takes a run down the rathole of post-Cold War geopolitical corruption. As Renko circles the truth (and is grievously injured by men ostensibly on his own side in the process), he wonders why he continues. "But there was always a reason to stay and a semblance of control," Smith reminds us of Renko's Sisyphean perseverance, "as if a man falling with an anvil in his hands could be said to be in control." Simon [and] Schuster. 304 pages. $25.99. ISBN: 9781439140215

Washington Post *****

"Smith is that uncommon phenomenon: a popular and well-regarded crime novelist who is also a writer of real distinction. ... Taken as a whole, the Arkady Renko series offers something unique in modern literature: an evolving vision of a complex society struggling, often futilely, to rise above the ruins of its own calamitous history." BILL SHEEHAN

NY Times Book Review ****

"In Tatiana, Smith continues the tradition he began at the end of the Brezhnev era with Gorky Park, using Russia as his game board to make geopolitical conspiracy, well ... fun. Tatiana ought to come with a decoder ring so readers who share the author's fondness for brainteasers can try to crack the translator's code on their own." LIESL SCHILLINGER

USA Today ****

"The villains are fairly one-dimensional (even Russian thugs quote Scarface), but it is Arkady, Zhenya and their new loves who matter, and they are realized as clearly as a shot of vodka. ... Smith's depiction of the Soviet Union and Russia through the decades is masterful, capturing 30 years of history with a novelist's flair and a historian's grasp of the essence of an era." PATTY RHULE

Daily Beast ***

"From the first pungent sentence of his new novel Tatiana: 'It was the sort of day that didn't give a damn'-Smith sets up expectations for another monumental clash between Renko's quasi-Byronic complex and the fatalism that infects his fellow citizens and the government. ... Tatiana begins to falter once Renko arrives in Kaliningrad, afflicted by the same malady of Smith's most recent series work: the setup fails to pay off, submerged in convoluted plot twists and a shaky balance between the main storyline and other subplots." SARAH



Martin Cruz Smith has always neatly combined plot and character in novels that move quickly and manage to explore some larger issues. This time, Smith takes on the corruption and instability of contemporary Russia, calling into question the Putin era. In so doing, he reminds readers that he still writes at the top of his game 30 years after Gorky Park became a cause celebre for its spot-on portrayal of a mystery-shrouded Soviet Union. Perhaps because of the complexity of the country's politics and its still uncertain economic future, Smith continues to discover uncharted depths in Renko, who "loves, loathes and understands the country that has broken his heart so often" (Washington Post). After all, in literature, each-Russia and Renko-is incomplete without the other.



By Scott Turow

Scott Turow is ac-claimed for his best-selling first novel,Presumed Innocent (1987), and for more than 10 other books of fiction and nonfiction about lawyers and the law. The fictional Kindle County that serves as the setting for his novels is modeled after his hometown, Chicago.

The Story : In 1982, Dita Kronon,daughter of a powerful Kindle County patriarch, was murdered, and her boyfriend Cass Gianis was locked away for the crime. Now, in 2008, Cass is out of prison, and his twin brother Paul is running for mayor. Hal Kronon, the murdered woman's brother, uses his wealth and influence to have the murder reinvestigated-and accuses Paul Gianis in an attempt to derail his campaign. When Paul foolishly files a defamation suit, the rigorous investigation that follows dredges up a complex personal history of secrets, lies, and scandals inextricably linked to the corruption in Kindle County's politics.

Grand Central Publishing. 384 pages. $28. ISBN:9781455527205

Dallas Morning News ****

Despite occasional bouts of bloviating about today's society, Identical creates a rounded and realistic world for the reader, told in the smart voice of an observer who notices and remembers the foibles and quirks of the contemporary world."Bob Hoover

Los Angeles Times ****

"A compulsively readable tale of love,guilt and revenge that may take its cues from the story of Pollux and Castor and other Greek myths but resonates even more strongly with the near-epic Kindle County narrative Turow has created over some three decades." Paula Woods

NPR ***

"Turow is sharp as ever with dialogue,clever with legal arguments and positioning. But too often, outside the courthouse, the writing is explanatory and flat." Rosecrans Baldwin

Washington Post ***

"Turow knows the law, knows politics,knows Chicago..... He is less convincing when it turns to private matters,especially amatory ones."Jonathan Yardley

Entertainment Weekly ***

"As always, Turow crafts plausible suspects, but he telegraphs thatmoment of seismic bewilderment with an excess of plot tremors. You'll be left nodding your head, not holding it." Jef Labrecque

NY Times Book Review HHJ

"The novel grows more lurid and pulpy as it proceeds, with enough running around and twists to make a soap opera writer blush. ...Soliloquies are uttered by characters whose sudden urge to confess is not wholly explained." Adam Liptak

Critical Summary

Turow's inventive plots, polished dialogue, and thorough grasp of the law, especially in Presumed Innocent, did for the legal thriller what John le Carre did for the spy novel. Such a reputation is hard to maintain, and critics admit they expected more from Turow than what he's delivered in Identical. Though the legal proceedings are as well-written as they were in previous Turow books, this convoluted novel is less successful at building interest and suspense. Its literary allusions, combined with "yards of expository dialogue" that don't clarify the plot's twists and turns, bloat an otherwise "perfectly good thriller's(New York Times Book Review). Although redeemed by a handful of memorable characters, Identical is far from Turow's best work.




Parasite By Mira Grant Northern California urban fantasy author Seanan McGuire uses the pseudonym "Mira Grant" when writing horror. Feed (HHHH Select ion July/Aug 2010), the first novel in the Newsflesh trilogy, was nominated for a Hugo award, and a Parasitology sequel is due in 2014.

The Story : Set in San Francisco in 2027, Parasite imagines a world in which no one suffers from disease, thanks to a genetically modified tapeworm implanted by SymboGen Corporation. These parasites boost the immune system and serve as a delivery method for designer drugs. In a sense, they represent the perfect solution to the problem of universal health care.But they have a dark side, too. A parasite brought Sal Mitchell back from brain death after a car accident, but it also induced amnesia, leaving her with a mental age of six years. Making regular visits to SymboGen, Sal must relearn adult life amid a "sleepwalking pandemic" that starts to seem like no accident.

Orbit. 512 pages. $20. ISBN: 9780316218955

Forbidden Planet (blog) ****

"A medical drama wearing the clinical white lab coat of a near-future science fiction thriller. ...[T]he casual reader might approach this subject matter with a understandable degree of queasiness, but Mira Grant has crafted it into a surprisingly engaging read." Malachy Coney


"Unlike many zombie narratives......Parasite focuses on the cause before the effect has reached its peak.....Scientific explanations, at times, get a little heavy for bedtime reading, but undeniably aid authenticity, making the concept feel unnervingly believable." Rowena Heal

King of the Nerds (blog) ****

"Grant, despite some faltering,definitely manages to up the tension as the novel nears the end..... A refreshing blend of science fiction and horror, Parasite is an entertaining and frequently chilling book that fans [of] horror should definitely give a look."Michael Ferante

NPR ****

"Though technobabble trips off everyone's tongues, Grant is most interested in the ethical implications of that technology, so advanced it really is indistinguishable from magic. .... But as the first of a series, Parasite often feels like groundwork: characters are dutifully introduced, horrors steadily unrolled,and ethical arguments sedately hashed out, so that even increasingly frequent zombie outbreaks can't stir up real urgency." Genevieve Valentine

Bookmarks Selection


Ancillary Justice

By Ann Leckie

In her debut novel, Ann Leckie builds a complex astropolitical framework and introduces Breq, an artificial intelligence at loose ends and dead-set on revenge.

The Story : For a millennium, the artificial intelligence Breq (who narrates the story) controlled the hive mind of the starship Justice of Toren until being fragmented in a treacherous act into a single, ancillary being with a human body. On an icy planet in a distant corner of the galaxy, alone and intensely angry over the outcome-and in possession of information that could vastly alter the galaxy's political landscape-she's directed her considerable fury toward Anaander Mianaai, the manybodied supreme leader of the Radch, the far-future's dominant civilization. Dealing with issues of language, gender, culture, history,and identity, Ancillary Justice is a space opera for a new generation.

Orbit. 416 pages. $15. ISBN: 9780316246620

Book Smugglers *****

"Ancillary Justice is exciting because it is fun as well as clever and makes me want to jump up and down and to hand copies to just about everybody I know. It hits all of my sweet spots too in terms of how the narrative is constructed, in the way that we could question the complete reliability of its narrator, and the thought-provoking topics that it addresses (both directly and indirectly) whilst still being thrilling and easy to read." Ana and THEA

Founding Fields *****

"The plot is clever and complex, with strong prose that doesn't really feel like a debut author at the helm of this. Leckie's worldbuilding is masterful and adopts a slightly different,simple twist on what most books use-the main gender featured here is female." Milo *****

"It's not every day a debut novel by an author you'd never heard of before derails your entire afternoon with its brilliance.....Ancillary Justice is both an immensely fun novel, and a conceptually ambitious one: it has many layers and many levels at which it can be enjoyed." Liz Bourke

io9 ****

"Perhaps one of the most difficult things a writer can do is to stage a mystery from an alien perspective in an alien world.But Leckie has pulled it off, and created a story that's both intellectually rewarding and full of a true sense of wonder."Annalee Newitz

SFX ****

"A sharply written space opera with a richly imagined sense of detail and place, this debut novel from Ann Leckie works as both an evocative SF tale and an involving character study.Heavily reminiscent of the novels of CJ Cherryh, it's also a strongly female-driven piece, tackling ideas about politics and gender in a way that's both engaging and provocative." SAXON BULLOCK

Staffer's Book Review HHHH

Ann Leckie's Ancillary Justice does everything science fiction should do. ...Ancillary Justice might be the best science fiction novel of this very young decade." Justin Landon

Critical Summary

For a first effort, Ann Leckie's Ancillary Justice has been remarkably well-reviewed (try to find a bad word about the book, which has enjoyed viral word-of-mouth since its publication). With nods toward SF legends Ursula LeGuin, Iain M. Banks (particularly the Culture novels), C. J. Cherryh, and Anne McCaffery, Leckie is clearly grounded in SF's rich history of space opera and respectful of its tropes. With a host of original ideas and a breakout character in Breq, the novel has been cited as one of the most accomplished debuts since N. K. Jemesin's bestselling and highly acclaimed The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms (2010). Told in a narrative present (a military thriller!) and past (a story explaining the reason for Breq's quest for vengeance), the novel captivated all readers. Here's hoping the sequel appears soon. ****

"Parasite isn't perfect by any stretch:it's paced strangely, like a vast first act, incredibly exposition-heavy and .......entirely absent an ending..... But the trademark tension that everything's about to go horribly wrong-that the human body is good and ready to rebel-is there from the first, and resoundingly realized before the frustrating break that is Parasite's primary problem."Niall Alexander

Book Smugglers HHH

"Parasite is vintage Mira Grant with the author's trademark witty, zippy dialogue, heavy (and fascinating) medical exposition, and one killer premise......The book is ridiculously similar in structure, tone, and actual story [to] the Newsflesh books (so much so that it feels like a blatant attempt to cash in on that previous series)." Ana Grilo [and] Thea James

Critical Summary

It seems the "hygiene hypothesis"that lack of exposure to parasites suppresses the immune system-might have sometruth to it. Grant's plot is disturbingly realistic, with the epistolary element (journals, articles, and interviews) somewhat making up for a dearth of suspense. Sal is a fairly likable lead, but she is too slow to understand her situation; readers catch on long before she does, and the final twist is clear from a mile away. Though the Big Pharma conspiracy is compelling, Grant does not answer all the big questions she asks. With the novel so obviously set up for a sequel, it does not offer a satisfying ending, though readers will follow along until then more than willingly. Those interested in Sal and her plight will just have to wait.



By Kim Stanley Robinson

The books in science fiction writer Kim Stanley Robinson'S Mars trilogy'Red Mars (1993), Green Mars (1994), and Blue Mars (1996)-won the Hugo, Nebula, and Locus awards, and his recent novel 2312 won the 2012 Nebula Award. Shaman is his 16th novel.

The Story : Thirty thousand years ago, human civilization is surrounded by winter. Tribes hunt game and weather the elements as best they can in their struggle for survival. In this ancient, cold world, a boy named Loon undergoes a rite of passage: cast into the wilderness naked and without provisions, he must endure for several days. Loon survives, and after returning to his tribe, he's recognized as a man and the tribe's future shaman. Under the tutelage of Thorn, the old shaman, Loon comes of age, gains responsibility, and finds a wife. But when his wife is kidnapped by members of another tribe, Loon abandons the routines of his daily life and sets out on a long, perilous mission to bring her back.

NPR ****

"Maybe it's because the world [Robinson] creates feels so authentic and complete, but for several nights running, something happened to me that's never happened to me before, in all the years I've been reading novels. I dreamed I waliving in Loon's world, traveling in the same tribe, along streams and rivers, through forest and over hills in an ancient state of mind."


Tor ****

"What would be unremarkable in the hands of most other authors is instilled instead with a sweep of soaring emotion. . Though rather more modest in its scope and conventional in its concepts than Kim Stanley Robinson's staggering space operas, Shaman tells an ambitious, absorbing and satisfyingly self-contained tale on its own terms."


Guardian (UK) ****

"Shaman is set in an era of human history almost unimaginably different from ours, but Robinson brings it alive through a detailed account of Loon's experiences. This mass of information is often overwhelming and sometimes tedious, but is also absolutely convincing and has an astonishing cumulative potency, hurling us back through 30,000 years into the life of a boy struggling to survive in a bleak and brutal environment."


io9 ****

"Robinson creates a world that has familiar outlines-but resists both cliches and lazy assumptions about prehistoric life. . For those willing to let the story take its own pace, it is at once both strange and familiar and an entirely immersive experience in a whole other world." MICHAEL ANN DOBBS

SF signal ****

"There's a real poetry to Robinson's writing that makes sitting through the first half more bearable. It's an investment, and in the end it's a worthwhile investment: a trip into the past and some of the early stages of human society, filled with imagination and creativity."Ria Bridges

Publishers Weekly ****

"Fans of the author's smooth prose and intense research will find enough of both, but the book is far outclassed by both Robinson's earlier works and other prehistory novels."

Critical Summary

Robinson is an abundantly gifted writer, talented at world building, research, breathing life into compelling characters, and crafting graceful prose. These skills appear at their best in Shaman. Critics were riveted by Loon's physical and mental journeys, liberally sprinkled with scenes of breathtaking beauty in an immersive, convincing world. Outside of these moments, though, the drama is understated, and most of the novel is more portrayal than narrative, "mostly a simple story of day-to-day survival in the Ice Age" (Guardian) rather than a story that follows an identifiable arc. In this regard, readers may wish for a more defined, fast-paced plot. But a vibrant set of characters and friendships, along with a fascinating existence described tastefully by Robinson, make Shaman a rewarding, albeit lengthy, read.



By Brandon Sanderson

Brandon Sanderson is beloved by fantasy readers for his Mistborn series, for his work in completing Robert Jordan's The Wheel of Time (1990-2013), and for his novels The Way of Kings (2010) and The Rithmatist (HHHH Sept/Oct 2013). Steelheart is the first book in the planned Reckoners series.

The Story : When the red star Calamity appeared in the sky, some people inexplicably gained powers:invisibility, flight, foresight, strength.Each of the Epics, as the superhuman individuals are called, has a different ability; all these abilities are used to subjugate those who lack them. In a world that has become a battleground for the powerful, eight-year-old David Charleston witnesses the massacre of dozens of innocents, including his father, by the Epic named Steelheart.David grows up an orphan in Chicago,under Steelheart's rule, and now, at 18,he's set on revenge. He joins the Reckoners,ordinary humans who devote their lives to hunting Epics in hopes of freeing the world from their tyranny.But his quest for vengeance pits him not only against dangerous enemies but also against his own beliefs, loyalties,and doubts.

Delacorte. 400 pages. $18.99. ISBN:9780385743563

Fantasy Book Critic ****

"The setting is compellingly drawn, and Sanderson pays attention to the details that do more than help it feel realistic; they also do double-duty fleshing out characters. . Sanderson deals with most of the problems of physics by hanging a lampshade on them, which worked for me for a while, but eventually I wanted a more concrete answer or for the text to stop drawing attention to the ways physics are only sometimes relevant." CASEY BLAIR

The Founding Fields ****

"I can safely label it as one my favorite books of the year, and it's one that everyone, even people who have never read a Sanderson book before, will have a fun time reading. It's page-turning, awesome and captivating."

The Founding Fields ****

"I can safely label it as one my favorite books of the year, and it's one that everyone, even people who have never read a Sanderson book before, will have a fun time reading. It's page-turning, awesome and captivating."

Hypable ****

"Set in a world that is vivid and complex, this is not a book that seems overwhelming or overly detailed. Sanderson does an excellent job of feeding you information that is necessary in the moment, rather than overloading you right from the beginning." KAREN ROUGHT

io9 ***

"It's a mostly light-hearted adventure, but it's laced with darkness and Sanderson manages to ask some tough

questions about the ethics of deposing a dictator who keeps the peace." CHARLIE JANE ANDERs

strange Horizons ***

"The book's homage to comics is one of its more interesting strengths, but also occasionally a weakness. ... Issues of characterization and narrative voice aside, the story itself manages to be mysterious, tense, and exciting." A. s. MOSER


Sanderson typically writes for adults, so this young adult fantasy, with its shift away from meticulous world building and toward first person characterization, may put off longtime fans who expect a level of logic in the rules of a world and its magic. "A great many of the specifics of this particular post-apocalypse appeared arbitrary," wrote the critic. "There's a certain sense that the author is making it all up as he goes along." But while the world building is less rigorous here than in Sanderson's previous books, it's not by any means poor, and an action-packed plot moves along at breakneck speed. Though not as developed as it might be, the superheroes-as-supervillains premise of the world is an interesting one-which Sanderson deftly manipulates into a story that questions some tropes of comic book narratives. A winning protagonist and well-balanced proportions of darkness, levity, and teen drama make Steelheart an exhilarating read-just not Sanderson's most sophisticated work to date.

The Abominable

By Dan simmons

Dan Simmons, the author of more than 30 books, has won the Bram Stoker Award, the British Science Fiction Award, the Hugo Award, the International Horror Guild Award, the Locus Award, and the World Fantasy Award for his genre-bending books. He is best known for his science fiction series, the Hyperion Cantos, and for the recent novels The Terror (**** SELECTION Mar/Apr 2007) and Drood (**** May/June 2009).

THE STORY: While researching Sir John Franklin's lost arctic expedition for The Terror, fictional novelist Dan Simmons meets veteran explorer and mountaineer Jacob Perry and becomes fascinated by the death-defying tale of Perry's secret climb up Mount Everest in 1925: Lord Percival Bromley has failed to return from his own attempt to scale the mountain, and his mother, Lady Bromley, hires Perry and friends Richard Davis Deacon and Jean-Claude Clairoux to find him. The intrepid trio treks across Europe, learning more about the missing man as they train for their adventure. But, arriving in Tibet, the would-be trackers discover they're being trailed themselves, and they will soon confront more than Mother Nature on Mount Everest.

Little, Brown. 672 pages. $29. ISBN:9780316198837

Barnes [and] Noble Review ****

"What Simmons's book is ultimately all about-besides its corker of a tale about the battle between good and evil, humanism and barbarism, a contest that summons up thoughts of Kipling and London and Stevenson, as well as their homage-paying descendant, Philip Jose Farmer-is the sheer intractable majesty and beauty and unforgiving physics of mountain climbing, especially in opposition to the frailness of the human body. . Simmons-via the easygoing but perceptive voice of Jake Perry-conjures up graphic and vivid mental movies so that the reader feels present through every frostbitten moment." PAUL DI FILIPPO

SFFWorld ****

"It is well enough written to be followed by a non-climber (such as myself) without losing the plot or sheer impossibility of some of the events that are here. . There is no doubt that it is well written, engrossing and exciting,although like The Terror before it, it may be too slow, too involved and complex for some." Mark Yon

Washington Post ****

"Some of the climbs are so vivid I'd swear Simmons has done some mountaineering. But there isn't a hiking maneuver or a piece of hiking gear that Simmons is willing to gloss over. ... And yet with all my carping about the research, I did find myself genuinely affected by the time I finished The Abominable." VICTOR LAVALLE

Chicago Tribune ****

"Simmons keeps the dense, Hitchcockian plot thrumming with derring-do and literal cliffhangers and romance and a cryptozoological MacGuffin. But if there's a clunkier stylist at work in the Yeti fields, I don't want to read him."


"The details and minutiae of mountaineering comprises a great deal of the narrative, to the point where I felt it bogged down what I thought was supposed to be a novel with the feel of a thriller. ... Where the novel does work is in Simmons ability to convey a feel of authenticity to those climbing the mountain and our world in a state of flux between two World Wars." ROBERT H.

A.V. Club ***

"Flashes of a deft, fast-paced thriller appear throughout the novel's 600-plus pages, which only make the rest of it more of a slog than its page count suggests. Simmons' works have always been on the lengthy side, but with The Abominable, he lets his need for historical accuracy obscure good storytelling, filling pages with information that perfectly sets the scene, but destroys any tension he's created." NOAH CRUICKSHANK


"Hundreds of pages trickle by agonisingly slowly before the party even begins the Everest expedition, with all of the characters exchanging lengthy, expository speeches about their mysterious pasts. Perry is the worst of all, a dreary, perennial bystander in his own story." GARETH HUGHES


"You never know what you're going to get with Dan Simmons," observes SCIFINOW. The same could be said of the critics' reactions to this novel. The best-selling author's latest blends history with intrigue and adventure in what could have been a breathtaking read. However, lamented several critics, Simmons lets his research and his penchant for meticulous scene-setting overwhelm the plot. Those with an interest in mountain climbing may not mind the sluggish pace or the exhaustive descriptions of climbing equipment, routines, and techniques (frequently related by characters in long, expository monologues), but others will skim through these pages. "There's a good book somewhere inside Dan Simmons' The Abominable," contends the A.V. Club. Readers will have to decide for themselves whether they're willing to search for it.

young adult



The Coldest Girl in Coldtown

By Holly Black Holly Black is the author of such beloved young adult fantasies as The Spiderwick Chronicles (2003) and Tithe: A Modern Faerie Tale(2002). She also writes short fiction,children's stories, and graphic novels.

THE STORY: Seventeen-year-old Tana awakes after a party and finds her friends dead, drained dry by vampires.The only other survivors are her ex-boyfriend and another mysterious boy,both of whom she manages to rescue just as the attackers return to snack.But Tana is bitten during the escape,leaving her just one choice: to reach a quarantine camp or "Coldtown," to find out if she's become one of the infected "Cold," and, if she has, to survive the disease by resisting the urge to drink blood for 88 days. That done, she'll return to a normal life-if she, her infected ex, and their strange new friend can escape the prisonlike Cold-town. In a violent modern world that merges technology and superstition, fascination and fear, Tana must choose the life she wants for herself while fighting to protect her loved ones.

Little, Brown. 432 pages. $19. ISBN:9780316213103

Boing Boing ****

"Black is a tremendous storyteller who doesn't flinch from difficult subjects, nor does she patronize her readers with simplified language or morals. Her world is filled with tragedy and hope, poetry and blood, and is destined to be a favorite of a generation of smart, weird, awesome kids." CORY DOCTOROW

Book Smugglers ****

"Reading Coldtown took me quite a few years back to that feeling of being utterly and equally horrified and enthralled by a vampire story."

Publishers Weekly ****

"Replete with grisly violence, an intriguingly complex take on the mechanics of vampirism, and well-developed and memorable characters, this superior, dread-soaked tale will satisfy vampire addicts of all ages."

Entertainment Weekly ****

"Don't mistake this for yet another run-of-the-mill vampire thriller; it's a dark, violent, edge-of-your-seat read." BREIA BRISSEY

Teen Librarian Toolbox ****

"Holly Black has created one of the strongest, most realistic, heroines I've ever read. ... Incredibly flawed, she is a character who draws you in and will not let go."

USA Today ****

"This is a YA vampire novel without the cookie-cutter stereotypes." JESSIE POTTS


If your objections to a certain popular vampire franchise include the extreme passivity of its primary female character, then Coldtowns scarred, loyal, courageous Tana may be just what you need. This edgy, angsty, postapocalyptic horror-romance by fan favorite Holly Black met with nothing but enthusiasm from critics, who predict that the fast-paced plot, the fierce protagonist, and the interesting spin on the mechanics and social impact of vampirism will strike readers of vampire fiction as a breath of fresh air. For those who don't like the genre, The Coldest Girl in Coldtown is less likely to be a hit than a miss, but readers with even the slightest interest will be wooed by Black's effective use of "screwed-up adolescence" and a "scary, angry, exciting, and darkly sexy" aesthetic (Boing Boing), grounded in a compelling picture of vampirism as it might look in a connected, surveilled world.



By Todd Strasser

Todd Strasser is the award-winning author of more than 100 children's and young adult novels,as well as short stories and nonfiction works. Fallout is part memoir (Strasser's father built a fallout shelter in the family's backyard when he was 12) and part alternate history.

THE STORY: Strasser, who grew up on Long Island in the 1950s and 1960s,takes readers to the locale of his youth.In his novel, however, the Cuban missile crisis leads to a real crisis in the summer of 1962: the bombing of the United States by the Soviet Union.Alternating between two story lines,the novel explores 11-year-old Scott's "before" and "after." In the after, Scott Porter, his family, and a few unwanted neighbors who have shoved their way in suffer in the Porter's poorly stocked, subterranean fallout shelter. As civility deteriorates, the shelter's inhabitants fight for food, space, and air. In the before sections, Strasser provides the historical context to the crisis: the Cold War, racial violence, Mickey Mantle, and the normal trials and tribulations that a boy Scott's age experiences amid a pervasive fear.

Candlewick. 272 pages. $16.99. ISBN:9780763655341

NY Times Book Review ****

"For all its horror, this is a superb entertainment suitable for any tough-minded kid over the age of 10. ... Strasser, a prolific writer for children and teenagers, writes with purpose and economy and structures his book intelligently: The scenes of prewar life give context and emotional weight to what happens in the shelter. Without the prewar material, the tension and misery of the drama in the shelter might be unbearable." EDWARD LEWINE

Publishers Weekly ****

"The format allows Strasser to have the best of both worlds. . An eye-opening 'what if' scenario about the human response to disaster."

Wall Street Journal ****

"There's not a word out of place in this evocative book, which toggles between the ever-more-dire predicament of the people in the overfilled bunker and the placid neighborhood during the weeks before the crisis. Mr. Strasser's skill at ratcheting up the tension is, if anything, exceeded by his ability to conjure midcentury ways of thinking-and a vanished culture in which aspirational fathers drank Dubonnet, beatniks were a present-tense curiosity, and children were amazed at the very idea of homosexuality."

Voya ****

"All characters feel distinct and believable . and Scott and his friends are completely middle school: some eager to see breasts and drink wine, others not yet there, all with realistic friendship issues. While the lead-up storyline feels somewhat nebulous,lacking a normal story structure and a climax, balancing the storylines through alternating chapters works well." REBECCA


"[A]s I read and suffered along with the characters," noted the New York Times Book Review critic, "I kept thinking how comparatively pleasant it would have been for them to have faced one of those zombie apocalypses screenwriters are so fond of these days." Fallout is definitely not for the faint of heart, even if it doesn't involve zombies (think close quarters, hunger, and fallout from radiation instead). But adolescent readers will certainly learn about the Cuban missile crisis and, with Strasser's evocative details about race relations and family dynamics, the larger era. Although the characters are not terribly complex, the ten-sion of the "before" and "after" swept the critics along; few young adults will find a more engaging, personal view of an (alternate) chapter in history.


The Beginning of Everything

By Robyn Schneider

Robyn Schneider,who studied creative writing at Columbia University,is the author of the Knightley Academy series, written as Violet Haberdasher,and other novels.

The Story : When varsity tennis captain Ezra Faulkner's girlfriend cheats on him and he shatters his knee in a car accident, his life changes. The once popular would-be homecoming king finds himself socially adrift: "Eastwood High used to be mine, the one place where everyone knew who I was and it felt as though I could do no wrong," he says. Forced to make changes to his now imperfect life, Ezra joins the debate team and befriends Cassidy Thorpe, a new student and fellow debater. Attracted to her intelligence and her way of opening his eyes to his new life, they soon become a couple.But with past secrets of her own, their relationship takes a tragic turn, and,with or without her, Ezra is forced to grow as a person.

katherine Tegen Books. 352 pages. $17.99. ISBN:9780062217134

Hypable ****

"It's poignant and heartbreaking,at once both full of hope and full of tragedy.

By the final page, you'll simultaneously be wiping away tears and smiling,knowing that everything happens for a reason and that maybe a tragedy is just the beginning of everything wonderful that can happen in life." Karen Rought

Publishers Weekly ****

"Tension builds as Cassidy's past comes to light, and a shocking climax culminates in an emotional crash to rival Ezra's physical one. Schneider shows remarkable skill at getting inside her narrator's head as his life swings between disaster and recovery.

NY Times Book Review ****

"Set in the suburban Eden of Southern California, The Beginning of Everything is all bright colors and rich detail, from Ezra's gated community of six-bedroom Spanish-style homes to the fireworks exploding over Disneyland when he finally kisses Cassidy on the roof of his car. ...It's an endearing book filled with similarly touching little moments and plenty of snappy dialogue that may not be quite credible-Cassidy drops in casual references to Shakespeare and Foucault-but makes for entertaining reading, anyway."Jonathan Mahler

Voya ****

"The romance between Cassidy and Ezra will make readers swoon because it is wholly realistic-funny, awkward,and sweet....Schneider builds up her characters so brilliantly that readers don't get any real resolution until the last few chapters, and then the book just ends."

Wrapped Up in Books ***

"This novel is like a glossy, magazine spread with a smartly written article about the real trials and tribulations of high school and finding yourself...My biggest problem is with the portrayal of the 'cool' kids as one-dimensional assholes who only care about popularity." Molly Weta


A coming-of-age story, a love story,and a social commentary on those high school years, The Beginning of Every-thing renders, in impeccable detail, the tropes of high school students: the debate team, the parties, the flash mobs,the socially divided cafeteria (popular kids and others). However, the plot is somewhat emotionally predictable and too clever and cute in parts. And though Cassidy is a complex character,others are either too stereotyped or too deeply self-aware. Still, Schneider saves what could have been a hackneyed novel with her witty, believable writing and her depictions of problems that are, above all, relatable to teenagers.



By Veronica Roth

Veronica Roth, a recent graduate of Northwestern University, took young adult dystopian fiction fans by storm with her first novel, Divergent(*** July/Aug 2011), which has since been optioned by Summit Entertainment; Insurgent (**** sept/Oct 2012) followed. Allegiant is the final book in the Divergent Trilogy.

THE STORY: In Divergent, a future dystopian Chicago is divided into five factions-Amity (peace), Candor (honesty), Abnegation (selflessness),Erudite (intelligence), and Dauntless (courage). Beatrice "Tris" Prior, born into Abnegation, left her group to join Dauntless, which better suited her adventurous nature. Insurgent found Tris and her love interest Tobias ("Four") forming a tentative alliance with other faction members in a quest to discover why Erudite attacked Abnegation. In Allegiant, Tris and Tobias conarrate their adventures and attempt to understand their surroundings. As their true love relationship plays out, they venture beyond war-torn Chicago, only to uncover a new network of conspiracies and key revelations about eugenics, authority, and social duty.

Katherine Tegen Books. 544 pages. $19.99. ISBN: 9780062024060

Christian science Monitor ****

"More than a story of faction, love, or politics, Allegiant questions what it really means to be human In other words, do we make our own decisions to live good lives and be good people, or are we subject to genetically predetermined personalities and futures?" KATIE W. BEIM-ESCHE

Los Angeles Times ****

"Roth's intellectual contribution to the literature of dystopia breaks down to a few choice bits: a narrative framework to debate nature vs. nurture, the relative merits of specialization vs. the good old well-rounded student, and yet another kick-ass heroine whose exuberant embrace of life during wartime could either subvert the genre by way of gender, or just put a modern gloss on the same old stories of mercenaries and mayhem. . The biggest shift is that the new book alternates between using Tris and Four as narrator." AMY BENFER

Entertainment Weekly ****

"veronica Roth is no George R. R. Martin-but in the final installment of her Divergent trilogy, she shows a similar merciless streak. ... And the plot, which finds Roth's characters venturing beyond their city's walls only to discover a new network of conspiracies, is straight out of the sci-fi handbook, clumsy racism allegory and all." HILLARY BUsis

Deseret News ***

"one of the book's flaws is how philosophical the main plot became. Roth goes deep into the world of the 'experiments' and the 'genetically disabled' and creates a complex explanation for their existence. . It is also a disappointing way to answer all the cliffhangers at the end of Insurgent." SHELBY SCOFFIELD

A.V. Club **

"There are hints of a thoughtful message about humankind's inclination toward savagery and thirst for power buried in the ceaseless pages of Roth's trilogy. But as constructed for the ravenous YA audience as it is, that message becomes so watered down that it renders Allegiant into just another packaged treat for its target demographic." KEVIN MCFARLAND


Roth's Divergent series has become hugely popular, though comparisons as the "next Hunger Games" haven't fully panned out. (Maybe the movie versions will do the trick.) In Allegiant, Roth alternates between Tris and Tobias's voices; although at times indistinct, this switch finally allows readers inside the latter's head and enables each to explore their family's backstories. The world view, too, is much larger than just Chicago. Other than these generally welcome additions to the series, Allegiant at times disappoints. Some critics identified a forced love story, while others felt that the plot was overly philosophical without actually providing lasting lessons about, say, our proclivity for violence, the functioning of society, or the nature of authority. But Roth's followers will find a fast-paced, entertaining novel with a truly shocking-and gusty-ending.




Double Down

Game Change 2012

By Mark Halperin and John Heilemann

Mark Halperin and John Heilemann's follow-up to the explosive best seller Game Change: Obama and the Clintons, McCain and Palin,and the Race of a Lifetime (2010) tells the inside story of the 2012 presidential campaign and election.

THE TOPIC: The authors' previous collaboration gave the public a look at the dynamic 2008 presidential race.This time, they tell the story of Barack Obama's reelection campaign and contrast it with the battle for the Republican nomination. The narrative draws upon hundreds of interviews from all levels of the campaign, from the candidates to their strategists, to offer both a national and a human perspective. The Obama story is that of a president on a mission but beset by periods of doubt.On the Republican side, 12 challengers destroy each other until only Mitt Romney remains. The story then turns to Romney's showdown with the president, including the disastrous first debate and the president's crisis of faith afterwards; his recovery and domination of the second; and his eventual election night triumph.

Penguin. 512 pages. $30. ISBN: 9781594204401

Boston Globe ****

"Double Down is slight compared with Game Change, but that's largely because the authors have a less inspiring cast of characters to work with. ... Insider >insights help to breathe new life into old news, and make [the book] a must read for political junkies." MICHAEL PATRICK BRADY

Entertainment Weekly ****

"Journalists Halperin and Heilemann don't lack for access, delivering another down-and-dirty account of an election that plays out like high-stakes high school cafeteria politics. . In some ways, in fact, Double Down looks less like a sequel to 2008 than a tantalizing prequel to 2016. I'm all-in." JEFF LABRECQUE

USA Today ****

"In the pantheon of campaign books, Game Change is among the best. . [The authors'] ability to get behind the scenes and into obama's head makes Double Down nearly as riveting as their first work." AAMER MADHANI

New York Times ****

"The emphasis is on creating a novelistic narrative that provides a you-are-there immediacy but that can make the reader wonder at the authors' supposed omniscience. . The book testifies to its authors' energetic legwork and insider access, while pointing up their eagerness to emphasize the roles that personality and process (as opposed to pure policy) play in politics." MICHIKO


NY Times Book Review ***

"[The authors] tell it pretty straight. You cannot guess, from reading the book, whom they voted for. But you can sense their devotion to a higher creed, that of the political journalist." MICHAEL KINSLEY


"I just don't know if I can do this," President Obama confessed to his close advisers during a dark hour of the 2012 campaign. Halperin and Heilemann's unprecedented access to the campaign ins and outs provides numerous human moments like this, in what most readers only know in a larger, historical context. While the book earns praise for its insider details, some reviewers fault it for being more a collection of moments-and a weaving of plot-than analysis. Critics also feel the book generally comes up short when measured against its 2008 counterpart, which boasts stronger personalities. Still, for political junkies, there are few better books out there about the 2012 campaign.


Thank You for Your Service

By David Finkel

David Finkel is a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist with the Washington Post and a MacArthur Fellow. For his previous book, the best-selling The Good Soldiers (**** SELECTION Jan/Feb 2010), he embedded with the men of the 2-16 Infantry Battalion to report from the front lines of Baghdad during the eight months of "the surge."

THE TOPIC: Finkel again embedded with the men of the 2-16 Infantry Battalion, this time after their return to the United States, to write Thank You For Your Service, a sequel that reveals the grim aftermath of war. He focuses on the experiences of a few soldiers,including Sergeant Adam Schumann,who left Iraq after three deployments for mental health reasons. The facts about recovery are sobering: wives,family members, and even medical professionals are often helpless to assist these victims of traumatic brain injury or posttraumatic stress disorder.Many veterans develop compulsive routines of alcoholism, insomnia, and depression, and their suicide rate is nearly one per day. Finkel questions the efficacy-and ethics-of multiple deployments in this moving expose of the military's failure to deal with emotional and psychological aftereffects of service.

Sarah Crichton Books. 272 pages. $26. ISBN:


Christian Science Monitor *****

"The only bad thing you could say about [The Good Soldiers]-and even this was a stretch-was that it all felt a little familiar. . That's why Finkel's follow up, Thank You for Your Service,is so incredible-a stunning, moving,subdued masterpiece of a book." CRAIG FEHRMAN

Los Angeles Times ****

"He bears witness, seemingly never sugarcoating or judging either the horrors these soldiers are subjected to by ghosts and guilt, or the ones they themselves inflict upon their loved ones. It is a book that every American should read to understand why our easily offered expressions of gratitude-as suggested by the book's title-are insufficient." JAKE TAPPER

Minneapolis Star Tribune ****

"It's a testament to Finkel's considerable journalistic skills that this is no sentimental or cliched work. His vivid descriptions of the minutiae of everyday life provide a fly-on-the-wall observation without judgment." MARK


New York Times ****

"This is a heartbreaking book powered by the candor with which these veterans and their families have told their stories, the intimate access they have given Mr. Finkel . into their daily lives, and their own eloquence in speaking about their experiences. . Sometimes in this volume, Mr. Finkel's writing eddies into prose that needlessly italicizes emotions." MICHIKO KAKUTANI

Tampa Bay Times ****

"As harrowing and heartbreaking as [The Good Soldiers] was, the second may be more so, because it focuses on those for whom the war doesn't end with homecoming-and that is a very large number of soldiers. . His reporting is astonishingly intimate yet utterly respectful, taking us inside the hearts and minds of these men and their families." COLETTE BANCROFT

Washington Post ****

"Although some high-ranking military and civilian officials found ways to cash in, far larger numbers of ordinary soldiers (and their families) suffered, many of them grievously. In painful, intimate and at times almost voyeuristic detail, Finkel tells their story." ANDREW Bacevich


In short paragraphs and gripping prose, Finkel moves quickly between stories to create a panoramic view of the aftermath of war. This unexpected page-turner is more focused than its predecessor, which has too many human subjects; instead, Finkel plumbs a few lives in intimate detail. His veterans are both sympathetic and difficult; they have suffered greatly, but they also succumb to anger and direct it outward into abuse. This composite picture might be slightly biased in that Finkel does not show any well-adjusted individuals. If a little unbalanced, the book is certainly startling and important. Readers may be overhabituated to war, but Finkel unearths neglected stories of those who, unsatisfied by the title's trite gratitude, cannot cope with civilian life.


The Disaster Artist

My Life Inside The Room, the Greatest Bad Movie Ever Made

By Greg Sestero and Tom Bissell

Greg Sestero is an actor and model best known for appearing in the cult classic The Room.The Disaster Artist is his first book. Tom Bissell is a journalist, critic, and fiction writer, and the author of Magic Hours: Essays on Creators and Creation (2012).

THE TOPIC: When Greg Sestero met Tommy Wiseau in an acting class,he had no idea that the encounter would lead to a part in "the greatest bad movie ever made." The mysterious Wiseau had money to burn and a dream of writing, directing, and starring in his own film. Sestero earned a plum role in The Room (2003), but the production was a fiasco, plagued by an incomprehensible script, incompetent directing, and ham-fisted acting. The Room was destined for obscurity, but Wiseau's bottomless pockets financed

screenings at a Los Angeles theater, and it became a cult hit. In his book, Sestero chronicles the making of "the Citizen Kane of bad movies" and his unlikely friendship with its enigmatic director.

Simon [and] Schuster. 288 pages. $25.99. ISBN: 9781451661194

Drama High

The Incredible True Story of a Brilliant Teacher, a Struggling Town,and the Magic of Theater By Michael sokolove Michael sokolove is a contributing editor for the New York Times Magazine and the author of three works of nonfiction: Hustle: The Myth, Life,and Lies of Pete Rose (1990); The Ticket Out: Darryl Strawberry and the Boys of Crenshaw (2004);and Warrior Girls: Protecting Our Daughters Against the Injury Epidemic in Women's Sports (2008).

THE TOPIC: In hardscrabble, working-class Levittown, Pennsylvania, Harry s. Truman High school teacher Lou Volpe battled dwindling funds and occasional conservative backlash to engage, challenge, and enlighten his theater students.

By producing edgy plays laden with contemporary issues like addiction, teen pregnancy, abortion, homosexuality, and suicide, he created a nationally recognized, award-winning drama program that has been the envy of its better-endowed private school counterparts for the last 40 years. sokolove, who graduated from Truman in 1974, follows Volpe and his students over the most recent two years of Volpe's career, documenting their personal and professional triumphs and failures. Many Truman alumni credit Volpe with changing their lives. "Everyone in life needs to have had at least one brilliant, inspiring teacher," reflects sokolove.

Riverhead Hardcover. 352 pages. $27.95. ISBN: 9781594488221

Boston Globe ****

"Thoughtful and brimming with empathy, Sokolove's book is a testament to the power of teachers, as well as the unexpected brilliance of youth." KATE TUTTLE

Christian science Monitor ****

"The pure dynamism and rush of live performance can never fully be captured in a book, but Sokolove comes about as close as you can get. ... As an underdog story, Drama High is [a] little unfair. There's so much stacked against these kids, you can't help but root for them." BEN FREDERICK

NY Times Book Review ****

"[Sokolove has] a palpable stake in the story, and makes the book as much a personal memoir as it is equal parts admiring profile (including a frank section on Volpe's gradual self-acceptance as a gay man), tribute to the power of arts education and jeremiad on the evaporation of middle-class opportunity. ... He shines a heartening light on how one of those passionate heroes devoted himself, as Volpe himself puts it, to educating, rather than training, young people." ALISA SOLOMON

Philadelphia inquirer ****

"It is not a book simply worthy of being read, it is a book worthy of being devoured. It is crisply written, richly detailed, unflinchingly emotional but not gratuitously maudlin. Sokolove was granted unlimited access, and it shows on every page." BILL

Providence Journal ****

"Reading this breezy and uplifting tale of a high school drama teacher's 44-year career and his students, overcoming economic and family instabilities-not to mention hormones, cliques, alliances and feuds-and connecting with the likes of Cameron Mackintosh and Stephen Sondheim is a sheer delight." SAM COALE

USA Today ****

"Drama High is both provocative and heart-warming. Sokolove captures backstage student drama amid 'the steady, low-simmering tumult of economic and family instability.' He also questions educational reforms which emphasize standardized tests and leave little room for the arts." BOB MINZESHEIMER

Washington Post ****

"With the kind of diligent, thorough and imaginative reporting not seen enough these days, Sokolove not only brings a teacher, his students and their community to life, he also opens the story to larger matters: the economy, education, the arts and even sexuality." CHARLES MATTHEWS


Hailed by critics as a "stirring chronicle" (New York Times Book Review) and "a fantastic piece of reporting" (Christian Science Monitor), Drama High is by turns a biography, a homage to the power of the arts in education, and a social commentary on the current plight of the middle class. surprisingly, it is also part memoir. Though the critics noted that sokolove is noticeably present throughout the narrative-for example, sharing memories of Levittown during its heyday-they were also quick to point out that that presence isn't intrusive. sokolove may seem less at home with actors than with the athletes populating his previous books, but his enthusiasm and meticulous reporting overcome any awkwardness. Profound and affecting, Drama High makes a powerful case for the value of art.

Los Angeles Times ****

"The story of their odd-couple friendship is both rich and peculiar but will resonate if you came to pursuit of a dream and cast your lot with an oddball whose most redeeming quality was that you shared the same dream. ... The Disaster Artist is not only the terrifically engaging tale of a bad Hollywood movie, it's one of the most honest books about friendship I've read in years." JIM RULAND

New York Times ****

"As a book about a cinematic comedy of errors, The Disaster Artist is much better than the mess of a movie it describes. . As with Sunset Boulevard and The Talented Mr. Ripley, one character has money to burn, and the other character needs it." JANET MASLIN

A.V. Club ***

"Because the real-life story has a relatively happy ending-Wiseau has made a career out of midnight screenings and DVD sales, and he now claims the movie was meant to be funny all along-The Disaster Artist feels less like schadenfreude than it otherwise might. But if the super-secretive person that Sestero paints in The Disaster Artist were to read this book-and more importantly understand it, which he honestly might not-he could feel nothing but betrayed." JOSH MODELL

Globe and Mail (Canada) **

"The book's attempts at some grander universality, its bids to tell the story of an L.A. hopeful-wannabe whose dreams lurk unrealized beyond some ever-receding horizon, feel a bit thin. . For all their educated guesswork, Sestero and Bissell manage to stoke the fires of secrecy that blister behind the almost unfathomable oddness of The Room, that unresolvable aura of mystique that keeps fans coming back: reading the contorted anguish of Wiseau's howling face, the crags and divots of his dappled hocks, like the proverbial figures in the carpet." JOHN SEMLEY

Wall Street Journal **

"Revealing the man behind The Room is one of goals of The Disaster Artist, and at this the authors are only modestly successful. ... One can't help feeling sorry for Mr. Wiseau-and annoyed with Mr. Sestero, as he looks back with scorn on what was, at the very least, a memorable part of his life." SONNY BUNCH


Bad movies have a special place in cinema history, and since its release,The Room has taken its place alongside so-bad-it's-good fare like Plan 9 From Outer Space and Showgirls. The Disaster Artist is an insider's perspective on the making of this cult classic. It offers a candid, funny take on the film's chaotic production and its mysterious director-actor-writer Wiseau, with whom the author developed a strange, yet mutually, beneficial friendship. The look at the less glamorous side of Hollywood is fascinating, and the humor is balanced by "a constant pall of sadness" (A.V. Club). But at times, the book feels somewhat exploitative, with Sestero painting an unflattering, and even occasionally cruel, portrait of the man who propelled him into the spotlight they both craved. In the end, the book only serves to mystify Wiseau even further.

David and Goliath

Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling Giants By Malcolm Gladwell Malcolm Gladwell,a staff writer for the New Yorker, has penned a handful of best-selling social studies, including The Tipping Point (2000), Blink (**J Mar/Apr 2006), Outliers (**** Jan/Feb 2009),and What the Dog Saw (2009), a collection of previously published essays.In David and Goliath, Gladwell again turns conventional wisdom on its head by examining perceived weakness as an advantage.

THE TOPIC: Contrary to popular belief (a phrase that might serve as Gladwell's epitaph one day, considering the tenor of his books), disadvantages-losing a parent as a child,growing up with dyslexia, fighting for civil rights in a hostile environment can be better predictors of success than what we might consider to be obvious advantages-an Ivy League education,wealthy parents, or teachers with fewer students. And, of course, despite having been told all our lives that the diminutive David was a four-touchdown underdog to a giant, David's agility and skill with a slingshot easily offset Goliath's size and lack of speed. "We have, I think, a very rigid and limited definition of what an advantage is," Gladwell writes, setting up this thesis. "When we see the giant, why do we automatically assume the battle is his for the winning?" Little, Brown. 320 pages. $29. ISBN: 9780316204361

Seattle Times ****

"Starting with a historical account of the ultimate against-the-odds tale-how David slew the giant-Gladwell presents an eclectic series of individuals battling formidable foes as a way to better understand life's trials and conflicts, and to glean the benefit of facing giant challenges. ... Gladwell supplies theories and unifying themes-as tidily stated in the book's subtitle-and he bolsters his ideas with scholarly research." DAVID


Christian Science Monitor ****

"Enlightening and entertaining, even if Gladwell's grand theory wobbles a bit. ... Gladwell's genius is his ability to venture beyond the seemingly obvious and find wider lessons about human behavior." RANDY DOTINGA

Washington Post ****

"Cutting giants down to size is a recurrent, deliberately heartening theme in David and Goliath.... He is less convincing when he chips away at elite schools and especially when he shifts from the descriptive to the prescriptive in educational matters." HELLER MCALPIN

Los Angeles Times ***

"As always, Gladwell populates his pages with insights illustrated by one memorable character study and anecdote after another. . As Gladwell widens his arguments, venturing into topics as diverse as teacher-student ratios and the Holocaust, David and Goliath becomes an uneven book, alternately compelling and essential and then scattershot and unconvincing." HECTORTOBAR

New York Times **

"During the course of a multipart, one-note argument, Mr. Gladwell demonstrates that short teenage girls playing basketball and a schoolteacher with a 29-student classroom could make seemingly adverse circumstances work to their advantages. ... As usual, Mr. Gladwell's science is convenient." JANET MASLIN


More than the reviews for any other of Gladwell's best-selling books, these are a mixed bag. Some critics comment on the author's "one-note" treatment of his subjects and their skepticism at yet another counterintuitive argument-the author's stock in trade-that seems to fit just so. Others applaud Gladwell's ability to turn mounds of data and dozens of Gladwellian anecdotes-the Blitz of London in World War II, French Impressionist painters, and the Holocaust, for starters-into enlightening essays that teach us something about how the world works. But the skeptics outnumber the believers, and despite Gladwell's talent for writing clear, descriptive prose, few would argue that David and Goliath packs the same potent punch as Gladwell's earlier works.



Book of Ages

The Life and Opinions of Jane Franklin

By Jill Lepore

Harvard historian and New Yorker staff writer Jill Lepore has written several books on American history and culture,including the Pulitzer Prize finalist New York Burning:Liberty and Slavery in an Eighteenth-Century City (2005) and a novel,Blindspot: By a Gentleman in Exile and a Lady in Disguise (**** Mar/Apr 2009), with Brandeis University professor Jane Kamensky. Book of Ages was recently long-listed for the National Book Award.

THE TOPIC: As children, Benjamin Franklin and his younger sister Jane (1702-1794) were inseparable. As adults, they maintained a lively and affectionate correspondence spanning 63 years. However, though she spoke her mind freely in her witty letters, she spent her life constrained by society's gender expectations. "I Read as much as I Dare," she wrote to Ben,alluding to popular negative beliefs regarding educated women. While her brother left to make his way in theworld, she stayed home and learned to cook, clean, and manage a house-hold, though she secretly longed for something more. At 15, she married a man she didn't love and bore him 12 children. "[Ben] became a printer, a philosopher, and a statesman," observes Lepore. "She became a wife, a mother,and a widow."

Knopf. 464 pages. $27.95. ISBN: 9780307958341

Boston Globe ****

"This is a work of meticulous reconstruction and high ambition.Lepore aims not just to introduce us to an interesting, overlooked figure and to round out our picture of Ben Franklin.She also wants to examine the (by now unsurprising) relationship between gaps in the historical record and gender constraints." JULIA M. KLEIN

Christian science Monitor ****

"Book of Ages is an artful, serious, marvelous book. Lepore brings to it focus, intensity, and proud delight in her subject. In the course of relating Jane's life, Lepore never stops entertaining and informing us." BOB BLAISDELL

Minneapolis star Tribune ****

"In Jill Lepore's wonderfully suggestive prose, Jane Franklin lives not merely as an individual rescued from obscurity, but as a character who brings to history and biography a new standard of measure, what the novelist Charles Brockden Brown called 'a new kind of history,' which would deal with those who 'have no historian,' but whose journals, letters and papers would show the 'unjust prodigality of our sympathy to those few names, which eloquence has adorned with all the seduction of her graces.'" CARL ROLLYSON

New York Times ****

"The pleasures in Book of Ages are real if sometimes mild. Among them is the sound a writer-historian makes when doing an elegant write-around. By write-around, I mean that Book of Ages is in many respects less a study of [Jane Franklin] Mecom [her married name] than of an era; it's about women's lives at a time when learning was mostly withheld from them." DWIGHT GARNER

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette ****

"In the hands of a less accomplished writer, Jane Franklin might have appeared merely a pale shadow in contrast to her brother's accomplishments. But the portrait that emerges here is both frank and astute, an observant witness to the time." MADELEINE SCHWARTZ

seattle Times ****

"Lepore is always the professor, using historical context as mortar in the building of a good tale. It is unimaginably difficult to weave entertaining supposition and scholarship with this kind of grace." KIMBERLY MARLOWE HARTNETT

Wall street Journal ***

"[David and Goliath] is an entertaining book. But it teaches little of general import, for the morals of the stories it tells lack solid foundations in evidence and logic." CHRISTOPHER F. CHABRIS

NY Times Book Review ** "You don't have to be a knee-jerk contrarian to realize that there is a good deal of common sense in Gladwell's thesis. It's just that it's not always as counterintuitive as he makes it out to


NY Times Book Review ****

"Lepore's distinctive prose style can be remarkably evocative. . But the text can also be self-indulgent." MARY BETH NORTON


Despite the warm critical reception of her latest book, Lepore admits she nearly threw in the towel on Book of Ages, "a history that reads with the intimacy of a novel" (Christian Science Monitor). "The paper trail is miser-ably scant," writes Lepore, and she was forced to muster all her talents as a writer and as a historian to complete this project. Nevertheless, she manages to bring Jane and her times to vibrant life by interweaving scenes from Jane's correspondence with a history of the Colonial era and an intimate knowledge of 18th-century women's everyday lives. "Society has conspired to wipe lives like Jane [Franklin's] from the record," declares the New York Times. "Ms. Lepore has done a service in restoring her to us."


I Am Malala

The Girl Who Stood Up for Education and Was Shot by the Taliban

By Malala Yousafzai, with Christina Lamb

Since the Taliban's bungled attempt on her life, 16-year-old Malala Yousafzai has become an internationally recognized activist and a symbol of courage in the midst of oppression.Christina Lamb is an award-winning British journalist whose credits include The Sewing Circles of Herat: A Personal Voyage Through Afghanistan (2002)and House of Stone: The True Story of a Family Divided in War-Torn Zimbabwe(2007).

THE TOPIC: By mid-October 2012,there were few in the Western world who had not heard of the courageous 15- year-old Muslim girl who had challenged the Taliban and nearly paid with her life. When violent extremists overran her village in Pakistan, they immediately banned the education of girls. Malala Yousafzai, the bright and inquisitive daughter of a progressive schoolmaster, soon became a vocal opponent of this scholastic injunction, giving public speeches and writing a BBC blog describing life under the Taliban. Incensed by such impudence, Taliban leaders unanimously voted to assassinate her, and she was shot point blank in the head on October 9, 2012. Incredibly, she survived. Recently nominated for the 2013 Nobel Peace Prize, Malala continues to champion the rights of girls around the world.

Little, Brown. 352 pages. $26. ISBN: 9780316322409

Cleveland Plain Dealer ****

"It's tempting to wonder whether a 16-year-old can really be so wise, and also to compare her with the stereotype of the typical American teenager trolling the malls and complaining about algebra. But Malala wasn't typical in Pakistan, either." KAREN SANDSTROM

Guardian (UK) ****

"Whether she is being a competitive teenager and keeping track of who she beat in exams (and by how much) or writing about the blog for the BBC that catapulted her on to the international stage ... or talking about Pakistan's politicians ('useless'), Malala is passionate and intense. . Malala's fight should be ours too-more inclusion of women, remembrance of the many voiceless and unsung Malalas, and education for all." FATIMA BHUTTO

Observer (UK) ****

"I Am Malala is skilfully ghosted by Christina Lamb, the highly respected foreign correspondent. The teenager's voice is never lost. The youngest-ever nominee for the Nobel peace prize is, of course, extraordinary." YVONNE ROBERTS

Washington Post ****

"This is a book that should be read not only for its vivid drama but for its urgent message about the untapped power of girls. . It is difficult to imagine a chronicle of a war more moving, apart from perhaps the diary of Anne Frank." MARIE ARANA

Entertainment Weekly ****

"Malala's bravely eager voice can seem a little thin here, in I Am Malala, likely thanks to her co-writer, but her powerful message remains undiluted." TINA JORDAN


I Am Malala is the powerful, inspiring story of a teenage girl's dignity and courage in the face of tyranny, due in part to Malala's "gift for stirring oratory" (Washington Post) and to coauthor Christina Lamb's obvious enthusiasm for the culture and complex history of Pakistan. Together they describe Malala's life in Pakistan before and during Taliban rule with shrewd insight and clear-sightedness. This memoir, noted the critics approvingly, is also the touching story of Malala's father, Ziauddin Yousafzai, an open-minded man who struggled to realize his dream of founding a coeducational school and supported his daughter's right to learn. While Malala's story has not yet been fully played out, this fluidly written and riveting account is "a reminder of all that is best in human nature" (Observer).


Johnny Carson

By Henry Bushkin

In 1970 Henry Bushkin was hired as Carson's lawyer during his divorce from his second wife. Later he became, in his own words, Carson's "agent, personal manager, business manager, public relations agent, messenger, enforcer,tennis partner, and drinking and dining companion. If Johnny needed something done, I was the one who did it." Johnny Carson is his first book.

THE TOPIC: Between 1962 and 1992,Johnny Carson (who died of emphy-sema in 2005) presented NBC's hit Tonight Show. Bushkin's biography focuses on the television network's backstage maneuverings, as well as some other highlights of Carson's career, such as hosting Ronald Reagan's inaugural concert. It also delves into Carson's troubled family life: he was infamous for his infidelities; moreover, he longed for his mother's love but never experienced it, and when she died, he refused to attend her funeral. Similarly, he could not bring himself to visit his son in the hospital. Bushkin's triumph is to reveal Carson as an utterly contradictory human being: sour and philandering, yet still irresistible for his charm and wit.

Eamon Dolan/Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. 304 pages. $28. ISBN: 9780544217621

Huffington Post *****

"This is a riveting firsthand account of Carson's Jekyll and Hyde mood swings, the drinking, women, the wives and insecurities of the most powerful man on television. ... This is not a tawdry tell-all but rather, an insightful and sobering character study of a tortured man and failed husband and father, as told through the eyes and experiences of one of his closest confidantes." JIM MORET

Washington Post *****

"[F]ew books like Johnny Carson have been more engrossing. ... Bushkin's memoir is also a well-written corporate tale that reveals the tough business of staying America's favorite late-night host, full of stories of money, sex and skullduggery, peppered with plenty of laughs." DOUGLASS K. DANIEL

New York Times ****

"Henry Bushkin's Johnny Carson is that rare celebrity tell-all by an author who knows whom and what he's talking about. . [H]is account sounds unexaggerated, credible and willing to place blame wherever it belongs." JANET MASLIN

st. Louis Post-Dispatch *****

"Although Bushkin makes a living as a lawyer, he writes simply, clearly and entertainingly. ... [L]ike The Tonight Show, the book has many a merry moment." HARRY LEVINS

USA Today ***

"[T]his purported biography tells us less

about Carson than it does the author:

Bushkin's 18-year stint as Carson's

friend and attorney, and the effect

Carson had on his life and career. .

Just remember that you're not getting

as much Carson as you might, and you

probably shouldn't take everything

you're getting at face value." ROBERT BIANCO


Might this biography represent a betrayal by a former sidekick with an axe to grind? After all, Carson fired Bushkin in 1988, after accusing him of malpractice and negligence. Indeed,the author was surprised to learn later that Carson considered him his best friend. In any case, Johnny Carson is a clear and engaging biography, full of entertaining anecdotes about Carson's personal life and career. Without resorting to exaggeration or caricature,Bushkin reveals some truths about a man who, behind his carefree television persona, was subject to many private demons, including alcoholism and adultery. Still, it is difficult to believe that the book's reconstructed dialogue can be fully reliable, and some critics wonder whether there is more Henry than Johnny on display here.


Johnny Cash

The Life From 1970 through 2005, Robert Hil-burn worked as a pop music critic and editor for the Los Angeles Times. He published a memoir about his behind-the-scenes adventures, Corn Flakes with John Lennon:And Other Tales from a Rock ln Roll Life, in 2009.

THE TOPIC: During a career spanning five decades, American cultural icon Johnny Cash penned more than 1,000 songs and released nearly 100 albums, many of which became milestones in music history. His boundless creativity, argues Hilburn, arose from the continual battle between his deeply ingrained religious beliefs and his penchant for women and prescription pills, and songwriting grew to be an act of both confession and atonement. In Johnny Cash, Hilburn sets out to reconcile the face he presented to his audience with the man he actually was-a loving but distant father and unfaithful husband. "He wanted people to know his entire story-especially the dark, guilt-ridden, hopeless moments," writes Hilburn, "because he believed in redemption and he wanted others to realize that they too could be redeemed."

Little, Brown. 688 pages. $32. ISBN: 9780316194754

san Jose Mercury News ****

"The result of Hilburn's wrestling with his subject's life and with his own moral compass is perhaps the richest biography of a musician I have ever read and one of the best biographies I have ever read, period. The insights into Cash's music are profound and anything but murky-an accomplishment of great note, given the difficulty of employing words on paper to describe something as vibrant as the aural quality of songs." STEVE WEINBERG

Los Angeles Times ****

"Hilburn does an artful, enviable job of reconciling all the facets-the man Cash wanted to be (a pious, steadfast, fearless figure) and who he more often was (a loving prankster with a weakness for women and pills). . Hilburn writes in clear-headed, informative prose about the myriad ways his subject struggled against his own wild impulses-both the times in which he was destroyed by them and the times in which they saved him." AMANDA PETRUSICH

USA Today ****

"Johnny Cash: The Life ties Cash's triumphs and his famous failures together. Though lesser known, those times make for some of the book's most compelling and humanizing reading. Ten years after Cash's death, Hilburn has created the definitive narrative of this 'symbol of American honor, compassion and struggle.'" BRIAN MANSFIELD

Wall Street Journal ****

"[Johnny Cash: The Life] is the most authoritative and revealing portrait to date of the most chronicled figure in country-music history. Having conducted extensive interviews with family members and intimates, Mr. Hilburn uncovers affairs and relapses and car wrecks, but he focuses mainly on his subject's empathetic art, exploring how 'someone from a cotton patch in Arkansas could develop such a deep sense of compassion and purpose in his music.'" EDDIE DEAN

Boston Globe ****

"Hilburn's biography, based on interviews with Cash and those close to him, unearths new details about Cash's personal problems, from his guilt at not being a better father to decades of bad behavior and occasionally bad music. ... Nothing in Johnny Cash: The Life will shock anyone who knows even the outline of the man's career or those already inclined to love the singer or his songs." BUZZY JACKSON

Entertainment Weekly ****

"While growing up in Arkansas, did Johnny Cash really sing to calm his nerves when he heard the howl of panthers in the woods, as he liked to claim? Probably not, says Robert Hilburn, who investigates the tale on the book's first page. . This debunking sets the tone for an assiduously researched and entertaining book, Johnny Cash; Hilburn rightly believes his subject's life is so extraordinary that there's no need for fanciful embellishment from anyone, including Cash himself." CLARK COLLIS

Telegraph (UK) ****

"I suspect this is exactly the kind of biography a rock star would appreciate: respectful without being hagiographic, sympathetically contextualising all the excesses and indiscretions of a showbiz life and marshalling the details to convey a sense of serious artistic endeavour. . Hilburn's biography attempts to set the record straight but, as with most musicians, the essence of Cash is already on record, the black vinyl kind, scratched into the grooves for anyone to hear." NEIL MCCORMICK


"Why write a Cash biography now," questioned the Los Angeles Times, "after two autobiographies, an Oscar-winning feature film and dozens of published accounts by players both primary and unknown?" Despite the spate of information about Cash out there, Hilburn uncovers new details as he fleshes out the man behind the legend and debunks popular myths-most of them perpetuated by Cash himself. A renowned storyteller, Cash was fond of saying that he never let the facts get in the way of a good story, but Hilburn takes a different tack by not allowing Cash's stories get in the way of the facts, which, agreed the critics, are thoroughly fascinating without any embellishment. "A comprehensive and thoughtful biography" (Los Angeles Times), Johnny Cash delivers mostly fresh insights into the man and his music


Jim Henson

The Biography

By Brian Jay Jones

Brian Jay Jones is the author of Washington Irving: An American Original (2008). In Jim Henson, he explores the life and times of the creator behind many of America's most beloved television characters.

THE TOPIC: A quarter century after his death at the age of 53, Jim Henson (kids, ask your parents) holds a special place in the hearts of 40-somethings who know him as the creator of The Muppets, Fraggle Rock, and The Dark Crystal, the voice of Kermit the Frog,and the driving force behind the iconic Sesame Street. Always interested in stage design and production with an eye toward working in the newest medium-television-Henson became enamored with puppetry as "an art form, a valid way to do really interesting things" while on a trip to Europe in the late 1950s. A decade later Sesame Street, the vehicle for some of his most famous creations-Bert and Ernie, Big Bird, and the Cookie Monster among them-launched, securing the role of visionary genius for the workaholic Henson, "like a sailor who had studied the compass and found that there was a fifth direction in which one could sail."

Ballantine. 608 pages. $35. ISBN: 9780345526113

Wall Street Journal ****

"Highly readable and never long-winded (even at nearly 600 pages), Jim Henson joyously documents its subject's knack for combining old-fashioned puppetry with the world's newest entertainment medium to forge a kind of furry, felt-covered vaudeville." WILL FRIEDWALD

Washington Post ****

"Jim Henson was such a beloved and tragic figure (he died at 53 of a strep infection) that I hesitated to open Brian Jay Jones's book for fear that it would be yet another 'pathography,' a term coined by Joyce Carol Oates to describe the account of a person who may be saintly on the surface but whose story is mainly one of dysfunction, disaster and outrageous conduct. Not to worry: If the life of the man who created the Muppets had been any cornier or more wholesome, he would have been sued by Norman Rockwell's lawyers for plagiarism." DAVID KIRBY

AV Club ****

"Distilling the many sides of their subject into a definitive representation is the greatest challenge facing any biographer; fortunately, Brian Jay Jones has been given plenty of time and space to do so with Jim Henson: The Biography. . Jones' prose is reportorial but evocative, verging only on purple in passages like the opening description of the Mississippi lowlands of Henson's youth, which glides over the landscape like the opening shots of The Muppet Movie." ERIK ADAMS


This Is the Story of a Happy Marriage

Ann Patchett

Ann Patchett is the award-winning author of Bel Canto (2001), five other novels, and four books of nonfiction. see our profile on Patchett on page 10.

THE TOPIC: in these 22 autobiographical essays, published between 1996 and 2012,Patchett explores some of her life's pivotal moments, from the time she realized she would become a writer to the failures and successes of her novels and the recent opening of her independent bookstore in Nashville. Relationships form her cornerstone-from her dog,Rosie ("I imagine there are people out there who got a dog when what they wanted was a baby, but I wonder if there aren't other people who had a baby when all they really needed was a dog," she writes), to her adult friendship with a nun who terrified her in grade school. Her struggles in graduate school, her parents' divorce, her attempt to join the LAPD, and a trip out West in a Winnebago are also here. But Patchett always returns home, to Nashville and to the personal pieces of her life.

Harper. 320 pages. $27.99. ISBN: 9780062236678

Boston Globe ****

"As she traces the stories that undergird the vision she champions in her fiction, Patchett's blend of self-effacing humor and honesty win our new respect. Set against the addiction,torture, doomed affairs, and broken children that flood so much contemporary work, she takes us to a place where to 'stay put' leads to transformative experiences." KATHLEEN HIRSCH

independent (UK) ****

"There is the odd occasion when she puts herself through experiences specifically for the purpose of transposing them into print (she trains for, and takes, the LAPD's academy test so she can write about scaling a six-foot wall). But for the most part, these pieces are considered reflections on life ,relationships, home and family, spoken in a voice that is gentle and respectful, even in its sniping." ARIFA AKBAR

Minneapolis star Tribune ****

"Patchett's gift for getting the best material from the worst of times is one of pleasures of This Is the Story of a Happy Marriage.... [All] of the periodical pieces collected are finely polished,worthy of their new packaging between two hard covers." LAURA BILLINGS COLEMAN

NPR ****

"If you want to learn something practical about writing,specifically how someone like Ann Patchett became the feet-firmly-planted-on-the-ground wonder of a novelist that she is, many of these essays can tell you-both by their very existence and their varied subject matter. . There are also a lot of autobiographical essays here-so many, in fact, that readers who loved Truth [and] Beauty, Patchett's memoir about her close friendship with the late writer Lucy Grealy, will be happy to know that this collection takes Patchett's life story a few steps forward." MAUREEN CORRIGAN

Toronto star ****

"The writer who emerges in the collection is the same authorial presence of Patchett's novels-smart but modest, a tad earnest, enamoured of narrative and as nice as, well, a Canadian. ... Patchett's essentially sweet nature renders some of the pieces somewhat toothless." PATRICIA HLUCHY

USA Today ****

"Most of all she is a markedly humane writer. Reading Patchett is like spending time with a deeply perceptive longtime pal, or a new friend that one instantly connects with." CLAUDIA PUIG

Entertainment Weekly ****

"Each piece-whether about her failed marriage, the love of an adopted dog, or a vacation spent marooned in a hotel room-is wit-filled and elegantly executed, in This Is the Story of a Happy Marriage. When read together, they form an autobiography, giving us a peek at the creator of such wonderful novels." SARA VILKOMERSON

New Republic **

"Indeed, Patchett's willingness to lay bare her most affecting experiences is laudable, but ultimately not nearly as rewarding as one of her fictional worlds. ... Without the limitations of her fictive universes, she does not force herself deeper, and only skims the surface of her own life." HILLARY KELLY


Almost every reader will find delightful surprises about Patchett's commitments to various parts of her life (her husband, her family, her dog, her bookstore, her writing craft) in this cleverly packaged volume. From her experience waitressing at T.G.I. Friday's ("I did not die") to her short, early marriage and long postponement of her current, happy one, her tone is uniformly genial, warm, and insightful, even when self-effacing and brutally honest. A few pieces, such as her experience with the LAPD, seem somewhat forced into print, and other essays are a tad too long. Despite one complaint that the book "is one of those assemblages which does not, unfortunately, make a sum of its parts" (New Republic), most reviewers agree that This Is the Story of a Happy Marriage is the best kind of grab bag there is.

Hollywood Reporter ***

"Totaling 490 pages of text, [Jim Henson]offers an endless wealth of detail, some new and some trivial, on his life from his birth in 1936 to his untimely 1990 death from a sepsis infection. ... If it isn't quite a warts-and-all look at the man, it's certainly a scabs-and-all peek that balances a flattering look at him as an artist and boss with a sometimes unlikable picture of his relationship with [his wife] Jane." ANDY LEWIS

San Francisco Chronicle **

"To his credit, Jones has clearly immersed himself in the material. ... Jones is so intent on celebrating Henson that he neglects to engage in actual analysis." KEVIN CANFIELD


Thorough and impassioned, well-researched and vetted, Jones's authorized biography borders on hagiography, portraying the sainted Jim Henson in such a positive light that it's unclear in the end whether Jones sugarcoats his subject or Henson was as nice a guy as he's made out to be here. That's a particularly cynical view, but consider the source: in an age when readers claim to have had enough of scandal and bad behavior, the only thing worse than a tell-all full of salacious details, it seems, is the story of a genuinely nice (albeit flawed) guy doing what he loved. So when the San Francisco Chronicle critic writes, "The defining feature of this book is its distracting and relentless reverence for all things Henson," perhaps that says more about our desire for dirt than the pleasure we get from an interesting life well told. Ignore the criticism and enjoy the story.


Norman Mailer

A Double Life

By J. Michael Lennon

An emeritus professor of English at Wilkes University in Wilkes-Barre,Pennsylvania, J.Michael Lennon is the literary executor of Norman Mailer's estate and had unre-stricted access to the writer's private papers.

THE TOPIC: In a letter to his sixth, and last, wife, Norris Church, Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist Norman Mailer claimed to be two people: one that needed to be in love and another that craved constant excitement. In this authorized biography, Lennon scrutinizes this extraordinarily complex and volatile man and his legacy. After a tour in the Pacific Theater, 25-year-old Mailer transformed his war experience into a best-selling debut novel, The Naked and the Dead (1948), but success proved to be his downfall. He spent the next decade boozing, brawling, and philandering until, in November 1960, he stabbed his second wife during an argument. (She refused to press charges.) Mailer nevertheless went on to become the voice of a generation and one of the most famous writers in America.

Simon [and] Schuster. 960 pages. $40. ISBN: 9781439150191

Christian Science Monitor ****

"The raw material that made up Mailer's busy, teeming life might have given lesser biographers fits (or even suggested that a multi-volume approach was in order), but Lennon is able to keep pace-and so are we. . This enthralling book captures something of Mailer's insatiable, ever-surprising interest in the world in which he lived." PETER TONGUETTE

Cleveland Plain Dealer ****

"[N]othing seems excessive in a biography of Mailer, who filled many a fat book with his dazzling mixture of glitter and grandeur and gunk. ... Now Lennon has resurrected him in another way-with a respectful, candid account that the old boozing, brawling, tomcatting, tormented and talented novelist would have admired." DANIEL DYER

NY Times Book Review ****

"There's not a paragraph in this enormous book that doesn't contain a nugget of something you should have known or wish you had known. Lennon has it all, and he has it down. And despite being his subject's literary executor, he has not sanded the corners of a career and life, each of which has plenty of texture and lots of sharp edges." GRAYDON CARTER

Oregonian ****

"He had a big life, and Lennon's biography is a big book, 947 pages and compulsively readable." JEFF BAKER

Washington Post ****

"Lennon brings Mailer thoroughly alive in this great wallop of a book. His is the reporter's eye, not the judge's, and he captures the entirety of a man who embodied his era like no other." DAVID

Miami Herald ***

"One only wishes he had practiced self-restraint. At almost 1,000 pages, this is a barbell of a book, a monumentally unwieldy narrative that can be exhausting in its comprehensiveness." ARIEL GONZALEZ

Dallas Morning News **

"Rather than identifying and focusing on the significant moments in Mailer's life, Lennon throws everything he's got into these 928 pages and delivers it in flat, workmanlike prose that could use a punch in the face now and then itself. ... Readers might wish that Lennon spent more pages analyzing his subject's work rather than his bowel habits, because Mailer's legacy will persevere in his books long after his antics and anecdotes are best forgotten." BOB HOOVER


"I have a demon inside me," Mailer once confessed, and this thoughtful and evenhanded account of his life describes the writer's volatile personality and obnoxious behavior without censure or apology. A "sweeping, full scale biography," Norman Mailer successfully takes on "one of the least boring and most tireless and tiresome public figures of the last half of the 20th century" (New York Times Book Review) and renders Mailer ... well, if not exactly likable, then at least interesting. Some critics complained that Lennon never met a detail he didn't like. (Want to know the specifics of Mailer's morning bathroom routine? Look no further.) Others considered the biography too long. There's no doubt, though, that Lennon brings Mailer to life in these pages-demon and all. His loquacious subject would be proud.



The Men Who United the States

America's Explorers, Inventors, Eccentrics and Mavericks, and the Creation of One Nation, Indivisible

By simon Winchester

Simon Winchester's best-selling popular histories and trav-elogues include The River at the Center ofthe World (1996), The Professor and the Madman (1998),Krakatoa (****July/Aug 2003), and A Crack in the Edge of the World (*** Jan/Feb 2006). In The Men Who United the States, he profiles the iconoclasts who have helped to shape-and unite-America.

THE TOPIC: Despite being a nation of 300 million individuals, the United States manages to stay, more or less,united. And, writes Winchester, we have the country's many innovators to thank for that. Organized according to the five elements in the Chinese wu hsing (Winchester, in addition to his recently becoming a United States citizen, has traveled in and written extensively about China), wood, earth,fire, water, and metal, some of the stories here will be familiar to readers-Thomas Jefferson, Lewis and Clark, Robert Fulton, and Dwight D. Eisenhower, for instance. Others suggest the wealth of history behind the history, including Thomas Hutchins,the first geographer of the United States, Calbraith Perry Rogers, the first person to fly an airplane across the country, and Theodore Judah, an advocate of the transcontinental railroad lesser-known characters who spurred America "to achieve all it has, and yet to keep itself together while doing so."

Harper. 496 pages. $29.99. ISBN: 9780062079602

Wall street Journal *****

"To predict where the paths to our modernity could go, our forebears had to know something about the ground they would cover, and Mr. Winchester's book is especially fine on retrieving the forgotten map makers, geologists, topographers and engineers who showed them the way. . What an extraordinary, propulsive tale he tells."


Miami Herald ****

"In his latest book, Simon Winchester displays his considerable dexterity as a storyteller by creating a unique-if at times slightly forced-hook on which to hang an enthralling narrative. . An impeccably researched, erudite, well-told tale, peppered with occasional grace notes." LARRY LEBOWITZ

seattle Times ****

"Much of the history has been told before, but Winchester offers a new angle with his emphasis on how a nation of people from all over the world, invited to share in 'universal human freedom,' managed to unite. He also freshens U.S. history by refusing to tell it through the usual suspects." JOHN B. SAUL

NY Times Book Review ****

"Winchester is sufficiently entertaining that it's easy to forget the holes in his argument and enjoy the ride. ... Winchester is America in miniature: many talents, many loyalties and numerous, often contradictory opinions." STEPHEN MIHM

Oregonian ***

"Despite its curious organizational structure, The Men Who United the States is informative and absorbing, a compliment to Winchester's gift for telling a story well and his clear devotion to his adopted country. But it will not stimulate readers to revise their perception of the long-dominant narrative of American history." JOHN STRAWN


Simon Winchester cracked the best seller code with The Professor and the Madman, and he has since published nearly a dozen engaging, accessible books. The Men Who United the States is in the same vein, though the book's structure and the author's irrepressible delight at having become a U.S. citizen in 2011 can feel forced. For instance, Winchester writes, "The moment instant communication was within the grasp of all, America was bonded and annealed into an almost unbreakable and indivisible one." As that quintessential American man of letters Ernest Hemingway wrote in The Sun Also Rises, "Isn't it pretty to think so?" Still, the profiles of uniquely American characters, particularly the ones readers might now know about, carry the day. Anyone interested in the hidden history, cartography and geography, and geology (in which subject the author earned a degree from Oxford) of America's rise as a world power will enjoy Winchester's latest offering.


Miss Anne in Harlem

The White Women of the Black Renaissance

By Carla Kaplan

Carla Kaplan's previous books include Zora Neale Hurston:A Life in Letters (2003) and The Erotics of Talk (1996),among others. Her latest effort examines the lives of the white women who supported the Harlem Renaissance.

THE TOPIC: "Miss Anne complicated her culture's notions of identity," Carla Kaplan writes, "whether she set out to do so or not." Beginning in the 1920s,the Harlem section of Manhattan was abuzz with African American music,

visual art, literature, and intellectual pursuits, the foundations for a movement that became known as the Harlem Renaissance. Many of the artists working then are well known even today: Langston Hughes, Claude McKay, and Zora Neale Hurston, Romare Bearden, Ella Fitzgerald, and Louis Armstrong. Less known are the white women-collectively known as "Miss Anne"-who chose, against the proscriptions of their time and sometimes with grave consequences, to cross race lines to become involved in the Renaissance. Six of those women-from Park Avenue patron Charlotte Osgood Mason, a collector of African art, to Josephine Cogdell Schuyler, the white daughter of a Klan member and wife of a black journalist-are profiled here.

Harper. 544 pages. $28.99. ISBN: 9780060882389



The Family

Three Journeys into the Heart of the Twentieth Century

By David Laskin

David Laskin's earlier efforts include The Long Way Home (2004), an investigation of immigrants' service in the American Expeditionary Force in World War I, and The Children's Blizzard (2010), the story of a deadly 1888 storm across the Upper Midwest. In The Family, Laskin explores three branches of his mother's family tree.

THE TOPIC: Starting in the 19th century in Eastern Europe and ending in present-day Israel, David Laskin traces his roots from a distinguished line of Torah scribes-Itel Rosenthal and her role in overseeing the Maidenform bra empire in a chaotic,vital America; Chaim and Sonia Kaganovich settling in Palestine and witnessing the birth of Israel after moving from Poland in the 1920s; and a third branch of the family, all of whom died between 1941 and 1944 in the Holocaust. "The three branches of my mother's family endured and enacted the great Jewish upheavals of the twentieth century-mass immigration to the United States, the founding of Israel, and the Shoah," Laskin writes, introducing readers to the stirring tale he's about to tell. "One family-three fates. ... History made and broke my family in the twentieth century."

Viking. 400 pages. $32. ISBN: 9780670025473

Oregonian *****

"Members of the two surviving branches of the family-the American and the Israeli-finally meet, in the catalytic event that inspires Laskin to undertake this extraordinary book. The Family belongs on the shelf next to Daniel Mendelsohn's The Lost as a response to Saul Bellow's lament that American Jews 'should have reckoned more fully, more deeply, with' the Shoah." JOHN STRAWN

Wall Street Journal *****

"The unspeakable tragedies and improbable triumphs of the European Jewish diaspora in the 20th century have been told many times but rarely quite so compellingly as in David Laskin's The Family. Mr. Laskin's chronicle could have been written in tears-of torment and scarce joy-and it is at once anguishing and inspiring." EDWARD KOSNER

Washington Post *****

"The story is no easier to read when told in Laskin's understated prose than it is in the countless other documents we have about the Holocaust. ... The book of this particular family stands out for the extremes of joy and sorrow contained within it." JONATHAN


Seattle Times ****

"It takes some pages to get acclimated to the many players in this drama (a family tree and wonderful photos help), but once readers are fully grounded, they can happily disappear into the book. Laskin, a Seattle writer and author of the award-winning 2004 book, The Children's Blizzard, is a deft diviner of the little-guy-with-a-good-story stuff, and he sews history and anecdote together with stitches so tiny they would do any quilter proud."



David Laskin's earlier books, based on immigrants' contributions to an American ideal and a story of hardship and survival, might have predicted his latest study, though arguably neither of those previous works landed with the force of such a wrenching and uplifting examination of the author's own family. Laskin balances the broad brushstrokes of history with the individuals whose stories are the history. Important and poignant, the book's simple grace notes act almost as calls to action, prompting readers not only to appreciate the history of Laskin's own family, but to compel them to seek out the "pulse of history [that] beats in every family. All our lives are engraved with epics of love and death."

NPR *****

"Happily, there's been so much written on the Harlem Renaissance that the subject seems a bit mined-out; until, that is, a book like Kaplan's comes along and leaves a reader reeling. . Aside from its significance as cultural history, Miss Anne in Harlem is packed with amazing life stories." MAUREEN CORRIGAN

Boston Globe ****

"In Kaplan's richly researched,thoughtful new book, Miss Anne in Harlem, the author focuses not on the intellectual and artistic leaders of the Harlem Renaissance, nor the average black citizens whose daily lives informed the era, but on some of its most unusual denizens: white women." KATE TUTTLE

NY Times Book Review ****

"In this remarkable work of historical recovery, Carla Kaplan . does well by a group of women who got so much wrong. ... In Kaplan's deeply researched book, [Miss Anne] becomes a useful cultural type, for all her inconsistencies and inability to effect broad social change." MARTHA A. SANDWEISS

Washington Post ****

"Kaplan draws out of her tightly focused book a wider meaning. It took enormous courage for anyone-white or black, female or male-to embrace the Harlem Renaissance's vision of a society that accepted and even celebrated difference. But courage alone was no match for the savagery of the era's racial order." KEVIN BOYLE


In Miss Anne in Harlem, Kaplan captures the energy of Harlem in the 1920s, thus shedding light on an aspect of the artistic and social explosion little explored until now.Thoroughly researched and supported by photographs, Kaplan's cultural and group biography offers new perspective on the movement and keeps alive the spirit of that most important artistic period, while refusing to aggrandize the women who chose-each for her own reasons-to involve themselves in such acts of transgression ("I am not interested in claiming heroic status for these women," Kaplan writes pointedly, a view she maintains throughout).Judicious and insightful, Miss Anne in Harlem is a valuable addition to the scholarship of the Harlem Renaissance and early 20th-century history.


The Bully Pulpit

Theodore Roosevelt, William Howard Taft,and the Golden Age of Journalism

By Doris Kearns Goodwin

Doris Kearns Goodwin, who has been a White House Fellow and a professor of government at Harvard,is now best known as a presidential biographer-with books about the Kennedys, Lyndon Baines Johnson, Franklin Delano Roo-sevelt (No Ordinary Time, which won a Pulitzer Prize in 1995), and Team of Rivals (**** Jan/Feb 2006), about Abraham Lincoln's unusual cabinet. The Bully Pulpit has already been optioned as a film by Steven Spielberg's DreamWorks.

THE TOPIC: The book's subtitle reveals its tripartite concerns. After McKinley's assassination in 1901, Roosevelt completed two terms as president; when he decided not to run a third time, Taft succeeded him. Taft, a genial Ohioan with an eye to the judicial system, was not just some overweight man, Goodwin is careful to argue. Roosevelt and Taft had an intense friendship, later broken when they ran against each other for president in 1912-when Wilson was elected instead. This accomplished work of historical re-creation is based on primary sources, including more than 400 letters between Roosevelt and Taft, their wives' diaries, and accounts from the "muckraking" investigative journalism of the day. Simon [and] Schuster. 928 pages. $40. ISBN: 9781416547860

Christian science Monitor *****

"Goodwin has a knack for finding fresh angles to bring her beloved dead presidents back to life. . It is a command performance of popular history." ERIK SPANBERG

Washington Post ****

"Goodwin's evocative examination of the Progressive world is smart and engaging, and if she presents a bit too much about family trees and legislative wrangling, her style shows her imitating the amassing of evidence pioneered by the muckrakers. Like them, she presents a highly readable and detailed portrait of an era." HEATHER COX RICHARDSON

Los Angeles Times ****

"While each is a fascinating figure in his own right, there's too much space devoted to their formative years here-they don't meet until Page 135. ... Those were riveting times, and Goodwin brings them to life in splendid if overly detailed fashion." SCOTT MARTELLE

Minneapolis star Tribune ****

"Goodwin thoroughly explores how the crusading work of this 20th-century team of reporters shoved politicians like Roosevelt and Taft out of their safe conservative positions and toward serious reforms in government and business. While much of this historical period has been examined in close detail, Goodwin provides a fuller picture of Taft's career ... and of the life and times of the 'muckrakers,' the pejorative term Roosevelt gave to the expose mentality of the times." BOB HOOVER

New York Times ****

"While this book can be meandering and long-winded, Ms. Goodwin uses the Roosevelt and Taft presidencies to view timely issues through the prism of the early 20th century, prompting us to reconsider the ways political dynamics have, and have not, changed. ... [I]ts more discursive sections recounting the ins and outs of particular bills before the House and Senate and the intricacies of various cases of corruption on the local or state level would have benefited enormously from less up-close detail and more wide-angle analysis." MICHIKO KAKUTANI

seattle Times ***

"Goodwin's effort to combine a short-form biography of Taft and Roosevelt in one volume (with short profiles of muckraking journalists tossed in for good measure) is interesting but ultimately falls short of its objective. . [W]ithout the larger context, it is difficult to understand either, much less the relationship between the two." KEVIN J. HAMILTON


Goodwin's method is to take an oblique angle on well-known figures and events. The Bully Pulpit is three books in one: a biography of Roosevelt, one of Taft, and a history of muckraking journalism. This approach led some critics to wonder what Goodwin hoped to add to scholarship, especially when there are already excellent full-length biographies of both presidents. Here, both men are given rather short shrift: their backgrounds are rushed, yet they do not meet until page 135. Nonetheless, the book is well-paced, beautifully written, and full of enlightening anecdotes. Roosevelt was a progressive Republican, pushing antitrust and labor laws through Washington gridlock; that lesson in moving past party politics to accomplish positive change will certainly be relevant to today's readers.


One Summer

America, 1927

By Bill Bryson

Award-winning author and humorist Bill Bryson has published many best-selling books on wide-ranging topics in travel,science, history, and language, including The Mother Tongue: English and How It Got That Way (1990), A Walk in the Woods: Rediscovering America on the Appalachian Trail (1998), and A Short History of Nearly Everything (2003).Recently reviewed: At Home: A Short History of Private Life (**** Jan/Feb 2011).

THE TOPIC: Starting with Charles Lindbergh's landmark transatlantic flight in May and ending with Babe Ruth's record-setting 60th home run in September, Bryson charts the course of the "most extraordinary summer" in American history. During these few months in 1927, the country, reveling in the prosperity and heady optimism of the Jazz Age, witnessed the politically divisive executions of anarchists Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti,President Calvin Coolidge's baffling decision not to seek a second term in 1928, the rise of Al Capone, and the Great Flood of the Mississippi River,which left nearly 650,000 people homeless. But Bryson also includes the forgotten stories of the era-stories of flappers, bootleggers, evangelical preachers, inventors, and sensational murders. "Whatever else it was," notes Bryson, "it was one hell of a summer."

Doubleday. 528 pages. $28.95. ISBN: 9780767919401

Christian Science Monitor ****

"Some have already noted the many topics explored here have been explained and examined in greater detail elsewhere. ... True enough, but for those of us lacking the time or inclination to read separate, lengthier studies of Calvin Coolidge, the Red Scare of 1919 and 1920, Hollywood's move into talking motion pictures, and the near-death of major league baseball, One Summer offers a brief, lively primer on these subjects and more." ERIK SPANBERG

Denver Post ****

"Bill Bryson, the best-selling author of humorous accounts of his hike along the Appalachian Trail and his travels in Australia, has captured the zeitgeist of the Roaring Twenties in this entertaining and informative book that focuses on what he calls 'that long, extraordinary summer.' ... This splendid book, written in the breezy and humorous style that has come to be Bryson's trademark, is sure to delight readers steeped in the history of the period as well as those looking to acquaint themselves with it for the first time." JERRY HARKAVY

Minneapolis Star Tribune ****

"Per usual, Bryson writes prose as lucid as a pane of glass and often aims for (quite successfully) readers' funnybones with colorful and humorous stories. . What comes across clearest in Bryson's lucid, lighthearted narrative is the pure energy and crazed optimism of the era. Sure, the rollicking party would end, but it was fun while it lasted-as is Bryson's One Summer." CHUCK LEDDY

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette ****

"He zeroes in on the historical figures and lets us see what made them tick. ... Mr. Bryson chose well in choosing to chronicle the summer of 1927, but he did an even better job in bringing the year back to life." STEVE NOVAK

St. Louis Post-Dispatch ****

"Bryson seems to enjoy writing sprightly prose, here and there having fun with words. ... Bryson makes 1927 fascinating to read about." HARRY LEVINS

USA Today ****

"Bryson offers nothing but fascinating American stories from his exhaustive

research, and his sharp writing makes the book hum along. . But what do these few months in 1927 say about what America was or how it shaped what we have become?" AAMER MADHANI

Washington Post *

"Bryson-an Iowa native who lives in England-offers zero analysis about why these summer events matter so mightily. ... As a result. One Summer is remedial pseudo-history consisting of stray anecdotes extracted from secondary sources and strung together by what the publisher embarrassingly boasts of as Bryson's 'brio.'" DOUGLAS BRINKLEY


"If Bill Bryson had been your high school history teacher," remarked the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, "you would have never fallen asleep in class." The critics were generally thrilled with this lively collection of facts, statistics, and anecdotes, enriched by Bryson's ebullient voice, playful prose, and wit. A few reviewers, however, were disappointed that One Summer fails to analyze the significance of the events he discusses or to anchor them within the larger context of American history. The result is more entertaining than edifying, though most critics (with the exception of a completely exasperated Washington Post) agreed that Bryson "breathes new life into long-dead heroes and villains" (Pittsburgh-Post Gazette). Breezy and engaging, One Summer charms and captivates even if it fails to edify as it might have. *
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Article Type:Awards list
Geographic Code:60AFR
Date:Jan 1, 2014
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