What ever happened to Daisy Jones and The Six, the iconic 1970s rock band that topped the charts and sold out stadiums? It’s always been a mystery why the musicians suddenly disbanded.
Reid (The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo, 2017, etc.) takes an unusual approach to dissecting the breakup of the fictional rock band by offering a narrative composed solely of transcribed interviews. At the center of the documentary-style novel is the relationship between lead singer Billy Dunne, recovering addict and aspiring family man, and sexy bad girl Daisy Jones, whose soulful voice and complex lyrics turn out to have been the missing ingredient The Six needed. When Daisy joins the band, the group catapults to fame, but not without cost. She refuses to simply fall in line and let Billy make the artistic decisions. In doing this, not only does she infuriate the band leader, she also sets an example for other members who are only too happy to start voicing their own demands. Over time the tension between Billy and Daisy grows increasingly more complicated, threatening to take its toll on Billy’s home life. He is fiercely loyal to his wife, Camila, while also being fully cognizant of his weaknesses—a torturous combination for Billy. Other band members have their own embroilments, and Daisy’s bestie, disco diva Simone Jackson, enhances the cast, but the crux of the story is about how the addition of Daisy to The Six forever changes the chemistry of the band, for better and worse. There is great buildup around answering the big question of what happened at their final concert together, though the revelation is a letdown. Further, the documentary-style writing detracts from the storytelling; it often feels gimmicky, as though the author is trying too hard for a fresh and clever approach. This is a shame because her past novels, traditionally told, have been far more engaging.
Despite some drawbacks, an insightful story that will appeal to readers nostalgic for the 1970s.
At age 83, the iconic biographer takes time away from his work on the fifth volume of his acclaimed Lyndon Johnson biography to offer wisdom about researching and writing.
In sparkling prose, Caro (The Years of Lyndon Johnson: The Passage of Power, 2012, etc.)—who has won two Pulitzer Prizes, two National Book Awards, and three National Book Critics Circle Awards, among countless other honors—recounts his path from growing up sheltered in New York City to studying at Princeton, Harvard, and Columbia to unexpectedly becoming a newspaper reporter and deciding to devote his life to writing books. Thinking about his first book topic, he landed on developer Robert Moses, “the most powerful figure in New York City and New York State for more than forty years—more powerful than any mayor or any governor, or any mayor and governor combined.” After Caro received a book contract with a small advance from a publisher, he, his wife (and research assistant), Ina, and their son struggled to make ends meet as the project consumed about a decade, much longer than the author had anticipated. The book was more than 1,300 pages, and its surprising success gave Caro some financial stability. The author explains that he focused on Johnson next as an exemplar of how to wield political power on a national scale. Throughout the book, the author shares fascinating insights into his research process in archives; his information-gathering in the field, such as the Texas Hill Country; his interviewing techniques; his practice of writing the first draft longhand with pens and pencils; and his ability to think deeply about his material. Caro also offers numerous memorable anecdotes—e.g., how he verified rumors that Johnson became a senator in 1948 via illegal ballot counting in one rural county.
Caro’s skill as a biographer, master of compelling prose, appealing self-deprecation, and overall generous spirit shine through on every page.
A wild child’s isolated, dirt-poor upbringing in a Southern coastal wilderness fails to shield her from heartbreak or an accusation of murder.
“The Marsh Girl,” “swamp trash”—Catherine “Kya” Clark is a figure of mystery and prejudice in the remote North Carolina coastal community of Barkley Cove in the 1950s and '60s. Abandoned by a mother no longer able to endure her drunken husband’s beatings and then by her four siblings, Kya grows up in the careless, sometimes-savage company of her father, who eventually disappears, too. Alone, virtually or actually, from age 6, Kya learns both to be self-sufficient and to find solace and company in her fertile natural surroundings. Owens (Secrets of the Savanna, 2006, etc.), the accomplished co-author of several nonfiction books on wildlife, is at her best reflecting Kya’s fascination with the birds, insects, dappled light, and shifting tides of the marshes. The girl’s collections of shells and feathers, her communion with the gulls, her exploration of the wetlands are evoked in lyrical phrasing which only occasionally tips into excess. But as the child turns teenager and is befriended by local boy Tate Walker, who teaches her to read, the novel settles into a less magical, more predictable pattern. Interspersed with Kya’s coming-of-age is the 1969 murder investigation arising from the discovery of a man’s body in the marsh. The victim is Chase Andrews, “star quarterback and town hot shot,” who was once Kya’s lover. In the eyes of a pair of semicomic local police officers, Kya will eventually become the chief suspect and must stand trial. By now the novel’s weaknesses have become apparent: the monochromatic characterization (good boy Tate, bad boy Chase) and implausibilities (Kya evolves into a polymath—a published writer, artist, and poet), yet the closing twist is perhaps its most memorable oddity.
Despite some distractions, there’s an irresistible charm to Owens’ first foray into nature-infused romantic fiction.
Previously produced solely as an audiobook, this noir novella—now available as an illustrated text—offers a unique wrinkle on a popular science-fiction trope.
About 10 years ago, a strange thing happened to the world: almost any time people were murdered, they began showing up naked in their homes, their bodies reset to a state a few hours before any injury occurred. Today, we have Dispatchers: professionals licensed to painlessly kill people dying from botched operations, car accidents, and the like, eliminating the negative consequences as if they had never been. When Dispatcher Jimmy Albert vanishes under suspicious circumstances, Chicago Police Detective Nona Langdon calls upon fellow Dispatcher (and our narrator) Tony Valdez to help her pursue the case, which ultimately leads to a wealthy, well-connected man devastated by his wife’s recent death from cancer. Along the way, Valdez reluctantly educates the detective about the seamy side of his profession: the less-than-legal, often grotesque, and extremely lucrative freelance work he’s accepted in the past as well as the potential loopholes in the apparent near impossibility of murder. The resurrected dead has been a popular motif in the past few years, in both grisly and more literary explorations. Scalzi (The Collapsing Empire, 2017, etc.) pushes the potential of this admittedly contrived scenario to its logical limits with dark humor while hanging a lampshade on several noir clichés.
A what-if tale reminiscent of Asimov at his twistiest.
A presidential election, a midlife crisis, and psychiatric therapy bring some revelation to the author and perhaps a turning point as well.
Handler (Uganda Be Kidding Me, 2014, etc.) is at a crossroads. She has become the embodiment of the sort of elitist entitlement that she fears helped elect a president she hates. She also seems burdened by what she previously might have considered blessings, living a bubblelike existence with assistants to deal with her every command and inconvenience and few significant responsibilities. “I have the Trump family and their vampiric veneers and horrifying personalities to thank for my midlife crisis,” she writes of the anger and emptiness she felt amid a successful life. She had conquered the comedy circuit, the TV screen, and the bestseller lists, but it no longer seemed enough in the wake of a national crisis. But what could she do? As it became obvious that her inner turmoil ran deeper than Trump, she finally sought therapy. “I was forty-two when I finally saw a real psychiatrist,” she writes, providing an exhaustive account of her therapy that includes pages of re-created dialogue. Handler also details the traumas that have shaped her, mainly the death of her brother when she was 9 and, later, the death of each parent, whom she had loved with such ambivalence and grieved differently than what she thought was expected. Her brother has remained fixed in her memory as the first man who broke her heart, and rather than experience such heartbreak again, she has found deeper, more meaningful relationships with her dogs, who provide much of the comic relief in the text. When her therapist advised, “you have been a human doing, and we need to get you to be a human being,” she winced at the banality. But by the end, she matches him with, “wake up. Take a nap. Laugh. Cry. Rinse. Repeat.”
An adequate self-help memoir from a woman who wouldn’t seem like the type for self-help books.
Harari (History/Hebrew Univ. of Jerusalem) provides an immersion into the important revolutions that shaped world history: cognitive, agricultural and scientific. The book was originally published in Israel in 2011 and became a best-seller.
There is enormous gratification in reading books of this nature, an encyclopedic approach from a well-versed scholar who is concise but eloquent, both skeptical and opinionated, and open enough to entertain competing points of view. As Harari firmly believes, history hinges on stories: some stories for understanding, others prompting people to act cooperatively toward common goals. Of course, these stories—“ ‘fictions,’ ‘social constructs’ or ‘imagined realities’ ”—can be humble or evil, inclusive or self-serving, but they hold the power of belief. Harari doesn’t avoid the distant past, when humans “were insignificant animals with no more impact on their environment than gorillas, fireflies or jellyfish,” but he is a skeptic and rightfully relies on specific source material to support his arguments—though he is happy to offer conjectures. Harari launches fully into his story with the cognitive revolution, when our brains were rewired, now more intelligent and creative, with language, gossip and myths to fashion the stories that, from politicians to priests to sorcerers, serve to convince people of certain ideas and beliefs. The agricultural revolution (“lives generally more difficult and less satisfying than those of foragers”) comes next and firmly establishes the intersubjectivity of imagined orders: hierarchies, money, religion, gender issues, “communication network[s] linking the subjective consciousness of many individuals.” Throughout, the author revels in the chaos of history. He discusses the good and bad of empires and science, suggests that modern economic history comes down to a single word (“growth”), rues the loss of familial and societal safety nets, and continues to find wonder in the concept that “the keys to happiness are in the hands of our biochemical system.”
The great debates of history aired out with satisfying vigor.
A vivacious portrait of a therapist from both sides of the couch.
With great empathy and compassion, psychotherapist and Atlantic columnist and contributing editor Gottlieb (Marry Him: The Case for Settling for Mr. Good Enough, 2010, etc.) chronicles the many problems facing the “struggling humans” in her stable of therapy patients. The intimate connection between patient and therapist established through the experience of psychic suffering forms the core of the memoir, as the author plumbs the multifaceted themes of belonging, emotional pain, and healing. “Therapists…deal with the daily challenges of living just like everyone else….Our training has taught us theories and tools and techniques, but whirring beneath our hard-earned expertise is the fact that we know just how hard it is to be a person,” she writes. Through Gottlieb’s stories of her sessions with a wide array of clients, readers will identify with the author as both a mid-40s single mother and a perceptive, often humorous psychotherapist. In addition to its smooth, conversational tone and frank honesty, the book is also entertainingly voyeuristic, as readers get to eavesdrop on Gottlieb’s therapy sessions with intriguing patients in all states of distress. She also includes tales of her appointments with her own therapist, whom she turned to in her time of personal crisis. Success stories sit alongside poignant profiles of a newly married cancer patient’s desperation, a divorced woman with a stern ultimatum for her future, and women who seem stuck in a cycle of unchecked alcoholism or toxic relationships. These episodes afford Gottlieb time for insightful reflection and self-analysis, and she also imparts eye-opening insider details on how patients perceive their therapists and the many unscripted rules psychotherapists must live by, especially when spotted in public (“often when patients see our humanity, they leave us”). Throughout, the author puts a very human face on the delicate yet intensive process of psychotherapy while baring her own demons.
Saturated with self-awareness and compassion, this is an irresistibly addictive tour of the human condition.
But first he goes south, called from his home in Minnesota to the Louisiana swamp where hired killer Clayton Deese buried at least five people (the total is actually higher) before coming a cropper seven months ago with his latest target, Howell Paine. Things went sideways, sending Paine to the hospital and sentencing Deese to an ankle monitor he sliced through three days ago. Local FBI agent Sandro Tremanty, discovering Deese’s absence, wants help from the U.S. marshals in rounding up his quarry so that he can implicate loan shark Roger Smith, who’d hired him to hurt Paine and send a warning to his other debtors. And there’s another reason the feds would like to get Deese off the streets: His experiments in homicide have given him a taste for human flesh. Soon enough, Lucas, together with marshals Rae Givens and Bob Matees, has picked up Deese’s trail, which leads first to Marina Del Rey, where he’s joined his half brother, Marion Beauchamps, and Jayden Nast, “a guy with guns, who hates cops,” in a brutal home-invasion crew. Conscientious detective work brings Lucas and the LAPD within a whisker of catching Deese, but he slips away from them and heads to Las Vegas with Genesis Cox, the blonde he’s picked up, and John Rogers Cole, another accomplice. Deese and his cohort must constantly pull new jobs to support their gambling and drug habits, and it’s hard to imagine their eluding the law for very long. But there are deeper threats to their racket. Roger Smith, who knows plenty about Deese, realizes he has every reason to get rid of him, and there turns out to be no honor among the thieves closer to home either.
Professionally entertaining, with lots of realistically frustrating false hopes—though it’s hard to worry very much about the leading question here: Will the franchise hero (Twisted Prey, 2018, etc.) succeed in bringing the crooks to justice before they wipe each other off the face of the Earth?
On the brink of World War I, three women fight internal battles on the homefront.
Novelist Kelly (The Lilac Girls, 2016), who offered the perspectives of three women during World War II in her bestselling debut novel, turns back the clock to examine the lives of another female trio as the world enters the Great War. Connecting the two novels is Eliza Ferriday, the New York socialite with a heart for social justice, who is the mother of real-life Lilac heroine Caroline Ferriday. The book is a prequel, though it is a silk thread that binds the two stories. Eliza is enjoying the high life with her Manhattan and Southampton social set, making regular visits to Paris and St. Petersburg to sightsee with close friend and confidante Sofya Streshnayva as the world buzzes with talk of impending war. Eliza takes the threat more seriously than beautiful Sofya, a cousin of the Romanovs who, like most of her ilk, is living in a bubble of denial about the danger that lies ahead. When Sofya’s stepmother hires Varinka Kozlov, the daughter of a local fortuneteller, she unwittingly brings trouble into their home. Although young Varinka is a kind soul, her family is closely connected to a pair of local thugs leading Bolshevik uprisings against the bourgeoisie White Russians. Soon, Sofya’s family is caught in the crosshairs of a revolution, Eliza is powerless to help from New York, and Varinka must make a choice about where her loyalties lie. Though the writing is rich and vivid with detail about the period, the storytelling is quite a bit slower than in Kelly’s captivating debut, and both the plot and relationship development feel secondary to the historical scene-setting.
A nuanced tale that speaks to the strength of women.
The renowned food writer recounts her adventures as editor-in-chief of the noted epicurean magazine Gourmet in its last decade.
A native New Yorker, Reichl (My Kitchen Year: 136 Recipes that Saved My Life, 2015, etc.) grew up reading the magazine, and food soon became her “own private way of looking at the world.” While working as a chef in Berkeley, California, in the 1970s, she began writing about food, at New West and then the Los Angeles Times, before returning to New York to become the formidable restaurant critic for the New York Times. In 1999, at age 51, somewhat fearfully—she lacked magazine experience and faced managing a staff of 60—Reichl took the editorial helm of Gourmet, at six times her Times salary plus perks, with free rein from Condé Nast publisher Si Newhouse to revamp the staid magazine. In this fun, gossipy, and beguiling memoir, Reichl offers revealing glimpses of her parents, both introduced in earlier books, but the focus is on the heady process of “magazine making,” which meant turning an old-fashioned book into a modern, edgy monthly. She describes the exhilaration of working with talented, quirky staffers, and she provides vivid snapshots of Condé Nast honchos, including publishers Newhouse (supportive) and Gina Sanders (who “relished” fights) as well as the “large, loud,” yet appealing CEO Steve Florio, who regaled her with tales of Newhouse (“You know that Roy Cohn was his closest friend?”). Throughout, the author tells winning stories—of goings-on in the celebrated Condé Nast cafeteria, midnight parties for chefs, zany annual meetings, and providing food to 9/11 firefighters. Her success in introducing provocative articles like David Rakoff’s “Some Pig,” about Jews and bacon, and David Foster Wallace’s classic “Consider the Lobster,” on the ethics of eating, taught her that “when something frightens me, it is definitely worth doing.” A dream job, it ended in the late-2000s recession, when declining ads forced the closing of the venerable publication.