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7 Writers at the Top of Their Game

A twisty slow burner by an author at the top of her game.

THE LOST MAN

A timely novel set in the furthest reaches of Australia by the author of The Dry (2017) and Force of Nature (2018).

The three Bright brothers are the overseers of 3,500 square kilometers of land in Queensland, with hours between each of their homes. It’s a vast, unforgiving environment, and no one ever goes far without a full complement of supplies. When 40-year-old Cameron sets out on his own, ostensibly to fix a repeater mast, he never comes home. His body is eventually spotted, via helicopter, curled up by the stockman’s grave, the source of plentiful, and persistent, local ghost stories. Cam’s older brother, Nathan, and their baby brother, Bub, are as perplexed as the cop who’s come all the way from Brisbane to investigate. What was Cam doing by the grave, and what was his Land Cruiser doing nine kilometers away, still fully stocked with supplies, with the keys left neatly on the front seat? The Brights' mother, Liz, is devastated, and Cam has also left behind his wife, Ilse, and two young daughters, Sophie and Lo. They’re pragmatic folks, though, and there’s a funeral to be planned, plus Christmas is just around the corner. Everyone seems to assume that Cam took his own life, but Nathan isn’t so sure, and there’s a strange dynamic in Cam's home that he can’t put his finger on. Cam had been acting strangely in the weeks before his death, too. But Nathan’s got his own problems. He’s eager to reconnect with his teenage son, Xander, who's visiting from Brisbane, and he has a complicated history with Ilse. In the days leading up to the funeral, family secrets begin to surface, and Nathan realizes he never really knew his brother at all. Harper’s masterful narrative places readers right in the middle of a desolate landscape that’s almost as alien as the moon’s surface, where the effects of long-term isolation are always a concern. The mystery of Cam’s death is at the dark heart of an unfolding family drama that will leave readers reeling, and the final reveal is a heartbreaker.

A twisty slow burner by an author at the top of her game.

Pub Date: Feb. 5, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-250-10568-4

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Flatiron Books

Review Posted Online: Nov. 13, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2018

If this first volume is any indication, James’ trilogy could become one of the most talked-about and influential adventure...

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BLACK LEOPARD, RED WOLF

Wrought with blood, iron, and jolting images, this swords-and-sorcery epic set in a mythical Africa is also part detective story, part quest fable, and part inquiry into the nature of truth, belief, and destiny.

Man Booker Prize winner James (A Brief History of Seven Killings, 2014 etc.) brings his obsession with legend, history, and folklore into this first volume of a projected Dark Star Trilogy. Its title characters are mercenaries, one of whom is called Leopard for his shape-shifting ability to assume the identify of a predatory jungle cat and the other called Tracker for having a sense of smell keen enough to find anything (and anybody) lost in this Byzantine, often hallucinatory Dark Ages version of the African continent. “It has been said you have a nose,” Tracker is told by many, including a sybaritic slave trader who asks him and his partner to find a strange young boy who has been missing for three years. “Just as I wish him to be found,” he tells them, “surely there are those who wish him to stay hidden.” And this is only one of many riddles Tracker comes across, with and without Leopard, as the search takes him to many unusual and dangerous locales, including crowded metropolises, dense forests, treacherous waterways, and, at times, even the mercurial skies overhead. Leopard is besieged throughout his odyssey by vampires, witches, thieves, hyenas, trickster monkeys, and other fantastic beings. He also acquires a motley entourage of helpers, including Sadogo, a gentle giant who doesn’t like being called a giant, Mossi, a witty prefect who’s something of a wizard at wielding two swords at once, and even a wise buffalo, who understands and responds to human commands. The longer the search for this missing child continues, the broader its parameters. And the nature of this search is as fluid and unpredictable as the characters’ moods, alliances, identities, and even sexual preferences. You can sometimes feel as lost in the dizzying machinations and tangled backstories of this exotic universe as Tracker and company. But James’ sensual, beautifully rendered prose and sweeping, precisely detailed narrative cast their own transfixing spell upon the reader. He not only brings a fresh multicultural perspective to a grand fantasy subgenre, but also broadens the genre’s psychological and metaphysical possibilities.

If this first volume is any indication, James’ trilogy could become one of the most talked-about and influential adventure epics since George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire was transformed into Game of Thrones.

Pub Date: Feb. 5, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-7352-2017-1

Page Count: 640

Publisher: Riverhead

Review Posted Online: Oct. 15, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2018

A welcome modern rejoinder to classics such as God Is Red and Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee.

THE HEARTBEAT OF WOUNDED KNEE

NATIVE AMERICA FROM 1890 TO THE PRESENT

An Ojibwe novelist and historian delivers a politically charged, highly readable history of America’s Indigenous peoples after the end of the wars against them.

Native American history, Treuer (Prudence, 2015, etc.) provocatively reminds us, does not end at Wounded Knee, which is usually the last major event concerning Native people that non-Natives can recite. The population of those who identify as Native has increased tenfold since 1900; a third of them are under the age of 18 in a time when many other populations—including white Americans—are aging. “We seem to be everywhere,” writes the author, “and doing everything.” This is not for want of trying otherwise on the part of the federal government, which, at several points in the last 12 decades, has attempted to delist Indian populations and seize reservation lands. Treuer’s account includes many such maneuvers, such as the Indian Reorganization Act of 1934, along with episodes of Native resistance that were not always successful. As he notes, for example, the American Indian Movement of the 1970s, born in the cities, often had trouble gaining a foothold on rural reservations such as Pine Ridge: “Despite its focus on reclaiming Indian pride by way of Indian cultures and ceremonies, and by privileging the old ways, reservation communities were not entirely sold on AIM.” Treuer has been through a tremendous amount of literature to write this book, but he’s also been out on the land talking with people in those communities, as with one tough Blackfoot elder he interviewed: “He had the clipped tones of the High Plains along with a kind of ‘Don’t fuck with me’ cadence that I always think of as ‘elderly Indian voice.’ ” Treuer closes his lucid account with a portrait of the “water keepers” who gathered from all over the continent in the hope of protecting Sioux lands against an oil pipeline that, for the moment, has been stalled in its tracks through their efforts.

A welcome modern rejoinder to classics such as God Is Red and Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee.

Pub Date: Jan. 22, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-59463-315-7

Page Count: 528

Publisher: Riverhead

Review Posted Online: Oct. 2, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2018

Even those who know little about the music will learn much of significance here, perhaps learning how to love it in the...

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GO AHEAD IN THE RAIN

NOTES TO A TRIBE CALLED QUEST

Memoir meets cultural criticism in this bittersweet appreciation of hip-hop visionaries A Tribe Called Quest.

Poet and essayist Abdurraqib (They Can’t Kill Us Until They Kill Us, 2017, etc.) avoids the temptation to oversell his subject while maintaining a tricky structural balance. He somehow does full justice to the musical achievements of Q-Tip and his crew, to the influence of the musical world on this singular group, and to how deeply the experience permeated the young fan who might not have become a writer—and certainly not this writer—without their inspiration. In recent years, the author found himself with students as young as he once was who, as contemporary hip-hop fans, “had never heard of A Tribe Called Quest, and then, later, only knew them as a phoenix, risen from the ashes.” There was a 17-year interval between albums, and by the time what appears to be the last one was released in 2016, friendships had frayed and a crucial collaborator had died. This is a history of how two boyhood friends, Q-Tip and Phife Dawg, teamed up (though the former overshadowed the latter), how they differed from each other, and how they needed each other. Some of the book takes the form of letters from Abdurraqib to each of them and to others. Elsewhere, the author chronicles the progression of rap and how the way that Dr. Dre challenged Q-Tip was similar to the way that the Beatles pushed Brian Wilson, as well as how the East-West synergy later turned vicious and dangerous. “It is much easier to determine when rap music became political and significantly more difficult to pinpoint when it became dangerous,” writes Abdurraqib toward the beginning of the book, a somewhat inexplicable pronouncement that he proceeds to explicate and elucidate over the rest.

Even those who know little about the music will learn much of significance here, perhaps learning how to love it in the process.

Pub Date: Feb. 1, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-4773-1648-1

Page Count: 216

Publisher: Univ. of Texas

Review Posted Online: Dec. 9, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2019

Many of the character types, plot devices, and oracular sentiments are familiar from Burke’s earlier books. But the...

THE NEW IBERIA BLUES

Despite a new slate of murders to investigate and a new love to provide hope, Sheriff’s Detective Dave Robicheaux provides still more evidence that nothing ever really changes in Louisiana’s New Iberia Parish.

Dave is feeling his age. Although his adopted daughter, Alafair, complains that he treats her like a child, he has to acknowledge that she’s an attorney, a novelist, a screenwriter, and an adult who’s presumably capable of managing her relationship with Lou Wexler, the producer of native son Desmond Cormier’s latest film, now shooting in New Iberia and environs. Even as he’s pointing out that Wexler’s much too old for Alafair, Dave’s embarrassed to have been smitten with his new partner, Bailey Ribbons, who’s basically his daughter’s age. All of which ought to take a back seat to the escape of convicted killer Hugo Tillinger from a prison hospital and the death of Lucinda Arceneaux, a minister’s daughter who’s been shot full of heroin and crucified in Weeks Bay. As usual, however, the case is deeply entangled with Dave’s personal life, and the links are only tightened by the murders of ex–courtroom janitor Joe Molinari and Travis Lebeau, a confidential informant working for Dave’s friend Cletus Purcel. It would be nice and neat to think that they’d all been killed by Hugo Tillinger—or by Chester "Smiley" Wimple, the wide-eyed, psychopathic avenger who’s already crossed Dave’s path (Robicheaux, 2018). In New Iberia, though, nothing is ever nice or neat, and even Desmond Cormier’s dreamy fixation on the closing scene of the classic Western My Darling Clementine, which ought to be a sign of his nostalgic attachment to a noble image of mortality, ends up attracting him to Bailey Ribbons, whom he sees as another Clementine, placing himself along with virtually everyone else in the parish on a collision course with Dave.

Many of the character types, plot devices, and oracular sentiments are familiar from Burke’s earlier books. But the sentences are brand new, and the powerful emotional charge they carry feels piercingly new as well.

Pub Date: Jan. 8, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-5011-7687-6

Page Count: 464

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: Oct. 2, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2018

A captivating story of a complicated woman blazing new trails.

THE ONLY WOMAN IN THE ROOM

One of the most beautiful women ever to grace the silver screen, Hedy Lamarr also designed a secret weapon against Nazi Germany.

In her latest portrayal of a lesser-known woman scientist, Benedict (The Other Einstein, 2016, etc.) spins the tale of Lamarr, born Hedwig Kiesler, from her late teens in Austria through her success in Hollywood. Born to Jewish parents in a posh Vienna neighborhood, Hedy endures her mother’s criticism while following her father’s encouragement to pursue both science and acting. Although she finds early success with the risqué Ecstasy, the film’s nudity haunts her efforts to be taken seriously. Just as she achieves the respect of her peers as a stage actress, Hedy catches the eye of Fritz Mandl, a wealthy, charismatic older man who owns several munitions factories. Rumored to have mistreated his former mistresses and to be in league with the fascist (albeit anti-Nazi) Austrian Christian Social Party, Fritz determines to wine, dine, and wed Hedy. Once married, however, Hedy finds herself virtually imprisoned and often abused by her jealous husband. Yet Hedy proves invaluable to Fritz when she begins to gather secret information from their well-connected, politically ambitious house guests. After all, who would suspect such a beautiful woman of understanding military secrets? Yet as Germany and Italy begin to join forces against Austria, Hedy discovers just how mercenary Fritz can be. A daring escape leads Hedy to America, where she vows never to be under another man’s thumb. Once out of Fritz’s reach, Hedy not only returns to acting, but also embarks on a new career as an inventor. Remembering the sensitive information carelessly revealed at Vienna dinner parties, she develops a brilliant radio-communication device. But will the American Navy accept such a weapon from a woman?

A captivating story of a complicated woman blazing new trails.

Pub Date: Jan. 15, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-4926-6686-8

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Sourcebooks Landmark

Review Posted Online: Oct. 28, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2018

An engrossing and haunting psychological thriller.

WATCHING YOU

A young newlywed's life is upended, and a picturesque neighborhood is shattered, when she is suspected of a savage murder.

At the beginning of a new year, Joey Mullen moves back to England from Ibiza with Alfie, her husband, whom she hastily married out of grief over the death of her mother. Jack, Joey’s older brother, invites the young couple to move into his painted Victorian house in the upscale Bristol neighborhood of Melville Heights so they can get on their feet financially and help with the baby that Jack and his wife, Rebecca, are expecting. Joey quickly becomes infatuated with their neighbor Tom Fitzwilliam, a new headmaster charged with improving the local school. Her crush only intensifies when Alfie suggests having a baby, and Joey begins to suspect her marriage was a mistake. Meanwhile, Tom’s wife, Nicola, struggles to fill her days and remains oblivious to their son, Freddie, who regularly spies on his neighbors and the village's teenage schoolgirls, taking their photos and keeping a detailed log of everyone's activities. This surveillance exacerbates the paranoia and mental illness of another neighbor, the mother of 16-year-old Jenna, one of Tom’s students. Jenna’s mother is convinced that she knows the Fitzwilliam family from a vacation incident years earlier (and that the family is now stalking her), but Jenna is more concerned that Tom may be having an inappropriate relationship with her best friend. After several months, tension in the neighborhood explodes, and Joey is suspected of a brutal murder. However, as the police gather evidence, it becomes clear how many secrets each family has been hiding. Jewell (Then She Was Gone, 2017, etc.) adeptly weaves together a complex array of characters in her latest thriller. The novel opens with the murder investigation and deftly maintains its intensity and brisk pace even as the story moves through different moments in time over the previous three months. Jewell’s use of third-person narration allows her to explore each family’s anxieties and sorrows, which ultimately makes this novel’s ending all the more unsettling.

An engrossing and haunting psychological thriller.

Pub Date: Dec. 26, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-5011-9007-0

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Atria

Review Posted Online: Oct. 15, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2018

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