Even better than the bestselling Serena (2008), for here Rash has elevated melodrama to tragedy.

THE COVE

Lonely young woman meets mysterious stranger. What might have been trite and formulaic is anything but in Rash’s fifth novel, a dark tale of Appalachian superstition and jingoism so good it gives you chills. 

Three miles out of town, in the North Carolina mountains, a massive cliff rears up. Beneath it is a cove, gloom-shrouded and cursed, so the locals believe, though all the out-of-state Sheltons knew was that the farmland was cheap. The story takes place in 1918. Both parents have died and their grown children, Hank and Laurel, are trying to cope. Hank is back from the war, missing one hand. Laurel has a purple birthmark; she has been ostracized by the townsfolk of Mars Hill as a witch. Rash’s immersion in country ways and idioms gives his work a rare integrity. One day Laurel hears a stranger playing his flute in the woods; the sound is mournful but mesmerizing. The next time she finds him prone, stung by hornets, and nurses him back to health at the cabin. (What the reader knows, but Laurel doesn’t, is that he’s on the run from a barracks.) A note in his pocket tells her his name is Walter and he’s mute. Laurel can live with that. She has low expectations, but maybe her life is about to begin. Hank hires Walter to help him fence the pasture; he proves an excellent worker. Laurel confesses her “heart feelings:” Walter is encouraging; Laurel cries tears of joy. Meanwhile in town Sgt. Chauncey Feith, a bombastic, deeply insecure army recruiter and faux patriot, is stoking fear of spies in their midst as local boys return from the front, some in terrible shape. Eventually Laurel learns Walter’s identity; his back story is fascinating, but only a spoiler would reveal more. Let’s just say the heartbreaking climax involves a lynch mob led by Feith; perhaps the cove really is cursed.  

Even better than the bestselling Serena (2008), for here Rash has elevated melodrama to tragedy.   

Pub Date: April 10, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-06-180419-9

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Ecco/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: March 5, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2012

His prose spare but spirited, Glynn (Winterland, 2011, etc.) spins an all-too-likely tale of secrets, lies and power...

BLOODLAND

A plot-twisting, page-turning humdinger in which collateral damage gets a murderous spin.

Alive, actress/model Susie Monaghan snagged her allotted 15 minutes of fame and then some. Dead, she became an absolute sensation. She was gorgeous, yes. Talented, maybe. A head case, no question: a beautiful, outrageous flake who did drugs unabashedly and went through boyfriends carnivorously. A fatal helicopter crash off the coast of Ireland rocketed her to the top of the A-list, where she hovered indefinitely like some headline-hungry ghost. People couldn’t stop talking about her, which is OK with a certain young Dublin journalist. Jimmy Gilroy, recently downsized, has received an unexpected and most welcome book deal. He’s charged with immortalizing Susie Monaghan, an assignment he’s prepared to take very seriously given his straitened circumstances, plus the attractive added inducement of Susie’s lovely sister, whose input he deems integral to the project. But then the worrisome phone calls from longtime friend and benefactor Phil Sweeney commence, suggesting ever more forcefully that he back off. Other voices join in. It’s from an obviously unnerved and deeply depressed former prime minister of Ireland, however, that he hears the phrase “collateral damage” applied to Susie. Five others died when the helicopter went down. Jimmy knew that, of course, but now he gets his first sulfuric whiff of something rotten being covered up.

His prose spare but spirited, Glynn (Winterland, 2011, etc.) spins an all-too-likely tale of secrets, lies and power corrupted. Chilling.

Pub Date: Feb. 1, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-312-62128-5

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Picador

Review Posted Online: Feb. 5, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2012

A romping good read that is character-driven yet intellectually provocative on issues of law, religion and...

ACCIDENTS OF PROVIDENCE

Brown’s first novel is a heart-poundingly vivid, intellectually provocative account of the legal case against a fictional woman condemned to death for secretly burying her dead, illegitimate newborn in Cromwell’s England.

In 1649, Cromwell has taken power after the beheading of Charles I. Politics is in turmoil, suspicion and paranoia the mood of the day. But the law still must be upheld as aging and ailing criminal investigator Thomas Bartwain reluctantly builds his case against Rachel Lockyer, an unmarried glovemaker’s apprentice, for breaking the 1624 “Act to Prevent the Destroying and Murdering of Bastard Children.” No one questions that Rachel buried her infant daughter; the case hinges on whether the child was born dead. Humorously Rumpole-like, with a wife who keeps him morally on pitch, Bartwain is increasingly uneasy, especially when he finds a flaw in the law. Meanwhile Rachel remains largely silent out of her confused sense of guilt and because she does not want to expose William Walwyn, who has been her adulterous lover for three passionate years—the author provides great, unsentimental sex scenes that feel true to the era. With his crony Richard Lilburne, Walwyn is a well-known leader of the Levelers, a human rights advocacy group that originally supported Cromwell but has turned against him and is now under attack. William is also the father of 14 legitimate children, and his wife Anne watches and waits for her husband to return his heart to his marriage, not passive but patient. Rachel’s true friend and supporter is feisty and outspoken Elizabeth Lilburne, who has recently lost two small sons to smallpox and remains loyal to husband John despite her impatience with his political posturing. Events in the plot are based on historical incidents, and one of the book’s many joys is the way fictional (Rachel, the Bartwains) and historical figures (the Walwyns, the Lilburnes) weave seamlessly together; everyone’s motives and reactions are richly complex.

A romping good read that is character-driven yet intellectually provocative on issues of law, religion and morality—historical fiction at its best.

Pub Date: Feb. 14, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-547-49080-9

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

Review Posted Online: Dec. 5, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2011

Engaging and accessible, thoughtful without being daunting: This may be the novel that brings Muslim-American fiction into...

AMERICAN DERVISH

Actor/playwright/filmmaker Akhtar makes a compelling debut with a family drama centered on questions of religious and ethnic identity.

In 1980s Milwaukee, 10-year-old Hayat Shah lives in a troubled Pakistani-American household. Father, a determinedly secular neurologist, has no use for the ostentatiously devout local Muslim community; his best friend is a Jewish colleague, Nathan, and he cheats on his wife with white women, a fact Hayat’s angry mother is all too willing to share with her son. The arrival of Mina, Mother’s best friend from home who has been divorced by her husband for having “a fast mouth,” brings added tension. Mina, a committed but nondogmatic Muslim, introduces Hayat to the beauties of the Quran and encourages him to become a hafiz, someone who knows the holy book by heart. But Hayat’s feelings for his “auntie” have sexual undercurrents that disturb them both, and his jealousy when Mina and Nathan fall in love leads him to a terrible act of betrayal that continues to haunt him as a college student in 1990. Akhtar, himself a first-generation Pakistani-American from Milwaukee, perfectly balances a moving exploration of the understanding and serenity Islam imparts to an unhappy preteen with an unsparing portrait of fundamentalist bigotry and cruelty, especially toward intelligent women like Mina. His well-written, strongly plotted narrative is essentially a conventional tale of family conflict and adolescent angst, strikingly individualized by its Muslim fabric. Hayat’s father is in many ways the most complex and intriguing character, but Mina and Nathan achieve a tragic nobility that goes beyond their plot function as instruments of the boy’s moral awakening. Though the story occasionally dips into overdetermined melodrama, its warm tone and traditional but heartfelt coming-of-age lesson will appeal to a broad readership.

Engaging and accessible, thoughtful without being daunting: This may be the novel that brings Muslim-American fiction into the commercial mainstream.

Pub Date: Jan. 9, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-316-18331-4

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: Nov. 1, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2011

As a follow-up to Groff’s well-received debut (The Monsters of Templeton, 2008), this novel is a structural conundrum,...

ARCADIA

An astonishing novel, both in ambition and achievement, filled with revelations that appear inevitable in retrospect, amid the cycle of life and death.

As a follow-up to Groff’s well-received debut (The Monsters of Templeton, 2008), this novel is a structural conundrum, ending in a very different place than it begins while returning full circle. At the outset, it appears to be a novel of the Utopian, communal 1960s, of a charismatic leader, possibly a charlatan, and an Arcadia that grows according to his belief that “the Universe will provide.” It concludes a half-century later in a futuristic apocalypse of worldwide plague and quarantine. To reveal too much of what transpires in between would undermine the reader’s rich experience of discovery: “The page of a book can stay cohesive in the eyes: one sentence can lead to the next. He can crack a paragraph and eat it. Now a story. Now a novel, one full life enclosed in covers.” The “he” is Bit Stone, introduced as a 5-year-old child of that commune, and it is his life that is enclosed in these covers. Following a brief prologue, representing a prenatal memory, the novel comprises four parts, with leaps of a decade or more between them, leaving memory and conjecture to fill in the blanks. At an exhibition of Bit’s photography, a passion since his childhood (documented in some shots), those who had known him all his life realized, “What they found most moving, they told him later, were the blanks between the frames, the leaps that happened invisibly between the then and the now.” The cumulative impact of this novel is similar, as the boy leaps from the commune and subsequently his parents, becomes a parent himself, deals with the decline of his parents and finds his perspective both constant and constantly changing: “He can’t understand what the once-upon-a-time Bit is saying to the current version of himself or to the one who will stand here in the future...worn a little more by time and loss.” A novel of “the invisible tissue of civilization,” of "community or freedom," and of the precious fragility of lives in the balance.

Pub Date: March 1, 2012

ISBN: 978-1-4013-4087-2

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Voice/Hyperion

Review Posted Online: Jan. 9, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2012

At every turn, James’ prose is crisp, observant and carefully controlled; unlike the narrator of “Escape Key,” who grows...

AEROGRAMMES

A well-turned set of stories defined by emotional and physical separation, particularly in the Indian-American diaspora.

James’ fine debut novel, Atlas of Unknowns (2009), was a continent-hopping tale that tracked the divergent lives of two Indian sisters with wit and a lightly comic touch. Her debut story collection displays a similar approach, and she enthusiastically tests how her style can function in a variety of settings. The two most inventive stories study human emotions in nonhuman contexts. “What to Do With Henry” follows a chimpanzee’s travels from Sierra Leone to the United States, where he builds an uncanny bond with a woman and her adopted daughter; as the chimp struggles for his place in a zoo’s pecking order, James crafts a clear (but unforced) allegory of our own human strivings. Likewise, the closing “Girl Marries Ghost” imagines a society where people who are desperate for companionship can marry ghosts, who are eager to spend a little time back in the real world; James’ portrait of one such marriage is a seriocomic exposé of our craving for order set against our inability to let go of our messy pasts. The other stories deal in culture clashes, mostly featuring Indian Americans, but for James ethnicity isn’t the sole source of conflict. The Indian dance teacher in “Light & Luminous,” for instance, is defined as much by her sense of personal pride as her growing feeling that her art is out of step with the times. In the title story, the protagonist (who has the evocative last name of Panicker) is deciding whether his fellow nursing home residents are more embracing than his family.

At every turn, James’ prose is crisp, observant and carefully controlled; unlike the narrator of “Escape Key,” who grows increasingly aware of his fiction’s shortcomings, James projects a deep emotional intelligence.

Pub Date: April 5, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-307-26891-4

Page Count: 192

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: Feb. 21, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2012

A head-shakingly perfect blend of zombie schlock, deadpan wit, startling profanity, desperate improvisation and inventive...

CITY OF THE LOST

A remarkable debut, LA noir with eye-bulging refinements, from a poet and short-story writer who says of himself: "As a writer he strives to be a hack. Hacks get paid. He's not sure if hacks talk about themselves in the third person, though. That might just be a side effect of his meds."

Joe Sunday, bad knees, weary resignation and all, is a leg-breaker for English gangster Simon Patterson when his buddy and partner-in-crime Julio Guerrera starts acting weird in a bar then rips his own throat out with a busted bottle. Seems that Simon sent Julio to steal a McGuffin from Chicago mobster Sandro Giavetti. Soon Joe confronts Giavetti, who strangles him. Joe wakes up to find he's in perfect health—except he's now room temperature and doesn't need to breathe. Giavetti, too, is immortal. "Well, maybe not so much Fountain of Youth as Fountain of Not Staying Dead." The only drawback as far as Joe is concerned is that he falls apart zombie-style every 24 hours and needs to chomp living flesh in order to return to being healthily undead. Oh, and the fact that the McGuffin, an egg-shaped gemstone, has vanished, and lots of folks want it. The basically indescribable plot involves said McGuffin and encounters with, among other beings, a mysteriously well-informed but unforthcoming femme fatale, a lecherous demon who tends bar in his own private universe, a do-gooder Latina bruja who wants to help homeless vampires, a diabolical Nazi wizard and a midget with teeth like a shark.

A head-shakingly perfect blend of zombie schlock, deadpan wit, startling profanity, desperate improvisation and inventive brilliance.

Pub Date: Jan. 3, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-7564-0702-5

Page Count: 224

Publisher: DAW/Berkley

Review Posted Online: Nov. 21, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2011

A charity sends Jonas to live with the Martins, an evangelical family in Pennsylvania. There he attends high school, an...

THE BOOK OF JONAS

In Dau’s debut fiction, Younis, a perceptive, observant boy in a nameless Central Asian land, is caught up in the war on terror. His village has been destroyed, his family killed, and now he must remake himself as Jonas Iskander, refugee.

A charity sends Jonas to live with the Martins, an evangelical family in Pennsylvania. There he attends high school, an outcast, haunting the library to seal himself “inside a bastion of knowledge.” There he is also bullied, until he finally responds to an ugly attack by beating the bully senseless. The school mandates counseling, and the psychologist pressures Jonas to explore the trauma that destroyed family and home. Emotionally trapped between past and future, Jonas only remembers “half dreams that flicker.” Later admitted to the city’s university, Jonas meets a beautiful pre-med student from India and befriends other refugee students. He also begins to drink to the point of blackout. As the psychologist pushes Jonas to uncover suppressed truths about an American soldier who saved his life, the young refugee’s fractured recollections lead the counselor to connect Jonas' story with that of Rose Henderson, whose son, Christopher, went missing while in combat in Jonas’ home country. To Rose, trapped in a limbo of loss, Jonas reluctantly tells his story—of the attack on his village and of his mountain cave sanctuary where he was found by the soldier, “adding and subtracting, substituting what should have been said for what he fails to remember accurately.” While leaving one minor narrative thread dangling, Dau sketches Jonas brilliantly, empathetically, writing with spare, clear language in the third person, a point of view encompassing the distance necessary for emotional clarity. Rich with symbolism, marvelously descriptive in language—“the expression of a young boy playing poker with grown men”—Dau’s novel offers deeply resonating truths about war and culture, about family and loss that only art can reveal.

Pub Date: March 15, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-399-15845-2

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Blue Rider Press

Review Posted Online: Dec. 28, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2012

Gallagher loves character development but respects plotting enough to give it full measure. The result is that rare beast, a...

THE BEDLAM DETECTIVE

Monsters, actual and metaphorical, are at the heart of this superbly crafted thriller.

Gallagher has been called a horror writer, a fantasy writer, a non-fantasy writer, a writer for big screens and smaller ones, a writer whose considerable talent has enabled him to slip in and out of genres precisely as if those tidy little boxes didn’t exist—as indeed they don’t for his character-driven books. In this one, Sebastian Becker (The Kingdom of Bones, 2007, etc.), his fast-track career abruptly derailed, contemplates an uncertain future. Now that the Pinkertons have sent him packing, he faces 1912 back in his native England, employed as the special investigator to the Masters of Lunacy. Englishmen of property deemed too loopy to look after anyone’s property face Bedlams of one sort or another, their property removed from their care. It’s up to Sir James Crichton-Browne, acting for His Majesty’s Government, to render judgments informed by evidence his special investigator Sebastian provides. The job pays poorly but is nuanced enough to be interesting. And it gets even more so when Sebastian meets Sir Owain Lancaster, a scientist who’s been widely respected until he blames the failure of his lavish Amazonian expedition on a series of attacks by horrific monsters only he can see. No longer respected but still exceedingly rich, he becomes grist for Sebastian’s mill. Is Sir Owain really crazy? Or, much worse, is he himself a monster?

Gallagher loves character development but respects plotting enough to give it full measure. The result is that rare beast, a literary page turner. 

Pub Date: Feb. 7, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-307-40664-4

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: Feb. 16, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2012

At the start of the novel’s coda, when Dell explains that he teaches his students “books that to me seem secretly about my...

CANADA

A great American novel by the Pulitzer Prize–winning author.

This is Ford’s first novel since concluding the Frank Bascombe trilogy, which began with The Sportswriter (1986), peaked with the prize-winning Independence Day (1995) and concluded with The Lay of the Land (2006). That series was for Ford what the Rabbit novels were for Updike, making this ambitious return to long-form fiction seem like something of a fresh start but also a thematic culmination. Despite its title, the novel is as essentially all-American as Independence Day. Typically for Ford, the focus is as much on the perspective (and limitations) of its protagonist as it is on the issues that the narrative addresses. The first-person narrator is Dell Parsons, a 15-year-old living in Montana with his twin sister when their parents—perhaps inexplicably, perhaps inevitably—commit an ill-conceived bank robbery. Before becoming wards of the state, the more willful sister runs away with her boyfriend, while Dell is taken across the border to Canada, where he will establish a new life for himself after crossing another border, from innocent bystander to reluctant complicity. The first half of the novel takes place in Montana and the second in Canada, but the entire narrative is Dell’s reflection, 50 years later, on the eve of his retirement as a teacher. As he ruminates on character and destiny and ponders “how close evil is to the normal goings-on that have nothing to do with evil,” he also mediates between his innocence as an uncommonly naïve teenager and whatever wisdom he has gleaned through decades of experience. Dell’s perspective may well be singular and skewed, but it’s articulate without being particularly perceptive or reflective. And it’s the only one we have. In a particularly illuminating parenthetical aside, he confesses, “I was experiencing great confusion about what was happening, having had no experience like this in my life. I should not be faulted for not understanding what I saw.”

At the start of the novel’s coda, when Dell explains that he teaches his students “books that to me seem secretly about my young life,” he begins the list with The Heart of Darkness and The Great Gatsby. Such comparisons seem well-earned.

Pub Date: May 22, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-06-169204-8

Page Count: 432

Publisher: Ecco/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: March 19, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2012

An exceptionally fine study of love, war and the double-edged role of memory, which can both sustain and destroy....

THE COLDEST NIGHT

It’s extremes that rivet us in Olmstead’s searing seventh novel: the heaven of first love; the hell of the battlefield.

Henry Childs grew up in the mountains of West Virginia, raised by his grandfather and his sweet-natured mother Clemmie. (The mystery of his never-mentioned father is a late-revelation shocker.) His forebears were soldiers and horsemen, but they’ve lost their land, and Clemmie must move with Henry to the city, Charleston. In 1950 Henry is a high school junior with a passion for horses and baseball. He helps out at some stables where he meets Mercy. She comes from money and is university-bound, while Henry seems headed for a factory. The attraction between these virgins is mutual and overwhelming; from the outset their sex is a rapt communication. Henry is warned off by her father and brother. The lovers elope to New Orleans, where an apartment is waiting for them, courtesy of Mercy’s accommodating aunt. They make it their Eden. Father and brother come to expel them, abducting Mercy, giving Henry a final warning. Though underage, he enlists as a Marine and is sent to Korea. He does recon with Lew, a gruff World War II vet. Quite unsentimentally, a bond develops, a wise-guy routine. The cold is arctic. The Chinese come at night, waves of them. It’s kill or be killed; answer atrocity with atrocity. In New Orleans we ached because we feared what was happening had to end; in Korea we ache because we fear it never will. Olmstead’s extraordinary language gives us new eyes.

An exceptionally fine study of love, war and the double-edged role of memory, which can both sustain and destroy. Prize-winning material.

Pub Date: April 3, 2012

ISBN: 978-1-61620-043-5

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Algonquin

Review Posted Online: Feb. 5, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2012

Riveting, heartbreaking, profoundly moving.

THE AGE OF MIRACLES

In Walker’s stunning debut, a young California girl coming-of-age in a dystopian near future confronts the inevitability of change on the most personal level as life on earth withers.

Sixth-grader Julia, whose mother is a slightly neurotic former actress and whose father is an obstetrician, is living an unremarkable American middle-class childhood. She rides the school bus and takes piano lessons; she has a mild crush on a boy named Seth whose mother has cancer; she enjoys sleepovers with her best friend Hanna, who happens to be a Mormon. Then one October morning there’s a news report that scientists have discovered a slowing of the earth’s rotation, adding minutes to each day and night. After initial panic, the human tendency to adapt sets in even as the extra minutes increase into hours. Most citizens go along when the government stays on a 24-hour clock, although an underground movement of those living by “real time” sprouts up. Gravity is affected; birds begin to die, and astronauts are stranded on their space station. By November, the “real time” of days has grown to 40 hours, and the actual periods of light and dark only get longer from that point. The world faces crises in communication, health, transportation and food supply. The changes in the planet are profound, but the daily changes in Julia’s life, which she might be facing even in a normal day, are equally profound. Hanna’s family moves to Utah, leaving Julia without a best friend to help defend against the bullies at the bus stop. She goes through the trials and joys of first love. She begins to see cracks in her parents’ marriage and must navigate the currents of loyalty and moral uncertainty. She faces sickness and death of loved ones. But she also witnesses constancy and perseverance. Julia’s life is shaped by what happens in the larger world, but it is the only life she knows, and Walker captures each moment, intimate and universal, with magical precision.

Riveting, heartbreaking, profoundly moving.

Pub Date: June 26, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-8129-9297-7

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: April 23, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2012

Complex in theme, complex in narrative, this is a masterful literary exploration of the specter of conscience and the...

ABSOLUTION

In Flanery’s debut literary fiction, Sam Leroux has a publisher’s assignment to write the biography of a famous South African author, Clare Wald, imperious, reticent, evasive about her writing and disinclined to discuss her catastrophic personal life.

A native South African, Sam is a writer and scholar residing in the United States. Sam flies to meet the reluctant Clare, who resides in his native Cape Town, a fractious city where have-nots confront razor-wire–topped walls behind which the rich have imprisoned themselves. Told from alternating points of view, the novel shifts from unsettled present to bloody past, from today’s fractured economic and social environment to the historic struggle to end apartheid. That ugly fight for democracy consumed the lives of Clare’s sister and daughter and Sam’s parents. Guilt, fear and regret keep Sam and Clare from confronting their mutual history of loss and love, deceit and despair. Unbeknownst to Sam, Clare has already written Absolution, a “fictionalized memoir,” which will be published only because the circumspect Clare agreed to an official biography. Ghosts hover each time Sam and Clare meet, and Clare’s cathartic expulsion of her truths comes in flashes. Flanery has constructed a haunting labyrinth of mirrors, fact reflecting remembrance, lie reflecting evasion.

Complex in theme, complex in narrative, this is a masterful literary exploration of the specter of conscience and the formidable cost of reconciliation.

Pub Date: April 12, 2012

ISBN: 978-1-59448-817-7

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Riverhead

Review Posted Online: March 19, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2012

War is hell in this novel of inspired absurdity.

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BILLY LYNN'S LONG HALFTIME WALK

Hailed as heroes on a stateside tour before returning to Iraq, Bravo Squad discovers just what it has been fighting for.

Though the shellshocked humor will likely conjure comparisons with Catch-22 and Slaughterhouse Five, the debut novel by Fountain (following his story collection, Brief Encounters with Che Guevara, 2006) focuses even more on the cross-promotional media monster that America has become than it does on the absurdities of war. The entire novel takes place over a single Thanksgiving Day, when the eight soldiers (with their memories of the two who didn’t make it) find themselves at the promotional center of an all-American extravaganza, a nationally televised Dallas Cowboys football game. Providing the novel with its moral compass is protagonist Billy Lynn, a 19-year-old virgin from small-town Texas who has been inflated into some kind of cross between John Wayne and Audie Murphy for his role in a rescue mission documented by an embedded Fox News camera. In two days, the Pentagon-sponsored “Victory Tour” will end and Bravo will return to the business as usual of war. In the meantime, they are dealing with a producer trying to negotiate a film deal (“Think Rocky meets Platoon,” though Hilary Swank is rumored to be attached), glad-handing with the corporate elite of Cowboy fandom (and ownership), and suffering collateral damage during a halftime spectacle with Beyoncé. Over the course of this long, alcohol-fueled day, Billy finds himself torn, as he falls in love (and lust) with a devout Christian cheerleader and listens to his sister try to persuade him that he has done his duty and should refuse to go back. As “Americans fight the war daily in their strenuous inner lives,” Billy and his foxhole brethren discover treachery and betrayal beyond anything they’ve experienced on the battlefield.

War is hell in this novel of inspired absurdity. 

Pub Date: May 1, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-06-088559-5

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Ecco/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: March 19, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2012

This is the first of Icelandic author Ómarsdóttir’s novels to appear in English, and it shouldn’t be the last. Somewhere in...

CHILDREN IN REINDEER WOODS

A literary allegory filled with truths and absurdities about the human condition.

An unspecified army invades an unspecified country. Three soldiers arrive at a farm that is also a “temporary home for children” named Children in Reindeer Woods. Without apparent motive, they murder everyone except an 11-year-old girl, Billie. Then the soldier named Rafael murders his comrades. Now he wants to stop killing and become a farmer. Billie is oddly unmoved by the killings and becomes his (platonic) companion as he tries to remake himself into a peaceful human being. Meanwhile, puppet masters on another planet pull strings as they try to manipulate events on Earth. This novel, translated from the Icelandic, takes getting used to. Many phrases are repeated numerous times, giving the story a strange cadence not often seen in Western literature. The characters are not from a particular country or a particular culture; they are from everywhere or anywhere or nowhere. Rafael wants to transform himself from everysoldier to Everyman. Can he go from blowing up bombs to helping Billie play with her Barbies? Others pass through Reindeer Woods, such as the wandering nun who stays overnight and either sleeps with Rafael or doesn’t. Rafael shoots off one of his toes every time he fails to live up to his own standards, but pain, bleeding and infection seem not to hobble him as he tends his cows and sheep. Despite all the bodies Rafael buries, there is also humor buried in the tale—not hilarity, but perhaps a few wry smiles at mankind’s foibles.

This is the first of Icelandic author Ómarsdóttir’s novels to appear in English, and it shouldn’t be the last. Somewhere in the reader’s mind, Catch-22 echoes faintly.

Pub Date: April 17, 2012

ISBN: 978-1-934824-35-1

Page Count: 198

Publisher: Open Letter

Review Posted Online: April 3, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2012

BEAUTIFUL RUINS

Hollywood operators and creative washouts collide across five decades and two continents in a brilliant, madcap meditation on fate.

The sixth novel by Walter (The Financial Lives of the Poets, 2009, etc.) opens in April 1962 with the arrival of starlet Dee Moray in a flyspeck Italian resort town. Dee is supposed to be filming the Liz Taylor-Richard Burton costume epic Cleopatra, but her inconvenient pregnancy (by Burton) has prompted the studio to tuck her away. A smitten young man, Pasquale, runs the small hotel where she’s hidden, and he’s contemptuous of the studio lackey, Michael Deane, charged with keeping Dee out of sight. From there the story sprays out in multiple directions, shifting time and perspective to follow Deane’s evolution into a Robert Evans-style mogul; Dee’s hapless aging-punk son; an alcoholic World War II vet who settles into Pasquale’s hotel to peck away at a novel; and a young screenwriter eagerly pitching a dour movie about the Donner Party. Much of the pleasure of the novel comes from watching Walter ingeniously zip back and forth to connect these loose strands, but it largely succeeds on the comic energy of its prose and the liveliness of its characters. A theme that bubbles under the story is the variety of ways real life energizes great art—Walter intersperses excerpts from his characters’ plays, memoirs, film treatments and novels to show how their pasts inform their best work. Unlikely coincidences abound, but they feel less like plot contrivances than ways to serve a broader theme about how the unlikely, unplanned moments in our lives are the most meaningful ones. And simply put, Walter’s prose is a joy—funny, brash, witty and rich with ironic twists. He’s taken all of the tricks of the postmodern novel and scoured out the cynicism, making for a novel that's life-affirming but never saccharine.

A superb romp. 

Pub Date: June 12, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-06-192812-3

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Harper/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: May 16, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2012

The inventiveness of Mantel’s language is the chief draw here; the plot, as such, will engage only the most determined of...

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BRING UP THE BODIES

Second in Mantel’s trilogy charting the Machiavellian trajectory of Thomas Cromwell.

The Booker award-winning first volume, Wolf Hall (2009), ended before the titular residence, that of Jane Seymour’s family, figured significantly in the life of King Henry VIII. Seeing through Cromwell’s eyes, a point of view she has thoroughly assimilated, Mantel approaches the major events slantwise, as Cromwell, charged with the practical details of managing Henry’s political and religious agendas, might have. We rejoin the characters as the king’s thousand-day marriage to Anne Boleyn is well along. Princess Elizabeth is a toddler, the exiled Queen Katherine is dying, and Henry’s disinherited daughter Princess Mary is under house arrest. As Master Secretary, Cromwell, while managing his own growing fortune, is always on call to put out fires at the court of the mercurial Henry (who, even for a king, is the ultimate Bad Boss). The English people, not to mention much of Europe, have never accepted Henry’s second marriage as valid, and Anne’s upstart relatives are annoying some of Britain’s more entrenched nobility with their arrogance and preening. Anne has failed to produce a son, and despite Cromwell’s efforts to warn her (the two were once allies of a sort), she refuses to alter her flamboyant behavior, even as Henry is increasingly beguiled by Jane Seymour’s contrasting (some would say calculated) modesty. Cromwell, a key player in the annulment of Henry’s first marriage, must now find a pretext for the dismantling of a second. Once he begins interrogating, with threats of torture, Anne’s male retainers to gather evidence of her adulteries, Mantel has a difficult challenge in keeping up our sympathy for Cromwell. She succeeds, mostly by portraying Cromwell as acutely aware that one misstep could land “him, Cromwell” on the scaffold as well. That misstep will happen, but not in this book.

The inventiveness of Mantel’s language is the chief draw here; the plot, as such, will engage only the most determined of Tudor enthusiasts.

Pub Date: May 22, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-8050-9003-1

Page Count: 432

Publisher: Henry Holt

Review Posted Online: May 7, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2012

Grim indeed, yet eloquent and utterly compelling.

THE COLDEST WAR

Independently intelligible sequel to the dark fantasy Bitter Seeds (2010), something like a cross between the devious, character-driven spy fiction of early John le Carré and the mad science fantasy of the X-Men.

Previously, during World War II, the Nazis developed warriors with devastating psychic powers. To combat them, British warlocks used their inherited lore to summon the Eidolons, irresistible demons beyond time and space, whose price for cooperation is extracted in the blood of innocents. Now, in 1963, after the Soviet Union defeated the Nazis and took over their horrid experiments, their empire stretches from the Pacific to the Atlantic save only for a narrow coastal strip west from Paris—America never entered the war and is still mired in a four-decades-long depression. Gretel and her younger brother Klaus, Nazi products captured by the Soviets and forced to cooperate with their experiments, escape from a prison camp and make their way to England where they insist on contacting former spy chief Raybould Marsh who, beset by personal tragedy, has turned into a belligerent drunk barely holding on to his job as a gardener. Marsh's erstwhile colleague, the aristocratic Will Beauclerk, wracked with guilt over his part in summoning the Eidolons and subsequent slaughter of innocents, has betrayed the whereabouts of England's warlocks to the Soviets, who are quietly assassinating them. It will be Marsh's task to unmask Will's treachery, learn what greater designs the Soviets have and counteract them, and deal with the seemingly untouchable Gretel, a psychic so formidable that she has foreseen all possible futures and is manipulating everybody toward an end only she knows. Despite the jaw-dropping backdrop and oblique plotting, the narrative is driven by character and personal circumstance, the only possible drawback being certain important developments that annoyingly take place offstage.

Grim indeed, yet eloquent and utterly compelling.

Pub Date: July 17, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-7653-2151-0

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Tor

Review Posted Online: April 23, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2012

Independently intelligible but best appreciated after volume one—and with a huge surprise twist in the last sentence.

CALIBAN'S WAR

From the Expanse series , Vol. 2

Part two of the topnotch space opera begun with Leviathan Wakes (2011), from Corey (aka Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck).  

Previously, a dangerous alien protomolecule was weaponized by an amoral corporation and field-tested against a habitat in the asteroid belt, bringing Earth, Mars and the Belt to the brink of war. Thanks to whistle-blowing Belter spaceship captain Jim Holden, all-out war was averted and the habitat diverted to Venus. Now, the protomolecule has taken over that planet and appears to be building a gigantic, incomprehensible device, a development viewed with alarm by the great powers. Then, on Ganymede, a creature able to survive unprotected in a vacuum, immune to most weapons and hideously strong, wipes out several platoons of marines. Fighting breaks out and the great powers teeter on the brink of war. Mysteriously, just before the monster's appearance, somebody kidnapped a number of children who all suffered from the same disease of the immune system. Botanist Prax Meng, the father of one of the children, asks for Holden's help in finding his daughter. As Ganymede's fragile ecosystem collapses, Holden flees with Prax. Meanwhile, on Earth, fiery old U.N. bigwig Chrisjen Avasarala realizes she's been outmaneuvered by forces in league with the corporation that thinks to control the protomolecule. The characters, many familiar from before, grow as the story expands; tension mounts, action explodes and pages turn relentlessly.

Independently intelligible but best appreciated after volume one—and with a huge surprise twist in the last sentence. 

Pub Date: June 1, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-316-12906-0

Page Count: 624

Publisher: Orbit/Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: April 16, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2012

As in Mulligan’s hard-nosed debut, the real star here is Providence, which the author knows intimately.

CLIFF WALK

Fresh from the Most Corrupt State competition comes a second persuasive entry that links pretty much every citizen of Providence to a child-snuff-porn ring.

Cosmo Scalici, convinced that he deserves more respect as a waste recycler who mainly feeds trash to pigs, is less than happy when one of his hogs beats him out for the child’s hand that he’s just glimpsed. Soon after a post-slaughter autopsy confirms Scalici’s find, along with his dim prospects for respect, someone—State Police Capt. Steve Parisi won’t confirm whether it’s Salvatore Maniella, Rhode Island’s premier pornographer—gets shot to death and takes a thoroughly disfiguring header off Newport’s scenic Cliff Walk. The two incidents are obviously linked, but in order to connect the dots, reporter Liam Mulligan, of the dying Providence Dispatch, will have to wade through a pit of waist-high filth: an online ring of child pornographers, a vigilante who’s riding around town executing same, an interchangeable series of pole dancers coming on to him (who knew prostitution was legal in Rhode Island until 2010?) and bodyguards warning him to quit hassling Sal Maniella’s daughter Vanessa, queen of the city’s strip clubs, and of course Mulligan’s estranged wife, Dorcas, who phones him every time she goes off her meds. The high-casualty plot is a mess. But the epic, warts-and-all portrait of the city is scathing; ulcer-ridden wiseacre Mulligan (Rogue Island, 2010) is never less than compelling company; and the analogies between the newspaper business and the porn business are spot-on.

As in Mulligan’s hard-nosed debut, the real star here is Providence, which the author knows intimately.

Pub Date: May 22, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-7653-3237-0

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Forge

Review Posted Online: April 22, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2012

Stern weaves an intricate and clever web of stories steeped in both sacred and mundane Jewish culture.

THE BOOK OF MISCHIEF

NEW AND SELECTED STORIES

“Mischief” is indeed the operative term here, for Stern’s characters are subtle, slyly humorous and at times poignant.

Stern’s geographical range is impressive, with most of the stories unfolding in The Pinch, the Jewish section in—of all incongruous places—Memphis, Tenn. In "The Tale of a Kite," the opening story, Rabbi Shmelke is alleged to be able to fly. While this fascinates the narrator’s son Ziggy, the narrator himself is less naïve and more skeptical, especially since the rabbi has a reputation for being on the "lunatic fringe" of Judaism. In "Lazar Malkin Enters Heaven," the narrator’s father-in-law untowardly refuses to die and thus causes untold embarrassment to his family. In fact, even when an angel appears to take him up to paradise, Malkin refuses to believe that the angel is real and snorts that "there ain’t no such place." The angel becomes understandably offended but counters: "We’re even. In paradise they’ll never believe you’re for real." "Zelik Rifkin and the Tree of Dreams" features the title character who, testing his mother’s lack of attention, announces that he robbed a bank and killed a teller. " 'Just so you’re careful,' " she distractedly replies. After the first eight stories, Stern moves us out of Memphis and transports us to the Lower East Side of Manhattan at the turn of the 20th century. There, prophet Elijah the Tishbite finds that after millennia of commuting between heaven and earth, and after being "translated to Paradise in a chariot of flame while yet alive," he’s become a voyeur. After Manhattan, Stern shifts his narratives to Europe before returning to America for the final story, set in the Catskills.

Stern weaves an intricate and clever web of stories steeped in both sacred and mundane Jewish culture.

Pub Date: Sept. 4, 2012

ISBN: 978-1-55597-621-7

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Graywolf

Review Posted Online: April 29, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2012

Readers familiar with Stross' dazzling science fiction should relish this change of pace and direction.

THE APOCALYPSE CODEX

Fourth in the series (The Fuller Memorandum, 2010, etc.) about the Laundry: a weirdly alluring blend of superspy thriller, deadpan comic fantasy and Lovecraftian horror.

In the universe Stross has conjured up, supernatural nasties are real, so naturally the British government has a department to deal with them. (The U.S. equivalent is known as the Nazgûl.) The Laundry, a department so secret that anybody that stumbles upon its existence is either compulsorily inducted or quietly eliminated, seems quintessentially British: the executive offices, known as Mahogany Row, remain eerily empty; forms must be signed in blood; and there are grandiloquent code names for everything. Applied computational demonologist Bob Howard has been fast tracked into management, having survived a series of dangerous and unpleasant encounters. His boss, James Angleton, an Eater of Souls (Don't ask. Really.), worries about CASE NIGHTMARE GREEN, but there's a more immediate problem: Raymond Schiller, a supernaturally charismatic American televangelist, has grown uncomfortably chummy with the prime minister, but by convention and statute the Laundry may not investigate the office they answer to. So Bob finds himself working with "Externalities" in the shape of Persephone Hazard, an extremely powerful witch, and her sidekick Johnny McTavish, who has particular experience with creepy religious cults. Equipped with an unlimited credit card and a camera that doubles as a basilisk gun, Bob jets off to Denver to investigate and runs into an organization run by parasitic brain-sucking isopods—which turns out to be the least of his worries. Stross' irreverent, provocative, often unsettling and undeniably effective brew seethes with allusions to other works of literature, film, music and what-all—it's integral to the fun.

Readers familiar with Stross' dazzling science fiction should relish this change of pace and direction. 

Pub Date: July 3, 2012

ISBN: 978-1-937007-46-1

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Ace/Berkley

Review Posted Online: April 25, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2012

The blond beauty is Sigrid, a stenographer living alone with her unpleasant mother-in-law while her husband, Kaspar, serves...

CITY OF WOMEN

In his debut about 1943 Berlin, Gillham uses elements common to the many previous movies and books about World War II—from vicious Nazis to black marketeers to Jewish children hiding in attics to beautiful blond German women hiding their sexuality inside drab coats—yet manages to make the story fresh.

The blond beauty is Sigrid, a stenographer living alone with her unpleasant mother-in-law while her husband, Kaspar, serves on the eastern front. Sigrid’s Berlin is a grim city full of suspicious, fearful citizens barely coping with shortages and almost nightly air raids, people not above turning each other over to the Gestapo for unpatriotic behavior. But Sigrid is mostly consumed in pining not for Kaspar but for Egon, the Jewish black markeeter with whom she carried on a passionate affair before he went into hiding. At first, Sigrid resists when Ericha, a rebellious teenager living in her building, involves her in an underground network hiding Jews, but iconoclast Sigrid soon finds that her experience as Egon’s occasional “bagman” serves her well as she delivers supplies and humans to a safe house. At the same time, she befriends new neighbors, two sisters and their wounded-officer brother, Wolfram, whose impeccable German credentials are not what they seem. Sigrid finds herself wondering if a particular Jewish woman with two daughters in hiding might be Egon’s wife. But when Egon reappears in her life, she doesn’t bring up her suspicions. Instead she hides him in her neighbors’ apartment, an awkward situation given that she has recently begun what she considers a purely sexual affair with Wolfram. The wounded and embittered Kaspar’s return only complicates the situation. With her underground activities as intricate as her love life, Sigrid can trust no one, yet must trust a dangerously wider circle of acquaintances until the hold-your-breath suspense ending.

Pub Date: Aug. 7, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-399-15776-9

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Amy Einhorn/Putnam

Review Posted Online: July 22, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2012

An absorbing update of the classic film, D.O.A., that finds its author so completely in the zone that not a word is wasted,...

DEAD ANYWAY

Nothing in Knopf’s reflective, quietly loopy Hamptons mysteries starring Sam Acquillo and Jackie Swaitkowski (Ice Cap, 2012, etc.) will have prepared his fans for this taut, streamlined tale of a man investigating his own murder.

The hit man who invades the Cathcarts’ upscale home in Stamford, Conn., tells Florencia Cathcart that if she doesn’t write down the answers to five questions, he’ll kill her husband. When she complies, he shoots them both anyway. Florencia dies, but Arthur merely hovers in a coma for months. Convinced upon his return to life that his killer’s been monitoring his progress with a view to finishing him off, he persuades his neurologist sister, Evelyn, to have him declared dead. She agrees, although she’s signing on to a long list of potential charges for conspiracy and insurance fraud, and Arthur, once he’s erased from the grid, is free to assume the identity of one Alex Rimes and go after the hit man and his employer. He tires easily, he limps badly, and his vision is poor, but his skills as a freelance researcher turn out to be surprisingly useful, though he can’t imagine why anyone would order the execution of either himself or Florencia, who owned a successful insurance agency. The trail to the killers leads through a wary arrangement with a retired FBI agent, an elaborate precious-metals scam and a society party to die for before Arthur finally confronts his quarry in a sequence that manages both to satisfy readers’ bloodlust and to point toward a sequel.

An absorbing update of the classic film, D.O.A., that finds its author so completely in the zone that not a word is wasted, and the story seems to unfold itself without human assistance.

Pub Date: Sept. 15, 2012

ISBN: 978-1-57962-283-1

Page Count: 248

Publisher: Permanent Press

Review Posted Online: July 31, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2012

A flawlessly assembled thriller.

THE BROKEN ONES

In the strange, devastating aftermath of Gray Wednesday, when the Earth's poles suddenly switched, the world is in even greater chaos, climatic distress and financial ruin than it is now.

Not only are people struggling for survival, most of them are shadowed by a ghost. In most cases, it's the ghost of a relative or friend, but for tormented Australian cop Oscar Mariani, the specter is an unknown 16-year-old boy. The son of a storied cop, Mariani works for forever dank and gloomy Brisbane's special Nine-Ten unit, which determines whether a homicide suspect was driven to commit the crime by the maddening presence of a ghost. If so, it's a pardonable offense. Oscar has a vested interest in solving the grisly killing of a girl found ripped apart in a sewage plant, a weird religious symbol carved into her stomach. He has never gotten over the guilt of maiming another teenage girl when he swerved to avoid a boy in the road—the boy, as it turns out, who is now haunting him. When Oscar's dirty superiors order him to back off the case, which involves the abduction, torture and murder of disabled girls from a nursing home, he goes rogue, losing his loyal female partner on the force in the process. It's not enough for him to get beat up, shot and hailed on. In a frightening scene, huge, vulturelike creatures maul him. In the striking retro future of this novel, bizarre and familiar comfortably coincide.

A flawlessly assembled thriller.

Pub Date: Aug. 7, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-385-53465-9

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Doubleday

Review Posted Online: Oct. 11, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2012

A great cure for the blues, especially for anyone who might feel bad about growing older.

THE 100-YEAR-OLD MAN WHO CLIMBED OUT THE WINDOW AND DISAPPEARED

A Swedish debut novel that will keep readers chuckling.

Allan Karlsson has just turned 100, and the Old Folks’ Home is about to give him a birthday party that he absolutely doesn’t want. So he leaves out his window and high-tails it to a bus station, with no particular destination in mind. On a whim, he steals a suitcase and boards a bus. The suitcase’s owner, a criminal, will do anything to get it back. This is the basis for a story that is loaded with absurdities from beginning to end—the old coot has plenty of energy for his age and an abiding love of vodka. The story goes back and forth between the current chase and his long, storied life. From childhood, he has shown talent with explosives. This knack catches the attention of many world leaders of the 20th century: Franco, Truman, Stalin, Mao and Kim Il Sung, to name a few of the people he meets. Want to blow up bridges? Allan’s your man. Want much bigger explosions? Just pour him a drink. He’s neither immoral nor amoral, but he is certainly detached, and he is absolutely apolitical. In the past, he insults Stalin (luckily, the translator faints), learns Russian in a gulag and walks back to Sweden from China, barely surviving execution in Iran along the way. In the present, he meets a strange and delightful collection of friends and enemies. Coincidence and absurdity are at the core of this silly and wonderful novel. Looking back, it seems there are no hilarious, roll-on-the-floor-laughing scenes. They will just keep readers amused almost nonstop, and that’s a feat few writers achieve.

A great cure for the blues, especially for anyone who might feel bad about growing older.

Pub Date: Sept. 11, 2012

ISBN: 978-1-4013-2464-3

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Hyperion

Review Posted Online: Aug. 2, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2012

A dazzling document, beautifully if most idiosyncratically drawn; in this iteration, sure to become a collector’s item,...

BUILDING STORIES

A treasure trove of graphic artworks—they’re too complex to be called comics—from Ware, master of angst, alienation, sci-fi and the crowded street.

At 44, Ware (The Acme Novelty Library, 2005, etc.) is old enough to remember the day when you could stick a few dollars in an envelope, send it off and have a box full of strange goodness come to your door—a mystery box, that is, with puzzles, games, gag items and maybe one or two things worth keeping. Opening the oversized box that contains the many pieces of this book is a kindred experience: It’s not quite clear what’s inside, save for brightly colored paper in various forms, from foldout poster to ultrathin, small notebook to sturdy hardcover. Each package contains a story set, as the title suggests, in or near a teeming city. How the reader reads these seems not to matter, for the box is like a river, if that’s not too mixed a metaphor, into which one steps where the current seems safest; there’s no beginning to it and no end. One thing is clear: Not many of Ware’s characters are happy, even if they live in buildings that are overstuffed, like this box, with things. One young woman, for instance, recounts, “There were whole stretches of days where I never even left the house at all...never saw or talked to another human being...I just ordered pizzas, watched TV, and read books....Of course, I went grocery shopping, and a couple of times I walked to the ‘downtown’ of the suburb and ate dinner by myself, just for variety’s sake.” That’s a humdrum existence by any measure—especially the being stuck in the suburbs part—but considering the likely fate of the little honeybee, Branford, who is the hero of one of the little books, it’s not to be dismissed. And anyway, try finding a four-room flat for $650 a month in the city these days—one in a building that, in Ware’s surreal inventory, has seen 13,246 light bulbs, 725 roasted turkeys and 158,854 lighted matches—all of which add up, one suspects, to the number of ways in which one can read this puzzling tome.

A dazzling document, beautifully if most idiosyncratically drawn; in this iteration, sure to become a collector’s item, though one that begs for an easier-to-handle trade edition.

Pub Date: Oct. 2, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-375-42433-5

Page Count: -

Publisher: Pantheon

Review Posted Online: July 16, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2012

Whether recent or from his earliest period, these pieces show Alexie at his best: as an interpreter and observer, always...

BLASPHEMY

NEW AND SELECTED STORIES

Sterling collection of short stories by Alexie (Ten Little Indians, 2003, etc.), a master of the form.

The reader can take his or her pick of points where the blasphemy of Alexie’s title occurs in this multifaceted assemblage, for there are several solid candidates. One falls about two-thirds of the way in, when a hard-boiled newspaper editor chews out a young Indian writer who might be Alexie’s semblable. By that young man’s count, the editor had used the word “Jesus” thrice in 15 seconds: “I wasn’t a Christian and didn’t know much about the definition of blasphemy,” Alexie writes, “but it seemed like he’d committed some kind of sin.” In Alexie’s stories, someone is always committing some kind of sin, and often not particularly wittingly. One character, a bad drinker in need of help to bail out some prized pawned regalia, makes about as many errors as it’s possible to make while still remaining a fundamentally decent person; another laments that once you start looking at your loved one as though he or she is a criminal, then the love is out the door. “It’s logical,” notes Alexie, matter-of-factly. Most of Alexie’s characters in these stories—half selected and half new—are Indians, and then most of them Spokanes and other Indians of the Northwest; but within that broad categorization are endless variations and endless possibilities for misinterpretation, as when a Spokane encounters three mysterious Aleuts who sing him all the songs they’re allowed to: “All the others are just for our people,” which is to say, other Aleuts. Small wonder that when they vanish, no one knows where, why, or how. But ethnicity is not as central in some of Alexie’s stories as in others; in one of the most affecting, the misunderstandings and attendant tragedies occur between humans and donkeys. The darkness of that tale is profound, even if it allows Alexie the opportunity to bring in his beloved basketball. Longtime readers will find the collection full of familiar themes and characters, but the newer pieces are full of surprises.     

Whether recent or from his earliest period, these pieces show Alexie at his best: as an interpreter and observer, always funny if sometimes angry, and someone, as a cop says of one of his characters, who doesn’t “fit the profile of the neighborhood.”

Pub Date: Oct. 2, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-8021-2039-7

Page Count: 480

Publisher: Grove

Review Posted Online: July 29, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2012

Maron (Three-Day Town, 2011, etc.) adroitly melds ugly American (open) government secrets with classic whodunit intrigue and...

THE BUZZARD TABLE

Every family has secrets. Some are even worth telling.

Deborah Knott never admitted to her husband, Dwight, how she got her judgeship. Dwight never told her what happened in Germany when he was a company man. And his son, Cal, fessed up to Deborah that he wanted to be adopted only after a pal ratted him out and she confronted him about it. But these little evasions pale in comparison to the big one that’s motivated Martin Crawford to come to Colleton County, N.C., and settle in a tenant house owned by his ailing aunt, who’s marshaling all her remaining Southern charm to entertain two other visiting relatives, NYPD Lt. Sigrid Harald and her mother, Anne, the Pulitzer Prize–winning photojournalist. Because Martin spends most of his time taking pictures of vultures—at least, that’s what he says—he happens to be in the vicinity of the trash site where someone has dumped an all too promiscuous realtor. He also happens to be nearby when teenager Jeremy Harper is bashed into a coma. And unfortunately for Martin, he happens to have followed the vultures to the local airstrip, where he may have entered a pilot’s motel room and snapped his neck. Is Martin responsible for all the mayhem, or are the attacks and murders unrelated? Sheriff’s Deputy Dwight, with an assist from Sigrid, a memory that resurfaces for Anne and an alibi that disintegrates, finally assigns the right motives—jealousy and revenge—to the right persons, discomfiting a philandering husband and unsettling the FBI and the CIA.

Maron (Three-Day Town, 2011, etc.) adroitly melds ugly American (open) government secrets with classic whodunit intrigue and stirs the pot by itemizing domestic travails that will touch readers’ hearts.

Pub Date: Nov. 20, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-446-55582-1

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Grand Central Publishing

Review Posted Online: Sept. 12, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 2012

A top-notch, edge-of-the-seat thriller in which there are no villains, only mysteries.

THE CASSANDRA PROJECT

This first collaboration from McDevitt (Firebird, 2011, etc.) and Resnick (The Doctor and the Kid, 2011, etc.), developed from a 2010 story by McDevitt (spoiler alert: don’t read the story first), takes the form of a conspiracy involving the moon landings. And no, Stanley Kubrick didn’t fake them.

By 2019, the U.S. economy is still grinding along the fringes of recession. Jerry Culpepper, NASA’s public affairs director, loves his job and still believes in its mission, even though the only foreseeable future is one of continuing slow decline. But then a routine release of background material from the late 1960s turns up an oddity. Before Neil Armstrong landed on the moon, there were two dress-rehearsal moon shots, both of which orbited the moon but did not land. Yet, a recording of a chat between Houston and Sydney Myshko, captain of the first of the test missions, shows Myshko apparently preparing to descend! And Aaron Walker, on the mission after Myshko, wrote in his diary that he landed on the moon. Both men are now dead and cannot be questioned. But was there a coverup? Of what, and for what possible reason? Multibillionaire entrepreneur Morgan “Bucky” Blackstone sees a chance to goose the complacent Washington establishment and, not coincidentally, whip up enthusiasm for his own, strictly private enterprise, planned moon landings. As other evidence, suggestive yet inconclusive, trickles in, Jerry tries to keep a lid on things. Meanwhile, POTUS George Cunningham, an essentially decent man with a strong interest in NASA but hampered by intractable budgetary constraints, finds himself in a bind: If there was a conspiracy and he didn’t know, he’s out of touch and an idiotic dupe; if he did know, he’s a liar and part of the coverup. Against the solid and affectionately rendered NASA backdrop, the authors expertly crank up the tension and maintain it throughout via a suite of thoroughly believable characters.

A top-notch, edge-of-the-seat thriller in which there are no villains, only mysteries.

Pub Date: Nov. 6, 2012

ISBN: 978-1-937008-71-0

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Ace/Berkley

Review Posted Online: Sept. 16, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 2012

Brutal, irreverent and very funny. An honest-to-goodness heir to Portnoy’s Complaint.

HOPE: A TRAGEDY

A family man suffers from money woes, a judgmental spouse and a hectoring mother. But things don’t get really funny until he discovers Anne Frank living in his attic.

Auslander’s debut novel is a scalding, uproarious satire that rejects the idea that the Holocaust can’t be mined for comedyhe just knows that a book has to be very good to pull it off. The story’s hero is Solomon Kugel, an eco-friendly–goods salesman who’s moved his wife and toddler son to a rural Northeast town for some peace and quiet. No such luck: An arsonist is at large, the tenant they’ve taken on to help make ends meet won’t stop complaining and Kugel’s mother, supposedly at death’s door with a terminal illness, isn’t going anywhere. Indeed, she eagerly pursues her beloved hobby of imagining herself a Holocaust victim, slipping images of the death camps alongside family photos in scrapbooks. Investigating a tapping sound he hears in the ducts, Solomon discovers an elderly, sickly, foulmouthed Anne Frank living in his attic, working on a sequel to her famous diary. The metaphor is punishingly obvious: The Holocaust is an unshakable, guilt-inducing fixture in the life of any self-aware Jew, and living with its legacy can be a burden. What’s remarkable is how far Auslander (Beware of God, 2005, etc.) is willing to push the metaphor and how much pathos he gets from the comedy. Lampshades, grim historical photographs and Alan Dershowitz are all the stuff of laugh-out-loud lines, and Solomon’s therapist delivers statements that turn received wisdom on its headUtopia is dystopia, hope is tragic. Auslander’s pithy, fast-moving prose emphasizes the comedy, but no attentive reader will misunderstand that he’s respectful of the Holocaust’s tragedy, only struggling to figure out how to live in its shadow.

Brutal, irreverent and very funny. An honest-to-goodness heir to Portnoy’s Complaint.

Pub Date: Jan. 12, 2012

ISBN: 978-1-59448-838-2

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Riverhead

Review Posted Online: Nov. 21, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2011

Landay is yet another lawyer-turned-writer, and it’s inevitable that he’ll be compared to Scott Turow, but this novel...

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    Best Books Of 2012

DEFENDING JACOB

Landay does the seemingly impossible by coming up with a new wrinkle in the crowded subgenre of courtroom thrillers.

Assistant District Attorney Andy Barber is called to a gruesome crime scene after Ben Rifkin, a 14-year-old boy, has been brutally stabbed in a city park. One suspect seems likely, a pedophile who lives nearby and is known to frequent the park, but suspicion turns quickly to another, much more unlikely, suspect—Andy’s son Jacob, one of Ben’s classmates. It seems Ben was not the paragon of virtue he was made out to be, for he had a mean streak and had been harassing Jacob...but is this a sufficient motive for a 14-year-old to commit murder? Some of Jacob’s fellow students post messages on Facebook suggesting he’s guilty of the crime, and Jacob also admits to having shown a “cool” knife to his friends. When Andy finds the knife, he quickly disposes of it, but even he’s not sure if he does this because he suspects his son is innocent or because he suspects his son is guilty. Complicating the family dynamic is Laurie, Jacob’s mother, who’s at least half convinced that her son might indeed be capable of such a heinous act—and it turns out Andy has concealed his own past from Laurie because both his father and grandfather have been murderers, and he fears he may have both inherited and passed down to Jacob a gene associated with aggressive behavior in males.

Landay is yet another lawyer-turned-writer, and it’s inevitable that he’ll be compared to Scott Turow, but this novel succeeds on its own merits.

Pub Date: Feb. 1, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-385-34422-7

Page Count: 432

Publisher: Delacorte

Review Posted Online: Nov. 21, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2011

Enthralling, dizzying and as impressive as they come.

EXPEDITION TO THE MOUNTAINS OF THE MOON

Third entry (The Curious Case of the Clockwork Man, 2011, etc.) in Spain-resident Englishman Hodder's time-travel/alternate-reality/steampunk saga; though originally billed as a trilogy, the ending here leaves considerable scope for further augmentation.

In 1840, a time traveler known as Spring Heeled Jack arrived in order to prevent his ancestor, Edward Oxford, from assassinating young Queen Victoria. As a result, reality was wrenched into an alternate steampunk universe. Also arriving in 1840, sent back from a ghastly 1919 wherein a rampant Germany, led by a psychic-powered Friedrich Nietzsche and armed with horrid biological weapons, has all but defeated the British Empire and its black-mesmerism-wielding avatar, Aleister Crowley, is famed explorer and polyglot Sir Richard Burton, whose task is to prevent both the assassination and Spring Heeled Jack's perversion of history. Meanwhile, in the same universe in 1863, British Prime Minister Lord Palmerston—the crown is vacant, since no acceptable heir could be found—instructs Burton, ostensibly to seek the source of the Nile, actually to recover a third set of psychoactive diamonds left by a now-extinct nonhuman race, by which means Palmerston hopes to defeat Germany before the world is engulfed in war. In 1914, Burton arrives in East Africa, where an appalling conflict already rages, again hurled through time, but this time with few memories and little idea of who he is or what he's supposed to do. And, rest assured, all this isn't the half of it. The narrative features a host of other historical characters in unfamiliar roles, such as the engineer Isambard Kingdom Brunel inhabiting a steam-powered robot body, poet Algernon Swinburne as Burton's 1861 sidekick and war correspondent H.G. Wells in 1914. Remarkably enough, the plot hangs together, and Hodder, with an encyclopedic grasp of period detail, tellingly brings these disparate, oddly familiar yet eerily different worlds to fecund life.

Enthralling, dizzying and as impressive as they come.

Pub Date: Jan. 24, 2012

ISBN: 978-1-61614-535-4

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Pyr/Prometheus Books

Review Posted Online: Nov. 21, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2011

The river, the raft, a stash of money coveted by bad guys, nonstop adventures that edify, terrify and deepen the bond...

EDGE OF DARK WATER

The author of the prize-winning Hap and Leonard series (Devil Red, 2011, etc.) charts a course that may remind you of a distaff Huck and Jim.

Paddling a makeshift raft down the Sabine River, they flee East Texas, a New York minute ahead of their pursuers. There are four of them: tough-minded Sue Ellen Wilson, at 16, the stuff of natural leaders; Jinx, Sue Ellen’s lifelong black friend who, if she knows anything at all, knows she’s better than the bigotry she’s endured all her life; angry, resentful Terry, not wholly reconciled to the fact that he’s gay; and Sue Ellen’s alcoholic mom Helen, who’s quite forgotten how pretty she still is. Flagrantly ill-treated, consistently undervalued, they’ve been brought together by a murder. May Lynn Baxter, “the kind of girl that made men turn their heads and take a deep breath,” is pulled from the river, her bizarre death clearly no accident. It’s an event that provides the restless four with both a mission and a pretext. May Lynn always wanted to go to Hollywood. They will usher her ashes there, a task that provides them with a more or less credible reason for doing what they’ve been longing to do: run.

The river, the raft, a stash of money coveted by bad guys, nonstop adventures that edify, terrify and deepen the bond between Sue Ellen and Jinx. A highly entertaining tour de force. 

Pub Date: March 25, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-316-18843-2

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Mulholland Books/Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: April 22, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2012

An evocative work about love, fate and redemption.

A LAND MORE KIND THAN HOME

Up beyond Asheville, near where Gunter Mountain falls into Tennessee, evil has come to preach in a house of worship where venomous snakes and other poisons are sacraments.

Cash’s debut novel explores Faulkner/O’Connor country, a place where folks endure a hard life by clinging to God’s truths echoing from hardscrabble churches. With Southern idiom as clear as crystal mountain air, Cash weaves the narrative from multiple threads. Jess Hall is the 9-year-old son of Ben and Julie and beloved younger brother of gentle Stump, his mute, autistic sibling. Clem Barefield is county sheriff, a man with a moral code as tough, weathered and flexible as his gun belt. Adelaide Lyle, once a midwife, is now community matriarch of simple faith and solid conscience. Carson Chambliss is pastor of River Road Church of Christ. He has caught Stump spying, peering into the bedroom of his mother Julie, while she happened to be entertaining the amoral pastor. Julie may have lapsed into carnal sin, but she is also a holy fool. Chambliss convinces Julie to bring Stump to the church to be cured by the laying on of hands. There, Stump suffers a terrible fate. Cash’s characters are brilliant: Chambliss, scarred by burns, is as remorseless as one of his rattlesnakes; Addie, loyal to the old ways, is still strong enough to pry the church’s children away from snake-handling services; Barefield is gentle, empathetic and burdened by tragedy. Stump’s brother Jess is appealingly rendered—immature, confused and feeling responsible for and terrified by the evil he senses and sees around him. As lean and spare as a mountain ballad, Cash’s novel resonates perfectly, so much so that it could easily have been expanded to epic proportions.

An evocative work about love, fate and redemption.

Pub Date: April 17, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-06-208814-7

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Morrow/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: April 3, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2012

Screwball romance with a likable and vulnerable heroine.

I'VE GOT YOUR NUMBER

Plucky bride-to-be makes an unexpected connection after she appropriates a stranger’s cellphone.

For Poppy Wyatt, losing her priceless antique engagement ring during a boozy pre-wedding brunch at a fancy hotel is bad enough without the added indignity of having her phone nicked by a drive-by bike mugger. All is not lost, though, as she discovers a perfectly good phone in the trash in the hotel lobby. Anxious to get the ring back without alarming her fiance Magnus, she gives out the new number to the concierge and her friends. But the phone, it turns out, belonged to the short-lived assistant to Sam Roxton, an acerbic (but handsome) young executive in a powerful consulting firm. Given to one-word correspondence, with little patience for small talk and social niceties, Sam understandably wants the company property back. But Poppy has other ideas and talks him into letting her keep it for a few more days, offering to forward him all pertinent messages. In spite of Sam’s reticence, the two strike up an oddly intimate text correspondence, with Poppy taking a way too personal interest in Sam’s life—including his odd relationship with his seemingly crazy girlfriend, Willow. Sam, for his part, confronts Poppy over her fears that she is not good enough for Magnus’ highly-educated family. Misunderstandings ensue, with Poppy’s well-intentioned meddling causing multiple headaches. But when Sam gets embroiled in a corporate scandal, Poppy jumps in to help him in the only way she can. Meanwhile, a scheming wedding planner, and Poppy’s conflicted feelings for Sam, threaten to derail the planned nuptials. Cheerfully contrived with a male love interest straight out of the Mr. Darcy playbook, Kinsella’s (Twenties Girl, 2009, etc.) latest should be exactly what her fans are hankering for. And physical therapist Poppy is easily as charming and daffy as shopaholic Rebecca Bloomwood—minus the retail obsession.

Screwball romance with a likable and vulnerable heroine.

Pub Date: Feb. 14, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-385-34206-3

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Dial Press

Review Posted Online: Dec. 19, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2012

Failed by the adults in her life and forced to be the grown-up when she should be experiencing first dates and football...

HAND ME DOWN

First-time author Thorne wears her heart on her sleeve in this semiautobiographical tale about a 14-year-old who juggles equal amounts of hope and despair in her chaotic daily life.

Liz and younger sister Jaime have learned they can only count on one another after their mom, Linda, marries a convicted sex offender. Terrance, who parades around the small apartment half-dressed and leers at Liz, makes it clear that if she complains he’ll take it out on her sister. But when Terrance’s parole officer receives a tip that the ex-con is in violation of parole by living with the two girls, their mom’s solution is to farm the girls out to other family members. Jaime moves in with their dad, a lying drunk who mercilessly beat Linda during their marriage, while Liz is farmed out to Terrance’s brother, Gary, and his wife. Liz worries she’s missing too much school and is haunted by the fear that their father will repeat history and drive drunk with Jaime in tow. Liz continues to narrate her journey with prose that vibrates with intelligence and passion. Although she is just beginning her freshman year of high school, Liz manages to carry around with her a heavy burden of responsibility for her sister. Thorne writes Liz as world-weary and mature in ways children should not have to be. From the mother who willingly throws over her children for the promise of marriage to a man who uses her, to the well-meaning Aunt Deborah, who offers Liz a home she cannot accept, Thorne populates her pages with characters who are fascinating and sharply drawn.

Failed by the adults in her life and forced to be the grown-up when she should be experiencing first dates and football games, Liz is a wise, wry, wonderful heroine.

Pub Date: April 12, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-525-95268-8

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Dutton

Review Posted Online: Feb. 20, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2012

With his third featuring brash, breezy, unflappable Carter (Eyes of the Innocent, 2011, etc.), Parks propels himself to a...

THE GIRL NEXT DOOR

A MYSTERY

No one’s supposed to hate the girl next door.

Nancy Marino is sweet-natured, genuinely friendly, endlessly selfless, the quintessential nice girl. How can you possibly not like her? So when she meets sudden death, struck by a black Cadillac early one morning on a deserted street in suburban Newark, the universal reaction is shock and anger at a hit-and-run. But nobody for a moment considers malice—except for Carter Ross, ace investigative reporter for the Newark Eagle-Examiner, and even he doesn’t get there right away. Moved by the sheer tragedy of it, Carter at first sees his news story as a simple tribute, something owed to a remarkably good woman. Only then do the famous Carter Ross instincts kick in. Not that Carter looks much like a guy with game-changing instincts. He looks like what he is: a 32-year-old WASP male with “absolutely no interest” in being taken for anything else. Yet he has a highly developed ability to sniff out what’s dark in man’s relationship to man, or to a good woman. And if acting on instinct puts him in mortal danger, Carter has a theory about that. Whatever doesn’t kill him makes him a better newspaperman.

With his third featuring brash, breezy, unflappable Carter (Eyes of the Innocent, 2011, etc.), Parks propels himself to a niche shared by only a handful of others: writers who can manage the comedy-mystery.

Pub Date: March 13, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-312-66768-9

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Minotaur

Review Posted Online: April 2, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2012

An inventive, impressive and witty book.

I AM AN EXECUTIONER

LOVE STORIES

A debut story collection from Parameswaran.

The book opens with "The Infamous Bengal Ming," narrated by a tiger who expresses affection for his keeper in the only language available to him, a fatal combination of mauling and love-biting; he then escapes the zoo to commit other acts of mayhem, under which lies a misunderstood tenderness. This tour de force sets the tone and the stage for these dark, rollickingly imaginative stories in which the powers of love and savagery are loosed upon each other again and again. In the title story, a semiliterate (and also fancily semi-literary) hangman tries to seduce his new wife despite her disgust at discovering the way he makes his living. Meanwhile, he tries to negotiate between the equal and opposite forces of compassion and brutishness. In "The Strange Career of Dr. Raju Gopalarajan," a fired computer salesman, an Indian-born American who believes deeply—too deeply—in the immigrant dream of self-reinvention, checks out anatomy texts from the public library and sets up shop in an exurban strip mall, claiming to be a doctor. Other stories feature a panopticonic security state in which everyone seems to be a government agent spying on everyone else; an elephant composing a memoir (in "Englaphant, that strange tongue native to all places of elephant-human contact," we're told); an Indian woman soldiering on with Thanksgiving plans despite the fact that her husband lies dead on the floor. The stories—some published in journals like McSweeney's, Granta and Zoetrope—can sometimes be arch and tricksome, and they're not for everyone. But Parameswaran is a dazzlingly versatile stylist and the conceits and voices here are varied and evocative.

An inventive, impressive and witty book.

Pub Date: April 10, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-307-59592-8

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: April 23, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2012

Tends toward the claustrophobic at times, but superior and fulfilling.

THE KILLING MOON

New ancient Egypt–flavored fantasy from the New York resident author of The Broken Kingdoms (2010, etc.).

In the city and state of Gujaareh, the Hetawa temple is dedicated to Hananja, goddess of dreams, and its priests harvest the people's dreams to create dream-magic to heal wounds and cure ailments. The Hetawa's elite Gatherers also ease the passage of the dying—and kill those judged corrupt. When Gatherer Ehiru is ordered to kill Charleron, a corrupt outlander, somehow his flawless technique goes awry; Charleron dies in agony but not before hinting that something is gravely amiss in the Hetawa. Shaken, Ehiru finds he can no longer function as a Gatherer and goes into seclusion, watched over by his young apprentice, Nijiri—until Ehiru receives orders to kill Sunandi Jeh Kalawe, the "corrupt" ambassador from neighboring Kisua. Sunandi bravely defends herself and reveals that her predecessor and adoptive father passed to her a dreadful secret involving war, murder and, perhaps, Eninket, Prince of the Sunset Throne—who happens to be Ehiru's brother. Though all the signs point towards the Hetawa—innocent dreamers are being murdered by an insensate, renegade Reaper—Ehiru cannot believe that the priesthood itself is corrupt. Nevertheless he agrees to help Sunandi unravel the conspiracy. Though a little too heavily dependent on the intricate details of Gujaareh's religion, Jemisin's patient worldbuilding and extraordinary attention to detail help frame and propel the complex plot, and she weaves subtle, emotionally complex relationships between the main characters. The text includes a useful glossary but, alas, no maps.

Tends toward the claustrophobic at times, but superior and fulfilling.

Pub Date: May 1, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-316-18728-2

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Orbit/Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: Feb. 20, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2012

Emotionally unflinching stories of considerable power, wonder and humor.

HAPPINESS IS A CHEMICAL IN THE BRAIN

STORIES

A prize-winning poet (and MacArthur Fellow grant recipient) extends her literary mastery with a debut story collection.

While these stories reflect the poet’s plainspoken virtuosity and elliptical compression, they are very much rooted in her experience in the Pacific Northwest. Perillo (Inseminating the Elephant, 2009, etc.) majored in wildlife management and worked summers at Mount Rainier National Park. Not that she idealizes or sentimentalizes the natural world, but it puts her very human characters in perspective: “There was beauty…and also decay, and the years were just a factory for changing one into the other.” The opening and closing stories (“Bad Boy Number Seventeen,” “Late in the Realm”), as well as one in the middle (“Saint Jude in Persia”), have the same first-person narrator, a young (initially), spirited woman whose love life is undermined by her limited possibilities, as she deals with a sister with Down syndrome and a mother embittered by the husband who deserted them. Funny and sad in equal measure, the stories find the narrator admitting, “I haven’t always proved to be the shrewdest judge of human nature. My romances have left me with a recurring dream in which I’m slashing tires and the tires’ blood is spilling out.” Throughout the fiction, blood ties are tenuous, commitment is provisional, and fate is arbitrary: “She packed her things and headed west, and when she hit the ocean and could go no further she tossed a coin and made a right-hand turn.” Thus do so many of the characters in these stories find themselves in the area around the Puget Sound, which more often seems a last ditch than a last chance. These are characters with grit and survival instincts, but ones who ask, “What was sadness, after all, but the fibrous stuff out of which a life was woven? And what was happiness but a chemical in the brain?”

Emotionally unflinching stories of considerable power, wonder and humor.

Pub Date: May 7, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-393-08353-8

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Norton

Review Posted Online: April 22, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2012

Ballard writes brilliantly about the nightmarish underside of modern life, and this novel makes us poignantly aware of the...

KINGDOM COME

Ballard (1930–2009) creates a world reminiscent of A Clockwork Orange and V for Vendetta in this novel of suburban fascism.

 At the heart of the narrative is the Brooklands Metro-Centre Mall, a monstrosity that feeds excess and consumerism. In a recent incident, not atypical of the violence that pervades this vision of modern British life, a man has been shot and killed at the mall. Held for his murder is Duncan Christie, a mental patient who was on day release when the incident occurred. This seems to be a cut-and-dried case, even to Richard Pearson, narrator and son of the victim, but a few anomalies crop up. For example, three witnesses emerge who claim that Christie was at one of the entrances to the mall at the time of the shooting…and these witnesses just happen to be Christie’s physician, his psychiatrist and one of his former teachers. Pearson is not wrong in assuming this to be overly coincidental. In addition to the loss of his father, Pearson has other problems, for he has recently lost his job, pushed out of his position in an ad agency by his own wife. Pearson watches with some amazement the rise of quasi-fascist elements in this quasi-suburban setting that’s starting to create its own reality, for “leafy Surrey” is no longer a suburb of London but rather a suburb of Heathrow. Troops dressed in St. George’s shirts march in the streets, encouraging hooliganism and attacks against immigrant businesses; riots break out in sports arenas; and Pearson finds out his father might have had sympathies with the brown-shirted St. George’s movement.

Ballard writes brilliantly about the nightmarish underside of modern life, and this novel makes us poignantly aware of the loss of his voice. 

Pub Date: March 5, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-393-08178-7

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Liveright/Norton

Review Posted Online: Feb. 19, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2012

A veteran cop herself, Dial (The Broken Blue Line, 2010, etc.) does authenticity to the max, and readers will like that. But...

FALLEN ANGELS

She’s a wife, a mom, an LAPD captain and compelling no matter what she does.

Meet Capt. Josie Corsino, a good cop. She’s been that for two decades plus, is proud of her achievement, remains passionate about the work, regards it as a high calling and hates bent cops. Unfortunately, she’s about to confront a mess of them. The complex, frequently embittering case that flushes them out begins in the Hollywood hills and centers on the murder of Hillary Dennis, a teenage movie star with connections going every which way: to a powerful, eminently dislikeable city councilman, to his wayward son, to organized crime and, yes, to the upper reaches of the LAPD. As murder follows murder, Josie battles a variety of dubious agendas while trying desperately to protect embattled colleagues—often as not from their own self-destructive behavior. Meanwhile, trouble looms on her domestic front. After 20 years of marriage her husband is suddenly restive. Her beloved, quixotic son—who may, incidentally, have been closer to Hillary Dennis than was wise—also has issues with her. “You really don’t give an inch, do you?” David says, “You look and talk like other mothers, but you’ve got the heart of a gunnery sergeant.” He’s right, and he’s wrong, which is, of course, part of what makes Josie remarkable.

A veteran cop herself, Dial (The Broken Blue Line, 2010, etc.) does authenticity to the max, and readers will like that. But it’s tough, vulnerable, never-say-die Josie that they’ll love.     

Pub Date: April 1, 2012

ISBN: 978-1-57962-274-9

Page Count: 296

Publisher: Permanent Press

Review Posted Online: May 6, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2012

Once again Stroby demonstrates how adept he is at making readers empathize with the essentially unworthy.

KINGS OF MIDNIGHT

Chasing her retirement number, superthief Crissa Stone (Cold Shot to the Heart, 2011, etc.) fills bunches of money bags. And body bags.

Crissa Stone is a one-woman larceny machine—smart, resourceful and, above all, careful, which explains an enviable success rate. But she’s reached the point where it makes sense for her to leave the life behind. Her exit will require a really big final score. Fortunately, opportunity knocks in the guise of ex-mobster Benny Roth. Hidden deep in a witness protection program for longer than anyone can remember, Benny’s been doing an exemplary job of going straight. He has a job he likes, he has friends and he has Marta. Benny’s 62, she’s in her 20s, yet the feeling between them is clearly genuine. Love and tranquility, however, come to an abrupt end with the intrusion of three wise guys from the East. Not only do they remember Benny, but they recall his connection to a certain vanished haul pegged at $8 to $10 million. They want Benny to help recover what’s been lost. Marta in tow, he wriggles free of them and, through a mutual friend, makes his way to Crissa. The aging racketeer and the slick young highway person form an unlikely partnership. Will it be strong enough to withstand their predators while they hunt for lost treasure? Or will thieves fall out?

Once again Stroby demonstrates how adept he is at making readers empathize with the essentially unworthy.

Pub Date: April 10, 2012

ISBN: 978-1-250-00037-8

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Minotaur

Review Posted Online: April 23, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2012

Castro’s first mystery is fierce and intense, with both harrowing depictions of New Orleans after Katrina and psychological...

HELL OR HIGH WATER

Salvaging lives in post-Katrina New Orleans is no picnic.

Nola Céspedes is fed up with the puff pieces she’s assigned at the Times-Picayune. So when she’s given a shot at a major feature story—how well do rehabilitated sex offenders do when released back into the community?—she goes all-out, even nudging her friend Calinda over in the district attorney’s office for unpublicized details concerning the recent rape and mutilation of a young tourist. Her choice of which serial rapists to interview is as dangerous as her choice of one-night stands. Nola is so driven, argumentative and protectively secretive about her upbringing in the tawdry Desire Projects that her gay housemate Uri suggests therapy. But she’s too busy preparing for a wedding and meeting her mother’s female lover for the first time. Her stress escalates when another young girl goes missing, and she becomes even more promiscuous, more argumentative, more out of control and more worried about one of her interviewees, a former vice principal who seems overly interested in the young girl she’s mentoring and the female students playing in the school courtyard across from his apartment. Nola’s final attempt to deal with the sordidness surrounding her brings death and a start at reclaiming her own past.

Castro’s first mystery is fierce and intense, with both harrowing depictions of New Orleans after Katrina and psychological mayhem for its troubled heroine, who crawls under your skin and lingers there long after you’ve finished reading. A sequel is in the works.

Pub Date: July 17, 2012

ISBN: 978-1-250-00457-4

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Dunne/St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: July 1, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2012

With dialogue that can go off like gunfire and a streak of nostalgia that feels timeless, this book takes its place among...

ISTANBUL PASSAGE

In 1945 Istanbul, Allied veteran Leon Bauer is running spy missions under the cover of a U.S. tobacco-importing business.

With the war over, U.S. operations are closing up shop in the neutral capital, but Leon has one last big job: to take possession of a Romanian defector in possession of important Russian secrets and get him flown to safety. The rub is the defector, Alexei, was involved in a heinous massacre of Jews four years earlier. Kanon (The Good German, 2001, etc.) extends his mastery of the period novel with this coiled tale of foreign intrigue. Though not much happens, plotwise, in this dialogue-driven book, Leon hardly has a moment to relax, immersed in a world of moral and political upheaval. When he first arrived in Istanbul with his wife Anna, the city was a paradise with its scenic river view, cultural riches and feeling of mystery. Now, badly injured in an accident, Anna lives in a nursing home, awake but uncommunicative, leaving Leon to contend with a circle of friends and associates he can't trust. After shooting rather than getting shot by his duplicitous supervisor in a tense late-night encounter along the river, he can avoid suspicion only so long before the brutal secret police, Emniyet, are onto him and the secretly stashed Alexei. There is little about the novel that is not familiar, but this is comfort fiction of the smartest, most compelling and nonpandering kind. Even as he evokes classics such as Casablanca, The Quiet American and A Perfect Spy, Kanon shows off his gift for morally gripping themes, heart-stopping suspense and compelling characters.

With dialogue that can go off like gunfire and a streak of nostalgia that feels timeless, this book takes its place among espionage novels as an instant classic.

Pub Date: May 29, 2012

ISBN: 978-1-4391-5641-4

Page Count: 416

Publisher: Atria

Review Posted Online: March 19, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2012

One of those rare thrillers whose revelations actually intensify its suspense instead of dissipating it. The final pages are...

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GONE GIRL

A perfect wife’s disappearance plunges her husband into a nightmare as it rips open ugly secrets about his marriage and, just maybe, his culpability in her death.

Even after they lost their jobs as magazine writers and he uprooted her from New York and spirited her off to his childhood home in North Carthage, Mo., where his ailing parents suddenly needed him at their side, Nick Dunne still acted as if everything were fine between him and his wife, Amy. His sister Margo, who’d gone partners with him on a local bar, never suspected that the marriage was fraying, and certainly never knew that Nick, who’d buried his mother and largely ducked his responsibilities to his father, stricken with Alzheimer’s, had taken one of his graduate students as a mistress. That’s because Nick and Amy were both so good at playing Mr. and Ms. Right for their audience. But that all changes the morning of their fifth anniversary when Amy vanishes with every indication of foul play. Partly because the evidence against him looks so bleak, partly because he’s so bad at communicating grief, partly because he doesn’t feel all that grief-stricken to begin with, the tide begins to turn against Nick. Neighbors who’d been eager to join the police in the search for Amy begin to gossip about him. Female talk-show hosts inveigh against him. The questions from Detective Rhonda Boney and Detective Jim Gilpin get sharper and sharper. Even Nick has to acknowledge that he hasn’t come close to being the husband he liked to think he was. But does that mean he deserves to get tagged as his wife’s killer? Interspersing the mystery of Amy’s disappearance with flashbacks from her diary, Flynn (Dark Places, 2009, etc.) shows the marriage lumbering toward collapse—and prepares the first of several foreseeable but highly effective twists.

One of those rare thrillers whose revelations actually intensify its suspense instead of dissipating it. The final pages are chilling.

Pub Date: June 5, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-307-58836-4

Page Count: 432

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: April 23, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2012

A technocratic Kafka nightmare—heavy on surreal diagnosis of the world’s ills, light on the traditional rewards of...

THE INVESTIGATION

A spare, dystopian fable that examines how closely contemporary life has caught up to Kafka since the publication of The Castle.

No one comes to meet the nameless Investigator when a train lets him off at a nameless city. So it’s long after dark by the time he arrives at the Enterprise, where he’s been sent to look into a series of 20 suicides over the past year. A disembodied voice refuses to admit him so late and declines to give him any information about where he might pass the night. Left to his own devices, the Investigator finds the mordantly misnamed Hope Hotel, where a Giantess forces him to review an exhaustive list of hotel policies before she gives him the key to a room where he collapses for the night. In the morning, the Server at the hotel restaurant won’t give him tea, toast or orange juice, and the Policeman he meets over his nonbreakfast ends up questioning him. When he arrives at the Enterprise, predictably without the identification he left at the Hope, he gets little cooperation from the Guard, the Guide and especially the Manager, who’s cordial enough but also insecure, delusional and prone to hysterical fits. After spending a second night passed out in the Enterprise, the Investigator finds all the functionaries who posed such obstacles yesterday so solicitous that the effect is even more disturbing. By this time Claudel (Brodeck, 2009, etc.) has long since made it clear that in this investigation, it’s better to travel hopefully than to arrive.

A technocratic Kafka nightmare—heavy on surreal diagnosis of the world’s ills, light on the traditional rewards of storytelling—crossed with Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and a hint of Buster Keaton.

Pub Date: July 10, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-385-53534-2

Page Count: 240

Publisher: Nan A. Talese

Review Posted Online: May 29, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2012

A dazzling novel of great intensity and power.

THE DREAM OF THE CELT

The Celt in question is Sir Roger Casement, who advocated on behalf of oppressed natives of the Congo and of Amazonia, but when he turns his attention to the Irish Troubles in 1916, the British feel he’s gone too far, so he’s caught, tried and executed.

Originally published in 2010 and now lyrically translated, the novel focuses on the three major stages in Casement’s life. As a young man he travels to the Congo, and while at first he’s enamored with the European “mission,” he soon has a Conrad-ian epiphany about the exploitation of rubber workers, who are brutalized beyond belief. (Conrad, in fact, briefly appears in the novel.) Casement’s report about this exploitation garners him much acclaim in England. Next he turns his compassionate vision toward Amazonia, that section of Peru in which the indigenous peoples are once again being savagely misused by a multinational corporation—in this case the Peruvian Amazon Company, whose board, Casement discovers, comprises a number of prominent Englishmen, but in his role of British consul he courageously speaks out against the atrocities he finds there and once again publishes a devastating report; this time his findings ironically lead to his being knighted by the British. In the final phase of his life—he died at the tragically young age of 51—he supports independence for his native Ireland, naively working with the Germans during World War I against an England he now hates. At the Easter Rising he’s caught and four months later is executed at Pentonville Prison in London. Although politically and morally committed to his causes, Casement feels poor in love, for his “relationships” consist solely of fleeting and furtive homosexual liaisons. Vargas Llosa speculates that the so-called Black Diaries Casement left are authentic but that he uses them to record sexual fantasies as much as sexual reality.

A dazzling novel of great intensity and power. 

Pub Date: June 12, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-374-14346-6

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: May 29, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2012

Nobel Peace Prize winner Wiesel continues to remind us of the brilliant possibilities of the philosophical and political...

HOSTAGE

Wiesel takes us on a journey through dream, memory and especially storytelling in his latest novel, which concerns Shaltiel Feigenberg, who in 1975, is captured and imprisoned for 80 hours in a basement by two captors.

Feigenberg is politically unimportant and practically unknown before his capture, but soon thereafter he becomes front-page news, though his plight is reported in wildly different ways by the world press. His captors represent divergent political realities. One, Luigi, is an Italian political revolutionary with no particular animus against Jews, while the second, Ahmed, is a passionate advocate for Palestine with an intense hatred for the “Zionist cause.” Perhaps predictably, a “bad cop–good cop” dynamic develops as they tend to Feigenberg, Luigi gradually freeing him from restraints while Ahmed rails with fanatic fervor against all that Feigenberg represents to him. Luigi and Ahmed are motivated by “humanitarian” concerns—they demand that three Palestinian prisoners be freed in exchange for Feigenberg’s freedom—rather than materialistic ones. Feigenberg is mystified by his captivity, for he’s simply a professional storyteller with a special fondness for spinning his tales to children and the elderly. This forced period of darkness ironically provides him with an extended period of enlightenment, as he has time to reflect on his life—the death of his grandmother at Auschwitz, his frequently absent but observant father, his initial meeting with Blanca (the woman who eventually becomes his wife), and the growing Communist sympathies of his older brother. He begins to frame the narrative of his life in much the same way he frames the stories he makes up to entertain others. Even the Israeli government—a government that notoriously does not negotiate with terrorists—gets involved in trying to track down the elusive captive.

Nobel Peace Prize winner Wiesel continues to remind us of the brilliant possibilities of the philosophical and political novel. 

Pub Date: Aug. 24, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-307-59958-2

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: May 29, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2012

A wonderfully executed debut novel, so rich as to inspire rereading, right down to its inevitable resolution, both ironic...

THE INFINITE TIDES

In Kiefer’s debut literary novel, astronaut Keith Corcoran returns from the International Space Station to a house populated by a bare mattress, random canned goods and a gray leather sofa.

The astronaut’s beloved and gifted daughter is dead after a car accident, and his wife has left him, all while he spent months aboard the ISS. In a house in an economy-stalled suburb, Corcoran contemplates his world, and he is haunted by his near-metaphysical, unquantifiable experience in space. Corcoran’s life has always been measured by the fluidity of equations (he’s a math genius), which he believes can explain nearly everything. Now the numbers no longer add up. Empathetically drawn by Kiefer, Corcoran is a splendid protagonist, isolated from his lifelong ambition to be an astronaut by grief and migraines. “Everything in his life had telescoped into guilt and bereavement and a kind of emptiness he still did not entirely understand.” Kiefer also develops an imaginative and intriguing cast of characters: Barb, Corcoran’s wife, who initially supported the ambitious and driven man she married; Quinn, Corcoran’s daughter, the first in his world who also saw numbers as colors, as having emotions and characters; and Jennifer, the neighbor with whom he has a brief and unsatisfying affair. Most compelling are Peter and Luda, Ukrainian immigrants lost in America’s consumer culture. Peter grieves for his former profession as an astronomy technician, and Luda, quiet and beautiful, displays a moral intelligence that may right Corcoran’s world. Kiefer’s work is deeply symbolic, with Corcoran’s appreciation for the order and perfection to be found in equations and algorithms being contrasted against the chaos and entropy of his personal life. The narrative is straightforward and masterfully accomplished. 

A wonderfully executed debut novel, so rich as to inspire rereading, right down to its inevitable resolution, both ironic and existentialist.

Pub Date: June 19, 2012

ISBN: 978-1-60819-810-8

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Bloomsbury

Review Posted Online: June 17, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2012

Grace and empathy infuse this melancholy landscape of complex loyalties enfolded by brutal history, creating a novel of...

THE GARDEN OF EVENING MISTS

The unexpected relationship between a war-scarred woman and an exiled gardener leads to a journey through remorse to a kind of peace.

After a notable debut, Eng (The Gift of Rain, 2008) returns to the landscape of his origins with a poetic, compassionate, sorrowful novel set in the aftermath of World War II in Malaya, where the conflict was followed by a bloody guerilla war of independence. Chinese-Malayan Judge Teoh Yun Ling, who witnessed these events when younger, has been diagnosed with aphasia, which will shortly strip her of her mind and memory. So she returns to Yugiri, in the mountains, to record her memories of the place she visited 34 years earlier to persuade ex-Imperial Japanese gardener Aritomo to make a garden in memory of her sister. The sisters had spent four years in a horrific Japanese slave labor camp, sustained by memories of the gardens of Kyoto. Aritomo turns down Yun Ling’s request; instead she becomes his apprentice, then lover. Aritomo is an enigmatic figure, steeped in art and wisdom, perhaps also a spy. Only years later, when Yun Ling finally pieces together his last message to her, can she reconcile her grief and guilt as the sole survivor of the slave camp.

Grace and empathy infuse this melancholy landscape of complex loyalties enfolded by brutal history, creating a novel of peculiar, mysterious, tragic beauty.

Pub Date: Sept. 4, 2012

ISBN: 978-1-60286-180-0

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Weinstein Books

Review Posted Online: Aug. 16, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2012

Although their fates are known, Gregory creates suspense by raising intriguing questions about whether her characters will...

THE KINGMAKER'S DAUGHTER

The latest of Gregory’s Cousins’ War series debunks—mostly—the disparaging myths surrounding Richard III and his marriage to Anne Neville.

Anne and her sister Isabel are both used without hesitation as political bargaining chips by their father, Richard, Earl of Warwick. True to his sobriquet, "Kingmaker," Warwick engineered the downfall of the Lancastrian King Henry VI after Henry succumbed to mental illness and supplanted him with Edward IV, scion of the Yorkist-Plantagenet claims to the English succession. Increasingly disenchanted by the degree to which Edward is allowing his queen, Elizabeth Woodville, to dole out favors to her large family, Warwick marries Isabel off to George, Duke of Clarence, Edward’s brother, on the theory that George, next in line for the throne, can dislodge his older brother. When George fails at this, Warwick gives Anne, barely 14, in marriage to Henry’s son, Edward and, together with his former enemy, Margaret of Anjou (Henry’s exiled consort), attempts a coup that fails miserably, bringing us to the time period chronicled in Shakespeare’s Tudor/Lancaster-biased take on events. With her father and new husband slain in battle and mother and mother-in-law either in prison or otherwise defanged, Anne is left penniless. Her brother-in-law, George, and her own sister have taken her inheritance and are keeping her a virtual servant. King Edward’s youngest brother, Richard, rescues Anne, marries her and uses some unorthodox means to regain her inheritance (while ensuring that it all belongs to him). The marriage, unlike the sinister seduction depicted by Shakespeare, is presented as a genuine love match (aside from some doubt about that tricky prenup). The chief threat to the realm is not Richard but Queen Elizabeth: A reputed witch with a grudge against Warwick’s daughters (Warwick killed her father and brother), she will not be happy until Isabel, Anne and their progeny (and if necessary her brothers-in-law) are dead.  

Although their fates are known, Gregory creates suspense by raising intriguing questions about whether her characters will transcend their historical reputations.

Pub Date: Aug. 14, 2012

ISBN: 978-1-4516-2607-0

Page Count: 432

Publisher: Touchstone/Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: July 22, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2012

Even so, Eggers’ fiction has evolved in the past decade. This book is firm proof that social concerns can make for resonant...

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A HOLOGRAM FOR THE KING

A middle-aged man scrapes for his identity in a Saudi Arabian city of the future.

This book by McSweeney’s founder Eggers (Zeitoun, 2009, etc.) inverts the premise of his fiction debut, 2002’s You Shall Know Our Velocity. That novel was a globe-trotting tale about giving away money; this one features a hero stuck in one place and desperate to make a bundle. Alan Clay is a 50-something American salesperson for an information technology company angling for a contract to wire King Abdullah Economic City, a Saudi commerce hub. Alan and his team are initially anxious to deliver their presentation to the king—which features a remote speaker appearing via hologram—but they soon learn the country moves at a snaillike pace. So Alan drifts: He wanders the moonscape of the sparely constructed city, obsesses over a cyst on his back, bonds with his troubled driver, pursues fumbling relationships with two women, ponders his debts and recalls his shortcomings as a salesman, husband and father. This book is in part a commentary on America’s eroding economic might (there are numerous asides about offshoring and cheap labor), but it’s mostly a potent, well-drawn portrait of one man’s discovery of where his personal and professional selves split and connect. Eggers has matured greatly as a novelist since Velocity: Where that novel was gassy and knotted, this one has crisp sentences and a solid structure. He masters the hurry-up-and-wait rhythm of Alan’s visit, accelerating the prose when the king’s arrival seems imminent then slackening it again. If anything, the novel’s flaws seem to be products of too much tightening: An incident involving a death back home feels clipped and some passages are reduced to fablelike simplicity.

Even so, Eggers’ fiction has evolved in the past decade. This book is firm proof that social concerns can make for resonant storytelling.

Pub Date: June 19, 2012

ISBN: 978-1-936365-74-6

Page Count: 328

Publisher: McSweeney’s

Review Posted Online: June 14, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2012

The ideal companion to the elevation of Hildegard by the pontiff who rebuked American nuns for their outspokenness, an irony...

ILLUMINATIONS

A NOVEL OF HILDEGARD VON BINGEN

A fictionalized biography of medieval mystic Hildegard von Bingen. Its publication will coincide with her appointment as a Doctor of the Church by Pope Benedict.

Eight-year-old Hildegard, a knight’s daughter, accompanies teenage Jutta, a countess’ daughter, as both are imprisoned in an anchorage, a tiny enclosure adjoining a Benedictine monastery chapel in the German hamlet of Disibodenberg. The girls are consecrated as “oblates,” an extreme form of cloistered nun. Their parents have ulterior motives for consigning each child to this sacred interment: Hildegard’s visions embarrass her family, and Jutta, a victim of incest, is unmarriageable. For the next 30 years, Hildegard, with the help of a monk named Volmar, manages to gain an education in music, languages and medicinal arts while Jutta starves herself and mortifies her flesh until she dies. Since the anchorage must now be unbricked for Jutta’s funeral, Hildegarde convinces the Abbot of Disibodenburg to allow her and two other oblates to remain free. Soon, Richardis is brought by her noble mother to serve Hildegard. Richardis is mute, but Hildegard correctly divines that her embrace of religious life is voluntary. When she speaks, it is to defend Hildegard’s visions and writings, which Richardis has helped to illustrate on parchment. This miracle affords Hildegard some credibility at Disibodenburg. Then, word comes that Pope Eugenius wants to scrutinize her first manuscript, Scivias. With the help of Volmar and her beloved brother, Rorich, who serves the Archbishop of Mainz, she is cleared of heresy and is even dubbed “God’s Sybil” by the Pope. Now, Hildegard is free to fulfill her destiny, which she first fully realized at the age of 42, as a writer, healer, composer and abbess. But further hurdles await. Sharratt brings the elusive Hildegard to vivid life, underscoring her ability to evade or transcend Church censure while espousing a protofeminist agenda. 

The ideal companion to the elevation of Hildegard by the pontiff who rebuked American nuns for their outspokenness, an irony the saint herself might have relished.

Pub Date: Oct. 9, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-547-56784-6

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

Review Posted Online: Sept. 2, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2012

Offers humor, heart and characters you’ll cheer for. Romantic women’s fiction at its best.

THE GREAT ESCAPE

This highly anticipated book delivers Phillips’ fans a charming, satisfying answer to the question “So what does Lucy do?”

Lucy Jorik knows how lucky she is. Saved as a young teen by the woman who would become the first female president of the United States, Lucy has spent her life since then being the eldest daughter of the perfect first family. But on the day she’s supposed to marry her perfect mate, she bolts from a life she feels she has fallen into, rather than one she really wants. Accepting a ride from the church on the back of a motorcycle with a perfectly inappropriate man, Lucy embarks on a journey of self-discovery that will take her from Texas to the Great Lakes, while forcing her to face her fears, inadequacies and issues of personal power. Despite his warm-fuzzy name, Panda is tough, surly and sexy as hell, and like most of the world, knows all about Lucy and her story, while giving absolutely nothing away about himself. The two share an electric attraction, but Panda is determined to keep Lucy at arm’s length and his secrets—not to mention his heart—well-protected. Lucy has run away from her life with a vengeance, and she’s not ready to go back anytime soon. As the world searches for her and the media condemns her, she’ll take on a disguise, a new persona and a brand new community of damaged, struggling people who are looking for their own life-affirming answers. Lucy finds comfort, friendship and authenticity on the shores of Lake Michigan in a rambling, shabby, formerly grand house with amazing potential that reflects Lucy’s desire to synthesize her past and present into a future as the woman she was meant to be, with the perfectly imperfect Panda by her side.

Offers humor, heart and characters you’ll cheer for. Romantic women’s fiction at its best.

Pub Date: July 10, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-06-210606-3

Page Count: 432

Publisher: Morrow/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: July 13, 2012

THE HYDROGEN SONATA

Addition to Banks’ wonderful space-opera series (without the middle initial, he also writes impressive mainstream novels) about the far-future galactic Culture (Surface Detail, 2010, etc.), a liberal-anarchic, multispecies civilization guided and sustained, more or less invisibly, by Minds, artificial intelligences that take such physical forms as spaceships and habitats.

Vastly more intelligent than humans, millions of times faster and mostly benevolent, Minds are truly godlike entities. (Asked “Is this what gods would actually be like?” Banks replied: “If we’re lucky.”) Now, the Gzilt civilization, an almost perversely peaceful military society whose precepts arise from the Book of Truth, an ancient tome containing technological and intellectual predictions nearly all of which have proved correct, are preparing to Sublime, or vanish, into a set of higher dimensions where existence is thought to be almost infinitely rich and complex. As the Gzilt make their preparations, several rather primitive scavenger species gather nearby (one ship comes into orbit, as Banks puts it, with the “warp-engine equivalent of loud clanks and clouds of black smoke”), ready to grab whatever goodies the Gzilt leave behind. But then, a sudden, devastating attack destroys the Gzilt Regimental High Command. The reason seems to involve a shattering secret about the Book of Truth and the establishment of the Culture 10,000 years ago. One of the few survivors, reserve Lt. Cmdr. Vyr Cossont, a bewildered four-armed musician with, self-confessedly, no military skills, receives orders to locate and question Ngaroe QiRia, possibly the Culture’s oldest living person and the only one who might have some idea why the Book of Truth is so important and what really happened 10 millennia ago. Problem is, even assisted by Berdle, a powerful Mind avatar, and an erratic battle android who’s convinced everything’s merely a simulation, can she survive long enough to complete her mission? Scotland-resident Banks’ Culture yarns, the science-fiction equivalent of Terry Pratchett’s Discworld novels, brim with wit and wisdom, providing incomparable entertainment, with fascinating and highly original characters, challenging ideas and extrapolations, and dazzling action seamlessly embedded in a satirical-comedy matrix.

Sheer delight.

Pub Date: Oct. 9, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-3162-1237-3

Page Count: 496

Publisher: Orbit/Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: Sept. 2, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2012

It’s a grand entertainment to watch Silva putting Gabriel Allon’s skills to work, whether shedding blood or daubing varnish....

THE FALLEN ANGEL

Fast-paced action thriller from old hand Silva (Portrait of a Spy, 2001, etc.), whose hero Gabriel Allon returns in fine form.

As Silva’s legion of fans—including, it seems, every policy wonk inside the Beltway and Acela Corridor—knows, Gabriel is not just your ordinary spy. He’s a capable assassin, for one thing, and a noted art restorer for another, which means that his adventures often find him in the presence of immortal works of art and bad guys who would put them to bad use. This newest whodunit is no exception: Gabriel’s in the Vatican, working away at a Caravaggio, when he gets caught up in an anomalous scene—as a friendly Jesuit puts it with considerable understatement, “We have a problem.” The problem is that another Vatican insider has gone splat on the mosaic floor, having fallen some distance from the dome. Did she jump, or was she pushed? Either way, as the victim’s next of kin puts it, again with considerable understatement, “I’m afraid my sister left quite a mess.” She did indeed, and straightening it up requires Gabriel to grapple with baddies in far-flung places around Europe and the Middle East. It would be spoiling things to go too deep into what he finds, but suffice it to say that things have been going missing from the Vatican’s collections to fund a variety of nefarious activities directly and indirectly, including some ugly terrorism out Jerusalem way. But set Gabriel to scaling flights of Herodian stairs, and the mysteries fall into place—not least of them the location of a certain structure built for a certain deity by a certain biblical fellow. The plot’s a hoot, but a believable one; think a confection by Umberto Eco as starring Jonathan Hemlock, or a Dan Brown yarn intelligently plotted and written, and you’ll have a sense of what Silva is up to here.

It’s a grand entertainment to watch Silva putting Gabriel Allon’s skills to work, whether shedding blood or daubing varnish. A top-notch thriller.

Pub Date: July 17, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-06-207312-9

Page Count: 416

Publisher: Harper/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Aug. 23, 2012

Astonishing stuff that leaves readers with plenty of work to do.

THE HERMETIC MILLENNIA

Second installment of Wright’s ferociously dense and convoluted far-future space opera involving hyperintelligence, aliens and artificial evolution (Count to a Trillion, 2011). Warning up front: read the first book first.

Thanks to the discovery of an alien storehouse of knowledge and source of energy, former Texas gunslinger Menelaus Montrose transformed himself into a supergenius. Unfortunately, so did his colleagues who, led by Zimen “Blackie” Del Azarchel, desire only to rule the Earth. Menelaus tried but failed to prevent them. However, aliens known as the Domination of Hyades regard themselves as Earth’s overlords, and in 8,000 years, they will arrive to take ownership. Blackie and company, then, intend to force the development of a suitably advanced yet compliantly slave-worthy population. Menelaus’ wife, meanwhile, is heading at near-light speed for a remote globular star cluster in order to confront the Hyades’ bosses’ bosses. She will, of course, arrive back at Earth 50,000 years too late to prevent the Hyades’ occupation, so somehow Menelaus must prevent the slavers from exterminating humanity until she arrives. Menelaus arranges to enter cryonic suspension, with instructions to wake him periodically so he can gauge what Blackie and his co-conspirators have been up to and, hopefully, counteract them. When he wakes, however, Menelaus discovers that the tombs where he and others were preserved have been ripped open and plundered by Blackie’s Blue Men minions—merely the latest example of Blackie’s efforts to create ideal subjects for the Hyades. So: An impressive torrent of information, factual, extrapolative and speculative, explicated via a series of dazzlingly erudite conversations that build weird post-humans into recognizable characters. Oh, and a plot that goes nowhere at all.

Astonishing stuff that leaves readers with plenty of work to do.

Pub Date: Dec. 24, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-7653-2928-8

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Tor

Review Posted Online: Sept. 16, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 2012

The author knows what matters, and the stories pay attention to it.

DEAR LIFE

STORIES

A revelation, from the most accomplished and acclaimed of contemporary short story writers.

It’s no surprise that every story in the latest collection by Canada’s Munro (Too Much Happiness, 2009, etc.) is rewarding and that the best are stunning. They leave the reader wondering how the writer manages to invoke the deepest, most difficult truths of human existence in the most plainspoken language. But the real bombshell, typically understated and matter-of-fact, comes before the last pieces, which the author has labeled “Finale” and written in explanation: “The final four works in this book are not quite stories. They form a separate unit, one that is autobiographical in feeling, though not, sometimes, entirely so in fact. I believe they are the first and last—and the closest—things I have to say about my own life.” The “first” comes as a surprise, because her collection The View from Castle Rock (2006) was so commonly considered atypically autobiographical (albeit drawing more from family legacy than personal memory). And the “last”? When a writer in her early 80s declares that these are the last things she has to say about her life, they put both the life and the stories in fresh perspective. Almost all of them have an older character remembering her perspective from decades earlier, sometimes amused, more often baffled, at what happened and how things turned out. Most pivot on some sort of romantic involvement, but the partners are unknowable, opaque, often even to themselves. In “Train,” a character remarks, “Now I have got a real understanding of it and it was nobody’s fault. It was the fault of human sex in a tragic situation.” In “Leaving Maverley,” she writes of “the waste of time, the waste of life, by people all scrambling for excitement and paying no attention to anything that mattered.”

The author knows what matters, and the stories pay attention to it.

Pub Date: Nov. 13, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-307-59688-8

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: Sept. 30, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2012

Jane has so little trouble breaking James Shelby, framed for murdering his wife, out of police custody at the Clara...

POISON FLOWER

Jane Whitefield’s latest attempt to hide someone other people are looking for puts her in even more danger than usual, and that’s not easy.

Jane has so little trouble breaking James Shelby, framed for murdering his wife, out of police custody at the Clara Shortridge Foltz Criminal Courts Building in Los Angeles that you just know something’s going to go wrong. But the mishap this time is remarkably fast and unexpected: Three hard types who’ve been tracking Shelby go after Jane instead. Driving her to a remote desert location, they torture her seeking information about her client, then realize that they can make a queen’s ransom by auctioning her off to one of the many criminals she’s outwitted by spiriting away their victims or enemies and settling them in new identities (Runner, 2009, etc.). Jane manages to escape and takes refuge in a battered women’s shelter in Las Vegas, where she acquires yet another fugitive who must be hidden away. (“I guess I have a knack for making friends” is her laconic comment.) It would be unfair to reveal more about a story whose appeal depends so completely on Perry’s ability to keep you from seeing a single inch around the next corner. Suffice it to say that both Jane and the fake cops will put a great many more miles on vehicles they’ve rented or stolen before Jane confronts the brains behind the frame-up of Shelby in the nation’s heartland in a satisfyingly one-dimensional showdown.

Pub Date: March 1, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-8021-2605-4

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Mysterious Press

Review Posted Online: Feb. 9, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2012

A truly spellbinding work even audiences jaded by standard U.S./U.K. fantasy will devour. Kudos to the publishers for taking...

THE SCAR

First English translation of a work written in Russian in 1997, from an award-winning Ukrainian husband-and-wife team now resident in Moscow.

This book is actually the second in a tetralogy that began three years earlier with The Gate-Keeper—so, when bringing translated works to an Anglophone audience, why not begin at the beginning? truly the ways of publishers are strange—which introduced, or, better, created, the enigmatic and powerful mage known as the Wanderer, the key figure in the series. Egert, a supremely skilled, arrogant member of the elite guards, is also a bully and heedless philanderer from a culture that encourages, even extols, such behavior. When a young student, Dinar, and his stunningly beautiful fiancée Toria arrive in town seeking rare books on magic, Egert decides he must have Toria, and torments poor Dinar into a duel. Unskilled, Dinar is easily dispatched, but the mysterious Wanderer, a witness to Dinar's cruel end, challenges Egert in turn. The Wanderer, who could easily have killed Egert, instead contents himself with slashing the guard's face, leaving Egert with a painful scar. Worse, Egert finds that the scar has drained his confidence, leaving him an abject coward, too terrified even to commit suicide. Deserting his regiment, Egert journeys far, eventually arriving in the city where Toria lives with her father, Luayan, a mage and Dean of the University. Taking pity on Egert, Luayan finds him lodging and offers him the chance to attend classes. Somehow, through his shame and degradation, Egert must find a way to face Toria, deal with his own problems, confront the evil designs of a secretive cult of wizards and face the Wanderer's inevitable return. Rich, vivid, tactile prose, with a solid yet unpredictable plot—and an extraordinary depth and intensity of character reminiscent of the finest Russian literature.

A truly spellbinding work even audiences jaded by standard U.S./U.K. fantasy will devour. Kudos to the publishers for taking the plunge—but what took them so long?

Pub Date: Feb. 28, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-7653-2993-6

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Tor

Review Posted Online: Dec. 5, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2011

Strengthened by characters with depth and something interesting to say, this winning first installment in a trilogy is sure...

RAINSHADOW ROAD

A little romance and a little magic make for a surprising page turner as a glass artist falls for a vintner on an island in the Puget Sound.

It comes as quite a shock when Kevin tells Lucy their relationship is over. It’s even worse when he tells her she needs to quickly move out as his new girlfriend will be moving in. And then devastating when he confesses that the new girlfriend is her younger sister Alice. Criminal, but all of a piece—ever since a childhood bout of meningitis left her fragile, Alice has always gotten her way; her parents spoiled her into a beautiful, unbearable young woman. Reeling from the news, Lucy takes a walk on the beach and runs into Sam Nolan, a handsome, rakish grape grower and confirmed bachelor. The two strike up a saucy friendship but agree that anything more would be disastrous given Lucy’s recent breakup and Sam’s admittedly cynical perspective on all things love. Sam’s romantic skepticism has deep roots: his parents were the town drunks, raging and embarrassing to their four children, creating in each a fatalism that encourages superficial relationships. The exception is Holly, Sam’s niece who he and his brother Mark are raising after the death of their sister. The three live in a rambling Victorian attached to Sam’s vineyard and soon enough (due to an accident that leaves her leg temporarily immobile) Lucy moves in. They both resist the sexual energy but then confess their deepest secrets: Lucy can convert glass into living things (like fireflies) and Sam can will plants to grow. Will Sam admit he’s in love with Lucy? Will Kevin and Alice really marry? Will Lucy take the art grant in New York or stay pining for Sam? Happily, everyone gets exactly what they deserve.

Strengthened by characters with depth and something interesting to say, this winning first installment in a trilogy is sure to thrill fans of modern romantic fiction.

Pub Date: Feb. 28, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-312-60588-9

Page Count: 336

Publisher: St. Martin's Griffin

Review Posted Online: March 5, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2012

Let’s hope Laukkanen writes more thrillers like this one.

THE PROFESSIONALS

A fast-moving debut thriller with enough twists to fill a pretzel bag.

They aren’t bad people. It’s just that times are tough in Michigan, and none of these young friends can find a decent job. So Pender, Sawyer, Mouse and Marie decide that kidnapping a few rich people for quick, modest ransoms would solve their financial woes and let them live out their lives on a beach in the Maldives. No one gets hurt, no one gets greedy and they all stay professional. They just need to grab some rich businessmen, make a few quiet deals and walk away with a $60,000 payoff each time. One victim even complains he’s worth way more, but $60K is enough for them. The plan works beautifully until they mess with the wrong guy and their great retirement plan goes insanely haywire. Meanwhile, state cop Kirk Stevens and FBI agent Carla Windermere team up to investigate the crimes. The characters are as much fun as the plot. Stevens is happily married and faithful, and Windermere has a beau, yet when they work together the sexual tension between them is obvious. They are the real pros in this case as they try to nail the criminals and stop the mayhem that spirals out of control. And for all the danger, Stevens and Windermere tell each other they’re having so much fun they wish the case would go on forever. The kidnappers, however, enjoy themselves somewhat less while they learn that some things may be more important than money—like staying alive, for example.

Let’s hope Laukkanen writes more thrillers like this one.

Pub Date: March 29, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-399-15789-9

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Putnam

Review Posted Online: Dec. 19, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2012

Gripping, perfectly balanced and highly recommended.

RANGE OF GHOSTS

From the Eternal Sky series , Vol. 1

Beginning of a new historical-fantasy trilogy, set in the same Mongol Khanate–style universe as the short novel Bone and Jewel Creatures (2010).

Along the Celadon Highway, the empire of the Great Khagan is embroiled in civil war. A grandson, Temur, supported his defeated elder brother in terrible battles against his usurping uncle Qori Buqa. In the country of the Eternal Sky, a moon sails in the heavens for each of Mongke Khagan's sons and grandsons. Once there were over a hundred, now less than a third remain, Temur's Iron Moon among them. Though badly wounded, Temur survives, attaches himself to one of the wandering clans of the steppes and takes Edene as his woman. Meanwhile Qori Buqa allies himself with al-Sepehr, an ambitious renegade blood-sorcerer cultist of the Uthman Caliphate. Al-Sepehr raises an army of ghosts to kill Temur, but fails; instead the sorcerer snatches Edene and brings her to his stronghold of Al-Din. Meanwhile, Samarkar, a wizard of Tsarepheth in the Rasan Empire, where another, less bloody, power struggle is going on, learns of sorcerous doings in the city Qeshqer and travels to investigate. Here she meets Temur, who's searching for Edene. They will be joined by Hrahima, a huge human-tiger Cho-tse, who has traveled from Ctesifon with more bad news. The Khagan Empire is Temur's to claim—if he can survive the plots of Qori Buqa. This lean, sinewy, visceral narrative, set forth in extraordinarily vivid prose full of telling detail, conveys a remarkable sense of time and place, where the characters belong to the landscape and whose personalities derive naturally from it. Though the book is not self-contained, Bear provides this opener with enough of a resolution to satisfy while whetting the appetite for more.

Gripping, perfectly balanced and highly recommended.

Pub Date: March 27, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-7653-2754-3

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Tor

Review Posted Online: Jan. 15, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2012

Good cops, bent cops, tormented and demented cops, cops of every description inhabit Rizzo’s world, all of them utterly...

RIZZO'S DAUGHTER

In Manfredo’s tender and terrific latest, a burned-out cop can’t quit because he’s also a devoted dad.

NYPD Det. Sgt. Joe Rizzo (Rizzo’s Fire, 2011, etc.) suspects he’s been on the job too long. It’s not that he’s lost effectiveness. In terms of sheer professionalism he’s probably as good as ever, maybe even better. It’s just that time and bitter experience have rubbed off the gloss since the days when he loved being a cop, replacing it with a pervasive existential heaviness best expressed by Rizzo’s mantra: “There is no right. There is no wrong. There just [obscenity] is.” For a while now Rizzo has been promising his wife Jen that resignation is just around the corner, a plan that seems eminently feasible until suddenly it isn’t. Carol Rizzo, their youngest daughter, announces—in terms as strong as Rizzo himself once used—that she too has opted for blue. Long-suffering Jen is terrified. Rizzo understands that and shares some of her very sensible anxiety while taking a certain guilty pride in his daughter’s decision. Carol’s choice, however, means that seasoned, savvy Rizzo must stay on in order to protect his beloved child as much as possible. But how much will that be?

Good cops, bent cops, tormented and demented cops, cops of every description inhabit Rizzo’s world, all of them utterly believable and intensely interesting. For readers compiling a short list of crime fiction, here’s an essential.

Pub Date: March 13, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-312-53807-1

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Minotaur

Review Posted Online: April 9, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2012

The setup is wonderfully engrossing; the denouement doesn’t deliver quite enough. But this is stylish work by an author of...

THE STOCKHOLM OCTAVO

Elegant and multifaceted, Engelmann’s debut explores love and connection in late-18th-century Sweden and delivers an unusual, richly imagined read.

Stockholm, “Venice of the North,” in an era of enlightenment and revolution is the setting for a refreshing historical novel grounded in a young man’s search for a wife but which takes excursions into politics, geometry (Divine and other), numerology, the language of fans and, above all, cartomancy—fortunetelling using cards. Emil Larsson, who “came from nothing” and now works for the customs office, is under pressure to marry. Offered advice by the keeper of a select gaming room, Mrs. Sparrow, he is introduced to the Octavo, a set of eight cards from a mysterious deck representing eight characters he will meet who will help him find the fiancee and advancement he seeks. As they appear, these characters each have their own story to tell, like Fredrik Lind, the gregarious calligrapher, and the Nordéns, refugees from France who fashion exquisite fans. But Emil’s Octavo overlaps with Mrs. Sparrow’s own, and his ambitions become enmeshed in a larger scenario involving a plot against King Gustav himself. Another of Emil’s characters, an apothecary fleeing a violent fiancee, who is taken on and groomed by a powerful but cruel widow, holds the key.

The setup is wonderfully engrossing; the denouement doesn’t deliver quite enough. But this is stylish work by an author of real promise.

Pub Date: Oct. 23, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-06-199534-7

Page Count: 432

Publisher: Ecco/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Sept. 2, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2012

Immediate, poignant and rarely predictable, this searchingly observant work captures a huge terrain of personal aspiration...

THE UNDERTOW

The architecture of a family, constructed over decades, through relationships, wars and secrets, is assembled with fine detail and insight in an exceptional 20th-century saga.

Long, intricate but never dull, English novelist Baker’s U.S. debut is a four-generational span of extraordinary history and ordinary lives, eloquent about the unshared interior worlds of individuals even when connected by the closest of bonds. Starting in London in 1914, it introduces young sweethearts William and Amelia Hastings, married just as World War I begins. Amelia, pregnant with Billy, will always stay faithful to William’s memory, tending the album of postcards he sent her, and when shipmate George Sully—a malevolent, recurrent, family-curse character—threatens, Amelia and Billy see him off together. Billy has a talent for cycling, but his prospects, as his own son’s will be, are clouded by issues of money and class, and then World War II intervenes. Billy survives to marry Ruby, a stylish Jew who also encounters George Sully but never tells her husband. The couple’s first child is Will, partly disabled by Perthes disease, whom Billy struggles to love. Clever Will achieves academic success at Oxford but marries unhappily. It’s with his artistic daughter Billie that the book reaches its understated yet moving conclusion.

Immediate, poignant and rarely predictable, this searchingly observant work captures a huge terrain of personal aspiration against a shifting historical and social background. Impressive. 

Pub Date: May 15, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-307-95709-2

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: April 5, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2012

It’s hard to do justice to the outré and eccentric but gorgeous quality of Pilch’s prose. Here he manages to pull off some...

MY FIRST SUICIDE

A set of loosely concatenated stories that don’t quite add up to a novel but are nonetheless rich in character and in the exploration of contemporary urban life in Poland.

In the title story a man reminisces about a time 40 years before, when at the age of 12 he first had the impulse to take his life. He’s heard from Pastor Kalinowski (one of the recurring characters) about the “other world” and has some curiosity about the passage from This World to That. The possibility of his own self-destruction curiously liberates the narrator, so he gives himself permission to violate some taboos—like watch an adult film and read a forbidden book he’s found at the bottom of a cupboard. Pilch manages to inject a great deal of humor into the story—as well as tragedy, for it’s also about the narrator’s relationship to his drunken and dissolute father. “The Most Beautiful Woman in the World” announces its subject grandly, though the narrator is forced to admit she might only be in the top ten—or the top 100. He’s nevertheless pleased to have found her, though his sexual fantasies about her turn out to be at one and the same time both indulged in and quashed. In “The Double of Tolstoy’s Son-in-Law,” the narrator develops an obsession about an old photograph of Tolstoy playing chess, while in “A Chapter about a Figure Sitting Motionless” the obsession is with Anka Chow Chow, a virginal soccer fan who has a weakness, or perhaps a fetish, for girls with backpacks.

It’s hard to do justice to the outré and eccentric but gorgeous quality of Pilch’s prose. Here he manages to pull off some neat literary tricks, frequently and self-consciously undermining the seriousness of his subjects with pricks of irony. 

Pub Date: May 15, 2012

ISBN: 978-1-934824-40-5

Page Count: 276

Publisher: Open Letter

Review Posted Online: April 16, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2012

There is much to admire in this novel. The subtle insight on sibling rivalry and the examination of love make for a poignant...

TELL THE WOLVES I'M HOME

Brunt's first novel elegantly pictures the New York art world of the 1980s, suburban Westchester and the isolation of AIDS.

Fourteen-year-old June and 16-year-old Greta travel to Manhattan every few Sundays to be with Finn, their uncle. Finn is a renowned artist, dying of a largely unknown disease, and claims he wants to give them this last gift, though more likely it is the contact he craves. June and Finn have an intense relationship—he is charismatic and brilliant and takes her to special places; he is part magic and part uncle, and June adores him. Greta is jealous; she feels Finn favors June and stole her away. When he dies, June is devastated. At the funeral they see the one not to be mentioned: Finn’s lover, Toby. June’s mother refuses to admit him to the service and blames him for her baby brother’s disease. Slowly, June and Toby develop a secret friendship, indulging their grief and keeping Finn alive through the exchange of memories. What she thought was simply Finn’s apartment she discovers was their shared space, and much of what she loved about the place, and Finn, belongs to Toby. As she and Toby embark on Finn-worthy adventures, Greta is slowly falling apart, hiding in the woods drunk, sabotaging her chance at a summer stint on Broadway. Finn’s portrait of the girls, worth nearly $1 million, is kept in a bank vault, and every time June visits (only she and Greta have keys) she notices additions to the painting that could only come from Greta. With Toby dying and Greta in danger, June lifts the covers off all of her family’s secrets.

There is much to admire in this novel. The subtle insight on sibling rivalry and the examination of love make for a poignant debut.

Pub Date: June 19, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-679-64419-4

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Dial Press

Review Posted Online: June 17, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2012

Shepherd offers an intricate plot and a thousand details of the least-admirable side of Victorian life. A must-read.

THE SOLITARY HOUSE

Shepherd’s latest detective story (Murder at Mansfield Park, 2010) is a Victorian tour de force that borrows characters from Charles Dickens’ Bleak House and Wilkie Collins’ The Woman in White.

Ever since Metropolitan police officer Charles Maddox was dismissed for insubordination, he’s eked out a living as a private detective. He currently has two cases. The first is finding the grandchild of a man who had cast out his pregnant daughter years before. The second is identifying the writer of threatening scrawls for Edward Tulkinghorn, a powerful attorney who represents the interests of the wealthy and highborn. Charles has learned a good deal from his great uncle. Now that this brilliant detective and mentor is slipping into the dark world of age-related mental illness, Charles, moving into his home to supervise his care, benefits from his meticulously kept case notes. At length he realizes that his work for Tulkinghorn is leaving in its wake a string of corpses, many of them evidently connected to the horrific murder of several women. In 1850s England it is no easy task to confront the noble clients Tulkinghorn is protecting, but Charles is determined to discover the truth no matter where it leads. He is savagely attacked and even arrested. Can he rely on Inspector Bucket’s assurances that he is on Charles’ side? The enterprising sleuth’s life may depend on the answer when his two cases come together in a horrifying denouement.

Shepherd offers an intricate plot and a thousand details of the least-admirable side of Victorian life. A must-read.

Pub Date: May 1, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-345-53242-8

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Delacorte

Review Posted Online: April 2, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2012

A sweetheart of a novel, complete with a hazy ending.

OFFICE GIRL

Sometimes things just don’t work out, no matter how hard we wish they would. But there’s irony, so we have that going for us. Right?

The talented Chicago-based Meno (The Great Perhaps, 2009, etc.) has composed a gorgeous little indie romance, circa 1999. The titular protagonist is Odile, the arty, brazen and fearless 23-year-old who loves graffiti, the Velvet Underground’s “After Hours,” riding her bicycle around the city and the married guy she can’t have. She’s also chronically unemployable, generous to a fault and susceptible to dumb mistakes like offering a sexual favor to a co-worker who can’t keep his mouth shut, forcing Odile to quit and go take a crap job in customer service. Jack is a few years older and a spiraling tragedy of his own making. An art school graduate with no creative traction, he’s devastated by his abrupt divorce from Elise, to whom he was married less than a year. To fill his soul, Jack records things, and Meno turns these fleeting sounds into mini-portraits. “Everything is white and soft and dazzling,” he writes. “And Jack, in front of his apartment building, can’t help but stop and record as much of it as he can. Because it’s a marvel, an explosion, a cyclone of white and silver flakes.” The encounter between these two creative iconoclasts is less courting and more epiphany, as they discover the amazing and transformative effects of love with a joy as naïve as that of children. Their story can be artificially cute, with secret messages scrawled on city walls and dirty magazines awash with surrealistic Polaroid snapshots. But when things Get Weird as things do when we’re young, Meno is refreshingly honest in portraying the lowest lows and not just the innocent highs.

A sweetheart of a novel, complete with a hazy ending. 

Pub Date: July 17, 2012

ISBN: 978-1-61775-075-5

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Akashic

Review Posted Online: April 29, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2012

A gruesome, unforgettable exposition of the still too-little-known facts of the Armenian genocide and its multigenerational...

THE SANDCASTLE GIRLS

The granddaughter of an Armenian and a Bostonian investigates the Armenian genocide, discovering that her grandmother took a guilty secret to her grave.

Laura, the narrator of Bohjalian’s latest, is doing genealogical research, attempting to learn more about a fact that has always intrigued her: Her Boston Brahmin grandmother, Elizabeth, and her grandfather, Armen, were brought together by the Armenian genocide. Flash back to 1915. Elizabeth has journeyed to the Syrian city of Aleppo, along with her father, on a mission sponsored by an American relief group, the Friends of Armenia. They have come in an attempt to deliver food and supplies to the survivors of the Armenian massacre. The Turks are using Aleppo as a depot for the straggling remnants of thousands of Armenian women, who have been force-marched through the desert after their men were slaughtered. Elizabeth finds the starved women, naked and emaciated, huddled in a public square, awaiting transports to Der-el-Zor, the desert “relocation camp” where, in reality, their final extermination will take place. Elizabeth takes in two of these refugees, Nevart and an orphan Nevart adopted on the trail, Hatoun, who has been virtually mute since she witnessed the beheading (for sport) of her mother and sisters by Turkish guards. By chance, Elizabeth encounters Armen, an Armenian engineer who has come to Aleppo to search for his wife, Karine. Armen has eluded capture since murdering his former friend, a Turkish official who had reneged on his promise to protect Armen’s family. Despairing of Karine’s survival—and falling in love with Elizabeth—Armen joins the British Army to fight the Turks. Among archival photos viewed by Laura decades later is one of Karine, who did reach the square mere days after Armen left Aleppo. How narrowly did Karine miss reuniting with Armen, Laura wonders, acknowledging that, but for tragic vagaries of fate, the family that produced her might never have come to be.

A gruesome, unforgettable exposition of the still too-little-known facts of the Armenian genocide and its multigenerational consequences.

Pub Date: July 17, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-385-53479-6

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Doubleday

Review Posted Online: May 6, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2012

Often lyrical, sometimes a bit ponderous: a painful, personal record of Cambodia’s holocaust.

IN THE SHADOW OF THE BANYAN

Ratner’s avowedly autobiographical first novel describes her family’s travails during the genocide carried out by the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia in the late 1970s.

Despite the lingering effects of childhood polio, 7-year-old Raami is living a charmed existence. Her father is a minor royal prince and a sensitive, even saintly, poet, a member of the wealthy intelligentsia. Raami and her baby sister, Radana, are cared for by their beautiful young mother and a household of kindly, devoted servants in an atmosphere of privilege and also spiritual grace. Then comes the government overthrow. At first Raami’s father is hopeful that the new leaders will solve the injustice, but soon the new government’s true nature reveals itself. Like most of the city’s residents, Raami’s extended family, including aunts, uncle, cousins and grandmother, are soon ordered out of Phnom Penh. They seek refuge at their weekend house but are driven from there as well. Part of the mass exodus, they try not to draw attention to their royal background, but Raami’s father is recognized and taken away, never to be seen again. Raami, her mother and Radana end up in a rural community staying in the primitive shack of a kindly, childless couple. There is little food and the work is backbreaking. During monsoon season, Radana perishes from malaria, and Raami blames herself because she did not protect her adequately from the mosquitoes. Raami and her mother are ordered to another community. For four years, one terrible event follows another, with small moments of hope followed by cruelty and despair. But her mother never stops protecting Raami, and although both grieve deeply for their lost loved ones, both find untapped stores of resilience. While names are changed (though not Ratner’s father’s name, which she keeps to honor his memory) and events are conflated, an author’s note clarifies how little Ratner’s novel has strayed from her actual memory of events. 

Often lyrical, sometimes a bit ponderous: a painful, personal record of Cambodia’s holocaust.

Pub Date: July 31, 2012

ISBN: 978-1-4516-5770-8

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: April 29, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2012

A compulsively readable novel about brothers on opposite sides of life.