Hadley is the patron saint of ordinary lives; her trademark empathy and sharp insight are out in force here.

THE PAST

Four middle-aged siblings reunite at their family home in the English countryside in Hadley’s (Clever Girl, 2014, etc.) quietly masterful domestic portrait.

They arrive one by one, gathering at the decrepit old house for what may be the last time (memories are one thing; the cost of maintenance is another): Alice first, artistic and sentimental; Fran, frazzled and practical, her two children in tow and her touring musician husband frustratingly absent; Harriet, the eldest, self-contained and dignified; and Roland, the only brother, distant and academic, newly married (for the third time) to an Argentinian lawyer the sisters have yet to meet. When he arrives with his new wife and 16-year-old daughter, Molly, the family is complete, plus one: Alice has brought her ex-boyfriend’s college-aged son, Kasim, along, too. Nothing much “happens” in the novel or, at least, not outwardly. The siblings drink tea, they drink gin, they bicker; they mind Fran’s children, Ivy and Arthur, watch romance bloom between Molly and Kasim, and allow the question that has brought them together—will they sell the house?—to be buried under the business of family vacationing: food preparation, child care, swimming. But inwardly, the sisters are in near-constant upheaval. Hadley expertly captures the gentle tragedies of living, losses, and regrets that are at once momentous and too quotidian to mention: aging, the passage of time, the fissures and slights and unspoken disappointments that simmer underneath the surfaces of all families. The melancholy drama here is not external but internal; not in facts or in actions but in thoughts. Broken up into three dreamy sections—two in the present and one set in the same house a generation earlier—the novel might seem overly precious if it weren’t so bracingly precise.

Hadley is the patron saint of ordinary lives; her trademark empathy and sharp insight are out in force here.

Pub Date: Jan. 5, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-06-227041-2

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Harper/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Oct. 15, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2015

A luminous, searing exploration of desire, alienation, and the powerful tattoo of the past.

WHAT BELONGS TO YOU

The life of an American expat living in Bulgaria intersects repeatedly with that of a young gay hustler in this gorgeous debut novel from Greenwell.

The unnamed narrator—an English teacher who lives in the city of Sofia—has an addiction, and that addiction’s name is Mitko. After they meet for the first time in a public bathroom, Mitko flits in and out of the narrator's life with abandon, alternating among offers of sex, hints at love, threats, blackmail, hunger, illness, neediness, rage, and despair. Mitko is beautiful, self-assured, and an enigma, and the narrator finds it hard to resist him. His growth is in his responses, which range from acquiescence to refusal, and it is this engine that propels the reader forward through a series of tenuously connected chapters that advance in irregular chronological intervals. This is a novel with a short story sensibility; many of the chapters stand on their own, hanging together only in the loosest sense. This is a feature, not a bug: instead of aggressively pursuing a series of tightly woven plotlines, readers may have the sense that they're peering through the narrator’s window randomly and of their own free will, observing his latest state each time. As for the narrator, he can only move forward if he interrogates his past—the question is, will he be able to? The prose here is supple and responsive, and Sofia teems with beauty and decay. Mitko lights up scenes like a firecracker and haunts the ones where he’s absent—a large segment of the novel where he does not appear still vibrates with his energy—but the protagonist too is a source of gentle, steady illumination as he grapples with his cravings, memories, fears, and grief. This is a project of rare discernment and beauty, and it is not to be missed.

A luminous, searing exploration of desire, alienation, and the powerful tattoo of the past.

Pub Date: Jan. 19, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-374-28822-8

Page Count: 208

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: Oct. 8, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2015

Dyson succeeds admirably in creating a base line for future interpretations of this historic presidency. His well-written...

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THE BLACK PRESIDENCY

BARACK OBAMA AND THE POLITICS OF RACE IN AMERICA

An early assessment of America’s first black presidency.

In this rich and nuanced book, Dyson (Sociology/Georgetown Univ.; Can You Hear Me Now?: The Inspiration, Wisdom, and Insight of Michael Eric Dyson, 2009, etc.) writes with passion and understanding about Barack Obama’s “sad and disappointing” performance regarding race and black concerns in his two terms in office. While race has defined his tenure, Obama has been “reluctant to take charge” and speak out candidly about the nation’s racial woes, determined to remain “not a black leader but a leader who is black.” Ironically, as the first black president, Obama was expected by many to offer racial insight to the country, but instead, constrained by a “toxic environment” (criticism by birthers, etc.), he has sought to “keep racial peace, often at the expense of black interests.” Too often he “ignores race, denies white responsibility, or criticizes black culture.” Dyson cogently examines Obama’s speeches and statements on race, from his first presidential campaign through recent events—e.g., the Ferguson riots and the eulogy for the Rev. Clementa Pinckney in Charleston—noting that the president is careful not to raise the ire of whites and often chastises blacks for their moral failings. At his best, he spoke with “special urgency for black Americans” during the Ferguson crisis and was “at his blackest,” breaking free of constraints, in his “Amazing Grace” Charleston eulogy. Criticized in the past by the radical Cornel West for being an Obama cheerleader, Dyson writes here as a realistic, sometimes-angry supporter of the president. He notes that adoration of Obama has prevented many blacks from holding him accountable. His discussions of key issues and controversies—from Obama’s biracial identity to his relationships with older civil rights leaders—are insightful and absorbing.

Dyson succeeds admirably in creating a base line for future interpretations of this historic presidency. His well-written book thoroughly illuminates the challenges facing a black man elected to govern a society that is far from post-racial.

Pub Date: Feb. 2, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-544-38766-9

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

Review Posted Online: Nov. 24, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2015

UNBECOMING

Three generations of a family wrestle with secrets.

Katie knew nothing of a grandmother. But suddenly here one is, because the grandmother’s boyfriend just died and his emergency contact was Katie’s mother, Caroline. Caroline, enraged, wants to leave her mother, Mary, with social services, but despite Mary’s dementia, Mary’s sent home with them, to squish into the three-bedroom flat with Mum, Katie, and Katie’s younger brother. Mum’s smotheringly protective of her kids and now of Mary too, though coldly, without sympathy. Pain and worry seethe from events long-past—Mary’s unwed teen pregnancy and the unknowing Caroline’s tumultuous childhood as the supposed daughter of Mary’s sister—and current: Katie’s fear of admitting that she likes girls. Mary’s always been a glamorous, fiery sparkplug. She broke free from the repressive social mores of white 1950s England. But she’s had heartbreaking losses too, some of which torment her with their emotional pain even after dementia has stolen their details. Katie and Mary walk daily to a cafe, seeking something Mary always forgets but finding, instead, a waitress who ignites Katie’s own fire. The writing, fluidly moving between both Katie’s and Mary’s third-person perspectives, is a wonder. Downham keenly weaves together musings, revelations, confrontations, and poignancy. Her prose gets right down inside human fragility, tenderness, fury, gusto, and strength—leaving sweet, sharp images that are impossible to forget.

Exceptional. (Fiction. 14 & up)

Pub Date: Feb. 23, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-545-90717-0

Page Count: 384

Publisher: David Fickling/Scholastic

Review Posted Online: Nov. 3, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2015

Despite the multiple sports explored and the large cast of characters, Futterman develops his theme seamlessly in a book...

PLAYERS

THE STORY OF SPORTS AND MONEY, AND THE VISIONARIES WHO FOUGHT TO CREATE A REVOLUTION

In his debut, Wall Street Journal reporter Futterman explains how American professional athletes in a variety of sports morphed from poorly paid to multimillionaire status in the span of just a few decades.

The author devotes the first quarter of the book to the entrepreneurial genius of the fascinating Mark McCormack, a Cleveland lawyer who essentially invented the occupation of full-time sports agent. The obsessive-compulsive McCormack persuaded a young Arnold Palmer to turn over his business dealings to his fledgling agency, International Management Group. Within a decade, Palmer's earnings rose from roughly the equivalent of a schoolteacher's salary to something akin to the earnings of a Fortune 500 CEO. Other golfers went on to benefit mightily, and McCormack went on to represent Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player, as well as many other superstars in other sports. After delineating in fascinating detail how McCormack altered the equation for golfers, Futterman shifts to similar developments—some involving McCormack's agency, some not—in tennis, baseball, basketball, and football. Other than the Palmer saga, the story developed most deeply by the author is that of baseball pitcher James "Catfish" Hunter, whose battle for free agency from an unfair system showed the genius of union leader Marvin Miller, an economist by education. Futterman illuminates McCormack's career through the superagent's death in 2003 and then shifts attention to additional business visionaries who enhanced the earnings and working conditions of undercompensated athletes. Within the master narrative, the author offers insightful miniprofiles of sports commissioners, team owners, and TV network decision-makers who paid for rights that supplemented earnings.

Despite the multiple sports explored and the large cast of characters, Futterman develops his theme seamlessly in a book that will appeal to casual fans as well as those who live and die according to the accomplishments of athletes.

Pub Date: April 26, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-4767-1695-4

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: Jan. 2, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2016

A smoldering, altogether impressive debut that probes the social and emotional strains on military families in a fresh and...

THE LONGEST NIGHT

Scintillating marital drama set at a nuclear testing station in the late 1950s.

Paul Collier is an enlisted man who grew up poor and gambles that a new career as a nuclear operator will pay off and be worth uprooting his family from the West Coast to Idaho; he hardly cares if the experimental reactor’s success means American missiles will be able to “hit pay dirt…if the Soviets did anything stupid”—just one of the sore points between him and his wife, Natalie, a California girl whose outspokenness and nonconformity captured him when they were dating but in his current position make him uneasy. Her husband's soldierly reticence about his colleagues' behavior on and off the test site backfires and drives Nat into a more-than-confiding friendship with a local cowboy named Esrom. Readers are also treated to the hilarious musings of Jeannie Richards—the wife of Paul’s new boss, Mitch; her job is to keep her scurrilous silver-haired spouse from botching his retirement payout. Williams keeps the narrative interest percolating with great period details and by allowing her characters' thoughts and emotions full expression—Jeannie lays out battle dress before a dinner welcoming her husband’s new man (“a bra that would catapult her little ladies upward like rocket boosters”), but Mitch himself keeps undermining her Borgia-esque ambitions. Paul’s buttoned-up personality frustrates the hell out of Nat, but her daredevil nature, even as a mother of young children, confounds him more: "He'd had to sit by and watch strangers cheer her on for something he'd not wanted her to do, as if their approval was more important than his concern.” Meantime, plunked alongside potato fields and cattle ranches, other reactors (human and atomic) threaten to blow their stacks. Spoiler alert: a major mishap is all but promised in the prologue, and the afterword describing the nation's only fatal accident at a reactor will send some readers to look up Idaho’s role in American nuclear history.

A smoldering, altogether impressive debut that probes the social and emotional strains on military families in a fresh and insightful way.

Pub Date: Jan. 19, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-8129-9774-3

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: Nov. 10, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2015

Filled with stories of cronyism and influence peddling, Denton’s riveting and revealing book will undoubtedly displease the...

THE PROFITEERS

BECHTEL AND THE MEN WHO BUILT THE WORLD

Investigative journalist Denton (The Plots Against the President: FDR, A Nation in Crisis, and the Rise of the American Right, 2012, etc.) offers an ambitious “empire biography” of the Bechtel family and the secretive, privately held construction company–turned–diversified international conglomerate that has been “inextricably enmeshed” in U.S. foreign policy for seven decades.

In this incredible-seeming but deeply researched book, the author traces the phenomenal rise of the California-based corporation that became famous for building the Hoover Dam and went on to handle billion-dollar projects from the Channel Tunnel to the Big Dig; to construct airports, power plants, and entire cities; to cart away the wreckage of the World Trade Center and rebuild Iraq; to privatize America’s nuclear weapons business (assuming control of Los Alamos, etc.); and, in the end, to complete 25,000 projects in 160 countries. Now the world’s largest contractor, with offices in 50 nations, Bechtel, from 1999 to 2013, received $40 billion in contracts from the U.S. Departments of Energy and Defense. “Despite its fiercely antiregulatory, antigovernment stance,” writes Denton, “the Bechtel family owes its entire fortune to the U.S. government.” She describes the dizzying revolving door between Bechtel’s headquarters and the federal government: Bechtel executives that include John McCone, George P. Shultz, and Casper Weinberger have passed through, forging links with the CIA and other government agencies and leading to favorable contracts and subsidies. Whether in war-torn Europe, the Middle East, or elsewhere, it has always been “difficult to determine if Bechtel was doing favors for the US government, or if it was the other way around.” Parts of this mammoth story have been told before, but Denton has shaped it into a taut, page-turning narrative detailing the company’s machinations under five generations of family leadership. She concludes that the firm is “either a brilliant triumph or an iconic symbol of grotesque capitalism.”

Filled with stories of cronyism and influence peddling, Denton’s riveting and revealing book will undoubtedly displease the so-called “boys from Bechtel,” who refused to talk to Denton, referring her to the company website.

Pub Date: Feb. 16, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-4767-0646-7

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: Nov. 18, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2015

With meticulous research and a facility for storytelling, Konnikova makes this intriguing topic absolutely riveting.

THE CONFIDENCE GAME

WHY WE FALL FOR IT...EVERY TIME

What makes a con artist, and why are we duped by them? New Yorker columnist Konnikova (Mastermind: How to Think Like Sherlock Holmes, 2013) takes us deeply into the art and psychology of the con game.

They are known as "confidence artists," a term first applied in 1849 to William Thompson, who befriended New York passers-by before asking them, "Have you confidence in me to trust me with your watch until tomorrow?" The con game existed long before Thompson (or Manhattan, for that matter), and it continues today in Ponzi schemes, e-ticket scams, and missives from Nigerian princes. Konnikova dissects the con into its component stages, illustrating each with accounts of con artists whose mastery made them legend and sent their victims to the poorhouse: Cassie Chadwick, who for years posed as the illegitimate daughter of Andrew Carnegie; Greenwich Village psychic Sylvia Mitchell, who cleaned out customers' bank accounts as "Zena the Clairvoyant"; Victor Lustig, the man who twice sold the Eiffel Tower; and many more. She reveals the inner workings of well-known cons and provides insight into techniques such as information priming and the Marc Antony gambit. Konnikova studies the psychology of both the grifter and the mark, laying bare what makes each well-suited for the roles they play in the confidence game. In uncovering the characteristics of a con artist, the author points to a "dark triad" of traits: psychopathy, narcissism, and Machiavellianism. She examines the roots of both deception and trust, and she explores a range of behaviors and attributes that include the chameleon effect (why Dale Carnegie's treatise on winning friends and influencing people is "a sort of unwitting bible for cons in training"), the inherent human belief in positive outcomes, and the sunk-cost fallacy, a tendency that keeps us clinging to an investment despite glaring signs that we should walk away.

With meticulous research and a facility for storytelling, Konnikova makes this intriguing topic absolutely riveting.

Pub Date: Jan. 12, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-525-42741-4

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: Oct. 4, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2015

The snappy dialogue and plot you’d expect from a veteran dramatist plus the rich exploration of character that novels are...

I'M GLAD ABOUT YOU

A rare honest story about love, ambition, and compromise.

“But what is a demimonde, anyway?” asks Alison Moore in the opening line of this novel by Rebeck, the creator of TV’s Smash and a widely produced playwright. Rebeck’s insider knowledge of the demimonde of entertainment and celebrity is put to excellent use as she tracks the upward trajectory of a young actress from Cincinnati, from cattle-call auditions for a two-line role through a lead in a television series and to the brink of Hollywood superstardom. Every type in showbiz is unmasked here, from the writer—“It’s only two lines but there has to be stakes”—to the columnist—“Hi Jessica, you look fantastic! Can I grab you for a few minutes to talk about your know-nothing role as a gun-toting whore in Evil Dead 12?”—to the actress herself, “light-headed with hunger all the time” on the orders of her agent: “Beautiful food is for you to look at, and other people to eat.” While her stock goes up careerwise, Alison’s personal life is in free-fall. The decision to move to New York abruptly ended her relationship with her high school sweetheart, Kyle, and their inability to recover ends up warping both of their lives. An idealistic doctor and a committed Catholic, shellshocked Kyle ends up in a pediatric practice catering to entitled suburbanites and, worse, married to a woman he doesn’t love. Every time Alison comes home for a visit, they run into each other and bad things happen. Though she’s something of a black sheep in her extended family, where grandchildren Nos. 8 and 9 are on the way, Alison identifies deeply with the Midwest itself, its culture, its values, its nice people with good manners. Even the parties are better, in her opinion.

The snappy dialogue and plot you’d expect from a veteran dramatist plus the rich exploration of character that novels are made for.

Pub Date: Feb. 23, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-399-17288-5

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Putnam

Review Posted Online: Nov. 17, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2015

A fresh, invigorating look into complex minds and a unique time and place.

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AT THE EXISTENTIALIST CAFÉ

FREEDOM, BEING, AND APRICOT COCKTAILS WITH JEAN-PAUL SARTRE, SIMONE DE BEAUVOIR, ALBERT CAMUS, MARTIN HEIDEGGER, MAURICE MERLEAU-PONTY AND OTHERS

Days in the lives of influential philosophers.

In this brisk and perceptive intellectual history, Bakewell (Masters of Studies in Creative Writing/Kellogg Coll., Univ. of Oxford; How to Live: Or a Life of Montaigne in One Question and Twenty Attempts at an Answer, 2010, etc.) focuses on a diverse cast of men and women who, beginning in the 1930s, worried over questions of freedom, authenticity, anxiety, and commitment, creating the movement that came to be known as existentialism. Their antecedents were Nietzsche and Kierkegaard, who “pioneered a mood of rebellion and dissatisfaction, created a new definition of existence as choice, action and self-assertion, and made a study of the anguish and difficulty of life.” Dominating Bakewell’s narrative are Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir, lovers and “compulsive communicators” of every detail of their work. Sartre, appealingly fun-loving (he played piano and sang jazz hits) in his youth, became “monstrous” as he aged: “self-indulgent, demanding, bad-tempered. He was a sex addict who didn’t even enjoy sex, a man who would walk away from friendships saying he felt no regret.” Bakewell was surprised at how much affection she felt for him despite his faults. Certainly he was more likable than Martin Heidegger, who “set himself against the philosophy of humanism and…was rarely humane in his behaviour.” As the author reveals historical context for the philosophers’ work—prewar Paris; the Nazi occupation; postwar debates among internationalists, pro-Americans, and communists—she explains the significance of cafes: “they were the best places to keep warm” for those who lived in cheap, unheated hotel rooms. Albert Camus, Hannah Arendt, Iris Murdoch (Britain’s first popularizer of existentialism), James Baldwin, actress Juliette Gréco, and Emmanuel Levinas are just a few featured in this well-populated book, whose hero, Bakewell writes, is phenomenologist Maurice Merleau-Ponty, “the happy philosopher of things as they are.”

A fresh, invigorating look into complex minds and a unique time and place.

Pub Date: March 1, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-59051-488-7

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Other Press

Review Posted Online: Nov. 29, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2015

Anyone with an interest in the way things work will want this book—and will doubtless emerge as a fan of the ever curious...

THE ROAD TAKEN

THE HISTORY AND FUTURE OF AMERICA'S INFRASTRUCTURE

Noted engineer and writer Petroski (Civil Engineering/Duke Univ.; To Forgive Design: Understanding Failure, 2012, etc.) gives readers a characteristically eye-opening look at America’s infrastructure.

The good news, writes the author, is that “the horror stories of corruption, graft, waste, fraud, and abuse” that accompany accounts of construction and maintenance in, say, Italy or China are not the norm in America; where they turn up, they are remarkable for being outliers. The bad news is—well, just about everything else, apart from the ingenuity of the American engineers and builders who put up the interstate highway system, bridges, dams, and other hallmarks of the nation’s engineering history, most now crumbling to bits. Little escapes Petroski’s attention. If you want to know the exact recipe for building an asphalt highway, or are interested in why it might be preferred to concrete in some situations but not others, or have a fascination for asphalt-related statistics (“By the early twenty-first century, asphalt was in place on about 94 percent of the more than two million miles of paved roads in the United States”), then this is exactly the book for you. Asphalt, of course, falls just under the A’s in the long list of things that exercise the author’s exacting attention, bespeaking an attention to detail, praiseworthy enough in an engineer, that might become tedious in the hands of a less-skilled writer. Of immediate interest, given the deterioration of our roads and bridges, is Petroski’s look at early arguments over highway funding, which have considerable bearing on contemporary arguments over privatization and passing the buck to the states. “We need to take a holistic view of infrastructure,” he writes, both generally and in order to understand why some things last and some things fall apart, an understanding that hangs on dozens of disparate factors.

Anyone with an interest in the way things work will want this book—and will doubtless emerge as a fan of the ever curious author.

Pub Date: Feb. 16, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-63286-360-7

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Bloomsbury

Review Posted Online: Sept. 3, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2015

Following Schneider Award–winning Marcelo in the Real World (2009), Stork further marks himself as a major voice in teen...

THE MEMORY OF LIGHT

After a failed suicide attempt, 16-year-old Vicky Cruz wakes up in a hospital’s mental ward, where she must find a path to recovery—and maybe rescue some others.

Vicky meets Mona, Gabriel, and E.M.—a clan very different from Vicky primarily because of their economic limitations—at Lakeview Hospital. There, with the guidance of their group-therapy leader, Dr. Desai, they daily delve into deep-seated issues that include anger management, bipolar disorder, clinical depression, and schizophrenia. Beyond the hospital walls, Vicky’s school friends amount to zero, and her future plans are difficult to conjure. Vicky has a flawed family: Becca, her Harvard-student sister, has grown distant; Miguel, her temperamental first-generation father, married Barbara only six months after Vicky’s mother died of cancer; and collectively the two are sending Vicky’s longtime nanny, Juanita, back to Mexico. A quick first-person narration guides readers through the complexity of Vicky’s thoughts and, more importantly, revelations. From her darkest moments to welcome comedic respites to Emily Dickinson’s poetry, Stork remains loyal to his characters, their moments of weakness, and their pragmatic views, and he does not shy away from such topics as domestic violence, social-class struggles, theology, and philosophy.

Following Schneider Award–winning Marcelo in the Real World (2009), Stork further marks himself as a major voice in teen literature by delivering one of his richest and most emotionally charged novels yet . (Fiction. 12 & up)

Pub Date: Jan. 26, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-545-47432-0

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Levine/Scholastic

Review Posted Online: Oct. 14, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2015

An honest, self-deprecating, and very moving account of a writer searching for herself in words.

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IN OTHER WORDS

In a perfectly titled memoir, the Pulitzer Prize–winning novelist chronicles her efforts to learn and write Italian.

Lahiri (The Lowland, 2013, etc.), who wrote and published her text in Italian in 2015, now presents an English translation (by Goldstein) with Italian and English on facing pages. For Lahiri, Italian was her third language—her mother spoke Bengali—and she relates in engaging detail the reasons she felt drawn to Italian, her many difficulties learning it, her struggles with writing, and her move to Rome to write. As she acknowledges near the end, and suggests elsewhere, her work is thick with metaphor; continually, she tries to find effective comparisons. A swim across a lake, an avalanche, a mountain-climb, a journey, a map, a bridge, maternity—these and numerous others describe her learning and her difficulties. A most affecting later chapter, “The Wall,” deals with a discomfort felt (and caused) by many: Lahiri doesn’t “look” Italian, so Romans and others treated her oddly, even insultingly, at times. She notes that similar experiences happened in the United States. Even though she’s known English since childhood—and has written award-winning novels in the language—some Americans look at her with a kind of mistrust. Lahiri does not ever get too detailed about the specifics of her learning, although there are paragraphs about vocabulary, grammar, and pronunciation. She is more interested in the effects of all of this on her writing and on her identity. Her memoir is also chockablock with memorable comments about writing and language. “Why do I write?” she asks. “To investigate the mystery of existence. To tolerate myself. To get closer to everything that is outside of me.” At the end, she returns to America but wonders if she will now write again in English.

An honest, self-deprecating, and very moving account of a writer searching for herself in words.

Pub Date: Feb. 9, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-101-87555-1

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: Nov. 1, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2015

A satisfying stand-alone sequel; new readers and old friends will be hoping for further adventures.

TO CATCH A CHEAT

From the Jackson Greene series , Vol. 2

A doctored video showing Jackson Greene and his eighth-grade friends sneaking in to clog Maplewood Middle School toilets pulls the former prankster and his crew into an elaborate set of strategies to catch the perpetrator and foil a couple of would-be cheaters in the process.

When two classmates use the video to enlist them in their quest to obtain the answers to their history teacher’s dreaded final exam, Jackson and best friend Charlie de la Cruz have to resolve simmering differences and cooperate to puzzle out the point of the scheme and nail the schemer. At the same time, Jackson is trying to work up the courage (and set an elaborate stage) to kiss Charlie’s twin sister, Gaby, now formally Jackson’s girlfriend. An intricate plot, fast-paced action, short chapters, and changing perspectives characterize this smartly structured tale, a follow-up to Johnson’s original caper, The Great Greene Heist (2014). The author smoothly introduces the main characters and back story. With plentiful references to Star Wars and other movies, cartoons, and esoteric trivia (helpfully explained in the backmatter), as well as cutting-edge technology, he also offers a convincing portrayal of a likable and highly diverse group of geeky middle school students, eager to outwit the bad guys, authority, and sometimes one another.

A satisfying stand-alone sequel; new readers and old friends will be hoping for further adventures. (Fiction. 10-15)

Pub Date: Jan. 26, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-545-72239-1

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Levine/Scholastic

Review Posted Online: Oct. 6, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2015

Readers will join Nelson’s protagonist in quietly hoping for that healing, too.

AMERICAN ACE

When will the Constitution’s racial fractions become a healthy whole?

Multiaward-winning poet Nelson (How I Discovered Poetry, 2014, etc.) attempts to answer this still-vexing question. Sixteen-year-old Connor Bianchini casually believes in his family- and religion-confirmed half-Irish, half-Italian identity. Connor’s father, Tony, finds out differently when his mother, Lucia, dies and leaves him with the inheritance of pilot’s wings, a gold class ring, and a letter, in which Lucia states that Tony is the “fruit of great love” between her and an airman nicknamed Ace. Research leads Connor and his father to the discovery that Ace’s class ring came from Wilberforce University, a historically black university, and his wings may have come from his service as one of the legendary Tuskegee Airmen. Whereas Connor embraces his “new” black ancestor, though, Tony and his other son (Connor’s half brother), Carlo, react negatively: Carlo tells his father that “bad news should be told privately,” and Tony literally has a stroke. The author’s meticulous verse is the perfect vehicle to convey the devastating fragility of racial and familial identity in an America where interracial love is still divided through the problem of the color line.

Readers will join Nelson’s protagonist in quietly hoping for that healing, too. (Verse fiction. 12-16)

Pub Date: Jan. 12, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-803-73305-3

Page Count: 128

Publisher: Dial

Review Posted Online: Sept. 16, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 2015

Richly researched, ornately plotted, this story demands, and repays, close attention.

THE QUEEN OF THE NIGHT

Life as opera: the intrigues and passions of a star soprano in 19th-century Paris.

She was the last surviving member of a Minnesota farm family swept away by fever; "Lilliet Berne" is a name she borrowed off a gravestone by the East River on her way to board a ship to Europe in search of her mother's people. That mission is eventually abandoned as her original identity is buried under a succession of new incarnations and schemes for survival. She becomes a circus equestrienne, a high-level courtesan, a maid to the empress of France, a spy, and, ultimately, a "Falcon," the rarest breed of soprano—but double dealings, false steps, and bad bargains mark the way. When she is at the pinnacle of her fame, a writer brings her a book he plans to transform into an opera, hoping she will create the central role in its premiere. Reading it, she realizes with horror that the main character is her and that whoever has written it knows all her secrets. To find out who that is, she unfurls the whole of her complicated history and its characters, among them a tenor who's obsessed with her, a comtesse who uses her, her one real friend, and her only love. The story goes through the Franco-Prussian War, the Paris Commune, and the Third Republic, with cameos by Verdi, Bizet, P.T. Barnum, George Sand, and others. If the plot of Chee's (Edinburgh, 2002) second novel is overly elaborate, the voice he has created for his female protagonist never falters. Always holding a few cards close to her chest, Lilliet Berne commands the power of "the ridiculous and beloved thief that is opera—the singer who sneaks into the palace of your heart and somehow enters singing aloud the secret hope or love or grief you hoped would always stay secret, disguised as melodrama; and you are so happy you have lived to see it done."

Richly researched, ornately plotted, this story demands, and repays, close attention.

Pub Date: Feb. 2, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-618-66302-6

Page Count: 576

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

Review Posted Online: Sept. 23, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 2015

A fascinating, well-told story by an author fully committed to his subject. Egan’s impeccable research, uncomplicated...

THE IMMORTAL IRISHMAN

THE IRISH REVOLUTIONARY WHO BECAME AN AMERICAN HERO

The story of Thomas Meagher (1823-1867), an Irishman radicalized by the famine who became a hero on three continents.

New York Times columnist Egan (Short Nights of the Shadow Catcher: The Epic Life and Immortal Photographs of Edward Curtis, 2012, etc.), winner of the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award, could have written multiple books about Meagher’s broad successes. He was a natural-born orator, and his gift encouraged his fellow Irish in hopes of freedom sooner, rather than “in time,” as per the Great Liberator, Daniel O’Connell. The author imparts the desperation of the starving families while pointing to the many wealthy Catholics and Protestants who worked to achieve liberty. During the Great Famine, England exported 1.5 billion pounds of grain as well as more beef than any other colony, while millions starved without the blighted potatoes that sustained them. After a fiery speech in Conciliation Hall and a betrayal by John Balfe, the English arrested Meagher and a handful of others for speaking out. Meagher was sent to Tasmania, and while he was not put into forced labor, he had limited contact with his fellow Irish. Discovering that the traitor Balfe had been given a land grant, he sent an anonymous series of letters to the press, exposing his perfidy. Eventually, with help from his wealthy father, he escaped. His reputation preceded him, and his welcome in America was riotous. His leadership and oration made him a great recruiter of his fellow countrymen during the Civil War. A different side of the Civil War emerges as the author describes the frustrations of war under Gen. George McClellan and the devotion of Meagher’s men. Exhausted after Chancellorsville, Meagher resigned and moved to Montana with his wife, where he fought yet again against a rabid vigilance committee.

A fascinating, well-told story by an author fully committed to his subject. Egan’s impeccable research, uncomplicated readability, and flowing narrative reflect his deep knowledge of a difficult and complex man.

Pub Date: March 1, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-544-27288-0

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

Review Posted Online: Nov. 18, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2015

Personal and cultural complexities distinguish this fresh and fascinating look at a lawless future.

THE ABYSS SURROUNDS US

The world’s geopolitical balance rests on a genetically modified sea monster and his 17 1/2–year-old trainer. Can she resist the adrenaline rush of a pirate’s life to keep the world aright?

In Skrutskie’s debut, swelling seas and a one-world government rearrange national boundaries. Pirates, quite a few who are born on sovereign flotillas, are the new world threat. The governments hire businesses like the one owned by Cassandra Leung’s mom, which create genetically modified sea monsters called Reckoners to destroy the pirates and their vessels. Cassandra, like her dad, trains the aquatic escorts. On her first voyage, her first Reckoner, a terrapoid—a half-turtle, half–marine iguana hybrid “the size of a football field” and named Durga—is killed while trying to protect her assigned ship from the attack of the pirate leader Santa Elena. Cassandra hesitates too long in killing herself, per her dad’s instruction in order to keep the proprietary secrets, and Santa Elena captures her. Somehow, the pirate leader secures her own marine escort and coerces Cassandra to rear the creature. Even as the author offers pure speculative fiction, she also gives readers a terrifically believable heroine with Cassandra, who makes some all-too-human decisions to survive. Most fascinatingly, the author creates a multicultural world led by two women of color—Asian-American Cassandra and ethnically ambiguous Santa Elena—who are larger than life without resorting to stereotypes.

Personal and cultural complexities distinguish this fresh and fascinating look at a lawless future. (Science fiction. 14 & up)

Pub Date: Feb. 8, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-7387-4691-3

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Flux

Review Posted Online: Nov. 3, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2015

Moving and poetic.

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PAX

A motherless boy is forced to abandon his domesticated fox when his father decides to join soldiers in an approaching war.

Twelve-year-old Peter found his loyal companion, Pax, as an orphaned kit while still grieving his own mother’s death. Peter’s difficult and often harsh father said he could keep the fox “for now” but five years later insists the boy leave Pax by the road when he takes Peter to his grandfather’s house, hundreds of miles away. Peter’s journey back to Pax and Pax’s steadfastness in waiting for Peter’s return result in a tale of survival, intrinsic connection, and redemption. The battles between warring humans in the unnamed conflict remain remote, but the oncoming wave of deaths is seen through Pax’s eyes as woodland creatures are blown up by mines. While Pax learns to negotiate the complications of surviving in the wild and relating to other foxes, Peter breaks his foot and must learn to trust a seemingly eccentric woman named Vola who battles her own ghosts of war. Alternating chapters from the perspectives of boy and fox are perfectly paced and complementary. Only Peter, Pax, Vola, and three of Pax’s fox companions are named, conferring a spare, fablelike quality. Every moment in the graceful, fluid narrative is believable. Klassen’s cover art has a sense of contained, powerful stillness. (Interior illustrations not seen.)

Moving and poetic. (Animal fantasy. 9-13)

Pub Date: Feb. 2, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-06-237701-2

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Balzer + Bray/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Oct. 19, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2015

Anglophiles will find Bryson’s field notes equally entertaining and educational.

THE ROAD TO LITTLE DRIBBLING

ADVENTURES OF AN AMERICAN IN BRITAIN

Bryson (One Summer: America, 1927, 2013, etc.) takes us on another fascinating cross-country jaunt.

In 1973, while on a European backpacking tour, the author landed in England, got a job at a psychiatric hospital, met a nurse there, and married her, thus beginning a lifelong love affair with Great Britain, where he’s lived on and off for decades and to which he paid homage in Notes from a Small Island (1996), his first British travelogue. Twenty years later, he again sets out across his adopted land, weaving a great tapestry of historical, cultural, and personal anecdotes along the way. Bryson chronicles his visits to the final resting place of George Everest, a native of Greenwich or Wales (depending upon whom you believe), after whom the Himalayan mountain is misnamed and mispronounced, and his return to Holloway Sanitorium, recalling how the inmates were allowed to roam freely into the nearby town. He expounds on why London is the best city in the world and nominates Oxford as the most pleasant and improved city in Britain, Lytham as the best small town in the north of England, and Morecambe Bay as Britain’s most beautiful bay. En route, we meet myriad colorful historical figures, including an esteemed Nobel laureate who took a side job as a gardener and a Scottish marmalade heir/sexual adventurer who restored the stones at Avebury. Bryson takes a stand against litterbugs and those who would build on London’s Green Belt, and he delves into the history and methodology of British road numbering and the evolution of holiday camps. No words are minced or punches pulled where he finds social decline; he rails against indifferent British shopkeepers and indulges in more than one violent fantasy. However, the majority of his criticisms bear his signature wit, and the bulk of his love/hate relationship with Britain falls squarely on the love side.

Anglophiles will find Bryson’s field notes equally entertaining and educational.

Pub Date: Jan. 19, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-385-53928-9

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Doubleday

Review Posted Online: Nov. 4, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2015

Reminiscent of the best of Jo Walton and Nina Kiriki Hoffman.

ALL THE BIRDS IN THE SKY

Will science or magic save our world and all the living beings on it? That’s the question posed in this science fantasy love story by the editor-in-chief of online geek mecca io9.com (Choir Boy, 2005).

Tweens Patricia Delfine and Laurence Armstead are desperate misfits who find both solace and confusion in each other. Patricia is a nascent witch, waiting for her magic to blossom and destiny to call. Laurence is a brilliant tech whiz building a supercomputer in his bedroom closet. Their parents, teachers, and peers react with hostility to their refusal to conform, but they're egged on by Theodolphus Rose, an assassin masquerading as a guidance counselor. Rose's manipulations separate the two until they rediscover each other at a party in San Francisco years later. Patricia and her fellow witches are attempting to maintain a quiet, unobtrusive balance in a world tipping toward ecological and political disaster but which they feel is still worth saving. Laurence has joined a covert project to open a wormhole to another planet, believing that humanity’s only hope is to leave Earth behind. A relationship between these two seems impossible, given their incompatible points of view, until unseen forces help their love along. The author introduces technological and magical marvels in a wonderfully matter-of-fact way. But this lyrical pre-apocalyptic work has an edge, too. Laurence’s behavior is often far from noble. His colleagues use violence to defend their inventions, and Patricia’s compatriots employ some fairly creative, nasty solutions to people and things they deem problematic. Anders clearly has an intimate understanding of how hard it is to find friends when you’re perceived as “different” as well as a sweeping sense of how nice it would be to solve large problems with a single solution (and how infrequently that succeeds).

Reminiscent of the best of Jo Walton and Nina Kiriki Hoffman.

Pub Date: Jan. 26, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-7653-7994-8

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Tor

Review Posted Online: Dec. 9, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2015

This stunning, remarkable book—a scholar’s 21st-century How the Other Half Lives—demands a wide audience.

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EVICTED

POVERTY AND PROFIT IN THE AMERICAN CITY

A groundbreaking work on the central role of housing in the lives of the poor.

Based on two years (2008-2009) spent embedded with eight poor families in Milwaukee, Desmond (Sociology and Social Science/Harvard Univ.; On the Fireline: Living and Dying with Wildland Firefighters, 2007, etc.) delivers a gripping, novelistic narrative exploring the ceaseless cycle of “making rent, delaying eviction, or finding another place to live when homeless” as experienced by adults and children, both black and white, surviving in trailer parks and ghettos. “We have failed to fully appreciate how deeply housing is implicated in the creation of poverty,” writes the author. Once rare, eviction is now commonplace for millions of Americans each year, most often as a result of insufficient government support, rising rent and utility costs, and stagnant incomes. Having gained unusual access to these families, Desmond immerses us in the lives of Sherrena Tarver, a teacher-turned-landlord who rents inner-city units to the black poor; Tobin Charney, who nets more than $400,000 yearly on 131 poorly maintained trailers rented (at $550 a month) to poor whites; and disparate tenants who struggle to make rent for cramped, decrepit units plagued by poor plumbing, lack of heat, and code violations. The latter include Crystal, 18, raised in more than two dozen foster homes, who moved in with three garbage bags of clothes, and Arleen, a single mother, who contacted more than 80 apartment owners in her search for a new home. Their frantic experiences—they spend an astonishing 70 to 80 percent of their incomes on rent—make for harrowing reading, interspersed with moving moments revealing their resilience and humanity. “All this suffering is shameful and unnecessary,” writes Desmond, who bolsters his stories with important new survey findings. He argues that universal housing vouchers and publicly funded legal services for the evicted (90 percent lack attorneys in housing courts) would help alleviate this growing, often overlooked housing crisis.

This stunning, remarkable book—a scholar’s 21st-century How the Other Half Lives—demands a wide audience.

Pub Date: March 1, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-553-44743-9

Page Count: 432

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: Dec. 9, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2015

A deeply rewarding novel that heralds the birth of a major new literary talent.

AND AFTER MANY DAYS

A family reckons with the sudden, inexplicable disappearance of a child in this debut novel from a young Nigerian writer.

On the eve of Ajie and Bibi’s return to high school, their 17-year-old older brother, Paul, steps out to see a friend and doesn't return. The night passes, then another day. Paul, the well-behaved, exemplary student, has never disappeared before, and the household is thrown into turmoil. “Paul knows how dangerous the roads can be at night,” murmurs his worried mother. Paul’s father turns to the police, then radio and newspaper announcements. As the last person to see Paul before his disappearance, Ajie, the youngest child, is wracked with guilt that shadows his relationships with his sister, Bibi, and their parents. The story gracefully weaves back and forth in time from the siblings' early childhood to the present day in their Port Harcourt, Nigeria, neighborhood, and suddenly, every little thing is imbued with deeper meaning, made fateful through retrospect. “Things happen in clusters,” Ajie thinks. And this was a year “of rumors, radio announcements, student riots, and sudden disappearances,” a year where “five young men had been shot dead by the square in broad daylight.” This is the world of Ajie and his family, a world Ile builds in rich, vivid details. But the disappearance of Paul remains the central driving question of the narrative. Where did he go? And was his disappearance fair play or foul? This engrossing novel, couched in poetic, evocative language, creates a suspenseful yet sophisticated narrative from the first page. Here are beautifully drawn characters grounded in the universal story of young Ajie discovering the world around him—a world recovering from the not-so-distant wars of the previous generations and their legacy, which still bleeds into present politics.

A deeply rewarding novel that heralds the birth of a major new literary talent.

Pub Date: Feb. 16, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-101-90314-8

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Tim Duggan Books/Crown

Review Posted Online: Nov. 19, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2015

An invaluable guide for those dealing with autism and an inspiring affirmation of every individual’s contribution to “the...

IN A DIFFERENT KEY

THE STORY OF AUTISM

How autism has been transformed over the past century into “a threat that stalk[s] the nation,” giving pause to prospective parents.

ABC correspondent Donvan and ABC TV news producer Zucker have covered autism since 2000, when they created the TV series Echoes of Autism. They begin their chronicle in the mid-1930s, when the parents of Donald Triplett consulted with Leo Kanner, head of the Child Psychiatry Department at Johns Hopkins University. They hoped to find help dealing with their 5-year-old son's strange behavior. At that time, the doctor coined the name autism to describe Donald's affliction. Kanner was fascinated by Donald’s cluster of symptoms, but he considered his condition to be untreatable and recommended placement in an institution. The authors explain that until the 1960s, it was still the norm to place children with epilepsy, cerebral palsy, autism, and other intellectual disabilities in what were, in effect, “human warehouses.” To make matters worse, Kanner, in an opinion seconded by renowned child psychiatrist Bruno Bettelheim, attributed the condition to rejection by “refrigerator mothers,” who failed to nurture their children. Parents who sought to keep their children at home were denied community support, and their children could not attend public schools. Ultimately, Donald’s parents rejected Kanner's advice, and he graduated college and became a valued member of his community. In the 1970s, as an offshoot of the civil rights struggle, the rights of the disabled to education and other community services were finally recognized. Today, the definition of autism includes children with minimal language skills and highly verbal college graduates with poor interpersonal skills. How best to serve this diverse community is still hotly debated. In this compelling, well-researched book, the authors weave together the heroic search by parents for treatment and services for their children with the personal stories of a fascinating cast of characters.

An invaluable guide for those dealing with autism and an inspiring affirmation of every individual’s contribution to “the fabric of humanity.”

Pub Date: Jan. 19, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-307-98567-5

Page Count: 608

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: Oct. 6, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2015

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