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Our 11 Most Popular Reviews of 2018

Lapsed Trump supporters might well open their minds to this attorney’s scholarly, entirely convincing proof of the damage...

THE UNMAKING OF THE PRESIDENT 2016

HOW FBI DIRECTOR JAMES COMEY COST HILLARY CLINTON THE PRESIDENCY

The former special counsel to former President Bill Clinton takes on the 2016 election and James Comey’s effect on the outcome.

According to Davis (Close-Up: Twelve Months at Yale, 2017, etc.), the negative effect is indisputable, and he has the data, compiled both before and well after the election, to back up his claims. While he occasionally tumbles into legal jargon, he provides compelling criticism of the FBI, the New York Times, and others. The seed was sown on March 3, 2015, when the Times published a story about Hillary Clinton’s use of a personal email account at the State Department. Davis shows how there was a precedent and that the account was legal and never hacked. It was eventually proven that none of the 55,000 emails were marked as classified; they were also never “missing.” The legislation requiring submission of records within 60 days of leaving office was amended after Clinton left the State Department, and 50,000 pages were submitted within one month of the change. The author next follows the statements and letters of Comey. The tumult over the March story died down until the Times published another story in late July claiming that two officials within the intelligence community recommended a “criminal referral” concerning Clinton’s handling of the emails; that story was based on a leak. The officials released a joint public statement contradicting the Times story, and the FBI quietly opened a criminal investigation. Comey’s statements about the investigation(s) were, in the words of a former prosecutor who worked for him, “an unprecedented public announcement by a non-prosecutor that there would be no prosecution.” Indeed, he violated several long-standing Department of Justice practices of never confirming or denying existence of an investigation and to do nothing in the 60 days prior to a presidential election. The author’s epilogue, “It’s Time for an Impeachment and Twenty-Fifth Amendment Investigation,” is surprisingly calming.

Lapsed Trump supporters might well open their minds to this attorney’s scholarly, entirely convincing proof of the damage done.

Pub Date: Feb. 6, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-5011-7772-9

Page Count: 240

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: Dec. 19, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2018

A masterly encapsulation of modern Russian history, this book more than fulfills the promise of Towles' stylish debut, Rules...

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A GENTLEMAN IN MOSCOW

Sentenced to house arrest in Moscow's Metropol Hotel by a Bolshevik tribunal for writing a poem deemed to encourage revolt, Count Alexander Rostov nonetheless lives the fullest of lives, discovering the depths of his humanity.

Inside the elegant Metropol, located near the Kremlin and the Bolshoi, the Count slowly adjusts to circumstances as a "Former Person." He makes do with the attic room, to which he is banished after residing for years in a posh third-floor suite. A man of refined taste in wine, food, and literature, he strives to maintain a daily routine, exploring the nooks and crannies of the hotel, bonding with staff, accepting the advances of attractive women, and forming what proves to be a deeply meaningful relationship with a spirited young girl, Nina. "We are bound to find comfort from the notion that it takes generations for a way of life to fade," says the companionable narrator. For the Count, that way of life ultimately becomes less about aristocratic airs and privilege than generosity and devotion. Spread across four decades, this is in all ways a great novel, a nonstop pleasure brimming with charm, personal wisdom, and philosophic insight. Though Stalin and Khrushchev make their presences felt, Towles largely treats politics as a dark, distant shadow. The chill of the political events occurring outside the Metropol is certainly felt, but for the Count and his friends, the passage of time is "like the turn of a kaleidoscope." Not for nothing is Casablanca his favorite film. This is a book in which the cruelties of the age can't begin to erase the glories of real human connection and the memories it leaves behind.

A masterly encapsulation of modern Russian history, this book more than fulfills the promise of Towles' stylish debut, Rules of Civility (2011).

Pub Date: Sept. 6, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-670-02619-7

Page Count: 480

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: June 21, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2016

Wilson’s insider take is hilarious, smartly written, and usually spot-on. Somebody had to do it.

EVERYTHING TRUMP TOUCHES DIES

A REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST GETS REAL ABOUT THE WORST PRESIDENT EVER

Scalpel in hand, a conservative strategist dissects Trumpism, the Washington, D.C., swamp, and the new GOP. The autopsy report isn’t pretty.

While many commentators are intimidated by forum trolls, hate mail, and death threats, veteran Republican political strategist and adman Wilson seems to thrive on them. Best known for his controversial 2008 political ad that smeared Barack Obama for his association with his pastor, the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, the author now wields an axe dripping with his own party’s blood. “The disease of Trumpism,” he writes, “has consumed the Republican Party and put the entire conservative movement at risk. It has been hijacked by a bellowing, statist billionaire with poor impulse control and a profoundly superficial understanding of the world.” From Trump’s most vociferous foes to his most loyal lapdogs, everyone is responsible for “President Strangelove.” Refreshingly, Wilson calls the players out, listing the specific complicities of each. From Reince Priebus to Mike Pence (with his “personality of a basket of wet laundry”), Tomi Lahren (“an utterly spoiled little trashfire of a human being, and thus a perfect exemplar of Trump’s media enablers”), Steve Bannon, Paul Ryan, Ted Cruz, Chris Christie, evangelicals, and “Trumpbart,” none escape the whip. From the help of hardcore cheerleaders to the acquiescence of reluctant enablers, and through a complicated knot of self-delusion, personal Faustian deals, and Russian aid, con man “Donald Trump, the avatar of our worst instincts and darkest desires as a nation, now sits in the Oval Office.” While offering no apology for what some consider his traitorous activity against the party he loves, Wilson spells out the Never Trump movement’s underlying higher purpose: “We reject an all-powerful state, whether it’s in the hands of a leftist technocrat or a bright-orange alt-right-curious neofascist.” Throughout, the author reiterates his allegiance and mission to restore limited government conservatism, which he believes is still the driving force and true spirit of the GOP.

Wilson’s insider take is hilarious, smartly written, and usually spot-on. Somebody had to do it.

Pub Date: Aug. 7, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-982103-12-5

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Free Press

Review Posted Online: July 17, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2018

Easy to read, smoothly put together. A good airport book.

THE WIFE BETWEEN US

An angry ex-wife is stalking a young, innocent fiancee who is a carbon copy of her former self…or so it seems.

The use of a multiviewpoint, chronologically complex narrative to create suspense by purposely misleading the reader is a really, really popular device. Two words: Gone Girl. While we are not the fools we once were and now assume immediately that we are being played, the question is whether we still take pleasure in the twists and revelations that follow. Pekkanen (The Perfect Neighbors, 2016, etc.) and Hendricks’ debut collaboration falls into the first wife/second wife subgenre of this type of story (e.g., The Girl Before, The Last Mrs. Parrish). In all of these, an unbelievably handsome, wildly successful, secretive, rigid, orderly, and controlling husband—here it’s Richard, a 36-year-old hedge fund manager with “a runner’s wiry build and an easy smile that belied his intense navy-blue eyes”—marries the same type of woman more than once, sometimes more than twice. Of course, he’s not who he seems. Perhaps the female characters are not, either. Here, we meet Nellie, an adorable New York preschool teacher who is not quite sure she wants to give up the fun, shoestring, highly social lifestyle she shares with her roomie to move to a sterile suburb with Richard. But the wedding date—of course he hasn’t even told her the location, just “buy a new bikini”—draws ever closer. Something bad happened to Nellie in Florida a long time ago that has made her anxious and hypervigilant. Meanwhile, Vanessa, the spurned wife, lives with her artist Aunt Charlotte (a great character), is boozing heavily, and is about to lose her job at Saks. She’s stalking Nellie, determined to prevent the marriage at all costs. Since you know there’s got to be more to it than this, the fun is in trying to figure it out before they tell you. We didn’t! One of the subplots, the one about the bad thing in Florida, was fresher than the main plot—maybe Hendricks and Pekkanen should have written a whole book about that.

Easy to read, smoothly put together. A good airport book.

Pub Date: Jan. 9, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-250-13092-1

Page Count: 352

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Sept. 28, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2017

This astonishing book will generate much needed discussion.

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LONG WAY DOWN

After 15-year-old Will sees his older brother, Shawn, gunned down on the streets, he sets out to do the expected: the rules dictate no crying, no snitching, and revenge.

Though the African-American teen has never held one, Will leaves his apartment with his brother’s gun tucked in his waistband. As he travels down on the elevator, the door opens on certain floors, and Will is confronted with a different figure from his past, each a victim of gun violence, each important in his life. They also force Will to face the questions he has about his plan. As each “ghost” speaks, Will realizes how much of his own story has been unknown to him and how intricately woven they are. Told in free-verse poems, this is a raw, powerful, and emotional depiction of urban violence. The structure of the novel heightens the tension, as each stop of the elevator brings a new challenge until the narrative arrives at its taut, ambiguous ending. There is considerable symbolism, including the 15 bullets in the gun and the way the elevator rules parallel street rules. Reynolds masterfully weaves in textured glimpses of the supporting characters. Throughout, readers get a vivid picture of Will and the people in his life, all trying to cope with the circumstances of their environment while expressing the love, uncertainty, and hope that all humans share.

This astonishing book will generate much needed discussion. (Verse fiction. 12-adult)

Pub Date: Oct. 17, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-4814-3825-4

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Caitlyn Dlouhy/Atheneum

Review Posted Online: July 2, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2017

THE GREAT ALONE

In 1974, a troubled Vietnam vet inherits a house from a fallen comrade and moves his family to Alaska.

After years as a prisoner of war, Ernt Allbright returned home to his wife, Cora, and daughter, Leni, a violent, difficult, restless man. The family moved so frequently that 13-year-old Leni went to five schools in four years. But when they move to Alaska, still very wild and sparsely populated, Ernt finds a landscape as raw as he is. As Leni soon realizes, “Everyone up here had two stories: the life before and the life now. If you wanted to pray to a weirdo god or live in a school bus or marry a goose, no one in Alaska was going to say crap to you.” There are many great things about this book—one of them is its constant stream of memorably formulated insights about Alaska. Another key example is delivered by Large Marge, a former prosecutor in Washington, D.C., who now runs the general store for the community of around 30 brave souls who live in Kaneq year-round. As she cautions the Allbrights, “Alaska herself can be Sleeping Beauty one minute and a bitch with a sawed-off shotgun the next. There’s a saying: Up here you can make one mistake. The second one will kill you.” Hannah’s (The Nightingale, 2015, etc.) follow-up to her series of blockbuster bestsellers will thrill her fans with its combination of Greek tragedy, Romeo and Juliet–like coming-of-age story, and domestic potboiler. She re-creates in magical detail the lives of Alaska's homesteaders in both of the state's seasons (they really only have two) and is just as specific and authentic in her depiction of the spiritual wounds of post-Vietnam America.

A tour de force.

Pub Date: Feb. 6, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-312-57723-0

Page Count: 448

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Oct. 31, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2017

Wingate sheds light on a shameful true story of child exploitation but is less successful in engaging readers in her...

BEFORE WE WERE YOURS

Avery Stafford, a lawyer, descendant of two prominent Southern families and daughter of a distinguished senator, discovers a family secret that alters her perspective on heritage.

Wingate (Sisters, 2016, etc.) shifts the story in her latest novel between present and past as Avery uncovers evidence that her Grandma Judy was a victim of the Tennessee Children’s Home Society and is related to a woman Avery and her father meet when he visits a nursing home. Although Avery is living at home to help her parents through her father’s cancer treatment, she is also being groomed for her own political career. Readers learn that investigating her family’s past is not part of Avery's scripted existence, but Wingate's attempts to make her seem torn about this are never fully developed, and descriptions of her chemistry with a man she meets as she's searching are also unconvincing. Sections describing the real-life orphanage director Georgia Tann, who stole poor children, mistreated them, and placed them for adoption with wealthy clients—including Joan Crawford and June Allyson—are more vivid, as are passages about Grandma Judy and her siblings. Wingate’s fans and readers who enjoy family dramas will find enough to entertain them, and book clubs may enjoy dissecting the relationship and historical issues in the book.

Wingate sheds light on a shameful true story of child exploitation but is less successful in engaging readers in her fictional characters' lives.

Pub Date: June 6, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-425-28468-1

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Ballantine

Review Posted Online: March 21, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2017

A satisfying, winning read.

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BOOKED

Nick Hall is a bright eighth-grader who would rather do anything other than pay attention in class.

Instead he daydreams about soccer, a girl he likes, and an upcoming soccer tournament. His linguistics-professor father carefully watches his educational progress, requiring extra reading and word study, much to Nick’s chagrin and protest. Fortunately, his best friend, Coby, shares his passion for soccer—and, sadly, the unwanted attention of twin bullies in their school. Nick senses something is going on with his parents, but their announcement that they are separating is an unexpected blow: “it’s like a bombshell / drops / right in the center / of your heart / and it splatters / all across your life.” The stress leads to counseling, and his life is further complicated by injury and emergency surgery. His soccer dream derailed, Nick turns to the books he has avoided and finds more than he expected. Alexander’s highly anticipated follow-up to Newbery-winning The Crossover is a reflective narrative, with little of the first book’s explosive energy. What the mostly free-verse novel does have is a likable protagonist, great wordplay, solid teen and adult secondary characters, and a clear picture of the challenges young people face when self-identity clashes with parental expectations. The soccer scenes are vivid and will make readers wish for more, but the depiction of Nick as he unlocks his inner reader is smooth and believable.

A satisfying, winning read. (Fiction. 10-12)

Pub Date: April 5, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-544-57098-6

Page Count: 320

Publisher: HMH Books

Review Posted Online: Jan. 9, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2016

This grittily provocative debut explores the horrors of self-harm and the healing power of artistic expression.

GIRL IN PIECES

After surviving a suicide attempt, a fragile teen isn't sure she can endure without cutting herself.

Seventeen-year-old Charlie Davis, a white girl living on the margins, thinks she has little reason to live: her father drowned himself; her bereft and abusive mother kicked her out; her best friend, Ellis, is nearly brain dead after cutting too deeply; and she's gone through unspeakable experiences living on the street. After spending time in treatment with other young women like her—who cut, burn, poke, and otherwise hurt themselves—Charlie is released and takes a bus from the Twin Cities to Tucson to be closer to Mikey, a boy she "like-likes" but who had pined for Ellis instead. But things don't go as planned in the Arizona desert, because sweet Mikey just wants to be friends. Feeling rejected, Charlie, an artist, is drawn into a destructive new relationship with her sexy older co-worker, a "semifamous" local musician who's obviously a junkie alcoholic. Through intense, diarylike chapters chronicling Charlie's journey, the author captures the brutal and heartbreaking way "girls who write their pain on their bodies" scar and mar themselves, either succumbing or surviving. Like most issue books, this is not an easy read, but it's poignant and transcendent as Charlie breaks more and more before piecing herself back together.

This grittily provocative debut explores the horrors of self-harm and the healing power of artistic expression. (author’s note) (Fiction. 14 & up)

Pub Date: Aug. 30, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-101-93471-5

Page Count: 416

Publisher: Delacorte

Review Posted Online: May 4, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2016

Sink into this book like a hot, scented bath...a delicious, relaxing pleasure. And a clever whodunit at the same time.

THE PERFECT COUPLE

A wedding on Nantucket is canceled when the bride finds her maid of honor floating facedown in the Atlantic on the morning of the big day.

One of the supporting characters in Hilderbrand's (Winter Solstice, 2017, etc.) 21st Nantucket novel is Greer Garrison, the mother of the groom and a well-known novelist. Unfortunately, in addition to all the other hell about to break loose in Greer's life, she's gone off her game. Early in the book, a disappointed reader wonders if "the esteemed mystery writer, who is always named in the same breath as Sue Grafton and Louise Penny, is coasting now, in her middle age." In fact, Greer's latest manuscript is about to be rejected and sent back for a complete rewrite, with a deadline of two weeks. But wanna know who's most definitely not coasting? Elin Hilderbrand. Readers can open her latest with complete confidence that it will deliver everything we expect: terrific clothes and food, smart humor, fun plot, Nantucket atmosphere, connections to the characters of preceding novels, and warmth in relationships evoked so beautifully it gets you right there. Example: a tiny moment between the chief of police and his wife. It's very late in the book, and he still hasn't figured out what the hell happened to poor Merritt Monaco, the Instagram influencer and publicist for the Wildlife Conservation Society. Even though it's dinner time, he has to leave the "cold blue cans of Cisco beer in his fridge” and get back to work. " ‘I hate murder investigations,’ [his wife] says, lifting her face for a kiss. ‘But I love you.’ " You will feel that just as powerfully as you believe that Celeste Otis, the bride-to-be, would rather be anywhere on Earth than on the beautiful isle of Nantucket, marrying the handsome, kind, and utterly smitten Benji Winbury. In fact, she had a fully packed bag with her at the crack of dawn when she found her best friend's body.

Sink into this book like a hot, scented bath...a delicious, relaxing pleasure. And a clever whodunit at the same time.

Pub Date: June 19, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-316-37526-9

Page Count: 464

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: April 16, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2018

Despite some distractions, there’s an irresistible charm to Owens’ first foray into nature-infused romantic fiction.

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WHERE THE CRAWDADS SING

A wild child’s isolated, dirt-poor upbringing in a Southern coastal wilderness fails to shield her from heartbreak or an accusation of murder.

“The Marsh Girl,” “swamp trash”—Catherine “Kya” Clark is a figure of mystery and prejudice in the remote North Carolina coastal community of Barkley Cove in the 1950s and '60s. Abandoned by a mother no longer able to endure her drunken husband’s beatings and then by her four siblings, Kya grows up in the careless, sometimes-savage company of her father, who eventually disappears, too. Alone, virtually or actually, from age 6, Kya learns both to be self-sufficient and to find solace and company in her fertile natural surroundings. Owens (Secrets of the Savanna, 2006, etc.), the accomplished co-author of several nonfiction books on wildlife, is at her best reflecting Kya’s fascination with the birds, insects, dappled light, and shifting tides of the marshes. The girl’s collections of shells and feathers, her communion with the gulls, her exploration of the wetlands are evoked in lyrical phrasing which only occasionally tips into excess. But as the child turns teenager and is befriended by local boy Tate Walker, who teaches her to read, the novel settles into a less magical, more predictable pattern. Interspersed with Kya’s coming-of-age is the 1969 murder investigation arising from the discovery of a man’s body in the marsh. The victim is Chase Andrews, “star quarterback and town hot shot,” who was once Kya’s lover. In the eyes of a pair of semicomic local police officers, Kya will eventually become the chief suspect and must stand trial. By now the novel’s weaknesses have become apparent: the monochromatic characterization (good boy Tate, bad boy Chase) and implausibilities (Kya evolves into a polymath—a published writer, artist, and poet), yet the closing twist is perhaps its most memorable oddity.

Despite some distractions, there’s an irresistible charm to Owens’ first foray into nature-infused romantic fiction.

Pub Date: Aug. 14, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-7352-1909-0

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Putnam

Review Posted Online: May 15, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2018

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