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

The evocation of “Useless, by James Joyce” attests to the humor and ambition of the novel, as if this were a Joyce-an remix...

TELEGRAPH AVENUE

An end-of-an-era epic celebrating the bygone glories of vinyl records, comic-book heroes and blaxploitation flicks in a world gone digital.

The novelist, his characters and the readers who will most love this book all share a passion for popular culture and an obsession with period detail. Set on the grittier side in the Bay Area of the fairly recent past (when multimedia megastores such as Tower and Virgin were themselves predators rather than casualties to online commerce), the plot involves generational relationships between two families, with parallels that are more thematically resonant than realistic. Two partners own a used record store that has become an Oakland neighborhood institution, “the church of vinyl.” One of the partners, Archy Stallings, is black, and he is estranged from his father, a broken-down former B-movie action hero, as well as from the teenage son he never knew about who has arrived in Oakland from Texas to complicate the plot. The other partner is Nat Jaffe, white and Jewish, whose wife is also partners with Archy’s wife in midwifery (a profession as threatened as selling used vinyl) and whose son develops a crush on Archy’s illegitimate son. The plot encompasses a birth and a death against the backdrop of the encroachment of a chain superstore, owned by a legendary athlete, which threatens to squash Archy and Nat’s Brokeland Records, all amid a blackmailing scheme dating back to the Black Panther heyday. Yet the warmth Chabon (The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay, 2000, etc.) feels toward his characters trumps the intricacies and implausibilities of the plot, as the novel straddles and blurs all sorts of borders: black and white, funk and jazz, Oakland and Berkeley, gay and straight. And the resolution justifies itself with an old musicians’ joke: “ ‘You know it’s all going to work out in the end?’ ” says one character. “ ‘No....But I guess I can probably fake it,’ ” replies another.

The evocation of “Useless, by James Joyce” attests to the humor and ambition of the novel, as if this were a Joyce-an remix with a hipper rhythm track.

Pub Date: Sept. 11, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-06-149334-8

Page Count: 480

Publisher: Harper/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: July 29, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 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

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

An exciting and quirky mystery that seamlessly shifts between past and present, offering a number of finely delineated...

DEATH WHERE THE BAD ROCKS LIVE

An FBI agent’s cold case gets hotter by the day.

Manny Tanno thought he’d left his early years on the Pine Ridge Reservation far behind, but his presumed failure to solve a case (Death Along the Spirit Road, 2011) gets him reassigned from D.C. back to Pine Ridge. When three bodies are found in a bombed-out old Buick in the Stronghold area of Badlands National Park, Manny’s investigation reminds him that the past won’t stay buried. One of the bodies is identified as that of a mining engineer. Another is that of Oglala holy man and famous artist, Moses Ten Bears. A more recent body from the 1960s is that of a college student whose roommate at the time was Alexander "Ham" High Elk, who’s been nominated to the U.S. Supreme Court. High Elk is the grandson of Senator Clayton Charles, who’s remained Moses Ten Bears’ close friend even though Clayton never married the Native American woman who bore his child. Not only is the case politically sensitive and hard to solve, but Manny ignores his diabetes while struggling to resurrect his love life and help a young tribal police officer who’s being sexually harassed by the niece of the police chief. Despite trying to forget it, Manny has a strong connection with his past that will help him solve the case if he can escape death at the hands of a determined killer.

An exciting and quirky mystery that seamlessly shifts between past and present, offering a number of finely delineated characters and a strong sense of life on the reservation and the beauties of a hostile land.

Pub Date: Sept. 4, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-425-25611-4

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Berkley Prime Crime

Review Posted Online: Aug. 3, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2012

An agonizing moral nightmare interspersed with flashbacks to happier times whose import becomes clear only in the final...

THE THREE-DAY AFFAIR

This first novel from storyteller Kardos (One Last Good Time, 2010) leads three ordinary guys into a dark wood and turns the screws on them.

Will Walker, ex-drummer and recording studio engineer, is trying to put away a little money for the child he and his wife, Cynthia, would like to have. And he’d like to raise funds to launch an indie label, Long-Shot Records. So he asks his Princeton buddies, attorney Evan Wolff, dot-com millionaire Jeffrey Hocks and Kansas City Senate-hopeful Nolan Albright, to forgo the usual glamorous destinations for their annual golf reunions and come instead to his town in New Jersey. The results are different, all right, but not in the way he intended. After Evan’s begged off till the following morning, the other three drive to a Milk-n-Bread, where Will and Nolan wait outside till Jeffrey, whose stomach has been killing him, emerges not with antacids, but with the cashier in tow, pushes her into the car and demands that Will drive off. The tale that emerges is both incredible—Jeffrey, who’d lost all his money when the bubble burst, saw a chance to clean out the store’s cash register, then decided he had to grab the cashier to prevent her from identifying him to the police—and impossible to resolve. No matter what they do now, all three buddies are already parties to robbery and kidnapping, and the only way they can see to cover their tracks is to take unimaginably irreversible measures. As they wrack their brains to come up with a way out of this mess, the odds of a fatal mischance keep rising. What if they’re spotted by a neighborhood panhandler? Or by Will’s boss? And what if they turn on each other?

An agonizing moral nightmare interspersed with flashbacks to happier times whose import becomes clear only in the final chapter.

Pub Date: Sept. 4, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-8021-2026-7

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Mysterious Press

Review Posted Online: Aug. 3, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2012

Although occasionally almost too self-consciously witty, this is a rollicking good read.

NICK & JAKE

Goofy, funny and full of literary in-jokes.

The Nick and Jake of the title are Nick Carraway (from The Great Gatsby) and Jake Barnes (from The Sun Also Rises), who, in 1953, strike up a correspondence and then a friendship. At the beginning of this epistolary novel, Nick has recently left his successful advertising agency in Chicago and idealistically taken a position at the State Department, while Jake is a crusty writer for the Herald Tribune in Paris. After being manhandled at the McCarthy hearings, a disillusioned Nick takes off for Europe, his marriage on the rocks and his relationship with his son, Alden, in shambles. Earlier in his life, Nick had written a novel, Trimalchio in West Egg, about a shady character named James Gatz, to some critical acclaim, and Jake encourages Nick to work on a second book. (In the Richards’ alternative universe Fitzgerald and Hemingway never existed.) The cast of characters here is enormous, and the letters weave the narrative in complicated patterns. We have redbaiter Roy Cohn appear as the nephew of Robert Cohn from Hemingway’s novel. Jake has a running romantic as well as epistolary connection to the recently transgendered Christine Jorgensen, who persuades Jake to undertake the same operation in Denmark. Allen Dulles tries to control political chaos erupting in Iran with the election of Premier Mohammed Mossadegh. Also making an appearance—at least through the correspondence provided by the Richards’ febrile imagination—are George H. W. Bush, Albert Camus, Irving Kristol, spiritual seeker Larry Darrell (from The Razor’s Edge) and Lady Brett Ashley, who goes to India, learns tantric sex and becomes the lover of Nick Carraway’s son, Alden.  

Although occasionally almost too self-consciously witty, this is a rollicking good read.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 2012

ISBN: 978-1-61145-723-0

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Arcade

Review Posted Online: Aug. 15, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2012

The promising first installment in a new series, this book is so good it has you wondering who should play Fiona on the big...

TALKING TO THE DEAD

Introducing Fiona "Fi" Griffiths, a young Welsh police detective with a difference. She's in recovery from a rare dissociative condition that, at its worse, makes her feel as dead as the prostitutes whose murders she is investigating.

Five years ago, in her late teens, Fi had a prolonged breakdown. Now, she relates to people and experiences herself in strange ways. She's able to identify emotion, but not feel it. But that only enhances her go-getter investigative skills. Her willingness to break rules puts her at odds with her kindly superiors in Cardiff—until the truths she uncovers lead to breaks in the case. She quickly connects the murder of a prostitute and her six-year-old daughter to a sex-trade ring run by a British millionaire that brings in Russian prostitutes, hooks them on heroin, enslaves them and snuffs them when they have outlived their usefulness. The plot is a good one, the climax in a remote lighthouse better than good. But what sets the book apart is the first-person narration of Fi, one of the most intriguing female characters in recent fiction. Even Lisbeth Salander wouldn't spend the night in a morgue lying between dead bodies in an effort to get closer to their killers. After getting viciously slapped by a former cop gone bad, Fi is stricken with fear. Not only does she overcome it, she comes to appreciate her attacker's better qualities. A budding romance with a sensitive and caring fellow cop helps.

The promising first installment in a new series, this book is so good it has you wondering who should play Fiona on the big screen. How about Keira Knightley?

Pub Date: Sept. 25, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-345-53373-9

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Delacorte

Review Posted Online: Aug. 4, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2012

A gripping read with moral ambiguity galore.

THE FORGIVEN

Violence and debauchery in the Moroccan desert lead to cultural misunderstandings...and to more violence and debauchery.

On their way to a weekend of free-wheeling partying sponsored by a gay couple, Richard and Dally, David and Jo Henniger meet up with something both unforeseen and untoward. Late at night, two young Moroccans, putatively selling fossils to tourists, crowd in on the Hennigers’ car, and one of them, a young man named Driss, is run over. David checks to see whether Driss is in fact dead, and not knowing quite what to do, he and Jo put the body in the car and take him to the ksour of Richard and Dally’s, deep in the Moroccan desert. The situation is complicated by several factors, including David’s reputation as a drinker (and he had been consuming alcohol before the accident) and the suspicion of Hamid, a servant, that Westerners are utterly reckless and morally irresponsible. Although Richard feels there’s nothing to worry about—for if necessary, the opinion of the local authorities can be bought—Driss’ grieving father insists that David return the body and show at least some modicum of guilt and grief. While David is whisked away to Driss’ home, Jo remains at Richard and Dally’s. She’s disgusted with her husband (and actually has been for years) and feels liberated in his absence. David’s return in one piece is questionable. Osborne comes up with an ending that’s at the same time ironic, surprising and completely fitting.

A gripping read with moral ambiguity galore.

Pub Date: Sept. 25, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-307-88903-4

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Hogarth/Crown

Review Posted Online: Aug. 2, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2012

A captivating and absorbing read.

SUTTON

A “non-fiction novel” that takes us far beyond Willie Sutton’s clever one-liners about banks and deeply into his life.

Born in Irish Town in Brooklyn, Willie never quite fit into his own family. His father was a taciturn blacksmith at a time when automobiles were starting to become the rage, and Willie’s brothers had an unaccountable hatred for their younger sibling. Willie was smart and sensitive but came of age during some parlous economic times and considered banks and bankers the symptom of life as a rigged game. Moehringer also depicts Willie as a hopeless romantic who falls deeply in love with Bess Endner, daughter of a rich shipyard owner. After the brief exhilaration of a robbery at the shipyard, abetted by Bess, Willie and his cronies are caught and sentenced to probation, and thus begins a life on the outside of social respectability. By the 1930s, Willie is the most famous bank robber in the country, known in part for his gentility and the way in which he approaches his craft. He’s never loud or violent but instead devoted to artful disguises and making clean and quiet getaways (hence his nickname, the Actor). Not everything works smoothly, of course, for he’s incarcerated for many years, but he ironically becomes something of a folk hero for breaking out of several prisons. His final release, at Christmas in 1969, following a 17-year stretch in the slammer, has him retracing his past in the company of a reporter and photographer. Moehringer cleverly presents the antiphonal voices of Willie in the present (i.e., at the time of his release) and Willie in the past to give a rich accounting of his life, including his love for the works of Plato, Aristotle, Lucretius, Freud, Jung and Joyce. Whatever else you can say about Willie, in prison he got an excellent education.

A captivating and absorbing read.

Pub Date: Sept. 25, 2012

ISBN: 978-1-4013-2314-1

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Hyperion

Review Posted Online: July 29, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2012

Transcendent contemporary American literary fiction, a rich and passionate story rewarding enough to be read again.

HOLD IT ’TIL IT HURTS

Afghanistan's brutal war and Hurricane Katrina's ominous shadow haunt Johnson’s powerful literary debut.

It is 2004, and Achilles and Troy Conroy return home to once-rural, now McMansion-ed, Maryland after tours in the same airborne infantry squad in “Goddamnistan.” The brothers expect a surprise party, but the surprise is that their father had been killed in an auto accident just as they began transit home. That shock is compounded by news that their parents had been living apart. The brothers are African-American, and their parents white. Their mother gives them each an envelope that contains information about their biological parents. Achilles refuses to open his envelope, while Troy, the younger, sets off in pursuit of his history without telling either his mother or brother. Johnson's descriptions of the very different brothers, of anecdotes from Afghanistan and of New Orleans are brilliant. Wages, Achilles' squad leader in "Goddamnistan," calls and reports that he has seen Troy in New Orleans. Achilles pursues Troy there, ostensibly for his mother, for family, but truly because he has been his brother’s keeper since youth. Troy searches drug dens, morgues and shelters for Troy without success, but over the months there, he meets and becomes lovers with Ines Delesseppes, a shelter coordinator he first believes to be white. But the Delesseppes family, ensconced in the Garden District since 1806, is thoroughly New Orleans, “we’re Creole, not mulatto, or octoroon or quadroon,” a mixture Ines celebrates in spite of her white appearance. Achilles, Troy, Ines and the men of the infantry squad are archetypical yet singularly distinctive, thoroughly and believably human. The depth, complexity and empathy within Johnson’s narrative explores issues great and small—race, color and class, the wounds of war suffered by individuals and nations, the complications and obligations of brotherhood and familial love. 

Transcendent contemporary American literary fiction, a rich and passionate story rewarding enough to be read again.

Pub Date: Sept. 11, 2012

ISBN: 978-1-56689-309-1

Page Count: 340

Publisher: Coffee House

Review Posted Online: Aug. 2, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 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 hauntingly affecting historical novel with a touch of magic.

SOMETHING RED

Award-winning poet Nicholas (Iron Rose, 2010, etc.) treks into the wilds of medieval England in his first novel, a saga vibrant with artful description.

Maeve, known as Molly in England, is an Irish warrior queen, musician and healer. Exiled, she leads a caravan populated by Jack, once a crusader, now her companion; Nemain, her granddaughter; and Hob, an orphan put in her care by an aging priest. In baleful winter weather, Molly’s troop travels toward Durham, taking refuge first at St. Germaine de la Roche, a mountain monastery. An ominous atmosphere descends when one of the guardian monks, Brother Athanasius, is discovered dismembered nearby. Nicholas adeptly creates the medieval world, intriguingly populated by guilders, knights and wayfarers from faraway Lietuva. The group next stops at a vibrant country inn, a near-fortress against bandits, run by Osbert atte Well. Nicholas’ language, its relevance to ancient times in syntax and vocabulary, and his extensive research into medieval England, bring this book to life in a brilliant fashion. Nicholas’ descriptions of life at the inn and later at the redoubt of the Norman, Sir Jehan, the Sieur De Blanchefontaine, are superbly realistic. With religious pilgrims tagging along, Molly’s troop is attacked by bandits after they leave Osbert’s inn and are forced to return to its safer confines. But the inn has been destroyed, every creature massacred. Both Molly and Nemain know something wicked haunts the North Country, but it isn’t until they seek shelter from a blizzard in Castle Blanchefontaine that the two seers understand a shape-shifter, a beserker, runs amok. Nicholas’ portrayal of Blanchefontaine and its inhabitants, from castellan to page, rings with authenticity. It slowly unfolds that the shape-shifter lurks among the castle refugees, and an epic battle unfolds. Nicholas’ final chapters wind down the story and set young Hob on the path to become the warrior consort of Nemain, destined to return triumphantly to Eire.   

A hauntingly affecting historical novel with a touch of magic.

Pub Date: Sept. 18, 2012

ISBN: 978-1-4516-6007-4

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Emily Bestler/Atria

Review Posted Online: Aug. 2, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2012

This is a dense narrative, permeated by the sights, sounds and smells of Renaissance Italy, and one that can stand shoulder...

THE MALICE OF FORTUNE

In this epic novel, Ennis gives ample evidence that political and religious corruption in early-16th-century Italy makes anything vaguely analogous look like Sunnybrook Farm.

At the center of this swirling unscrupulousness are several key historical figures, most notably the ruthless Duke Valentino of Romagna; his equally merciless father, Pope Alexander VI; a brilliant military engineer and draftsman named Leonardo da Vinci; and Niccolo Machiavelli, who bases his political theory of power on the machinations of the aforementioned duke. The first narrator in this labyrinthine tale is Damiata, whose son is kidnapped by his grandfather, the pope, in a raw display of power and privilege. (Perhaps it’s not necessary to mention that these are all Borgias, so in Renaissance Italy, raw displays of power are as common as segreto sauce.) Damiata is one of the “cortigiane oneste” or “honest courtesans”—or even more colloquially, a whore with the proverbial heart of gold. If political intrigue is not enough, there have also recently been some serial killings in which the victims were dismembered and decapitated. Enter Leonardo, who plots the found body parts on a map of Imola, the city in which the gruesome murders occurred, and discovers that the points correspond to those consistent with an Archimedean spiral. The narrative switches over to Machiavelli, who reminisces about the events of 1502 in which Italy is in turmoil, owing at least in part to the assassination of Pope Alexander’s beloved son, Juan, brother to the duke and lover of Damiata. Enlisting the help of Machiavelli in solving this murder mystery, she and Machiavelli become both lovers and fellow detectives.

This is a dense narrative, permeated by the sights, sounds and smells of Renaissance Italy, and one that can stand shoulder to shoulder with Umberto Eco’s Name of the Rose, with which it is sure to be compared.

Pub Date: Sept. 11, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-385-53631-8

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Doubleday

Review Posted Online: July 31, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2012

Prepare for a verbal feast that will thoroughly entertain and satisfy, yet leave you hungering for more.

BEGGAR'S FEAST

Boyagoda’s (Governor of the Northern Province, 2006) historical tale about a man who strives to avenge his past is a savory delight.

When a young boy is born into an impoverished family in British-occupied Ceylon in 1899, his parents, convinced that he’s bad luck, abandon him near a monastery. Humiliated by rejection and abused by a monk, the boy runs away, travels to Colombo and reinvents himself as Sam Kandy. There, he becomes one of the many street urchins who scrabble for survival. But Sam is fueled by more than just the need to survive. He’s embittered and driven, and he dreams of one day avenging the wrongs committed against him. He hungers for riches and recognition, certain that one day he will return to his birthplace as the most powerful man in the village. Traveling from Ceylon to Australia and Singapore and back again, he amasses and loses fortunes, but he never loses sight of his goal. Through vivid depictions of political turmoil and cultural transition during Sam’s century of life, the reader is drawn into Sam’s world by the very nature of his single-mindedness, aptly described by the author. Like him or not, Sam’s an intriguing man who’s insensitive, selfish and cowardly, and his actions—whether he’s opening a butterfly hall, leading a gang of ragamuffins, starting a shipping agency or striking a deal with Lord Mountbatten—are always calculated to give him an advantage. Sam extracts what he can from each experience as he schemes, plots and bribes his way through the early years of his life, and he ruthlessly weeds out those who threaten to get in his way, whether they are family or not. His redemptive about-face in later years adds yet another layer to a multifaceted, engrossing story.

Prepare for a verbal feast that will thoroughly entertain and satisfy, yet leave you hungering for more.

Pub Date: Sept. 25, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-670-06658-2

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Pintail/Penguin

Review Posted Online: Aug. 3, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2012

Straight (who is white but eschews the self-congratulating, cliché-laden condescension of books like The Help) employs...

BETWEEN HEAVEN AND HERE

Set several years before the events of Straight’s Take One Candle Light a Room (2010), the third installment of her trilogy concerns the reactions and memories that a prostitute’s death stirs up in the tightknit black community in Rio Seco, Calif.

Video store employee Sidney Chabert notices Glorette Picard’s body in a shopping cart in the alley behind the Mexican restaurant where he’s just eaten. Glorette has become a streetwalker and a drug addict who has dangerously neglected her brilliant son, Victor. But like every guy who knew her in high school, Sidney has remained in love with Glorette, although it has been 20 years since she was an innocent, preternaturally beautiful girl growing up in orange groves that belonged to her “uncle,” Enrique Antoine, and her father, Gustave—the men’s binding relationship, their establishment of Rio Seco as a refuge for young women escaping a brutal white rapist in Louisiana, and the method by which Enrique gained ownership of the land are haunting subplots reaching back for generations. Once Sidney alerts Antoine’s sons, they bring Glorette’s body back to her family to be buried without police involvement. But her death roils the souls of all those whose lives she’s touched, however tangentially. In less than 250 pages, Straight develops a lot of characters in surprising depth: Enrique is bound for vengeance, while Gustave is overwhelmed with silent grief. Glorette’s former boyfriend Chess has remained devoted to her even after fathering a child with someone else. Enrique’s sons can’t quite leave their father’s home despite wives who strive, with mixed success, to assimilate their children into middle-class America. There are Glorette’s frankly skanky prostitute competitors and the men they service, or don’t service. And there is Glorette’s son, Victor, desperate to make it to college though thwarted at every turn.

Straight (who is white but eschews the self-congratulating, cliché-laden condescension of books like The Help) employs glorious language and a riveting eye for detail to create a fully realized, totally believable world.

Pub Date: Sept. 12, 2012

ISBN: 978-1-936365-75-3

Page Count: 240

Publisher: McSweeney’s

Review Posted Online: Aug. 3, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2012

Beard’s take on Lazarus is nothing less than astonishing—and he respects the reader by taking religion and religious...

LAZARUS IS DEAD

In this alternative theological novel Jesus does more than weep...and Lazarus does more than die.

Beard engages in much plausible speculation here, for example, that Jesus and Lazarus grew up as best friends and then drifted apart. Lazarus seized an opportunity to become a businessman, buying sheep from the local farmers and reselling them at a profit to the temple, for according to strict Jewish practice, many sheep had to be sacrificed. But just about the time his former childhood friend performed his first miracle, Lazarus began to come down with a strange and mysterious illness, one that is more than merely an inconvenience that gets in the way of his sexual relationship with the prostitute Lydia and his engagement to Saloma. Beard invests this illness with a mythic quality by having Lazarus contract all of the seven major diseases of ancient Israel, and his symptoms combine those of smallpox, tuberculosis and dysentery, for his death has to be as certain as his resurrection. At first he calls upon Yanav the Healer, a local dispenser of herbs, but it soon becomes clear that Lazarus’ physical decline is too severe for Yanav to handle. Lazarus’ sister, Mary, then pleads with him to call upon Jesus, whose reputation for performing miracles is growing, but Lazarus is adamant that his former friend not be summoned. The mythic power of the story remains constant, of course, so Lazarus does in fact die, and Jesus does resurrect him, but the Romans, especially in the vicious form of Cassius, immediately begin to persecute Lazarus, feeling his resurrection has reinforced the extraordinary political power of Jesus. Throughout the narrative, Beard schools the reader in literary and artistic treatments of Lazarus to give the story a cultural and intellectual framework.

Beard’s take on Lazarus is nothing less than astonishing—and he respects the reader by taking religion and religious questions seriously.   

Pub Date: Sept. 25, 2012

ISBN: 978-1-6094-5080-9

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Europa Editions

Review Posted Online: Aug. 15, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2012

Not as ambitious as Díaz’s Pulitzer Prize winner, The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao (2007), but sharply observed and...

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THIS IS HOW YOU LOSE HER

From the author of Drown (1996), more tales of Dominican life in the cold, unwelcoming United States.

Eight of the collection’s nine stories center on Yunior, who shares some of his creator’s back story. Brought from the Dominican Republic as a kid by his father, he grows up uneasily in New Jersey, escaping the neighborhood career options of manual labor and drug dealing to become an academic and fiction writer. What Yunior can’t escape is what his mother and various girlfriends see as the Dominican man’s insatiable need to cheat. The narrative moves backward and forward in time, resisting the temptation to turn interconnected tales into a novel by default, but it has a depressingly unified theme: Over and over, a fiery woman walks when she learns Yunior can’t be true, and he pines fruitlessly over his loss. He’s got a lot of other baggage to deal with as well: His older brother Rafa dies of cancer; a flashback to the family’s arrival in the U.S. shows his father—who later runs off with another woman—to be a rigid, controlling, frequently brutal disciplinarian; and Yunior graduates from youthful drug use to severe health issues. These grim particulars are leavened by Díaz’s magnificent prose, an exuberant rendering of the driving rhythms and juicy Spanglish vocabulary of immigrant speech. Still, all that penitent machismo gets irksome, perhaps for the author as well, since the collection’s most moving story leaves Yunior behind for a female narrator. Yasmin works in the laundry of St. Peter’s Hospital in New Brunswick; her married lover has left his wife behind in Santo Domingo and plans to buy a house for him and Yasmin. Told in quiet, weary prose, “Otravida, Otra Vez” offers a counterpoint to Yunior’s turbulent wanderings with its gentle portrait of a woman quietly enduring as best she can.

Not as ambitious as Díaz’s Pulitzer Prize winner, The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao (2007), but sharply observed and morally challenging.

Pub Date: Sept. 11, 2012

ISBN: 978-1-59448-736-1

Page Count: 240

Publisher: Riverhead

Review Posted Online: July 29, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2012

What may seem to some like paradise offers no happy endings in this fine novel.

SAN MIGUEL

The prolific author’s latest is historical, not only in period and subject matter, but in tone and ponderous theme.

The 14th novel from Boyle returns to the Channel Islands off the coast of California, a setting which served him so well in his previous novel (When the Killing’s Done, 2011). Some of the conflicts are similar as well—man versus nature, government regulation versus private enterprise—but otherwise this reads more like a novel that is a century or more old, like a long lost work from the American naturalist school of Frank Norris and Theodore Dreiser, both of whom saw mankind caught in mechanistic forces and nature as something other than the Eden of innocence so often romanticized. The novel tenuously connects the stories of two families who move, 50 years apart, to the isolation of the title island, in order to tend to a sheep ranch. For Marantha Waters, the symbolically fraught pilgrimage with her husband and daughter in 1888—on “New Year’s Day, the first day of her new life, and she was on an adventure...bound for San Miguel Island and the virginal air Will insisted would make her well again”—is one of disillusionment and determination. Even the passage of time feels like a loss of innocence: “The days fell away like the skin of a rotten fruit”; “The next day sheared away like the face of a cliff crashing into the ocean and then there was another day and another.” The ravages of the natural world (and their own moral natures) take their toll on the family, who are belatedly succeeded in the 1930s by a similar one, as newlyweds anticipate their move west as “the real life they were going into, the natural life, the life of Thoreau and Daniel Boone, simple and vigorous and pure.” Reinforcing their delusions is national press attention, which made much of their “pioneering, that is, living like the first settlers in a way that must have seemed romantic to people inured to the grid of city streets and trapped in the cycle of getting and wanting and getting all over again.”

What may seem to some like paradise offers no happy endings in this fine novel.

Pub Date: Sept. 18, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-670-02624-1

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: July 29, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2012

Darkly lush, filled with an irresistibly sad glamour, this is a memorable debut.

THE OTHER HALF OF ME

A beautiful, brooding novel of siblings growing up half-wild in a grand Welsh manor house.

Jonathan and his younger sister, Theo, are inseparable, as often happens with lonely, neglected children. They live in the family’s ancestral home, Evendon, and it is a considerable ancestry: great-grandpa was a renowned archaeological plunderer, glamorous grandmother Eve moved to the States and became a senator before founding a hotel empire. The children count as their caregivers the cook, cleaner and nanny, as their mother, Alicia, is too drunk to talk to them. They wouldn’t be the first wealthy children to be raised by staff, and they make do by living a kind of free, languorous life filled with Theo’s extravagant fantasies and the mysteries of the garden. When Alicia attempts suicide and is sent away, Eve comes home and brings stability to the children. Jonathan comes to idolize Eve, while Theo shrinks away, her odd behavior off-putting to the cultured matriarch. As Jonathan and Theo become teens (over the years Alicia sits near catatonic in the conservatory, Eve is in the office running her empire), they become more dissimilar—ethereal Theo seems to live in a fairy world, whereas Jonathan is doing everything he can to become impressive. Theo and Jonathan live a life typical to their class: a privileged education, debauched parties, easy access to everything bright and beautiful. Jonathan falls in love with Maria, but she stays away, wary of his increasingly callous ambition. While Jonathan begins an architectural firm, Theo founders, dropping out of one college course after another, failing at all of the Eve-arranged internships, becoming increasingly obsessed with their long-lost father. Jonathan assumes Theo is doing too many drugs, but soon the mysteries of Evendon—and the fate of many inconvenient people in Eve’s life—bring tragedy to this haunted family.

Darkly lush, filled with an irresistibly sad glamour, this is a memorable debut.    

Pub Date: Sept. 4, 2012

ISBN: 978-1-4516-6823-0

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Free Press

Review Posted Online: Aug. 15, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2012

An entertaining historical soap opera.

WINTER OF THE WORLD

From the Century Trilogy series , Vol. 2

Follett continues the trilogy begun with Fall of Giants (2010) with a novel that ranges across continents and family trees.

It makes sense that Follett would open with an impending clash, since, after all, it’s Germany in 1933, when people are screaming about why the economy is so bad and why there are so many foreigners on the nation’s streets. The clash in question, though, is a squabble between journalist Maud von Ulrich, née Lady Maud Fitzherbert—no thinking of Brigitte Jones here—and hubby Walter, a parliamentarian headed for stormy times. Follett’s big project, it seems, is to reduce the bloody 20th century to a family saga worthy of a James Michener, and, if the writing is less fluent than that master’s, he succeeds. Scrupulous in giving characters major and minor plenty of room to roam on the stage, Follett extends the genealogy of the families introduced in the first volume, taking into account the twists and turns of history: If Grigori Peshkov was a hero of the Bolshevik Revolution, his son Volodya is a dutiful soldier of the Stalin regime—dutiful, but not slavishly loyal. Indeed, most of the progeny here spend at least some of the time correcting the mistakes of their parents’ generation: Carla von Ulrich becomes a homegrown freedom fighter in Germany, which will have cliffhanger-ish implications at the very end of this installment, while Lloyd Williams, son of a parliamentarian across the Channel, struggles against both fascism and communism on the front in the Spanish Civil War. (Lloyd’s a perspicacious chap; after all, even George Orwell needed time and distance from the war to gain that perspective.) Aside from too-frequent, intrusive moments of fourth-wall-breaking didacticism—“Supplying weaponry was the main role played by the British in the French resistance”—Follett’s storytelling is unobtrusive and workmanlike, and he spins a reasonable and readable yarn that embraces dozens of characters and plenty of Big Picture history, with real historical figures bowing in now and then. Will one of them be Checkers, Richard Nixon’s dog, in volume 3? Stay tuned.

An entertaining historical soap opera.

Pub Date: Sept. 18, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-525-95292-3

Page Count: 960

Publisher: Dutton

Review Posted Online: July 31, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2012

In this latest attempt to show Reacher enjoying every possible variety of conflict with his nation’s government short of...

A WANTED MAN

From the Jack Reacher series , Vol. 17

Will Jack Reacher ever make it to that woman in Virginia he was trying to reach in Worth Dying For (2010)? Not if all hell continues to break loose in Nebraska.

Shortly after an eyewitness sees three men enter a small concrete bunker outside an anonymous town and only two of them emerge, Reacher, “just a guy, hitching rides,” is picked up by a trio of corporate-sales types: Alan King, Don McQueen and Karen Delfuenso. In a tour de force that runs well over a hundred pages, Child cuts back and forth between the clues county sheriff Victor Goodman and FBI agent Julia Sorenson gather concerning the unidentified man in the green coat who was stabbed to death inside that bunker and the inferences Reacher is making about his traveling companions. For one thing, it’s clear that King and McQueen know each other better than either of them knows Delfuenso; for another, a good deal of what they casually tell him about themselves isn’t true. Just when you’ve settled down expecting Child to keep up this rhythm indefinitely, he switches gears in an Iowa motel, and Reacher’s left out of danger but on his own—at least until Sorenson arrives to arrest him and the two of them form a quicksilver partnership whose terms seem to change every time Sorenson gets another phone call from the cops or the Feds. After working every change imaginable on their relationship, Child switches gears again and sends them a bang-bang assault on a hush-hush installation that shows how far into America’s heartland its enemies have penetrated.

In this latest attempt to show Reacher enjoying every possible variety of conflict with his nation’s government short of outright secession, Child (The Affair, 2011, etc.) has produced two-thirds of a masterpiece.

Pub Date: Sept. 11, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-385-34433-3

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Delacorte

Review Posted Online: July 29, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2012

A respectful, exciting and disarming update of one of the last century’s most oft-told tales.

JANE

THE WOMAN WHO LOVED TARZAN

The old “Me Tarzan, You Jane” dynamic established in Johnny Weismuller movies gets a radical update by shining the spotlight on adventuress Jane Porter.

The author fully reinvents the character of Jane Porter, so often the “damsel-in-distress,” by making her a budding paleoanthropologist and giving her good reasons to explore the wilds of Africa. At 20-something, Porter is considered a spinster by her family, save her beloved father, a fellow scientist. They’re both intrigued when American Ral Conrath invites them to join an expedition to West Africa, luring them in with tales of the apelike, croc-killing creature with white skin. A neatly framed narrative finds Jane recounting her story to budding storyteller Burroughs during an encounter in Chicago in 1912. Meanwhile, flashbacks to 1905 find a rifle-wielding Jane nearly shooting Ral Conrath, a cad and corrupt treasure hunter, before falling into the arms of the missing Lord Greystoke and his tribal comrades (it’s worth using the Mangani-English glossary helpfully included). Maxwell ticks all the boxes, including offering up a hunky Tarzan, primeval jungle life and a bit of tasteful lust on Jane’s part. “You do not live in Africa, my dear,” she’s warned. “Africa lives in you.” Jane Goodall and Isak Dinesen would be right at home with Miss Jane Porter.

A respectful, exciting and disarming update of one of the last century’s most oft-told tales.

Pub Date: Sept. 18, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-7653-3358-2

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Tor

Review Posted Online: Aug. 3, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2012

Smith takes big risks here, but some might need to read this twice before all the pieces fit together, and more...

NW

A wildly ambitious jigsaw puzzle of a novel, one that shuffles pieces of chronology, identity, ethnicity and tone, undermining cohesion and narrative momentum as it attempts to encompass a London neighborhood that is both fixed and fluid.

Many of Smith’s strengths as a writer are journalistic—a keen eye for significant detail, ear for speech inflections, appreciation for cultural signifiers and distinctions—as she demonstrated in her previous collection (Changing My Mind: Occasional Essays, 2009). Yet, she first earned renown as a novelist with her breakthrough debut (White Teeth, 2000), and her fourth novel (first in six years) finds her challenging herself and the reader like never before. The title refers to “North West London, a dinky part of it you’ve never heard of called Willesden, and...you’d be wrong to dismiss it actually because actually it’s very interesting, very ‘diverse.’ Lord, what a word.” What initially seems to be a comedy of manners, involving two women who have been lifelong friends but now feel a distance in the disparity of their social standing (the one raised poorer by a Caribbean mother has done far better than the middle-class Caucasian), ultimately turns darker with abortion, murder, drug addiction and the possibility of a suicide. Much of the drama pivots on chance encounters (or fate?), making the plot difficult to summarize and even a protagonist hard to pinpoint. Each of the book’s parts also has a very different structure, ranging from very short chapters to an extended narrative interlude to numbered sections that might be as short as a paragraph or a page. The pivotal figure in the novel goes by two different names and has no fixed identity (other than her professional achievement as a barrister), and she doesn’t begin to tell the back story that dominates the novel’s second half until the first half concludes (it highlights different characters). “At some point we became aware of being ‘modern,’ of changing fast,” interjects the author, who has written a novel so modern that nothing flows or fits together in the conventional sense, but whose voice remains so engaging and insights so incisive that fans will persevere to make of it what they will.

Smith takes big risks here, but some might need to read this twice before all the pieces fit together, and more conventionally minded readers might abandon it in frustration.

Pub Date: Sept. 4, 2012

ISBN: 978-1-594-20397-8

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Penguin Press

Review Posted Online: July 31, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2012

There’s a point in the narrative where one of the characters becomes so engrossed in reading a book that she loses track of...

LOVE ANTHONY

A story about unconditional love, loss and renewal by bestselling author Genova (Left Neglected, 2011, etc.).

Nantucket residents Beth Ellis and Olivia Donatelli have both experienced life-shattering events that have left them raw and wounded and questioning everything that they ever believed to be true. Beth was married to Jimmy for 14 years, and they shared a seemingly normal life with their three daughters, until Jimmy had an affair and moved out. Olivia’s son, Anthony, was diagnosed with autism at a young age, and she and her husband, David, were just coming to terms with his condition when Anthony suddenly died at age 8. Like many couples, instead of drawing together to face grief, Olivia and David pushed each other away and eventually divorced. As Olivia turns to photography to earn a living and spends her time trying to understand the meaning of Anthony’s short time on earth, Beth picks up a pen and reconnects with a passion she’s long forgotten: writing. Ensconced in a comfortable area of the library, Beth writes a story inspired by a long-ago memory of a child placing stones end to end on the beach. It’s the story of a young autistic boy with humor and intelligence and exuberance for life, who through her, can voice his thoughts and feelings and allow others to see into his world. And as she shares these words with Olivia, they provide the strength and understanding and purpose that both women need to come to terms with the past and move on with their lives.

There’s a point in the narrative where one of the characters becomes so engrossed in reading a book that she loses track of time. Readers of Genova’s latest excellent offering might very well find the same happening to them.

Pub Date: Sept. 25, 2012

ISBN: 978-1-4391-6468-6

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Gallery Books/Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: Aug. 22, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2012

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