When Death tells a story, you pay attention. Liesel Meminger is a young girl growing up outside of Munich in Nazi Germany, and Death tells her story as “an attempt—a flying jump of an attempt—to prove to me that you, and your human existence, are worth it.” When her foster father helps her learn to read and she discovers the power of words, Liesel begins stealing books from Nazi book burnings and the mayor’s wife’s library. As she becomes a better reader, she becomes a writer, writing a book about her life in such a miserable time. Liesel’s experiences move Death to say, “I am haunted by humans.” How could the human race be “so ugly and so glorious” at the same time? This big, expansive novel is a leisurely working out of fate, of seemingly chance encounters and events that ultimately touch, like dominoes as they collide. The writing is elegant, philosophical and moving. Even at its length, it’s a work to read slowly and savor. Beautiful and important. (Fiction. 12+)
A cocky bad boy of finance recalls, in much detail and scabrous language, his nasty career as a master of his own universe.
At a young age, in an industry with many precocious bandits, Belfort ran a Long Island–based brokerage with the deceptively WASP-y name of Stratton Oakmont. It was a bucket shop habitually engaged in crooked underwritings. Its persuasive boss was a stock manipulator and tax dodger; he details the stock kiting, share parking, money laundering and customer swindles. Many millions poured in, and cash brought with it excess upon excess. Along with compliant women and copious drugs, there were multiple mansions, many servants, aircraft, yachts and, for all the guys on the trading floor, trophy wives. Among his under-the-table and beneath-the-sheets activities, the author’s most imperative seemed to be sex and dope-taking, despite his professed abiding love for his (now ex) wife and kids. Belfort’s portrait of his family is vivid, as is his depiction of the merry cast of supporting players: sweet Aunt Patricia, a Swiss forger, evil garmentos, Mad Max (Stratton’s CFO and his father). The melodrama covers coke snorting, Quaalude eating, kinky sex, violence, car wrecks, even a sick child and a storm at sea. “A cautionary tale,” the author calls it. It is crass, certainly, and vulgar—and a hell of a read. Belfort displays dirty writing skills many basis points above his tricky ilk. His chronicle ends with his arrest for fraud. Now, with 22 months in the slammer behind him, he’s working on his next book.
Entertaining as pulp fiction, real as a federal indictment.
He’s in remission from the osteosarcoma that took one of his legs. She’s fighting the brown fluid in her lungs caused by tumors. Both know that their time is limited.
Sparks fly when Hazel Grace Lancaster spies Augustus “Gus” Waters checking her out across the room in a group-therapy session for teens living with cancer. He’s a gorgeous, confident, intelligent amputee who always loses video games because he tries to save everyone. She’s smart, snarky and 16; she goes to community college and jokingly calls Peter Van Houten, the author of her favorite book, An Imperial Affliction, her only friend besides her parents. He asks her over, and they swap novels. He agrees to read the Van Houten and she agrees to read his—based on his favorite bloodbath-filled video game. The two become connected at the hip, and what follows is a smartly crafted intellectual explosion of a romance. From their trip to Amsterdam to meet the reclusive Van Houten to their hilariously flirty repartee, readers will swoon on nearly every page. Green’s signature style shines: His carefully structured dialogue and razor-sharp characters brim with genuine intellect, humor and desire. He takes on Big Questions that might feel heavy-handed in the words of any other author: What do oblivion and living mean? Then he deftly parries them with humor: “My nostalgia is so extreme that I am capable of missing a swing my butt never actually touched.” Dog-earing of pages will no doubt ensue.
Green seamlessly bridges the gap between the present and the existential, and readers will need more than one box of tissues to make it through Hazel and Gus’ poignant journey. (Fiction. 15 & up)
A potboiler by two noted authors written in 1945, long before they were famous, and published now for the first time.
In alternating chapters, Burroughs (then known as William Lee and writing in the persona of Will Dennison) and Kerouac (then bearing the first name John and writing in the persona of Mike Ryko) serve up a noir vision of Manhattan as it might have appeared if Edward Hopper had had only dark pencils at his disposal. Its spirit is more Spillane than Hammett, its opening very much a signal of things to come: “The bars close at 3:00 A.M. on Saturday nights so I got home about 3:45 after eating breakfast at Riker’s on the corner of Christopher Street and Seventh Avenue.” Taking their title from a true incident involving a zoo fire, the authors proceed to deliver a tale of booze-soaked weirdness that culminates in a murder that has some echoes with another real-life event, when proto-Beat Lucien Carr stabbed a suitor to death and was packed off to an asylum. Of the two, Kerouac, then in his early 20s, is the more developed writer, though Burroughs, an absolute beginner, already shows some of the interests and obsessions that will turn up in Naked Lunch and elsewhere, to say nothing of an obviously field-tested understanding of how syringes work (“I let the solution cool, then sucked it up into the hypodermic, fitted on the needle, and started looking around for a high vein on my arm”). For his part, Kerouac recounts wartime experiences in the Merchant Marine, along with notes on the bar scene that would do Bukowski proud. When the manuscript made the rounds back in 1945, it found no publisher, for reasons that will soon become apparent to the reader, and ended up in a filing cabinet. Its publication will (possibly) benefit American literature. More likely it will benefit agents and estates.
More of interest as a literary curio than as a work of art, though shrewd neobopsters will probably want to be seen with copies in hand.
Figuratively and literally shattering moments of hoRRRRRipilication in Chamberlain, Maine where stones fly from the sky rather than from the hands of the villagers (as they did in "The Lottery," although the latter are equal to other forms of persecution). All beginning when Carrie White discovers a gift with telekinetic powers (later established as a genetic fact), after she menstruates in full ignorance of the process and thinks she is bleeding to death while the other monsters in the high school locker room bait and bully her mercilessly. Carrie is the only child of a fundamentalist freak mother who has brought her up with a concept of sin which no blood of the Lamb can wash clean. In addition to a sympathetic principal and gym teacher, there's one gift who wishes to atone and turns her date for the spring ball over to Carrie who for the first time is happy, beautiful and acknowledged as such. But there will be hell to pay for this success—not only her mother but two youngsters who douse her in buckets of fresh-killed pig blood so that Carrie once again uses her "wild talent," flexes her mind and a complete catastrophe (explosion and an uncontrolled fire) virtually destroys the town. King handles his first novel with considerable accomplishment and very little hokum—it's only too easy to believe that these youngsters who once ate peanut butter now scrawl "Carrie White eats shit." But as they still say around here, "Sit a spell and collect yourself."
Boys come to the Glade via an empty freight elevator with no memory of how they got there or of their prior lives. This disorientation is made more frightening when they realize that to survive they must lock themselves in every night to avoid the horrors of the Grievers, beings that are part machine, part animal—and altogether deadly. The boys in the Glade send out Runners each day to find a way out through the Maze that surrounds their one patch of safety, with no success. Life goes on until one day the elevator delivers a girl. She brings a message: She is the last child to be sent, and there will be no more deliveries of food or supplies. Now the Glade is cut off, and as the Grievers gather for an all-out attack it’s clear that it’s now or never—the Maze must be solved. Dashner knows how to spin a tale and make the unbelievable realistic. Hard to put down, this is clearly just a first installment, and it will leave readers dying to find out what comes next. (Science fiction. 12 & up)
In the sequel to the hugely popular The Hunger Games (2008), Katniss Everdeen and Peeta Mellark, having won the annual Games, are now rich and famous—and trapped in the fiction that they are lovers. They are seen as a threat to the Capitol, their unusual manner of winning an act of rebellion that could inspire uprisings throughout Panem. Knowing her life is in danger, Katniss considers escaping with her family and friends but instead reluctantly assumes the role of a rebel, almost forced into it by threats from the insidious President Snow.
Beyond the expert world building, the acute social commentary and the large cast of fully realized characters, there’s action, intrigue, romance and some amount of hope in a story readers will find completely engrossing. Collins weaves in enough background for this novel to stand alone, but it will be a far richer experience for those who have read the first installment and come to love Katniss, Peeta, Haymitch and the rest of the desperate residents of this dystopia.
A humdinger of a cliffhanger will leave readers clamoring for volume three.
(Science fiction. 12 & up)
A rather one-dimensional but mostly satisfying child-soldier yarn which substantially extends and embellishes one of Card's better short stories (Unaccompanied Sonata and Other Stories, 1980).
Following a barely-defeated invasion attempt by the insect-like alien "buggers," a desperate Earth command resorts to genetic experimentation in order to produce a tactical genius capable of defeating the buggers in round two. (A counterinvasion has already been launched, but will take years to reach the buggers' home planet.) So likable but determined "Ender" Wiggins, age six, becomes Earth's last hope—when his equally talented elder siblings Peter (too vicious and vindictive) and Valentine (too gentle and sympathetic) prove unsuitable. And, in a dramatic, brutally convincing series of war games and computer-fantasies, Ender is forced to realize his military genius, to rely on nothing and no-one but himself. . . and to disregard all rules in order to win. There are some minor, distracting side issues here: wrangles among Ender's adult trainers; an irrelevant subplot involving Peter's attempt to take over Earth. And there'll be no suspense for those familiar with the short story.
Still, the long passages focusing on Ender are nearly always enthralling—the details are handled with flair and assurance—and this is altogether a much more solid, mature, and persuasive effort than Card's previous full-length appearances.
Jack Ryan, the hero of Clancy's The Hunt for Red October, returns to fight a radical Marxist Irish terrorist organization bent on capturing the Prince of Wales. Ryan, more or less fully detached from the CIA, is now just another filthy rich ex-stockbroker and Ph.D. teaching history at the US Naval Academy. Mixing business with pleasure, he's in London with his ophthalmologist wife and four-year-old daughter seeing the sights and digging in the archives, but the vacation gets blown to pieces when Ryan intercedes in a daring daylight attempt to kidnap the Prince and Princess of Wales and little Will. Ryan saves the Royals, taking a bullet in the shoulder, and finds, when he wakes up in hospital, that he's made some Very Important Friendships and picked up a knighthood. Not bad for the son of an Irish-American cop. But, alas, he's also picked up the fatal and eternal enmity of Mr. Sean Miller, an unusually vicious member of something called the Ulster Liberation Army, a new and shadowy bunch much like Islamic Jihad, only nastier. Awash in Royal Gratitude, Sir John and Lady Ryan take the Concorde back to the US, only to find that Miller and the U.L.A. are not at all frightened by the taboo on Irish terrorism in America. The Ryans barely survive one attack only to face greater danger as the Waleses drop in for a barbecue. Exciting shoot-outs and chases, and lots of Royal wish-fulfillment; but without naval authenticity to bolster the prose, Clancy is a fish out of water.
A dauntingly thorough, vast chronicle of the life and hard times of one of America's preeminent literary humorists. Thurber (18941961) was a rare double-threat talent. Not only did he write some of the funniest and most pellucid prose this side of Mark Twain, he was also a formidable cartoonist/caricaturist, his fluid, essential style attracting admirers as diverse as Matisse and Paul Nash. One of the New Yorker's first staffers, he dominated the magazine for years, writing and illustrating large swaths of it to growing acclaim until his sight began to fail. Eventually he had to give up drawing entirely and dictate his stories and voluminous correspondence. As with many satirists, his early, gentle humor (parodies, wordplay, lampoons of the ``war'' between men and women) turned darker and more bilious as he got older. He became a mean, obstreperous drunk, given to increasingly misogynistic outbursts—a gross inversion of the meek, harried Walter Mitty characters he was so famous for. But unlike many humorists, he has stood the test of time remarkably well, his work witty and elegantly concise. The same cannot be said for Kinney's biography. More than 30 years in the making, it is a labor of too much love. Kinney, a former reporter for the New Yorker, sucks every fact, event, and analysis dry. Even in these unhappy times when bloated biographies rule the earth, 1,200 pages on Thurber is simply grotesque. Kinney has done some formidable original resource work, interviewing most of Thurber's acquaintances, and his judgments on Thurber and his work are exquisitely perceptive. But at half the length, this biography would have been twice as penetrating and so much better suited to its subject. Definitive, but much too much of a good thing. (32 pages illustrations)