A well-crafted parable about the vulnerability of democracy to demagoguery.


American Dictator


From the American Dictator Trilogy series , Vol. 1

In Ainsworth’s debut novel, a wildly popular president quickly consolidates extraordinary power and threatens the fabric of democracy.

When this tale of political intrigue begins, President Hortense Hamilton Preston is a weakened leader with rapidly diminishing approval ratings. She responds tepidly to a terrorist attack on American soil and then gets embroiled in a scandal that implicates her health care panel in comically inappropriate misuse of funds. When four Syrian fighter jets attempt to force down an American plane, she again responds with a measured caution that’s generally perceived as pusillanimous hesitation. Finally, the Mexican Army invades Texas, intent on reclaiming territory that it claims the United States stole. M. Spencer Howell, the well-regarded, charismatic governor of Florida, soon rides this wave of civic disillusionment into the White House and immediately implements a ferociously aggressive, divisive agenda. He promises mercilessly strict immigration reform, involving the deportation of undocumented Mexicans en masse. He intends to drastically cut government spending by excising a host of social welfare programs, and he pledges to rehabilitate what he sees as a decayed military and enact protectionist trade measures that would drastically redraw the nation’s economic alliances. All the while, he resorts to incendiary rhetoric that fans the flames of racial and ethnic discord. Furtively, he also oversees a secret military program called “Ezekiel’s Wheel,” which is developing a chillingly powerful weapon, and quietly constructs his own private militia for domestic use, seemingly without congressional oversight. Ainsworth deftly tracks the arc of Howell’s power as it grows more tyrannical. Even more impressive is the author’s depiction of the profound consequences of widespread disenfranchisement and the blindness of the public when it’s deeply disappointed by its supposed representatives. Sometimes it seems as if the novel is about the corruption of a politician by absolute power, but Howell shows clear signs of being an autocrat long before he becomes president. Also, the strategic scheming of Mexico and Russia is confusing, as it’s hard to imagine why it would serve their individual interests. Overall, though, this is a very timely book, given that we live in an age of national frustration, and it artfully captures the precariousness of even the best democracies.

A well-crafted parable about the vulnerability of democracy to demagoguery.

Pub Date: Dec. 21, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-9770376-2-9

Page Count: 574

Publisher: VRA Publishing

Review Posted Online: May 18, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2016

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An enjoyable, cozy novel that touches on tough topics.


A group of strangers who live near each other in London become fast friends after writing their deepest secrets in a shared notebook.

Julian Jessop, a septuagenarian artist, is bone-crushingly lonely when he starts “The Authenticity Project”—as he titles a slim green notebook—and begins its first handwritten entry questioning how well people know each other in his tiny corner of London. After 15 years on his own mourning the loss of his beloved wife, he begins the project with the aim that whoever finds the little volume when he leaves it in a cafe will share their true self with their own entry and then pass the volume on to a stranger. The second person to share their inner selves in the notebook’s pages is Monica, 37, owner of a failing cafe and a former corporate lawyer who desperately wants to have a baby. From there the story unfolds, as the volume travels to Thailand and back to London, seemingly destined to fall only into the hands of people—an alcoholic drug addict, an Australian tourist, a social media influencer/new mother, etc.—who already live clustered together geographically. This is a glossy tale where difficulties and addictions appear and are overcome, where lies are told and then forgiven, where love is sought and found, and where truths, once spoken, can set you free. Secondary characters, including an interracial gay couple, appear with their own nuanced parts in the story. The message is strong, urging readers to get off their smartphones and social media and live in the real, authentic world—no chain stores or brands allowed here—making friends and forming a real-life community and support network. And is that really a bad thing?

An enjoyable, cozy novel that touches on tough topics.

Pub Date: Feb. 4, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-9848-7861-8

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Pamela Dorman/Viking

Review Posted Online: Oct. 27, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2019

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A strict report, worthy of sympathy.


A violent surfacing of adolescence (which has little in common with Tarkington's earlier, broadly comic, Seventeen) has a compulsive impact.

"Nobody big except me" is the dream world of Holden Caulfield and his first person story is down to the basic, drab English of the pre-collegiate. For Holden is now being bounced from fancy prep, and, after a vicious evening with hall- and roommates, heads for New York to try to keep his latest failure from his parents. He tries to have a wild evening (all he does is pay the check), is terrorized by the hotel elevator man and his on-call whore, has a date with a girl he likes—and hates, sees his 10 year old sister, Phoebe. He also visits a sympathetic English teacher after trying on a drunken session, and when he keeps his date with Phoebe, who turns up with her suitcase to join him on his flight, he heads home to a hospital siege. This is tender and true, and impossible, in its picture of the old hells of young boys, the lonesomeness and tentative attempts to be mature and secure, the awful block between youth and being grown-up, the fright and sickness that humans and their behavior cause the challenging, the dramatization of the big bang. It is a sorry little worm's view of the off-beat of adult pressure, of contemporary strictures and conformity, of sentiment….

A strict report, worthy of sympathy.

Pub Date: June 15, 1951

ISBN: 0316769177

Page Count: -

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: Nov. 2, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 1951

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