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Ed. note: Content was amended on 6/9/2014 to show time for Diane Stresing's bookstore visit on June 14.
• The Friends of Reed Memorial Library annual Children’s Book Sale at the library, 167 E. Main St. in Ravenna, on June 14, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Kids may spend their “Book Bucks” on sale items. Information: 330-296-2827, ext. 104.
• Friends of the Garrettsville Library book sale in the meeting room of the library, 10482 South St., June 16 to 21, during library hours; June 16, members-only preview, 4 to 7 p.m.; June 17 to 20, open to the public during library hours; June 21, open to the public, 9 a.m. to noon. Information: 330-527-4378.
• Kid Lit for Grown-Ups: 6:30 p.m. June 12, Kent Free Library, 312 W. Main St. — “Midwinter Blood” by Marcus Sedgwick. The Kent Free Library’s Kid Lit for Grown-Ups Group joins the Stow-Munro Falls Public Library’s Not Just for Teens Book Discussion Group in June. No registration required. Copies available. Information: 330-673-4414 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
• Book Group @ the Market: Noon on June 14, sponsored by the Kent Free Library — “Turn Here Sweet Corn: Organic Farming Works” by Atina Diffley. This new book group will meet from noon to 1 p.m. on the second Saturday of each month at the Haymaker Farmers’ Market, located on the corner of Franklin and Summit streets under the Haymaker Overpass. Read and discuss books related to farming, gardening, cooking, and the local food movement. Participants are asked to bring a lawn chair. No registration required. Copies available. Information: 330-673-4414 or email@example.com.
• Pierce Streetsboro Library’s Book Discussion Club: 3 p.m. June 16, library’s meeting room, 8990 Kirby Lane — “Olive Kitteridge” by Elizabeth Strout, a collection of stories about ordinary people living in small town Maine, their joys and sorrows. Light refreshments courtesy of the Friends of Pierce Streetsboro Library. Copies available. To register: 330-626-4458.
• Read the Classics Book Club: 7 p.m. June 17, Kent Free Library, 312 W. Main St. — “Essential American Short Stories,” edited by Leslie M. Pockell. Classic works of literature. No registration required. Copies available. Information: 330-673-4414 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
• Fred Tribuzzo will visit The Learned Owl Book Shop, 204 N. Main St. in Hudson, from 1 to 3 p.m. June 7. His book is “American Sky,” the story of a young man going to work for a father and son, learning the skills for starting a Lycoming or Continental engine on a hot summer day, and the humor, courage and vision to pursue dreams. No reservations required. Information: 330-653-2252.
• Brad Ricca, author of “Super Boys: The Amazing Adventures of Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster: Creators of Superman,” will be at The Learned Owl, 204 N. Main St. in Hudson, at 2 p.m. June 8. This is the first comprehensive biography written about the creators of one of the most iconic superheroes. Ricca earned a Ph.D. in English from Case Western Reserve University, where he currently teaches. Information: 330-653-2252.
• Author Scott Anderson will be at the Beachwood Library, 25501 Shaker Blvd., at 7 p.m. on June 12 to discuss his nationally best-selling book, “Lawrence in Arabia.” Named a Best Book of the Year by NPR, The Chicago Tribune, The Seattle Times and others, “Lawrence in Arabia” is a revelatory narrative of one of the most epic and consequential periods in 20th-century history — the Arab Revolt — and the secret game to control the Middle East. For more information, call the library at 216-831-6868.
• Diane Stresing, author of “60 Hikes Within 60 Miles,” will be at The Learned Owl Book Shop in Hudson, 204 N. Main St., at 1 p.m. on June 14. Her latest book is “Dumb Things We Say to Dogs,” a collection of essays by a soccer mom, Buckeye girl and dog lover. Information: 330-653-2252.
• Fred Tribuzzo will visit The Village Bookstore in Garrettsville from 1 to 3 p.m. June 21. His book is “American Sky,” the story of a young man going to work for a father and son, learning the skills for starting a Lycoming or Continental engine on a hot summer day, and the humor, courage and vision to pursue dreams.
PUBLISHERS WEEKLY BEST-SELLERS
The Associated Press
Week ending 6/1/14
1. “Skin Game” by Jim Butcher (Roc)
2. “Ghost Ship” by Cussler/Brown (Putnam)
3. “Unlucky 13” by Patterson/Paetro (Little, Brown)
4. “The One & Only” by Emily Giffin (Ballantine)
5. “The Target” by David Baldacci (Grand Central Publishing)
6. “Field of Prey” by John Sandford (Putnam)
7. “The Goldfinch” Donna Tartt (Little,Brown)
8. “All the Light We Cannot See” by Anthony Doerr (Scribner)
9. “The Lincoln Myth” by Steve Berry (Ballantine)
10. “Natchez Burning” by Greg Iles (William Morrow)
11. “The Collector” by Nora Roberts (Putnam Adult)
12. “Suspicion” by Joseph Finder (Dutton)
13. “The Invention of Wings” by Sue Monk Kidd (Viking)
14. “Chestnut Street” by Maeve Binchy (Knopf)
15. “Walking on Water” by Richard Paul Evans (Simon & Schuster)
1. “One Nation” by Ben Carson (Penguin/Sentinel)
2. “Instinct” by T.D. Jakes (FaithWords)
3. “Capital in the Twenty-First Century” by Thomas Piketty (Harvard/Belknap)
4. “The Closer” by Mariano Rivera (Little, Brown)
5. “Good Call” by Jase Robertson (Howard Books)
6. “Finding Me” by Michelle Knight (Perseus/Weinstein)
7. “Think Like a Freak” by Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner (William Morrow)
8. “Stress Test” by Tomothy Geithner (Crown)
9. “Grain Brain” by David Perlmutter (Little, Brown)
10. “Everything I Need to Know I Learned From a Little Golden Book” by Diane Muldrow (Golden Books)
11. “A Fighting Chance” by Elizabeth Warren (Metropolitan)
12. “Tibetan Peach Pie” by Tom Robbins (Ecco)
13. “Everybody’s Got Something” by Robin Roberts and Veronica Chambers (Grand Central Publishing)
14. “No Place to Hide” by Glenn Greenwald (Metropolitan)
15. “Flash Boys” by Michael Lewis (W.W. Norton)
MASS MARKET PAPERBACKS
1. “The Marriage Pact” by Linda Lael Miller (Harlequin)
2. “Inferno” by Dan Brown (Anchor)
3. “Air Bound” by Christine Feehan (Jove)
4. “Before We Kiss” by Susan Mallery (Harlequin)
5. “The Devaney Brothers: Daniel’s Desire” by Sherryl Woods (Mira)
6. “Hidden Order” by Brad Thor (Pocket Books)
7. “On a Clear Day” by Debbie Macomber (Mira)
8. “Silken Prey” by John Sandford (Berkley)
9. “First Sight” by Danielle Steel (Dell)
10. “Deeply Odd “ by Dean Koontz (Bantam)
11. “Against the Wild” by Kat Martin (Kensington/Zebra)
12. “The Cursed” by Heather Graham (Mira)
13. “The Next Always” by Nora Roberts (Jove)
14. “Private Berlin” by Patterson/Sullivan (Grand Central)
15. “Last Mercenary” by Diana Palmer (Harlequin)
1. “Gone Girl” by Gillian Flynn (Broadway Books)
2. “The Longest Ride” by Nicholas Sparks (Grand Central Publishing)
3. “Heaven Is for Real (movie tie-in)” by Todd Burpo (Thomas Nelson)
4. “The Southern Cake Book” by Living Southern (Oxmoor House)
5. “The Boys in the Boat” by Daniel James Brown (Penguin)
6. “Inferno” by Dan Brown (Anchor)
7. “Conform” by Glenn Beck (S&S/Threshold)
8. “The Gods of Guilt” by Michael Connelly (Grand Central Publishing)
9. “The Cuckoo’s Calling” by Robert Galbraith (L,B/Mulholland)
10. “Gone” by Patterson/Ledwidge (Grand Central Publishing)
11. “Shadow Spell” by Nora Roberts (Berkley)
12. “Behind the Beautiful Forevers” by Katherine Boo (Random House)
13. “Minecrafter 2.0: Advanced” by Triumph Books (Triumph)
14. “The Truth About the Harry Quebert Affair” by Joel Dicker (Penguin)
15. “Lone Survivor (movie tie-in)” by Marcus Luttrell (Back Bay Books)
Copyright 2014 The Associated Press.
WALL STREET JOURNAL
Week Ended June 1
1. “City of Heavenly Fire” by Cassandra Clare (Margaret K. Mcelderry Books)
2. “Skin Game” by Jim Butcher (Roc)
3. “Oh, The Places You’ll Go” by Dr. Seuss (Random House)
4. “Insurgent” by Veronica Roth (Katherine Tegen Books)
5. “Allegiant” by Veronica Roth (Katherine Tegen Books)
6. “The Fault in Our Stars” by John Green (Dutton Books)
7. “Ghost Ship” by Clive Cussler and Graham Brown (Putnam)
8. “Unlucky 13” by James Patterson and Maxine Paetro (Putnam)
9. “The One & Only” by Emily Giffin (Ballantine)
10. “Frozen” by Victoria Saxon (Random House)
1. “One Nation: What We Can All Do” by Ben Carson (Sentinel)
2. “Minecraft: Redstone Handbook” by Scholastic (Scholastic)
3. “Minecraft: Essential Handbook” by Scholastic (Scholastic)
4. “Instinct: The Power to Unleash” by T.D. Jakes (Faithword)
5. “Capital in the 21st Century” by Thomas Piketty (Belknap)
6. “Jesus Calling” by Sarah Young (Thomas Nelson)
7. “The Closer” by Mariano Rivera (Little, Brown)
8. “Good Call” by Jase Robertson and Mark Schlabach (Howard Books)
9. “Finding Me: A Decade of Darkness” by Michelle Knight with Michelle Burford (Weinstein Books)
10. “Strengths Finder 2.0” by Tom Rath (Gallup)
1. “City of Heavenly Fire” by Cassandra Clare (Margaret K. Mcelderry Books)
2. “The Fault in Our Stars” by John Green (Dutton Books)
3. “Skin Game” by Jim Butcher (Roc)
4. “Air Bound” by Christine Feehan (Penguin)
5. “Unlucky 13” by James Patterson and Maxine Paetro (Little, Brown)
6. “Before We Kiss” by Susan Mallery (Harlequin)
7. “Ghost Ship” by Clive Cussler and Graham Brown (Penguin)
8. “Field of Prey” by John Sandford (Penguin)
9. “The Goldfinch” by Donna Tartt (Little, Brown)
10. “The Target” by David Baldacci (Grand Central Publishing)
NONFICTION E BOOKS
1. “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings” by Maya Angelou (Random House)
2. “Etched in Sand” by Regina Calcaterra (HarperCollins)
3. “Lee Marvin” by Dwayne Epstein (Schaffner Press)
4. “Heaven Is for Real” by Todd Burpo with Lynn Vincent (Thomas Nelson)
5. “The Nazi Officer’s Wife” by Edith Hahn Beer (HarperCollins)
6. “Ham” by Sam Harris (Gallery Books)
7. “Finding Me: A Decade of Darkness” by Michelle Knight with Michelle Burford (Weinstein Books)
8. “Why Me?” By Sarah Burleton (Sarah Burleton)
9. “Unbroken” by Laura Hillenbrand (Random House)
10. “To End All Wars” by Adam Hochschild (Houghton Mifflin)
USA TODAY BEST-SELLERS
The Associated Press
1. “The Fault in Our Stars” by John Green (Dutton Children’s)
2. “City of Heavenly Fire” by Cassandra Clare (Margaret K. McElderry Books)
3. “Skin Game” by Jim Butcher (NAL)
4. “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings” by Maya Angelou (Random House Trade Paperbacks)
5. “Air Bound” by Christine Feehan (Berkley)
6. “Oh the Places You’ll Go!” by Dr. Seuss (Random House)
7. “Divergent” by Veronica Roth (Katherine Tegen Books)
8. “Unlucky 13” by James Patterson, Maxine Paetro (Little by Brown)
9. “Before We Kiss” by Susan Mallery (Harlequin HQN)
10. “Ghost Ship” by Clive Cussler (Putnam Adult)
11. “Insurgent” by Veronica Roth (Katherine Tegen Books)
12. “Allegiant” by Veronica Roth (Katherine Tegen Books)
13. “The One and Only” by Emily Giffin (Ballantine)
14. “Field of Prey” by John Sandford (Putnam Adult)
15. “The Marriage Pact” by Linda Lael Miller (Harlequin HQN)
16. “Inferno” by Dan Brown (Anchor)
17. “The Goldfinch” by Donna Tartt (Little by Brown)
18. “Gone Girl” by Gillian Flynn (Broadway Books)
19. “Heaven Is for Real” by Todd Burpo with Lynn Vincent (Thomas Nelson)
20. “The Target” by David Baldacci (Grand Central Publishing)
21. “One Nation” by Ben Carson with Candy Carson (Sentinel)
22. “Looking for Alaska” by John Green (Speak)
23. “Minecraft: Redstone Handbook: An Official Mojang Book” by Scholastic (Scholastic)
24. “The Longest Ride” by Nicholas Sparks (Grand Central Publishing)
25. “The Devaney Brothers: Daniel” by Sherryl Woods (Harlequin MIRA)
For the extended, interactive and searchable version of this list, visit http://books.usatoday.com/list/index
Copyright 2014 The Associated Press.
Publisher of JK Rowling, Colbert announces layoffs
NEW YORK (AP) — J.K. Rowling’s publisher is laying off some employees amid a dispute with the industry’s biggest book seller. Hachette Book Group cites a “changing marketplace” for layoffs that will affect less than 3 percent of its staff.
Hachette also publishes Stephenie Meyer, Stephen Colbert and other authors. It released a statement Thursday saying staff reductions were necessary for it to improve “resilience” in difficult times.
Hachette says the layoffs were planned before its recent standoff with Amazon.com. The Seattle-based online retailer has been restricting the availability of many Hachette books, reportedly because of a disagreement with the New York-based publisher over terms for e-books.
Hachette is owned by the French conglomerate Lagardere, which in May reported a 6.2 percent drop in worldwide sales for the first quarter of this year.
Publisher Amy Einhorn joins new company
NEW YORK (AP) — The publisher of Kathryn Stockett’s “The Help” and other best-sellers is joining a new company.
Amy Einhorn has been named senior vice president and publisher of Flatiron Books, a Macmillan imprint. The announcement was made Wednesday by Flatiron President Bob Miller. Einhorn will start at Flatiron on July 21.
Einhorn is known as a hands-on editor with a sharp eye for literary and commercial books. As the head of Amy Einhorn Books at Penguin Random House, Einhorn acquired the million-selling “The Help,” Jenny Lawson’s “Let’s Pretend This Never Happened” and Liane Moriarty’s “The Husband’s Secret” among others.
Miller founded Flatiron last year as a nonfiction imprint, but he said in a statement that hiring Einhorn provides an “irresistible” chance to publish fiction, too.
Here are this week’s McClatchy-Tribune book reviews:
“Unreal City: Las Vegas, Black Mesa, and the Fate of the West” by Judith Nies; Nation Books (320 pages, $25.99)
The shady provenance of water and power is a familiar story in the West, recounted in works as varied as “Chinatown” and “City of Quartz.” Judith Nies’ sweeping new history of water, energy and thievery in the shaping of Las Vegas and the desert Southwest has an undeniable noir feel — and an unlikely assortment of characters.
Nies’ book is about the people whose behind-the-scenes transactions helped create the infrastructure “that would fuel the next thirty years of metastasizing growth in the West.” Las Vegas and Los Angeles, Phoenix and Tucson, all grew thanks to contracts signed on Indian reservations, and water siphoned from primordial aquifers.
Like many a noir novel, the nonfiction “Unreal City” has a somewhat convoluted beginning, as Nies untangles an incredibly complex history of economic growth and ecological destruction. But the story quickly gathers momentum as Nies introduces us to Eastern mobsters, construction barons, Mormon pioneers and their descendants, and a Utah-based attorney whom she describes as a master at manipulating Indian law.
Often “Unreal City” touches on themes that have been covered in other books, such as John Nichols’ epic New Mexico trilogy of novels. What Nies brings to this familiar story is a sense of journalistic discipline. And outrage. Describing how energy companies won leases to extract Indian coal, using billions of gallons of Indian groundwater to transport the coal in “slurry” pipes, Nies writes that the leases “violated every guideline the Department of the Interior had set up for leasing on public lands,” offering a royalty rate to the tribes that was outrageously low.
—Hector Tobar, Los Angeles Times
“The Long Shadow: The Legacies of the Great War in the Twentieth Century” by David Reynolds; W.W. Norton (544 pages, $32.50)
What Americans know about World War I is probably nothing to brag about.
How it started may be a mystery to many. Why the United States got involved, just as befuddling. Baby boomers may know something about the Red Baron because of Snoopy.
And perhaps there’s a dim memory of an English teacher reciting verse by melancholy warrior-poets or talking about the war’s effect on the namesake character in “The Great Gatsby.”
Cambridge historian David Reynolds’ most recent book does a remarkable job of explaining why people should know more about the First World War — and why it is so difficult to fully grasp its legacy.
“The Long Shadow” is not simply a history of a century-old conflict.
Reynolds documents its profound impact on world powers as well as on embryonic nations, politics, warfare, the world economy, culture and literature.
“The Long Shadow” transcends conventional histories about World War I.
At times, it is almost a psychoanalysis of a world that was profoundly changed by a collective and horrific trauma. But that is no criticism.
It is the kind of book that challenges readers to think.
—Ed Timms, The Dallas Morning News
“Stella! Mother of Modern Acting” by Sheana Ochoa; Applause Theater & Cinema Books (327 pages, $29.99)
The exclamatory title of Sheana Ochoa’s biography of legendary acting teacher Stella Adler invokes Marlon Brando’s tormented cry in “A Streetcar Named Desire.”
It’s a fitting allusion: Brando was Adler’s most famous pupil, and his endorsement of her teaching over Lee Strasberg’s Method was a crucial victory in the rancorous war between these two American interpreters of Stanislavsky’s revolutionary system of acting training.
Adler and Strasberg’s bickering began at the Group Theatre, the groundbreaking Depression-era collective that Strasberg formed with Adler’s future husband, director Harold Clurman, and producer Cheryl Crawford, aimed at endowing the America theater with a political conscience and promulgating a startling new brand of realism. The daughter of international Yiddish theater star Jacob Adler, she was far too imperious to defer to Strasberg, who was working out his theory of affective memory, the mining of an actor’s private experience for the attainment of a more acute realism.
What could Strasberg teach Adler that she hadn’t already learned as a girl acting with her nearest and dearest on stage? She was born, as she said, “into a kingdom,” a princess of the Yiddish theater. To her temperamental mind, Strasberg was an interloper preaching a psychological technique that wasn’t only impractical but injurious to the longevity of a performer.
Ochoa valuably reviews this still-simmering debate and offers a vivid sketch of the burgeoning, early 20th century Yiddish theater of New York’s Lower East Side that gave rise to the socially conscious realism ushered in by the Group Theatre an assimilated generation later. The book, however, suffers from imprecision, in both its language and its factual detail, which undermines its narrative’s authority.
—Charles McNulty, Los Angeles Times
“The Good Spy: The Life and Death of Robert Ames” by Kai Bird; Crown (448 pages, $26)
I never met CIA officer Robert Ames, though our paths overlapped in the Middle East, particularly in Beirut during some of the worst months of Lebanon’s 1975-90 civil war. The ruins of the U.S. Embassy building where Ames met his demise in April 1983 was just down the street from my first residence when I moved to Beirut four months later.
Strange how a place so utterly terrifying and brutal can also be the source of the most wonderful experiences in one’s life. But I have no doubt, especially after reading Kai Bird’s biography, “The Good Spy: The Life and Death of Robert Ames,” that Ames cherished his experiences as much as did all of Beirut’s war-addicted spooks and journalists.
Bird expertly captures the bizarre interplay between the United States and its then-PLO enemies. The same PLO made infamous for airplane hijackings and car bombings was the organization that provided intelligence and crucial security for U.S. Embassy operations at a time of lawlessness and chaos on Beirut’s streets.
When that security element disappeared after the Israeli invasion of 1982, the embassy and its personnel were left vulnerable just as radical Shiite groups backed by Iran and Syria were ascendant. That vulnerability translated into two catastrophic U.S. Embassy bomb attacks, the bombing of a U.S. Marines barracks, and elimination of the CIA’s top echelon of resident Middle East agents.
Ames was one of the few who recognized the dangers and understood why open lines of communication are essential, even with those whom Washington regards with utter contempt. For Middle East fanatics like me, Bird’s account fills a major gap in our understanding of a transformative era. For everyone else, it’s just a ripping-good tale of intrigue.
—Tod Robberson, The Dallas Morning News
“The Farm” by Tom Rob Smith; Grand Central Publishing (360 pages, $26)
Tom Rob Smith’s fourth novel, “The Farm,” opens with a vivid conflict: A Londoner named Daniel receives a phone call from his father with troubling news. “Your mum’s in hospital,” the older man says. “She’s been committed.” Then the phone rings again and it’s his mother, who offers a conflicting tale. “I’m on a payphone and I don’t have much credit,” she announces. “I’m sure your father has spoken to you. Everything that man has told you is a lie.”
This, of course, is the very definition of high concept. (Not surprisingly, rights to “The Farm” have already been sold to Focus Features and Shine Pictures.) Unfortunately, it’s also the high point of Smith’s novel, which is as turgid and undramatic a thriller as I’ve read.
Unfolding, for the most part, over a single day, as Daniel debriefs his mother and seeks to keep her from his father, “The Farm” is a book with almost no urgency, no sense that anything’s at stake. In part, this has to do with its structure, which relies, until the final 60 pages, on a series of monologues by Daniel’s mother, punctuated by clarifying questions or scenic details. But even more, the issue is that we don’t believe it, that there is too much here that seems contrived.
This ranges from the action (which revolves around a series of vague “crimes and conspiracies”) to the writing, which all too often shows its bones. “My dad had set in motion a ticking clock,” Daniel declares about a third of the way through the book, as if to amp up the suspense. The most effective suspense, however, doesn’t need to be amped up; it should already infuse the narrative. Daniel’s comment, then, reads as little more than stage direction, as if even Smith were aware that the conflicts in his story remain under-felt.
What makes this surprising is that Smith’s 2008 debut, “Child 44,” was smart and nuanced, the story of a Stalin-era Soviet security agent on the trail of a serial killer.
—David L. Ulin, Los Angeles Times
“I Am Pilgrim” by Terry Hayes; Emily Bestler Books/Atria (612 pages, $26.99)
The first sentence of Terry Hayes’ exhilarating debut thriller, “I Am Pilgrim,” travels from Red Square to the “wrong side” of Detroit’s Eight Mile Road, and somehow you know immediately — buckle up. This complex, globalized tear through our complex, globalized world shoots from New York to the Black Hills of South Dakota, touches down in London and Geneva, and lands on tiny Santorini, “the most beautiful of all the Greek islands,” for a gripping assassination at a world-class restaurant and bar. And that’s just the first 50 pages.
It all starts in a seedy Manhattan hotel called the Eastside Inn, where a woman has been discovered with “her throat cut, floating facedown in a bathtub full of sulfuric acid.” Along with her face, the acid has dissolved her fingerprints, and any hope of identification vanishes when the police spot a battlefield dental kit containing a pair of recently used extraction forceps. She is, quite literally, a toothless wonder.
Meanwhile, in the remote Hindu Kush mountains of Afghanistan, a lone extremist called the Saracen has narrowly escaped Australian troops in a deserted village. An indomitable Saudi national who was radicalized in his youth after his father’s unjust beheading, the Saracen has left behind the charred remains of three kidnapped aid workers in a fresh, shallow grave. Among the ashes, the troops find a terrifying clue — a saddle blanket shred that later tests positive for a genetically enhanced, weaponized version of one of the most deadly infectious diseases the world has ever known.
Readers often are tempted to skim a big thriller like “I Am Pilgrim,” but there’s very little here you’ll want to miss. Hayes, an award-winning screenwriter (“Road Warrior,” “Dead Calm”), masterfully guides readers through an incredibly elaborate, drum-tight plot. Is it plausible? It certainly feels that way while you’re in the thick of it. Is it realistic? Let’s give the final word on that to spy-thriller king John le Carré, who once said that “every fiction writer would rather be credible than authentic.”
It’s hard to know if this author would draw a distinction between those two ideas. But this much is clear — “I Am Pilgrim” is an authentic hit that’s likely to earn Hayes some serious credibility.
—John Wilwol, Newsday
“The Vacationers” by Emma Straub; Riverhead (304 pages, $26.95)
Readers meet a kindred spirit on the opening page of Emma Straub’s winsome new novel when Jim Post worries about the contents of his suitcase: “Had he packed enough books?”
Yes, this is the sort of person you — or at least I — wouldn’t mind passing a fictional vacation with. The fact that he is disgraced when the novel opens, forced to retire from his job as a men’s magazine editor after an affair with a 23-year-old editorial assistant, dampens that sentiment only slightly.
Jim and Franny, a freelance food writer, are Upper West Side literati whose teenage daughter Sylvia is prone to babbling, when nervous, about which Brontë is most underrated and who compares her mother’s writing style to “Joan Didion, only with an appetite, or like Ruth Reichl, but with an attitude problem.”
The novel centers on a long-planned family vacation to Mallorca celebrating Sylvia’s high school graduation; the secondary celebration, of Jim and Franny’s 35th anniversary, is muted due to the circumstances.
Along for the trip are son Bobby, a struggling Miami real estate agent 10 years older than Sylvia; Carmen, Bobby’s “albatross of a girlfriend” who is more than 10 years his senior; Charles, an artist who is Franny’s best friend; and Lawrence, Charles’ baby-crazy husband.
A few Mallorca locals and other tourists make appearances — all to comic effect — but the novel’s magic lies in watching a once close-knit family try to find its way back to each other.
—Hannah Sampson, The Miami Herald
“Natchez Burning” by Greg Iles; William Morrow (800 pages, $27.99)
It doesn’t pay to be one of the good guys in Greg Iles’ world.
Villainous or heroic, you’re equally likely to meet a painful — and painfully described — end.
“Natchez Burning,” the first of a trilogy and the fourth outing for Iles’ protagonist Penn Cage, begins with a warning against deifying mere mortals. Even gods have feet of clay, and in Iles’ South, they’re likely to have blood on their hands, too.
If revisiting the awful deeds done in the cause of white supremacy in the ‘60s makes you shudder, this book is going to be a tough read in places. Likewise if painstaking descriptions of torture and death make you queasy. I read a lot of this book at the gym, and spent many minutes praying that the person on the next treadmill wasn’t trying to check out my read.
And he’s not making these things up: Iles credits the work of reporter Stanley Nelson (the Concordia Sentinel in Louisiana), who he says covered the actual crimes that form the backdrop of “Natchez Burning.”
At 800 pages, the book feels overwritten in some spots, but still manages to keep the pages flying past. And that works out pretty well at the end, when you’re reading only every other word because YOU MUST FIND OUT WHAT HAPPENS.
—Cindy Bagwell, The Dallas Morning News
© 2014, McClatchy-Tribune
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