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Misfortune
by Wesley Stace


>(Little, Brown)




One can be forgiven for overlooking a book such as Misfortune. The author, singer-songwriter John Wesley Harding, is probably most well known for nabbing a spot on the High Fidelity soundtrack. Shedding the pseudonym for his real name, however, Wesley Stace’s success as a first-time novelist can hardly be a surprise. Portions of his writing talent can be gleaned from his musical compositions, but this fanciful parable is an enchantment of frilly Victorian proportions — a romp and roll of a good read. At moments, it does stutter, but once it catches its breath, Stace’s story of Rose Loveall’s gender-disorientation is unruly, and beautifully so.
Shandy Casteel PopMatters review Amazon




Oh Pure and Radiant Heart
by Lydia Millet


>(Soft Skull)




This fantastical story focused on the fallout of the atomic age is — amazingly — Millet’s second novel of 2005. In it the three physicists who lead the Manhattan Project — J Robert Oppenheimer, Enrico Fermi, and Leo Szilard — are transported to present day, where they learn of the devastating effects their brainchild has had on the planet, not the least of which is the proliferation of nuclear arms and the ever-imminent threat of annihilation. The adventurous road trip narrative is deftly interspersed with grave accounts of the human carnage at Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the casualties of nuclear testing, and the ever-growing stockpile of weapons we’re hording to “protect” ourselves. It’s a smart and witty read that simultaneously provides a sobering perspective on the nation’s past and humanity’s collective future.
Anne Yoder PopMatters review Amazon




All the Flowers Are Dying
by Lawrence Block


>(William Morrow)




Lawrence Block is a master of plot, characterization, and dialogue; and he’s been telling lies for fun and profit for decades. My own small personal library measures Block’s books not in numbers, but by the yard of shelf space. The man is prolific, but his masterpiece has always been Matthew Scudder, and so Block has returned regularly to Scudder’s ever noir New York neighborhood for more than 30 years. Originally, the intriguing darkness in Scudder’s life came from his alcoholism, and from the tragedy that drove him out of the police force and into the welcoming depths of the bottle. But Scudder has long since come to terms with his own demons, so now, in his 16th outing, our hero must face a demon and a darkness quite beyond his own experience. Hunted by an unknown killer, Scudder and his wife Elaine must seek refuge behind the barricades while the unlicensed occasional detective struggles with that time honored question: Can I get him before he gets me?
Roger Holland Amazon




Slow Man
by J.M. Coetzee


>(Viking)




J.M. Coetzee’s writing seems to become more ambitious with each successive novel and literary prize. In his latest novel, Slow Man, Coetzee elucidates 60-year-old Paul Rayment’s struggles with old age and the realities and challenges it presents after he loses a leg in a bicycle accident. With Paul so ready to accept defeat in the early part of the novel, the reader can’t help but wonder just how closely Coetzee — himself an avid 65-year-old bicycler and recluse who has already achieved the pinnacle of literary accomplishments, the Nobel Prize — identifies with his main character. But when Elizabeth Costello, the protagonist from and namesake of Coetzee’s last book, shows up at Paul’s door mid-novel to challenge Slow Man‘s protagonist to confront his desires and fears, to seize life and love, Coetzee’s inner turmoil, as both a writer and a man, becomes increasingly evident. By reintroducing Costello with this “postmodern trick,” Coetzee, through his beautifully fluid prose and emotionally challenging encounters between strangers, facilitates the stoicism that makes this novel work so well. In doing so, he proves he still has a thing or two to offer to literature while leaving readers pondering whether it’s more important to be loved or to be cared for long after the book’s closing line.
Laura Nathan Amazon




Captain Alatriste
by Arturo Perez-Reverte


>(Putnam)




Depending on your outlook, Arturo Perez-Reverte is either the thinking man’s Dan Brown or a dumbed-down Umberto Eco. Either way, he writes wonderfully suspenseful thrillers that continuously engage the reader. In Captain Alatriste, Perez-Reverte returns to historical Spain — most of his novels are historical thrillers set in the present — as he did in 1999’s The Fencing Master. Captain Alatriste is set in 16th century Spain, and the titular captain, honorable but down on his luck, is forced to battle the Inquisition and nobles of varying levels of deceitfulness and enmity, as an overdeveloped sense of honor forces him to unknowingly defend the English Lord Buckingham from a mad Italian assassin. Readers can enjoy Captain Alatriste for its rousing adventure, while savoring the historical detail that Perez-Reverte uses to bring his tale to life.
Ben Levisohn Amazon




The Sea
by John Banville


>(Knopf)




Every word throbs with implication in John Banville’s The Sea, a novel drenched in absolute linguistic perfection. “They departed, the gods, on the day of the strange tide,” the book opens with the aesthete Max Morden, unsteadied by the loss of his wife to cancer. Returning to the costal town where he spent a youthful holiday. His reflections work themselves loose entwining the present and the past in an awkward and captious humanity. Towards the end of the book, as revelations start unpeeling themselves through the narration, the outcomes of the young and the old Max are never far from one another. It’s a constant with Banville, this icy exterior foliage camouflaging the warm meadow within. There’s heart in The Sea, and readers can be richly rewarded for taking their time wading in.
Shandy Casteel PopMatters review Amazon




Kafka on the Shore
by Haruki Murakami


>(Knopf)




With book after book, Haruki Murakami makes an opulent feast of intoxicating literary pliability, and Kafka on the Shore is no different. Forming his tale from patchwork nightmares, tattered allegory, and lyrical entanglements, the novel follows a 15-year-old runaway and an elderly WWII veteran who communicates with cats into the swirling imagination of Murakami’s parallel universes. Pulling them on an a meta-fictional thread where plot is a mere skeletal outline for the existential mind-bending musings, Murakami jettisons many questions by the end, and in lesser talents such a perplexingly sketched maze would have navigated perilously close to being impenetrable. Under Murakami’s hand, it sparkles with page-turning verve.
Shandy Casteel Amazon




The History of Love
by Nicole Krauss


>(WW Norton & Company)




Her early years dabbling in poetry have paid bountiful graces for Nicole Krauss in her enthralling novel The History of Love, a book possessing an uncanny knack for knowing just where your heartstrings are, and with each passing phrase, gives them a pull like no other novel from the past year. With this second novel, Krauss has shown she has an able and settled fictional voice, something a few of her contemporaries are still trying to form. The History of Love never backs away for its literary self-awareness, instead, the lonely old man and teenage girl soulfully making their way towards each other do so because literature still has the worth to move, something Krauss’ novel never fails to do.
Shandy Casteel Amazon




Artemis Fowl: The Opal Deception
by Eoin Colfer


>(Miramax)




Despite the overwhelming shadow cast by the all-conquering schoolboy wizard, the Artemis Fowl books have been well received and a movie is rumored to be imminent. Good. These are clever, witty, compelling works and The Opal Deception, fourth in the series, is the best since the first. Effectively the anti-Potter, Artemis Fowl is a schoolboy criminal mastermind with more than a passing interest in fairies. No, really. Evil pixies, a scientific genius straight out of Narnia, hi-tech gadgets galore, and a set of running fart gags that are almost entirely germane to the plot, all of life is here.
Roger Holland Amazon

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