Sunday, July 12, 2009

A Few Book Suggestions



Steve Hely's satiric novel masquerades as the tell-all memoir of Pete Tarslaw, author of the runaway bestseller
The Tornado Ashes Club who's become a lit-world pariah. Two years out of college, Pete still moons after the brilliant Polly Pawson, who dropped him post-graduation for law school. His hygiene and motivation have degraded such that he's accumulating beer bottles next to his bed as convenient substitutes for the toilet. His dubious job transforming the convoluted prose of wealthy foreign students into earnest college entrance essays depresses him, more for its lack of prestige than any ethical implications. When Polly announces her engagement in a gleeful mass email, Pete's desire to upstage her at the wedding inflames his obsession with the fame, fortune, and female attention enjoyed by bestselling authors--clever charlatans, in his estimation. What follows is Pete's exposé of the Machiavellian tactics he employed in creating and selling a maudlin mess of a book. It lands him a spot on the New York Times bestsellers list (hilariously parodied by Hely) and an unwisely candid prime-time TV interview, in which his theories on authors as con artists spark a book-world feud, spike his Amazon sales rank, and force him into a literary showdown at a Texan book festival. Along the way, no one connected to books--writers, writing teachers, lit agents, publishers, critics, book buyers--gets off unskewered by Hely's rapier pen (and readers may wonder, on occasion, if Steve Hely has employed Tarslawian strategies in his own bid for a slot on the bestsellers lists). But out of the irony emerges something that feels like genuine reverence for great books, and for those who write out of honesty. For fellow book lovers weary of tracking book sales trends, Hely's wrap-up might even feel like a catharsis. -- Mari Malcolm






Shortly after sixth-grader Miranda and her best friend Sal part ways, for some inexplicable reason her once familiar world turns upside down. Maybe it's because she's caught up in reading A Wrinkle in Time and trying to understand time travel, or perhaps it's because she's been receiving mysterious notes which accurately predict the future. Rebecca Stead's poignant novel, When You Reach Me, captures the interior monologue and observations of kids who are starting to recognize and negotiate the complexities of friendship and family, class and identity. Set in New York City in 1979, the story takes its cue from beloved Manhattan tales for middle graders like E.L. Konigsburg's From the Mixed-up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, Louise Fitzhugh's Harriet the Spy, and Norma Klein's Mom the Wolfman and Me. Like those earlier novels, When You Reach Me will stir the imaginations of young readers curious about day-to-day life in a big city. --Lauren Nemroff





"If an injury has to be done to a man it should be so severe that his vengeance need not be feared." The ninth book in Daniel Silva's smart, fast-paced series about enigmatic assassin and art restorer Gabriel Allon begins with an epigraph courtesy of Machiavelli. A fitting start to a twisty spy thriller chock full of clandestine meetings, tenuous alliances, and ruthless men. The beauty of Silva's series is that it is easy on acronyms and byzantine operations (so you don't have to be a spy novel aficionado to enjoy it), and each book gives you a discreet rundown on familiar characters and back-stories (so you don't have to start at the beginning). In The Defector, the disappearance of Russian defector and dissident Grigori Bulganov draws Gabriel out of semi-retirement and into the path of Ivan Kharkov, the former KGB agent and Russian oligarch from Moscow Rules. Exotic locales, intriguing characters, and a breakneck pace make for a riveting summer read. --Daphne Durham