RaveThe Christian Science MonitorThose not steeped in the period...may find themselves occasionally at sea with the dozens of characters, clashes, sects, and settings related here. But for those of us who might confuse Godfrey of Bouillon and Baldwin of Boulogne, or Al-Adid with Al-Adil I, relief is always in sight. For a start, Jones includes an overview of his cast of characters that wisely includes years of birth and death and notable characteristics for each. Even better, they are listed in order of appearance in the book. Chapters are well paced, and Jones’ prose is, throughout, felicitous. Helpful maps at the front of the book and scattered throughout make it easy to understand the geography ... History crackles in Jones’ assured hands. He finds bawdy humor to leaven some of the grim violence. As much as anything, he even-handedly shows how endless propaganda, greed, and naked political ambition drove the battles and alliances of the Holy Land wars as much as religious fervor did.
PositiveThe Christian Science Monitor... isn’t a glorification of war, by any stretch. Instead, it’s an attempt to make sense of something that can never be explained, to grapple with ghosts, and to try to adjust to the idea that, as horrible as war is, its hyperadrenalized environment can make ordinary life feel dull ... Ackerman, as he does throughout the book, sees both the details and broader meaning of his encounters.
RaveThe Christian Science MonitorWineapple writes the kind of popular nonfiction that deserves a wide audience, blending graceful prose with a deeply researched but accessible history ... Notable and fascinating historical personages abound in these pages ... offers insights and a distillation of events that have undeniable parallels with this moment in our history.
RaveThe Christian Science MonitorIt takes just a few pages for Peter Ackroyd to let readers know he won’t be getting weepy over Victorian England. His clear-eyed assessment of the later stages of the British Empire includes an early nod to an era of humor and sadness, spirituality and modesty — and a warning to those who might romanticize that past ... Over the course of 400 pages, Ackroyd proves the point without leaving room for debate. Nineteenth-century England is often an interesting and exciting place to be, but pleasant isn’t a word that comes to mind. Neither does comfortable ... Dominion is Ackroyd’s fifth volume in his ambitious biography of England. Spanning 1815 to 1901, the book sets the table for a final volume covering the 20th Century and the early years of the 21st. His works include 18 works of fiction and more than 30 works of nonfiction, including biographies of Chaucer, Poe, Shakespeare, and J.M.W. Turner, among others. Ackroyd remains a graceful, stylish, and prolific writer as well as an attentive historian.
PositiveThe Christian Science MonitorAll of these aspects of Ruth’s life, and many more, come into focus in The Big Fella ... [Leavy] spent eight years researching and writing her Ruth biography, and her care and diligence surface on every page ... Using the language and standards of baseball then and now, including the contemporary analytical measures known as sabermetrics, Leavy makes a persuasive case that Ruth remains one of the greatest players baseball has ever seen ... Throughout the book, Leavy, through dogged reporting and astute analysis, strips away many of the myths and misconceptions surrounding Ruth’s life.
PositiveThe Christian Science Monitor\"Big Game by Mark Leibovich, a man who heretofore devoted much of his time to deflating the egos and images of Washington power brokers and their numerous, well-paid lobbyists, spin doctors, and assorted other enablers. Leibovich, a man used to sifting through polling data, included in his book the NFL fan profile statistics mentioned in the preceding paragraph ... In other words, Leibovich...has the perfect mindset to tackle the NFL, itself a bloated bureaucracy with a penchant for, shall we say, misdirection plays.
RaveThe Christian Science Monitor...[a] nailbiter ... Steinhauer sketches out Proulx’s initial impression of Bishop with flab-free prose typical of the novel ... Steinhauer juggles his plot lines in brisk, alternating chapters, accelerating the tension throughout ... Steinhauer serves as an effective literary middleman throughout, connecting readers with plausible versions of how a diverse group of people – FBI agents, radicals, followers, bureaucrats, reporters hungry for a story – might respond to turmoil in a world of well-rendered verisimilitude ... one of the most entertaining and thought-provoking novels of the year.
RaveThe Christian Science Monitor\"...a book filled with dazzling insight, pitch-perfect anecdotes, and compelling context. Simply put, this is the most thorough and accessible account of the people, politics, and roiling theology behind Islamic terrorism. It should be required reading for every American; yes, it is that good ... It is hard to imagine a better portrait of 9/11 and its causes emerging anytime soon.\
Kate Andersen Brower
PositiveThe Christian Science MonitorBrower is quickly becoming a brand-name Washington writer because of her ability to deliver juicy tidbits and insider information while steering her books toward a mainstream audience without sacrificing historical credibility ... First In Line includes basic facts about the vice presidency a lot of Americans may not know ... Brower sprinkles in plenty of rueful remarks about being the nation’s No. 2 man in charge and its attendant frustrations ... Brower’s lively account is a brisk VP primer sure to entertain political history fans.
PositiveThe Christian Science MonitorAnd now comes The Word Is Murder, a bit of meta-fiction told by a writer named Anthony Horowitz, whose works include a couple of Sherlock Holmes novels, the \'Alex Rider\' series, and Foyle’s War on TV. This alter-Horowitz encounters a former British detective—a consultant on a series called \'Injustice\' starring James Purefoy (everything but the former detective being true to life)—who wants Horowitz to write a nonfiction account of his investigative methods.... Much like The Magpie Murders, Horowitz succeeds with The Word Is Murder by simultaneously adhering to and defying the rules of a traditional mystery.
PositiveThe Christian Science Monitor[F]or everyone, Meacham’s book – which traces the bumpy, long road of trying to live up to the ideals of the Declaration of Independence – serves as a sobering reminder that protest, divisive politics, and partisan rancor have been near-constants in the United States ... Of particular importance are Meacham’s attention to the rarity and difficulty of advancing past status quo complacency and inequality as well as simultaneously cautionary and encouraging examples of how leaders can’t improve the nation without both courage and the willingness of the masses to be led ... No matter who occupies the White House, this history – and these ideas, from presidents, demagogues, and activists alike – are worthy of our attention and reflection. Here, Meacham does us the service of providing a civil, and learned, starting point for such conversations.
RaveThe Christian Science MonitorThis month brings the climax of the college basketball season – March Madness, remember? – followed in April by the start of the two-month marathon that is the NBA playoffs. And if that’s still not enough roundball, Basketball: Great Writing About America's Game, a new Library of America collection of the best basketball writing, offers an embarrassment of riches to restore your spirits once your bracket goes bust. Longtime Sports Illustrated writer and contributor Alexander Wolff curated the collection and he’s done it so well that this reader has but one quibble: Why leave out an excerpt from John Feinstein’s 'A Season on the Brink,' the 1986 bestseller chronicling a year inside the Indiana Hoosiers program with coach Bobby Knight? That complaint aside, Wolff has put together a fast-break compilation that takes the reader literally from the beginning – in a sliver of memoir from James Naismith on how he invented the game in 1891 – to the present-day reign of Stephen Curry and the Golden State Warriors.
RaveThe Christian Science MonitorHoffman avoids stereotyping, pointing out that while Manser and Palmieri both, to varying degrees, pursued the clichéd notion of a purer, more spiritual life through Eastern culture, neither the tribesmen nor the expat interlopers truly stepped out of the present ... Hoffman’s fascination and enthusiasm are readily apparent on every page. Combined with diligent research and a refreshing less-is-more narrative – the book goes in-depth but is devoid of notebook-dumping – Last Wild Men of Borneo deserves a wide audience. After turning the last page, this reader considers that all but inevitable.
RaveThe Christian Science MonitorAnderson’s writing is reminiscent of that of James Lee Burke, blending pathos, violence, and corruption with long-shot hope and glimpses of natural wonder ... Green Sun builds to a fraught but satisfying finale, one that likely marks the final literary chapter for Hanson ... Green Sun avoids over-the-top action but maintains narrative tension. Indeed, Anderson’s lean but limber style makes this novel a suitable companion for just about anyone.
Gordon S. Wood
RaveThe Christian Science MonitorRevolutionary-era historian Gordon S. Wood, in Friends Divided, his latest book on the period, makes clear just how fragile the American experiment had become once Washington retired to Mount Vernon ... Wood tells that story through the remarkable, stormy friendship of Adams and Jefferson ... Again and again, Wood reveals the depth of a lifetime spent studying the Revolutionary period. He never lapses into simplified assessments, taking the time to research and explain nuanced conclusions ... Though he clearly admires both Adams and Jefferson, and sees much of their yin-yang political differences as important to the development of the United States, Wood concludes that there is a very good reason for Jefferson’s lasting popularity and Adams’ comparative anonymity.
RaveThe Christian Science MonitorNever shy about shedding light on injustice and unethical behavior, John Grisham sinks his teeth into a juicy target in his latest novel: privately owned, for-profit law schools … Grisham details the dismal mediocrity and hopelessness engulfing the school and its students … Grisham sets in motion a scam both ridiculous and sublime: Gordy’s three classmates start practicing law without a law license. They vow to retire their staggering debt by going off the grid in plain sight … For the finale, Grisham serves up a pitch-perfect cocktail of escapism and derring-do that will leave readers (apologies) crowing for more.
RaveThe Christian Science Monitor...a just-right mixture of journalism lunacy, road warrior angst, determined reporting, and unflinching ambition ... Throughout Unbelievable, Tur professes wonder at how her flimsy one-off assignment covering a never-was presidential hopeful morphed into must-see-TV. And she allows readers to glimpse her insecurities and ambition, sharing the mini-dramas of losing a plum spot on the nightly news or seeing a colleague land a coveted story, all while sacrificing friendships, family, sleep, and stability, among other things.
PositiveThe Christian Science MonitorThese are the tales in Stephen King’s Full Dark, No Stars – a title that matches the mood in this grim but captivating collection. As these stories demonstrate, at age 63, King keeps getting better and remains frighteningly prolific ... King is happy to pile on to what is already a staggering nightmare, adding in illusion, delusion, and the odd savage rat bite for good measure ... Before the fireworks begin, King does what he does best: He sets up an ordinary character in ordinary contemporary American surroundings for a hellish ride into traumatic, extraordinary events ... The final two stories in Full Dark are shorter, but offer little in the way of sunny skies.
RaveThe Christian Science MonitorWhat Follett does best he does again in A Column of Fire: Introduce a sizable and memorable cast, have them intermingle with historical figures and somehow hang on to just enough verisimilitude so that the Dickensian coincidences and callbacks captivate without distraction. Follett remains an old-fashioned storyteller in the best sense, avoiding, for the most part, excessive historical analysis and look-at-me-research in favor of revealing the hearts and minds of his characters. And he never, ever forgets the most important aspect of any story: keep it moving. Follett’s historical epics, including this one, evoke the Romantic adventures of Alexandre Dumas. Derring-do and double-crosses, as well as the sorrows of a more violent and precarious existence, abound. The new novel ends on a well-struck note, bittersweet but with a nod to future adventures that may or may not lead Follett down still another path of political and religious intrigue. In other words, A Column of Fire burns bright throughout.
PositiveThe Christian Science MonitorMuch like the previous installment, Winter of the World clips along at a brisk pace. The historical novel takes readers inside the political battles and atrocities of Nazi-era Germany, fascists fighting a motley crew of European rebels in the Spanish Civil War, and disillusionment spanning the governments of Stalin’s Russia ...begins in 1933 with the rise of Hitler and ends in the Cold War nuclear age. In between, the families, hailing from Russia, the United States, England, Germany, and Wales mingle with real characters, including FDR and Harry Truman ... At times, Follett falls into the trap of relying too much on dialogue to convey historical context ...Follett keeps his characters interesting – and moving. Despite the length of the book, the author is well-served by his earlier role churning out tidy thrillers ... No matter the ultimate destination, readers can expect to savor the journey – and agonize while waiting for the final book to arrive.
RaveThe Christian Science Monitor... two historical novels laid the foundation for what no doubt will be Follett’s most audacious literary adventure: The Century Trilogy. If the first installment – the recently published Fall of Giants – is any sign, readers are in for a memorable, and lengthy, ride ... In Fall of Giants, he manages to steer more than 100 significant characters (fictional and real figures both stride across Follett’s vast stage) amid the buildup and subsequent carnage of World War I ... He allows a glimpse or two of everyone from King George V to Woodrow Wilson without sacrificing narrative momentum and while maintaining the story’s all-important verisimilitude ... Happenstance and coincidental meetings abound as Follett conjures twists and turns of fate that feel true ... It is here that Fall of Giants offers the reader consistent satisfaction.
RaveThe Christian Science MonitorDrawing on letters and government accounts, Larson brings Berlin roaring to life in all its glamour and horror during the first year of Dodd’s ambassadorship. Martha flirts and gossips with Nazi power brokers, including the head of the Gestapo, as well as foreign correspondents and a Russian spy. When she meets Hitler, he kisses her hand … Larson effectively juxtaposes political machinations and persecutions with more quotidian events. Even amid tense and scary times, people went to dinner, danced, fled or stayed, fought, and loved. As Hitler launched the Night of the Long Knives purge – a series of cold-blooded murders carried out under the false claim of an imminent coup – Martha and a boyfriend set out for a romantic lakeside picnic, oblivious to the 500 to 1,000 deaths carried out at Hitler’s orders.
RaveThe Christian Science MonitorStomach-churning fun-house mirror episodes loom among many unintended consequences in 11/22/63, a piece of time-traveling historical fiction that makes the what-if game intensely personal and terrifyingly broad all at once … [11/22/63 is] the classic King tale: an ordinary man engulfed in the most extraordinary of circumstances … King ratchets up the consequences of changing the past. Jake ponders the butterfly effect and wonders constantly whether the small changes wrought by his presence are altering future events in unexpected and harmful ways.
MixedThe Christian Science MonitorMany of Garrow’s assertions can and will be argued for years to come. What is sure to rankle Obama about the scathing assessments in Rising Star is the author’s pedigree and perspective. David Garrow won a Pulitzer Prize for his biography of Martin Luther King Jr., played a significant role in the landmark PBS documentary of the American Civil Rights Movement, Eyes on the Prize, and has written and edited other significant works documenting the struggle for racial equality ... Garrow carefully and convincingly reveals how Obama’s well-regarded memoir is much more a work of historical fiction than a true account of its author’s life ... On the other hand, Garrow makes readers suffer through piffle ... For readers able to trudge those mundanities, Rising Star delivers insight and clarity on Obama’s enigmatic personality and his inner war between idealism and what one former intimate described as his ruthless ambition.
PositiveThe Christian Science MonitorNewcomers can read A Divided Spy as a standalone, though they will likely end up reading Cumming’s previous two books just so they can spend more time with Kell, an interesting if melancholy protagonist ... The relationship between Kell and his Russian rival includes not just some fun cat-and-mouse tactics to set up secret meetings, but also the tension of mutual mistrust leavened by mutual anxiety and weariness over spycraft in general.
RaveThe Christian Science MonitorDavid Grann delivers a haunting, inexplicably forgotten real-life tale of improbable wealth and unspeakable horror in his new book, which is all but certain to spend ample time on best-of and bestseller lists alike ... Readers will find the stain of that blood all but impossible to wash away after reading Grann’s absorbing but disturbing story.
PositiveThe Christian Science MonitorBianculli has been a TV critic for 40 years. NPR listeners know him for his reviews and guest-hosting spots on Fresh Air. Those experiences, along with various sideline academic gigs, add up to a perfect combination for studying and explaining TV with a learned and accessible approach ... Bianculli loves TV and his passion shines throughout these pages. Again and again, he displays genuine enthusiasm for what’s current and what’s ahead ... There are bound to be missteps in a book this comprehensive and this one is no different. Bianculli tends to repeat himself in the interview sections ...Those are minor complaints, though, in a book that is always thoughtful and comprehensive.
MixedThe Christian Science Monitor...falls into the category of a disappointment ... offers thrills and chases, but also feels workmanlike. Sure, it will still get you through a plane ride or two, but The Whistler
RaveThe Christian Science MonitorThe author digs and peels and scrapes at raw wounds, finding the vulnerabilities of almost everyone before her tale is told ... Without breaking a sweat – then again, how could she in rainy, wintry Dublin? – French pulls her narrative threads tighter and tighter. In a dizzying, claustrophobic finale that manages to turn a small staff meeting into a nerve-wracking event, The Trespasser comes to a conclusion that satisfies because of its melancholy lack of finality.
MixedThe Christian Science MonitorThink of this as a gloomier version of Little Miss Sunshine, minus the comic relief of Steve Carell and Alan Arkin. And while Heroes of the Frontier falls into the dreaded aesthetic of dramedy, it is weirdly affecting. I can’t say I really liked these characters a great deal, but their oddities and consistently poor decisions stirred enough curiosity in me to keep the pages turning.
David Foster Wallace
PositiveThe Christian Science MonitorLike his fiction, or the sliver I know of it, anyway, Wallace can’t resist footnoting his way through all of these stories. These many (infinite?) digressions are mostly entertaining and interesting as the main text, though the constant back and forth can be taxing for readers. Wallace was whip-smart and, while that mostly means delight for readers, at other times it can leave mere mortals such as this reader a bit woozy ... An obsessive’s penchant for detail serves reader and writer alike. We learn of the personality of the crowd, the endorsement-rich clothes worn by the players, the copious advertising and product placement ... Wallace aficionados long ago embraced these scattered tennis writings, but they are unlikely to have any qualms about revisiting them. For the rest of us? This collection is a memorable introduction to taking flight with the soaring prose of the late DFW – and a convincing argument for what makes tennis intriguing.
RaveThe Christian Science MonitorThough it makes the experience richer to have read the earlier novels, End of Watch also works just fine as a stand-alone book. King has developed such a comfort level with his characters that the story slips into an immediate, fast-paced rhythm without a hiccup. As with so many of King’s stories, the chugging plot rises on his ability to combine narrative drive with a sense of how ordinary people might think and act in the face of extraordinary situations ... Credit King for rolling out a chilling, and plausible, recipe for Internet-fueled hysteria. Combined with a whiteout winter storm, a tick-tock race to stop mass detonation, and nail-biting near-misses, End of Watch roars to a satisfying conclusion.
E. J. Dionne Jr.
PositiveThe Christian Science MonitorGranted, this is unlikely to make any difference to Republicans who may read Dionne’s book, but it is interesting to hear him profess 'a respect for conservative tradition.' Or, to add, as he describes his concerns about what he believes is a Republican party far too rigid in its ethos, 'I continue to believe that a healthy democratic order needs conservatism’s skepticism about the grand plans we progressives sometimes offer.'
RaveThe Christian Science MonitorBest of all, Bryson juggles his travelogue, dipping in and out of ridiculousness, social commentary, history, trivia, and gleefully grumpy pronouncements.
RaveThe Christian Science MonitorThose of us lacking in the specifics or even, at times, the basics, of the toga-and-sandals era need not fret. Harris-as-Tiro manages to be both an insider and a memoirist capable of providing context without sounding like an encyclopedia ... This is storytelling at its finest – and not to be missed.
PositiveThe Christian Science MonitorDark humor and other kinds of fireworks abound in The Bazaar of Bad Dreams...At 68, King isn’t quite an old man – and his literary career hardly suffers from any indignities.
PositiveThe Christian Science MonitorDespite his prolific output, Connelly rarely stumbles and he continues to find new and interesting angles to explore in detective and legal matters.
PanThe Christian Science MonitorRushdie can’t ever be boring, he’s too smart for that, but the clanky machinations of his polemic drag this rumination on religion and faith into the muck of mixed blessings.