A Report from My [not so] Weekly Trip to the Bookstore...

Okay, so I didn't go to the used bookstore today, although I had every intention of doing so. Instead, I figured, I would go to Barnes & Noble - not to buy anything, mind you, just to see what (other than Mockingjay) they had on display.


Of course Mockingjay was on display everywhere, and at least five teenagers were plopped down devouring the book - one girl was over half way through (I can't imagine how long she'd been sitting there reading). And, while curious about the trilogy, I was not about to buy a copy without having first read Hunger Games and Catching Fire (even at 20% off).


Instead, I perused the New Fiction section (like always), and not finding much new since my last visit, I ambled down the various aisles looking for books to jump out at me. I noticed China Miéville's Kraken had moved from the New Fiction section back to Science Fiction, and Jacob De Zoet was no longer prominently displayed (although they had a ba-jillion copies).


So, the books that jumped out at me:


Shift, Tim Kring & Dale Peck. (Crown. August 10, 2010). 368 pages.


I'm a little embarrassed by this first one, since I'm not really a fan of Heroes, but the premise was an interesting one. And, the fact is, it has jumped off the shelf at me on subsequent visits, so I can't really ignore it any longer (although I tried). Of the six listed, it is the only one that has gotten a less than stellar review.
At the start of this unsuspenseful alternative history thriller from TV screenwriter and producer Kring (Heroes) and Peck (Body Surfing), 1,963 people see an apparition of an oversized flaming boy in the Dallas sky at 11:22 a.m. on December 30, 2012. These numbers correspond to the year, month, and day of President Kennedy's assassination. Flashback to Cambridge, Mass., in October 1963: an attractive woman in the pay of the CIA seduces Harvard grad student Chandler Forrestal, a nephew of Truman's defense secretary, so she can slip him some LSD. The Company believes the drug allows those who take it to access a secret part of the brain known as the Gate of Orpheus. The authors score points for originality in mixing LSD with the events and usual suspects, including the Mafia and J. Edgar Hoover, leading up to Dealey Plaza and the fatal day, but their implausible hidden history of how the world works never coheres. [PW]
Amazon readers give it 3 1/2 stars. 


The Man Who Never Returned, Peter Quinn. (Overlook Hardcover. August 5, 2010). 336 pages.
Quinn delivers a satisfying solution to the real-life mystery of Joseph Crater, a New York City judge who disappeared in 1930, in this stellar hard-boiled historical, a sequel to The Hour of the Cat (2005). In 1955, a New York newspaper magnate offers PI Fintan Dunne carte blanche to investigate the case in the hope that Dunne will provide him with a sensational exclusive. Crater vanished just as an official inquiry into judicial corruption, ordered by then governor Franklin Delano Roosevelt, was getting underway. Perhaps Crater fled to avoid prosecution--or someone bumped him off because he knew too much. Restless in retirement, Dunne accepts the offer, despite his skepticism that such a cold trail can be meaningfully pursued. Quinn not only makes the existence of clues at such a late date plausible but also concocts an explanation that's both logical and surprising. The depth and complexity of the lead character is a big plus. [PW starred review].
Amazon readers give it 4 1/2 stars


Orion You Came and You Took All My Marbles, Kira Henehan. Milkweed Editions (May 4, 2010). 256 pages. (paperback).
Winner of the Milkweed National Fiction Prize, first-time novelist Henehan explores free will and memory in a screwball world where anything is possible and nothing is certain. On a mysterious mission to interrogate an enigmatic puppeteer named Professor Uppal, Finley, an investigator who is hyperaware of her personality but knows nothing of her past, keeps a scrupulous and candid account of her research. Along with eccentric colleagues Murphy, The Lamb, and Binelli, Finley who keeps a pet snake in a satchel, competes with Uppal’s stunning daughter—a professional muse—for her boyfriend’s attention, and treads vast expanses of gravel in order to eat copious amounts of shrimp. Amidst all her absurd digressions, Finley’s investigation seems to crumble beneath a landslide of further questions, but soon her toils reveal answers, not regarding her assignment but about her own inexplicable history. In playfully measured prose, Henehan’s poignant farce evokes Beckett and her world is as funny and inventive as that of George Saunders, but her bold voice and tenderness make for something entirely original, entertaining, and well worth the read. --[Jonathan Fullmer, Booklist]


Amazon readers give it 4 stars


The Last Talk with Lola Faye, Thomas H. Cook. (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. July 7, 2010). 288 pages.
In this tightly coiled, intellectual drama, Cook ( The Chatham School Affair) unwinds a marvelously tense story of belated redemption. While in St. Louis for a book tour, Luke Page, a middle-aged writer of lackluster histories, agrees to meet with a long-forgotten acquaintance, the "little hayseed tramp" he believes triggered a bloody tragedy that befell his family decades earlier. The story alternates between Luke's recollections of his hometown; the "heady ambition" of the despicably cruel, contemptuous younger Luke, who wants to go to Harvard and gets swept up "in the lethal tide of [his] own grand dream"; and the numb, disillusioned academic who sits down for a drink with Lola Faye Gilroy. A vertiginous precipice eventually materializes in front of Luke, who must finally confront the true nature of his father's heinous murder and its equally tragic aftermath. The younger Luke is without a doubt one of the more convincing modern villains, a single-minded overachiever devoured by raging oedipal loathing and equally consumed by narcissistic ambition. [PW, starred review]
 Amazon readers give it 4 stars.


Tutankhamun: The Book of Shadows, Nick Drake. (Harper. June 29, 2010). 384 pages.
At the start of Drake's superlative middle book in his ancient Egypt trilogy (after Nefertiti), Rahotep, the chief detective in the Thebes police force, visits a horrific crime scene. Someone has mutilated a young man and removed his eyes—and possibly pacified him with narcotics during the assault. When the killer strikes again, Rahotep wonders if the murders may be connected with efforts to destabilize the regime of the young Tutankhamun. The ruler's foes include Ay, the regent who effectively runs the country, and Horemheb, commander of the country's armies. Rahotep must tread carefully to identify the parties behind both the killings and the threats to Tutankhamun without jeopardizing his life and the lives of his family members. Drake seamlessly introduces a serial killer plot line into his vivid evocation of the past. Admirers of such great historical novelists as Robert Graves and Mary Renault will hope that he continues working in the field after concluding this series. [PW. starred review]
 Amazon readers give it 5 stars.


Junkyard Dogs (Walt Longmire Mysteries), Craig Johnson. (Viking Adult. May 27, 2010). 320 pages.
Johnson's sixth mystery featuring Wyoming sheriff Walt Longmire (after 2009's Dark Horse) will remind readers that a big city isn't necessary for a compelling crime story and enduring hero. One blizzardy February day, Walt and his deputies—Victoria Moretti and Santiago Saizarbitoria—visit the Durant, Wyo., dump, owned by the Stewart family, to investigate a severed thumb found in a discarded cooler. There they discover that the Stewart family patriarch, George, was almost killed after someone dragged him behind a '68 Toronado. Walt winds up playing peacemaker between the cantankerous Stewarts, longtime Durant residents, and the owner of a new housing development bordering the junkyard. When a search of the dump unearths a surprising side business and two deaths follow, Walt realizes he has bigger problems on his hands. Series fans as well as newcomers will cheer the laconic Walt every step of the way. [PW]
Amazon readers give it 4 1/2 stars.

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