This week, "Bad Feminist," Bridget Jones meets Carrie Bradshaw, and a kingdom of ice.
Frostborn by Lou Anders (Crown) - In this Norse-flavored adventure, Anders pits a clever boy and a resourceful half-giant girl against numerous enemies and the hazards of the frozen wilderness. Twelve-year-old Karn has no desire to learn the family business of farming; he’s much more interested in playing the strategy board game Thrones and Bones. Thianna’s human ancestry makes her an oddity and object of derision among her full-blooded giant peers. Nevertheless, Karn and Thianna become reluctant allies and friends when trouble threatens: Karn runs afoul of a malevolent undead lord, while Thianna must flee from her human mother’s people, who seek a long-lost artifact. Though a lot of elements are in play, Anders ties the novel’s threads together in a neatly satisfying way, crafting a powerful, fast-paced tale.
Bad Feminist by Roxane Gay (Harper) - This trenchant collection assembles previously published essays and new work by cultural critic and novelist Gay (An Untamed State). Even though she loves pink, feels nostalgic about the Sweet Valley High series, and lets degrading rap lyrics blast from her car stereo, Gay is passionately committed to feminist issues, such as equal opportunity and pay and reproductive freedom. Writing about race, politics, gender, feminism, privilege, and popular media, she highlights how deeply misogyny is embedded in our culture, the careless language used to discuss sexual violence (seen in news reports of sexual assault), Hollywood’s tokenistic treatment of race, the trivialization of literature written by women, and the many ways American society fails women and African-Americans. Gay’s provocative essays stand out for their bravery, wit, and emotional honesty.
Forget Me by K.A. Harrington (Putnam) - Harrington unfurls another gripping whodunit that will keep readers guessing. After Morgan Tulley’s brooding boyfriend is killed in a hit-and-run accident, she wants answers. Why was Flynn standing alone outside an abandoned amusement park that night? Why did he suddenly break up with her just before he died? And why did his death seem so intentional? Three months later, when Morgan uploads Flynn’s photo to a social media site as a tribute, she finds an image of Evan, a boy from a neighboring town who is a dead ringer for Flynn. Morgan enlists the help of her best friend Toni and, eventually, Evan to get to the bottom of the mystery.
The Kills by Richard House (Picador) - Longlisted for the Man Booker, House’s thousand-plus-page novel is an intense, frustrating yet unforgettable tale of U.S. contractors working amid corruption, betrayal, and murder in Iraq after the fall of Saddam Hussein. The novel is made up of four books. The first, “Sutler,” follows Brit John Ford (aka Sutler), a contractor at Camp Liberty in Baghdad. After employer Paul Geezler of HOSCO International instructs him to draw his final payment using a convoluted system of accounts, a deadly explosion sends Sutler on the run; Geezler claims the contractor stole $53 million from funds allocated for the Massive, a military complex to be built in the desert. This huge undertaking is notable for its ambition, and it seduces with both its shortcomings and its accomplishments.
The Invisible Bridge: The Fall of Nixon and the Rise of Reagan by Rick Perlstein (S&S) - Perlstein (Nixonland) snuffs out any nostalgic glow in this massive and wide-ranging portrait of 1973 to 1976, from Watergate to Ronald Reagan’s challenge to Gerald Ford for the Republican presidential nomination. Full of the tragic, the infuriating, and the darkly funny, Perlstein captures the frantic nature of the period: Hank Aaron enduring racist slurs and death threats as he broke Babe Ruth’s home run record; the kidnapping of Patty Hearst; the fall of Saigon; and Chevy Chase mocking the hapless Gerald Ford on Saturday Night Live. This was an America that seemed dominated by “suspicious circles”—the skeptics and cynics that led much of America’s cultural and political discourse in the aftermath of Vietnam and Watergate. But Perlstein pulls together the threads that hinted at a conservatism in flux and ready for revolution, from violent battles over busing in Boston to anti-Equal Rights Amendment activism, but most of all, Ronald Reagan: his unwavering optimism in America, his carefully constructed image, and his growing appeal to mainstream America.
Virgin by Radhika Sanghani (Berkley) - Bridget Jones and Carrie Bradshaw, meet your wisecracking, vagina-obsessed match. Sanghani’s debut is a hilarious, irreverent look at smart-alecky, painfully self-conscious, 21-year-old Ellie’s relentless mission to rectify a disastrous first attempt at performing oral sex, get deflowered, find the perfect Brazilian wax, avoid her tradition-bound Greek mother’s nagging, graduate summa cum laude, be a writer, and fit in. She is joined in her booze-fueled misadventures by family friend Paul, newly uncloseted and a fellow virgin, and BFFs Lara, who makes Ellie confront uncomfortable truths about herself, and Emma, Ellie’s cowriter for an advice vlog for other women stumbling along the “path of sexual activity.”
Whiskey Tango Foxtrot by David Shafer (Little, Brown/Mulholland) - Journalist Shafer hits all the right buttons in his debut as he mixes crime fiction, espionage, and SF in a darkly comic novel about paranoia and big business. A battle for control over all the information in the world has begun. The Committee, an international organization comprising industry and media leaders, has plans to privatize the news, the publishing industry, and all other social media. Dear Diary, an online movement, has set itself up as a formidable enemy of the Committee, using politics, spy craft, and technology to thwart its initiatives. Caught up in this war are Leila Majnoun, a disaffected nonprofit worker; Leo Crane, an unorthodox kindergarten teacher who lives off a modest trust fund; and Mark Deveraux, a drug addict who inadvertently becomes a bogus self-help guru and appears to work for the Committee.
In the Kingdom of Ice: The Grand and Terrible Polar Voyage of the USS 'Jeannette' by Hampton Sides (Doubleday) - In a masterful retelling, Sides (Hellhound on His Trail) chronicles American naval officer George Washington De Long’s harrowing 1879 expedition to the North Pole, an account as frightening as it is fascinating. Each page envelops readers in the bravery of De Long and the crew of the Jeannette, their indefatigable quest for the “Polar Grail,” and their dogged will to survive. News mogul James Gordon Bennett Jr., a colorful personality who famously sent Sir Henry Stanley to Dr. David Livingstone, was De Long’s patron, mostly because he desired another front-page stunner for his paper. De Long’s journal entries are mixed in with Sides’s description of a voyage fraught with peril—their steamboat was wedged in ice for two winters and,upon released, was crushed. Seeking rescue, the crew hauled supplies hundreds of miles across Arctic ice fields. Impeccable writing, a vivid re-creation of the expedition and the Victorian era, and a taut conclusion make this an exciting gem.
Mass Incarceration on Trial: A Remarkable Court Decision and the Future of Prisons in America by Jonathan Simon (New Press) - UC Berkeley criminologist Simon (Governing Through Crime) offers an eloquent critique of the American prison system and uses several Supreme Court cases to examine the development of new jurisprudence that might end mass incarceration. His sketch of the history of mass incarceration attends to interlocking issues, such as racial politics, the upheavals of the 1960s, and media influence on public opinion. In his case studies, he focuses on the way decisions have addressed human rights violations arising from the prison system, from overcrowding, to the failure to reduce crime, to the torture of being incarcerated with a terminal illness. Simon’s most striking contribution comes in the discussion of “dignity” as a concept in human rights law. He argues that making prisons more humane and effective requires a “dignity cascade,” which will enshrine a basic notion of bodily integrity and decency in the edifice of law.
Soldier Girls: The Battles of Three Women at Home and at War by Helen Thorpe (Scribner) - Journalist Thorpe tells the moving story of three women in the Indiana National Guard who served in Afghanistan and Iraq. Following her subjects from 2001 to 2013, Thorpe draws on interviews, personal correspondence, emails, diaries, medical records, and even therapists’ notes to portray their lives before, during, and after deployments. Michelle Fisher, a “music-loving... left-leaning” college student; Desma Brooks, a single mom with three children and three jobs; and Debbie Helton, a grandmother in her 50s and one of the longest-serving females in the National Guard, had different reasons for enlisting before 9/11. Not expecting to go to war, the three women bonded during their service in Afghanistan as part of the 113th Support Battalion at Camp Phoenix in Kabul. Through the years—in Afghanistan, where they diligently fulfilled their duties and struggle to adapt to military culture; in their return to civilian life; in the redeployment of two of them to Iraq—their support for each another never wavers.
To the Edge of the World: The Story of the Trans-Siberian Express, the World's Greatest Railroad by Christian Wolmar (Public Affairs) - Icy, bleak, but unusually dramatic is this portrait of earth’s longest railroad and its prominent role in Russia’s development. The building of the 5,750-mile steel ribbon between Moscow and Vladivostok was the usual railroad epic on the vastest scale, with brilliant engineering, creative financing, and an army of laborers and convicts toiling away at perilous tasks in extreme terrain. But unusually for a railroad, the Trans-Siberian followed its prodigious beginnings with second and third acts instead of just settling down to convey boxcars and sleepers. As the vital transport corridor for Russia’s expanding quasi-colony in Manchuria, it was a primary cause of the Russo-Japanese war in the early 20th century, Wolmar (The Great Railroad Revolution) argues; it erupted again during the Russian civil war as a major, if oddly one-dimensional, military theater, fought over by Czech freebooters, bloodthirsty Cossack chieftains, and Trotsky himself chugging back and forth in his armored train.