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King Bullet

Richard Kadrey. Harper Voyager, $28.99 (320p) ISBN 978-0-06-295157-1

Kadrey concludes his bestselling Sandman Slim series (after Ballistic Kiss) with a knockdown magical slugfest between antihero James Stark and the mysterious King Bullet. Stark and his close-knit group of friends and allies are living through a viral epidemic that has stricken Los Angeles, leaving many dead and others deranged, suffering from autophagia and extreme violent tendencies. Some of these plague victims pledge themselves to King Bullet, attacking Stark and his friends Fuck Hollywood (so named because of the T-shirt she was wearing when she first met Stark) and Carlos, the bartender of the Bamboo House of Dolls. Thomas Abbot, the leader of the Sub Rosa council of magicians, repeatedly pits Stark against King Bullet and his Shoggot thugs—fights that Stark loses, forcing him to doubt Abbot’s help and to seek other, even more powerful backup. Kadrey doesn’t shy away from the horror of pain and madness here, nor does he spare Stark’s companions, so much so that he begins with a trigger warning. The result is a phenomenal finale to Sandman Slim’s saga, perfect for Dresden Files fans who want their hero to be even more damaged. Agent: Ginger Clark, Curtis Brown. (Aug.)

Reviewed on 08/06/2021 | Details & Permalink

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I Alone Can Fix It: Donald J. Trump’s Catastrophic Final Year

Carol Leonnig and Philip Rucker. Penguin Press, $30 (578p) ISBN 978-0-593-29894-7

Washington Post reporters Leonnig and Rucker return (after A Very Stable Genius) with a comprehensive if stilted rundown of the tweetstorms, turf wars, denialism, and desperation that roiled the Trump administration from January 2020 to January 2021. It’s a sweeping study of bureaucratic dysfunction caused by a “poisonous, disloyal atmosphere” that engulfed the White House and federal agencies tasked with dealing with Covid-19, protests over police brutality, and the transfer of power to a Biden administration. Among the plethora of galling anecdotes, Leonnig and Rucker reveal that Trump expected the FDA to approve remdesivir as a Covid-19 treatment because Oracle founder Larry Ellison said it worked, that chief of staff Mark Meadows considered Anthony Fauci a “fearmonger” and blocked his TV appearances, and that Rudy Giuliani’s advice to Trump on election night was to “just say we won.” Unfortunately, the book’s moment-by-moment accumulation of detail grows dull at times, and the desire of Leonnig and Rucker’s largely anonymous sources to shift blame and preserve their own reputations makes it hard to parse what actually happened during controversial events such as the violent removal of protestors from Washington, D.C.’s Lafayette Square for a Trump photo op. This deeply sourced first draft of history is long on access but short on definitive insights. (July)

Reviewed on 08/06/2021 | Details & Permalink

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Britain Alone: The Path from Suez to Brexit

Philip Stephens. Faber & Faber, $20.95 (480p) ISBN 978–0–571–34177–1

A diminished U.K. has been too standoffish toward Europe and too subservient to the U.S., argues this probing study of post-WWII British foreign policy. Financial Times journalist Stephens (Politics and the Pound) explores Britain’s uneasy, decades-long adjustment to the loss of its empire and global power, exemplified by the 1956 Suez Canal crisis, during which the British military, along with French and Israeli forces, tried to reoccupy the canal after Egypt nationalized it; the Brits retreated when a disapproving President Eisenhower cut off financing and oil. In response, Britain shored up its “special relationship” with the U.S., which led to Margaret Thatcher’s cooperation with Ronald Reagan’s anti-communist policies and Tony Blair’s ill-advised participation in the Iraq War, while also seeking to re-energize the country’s economy and geopolitical clout by joining the European Union, a project that was undermined by nationalist and imperial nostalgia. Delivering a caustic brief against Brexit, Stephens argues that the vote was rooted in “insecurity” and “dog-whistle racism” and will leave Britain economically weaker and “marooned.” Buttressed by Stephens’s firm grasp of parliamentary politics and elegant prose, this erudite yet accessible history uncovers the agonizing trade-offs that flow from simplistic economic and political nostrums. Photos. Agent: Sarah Chalfant, the Wylie Agency. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 08/06/2021 | Details & Permalink

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Power, for All: How It Really Works and Why It’s Everyone’s Business

Julie Battilana and Tiziana Casciaro. Simon & Schuster, $28 (352p) ISBN 978-1-9821-4163-9

Power isn’t just the purview of the wealthy and influential—anyone can learn to own and wield it, argue Harvard Business School professor Battilana and University of Toronto professor Casciaro in their impassioned if vague debut. They present three myths that prevent people from obtaining power (here defined as “the ability to influence others’ behavior”): that it can only be achieved through innate traits, that it’s reserved for the prominent, and that it’s morally questionable. Through 100 interviews with people who had “intriguing and diverse paths to and through power,” the authors explore how people can grasp power both individual and systemic. They speak with Lia Grimanis, who runs a nonprofit that helps homeless women, Polish Holocaust survivor Miriam Rykles, and activists in the Occupy and Black Lives matter movements to describe a new kind of power that’s “networked, informal, collaborative, transparent, and participatory.” Readers are encouraged to make their own “power map” of networks and develop a mindset that includes empathy and humility. But while the authors ask worthy questions, their concept of “power” winds up being so nebulous that it’s hard to find an entry point into their argument. While the “power is for all of us” angle has potential, this one doesn’t quite satisfy. (Aug.)

Reviewed on 08/06/2021 | Details & Permalink

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Long Division

Kiese Laymon. Scribner, $17 trade paper (304p) ISBN 978-1-982174-82-8

In this revised and improved edition of Laymon’s visionary debut novel (after the memoir Heavy), Blackness, language, and love frame a complex metafictional and time-traveling story about the legacy of racism. Fourteen-year-old Citoyen “City” Coldson, from Jackson, Miss., is one of two Black students competing in a nationally televised grammar contest in 2013 (the other is named LaVander Peeler). When City finds out the contest is rigged, he goes on an on-camera rant and becomes Internet-famous overnight. In the aftermath, City’s parents send him to live with his grandmother, and he brings with him a book titled Long Division, which has no author credited. Laymon then plunges readers into the pages of City’s book, in which the protagonist, also named City, time travels from 1985 with a friend to 2013. There, they meet Baize Shephard, whose parents disappeared during Hurricane Katrina. The three teens then travel to 1964 to save City’s grandfather from the KKK. While the time shifts can be confusing, historical moments such as Katrina and Freedom Summer help give grounding, as does strong characterization. At times humorous (when City feels insecure around LaVander, he calls him “Lavender” or “Fade Don’t Fade”) and often tragic, this coming-of-age story makes clear the characters’ struggle for self-determination under systemic racism. It’s a challenging work, and worth the effort. Agent: PJ Mark, Janklow & Nesbit Assoc. (June)

Reviewed on 08/06/2021 | Details & Permalink

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The Beguiling

Zsuzsi Gartner. Penguin Books Canada, $14.95 trade paper (288p) ISBN 978-0-7352-3937-1

Rich prose and a loving embrace of the crazy coincidences of life keep Gartner’s debut novel afloat (after the collection Better Living Through Plastic Explosives). The magpie’s nest of a plot unfolds as a series of stand-alone episodes after heroine Lucy becomes a “confession magnet,” as strangers burden her with their transgressions. Not exactly itinerant, Lucy relocates to wherever work or the twists of her personal life take her; her infant daughter, Pippa, meanwhile, is left mostly with her ex, Julian. The death of Lucy’s beloved cousin Zoltan, her first confessee, becomes a touchstone in her life. Gartner packs the narrative with cultural references high and low, which both exhilarate and add texture and context. Russian poet Anna Akhmatova is Lucy’s idol, and the title comes from Zoltan’s obsession with the Clint Eastwood film of the same name. Subsequent episodes involve a fierce homeless woman named Susanna Jr.; an intense Finn named Arvo Pekka, who works at an all-night Kinko’s that Lucy patronizes; star-crossed German lovers Annette and Dieter; and more. The stories are discursive, but Lucy threads them back into previous moments of her life, and they build to a powerful revelation. It’s excessive, but it’s also ebullient and delightful. (Aug.)

Reviewed on 08/06/2021 | Details & Permalink

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Tokyo Ever After (Tokyo Ever After #1)

Emiko Jean. Flatiron, $18.99 (336p) ISBN 978-1-250-76660-1

Mount Shasta, Calif., high school senior Izumi Tanaka is a normal 18-year-old American girl: she enjoys baking, watching Real Housewives, and dressing like “Lululemon’s sloppy sister.” But Japanese American Izzy, conceived during a one-night stand in her mother Hanako’s final year at Harvard, has never known the identity of her father. So when she and her best friend find a letter in Hanako’s bedroom, the duo jump at the chance to ferret out Izzy’s dad’s true identity—only to find out he’s the Crown Prince of Japan. Desperate to know her father, Izzy agrees to spend the summer in his home country. But press surveillance, pressure to quickly learn the language and etiquette, and an unexpected romance make her time in Tokyo more fraught than she imagined. Add in a medley of cousins and an upcoming wedding, and Izzy is in for an unforgettable summer. Abrupt switches from Izzy’s perspective to lyrical descriptions of Japan may disrupt readers’ enjoyment, but a snarky voice plus interspersed text conversations and tabloid coverage keep the pages turning in Jean’s (Empress of All Seasons) fun, frothy, and often heartfelt duology starter. Ages 12–up. Agent: Erin Harris, Folio Literary Management. (May)

Reviewed on 05/07/2021 | Details & Permalink

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That Thing about Bollywood

Supriya Kelkar. Simon & Schuster, $17.99 (352p) ISBN 978-1-5344-6673-9

Kelkar’s (Bindu’s Bindis) novel features Oceanview Academy middle schooler Sonali, whose stoicism contrasts with her love of Bollywood movies’ melodrama. Stuck in a Los Angeles home with constantly arguing parents and her sensitive nine-year-old brother Ronak, Gujarati American Sonali, 11, tries to make sense of her world through the Hindi movies she’s seen all her life. Ever since an earnest public attempt five years ago to stop her parents’ fighting led to widespread embarrassment in front of family, Sonali has resolved to hide her emotions and do her best to ignore her parents’ arguments. But her efforts prove futile when her parents decide to try the “nesting” method of separation, where they take turns living in the house with Sonali and Ronak. The contemporary narrative takes an entertaining fabulist turn as Sonali’s life begins to transform into a Bollywood movie, with everything she feels and thinks made apparent through her “Bollywooditis.” Sonali’s first-person perspective is sympathetic as she navigates friendship and family drama, and Kelkar successfully infuses a resonant narrative with “filmi magic,” offering a tale with universal appeal through an engaging cultural lens. Ages 8–12. Agent: Kathleen Rushall, Andrea Brown Literary. (May)

Reviewed on 05/07/2021 | Details & Permalink

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Shadows Over London (Empire of the House of Thorns #1)

Christian Klaver. CamCat, $24.99 (320p) ISBN 978-0-7443-0376-6

When she was six, Justice Kasric watched her blue-eyed merchant father play chess with the Faerie King. Now 15, Justice believes the event was merely a dream. She spends her days yearning for adventure, watching from the sidelines while her 16-year-old sister Faith, as slender and golden-haired as Justice but not as curious, becomes the toast of Victorian London society. One night, however, their father shatters their comfortable lifestyles when he forces the family—Justice, Faith, their younger brother Henry, and their constantly medicated, distant mother—into a locked carriage that takes them to a shadowy mansion. Justice’s discovery that the Faerie have invaded the human world and are targeting her family gains further urgency when she learns that her parents are on opposite sides of the conflict. Together, the Kasric siblings—including older brothers Benedict and Joshua—must find a way to save their family. While characters lack depth at times, and insufficient historical details don’t fully evoke the Victorian setting, Klaver’s (the Supernatural Case Files of Sherlock Holmes series) rich, lyrical descriptions augment the fantastical source material in this engaging series starter. Ages 13–up. Agent: Lucienne Diver, the Knight Agency. (May)

Reviewed on 05/07/2021 | Details & Permalink

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The Lake

Natasha Preston. Delacorte, $10.99 paper (384p) ISBN 978-0-593-12497-0

Nine years before this novel begins, eight-year-old best friends Esme Randal and Kayla Price snuck out of their cabin at Camp Pine Lake in Texas. They swore never to discuss the terrible events that followed, but when the girls, now 17, return to the camp as counselors-in-training from their hometown of Lewisburg, Pa., that proves easier said than done. Someone begins sabotaging camp activities, and ominous—and increasingly public—threats appear, referencing that fateful summer. The only other person who knows Esme and Kayla’s secret is a local girl named Lillian Campbell, whom they left to fend for herself that night in the woods. They’re loath to voice their suspicions of revenge lest they get in trouble or look bad in front of hunky fellow counselors Jake and Olly, but as events escalate, they realize they may not have a choice. Narrating from Esme’s increasingly apprehensive first-person perspective, Preston (The Twin) pays homage to classic summer camp slasher films. The underdeveloped, predominantly white cast relies heavily on stereotype, and the clichéd tormenter’s motive feels unearned, but horror fans will likely appreciate this paranoia-fueled tale’s gruesome, shocking close. Ages 12–up. Agent: Jon Elek, United Agents. (Mar.)

Reviewed on 05/07/2021 | Details & Permalink

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