Recent and Recommended
A Girl Could Stand Up by Leslie Marshall (Grove Press). This debut novel is an engaging coming of age story that grows more and more compelling as the book progresses. Elray Mayhew loses her parents -- electrocuted in a Tunnel of Love -- at age six and goes to live with two eccentric uncles in Washington, DC. Author Marshall shines in her depiction of childhood's languid sense of time and the strength kids often find in their friendships with other kids. A charming book with substance, this is a great summer read.
An Unfinished Life by Robert Dallek (Little Brown). Previously unreleased medical info changes the way we see JFK. The scroll of serious ailments, the ceaseless pain throughout his adult life, and the laundry list of pharmaceuticals he took, reveal just how poor Kennedy's health was. In these circumstances, his service as President -- which included his clear-headed decision making in some of the most intense foreign policy crises in history; his gradual, growing support of the civil rights movement; and his management of a nuclear test ban treaty -- show JFK in a whole new light: the eternal playboy turns out to have also been a model of courage, stoic resolve and public service.
Stay by Nicola Griffith (Vintage Crime). This is the second book in what looks to be a terrific mystery series featuring six-foot-tall former Atlanta police lieutenant Aud Torvingen. She's blond, she's wealthy and, in this book, she's grief-stricken by the death of her lover, Julia, and occupying herself by renovating an NC mountain cabin. She's convinced by an old friend to go to New York to help find his missing girlfriend and the plot takes off. Griffith's writing is crisp and the story is compelling, but the character the author has created in Aud is one of the most interesting new crime fiction leads in some time.
Liverpool Fantasy by Larry Kirwan (Thunder's Mouth Press). This alternate cultural history by British musician Kirwan revolves around the notion that the Beatles broke up in 1962 before their climb to fame. Although Kirwan's writing is a bit uneven, his story is enthralling, partly because we're so familiar with the people involved. In this tale, England has devolved into a dismal, semi-fascist state; John is a bitter alcoholic smartass on the dole; George is a befuddled Jesuit priest; Ringo's a do-nothing dandy living off his wife's fortune; and Paul is a famous Vegas singer renamed Paul Montana. The plot revolves around Paul's return to Liverpool and his attempts to get "the boys" back together. Kirwan explores themes of friendship, dreams deferred, and fame, but the main impact comes from realizing it's nearly impossible to imagine what the world would be like if it hadn't gone through the 1960s' exuberant idealism of which the Beatles were so central a part.
The Autograph Man by Zadie Smith (Vintage). Smith's follow-up to her deified debut novel White Teeth received mixed reviews at best, but was still one of the most interesting novels of the year. It's the story of an autograph dealer obsessed with celebrities, specifically his favorite 50s movie star, Kitty Alexander. Smith delivers a disjointed but moving look at present-day shallowness and its grip on our culture, while showing flashes of what has made her a household word in the UK: an empathetic grasp of modern life, plenty of believable, three-dimensional characters, multiple subplots, great comic scenes, and a healthy dose of compassion without the sappiness.
-- John Grooms, Kenneth Harmon, Dana Renaldi, Ann Wicker