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What if you looked around one day and saw all the success in the world … only it wasn’t what you wanted?

That’s the central question being asked by Barry Cohen, the protagonist of Gary Shteyngart’s new novel “Lake Success” (Random House, $28). It’s a story of discontent among the one percent, a look-in on the lives of people whose problems are both wildly different and oddly similar to our own. It’s also a sharp and whip-smart deconstruction of the American Dream – one in which the dreamer discovers that maybe they didn’t want it to come true after all.

Published in Buzz

If you’re looking to read some YA genre fiction, you’ve got plenty of options. You can’t swing a cat in a bookstore without hitting half-a-dozen sci-fi/fantasy/whatever books aimed at younger readers. If you’re looking to read some GOOD YA genre fiction, well … you’re going to need to put the cat down.

The point is that there’s a glut of content out there, so don’t be afraid to shape your expectations accordingly. Look for something that speaks to you - whether it’s an author or a plot or a theme or an idea - and take a swing.

Will McIntosh’s “The Future Will Be BS Free” (Delacorte Press, $17.99) promises something that feels a little different. It’s the story of a near-future America under the sway of a despotic and corrupt President, one in which the truth has become so malleable and subjective as to be almost meaningless as a concept. Into this America, a group of gifted teens attempts to bring a beacon – an unfailingly accurate and foolproof lie detector. But their initial dreams of societal (not to mention financial) gain soon fall by the wayside as they discover that there are plenty of people out there with little interest in the truth.

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There are those who will rail against the world, who will do everything in their power to strike back against any real or imagined powers that hold them down. And there are others who want nothing more than to simply remove themselves from the fight, to check out until such time as their problems have somehow miraculously solved themselves.

The unnamed protagonist of Ottessa Moshfegh’s latest novel “My Year of Rest and Relaxation” (Penguin Press, $26) falls very much into the latter category; she’s a young woman who on the surface appears to have it all, yet desires to completely ignore the world as it rolls on around her … and is willing to go to some extreme measures to achieve that ignorance.

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Baseball as a metaphor has been a literary device since the game’s inception. It has proven fertile ground for stories of fathers and sons, of passion and regret, of failure and triumph.

Mark Di Ionno is the latest to bring our national pastime to the printed page with his novel “Gods of Wood and Stone” (Touchstone, $26). Now, this book isn’t ABOUT baseball – not really. It’s more that it is built AROUND baseball, using the game as a lens to focus the narrative. And what a narrative it is, a story of relationships and disappointments, about the regrets that haunt us and the damage caused by the decisions we make. It’s a tale of loneliness and obsessions and the power of passion.

Published in Sports

In the realm of speculative fiction, the line between “inspired by” and “derivative of” is gossamer thin. It can be wonderful to read works that wear their influences proudly, but if influences are all the reader sees, the story ultimately falls short.

But sometimes you read a book that pulls from the stories that have come before while also generating something with heft and impact, something that feels timely and thoughtful, something that is reminiscent of what has come before without ever feeling like a facsimile.

Siobhan Adcock’s “The Completionist” (Simon & Schuster, $26) is just such a book, a vivid rendering of a bleak near future where water shortages have led to scientific solutions with unintended consequences – consequences that have put the future of mankind into question.

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There’s a big difference between literary fame and literary greatness.

There are plenty of writers who are great without being famous and more than a few who are famous without being great. A very specific confluence of circumstances is required for an author to achieve both. But even the greatest, most famous writers come to the end of their story.

Terri-Lynne DeFino’s novel “The Bar Harbor Retirement Home for Famous Writers (and Their Muses)” (William Morrow, $15.99) takes a speculative look at what that ending might look like, creating a vividly detailed place where literary giants might spend their final days, swapping stories and generally accepting that the heady heights of their younger days are permanently behind them.

Published in Style
Tuesday, 05 June 2018 16:24

‘The Glitch’ leans in

There are few segments of our current society as ripe for satire as the world of Silicon Valley. There’s a lot to unpack in the high-tech realm – lots of precepts and personalities and perceptions that beg to be looked upon by the satirist’s eye.

The latest author to take a swing at that particular target is Elisabeth Cohen, whose debut novel is “The Glitch” (Doubleday, $26.95). It’s the story of Shelly Stone, a tech CEO whose life is turned upside down by a series of events involving her lost daughter, a product crisis and a mysterious young woman who may or may not be a younger version of Shelly herself.

It’s also an at-times biting look at the stark realities of corporate life and what it means to be a woman in a position of power in a male-dominated industry. It’s about the sacrifices necessary to achieve at that high level … and whether those sacrifices ultimately prove worthwhile.

Published in Buzz

There’s truth in the old adage that you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover. However, I would argue that in some cases, you CAN judge a book by its title.

For instance, take Raymond A. Villareal’s new novel “A People’s History of the Vampire Uprising” (Mulholland, $27). That is one judgeable title – evocative and provocative at the same time, offering a tantalizing and crystal-clear description of what you’re about to experience.

This book is exactly what its title purports it to be – a complex and engaging sort of future history that follows the gradual appearance and assimilation of vampires into modern society. It follows a disparate cast of characters from both sides of the divide, offering first-person accounts from key players while also interspersing interview transcripts and news articles and other secondary and tertiary materials throughout.

What ultimately emerges is a thoughtful and finely-crafted work that reads as particularly insightful pop history – the title’s allusion to Howard Zinn’s seminal book isn’t an accident. It’s got a lot of Max Brooks’ “World War Z” in its DNA as well (though, it should be noted, not in a derivative way). It bears its influences proudly, but is very much its own beast.

Published in Buzz

Young adult fiction means different things to different people. The very label leaves loads of room for variance and interpretation. And while there are those who look down their nose at YA fiction, the reality is that there’s plenty of nuance and sophistication to the best work in the genre.

Maine author Gillian French’s work definitely demonstrates those qualities; her latest is “The Lies They Tell” (HarperTeen, $17.99), a thriller featuring a young woman trying to get to the bottom of a tragic mystery that haunts her small island town. Secrets and lies abound even as the dynamics between the town’s wealthy summer visitors and the year-round residents who serve them grow complicated.

Published in Style
Tuesday, 15 May 2018 15:06

Radical chic and the right stuff

Even the most devoted of book lovers, the most loving of lexophiles has only so much room in their personal literary pantheon. No matter how deeply your adoration runs, space at the top of the heap is limited. We’ve all just a scant few true favorites.

Tom Wolfe was one of mine. He passed away on May 14 at the age of 88.

Wolfe was the author of nearly 20 books, both fiction and non. He was one of the progenitors of the paradigm-shifting New Journalism of the 1960s and 1970s, penning some of the greatest works of nonfiction of the 20th century. He pivoted to fiction a bit later in his career and produced four excellent novels. He was one of the most gifted literary stylists of his – or any – generation.

And he drastically shifted my personal understanding of what writing could be.

Published in Style
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