The Man Who Loved Dogs

9780374201746The Man Who Loved Dogs
Leonardo Padura
Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, January 2014
592 pages

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“I asked you to come today because I want to tell you that story, Ivan,” the man who loved dogs said to me. [… ] “It’s an incredible story; you’ll see that I am not exaggerating. Before I tell it to you, I’m going to ask two things of you […] First, don’t be so formal with me anymore. That way it will be easier to explain everything to you. Also, don’t tell anyone, not even your wife; that’s why I asked you to come alone. But above all, I don’t want you to write it down.”

On a deserted Cuban beach in March of 1977, Iván Cárdenas Maturell, a humble editor of a veterinary journal, meets a mysterious man out with his two Russian Wolfhounds. While these were the dogs of the Russian aristocracy, a symbol that has no place in the glorious proletarian society, Iván soon learns that Borzoi were also the favorite breed of both Lev Davidovich Trotsky and his assassin, Ramón Mercader.

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This Dark Road to Mercy

darkroadThis Dark Road to Mercy
Wiley Cash
HarperCollins, January 2014
240 pages

In This Dark Road to Mercy, Wiley Cash has married the literary family drama to the dark heist comedy, drawing heavily on America’s pastimes: baseball, custody disputes, and tortured pasts.

Easter Quillby’s father, Wade Chesterton, is back in town. At first Easter tries to protect her younger sister (Ruby, age 7) from his attentions, but the looming threat of having to leave their foster home to live with their grandparents in Alaska pushes her to stick with the devil she knows, and she gives Wade a chance to prove that he really wants to be a father again. The family drama wears the pants in this relationship—the heist comedy doesn’t begin to factor in until Wade kidnaps the girls from their foster home and takes them on the run, paying for their hotel, hair dye, and carnival pitching games out of a duffle bag full of cash.

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The Other Typist

9780399161469HThe Other Typist
Suzanne Rindell
Amy Einhorn Books/Putnam, May 2013
368 pages

The Other Typist, a crime mystery nestled inside a lovely period piece, is the story of Rose Baker, a stenographer at a Manhattan police station in the early 1920s. Rose is particularly well-suited to her job: an unflappable, meticulous person, she was raised by nuns to be a proper lady. Her life is spartan and sensible, her politics entrenched in a strict Victorian morality.

Then in walks the new girl at the precinct, Odalie Lazare—a femme fatale in a bob cut. She smokes, she parties all night at the local speakeasy, and everywhere she goes men bend to satisfy her desire. Uptight Rose, of course, cannot help but be completely infatuated. And Odalie, too, takes an interest in her fellow typist, drawing Rose deep into her web of bootlegging, bribery, and worse.Continue Reading


Andri Snǣr Magnason
Seven Stories Press, November 2012
320 pages

In the not-so-distant future, a team of Icelandic scientists has discovered the revolutionary science of birdwaves, opening up a world of massive, cordless, instantaneous communication. This future is presided over by LoveStar, the cultish leader of the company that bears his name. His empire includes LoveDeath, in which the dead are rocketed into the stratosphere and burned as shooting stars; inLove, which matches perfect mates based on their waves; and the iStar Mood Division, a marketing and publicity system that would make David Ogilvy weep. The story of LoveStar himself is pure tragedy:  the aging mogul who gains untold power only to realize he’s created a monstrous, corporate juggernaut. His realization, unfortunately, comes far too late to stop it.

Meanwhile, Indridi and Sigrid are in love. An all-encompassing, saccharine love. But in LoveStar, love has little to do with the actual people involved. It’s a calculation, a simple case of putting together two waves so they resonate perfectly. When Sigrid is calculated to someone else, she and Indridi must decide if they will stay together—or indeed, if they can stay together amid the onslaught of inLove, iStar, and LoveDeath forces who will ruin their lives to make the sale.Continue Reading

Let’s Pretend This Never Happened

Let’s Pretend This Never Happened: A Mostly True Memoir
Jenny Lawson
Amy Einhorn Books/Putnam, April 2012
336 pages

From humble beginnings (blogginnings?), Jenny “The Bloggess” Lawson has built a new media empire writing for mommy blogs, reviewing porn in her SEXIS column, and tweeting her way into a feud with William Shatner (among other things).

Recently, Lawson has proven to be a successful print author too, with her debut book Let’s Pretend this Never Happened: A Mostly True Memoir. The first part of Lawson’s title refers not to any one event from her past, but rather a loose theme of embarrassing hijinks. Lawson’s memoir is filled with the very kind of story for which we say “someday you’ll look back on this and laugh”: from the day she got her arm stuck in a cow’s vagina during a high school animal husbandry class; to the day her father traumatized her and her sister with a squirrel corpse puppet in the middle of the night; to the chupacabra (another squirrel) that died in her walls. By Lawson’s account, life in the Texas Hill Country is equal parts macabre and magic. She tells these stories with such glee that you can’t help but want to visit her weird little corner of the world.Continue Reading


Lauren Groff
Hyperion Voice, March 2012
304 pages

The further we proceed into this new millennium, the greater our nostalgia for the 20th century past. Each decade has its myths and tropes, cultivated in the space between what we imagine and what we desire: the swinging 60s, the psychedelic 70s…even the Just Say No 80s.  In Lauren Groff’s new novel, Arcadia, she takes us on a nostalgic journey through them all.

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A Land More Kind Than Home

A Land More Kind Than Home
Wiley Cash
William Morrow, April 2012
320 pages

I don’t want to obscure the issue here, so I will be brief: A Land More Kind Than Home is a book you will be excited to read—that is, if you’re still in this game for some good old-fashioned storytelling. Wiley Cash has a solid talent for the oft-neglected arts of tragedy and suspense, mixed with just enough modern pathos and parallelism to make his writing literary without being pretentious. An auspicious start for a first novelist.Continue Reading

The Last Holiday

The Last Holiday
Gil Scott-Heron
Grove Press, January 2012
384 pages

The first change that takes place is in your mind. You have to change your mind before you change the way you’re livin’ and the way you move.”1991

We remember him as the bluesologist, the godfather of rap. But for a long time, Gil Scott-Heron thought of himself as a writer: he had two published novels and an MFA from Johns Hopkins before he recorded his first album of spoken-word poetry.

His recent memoir, The Last Holiday was a 20-year work in progress when Gil Scott-Heron died last May, at the age of 62. It was originally written in the third person, but his editors thought this was problematic, and had him reframe into the first person. As a result, The Last Holiday became much more about Scott-Heron’s early life than his original focus: the story of Stevie Wonder’s Hotter Than July tour and campaign to make a national holiday for Martin Luther King Jr.Continue Reading

Lost Memory of Skin

Lost Memory of Skin
Russell Banks
Ecco, September 2011
432 pages

Outside of freshman philosophy classes and Republican presidential debates, morality is not a hot topic these days. Books that moralize are considered old-fashioned at best and insulting at worst. Leave it to Russell Banks to write a subtle, thoughtful novel about what would seem to be the most unambiguous moral issue of all; Lost Memory of Skin’s narrator, The Kid, is a sex offender.Continue Reading

The Rules of the Tunnel

The Rules of the Tunnel: A Brief Period of Madness
Ned Zeman
Gotham Books, August 2011
320 pages

You’re Vanity Fair Senior Editor Ned Zeman. And you’ve been very depressed. You’ve gone through six therapists, done a stint at Maclean, and finally ended up taking the treatment of last resort: electro-convulsive therapy.

Then you’re in the Gotham Books offices, pitching The Rules of The Tunnel to the publisher. What do you say? “It’s a memoir about amnesia?” A good hook, but not the whole story. A course of 20 ECT sessions left a two-year gap in your memory, and this is your attempt to stitch it back together, to place these forgotten events and fleeting impressions in context of the rest of your life as a depressive. (Fair warning: The Rules of the Tunnel is written completely in the second person, and by page two hundred you’ll be automatically replacing all the “you”s with “I”s in your head without even noticing it.)Continue Reading