This week: the book everyone will be (rightfully) talking about, The Age of Miracles. Plus, memoirs on both cooking and cycling, and a psychological thriller set on a mysterious island.
Little America: The War Within the War for Afghanistan by Rajiv Chandrasekaran (Knopf) – A searing indictment of how President Obama’s 2009 Afghanistan surge was carried out, Chandrasekaran, an editor of the Washington Post, examines the administration’s efforts to “resuscitate a flatlining war.” Using over 70 interviews and his own reporting from Afghanistan, he finds in the war incompotence, venality, and infighting. Solid and timely reporting, crackling prose, and more than a little controversy will make this one of the summer’s hot reads. Click here for our conversation with Chandrasekaran.
One Breath Away by Heather Gudenkauf (Mira) – Edgar-finalist Gudenkauf’s chilling suspense novel begins with a Code Red lockdown in Broken Branch, Iowa elementary school—a gunman has entered the building. Veteran teacher Evelyn Oliver must contend with the gunman himself, who holds her third graders hostage, doing all she can to protect her students. Eighth-grader Augie Thwaite bravely does her bit in an effort to rescue her little brother, P.J., a captive in Mrs. Oliver’s classroom. Gudenkauf (These Hidden Things) uses multiple viewpoints to keep the tension high and the reader glued to the pages. Check out the rules of suspense according to Gudenkauf.
Where They Stand: The American President in the Eyes of Voters and Historians by Robert. W. Merry (Simon & Schuster) - It is rare that such a breezy book exhibits both serious intent and skillful analysis. Merry enters what he calls the “Great White House Rating Game,” pitching historians’ views and subsequent experts’ polls against the judgment and votes of the presidents’ own contemporaries. In addition to giving American voters a role in determining the relative success of their presidents, Merry also assesses the part played by war, character, political effectiveness, and accident in a president’s place among his peers. While likely to be catnip for aficionados of presidential studies, this will also quickly rank high among serious works on the presidency.
Racing Through the Dark: Crash. Burn. Coming Clean. Coming Back by David Millar (Touchstone) - World-class cyclist Millar examines his tarnished quest to the top of his sport in his stunning memoir, going from an impassioned Scot amateur in Hong Kong to a highly competitive professional corrupted by drugs on the way to victory. Whether it’s the Sydney Olympics or the Tour de France, Millar willingly shares with the reader the tortuous pressure of racing, the burning pain in the legs and lungs, and calls the competition “intense, excoriating, wonderful.” Anyone interested in the grueling world of the men in professional cycling ought to read this candid, courageous book of Millar’s journey from regret to redemption.
Between the Lines by Jodi Picoult and Samantha Van Leer (Simon Pulse/Bestler) - Picoult teams up with her teenage daughter to pen a clever YA romance about the magical relationship between a loner and her fictional “Prince Charming.” Imagine 15-year-old Delilah McPhee’s surprise when she starts to have a conversation with Prince Oliver, the hero of a fairy tale she adores. From Oliver she learns that characters in a story lead very different lives when a book is shut—in Oliver’s “reality,” the story’s villain is actually a butterfly aficionado, and Oliver has no interest in his betrothed, Seraphima. Readers will be swept up in the book’s charm (there’s a talking horse concerned about its weight) and romance. Check out our Q&A with the mother-daughter coauthors.
Yes, Chef: A Memoir by Marcus Samuelsson (Random) - Samuelsson, the chef and owner of Harlem’s famed Red Rooster restaurant, masterfully serves up his own enchanting and poignant story—going back to his childhood in Ethiopia, where his family was admitted into a hospital, and then to Sweden, where he was adopted, and then to his cooking apprenticeships all over the world. Samuelsson carries readers through his many failures and successes as a cook in restaurants like New York’s Aquavit and France’s Georges Blanc and in his relationships. Much like life, he delightfully points out, a great restaurant is more than just a series of services; it is a collection of meals and memories.
Heartbroken by Lisa Unger (Crown) - An island on an Adirondack lake becomes both a haven and a hell for three women in Unger’s tense psychological thriller. The stories of three women intersect through visions of a dark intruder, journals, and a scheming boyfriend. Heartbroken skillfully builds the fissures in each of these women’s lives as it illustrates the power of the heart and the corrosive nature of lies.
The Age of Miracles by Karen Thompson Walker (Random) - In this gripping debut, 11-year-old Julia wakes one day to the news that the earth’s rotation has started slowing. When governments decide to stick to the 24-hour schedule (ignoring circadian rhythms), a subversive movement erupts, “real-timers” who disregard the clock and appear to be weathering the slowing better than clock-timers—at first. While the apocalypse looms large, the narrative remains fiercely grounded in the surreal and horrifying day-to-day, personal decisions that persist even though no one knows what to do. A triumph of vision, language, and terrifying momentum. Read the opening of the book here.