In 'The Mare,' Mary Gaitskill wonders how closely we can ride together

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"The Mare: A Novel" by Mary Gaitskill; Pantheon (464 pages, $26.95)

As its title suggests, Mary Gaitskill's "The Mare" -- her first novel in 10 years -- prominently features a once-abused horse, kept in an upstate New York barn and named Fugly Girl because of her scarred face and nasty attitude.

But "The Mare" also spends three years in the ...Read more

Edmund de Waal's 'The White Road': a pure obsession

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"The White Road: Journey Into an Obsession" by Edmund de Waal; Farrar, Strauss and Giroux (403 pages, $27)

It is rare for someone to write as well as Edmund de Waal, all the more since it's his secondary vocation.

De Waal's first book, "The Hare with Amber Eyes" -- which he humbly calls "my book about netsuke" -- traces the path of a ...Read more

Review: 'Fortune Smiles' by Adam Johnson

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"Fortune Smiles" by Adam Johnson; Random (304 pages, $27)

If the best stories are the works that dig their way into your brain and refuse to come out, then Adam Johnson's new collection has truly earned its accolades. The six lean, disturbing, unforgettable works in "Fortune Smiles," which won the National Book Award for fiction last week, are ...Read more

'Concussion' recounts how one doctor challenged NFL culture of denial

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"Concussion" by Jeanne Marie Laskas; Random House (288 pages, $16)

It took a complete outsider to pierce the National Football League's institutional denial about the traumatic brain injuries of its former players.

Bennet Omalu, a Nigerian immigrant, barely knew what American football was. He became a forensic pathologist autopsying the dead ...Read more

'Drinking in America' shows how our history was shaped while under the influence

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"Drinking in America: Our Secret History" by Susan Cheever; Twelve (272 pages, $28)

If you've watched "Drunk History," the Comedy Central series in which someone gets a little tipsy before recounting important events from United States history, you already know alcohol can play a humorous role in the retelling of our collective story as a ...Read more

'Tales of Accidental Genius' short stories elevated by sparse, intense writing

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"Tales of Accidental Genius" by Simon Van Booy (247 pages; Harper Perennial; $14.99)

Simon Van Booy's "Tales of Accidental Genius" -- six short stories and a novella -- feels like a soft-spoken friend whispering stories to you about searching for kindness in a mundane world. In a smooth style all his own, Van Booy crafts beautiful sentences ...Read more

Biography makes case for legacy of 'Roots' author Alex Haley

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"Alex Haley: And the Books That Changed a Nation" by Robert J. Norrell; St. Martin's Press (272 pages, $27)

Alex Haley was a working freelance writer, not an ideologue. Yet he wrote two of the 20th century's chief texts of African-American consciousness: "The Autobiography of Malcolm X" and the saga "Roots." The latter was adapted for a ...Read more

'Young Orson' offers richly detailed, nuanced portrait of Welles' rise

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"Young Orson: The Years of Luck and Genius on the Path to 'Citizen Kane' by Patrick McGilligan; Harper (832 pages, $35)

One of Orson Welles' more famous fiascos -- and there were a few -- is titled "It's All True."

That title can never be applied to Welles himself. You'd be hard-pressed to find a figure in American arts around whom more ...Read more

'A Wild Swan' gives hilarious spin to the grim side of Grimm's fairy tales

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"A Wild Swan: And Other Tales" by Anders Carlson; Farrar, Straus and Giroux (144 pages, $23)

I thought I was done with fairy tales until I came across "A Wild Swan: And Other Tales" by Michael Cunningham, winner of the 1999 Pulitzer Prize for "The Hours."

The first chapter, "Dis. Enchant.," operating as a preface or introduction, explains why ...Read more

Secrets thread through modern ghost story

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"The Night Sister" by Jennifer McMahon; Doubleday (336 pages, $25.95)

The ghost story gets a reboot in the intriguing -- and often chilling -- "The Night Sister." In each of her seven novels, Jennifer McMahon increasingly has mingled her brand of tense suspense with the paranormal for plots so realistic that the supernatural element is easily ...Read more

'Bond by Design' highlights visuals behind 007 films

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"Bond by Design" by Meg Simmonds; DK (320 pages, $50)

February 1966, a challenge was put forward to James Bond production designer Ken Adam: Could he build the massive volcano lair of 007 nemesis Ernst Stavro Blofeld -- complete with working monorail, 60-foot crater opening, 33-meter rocket and 700 tons of structural steel -- for $1 million?

...Read more

'The Japanese Lover,' by Isabel Allende: Sweet, but insubstantial

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"The Japanese Lover" by Isabel Allende; Atria Books (322 pages, $28)

Since 1982, when she wrote her debut masterpiece "The House of the Spirits," and in the more than 20 books, fiction and nonfiction, she has written since -- some fine, some forgettable -- Isabel Allende has shown a strong grasp of what makes a story powerful.

Her empathy for ...Read more

'Big Green Tent' brings the late Soviet era to life

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"The Big Green Tent: A Novel" by Ludmila Ulitskaya, translated by Polly Gannon; Farrar, Straus and Giroux (592 pages, $35)

Roughly one quarter of the way through "The Big Green Tent" -- the splendidly sprawling 2010 novel by Russian writer Ludmila Ulitskaya just now being published in English -- one of the Soviet-era dissidents filling its ...Read more

Plenty of twists, intensity in Katzenbach's 'The Dead Student'

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"The Dead Student" by John Katzenbach; Grove/Atlantic (432 pages, $26)

Sobriety can be a hard-won battle, victories coming one day at a time. And that war can be lost so quickly, as John Katzenbach deftly explores in his 14th thriller.

Miami Ph.D. student Timothy "Moth" Warner knows too well the battles with the bottle. He credits his ...Read more

Review: 'The Bazaar of Bad Dreams' by Stephen King

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"The Bazaar of Bad Dreams" by Stephen King; Scribner (512 pages, $30)

In the introduction to "The Bazaar of Bad Dreams," his latest doorstop collection of short stories, Stephen King acknowledges he's primarily a novelist but will always be fond of more compact tales. "(T)here's something to be said for a shorter, more intense experience. It ...Read more

Review: 'The Only Street in Paris' by Elaine Sciolino

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"The Only Street in Paris:??Life on the Rue Des Martyrs" by Elaine Sciolino; W.W. Norton (294 pages, $25.95)

From the cafe at No. 8, Elaine Sciolino watches the Saturday morning show on the Rue des Martyrs.

"The actors perform on six mini-stages: my greengrocer and my preferred cheese shop and my butcher at No. 3, my second cheese shop and my ...Read more

Connelly's latest follows retiree Harry Bosch at professional, moral crossroads

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"The Crossing" by Michael Connelly; Little, Brown (400 pages, $28)

In terms of police work, Harry Bosch has always viewed the phrase "the crossing" as that moment when the paths of a predator and prey intersect, putting in motion a horrific outcome.

But for Harry, newly retired from the LAPD, "the crossing" takes on other meanings in the ...Read more

Review: 'Golden Age' by Jane Smiley

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"Golden Age" by Jane Smiley; Knopf (384 pages, $26.95)

The question comes late in the final installment of Jane Smiley's "Last Hundred Years" trilogy, after a funeral, in the dark of a hotel room: "Do you think that we've lived through a golden age?"

"Why would we think that? No one thinks that," is the immediate reply, from a sleepy aunt who ...Read more

In 'Numero Zero,' Umberto Eco has his mind on conspiracy — again

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"Numero Zero: A Novel" by Umberto Eco; Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (164 pages, $24)

Umberto Eco's seventh novel, "Numero Zero," represents the continuation of a theme. The story of a newspaper that doesn't publish, it traces a conspiracy, real or imagined, linking a long line of events in Italian history, from the death of Mussolini to the 1978 ...Read more

'The Comedians' taps details, voices to chart history of American comedy

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"The Comedians: Drunks, Thieves, Scoundrels, and the History of American Comedy" by Kliph Nesteroff; Grove Press (432 pages, $28)

"The Comedians" is the history of American funny that we didn't know we needed, but did.

In his highly readable overview of the comedy business and its colorful practitioners, comic turned showbiz historian Kliph ...Read more

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