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'Hillbilly Elegy' follows one man's harrowing journey from the hollers

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"Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis" by J.D. Vance; HarperCollins (272 pages, $27.99)

There are two very good reasons this year -- or anytime -- for Americans to increase their understanding on an urgent basis of so-called hillbillies, the mostly white people of Scots-Irish stock who are found in the mountainous east-...Read more

'The Fire This Time' expresses sorrow of black Americans

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"The Fire This Time: A New Generation Speaks about Race" by Jesmyn Ward; Scribner (240 pages, $25)

The murder last year of nine people at the Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, S.C., epitomizes the subject of "The Fire This Time." These African-American churchgoers, including an 87-year-old woman, were murdered by a white racist simply because ...Read more

Review: 'Platinum Doll' by Anne Girard

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"Platinum Doll" by Anne Girard; MIRA Books (352 pages, $15.99)

"Madame Picasso" author Anne Girard takes on another bewitching figure from the past in "Platinum Doll," a charming fictionalized account of how Jean Harlow became a movie star.

Stunning blonde Harlean Carpenter McGrew, only 17, moves to California in 1928 with her handsome young ...Read more

Author Jessica Winter's debut looks at the 1 percent and how they live

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"Break in Case of Emergency" by Jessica Winter; Knopf (288 pages, $25.95)

Jessica Winter's debut novel, "Break in Case of Emergency," is an interesting study of the 1 percent and those striving to join their ranks.

A senior features editor at Slate and former culture editor at Time, Winter shines a harsh light on the world of beautiful people ...Read more

Amy Schumer has her own 'Back' in new book

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"The Girl With the Lower Back Tattoo" by Amy Schumer; Gallery Books (314 pages, $28)

I often wonder what makes people want to bare their souls to a fickle, hostile public.

It's not an unfamiliar inclination -- I frequently delve into personal details in my own writing. But I'm not sure I can succinctly explain why. As a way of bearing witness ...Read more

'Ghost Talkers' a spirited WWI fantasy

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"Ghost Talkers" by Mary Robinette Kowal; Tor Books (304 pages, $24.99)

In Mary Robinette Kowal's version of World War I, there are no materialists in the foxholes. While British soldiers and their allies fight Germans on the ground, American heiress Ginger Stuyvesant battles Jerry through the ether. She's a medium.

In "Shades of Milk and Honey...Read more

Robert Kennedy biography charts making of a 'liberal icon'

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"Bobby Kennedy" by Larry Tye; Random House (608 pages, $32)

Unless you were old enough to remember the mid-1960s it might be hard to grasp the considerable impact the Kennedy family, particularly Sen. Robert F. Kennedy and the widowed first lady, Jacqueline, had on both the popular imagination and political discourse in the United States -- and...Read more

Could this be the book of the year?

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"The Underground Railroad" by Colson Whitehead; Doubleday (306 pages, $26.95)

The calendar year hasn't even slipped into September, and Colson Whitehead's "The Underground Railroad" is already being talked about as the book of the year (and that's with a slew of big books heading our way in the fall, including works from Ann Patchett, Zadie ...Read more

Review: 'The Muse' by Jessie Burton

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"The Muse" by Jessie Burton; Harper Collins (352 pages, $27.99)

"The Muse" asks a lot of its readers, in the best of ways. It asks us to pay close attention, given the unexpected paths that wander variously through time, race, global politics and art history. Odelle Bastien is a Caribbean immigrant in 1967 London, and a typist at an art gallery...Read more

Review: 'A Friend of Mr. Lincoln' by Stephen Harrigan

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"A Friend of Mr. Lincoln" by Stephen Harrigan; Alfred A. Knopf (415 pages, $27.95)

An estimated 16,000 books have been written about Abraham Lincoln, including volumes on his sex life and a recent fanciful novel about him as a slayer of vampires. This novel, deeply researched and elegantly written by distinguished Texas author Stephen Harrigan,...Read more

B.J. Hollars' essays illuminate fears of disaster

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"This Is Only a Test" by B.J. Hollars; Break Away Books (180 pages, $17)

In his essay collection "This Is Only a Test," B.J. Hollars is buffeted on one side by terrifying cataclysms and on the other by typical new-parent anxiety.

These forces converge spectacularly in the opener, "Goodbye, Tuscaloosa," where Hollars describes huddling in a ...Read more

Review: 'The Mechanical Horse' by Margaret Guroff

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"The Mechanical Horse" by Margaret Guroff; University of Texas Press (166 pages, $24.95)

Who knew that besides representing a marvel of mechanical efficiency, the bicycle also has a fascinating social history? It turns out that its story is a very readable tale of social change in America, dating back to the 19th century, when the new ...Read more

Your life is comfy compared to the hell of the North Korean border

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"How I Became a North Korean" by Krys Lee; Viking (244 pages, $27)

Forgetting the complexities of other lives is so easy these days, immersed as we are in our daily grinds, our political battles, our iPhones and our Netflix. With her devastating yet ultimately hopeful first novel, Krys Lee provides the reminder that sometimes we need a wakeup ...Read more

'Florence! Foster!! Jenkins!!!': The opera singer who succeeded by hitting all the wrong notes

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"Florence! Foster!! Jenkins!!! The Life Of The World's Worst Opera Singer" by Darryl W. Bullock; Overlook Press (208 pages, $24.95)

"That voice! Words can't describe how terrible it was," wrote violinist Mozelle Bennet Sawyer, after playing violin obbligato at a singing lesson of Florence Foster Jenkins. You can hear it for yourself on YouTube....Read more

In 'American Heiress,' Patty Hearst case evokes the dark side of '70s

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"American Heiress: The Wild Saga of the Kidnapping, Crimes and Trial of Patty Hearst" by Jeffrey Toobin; Doubleday (384 pages, $28.95)

In modern media culture, news stories blow up, consume us and then, in a matter of months, devolve into trivia, pop-culture reference material and, in the end, a footnote.

Take the 1974 kidnapping of heiress ...Read more

'Brain Storm' a bold beginning to new mystery series

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"Brain Storm: Angela Richman, Death Investigator, Book 1" by Elaine Viets; Thomas & Mercer (320 pages, $15.95)

Best known for her humor-laden, light mysteries, Fort Lauderdale, Fla., author Elaine Viets confidently strides into darker terrain with "Brain Storm," the launch of a new series about death investigator Angela Richman.

Angela is ...Read more

Something bad happened at the backyard barbecue

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"Truly Madly Guilty" by Liane Moriarty; Flatiron (415 pages, $26.99)

The parents in Liane Moriarty's darkly humorous novels are much like parents anywhere: Loving, busy, distracted, juggling their children's needs and their own desires as they negotiate the difficulties of adult relationships, jobs and the past, which intrudes at the least ...Read more

Inside America's first sex scandal with Alexander Hamilton

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"The Hamilton Affair" by Elizabeth Cobbs; Arcade (408 pages, $25.99)

If ever there were a time to publish a work of historical fiction about the life and loves of founding father Alexander Hamilton, it's now. Hamilfans have pored over Ron Chernow's biography "Hamilton" -- still atop the bestseller list -- searching for the nuggets of ...Read more

Review: 'The Blue Bath' by Mary Waters-Sayer

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"The Blue Bath" by Mary Waters-Sayer; St. Martin's Press (307 pages, $25.99)

At first, "The Blue Bath" seems to be just a particularly well-written take on an old story, one often encountered in more sophisticated "chick lit" -- the pleasures and perils of an extramarital affair. Kat Lind, an American married to an very busy English businessman...Read more

Review: 'The Woman in Cabin 10' by Ruth Ware

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"The Woman in Cabin 10" by Ruth Ware; Scout Press (340 pages, $26)

Laura Blacklock is a writer for a British travel magazine. When a dream assignment lands in her lap -- covering the weeklong inaugural cruise of a five-star "boutique" ship with just 10 swanky cabins for passengers pursuing the Northern Lights in the Norwegian fjords -- she ...Read more

 
 

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