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In 'Purity,' Jonathan Franzen chronicles the pain of growing up

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"Purity: A Novel" by Jonathan Franzen; Farrar, Straus and Giroux (576 pages, $28)

Purity Tyler -- heroine of the latest novel confirming that Jonathan Franzen is among this country's best living writers -- goes by the nickname Pip. It's a nod to the hero of Dickens' "Great Expectations" -- a novel that, like "Purity" itself, explores how we ...Read more

'She's Not There' a captivating mystery; sequel required

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"She's Not There" by P.J. Parrish; Thomas & Mercer (382 pages, $15.95)

Identity issues are among the driving force of the mystery genre as characters grapple with who they are and how events shape their persona. In P.J. Parrish's captivating "She's Not There," a young woman wrestles not only with her identity -- in this case exacerbated by ...Read more

'A Settler's Year' re-creates world of Wisconsin's 19th century pioneers

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"A Settler's Year: Pioneer Life Through the Seasons" by Kathleen Ernst, photos by Loyd Heath; Wisconsin Historical Society Press (200 pages, $29.95)

"A Settler's Year" removes the sepia filter from our view of the past and allows us to see and imagine Wisconsin's 19th century settlers as warm-blooded people like ourselves.

Loyd Heath ...Read more

Review: 'Billion-Dollar Ball,' by Gilbert M. Gaul; big money in college football

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"Billion-Dollar Ball" by Gilbert M. Gaul; Viking (249 pages, $27.95)

Almost nobody is spared in Gilbert M. Gaul's latest book, "Billion-Dollar Ball," an examination of the money behind college football programs.

Texas, Oregon, Alabama, Notre Dame and many others take their hits. Gaul does admire Mount Union, a Division III power in Ohio, in a ...Read more

'The Influence Machine': The long arm of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce

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"The Influence Machine: The U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the Corporate Capture of American Life" by Alyssa Katz; Spiegel & Grau (336 pages, $28)

In American politics, the influence of companies and business interests weighs heavily. That's a problem. An even bigger problem is that certain players in these arenas exert an outsized role in ...Read more

'Automobile Club of Egypt' traces road toward Arab Spring

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"The Automobile Club of Egypt" by Alaa Al Aswany; Knopf (480 pages, $27.95)

Alaa Al Aswany opens his new novel, "The Automobile Club of Egypt," with two framing devices.

We begin with the first-person narrative of a man who tells us he wrote the novel we're about to read. While proofreading his manuscript, he receives a visit from two of the ...Read more

Susanna Moore's 'Paradise of the Pacific' a vivid, powerful history of Hawaii

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"Paradise of the Pacific: Approaching Hawaii" by Susanna Moore; Farrar, Straus and Giroux (320 pages, $26)

"The task of understanding the past is never-ending," Susanna Moore observes late in "Paradise of the Pacific: Approaching Hawaii," her fascinating account of the "short 120 years from the arrival of Captain Cook in 1777 to the annexation ...Read more

The best part of new Joan Didion bio 'The Last Love Song'? Joan Didion

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"The Last Love Song: A Biography of Joan Didion" by Tracy Daugherty; St. Martin's Press (752 pages; $35)

Someday someone will write a biography worthy of Joan Didion, an author known for her razor-sharp insights and crystalline style. This is not that book.

Tracy Daugherty's "The Last Love Song" fails to tell Didion's story more deeply, ...Read more

In 'Purity,' Jonathan Franzen confronts his — and our — demons

Books / Books News /

"Purity: A Novel" by Jonathan Franzen; Farrar, Straus and Giroux (564 pages, $28)

Jonathan Franzen's career offers a cautionary narrative -- for us as much as him. As far back as 1996, with "Perchance to Dream," his long essay published in Harper's on the state of contemporary fiction, he has filled the role of both avatar and scapegoat, an ...Read more

New mystery launches 'Curious Beginning' to series

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"A Curious Beginning" by Deanna Raybourn; NAL (352 pages, $25.95)

The eccentricities of Victorian England receive a rousing look in the highly entertaining "A Curious Beginning," which launches a new series about 25-year-old Veronica Speedwell, an independent woman whose freedom and sense of self isn't always accepted by others.

Deanna ...Read more

Clarice Lispector's exhilarating fiction resists being pinned down

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"The Complete Stories" by Clarice Lispector, translated by Katrina Dodson; New Directions (640 pages, $28.95)

Since her death in 1977, Brazilian Jewish writer Clarice Lispector has been called "a female Chekhov" (Benjamin Moser), "one of the hidden geniuses of twentieth-century literature" (Colm Toibin) and "an artist who belongs in the same ...Read more

Book review: David Payne's 'Barefoot to Avalon' a story of dysfunction and loss

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"Barefoot to Avalon: A Brother's Story" by David Payne; Atlantic Monthly Press, (304 pages, $26)

Hillsborough, N.C., novelist David Payne was smoldering on the inside, an alcoholic and insomniac bound by a sacred family commandment: Thou shalt not betray this household's dark secrets, for it is a blasphemy against thine own blood kin.

...Read more

Review: 'Meeting the English' by Kate Clanchy

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"Meeting the English" by Kate Clanchy; St. Martin's Press (311 pages, $24.99)

When crotchety, sexist, unpleasant novelist Phillip Prys is brushing his teeth one spring day in 1989, he is felled by a stroke, falling to the bathroom floor and jerking "as if he were being shaken by an invisible policeman." And that sets in motion poet Kate Clanchy...Read more

Review: 'The Art of Baking Blind,' by Sarah Vaughan

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"The Art of Baking Blind" by Sarah Vaughan; St. Martin's Press (406 pages, $25.99)

Fans of "The Great British Baking Show" will have images from that PBS series in their minds as they begin this debut novel. But those soon fade as the contestants' private lives are revealed, as layered as puff pastry.

Jenny's marriage is crumbling, Vicki's ...Read more

'Blue' delivers arresting portrait of L.A.'s policing problems

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"Blue: The LAPD and the Battle to Redeem American Policing" Joe Domanick; Simon & Schuster (426 pages, $28)

As seen in "Blue: The LAPD and the Battle to Redeem American Policing" by investigative journalist Joe Domanick, Los Angeles appears to be a city in almost continuous search for a great man to solve the problems of its police department ...Read more

Review: 'The Shepherd's Life,' by James Rebanks; farmer/poet's many followers

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"The Shepherd's Life" by James Rebanks; Flatiron Books (288 pages, $25.99)

James Rebanks began tweeting anonymously a couple of years ago (as the "Herdwick Shepherd'') about day-to-day life in the land of Wordsworth, thinking that maybe a couple of people might be interested in seeing a sheep-filled photo or two of what he does and where he ...Read more

Julia Heaberlin's third novel features likable protagonist, nail-biting suspense

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"Black-Eyed Susans" by Julia Heaberlin; Ballantine (368 pages, $26)

Eighteen years ago, Tessa Cartwright became known as the only surviving victim of a serial killer.

The Texas teen woke up in a field of black-eyed Susans "with a strangled college student and a stack of human bones" but no memory of how she got there or who put her there.

...Read more

Compelling sci-fi novel 'The Dark Forest' tests human resolve

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"The Dark Forest" by Cixin Liu, translated by Joel Martinsen; Tor (512 pages, $25.99)

Like its predecessor "The Three-Body Problem," Cixin Liu's sci-fi novel "The Dark Forest" blows my mind with its big-picture storytelling, hard-science speculation and fiendish conundrums that confront mere mortal humans.

By the end of the earlier novel, ...Read more

Audiobook review: 'Run You Down' by Julia Dahl

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"Run You Down" by Julia Dahl, read by Andi Arndt; MacMillan Audio ($29.99, 8 hours, 18 minutes)

Julia Dahl's second novel works best if you know the backstory, laid out in her Edgar Award nominee "Invisible City." But even if you haven't read the first book, "Run You Down" is still an intriguing glimpse into the secretive world of New York's ...Read more

'The State We're In' by Ann Beattie doesn't settle for easy solutions

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"The State We're In: Maine Stories" by Ann Beattie; Atlantic Monthly Press (206 pages, $25)

"The State We're In," Ann Beattie's ninth book of short fiction, is a work of double meanings, beginning with that title: The 15 stories here take place in Maine, where the author spends part of each year, but it is also a reference to a more existential...Read more

 

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