Thursday, December 26, 2013

Publshers Weekly Best Books of 2013
Sea of Hooks is a novel structured to reflect the interweaving of the two worlds inhabited by its main character, Christopher Westall. Christopher holds the spheres of ordinary days and weeks in precarious balance with the shifting field, of images and voices, that lies behind it. A series of traumas shatters this balance and propels him toward great danger but, also, the possibility of spiritual revelation.

Sea of Hooks recounts the parallel narratives of Christopher's youth in San Francisco, where he struggles within the icy Victorian household of his mother, and his quest, in Bhutan, for answers to the questions that haunt him. The book is comprised of the shattered fragments of Christopher's world and is driven by the forces that compel him to reassemble it at any cost.
Scientology presents itself as a scientific approach to spiritual enlightenment, but its practices have long been shrouded in mystery. Now Lawrence Wright—armed with his investigative talents, years of archival research, and more than two hundred personal interviews with current and former Scientologists—uncovers the inner workings of the church. We meet founder L. Ron Hubbard, the highly imaginative but mentally troubled science-fiction writer, and his tough, driven successor, David Miscavige. We go inside their specialized cosmology and language. We learn about the church’s legal attacks on the IRS, its vindictive treatment of critics, and its phenomenal wealth. We see the church court celebrities such as Tom Cruise while consigning its clergy to hard labor under billion-year contracts. Through it all, Wright asks what fundamentally comprises a religion, and if Scientology in fact merits this Constitutionally-protected label. Brilliantly researched, compellingly written, Going Clear pulls back the curtain on one of the most secretive organizations at work today.
In Dirty Wars, Jeremy Scahill, author of the New York Times best-seller Blackwater, takes us inside Americas new covert wars. The foot soldiers in these battles operate globally and inside the United States with orders from the White House to do whatever is necessary to hunt down, capture or kill individuals designated by the president as enemies.

Drawn from the ranks of the Navy SEALs, Delta Force, former Blackwater and other private security contractors, the CIAs Special Activities Division and the Joint Special Operations Command ( JSOC), these elite soldiers operate worldwide, with thousands of secret commandos working in more than one hundred countries. Funded through “black budgets,” Special Operations Forces conduct missions in denied areas, engage in targeted killings, snatch and grab individuals and direct drone, AC-130 and cruise missile strikes. While the Bush administration deployed these ghost militias, President Barack Obama has expanded their operations and given them new scope and legitimacy.

Dirty Wars follows the consequences of the declaration that “the world is a battlefield,” as Scahill uncovers the most important foreign policy story of our time. From Afghanistan to Yemen, Somalia and beyond, Scahill reports from the frontlines in this high-stakes investigation and explores the depths of Americas global killing machine. He goes beneath the surface of these covert wars, conducted in the shadows, outside the range of the press, without effective congressional oversight or public debate. And, based on unprecedented access, Scahill tells the chilling story of an American citizen marked for assassination by his own government.

As US leaders draw the country deeper into conflicts across the globe, setting the world stage for enormous destabilization and blowback, Americans are not only at greater risk — we are changing as a nation. Scahill unmasks the shadow warriors who prosecute these secret wars and puts a human face on the casualties of unaccountable violence that is now official policy: victims of night raids, secret prisons, cruise missile attacks and drone strikes, and whole classes of people branded as “suspected militants.” Through his brave reporting, Scahill exposes the true nature of the dirty wars the United States government struggles to keep hidden.

“We saw the lightning and that was the guns; and then we heard the thunder and that was the big guns; and then we heard the rain falling and that was the blood falling; and when we came to get in the crops, it was dead men that we reaped.” —Harriet Tubman

In five years, Jesmyn Ward lost five young men in her life—to drugs, accidents, suicide, and the bad luck that can follow people who live in poverty, particularly black men. Dealing with these losses, one after another, made Jesmyn ask the question: Why? And as she began to write about the experience of living through all the dying, she realized the truth—and it took her breath away. Her brother and her friends all died because of who they were and where they were from, because they lived with a history of racism and economic struggle that fostered drug addiction and the dissolution of family and relationships. Jesmyn says the answer was so obvious she felt stupid for not seeing it. But it nagged at her until she knew she had to write about her community, to write their stories and her own.

Jesmyn grew up in poverty in rural Mississippi. She writes powerfully about the pressures this brings, on the men who can do no right and the women who stand in for family in a society where the men are often absent. She bravely tells her story, revisiting the agonizing losses of her only brother and her friends. As the sole member of her family to leave home and pursue higher education, she writes about this parallel American universe with the objectivity distance provides and the intimacy of utter familiarity. A brutal world rendered beautifully, Jesmyn Ward’s memoir will sit comfortably alongside Edwidge Danticat’s Brother, I'm Dying, Tobias Wolff's This Boy’s Life, and Maya Angelou’s I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings.
Readers of exciting, challenging and visionary literary fiction—including admirers of Norman Rush's Mating, Ann Patchett's State of Wonder, Barbara Kingsolver's The Poisonwood Bible, and Peter Matthiessen's At Play in the Fields of the Lord—will be drawn to this astonishingly gripping and accomplished first novel. A decade in the writing, this is an anthropological adventure story that combines the visceral allure of a thriller with a profound and tragic vision of what happens when cultures collide. It is a book that instantly catapults Hanya Yanagihara into the company of young novelists who really, really matter.

In 1950, a young doctor called Norton Perina signs on with the anthropologist Paul Tallent for an expedition to the remote Micronesian island of Ivu'ivu in search of a rumored lost tribe. They succeed, finding not only that tribe but also a group of forest dwellers they dub "The Dreamers," who turn out to be fantastically long-lived but progressively more senile. Perina suspects the source of their longevity is a hard-to-find turtle; unable to resist the possibility of eternal life, he kills one and smuggles some meat back to the States. He scientifically proves his thesis, earning worldwide fame and the Nobel Prize, but he soon discovers that its miraculous property comes at a terrible price. As things quickly spiral out of his control, his own demons take hold, with devastating personal consequences.
Award-winning investigative reporter Robert Kolker delivers a haunting and humanizing account of the true-life search for a serial killer still at large on Long Island, in a compelling tale of unsolved murder and Internet prostitution.

One late spring evening in 2010, Shannan Gilbert, after running through the oceanfront community of Oak Beach screaming for her life, went missing. No one who had heard of her disappearance thought much about what had happened to the twenty-four-year-old: she was a Craigslist prostitute who had been fleeing a scene—of what, no one could be sure. The Suffolk County Police, too, seemed to have paid little attention—until seven months later, when an unexpected discovery in a bramble alongside a nearby highway turned up four bodies, all evenly spaced, all wrapped in burlap. But none of them Shannan's.

There was Maureen Brainard-Barnes, last seen at Penn Station in Manhattan three years earlier, and Melissa Barthelemy, last seen in the Bronx in 2009. There was Megan Waterman, last seen leaving a hotel in Hauppage, Long Island, just a month after Shannan's disappearance in 2010, and Amber Lynn Costello, last seen leaving a house in West Babylon a few months later that same year. Like Shannan, all four women were petite and in their twenties, they all came from out of town to work as escorts, and they all advertised on Craigslist and its competitor, Backpage.

In a triumph of reporting—and in a riveting narrative—Robert Kolker presents the first detailed look at the shadow world of escorts in the Internet age, where making a living is easier than ever and the dangers remain all too real. He has talked exhaustively with the friends and family of each woman to reveal the three-dimensional truths about their lives, the struggling towns they came from, and the dreams they chased. And he has gained unique access to the Oak Beach neighborhood that has found itself the focus of national media scrutiny—where the police have flailed, the body count has risen, and the neighbors have begun pointing fingers at one another. There, in a remote community, out of sight of the beaches and marinas scattered along the South Shore barrier islands, the women's stories come together in death and dark mystery. Lost Girls is a portrait not just of five women, but of unsolved murder in an idyllic part of America, of the underside of the Internet, and of the secrets we keep without admitting to ourselves that we keep them.
New York City in the Jazz Age was host to a pulsating artistic and social revolution. Uptown, an unprecedented explosion in black music, literature, dance, and art sparked the Harlem Renaissance. While the history of this African-American awakening has been widely explored, one chapter remains untold: the story of a group of women collectively dubbed "Miss Anne."

Sexualized and sensationalized in the mainstream press--portrayed as monstrous or insane--Miss Anne was sometimes derided within her chosen community of Harlem as well. While it was socially acceptable for white men to head uptown for "exotic" dancers and "hot" jazz, white women who were enthralled by life on West 125th Street took chances. Miss Anne in Harlem introduces these women--many from New York's wealthiest social echelons--who became patrons of, and romantic participants in, the Harlem Renaissance. They include Barnard College founder Annie Nathan Meyer, Texas heiress Josephine Cogdell Schuyler, British activist Nancy Cunard, philanthropist Charlotte Osgood Mason, educator Lillian E. Wood, and novelist Fannie Hurst--all women of accomplishment and renown in their day. Yet their contributions as hostesses, editors, activists, patrons, writers, friends, and lovers often went unacknowledged and have been lost to history until now.

In a vibrant blend of social history and biography, award-winning writer Carla Kaplan offers a joint portrait of six iconoclastic women who risked ostracism to follow their inclinations--and raised hot-button issues of race, gender, class, and sexuality in the bargain. Returning Miss Anne to her rightful place in the interracial history of the Harlem Renaissance, Kaplan's formidable work remaps the landscape of the 1920s, alters our perception of this historical moment, and brings Miss Anne to vivid life.
A story of the transcendent power of love in wartime, A Constellation of Vital Phenomena is a work of sweeping breadth, profound compassion, and lasting significance.

Two doctors risk everything to save the life of a hunted child in this majestic debut about love, loss, and the unexpected ties that bind us together. “On the morning after the Feds burned down her house and took her father, Havaa woke from dreams of sea anemones.” Havaa, eight years old, hides in the woods and watches the blaze until her neighbor, Akhmed, discovers her sitting in the snow. Akhmed knows getting involved means risking his life, and there is no safe place to hide a child in a village where informers will do anything for a loaf of bread, but for reasons of his own, he sneaks her through the forest to the one place he thinks she might be safe: an abandoned hospital where the sole remaining doctor, Sonja Rabina, treats the wounded. Though Sonja protests that her hospital is not an orphanage, Akhmed convinces her to keep Havaa for a trial, and over the course of five extraordinary days, Sonja’s world will shift on its axis and reveal the intricate pattern of connections that weaves together the pasts of these three unlikely companions and unexpectedly decides their fate.
Available in English for the first time, The Silence and the Roar is a funny, sexy, dystopian novel about the struggle of an individual over tyranny.

The Silence and the Roar follows a day in the life of Fathi Sheen, an author banned from publishing because he refuses to write propaganda for the ruling government. The entire populace has mobilized to celebrate the twenty-year anniversary of the reigning despot in this unnamed Middle eastern country. The heat is oppressive and loudspeakers blare as an endless parade takes over the streets. Desperate to get away from the noise and the zombie-like masses, Fathi leaves his house to visit his mother and his girlfriend, but en route stops to help a student who is being beaten by the police. Fathi’s iD papers are confiscated and he is told to report to the police station before night falls.

When Fathi turns himself in, he is led from one department to another in an ever-widening bureaucratic labyrinth. His only weapon against the irrationality of the government employees is his sense of irony. Tinged with a Kafkaesque sense of the absurd, The Silence and the Roar explores what it means to be truly free in mind and body.
From the bestselling author of The Color of Water and Song Yet Sung comes the story of a young boy born a slave who joins John Brown’s antislavery crusade—and who must pass as a girl to survive.

Henry Shackleford is a young slave living in the Kansas Territory in 1857, when the region is a battleground between anti- and pro-slavery forces. When John Brown, the legendary abolitionist, arrives in the area, an argument between Brown and Henry’s master quickly turns violent. Henry is forced to leave town—with Brown, who believes he’s a girl.

Over the ensuing months, Henry—whom Brown nicknames Little Onion—conceals his true identity as he struggles to stay alive. Eventually Little Onion finds himself with Brown at the historic raid on Harpers Ferry in 1859—one of the great catalysts for the Civil War. An absorbing mixture of history and imagination, and told with McBride’s meticulous eye for detail and character, The Good Lord Bird is both a rousing adventure and a moving exploration of identity and survival.

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