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  • BN Editors 2:00 pm on 2018/09/04 Permalink
    Tags: , , Fiction,   

    September’s Best New Fiction 

    As summer bids us farewell and vacation time winds down, what could be better than curling up with a transportive book? Whether you’re in the mood for 1940s Britain, 1970s Argentina, 1990s Paris, or current-day America with all its rapid-fire twists and turns, September’s best new novels will enthrall you. Fascinating love stories, daring tales of espionage, and a new, female-driven perspective of Homer’s Iliad await.

    Hippie, by Paulo Coelho (translated by M.B. Becker)
    Anti-authoritarian protestors of 2018 will enjoy this look at a previous generation of freedom seekers and demonstrators. Brazilian author Coelho—whose groundbreaking work The Alchemist celebrated its 30th anniversary this year—draws from his real-life experiences to present an authentic journey of self-discovery set in South America and Europe in the early 1970s. From Peru, Chile, and Argentina through Amsterdam and Kathmandu, young Paulo, an aspiring writer, and his Dutch lover Karla travel via the Magic Bus, learning about themselves and their fellow passengers in what promises to be an immersive examination of original hippie culture.

    Sea Prayer, by Khaled Hosseini
    This timely, heartfelt illustrated novel, the proceeds of which will go to the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR), depicts the hopes and fears of a father for his young son. As the duo waits for the boat that will take them on a harrowing escape from war-torn Syria, the father composes a letter to his sleeping child, detailing the lives they once lived in their home village of Homs. Intended for all ages, it’s a good choice for parents who want to explain the refugee crisis to their kids.

    Transcription, by Kate Atkinson
    Historical spy fiction at its finest, Transcription revolves around the mysterious choices made by Juliet, a teenager recruited by MI5 in 1940. Tasked with transcribing the clandestine meetings between a double agent and British Nazi sympathizers, Juliet believes her work is finished once the war ends. But ten years later her past returns, demanding answers about the role she really played serving justice to turncoats. Fans of Atkinson’s Life After Life  (i.e., everyone) will devour this suspenseful story.

    Katerina, by James Frey
    Toggling between Paris in the early ’90s and modern-day L.A., this love story/addiction parable seems to parallel some of the more controversial aspects of Frey’s real life. As a young American living in France, eager to write books that matter, Jay scrounges and scrimps and deals drugs alongside his sexy model muse. Twenty-five years later, now a famous author, he receives a message—possibly from said ex—that throws his world off-kilter. Will revisiting their passionate struggles ignite Jay’s creativity?

    Labyrinth of the Spirits, by Carlos Ruiz Zafón
    The fourth and final installment of the Cemetery of Forgotten Books series (which began with The Shadow of the Wind) centers on Alicia Gris, orphaned by the Spanish Civil War as a child. Now nearly thirty, and working for Madrid’s secret police, she’s entrusted with locating a government official who seems to have vanished. Solving the mystery brings her into contact with friends of her parents and proves Franco’s regime was even more corrupt than previously understood. As with the earlier books in the tetralogy, Zafon continues to lavish love (and plot points) on books, those who love them, those who write them, and those who sell them. A literary feast. 

    Lake Success, by Gary Shteyngart
    Combining his trademark slapstick wit with a Greyhound bus road trip through the south and southwest, Shteyngart spins a tale set in right-this-second America, highlighting its surreal beauty and horror. Readers may not expect to root for a timepiece-obsessed hedge fund manager who abandons his American Indian wife and their autistic son for greener pastures, but watching Barry Cohen flail through his decisions in an attempt to outlast and outrun them proves satirical humor may be the best medicine in a society gone mad.

    The Silence of the Girls, by Pat Barker
    Previous Iliad / Odyssey retellings include Ransom, by David Malouf; The Song of Achilles, by Madeline Miller; and, of course Ulysses, by James Joyce. What makes Silence unique is that it focuses on the female prisoners held in Greece during the last days of the Trojan War. Briseis, the former queen of Lyrnessus, becomes Achilles’s concubine after he slaughters her family and lays waste to her city, but her struggles don’t end there; soon, Agamemnon demands that Achilles hand Briseis over to him, which changes the entire direction of the war. Barker is a master of wartime narratives, having won the Booker Prize for The Ghost Road, set during World War I.

    The post September’s Best New Fiction appeared first on Barnes & Noble Reads.

     
  • BN Editors 1:30 pm on 2018/08/28 Permalink
    Tags: , book haul, Fiction, summer's best thrillers,   

    Bid Summer’s Heat Farewell with 8 Chilling Thrillers 

    It’s the end of August, and we’ve about had our fill of the heat. Unfortunately, the weather isn’t likely to oblige us with cooler temperatures for at least another month, but in the meantime, we can at least try to bring down our core temperatures by catching up on the most chilling thrillers of the year so far. Note: We understand that you can not actually cool off by reading, but we’re still adding all of these to the TBR pile.

    And for just one week, you can get them all for 50% off as part of Barnes & Noble’s first ever book haul blowout! Today through September 3, shop in stores and online to get half off of 150 select titles, across genres, for all ages, and including bestsellers, new releases, and more. When you shop in stores, you’ll get a free tote with purchase of three books, while supplies last.

    The President Is Missing, by Bill Clinton and James Patterson
    Combining his personal knowledge of the presidency with Patterson’s knowledge of how to write a heart-pounding thriller, Bill Clinton spins a story about President Jonathan Lincoln Duncan, under pressure from all sides, besieged by unhappy and hostile congressional committees, a determined assassin, and an apocalyptic threat only he knows about—a computer virus that could roll the clock back to the stone age overnight. Duncan sees just one way to deal with these combined threats—he walks out of the White House, leaving his security detail behind, and takes matters into his own hands.

    The Fallen, by David Baldacci
    Baldacci’s fourth Amos Decker novel heads to the small rust-belt town of Baronville, where Decker and FBI agent Alex Jamison are visiting with Alex’s family. Baronville’s a town in decline afflicted by an opioid crisis, and dealing with a series of brutal murders marked by mysterious clues that have the local cops stymied. It’s not long before Decker, who has a perfect memory since a head injury he suffered while a pro football player, stumbles onto the next grisly homicide scene—and with his special mental abilities, begins to see a pattern that goes far beyond Baronville. When the pattern touches on people Decker cares about, the mystery becomes a personal one—just as Decker discovers reasons to doubt his perfect memory.

    Spymaster, by Brad Thor
    The 17th Scot Harvath book finds the skilled agent finally feeling his age—though he’s still the most dangerous and effective employee at private security and espionage endeavor The Carlton Group. Across Europe, someone is assassinating diplomats, and Harvath is ordered to find out who—and why. When it’s revealed to be part of a plot by Russia to leverage the NATO alliance to draw the United States into a war, Harvath is tasked with stopping the Russian plan, and he goes on the offensive, identifying and hunting down the assassins themselves. Meanwhile, the founder of the Carlton Group battles a declining mental state that means the secrets of his long career are at risk—and the new head, former CIA chief Lydia Ryan, must scramble to protect those secrets—as well as her agents in the field.

    The 17th Suspect, by James Patterson and Maxine Paetro
    Patterson and Paetro return to the Women’s Murder Club for the 17th go-round in a book that focuses on Sergeant Lindsay Boxer and ADA Yuki Castellano. Boxer is approached by a homeless woman who tells her the city’s homeless population is being hunted by a killer and the police are slow-walking the investigation. When Lindsay’s initial inquiries seem to confirm this, she’s outraged and goes on the warpath—with unexpected consequences that are serious enough for her friends in the Club to urge her to step back. Meanwhile, Yuki catches a rape case involving a man accusing his female superior of assault, and she thinks she can make the charges stick. But as she moves forward, the case seems to dissolve under her, and her opponent in the courtroom finds ways of getting under her skin. As Yuki struggles, Lindsay finds herself targeted by the killer she was hunting, as both women deal with personal problems that complicate their professional lives to the breaking point.

    Cutting Edge, by Ward Larsen
    Trey DeBolt is a rescue swimmer for the Coast Guard in Alaska. During a difficult rescue, his helicopter goes down—and he wakes up in cabin by the sea in Maine. He’s got a nasty scar on the back of his head and no memory of how he got there; his nurse informs him that he’s been declared dead even as a Coast Guard investigator in Alaska finds evidence he’s still alive. His nurse tells him that he’s undergone surgery that has gifted him with incredible abilities. Just as he’s figuring out he’s part of a secretive government experiment, his nurse is killed by a team of professional assassins—assassins meant for him. A sudden vision showing him information he couldn’t possibly know saves his life—and suddenly, Trey is on the run, trying to figure out just what’s happened to him, and how to control it, before it’s too late.

    Bring Me Back, by B.A. Paris
    In this tense thriller, Finn McQuaid and his fiancée Ellen are settled into a comfortable cottage in the small village of Simonbridge, financially secure thanks to a stroke of luck on Finn’s part. Their relationship is unusual; 12 years earlier Finn was dating Ellen’s sister Layla, until Layla disappeared while driving through France with Finn, with only a Russian nesting doll near the car for a clue. Initially a suspect, Finn was cleared of the crime, and over the years, their mutual loss and desire for comfort led Ellen and Finn to forge a bond. But now, the police are suddenly telling Finn that Layla’s been seen in town, and he and Ellen start receiving strange gifts—Russian nesting dolls. It’s clear Finn hasn’t been entirely forthcoming about the circumstances of Layla’s disappearance, but unraveling the truth of what’s really happening won’t be easy.

    Tailspin, by Sandra Brown
    Rye Mallett is a ‛freight dog,’ flying cargo around the country. He accepts a strange job flying a mysterious black box through bad weather to a remote area of Georgia, where Dr. Nathaniel Lambert will meet him to accept it. As Rye approaches the small airport, someone shines a laser into the cockpit, and Rye is temporarily blinded. He survives the crash, and when he exits the plane with the box he meets Brynn O’Neal, a beautiful doctor who claims Lambert sent her in his place. Although Rye doesn’t trust her, he has no choice but to accept her help when it becomes clear that there are others seeking whatever’s in the mystery box—and that they’re willing to kill for it.

    Red Alert, by James Patterson and Marshall Karp
    The fifth NYPD Red book shows us the 1 percent of Manhattan’s elite behaving badly—and being murdered at an alarming rate. When a filmmaker’s sex games go wrong and a charity function is bombed in the same night, Detectives Zach Jordan and Kylie MacDonald of the NYPD Red division respond, putting aside their own romantic and sexual tension to protect the rich and famous. As their investigation deepens, even they are shocked at the level of depravity and corruption on display—and when their search for the truth puts powerful people in danger, they’ll have no one but each other to rely on.

    What’s the best new thriller you read in 2018?

    The post Bid Summer’s Heat Farewell with 8 Chilling Thrillers appeared first on Barnes & Noble Reads.

     
  • Jeff Somers 6:00 pm on 2018/08/16 Permalink
    Tags: , Breaking the first rule, , diary, Fiction, , , , survivor   

    Chuck Palahniuk’s Novels, Ranked 

    Chuck Palahniuk is a difficult writer to discuss; even among his fans, there’s great disagreement about which of his books are classics and which are less essential.

    A writer in possession of a unique and distinct style, a man unafraid of diving down some pretty dark rabbit holes (there have been reports of fainting spells at his live readings), Palahniuk can be a an acquired taste; often your opinion of his works depends on where you start reading them. Here, then is our own assessment of all of his books, starting with the must-reads and proceeding from there.

    Fight Club
    Some contrarians will downgrade Fight Club simply because it’s the most famous and most accessible book he’s written, thanks largely to the accomplished film adaptation. If you set aside its pop culture cachet (and the indelible image of Brad Pitt’s abs) and look at it simply as a novel full of ideas, it’s easily Palahniuk’s cleanest, sharpest, and most compelling. The idea of disaffected young men forming underground fight clubs to scream out their repressed rage remains perfectly plausible, and the trick the author pulls off with his unreliable narrator is one of his most successful twists. The end result is a book that’s as tight and near-perfect as … well, Brad Pitt’s abs.

    Survivor
    Tender Branson is the last surviving member of the Creedish Death Cult; Creedists went out into the world and performed domestic tasks for people for free, dedicating their lives to service. When the cult’s compound is raided by the authorities, the cultists commit mass suicide—and for years afterwards, the remaining cultists will periodically reveal themselves and commit suicide to join their predecessors. Eventually, Tender is the last remaining Creedist, and he becomes an absurd celebrity as a result—until it’s revealed that the Creedist suicides might not have been suicides at all. Branson dictates his story into the black box of a crashing 747, as Palahniuk delivers another novel with an absurd but compelling high concept, the pages counting down to disaster.

    Lullaby
    The simplicity of this one makes it stand out. A reporter investigating SIDS discovers the existence of a short poem that instantly kills anyone who hears it—or who even has the lines thought at them. The reporter sets off to destroy every copy of the deadly verse, but finds resisting the urge to use its power to kill those who threaten or perhaps simply irritate him nearly impossible, the words pouring out of him before he even knows what he’s doing. If you pause to think about all the people you would have killed today for breaking rules of polite society, it quickly becomes clear how terrifying this idea is—especially because it’s not some distant serial killer doing the evil deeds, but the narrator, making for uncomfortably compelling reading.

    Make Something Up
    Palahniuk is just as good at short fiction as he is at long reads; He works best with a sharp focus, and that’s what short form writing gives him. With stories that delve into squicky areas like child sexuality, teenagers abusing technology to shock themselves into stupors, and the concept of “gay conversion therapy,” Palahniuk explores a strange shared universe where terrible things happen as a matter of course, and where everyone seems to be an expert in something.

    Haunted
    As if recognizing his skill with shorter narratives, Palahniuk pulls off something a lot of novelists have tried at with varying degrees of success—the novel as a collection (or vice versa). A group of aspiring writers take part in a hybrid retreat and reality program, locking themselves in an abandoned theater for three months to write without interruption or distraction. With food supplies limited, one by one the participants decide to make their survival story more compelling by sabotaging things in small ways—ways that slowly combine to turn the experiment into a nightmare. Alternating between the overarching plot and the short stories being written by each participant—including the notorious, faint-inducing “Guts”—Palahniuk’s control of so many distinct voices is breathtaking.

    Invisible Monsters
    While both versions of the author’s debut novel are very good, we’d recommend the slightly rejiggered “remix” edition, as it’s the one Palahniuk wants you to read. Challenging, non-linear, and filled with the sort of gonzo twists that shouldn’t work, this is one book that gets a different reaction from everyone. The story of an attention-obsessed former model obsessed who suffers a disfiguring accident that renders her so ugly she becomes invisible to people—because they don’t like looking at her—it is chaotic and gruesome, but its themes of social invisibility and reinvention are some of the strongest Palahniuk has ever dealt with.

    Choke
    Med school dropout Victor is one of Palahniuk’s least likable and least sympathetic characters, which makes this a book some folks—even Palahniuk’s fans—avoid. But Victor’s pathetic and horrific existence—one part awful job role-playing at a fake historical village, one part awful con jobs pretending to choke in exchange for free meals, one part trolling sex addiction meetings, and one part his trials with his dying, abusive, senile mother—is given a dream of hope when he thinks he might have found evidence there is good in him despite the dinginess of his life. The story meanders a bit, which is why we put it a bit lower in the top 10, but the prose sings, as Victor emerges as a truly original and unforgettable character trapped in a hell of his own devising—an escapist fantasy world he doesn’t realize is worse than his grim reality.

    Bait: Off-Color Stories for You to Color
    Leave it to Palahniuk to subvert the adult coloring book craze the world experienced a few years ago, but here’s the thing—this isn’t a joke. Palahniuk not only takes great care with the coloring book aspect, offering sincere guides to using watercolors and other tips to make your creative efforts as successful as possible, he also offers up some absolutely terrific short stories to go along with the descriptions. This would be a fine collection even without the extracurricular coloring. With the coloring, it’s a phenomenal effort.

    Snuff
    The premise is either going to hook you or horrify you: a pornographic actress at the tail end of her career decides to guarantee her legacy by breaking the record for most sex acts in a single film. With 600 men waiting their turn, the narration whips between a small number of them with stories to tell, as well as the female producer coordinating everyone’s efforts. Secrets are revealed, agendas are pursued, and Palahniuk examines the strange culture and trivia of the adult film industry with his usual relish. The ending is either brilliant or a bit much—we fall on the brilliant side, which is why it’s in the top 10.

    Adjustment Day
    Palahniuk’s newest is a return to form in some ways—not in the sense of overall quality, but in the jittery, pitch black energy that raged in some of his earlier works. This story of an online revolution that brutally transforms society in ways both unexpected and violent, it has the sharp-edged observation of the writer’s best, combined with a cynical view of human nature (the societies that are born from the explosion of class resentment are horrifyingly comical). Palahniuk gloriously explores the boiling frustration of those at the fringes of society being turned against the 1 percent, and the results are exceedingly gripping, even if some of his funny ideas undermine the tension a bit.

    Rant
    Palahniuk’s eighth novel doesn’t get as much attention as some of his other works, which is unfortunate, because it’s a beautifully-flawed look at religion, and how stories get twisted in the retelling. Buster Casey lives in an alternate future where the world has been divided into two curfewed groups—Daytimers and Nighttimers. Buster was one of the worst serial killers of all time, and Palahniuk constructs a faux oral history of the man’s disturbed and disturbing life as he rose from sick kid to mass murderer, wherein Buster evolves into an almost godlike figure, his every move legendary, his every crime somehow more than just a bloody expression of mental illness. It’s a deft trick of a novel undermined somewhat by the unnecessary alternate universe aspect; set in a more realistic world, it would be even more powerful.

    Legacy: An Off-Color Novella for You to Color
    Palahniuk’s second stab at an adult coloring book isn’t quite as strong as Bait, in part because it’s a single, novella-length story instead of a collection of shorter works. The story is good: an amoral, bored investment banker named Vincent is informed he’s been left an inheritance that includes, apparently, immortality. Vincent is determined to claim his legacy and live forever, but a group of weird people descend on him seeking to claim eternal life for their own. While interesting and complemented well by the coloring pages, the story lacks the bite you expect from Palahniuk.

    Damned
    Your mileage will vary with Damned, the story of a 13-year old girl named Madison who commits suicide and finds herself in Hell, described as a relentlessly banal space. Madison, whose famous parents ignored her, is put to work doing things like making telemarketing calls during dinnertime, and finds the afterlife to be like being trapped in an awful mall forever. That’s the point Palahniuk is making, of course—evil is banal—but it results in a curiously toothless story, only great in flashes.

    Stranger Than Fiction
    The essays collected here are a mix of magazine assignments and previously unpublished work. What they prove is that Palahniuk is a great writer, and that his main source of inspiration for his often vitriolic view of the world is the world itself—in short, these 100 percent true stories often read just like his fiction, including the bizarre, the upsetting, and the queasily unexpected. The only reason it’s this low on our list is the fact that some of the subjects just aren’t as interesting as his fiction. Still, there’s plenty to love here—if nothing else, Palahniuk’s prose is effortlessly funny, and he finds nuggets of the fascinating even in the most banal subjects.

    Diary
    This novel is an outlier in the Palahniuk oeuvre; while some rank it pretty high, we simply can’t go to there. A hackneyed painter suffers from various mystery illnesses unless she’s painting, and everyone encourages her to work more and more, believing her paintings will save the island she lives on. Her contractor husband lies in a coma, and the rooms he remodeled on the mainland start to disappear. Reality distorts and shifts, but Palahniuk is a little out of his usual element, and it shows; the novel starts off strong, with an eerie atmosphere and effortless sense of dread, but the closer the story gets to revealing its secrets, the more ridiculous it all seems.

    Fugitives and Refugees
    Is it fun to read a travel book about Portland, Oregon penned by Palahniuk? Heck yes it is. Does he make Portland sound deliriously interesting and even a little foreboding and edgy? Sure. There’s nothing wrong with the charming enthusiasm Palahniuk brings to the subject of his hometown, nor the deployment of his trademark passion for exhaustive and interesting detail . It’s a must-read if you’re heading to Portland. The problem is, what if you’re not heading to Portland?

    Pygmy
    Credit where it’s due: Palahniuk is challenging himself with this one. The premise is solid—a group of children are trained to infiltrate the United States as foreign exchange students so they can execute an act of grand terrorism. The problem is the constrained style, a strangled grammar reflecting the narrator’s worldview that renders even simple sentences difficult to parse. Books shouldn’t be downgraded just because they’re difficult reads, and if you’re a Palahniuk super-fan there’s a darkly funny story and character here to savor—but for less die-hard readers, it feels like a missed opportunity.

    Tell-All
    Palahniuk tackles Hollywood with a story told by Hazie Coogan, who cares for a washed-up actress and becomes concerned when a young man seduces her charge—and has already written a memoir about which ends with the actress’ death. Written in the style of old gossip columns and using many of the structures and tropes of old scripts, there’s a lot to like about the narrative and the central character, and Palahniuk never fails to entertain and disturb, often simultaneously. But the plot is a little slight compared to his better works, and while the name-dropping is fascinatingly perverse (you’ll need to Google a lot of people who appear for only a sentence or two) it’s not the most memorable thing he has written.

    Fight Club 2
    Returning to a seminal literary achievement was always going to be a dangerous move, and we sort of wish Palahniuk hadn’t made it, even in the guise of a graphic novel. Set a decade after Tyler Durden was vanquished and kept at bay by pharmaceuticals and therapy, the unnamed narrator of the original—now named Sebastian, in one of many disappointing revelations—can’t satisfy his wife sexually because of the drugs, so she secretly cuts his dose, allowing Tyler to reemerge. Excited yet? By the time Palahniuk appears as himself toward the end to discuss how the story isn’t working, you’ll either see it as genius or desperation.

    Doomed
    Who, exactly, was demanding a sequel to Damned remains a mystery, but teenage snark-machine Madison is back, this time as a ghost banished to purgatory (the big joke is that Earth itself is purgatory), where she haunts her own life and slowly begins to understand that her existence has been shaped and guided by something sinister since the very beginning. Madison winds up shifting the balance of power between heaven and hell, but this one never seems to get off the ground. (There was supposed to be a third installment to the trilogy, but perhaps even in Hell, cooler heads prevailed.)

    Beautiful You
    This novel should work gangbusters: an average girl named Penny finds herself in bed with the world’s greatest lover, a billionaire tech mogul who is working on a new line of pleasure products—which Penny dutifully tests, risking her life as mind-erasing orgasms and sexual comas become common. Penny meets some of his former lovers—all of whom were dumped on day 136 of their affair. The same fate greets Penny on the same day the new line of “personal care” products in released, and men become instantly obsolete as women retreat to their bedrooms for the aforementioned sex comas, etc. There’s a subtlety to this one that is affecting; the problem is, the premise screams out for a good, old-fashioned Palahniuk-ing, leaving us unsatisfied.

    What’s your favorite Chuck Palahniuk novel?

    The post Chuck Palahniuk’s Novels, Ranked appeared first on Barnes & Noble Reads.

     
  • Jeff Somers 6:00 pm on 2018/08/02 Permalink
    Tags: , , Fiction, noises off, ,   

    Don DeLillo’s Novels, Ranked 

    Reading Don DeLillo, the cult novelist who ascended to literary superstardom, can be a tense, exhausting experience. The universes he creates for us are threatening, chaotic, and mercurial. There are few happy people in them, and fewer happy accidents. Suspicious of society and institutions and overstuffed with reference, allusion, and wordplay, his novels are equal parts brilliance and unease.

    Brilliance isn’t equally distributed, of course—even DeLillo has his minor works. Which of his books belongs on top, and which at the bottom? Here’s how we see it—starting with the cream of the crop.

    White Noise
    This 1985 novel broke DeLillo into the big-time, and for good reason: it’s awesome. It gave English the wonderful phrase “airborne toxic event,” and it is that event that translates the growing paranoia, unease, and suburban malaise of the novel’s first section into physical form. Exploring the exciting field of Hitler studies, death and mortality, and madness, DeLillo makes you feel like the universe is a slowly constricting trap that will eventually crush you. This is where all of the author’s tricks, tics, and obsessions came together as perfectly as possible.

    Libra
    The Kennedy assassination is an event DeLillo might have invented if it hadn’t actually happened. The way he makes Lee Harvey Oswald—a man who is largely invisible and mysterious even though he actually existed—into a compellingly original character without compromising authenticity is genius. Sometimes this one is overshadowed by other titles, but arguably it and White Noise are DeLillo’s masterworks.

    Underworld
    Huge, complex, and slippery, this one sparks the most debate among DeLillo fans—some people think it’s his best, some people think it’s an indulgent whole with brilliant parts. We’re in the former camp—the prologue, published separately as Pafko at the Wall, is a near-perfect short story that sets up the themes of the novel; from there, the story splits into a non-linear narrative spanning several decades. It’s as if DeLillo tried to paint an emotional picture of the 20th century by starting at its end and then moving inexorably backwards, stripping everything away until we get to the kernel of it all.

    The Names
    DeLillo’s grand investigation into the power of words and language, this sprawling novel was published a few years before White Noise and is usually lumped in with his 1970s work despite hitting shelves in 1982. It’s one of those books with a plot that comes together in fragments as DeLillo introduces and follows several characters, centered on a businessman who becomes involved with a string of ritualistic murders being committed by a “language cult” while traveling in Greece and the Middle East. Challenging and cerebral, the central question of the novel concerns how far context and words go towards shaping perception and, therefore, reality?

    Great Jones Street
    A trippy, deliriously fun novel, published in 1973, drips with the 1960s hangover so many were experiencing at the time. Following a rock star modeled on Bob Dylan (supposedly) there’s not so much a plot as a series of brilliant, often hilarious vignettes that startle and amaze. It’s a short novel, which works in its favor, and it’s often wrongfully downgraded because it lacks DeLillo’s later dour paranoia and density—but it’s a fantastic book that deserves to be read more widely.

    Mao II
    DeLillo’s lengthy consideration of terrorism and the potential link between violence and the stories we tell ourselves, this one is also divisive, mainly because it doesn’t have much of a plot and can be perceived as DeLillo disappearing into himself—but when you’re as strong a writer as DeLillo, you can get away with that. Its seemingly prophetic vision of terrorist acts to come (it was published in 1991) grant the book gravitas, as terrorism and violence chip away at individual liberties and take art’s place as as a driving cultural force.

    Point Omega
    Saying that a book is one of DeLillo’s best means less when you consider the thin, mostly subjective lines separating them. Point Omega gets lost in the shuffle sometimes, seen as a bit of throat-clearing. It’s short—almost a novella—concerning itself with two men who seek to reshape their reality and fail. With echoes and references to the Iraq War and Bush-era propaganda, it’s one of the few DeLillo novels to feel dated despite its relatively recent vintage. Yet it’s far from a poor effort, and the questions it asks about the vanity of trying to change reality are haunting.

    Americana
    If Americana were by a different author, it might be forgotten by now; it’s loose to the point of parody, and overstuffed with philosophical nattering that doesn’t seem to truly connect to its strange road trip narrative. As the first novel DeLillo published, however, it’s fascinating—all the standard stuff is in it, and sometimes there are glimpses of the brilliance to come. It’s not so much a bad novel as a forgettable one, with the ultimate fate of being solidly in the middle.

    Zero K
    DeLillo’s most recent novel lands in the middle of the pack mainly due to its undercooked feel; relatively short, the unanswered questions and dangling philosophical participles it leaves on the table leave you wanting a few hundred more pages. Still, the writing is sharp. DeLillo inspires dread in a way few writers can, and the story, an unsettling journey through mortality, family, and possibly the end of the world, builds a lot of suspense, even if the payoff isn’t all there.

    End Zone
    Mainly notable as the novel with which DeLillo crystallized his style, this goofy sophomore effort uses a football game as an extended metaphor for nuclear war (or vice versa), and gets extra points for being really, really funny. But there’s not much of a story here, and after meandering about for a while, it sort of just stops dead in its tracks. Another plus that elevates it, though, is the fact that’s it’s one of the easiest DeLillo books to read, and a great place for newbies to start.

    Falling Man
    Like the Kennedy assassination, 9/11 seems like an ideal historical event for a DeLillo novel—but perhaps because he dealt with many of these themes earlier in Mao II, there’s something missing. This story of a man who survives the collapse of the Twin Towers would rank with some writers’ best work, but for DeLillo, it’s an uncharacteristically restrained, showing only the occasional bit of his magic.

    Players
    Your mileage will vary on this one; some people rank it much higher, but we suspect that’s largely because of the absolutely brilliant opening sequence, which depicts an act of brutal violence observed in a piano bar on a jetliner; it’s all downhill from this bravado performance. Well, not all downhill, as it’s still a pretty readable chronicle of the lives of two bored, affluent people who willfully seek chaos and violence. But it feels very much like DeLillo is still warming up with this one.

    Cosmopolis
    A novel set entirely in a lavish limousine as its occupant is driven a short way through a traffic-jammed Manhattan on his way to a haircut might seem like a ludicrous premise for a novel, but if anyone could pull it off, DeLillo could. Unfortunately, he doesn’t quite make it work—it’s a tour de force of nihilism, but to what end?

    Ratner’s Star
    The last of DeLillo’s early 1970s works, this ambitious mess of a novel reads like DeLillo is aping Pynchon and not quite pulling it off. There are so many ideas and so many crazy tangents, the reading experience can be headache-inducing. If there are some seeds of the DeLillo To Come in there, generally speaking the next page will cover them over.

    Running Dog
    Like Players, which directly precedes it, Running Dog shows flashes of what’s to come. It’s a dreary novel about a journalist trying to track down a porn film starring none other than Adolph Hitler; one gets the feeling that, having had such a fantastic idea for a book, DeLillo just assumed whatever he came up with would be great.

    Amazons
    Co-written with Sue Burke and published under a pseudonym (DeLillo has never officially claimed it), this story of the first female to play for a pro hockey team sold well, and is often hilarious. But DeLillo has all but disowned it, and unless your curious enough to try to figure out why, consider it an appendix to his body of work.

    The Body Artist
    Published after Underworld, you get the feeling, reading this one, that DeLillo was exhausted, and maybe should have waited a bit longer before pushing out another book. Like a late-era Twin Peaks episode, it tells the story of a grieving widow who finds a strange man in her house who echoes conversations she had with her suicidal husband as she becomes increasingly disconnected from the world. Much as you will become increasingly disconnected from this novel.

    What’s your favorite Don DeLillo novel?

    The post Don DeLillo’s Novels, Ranked appeared first on Barnes & Noble Reads.

     
  • Sarah Skilton 2:00 pm on 2018/08/01 Permalink
    Tags: , , Fiction,   

    August’s Best New Fiction 

    This month’s best new work includes the second book of the Half-Drowned King Viking fantasy trilogy, a portrait of a Midwest town in decline, a debut roman à clef by an Iraq veteran currently imprisoned for bank robbery, and a historical about the Black Plague. And for lighter, contemporary reads, enjoy a sorority-set drama, a romance in Paris gone wrong, and an octogenarian-led cozy mystery. 

    The Masterpiece, by Fiona Davis
    In 1928, Clara Darden struggles against the restraints of the era as the lone female teacher at New York City’s Grand Central School of Art, housed in the majestic terminal of the same name. After the Great Depression hits, her career in illustration disappears, as does Clara. Fast-forward to the 1970s, when divorcée Virginia Clay takes a job at Grand Central, intrigued by the abandoned art studio there, as well as a painting she discovers—a painting that may shed light on Clara’s mysterious fate fifty years prior.

    Rush, by Lisa Patton
    Yankee Doodle Dixie author Patton has written another entertaining, Southern-set contemporary, this time pulling back the curtain on the secret lives of sorority sisters at Ole Miss. Cali Watkins hopes to earn a place with the elite Alpha Delta girls, but lacks the right pedigree and fears a long-buried family secret will tank her chances. The Advisory Board members have more power than sense, but the girls rise up against them when a beloved house staff member at Alpha Delta Beta is denied a promotion.

    Ohio, by Stephen Markley
    A searing debut about one evening in the summer of 2013, in which four ex-classmates who came of age during 9/11 reunite in New Canaan, Ohio, a town marked and marred by decline. From the opioid crises to the Great Recession to the never-ending wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, these Midwesterners have been affected by it all, and each seek closure from their painful pasts in this beautiful, sad, contemplative study of a rust belt town that has been hollowed out.

    The Sea Queen, by Linnea Hartsuyker
    Last summer kicked off the Half-Drowned King trilogy, a 9th-century Viking fantasy based on historical events and overflowing with political machinations and violent battles. In the new installment, six years have passed for minor king Ragnvald and his sister Svanhild, the titular Sea Queen. Their separation has evolved into opposition: While Ragnvald dedicates his life to the unification of Norway under Harald’s command, Svanhild marries the leader of the resistance and displays remarkable strength as a maritime warrior in her own right. 

    The Last Hours, by Minette Walters
    While her husband is away, a woman educated by nuns in 1348 England uses her smarts and intuition to hold the line against the Black Death when it arrives in the town of Develish. Having quarantined herself, her cruel teenage daughter, and her serfs in her moat-surrounded house, Lady Anne denies her own husband entry, correctly fearing he has brought the plague home with him. Her decision does not go over well with her progeny, Lady Eleanor, who harbors a sadistic streak.

    Three Things About Elsie, by Joanna Cannon
    A lifelong friendship between two women forms the heart of this mystery set in an assisted living facility. Our firmly independent octogenarian narrator, Florence, provides sharp commentary but finds it difficult to communicate with others, fearful her memory is failing. With a new arrival, who strongly resembles a frightening figure from Florence’s past, Florence dedicates herself to uncovering the hows and whys of the man’s reappearance. Shifting perceptions provide a bittersweet, suspenseful, and emotionally cathartic reading experience. 

    If You Leave Me, by Crystal Hana Kim
    Against the backdrop of the Korean War and its aftermath, a young woman desperate to provide for her invalid younger brother and widowed mother must choose between two cousins who love her. One is her childhood sweetheart, while the other has the financial stability necessary to save her family. A memorable, heartwrenching debut with multiple POVs that will appeal to fans of Samuel Park’s This Burns My Heart.

    Bad Man, by Dathan Auerbach
    Auerbach got his start terrifying Redditors on their NoSleep short story forum, and it’s easy to see why he proved so popular there. His second full-length novel tells the harrowing story of a young man from North Florida drowning in guilt over the role he played in his three-year-old brother’s disappearance. Five years later, now twenty, Ben decides to take a job stocking groceries at the very store where little Eric vanished. Will he find answers in this oddly creepy, disconcerting milieu, even when the local authorities could not? 

    Cherry, by Nico Walker
    PTSD, heroin addiction, bank robbing, and young-love-turned-bleak-survival are the themes of this breakneck debut by an author well-versed in all four topics. As a medic in Iraq, and a veteran of 250 combat missions, Walker returned home to find his memories incapacitating him; in a parallel to combat, the adrenaline rush he got while committing crimes was the only time he felt calm. A blisteringly authentic and timely work is the result.

    Goodbye Paris, by Anstey Harris
    When her relationship with David (who has a wife and family) comes to a difficult and public end in Paris, thirtysomething Grace Atherton is left to pick up the pieces back home in Kent, where she runs a shop making violins and cellos. Her own burgeoning career in music was derailed decades ago, and truly moving on from her broken relationship may require a hard look at the painful secrets she has been keeping from that time. Luckily, she’ll have help from people in her community, including a young shop clerk and a wise, older customer.

    The post August’s Best New Fiction appeared first on Barnes & Noble Reads.

     
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