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Here are the best reviewed books of the week.

Book Marks

August 6, 2021, 1:00pm

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Stephen King’s Billy Summers, Anthony Veasna So’s Afterparties, Alexandra Kleeman’s Something New Under the Sun, and Megan Abbott’s The Turnout all feature among the best reviewed books of the week.

Brought to you by Book Marks, Lit Hub’s “Rotten Tomatoes for books.”

 

Fiction

Afterparties Anthony Veasna So

1. Afterparties by Anthony Veasna So
(Ecco)

12 Rave • 2 Positive

Read an essay about the late Anthony Veasna So here

“[A] remarkable début collection … So is hardly given to stoic silences. The young people in Afterparties spill forth with language … So skillfully conjures the rhythm of conversations … It feels transgressive that Afterparties is so funny, so irreverent, concerning the previous generation’s tragedy … His sentences are brusque and punchy, and there’s an outrageous, slapstick quality to his scenes. But the stories often end on a haunting note, resonating with the broader consequences of leaving or staying.”

–Hua Hsu (The New Yorker)

Billy Summers_Stephen King

=2. Billy Summers by Stephen King
(Scribner)

6 Rave • 5 Positive

“It meanders, it pays only the scantest regard to the rules of narrative structure, it indulges gladly in both casual stereotyping and naked political point-scoring. And it’s [King’s] best book in years … King has always excelled at sketching everyman’s US, enriching the details into a minor epic register. It’s what elevates him above his genre peers, and it’s in full force here … By the inevitable, biblical climax, unlikely plot contrivances or dated sexual politics are forgiven, because we can’t help but be won over by the eternal figure of the lone individual making a stand … He may always be considered a horror novelist, but King is doing the best work of his later career when the ghosts are packed away and the monsters are all too human.”

–Neil McRobert (The Guardian)

The Turnout_Megan Abbott

=2. The Turnout by Megan Abbott
(G. P. Putnam’s Sons)

6 Rave • 5 Positive

Read Megan Abbott on the photographers who inspire her here

“Desire and ballet are entwined in a smoldering pas de deux throughout this tightly choreographed thriller … Anyone who has ever attended a performance of Tchaikovsky’s famous ballet will enjoy the myriad references to Dewdrops, Snowflakes, mice and toy soldiers as the novel whirls along … Abbott’s interpretation of Clara/Marie as an adolescent riven by erotic awakenings is cleverly based on Hoffmann’s story … At times, the plot’s inevitable murder, sexual intrigue and family secrets seem almost incidental to the auditions and rehearsals, the bickering dancers and complaining parents, the punishing toe shoes and pulled muscles. Though it’s soon apparent that The Turnout is as much about female rage, jealousy and sexual desire as it is a suspense novel set in a dance studio.”

–Suzanne Berne (The Washington Post)

Something New Under the Sun_Alexandra Kleeman

4. Something New Under the Sun by Alexandra Kleeman
(Hogarth)

4 Rave • 6 Positive

“If we are prepared to see the air let out of Patrick’s tires a little bit—maybe more than a little bit—well, that’s largely because a million other books and movies and TV shows about Hollywood have led us to expect as much. Kleeman’s eye is deft enough, her senses of satire and proportion sufficiently stropped, that I wouldn’t have minded if that’s what she did. Her descriptions of Cassidy’s filmography and of Patrick’s bibliography are plausibly funny—or rather, are just implausible enough to be funny—and her ear for the cinephilic bickering of the PAs and the greasy reassurances of the producers are likewise on point. It’s tempting, at the beginning of the novel, to relax, to settle in for the ride that will lead Patrick Hamlin toward his inevitable comeuppance … Kleeman’s great skill, and this novel’s abiding triumph, is how seamlessly she blends the horrific with the mundanely troubling, the ridiculous—or the impossible—with the ordinarily absurd … Kleeman’s unraveling of this plot is satisfying enough, but she’s no more interested in writing a noir than she is a conventional Hollywood satire. What is really happening here—what Kleeman has ultimately in mind—should be kept under wraps to some extent, but it’s worth noting that the world she describes, despite its occasional exaggerations, remains a canny mirror of our own.”

–Matthew Specktor (The Los Angeles Review of Books)

Damnation Spring_Ash Davidson

5. Damnation Spring by Ash Davidson
(Scribner)

6 Rave • 2 Positive

Read an excerpt from Damnation Spring here

“To enter Damnation Spring, the debut novel by Ash Davidson, is to encounter all the wonder and terror of a great forest. Set amid the majestic redwoods of Northern California, the story runs as clear as the mountain streams that draw salmon back to spawn. Here is an author who knows and appreciates the land from every dimension — as nature, home, cathedral and cash … This may be the most affecting aspect of Davidson’s novel, her tremendous empathy for the way a lost pregnancy, with all its mystery and guilt and sorrow, can fracture a good marriage … a brilliantly balanced act of synchronous narration, never succumbing to the temptation of sentimentality or cuteness but always attendant to the child’s wonder … But the greatest accomplishment of this absorbing novel is its capacious understanding of the competing values these folks hold. Nobody knows or loves the forest more than they do, but saving it could mean losing their jobs, their homes, their food—and Davidson is deeply sympathetic to their concerns, even their rage. In that way,Damnation Spring, offers that rare opportunity to become part of a small community and move among its members until their hopes and fears seem as real as our own. By the end, I felt both grateful to have known these people and bereft at the prospect of leaving them behind.”

–Ron Charles (The Washington Post)

**

Nonfiction

The Irish Assassins: Conspiracy, Revenge and the Phoenix Park Murders That Stunned Victorian England_Julie Kavanagh

1. The Irish Assassins: Conspiracy, Revenge and the Phoenix Park Murders That Stunned Victorian England by Julie Kavanagh
(Atlantic Monthly Press)

6 Rave • 3 Positive

“What Julie Kavanagh has done here is to bring this most extraordinary of assassinations to life … The research is meticulous. There are some 150 pages detailing all of the interested parties and the history behind the political situation in London and Dublin before we even get to the murders themselves … It’s not all dry historical record either. Rather, Kavanagh casually drops in those personal details that bring characters and history into the real world … Crucially, the details of private correspondences, personality traits and personal grievances are not mere salacious ornamentation. They are essential to the provision of a true picture of what led to the murders and their aftermath … The writing is clear and yet warm, leaving the reader in no doubt as to how much personalities, foibles and mere coincidence affect law, politics and history … This is one of the best researched and most enjoyable historical reads I have come across in quite some time.”

–Estelle Birdy (The Irish Independent)

Rebecca Donner_All the Frequent Troubles of Our Days

2. All the Frequent Troubles of Our Days: The True Story of the American Woman at the Heart of the German Resistance to Hitler by Rebecca Donner
(Little Brown)

5 Rave • 4 Positive

“… astonishing … turns out to be wilder and more expansive than a standard-issue biography … a real-life thriller with a cruel ending … Donner writes sensitively about Mildred’s travails while also describing how women were expected to serve a Nazi regime dedicated to the idea that ‘the role of women is to populate Germany with good Germans’ … so finely textured that I can’t even begrudge Donner’s decision to narrate events in the present tense; a choice that can sometimes seem like a stagy effort to amp up the drama instead comes across as an effective device for conveying what it felt like in real time to experience the tightening vise of the Nazi regime … Amid all the tension and the horror, Donner has an eye for stray bits of grim comedy.”

–Jennifer Szalai (The New York Times)

James Rebanks_Pastoral Song

3. Pastoral Song: A Farmer’s Journey by James Rebanks
(Custom House)

4 Rave • 4 Positive • 1 Mixed

“Thank the gods of agriculture for James Rebanks … We experience that esoteric life through Rebanks’s evocative storytelling … Rebanks is generous with his descriptions, and patient in explaining the choices farmers make every day that will decide the fate of rural communities and the planet itself … Rebanks shows clearly that hope hinges on who exactly is willing to pay the real price of food and good farming.”

–Kristin Kimball (The New York Times Book Review)

Putting it Together James Lapine

4. Putting It Together: How Stephen Sondheim and I Created Sunday in the Park with George by James Lapine
(Farrar, Straus and Giroux)

4 Rave • 4 Positive

“[A] luminous debut … A captivating oral history … There’s plenty of entertaining backstage melodrama, but Lapine never plays it just for laughs, instead drawing out the serious devotion to craft and artistic risk-taking that fueled it. This is a fascinating 360-degree panorama of showbiz at its most intense and creative.”

Publishers Weekly

Anna Qu_Made in China

5. Made in China: A Memoir of Love and Labor by Anna Qu
(Catapult)

3 Rave • 3 Positive

“Qu writes with clarity and restraint about her Cinderella-terrible childhood … Qu’s indelible account of her lonesome childhood should gain her everything she lacked then—confidants, witnesses and fans—who will cheer when she finally reconnects with a long-lost beloved.”

–Jenny Shank (The Star Tribune)

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