Bangkok 8, John Burdett (Knopf) Burdett’s first thriller is thick with the sultry atmosphere of Bangkok, mixing murder, sex, Buddhism, and neurosis.
The Dirty Girls Social Club, Alisa Valdes-Rodriguez (St. Martin’s Press) This lively debut novel from the former L.A. Times staffer reads like the Hispanic version of Waiting to Exhale. The clichés aren’t banished along with the cultural stereotypes—but at the beach, who cares?
The Effect of Living Backwards, Heidi Julavits (Putnam) Living Backwards features the same verbal pyrotechnics that distinguished Julavits’s debut novel, The Mineral Palace. In a long piece in The Believer, Julavits reviewed her reviewers, pronouncing many of them snarky. Part of the drama here will be seeing who fires back.
Mortals, Norman Rush (Knopf) Mortals is a big, big book, with big, big themes—think Graham Greene on intellectual steroids. Mortals bristles with insight, feeling, wit—all this, plus infidelity, torture, and epic gun battles in the desert.
Fear Itself: A Fearless Jones Novel, Walter Mosley (Little, Brown) Appealing Everyman Paris Minton returns in this latest installment of the Fearless Jones mystery series.
Amanda Bright@Home, Danielle Crittenden (Warner Books) Crittenden, wife of David “Axis of Evil” Frum, delivers this witty tale of a stay-at-home mom that will ring true with any mother familiar with soggy swimsuits, dirty diapers, and the penny-pinching that so often characterizes single-income households.
An Unfinished Life: John F. Kennedy, Robert Dallek (Little, Brown) Why was JFK so horny? Because he suffered so, argues Dallek in this excellent, largely sympathetic biography.
Good Morning Midnight: Life and Death in the Wild, Chip Brown (Riverhead) Journalist Chip Brown looks into the life of Guy Waterman—the ascetic (and by most accounts brilliant) outdoorsman who chose to die as he’d lived, in the cold, harsh beauty of a New Hampshire mountainside.
Karaoke Nation, Steve Fishman (Free Press) A story of self-promotion, self-delusion, and greed during the Internet boom. But the narrator (a New York contributing editor) is never less than likable—a fact that perfectly captures the era’s insanity.
12,000 Miles in the Nick of Time, Mark Jacobson (Atlantic) Jacobson (also a New York contributing editor) takes his kids on a trip around the world in an effort to prevent them from getting “any stupider” from all the TV they imbibe. Epiphanies are sprinkled liberally amid the landmarks in this rollicking tale of extreme parenting.
Krakatoa: The Day the World Exploded, Simon Winchester (HarperCollins) The eruption of Krakatoa in 1883 was a calamity of a scope unheard of since the asteroid that killed the dinosaurs. It’s a fascinating book and—finally—a fitting sequel to the great children’s book The 21 Balloons.
Asphalt Gods: An Oral History of the Rucker Tournament, Vincent Mallozzi (Doubleday) Basketball as an art form pretty much originated at the Rucker playground in Harlem, preferred battleground of such luminaries as Herman “Helicopter” Knowings and Earl “the Goat” Manigault. “I was probably the first player to lead the guards from the ground to the air,” said the six-foot-one Manigault, who later became a junkie. It’s an old New York story, but told fascinatingly here.