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J.

Jacobson, Howard (author).
Oct. 2014. 352p. Hogarth, hardcover, $25 (9780553419559).
REVIEW. First published September 30, 2014 (Booklist Online). The latest novel from Jacobson (The Finkler Question, 2010) is set in the not-too-distant future, around 50 years after a genocide referred to only as “WHAT HAPPENED, IF IT HAPPENED.” Since that event, in an attempt to remove sources of discord, much of what relates to the past—history books, diaries, family heirlooms—has all but disappeared; people have become more isolated; art has been reduced to anodyne ballads and landscape paintings. And, in order to erase “all invidious distinctions between the doers and the done-to,” surnames have been changed: from Worthington, for example, to Gutkind, from Hinchcliffe to Behrens. In the small seaside village of Port Reuben (names of localities have also been changed), 25-year-old Ailinn Solomons, an orphan, and 40-year-old Kevern Cohen, a wood turner who has inherited his parents’ fears, meet and fall in love. As their relationship gathers steam, they begin to suspect that their meeting was no accident and that they are being watched, which in fact they are, by Ofnow, “the non-statutory monitor of the Public Mood,” which is formulating a strategy to deal with an alarming spike in violence. This is a novel more about ideas than people. Though readers may not feel particularly invested in the characters, they will find plenty to think and talk about in Jacobson’s remarkable, disturbing book.
— Mary Ellen Quinn

School Library Journal

Chicago Hope: High School Librarian K.C. Boyd
K.C. Boyd has created a culture of readers at a struggling South Side high school.

Let’s Go to the Video… Rethinking College Applications | Consider the Source
Reading Portfolio, a tiny non-profit, is hoping to make wide and deep reading a verifiable and valued experience—and one that students can present to college admissions boards.

Go to the Head of the Class: College Readiness Programming at the Library
Young adult librarian Elise Sheppard of Lone Star College-Cyfair Branch Library spearheaded an initiative to offer college readiness programs and give high schoolers a leg up before they get on campus.

Library Journal

Batman, Essays, Mazes, Clones, and Breaking the World Shouting Record | What We’re Reading
LJ and School Library Journal staffers carry the WWR flag into the world of clones, mazes, and bat caves.

Q&A: Malka Marom
Canada-based singer and broadcast journalist Malka Marom talks to LJ about her book Joni Mitchell: In Her Own Words, a thoughtful account of Joni Mitchell's life and creative process.

Q&A with Chris Nickson | Sponsored
Chris Nickson's newest book, Gods of Gold (Dec.: Severn House), takes readers back to 1890 Leeds and introduces Inspector Tom Harper. He recently answered some emailed questions about his books. This interview was sponsored by Severn House, and produced and published by LJ.

Kirkus Reviews

THE LIVES OF OTHERS
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The evolution of an upper-class Bengali family in the late 1960s reflects India’s political turbulence in this confidently expansive second novel from Mukherjee (A Life Apart, 2010), which has been shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize.

Like a rolling stone, Mukherjee’s nonostentatious epic accrues its weight and mass gradually; it's a three-generational family saga that embraces tensions both micro- and macro-cosmic. The majestic Ghosh family mansion in Calcutta reflects the nation’s entrenched economic hierarchy, with the wealthy patriarch, Prafullanath, and his wife, Charubala, on the top floor and the servant classes and spurned family members at the bottom. Prafullanath, once an entrepreneurial genius who built a fortune in the paper-making industry, is now a broken reed, his health ruined, his empire failing after bad investments. On the middle floors of the house live the second and third Ghosh generations, three married sons with their children and a sour spinster daughter, and below them, the disgraced widow of a bad-seed fourth son. The family’s history is intricately, nonchronologically narrated in brief episodes that point up the power struggles, petty jealousies, cruelties and sexual attractions among the individual members. Mingled with these episodes are extracts from a diary written by Prafullanath’s eldest grandson, Supratik, who has absconded to become a Communist Naxalite guerrilla among the rural poor. Supratik’s chapters offer glimpses of the extremes of poverty and corruption in Bengal and of its essential beauties too—the green velvet of the rice paddies, the monsoon rains. But political violence emerges in Supratik’s story, matched by union troubles at the Ghosh paper mills. After Supratik’s eventual return to the Calcutta household, its unraveling gains pace. Mukherjee closes with two epilogues that offer contrasting views of the consequences.

This is an immensely accomplished, steady-handed achievement, Victorian in its solidity, quietly enthralling in its insightful observation of the ties that bind.

THE DEVIL'S BACKBONE
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A Texas boy goes searching for his missing momma in an endearing picaresque that evokes Huckleberry Finn, Don Quixote and a whole passel of folk tales.

The narrator of this extended shaggy dog story, the first in a series, is Papa, who’s recalling his boyhood in central Texas in the 1880s. His mother has escaped the clutches of his domineering father, Old Karl, and Papa is quickly separated not just from both parents but from his brother as well. So begins the oldest story ever told—a youngster heads off on a journey—but the familiarity of the novel's setup is countered by the rounded, quirky, sometimes-creepy characters Papa encounters and the warmth of Wittliff’s down-home prose. The secondary cast includes Papa’s newborn half brother, whose bird-shaped birthmark holds an oracular power for those around him; Fritz, a stray dog with a strange laughing bark; Calley, a cowboy who’s at once a walking essay in conditional ethics and a father figure to the boy; and Pepe and Peto, Mexican laborers who’ve also escaped Old Karl’s heavy hand. Wittliff, who’s written screenplays for Lonesome Dove and Legends of the Fall, knows his Texas tropes backward and forward. Some of those tropes are overly familiar, and characters tend to appear and disappear in ways that strain credulity. But here too Wittliff knows what he's doing: The novel is less a grab bag of episodes and symbols (though it is that) than a sophisticated consideration of interconnectedness, an idea he tinkers with on practical and metaphysical levels. The elliptical story climaxes at the ridge of the novel’s title, giving the book the feel of an old-fashioned cliffhanger in its closing pages. Wittliff’s Huck-ish voice sometimes runs on a bit long, but he’s a font of well-told wisdom, and Unruh’s illustrations show key moments in the story with appropriately warped perspective and detail.

An unpretentious but smart reboot of Wild West storytelling.

REAL SANTA
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In a fit of inspired insanity, a laid-off suburban father decides to prove to his 9-year-old daughter that there really is a Santa Claus.

Never doubt the determination of a mad scientist and his plans. In this sixth novel from prolific writer and blogger Hazelgrove (The Pitcher, 2013, etc.), the author marries the everyday dramas found in the novels of Tom Perrotta and Nick Hornby to the high camp of Carl Hiaasen or Dave Barry. His protagonist is an aging engineer named George Krononfeldt who is promptly laid off from his firm for his increasingly cranky attitude. Simultaneously, his daughter Megan is slowly being poisoned of her belief in Christmas-y myths by her hateful teacher, Mrs. Worthington. “I will kick Santa squarely in the nuts once and for all,” she proclaims during one of her darker moments. Undetermined, George starts sketching out plans to give his daughter—who has inherited her father’s penchant for requiring empirical data to prove a coherent thesis—one more Christmas miracle. “I’m going to be the Real Santa,” George tells his father, whom he enlists in aid of the outlandish project. “I’m going to land a sled on the roof, go up the chimney, go down it, deliver the gifts, and then I’m going to get back in the sled and take off into the sky.” After spending more than $80,000 building a contraption that would rival a NASA launch and engaging the help of his estranged older son and daughter and a slightly mad Santa impersonator named “Kris Kringgle,” George does indeed take to the skies. It’s not as frenetic as Christopher Moore’s The Stupidest Angel or as maudlin as all those holiday staples (read: A Christmas Story), but adults looking for a funny holiday-themed tale that doesn’t lose its sense of wonder in the face of realism will find a treat here.

A lovingly crafted comedy about the madness that fatherhood inspires.

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