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id vs. Goliath, adventure epic, literary song of the South — into his stuffed turducken of a plot. Too many characters speechify like they're auditioning for a community-theater mash-up of Sling Blade and To Kill a Mockingbird, and a narrative shift that comes in halfway through overstays its welcome. A present-day coda adds paragraphs but few epiphanies.

Still, it's not hard to see why the book has earned early praise and an impressive first-run print order of 100,000 copies. Secret has lovely sensory moments, and it strives to tell the type of story that many contemporary novelists find too old-fashioned, or too sincere: one about family and community, good guys and bad guys, love and loss and spiritual redemption. Like Medgar, it's flawed and sprawling and a little bit unmoored, but its aim is true. B

]]> THE SECRET WISDOM OF THE EARTH Christopher Scotton]]> EW.com-20883941 <![CDATA[Something Rich and Strange]]> Wed, 17 Dec 2014 15:00:00 EST There's something in the specificity of Rash's writing, the way he can pinpoint time (from the Civil War through modern times) and place (mainly his beloved Appalachia) and drag them improbably into the universal. He isn't as well-known as he should be — although his 2008 novel, Serena, has recently been turned into a film starring Jennifer Lawrence and Bradley Cooper. This anthology of Rash's earthy, often eerie short stories is like a forest you can get lost in for hours, small but affecting tales of poverty, addiction, pride, love, and despair threaded with life-altering acts of violence and a firm sense of humanity. The title is from one of the stories, but there's no better description for what's inside. A-

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There's something in the specificity of Rash's writing, the way he can pinpoint time (from the Civil War through modern times) and place (mainly his beloved Appalachia) and drag them improbably into the universal. He isn't as well-known as he should be — although his 2008 novel, Serena, has recently been turned into a film starring Jennifer Lawrence and Bradley Cooper. This anthology of Rash's earthy, often eerie short stories is like a forest you can get lost in for hours, small but affecting tales of poverty, addiction, pride, love, and despair threaded with life-altering acts of violence and a firm sense of humanity. The title is from one of the stories, but there's no better description for what's inside. A-

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SOMETHING RICH AND STRANGE Ron Rash]]>
EW.com-20883935 <![CDATA[When Books Went to War]]> Wed, 17 Dec 2014 15:00:00 EST Did you know that during WWII, the U.S. War Department and most major New York publishers banded together to create a line of wallet-size paperbacks that could fit in a soldier's breast or pants pocket? The initiative, which started out small, eventually grew to 120 million copies of some 1,200 titles — novels, science books, humor collections, histories, biographies, and more. It was a huge hit with the troops, for whom books were often the only source of entertainment. One soldier told A.J. Liebling, then the war correspondent for The New Yorker, ''These little books are a great thing. They take you away.'' The GIs, sailors, and airmen scrapped over the most popular titles when shipments arrived at the PX. They could not get enough of the potboiler Forever Amber, likely because of the sex scenes; Rosemary Taylor's Chicken Every Sunday, which made them nostalgic for their mothers' home cooking; and Katherine Anne Porter's haunting short stories, with their stark renderings of love and loss. The men peppered Betty Smith, the author of A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, with some 1,500 letters a year (she answered almost all of them). And they loved The Great Gatsby so much that critics, who had more or less ignored the novel since its 1925 publication, took another look.

When Books Went to War may be a slim read, but it packs a wallop. Whether or not you're a book lover, you'll be moved by the impeccably researched tale. Manning not only illuminates a dusty slice of WWII history that most of us know nothing about but also reminds us, in the digital era of movies and TV, just how powerfully literature once figured in people's lives. A

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Did you know that during WWII, the U.S. War Department and most major New York publishers banded together to create a line of wallet-size paperbacks that could fit in a soldier's breast or pants pocket? The initiative, which started out small, eventually grew to 120 million copies of some 1,200 titles — novels, science books, humor collections, histories, biographies, and more. It was a huge hit with the troops, for whom books were often the only source of entertainment. One soldier told A.J. Liebling, then the war correspondent for The New Yorker, ''These little books are a great thing. They take you away.'' The GIs, sailors, and airmen scrapped over the most popular titles when shipments arrived at the PX. They could not get enough of the potboiler Forever Amber, likely because of the sex scenes; Rosemary Taylor's Chicken Every Sunday, which made them nostalgic for their mothers' home cooking; and Katherine Anne Porter's haunting short stories, with their stark renderings of love and loss. The men peppered Betty Smith, the author of A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, with some 1,500 letters a year (she answered almost all of them). And they loved The Great Gatsby so much that critics, who had more or less ignored the novel since its 1925 publication, took another look.

When Books Went to War may be a slim read, but it packs a wallop. Whether or not you're a book lover, you'll be moved by the impeccably researched tale. Manning not only illuminates a dusty slice of WWII history that most of us know nothing about but also reminds us, in the digital era of movies and TV, just how powerfully literature once figured in people's lives. A

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WHEN BOOKS WENT TO WAR Molly Guptill Manning]]>
EW.com-20877256 <![CDATA[Into a Raging Blaze]]> Wed, 26 Nov 2014 15:00:00 EST Diplomat Carina Dymek is a rising star in Sweden's foreign-affairs ministry, handling her duties with ruthless efficiency until the day a skittish stranger hands her a flash drive at a European Union meeting in Brussels. Turns out it contains classified information about a terrifying new European intelligence agency, one that will operate without regard to law. Suddenly Carina's in danger, clambering out a fourth-floor window in her apartment and leaking the document to a British newspaper. Norman spent 10 years as a diplomat, and his knowledge of espionage fuels the high-octane pace. You'll fall for his complex plot and characters — not just Carina but also her Egyptian-born boyfriend and the agent who's tracking her. Finally, a thriller for the WikiLeaks era. B+

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Diplomat Carina Dymek is a rising star in Sweden's foreign-affairs ministry, handling her duties with ruthless efficiency until the day a skittish stranger hands her a flash drive at a European Union meeting in Brussels. Turns out it contains classified information about a terrifying new European intelligence agency, one that will operate without regard to law. Suddenly Carina's in danger, clambering out a fourth-floor window in her apartment and leaking the document to a British newspaper. Norman spent 10 years as a diplomat, and his knowledge of espionage fuels the high-octane pace. You'll fall for his complex plot and characters — not just Carina but also her Egyptian-born boyfriend and the agent who's tracking her. Finally, a thriller for the WikiLeaks era. B+

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INTO A RAGING BLAZE Andreas Norman]]>
EW.com-20877258 <![CDATA[Lives in Ruins]]> Wed, 26 Nov 2014 15:00:00 EST As Johnson points out at the beginning of Lives in Ruins, the chronicle of her adventures in the world of archaeology, there are no dinosaurs here — that is the purview of paleontologists. Instead she concentrates on the people sifting through the sand for clay pots and exploring shipwrecks for treasure. Her excavation experiences are relatively mundane, so she smartly keeps the focus on the characters, who get fiercely emotional talking about the possibility of reconstructing the Chinatown in Deadwood or preserving the remains of Revolutionary War soldiers. As she did in her previous books about librarians and obituary writers, Johnson finds that the line between inspirationally nutty and actually crazy is measured in the joy of the work. B+

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As Johnson points out at the beginning of Lives in Ruins, the chronicle of her adventures in the world of archaeology, there are no dinosaurs here — that is the purview of paleontologists. Instead she concentrates on the people sifting through the sand for clay pots and exploring shipwrecks for treasure. Her excavation experiences are relatively mundane, so she smartly keeps the focus on the characters, who get fiercely emotional talking about the possibility of reconstructing the Chinatown in Deadwood or preserving the remains of Revolutionary War soldiers. As she did in her previous books about librarians and obituary writers, Johnson finds that the line between inspirationally nutty and actually crazy is measured in the joy of the work. B+

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LIVES IN RUINS Marilyn Johnson]]>
EW.com-20877255 <![CDATA[Missing Reels]]> Wed, 26 Nov 2014 15:00:00 EST For hardcore film obsessives, there's no movie so thrillingly obscure as one that doesn't exist. ''Lost movies appeal to our sense of doomed artistry,'' a film scholar tells our heroine, Ceinwen Reilly, in the absorbing debut novel Missing Reels. ''We build up heroic concepts of certain directors. Then, when their work is lost, we imagine what we're missing as even better than the movies we have.''

That sums up Missing Reels' romantic view of cinema nicely, although these words might be hard for Ceinwen to hear. She's living in New York during the 1980s, when the revival-house scene is booming. And when she's not dressing up like Jean Harlow to work as a shopgirl at Vintage Visions, or forcing her gay roommates/BFFs to watch Shanghai Express, she's hunting for her own lost classic, The Mysteries of Udolpho, a silent film that may or may not star her downstairs neighbor Miriam. When Ceinwen meets Matthew, a dashing British mathematician, Missing Reels starts to feel like a classic movie itself: There's a dramatic screwball romance and an exciting hard-boiled mystery, as well as one too many monologues. There's also enough trivia to delight any cinephile. Glancing at Ceinwen's outfit, Miriam says that if she really wanted to look like Jean Harlow, she wouldn't wear underwear.

The film-snob debates in this book will remind you why so many great relationships are built upon shared passions. That's true for Ceinwen and Matthew, and maybe also for Farran Smith Nehme and you, if you're a movie buff. Once named GQ's Film Blogger of the Year for her classic-film criticism site, Self-Styled Siren, Nehme knows how to mix real-life history with fictional directors, actors, and films, making the true stuff just as compelling as the imagined. By the end, you'll be desperate to see The Mysteries of Udolpho. So maybe it's a good thing that like all the best movies, it doesn't exist. A-

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For hardcore film obsessives, there's no movie so thrillingly obscure as one that doesn't exist. ''Lost movies appeal to our sense of doomed artistry,'' a film scholar tells our heroine, Ceinwen Reilly, in the absorbing debut novel Missing Reels. ''We build up heroic concepts of certain directors. Then, when their work is lost, we imagine what we're missing as even better than the movies we have.''

That sums up Missing Reels' romantic view of cinema nicely, although these words might be hard for Ceinwen to hear. She's living in New York during the 1980s, when the revival-house scene is booming. And when she's not dressing up like Jean Harlow to work as a shopgirl at Vintage Visions, or forcing her gay roommates/BFFs to watch Shanghai Express, she's hunting for her own lost classic, The Mysteries of Udolpho, a silent film that may or may not star her downstairs neighbor Miriam. When Ceinwen meets Matthew, a dashing British mathematician, Missing Reels starts to feel like a classic movie itself: There's a dramatic screwball romance and an exciting hard-boiled mystery, as well as one too many monologues. There's also enough trivia to delight any cinephile. Glancing at Ceinwen's outfit, Miriam says that if she really wanted to look like Jean Harlow, she wouldn't wear underwear.

The film-snob debates in this book will remind you why so many great relationships are built upon shared passions. That's true for Ceinwen and Matthew, and maybe also for Farran Smith Nehme and you, if you're a movie buff. Once named GQ's Film Blogger of the Year for her classic-film criticism site, Self-Styled Siren, Nehme knows how to mix real-life history with fictional directors, actors, and films, making the true stuff just as compelling as the imagined. By the end, you'll be desperate to see The Mysteries of Udolpho. So maybe it's a good thing that like all the best movies, it doesn't exist. A-

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MISSING REELS Farren Smith Nehme]]>
EW.com-20877267 <![CDATA[Revival]]> Wed, 26 Nov 2014 15:00:00 EST King dedicates his latest novel to a laundry list of horror-genre influences — foremost, annalist of the weird H.P. Lovecraft — but Revival ends up being one of the author's quieter, less scare-heavy works. It's primarily the story of Jamie Morton, whose life ineluctably intertwines with that of the not-so-good Rev. Charles Jacobs, a small-town man of God whose experiments with electricity turn disturbing when he loses his wife and child in an accident. The early chapters are honeyed with King's well-established brand of coming-of-age nostalgia, and the story quickly settles into a cozy groove — before long you're reading pages almost faster than you can flip them. B+

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King dedicates his latest novel to a laundry list of horror-genre influences — foremost, annalist of the weird H.P. Lovecraft — but Revival ends up being one of the author's quieter, less scare-heavy works. It's primarily the story of Jamie Morton, whose life ineluctably intertwines with that of the not-so-good Rev. Charles Jacobs, a small-town man of God whose experiments with electricity turn disturbing when he loses his wife and child in an accident. The early chapters are honeyed with King's well-established brand of coming-of-age nostalgia, and the story quickly settles into a cozy groove — before long you're reading pages almost faster than you can flip them. B+

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REVIVAL Stephen King]]>