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st notorious unsolved crimes in Hollywood history. And it's one that author William J. Mann digs into with lip-smacking gusto in his true-crime page-turner Tinseltown. Mann, a biographer of such gold-plated movie stars as Katharine Hepburn and Elizabeth Taylor, tirelessly exhumes the cold case and offers a fresh theory on whodunit. Was it Mabel Normand, the A-lister with a sweet tooth for cocaine? Mary Miles Minter, the flighty ingenue with a fatal attraction to the fatherly director? What about her overprotective, pistol-packing mother? Or the hard-luck actress with the ex-con playmates? Or Taylor's embezzling former valet, who knew all of his secrets, including that his boss was a closeted homosexual? And how did this affect Adolph Zukor, the all-powerful head of the biggest studio in town? All had their motives. Taken together, Mann's call sheet of colorful characters is so richly painted, they not only make the Roaring '20s come to life, they're so bizarre they seem like they could only exist in a movie (to some of them, that's the only place they felt alive anyway). With his dogged pick-and-shovel reporting and jeweler's eye for detail, Mann makes a bygone era feel as familiar as the latest TMZ exposé. And while he never quite fingers the murderer with the beyond-a-reasonable-doubt certainty that the dust jacket trumpets, he may very well have his mystery man — or woman. Hell, with a story this juicy, it almost doesn't matter. A-

]]> TINSELTOWN William J. Mann]]> EW.com-20862838 <![CDATA[Ancillary Sword]]> Wed, 15 Oct 2014 15:00:00 EDT At the end of Leckie's debut novel, Ancillary Justice, the spacefaring empire at its center was teetering on the verge of internal collapse. In the second installment of this intended trilogy, the action moves to a galactic backwater where the Radch civilization's history of oppressing alien cultures plays out in an atmosphere of bureaucratic intrigue. Readers who don't normally consume sci-fi may struggle with the book's steep learning curve and slow-moving first half, but fans of space operas will feast on its richly textured, gorgeously rendered world-building. B

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At the end of Leckie's debut novel, Ancillary Justice, the spacefaring empire at its center was teetering on the verge of internal collapse. In the second installment of this intended trilogy, the action moves to a galactic backwater where the Radch civilization's history of oppressing alien cultures plays out in an atmosphere of bureaucratic intrigue. Readers who don't normally consume sci-fi may struggle with the book's steep learning curve and slow-moving first half, but fans of space operas will feast on its richly textured, gorgeously rendered world-building. B

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ANCILLARY SWORD Ann Leckie]]>
EW.com-20862848 <![CDATA[The Lives of Others]]> Wed, 15 Oct 2014 15:00:00 EDT It's awards season, which means books described as ''ambitious'' or ''epic'' or ''spanning generations'' are in abundant supply. Indian-born author Neel Mukherjee's second novel checks those prestige-lit boxes — it's been shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize — but what's dazzling about The Lives of Others isn't just its scope or literary acrobatics but also its matter-of-fact humanity.

The novel opens on the well-to-do Ghosh family's Calcutta home in 1967. The grand four-story mansion is a clear symbol of the clan's inner hierarchy and the stratified society of India at large: The patriarch, Prafullanath, rules from the top with his wife, Charubala; three married sons and their families, along with a spinster daughter, fill out the middle; and on the ground floor dwell the unmentionables, the widow of a black-sheep son and their kids. For much of the novel, domestic conflicts occupy the Ghoshes — Prafullanath's once-thriving paper empire is crumbling, and the many children, grandchildren, and spouses (the book comes with a handy family tree) harbor dark secrets and engage in petty spats. Outside the mansion walls, though, political unrest is roiling the Bengal region, and the Ghoshes' rebel child Supratik's involvement in the radical Naxalite movement forces the family to reckon with the sea change happening around them.

While much of the drama is intriguing and the final chapters are breathtakingly tense, The Lives of Others can be a tough, nonlinear read at times. But hang in there. It's not until the unsettled but wholly satisfying end that the force of this journey hits you in waves. A-

Memorable Lines:
''There isn't a thread of shade anywhere. The May sun is an unforgiving fire; it burns his blood dry.''

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It's awards season, which means books described as ''ambitious'' or ''epic'' or ''spanning generations'' are in abundant supply. Indian-born author Neel Mukherjee's second novel checks those prestige-lit boxes — it's been shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize — but what's dazzling about The Lives of Others isn't just its scope or literary acrobatics but also its matter-of-fact humanity.

The novel opens on the well-to-do Ghosh family's Calcutta home in 1967. The grand four-story mansion is a clear symbol of the clan's inner hierarchy and the stratified society of India at large: The patriarch, Prafullanath, rules from the top with his wife, Charubala; three married sons and their families, along with a spinster daughter, fill out the middle; and on the ground floor dwell the unmentionables, the widow of a black-sheep son and their kids. For much of the novel, domestic conflicts occupy the Ghoshes — Prafullanath's once-thriving paper empire is crumbling, and the many children, grandchildren, and spouses (the book comes with a handy family tree) harbor dark secrets and engage in petty spats. Outside the mansion walls, though, political unrest is roiling the Bengal region, and the Ghoshes' rebel child Supratik's involvement in the radical Naxalite movement forces the family to reckon with the sea change happening around them.

While much of the drama is intriguing and the final chapters are breathtakingly tense, The Lives of Others can be a tough, nonlinear read at times. But hang in there. It's not until the unsettled but wholly satisfying end that the force of this journey hits you in waves. A-

Memorable Lines:
''There isn't a thread of shade anywhere. The May sun is an unforgiving fire; it burns his blood dry.''

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THE LIVES OF OTHERS Neel Mukherjee]]>
EW.com-20862846 <![CDATA[Reunion]]> Wed, 15 Oct 2014 15:00:00 EDT ''It is nearly three days since my father walked onto his back porch and bit down on a loaded gun. But it feels like an eternity since then.'' Kate, already unmoored by the implosion of her career and marriage, finds herself spinning even further out of control as she joins her brother and sister to plan the funeral. As they crowd into their dad's dreary Atlanta condo with a bevy of ex-wives and half siblings, decades' worth of old grudges and bitternesses bubble through their conversations. It's an indelible portrait of a family, messy and raw. Prickly Kate isn't a particularly sympathetic character — but she feels like a real one. B+

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''It is nearly three days since my father walked onto his back porch and bit down on a loaded gun. But it feels like an eternity since then.'' Kate, already unmoored by the implosion of her career and marriage, finds herself spinning even further out of control as she joins her brother and sister to plan the funeral. As they crowd into their dad's dreary Atlanta condo with a bevy of ex-wives and half siblings, decades' worth of old grudges and bitternesses bubble through their conversations. It's an indelible portrait of a family, messy and raw. Prickly Kate isn't a particularly sympathetic character — but she feels like a real one. B+

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REUNION Hannah Pittard]]>
EW.com-20862852 <![CDATA[The Secret History of Wonder Woman]]> Wed, 15 Oct 2014 15:00:00 EDT Wonder Woman used to be a warrior princess. Now she's often just a pretty girl. When director Zack Snyder released an image of Gal Gadot as the Amazonian princess in the upcoming Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, one critic quipped, ''During production, we had to ask ourselves so many tough questions. Like, for instance, which size zero bikini model is best suited to play this strapping superhuman?'' Only a few years ago, David E. Kelley wrote a Wonder Woman pilot that found the freedom fighter crying over a boy while eating ice cream. So it's all the more fascinating to learn from New Yorker writer Jill Lepore's new book that Wonder Woman was created by a man who not only believed in the superiority of the fairer sex but also carried on a polyamorous relationship with two feminists who lived with him in one house, along with their children.

Lepore traces Wonder Woman's roots back to the turn-of-the-20th-century feminist movement that gave us suffragists and birth-control activism, but it's William Moulton Marston's story that carries The Secret History of Wonder Woman. Just like superheroes with hidden identities, Marston never revealed his secret life to the public. Lepore is particularly savvy at pointing out his contradictions: He invented the lie detector test, but he was also a liar who claimed that his girlfriend, Olive Byrne, was a blood relative. He considered women to be mentally stronger than men, but insisted that they're happiest when they're submissive. (There's a reason Wonder Woman always gets tied up: Marston had a thing for bondage.) His comics showed her calling for her mortal sisters to fight off their male oppressors, but in his more scholarly publications, he may have taken credit for research conducted by his wife, Elizabeth ''Betty'' Holloway.

Even Marston's most selfish decisions inadvertently paved the way for women's rights. After he forced his wife to let his mistress move in with them, Holloway passed off the child rearing to Byrne and forged a career as a lecturer and editor at a time when women were discouraged from working. Following Marston's death, Holloway, who stayed with Byrne, served as a consultant for the founding issue of Ms. magazine in 1972, with its famous cover line ''Wonder Woman for President.'' Yet as young women, they participated in sexual ''training camps'' with Marston. Remember that these two women were both major inspirations for a character as wholesome as Wonder Woman, defender of justice and high-waisted, full-coverage underpants. It's surprising to find that, as Lepore writes, ''theirs was a remarkably kinky New Age.''

The Marston family's story is ripe for psychoanalysis. And so is The Secret History, since it raises interesting questions about what motivates writers to choose the subjects of their books. Having devoted her last work to Jane Franklin Mecom, Benjamin Franklin's sister, Lepore clearly has a passion for intelligent, opinionated women whose legacies have been overshadowed by the men they love. In her own small way, she's helping women get the justice they deserve, not unlike her tiara'd counterpart. But maybe that's getting too political for a book that's also a great read. It has nearly everything you might want in a page-turner: tales of S&M, skeletons in the closet, a believe-it-or-not weirdness in its biographical details, and something else that secretly powers even the most ''serious'' feminist history — fun. A

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Wonder Woman used to be a warrior princess. Now she's often just a pretty girl. When director Zack Snyder released an image of Gal Gadot as the Amazonian princess in the upcoming Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, one critic quipped, ''During production, we had to ask ourselves so many tough questions. Like, for instance, which size zero bikini model is best suited to play this strapping superhuman?'' Only a few years ago, David E. Kelley wrote a Wonder Woman pilot that found the freedom fighter crying over a boy while eating ice cream. So it's all the more fascinating to learn from New Yorker writer Jill Lepore's new book that Wonder Woman was created by a man who not only believed in the superiority of the fairer sex but also carried on a polyamorous relationship with two feminists who lived with him in one house, along with their children.

Lepore traces Wonder Woman's roots back to the turn-of-the-20th-century feminist movement that gave us suffragists and birth-control activism, but it's William Moulton Marston's story that carries The Secret History of Wonder Woman. Just like superheroes with hidden identities, Marston never revealed his secret life to the public. Lepore is particularly savvy at pointing out his contradictions: He invented the lie detector test, but he was also a liar who claimed that his girlfriend, Olive Byrne, was a blood relative. He considered women to be mentally stronger than men, but insisted that they're happiest when they're submissive. (There's a reason Wonder Woman always gets tied up: Marston had a thing for bondage.) His comics showed her calling for her mortal sisters to fight off their male oppressors, but in his more scholarly publications, he may have taken credit for research conducted by his wife, Elizabeth ''Betty'' Holloway.

Even Marston's most selfish decisions inadvertently paved the way for women's rights. After he forced his wife to let his mistress move in with them, Holloway passed off the child rearing to Byrne and forged a career as a lecturer and editor at a time when women were discouraged from working. Following Marston's death, Holloway, who stayed with Byrne, served as a consultant for the founding issue of Ms. magazine in 1972, with its famous cover line ''Wonder Woman for President.'' Yet as young women, they participated in sexual ''training camps'' with Marston. Remember that these two women were both major inspirations for a character as wholesome as Wonder Woman, defender of justice and high-waisted, full-coverage underpants. It's surprising to find that, as Lepore writes, ''theirs was a remarkably kinky New Age.''

The Marston family's story is ripe for psychoanalysis. And so is The Secret History, since it raises interesting questions about what motivates writers to choose the subjects of their books. Having devoted her last work to Jane Franklin Mecom, Benjamin Franklin's sister, Lepore clearly has a passion for intelligent, opinionated women whose legacies have been overshadowed by the men they love. In her own small way, she's helping women get the justice they deserve, not unlike her tiara'd counterpart. But maybe that's getting too political for a book that's also a great read. It has nearly everything you might want in a page-turner: tales of S&M, skeletons in the closet, a believe-it-or-not weirdness in its biographical details, and something else that secretly powers even the most ''serious'' feminist history — fun. A

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THE SECRET HISTORY OF WONDER WOMAN Jill Lepore]]>
EW.com-20862837 <![CDATA[The Witch]]> Wed, 15 Oct 2014 15:00:00 EDT Despite a reputation for happy endings, fairy tales can be famously dark; what sadist decided children should be sent to bed with stories of one-eyed ogres and cannibalistic witches? In her clever collection, Thompson transposes the likes of ''Rapunzel'' and ''The Pied Piper'' to appropriately adult 21st-century settings: Hansel and Gretel fall into the clutches of a vicious old woman through foster care, not a backwoods wander; Bluebeard is a public intellectual whose past is ferreted out by his young new wife via email. These characters may have free will (and iPods), but they can't change their Grimm fates. B+

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Despite a reputation for happy endings, fairy tales can be famously dark; what sadist decided children should be sent to bed with stories of one-eyed ogres and cannibalistic witches? In her clever collection, Thompson transposes the likes of ''Rapunzel'' and ''The Pied Piper'' to appropriately adult 21st-century settings: Hansel and Gretel fall into the clutches of a vicious old woman through foster care, not a backwoods wander; Bluebeard is a public intellectual whose past is ferreted out by his young new wife via email. These characters may have free will (and iPods), but they can't change their Grimm fates. B+

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THE WITCH Jean Thompson]]>
EW.com-20860380 <![CDATA[A Brief History of Seven Killings]]> Wed, 8 Oct 2014 15:00:00 EDT This ambitious novel requires an ambitious reader. Starting with the assassination attempt on Bob Marley in 1976, James chronicles decades of upheaval in Jamaica's turbulent history through the eyes of myriad narrators: a Rolling Stone reporter, the ghost of a politician, and an assortment of gangsters, drug lords, and CIA agents. The sheer number of characters (there's a handy list at the beginning), the Caribbean slang, and the gonzo view of violence and corruption are dizzying but nothing short of awe-inspiring. A-

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This ambitious novel requires an ambitious reader. Starting with the assassination attempt on Bob Marley in 1976, James chronicles decades of upheaval in Jamaica's turbulent history through the eyes of myriad narrators: a Rolling Stone reporter, the ghost of a politician, and an assortment of gangsters, drug lords, and CIA agents. The sheer number of characters (there's a handy list at the beginning), the Caribbean slang, and the gonzo view of violence and corruption are dizzying but nothing short of awe-inspiring. A-

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A BRIEF HISTORY OF SEVEN KILLINGS Marlon James]]>
EW.com-20860376 <![CDATA[Even This I Get to Experience]]> Wed, 8 Oct 2014 15:00:00 EDT As a kid, Norman Lear, the celebrated television producer who helped nurture the new medium in the '50s and expand its potential in the '70s with a string of bold blockbuster sitcoms (All in the Family, Sanford and Son, and The Jeffersons, to name a few), dreamed of breaking into showbiz as a publicist. After a childhood spent chasing the affection of narcissistic parents and a stint in the Army Air Forces shooting Nazis out of the sky, Lear scored a job as a ''pressman'' by circulating a cheeky press release full of hype about himself. Now 92, he has done something similar, but much longer: His sharply written, always entertaining, yet surprisingly shallow autobiography is a glowing survey of his important work as an entertainer, liberal activist, and American citizen.

Lear introduces himself by excavating the childhood hurt that would define his life and inform such characters as Archie Bunker and Maude: his fraught relationship with his father, H.K., charismatic yet callous, a shifty salesman whose dubious schemes and reckless drive to provide yielded chaos for the family and landed him in jail. Lear excels at profiling those who shaped him, from his extended family to his Army buddies to Jerry Lewis and Dean Martin (he made his name in Hollywood writing for them on The Colgate Comedy Hour), and he has a way with choice, juicy anecdotes. The story about Jerry Lewis' penis and a birthday candle is an all-timer. But he doesn't flatter himself with bitter remembrances of his first two marriages. Both were difficult, loveless relationships that left lasting bruises, but his harshness toward his bipolar, suicidal second wife of 30 years, Frances — mocking her clumsy feminist awakening, resenting her wet-blanket antics during Vegas getaways — rings graceless.

You keep waiting for Lear to turn his critical eye inward, particularly as his portrait of an ambitious, pill-popping workaholic takes shape. It never really happens. His lack of humility hurts the section of the book that should be the best, his chronicle of his seminal '70s work. The memoir proceeds from the assumption that All in the Family et al. are certifiable Classics That Changed Television — and they are — but there is no attempt to assess their relevance today. We get story after heroic story of Lear doing no wrong as TV auteur and provocateur, challenging America to confront social realities, battling network execs who would censor him, humbling difficult stars who would undermine his great work. He responds more defensively than thoughtfully to the lingering criticism that Archie Bunker, lovable bigot, represented a soft, problematic response to prejudice. And he comes off as insensitive if not condescending scolding Esther Rolle and John Amos — the leads on Good Times, one of the first sitcoms to center on an African-American family — for stifling the creativity of his mostly white writing staff by constantly worrying about the show's stereotypes, morality, and worldview. This from a man who is now so proud of USC's Norman Lear Center, devoted to studying media influence. Lear — a generous soul, to be sure, with an inspiring passion for his country (the last 100 pages detail his political activism, including launching People for the American Way) — has produced a wealth of pop culture worth bragging about. His memoir? Not quite one of them. B-

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As a kid, Norman Lear, the celebrated television producer who helped nurture the new medium in the '50s and expand its potential in the '70s with a string of bold blockbuster sitcoms (All in the Family, Sanford and Son, and The Jeffersons, to name a few), dreamed of breaking into showbiz as a publicist. After a childhood spent chasing the affection of narcissistic parents and a stint in the Army Air Forces shooting Nazis out of the sky, Lear scored a job as a ''pressman'' by circulating a cheeky press release full of hype about himself. Now 92, he has done something similar, but much longer: His sharply written, always entertaining, yet surprisingly shallow autobiography is a glowing survey of his important work as an entertainer, liberal activist, and American citizen.

Lear introduces himself by excavating the childhood hurt that would define his life and inform such characters as Archie Bunker and Maude: his fraught relationship with his father, H.K., charismatic yet callous, a shifty salesman whose dubious schemes and reckless drive to provide yielded chaos for the family and landed him in jail. Lear excels at profiling those who shaped him, from his extended family to his Army buddies to Jerry Lewis and Dean Martin (he made his name in Hollywood writing for them on The Colgate Comedy Hour), and he has a way with choice, juicy anecdotes. The story about Jerry Lewis' penis and a birthday candle is an all-timer. But he doesn't flatter himself with bitter remembrances of his first two marriages. Both were difficult, loveless relationships that left lasting bruises, but his harshness toward his bipolar, suicidal second wife of 30 years, Frances — mocking her clumsy feminist awakening, resenting her wet-blanket antics during Vegas getaways — rings graceless.

You keep waiting for Lear to turn his critical eye inward, particularly as his portrait of an ambitious, pill-popping workaholic takes shape. It never really happens. His lack of humility hurts the section of the book that should be the best, his chronicle of his seminal '70s work. The memoir proceeds from the assumption that All in the Family et al. are certifiable Classics That Changed Television — and they are — but there is no attempt to assess their relevance today. We get story after heroic story of Lear doing no wrong as TV auteur and provocateur, challenging America to confront social realities, battling network execs who would censor him, humbling difficult stars who would undermine his great work. He responds more defensively than thoughtfully to the lingering criticism that Archie Bunker, lovable bigot, represented a soft, problematic response to prejudice. And he comes off as insensitive if not condescending scolding Esther Rolle and John Amos — the leads on Good Times, one of the first sitcoms to center on an African-American family — for stifling the creativity of his mostly white writing staff by constantly worrying about the show's stereotypes, morality, and worldview. This from a man who is now so proud of USC's Norman Lear Center, devoted to studying media influence. Lear — a generous soul, to be sure, with an inspiring passion for his country (the last 100 pages detail his political activism, including launching People for the American Way) — has produced a wealth of pop culture worth bragging about. His memoir? Not quite one of them. B-

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EVEN THIS I GET TO EXPERIENCE Norman Lear]]>
EW.com-20858032 <![CDATA[Hand to Mouth]]> Wed, 1 Oct 2014 15:00:00 EDT Honestly, I can hardly believe that Linda Tirado's Hand to Mouth exists. I'd probably still doubt it, were my copy of this angry, whip-smart woman's firsthand account of what it looks and smells and tastes and feels like to be living in poverty not so dog-eared and furiously underlined. One of our great shames as a culture is that we so rarely think to pass the mic to people on the margins. So Tirado, a mother of two with two minimum-wage jobs and a full college course load, snatched it back herself in 2013, writing a blisteringly frank and unapologetic blog post that attempted to answer the sneering question: Why do poor people do things that seem so self-destructive? Her cri de coeur, ''Why I Make Terrible Decisions, or, Poverty Thoughts,'' went viral. Out of nowhere Tirado had an audience. So hell yeah, she wrote a book.

Tirado, whose writing is crisp, persuasive, and often profane, sets up her terms early. ''Poverty is when a quarter is a f---ing miracle. Poor is when a dollar is a miracle. Broke is when five bucks is a miracle. Working class is being broke, but doing so in a place that might not be run-down....'' And so on. (Dear reader who can afford to buy books in hardcover: Count your almost stupid blessings.) Tirado splits her chapters into the biggest sources of public frustration with people like herself. Her takedowns of the insidious middle-class notions that poor people have brought their crummy lives upon themselves by having a bad work ethic, say, or indulging in vices like indiscriminate sex and cigarettes, are brilliant and to the point. But the book's triumph is Tirado's methodical rejection of the idea that poor people in this country are in control of their destinies — what with always being one broken-down car or medical emergency away from ruin — so therefore they should be the ones held solely accountable for their plights. ''We can do better than this. We choose not to.''

Tirado can be repetitive. Her arguments can drift. But you won't soon forget her voice, or her message. When she wrote the last page of this book, I hope she dropped the mic. B+

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Honestly, I can hardly believe that Linda Tirado's Hand to Mouth exists. I'd probably still doubt it, were my copy of this angry, whip-smart woman's firsthand account of what it looks and smells and tastes and feels like to be living in poverty not so dog-eared and furiously underlined. One of our great shames as a culture is that we so rarely think to pass the mic to people on the margins. So Tirado, a mother of two with two minimum-wage jobs and a full college course load, snatched it back herself in 2013, writing a blisteringly frank and unapologetic blog post that attempted to answer the sneering question: Why do poor people do things that seem so self-destructive? Her cri de coeur, ''Why I Make Terrible Decisions, or, Poverty Thoughts,'' went viral. Out of nowhere Tirado had an audience. So hell yeah, she wrote a book.

Tirado, whose writing is crisp, persuasive, and often profane, sets up her terms early. ''Poverty is when a quarter is a f---ing miracle. Poor is when a dollar is a miracle. Broke is when five bucks is a miracle. Working class is being broke, but doing so in a place that might not be run-down....'' And so on. (Dear reader who can afford to buy books in hardcover: Count your almost stupid blessings.) Tirado splits her chapters into the biggest sources of public frustration with people like herself. Her takedowns of the insidious middle-class notions that poor people have brought their crummy lives upon themselves by having a bad work ethic, say, or indulging in vices like indiscriminate sex and cigarettes, are brilliant and to the point. But the book's triumph is Tirado's methodical rejection of the idea that poor people in this country are in control of their destinies — what with always being one broken-down car or medical emergency away from ruin — so therefore they should be the ones held solely accountable for their plights. ''We can do better than this. We choose not to.''

Tirado can be repetitive. Her arguments can drift. But you won't soon forget her voice, or her message. When she wrote the last page of this book, I hope she dropped the mic. B+

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HAND TO MOUTH Linda Tirado]]>
EW.com-20858028 <![CDATA[Lila]]> Wed, 1 Oct 2014 15:00:00 EDT Longtime Robinson readers will remember Lila as preacher John Ames' second wife in the Pulitzer-winning Gilead. Here Robinson traces Lila's life back to a childhood so horrific, you'll root for her from the first page. It's an unsparing look at a simple life that raises not-so-simple questions. Emotionally and intellectually challenging, it's an exploration of faith in God, love, and whatever else it takes to survive. A

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Longtime Robinson readers will remember Lila as preacher John Ames' second wife in the Pulitzer-winning Gilead. Here Robinson traces Lila's life back to a childhood so horrific, you'll root for her from the first page. It's an unsparing look at a simple life that raises not-so-simple questions. Emotionally and intellectually challenging, it's an exploration of faith in God, love, and whatever else it takes to survive. A

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LILA Marilynne Robinson]]>
EW.com-20858018 <![CDATA[Rooms]]> Wed, 1 Oct 2014 15:00:00 EDT Oliver is the author of the best-selling YA Delirium trilogy. Rooms, her first adult novel, is technically a ghost story. But don't dismiss it as a cheesy supernatural romp. After Richard Walker dies, his estranged family returns to his house, where they're observed by its two phantoms. Everyone — living and dead — has secrets, and Oliver expertly teases out each plot for maximum drama and poignancy. B+

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Oliver is the author of the best-selling YA Delirium trilogy. Rooms, her first adult novel, is technically a ghost story. But don't dismiss it as a cheesy supernatural romp. After Richard Walker dies, his estranged family returns to his house, where they're observed by its two phantoms. Everyone — living and dead — has secrets, and Oliver expertly teases out each plot for maximum drama and poignancy. B+

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ROOMS Lauren Oliver]]>
EW.com-20858034 <![CDATA[The Short and Tragic Life of Robert Peace]]> Wed, 1 Oct 2014 15:00:00 EDT In 2011, 30-year-old Robert Peace was murdered in a drug-dealing dispute in Newark. But he was hardly a ghetto cliché; he had been a Yale grad full of promise. Hobbs, who was Peace's wealthy college roommate, becomes a Nick Carraway of sorts, trekking to Newark to investigate the story and turning the life and death of his old friend into a haunting American tragedy for our times. B+

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In 2011, 30-year-old Robert Peace was murdered in a drug-dealing dispute in Newark. But he was hardly a ghetto cliché; he had been a Yale grad full of promise. Hobbs, who was Peace's wealthy college roommate, becomes a Nick Carraway of sorts, trekking to Newark to investigate the story and turning the life and death of his old friend into a haunting American tragedy for our times. B+

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THE SHORT AND TRAGIC LIFE OF ROBERT PEACE Jeff Hobbs]]>
EW.com-20858027 <![CDATA[Some Luck]]> Wed, 1 Oct 2014 15:00:00 EDT Some Luck opens with a Langdon family tree. Even before we get to know Rosanna, Walter, and their children, the sprawling branches reveal the scope of this novel, which begins in 1920. Smiley, who devotes a chapter per year to the Langdons' Iowa farm life, depicts both disasters and heartbreaks in an unruffled tone. The good news? This is the first of a trilogy. The bad news? We have to wait for the next volume. A-

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Some Luck opens with a Langdon family tree. Even before we get to know Rosanna, Walter, and their children, the sprawling branches reveal the scope of this novel, which begins in 1920. Smiley, who devotes a chapter per year to the Langdons' Iowa farm life, depicts both disasters and heartbreaks in an unruffled tone. The good news? This is the first of a trilogy. The bad news? We have to wait for the next volume. A-

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SOME LUCK Jane Smiley]]>
EW.com-20856612 <![CDATA[Not That Kind of Girl]]> Fri, 26 Sep 2014 10:00:00 EDT Whatever your opinion is of Lena Dunham—and you are, as a media consumer, legally required to have one—Not That Kind of Girl probably won't change it. If you find her output as an actress and premium-cable auteur delightfully fresh and original, you've already got her publishing debut in your Kindle queue. If, on the other hand, the idea of a 28-year-old earning a reported $3.7 million advance for her musings on therapy and summer camp and bad college sex fills you with lava-hot rage, you've likely made your case at multiple dinner parties, or somewhere in the vast reaches of the Internet.

Dunham knows all this. As her Girls counter-part Hannah Horvath famously said in the show's first season, ''Any mean thing someone's going to think of to say about me I've already said to me, about me, probably in the last half hour.'' Like Hannah, she is a compulsive oversharer and wearer of crop tops, a confessed neurotic endlessly consumed with the minutiae of her life and her place in the universe. (Hint: It's the center.) But she is also funnier and warmer and generally wiser. In the book's introduction she confesses, ''No, I am not a sexpert, a psychologist, or a dietician. I am not a mother of three or the owner of a successful hosiery franchise. But I am a girl with a keen interest in having it all, and what follows are hopeful dispatches from the frontline of that struggle.''

Thus begins a narrative loosely organized around larger themes like Love & Sex and Friendship, but guided mostly by a Woody-Allen-with-a-uterus kind of whimsy. There are lists (''My Top 10 Health Concerns,'' ''18 Unlikely Things I've Said Flirtatiously'') and multiple accounts of childhood phobias, misguided romances, and unhinged carbohydrate consumption. You will find out what ''tonsil stones'' are and learn far more about her vagina than you have ever known of any other genitalia, including your own. Not That Kind's tone is droll and confiding and casually glib, though not always: A chapter on encounters with a certain kind of middle-aged man in the entertainment industry—her friend calls them ''Sunshine Stealers''—feels raw and devastatingly real. It's hard not to wish for more of those stories; not the ones that say ''I'm just like you!'' but ones that tell us more about how she became someone singular: a young woman whose work and words have put her at the center of a major pop culture conversation. But Dunham is not that kind of girl—at least not yet. B+

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Whatever your opinion is of Lena Dunham—and you are, as a media consumer, legally required to have one—Not That Kind of Girl probably won't change it. If you find her output as an actress and premium-cable auteur delightfully fresh and original, you've already got her publishing debut in your Kindle queue. If, on the other hand, the idea of a 28-year-old earning a reported $3.7 million advance for her musings on therapy and summer camp and bad college sex fills you with lava-hot rage, you've likely made your case at multiple dinner parties, or somewhere in the vast reaches of the Internet.

Dunham knows all this. As her Girls counter-part Hannah Horvath famously said in the show's first season, ''Any mean thing someone's going to think of to say about me I've already said to me, about me, probably in the last half hour.'' Like Hannah, she is a compulsive oversharer and wearer of crop tops, a confessed neurotic endlessly consumed with the minutiae of her life and her place in the universe. (Hint: It's the center.) But she is also funnier and warmer and generally wiser. In the book's introduction she confesses, ''No, I am not a sexpert, a psychologist, or a dietician. I am not a mother of three or the owner of a successful hosiery franchise. But I am a girl with a keen interest in having it all, and what follows are hopeful dispatches from the frontline of that struggle.''

Thus begins a narrative loosely organized around larger themes like Love & Sex and Friendship, but guided mostly by a Woody-Allen-with-a-uterus kind of whimsy. There are lists (''My Top 10 Health Concerns,'' ''18 Unlikely Things I've Said Flirtatiously'') and multiple accounts of childhood phobias, misguided romances, and unhinged carbohydrate consumption. You will find out what ''tonsil stones'' are and learn far more about her vagina than you have ever known of any other genitalia, including your own. Not That Kind's tone is droll and confiding and casually glib, though not always: A chapter on encounters with a certain kind of middle-aged man in the entertainment industry—her friend calls them ''Sunshine Stealers''—feels raw and devastatingly real. It's hard not to wish for more of those stories; not the ones that say ''I'm just like you!'' but ones that tell us more about how she became someone singular: a young woman whose work and words have put her at the center of a major pop culture conversation. But Dunham is not that kind of girl—at least not yet. B+

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NOT THAT KIND OF GIRL Lena Dunham]]>
EW.com-20855920 <![CDATA[Belzhar]]> Wed, 24 Sep 2014 15:00:00 EDT If Meg Wolitzer were trying to dip into the YA world for an easy cash grab, she wouldn't have chosen such a nerdy literary topic. The author of the acclaimed 2013 epic The Interestings sets her teen novel at the Wooden Barn, a therapeutic boarding school in rustic Vermont meant for ''emotionally fragile, highly intelligent'' high schoolers. When Jam Gallahue moves into her dorm, she's still reeling from the death of her first love, Reeve. So she doesn't much care that she's been handpicked to enroll in an exclusive, mysterious lit seminar called Special Topics in English, which focuses on the works of poet-novelist Sylvia Plath. As Jam and her four classmates — who have also endured tragedies — delve into a semester-long journaling assignment, they're transported to a hallucinatory alternate reality (dubbed ''Belzhar,'' a nod to Plath's classic The Bell Jar) in which their pre-trauma lives are restored. The allure of that false reality is overpowering, but the lesson lies in the courage to leave it behind. Wolitzer melds the power of confessional writing, Plath's legacy, and the internal worlds of teenagers in this unusual gem of a novel. A-

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If Meg Wolitzer were trying to dip into the YA world for an easy cash grab, she wouldn't have chosen such a nerdy literary topic. The author of the acclaimed 2013 epic The Interestings sets her teen novel at the Wooden Barn, a therapeutic boarding school in rustic Vermont meant for ''emotionally fragile, highly intelligent'' high schoolers. When Jam Gallahue moves into her dorm, she's still reeling from the death of her first love, Reeve. So she doesn't much care that she's been handpicked to enroll in an exclusive, mysterious lit seminar called Special Topics in English, which focuses on the works of poet-novelist Sylvia Plath. As Jam and her four classmates — who have also endured tragedies — delve into a semester-long journaling assignment, they're transported to a hallucinatory alternate reality (dubbed ''Belzhar,'' a nod to Plath's classic The Bell Jar) in which their pre-trauma lives are restored. The allure of that false reality is overpowering, but the lesson lies in the courage to leave it behind. Wolitzer melds the power of confessional writing, Plath's legacy, and the internal worlds of teenagers in this unusual gem of a novel. A-

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BELZHAR Meg Wolitzer]]>
EW.com-20855924 <![CDATA[Consumed]]> Wed, 24 Sep 2014 15:00:00 EDT ''Long live the new flesh,'' cries a transformed James Woods in Cronenberg's 1983 classic Videodrome. Indeed, the pet obsessions the director explored in that film have lived on for decades in his subsequent work, including his debut novel. They're all here: body horror, fetishism, techno-organic overlap, suppuration anxiety. Nathan and Naomi are a pair of freelance journalists who discover the stories they're working on independently — a doctor's daughter exhibiting strange symptoms and a French philosopher accused of killing and devouring his wife — might be related. Cronenberg has never striven for subtlety, and he writes with the understatement of a jackhammer. But like so much in his oeuvre, Consumed starts to grow on you after a while. B

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''Long live the new flesh,'' cries a transformed James Woods in Cronenberg's 1983 classic Videodrome. Indeed, the pet obsessions the director explored in that film have lived on for decades in his subsequent work, including his debut novel. They're all here: body horror, fetishism, techno-organic overlap, suppuration anxiety. Nathan and Naomi are a pair of freelance journalists who discover the stories they're working on independently — a doctor's daughter exhibiting strange symptoms and a French philosopher accused of killing and devouring his wife — might be related. Cronenberg has never striven for subtlety, and he writes with the understatement of a jackhammer. But like so much in his oeuvre, Consumed starts to grow on you after a while. B

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CONSUMED David Cronenberg]]>
EW.com-20855926 <![CDATA[On Immunity: An Inoculation]]> Wed, 24 Sep 2014 15:00:00 EDT What, you don't want to read nearly 200 pages about vaccination? The subject might sound dry to anyone who hasn't been fiercely debating it in her mommy group. But consider this: Eula Biss' fascinating pro-immunization book features a chapter on vampires. Although the National Book Critics Circle Award winner grounds her argument in rigorous medical, historical, and personal research — she became a mother herself just as swine-flu hysteria was sweeping the country — it's the creative thinking that makes On Immunity so compelling. Biss can turn practically anything into a metaphor for immunity: Bram Stoker's Dracula, the Occupy Wall Street movement, immigration policy, Greek mythology. And her theories about why anti-vaccine crusaders remain more afraid of inoculation than of disease itself are just as surprising as they are convincing.

Here's the biggest twist: On Immunity is not actually about vaccination. Sure, Biss ably traces the history of vaccines back to the 18th century, when doctors were injecting cow pus into humans, and she thoughtfully analyzes how class, gender, race, and nationality have played a role in shaping opinions on the matter since then. She also lays waste to common fears about vaccines, like the idea that they cause autism or can give a child mercury poisoning. (Apparently, a child will get more mercury exposure from her environment than from a shot, and breast milk isn't any less tainted. ''Laboratory analysis of breast milk has detected paint thinners, dry-cleaning fluids, flame retardants, pesticides, and rocket fuel,'' Biss reveals.) But this is a deeply philosophical book, one that's less concerned with pure science than with the elemental fear that we can never protect our children from the world. In fact, Biss believes, no one can ever truly be inoculated from other people — nor should anyone be. By exploring the anxieties about what's lurking inside our flu shots, the air, and ourselves, she drives home the message that we are all responsible for one another. On Immunity will make you consider that idea on a fairly profound level. So now do you want to read a book about vaccination? Well, if anyone can convince you that it's your moral obligation to do so, it's Biss. A

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What, you don't want to read nearly 200 pages about vaccination? The subject might sound dry to anyone who hasn't been fiercely debating it in her mommy group. But consider this: Eula Biss' fascinating pro-immunization book features a chapter on vampires. Although the National Book Critics Circle Award winner grounds her argument in rigorous medical, historical, and personal research — she became a mother herself just as swine-flu hysteria was sweeping the country — it's the creative thinking that makes On Immunity so compelling. Biss can turn practically anything into a metaphor for immunity: Bram Stoker's Dracula, the Occupy Wall Street movement, immigration policy, Greek mythology. And her theories about why anti-vaccine crusaders remain more afraid of inoculation than of disease itself are just as surprising as they are convincing.

Here's the biggest twist: On Immunity is not actually about vaccination. Sure, Biss ably traces the history of vaccines back to the 18th century, when doctors were injecting cow pus into humans, and she thoughtfully analyzes how class, gender, race, and nationality have played a role in shaping opinions on the matter since then. She also lays waste to common fears about vaccines, like the idea that they cause autism or can give a child mercury poisoning. (Apparently, a child will get more mercury exposure from her environment than from a shot, and breast milk isn't any less tainted. ''Laboratory analysis of breast milk has detected paint thinners, dry-cleaning fluids, flame retardants, pesticides, and rocket fuel,'' Biss reveals.) But this is a deeply philosophical book, one that's less concerned with pure science than with the elemental fear that we can never protect our children from the world. In fact, Biss believes, no one can ever truly be inoculated from other people — nor should anyone be. By exploring the anxieties about what's lurking inside our flu shots, the air, and ourselves, she drives home the message that we are all responsible for one another. On Immunity will make you consider that idea on a fairly profound level. So now do you want to read a book about vaccination? Well, if anyone can convince you that it's your moral obligation to do so, it's Biss. A

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ON IMMUNITY: AN INOCULATION Eula Biss]]>
EW.com-20855927 <![CDATA[The Zone of Interest]]> Wed, 24 Sep 2014 15:00:00 EDT This latest work from the U.K. author is a lusty and often comic novel set among the German overseers of an Auschwitz-like concentration camp (or, as it is referred to here, ''Kat Zet''). Offended by that concept? You have every right to be. To borrow a line of dialogue from one character as he looks at the flames emerging from the funnels of crematories, ''An unsympathetic observer might find all this rather reprehensible.'' But The Zone of Interest is no mere act of autumnal provocation from the onetime enfant terrible of British literature. It is an ultimately serious and diligently researched work with a streak of deadpan humor that reframes, and reemphasizes, the horror at hand. B+

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This latest work from the U.K. author is a lusty and often comic novel set among the German overseers of an Auschwitz-like concentration camp (or, as it is referred to here, ''Kat Zet''). Offended by that concept? You have every right to be. To borrow a line of dialogue from one character as he looks at the flames emerging from the funnels of crematories, ''An unsympathetic observer might find all this rather reprehensible.'' But The Zone of Interest is no mere act of autumnal provocation from the onetime enfant terrible of British literature. It is an ultimately serious and diligently researched work with a streak of deadpan humor that reframes, and reemphasizes, the horror at hand. B+

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THE ZONE OF INTEREST Martin Amis]]>