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Chronogram's Choice: November 2008 


Like You’d Understand Anyway
Jim Shepard
Knopf, 2007, $23

“Though focusing on disaster, the stories themselves are triumphs: darkly funny, deeply intelligent, and unforgettable. Shepard’s characters are sharply and sympathetically developed, never mere pawns of historical forces. They debate with fate and with each other. They put up a mighty fight....A profound and disturbing book, full of dark delights.” (Hollis Seamon, 2/08)

Hillary Jordan
Algonquin Books, 2008, $21.95

“A moving and beautifully drawn portrait of a Southern tragedy in the 1940s, told in a series of first-person confessions. Tivoli resident Hillary Jordan sneaks us into the minds of black and white, male and female, as the storm clouds gather and the mud thickens....These people live and breathe; their angers, shocks and setbacks become our own. At the end of the tunnel of grief, there is light, and we are allowed to share that too.” (Anne Pyburn, 3/08)

Night Work
Steve Hamilton
St. Martin’s Press, 2007, $23.95

“Ulster County Noir is serious fun for any lover of the genre, and Hamilton pulls it off with enormous panache. The author of seven suspense novels set on Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, he’s put us on a very special map. But Night Work’s gathering confusion and tension, its inexplicable events, would be riveting even if they were set in East Oshkosh....Please, Mr. Hamilton. Make this a series.” (Anne Pyburn, 1/08)

Salvation Boulevard
Larry Beinhart
Nation Books, 2008, $24.95

“A Christian, a Muslim, a Jew, and an atheist are involved in a murder. Waiting for the punchline? It’s called Salvation Boulevard, Woodstock resident and Chronogram columnist Larry Beinhart’s latest novel. And yes, it packs a punch....Beinhart embeds the religious and political issues in a brisk narrative that tackles the big questions with acerbic humor and good storytelling, building towards a climax that will pull readers to the edges of their seats.” (Kim Wozencraft, 9/08)


Hats & Eyeglasses
Martha Frankel
Tarcher/Penguin, 2008, $23.95

“A sparkling, sharp-witted insightful book told in colorful, unsparing prose. Frankel’s writing is riveting, and trots along at a gum-smacking pace. And, because of her eye for the absurd and gift of perfect phraseology, it may be the funniest addiction memoir you’ll ever read....While it would be wrong to wish anything like poker hell on her again, one can’t help hoping she’s got a few more skeletons to write out of her closet.” (Susan Krawitz, 2/08)

Thinking About Memoir
Abigail Thomas
Sterling Publishing Company, 2008, $14.95

“Thomas is a stellar guide. She begins with the basics of getting started, and moves right through to the grittiness of getting real. She addresses the darkest concerns of the memoirist-to-be: What if you can’t remember anything? What if your memoir upsets your loved ones? Why on earth should you do this at all? Her prose is colorful and deeply revealing, and the exercises she provides leave no emotional stone unturned.” (Susan Krawitz, 5/08)


Abraham’s Curse
Bruce Chilton
Doubleday, February 2008, $24.95

“Thought-provoking—at times chilling—but rendered in a compassionate tone that enables the reader to journey through blood-soaked religious history and emerge with a heightened comprehension of the misguided religious motivations that drive events in today’s headlines. Whether believers or not, Chilton says, we would do well to try to understand, for ‘any voice that calls us back to human sacrifice, in whatever form, is not God’s.’” (Kim Wozencraft, 3/08)

The Execution of Willie Francis
Gilbert King
Basic Civitas, 2008, $26

“A search for justice in the American South suggests an arduous task. When the matter involves a black person, it may well be a fruitless one. Such is the message of Gilbert King’s expansive, engaging, and ultimately heartbreaking book...The Execution of Willie Francis offers readers several rewards: a scorching history lesson, a thorough judicial examination, and a crash course in Southern sociology—all the while reminding us of the knotty problems still surrounding capital punishment.” (Jay Blotcher, 4/08)

Thousand Mile Song
David Rothenberg
Basic Books, 2008, $27.50

“Recently, [Rothenberg] has been jamming with whales—voyaging far and wide with his clarinet, and discussing the mysteries of these intelligent mammals with experts. Reading his searching chronicle, Thousand Mile Song, one never loses sight of the line between science and art; the ethical questions that arise as the author encroaches on this boundary become an important part of his inquiry....The author’s edgiest assertion may be simply that a whale can trade licks in the manner universal among all true musicians; by listening, replying, giving space—and searching out a certain kind of rightness.” (Marx Dorrity, 8/08)


Dennis Doherty
Codhill Press, 2007, $16

“Another outstanding release by New Paltz’s protean Codhill Press. Arresting at first read, dense enough to reward return visits, Doherty’s poetry offers “a pen—an awl to etch the graven acts.” Haifa Mahabir’s bookjacket photos shroud the author in a blindfold, shades, and dangling cigarette, echoing his poems’ intriguing mysteries.” (Short Takes, 12/07)

Meditations on Rising and Falling
Philip Pardi
University of Wisconsin Press, 2008, $14.95

“Pardi’s concern with the lived moment is nowhere more evident than in his characterizations: a roofer frees a fly from tarpaper just before he himself falls; Don Pedro, a migrant farm worker, holds out his pesticide-soaked shirt to “the man with the clipboard;” a speaker notes his infant son “laughs / whenever I laugh / on faith / ...also learning when to make a fist.” Pardi’s vision, ironic in its depiction of life’s difficulties, is a testimony of faith and resistance in the world where ‘falling is the given.’” (Lee Gould, 8/08)

Making the New Lamb Take

Gabriel Freed
Sarabande, 2007

“The poems, which fuse images of a Hudson Valley upbringing with mythical and biblical references, feel as if they took a long time coming. The lines are as clean as filtered water, the subjects are quotidian life seen through the magnifying glass of an old soul....As the editor of the poetry series at Persea Books, Fried has probably seen a lot of what not to do in poetry. Perhaps that is why his poems feel so flawless and chiseled to their poetic cores.” (Caitlin McDonnell, 12/07)


26 Princesses
Dave Horowitz
G.P. Putnam, 2008, $15.99

“Rosendale gefiltemesiter Horowitz hits another bulls-eye with this read-aloud tale of a frog prince besieged by an alphabet’s worth of royal attitude. The pastel collages are laugh-out-loud funny, and kids will delight in choosing their favorite princesses. Smelly Nell, petite Pearl, or lisping Ruth (mithing a tooth)?” (Short Takes, 3/08)

Ladybug Girl

David Soman & Jacky Davis
Dial Books for Young Readers, 2008, $16.99

“To her lofty brother, Lulu’s just a pesky little sister, but send her outdoors and she’s Ladybug Girl, able to rescue endangered ants, walk a fallen tree trunk without slipping, and leap shark-infested puddles in a single bound! Created by a local husband-and-wife team, this affirmative big girl adventure hit the New York Times bestseller list.” (Summer Reading Roundup, 7/08)

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