Literary.

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NEW BOOKS GUIDE

We read hundreds of book reviews each month to select the works to include in each issue. We seek a balance among three categories: highly-rated books that received many reviews, highly-rated books that received less comprehensive coverage, and lower-rated books that were widely reviewed and well publicized.

The collective wisdom of critics

Each critic offers an individual perspective. We quote and summarize the reviews studied to provide an informed, balanced critique and to make sure that unique insights do not get missed. We apply a rating to a book from each review we study--those ratings are assessed to provide a final rating.

Spoiler-free book descriptions

We hereby pledge not to reveal the ending or revelatory plot points when discussing a fictional work.

APPLYING RATINGS TO WORKS OF ART IS FRUSTRATINGLY REDUCTIONIST

It is also helpful in navigating through myriad choices. As with any rating system, it is solely a guide--a summing up of several informed perspectives. There is no substitute for reading the book yourself and forming your own opinion.

RATINGS

***** CLASSIC

A timeless book to be read by all

**** EXCELLENT

One of the best of its genre

*** GOOD

Enjoyable, particularly for fans of the genre

** FAIR

Some problems, approach with caution

* POOR

Not worth your time

FICTION

****

The Deportees and Other Stories!

By Roddy Doyle

Irish in the 21st century

In the nine stories in his first short story collection, Roddy Doyle explores the new, multiethnic Ireland, where one in every ten citizens was born in another country. In "Guess Who's Coming for the Dinner," a father spends an awkward evening when his daughter brings home a Nigerian friend. "The Pram" features a Polish nanny who takes her revenge on a nasty boss. The title story revisits Jimmy Rabbitte, former manager of The Commitments but now a middle-aged family man who aspires to form a new, multicultural band for which "White Irish need not apply." In each of these stories, the homogeneous Ireland of years past confronts the reality of the immigrant experience.

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Viking. 256 pages. $24.95. ISBN: 0670018457

Minneapolis Star Tribune *****

"Just when it seemed that the only author left who gives a pig's whistle about writing superb short stories is Alice Munro, along comes Doyle with this superlative book of short tales to pick up the slack. ... The stories all reflect the changed face of Ireland and do so with an abundance of grace, humor and unselfconsciously first-rate writing." PETER MOORE

Cleveland Plain Dealer ****

"Restrained to 800 words [for serial publication], he produced stories that are pruned--yet not exactly tidy--versions of his usual, wildly ebullient gardens. ... Affection and respect for his new compatriots spill through these stories, infusing them with hope for the brave new world we all inhabit." TRICIA SPRINGSTUBB

Los Angeles Times ****

"While there are some rough moments here--owing mainly to the unusual way in which these stories were composed--the book confirms Doyle's standing as a rare genius of socially conscious literary comedy and a master of exposition through dialogue. ... Doyle's mastery of ordinary Dubliners' speech informs all these stories and lends them an urgent credibility." TIM RUTTEN

Rocky Mountain News ****

"The melange of cultures on the soil of what used to be one of the whitest states in the european Union makes for fantastic storytelling. ... Doyle's use of odd punctuation and copious dialogue captures the characters' mindsets, propelling his stories into unexpected climaxes and rich emotional territory." KELLY LEMIEUX

Seattle Times ****

"The experiment in serial publication (written in 800-word installments) results in a variety of entertaining narratives. ... The Deportees and Other Stories is an easy excursion into the new Irish culture, conveyed with Doyle's usual brilliant sense of originality, sly charm and wry wit." ROBERT ALLEN PAPINCHAK

Miami Herald ****

"The stories, which ran as serials in the weekly multicultural newspaper Metro Eireann, are somewhat formulaic in structure: In each, someone born in Ireland meets someone not born there. the stories take on different shadings--'the Pram,' for instance, is an unsettling horror tale--but they're uniformly infused with Doyle's infectious sense of humor and lovingly profane dialogue." CONNIE OGLE

NY Times Book Review ***

"Although the relationship is not what it seems [in 'Guess Who's coming for the Dinner'], the warm, fuzzy feeling that Doyle's comic writing effortlessly conjures does not seem earned; a point, we know, is being made, and so the tale is never quite credible. ... sad to acknowledge, perhaps, that it's the darker stories that work best." ERICA WAGNER

CRITICAL SUMMARY

Roddy Doyle, celebrated chronicler of the Irish working class and winner of the 1993 Man Booker Prize (Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha), turns his attention to the immigrant experience in his first collection of short stories. The stories collected here first appeared in 800-word installments in the Dublin weekly newspaper Metro Eireann, which was founded in 2000 by two Nigerian journalists. Critics agreed that The Deportees is vintage Doyle, demonstrating his sharp wit, lively sense of humor, richly drawn characters, and ear for dialogue. They cited some problems related to the space limitations of serial publications, which result in stories that "are generally instantly engaging but not always carefully constructed" (Christian Science Monitor), but these problems were easy to ignore given Doyle's extraordinary storytelling abilities. As in any collection, critics disagreed about which stories succeed best. By turns poignant and chilling, heartbreaking and laugh-out-loud funny, Doyle's stories are as affecting as his novels.

The Ghost

By Robert Harris

A Blair by any other name.

When British aide Mike McAra mysteriously drowns while composing the autobiography of former British Prime Minister Adam Lang (a thinly veiled Tony Blair), a professional ghostwriter is hired to rescue the manuscript and finish the book. "The Ghost" joins the charismatic statesman, his beautiful wife, and his young mistress at his publisher's mansion in Martha's Vineyard. But soon Lang is publicly accused of using British special forces to capture suspected terrorists and hand them over to the CIA for torture. With scandals brewing and his deadline looming, the ghostwriter suspects that McAra stumbled on a secret that someone was willing to kill for--someone who would not hesitate to kill again.

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Simon & Schuster. 352 pages. $26. ISBN: 1416551816

Oregonian ****

"To steer his Ghost in the right direction, Harris stuffs him into McAra's rental car, the satellite navigation system of which is still programmed with the directions to the isolated residence of a retired CIA officer. ... A reader can deal with those contrivances, however, when his tour guide has such command of British sycophants and the literary landscape." STEVE DUIN

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette ****

"From the first paragraph, Harris' novel tugs the reader on through a thriller blessedly short on shoot-'em-up and long on character nuance, dead-on media satire and the damned-either-way consequences of wielding power in the murky wake of 9/11. ... He imbues what could have been a formulaic thriller with propulsive dialog, the gloomy presence of the Vineyard in winter, and a deft stirring of a cauldron of contemporary woes." PETER B. KING

Rocky Mountain News ****

"[Harris's] latest is a stunning foray into contemporary politics, a skillfully crafted look at the War on Terror. ... The Ghost is an absolute page-turner, filled with events even more terrifying because they correspond to today's headlines." ASHLEY SIMPSON SHIRES

Washington Post ****

"For all its fun, The Ghost is finally about Guantanamo, rendition, waterboarding, official lies, a Halliburton-life conglomerate called Hallington and a CIA that's not always as inept as we think. ... Harris has managed to write a superior entertainment that is also an angry portrait of today's political reality." PATRICK ANDERSON

NY Times Book Review ****

"The plot is unfussy and perhaps too linear for those thriller readers fond of pyrotechnics, but it unfolds with clarity and panache--and with a classy twist on the very last page. ... The denouement certainly ensures that The Ghost works as a thriller, but it reduces somewhat the novel's power as a political critique." JONATHAN FREEDLAND

New York Times ***

"Terrorism is a real factor in The Ghost, if only because Mr. Harris ... is sufficiently formulaic and commercial to know that his story needs pretexts for action as well as caustic prose. ... It degenerates into a commonplace mystery, a book that its protagonist might have held in contempt when his safety and detachment were still intact." JANET MASLIN

CRITICAL SUMMARY

Known for Fatherland (1992), Pompeii (**** SELECTION Mar/Apr 2004), and Imperium (*** Jan/Feb 2007), novelist Robert Harris opens his latest work with a derisive account of the publishing business. From there, it quickly gains momentum, merging a shrewd indictment of the war in Iraq with a literate, page-turning thriller. Harris, who was once a friend of former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, offers a withering, barely disguised attack on Blair's policies and his collusion with the United States in the Middle East. Some critics felt that the fictional backdrop weakened the political invective. Other complaints included some stock characters, formulaic plot points, and far-fetched twists, but most critics dismissed these as trivial and agreed with USA Today that Harris has produced "one of the most politically informed novels of the year."

****

The Last Chicken in America

A Novel in Stories

By Ellen Litman

Strangers in a strange land

Set amid the brick houses, delicatessens, and kosher butcher shops of Pittsburgh's largely Jewish Squirrel Hill neighborhood...

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