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.

literary

FICTION

EXCELLENT

Call Me by Your Name

By Andre Aciman

A hot, erotic summer.

Elio--17 years old, Jewish, smart, and sensitive--lives with his mother and father, an expatriate professor, in a small village on the Italian Riviera. There he happily sleeps with girls and studies musicology. Everything changes with the arrival of Oliver, a 24-year-old scholar from Columbia who takes up residence in Elio's family's villa in order to finish a manuscript on Heraclitus. Oliver is brazenly Jewish, charismatic, and dismissive--and he is absolutely irresistible to young Elio, who wants nothing more than intimacy. Through flashbacks Elio recalls how, over the course of a summer, he and Oliver fell in love--or was it lust?--in this nostalgic, sensual, and sometimes graphic coming-of-age novel.

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Farrar, Straus and Giroux. 248 pages. $23. ISBN: 0374299218

NY Times Book Review EXCELLENT/CLASSIC

'This novel is hot. A coming-of-age story, a coming-out story, a Proustian meditation on time and desire, a love letter, an invocation and something of an epitaph, Call Me by Your Name is also an open question.' STACEY D'ERASMO

Boston Globe EXCELLENT

'The novel is richly, sensuously detailed, from Elio's testosterone-fueled fantasies to the pair's passionate couplings to such vivid descriptions of the Italian countryside one can almost smell the ocean and feel the heat.... I kept wondering where the parents were in all this.' KAREN CAMPBELL

San Francisco Chronicle EXCELLENT

'The novel is told in retrospect; while most of the events take place over the course of a summer, this is the story of a man remembering an important moment in his past. Aciman carries the reader along by the fury of his language, tightly focusing on the all-consuming nature of love (reminding us, along the way, of Nabokov's Lolita, Stendhal's On Love and even the Bible's sensual Song of Songs).' IRINA REYN

Seattle Times EXCELLENT

'Aciman's prose is alive to each spiral and retraction of feeling, to every signal sent out and withdrawn. The result is a tender-tough story of headlong love and awkward timing that reads like a highbrow cosmopolitan variation on Brokeback Mountain.' MICHAEL UPCHURCH

Los Angeles Times GOOD/EXCELLENT

'Aciman's real theme, as indicated by the novel's title, is the idea of sexual love as absorption--the act by which all barriers are dissolved and the outside becomes one with the thing desired.... Aciman spends his literary currency on [sexual] descriptions that are over the top and detract from the novel's more nuanced ideas.' JUDITH FREEMAN

CRITICAL SUMMARY

Beautifully rendered, evocative, and sexually charged, Call Me by Your Name is the Egyptian-born, Sephardic Jew Andre Aciman's first novel. His previous two books, the essay collection False Papers and his memoir Out of Egypt, focused on memory and exile. Here--to critical acclaim--he explores a love affair between an adolescent and a young, seductive man. Critics universally praised Aciman's bold account of obsession and lust and his elegant, sensuous prose. Like few other writers, Aciman evokes a time and place exquisitely--the sunny Italian countryside with its summer heat, the pungent blooms, the sprawling vistas. The Seattle Times sums up general opinion about this must-read: 'Every phrase, every ache, every giddy rush of sensation in this beautiful novel rings true.'

BOOKMARKS SELECTION

EXCELLENT

Nineteen Minutes

By Jodi Picoult

Do you know where your children are?

On a cold March morning, 17-year-old Peter Houghton sets off for school with a small arsenal in his backpack. His lethal rampage takes only 19 minutes, but nine students and one teacher are killed, many are wounded, and the inhabitants of Sterling, New Hampshire, will never be the same. Moving back and forth through time, Jodi Picoult reveals the brutality and daily humiliation that Peter suffered at the hands of local bullies while following the drama of Peter's trial. As the survivors and their families struggle to make sense of the tragedy, the parents wonder just how well they really know their children.

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Atria. 464 pages. $26.95. ISBN: 0743496728

Entertainment Weekly EXCELLENT/CLASSIC

'No reader can possibly foresee the book's stunning denouement. This is vintage Picoult, expertly crafted, thought-provoking, and compelling.' TINA JORDAN

People Weekly EXCELLENT/CLASSIC

'Nearly eight years after two students killed 13 people at Columbine High School, are readers ready for a fictional account? Those who are will find Nineteen Minutes a brilliantly told tale--one that dares to remind us that someone loved the killer too.' BOB MEADOWS

Rocky Mountain News EXCELLENT

'Picoult's adept character development and intelligent plot twists make for a story that runs deeper than mere voyeurism or titillation. [The novel] is both a page turner and a thoughtful exploration of popularity, power, and the social ruts that can define us in ways we may not wish to be defined.' JENNIE A. CAMP

San Antonio Exp-News EXCELLENT

'Picoult's genius as a novelist is her ability to take a one-dimensional archetype--the jock, the golden girl, the loser--and flesh it out into the faceted, entirely sympathetic beings that people her landscape.... Even when she descends into the maudlin, it will catch the reader's breath.' JENNIFER ROOLF LASTER

Providence Journal GOOD/EXCELLENT

'Conventional suspense readers may not find Picoult fresh or complex enough, but her compelling legal and courtroom drama, combined with honest insights into the world of teens, succeeds overall.' LISA PALMER

USA Today GOOD

'Nineteen Minutes may not plumb great psychological depths or scale literary heights.... And yet its very ordinariness gives it surprising power.' JOCELYN MCCLURG

CRITICAL SUMMARY

'Nobody does 'ripped from the headlines' better than Picoult,' claims the Christian Science Monitor, and in her 14th book she takes on the sensitive, disturbing topic of school shootings. This is a raw subject for many, and reviewers were quick to note that this intense novel is not for the squeamish. Fans of Picoult (My Sister's Keeper, GOOD/EXCELLENT July/Aug 2004) will recognize the setting, some of the characters, and her trademark, jaw-dropping plot twists as she explores the events leading up to and following the tragedy. Reviewers applauded her ability to make readers sympathize as much with the shooter as with his targets, blending the lines of aggressor and victim with ease. Those who dare to venture into such dark territory will be richly rewarded.

ALSO REVIEWED

WE NEED TO TALK ABOUT KEVIN | LIONEL SHRIVER (2003): A boy conducts a shootout at school, and his family tries to understand what turned their child into a killer. (GOOD/EXCELLENT Sept/Oct 2003)

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EXCELLENT

Remainder

By Tom McCarthy

Blurring reality.

When a chunk of something falls from the sky and hits an unnamed narrator, the London protagonist--after waking from a coma--receives a settlement of [pounds sterling]8.5 million. The trouble is, he can't remember a thing; nor does he know how to spend all that money. After a visionary moment at a friend's party, he decides to use his new-found wealth to recreate his past life and achieve authenticity. He hires builders to reconstruct his old building, actors to play as neighbors, and more. At first, he achieves a semblance of reality, but as he becomes more obsessed with rebuilding the world he once knew, a terrible, artificial reality emerges.

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Vintage. 312 pages. $13.95. ISBN: 0307278352

Cleveland Plain Dealer EXCELLENT

'In a very subtle way, McCarthy is saying something about our attitude toward pleasure. Fleeting moments no longer count; we require the best all the time. Then we discover the pursuit of this goal turns fetishistic.' JOHN FREEMAN

Toronto Star EXCELLENT/CLASSIC

'What McCarthy is interested in, both with the INS [see Critical Summary below] and in Remainder, is showing how social constructions dictate human reality.... As cold and conceptual as all this sounds, the remarkable thing about Remainder, the best and most exciting novel I read in 2006, is the depth of feeling McCarthy reaches in conveying this strange, comical story.' SHAUN SMITH

Los Angeles Times EXCELLENT

'The result is a dizzying existential free-fall that calls into question the very nature of identity.... Remainder isn't a mystery novel--there's no villain here apart from time and space--so if its core ripples with ambiguity, all the better for the reader, as this is a book to be read and then reread, rich as it is with its insights, daring as it is with its contradictions.' TOD GOLDBERG

NY Times Book Review EXCELLENT

'McCarthy's superb stylistic control and uncanny imagination transport this novel beyond the borders of science fiction. His bleak humor, hauntingly affectless narrator and methodical expansion on his theme...

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