New books guide.

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NEW BOOKS GUIDE

We read hundreds of book reviews each month to select the works to in-clude 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 per-spective. 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

Literary

FICTION

****

Archangel

By Andrea Barrett

A novelist and short story writer, Andrea Barrett won the National Book Award in 1996 for her short story collection Ship Fever. She earned an undergraduate degree in biology, and much of her fiction explores scientific themes.

THE STORY: In this collection of five scientifically themed short stories, Barrett explores the lives of geneticists, botanists, mathematicians, and physicians. Minor characters in one story appear again later-such as middle-aged Henrietta Atkins, who, in "The Investigators," introduces 12-year-old Constantine Boyd to her research on cave fish. In the book's final story, "Archangel," set 11 years later, Constantine is a soldier stationed in World War I-era Russia, still fighting long after the conflict has ended elsewhere. Meanwhile, Henrietta appears again as a young college student falling in love with Darwin's theory of evolution in "The Island." Whether they are deploying state-of-the-art X-ray technology (a nurse in "Archangel") or rejecting Einstein's theory of relativity (an astrophysicist in "The Ether of Space"), all the characters in Archangel are explorers, searching for meaning in an often mysterious world. Norton. 256 pages. $24.95. ISBN: 9780393240009

Cleveland Plain Dealer **** "Few writers now working can deploy sensory detail and scenic furniture with the quick, unassuming artistry evident on Barrett's every page. ... Whether heralding the new or clinging to the old, Barrett's scientists and students are all adventurers (or vividly remember when they were so) who get their hands dirty-and no matter how prey to pride, envy, greed or any other human weakness, they all hunger to know." JOHN REPP

Miami Herald****

"Barrett has a degree in biology and infuses her works with her fascination with the natural world-from botany to physics to genetics and beyond. ... But she doesn't neglect more personal investigations, tapping into the fears, hopes and contradictions of the human mind and heart." CONNIE OGLE

Milwaukee Jrnl Sentinel **** "Barrett is very aware in these stories of how we wrap ourselves in such comfortable truths, particularly when we're scared or disappointed by life. But she also makes clear that doing so prevents us from reaching beyond ourselves to forge the connections through which we grow." MIKE FISCHER

New York Times****

"The best of the five stories in Archangel recall the power and mystery of Ms. Barrett's Ship Fever, another collection of exceptional delicacy and grace. ... Her stories work as both fiction and as philosophy of science. And she need do no grandstanding to advance her belief in unstoppable progress." JANET MASLIN

Toronto Star****

"Andrea Barrett's elegant new story collection, Archangel, feels like a dispatch from the moving front of scientific discovery. ... There is the world as it is, and the one with us in it, and ... Barrett once again reminds us how often-and how subtly-the really real world is what happens in-between them." JOHN FREEMAN

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette ****

"In these narratives, worlds expand and contract as tectonic plates shift and fossils emerge from sandy cliffs. ... Characters we love from other books reappear, and characters central to some stories play lesser roles in others." SUSAN BALEE

Seattle Times***

"Barrett's aim seems to be to immerse readers in the situations of her invented characters as they would have experienced them-i.e., not knowing all the facts. ... The tales in Archangel are finely crafted, although occasionally Barrett stacks the deck too heavily in favor of her heroes/heroines and against her aggravating antagonists." MICHAEL UPCHURCH

Bookmar ks Selecti on

*****

The Maid's Version

By Daniel Woodrell

Missouri native Daniel Woodrell has written a short story collection and nine novels, many of them set in the fictional town of West Table, Missouri. Tomato Red won the 1999 PEN award for fiction, while his previous novel, Winter's Bone (2006), was made into a successful 2010 movie starring Oscar winner Jennifer Lawrence.

THE STORY: Woodrell explores the most momentous event in the history of West Table, Missouri: the 1929 Arbor Dance Hall explosion, which left 42 dead, including Alma's sister Ruby. Tragedy still hangs over the town, even during the 1960s summer when Alma reconstructs events for her grandson Alek, pondering who caused the explosion and why. (Was it gypsies? Mobsters? A hard-line preacher?) Rich men wield the power in this town, but Alma, an illiterate maid, controls the storytelling. Inspired by real events from Ozarks history, the novel solves its own gentle mystery-though the truth of the explosion is not necessarily what matters most in this elegant half-century chronicle of class resentment and country ways.

Little, Brown. 176 pages. $25. ISBN: 9780316205856

Kansas City Star*****

"The man can write, and he can take you into worlds and lives-lives most frequently planted in the Missouri Ozarks-you'd barely experience otherwise. ... Woodrell spools all of this out in time-jumping, kaleidoscopic and terrific style." STEVE PAUL

Newsweek*****

"The much-lauded Woodrellian prose continues to dazzle with its demotic/poetic cadences. ... [H]is true subject is neither the articulation of Ozark masculinity nor the necessity of violence, but loyalty." WILLIAM GIRALDI

Seattle Times*****

"The book's worth is in its clear-eyed look at a long-gone era; at the meaning of family, justice and community; and at a poignant, hardscrabble way of life. The book's worth is also in its luminous prose. Woodrell's sentences bristle with finely tuned language and the almost biblical rhythms of his characters' speech." ADAM WOOG

Guardian (UK)****

"Daniel Woodrell has made a name as a master of prose with personality-a densely descriptive, gamey form of storytelling, one might say traditional storytelling-of late rather an unfashionable mode. ... [U]nder the grisly, seductive, colloquial tone is a very unusual thing-a communitarian novel: a novel concerned with how we live-and sometimes die-together, how we share experiences through the rituals of speaking and writing, because that is the fundamental spirit and purpose of language." SARAH HALL

Independent (UK)****

"Woodrell's first novel since his celebrated Winter's Bone blends the folkloric with Southern gothic, historical recapitulation with fictional investigative journalism, all suffused in his matchless tenderness of telling. The many-angled perspective of The Maid's Version keeps homing to womenfolk, who, in a brutal and stinted Ozark small-town world, maintain their integrity through the decades, weird and crazy though they may appear, by refusing to enlist amongst 'the surrendered.'" STEVE DAVIES

St. Louis Post-Dispatch ****

"Woodrell ... writes with biblical grace and power. ... The Maid's Version is much more than a mystery story, as Woodrell, through a grandmother's tales, burrows into the maelstrom of life in a small town in America." HARPER BARNES

CRITICAL SUMMARY

Woodrell's ambitious, pensive novels have earned him the nickname of the "Shakespeare of the Ozarks"; he himself prefers to term his genre "country noir." Although his prose is weighty with biblical allusion, it would be a mistake to group him with such tough-guy American writers as William Faulkner and Cormac McCarthy, though comparisons by critics to these authors abound. Indeed, Woodrell distances himself from these macho stylists through his distinctive female characters: Alma, like Ree in Winter's Bone, is sensitively drawn and has a particularly tender relationship with her sister. Woodrell consistently crafts lovable characters and compelling, compact narratives. Woodrell is no mere "regional" writer-this lyri-cal, realistic tale has universal significance.

CRITICAL SUMMARY

In her first book of short fiction since 2002, Barrett again returns to the scientific and naturalistic themes that have fascinated her throughout her career. While this set of stories contains links to and characters from her earlier efforts, Archangel is accessible to readers new to the author's work. With just five stories, the collection might seem slight were it not for Barrett's impressive skill, which allows her to craft tales full of meaning and depth and explore serious philosophical questions as characters attempt to "turn wonder into understanding" (ClevelandPlain Dealer). In Archangel, Barrett invites her audience "to read beyond the confines of a single story or idea" (Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel) and offers yet another window into her unique universe.

****

Bobcat and Other Stories

By Rebecca Lee

A professor of creative writing at the University...

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