Banks' ecological warnings might strike even the most fervent environmentalist as rather apocalyptic, yet in the best of...



Acclaimed fiction writer Banks (A Permanent Member of the Family, 2013, etc.) turns an able hand to nonfiction in this expansive, elegiac reflection on the pleasures and deceptions of travel.

The 75-year-old author recognizes the failings of narratives based solely on fading, self-serving memories, yet he cannot resist indulging in recollections from 30 years ago. “A memoir is like a travel book,” he writes. “Whether short or long it's a radical reduction of remembered reality and is structured as much by what it leaves out as what it puts in.” In the lengthy title essay, set in 1988, Banks and his soon-to-be-fourth wife embark on a wide-ranging odyssey of the Caribbean, one that wakens many ghosts (of wives and adventures past) while conjuring encouragement and despair in equal measure. The author loves the Caribbean and its people but loathes what is happening to the islands to accommodate, then as now, ever increasing hordes of cruise-ship and package-tour visitors, to homogenize distinctive cultures, and to obscure the real history of slavery. Resolution was a principal reason that Banks, who lived for a time in Jamaica, undertook this return journey to the tropics. Written in 2015, the piece is at least as much about Banks' courtship narrative, his personal history, and his regrets as it is about an enviable assignment in the Caribbean. But the frequent self-flagellation occasionally feels excessive. The other essays in the book are less melancholy, offering observations and insights that, despite their ages, seem timeless. After all, the point of travel is knowledge, not topical information. Of the more “conventional” travel pieces here, the most resonant and vivid are those on the Everglades and the author’s mountaineering in South America and the Himalayas, the last at age 72.

Banks' ecological warnings might strike even the most fervent environmentalist as rather apocalyptic, yet in the best of these pieces, his clarity of vision and muscular prose are as transporting as a mountain ascent.

Pub Date: May 31, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-06-185767-6

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Ecco/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: March 22, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2016

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A standout immigrant coming-of-age story.



In her first nonfiction book, novelist Grande (Dancing with Butterflies, 2009, etc.) delves into her family’s cycle of separation and reunification.

Raised in poverty so severe that spaghetti reminded her of the tapeworms endemic to children in her Mexican hometown, the author is her family’s only college graduate and writer, whose honors include an American Book Award and International Latino Book Award. Though she was too young to remember her father when he entered the United States illegally seeking money to improve life for his family, she idolized him from afar. However, she also blamed him for taking away her mother after he sent for her when the author was not yet 5 years old. Though she emulated her sister, she ultimately answered to herself, and both siblings constantly sought affirmation of their parents’ love, whether they were present or not. When one caused disappointment, the siblings focused their hopes on the other. These contradictions prove to be the narrator’s hallmarks, as she consistently displays a fierce willingness to ask tough questions, accept startling answers, and candidly render emotional and physical violence. Even as a girl, Grande understood the redemptive power of language to define—in the U.S., her name’s literal translation, “big queen,” led to ridicule from other children—and to complicate. In spelling class, when a teacher used the sentence “my mamá loves me” (mi mamá me ama), Grande decided to “rearrange the words so that they formed a question: ¿Me ama mi mamá? Does my mama love me?”

A standout immigrant coming-of-age story.

Pub Date: Aug. 28, 2012

ISBN: 978-1-4516-6177-4

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Atria

Review Posted Online: June 12, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2012

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Buffs of the Old West will enjoy Clavin’s careful research and vivid writing.



Rootin’-tootin’ history of the dry-gulchers, horn-swogglers, and outright killers who populated the Wild West’s wildest city in the late 19th century.

The stories of Wyatt Earp and company, the shootout at the O.K. Corral, and Geronimo and the Apache Wars are all well known. Clavin, who has written books on Dodge City and Wild Bill Hickok, delivers a solid narrative that usefully links significant events—making allies of white enemies, for instance, in facing down the Apache threat, rustling from Mexico, and other ethnically charged circumstances. The author is a touch revisionist, in the modern fashion, in noting that the Earps and Clantons weren’t as bloodthirsty as popular culture has made them out to be. For example, Wyatt and Bat Masterson “took the ‘peace’ in peace officer literally and knew that the way to tame the notorious town was not to outkill the bad guys but to intimidate them, sometimes with the help of a gun barrel to the skull.” Indeed, while some of the Clantons and some of the Earps died violently, most—Wyatt, Bat, Doc Holliday—died of cancer and other ailments, if only a few of old age. Clavin complicates the story by reminding readers that the Earps weren’t really the law in Tombstone and sometimes fell on the other side of the line and that the ordinary citizens of Tombstone and other famed Western venues valued order and peace and weren’t particularly keen on gunfighters and their mischief. Still, updating the old notion that the Earp myth is the American Iliad, the author is at his best when he delineates those fraught spasms of violence. “It is never a good sign for law-abiding citizens,” he writes at one high point, “to see Johnny Ringo rush into town, both him and his horse all in a lather.” Indeed not, even if Ringo wound up killing himself and law-abiding Tombstone faded into obscurity when the silver played out.

Buffs of the Old West will enjoy Clavin’s careful research and vivid writing.

Pub Date: April 21, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-250-21458-4

Page Count: 400

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Jan. 20, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2020

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