Appealing and surprising takes on a subject prone to cliché.


Couples find surprising, if not downright strange ways to come together in a second romance-centered collection by Van Booy (The Secret Lives of People in Love, 2007).

The author has a pitch-perfect tone for writing about the tender passion. Instead of florid, melodramatic prose, the five tales feature hushed, patient storytelling that’s deliberately abstracted; Van Booy’s goal is to capture the ineffable nature of falling in love. The title story is a braided narrative involving Bruno, a famous concert cellist prone to musing on the death of his sister years ago, and Hannah, who similarly mourns the untimely loss of her young brother. Restrained without being icy, it recalls a Bergman film as it returns to such curious, ghostly characters as the nun Bruno sees writing on a frosted window, or the homeless man Hannah watches in a Los Angeles park. Van Booy has a taste for merging such gentle imagery with more violent moments, as when Hannah’s father chops off his hand after the death of his son. “The Coming and Going of Strangers” opens with a gypsy man risking his life to save a child from drowning. Two decades later, the man’s son seems to have inherited his father’s nobility, which helps readers understand that he’s more than a Peeping Tom as he obsessively spies on the girl he adores. Van Booy’s gauzy characterizations can be maddening: Is the narrator of “Tiger, Tiger” unhealthily fixated on a pediatrician who had an affair with her mother-in-law, or is he truly amazingly wise, as she seems to believe? In this particular universe, emotion counts for more than motivation, so the hero of “The City of Windy Trees” doesn’t seem especially odd for being so absurdly concerned with Raisinets and David Bowie songs. His journey from New York to Sweden to meet his daughter comes to such a sweet, sensible resolution that it convincingly shows how love rights the world.

Appealing and surprising takes on a subject prone to cliché.

Pub Date: May 12, 2009

ISBN: 978-0-06-166147-1

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Perennial/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2009

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Screenplay prose.


Debut thriller from the host of PBS’s Traveling Lite proves its own title. The sole survivor of a ski-slope nabbing of the US president, Secret Service Agent Scot Harvath is America’s latest cookie-cutter superspy to be vaulted into international intrigue by terrorism. All evidence points to the Mideast’s largest terrorist organization, but Harvath’s not fooled—he knows that Middle East groups “are not tacticians. . . . Essentially, they’re cowards. They don’t do in-your-face operations.” “Call it an ingrained bigotry,” but Harvath just knows that a Mideast terrorist group could not pull off a scam of this magnitude. Turns out he’s right—it was the Swiss. Aided by a pair of conniving senators and a squirrelly vice president, a crack Swiss commando unit has snatched President Potus and stuffed him away inside a mountain. When Harvath’s investigation starts to get warm, he’s framed—and won’t be able to clear his name unless he can free the president. Oh, yes, there’s also a Swiss agent named Claudia who’s hot and knows how to handle a 9mm SIG-Sauer 229 semiautomatic. Thor’s tangled writing often interferes with the plot-drenching: “The uncomfortable hog tie position in which he was restrained threatened to drive him insane”; “He lay in a trance like state in the warm void half-way between sleeping and waking until his mind began to assemble different explanations for what he was hearing and he felt himself being forcibly dragged upward toward the surface world of the wakeful.”

Screenplay prose.

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 2001

ISBN: 0-7434-3673-3

Page Count: 464

Publisher: Pocket

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2001

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Visionary speculative stories that will change the way readers see themselves and the world around them: This book delivers...

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Exploring humankind's place in the universe and the nature of humanity, many of the stories in this stellar collection focus on how technological advances can impact humanity’s evolutionary journey.

Chiang's (Stories of Your Life and Others, 2002) second collection begins with an instant classic, “The Merchant and the Alchemist’s Gate,” which won Hugo and Nebula awards for Best Novelette in 2008. A time-travel fantasy set largely in ancient Baghdad, the story follows fabric merchant Fuwaad ibn Abbas after he meets an alchemist who has crafted what is essentially a time portal. After hearing life-changing stories about others who have used the portal, he decides to go back in time to try to right a terrible wrong—and realizes, too late, that nothing can erase the past. Other standout selections include “The Lifecycle of Software Objects,” a story about a software tester who, over the course of a decade, struggles to keep a sentient digital entity alive; “The Great Silence,” which brilliantly questions the theory that humankind is the only intelligent race in the universe; and “Dacey’s Patent Automatic Nanny,” which chronicles the consequences of machines raising human children. But arguably the most profound story is "Exhalation" (which won the 2009 Hugo Award for Best Short Story), a heart-rending message and warning from a scientist of a highly advanced, but now extinct, race of mechanical beings from another universe. Although the being theorizes that all life will die when the universes reach “equilibrium,” its parting advice will resonate with everyone: “Contemplate the marvel that is existence, and rejoice that you are able to do so.”

Visionary speculative stories that will change the way readers see themselves and the world around them: This book delivers in a big way.

Pub Date: May 8, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-101-94788-3

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: Feb. 17, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2019

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