Conventional and obscure, mixed platform and high literature, there was an interesting mix of books being reviewed around the web this week:
The Children's Book, by A. S. Byatt
The Washington Post
The Children's Book holds a mirror to the new middle class during an era of growing appreciation for children and greater sexual freedom for women and for the love that dares not speak its name. That Byatt marries this novel of ideas with such compelling characters testifies to her remarkable spinning energy.
Blame, by Michelle Huneven
Milford Daily News
Blame is noteworthy for its sharply drawn characters, most of whom are neither good nor bad but struggling in between. But its true power is in the questions it raises about blame, responsibility and consequence. Implicitly, it asks the reader, what would you do in Patsy's place and could you accept the consequences?
Juliet, Naked, by Nick Hornby
The Onion AV Club
Juliet, Naked plays with the notion that the collector's true terrain is the might-have-been, but for all its clever asides, it demonstrates Hornby's assured steps toward confronting on the page what his audience cannot avoid: growing up at last.
A Fiery Peace in a Cold War, by Neil Sheehan
The New York Times
[A Fiery Peace in a Cold War] reminds us that, as the founders warned, the survival of the United States depends on our ability not only to choose wise presidents, but also to maintain a federal government that attracts extraordinary talent at all levels. As Sheehan shows us almost cinematically, this was particularly true in the 1950s, when American leaders had to decide whether to keep resisting Soviet power mostly with strategic bombers, or to build an awe-inspiring force of nuclear-tipped missiles.
Nocturnes, by Kazuo Ishiguro
The New York Times
...[T]hese five too-easy pieces are neither absorbingly serious nor engagingly frivolous: a real problem with a musical set, and a disaster, if only in a minor key, when it's a question of prose.
The Clinton Tapes, by Taylor Branch
The Los Angeles Times
Welcome to The Clinton Tapes, a weird memoir in which the 42nd president emerges as a self-absorbed political genius and a dazzling player with cunning pragmatism and spot-on observations. Branch -- the Pulitzer Prize-winning biographer of the Rev.Martin Luther King Jr. -- secretly met with Clinton 79 times between 1992 and 2001. Together they conducted a massive oral history aimed at posterity.
A New Literary History of America, by Greil Marcus and Werner Sollors
The Los Angeles Times
One high point is Los Angeles novelist Steve Erickson's essay on July 4, 1826, the day Thomas Jefferson and John Adams died, and Stephen Foster was born. It's insightful, imagistic and unpredictable. The same is true of other efforts: Paglia's on Tennessee Williams, Joan Shelley Rubin on the Book of the Month Club, L.A. journalist RJ Smith on Pentecostalism and Farah Jasmine Griffin on the ascent of Toni Morrison.
Some choices, though, are predictable or academically stodgy.
Circles in the Sky: The Life and Time of George Ferris, by G. Weingardt
The Chicago Tribune
There seems to be a lot of myth surrounding George Ferris' life in Galesburg. But the Ferris wheel creator's connection to town is all cleared up in Richard G. Weingardt's book Circles in the Sky: The Life and Time of George Ferris, released earlier this month.
Led Zeppelin: Shadows Taller Than Our Souls, by Charles R. Cross
The Seattle Times
While Shadows Taller Than Our Souls contains many photographs, it is largely a biography arranged in an interactive format. Each chapter contains removable reproductions of ticket stubs, set lists, posters, magazine covers, backstage passes and a set of news releases from the 1969 Seattle Pop Festival, at which Led Zeppelin performed with Chuck Berry, The Byrds, Santana, and Ike and Tina Turner and others.
The Real Wizard of Oz: The Life and Times of L. Frank Baum, by Rebecca Loncraine
The book veers off on tangents and presents theories on Baum's experiences and beliefs that seem only vaguely backed up. There is also surprisingly little material from Baum himself.