Book Review Roundup

06/28/2010 12:24 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Did you miss the weekend's big book reviews? Catch up with some of the highlights below!

"Denial: A Memoir of Terror," Jessica Stern
The New York Times

"Denial" is a hard book to read, in part because of its subject matter, in part because Ms. Stern's id floats very near the surface. Her anger is barely sublimated and emerges in unexpected and jagged ways, ways that feel authentic but somewhat beyond her control as a narrator.

"The Passage," Justin Cronin
The New York Times

As Justin Cronin clearly knows, if you're a writer seeking to slough off highbrow pretensions -- to reject your early efforts at "quiet" fiction and write something with commercial appeal, something that will, if not conquer the critics, at least pay for your kid's college education -- you'd be wise to opt for a vampire novel.

"The Overton Window," Glenn Beck
The Los Angeles Times

"The Overton Window: A Thriller," Suffice to say that, the subtitle notwithstanding, there is nothing even remotely thrilling about this didactic, discursive -- sporadically incoherent -- novel. The image of a train wreck comes quickly to mind, though this book actually has more the character -- and all of the excitement -- of a lurching, low-speed derailment halfway out of the station.

"This Is Where We Live," Janelle Brown
The San Francisco Chronicle

Talk amongst yourselves: "Guilty pleasure" is a contradiction in terms. How can you have it both ways? Either you're too smart to enjoy a funny, fluffy, zeitgeist-deconstructing novel like "This is Where We Live," in which case you'll derive no pleasure from reading it. Or, the book is smart enough to please you - in which case, what's there to feel guilty about?

"The More I Owe You," Michael Sledge
The Los Angeles Times

In "The More I Owe You," Sledge - author of the memoir "Mother and Son," who lives in Oakland and Oaxaca, Mexico - has achieved something exceptional. Never sacrificing complexity or intellectual rigor, he's made this powerful story accessible (and almost addictively engrossing) for both newcomers and Bishop aficionados.

"Extra Lives: Why Video Games Matter," Tom Bissell
The Wall Street Journal

Yet many videogame producers do aspire to tell meaningful stories. The game "BioShock," for instance, attempts to explore the philosophical tensions within Ayn Rand's Objectivism and to meditate on the costs of individual freedom--but with plenty of genetic mutants to splatter. The script for the game "Mass Effect"--that is, the on-screen characters' dialogue, not the computer code--is 300,000 words. But to little avail. The stories just aren't much as stories. Videogames seem "designed by geniuses and written by Ed Wood Jr.," Mr. Bissell laments.

"Medium Raw," Anthony Bourdain

Anyone who has read Kitchen Confidential, Anthony Bourdain's salty memoir of happy days as a chef in New York in the Eighties and Nineties, will remember him as a man who likes to take risks. That hasn't changed. Even the title of this new book - a sequel to his earlier bestseller - is a hostage to fortune, since now he has swapped his chef's whites for the doubtful lure of celebrity, there is every chance that this will emerge not so much Medium Raw as half-baked.

"Mr. Peanut," Adam Ross
The Guardian

Ross's book is almost as intricately patterned and has a similarly ominous, hectoring atmosphere, but it's let down by its poorly proportioned architecture and the lapses of judgment sprinkled throughout. All the same, it's an impressive first novel, and there's no question that the people who signed Ross up had shrewd eyes for talent, a quality he's jumping with. His decision to give the book all he's got and more (he started writing it in 1995) doesn't make for an elegant structure, but does make it an effective calling card.

"Freedom Summer," Bruce Watson
The San Francisco Chronicle

Bruce Watson's remarkable "Freedom Summer," a well-researched, vivid retelling of the 1964 civil rights crusade to put Mississippi's 200,000 disfranchised blacks on the voting rolls, makes no mention of Reagan's Philadelphia visit as its story unreels kaleidoscopically from the nighttime abduction of Goodman, Chaney and Schwerner on June 21 to the high noon exhumation of their remains on Aug. 4 as a horrified world looked on.

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