12/20/2010 02:31 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Book Review Roundup

"The Memory Chalet" by Susan Salter Reynolds
The Los Angeles Times

One of the nation's leading public intellectuals, Judt was inspired by historian Jonathan Spence's 1984 book, "The Memory Palace of Matteo Ricci." In that book, Spencer considers the work of Matteo Ricci, a Jesuit missionary to China whose pièce de résistance was his 1596 "Treatise on Mnemonic Arts." Ricci's advice involved the spatial association of words and images -- by filling a "Memory Palace" with things to remember, literally room by room, you might stand a chance of holding on to them.

"Of Love and Evil" by Nick Owchar
The Los Angeles Times

Toby is whisked off to another time and place, trading present-day Riverside's Mission Inn, where he is summoned, for Rome in the Renaissance. Why is Toby so qualified for solving this "complex of mysteries"? He's a professional assassin who wants God's forgiveness for his crimes. He and Malchiah were introduced in last year's "Angel Time," the first in the "Songs of the Seraphim" series which will probably be a long one: Toby's killed quite a few people and has a lot of penance to do.

"The Atheist's Guide to Christmas" edited by Robin Harvie and Stepahnie Meyers
Seattle PI

The range of the essays is also quite broad, from the philosophical to the arts to personal experiences. Many take a humorous approach, such as Jennifer McCreight's suggestions in "Gifts for the Godless" or Nick Doody's overview of the science of "Christmastology." Moreover, while most of the pieces leave no doubt the authors don't believe in God or the Christmas of the Bible, these aren't essays aimed at converting (so to speak) believers or claiming theists are idiots. For example, while Adam Rutherford explains why he thinks most scientists are atheists, he observes that there are many good scientists who are religious, and while he doesn't understand their viewpoint, he doesn't condemn them. Other contributors recognize some value in Christmas celebrations.

"AMERICAN ROSE: A Nation Laid Bare: The Life and Times of Gypsy Rose Lee" by Karen Abbott

The New York Times

On the theory that the biographer of a stripper needs a tease, Karen Abbott opens "American Rose" with Gypsy Rose Lee on the verge of something big. It's 1940, and Ms. Lee, known in this book more comfortably as Gypsy, is about to perform at the World's Fair and cement her status as a national treasure. As proof that Gypsy appealed to patriots of all stripes, Ms. Abbott cites a congratulatory telegram written 19 years later by Eleanor Roosevelt: "May your bare ass always be shining."

"AUTOBIOGRAPHY OF MARK TWAIN: Volume 1" edited by Harriet Elinor Smith
The New York Times

The book turns out to be a wonderful fraud on the order of the Duke and the Dauphin in their Shakespearean romp, and bravo to Samuel Clemens, still able to catch the public's attention a century after he expired.

"Long, Last, Happy" by Barry Hannah

Yet praising Hannah exclusively as a stylist undersells the importance of his work and the influence that it has stamped on American fiction. Hannah represented not just an inimitable voice. He was a philosopher of exuberance who dislodged the short story from its cozy perch and hurled it into new territory.