BOOKS
03/18/2010 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

A Sneak Peek At New Books

This week, the book review round-up includes some reviews from insider journals Publishers Weekly, Kirkus and Booklist, which often get the scoop on new books before mainstream news sources pick them up. They have a "star" system, so we're bringing you their featured reviews, many of which you'll see picked up by other outlets in the coming weeks. Of course, we still have your regulars as well, but first the periodicals you might not have expected:

INSIDER JOURNALS:

Parrot & Olivier in America, Peter Carey (Out in April)
Publishers Weekly

Richly atmospheric, this wonderful novel is picaresque and Dickensian, with humor and insight injected into an accurately rendered period of French and American history.

China's Megatrends: The 8 Pillars of a New Society, John Naisbitt (Out in January)
Kirkus Reviews

...[T]hey examine "China as the Chinese look at their country...[to be] open to its shortcomings, but...not judge China by our own values and standards." . . .An intriguing look at the new China.

The Unbearable Lightness of Scones, Alexander McCall Smith (Out in January)
Booklist

While the actual Scotland Street doesn't quite reach 44, one can easily imagine the likes of Bertie wearily marching off to the psychiatrist, Bruce preening before every available mirror, and Cyril epitomizing the old adage about man's best friend. Who wouldn't want to live among this endlessly lively crew?

OTHER NEWS SOURCES:

Under the Dome, Stephen King
The New York Times

So this is it: 1,100 pages of localized apocalypse from an author whose continued and slightly frenzied commerce with his muse has been one of the more enthralling spectacles in American literature.

Samuel Johnson: A Life, David Nokes
The New York Times

Samuel Johnson, a workmanlike book by the British scholar David Nokes, joins itself to an admirable sequence that includes studies by Robert DeMaria, Walter Jackson Bate, Lawrence Lipking and Peter Martin. Each of these brought a particular warmth and individual insight to the reception of Johnson, and Nokes complements them by his sense of the critic as a Londoner, almost the archetypal citizen of that endless city.

Lit, Mary Karr
LA Times

The tone of "Lit" is intimate and friendly; it's easy to picture sitting on a back porch with Karr on a hot afternoon sipping lemonade (she's sober now). . . A raconteur skilled in rendering life's small moments, Karr rarely fails to make herself the butt of her jokes.

A Country of Vast Designs, Robert W. Merry
Wall Street Journal

The popular assumption tends to be that those who occupied the White House from 1837 to 1861 constituted a generation of ciphers--variations on a theme by Millard Fillmore. Robert Merry's authoritative biography of James K. Polk proves just how wrong that assumption is. It also provides a compelling, perceptive portrait of one of the oddest men ever to occupy the White House, a driven, introverted workaholic who was "in many ways a smaller-than-life figure but [who] harbored larger-than-life ambitions."

The Lacuna, Barbara Kingsolver
The Dallas Morning News

It's been nearly a decade since Barbara Kingsolver's last novel, Prodigal Summer, was published, and her readers have been antsy. The Lacuna was certainly worth the wait - it's her best novel yet.

Gimme Something Better: The Profound, Progressive and Occasionally Pointless History of Bay Area Punk, From Dead Kennedys to Green Day, Jack Boulware and Silke Tudor
The San Francisco Chronicle

It took years for Tudor and Boulware to conduct the 300 interviews for this assiduous chronicle of the city's long-suffering punk scene, not as famous or degenerately glamorous as New York, Los Angeles or London. Much of their advance was spent on transcripts, and they say the book would never have been finished if it weren't for more than two dozen volunteer typists who responded to pleas over the Internet.

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