06/07/2010 05:10 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

Book Review Roundup

If you missed out on any of the weekend's book reviews, check out some of the highlights below:

"Crucible of Pain," Marisa Silver
The New York Times

Today, a widening state deficit and double-digit unemployment make Silver's take on down-market California especially timely. "Alone With You," her new collection, doesn't pretty the picture but patiently and empathetically reveals the complexities of feeling -- anger, longing, hope -- that accompany misfortune.

"The Passage," Justin Cronin
The New York Times

"I won't lie to you," says the colonel in charge of a hidden military installation where hush-hush medical research on the thymus gland is being conducted. "There are risks." One of those risks, enthusiastically described by Justin Cronin in his jumbo science-fiction fantasy novel, "The Passage," is that a viral plague will be unleashed and wipe out almost all of humanity -- though not before Newsweek puts out an issue with a ghastly picture and the words "Believe It" on its cover.

"Lips Unsealed," Belinda Carlisle
Los Angeles Times

Nearly 20 years after the band broke through, VH1's "Behind the Music" aired the Go-Go's drug-and-sex-filled back story, setting a standard of sorts for the parallel narrative now expected of rock stars. Still, the details that stand out in Carlisle's memoir "Lips Unsealed" are the ones that haven't made it to television. Carlisle grew up in Thousand Oaks, with a stepdad who drank his paycheck and a mother on lithium. She and her many siblings ate "oatmeal and Bac-O-Bit sandwiches for dinner."

"A Visit from the Goon Squad," Jennifer Egan
San Francisco Chronicle

Egan is clearly interested in the way that technology shapes human experience. In her new novel, "A Visit From the Goon Squad," she turns her attention to the imperiled music business, showing how digitization has turned an art form into an industry, and real music has been replaced by slick simulacra.

"Colossus," Michael Hiltzik
Wall Street Journal

With a runaway oil well fouling the Gulf of Mexico for weeks on end--and both government and industry seemingly helpless to stop it--Michael Hiltzik's "Colossus," about the construction of the Hoover Dam, is a welcome reminder of the engineering genius that built America.

"The Short Second Life Of Bree Tanner," Stephenie Meyer
The Washington Post

It has arrived: the benevolent gift to fans, the surprise french fry discovered in the bottom of Stephenie Meyer's vampiric junk-food bag. "The Short Second Life of Bree Tanner" hit stores Saturday, two years after readers thought they'd seen the last of Bella and the Cullen clan. This novella is a companion to "Eclipse," the third volume in Meyer's teen human-vampire love saga, which comes out in movie form later this month.

"The Shallows," Nicholas Carr
The New Republic

Nicholas Carr's lucid if tendentious book improves on his essay in the Atlantic a couple years ago, which was more memorably--and misleadingly--titled with the self-answering question, "Is Google Making Us Stupid?" Carr's article was all the more interesting because he was not a grumpy and decadent humanist but an engaging tech writer and a former executive editor of the Harvard Business Review. He was asking out loud a question that was deservedly on a lot of contemporary minds. The Shallows is a less catchy and more accurate title for his alarm, which turns out to have little to do with Google. It is much bigger than that.

"Role Models," John Waters

As you might expect from the director who brought us Odorama and Divine eating dog shit, these role models are a raffish lot: lesbian stripper moms, foul-mouthed barmaids, pornographers, perverts. Not to mention the occasional cult celebrity (including "Monster Mash" singer Bobby "Boris" Pickett and former child actress Patty McCormack, star of "The Bad Seed"). Loitering as always on the edges, Waters finds inspiration where others see squalor and makes provocative points about art and morality and the good life -- without losing an ounce of his ironical cheer.

"Globish," Robert McCrum
The Guardian

Last month, as volcanic ash drifted across the skies of Europe, I found myself in a van travelling from Dubrovnik to Antwerp with a Belgian, a German, a Turkish couple living in Holland, a Russian studying in Dublin, a Chinese woman heading to Beijing via Amsterdam, and two Croatian drivers whose services we had hired. How did we communicate? In English, of course. That "of course" is the starting point for Robert McCrum's book, an account of how English achieved its present status, framed by an argument about the present and future consequences.