A multigenerational saga of social conflict and family tragedy, When the Killing's Done is set in Santa Barbara, where T. Coraghessan Boyle has lived for many years, and the nearby Channel Islands. Boyle's play-by-play skewering of a contemporary environmental standoff in his 13th novel is as dramatic and richly textured as his best work, says critic Jane Ciabattari. He manages to illuminate his favorite themes: the irrationality of our behavior, and the folly of social and political divides. In his carefully wrought passages about the fragile ecosystems of these islands and the ocean around them, Boyle reminds us that human enterprise — even when it isn't fraught with calamity — pales in the face of nature's power.
This latest version of the story of Doc Holliday and Wyatt Earp is both smart and fun, Washington Post critic Ron Charles tells NPR's Lynn Neary. The author takes the reader into the Wild Wild West of Dodge City with vivid portrayals of brawling saloons and whorehouses. At the same time, she reminds us that the "Doc" in Doc Holliday stood for dentist. It's funny to imagine the mythical Doc Holliday reminding people to brush their teeth. That is just one way that Russell tweaks the old-style Westerns we think we know. She makes fun of them and challenges them and tries to revise them in an interesting way.
Sarah Vowell has always been a tourist. She views history with a visitor's eye. It's a method that served her well in Assassination Vacation, her comic examination of presidential killings, and The Wordy Shipmates, about Puritan culture in New England. Unfortunately, writes critic Dan Kois, it's not so successful in her new book, Unfamiliar Fishes, in part because its subject — the short and awful history of Western intervention in Hawaii, up to U.S. annexation of the kingdom in 1898 — is so complicated that her anecdotal structure isn't quite up to the task. It also turns out that deadpan casualness may not be a useful stance from which to approach the story of the death of a nation — especially when those wounds are still raw and bleeding.
In a Fast Companycover story published in 2007, Fishman examined how the bottled water industry turned what was once a free natural resource into a multibillion-dollar business. He expands his investigation of the water industry in The Big Thirst, which examines the future of a natural resource that, Fishman says, we can no longer take for granted. "The last 100 years has been the golden age of water in the developed world: water that has been safe, unlimited and essentially free," he tells Fresh Air's Terry Gross. "But that era is over. We will not, going forward, have water that has all three of those qualities at the same time."
Allen Shawn says he realized that his twin sister, Mary, who was diagnosed with both mental retardation and autism as a little girl, has been one of the biggest influences on his life. He tells Fresh Air's Terry Gross that her institutionalization at the age of 8 left him feeling alone — and confused. "I don't think I've ever felt like an individual the way a non-twin does," he says. "I have a sense of being part of a pair of things." Shawn's memoir about Mary is called Twin. The book also explores Shawn's relationship with other members of his family, including his late father, William Shawn. William, the editor-in-chief of The New Yorker from 1952 until 1987, carried on an affair with a New Yorker colleague, Lillian Ross, from 1950 until his death in 1992.
"Shopkeepers make good narrators because they're passive and steady," writes Ben Ryder Howe in his memoir, My Korean Deli: Risking It All for a Convenience Store. "Plus, in the end, something awful always happens to them." Howe knows from both narrators and shopkeepers: My Korean Deli follows Howe as he works days as an editor at The Paris Review and nights at his family's Brooklyn deli. And Howe, though a fairly lousy shopkeeper, makes for an excellent narrator, says critic Dan Kois. His book is an engaging and funny tour of the down-and-dirty world of New York City small business, whether that business is an Upper East Side literary magazine (The Paris Review later moved downtown) or a Boerum Hill bodega.
Charlotte Abbott edits "New in Paperback." A contributing editor for Publishers Weekly, she also leads a weekly chat on books and reading in the digital age every Friday from 4-5 p.m. ET on Twitter. Follow her at @charabbott or check out the #followreader hashtag.