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Next Man Up--by John Feinstein

This is an NFL book for NFL junkies. This reads like the textual version of the best Football biographies of NFL Films by Steve Sabol. But the book’s heft and observant pace makes for a complete-access behind the scenes look at the machinations of the modern NFL world. Feinstein narrates the goings on off and on-field during 2004-05 as experienced by the Baltimore Ravens. The saga begins with Art Model’s inevitable move from Cleveland to Baltimore, the politics and business deals that brought it there and the narrative unspools from there. While his unfettered access through the new owner and coach Billick seems unrivaled and worthwhile in itself, the narrative certainly gets rolling with ease and dignity. Feinstein, while explicitly discussing coach’ feelings towards their peers, their players, and everyone involved in their world, the narrative never sinks to tabloid gossip or irrelevant sensationalism. Everybody comes off human, flawed yet with a decent core and sympathetic life…

The Sun is also a Star—by Nicola Yoon

I learned about this novel, meant for Young Adults, from a list for best books of the year. Having never read a novel geared towards Young Adults, I whet my curiosity with this one. The premise is irresistible and fresh. The two central characters—Daniel, a Korean American teen and Natasha, an offspring of Jamaican immigrants in America—each set out to accomplish a very specific goal of varying complexities and consequences. Daniel dreams in poetry and teems with individuality and idealism as he sets out on an unpleasant errand to satisfy his conventional, disciplinarian parents. His against-the-grain ideals have taken a harsher turn in probability with his over-achieving brother returning home as a failure in his parents’ eyes. The stakes are higher for Daniel to not conform to filial obligations and wishes. Natasha, a proper teen with a penchant for pragmatism and Science, is bent on saving her family from deportation caused by a drunken episode by her troubled father. Beside he…

The Circle -- by Dave Eggers

This novel interested me for its thorough indictment of Google and the Uber-social, share-everything-with-everyone society that we're becoming. Many of the points were well honed and aimed. The writing itself was staggeringly plain like a blog. While the depth of technological excess is well addressed the protagonist is such a sorry-ass ditz that it outrages one far beyond the intended reasons. It's still worth a look for those who have thought that all this technology is wonderful.

Shantaram -- by Gregory David Roberts

I arrived at this tome long after the missives had piled up either anointing it or debasing it. Reading Shantaram is not just a journey or a launch to a faraway place, it is a committed residence at an exhilarating vantage point. The mind that I followed, the voice that I listened to, the heart that I bled for, the shoulder that I leaned on, the spirit that I inhabited, the humiliation I shared, the despair I felt, the joy I embraced, the exhaustion of letdowns I endured as my own, the anger I expressed for his unlearned mistakes as if he were my own were all palpably real. Yes, that was the most remarkable thing, the unmistakable feeling like the narrator were my own. The kinship I felt with the narrator, I have never felt in any other book I have ever read. A dreamer soul beats at every turn and save for a few self-destructive turns, the narrator and central character always forges ahead and never shies from life. The way he treasures the little gestures of people and the way he ce…

Lovers at Chameleon Club--Paris-1932 -- by Francine Prose

This novel, inspired by an iconic photograph of a lesbian couple in 1920s Paris, uses multiple narrative styles and perspectives to overlap, contradict, insinuate, guess, and sum up history in many versions. The strain of Nazi occupied Paris is told from every social strata. Some characters resemble real life figures, some are entirely fictional, and yet others like Picasso and Hitler appear as themselves with talking parts. The scope is ambitious while the narrative is self-aware and academic in parts.

Ultimately, I enjoyed it like a substantial hike after gliding through a string of malnourished e-books by self-published authors. Any form of art that inspires me to practice my own has achieved something. That said, it's a bit like after eating Kale; you know it's good for you but damn, some garlic fries sound good right about now.

Super Sad True Love Story--Gary Shteyngart

I just finished this dystopian novel that comes on like a torrent of hip tweets--only it's more elegantly written without a preoccupation on brevity. At 334 pages, it's shorter than most contemporary novels but like espresso to regular coffee, less packs more here. At turns satirical, unabashedly romantic, and scathingly political, this futuristic vision of New York (where live-streamed apparats rate everyone's acceptability and social value) lays bare the aching souls yearning to live, love, and thrive in a police state that favors the one percent. This novel isn't for everyone, but if you want an original book with a passionate heart beneath it, check it out.

Donald James', "Monstrum"

Donald James certainly can’t be blamed for lacking ambition. His Monstrum is set in a future Russia where a new party is in power with the promise of change, but people’s loyalties rest uneasy. While this grants enough drama as it is, stirring up this potent setup is a plot about a heinous serial killer who cuts up victims in puzzling ways, a subplot about an underground (literally) sex-cult, and the subversive rebels threatening the new government. Populating this universe is a gallery of colorful characters--an American profiler, an opportunistic police chief, a smitten doctor, a reluctant police force, the elusive monstrum itself, and of course the bumbling cop protagonist. Because of his political connections or despite them, a drunken cop is assigned to catch the serial killer. The doctor and profiler both pine for the cop, insisting on his affections, while the cop yearns for his ex-wife who abandoned him to lead a rebel group in guerilla warfare.More interested in a failed past…