Editor's Note: I hoard books. This is a dangerous tendency for someone in my business, because nice publishers are always sending newspaper editors more and more nice books to hoard. Well, not to hoard -- their intention in sending all those books is to get them reviewed, preferably.
But for various reasons -- lack of space in the paper, lack of time to read, pathological procrastination, basic greed -- the books in recent months have just kept piling up on my desk. Higher. And higher. Until the pile was so precarious that it threatened to topple.
Which it did. But once the tower came down, I didn't rebuild; I distributed. After announcing to the entire CL staff that they could have their pick as long as they agreed to write a short review, I spread out the 70 or so titles on a conference room table and let the picking and choosing begin.
Below you'll find the books that got chosen. Short story collections by Florida writers. A zippy new novel or two. A racy memoir. The collected works of the original urban explorer, Joseph Mitchell. Books that publishers imagined would interest a Florida alt-weekly audience, an assortment that can be collectively summarized as Hunter S. Thompson Says He's A Stud She's A Slut Living in Ybor City Near Abu Ghraib's Military Misdemeanors Where Rabid Nun Talks Dirty Spanish You Know You Love It.
The publishers were pretty much on the mark, I'd say. No wonder I was hoarding. --David Warner
Pins & Needles
By Karen Brown, University Of Massachusetts Press (2007), 176 P., $24.95
"How she had wanted him." Desire -- unbidden, confusing, irresistible -- drives many of the characters in this award-winning collection of stories by Tampa writer Karen Brown. So does a sense of loss, an inchoate ache as all-pervasive as the heavy Florida heat or grey Northern cold in which they take place. The women in these stories are conscious of their allure, yet not sure they're deserving of love; the men who watch and pursue them remain at a distance, even when a connection is made. Impulsive decisions lead down unexpected paths: A young mother in the title story goes home with a stranger she meets in a parking lot; a married woman, visiting the run-down waterfront home that belonged to her late stepfather, drifts into an affair with the younger family man next door; a bartender at a very Tiny Tap-like dive empties the cash register to help another woman flee her husband. Throughout, Brown displays an extraordinary eye for detail, whether in her acute awareness of the natural world or her sensitivity to the tiniest shifts of emotion on a lover's face. --DW
Just In Case
By Meg Rosoff, A Plume Book (2008), 246 p., $14
"A Modern Catcher in the Rye," boasts The London Times' blurb on the cover of Meg Rosoff's second novel, Just in Case. "Horse shit!" I can almost hear Holden Caulfield reply. The success of Catcher had nothing to do with plot and everything to do with spitfire narration. Just in Case coasts entirely on a passive, omniscient voice more concerned with relating a transparent plot than exploring the psyche of its 15-year-old protagonist -- a character as compelling as the pun he chooses for his alias: Justin Case. Convinced that Fate is out to kill him after he saves his infant brother Charlie from falling out a window, Justin changes his name, wardrobe and persona in order to escape an early death. While Rosoff's writing is snappy and efficient, it doesn't justify Justin's logic. Why doesn't he think Fate is out to kill Charlie -- not him? If he truly wants to conceal his identity, why go around telling everyone? Teenagers are known to blow things out of proportion; in Justin's case, the problem is that no one slaps sense into him. His parents even go along with his plan to quit school and live with friends. (They're just happy he isn't gay.) At first I found myself cheering on Justin's classmates as they ridiculed his identity crisis, but by the end I was praying Fate would disfigure him so horrendously that his character truly would be altered into someone more entertaining -- someone like Holden Caulfield. --Shawn Alff
By Ryu Murakami, translated from the Japanese by Ralph McCarthy, Penguin Group (2007; originally published in Japan in 1994), 192 p., $13
Kawashima leads a seemingly perfect life -- good job, loving and compassionate wife, beautiful new baby girl. But of late, he's been hovering over his daughter's crib at night with an ice pick and the compulsion to use it. Sanada Chiaki is a high-class prostitute who specializes in S&M and eats tranquilizers at a steadily increasing rate to block out the horror of her past. Both are deeply damaged individuals whose fates are inexorably linked in Ryu Murakami's provocative, dark-as-night thriller. --Leilani Polk