Asian politics animate two key titles this week, one by American author Adam Johnson about North Korea, and the other a translation of a novel by Chan Koonchung about China in the near-future that has been banned in that country. Usual suspects include Elizabeth George, Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child, and John Burdett – plus young adult authors John Green and Beth Revis. In nonfiction, there are biographies of the Obamas by New York Times correspondent Jodi Kantor and of Queen Elizabeth by Sally Bedell Smith.
The Orphan Master’s Son by Adam Johnson (Random House; RH Audio) follows a young man’s journey from a North Korean orphanage into a life of spying, kidnapping, and torture, followed by a new identity as the husband of the Dear Leader’s favorite actress. Library Journal says, “evidently a blend of personal story and political revelation, with thriller overtones thrown in for fun, this work is being positioned as a breakout for Johnson. The first two serials go to Granta in August 2011 and Playboy in January 2012, which certainly suggests broad appeal.”
The Fat Years by Chan Koonchung (Nan A. Talese) was an underground sensation in China before being banned. Set in Beijing in the near future, it’s about a group of friends who decide to find out more about the “lost month” during the country’s political transition that has been erased from the nation’s memory. PW says, “this first English translation… feels flat, a quality exacerbated by the novel’s uneven pace and lengthy digressions into historical and political minutiae. However, Koonchung (founder of Hong Kong’s City Magazine) reveals the moral and political perils of contemporary Chinese life.”
Believing the Lie (Inspector Lynley Series #16) by Elizabeth George (Dutton; Penguin Audiobooks; Thorndike Large Print) finds Scotland Yard policeman Thomas Lynley to delving into the accidental death of the gay nephew of a wealthy industrialist. Kirkus says, “pared-down George, weighing in at a svelte 600 pages, but still strewn with subplots, melodrama, melancholy, a wretchedly unhappy Havers and the impossibly heroic, impossibly nice Thomas Lynley.”
Gideon’s Corpse by Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child (Grand Central Publishing; Hachette Audio; Thorndike Large Print) finds Gideon Crew in his second outing, tracking a terrorist cell ten days before a planned attack on a major American city. PW says, the “lead could be cut-and-pasted into any number of books by less gifted genre writers.”
Vulture Peak: A Bangkok Novel by John Burdett (Knopf) is the latest to feature Royal Thai Police Detective Sonchai Jitpleecheep, who is in charge of the highest-profile case in Thailand — an attempt to bring an end to trafficking in human organs. Kirkus says, “Burdett’s strengths are tilted toward characterization rather than plotting, for Buddhist Sonchai remains a fascinating cross between Buddhist monk and hard-boiled detective.”
Lothaire by Kresley Cole (Gallery Books; S&S Audio) continues the Immortals After Dark series, with the story of how Lothaire the Enemy of Old rose to power a millenia ago, becoming the most feared and evil vampire in the immortal world.
The Fault in Our Stars by John Green (Dutton; Brilliance Audio). The uber-popular author of Looking for Alaska, An Abundance of Katherines, and Paper Towns, applies his trade-marked humor to a serious subject. A young girl facing terminal illness encounters an unexpected friend who turns her life around. Every time Green mentions the book on his popular vlog, it rises on Amazon, as we’ve been noting for several months, so it’s no surprise that the announced first printing is 150,000 copies. Entertaiment Weekly is giving it a push, with an author interview, an “exclusive” (but rather unrevealing) trailer and a strong review.
A Million Suns: An Across the Universe Novel by Beth Revis (Razorbill) is the second installment in the Across the Universe trilogy about the 2,763 people trapped aboard a spaceship. Kirkus says, “Revis’ shining brilliance is the fierce tension about survival (is Godspeed deteriorating? can people survive terrorism inside an enclosed spaceship?) and the desperate core question of whether any generation will ever reach a planet. Setting and plot are the heart and soul of this ripping space thriller, and they’re unforgettable.”
The Obamas by Jodi Kantor (Little, Brown; Thorndike Large Print) peers inside the White House as the Obamas try to grapple with their new roles, change the country, raise children, maintain friendships, and figure out what it means to be the first black President and First Lady. Kantor is the Washington correspondent for the New York Times, as well as its “Arts & Leisure” editor.
Elizabeth the Queen: The Life of a Modern Monarch by Sally Bedell Smith (Random House; Random House Audio; Thorndike Large Print) is “comparable to Ben Pimlott’s excellent The Queen: A Biography of Elizabeth II (1998),” says Library Journal. “But with information on nearly 15 more years, this will appeal to readers of biographies, British history, and all followers of the British royal family. The Queen’s 2012 Diamond Jubilee should increase demand.”