Upcoming: THE BIRD KING by G. Willow Wilson (Grove)

WilsonGW-BirdKingUSG. Willow Wilson is the author of the critically-acclaimed, award-winning Alif the Unseen (an NPR and Washington Post Best Book of the Year) and the critically-acclaimed Ms. Marvel comic series. I’ve long been a fan of her work, and her next novel has really caught my attention. The Bird King is described as “a fantastical journey set at the height of the Spanish Inquisition” and “a jubilant story of love versus power, religion versus faith, and freedom versus safety”, here’s the official synopsis:

Set in 1491 during the reign of the last sultanate in the Iberian peninsula, The Bird King is the story of Fatima, the only remaining Circassian concubine to the sultan, and her dearest friend Hassan, the palace mapmaker. Hassan has a secret — he can make maps of places he’s never seen and bend the shape of reality with his pen and paper. His magical gift has proven useful to the sultan’s armies in wartime and entertained a bored Fatima who has never stepped foot outside the palace walls.

When a party representing the newly formed Spanish monarchy arrives to negotiate the terms of the sultan’s surrender, Fatima befriends one of the women, little realizing that her new friend Luz represents the Inquisition, and will see Hassan’s gift as sorcery, and a threat to Christian Spanish rule. With everything on the line, what will Fatima risk to save Hassan, and taste the freedom she has never known?

Fatima and Hassan traverse Iberia to the port, helped along the way by a jinn who has taken a liking to them — Vikram the Vampire, who readers may remember from Alif the Unseen. Pursued all the while by Luz, who somehow always seems to know where they will end up, they narrowly escape from her generals by commandeering a ship, and accidentally also the snoozing Breton monk belowdecks. Though they are unsure whether to trust him, because he is a member of the very same faith they are running from, they nevertheless set about learning from him how to crew a ship. And as it becomes clearer both that there is no place on the mainland that they will be safe, and that the three of them are destined to stay together, they set out to do something they never thought possible — to find the mysterious, possibly mythic island of The Bird King, whose shifting boundaries will hopefully keep them safe.

An epic adventure to find safety in a mythical realm, The Bird King challenges us to consider what true love is and the price of freedom at a time when the West and the Muslim world were not yet separate.

The Bird King is due to be published by Grove on March 12th, 2019.

Follow the Author: Website, Goodreads, Twitter

Quick Review: TRANSMETROPOLITAN by Warren Ellis et al (Vertigo)

Transmetropolitan-CollectedEditions

I’ve had a very strange experience/reaction to Transmetropolitan, Warren Ellis’s series that satirizes politics and the media. In fact, I have so many thoughts about the series, that I’m going to keep this review rather short — in an attempt to prevent myself from going overboard. One thing that bears stating at the start: this series has only become more relevant; and, while it can be a bit of an uncomfortable read at times, it is brilliant. Continue reading

Upcoming: OUR TOWNS by James & Deborah Fallows (Pantheon)

Fallows-OurTownsUSI have long been a fan of James Fallows‘s journalism — I first read his work in The Atlantic, back in 2007 when he was still living in China (some of his articles from that time have been collected in the excellent Postcards From Tomorrow Square, which I’m reading at the moment). This year, Pantheon will publish Fallows’s latest book, co-written with his wife, Deborah FallowsOur Towns. Here’s the synopsis:

A vivid, surprising portrait of the civic and economic reinvention taking place in America, town by town and generally out of view of the national media. A realistically positive and provocative view of the country between its coasts.

For the last five years, James and Deborah Fallows have been traveling across America in a single-engine prop airplane. Visiting dozens of towns, they have met hundreds of civic leaders, workers, immigrants, educators, environmentalists, artists, public servants, librarians, business people, city planners, students, and entrepreneurs to take the pulse and understand the prospects of places that usually draw notice only after a disaster or during a political campaign.

The America they saw is acutely conscious of its problems — from economic dislocation to the opioid scourge — but itis also crafting solutions, with a practical-minded determination at dramatic odds with the bitter paralysis of national politics. At times of dysfunction on a national level, reform possibilities have often arisen from the local level. The Fallowses describe America in the middle of one of these creative waves. Their view of the country is as complex and contradictory as America itself, but it also reflects the energy, the generosity and compassion, the dreams, and the determination of many who are in the midst of making things better. Our Towns is the story of their journey — and an account of a country busy remaking itself.

I received an ARC of this book recently, and I’m really looking forward to reading it. (I’ll probably start it either after finishing Postcards…, or after my next non-fiction read.)

Follow the Authors: Goodreads — James/Deborah; Twitter — James/Deborah

Quick Review: WILLIAM HOWARD TAFT by Jeffrey Rosen (Times Books)

RosenJ-APS27-WilliamHowardTaftAn excellent, short introduction to the life and career of the 27th president

The only man to serve as president and chief justice, who approached every decision in constitutional terms, defending the Founders’ vision against new populist threats to American democracy

William Howard Taft never wanted to be president and yearned instead to serve as chief justice of the United States. But despite his ambivalence about politics, the former federal judge found success in the executive branch as governor of the Philippines and secretary of war, and he won a resounding victory in the presidential election of 1908 as Theodore Roosevelt’s handpicked successor.

In this provocative assessment, Jeffrey Rosen reveals Taft’s crucial role in shaping how America balances populism against the rule of law. Taft approached each decision as president by asking whether it comported with the Constitution, seeking to put Roosevelt’s activist executive orders on firm legal grounds. But unlike Roosevelt, who thought the president could do anything the Constitution didn’t forbid, Taft insisted he could do only what the Constitution explicitly allowed. This led to a dramatic breach with Roosevelt in the historic election of 1912, which Taft viewed as a crusade to defend the Constitution against the demagogic populism of Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson.

Nine years later, Taft achieved his lifelong dream when President Warren Harding appointed him chief justice, and during his years on the Court he promoted consensus among the justices and transformed the judiciary into a modern, fully equal branch. Though he had chafed in the White House as a judicial president, he thrived as a presidential chief justice.

William Howard Taft is one of the lesser-known presidents. For many, if he is known at all, it is due to the fact that he was quite large. It’s unfortunate that his story has been boiled down into a punch-line. A life-long Republican who was enamoured with the Constitution and those who crafted it, he spent his career judiciously adhering to what he saw as the tenets laid down by the Founding Fathers. He was meticulous, he was extremely intelligent and well-read. He placed principle above party at almost all times. In his contribution to the excellent American Presidents Series, Rosen gives readers a very good, short and engaging introduction to Taft’s life and career. Continue reading

Upcoming: LEADERSHIP IN TURBULENT TIMES by Doris Kearns Goodwin (Simon & Schuster)

GoodwinDK-LeadershipUSAs the author of Team of Rivals and other fantastic history books, Doris Kearns Goodwin needs little introduction. This year, Goodwin’s latest book will be published by Simon & Schuster: Leadership in Turbulent Times. The title is pretty self-explanatory, and the book draws from the presidencies of four men she is most familiar with: Abraham Lincoln (Team of Rivals), Theodore Roosevelt (The Bully Pulpit), Franklin D. Roosevelt (No Ordinary Time) and Lyndon B. Johnson (Lyndon Johnson & the American Dream). Here’s the official synopsis:

In this culmination of five decades of acclaimed studies in presidential history, Pulitzer Prize-winning author Doris Kearns Goodwin offers an illuminating exploration into the early development, growth, and exercise of leadership.

Are leaders born or made? Where does ambition come from? How does adversity affect the growth of leadership? Does the man make the times or do the times make the man?

In Leadership in Turbulent Times, Goodwin draws upon four of the presidents she has studied most closely — Abraham Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt, Franklin D. Roosevelt, and Lyndon B. Johnson (in civil rights) — to show how they first recognized leadership qualities within themselves, and were recognized by others as leaders.

No common pattern describes the trajectory of leadership. Although set apart in background, abilities, and temperament, these men shared a fierce ambition and a deep-seated resilience that enabled them to surmount uncommon adversity. At their best, all four were guided by a sense of moral purpose. At moments of great challenge, they were able to summon their talents to enlarge the opportunities and lives of others.

This seminal work provides an accessible and essential road map for aspiring and established leaders in every field. In today’s polarized world, these stories of authentic leadership in times of apprehension and fracture take on a singular urgency.

Leadership in Turbulent Times is due to be published by Simon & Schuster in North America and Viking in the UK, in September 2018.

Follow the Author: Website, Goodreads, Twitter

Quick Review: SHINING CITY by Tom Rosenstiel (Ecco)

RosenstielT-1-ShiningCityUSPolitical intrigue and machinations surrounding a SCOTUS nomination. And a killer looking for revenge…

Peter Rena is a “fixer.” He and his partner, Randi Brooks, earn their living making the problems of the powerful disappear. They get their biggest job yet when the White House hires them to vet the president’s nominee for the Supreme Court. Judge Roland Madison is a legal giant, but he’s a political maverick, with views that might make the already tricky confirmation process even more difficult. Rena and his team go full-bore to cover every inch of the judge’s past, while the competing factions of Washington D.C. mobilize with frightening intensity: ambitious senators, garrulous journalists, and wily power players on both sides of the aisle.

All of that becomes background when a string of seemingly random killings overlaps with Rena’s investigation, with Judge Madison a possible target. Racing against the clock to keep his nominee safe, the President satisfied, and the political wolves at bay, Rena learns just how dangerous Washington’s obsession with power — how to get it and how to keep it — can be.

This is a very fine debut novel. It is the story of a judicial confirmation, the personal and political aspects of such a fight, colliding with a quest for vengeance. If you’re looking for an intelligent political drama, then Shining City is for you. One of my favourite reads of the year so far. Continue reading

Quick Review: THE LIFE OF ANDREW JACKSON by Robert V. Remini (Harper)

ReminiRV-LifeOfAndrewJacksonUSA very useful, infuriating single-volume biography of the seventh president

Robert V. Remini’s prize-winning, three-volume biography Life of Andrew Jackson won the National Book Award on its completion in 1984 and is recognized as one of the greatest lives of a U.S. President. In this meticulously crafted single-volume abridgment, Remini captures the essence of the life and career of the seventh president of the United States. As president, from 1829-1837, Jackson was a significant force in the nations’s expansion, the growth of presidential power, and the transition from republicanism to democracy.

Jackson is a highly controversial figure who is undergoing historical reconsideration today. He is known as spurring the emergence of the modern American political division of Republican and Democractic parties, for the infamous Indian removal on the Trail of Tears, and for his brave victory against the British as Major General at the Battle of New Orleans.

Never an apologist, Remini portrays Jackson as a foreceful, sometimes tragic, hero — a man whose strength and flaws were larger than life, a president whose conviction provided the nation with one of the most influential, colorful, and controversial administrations in our history.

Robert V. Remini is considered one of the preeminent scholars of Andrew Jackson and his times. His three-volume biography of Jackson won the National Book Award and many think of it as one of the best, substantial biographies of any president. In The Life of Andrew Jackson, he has written a comprehensive, (relatively) briskly paced biography. However, the book suffers from one major flaw that coloured almost everything Remini included within. Continue reading