Tony Kuehn

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There is a perfect future. No disease, no hunger, no war. Zed is a time-traveler, come from this utopia. He is one of the few from his time who know the quagmire humans slogged through in order to arrive at their perfect present, and he has been sent to guarantee that our darkest night, worst of the worst—the genocides, disasters, assassinations, all of it—happens just the way history says it did. It’s the only way to ensure humanity is led to the perfect future born from the flames of the past.

Naturally, this isn’t as simple as watching ships sink and planes crash, since there is another faction determined to avert the horrors of the past, regardless of what this may do to the future.

Superficially, this is a time-travel book, and as such the attendant paradoxes and questions of parallel timelines and determinism are all in the back of one’s mind, but forget about that for a moment. What The Revisionists really offers, at its heart, is a chance to see our crazy, mixed-up world at arm’s length. The observation is often keen, even razor-sharp, and author Thomas Mullen—whose previous books have been historical novels—manages the deft trick of the insider writing as an outsider without sounding smug or disingenuous, or falling into any of the other traps that have snagged lesser observers of human nature.

The Revisionists meanders through the interconnected lives of Zed and those around him, each one in turn struggling with the Big Questions of morality and absolutes. Of course, the reality presented within its pages is one of nuances, and is ultimately far less simple than we like to pretend, but Mullen makes no bones about that. When all the layers are peeled back, this novel is about choice and consequences, and it just so happens to involve time travel. This is an excellent, thought-provoking read that checks boxes for sci-fi lovers as well as students of humanity.

There is a perfect future. No disease, no hunger, no war. Zed is a time-traveler, come from this utopia. He is one of the few from his time who know the quagmire humans slogged through in order to arrive at their perfect present, and he has been sent to guarantee that our darkest night, worst […]
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Set in fictional Port Bonita, on the Olympic Peninsula of Washington state, West of Here is no less than epic. The narrative covers a timeline that is split between the late 1800s and the early 2000s, two periods that are united by the sublime power of the wilderness that surrounds the novel’s characters. The early settlers of Port Bonita are presented with a vast expanse of harsh land on the cusp of statehood, but blessed with what appears to be nearly limitless possibility—if only they can survive long enough to grasp it.

Fighting to maintain a hardscrabble existence on the very edge of the American frontier, bounded on one side by unconquerable mountains that threaten to push civilization into an inhospitable sea, the early frontiersmen and women of West of Here are truly on the very edge of a newly explored country. In contrast to their ancestors, the contemporary denizens of Port Bonita are watching their small corner of the world slowly erode as they attempt to undo the ambitions of their predecessors, chiefly a massive dam that, though it once brought power and progress, now chokes valuable fish runs and threatens to capsize the civilization it engendered.

The twists of the plots in West of Here are manifold and far too extensive to cover in any one review. Regardless, the journey down the paths author Jonathan Evison has created is so delightful that anyone who has taken it is loath to spoil it for another. This book is a living, breathing testament to Evison’s singular talent for creating portraits of people who may be fictional, but nevertheless are so vital that one is certain their names must be in a historic register somewhere. Like the people in his book, Evison’s grand ambition seems to have been snatched out of thin air and made real in a way that is simply undeniable. 

Set in fictional Port Bonita, on the Olympic Peninsula of Washington state, West of Here is no less than epic. The narrative covers a timeline that is split between the late 1800s and the early 2000s, two periods that are united by the sublime power of the wilderness that surrounds the novel’s characters. The early […]
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Bruno Littlemore is a chimpanzee. A thinking, speaking chimpanzee engaged in an epic diatribe regarding what it means to be human. Bruno plays with language the way lesser animals would with a stick, a ball or some other oddity that intrigues them. His capacity for innovative and unexpected turns of phrase (standing on the very capable shoulders of author Benjamin Hale, naturally), his frank and sometimes vulgar language and his daunting vocabulary all come together in a very cogent, sometimes rambling, treatise on all things human. Make no mistake, this is a work of fiction, however, Bruno’s unflinching look at his journey towards humanity and lessons learned from the humans around him hold a very real mirror up to the reader and force a more than superficial reflection into what it means to be human.

Born in Lincoln Park Zoo to two unremarkable chimp parents, Bruno did not always have the capabilities he so fluently displays in this memoir. Taken from the zoo by Dr. Lydia Littlemore, Bruno travels a path that takes him across the country, from research subject to, graphically, love interest of Dr. Littlemore, to escapee and murderer, and finally detainee once more at Lincoln Park Zoo. More than anything, Bruno’s explorations into his burgeoning humanity are what make this novel sparkle, the plot seems almost secondary to the world we are presented through Bruno’s eyes.

Driven by playful, daring and wholly unexpected language, Benjamin Hale has created in The Evolution of Bruno Littlemore a book that challenges its readers in a way that few contemporary novels have before. In every sense, Bruno is human but for his origins, yet he views our society and the human condition through the lens of an outsider. This unique viewpoint is enough to ask the questions that many people will be uncomfortable asking, let alone attempting to answer. What is it to be human? Is our knowledge of our own mortality the true source of religion and superstition? What is the true form of romantic love, and is this a question that is possible to, or even worth answering?

This may not be a book for everyone, but for the brave and willing soul, it will provide a challenging, engaging and often high-spirited look at the lives we make for ourselves and this tribe we call humanity.

runo Littlemore is a chimpanzee. A thinking, speaking chimpanzee engaged in an epic diatribe regarding what it means to be human. Bruno plays with language the way lesser animals would with a stick, a ball or some other oddity that intrigues them. His capacity for innovative and unexpected turns of phrase (standing on the very capable shoulders of author Benjamin Hale, naturally), his frank and sometimes vulgar language and his daunting vocabulary all come together in a very cogent, sometimes rambling, treatise on all things human.
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It’s often said that history repeats itself, and it would appear that literary history—at least where Dennis Lehane is concerned—is no exception. In the world of private investigators Patrick Kenzie and Angela Gennaro, it’s been 12 years since four-year-old Amanda McCready vanished in Gone, Baby, Gone, only to be returned to her neglectful and conniving mother by a morally and ethically conflicted Kenzie. Now 16, Amanda, whip-smart and hardened by chronic parental neglect, has once more disappeared into the swirling eddies of Boston’s organized crime cartels. Her aunt Beatrice yet again appeals to Kenzie and Gennaro to find out what happened to Amanda, by extension offering a chance to lay to rest the demons that plagued them after the resolution of Amanda’s first disappearance. Kenzie is no longer a young man; now married (to Gennaro) and raising their own four-year-old daughter, he has more at stake personally than ever before, and the myriad complications of Amanda’s latest disappearance, along with the ghost of her previous kidnapping, have a personal immediacy that he can’t escape. As with any tale of crime and intrigue, there is far more at stake than Kenzie can guess, and he is quickly drawn into a situation that far outstrips his aging sensibilities and capabilities.

The sixth book in the Kenzie and Gennaro series, Moonlight Mile is as much a meditation on what it is to love another person as it is a slyly woven action tale, in which the heroes are getting older while the challenges they face seem only to become more morally fraught and powerful as time passes. What is left for someone when the life they once lived and loved, full of danger, blood and excitement, is no longer one they can sustain? How do you do right by the world when every choice hurts either those you love or those you strive to help? Lehane manages to address these weighty questions, deftly skirting tired moral platitudes and all the while keeping the reader’s pulse pounding. Those who enjoyed the previous books will certainly enjoy this one, while new readers will have the opportunity to enjoy the crackling chemistry Kenzie and Gennaro share, all the while being drawn into tightly plotted action that keeps the pages turning. Snappy dialogue, questions with morally ambiguous answers, a sense of the enduring humanity that manages to draw people together despite their situation, and a winking acknowledgement of the ironic comedy that is life all come together to give this book a sense of reality that is both rare and refreshing.

The sixth book in the Kenzie and Gennaro series, Moonlight Mile is as much a meditation on what it is to love another person as it is a slyly woven action tale.
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The London Natural History museum houses a God, and Billy Harrow is its keeper. Of course, Billy has no idea about any of this until the day the God—a preserved giant squid—vanishes without a trace. Suddenly a London Billy never knew emerges as growing furor and concern swell around the inexplicable disappearance. Was it the Church of the Kraken? Was it Tattoo and his army of anatomically impossible goons? Did it have anything to do with the secret division of the London police devoted to cults and magic?

As the list of occurrences that Billy’s scientific mind knows are impossible in a world without magic (or “knack” as those in the know refer to it) grows longer, he is drawn deeper and deeper into the mystery surrounding the first thing that all the prophets and portents have been able to agree on since time immemorial: The ends, plural, are near. Very near, in fact; and something or someone is threatening to end things in a way that no one foresaw. And at the center of all this—pursued by ageless goons Goss and Subby, whose reputation for brutality and raw power is the stuff of legends—a hapless Billy is quickly learning that some very powerful people are very interested in what is inside his head.

Within Kraken, China Miéville manages to weave a story that seems to touch many genres without ever settling on one, and includes nods to many of the pop-culture sci-fi and fantasy memes that permeate our culture and inform our perspective on the subject of the fantastic. Despite this, or perhaps because of it, he manages to write a book that defies easy categorization and keeps even the most well-read appreciator of the fantastic on their toes. Add a dash of Jasper Fforde’s inspired punning and wordplay, Philip K. Dick’s taste for altered states, theology and conspiracy, and you begin to come close to what reading this book is like. While Miéville’s writing is evocative, it is by no means derivative—and it’s easy to say that these titans of non-traditional fiction are in very good company indeed.

The London Natural History museum houses a God, and Billy Harrow is its keeper. Of course, Billy has no idea about any of this until the day the God—a preserved giant squid—vanishes without a trace. Suddenly a London Billy never knew emerges as growing furor and concern swell around the inexplicable disappearance. Was it the […]
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Thomas Cale has known no end of hardship. By age 14 he has seen more abuse, domination and neglect than many people see their entire lives; he faces random beatings, food not fit for rats (in fact, rats are a rare delicacy) and an existence that never wanders outside the realm of brutal military training, physical discipline and social isolation. Cale is a Redeemer in training. A brutal sect of religious zealots devoted to the cause of spreading their faith through the systematic elimination of non-believers known simply as the Antagonists, the Redeemers begin training and indoctrination as early as the human body will tolerate it, usually around seven or eight years old. Cale and thousands of others like him are taken by, sold to, or traded to the Redeemers and kept in a stronghold called Shotover Sanctuary in the middle of a blight known as the Scablands, miles from any real civilization.

One night, while searching for food with two other boys—the closest things to friends Cale could be said to have—a frightening and confusing discovery changes the course of his life at the Sanctuary, leading to his eventual escape, along with his unlikely companions. Unbeknownst to the disparate group, Cale’s life holds significance greater than any of them could ever imagine, and his absence sparks a deadly conflict that threatens to embroil his newly discovered world in a devastating war that has been a millennium in the making.

In The Left Hand of God, Paul Hoffman spins a tale of intrigue and mystery that is balanced with just the right amount of action, drawing the reader deeper and deeper into the world he has created. Hoffman’s world is not entirely unfamiliar, with some historical references creating guideposts through which his reality can be navigated, but he generally eschews the familiar and encourages the reader to become ensconced in Cale’s unique but sometimes hauntingly familiar world. While the prose may be slightly lacking in subtlety at times, and perhaps better suited to the younger reader, the storytelling is second to none; and the story itself is certainly enough to hook anyone who appreciates tight plotting and well-scripted action. Hoffman’s tale is a decidedly new twist in a genre than can often be riddled with cliché, and the appreciative reader will be glad to know that this is only the beginning of a series of books yet to come. The only disappointment is that we will all have to wait with bated breath for the adventure to continue.

Thomas Cale has known no end of hardship. By age 14 he has seen more abuse, domination and neglect than many people see their entire lives; he faces random beatings, food not fit for rats (in fact, rats are a rare delicacy) and an existence that never wanders outside the realm of brutal military training, […]
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At some point in every person’s life, the question of a legacy arises. What will be left for those to come, and what for those left behind? For some, this translates as possessions; for others, simply memory is enough. Wyatt Hillyer’s legacy is the truth of his own life, set down in a letter to a daughter he never knew. The only thing he can leave her is the key to a tangled web that surrounds her earliest moments and the time leading up to her creation. The tapestry of Wyatt’s profound letter is woven from complicated threads, including two parents driven to simultaneous, but separate, suicides over the love of one woman; an itinerant German student’s arrival during a time of intense xenophobia; an uncle driven mad by the coming war; a ferry sunk by a German U-boat; and an unrequited love for an adopted cousin. 

Mainly set in the years immediately prior to World War II in the Maritime Provinces of eastern Canada, Wyatt’s stirring tale is at once human and grand. Visited by unthinkable tragedy, brief glimpses of joy and the slow grind of life, Howard Norman’s tale washes over the reader like the sea laps at stones on a beach as the tide comes in. Slowly drawn deeper into the life of a man forced to do the best with what he had, the reader finds suddenly that, like Wyatt, he is treading water while everyone else has moved further up the shore.

The quiet power of this book comes on slowly and unrelentingly, offering a mesmerizing look into one man’s past. Creating one of the most captivating and effective uses of the retrospective letter format in recent memory, Norman’s prose is understated, eloquent and perfectly chosen, and his novel paints a picture of one man’s legacy that will not soon be lost.

At some point in every person’s life, the question of a legacy arises. What will be left for those to come, and what for those left behind? For some, this translates as possessions; for others, simply memory is enough. Wyatt Hillyer’s legacy is the truth of his own life, set down in a letter to […]
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Nothing is ever as simple as it seems, especially in India. Like its cuisine, India is vast, complex and defies easy categorization. To say that you are eating Indian food is not nearly specific enough. Is it Southern or Northern? Did you put tomatoes in the Rogan Josh, or did it take its red color from the peppers? Like the people of India, the country’s food varies from region to region, with no simple consensus on how to prepare anything. But in Jaspreet Singh’s outstanding debut novel, as the characters learn to understand the origins of their food, they begin to understand each other.

As Chef opens we learn that Kirpal Singh (known by most as “Kip”) is a former military chef who has been out of the service for 14 years. After years of silence, his former commanding officer has asked Kip to cook for him once again—only now it is at his daughter’s wedding, outside the auspices of the military and under the weight of painful memories. Until this point Kip has led a quiet life, cooking and caring for his ailing mother, but as he begins his journey north to the beauty of Kashmir and the sublime oppression of its glacial border with Pakistan, the trappings of his former life come flooding back. Through a series of flashbacks, Chef becomes a coming of age tale in which a young Kip learns how to understand the people and the world around him through food and its infinite complexity. When a Pakistani “terrorist” with long hair and her own ideas about a “proper” Rogan Josh washes up on the Indian side of the river, the course of Kip’s life—and cuisine—is changed forever. Brilliantly interleaved with the memories of Kip’s awakening is his current journey north into the twilight of his existence as he prepares to cook a meal that could save his life.

Quintessentially Indian, Chef is a book that eschews complex prose in favor of authenticity. Touching in its deft handling of Kip’s journey into maturity, Chef helps its readers realize that true understanding comes when you recognize not only how people are alike, but also how they are different.

Nothing is ever as simple as it seems, especially in India. Like its cuisine, India is vast, complex and defies easy categorization. To say that you are eating Indian food is not nearly specific enough. Is it Southern or Northern? Did you put tomatoes in the Rogan Josh, or did it take its red color […]
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Shen Tai is troubled by ghosts. Ghosts of fallen comrades, ancestors, enemies, strangers and memories all cry out in their dark kingdom of the night, plying his ears with their moans. After the death of his father, the honored Left Side Commander of the Pacified West, Shen has the arduous task of honoring his father by burying the bodies that remain from the Left Side Commander’s most glorious battle. With every body Shen lays to rest over the next two years, a voice in the night is silenced—until the day Shen awakens to the news that his empire’s former enemy has bestowed upon him a gift that proves “no good deed goes unpunished.” The gift of 250 Heavenly Horses not only makes Shen one of the wealthiest men in the Empire, but also essentially guarantees his demise at the hands of those who lust after the steeds—nearly every person Shen is likely to encounter in his life.

Only deft political maneuvering and trusted allies can save Shen from the onus of this gift, and two years among the dead have left him unaccustomed to the subtleties of the world he is suddenly a part of once more. As the empire plunges into a new age of political turmoil and civil unrest, the tremendous value of the horses, as both a trophy and a vital cog in the machine of war, proves itself a burden that Shen can only bear for so long.

Guy Gavriel Kay’s fictional rendition of the Tang dynasty of ancient China in Under Heaven reads almost as a historical document, provided the reader is willing to suspend disbelief in Shamen, wolf men, powerful ghosts and astrological mysticism. The prose has an almost lyrical quality, bowing to the strong influence of poetry over Chinese culture, and often offers contemplative turns of phrase that hint at larger truths. Despite some minor foibles, such as some instances of transparent literary devices that attempt to artificially create suspense, Kay’s sense of mythology and scale of story are strong enough to forgive any minor stumbling along the way. For anyone who enjoys a smart political thriller, a historical recreation or a good ghost story, this novel offers all three in an immensely readable union.

Tony Kuehn writes from Nashville.

Shen Tai is troubled by ghosts. Ghosts of fallen comrades, ancestors, enemies, strangers and memories all cry out in their dark kingdom of the night, plying his ears with their moans. After the death of his father, the honored Left Side Commander of the Pacified West, Shen has the arduous task of honoring his father […]
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A prime number is a number divisible only by one and by itself. As numbers grow larger, the frequency of primes decreases, and these mathematical islands become more and more distant from each other. “Among prime numbers, there are some that are even more special,” writes Paolo Giordano in The Solitude of Prime Numbers. “Mathematicians call them twin primes: pairs of prime numbers that are close to each other, almost neighbors, but between them there is always an even number that prevents them from truly touching. Numbers like 11 and 13.” Alice and Mattia, the novel’s two main characters, are the human analogues to twin primes; they fit with no one but each other, and even that connection is tenuous. It’s a high literary concept, but Giordano’s clear understanding of all things mathematical—by day he works as a particle physicist—provides a clarity that can be appreciated by anyone, including those with math phobias.

In concise chapters over a 24-year time span, we learn that Alice is an anorexic with a permanently disabled leg and Mattia is a mathematical savant who is forever scarred, emotionally and physically, by the loss of his twin sister at a young age. The story vacillates between the two narratives, allowing the reader a glimpse into the void that surrounds the pair, yet also binds them together. Linked by a common tapestry of childhood tragedy and social isolation,  Alice and Mattia remain disparate, always separated by a gap that neither of them can ever seem to bridge.

Giordano deftly creates a sense of loneliness and loss through the use of simple, beautiful language and powerful imagery. The brevity of this novel does not diminish its power, while the maturity of the prose and the courage of the storytelling belie the fact that this is Giordano’s first novel. Translated from the Italian, The Solitude of Prime Numbers won the Premio Strega, Italy’s prestigious literary award, and is well-positioned to win more acclaim on the international stage.

Tony Kuehn writes from Nashville.

A prime number is a number divisible only by one and by itself. As numbers grow larger, the frequency of primes decreases, and these mathematical islands become more and more distant from each other. “Among prime numbers, there are some that are even more special,” writes Paolo Giordano in The Solitude of Prime Numbers. “Mathematicians […]

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