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Where were you in 1982? After American Graffiti roared into theaters, the great American teen comedy flourished in drive-ins, video stores and late night cable TV. They provided an entire remote controlled generation with much needed instruction on anatomy, collegiate pranks and sometimes even real life. This is a laugh-a-page guide to the high and low points of this now bygone genre, from the immortal Fast Times at Ridgemont High to the gonzo likes of King Frat. ~ Reviewed by Charles Bottomley
The works of Vasily Grossman were so thoroughly suppressed in the Soviet Union that many readers in the West were barely aware of his existence. That all changed with the release in 2006 of Life and Fate, his door-stopping masterpiece that traced hundreds of characters during the battle of Stalingrad. Breathless praise from Anthony Beevor and comparisons to Tolstoy followed. What many of Grossman's readers (including this one) did not know was that Life and Fate was a sequel to a novel first published in 1956. Stalingrad (or For a Just Cause) was so thoroughly revised by the Soviet censors that no definitive edition existed. Edited and translated by Robert and Elizabeth Chandler from the myriad of existing versions, Stalingrad forms a diptych with Life and Fate. Together they stand as one of the greatest novels of the 20th century. Every generation has their Gettysburg or Winterfell, and Grossman drew on his experience as a journalist and love of Chekhov to create a panoramic view of Soviet society battling for the soul of humanity against fascism. His realist style is intense: readers can smell the soil that soldiers fall upon, taste the tobacco wrapped in newspapers they use as cigarettes, and hear the never-ending roar of bombers overhead. The gigantic cast includes foot soldiers, generals, steel workers, miners, doctors, nurses, child welfare workers, orphans, veterans of 1917, and even Hitler himself, all revolving around the family of scientist Viktor Shtrum, his wife Lyudmila and her two sisters. Grossman's command of intimate details and epic sweep is godlike – he can go from a tender love scene to the retreat of the Soviet army in the turn of a page. Human failings are set against an idealized nature trampled by war's jackboot. Every moment is alive with stakes that are no less timely today. If the Russians do not hold fast, the world is doomed. Stalingrad might seem more doctrinaire to readers than Life and Fate, which criticized Stalin and Russian anti-semitism and was banned as a result. Grossman's belief in people and the greater good is a sentiment that still rings true, however, and one that we need to acknowledge if we ever hope to survive. ~ Reviewed by Charles Bottomley
Few characters in comics are as beloved as Maggie and Hopey, the Latina punkettes introduced to readers in Love and Rockets No. 1 way back in 1982. Jaime Hernandez has revisited them many times since, expanding their universe to include a telenovela's worth of drama. They've been acquaintances, BFFs, lovers, estranged, friends again, and now middle-aged adults. Their relationship has been tested by time and circumstance and reading about it is one of the great pleasures life has to offer. This graphic novel reunites Maggie and Hopey at a reunion concert for the veterans of their punk scene. The beautiful black-and-white artwork crackles with emotional tension and swells with grace moments that beautifully encapsulate the complexities of existence. It's also very funny. Whether a newcomer to Maggie and Hopey's world or a fanboy/girl from way back, put this on your “must-read” list. ~ Reviewed by Charles Bottomley
From the time he was shipped off to work in Vietnam with the Foreign Service in 1962, Richard Holbrooke dreamed of becoming Secretary of State. While Holbrooke never reached that lofty office, a case can be made that he was one of America's most brilliant diplomats. The summit of his achievements were the Dayton Peace Accords of 1995, which brought peace to the warring factions of the former Yugoslavia. But Holbrooke was also a shamelessly ambitious egomaniac who treated both friends and enemies in an appalling fashion. He's found the perfect biographer in New Yorker journalist George Packer, author of The Unwinding. Packer treats Holbrooke's meteoric rise and fall as a combination of a Joseph Conrad and Game of Thrones, with a tableau that stretches from the Mekong Desert to Kabul to the darkest corners of the Harry S. Truman building. His book is both a political masterclass—turns out the men's room is where the real power negotiations go down—and an unforgettable portrait of a man who would have been as comfortable chatting with the Borgias as he was advising presidents from Johnson to Obama. ~ Reviewed by Charles Bottomley
The disappearance of two young girls from a Maryland mall had been a cold case for decades. When the police tracked down one last lead, they were completely unprepared for the web of deceit that was about to ensnare them. Bowden was a cub reporter when Katherine and Sheila Lyon vanished in 1975. He went on to become the best-selling author of Black Hawk Down and Hue, among others. The Last Stone relies a lot on transcripts between the police and their suspect, a child molester named Lloyd Welch. As such, the dodge-and-weave of police interrogation becomes as enthralling as watching Bjorn Borg face up to John McEnroe. The level of mythology and deception can become vertiginous at times, but Bowden delivers a white-knuckle true crime story of appalling malfeasance. ~ Reviewed by Charles Bottomley