Giddings, Texas, is home to the Giddings State School, a place where juvenile murderers, rapists, and other felons are given a second chance at life. For nine months author Hubner listened in on two Capital Offenders Groups, one for teen boys and one for teen girls, as the participants came to grips with their histories, both as victims and as victimizers. The students who complete the rigorous program, and develop empathy for their victims, go free-and rarely commit new crimes. Those who don't complete the program go to prison, maybe for 30 or 40 years. Hubner recounts horrible lives and crimes and makes the case for treating young offenders while change is still possible.
Home functions as a stand-alone novel, but it recounts from a different perspective the same events recorded in the novel Gilead. Here the story centers on the Boughton family and tells of Gloria Boughton, who has come home to take care of her elderly father-he's a pastor and the lifelong friend of John Ames, Gilead's central character. When Jack Boughton, the black sheep son, comes home after a 20-year absence, the story follows the tentative dance between father and son and sister and brother as they remember old hurts and past happiness, and are forced to think about the contours of faith and what binds them together. Robinson creates characters who authentically reflect their Presbyterian roots, displaying grace and fallenness at the same time.
A Muslim student, accused of murdering his professor, hires a Jewish defense attorney who hires a born-again Christian investigator. Sound intriguing? Beinhart, author of Wag the Dog, knows how to craft a taut suspense novel, but it doesn't take long for the book to spiral into a clichéd left-wing conspiracy fantasy: A megachurch pastor who watches porn on his office TV and turns choir members into mistresses wants to take over the country.
It's not surprising that the murdered professor was writing a book proving God doesn't exist-and that our born-again investigator must choose between truth and irrationality/corruption. Beinhart includes a note to the reader to document the "reality" upon which he concocted this sexually explicit and foul-mouthed fantasy.
Rankin's detective hero, John Rebus, is memorable, and so is his Edinburgh: It's filled with smoky bars, grimy streets, disillusioned cops, weak-willed politicians, and gangsters gone legitimate and hoping to hook up with Russian investors visiting Scotland. When a dissident Russian poet is murdered, Inspector Rebus-a week from retirement-is on the case. The novel is set in 2006 at the time when Russian defector Aleksander Litvinenko died after thallium poisoning. Given that backdrop, Rebus is quick to assume a connection between the murder, the Russian high rollers, and government officials-but surprises lurk. The self-destructive Rebus is a fascinating character whose personal failings coexist with his fundamental integrity.
Paddington Here and Now: Paddington Bear is 50 years old this year, and HarperCollins has released a new Paddington book, the first in 30 years, by author Michael Bond. It's a throwback novel that has Paddington following his ordinary pursuits, taking elevenses with Mr. Gruber, shopping for the Browns, and getting caught up in humorous misunderstandings.
Our White House: Looking In, Looking Out (Candlewick, 2008) is a fascinating collection of stories, poems, letters, essays, and illustrations about the people who lived, worked, and visited the White House. The book includes a description by Dickens of his visit to the White House, stories about first ladies accompanied by illustrations from a 1930s set of paper dolls, a vibrant two-page spread showing Theodore Roosevelt chortling while his children and a menagerie of animals pour down the White House stairs. The last illustration-Leonid Gore's "A Big Chair to Fill"-shows an empty chair in front of a large star-lit window. This book will give both kids and adults a better understanding of what it means to fill that chair.