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  • Micro-Review #134: The Last Thing He Told Me
    by Laura Dave

    Hannah’s husband suddenly goes missing—but not without sending her a cryptic note (“Protect her”) and a bag of cash. Was the husband a criminal? A victim of someone else’s scheme? Is Hannah’s stepdaughter in danger? A fast start and crisp hook make this bestselling suspense novel a compulsive read for about 100 pages. After that, the story loses forward thrust, with key events happening offstage and our main character striking the same emotional chord in every scene. The writing is clean and the story easy to digest, but there are few surprises. Our heroine also tends toward the saintly. I kinda wanted to see her taken down a peg.

  • Micro-Review #133: QRF
    by Craig DiLouie

    Eleven years after leaving Iraq, former soldier Jim Cooper isn’t adapting well to civilian life. When his old lieutenant gets abducted by ISIS, he and his former squad members don’t hesitate: they’ll return to Mosul to nudge the Iraqi army to try to free him.

    This tight, briskly paced novel is a gripping ride. For fans of military fiction, all the right elements are here: strong details, honorable soldiers, a sense of history and purpose. For readers new to the genre, the genuine characters and David-versus-Goliath dynamic make for an unputdownable commercial story—more Tom Clancy than Tim O’Brien, but without corrupt politicians and off-putting technical deep dives.

  • Micro-Review #132: Munich
    by Robert Harris

    This historical fiction tells the story of two men—one German and one British—who in 1938 try to stop Hitler from invading Czechoslovakia and starting World War II. The book’s historical elements come across as well-researched and authentic, the tension is palpable, and the characters are responsibly drawn. Perhaps most intriguing, Neville Chamberlain is depicted as principled and sympathetic—not the Hitler-appeasing pushover that history recalls. Informed readers will of course know the ending before they start reading, but the story is still worth enjoying. You’re likely to come away feeling as if you’ve learned a thing or two.

  • Micro-Review #131: Zeitoun
    by Dave Eggers

    This is a very American true story. In the years leading up to Hurricane Katrina, Abdulrahman and Kathy Zeitoun run a successful painting business in New Orleans. When the storm approaches, Kathy and the kids flee to higher ground while Abdulrahman stays in order to look after his properties and provide help to the desperate.

    Trouble follows. Zeitoun, a Muslim, falls victim to Homeland Security’s war on terror and FEMA’s disastrous response to the hurricane. He becomes a real-life Joseph K., punished for the sake of punishment. Eggers tells his story with clear-eyed journalistic simplicity, which kind of makes sense. There’s no need for writerly flourishes when the facts themselves are hard to believe.

  • Owad’s Micro-Review #130: All the Kremlin’s Men
    by Mikhail Zygar

    Old Turkish proverb: “When a clown moves into a palace, he doesn’t become a sultan; the palace becomes a circus.” Sounds about right, but this book, by a now-exiled Russian journalist, proves the saying wrong. When a clown enters the palace, the entire government becomes a circus—and then becomes whatever the sultan wants it to be.

    Zygar’s book gets up close and personal with Putin’s courtiers and cronies—and at times with Putin himself. The main conclusion underpinning the many intrigues: Putin’s rise to power wasn’t a KGB plot. It wasn’t a kleptocratic conspiracy or a meticulous, authoritarian strategy. It was a series of accidents—a case of a dour, sociopathic spy who consolidated power through ad hoc decisions and the movement of chessboard pieces. Problem: parliament and big business aren’t doing the president’s bidding. Solution: run a “privatization program” that makes monied slaves of oligarchs. Problem: Ukraine’s handpicked president ceases to toe the Kremlin line. Solution: Go after the Ukrainians themselves.

    In his early years in power, Putin at least obliquely supported integration with both the EU and NATO. At the same time, he sent weekly flights full of prostitutes to Saddam Hussein’s sons in Iraq. At one point, he idolized George W. Bush; at another, Silvio Berlusconi. At all times, the only throughline in his behavior was a clear desire to be Peter the Great, but without too many distracting hopes or dreams. No glowing vision of bringing Russia into the future. No appetite for rebuilding society. Just short-term goals that could be met with the help of the right people in the right places.

    This book could have been titled The Dictator Who Didn’t Give a Damn. Or, better yet, The Guy Whose Life in Power Went Exactly the Way Any Historian Could Have Predicted. He’s not the first accidental dictator in history, but he’s the biggest one in modern times. For that reason, this book is a must-read. It synthesizes a whole lot of information in a brilliantly straightforward way.

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