2006 promises to be a real page-turner


Published: Sunday, January 15, 2006 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, January 14, 2006 at 11:44 p.m.
The new year promises to be a real page-turner. What titles and authors will be demanding our attention as we step into the 2006? Here are a few books to be published in the first half of the year that seem to be worthy of a glance. (Publication dates are not only subject to change, but probably will.) Stephen King leads off with "Cell: A Novel" (Scribner, Jan. 24), an apocalyptic thriller that hits all of us way too close to home. Remember when cell phones were thought to cause brain tumors? This is worse. One October afternoon, a signal known as The Pulse is sent through every operating cell phone in the world.
It turns users into - well, this is Stephen King, after all. Is it the end of civilization? How will the "normies" survive?
Nobody knows the inner workings of television like Bill Carter, who covers the industry for the New York Times. Carter takes us onto the set and into the boardrooms in "Desperate Networks" (Doubleday, January).
Named U.S. point man in Iraq in May 2003, L. Paul Bremer must have a unique perspective on U.S./Middle East relations. "My Year in Iraq" (Simon & Schuster, January) should be a must-read for anyone interested in trying to understand the Bush administration's mind-set during the early days of what we now call the insurgency.
Young fans of Austin, Texas, writer Louis Sachar, author of the best-selling "Holes," will want to line up for its follow-up, "Small Steps" (Delacorte, January).
It's two years after Armpit has been released from Camp Green Lake, and he's trying to keep a low profile. But it's not easy when everyone knows you have a record. Then X-Ray, a pal from camp, shows up with a get-rich-quick scheme that leads to an encounter with teen pop sensation Kaira DeLeon.
Edward Rutherford's pen runneth over, and he continues his massive "Dublin Saga" with the 800-page "The Rebels of Ireland" (Doubleday, February), which takes up where "The Princes of Ireland" left off, in the aftermath of the disastrous Irish revolt of 1534.
Following his masterful collection of essays, "This I Believe," Mexican national monument Carlos Fuentes returns to fiction with "The Eagle's Throne" (Random House, February), a novel of political intrigue set in the foreseeable future in a country approaching anarchy. Sound faintly familiar?
San Antonio resident David Liss, inventor of the financial historical thriller with books such as "A Conspiracy of Paper," goes contemporary on us with "The Ethical Assassin" (Ballantine, February).
It's the story of a teenage vacuum cleaner salesman in Florida who finds himself in league with a professional killer and animal-rights activist. Yep, you read that correctly.
Texas writer Elizabeth Crook, who gave us the ravishing "The Raven's Bride," once again turns history into fiction in "The Night Journal" (Viking, February), a multigenerational tale of the Bass family's life on the Southwestern frontier.
The final volume of Taylor Branch's magisterial history of the civil rights movement, "At Canaan's Edge: America in the King Years, 1965-68" (Simon & Schuster, February), begins at the pivotal Selma march and takes us through the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. Tragic and triumphant, the trilogy may be the most detailed picture of one of the most important decades in American history. Branch won the Pulitzer Prize for "Parting the Waters: America in the King Year 1965-68."
Garry Wills, always a pleasure to read, returns to the religious contemplation of "Why I Am a Catholic" with "What Jesus Meant" (Viking, March), in which the Pulitzer Prize-winning historian challenges the assumptions of everyone - right and left - who uses Jesus' teaching to validate their viewpoints.
Mays, Mantle, Aaron ... many baseball fans would put Roberto Clemente's name in that hallowed group. Vince Lombardi biographer David Maraniss reveals the fury that the Puerto Rican star brought to the baseball field in "Clemente: The Passion and Grace of Baseball's Last Hero" (Simon & Schuster, April).
More than that, the Pulitzer winner tells the story of a proud man who opened doors for countless Latino ball players and helped shape modern baseball.
A few years ago, "Garcia Girls" novelist and poet Julia Alvarez ran across a story that she couldn't get out of her mind: In 1804, Dr. Francisco Xavier Balmis arrived in Puerto Rico on a mission to save the New World by dispensing the smallpox vaccine. In those days before refrigeration, the carriers were 22 orphan boys from Spain. Alvarez's fifth novel resounds with contemporary parallels. She sets "Saving the World" (Shannon Ravenel Books, April) on two fronts in the wars against deadly disease: smallpox in the 19th century and AIDS in modern-day Dominican Republic.
Walter Mosley steps away from his Easy Rawlins series with "Fortunate Son" (Little, Brown, April), a novel that is being compared to "The Man in the Basement." An exploration of the true meaning of fortune, Mosley tells the story of two boys, one white and athletic, one black and handicapped, whose lives are ripped apart by tragedy. The way each reacts to misfortune is food for thought.
Prolific Alamo City writer Rick Riordan, creator of private detective Tres Navarre, slips on his other hat, that of young adult novelist, with the highly anticipated sequel to "The Lightning Thief."
"The Sea of Monsters" (Miramax, April) finds young Percy Jackson - half god, half human - on another gripping adventure, this time to retrieve the Golden Fleece from the Sea of Monsters, which today goes by a new name: the Bermuda Triangle.
Nobody writes about real people in real places better than New Yorker veteran John McPhee, who's been spending a lot of time over the past eight years in the company of long-distance truckers and "towboat" skippers and such. In "Uncommon Carriers" (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, May), the author of 27 books tells their stories with keen insight and simple eloquence.
Tough and passionate, brutal and funny, Anthony Bourdain brings his noir view of food to his seventh book, "The Nasty Bits" (Bloomsbury, May). The New York chef serves up outrageous stories from his culinary travels around the world (as seen on the Travel Channel, also). Here, Tony scrounges for eel in the backstreets of Hanoi, calls for Woody Harrelson's raw-food head and confesses to lobster-boiling guilt.

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