Author

Daneet Steffens

Michael Jackson stages his comeback

Michael Jackson

One evening last month, the clerk at R-Country Market in tiny Los Olivos, Calif., was about to close up for the night when he saw an odd figure walk in the door. ”He was all by himself,” says the clerk, Michael Donahue. ”He was wearing a black fedora, mirrored goggle glasses, a khaki shirt, and dark pants. There was lots of liquid makeup around his nose area. He looked like he was in a wax museum. He didn’t seem to be quite human.” Knowing that Michael Jackson’s Neverland Valley Ranch was not far away, Donahue quickly recognized the customer as the fallen King of Pop.

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Santa Barbara graduate student John Macmillan is feverishly toiling over his dissertation on Sufi poetry when a mysterious package he collected on a research trip to Damascus leads to a meeting with a fragile woman named Camilla. Part love story, part treasure hunt for esoteric manuscripts (even the title seems to be an inversion of A.S. Byatt’s Possession: A Romance), Abandon is rife with double meanings and mind games.

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Call this a heartbreaking memoir of staggering mileage. In 1959, 11-year-old Keith and his father set off from Albany, N.Y., for the shining El Dorado of California, hitchhiking, hunkering on Greyhounds when they could, sleeping in cars, rooming in boarding houses (and skipping town without paying the rent). Keith’s adventure quickly degenerated into babysitting his alcoholic dad, pushing the boundaries of personal hygiene, and flirting with the law.

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The oddball characters in Singleton’s second short-story collection share a distinctive thread: They all seem to have loser written across their foreheads. In ”Deer Gone,” a detention-center guard’s smoothly organized afternoon of adultery is interrupted by some runaway inmates. In ”Answers,” a couple tackling an At-Home Marriage Repair kit gets distracted into playing Twenty Questions.

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In his engaging outing, journalist Horwitz (Confederates in the Attic) tackles a longtime fascination with Captain James Cook by following in the 18th-century English explorer’s wake centuries later. He gamely crews for a week on a replica of one of Cook’s tall ships, the Endeavour; treks to Tonga, Tahiti, and Bora Bora; braves rough waters among the Aleutian Islands; and finishes up in Hawaii, where Cook met his grisly end.

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Science writer Montgomery and evolutionary biologist Dr. Gary Galbreath explore Thailand, Laos, and Cambodia, all in the hopes of documenting ”a beautiful new bear.” Skipping the standard tourist attractions, they brave bandits, giant leeches, land mines, and remote dirt roads that give the word bumpy new meaning. While the golden moon bear is the holy grail of their quest, their search introduces them to ethnic groups teetering on the brink of disappearance and also leads them deep into the intricacies of molecular genetics.

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Camugu, a South African native son who fled his homeland during apartheid and returned only to be disillusioned by job difficulties in Johannesburg, seeks solace in a coastal village on the Eastern Cape. But there he finds he has leapt from the proverbial frying pan into a blazing fire: As he dallies with two very different women, the village contemplates transforming itself into a playground for tourists (shopping mall! tennis courts! timeshares! water park!).

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Will Kelly, still mooning over the title character who dumped him three years ago, spends the better part of a weekend on the phone – -mostly with a woman he hasn’t even met face-to-face – bemoaning his new teaching job, his lack of friends, his clingy current Fatal Attraction fling, and life in general. The British Gayle, a onetime advice columnist and magazine writer, has enough spark to keep up an unflagging pace, enough zip to keep the jokes coming, and enough of a sense of timing to call it quits while he – and Will – are ahead.

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On a chilly winter’s day, Tom Stone – onetime Broadway stage manager, peripatetic writer, teacher, and ”dedicated amateur cook” – received a phone call that would change his life, at least for one frantic summer. Stone’s friend Theologos, the proverbial Greek bearing a gift, invited him to be chef and partner at his taverna on the island of Patmos.

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