Soft Target (Simon & Schuster)
After seven Bob Lee Swagger and three Earl Swagger (Bob's father) thrillers, Stephen Hunter continues the lineage with Soft Target's Ray Cruz, Bob's long-lost son. But anyone expecting insight into the family lineage will be sorely disappointed. Instead, the story reads like an extended treatment for an action film. Cruz, an ex-Marine sniper, is holiday shopping at America, the Mall, when a team of Islamic terrorists, aided by a crazed employee of the mall's video-game shop, locks down the entire complex and takes thousands of hostages. As the scene unfolds, Maahir shoots Santa, Asad longs to deflower Western virgins, and "the imam" vows to punish the infidels. Asked why he's helping them, Andrew, the gamer, replies, "Because everybody hates you. That is so cool." At times like this, Hunter's 2003 Pulitzer for "intellectually rewarding" criticism (from his days as The Washington Post film critic) feels like a dim memory. After nearly a dozen Swagger-related books, Hunter could keep extending the franchise until Cruz is a grandfather, too. But I'm hoping he regains his own swagger and writes the truly great novel he's capable of producing.
Jennifer B. Bodine
Bodine's City: The Photography of A. Aubrey Bodine (Schiffer)
I never tire of Bodine's photography, and this collection—put together by his daughter, Jennifer—reflects his love of Baltimore better than any previous book. In frame after frame, Bodine captures not only the bustle of the city, but also the quiet dignity of its people. From Mt. Vernon in the snow and ships docked at the port to ironworkers and arabbers, Baltimore has never looked so good.