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Books in brief


You Against Me by Jenny Downham; David Fickling Books, 416 pages ($16.99) ages 14 and up.

British author Jenny Downham follows up her powerful debut novel, "Before I Die," with yet another compelling book for teens, this one a Montague-Capulet scenario of forbidden love between feuding families. The novel is told from the alternating perspectives of Ellie and Mike: Ellie Parker is the younger sister of a college student who has been arrested in the date rape of Mike's 15-year-old sister, Karyn. Downham offers memorable characters and a particularly vivid portrayal of class differences, of the vast chasm of comfort, expectation and opportunity between the working poor and the wealthy. Ellie meets Mike when her parents throw a lavish "out on bail" welcome-home party, and Mike and a friend, sneak into the party, planning revenge. Downham vividly communicates the adolescent experience, the harrowing aftershocks of a sexual assault on victim, friends and loved ones, and the terrible dilemma in which Ellie finds herself, caught between family loyalty and her obligation to do the right thing, as the only witness to the assault. While "Before I Die" had the fierce urgency of a race with death, "You Against Me" conveys the same serious consideration of the trauma and extreme loneliness of the adolescent experience.

-- Jean Westmoore



Lassiter by Paul Levine; Bantam (304 pages, $25)

Paul Levine brings a certain symmetry to "Lassiter," which marks the return of Jake Lassiter, a Miami Dolphins linebacker turned hard-nosed lawyer.

(The series launched in 1990 with "To Speak for the Dead," named one of the 10 best mysteries of the year by the Los Angeles Times.) Now the wise-cracking, renegade lawyer is back after a 14-year absence and it's as if never left. "Lassiter" works as a gripping legal thriller, a story of self-discovery, and a look at corruption set against an insider's evocative view of South Florida.

Like many people, Jake has regrets, especially about his wilder days. One regret is that he didn't do more to help Kristin Larkin, a teenage runaway. He is caught off guard when Larkin's sister Amy shows up, accusing him of being involved in Kristin's disappearance 18 years earlier. Amy had always believed her sister dead until her father told her on his deathbed that he didn't know what happened to Kristin. The obsessive Amy targets Jake since he is the only link she has to her sister. Jake's investigation leads him to Charlie Ziegler, a former pornographer turned philanthropist; Alex Castiel, a Cuban-American prosecutor who is one of Jake's best friends; and Miami's history of organized crime.

-- McClatchy Newspapers



A Soldier's Dream: Captain Travis Patriquin and the Awakening of Iraq by William Doyle; NAL Caliber (336 pages, $25.95)

Neither man was senior in his realm: a U.S. Army captain with a civil affairs group and a Sunni sheik of a middling tribe. Both had elders of greater authority above them. To their critics and rivals, the two men were opportunists with outsized egos.

And yet, it is now clear that Capt. Travis Patriquin and Sheik Sattar abu Risha were major figures in the amazingly quick evolution of Iraq's Anbar province from a "lost cause" al-Qaida stronghold in 2006 to a shining example by mid-2007 of the U.S. military and Sunni tribes teaming up to thwart the insurgency.

That's the compelling story of "A Soldier's Dream: Captain Travis Patriquin and the Awakening of Iraq" by veteran journalist William Doyle, a carefully reported and briskly written account that is strong in its thesis but even-handed in dealing with discordant notes.

Doyle's book is a tale of how even in modern warfare, with all its cultural intricacies and geopolitical considerations, two men can play a decisive role through dint of personality, adept maneuvering and, yes, a fair amount of individual ambition.

Patriquin was a rarity among officers: an Arab linguist with a genuine interest and respect for Arab culture. He was willing to do combat with his enemy on the battlefield and with opponents inside the military bureaucracy. Sattar was a businessman, cunning and ruthless -- Tony Soprano in Arab garb. His grandfather had fought the British. Sattar had a lean, wolfish look; he knew how to handle an AK-47 and an Internet search engine.

Over enormous amounts of sweet tea and far too many cigarettes, Patriquin and Sattar formed an alliance of convenience. The sheik came to an ideology-free calculation: al-Qaida was bad for business and the best way to rid Anbar of the insurgency was a partnership with the Americans.

Doyle does not oversell his main characters. Patriquin was not the first American officer to reach out to the Sunni sheiks in Anbar. Sattar was not the first sheik in the province to stand up to al-Qaida.

But the two men and their moment coalesced.

On Nov. 6, 2006, Patriquin was killed by a roadside bomb that exploded beneath his Humvee. And on Sept. 18, 2007, Sattar was assassinated at his compound.

But the Anbar Awakening was firmly established and outlived both the tribal sheik and the ever-cheerful American officer. The long-term future of Anbar, indeed all of Iraq, is still in doubt, Doyle writes, but this unique partnership provided breathing space for the Iraqis to establish a post-Saddam future.

-- Los Angeles Times