The Road to Little Dribbling

Bill Bryson

Bill Bryson has pulled off quite a trick. With every book, he manages to make readers wish they could go for a walk with him, while he secretly wants nothing more than to be left alone.

The Road to Little Dribbling finds Bryson in his adopted Britain, revisiting some of the places he wrote about more than 20 years ago in Notes From a Small Island and discovering new features of “the world’s largest park, its most perfect accidental garden.”

There seem to be two Brysons — call them Angry Man Bryson and the other Grandpa Bryson. Angry Man sometimes distracts from the narrative, ranting against “young men with gel in their hair,” but then Grandpa surfaces to enjoy an “excellent cup of coffee with a free small biscuit” in Ironbridge.

Bryson writes throughout about how remarkable Britain is — if you tried to visit all the medieval churches, at the rate of one a week, it would take you 308 years, for example — but also spends lots of pages railing against the ways the country is becoming like everywhere else, from train passengers gabbing on cellphones to the disappearance of fishmongers and independent bookstores.

What makes the book an ultimately enjoyable way to pass a few hours is Bryson’s omnipresent sense of humor. The guy just sees the absurd in everything and has a knack for communicating it in words.

— Rob Merrill

Associated Press

Pawn Shop

Brothers Osborne

Brothers Osborne open their first full-length album, Pawn Shop, with the slinky sting of John Osborne’s slide guitar set against younger brother T.J. Osborne’s sinewy baritone, which finds a slow-rolling rhythm of its own.

Right off, on the song Dirt Rich, the duo from the working-class coast of Maryland establishes a slyly funky style of their own. Working with producer Jay Joyce (Eric Church, Little Big Town), the brothers create a distinctive sound rooted in bluesy country soul yet wholly modern and engaging.

The two previously released a five-song EP and had a hit last year with Grammy-nominated Stay a Little Longer, included here. So is Rum, the catchiest drinking song of recent vintage, and It Ain’t My Fault, as clever as any night-gone-wild tune that country music has offered since the heyday of Alan Jackson and Toby Keith.

The songs rely heavily on lighthearted wordplay, with a few exceptions. The low point comes wrapped in the shallow clichés of American Crazy, which can’t be saved by T.J.’s passionate performance. However, Loving Me Back, a powerful duet with Lee Ann Womack, suggests there’s plenty to come from these upstarts.

— Michael McCall

Associated Press

The Ex

Alafair Burke

An attorney represents a man who’s accused of committing multiple homicides and who also happens to be her ex-fiance in Alafair Burke’s latest page-turner.

Olivia Randall, a criminal defense attorney, receives an urgent phone call from a teenage girl who says she needs her help. She’s the daughter of Olivia’s ex-fiance, Jack Harris.

Harris is an acclaimed writer who lost his wife in a public shooting and is now raising his daughter by himself. He sees a beautiful woman in a park, and thanks to a website posting an “I saw you” ad, he gets a response. They agree to meet. The woman doesn’t show up, but soon after he leaves, three people are killed in a shooting.

Olivia still feels guilty about how she treated Jack when they were engaged. She believes he’s innocent, and so does his daughter.

Jack swears he didn’t kill anyone, but then forensics discovers gunshot residue on his shirt. The evidence continues to build, and Olivia begins to have her doubts. Does she believe he’s innocent because of their past or is he truly being framed? Or worse, is he guilty and taking advantage of her?

Burke tells a compelling legal thriller that will have readers baffled, and Olivia Randall is one of her most authentic characters. No one would object if this is the start of a new series.

— Jeff Ayers

Associated Press