The Morning News

The Morning News Tournament of Books

The Tournament of Books is an annual battle royale between 16 of the best novels published in the previous year.

A new match is played here each weekday in March.

The 2009 ToB Contenders List

The 2009 Judges & Brackets

All titles 30% off at

ToB T-Shirts

The Rooster on Facebook, and on Twitter

#ToB Tweets

Previous years: 2008, 2007, 2006, 2005

Contact the Tournament staff:

judged by Rosecrans Baldwin
I read for pleasure and to be free of the noise. Nothing else for me fosters that kind of escape like a book, where I get lost in someone else’s consciousness. Once I crack a book (I love the smell of books), the exchange is between me and the text, and hopefully nothing comes between us. My Kindle is fine for travel and for thrillers I’ll never reread, but for the most part I want to feel and smell the pulp as I slip away.

Both of these books I finished in a couple of long sessions on the couch. They both attempt to create other worlds; one succeeds, and the other one tries hard. I made my judgment on the grounds of seduction—which book did I find more interesting?—but it wasn’t really a contest.

City of Refuge takes a national tragedy and turns it into something to wade through. When a hurricane comes to town, it’s riveting. Piazza writes persuasively about many things—panic, traffic, flooding, parades—though not always about people. He’s great with dialogue and is adroit with married couples trying to communicate when their counselor is not around, but he can get didactic with his characters, and when he does the drama plods.

The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks has good storytelling, good structure, and the appeal of adventures, philosophy, and humor—the appeal of them, but not really those things, as they’re more often discussed than experienced. It’s a well-told story, but too often it feels well-designed and overdone, and all the evidence of Google-able research gives Lockhart’s world a hollow ring.

I liked City of Refuge quite a bit, but I didn’t love it. It has an agenda to do right by New Orleans, and it sometimes becomes a brochure for a pretty narrow slice of life. And though the men get more attention than the women, that scrutiny doesn’t result in depth, and the female characters are more interesting anyhow. We see layers in the government’s betrayal of the city, and Piazza exposes that cross-section and passionately nails the treachery’s tragedy, but his characters’ refusal to betray themselves is less explored.

Landau-Banks, on the other hand, lacks drama. It’s a book full of tension, but few surprises. Nothing seems to matter very much to the characters, and the story comes out flat. Judging by the Rooster poll, I’m sure there are thousands of fans who disagree with me, but I couldn’t find much to interest me in Landau-Banks and it was a chore to finish. Whereas City of Refuge creates a world to get lost in and does it pretty well.

City of Refuge to the finals!

Today’s WINNER

City of Refuge by Tom Piazza

About the Judge

ToB Co-Chair Rosecrans Baldwin is a founding editor of The Morning News. His first novel, You Lost Me There, is coming out soon from Riverhead Books. Known connections to this year’s contenders: I know Mark Sarvas over email from his many years of participation in the Tournament. Aleksandar Hemon and I share an editor, and my agent's firm, though not my agent, represents Joseph O’Neill.

From the Booth

Your alliance with the Disreputables is unconscionable! I demand you submit and pledge allegiance to the Refugees! Kevin John My feelings for my first love, Cindy Crawford, were unquenchable, at least until the cease-and-desist order.
» Read Kevin Guilfoile & John Warner’s commentary on the match and leave a comment of your own «

The Peanut Gallery

Do you agree with the outcome of this match?

absolutely   no way