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“Just the knowledge that a good book is awaiting one at the end
of a long day makes that day happier.” — Kathleen Norris
News of the World
By Paulette Jiles (Harper Collins $15.99)
Captain Jefferson Kyle Kidd drifts through northern Texas, performing live readings from newspapers to paying audiences hungry for news of the world–of the Irish pouring into New York City, of the railroad driving into the new state of Nebraska. An elderly widower who has lived through three wars and fought in two of them, the captain once made his living as a printer, until the War Between the States took his press and everything with it. Now, at seventy-one, he enjoys the freedom of the road. At a stop in Wichita Falls, Captain Kidd is offered an astonishing $50 gold piece to deliver a young orphan to her relatives near San Antonio. Four years earlier, a band of Kiowa raiders viciously killed Johanna Leonberger’s parents and sister; sparing the little girl, they raised her as one of their own. Recently recovered by the U.S. Army, the inconsolable ten-year-old with blue eyes and hair the color of maple sugar has once again been torn away from the only home and family she knows. The captain’s sense of duty and compassion propels him to accept, though he knows the journey will be difficult. Winding through unsettled territory and unforgiving terrain, the four-hundred-mile odyssey south proves dangerous. A corrupt Reconstruction government runs the state government, and anarchy and lawlessness has taken hold. The captain must watch for thieves, Comanche and Kiowa, and the federal army–and corral the wild Johanna, who has forgotten the English language, tries to escape at every opportunity, and refuses to act “civilized.” Yet as the miles pass, the wary Johanna slowly draws closer to the man she calls Kep-dun, and the two lonely survivors forge a tender bond that marks the difference between life and death in this treacherous land.
By Annie Hartnett (W.W.Norton $15.95)
Twelve-year-old Elvis Babbitt has a head for the facts: she knows science proves yellow is the happiest color, she knows a healthy male giraffe weighs about 3,000 pounds, and she knows that the naked mole rat is the longest living rodent. She knows she should plan to grieve her mother, who has recently drowned while sleepwalking, for exactly eighteen months. But there are things Elvis doesn’t yet know–like how to keep her sister Lizzie from poisoning herself while sleep-eating or why her father has started wearing her mother’s silk bathrobe around the house. Elvis investigates the strange circumstances of her mother’s death and finds comfort, if not answers, in the people (and animals) of Freedom, Alabama. As hilarious a storyteller as she is heartbreakingly honest, Elvis is a truly original voice in this exploration of grief, family, and the endurance of humor after loss.
By Louise Erdrich (Harper Collins $15.99)
North Dakota, late summer, 1999. Landreaux Iron stalks a deer along the edge of the property bordering his own. He shoots with easy confidence — but when the buck springs away, Landreaux realizes he’s hit something else, a blur he saw as he squeezed the trigger. When he staggers closer, he realizes he has killed his neighbor’s five-year-old son, Dusty Ravich. The youngest child of his friend and neighbor, Peter Ravich, Dusty was best friends with Landreaux’s five-year-old son, LaRose. The two families have always been close, sharing food, clothing, and rides into town; their children played together despite going to different schools; and Landreaux’s wife, Emmaline, is half sister to Dusty’s mother, Nola. Horrified at what he’s done, the recovered alcoholic turns to an Ojibwe tribe tradition — the sweat lodge — for guidance, and finds a way forward. Following an ancient means of retribution, he and Emmaline will give LaRose to the grieving Peter and Nola. “Our son will be your son now,” they tell them. LaRose is quickly absorbed into his new family. Plagued by thoughts of suicide, Nola dotes on him, keeping her darkness at bay. His fierce, rebellious new “sister,” Maggie, welcomes him as a co-conspirator who can ease her volatile mother’s terrifying moods. Gradually he’s allowed shared visits with his birth family, whose sorrow mirrors the Raviches’ own. As the years pass, LaRose becomes the linchpin linking the Irons and the Raviches, and eventually their mutual pain begins to heal. But when a vengeful man with a long-standing grudge against Landreaux begins raising trouble, hurling accusations of a cover-up the day Dusty died, he threatens the tenuous peace that has kept these two fragile families whole.
By John Hart (MacMillan Publishing $16.99)
A boy with a gun waits for the man who killed his mother. A troubled detective confronts her past in the aftermath of a brutal shooting. After thirteen years in prison, a good cop walks free as deep in the forest, on the altar of an abandoned church, a body cools in pale linen…This is a town on the brink. This is Redemption Road. Brimming with tension, secrets, and betrayal, Redemption Road proves again that John Hart is a master of the literary thriller.
By Hope Jahren (Penguin Random House $16)
Geobiologist Hope Jahren has spent her life studying trees, flowers, seeds, and soil. Lab Girl is her revelatory treatise on plant life–but it is also a celebration of the lifelong curiosity, humility, and passion that drive every scientist. In these pages, Hope takes us back to her Minnesota childhood, where she spent hours in unfettered play in her father’s college laboratory. She tells us how she found a sanctuary in science, learning to perform lab work “with both the heart and the hands.” She introduces us to Bill, her brilliant, eccentric lab manager. And she extends the mantle of scientist to each one of her readers, inviting us to join her in observing and protecting our environment. Warm, luminous, compulsively readable, Lab Girl vividly demonstrates the mountains that we can move when love and work come together.