by Ian McEwan
Ian McEwan has shown, in novels such as Atonement, Saturday and Amsterdam, that he's a master of turbocharged fiction that explores ethical issues in both domestic and global realms. His 14th book, Solar, driven by the debate on global warming, concerns a Nobel Prize-winning physicist who has been coasting for decades in both his personal and professional lives, "a solipsist at heart, and his heart was a nugget of ice." Michael Beard, whose fifth marriage has melted in the heat of tit-for-tat adultery, dedicates nine years to his belief that both his and the world's EZPass to renewal is artificial photosynthesis through solar energy. By novel's end in 2009, he's poised to reap the rewards, when his past and present converge like an interstate pileup. As a narrative vehicle Solar suffers from some of the problems with braking and acceleration that have been plaguing Toyota hybrids. But even though not McEwan's best, it still outperforms many competitors in both moral reach and linguistic flair.
352 pages, $15, Anchor Books
So Much For That
by Lionel Shriver
Nominated for the National Book Award, Lionel Shriver's outraged and occasionally outrageous ninth novel, So Much For That, takes on our hurting health care system with a story that gives life to the issues. Shriver's hero is about to quit his detested job and retire to a less expensive Third World country when his wife, an artist who works in metal, announces she has deadly mesothelioma and needs his health insurance. He hunkers down and dedicates himself to her care, but he soon learns how inadequate their insurance is. At the same time, his father needs to be moved into a nursing home, and his best friend, whose teenage daughter suffers horribly from a rare degenerative disease, succumbs to a vanity procedure that goes wildly awry. Shriver's graphic descriptions of various grotesqueries rival for shock-and-guffaw value the memorable castration scene in John Irving's The World According to Garp. There's plenty to discuss here, beginning with penetrating questions about the value of a human life and government's role in health care.
480 pages, $14.99, HarperPerennial
Man From Beijing
by Henning Mankell
In a long series of novels, Henning Mankell has turned Kurt Wallander, a police detective in Ystad, Sweden, into one of Europe's most famous cops. And Wallander has deservedly made Mankell an international best-seller. Wallander fans will miss him in The Man from Beijing, the story of Birgitta Roslin, a 60-something female judge in a stalled marriage who gets caught up in unraveling a bloodthirsty but calculated mass murder in a remote northern village. The investigation leads Roslin back to America of the 1860s and the Chinese workers who built the railroads, and then to the undeveloped expanses of today's Mozambique and the money-hungry Beijing moguls who want to colonize them. It's a wide but crisp trail connected by sophisticated politics and primitive, maniacal revenge.
464 pages, $15, Vintage Books
Bite Me: A Love Story
by Christopher Moore
When you think vampire hunters ... if you think about vampire hunters ... you may not envision a Chinese grandmother decked out in hip-hop gear. Or a night crew of stoned grocery shelf stockers. Or a purple-haired Chuck Taylor-clad teenager. Unless you're a Christopher Moore fan, that is. Moore is back with the third installment in his undead trilogy, Bite Me, which means the self-described goth teen countess Abby Normal is back on the streets of San Francisco, where she dabbles in the undead lifestyle, terrorizes her "Mombot," and fights off swirling mists of vampire cats. "I'm not nearly as outrageously brave as many of my rascals that I write," Moore admitted to NPR's Neal Conan in a 2009 interview, "But I think the rascal spirit must reside in me somewhere."
352 pages, $14.99, Harper Paperbacks
by Joe Hill
Joe Hill's Horns opens with a striking image: Ig Perrish wakes up one day and finds horns growing out of his head. Those horns, why he has them and what they have to do with solving the gruesome murder of his girlfriend, Merrin — a crime for which Ig is apparently doomed to be an eternal suspect — drive the rest of the story. Though Hill tries not to talk about the fact that Stephen King is his dad (in fact, he carefully hid it during the early years of his writing career), the book bears evidence of King's influence. Hill is at his best in the first half, which features some impressively disciplined horror writing about concrete, earthbound situations interrupted by unsettling elements (like the horns). Things go off the rails a little when he turns toward grandly allegorical storytelling toward the end, and he's right on the line between the good kind of horror grandiosity and camp. Hill definitely has his own voice, less arch and affected than King's, but with a similar eye for humanizing detail. Ultimately, it's a satisfying and entertaining book.
416 pages, $14.99, Harper Paperbacks
Eclipse Of The Sunnis
by Deborah Amos
NPR correspondent Deborah Amos, who has covered the Middle East for decades, traces the forced migration of the Sunnis from Iraq In Eclipse of the Sunnis. After sectarian strife between the majority Shiite and minority Sunni populations started in 2005, Amos realized that there were more than 1 million Iraqis outside the country, and that if she went to Syria and Jordan and Lebanon, she could tell that story. In fact about 4 million Iraqis have had to leave their homes, and an additional 2 million have left the country entirely — many taking refuge in regional neighbors such as Syria, Jordan and Lebanon. In her book, Amos explains what their departure — and their resentment — means for the future of the country. "One of the reasons I wanted to call this book Eclipse of the Sunnis is because I thought that part of the story has been underreported and misunderstood," Amos says. "They are a testament to how far Iraq still needs to go." She says that majority rule, as it stands in Iraq, is not democracy. In the U.S., there is a rule of law; there are religious protections and protections for minorities. "That is still missing," says Amos. "And as long as that is still missing, Iraqis will not come back."
256 pages, $15.99, PublicAffairs
The Immortal Life Of Henrietta Lacks
by Rebecca Skloot
Her name was Henrietta Lacks, but scientists know her as HeLa. She was a poor Southern tobacco farmer who worked the same land as her slave ancestors, yet her cells — taken without her knowledge — became one of the most important tools in medicine. The first "immortal" human cells grown in culture, they are still alive today, though she has been dead for more than 60 years. If you could pile all HeLa cells ever grown onto a scale, they'd weigh more than 50 million metric tons — as much as 100 Empire State Buildings. HeLa cells were vital for developing the polio vaccine; uncovered secrets of cancer, viruses and the atom bomb's effects; helped lead to important advances like in vitro fertilization, cloning, and gene mapping; and have been bought and sold by the billions. Yet Henrietta Lacks remains virtually unknown, buried in an unmarked grave.