Plot: When terrorists bomb a presidential candidate's motorcade, a hard-edged CIA agent goes after the plotters. Mitch Rapp fights assassins with assassination as he journeys into the world of contract killers, and doesn't mind using torture when time is short.
Gist: Imagine a bestseller with CIA operatives as heroes and affluent liberals as objects of ridicule. Flynn writes page-turners and Atria Books, the conservative division of Simon & Schuster, publishes ones that aren't politically correct. Caution: language, violence.
Plot: "Action," sort of, takes place over three decades beginning with the Chicago World's Fair of 1893, but any "plot" there might be is buried in 1,085 pages of incoherent rambling peppered by paranoia.
Gist: "Look at me. I'm brilliant." Pynchon's nihilistic novels over four decades have made some readers believe he has gnostic wisdom of how the world works, but he now seems to be parodying himself. Occasional flashes of wit do not compensate for pomp and pretension: This literary emperor has no clothes.
Plot: A magazine photo of a rare Navajo rug, formerly believed to have been destroyed in a fire, leads newly retired policeman Joe Leaphorn on the trail of a vicious murderer long thought dead.
Gist: This latest in a long series has a wistful feel as Leaphorn deals with retirement, old age, and the passing away of Navajo culture. Understanding that culture is crucial to solving this old case, and Hillerman masterfully weaves Navajo and Hmong creation myths into this compelling mystery.
Plot: Judge Deborah Knott and her husband, chief deputy Dwight Bryant, are married less than a month when his ex-wife and son go missing in Virginia and a truck driver is shot in North Carolina.
Gist: Is pride a sufficient motivator for murder? At the heart of this mystery are issues of class, reputation, identity, and arrogance among the affluent and well-respected. Followers of this series set in Colleton County, N.C., will appreciate the focus on Dwight's family connections.
I recently had the opportunity to read several new children's books to two classrooms of fifth-graders at a local Christian school. The kids had definite opinions about books and rejected several because they didn't like the pictures, the text, or the combination. But two books captured their imaginations. They praised Prairie Christmas by Elizabeth Van Steenwyk (Eerdmans, 2006) for its lovely illustrations and a sweet story of a Christmas Eve birth with echoes of the Nativity. The girls probably liked the book more than the boys did. The teachers, who are also grandmothers, thought it would be a great book to own (rather than check out from the library).
Peggony-Po, A Whale of a Tale by Andrea Davis Pinkney (Jump at the Sun, 2006) was a hit with the boys. It's a tall tale of a boy carved from wood who vows to catch the whale that ate his father's leg. Vivid language and vibrant images combine to tell an action-packed story. -Susan Olasky