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Noteworthy books

Notable Books | Four paperbacks good for airplanes and beaches reviewed by Susan Olasky

Category 7

Plot: A wealthy businessman learns how to control weather. His personal weaknesses and a long-standing grudge cause him to use this power to strengthen a hurricane bound for Manhattan.

Gist: This compelling page-turner raises questions about the limits of scientific exploration and the way sin and greed can pervert something that appears good into its opposite. Meteorologist Evans makes sure the plot doesn't veer too far into fantasy, and co-writer Jameson keeps the plot moving along. Warning: Bad language.

False Witness

Plot: A Chinese Christian has figured out the algorithm that provides a fast way to factor prime numbers. Before long the criminal Chinese Triad are in pursuit of the formula, which is of great value for internet security. An American bounty hunter, his wife, and several law students are at risk.

Gist: Regent Law School professor Randy Singer knows how to craft page-turning legal thrillers that combine courtroom drama, heart-pounding action, and tough questions about the pursuit of justice-and the danger posed by those with too much power to use in pursuit of noble ends.

Oracle Bones

Content: The discovery of Chinese "oracle bones"-fragments of inscribed turtle shells-pushed back the date for knowledge about China's earliest history. Hessler uses the search to understand these artifacts as a means to explore past and present Chinese identity.

Gist: Hessler is a gifted observer and storyteller whose knack for striking up friendships with unlikely people, and his commitment to documenting their changing lives, make him a great guide for understanding China's complexity. Only quibble: He ignores Christianity's explosive growth there.

The Naming of the Dead

Plot: Detective Inspector John Rebus and Detective Sergeant Siobhan Clarke must solve the murders of three ex-cons whose names were featured on a website that exposes sexual predators. Meanwhile, London subway bombings, a G8 summit, and the apparent suicide of a government minister complicate their task.

Gist: Rankin, a bestselling British author, masterfully creates a realistic and gritty world. His cops are deeply flawed, yet some are heroic-not because they are successful, but because they persevere even though temptation is always present.

Spotlight

Khaled Hosseini's A Thousand Splendid Suns (Riverhead, 2007), is the much-anticipated follow-up to The Kite Runner. By weaving Afghanistan's tumultuous recent decades into the story of two women whose lives come together by marriage to the same violent man, Hosseini helps us to understand the country's sadness.

His first section tells of Mariam, the illegitimate daughter of an affluent businessman who marries her off (at age 15) to a 40-year-old Kabul cobbler. Her failure to bear him a son leads to a life of drudgery and beatings. Years later the cobbler takes another wife, Leila, a 14-year-old orphan. The story follows these two women-at first competitors and then friends-as they struggle to survive.

Hosseini's gifted storytelling and memorable characters, combined with the frequent brutality of Afghan life and the steady flow of tragic events, make A Thousand Splendid Suns gripping but somber reading-maybe not ideal for lying on a beach but perfect for keeping perspective when annoyed by flight delays.

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