Historical novelist Bernard Cornwell is best-known for his book and film series about Napoleonic Wars rifleman Richard Sharpe, but he has also explored other eras in several other series. Death of Kings is the sixth book in his series about Saxon England. Though NPR book critic and novelist Sharon Penman started this one before reading the rest of the series, she says it reads well as a stand-alone novel. "The author works his usual magic. His characters are vividly drawn, betrayals lurk around every corner, the humor is as sharp as the swords, and the action is nonstop," Penman writes. "I've had some experience writing battles over the years (I did 13 of them in Lionheart), and I can say with certainty that I don't think there is anyone who writes better battle scenes than Bernard Cornwell."
Hisham Matar has already enjoyed great success — his novel In the Country of Men was an international best-seller. But with all of the recent upheaval in the Middle East, and especially in his native country of Libya, Matar is experiencing a newfound cultural significance. His latest novel, Anatomy of a Disappearance, has been acclaimed both in the U.S. and overseas. In it, he tells the story of Nuri, a man living in Cairo whose father suddenly and mysteriously disappears. Matar writes from experience; as he told NPR's Renee Montagne in 2011, he also dealt with a disappearance in the family and with the gaping hole that it leaves in one's life and belief system.
Winner of the 2012 Orange Prize for Fiction, Madeline Miller's debut novel, The Song of Achilles, recasts the legend at the center of Homer's The Iliad. It's told from the perspective of Patroclus, an exiled Greek prince who is adopted by Achilles' father, Peleus, and becomes a passionate childhood friend and eventual lover to Achilles. But as the two skilled warriors attack Troy after Helen of Sparta is kidnapped, their bond is tragically tested. Critics have compared this book to Mary Renault's novels of ancient Greece, praising it for equal nuance in portraying love and war.
President Obama is the son of a white, American mother and a black, Kenyan father who met at the University of Hawaii in 1960. The president last saw his father when he was 10 years old and the elder Obama made a brief visit to Hawaii from Kenya, where he moved when the future president was just a toddler. But what was Barack Obama Sr. really like? Biographer Sally H. Jacobs takes an in-depth look at his life and legacy in The Other Barack. "If Obama the president had had [Barack Obama Sr.] as a father, I think it's fair to say that he wouldn't be the president," Jacobs tellsFresh Air's Dave Davies. "I think he would have had to wrestle with a neglectful father, an insecure person and someone who probably would have prevented him from following the path that he chose. In [Dreams From My Father], you feel Obama Jr. struggling with [questions like] 'Who am I? What kind of a man am I? What will I be?' The person he comes out as is clearly very determined and rooted and a responsible person — everything that Obama Sr. was not."
Mention the name Howard Thurston these days and you're likely to get a blank stare. But 90 years ago, Thurston was the greatest stage magician in the country, and one of the biggest names in show business. As Jim Steinmeyer explains in his book, The Last Greatest Magician in the World, Thurston's great rival — and occasional friend — was the escape artist Harry Houdini. The two met as struggling sideshow performers at the 1893 Chicago World's Fair, and for the next 30 years they fought each other for the spotlight. Steinmeyer tells NPR's Guy Raz, "All of Thurston's publicity was about getting you into the theater, and all of Houdini's publicity was about creating a legend. And they both, of course, got exactly what they wanted."
Charlotte Abbott edits "New in Paperback." A contributing editor for Publishers Weekly, she also leads a weekly chat on books and reading in the digital age every Friday from 4-5 p.m. ET on Twitter. Follow her at @charabbott or check out the #followreader hashtag.