Prolific novelist Daniel Woodrell has certainly seen his profile rise since the 2010 release of the powerful film Winter's Bone, based on his 2006 novel by the same name. The Outlaw Album, Woodrell's first collection of short stories, digs deeper still into contemporary life in the Ozark Mountains. NPR book critic Liz Colville observes that Woodrell's backwoods community of murderers, veterans, addicts and youths have a distinctive hardiness: "His characters seem never to have to look away in fear or disgust from anything." Woodrell, a Marine veteran, also movingly explores the aftermath of military service in several of his stories. Colville says revenge is one of the primal forces at play in this collection, and although it's almost always served cold, it is, at times, sweet.
Christopher Moore describes his 2012 novel to NPR's Scott Simon as "a book about the color blue, and about solving the murder of Vincent van Gogh and the sort of mystical quality of making art. And it's funny." Early in the book, van Gogh shoots himself in a field in Auvers-sur-Oise, France. This event sets the novel's two main characters — artist Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec and fictional baker and aspiring painter Lucien Lessard — on a quest around 19th-century Paris to solve a multilayered mystery. Beginning and ending with a meditation on the color blue, the story also introduces the bygone figure of the color man, a kind of itinerant merchant who supplied European artists with rare pigments from far-flung locations.
Welcome to hell as imagined by Fight Club author Chuck Palahniuk. In his 2011 novel, Damned, Palahniuk does his best twisted impression of Judy Blume, the teen-lit legend and author of the iconic Are You There, God? It's Me, Margaret. "In many ways, Damned is an archetypal young adult novel. ... But it's hard to imagine even the most progressive parents buying it for their middle-schooler," observes NPR book critic Michael Schaub. "Palahniuk's 12th novel is just as gleefully, vividly, hilariously obscene as you'd expect — and it's also a hell of a lot of fun." And although Palahniuk is known for his very masculine characters and themes, Schaub writes that the author has come up with "a believable, realistic teenage-girl narrator, and he channels her voice perfectly."
Members of the baby boomer generation might remember the old TV series The Adventures of Rin Tin Tin, about a German shepherd and a boy named Rusty who live with a cavalry troop in the American West. But the 1950s version of Rin Tin Tin wasn't an original. The German shepherd on TV was a reincarnation of an even bigger celebrity dog who had dominated the silent screen in the 1920s, almost won an Oscar for best actor and nearly saved Warner Brothers from financial ruin. In Rin Tin Tin, New Yorker writer Susan Orlean considers how one lucky German shepherd puppy became an American icon. Of course, the life of "Rinty" is inseparably entwined with that of Lee Duncan, the soldier who rescued him, and a solitary man with a preternatural ability to train dogs.
The first Englishman to attempt a climb of Mount Everest, the world's highest peak, was also its most famous victim. In the early 1920s, George Mallory took part in the first three expeditions up Everest, dying on his third attempt. But while charismatic, good-looking Mallory was the public face of the expedition, its unsung hero was the Canadian surveyor Oliver Wheeler. According to Wade Davis, explorer in residence at National Geographic, it was Wheeler who found the route to the mountain — not Mallory, as historians have claimed. Davis chronicles Mallory's expeditions in his 2011 book, Into the Silence, which links his team's hardiness and appetite for risk and adventure to their experiences in the trenches of World War I.
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.