P.D. James' novel is "a glorious plum pudding of a whodunit," says NPR book critic Maureen Corrigan. It's also the veteran British mystery writer's tribute to one of her favorite authors, Jane Austen. Or, as Corrigan puts it, "Think Pride and Prejudice meets Clue." The two authors have much in common: Corrigan observes, "Money, one of Austen's chief themes, certainly lies at the heart of many a crime in James' mysteries." But more profoundly, James "ferrets out the alternative noir tales that lurk in the corners of Pride and Prejudice, commonly thought of as Austen's sunniest novel. Ruinous matches, the Napoleonic Wars, early deaths, socially enforced female vulnerability: Austen keeps these shadows at bay, while James noses deep into them."
Humorist Dave Barry is one of the men responsible for Talk Like a Pirate Day, while Alan Zweibel is a former Saturday Night Live writer best known for Roseanne Roseannadanna's trenchant commentaries. They cannot claim to have produced the great American novel together, but their comic adventure, Lunatics, "is almost certainly the best novel ever written about a forensic plumber and a pet store owner who, together, managed to destroy and then repair much of the known world," according to NPR's Robert Siegel. In the novel, the two characters collide in a swiftly escalating series of events that will send them running for their lives, pursued by the police, soldiers, terrorists, subversives, bears and a man dressed as Chuck E. Cheese.
"This well-plotted survival tale about climbing partners and a deadly fall into a crevasse will certainly slake your 127 Hours craving," writes critic Rachel Syme. Written 19 years after the fact, The Ledge recounts a mountain climbing accident on Mount Rainier. After taking an 80-foot tumble that fatally pulled his best friend, Mike Price, down with him, author Jim Davidson climbed out of a crevasse with his lifeless partner still attached to a rope. Syme writes, "With the help of award-winning Denver Post journalist Kevin Vaughan, Davidson transforms his horrific experience into a graceful, poised narrative that spares no gory detail but never feels mawkish."
Now a grandmother, former White House intern Mimi Alford details an 18-month affair with President John F. Kennedy in her memoir Once Upon A Secret. Alford writes that her affair began when she was19, in the summer of 1962, with an invitation to the White House swimming pool. "Suffice it to say that Alford writes that she was a virgin when she and the president consummated their relationship, and it happened in Jackie Kennedy's bedroom," writes NPR's Eyder Peralta. Her last meeting with the president was seven days before his assassination. She writes: "He took me in his arms for a long embrace and said, 'I wish you were coming with me to Texas.' And then he added, 'I'll call you when I get back.' I was overcome with sudden sadness. 'Remember, Mr. President, I'm getting married.' "
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.