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Books for Grownups - May 2012

New Donald Westlake mystery, plus Arlen Specter, pain management and the Arab Spring

AARP The Magazine and the editors of Publishers Weekly read shelves full of books each month to find the latest fiction, nonfiction and how-to books of interest to you. Check out the selections below, then visit Publishers Weekly for full reviews, author Q-and-A's and more.


Another Piece of My Heart
By Jane Green
(St. Martin’s, $25.99)

Bestseller Green gets serious with a novel about a woman trying to decide whether to stay in a marriage being ripped apart by her dangerously rebellious teenage stepdaughter. Both characters ultimately come off as highly self-involved, but Green finds a welcome honesty in their alternating perspectives.

The Comedy Is Finished
By Donald E. Westlake
(Hard Case Crime, $25.99) 

Set in 1977, this sharp, insightful novel from a Grand Master of the Mystery Writers of America examines the aftermath of the radical fervor that grew throughout the 1960s and into the early 1970s. A small group aims to reignite those passions by kidnapping a comedian known for his USO tours. This being a Westlake novel, things fall apart for everyone involved shortly after the plot gets rolling.

Stein, Stung: A Harry Stein Soft-Boiled Murder Mystery
By Hal Ackerman
(Tyrus, $24.95)

Sly humor abounds in Ackerman's second mystery featuring aging L.A. hippie Harry Stein, who looks into the disappearance of some bee boxes and their inhabitants. Their owner, equally long of hair and tooth, lives in the hills above Ojai and answers to the moniker "Karma Moonblossom." Oh, and did we mention that Harry is deathly allergic to bee stings?

By David Snodin
(Holt, $30)

The hunt is on to find, capture and above all understand Shakespeare's cleverest villain in Snodin's debut novel. Iago comes to life through the eyes of a precocious Venetian youngster who gets involved with the famously evil character you first met in high school. Think street fights, torture chambers, daring escapes and an epic chase across medieval Italy.

By Thomas Mallon
(Pantheon, $27.95)

Mallon's latest historical novel, set in the 1970s, may feel too close for comfort to those who witnessed the collapse of the Nixon administration. Yet Mallon's intimate portraits of players previously relegated to the shadows (from Nixon secretary Rose Mary Woods to "Bagman," as Mississippian Fred LaRue was known) turn his chronicle of an infamous scandal into a fascinating read.

Next: What's new in nonfiction? »


Abundance: Why the Future Will Be Much Better Than You Think
By Peter H. Diamandis and Steven Kolter
(Free Press, $26)

Diamandis (a tech entrepreneur-turned-philanthropist) and journalist Kolter contend that widespread pessimism about the future stems from our cognitive biases and the impact of mass media. This enticing book is a welcome corrective. It takes us on a whirlwind tour of the latest developments in health care, agriculture and energy that will temper any guilt you may be feeling about our generational legacy. 

Imagine: How Creativity Works
By Jonah Lehrer
(Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $26)

Pop scientist Lehrer debunks some long-held theories on innovative thinking. Breakthrough discoveries, he reports, result from hard work, not some mystical "Eureka!" moment. Lehrer also looks at "mind-opening" experiences, from drugs to travel; lauds risk-taking and beginner’s ignorance; lays to rest the reputed efficacy of office brainstorming. So much for that apple and Newton's head!

Enemies: A History of the FBI
By Tim Weiner
(Random House, $30)

In this important and judicious account of the tension between national security and civil liberties, Weiner delivers a searing exposé of the Federal Bureau of Investigation. As an intelligence outfit, claims Weiner, the FBI has reached a degree of secrecy and politicization that rival those of its antagonist, the CIA. (Weiner chronicled the latter in his Legacy of Ashes, which won a National Book Award in 2007.)

Life Among the Cannibals: A Political Career, a Tea Party Uprising, and the End of Governing As We Know It
By Arlen Specter, with Charles Robbins
(Thomas Dunne, $26.99)

This engaging look at the disappearance of the center in Republican Party politics will resonate with American voters as they battle what threatens to be an especially virulent case of election fever this fall. Specter — a 30-year veteran of the U.S. Senate, who switched parties from (R) to (D) in 2009 — lays bare his resentments. But he also delivers a well-informed and withering critique of brutal partisanship in national politics. 

The Arab Uprising: The Wave of Protest that Toppled the Status Quo and the Struggle for a New Middle East
By Marc Lynch
(PublicAffairs, $26.99)

Lynch, the author of Voices of the New Arab Public (2005), is a political scientist at George Washington University in Washington, D.C. This time out he offers a nuanced, insightful analysis of the Arab insurrections that first flared up in Cairo in December 2010, with ample historical context.

Next: New books about your life, family and hobbies. »


The Woman in the Mirror: How to Stop Confusing What You Look Like with Who You Are
By Cynthia Bulik
(Walker, $16)

A nutritionist and eating-disorders specialist at the University of North Carolina, Bulik paints a disturbing picture of the distorted body images that American women experience from girlhood to old age. She then lays out a common sense guide designed to help them develop a realistic self-image, based on reining in negative self-talk and expanding self-awareness. The author’s conclusion (and counsel): "It’s never too late to love yourself."

Man on the Run: Helping Hyper-Hobbied Men Recognize the Best Things in Life
By Zeke Pipher
(S&S/Howard, $14.99)

Pipher — outdoorsman, writer, pastor — explains why he thinks some men become "hyper-hobbied": Their endless busyness reflects a desire for adventure and challenge, and it leads them to neglect family and friends. Pipher's advice for regaining balance weighs every facet of adult male life from ambition, competition and depression to loneliness, loyalty and strength of character.

Masala Farm: Stories and Recipes from an Uncommon Life in the Country
By Suvir Saran with Raquel Pelzel and Charlie Burd, photos by Ben Fink
(Chronicle, $29.95)

Saran, born in New Delhi and now the executive chef and owner of New York restaurant Devi, chronicles his adventures on a farm in upstate New York in this delightful book. In addition to funny accounts of two New Yorkers learning to live the country life (the other being Saran’s partner, Charlie Burd), we get more than 80 delicious and inventive farm-to-table recipes.

Small-Space Container Gardens: Transform Your Balcony, Porch, or Patio with Fruits, Flowers, Foliage & Herbs
By Fern Richardson
(Timber Press, $19.95)

Richardson, writer of an award-winning blog about gardening in wee spaces, offers a comprehensive approach to get you started on a balcony or small patio. The book’s thematic organization — color, weather, pests and so on — is a boon to those just starting container gardening. It also abounds with resources such as planting schemes and do-it-yourself projects. 

Paintracking: Your Personal Guide to Living Well with Chronic Pain
By Deborah Barrett
(Prometheus, $20)

As a Ph.D. student at Stanford University in 1994, psychotherapist Barrett began to experience symptoms that led to a diagnosis of fibromyalgia and myofascial pain syndromes. With empathy and insight into the prejudices that many patients encounter at the hands of physicians and caretakers, Barrett urges readers to direct their care by recording the up-and-down cycle typical of many chronic-pain sufferers. She doesn’t promise an end to pain, but her encyclopedic guide to leading a satisfying life will help readers tame "pain’s cruel whims."

You may also like: Browse the AARP Bookstore.