The books we love coming out this week include new titles by Lee Child and Andrew Child, Dan Jones, and Gregory Zuckerman.

Better Off Dead: A Jack Reacher Novel

Lee Child and Andrew Child. Delacorte, $28.99 (336p) ISBN 978-1-9848-1850-8

The Child brothers’ superb second collaboration (after 2020’s The Sentinel) opens one night at a remote spot on the U.S.-Mexico border, where “the stranger,” a large, tall man many will assume is Jack Reacher, has arrived for a meeting. A car drives up, and four men get out. When the driver asks the stranger if he has the money, he pats his back pocket. Then the driver orders the stranger into the car, to take him to someone named Michael. The stranger refuses, saying the deal was for him to be told where Michael is. The stranger gets the best of it in the ensuing fight, until a woman shows up and guns down the stranger. At the morgue, the victim, identified as Reacher, is confirmed dead by the coroner, to the satisfaction of Waad Dendoncker, “the second coming of Al Capone, only with added craziness.” Flashbacks explain what led up to the violent confrontation. Smart writing, vivid action scenes, and dramatic twists mark this seamless effort. Even those for whom this is their first Reacher novel will be clamoring for more.

Powers and Thrones: A New History of the Middle Ages

Dan Jones.. Viking, $35 (656p) ISBN 978-1-984880-87-1

Historian Jones (Crusaders) covers 1,000 years of world history in this entertaining chronicle of the period between the fall of the Roman Empire and the Protestant Reformation. Delving into the power struggles and "great forces beyond human control," including climate change and the Black Plague, that helped shape the era, Jones charts the evolution of cultural, military, and religious practices with intriguing case studies and vivid character sketches. A section on the rise of European universities notes that Thomas Aquinas"s brothers sought to dissuade him from studying to become a Dominican friar by "Chiring prostitutes to try to tempt him into sin," and that scholars from the University of Paris played a critical role in the downfall of the Knights Templar in the early 14th century. Though the focus is on Europe, Jones makes clear that the Arabic-speaking world exerted a significant influence on the West, in particular through the dissemination of scientific and philosophical knowledge. Throughout, Jones displays flashes of humor and reveals unexpected links between events and figures, noting, for example, that the patron of Flemish painter Jan van Eyck also helped send Joan of Arc to her death. This richly detailed history will appeal to aficionados and newcomers alike.

A Shot to Save the World: The Inside Story of the Life-or-Death Race for a Covid-19 Vaccine

Gregory Zuckerman. Portfolio, $30 (384p) ISBN 978-0-593420-39-3

Wall Street Journal reporter Zuckerman traces the seemingly miraculous development of the Covid vaccine in this captivating account (after The Man Who Solved the Market). Through interviews with "scientists, academics, executives, government officials, investors, and others," Zuckerman makes a case that the creation of the vaccine was the result of "years of dedication, creativity, and frustration." He introduces a slew of scientists past and present whose work, in one way or another, impacted the efforts to cure Covid: there's Gale Smith, a molecular biologist who "theorized that insect viruses could be used to infect insect cells to produce specific proteins" in the 1980s; Frank Volvovitz, who started a company called MicroGeneSys to pursue a vaccine for AIDS; Jon Wolff, who was a key player in mRNA research; and Moderna scientist Eric Huang, who advised the company that they should be "making vaccines, not drugs" in 2013. Things move at a fast clip as Zuckerman conveys decades of complex scientific research in a gripping fashion. His focus on the slow burn of discovery makes for a fascinating angle and offers plenty of inspiration: "The Covid-19 vaccine story is one of heroism, dedication, and remarkable persistence." The result is tough to put down.


Alison Stine. Mira, $27.99 (384p) ISBN 978-0-7783-1127-0

Philip K. Dick Award winner Stine (Road Out of Winter) sets this searing exploration of the lives of women who are mired in grinding poverty in a climate-ravaged near-future where plastic has become humanity’s only currency. The sordid strip club Trashlands in flood-prone “Scrappalachia” serves as the narrative hub as the novel shifts through multiple characters’ recollections and struggles. Among the expansive cast are the good-hearted sex-workers Foxglove and Summer; the vile Rattlesnake Master; single mother Coral, a scavenger of plastic who makes eerie art out of garbage; Coral’s lover, Trillium; the idealistic reporter, Miami; and the aging Mr. Fall, a teacher who agrees to help Coral find her stolen son. “You couldn’t be picky and live” in this rotting junkyard where women are treated as disposable and life comprises a heartbreaking miasma of hunger, yearning, ruthlessness, and compassion. Stine draws on her personal experience of today’s Appalachia to craft a harrowing vision of the future, and at its center is the tug-of-war between what is right and what is necessary to survive. This painful, thought-provoking apocalypse noir fires on all cylinders.

The Perks of Loving a Wallflower

Erica Ridley. Forever, $8.99 mass market (368p) ISBN 978-1-5387-1954-1

Don’t judge this book by its title—bluestocking Philippa York may be bookish, but she’s no wallflower, and master of disguise Tommy Wynchester is no demure miss in pearls. Bestseller Ridley’s second Wild Wynchesters romance (after The Duke Heist) arguably touches the holy grail for Regency fans: like Georgette Heyer, but with sex. Lesbian sex, in fact, which pairs deliciously with classic Heyer elements like Shakespearian gender bending and exquisitely delineated fashion. “Tommy” is short for Thomasina, and she’s infatuated from afar with Philippa. A sibling dare to act on her feelings and hold a conversation with Philippa launches her on a masquerade as Baron Horace Vanderbean, guardian of the madcap Wynchester clan and aspirant to Philippa’s hand. Then the perfidy of a friend’s uncle leads the pair into a complicated collaboration to expose him. Along the way, the women uncover truth after truth about themselves and each other, until they can no longer deny what they want. While Ridley does not have Heyer’s skill with minor characters, she has the very great virtue of making her protagonists’ confrontation with the status quo believable. Compromise here is a dragon to be slain, not an inevitable bargain with society. It’s a feminist fairy tale readers will rejoice in.

Between the Lines: Stories from the Underground

Uli Beutter Cohen. Simon & Schuster, $24.99 (384p) ISBN 978-1-982145-67-5

Beutter Cohen, creator of the Subway Book Review, goes underground to New York’s subway system in this rich collection of interviews. A slew of New Yorkers share what they’re reading: LaTonya Yvette at Brooklyn’s Clinton-Washington station reads Braiding Sweetgrass by Robin Wall Kimmerer, which makes her ponder property, ownership, and her relationship with the land she inhabits, while Shea Vassar discusses her Indigenous identity at the 45th Street Station through Crooked Hallelujah by Kelli Jo Ford, and Ellie Musgrave in Prospect Park reads M Train by Patti Smith and photographs her way through the city. Well-known train-riders pop up from time to time, including author Ta-Nehisi Coates, who was caught reading Ill Fares the Land by Tony Judt, an author he calls a “huge inspiration”; Roxane Gay, who reads her “favorite novel,” Edith Wharton’s The Age of Innocence; and Momofuku CEO Marguerite Zabar Mariscal, who says that Rules of Civility by Amor Towles “transports you to an homage of New York in a really cinematic way.” With a genuine curiosity for the city’s wealth of perspectives, Beutter Cohen’s interviews show how deep a person’s connection to a book can go; after all, she writes, “books are a reflection of our identities and souls.” Literature lovers will relish this insightful compendium.

Churchill’s Shadow: The Life and Afterlife of Winston Churchill

Geoffrey Wheatcroft. Norton, $40 (656p) ISBN 978-1-324-00276-5

Journalist Wheatcroft (The Strange Death of Tory England) delivers a fresh take on Winston Churchill’s life and legacy in this invigorating biography. Claiming that Churchill was both “the saviour of his country” and “far too often in the wrong,” Wheatcroft succeeds in separating the myth (much of it created by Churchill himself in his histories and memoirs of WWII) from the reality. The most damaging and durable myths, according to Wheatcroft, include a misreading of prime minister Neville Chamberlain’s policy of appeasement with Nazi Germany that has been used to justify disastrous wars in Korea, Vietnam, and Iraq, and a misleading British national pride that “sustain[s] the country with beguiling illusions of greatness, of standing unique and alone, while preventing the British from coming to terms with their true place in the world.” Wheatcroft doesn’t shy away from Churchill’s racism and imperialism, which “were already retrograde by the standards of his age,” or his support for the merciless bombing offensive against German cities and civilians that culminated in the destruction of Dresden, while expressing sincere admiration for his eloquence and ability to inspire strength and action. The result is an exhilarating reassessment that will appeal to Churchill buffs and newcomers alike. 

The Genome Defense: Inside the Epic Legal Battle to Determine Who Owns Your DNA

Jorge L. Contreras. Algonquin, $27.95 (432p) ISBN 978-1-61620-968-1

In his eye-opening debut, law professor Contreras vividly tells the inside story of AMP v. Myriad, the 2013 Supreme Court case that took on the question “Are human genes patentable?” The case marked the ACLU’s first-ever patent case, an unlikely battle for the famed civil rights organization, and an unlikelier victory spurred by the long-standing but controversial patenting of human genes. Contreras describes how the ACLU mobilized a remarkable team and a powerful public campaign to bring the issue before the Supreme Court, challenging Myriad Genetics’ patent claims against its BRACAnalysis test (which was used to detect mutations linked to breast and ovarian cancer). Examining both sides of the legal battle, the author carefully explains the pertinent scientific as well as legal points: whether or not an isolated human gene is patentable, he explains, “hinges on whether it is more accurately described as a product of nature (not patentable) or a man-made substance (patentable).” Contreras brings the large cast of case-participants to life with vivid prose, and the exciting final spectacle before the Supreme Court is heart-pumping—of the packed courtroom, Contreras writes, “at precisely ten, a high-pitched chime sounded and the room quickly became quiet.” The result is a thorough page-turner.

Grist: A Practical Guide to Cooking Grains, Beans, Seeds, and Legumes

Abra Berens. Chronicle, $35 (464p) ISBN 978-1-797-20713-1

In this highly informative work, chef Berens (Ruffage) showcases the potential of cooking with grains and legumes. “The perception of whole grains seems to still be of leaden health food, endless cooking times, and cud-like chewing,” writes Berens. She debunks this misconception with more than 140 recipes that celebrate the “underappreciated staples... in their unprocessed (and often savory) state.” After guiding readers through “some things to know”—including how to mitigate “swings in gas”—she begins with a chapter of condiments, featuring vinaigrettes, pickles, and sauces such as lemon tahini or garam masala yogurt. In a hearty section on legumes, the bean family is outlined alongside helpful grids and flavor formulas that show cooks how to build versatile and vibrant dishes such as stewed Cannellini beans with saffron sofrito, or how to enjoy “a week’s worth of black beans without any boredom.” Grains get their due in a number of imaginative recipes, including gnocchi made from oats, barley doughnuts, and stewed frekkeh (a cracked wheat similar to bulgur). Woven throughout are essays and farmer interviews that present a strong case for increasing the role of grains and legumes in the global food system. The result is a definitive guide rich with flavor and inspiration.