This Week's Hot Reads

This week: a bloody thriller from Cape Town’s mean streets, a call to save wildlife and wilderness by “rewilding,” a moving novel of a family’s struggle to overcome their tortured past, an investigation inside the lives of North Korean defectors, and a new biography of Anne Boleyn from bestselling author Alison Weir.

Mixed Blood: A Cape Town Thrillerby Roger Smith

A thrilling tale of violence and corruption in the South African underworld.

Debut novelist Roger Smith proves you can’t hide from your past in his stomach-churning, violent thriller played out on the South African stage (also Smith’s hometown). In an effort to save his family and avoid financial ruin, ex-gambler Jack Burn takes part in a risky bank robbery in the United States. One dead cop and $3 million later, Burn flees to South Africa with his pregnant wife and 4-year-old son to start a new life, but a new identity is not enough to free him from his tainted past. One tranquil evening in his quiet neighborhood, two meth-heads unaware of Burn’s violent history invade his home and terrorize his family. The thought-to-be hidden intrusion gains the attention of corrupt cop Rudi “Gatsby” Barnard, who, despite his devotion to religion, kills with the ease of a psychopath, and Burns finds himself in a cat-and-mouse game with several opposing forces. “Smith does an outstanding job of bringing Cape Town to life, taking us through the twists and turns of the local criminal world and the confusing labyrinth of racial identity in post-apartheid South Africa,” says Kirkus Reviews. “His prose is crisp and efficient.”

Rewilding the World: Dispatches From the Conservation Revolutionby Caroline Fraser

A clarion call to save wildlife and the wilderness by “rewilding.”

Fascination and fear about the extinction of thousands of species and the destruction of the wilderness inspired Caroline Fraser to write an account of worldwide grassroots efforts to save the environment with a method she deems “rewilding.” Traveling across all seven continents, Fraser helps implement ideas for restoring habits, mending the relationship between predators and people—for example, encouraging Mexican ranchers to shoot jaguars with cameras as opposed to guns—and reports about hefty projects, like turning Europe’s former Iron Curtain into a greenbelt. “Readers will come away better informed about the complexity of the ecosystems around us and with an increased awareness of the many factors involved in maintaining natural order and balance,” says Library Journal. “This truly is an essential read for conservationists, biologists, and anyone interested in the natural world.”

Then Came the Eveningby Brian Hart

A novel about a family trying to forgive, forget, and rebuild their life together.

Every family has issues, but in Brian Hart’s debut novel, he takes family drama to a new extreme with characters who are weighted with baggage. The story begins when Vietnam veteran Bandy Dorner awakes drunk and disheveled one morning and finds his home burned to the ground. In a fit of anger and confusion, Bandy kills a police officer because he thinks his wife Iona was lost to the flames, when she in fact ran off with a new lover, and he ends up in prison. The novel fast-forwards to 1990 when Bandy’s 18-year-old son Tracy, who was conceived shortly before the fire, visits his father in prison and attempts to rebuild a broken relationship while also refurbishing Bandy’s deceased parent’s home. The two fully reunite upon Bandy’s release, and Iona rejoins the family as well, causing friction and endless fighting while the family endures the countless trials of mending the past, and each character questions whether they are actually meant to be together. “The rugged Idaho backdrop adds sometimes stark, sometimes beautiful counterpoints to the stripped-to-the-bone narrative,” says Publishers Weekly. “Most impressive is Hart's ability to conjure rich and conflicted characters in an uncommon situation; his handling of the material is sublime.”

Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Koreaby Barbara Demick

An inside look at the lives of six North Koreans who defied the totalitarian regime.

In a stunning work of investigation, Barbara Demick removes North Korea’s mask to reveal what lies beneath its media censorship and repressive dictatorship with six personal accounts from individuals who seem to have experienced it all. The Los Angeles Times foreign correspondent uses seven years of interviews with those who escaped to South Korea in the 1990s and shares a world where starvation is common, pay is almost nonexistent, one word can turn into a life of imprisonment, and darkness envelopes a city due to a lack of electricity. From a famine that killed millions to dictators like Kim Jong-Il teaching the country’s inhabits to envy nothing, even though they have next to nothing, Demick paints a portrait of a life unimaginable to Westerners. “Thorough interviews recall the tremendous difficulty of daily life under the regime, as these six characters reveal the emotional and cultural turmoil that finally caused each to make the dangerous choice to leave,” says Publishers Weekly. “As Demick weaves their stories together with the hidden history of the country's descent into chaos, she skillfully re-creates these captivating and moving personal journeys.”

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The Lady in the Tower: The Fall of Anne Boleynby Alison Weir

A new history of Tudor England’s bad girl.

Anne Boleyn, second wife to Henry the VIII, is a specimen of speculation, admiration, and everything in between. Her life lies at the pinnacle of the Tudor times and has been documented for hundreds of years, but in historian Alison Weir’s latest work the author puts a fresh perspective on the tragic queen’s life. The book follows Anne Boleyn’s final days, including her imprisonment in the Tower of London in 1536, the fight for her self-proclaimed innocence, and investigation into the endless questions about King Henry the VIII’s true intent—whether charges were fabricated to ensure a legal third marriage for the king, the plot was fueled by court politics, or it was simply a matter of deadly rivalry. The New York Times says Weir “is well equipped to parse the evidence, ferret out the misconceptions and arrive at sturdy hypotheses about what actually befell Anne. Her command of minutiae is impressive, as is her enthusiasm for even the most minor aspects of Anne's frequently distorted story.”

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