Thursday, January 17, 2008

Each book on this month’s newly released list has a secret at its heart, whether it’s one held between lovers, friends, or parents and children. For the characters in these novels, what is hidden is liberating, destructive or, most often, both.

BLEEDING KANSAS By Sara Paretsky 431 pages. G. P. Putnam’s Sons. $25.95.

In “Bleeding Kansas” Sara Paretsky reimagines the violent clashes between pro- and antislavery forces of the 1850s on a contemporary stage. The battleground issues: fundamentalist Christianity, the war in Iraq, homosexuality. The Grelliers and the Schapens have farmed their patches of Douglas County for 150 years, and were allies in the antislavery fight. Now, though, they are deeply divided. When Gina Haring, a New Yorker, a lesbian and a Wiccan, moves into a long empty farmhouse nearby, Susan Grellier is drawn into her orbit — to the dismay of her husband, Jim, and her children, Lara and Chip, but to the gossip-mongering delight of the Schapen matriarch, Myra. Meanwhile the Schapens have bred a “perfect red” heifer that is attracting attention from an ultraorthodox Jewish group intent on rebuilding the Holy Temple in Jerusalem. As the tale spins out, a life is lost, and the Grellier family teeters on the brink. Ms. Paretsky, who grew up in Kansas, is the creator of the fictional private investigator V. I. Warshawski.

BEGINNER’S GREEK By James Collins 441 pages. Little, Brown & Company. $23.99.

James Collins’s chick lit-esque first novel takes its title from a James Merrill poem about those who fear to feel intensely (“What is/Beyond analysis/Is perilous”). Mr. Collins’s protagonist, Peter Russell, a good-looking young banker, feels but has trouble acting. When he meets Holly, the love of his life, on a plane trip from New York to Los Angeles, he gets — and loses — her number. And when she turns up, years later, as the girlfriend, then wife, of his less-than-faithful best friend, he doesn’t let on that his passion for her is as strong as ever. Many coincidences later he ... well, you know what happens.

THE DEAD OF SUMMER By Camilla Way 201 pages. Harcourt. $23.

In the summer of 1986, at 13, Anita Naidu survived a killing spree that left three teenagers dead. Now, at 20, she has returned to tell the full story to the police psychologist who interviewed her in the wake of the killings. As Anita’s tale begins, her mother has recently died, and her family has moved from Leeds to South London. There her father spends his days and night drinking and watching television, while she roams the waterfront with fellow outsiders Denis, an amiable special-education student, and Kyle. The latter boy is “skinny as a stick,” as Anita says. “The sort of kid nobody notices and you wouldn’t remember if you had. Except I did.” Both Kyle and Anita have their secrets, which are revealed as the “dried-up summer of glittering pavements and long black shadows” moves restlessly toward its end. This is Camilla Way’s first novel.

THE SECRET BETWEEN US By Barbara Delinsky343 pages. Doubleday. $25.95.

On a rainy April night, Deborah Monroe and her daughter Grace are driving home when “a flash of movement entered her line of sight on the right. In quick succession came the jolt of a weighty thud against the front of the car, the slam of brakes, the squeal of tires.” The man they have hit is Calvin McKenna, Grace’s history teacher. Deborah and her family are institutions in town: her father is the beloved local doctor with whom she now practices, Grace is an honor student and track star, and Deborah’s sister, Jill, owns the local bakery. When Deborah lies to the police about who was behind the wheel, the accident exposes the fault lines in their lives.

WHAT I WASBy Meg Rosoff209 pages. Viking. $23.95.

The narrator of Meg Rosoff’s “What I Was” is 100 years old, looking back on his schoolboy days in the early 1960s. (Don’t expect Hogwarts: Ms. Rosoff has said that in writing the book she wanted to counter the “warm and fuzzy Harry Potter nostalgia about boarding school.”) He is an outcast at St. Oswald’s — “not an athlete,” as one of his teachers declares, “not a student, either” — the third-rate boarding school on the East Anglia coast to which he’s been sent. When he (his name is not revealed until the book’s end) discovers another child living in a shack by the sea, he is drawn into a hidden world, which is threatened by the forces of nature and conformity. The book was shortlisted for the 2007 Costa Children’s Book Award in Britain but is being published as an adult novel in the United States.

A GOLDEN AGEBy Tahmima Anam276 pages. Harper. $24.95.

Tahmima Anam’s first novel is set during Bangladesh’s 1971 war for independence from Pakistan. Since her husband died 12 years earlier, Rehana Haque has been living her life for her children. Now, Sohail, her 19-year-old son, and Maya, her 17-year-old daughter, have become campus radicals, taking part in protests against the Pakistani government, which has refused to seat in Parliament the opposition majority led by Sheikh Mujibur Rahman. As rallies give way to the bloody events of the government’s Operation Searchlight crackdown and civil war, Rehana joins her children in support of the insurgency, discovering her own true nature in the process. Ms. Anam was born in Bangladesh.

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