This Week’s Biggest Books

A fresh batch of must-reads hit the shelves, highlighted by astronaut Scott Kelly’s fascinating memoir of a year spent in space and the toll it took on him, a new twist on fairy tales from romance master Danielle Steel, the life story of one of our most famous thinkers and artists from Walter Isaacson, an inspirational books of tomfoolery and curiosity from two young Youtube stars, and a new Virgil Flowers thriller from John Sanders. Take your pick; your can’t go wrong!

Endurance: A Year in Space, A Lifetime of Discovery, by Scott Kelly

Scott Kelly is a remarkable person—a twin, an astronaut, and a volunteer in one of the most stressful experiments in scientific history. As a twin, Kelly was the ideal person to spend a record number of days in orbit so NASA could study the physical effects of being in space on the human body. The grueling mission took its toll on Kelly and makes him a modern-day hero whose efforts will serve the human race for centuries to come. At the same time, Kelly has a clear-eyed vision of what needs to be done if we as a planet are going to someday make real forays into deeper space. Funny, smart, and disciplined, Kelly makes this memoir entertaining as well as interesting, and is a must-read for anyone who wonders what being in space is really like.

Leonardo da Vinci, by Walter Isaacson

Isaacson begins with the presumption that Leonardo da Vinci was perhaps the most creative genius in human history and proceeds from there, digesting more than 7,000 pages of notes da Vinci left behind and producing this biography. Unlike anything else you’ve ever read about the most famous artist of the 15th and 16th centuries, Isaacson paints a portrait of a restless mind that exhibited unusual curiosity and made magical connections between disciplines that had never been made before. At the same time, he shows da Vinci as a man whose always-churning mind could leave many projects unfinished as he dashed from idea to idea. When one of our best modern writers tackles one of the most famous minds in history, it’s time to pay attention.

Rhett & Link’s Book of Mythicality: A Field Guide to Curiosity, Creativity, and Tomfoolery, by Rhett McLaughlin and Link Neal

Rhett and Link are YouTube superstars who promote the concept of living “Mythically” and achieving “Mythicality.” That’s less silly than it seems at first blush, and their book is filled with suggestions designed to make your life a little bit more magical. Laced with their signature good-natured humor and fortified by their lifelong friendship and the easy charm such a relationship can generate, they challenge the reader to do things like eat something that frighten you, or simply make a surprising choice of hairstyle. The idea is to shake up your perception of the world and have more fun, be more curious, and be more open to new things. Anyone who finds that idea appealing is already on their way to living with “Mythicality.”

Soar!: Build Your Vision from the Ground Up, by T. D. Jake

Pastor T.D. Jake isn’t just a spiritual leader, he’s also an experienced businessman, and he brings his faith-based approach to launching a business and making it profitable in his new book. Jake draws on his own history as he combines practical advice with heartfelt guidance; his own father, he believes, more or less worked himself to death, so he urges people to work smarter, not harder, and offers plenty of ways to adapt spiritual values to the world of business. Jake takes a modern approach to growing your business, not shying away from new technologies and how to use them properly, but underneath it all is a faith-based guide that is ideal for anyone trying to balance their moral and financial selves.

Deep Freeze, by John Sandford

Sandford’s tenth Virgil Flowers story finds the Minnesota’s Bureau of Criminal Apprehension agent’s life complicated by another small town murder in Trippton, and the arrival of an agent of chaos. The murder victim is Gina Hemmings, who inherited her parents’ bank—and plenty of the potential suspects’ debts. Making things more complicated is the arrival of Margaret Griffin, a Los Angeles investigator who lands in town with the governor’s request that Virgil assist in finding Jesse McGovern, who is supposedly manufacturing sex dolls in Trippton—though no one seems to have ever met her. Virgil’s path to solving each mystery is as enjoyably bumpy as ever, but it’s Sandford’s grasp of small town culture that makes this entry sing.

Fairytale, by Danielle Steel

Steel once again demonstrates that she’s still the master of taking familiar tropes and finding fresh new angles in them, this time offering a twisted black-mirror take on fairy tales. Camille has enjoyed a perfect life: her parents, the French Christophe and Joy, are deeply in love and she’s fresh out of school to start helping them run their winery in the gorgeous Napa Valley. Then Joy sickens and dies from cancer, and Christophe, grieving and broken, begins a giddy love affair with the chic and elegant Countess de Pantin. Camille see through the Countess’ facade, but not her father—and soon enough Christophe is gone as well, and Camille is at the mercy of her evil stepmother and two evil stepbrothers who suddenly arrive. There’s a prince, of course, and even a fairy godmother of sorts as Camille has to fight for not just her inheritance—but her life.

Grant, by Ron Chernow

Pulitzer-winning author Chernow tackles one of our most disappointing—and perplexing—presidents with another sharply-written, deeply-researched book. Chernow sets out to prove that Grant, the brilliant general, was a far better president than he’s usually given credit for. Chernow has his work cut out for him, but he paints a detailed picture of Grant as a man of action who withered in inactivity, a man whose alcoholism followed a unique cycle of binging followed by lengthy periods of sobriety, a man often mistaken for homeless prior to the Civil War who brought a willingness to engage the Confederate armies head on to his tactics that proved to be the key to winning the war. As he did with Alexander Hamilton, Chernow takes a familiar but opaque figure of American history and fleshes him out, revealing the human being under the engravings—for better or worse.

We Were Eight Years in Power: An American Tragedy, by Ta-Nehisi Coates

This collection of essays by Coates are drawn from his writing for The Atlantic during the years 2008 to 2016, roughly paralleling the Obama administration, and ending on the 150th anniversary of the end of the Civil War. These are the essays that made Coates a figure no serious person could ignore; they trace the evolution of his thought from the optimism of Obama’s first election to the somewhat darker mood of the later years. Coates adds a wealth of background material, including introductions in which he reflects on the essays, notes and background taken from his journals, and even personal stories that expand on and illuminate his themes. Coates is one of our best and most important living writers, and this collection is a must-read for any thoughtful American.

Origin, by Dan Brown

Brown returns to his most successful character with an all-new Robert Langdon adventure, this time centered in Spain and focusing on more modern art. Langdon starts off the book as the guest of former student-turned-billionaire Edmond Kirsch, who is staging a provocative presentation at the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao and hinting at the answers to two of the fundamental questions of human existence. Naturally, things go very, very wrong, and Langdon soon finds himself fleeing to Barcelona with museum director Ambra Vidal and working desperately to discover a password Kirsch left behind that will unlock all of the billionaire’s secrets. Their opponent, however, seems to be all-knowing, and firmly rooted in the Spanish royal palace—but there’s no one on Earth more equipped to deal with codes and symbols than Robert Langdon.

Don’t Let Go, by Harlan Coben

Fifteen years ago, New Jersey policeman Nap Dumas’ twin brother Leo and Leo’s girlfriend were killed when they were hit by a train. That same night, Nap’s high school sweetheart Maura Wells disappeared. In the present day, Nap arrives at a crime scene and is shocked to discover Maura’s fingerprints all over the shooting death of a fellow officer. Nap thinks back to a group of friends he hung out with calling themselves the Conspiracy Club, who investigated a mysterious military base near the school—and begins to suspect a connection between the base, his brother’s death, and Maura’s disappearance. Coben once again a master of deception as Nap tracks down the surviving members of the Conspiracy Club, and a decade and a half of lies come slowly unraveled.

Sleeping Beauties, by Stephen King and Owen King

Putting a lie to the theory that writing talent doesn’t have a genetic component: the King family. Joe Hill has more than proven himself as capable as dear old dad at crafting tense, terrifying thrillers, and now brother Owen is getting into the game with his first book in the family wheelhouse, co-written with the world’s bestselling horror writer. The premise is certainly killer,and oh-so-timely: it a near-near-future, all women suddenly drop into a coma-like state. While their minds are transported to an idyllic, female-dominated paradise, their bodies become shrouded in a gauzy substance. If the shroud is disturbed, the women awaken as feral monsters. As male society struggles to adapt to a world without women, we follow one woman immune to the sleeping state. With the epic length you expect from any book with “King” on the cover—and the thrills and chills to match.

The Cuban Affair, by Nelson DeMille

Set in 2015, just as relations between the United States and Cuba were beginning to warm up, DeMille’s latest digs into the side of the story that often gets overlooked: the Cuban expats living in the U.S. who hate the Castro regime and who abandoned their property, wealth, and standing when they fled. Daniel “Mac” MacCormick is a veteran of Afghanistan trying to make his way out from under a mountain of debt with his charter boat business in Key West—and failing. When he’s offered a lot of money to assist in the recovery of money and documents from a remote cave in Cuba, he agrees out of desperation, ferrying a beautiful woman to Havana. When things go wrong, Mac finds himself depending on her—without knowing if he can trust her one bit.

To Be Where You Are, by Jan Karon

Karon returns to the town of Mitford for the 14th time, and although Father Tim Kavanagh is struggling with the concept of retirement there’s still plenty of stories to tell in this good place. Some of those stories, like Father Tim’s, are simply about life’s journey and the unexpected zigs and zags it takes. Some are happy stories, like Dooley and Lace’s son Jack’s happy day—and the near-miracle that occurs. Some are sad stories, like the financial disaster that threatens everything else in Dooley and Lace’s life. Life goes on—which, for fans of Karon’s bestselling series, is a very good thing.

Killing England, by Bill O’Reilly and Martin Dugard

O’Reilly and Dugard stretch their “Killing” concept a bit, taking a brutally realistic look at the American Revolution. Telling the story from the point of view of both the Americans who went from protesters to revolutionaries and the king who somehow managed to let the colonies slip through his fingers despite being one of the most powerful monarchs in the world, the co-authors matter-of-factly relate momentous events. Soldiers served under terrible conditions, and the fighting was nothing like the polite engagements often depicted in pictures and film, often involving desperate, close-quarters fights. The personalities involved prove fascinating, and the book is peppered with bits of trivia that even dedicated history buffs will be glad to know.

Haunted, by James Patterson and James O. Born

The 10th Michael Bennett novel finds the detective and his family exhausted from a series of crises and in need of a vacation. On the advice of a colleague, Bennett takes them to a beautiful small town on the edge of the woods in Maine, a place that initially seems the perfect place to unplug, recharge, and hibernate. It isn’t long before the sleepy facade is shattered and Bennett is called on to assist in the investigation of a rash of missing teens. When the bodies start to turn up, the truth comes with them: the town is gripped by an addiction epidemic that brings with it horrific violence that shocks even Bennett, a man who has seen some things. A fight for the soul of the town commences, and once again, Bennett is on the front lines.

What Happened, by Hillary Rodham Clinton

Clinton recently announced that she would not run for public office again, and the freedom that decision grants her shows up in spades in this fascinating book. Structured around quotes that Clinton has collected and tried to live by, the former First Lady, Senator, and Secretary of State (and, of course, failed candidate for President) offers an unvarnished look at what it was like to run for President against Donald Trump in 2016. With bracing honesty she discusses sexism, dirty politics, and the possible influence of a foreign government on the election—and what the implications of such an event might be. Whatever your politics or opinion of Hillary, there is no question this book offers a perspective that has never been offered before in the history of politics.

A Column of Fire, by Ken Follett

The third installment of Follett’s excellent Kingsbridge series of historical fiction finds Kingsbridge Cathedral looming over a blood-soaked, divided England in the 16th century. Queen Mary is persecuting and executing Protestants, including the noble family of Ned Willard, who are accused of being sympathetic to the heretics. When the Willards lose their business to the family of Ned’s love Margery, Ned loses Margery as well—but only physically, as their love for each other transcends politics and business. Ned is inspired by this injustice to join the secret service of the future queen Elizabeth, a Protestant herself and a princess always in danger of being beheaded by her bloody and paranoid half-sister. Follett once again combines well-researched historical accuracy with an exciting thriller plot centered on espionage, continuing what is shaping up to be one of the most epic stories of all time.

The Girl Who Takes an Eye for an Eye, by David Lagercrantz

Even from solitary confinement in prison, Lisbeth Salander is an unstoppable force in Lagercrantz’s second book continuing Stieg Larsson’s Millennium series. The prison she’s held in is poorly run, with the inmates more in charge than the guards, but her hacking skills and sharp intelligence mean she’s as effective inside as she was out. Her old ally Mikael Blomkvist visits once a week, and she passes him a lead related to her still-mysterious childhood: a respected stockbroker named Leo Mannheimer she believes is connected to the psychiatric unit where she was confined against her will as a child. As Blomkvist does what he does best, Salander turns her attentions to the injustices in her new home, as intolerable to her in prison as they would be in the free world.

Astrophysics for People in a Hurry, by Neil deGrasse Tyson
An ideal book for anyone who wishes they understood their universe a little better, but are afraid that the concepts will be too complex, or too close to math. Tyson is not just one of the smartest men in the world, he’s one of the most personable and charismatic as well. His book is, therefore, fun; he doesn’t use a lot of scientific terms, but instead explores space and time and the known universe in simpler ways, ways that even folks who have never had any scientific training will find incredibly easy to understand. It’s like having a series of conversations with your really smart, really funny uncle.

The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck, by Mark Manson
From its in-your-face title you now this is not your parents’ self-help book—in fact, it’s not really a self-help book at all. Manson, known for his hilarious and popular blog, offers up a guide to maturity more than anything else. He takes down more traditional self-help books that offer praise and imply that everyone is special; Manson points out that not everyone can be special, or the word becomes meaningless. Instead, he suggests that the best way to find some measure of happiness and inner peace is to hone your ability to deal with the inevitable disappointments and setbacks that come in life. The title refers not to being “indifferent” he says, but rather to an attitude where you accept yourself and your flaws instead of blindly seeking affirmation that you are someone you’re not. Anyone looking for a funny, intelligent guide to being better should look no further.

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