Books

From fact to fiction, recommended new titles for your reading list

First: April is National Poetry Month, a celebration of verse established in 1996 by the Academy of American Poets. One quirky part is Poem in Your Pocket Day (April 27). Choose a poem, put it in your pocket and share it with everyone in person or on Twitter at #pocketpoem. More at www.poets.org/national-poetry-month.

Now to this week’s task. We’ve built a soundproof bunker here at Books Central, with fiction and nonfiction titles stacked up and reaching almost to the ceiling. It’s time to start tearing it down, beginning with these new titles.

NONFICTION

Though Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child have collaborated on 25 thrillers, more intriguing is Preston’s first-person account of his search in Honduras for centuries-old legendary cities. In “The Lost City of the Monkey God” (Grand Central, $28, 336 pages), he joins a team of scientists who face mortal dangers for an ultimate payoff – the explorers find not one but three ancient metropolises hidden in the jungle. One of the best reads so far this year.

Digging around in the archives, former CIA Museum historian Nicholas Reynolds pieced together a remarkable revelation: Nobel Prize-winning novelist Ernest Hemingway had served as a spy for a number of international agencies (including the CIA) from 1935 through 1961. Those details and much more are revealed in “Writer, Sailor, Soldier, Spy” (William Morrow, $28, 384 pages).

“Random Acts of Kindness,” compiled by Amy Newmark, is the latest of the 250-title “Chicken Soup for the Soul” series of uplifting anecdotes and life lessons told by “ordinary people” (Chicken Soup for the Soul, $15, 384 pages). This one shows that strangers can often be angels in disguise – or near enough.

Travel writer Doug Mack takes us on a 30,000-mile trip to “The Not-Quite States of America,” those “territories and other far-flung outposts of the U.S.A.” (W.W. Norton, $27, 336 pages). He finds surprising patriotism (and adventure) in American Samoa, Guam, Puerto Rico, the Northern Mariana Islands and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

For a quick and informative read, the illustrated “A Graphic History of Sport” tours the “greatest wins, misses and match-ups from the games we love” (Clarkson Potter, $16, 112 pages). Inside the nifty little book are lively bios of athletes who’ve made their mark in history and concise recaps of great competitions (“The Play” in the 1982 Big Game between the Stanford Cardinal and California Golden Bears, “The War” between boxers Thomas “Hit Man” Hearnes and “Marvelous” Marvin Hagler in 1985).

MacArthur Foundation fellow and UC Davis English professor Yiyun Li has written two well-received novels and three collections of short stories, so it’s a bit shocking to read her critically acclaimed memoir “Dear Friend, from My Life I Write to You in Your Life” (Random House, $28, 224 pages). On one hand, it’s an ode to why books make life worth living; on the other, it was written over the two years she “battled suicidal depression.”

On a cheerier note is a vicarious drive on a 2,451-mile-long highway in “Route 66: America’s Longest Small Town” by Jim Hinckley (Voyageur Press, $20, 160 pages). The author gets close to the people behind the scenes, the ones who keep the Mother Road’s renaissance alive as a “living, breathing time capsule.” Plenty of color photos of kitsch and legend.

William Shakespeare’s plays are timeless works of art, but they can be difficult to digest when you’re reading them or watching them on stage. Relief is here with “Shakespeare Retold” by E. Nesbit, with a foreword by actor John Lithgow (Harper Collins, $20, 128 pages). The author translates seven plays into coherent short stories, interspersing actual quotes from the plays with streamlined plots. Marvelous illustrations by Antonio Javier Caparo help make it a winner for all ages.

Dick Clark became an American idol via “American Bandstand,” which he produced and hosted in Philadelphia from 1956 until 1964, and until 1989 after the show moved to Los Angeles. In their valentine “Bandstand Diaries: The Philadelphia Years,” Arlene Sullivan, Ray Smith and Sharon Sultan Cutler gather the diaries and memories of dozens of the show’s teen dancers known as the Regulars (Coney Island Press, $30, 176 pages). Among the hundreds of groups that got their big breaks on the show were Aerosmith, the Beach Boys and Def Leppard. Let’s not leave out the late Chuck Berry.

More nostalgia is abundant in “Lost Worlds of the San Francisco Bay Area” by Sylvia Linsteadt of Mill Valley (Heyday, $30, 224 pages). Informative text and marvelous vintage photos combine to visit the past at Neptune Beach, the Emporium department store, Oakland’s redwood forest, the fruit orchards of Santa Clara Valley, the sand dunes of Old Sacramento, and other lost treasures.

No professional golfer did more to popularize the sport than Arnold Palmer, who even had a drink named after him (half iced tea, half lemonade). In “Arnie,” sports journalist Tom Callahan walks us over the links of Palmer’s life and accomplishments with behind-the-scenes scenarios and candid moments (Harper, $28, 352 pages). Like the story about Arnie and Bob Hope on the set of “Call Me Bwana,” when Anita Ekberg …

Naming the most groundbreaking restaurants in America’s dining capitals makes for a long list, but near the top would be Balthazar, the legendary 20-year-old French-style brasserie in New York City. Travel and food writer Reggie Nadelson practically moved in during her research for “At Balthazar,” in which she scrutinizes its recipe for success and interviews just about everyone there, including customers (Gallery, $27, 352 pages, with color photos and recipes).

FICTION

Intriguing ingredients come together for a savory bouillabaisse of adventure, humor, love and self-awakening in “The Dining Car” by Eric Peterson (Huckleberry House, $17, 354 pages). The good times keep rolling aboard a classic private dining car after a former college football star is hired as its bartender-steward by its owner, a “legendary food writer and social critic.” The well-lubricated cross-country tour is nearly derailed by tragedy and too many metaphorical cooks in the kitchen, but nobody leaves hungry.

Largely set in Sacramento, “The Back of the Net” by David Caraccio takes readers from the soccer fields of River City to the pitches and glamorous modeling runways of Paris and Italy (CreateSpace, $18, 455 pages). The lives of five young people intertwine as they pursue their passions and goals in dramatic and potentially dangerous ways. Caraccio is an online news editor at The Sacramento Bee.

Reed Farrel Coleman shows what noir fiction is all about in “What You Break,” the second title in his tense “Gus Murphy” series (Putnam, $27, 368 pages). Gus is a former Long Island cop and emotionally damaged father who now drives a courtesy van for a seedy hotel in exchange for a small room. Suddenly, he’s drawn into a murder investigation with ties to the Russian mob and a deadly conspiracy in his hometown. Coleman also writes the “Robert B. Parker’s Jesse Stone” series.

I asked Lisa See to describe her ninth novel, “The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane” (Scribner, $27, 384 pages): “A woman (in rural China) gives birth to a baby under an ancient tea tree and gives her up for adoption to a (California family). So it’s about the two mothers (and the birth mother’s efforts to reunite with her daughter). The historic backdrop is the trade of (rare and expensive) pu-erh tea and the ethnic-minority tribe I’m focusing on, the Akha. It’s the most contemporary book I’ve written.”

Through 24 adventures, black-ops specialist Marion “Doc” Ford has kept his cover as a marine biologist on Sanibel Island on Florida’s Gulf Coast. In “Mangrove Lightning,” former fishing guide-turned-author Randy Wayne White moves his lethal character into deeper water, immersing him in a family curse, a century-old murder and a psychopath on the rampage (Putnam, $27, 352 pages). White has appeared for the Bee Book Club.

Bay Area author Terry Shames sets her six-title “Jarrett Creek” series in contemporary Texas, featuring a small-town police chief. “An Unsettling Crime for Samuel Craddock” finds the lawman dealing with multiple murders and racism and fielding threats to his family (Seventh Street Books, $16, 270 pages). Shames has appeared for the Bee Book Club.

Veronica Roth moves from her mega-selling young-adult dystopian “Divergent” trilogy to the first in a new sci-fi/fantasy series, “Carve the Mark” (Katherine Tegen Books, $23, 480 pages). Akos and Cyra face “Romeo and Juliet”-type problems on their planet in a distant galaxy, a world ruled by “violence and vengeance.”

Continuing the YA theme is “Unearthly Things” by Michelle Gagnon (Soho Teen, $19, 288 pages). When she loses her parents, teen surfer Janie moves from Hawaii to San Francisco, where her wealthy guardians are … well, strange. Life is looking up when two potential boyfriends enter the scene, but wait – what are those screams coming from the locked room upstairs?

Also aimed at the YA audience, “The Last Days of Magic” by Mark Tompkins time-trips to 14th century Ireland, where “faeries and otherworldly beings” are being threatened with extinction (Penguin, $16, 400 pages). Enter the Morrigna twins, “goddesses in human form” charged with rescuing magic from the onslaught of Catholic Rome and Celtic Britain.

Tom Rosenstiel explores the corridors of power in the nation’s capital when two “fixers” are hired to vet a Supreme Court nominee in “Shining City” (Ecco, $27, 368 pages). Then a rash of “seemingly random killings” makes the process a lot more dangerous.

In “Burning Bright” by Nick Petrie, a war veteran seeks solitude and solace in the California redwood forests but discovers a woman journalist hiding out from a gang of kidnappers (Putnam, $26, 432 pages). Maybe they think she knows the secret to something that could alter the internet and, thus, the world. Right now, the plan is to escape – not so easily done.

Writing under the name M.J. Carter, former journalist Miranda Carter continues her excellent but unheralded “Blake and Avery” series with the third entry, “The Devil’s Feast” (Putnam, $26, 432 pages). Set in Victorian England, it stars a “mismatched duo” in crime-solving, ex-East India Company officer William Avery and the “uncouth” former military officer Jeremiah Blake. A murder investigation takes them to an exclusive gentlemen’s club in London and its “resident genius,” a chef known as “the Napoleon of food.”

Allen Pierleoni: 916-321-1128, @apierleonisacbe

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