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Books in brief


Wither: The Chemical Garden Trilogy Book One by Lauren DeStefano; Simon & Schuster, 358 pages ($17.99) Ages 14 and up.

This thrilling debut novel vividly imagines a dystopian future where only North America is left after a third world war and attempts to create genetically perfect humans have backfired, as a mysterious virus kills all females at 20, males at 25. Rhine and her twin brother Rowan, orphaned after their scientist parents are killed in a bombing, live in a barricaded house in Manhattan, fending off rats, marauding orphans and gun-toting Gatherers who kidnap teenage girls as polygamous brides to bear children. Then Rhine is kidnapped to become one of three wives for Linden, the son of a wealthy scientist who is attempting to come up with an antidote for the virus in the basement lab of his Florida mansion. The elegant mansion, delicious meals, personal assistants who create unique gowns, the splendid grounds with pool and hologram aquatic creatures mask a beautiful prison, but inquisitive Rhine discovers enough of Vaughan's true intentions to become determined to escape and try to make her way home to her brother. This absorbing page-turner may remind some readers of Suzanne Collins' "Hunger Games" with its fearless heroine, sinister villain, bleak landscape and poignant romance. "Wither" is less violent but is in many ways even more terrifying as DeStefano proves herself a master of plot, setting, character and psychological suspense.

-- Jean Westmoore


Bent Road by Lori Roy; Dutton, 368 pages ($25.95)

The locals call a stretch of road, far out in the country, "bent road." This rural route in Kansas has tripped up many a driver. "Clumsy, dark shadows," resembling phantom pedestrians, or a monster, can appear to rise up from nowhere.

In her debut novel, Roy masterfully mixes a noir approach with gothic undertones for an engrossing story about family secrets and tragedies. Although set in the mid-1960s, "Bent Road" is a timeless story that gives shape to a person's worst fears and shows the family dynamic at its best and worst. Roy skillfully delivers the dread that seeps into a family, and she does it with little violence. No car chases, gun battles or fisticuffs mar "Bent Road," yet the action that comes from the family's interaction is just as tense and the stakes even higher.

Arthur Scott thought he had left behind that bent road, when he left Kansas for Detroit 20 years ago. But now, during the mid-1960s, Detroit's tense racial relations have made Arthur change his mind. He insists his family -- wife, Celia, teenagers Elaine and Daniel, and 10-year-old Eve-ee -- go to Kansas. The family, especially Celia, resents the move.

Arthur left Kansas after his beloved sister, Eve, died mysteriously. It was always assumed that Ray, Eve's boyfriend at the time, had killed her but that could never be proved. Shortly later, Ray married Ruth, Arthur's other sister. Eve-ee's striking resemblance to her deceased aunt begins the family's fissures that had long been ignored. Ray is suspected again when a neighbor's young daughter disappears.

"Bent Road" gracefully moves toward an emotional finale that is as believable as it is heartfelt.

-- McClatchy Newspapers


Leaving Van Gogh by Carol Wallace; Spiegel & Grau, 268 pages ($25)

"Vincent wrote once in a letter that a man who commits suicide turns his friends into murderers. What does that make me?" writes Dr. Paul Gachet in this riveting fictional memoir of his very real relationship with Vincent van Gogh. It is with this tone of fondness and regret that Gachet tells how Vincent first came to his house in 1890 in Auvers, after the ear episode.

Gachet treats Vincent with tinctures from his garden. Vincent's vitality and intelligence wash over the reader -- much as they do when looking at his paintings. Gachet's compassion is rewarded in many ways -- Vincent is able to describe what it feels like when he is in the grip of mania. The book is truly delightful -- not cute or flowery or simplistic in its effort to illuminate the life of the luminous man.

-- Los Angeles Times


Aerotropolis: The Way We'll Live Next by John D. Kasarda and Greg Lindsay; Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 447 pages ($30)

The term "aerotropolis" refers to cities built up and around airports but also to a way of life -- a global middle class constantly on the move. Greg Lindsay attributes this term to John Kasarda, a business professor at the University of North Carolina. Kasarda's passion for these new cities has inspired developers like Stan Gale to build New Songdo in South Korea, a sensor-controlled, stylish business hub for 200,000 people not far from Incheon airport.

According to the book, more than 6 billion people live in cities today, and by 2050 that number will double. The book conveys the excitement of the engineers and problem solvers working to shorten the commute for businessmen and women and the goods they set in motion around the world.

-- Los Angeles Times

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