5 HOT BOOKS: A Riveting Mississippi Thriller, American Evangelicals, and More

Here are five books people are talking about this week -- or should be:

1. The Evangelicals: The Struggle to Shape America by Frances FitzGerald (Simon & Schuster)

In this brilliant, authoritative book, FitzGerald offers a full-sweep history of white American evangelism. She chronicles its beginning, through the fundamentalist-modernist conflict that erupted after World War I, and the more recent upsurge of fundamentalism in the South, with leaders like Jerry Falwell, on up to the 2016 election, when evangelical voters rallied around our un-pious President.  Throughout her distinguished career, FitzGerald has tapped into the American psyche, beginning with her Pulitzer Prize-winning Fire in the Lake: The Vietnamese and the Americans in Vietnam, through her studies of 20th century history school books and self-segregating American communities, up to her Pulitzer-finalist Way Out There in the Blue: Star Wars and the End of the Cold War. In this new book, she keys into the increasingly secular language in political discourse and listens closely to it. “That Donald Trump, the thrice-married libertine, won the Republication nomination for president with many evangelical votes confounded most evangelical leaders,” FitzGerald writes in her eloquent Introduction. “Clearly something was happening that would change American politics, and the Christian right would not be what it had been before.”

2. Mississippi Blood by Greg Iles (William Morrow)

The much-anticipated final installment of Iles’ Natchez trilogy, Mississippi Blood, has arrived and found its place on the best-seller lists. The trio of novels, totaling over 2000 pages, which features former prosecutor Penn Cage, has been likened to a mash-up of William Faulkner and Steig Larsson. These are expertly plotted, propulsive crime novels, but Iles transcends genre and delivers psychologically insightful, socially aware fiction with a deep feeling for the brutal history of race relations in 20th century America. In Mississippi Blood, Penn Cage’s physician father is on trial for murdering his African-American nurse, the battles for civil rights in the 1960s linger, the ineradicable KKK splinters with dramatic consequences, and Iles ingeniously brings his three-part saga to a close, albeit a bittersweet one for readers who will lament Penn Cage’s departure.

3. Marlena by Julie Buntin (Henry Holt)

Narrator Cat – short for Catherine – is the new girl in a bleak Northern Michigan town, and at 15 she is “nothing but a soft, formless girl, waiting for someone to come along and tell me who to be.” That someone is glamorous 17-year-old neighbor Marlena, alluring and reckless, with a meth-cooking father and an inability to break from her dismal town. Two decades later, living far away, still haunted by her relationship with Marlena, Cat comes to terms with the power dynamic of their friendship. In this deeply affecting and keenly astute debut novel, Buntin exposes the defining moments of adolescence, with its complicated entanglements, and how they haunt even the survivors.

4. What It Means When a Man Falls from the Sky by Lesley NNeka Arimah (Riverhead)

Winner of the African Commonwealth prize, and a finalist for a National Magazine award, Arimah has collected 12 short stories for her eagerly anticipated debut collection What It Means When a Man Falls from the Sky. Born in the United Kingdom, she moved with her family to Nigeria before settling in Louisiana in her teens. These wildly imagined stories are tied together by Arimah’s rich sense of an alternative future. In one story, climate changes the global dynamic, forcing Europeans and Americans to escape floodwaters and become refugees in South America, Africa, and Australia. In another, a woman longs for a child, and weaves one of hair. Cumulatively, these provocative, unsettling stories make for a stunning collection.

5. Prince Charles: The Passions and the Paradoxes of an Improbable Life by Sally Bedell Smith (Random House)

Avid watchers of the Netflix series The Crown will be drawn to, and rewarded by, Smith’s new biography of Prince Charles. With her 2011 Elizabeth the Queen: The Life of a Modern Monarch, and a previous book about Princess Diana, Smith has mastered the art of delivering insider – but not tawdry - details about the Royal Family. She depicts the Prince of Wales as a disciplined figure who has taken on environmental issues, particularly organic farming, as well as high-quality architecture and alternative medicine, as causes. Smith, who is sympathetic to the Prince, considers his disastrous relationship with Princess Diana and his romance with Camilla Parker Bowles, as well as the optimism of the next generation, led by the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge.