Every Man in This Village Is a Liar, Megan Stack’s shrewd work of reportage, was nominated for the National Book Award, and it’s easy to see why. Stack was 25 and employed by the Los Angeles Times when she wrote the essays that comprise this much-praised account of her adventures as a journalist in the Middle East. A remarkably accomplished reporter, Stack focuses on the conflict in Afghanistan following 9/11, gives an inside look at occupied Baghdad and provides heartrending portraits of civilians throughout the Middle East whose daily lives are marred by religious and political upheaval, war and terrorism. Through first-person narration, she brings emotion and insight to unforgettable incidents, whether she’s protecting herself from a lustful Afghan leader or suffering discrimination as a woman in Saudi Arabia. Providing invaluable perspectives on what it’s like to be female and American—and thus persona non grata—in some of the world’s most dangerous cities, Stack has written a timely and illuminating book.

Travel acts as an antidote to heartache in Dancing Backwards, the charming sixth novel by British author Salley Vickers. Following the death of her second husband, Violet Hetherington goes on a transatlantic cruise to New York with plans of visiting her old friend Edwin. Violet knew Edwin during her years as a poet in the 1960s, and she spends some of her time at sea musing over the tragic incidents that ended their friendship and her life as a writer. A bit of an introvert, Violet is forced out of her comfort zone on the six-day trip, as she gets to know her fellow passengers—a diverse group that includes Dino, the ship’s dance instructor, who schools her in the foxtrot, and whose attentions seem more than platonic. The cruise proves therapeutic as Violet reflects on the past and makes plans for the future. Vickers is an expert when it comes to character development, and she writes with humor, warmth and intelligence about matters of the heart.

Allegra Goodman’s latest novel is a smartly constructed romance set during the dot-com boom of the late 1990s. Savvy and driven, Emily Bach is the CEO of a successful data-storage company in Berkeley. Her beau, Jonathan Tilghman, is preparing to open a similar company in Cambridge—a decision that causes friction as the two plan their wedding. Meanwhile, Emily’s quirky sister, Jessamine, a philosophy student at Berkeley, works in a bookstore and pours her energy into conservation projects. When Jessamine becomes obsessed with a set of valuable cookbooks that arrive at the store, she finds herself embroiled in a mystery. Emily also seeks answers, as two rabbis urge her to come to terms with a family secret. Goodman writes with wit and sophistication about Generation X and the plight of 20-somethings who are trying to find themselves. This is a delightful romantic comedy that asks big questions about success, betrayal and the nature of ambition.

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