AMONG THE STARS
Celebrated nonfiction writer Peter Heller ventures into new creative territory with his inventive debut novel, The Dog Stars. Hig, the book’s hero, lives at an old airstrip in Colorado with his Blue Heeler, Jasper. A flu epidemic has eliminated most of the world’s population, including Hig’s wife, and his only human company is Bangley, a cranky Navy SEAL who also lives at the airstrip. Jasper and Hig sleep outside at night so that Hig can contemplate the stars. During the day, in his old Cessna, Hig flies in search of fuel and food and ponders the past. When his radio picks up a faint transmission, Hig decides to follow the signal and investigate—a fateful choice that brings new possibilities, as well as new dangers. Heller’s portrayal of Hig as a lonely wanderer mourning a lost world is stirring and authentic. He writes beautifully about nature and the remarkable bond that unites man and dog. With this impressive debut, Heller widens his range and demonstrates that he’s a fiction writer to be reckoned with. 

FIGHTING FOR LIFE
A finalist for the National Book Award, Kevin Powers’ unforgettable debut novel, The Yellow Bird, tells the chilling story of two young soldiers whose platoon is deployed to Iraq. Private Bartle, 21, and Private Murphy, 18, have been together since basic training at Fort Dix, when Bartle pledged to his young comrade’s mother that he would protect him and ensure his safe return home. In Iraq, they’re led through the maze of war by Sergeant Sterling, a gruff, seasoned veteran who urges them on during a deadly battle for the northern Iraqi city of Al Tafar. But the impulse to fight fails to take hold of Bartle, who struggles under the burden of his promise to keep his young friend alive. And Murphy himself is suffering. Pushed to the edge by the pressures of combat, he loses his grip on reality. Spanning six years—2003 to 2009—and recounted from Bartle’s perspective, this compelling narrative of modern-day war and its aftermath has all the makings of a classic. Powers, who served as a machine-gunner in Iraq, drew on his own haunting experiences to produce this novel. It’s a first-class work of fiction that captures the awful complexities of war.

TOP PICK FOR BOOK CLUBS
Bring Up the Bodies
is a wonderful addition to Hilary Mantel’s fascinating trilogy-in-progress about Thomas Cromwell’s career in the court of Henry VIII. Following up on the award-winning Wolf Hall, Mantel’s focus this time around is the fall of Henry’s second wife, Anne Boleyn. Although she is beautiful and clever, Anne can’t hold Henry’s affections, and her inability to produce a male heir adds to the king’s displeasure. Cromwell designs her downfall, standing at the center of a scheme marked by gossip, intrigue and betrayal—a plot that ends in Anne’s execution and opens the way for Jane Seymour, who replaces her in Henry’s heart. Mantel portrays Cromwell as canny, ruthless and politically astute, yet he’s an oddly appealing figure—the ultimate antihero. Winner of the 2012 Man Booker Prize, this beautifully written, impeccably detailed slice of history will leave readers wanting more from Mantel.

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