Featured books will be available for the public today. To place them on hold, call the Walla Walla Public Library at 527-4550 or go to wallawallapubliclibrary.org.

Fiction

“Blood of an Exile,” by Brian Naslund

Naslund’s debut wraps action, a mystery, and the environment into an impressively tight knot of classic fantasy. The ironically nicknamed “Flawless” Silas Bershad was a lord until forced exile turned him into a dragonslayer. 

But when he doesn’t die as expected — due to a strange ability to heal — Ashlyn, the princess he once loved, and King Hertzog, who exiled him, make a dubious offer: they’ll let him return home in exchange for rescuing Ashlyn’s kidnapped sister, Kira, and assassinating an emperor who plans to slaughter nearly all the remaining dragons.

Naslund’s prose in the scenes with Bershad, his faithful companion, Rowan, and his donkey Alfonso is as intentionally rough-hewed as Bershad himself, a distinctive counterpart to Ashlyn’s ornate language as she narrates her own engrossing fight against treason and environmental devastation.

Amid the story’s ecological concerns, the landscape presents as many dangers and opportunities for Bershad and his companions as the human characters do. This opener makes a solid start for what readers will hope is an expansive series.

— Publishers Weekly

“The Escape Room,” by Megan Goldin

Four people answer an ominous summons from human resources only to be deliberately trapped in an elevator in Goldin’s debut thriller.

In the highflying world of finance, Vincent, Sam, Jules, and Sylvie used to be superstars, but recently they’ve failed to close too many lucrative deals, and they know their jobs are hanging by a thread. Called to a Friday evening meeting at an office building under construction, they become trapped in the steel elevator, which has been rigged to emulate an escape room. 

If they solve the clues, perhaps they can find their way out. At first, they assume it’s just the worst team-building exercise ever — but the clues point them toward a much darker possibility. How much do they know about the deaths of two young associates? Will they be able to solve the mystery and escape — or is the whole system rigged against them?

There’s a Spanish proverb used by Tana French in “The Likeness:” “ ‘Take what you want and pay for it,’ says God.” The main characters in Goldin’s novel should probably have paid more attention to the second half of that saying. Powerful, attractive, and unbelievably wealthy, they truly believe that their security and success are worth protecting at any cost. 

Despite the unsavory characters — or perhaps even because of them — this novel is pure entertainment. Offering a modern take on the classic locked-room mystery, Goldin strings the reader along by alternating chapters set in the past and in the present and by peppering the present chapters with riddles and word games. 

This is a commentary on the cutthroat, hypocritical world of finance, where one must sacrifice everything to stay on top. It provides us with antagonists we love to hate as well as a sympathetic heroine who pays the ultimate price for survival: her own sense of goodness and fair play.

— Kirkus Reviews

Nonfiction

“American Moonshot: John F. Kennedy and the Great Space Race,” by Douglas Brinkley

Brinkley (“The Great Deluge”) frames the life and career of President John F. Kennedy through the Cold War — tinged lens of the Space Race in this inspiring history. 

The book opens with the parallels between the World War II experiences of PT boat commander Kennedy and Nazi rocketeer Wernher von Braun, whose lives intersected after the war with the launch of Kennedy’s political career and von Braun’s newfound role as the United States’ top rocket scientist. 

In Brinkley’s telling, Kennedy’s impassioned response to Soviet advances in space technology, which contrasted sharply the Eisenhower administration’s, led him to victory in the 1960 presidential election. 

His declaration before Congress that Americans would put men on the moon by the end of the decade and his public embrace of John Glenn and the other Mercury Seven astronauts were, Brinkley argues, political gestures also motivated by personal passion. The author argues that it was Kennedy’s appeal to a sense of American greatness, evident in his famous “We choose to go to the moon” speech at Rice University in September 1962, that made the U.S.’s space achievements possible. 

By highlighting the visionary, charismatic political leader’s role, Brinkley offers a new perspective on one of the greatest accomplishments in human history.

— Publishers Weekly

“Haben: The Deafblind Woman Who Conquered Harvard Law,” by Haben Girma

An Eritrean American Deafblind disabilities advocate tells the story of how she learned to succeed in a world made to the measure of sighted, hearing people.

Haben grew up in Oakland as the daughter of Eritrean parents who fled war-torn Ethiopia. Born with exceptionally poor vision and hearing that deteriorated steadily as she aged, her Deafblind world felt neither “small [nor] limited” and was instead her comfortable “normal.” 

Though the author’s disabilities sometimes caused her to struggle in school and daily life, her positive outlook — shaped in part by parents who had struggled to build a new life in America and playmates who treated her as “someone with gifts to share and lessons to teach” — helped her overcome the barriers that stood in her way. As a teenager, the author consciously transcended both her limitations and the protective boundaries set by her parents by learning to salsa and participating in a school-building project in Mali. She spent part of her post — high school summer at the Louisiana Center for the Blind, where she learned how to navigate with a cane and guide dog and to use a radial arm saw. 

In college, the author unwittingly stumbled upon her career path when she fought for, and won, the right to have the printed cafeteria menus she could not read emailed to a personal computer that translated them into digital Braille. She went on to attend Harvard Law School, becoming its first Deafblind graduate. As a public service lawyer, she became part of the legal team that helped expand coverage provided by the Americans with Disabilities Act to include not just the brick-and-mortar world, but the digital one as well. 

Warmhearted and optimistic, the book celebrates personal courage and triumph as well as the unlimited potential of those whose real disability is living in a society that too often does not make accommodations for their physical impairments. An inspiring and illuminating memoir.

— Kirkus Reviews

Others

“Milady,” by Laura L. Sullivan (fiction)

“The Cuban Comedy: A Novel,” by Pablo Medina (fiction)

“William S. Burroughs and the Cult of Rock ‘n’ Roll,” by Casey Rae (nonfiction)

“The DIY Guide to Building a Family that Lasts: 12 Tools for Improving Your Home Life,” by Gary Chapman and Shannon Warden (nonfiction)

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