by Jocelyn McClurg)
What should read this weekend? USA TODAY's picks for book lovers include Bark, Lorrie Moore's new story collection, and Half-Bad, a new young-adult fantasy.
Bark: Stories by Lorrie Moore; Knopf, 192 pp.; fiction
If you've never read the stories and novels of the great Lorrie Moore, including Like Life, Birds of America and Who Will Run the Frog Hospital?, you're likely to be told how funny she is.
That's true, but her humor never arises for the sake of itself. It is provoked by moments of crisis, awkwardness and despair. Humor is a crutch, a way of masking dread, a means of lashing out, and an attempt at self-protection.
Each of the eight stories in Bark, her first collection in 16 years, explores loss in some form, whether personal or political. The wonderful opening story, "Debarking," follows the hapless middle-aged Ira in the aftermath of his recent divorce, living alone and seeing his young daughter only on weekends ("poor little Bekka, now rudely transported between houses in a speedy, ritualistic manner resembling a hostage drop-off"). In the background, ever-present, is news of the 2003 invasion of Iraq.
USA TODAY says **** out of four . "Masterful …There is not an imprecise line in the entire book, and not a single false note."
Half Bad by Sally Green; Viking, 416 pp.; fiction
The first in a new young-adult series explores iffy parenting, loyalty and nature vs. nurture in the battle between White Witches and Black Witches.
USA TODAY says *** "Not half bad. .. Green has created a Harry Potter-esque British landscape."
Mister Owita's Guide to Gardening by Carol Wall; Amy Einhorn/Putnam, 287 pp.; non-fiction
A woman enlists her neighbor's gardener, a Kenyan immigrant, and is shocked to learn he has a doctorate in horticulture.
USA TODAY says ***½ out of four. "Warmhearted … Grace and gardening go hand-in-glove in this fine book."
Careless People: Murder, Mayhem and the Invention of 'The Great Gatsby' by Sarah Churchwell; The Penguin Press, 399 pp.; non-fiction
Investigates how the 1922 real-life murder of a minister and his mistress influenced F. Scott Fitzgerald's classic novel.
USA TODAY says ***. "Compelling … (offers) fascinating insights into the Fitzgeralds' volatile marriage."
Dominion by C.J. Sansom; Mulholland Books, 628 pp.; fiction
Thriller set in 1952 Britain, after a defeated England allies with Germany, and the British resistance is led by Winston Churchill.
USA TODAY says ***½ out of four. "Exciting … Dominion's 628 pages fly by in a frenzy. But unlike most thrillers, this is a book that lingers."
Contributing reviewers: Carmela Ciuraru, Brian Truitt, Patty Rhule, Jocelyn McClurg