Weekend picks for book lovers, including the thriller ‘Munich’

'Munich' by Robert Harris

What should you read this weekend? USA TODAY’s picks for book lovers include Munich, a historical thriller that takes place at the Munich Conference in 1938 on the eve of World War II.

Munich by Robert Harris; Knopf, 303 pp.; Fiction.

In the Oscar-nominated film Darkest Hour, Prime Minister Winston Churchill (played by Gary Oldman) thunders the famous exhortation that roused leery Britons in 1940: “We shall never surrender.”.

Two years earlier, Churchill’s predecessor, Neville Chamberlain, returned from Nazi Germany and uttered the words of appeasement that live in infamy: “I believe it is peace for our time.”.

Peace with Herr Hitler was not to be. In his new novel Munich, English author Robert Harris sets the stage for Darkest Hour (and fellow Oscar nominee Dunkirk) with a crackling and intelligent thriller spun from the ill-fated Munich Agreement.

Set over four days in late September 1938, Munich unfolds against the backdrop of the Munich Conference, as Chamberlain attempts to prevent the Führer from invading Czechoslovakia to repatriate native Germans in the Sudetenland. A fool’s errand for Chamberlain, of course, despite a temporary reprieve.

This is irresistible material for historical fiction, yet Harris cleverly raises the narrative stakes (and our blood pressure) by telling the tale through the eyes of two young men: Hugh Legat, a junior private secretary to Chamberlain, and Paul von Hartmann, a staffer in the German Foreign Office, and a member of the secret anti-Hitler resistance.

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Legat and Hartmann were friends at Oxford, but are estranged for reasons we don’t learn until late in the novel. Hartmann, determined to stop Hitler’s madness, anonymously sends a memo to Legat in London about the Führer’s true intentions, and we’re off.

USA TODAY says ★★★½ out of four. “Munich, an artful blend of truth and imagination, would make one heck of a movie or TV series.”.

The Girl on the Velvet Swing: Sex, Murder, and Madness at the Dawn of the Twentieth Century by Simon Baatz; Mulholland Books, 351 pp.; Non-fiction.

Tells the true story of the love triangle of actress Evelyn Nesbit, architect Stanford White and Harry Thaw in the early 1900s that ended in murder.

USA TODAY says ★★★. “Baatz has resurrected a forgotten saga of lust, lucre and lunacy that would seem improbable if it were merely fiction… Packed with action, surprises and a quasi-happy ending.”.

Everything Here Is Beautiful by Mira T. Lee; Pamela Dorman Books/Viking, 368 pp.; Fiction.

The story of two sisters born and raised in America, the daughters of a Chinese immigrant single mother, and the struggles of one with mental illness.

USA TODAY says ★★★½. An “extraordinary debut novel… If you love anyone at all, this book is going to get you.”.

Alive in Shape and Color: 17 Paintings by Great Artists and the Stories They Inspired, edited by Lawrence Block; Pegasus, 307 pp.; Fiction.

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Mystery writers including Michael Connelly, Joyce Carol Oates, Lee Child and Jeffery Deaver write stories inspired by famous artworks from the likes of Renoir, Michelangelo, Balthus and Norman Rockwell.

USA TODAY says ★★★. Block “has assembled a fine roster of bold-name talent.”.

Together We Rise: Behind the Scenes at the Protest Heard Around the World by the organizers of the Women’s March and Condé Nast; Dey Street, 320 pp.; Non-fiction.

Through essays and photographs, this book celebrates the women’s marches that took place worldwide on Jan. 21, 2017.

USA TODAY says ★★★½. “A testament to the power of women, a rousing reflection on the effort required to stir millions of people… A stunning visual history.”.

Contributing reviewers: Jocelyn McClurg, David Holahan, Steph Cha, Charles Finch, Alia E. Dastagir.

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