Short stories 

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Odd and the Frost Giants

Neil Gaiman

HarperCollins, $14.99/hardcover

Neil Gaiman is a writing god. He's penned novels for adults and teens, screenplays, graphic novels, picture books and short stories for young and old. He's won awards out the wazoo. And he's all over Twitter. In his latest, Odd and the Frost Giants, Gaiman intertwines his take on traditional Norse mythology with the illustrations of Brett Helquist, the artist who drew for Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events. In Odd, the reader meets a boy named ... Odd, who, tired of what seems to be a longer-than-usual Norse winter, sets off on a journey that takes him much farther than the forest he enters. Smart dialogue, quick humor and heartwarming moments make this little book a treasure. And just like with Gaiman's Coraline, perhaps someday we'll see Odd, his animal friends and the Frost Giant grace the big screen. — Kirsten Akens

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The Secret Life of Marilyn Monroe

J. Randy Taraborrelli

Grand Central Publishing, $26.99/hardcover

Poor Marilyn Monroe — what a beautiful psycho. So goes this latest Monroe tell-all, a rumor-indulging book masquerading as significant. Unless you're new to movies, this is everything you already knew about Monroe's unglamorous side. There's plenty of extraneous detail and chapters of meaningless events, but J. Randy Taraborrelli's personal interests are clear: Monroe's creepy childhood, her train-wreck marriages and — hold on — the Kennedys. Like a glorified celeb rag, the book posits she may have been a paranoid schizophrenic; that she "self-medicated" with drugs and alcohol; and was known for crumbling pills into champagne and giving herself narcotic-laced enemas. The only stone Taraborrelli leaves unturned is how Monroe functioned in daily life and managed to be a star. — Edie Adelstein

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Strength in What Remains

Tracy Kidder

Random House, $26/hardcover

Pulitzer Prize-winner Tracy Kidder (The Soul of a New Machine) is at it again with a gripping, moving nonfiction narrative about Deogratias ("Deo"), a man in medical training who survives genocide in his native Burundi and neighboring Rwanda and escapes to New York. He arrives with only $200 and a similarly limited English vocabulary, but meets a host of ordinary people, strangers who hear his story and reach out to him. In characteristically empathetic and precise prose, Kidder follows Deo's challenges to build a new world for himself on American soil (he first takes up residence in abandoned buildings in Harlem) and to deal with the world and memories he struggles to leave behind. Though the terrain can be difficult, ultimately, and rewardingly, the story turns full circle. — Jill Thomas


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