(Reeling from the death of her father and already missing her college-bound daughter, writer Mary Morris (“Nothing to Declare”) set off down the Mississippi River in 2005 aboard a decrepit houseboat she called River Queen. Her companions were river pilot Jerry, his assistant Tom and a neurotic rat terrier named Samantha Jean.

“The River Queen” (Picador, 267 pages, $15) is her memoir of the trip, part travel narrative and part odyssey toward an understanding of her childhood and her family.

Morris grew up near the Mississippi in Illinois. When it came time for college, she headed East never intending to look back, but in midlife, her father’s love of the river drew her back from her bustling Brooklyn life.

Afloat, Morris proves to be a bit of a fish out of water – the iconic stress-addled, Zoloft-popping New Yorker, stymied by the dearth of olive oil and lattes in tiny, time-worn Midwest river towns. But her personal epiphanies are touching, and Tom and Jerry – the cartoon characters spring appropriately to mind – are entertaining, too.

“Four Days in November,” by Vincent Bugliosi (Norton, 512 pages), $17.95

Vincent Bugliosi, the prosecutor in the Charles Manson case and author of “Helter Skelter,” gives readers a moment-by-moment account of four days in November 1963 when John Kennedy was assassinated, Lee Harvey Oswald arrested then shot by Jack Ruby and both victims buried.

Bugliosi’s meticulous analysis supports the Warren Commission, which asserted that Oswald acted alone. Cleveland Plain Dealer reviewer David Walton wrote that the book “has the ring of truth – scrupulous, irrefutable truth.”

“Letter From Point Clear,” by Dennis McFarland (Picador, 354 pages), $14

Siblings Ellen and Morris rush to the family homestead in Alabama when they find out that their impetuous younger sister has married an evangelical minister named Pastor and set up housekeeping. Tensions rise to a fevered pitch when Pastor discovers Morris is gay and sets out to “reform” him. Booklist commented that in this novel “McFarland is at the peak of his psychological prowess.”

“The Invisible Cure,” by Helen Epstein (Picador, 261 pages), $16

Molecular biologist Epstein looks at the AIDS epidemic in Africa in political, cultural, medical and economic terms, examining the missteps of bureaucracies, and concludes “we are losing the fight against AIDS in Africa.” In its starred review, Publishers Weekly said, “Provocative, passionate and incisive, this may be the most important book on AIDS published this year.”

“Wall and Mean,” by Tom Bernard (Norton, 254 pp.), $13.95

Veteran bond trader Tom Bernard writes a debut novel about the bond market boom of the 1990s and a promising young trader named George, who lets his weakness for gambling get the better of him. Over his head in debt, George must make a chilling choice or rely on his investing smarts to get him out of his jam. The Wall Street Journal called Bernard a writer to watch.

“Gertrude Bell,” by Georgina Howell (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 419 pages), $15

Bell defied the conventions of Victorian England to become a spy, mountain climber, archaeologist, linguist and a key player in the formation of modern-day Iraq. Her extraordinary life is vividly told in this well-researched, lively biography, subtitled “Queen of the Desert, Shaper of Nations.” The Economist said, “Howell evokes the diversity of religions, interest and traditions that Gertrude Bell understood so thoroughly.”


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.