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AREA X - THE SOUTHERN REACH TRILOGY, by Jeff Vandermeer (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, $35.00) Area X has been cut off from the rest of the world for decades, explored only in a series of expeditions dispatched by a secret government agency called the Southern Reach. So far, when (if...) these expeditions have returned, they have done so with more questions than answers. For the reader, the story begins as the four female scientists who comprise the twelfth expedition discover that the rules of nature as they understand them do not apply, and the goals and parameters of their mission are different from what they had been led to believe. Meanwhile, back at headquarters, the Southern Reach falls into disarray, its arcane bureaucracy and obsessive secrecy collapsing into paranoia and paralysis just as Area X begins to reveal its true nature. Together for the first time in one volume, the three novels of the Southern Reach Trilogy - Annihilation, Authority, and Acceptance - collectively tell an exhilerating, disturbing, and all but unbearably suspenseful story of humanity engaged in what appears to be an existential confrontation with nature.

VANESSA AND HER SISTER, by Priya Parmar (Ballantine Books, $26.00) The two young women in the title of this novel are the Stephen sisters: Vanessa, who aspires to be an artist, and her brilliant, difficult sister Virginia, who considers herself a writer, though she has yet to publish anything. With their brothers, Thoby and Adrian, they comprise the heart of a loose circle of ambitious young London-based bohemians who would later be known as the Bloomsbury Group. But this story, told through Vanessa's (fictional) diary, and through letters and postcards written by the various characters to one another, begins in 1905, when Vanessa has yet to sell a painting, Virginia has just had a book review rejected by The Times, their outrageous friend Lytton Strachey has yet to publish anything, John Maynard Keynes has just graduated from Cambridge and is looking for a job, and Leonard Woolf is writing everyone letters from his civil service post in far away Ceylon. The result is a fascinating peek into a time, a place, and the intimate lives of well-known, real-life people before they were famous. - Arlene

THE SASQUATCH HUNTER'S ALMANAC, by Sharma Shields (Henry Holt, $17.00)  A tense, funny and weird northwest fictional epic, which begins with nine year-old Eli Roebuck watching his unhappy mother walk - voluntarily - off into the woods with 'Mr Krantz,' a gigantic, hairy stranger who may or may not be Sasquatch. For the rest of his long life, Eli hunts for the bizarre creature chosen by his mother in preference to him. This obsession impacts on all of Eli's personal relationships, though it gradually becomes evident that everyone in his life is battling a (literal) monster of their own. Utterly original from start to finish, this novel immerses the reader in a magical world that pushes the boundaries of the imagination, while painting a devastatingly real portrait of the demons faced by all of us as human beings. 

THE SON, by Jo Nesbo (Vintage Crime, $15.95) From the author of the Harry Hole mysteries, this an electrifying stand-alone novel set inside Oslo's maze of especially venal, high-level corruption. Charismatic heroin addict Sonny Lofthus has been in prison half his life, serving time for other people's crimes in return for an uninterrupted supply of drugs. But when he learns a stunning, long-hidden secret concerning his father, a corrupt cop who committed suicide years before, Sonny decides to escape - and then finds himself pursued by criminals and cops alike. Now in paperback!


THE SIXTH EXTINCTION - AN UNNATURAL HISTORY, by Elizabeth Kolbert (Picador, $16.00) Five major mass extinctions have occurred on our planet over the past half billion years. In each case, the diversityof life suddenly and dramatically contracted. New Yorker staff writer Kolbert observes in this book that scientists are  currently monitoring the sixth extinction - in which the cause of the calamity is us! In this wide-ranging, thoughtful and ultimately moving work, Kolbert shows that the sixth extinction is likely to be mankind's most lasting legacy. Now in paperback!

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