EATING FOR BEGINNERS
By Melanie Rehak (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $25, 275 pages)
Food memoirs continue to evolve. Where once we vicariously spent a year in Provence, now we're on the floor with Melanie Rehak as she pitches Cheerios to her 8-month-old son, witnessing her guilt at a friend's passing comment, "The organic Cheerios are best." Evolution proves a good thing. The book's subtitle, "An Education in the Pleasures of Food From Chefs, Farmers, and One Picky Kid," sums up the bases that Rehak touches. Erstwhile chefs will delight in her experience in the kitchen of a lovely Lucia's-like bistro; locavores should appreciate her diligence at tracking down those who raise and, even more tellingly, deliver our food; parents will recognize the abject frustration of raising a picky eater. Rehak manages to balance these three threads while sidestepping the foibles of less appetizing memoirs: the precious swooning over the perfect hazelnut; the coy, "oh, do you really like it?" of the ambitious foodie, and the preachiness of some "eat local" advocates. She's funny, well-read and transfers her honest curiosity about what we eat -- and how we learn to eat -- to the increasingly hungry reader. And yes, there are recipes.
EYE OF THE RED TSAR
By Sam Eastland (Random House, $25, 288 pages)
Eleven years after Russian tsar Nicholas Romanov, his wife, Alexandra, and their five children were executed by the Bolsheviks, a man awakes in a remote Siberian wilderness. He has been sentenced to 30 years for crimes against the state but has somehow survived as a "tree marker," the only job considered worse than a death sentence. In 1929, the man is known as Prisoner 4745-P, but in his former life, he was Pekkala, the tsar's most respected and feared investigator, dubbed the Emerald Eye by Nicholas himself. Although Pekkala has been banished, the Soviet state has decided it needs him one more time -- to find out what really happened to the Romanov family. Stalin himself wants Pekkala to catch the family's killers, to locate the royal child rumored to still be alive, and to give Stalin the international goodwill he needs. Why Pekkala would entertain the request from a government that has stripped him of everything -- and tried to kill him more than once -- is a complicated question and one that this debut thriller answers in a spellbinding way. Pekkala is a mad, brilliant hero whose return stirs the hopes of fellow Russians at a time when no one can be trusted.
COLLEEN KELLY, DEPUTY DESIGN DIRECTOR