World Without Fish by Mark Kurlansky; Workman Publishing, $16.95 (181 pages.)

Kurlansky, a former commercial fisherman and the best-selling author of "Cod" and "Salt" (which was adapted as a marvelous picture book), offers a fascinating and alarming exploration of the environmental crisis facing our oceans in this interesting primer that serves as a call to action for young readers. His lucid explanation of the importance of biodiversity is one of the best I've seen. Everything is covered here, a history of fishing, the changes wrought by technology, from steam-powered vessels to nets that drag along the ocean floor, and the competing interests that threaten sustainable fishing. Most instructive is the example of the orange roughy, a fish with a life span of 150 years and now one of the world's most threatened fish. Kurlansky keeps things interesting with pictures, breaks in the text with splashy large type and a continuing cartoon, "The Story of Kram and Ailat," from illustrator Frank Stockton, which personalizes the arguments about what must be done.

-- Jean Westmoore


The Convert: A Tale of Exile and Extremism by Deborah Baker; Graywolf Press, 246 pages ($23)

Deborah Baker, author of books on the poet Laura Riding and on the Beats, describes how she chooses her subjects and how she writes about their lives: "Anonymity is my vocation. I inhabit the lives of my subjects until I think like them. Haunting archives, reading letters composed in agony and journals thick with unspeakable thoughts, I sound the innermost chambers of unquiet souls." One day in her local library, Baker stumbled upon 24 letters written between 1962 and 1996 from Margaret Marcus to her parents. In 1962, Margaret, then a devoted student of Islam and of the influential Islamic thinker and political leader Mawlana Mawdudi, accepted Mawdudi's invitation to come to Pakistan and join his household.

Baker started asking questions: Why did Margaret convert? Why did she feel so compelled to leave the West? How did she fit in that strange new household? And finally, what was the state of her mental health? This last question leads Baker down a fascinating path, through Margaret's diagnosis of schizophrenia in 1957, her stay in a mental hospital outside Lahore, her arranged marriage to a friend of Mawdudi's and on into a thicket of lies and cultural miscommunications that helps the author distill the relationship between Islam and the West. There are many conversions in this story that illuminate a subtle relationship between two cultures rarely revealed.

-- Los Angeles Times


Deadly Threads by Jane K. Cleland; Minotaur, 288 pages ($24.99)

The traditional mystery with its tightly focused plots that avoid excessive violence and sex continues to thrive.

Authors of today's traditional mysteries put a modern spin on the foundation set decades ago by Agatha Christie.

Jane K. Cleland's novels about antiques dealer and appraiser Josie Prescott are prime examples of how the traditional mystery has never gone out of style. "Deadly Threads," the sixth novel in Cleland's series, looks at the history and value of vintage clothing and accessories and how celebrities' lives often are played out in the tabloids.

Josie has landed her good friend Riley Jordan as the guest speaker for a workshop on vintage accessories. Riley wrote the definitive book on shoes and handbags that details their value and the difference between the real and the fakes. A star in the antiques world, Riley also is an heiress who controls a considerable fortune; her unraveling marriage to celebrity chef Bobby Jordan is being played out in the tabloids. Riley's murder in Josie's warehouse puts the spotlight on Bobby, whose actions are hardly that of a grieving spouse. But Josie has a sinking feeling that one of her staff -- each of whom she considers to be family -- may be the culprit.

Cleland keeps the pace brisk as "Deadly Threads" realistically looks at how co-workers can become close friends and extended family. The affection Josie and her employees have for each other makes the idea that one could be violent even more heart-wrenching. History about pearls, handbags and jewelry are smoothly woven into the plot of "Deadly Threads."

-- McClatchy Newspapers