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> CHILDREN's

Hit the Road, Jack by Robert Burleigh; illustrated by Ross MacDonald; Abrams Books for Young Readers ($17.95)

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A jackrabbit be-bops his way across the United States ("Hello, America, here I come, From sea to shining sea!") in this exuberant picture book loosely inspired by Jack Kerouac's classic, "On the Road." MacDonald's sunny illustrations in watercolor and pencil crayon open on a marvelous note, a typewriter unfurling a seemingly endless piece of paper for Jack to follow like some yellow brick road (Burleigh's note at the end explains that Kerouac wrote his book on a single long roll of unbroken paper). The lively beat of the text propels the story along, as Jack starts his journey in New York City ("next stop, 42nd Street, Where Greyhound buses load ...") with jackrabbit bankers dressed to the nines. ("Moon-glow on the Hudson, Philly in the dawn, Throw kisses to the Liberty Bell, Hot coffee and you're gone.") Jack makes his way by bicycle, by hitchhiking, by truck, by train, each page opening to a new, beautifully lyrical paean to America. Whimsical, breezy, lovely, this is also a fun read-aloud ("The moon plays whoopsie-doopsie with the blackness of the night").

Jean Westmoore

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> MYSTERY

The Right Hand by Derek Haas; Mulholland Books, 272 pages ($25.99)

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The spy novel continues to thrive because authors continue to find new ways of exploring the intrigue and subterfuge that keeps countries on edge with each other.

Screenwriter and novelist Derek Haas confidently strides into espionage with his adrenaline rush "The Right Hand."

A lean, no-nonsense plot starts on a high arc as "The Right Hand" swiftly progresses to its plausible, and quite poignant, finale. Haas brings the same sense of nonstop action, high drama and character studies that he brings to the hit NBC series "Chicago Fire," for which he is a scriptwriter, and to the 2007 Russell Crowe film "3:10 to Yuma."

"The Right Hand" is Austin Clay, an undercover agent in the CIA whose missions are so secret that even his bosses don't acknowledge them. Or him. The job suits this loner well as Austin prefers to live like "a ghost," unseen, unknown and uninvolved with those he meets. During the last three years as a "black ops" agent, his team has consisted of "exactly two members, his handler and himself."

Austin is sent to find a missing American operative who was captured in the Russian countryside.

But the missing agent is only the beginning of a conspiracy that has infiltrated the U.S. government. Austin fights off Russian hit men and tries to protect an innocent young Hungarian woman while trying to find out who is betraying who, and why.

Haas' cinematic background well serves "The Right Hand," which seems tailor-made for the movies. The vigorous pace never slows as Haas' sparse prose propels the plot that crisscrosses Europe. Haas introduces just enough spycraft to add intrigue but never to overwhelm his story.

In Austin Clay, Haas has created a credible action hero whose flaws show he still has a conscience, despite the often unsavory situations in which he's involved. "The Right Hand" should be just the beginning of Austin's adventures.

McClatchy Newspapers