Prodigy: A Legend Novel by Marie Lu; Putnam, 384 pages ($17.99). Ages 12 and up


Marie Lu doesn’t skip a beat in her high-octane, supercharged follow-up to best-selling dystopian thriller “Legend,” with a cliffhanger ending that will leave fans eagerly awaiting the final book in the trilogy. The romance across class divide (between dual narrators, Day, who grew up poor, and June, a privileged member of the military elite) is set against a more interesting political backdrop than the dystopian world of Suzanne Collins’ “Hunger Games” – in a totalitarian Republic, at war with the Colonies in what was once the United States, where trials are held to winnow out the most-gifted young people, with the rest dispatched to a miserable fate. In the first book, set in post-apocalypse Los Angeles, with poor sectors devastated by plague, June’s brother was murdered, Day falsely accused of the crime and June sent to hunt him down. Now, the Republic faces a rebellion from the Patriots when the Republic’s ruling Elector dies. The Patriots recruit June and Day to assassinate the new Elector as a condition for freeing Day’s little brother. But certain events leave June wondering about the true allegiance of the Patriot leader. The narration by Day and June, in alternating chapters marked by different-color typefaces, is an effective way to tell the story. Lu is a graduate of the video game industry (and designed a game version of her story for Facebook) and the colorfully cinematic action of her books seems tailor-made for film treatment; CBS Films has acquired the rights to “Legend.”

– Jean Westmoore


Cover of Snow by Jenny Milchman; Ballantine Books, 336 pages ($26)


A young widow’s grief and naiveté evolve into paranoia and a sense that she has no idea what is really going on in the quiet town where she lives in Jenny Milchman’s stunning debut.

Milchman tackles small-town angst where evil can simmer under the surface with a breathless energy and a feel for realistic characters.

Nora Hamilton has been launching her career as a house restorer in the lovely Adirondack town of Wedeskyull, where her husband Brendan is a policeman. But her life is shattered when she discovers the body of her husband, who has apparently committed suicide in their home. Now Nora not only has to deal with her inconsolable grief, but the peaceful town seems to have changed overnight. Her mother-in-law, with whom she was never close, becomes increasingly antagonistic. Nora can’t seem to go anywhere without being followed by one of Brendan’s fellow cops; their excuse is that they are worried about her mental health. Then little things, especially Brendan’s mementos, are disappearing from her house. As she looks into Brendan’s background, she finds out that she may not have known her husband as well as she thought she did. The frigid air that blows through the town is the perfect metaphor for Nora’s feelings of isolation. Milchman’s original approach serves her story well, including the unpredictable resolution.

– McClatchy Newspapers


Leonardo and the Last Supper by Ross King; Walker, 322 pages, ($28)


Leonardo da Vinci was a genius of delay, a master of the unfinished. “Tell me if anything was ever done,” he lamented in a notebook.

Ross King, an English novelist and historian, tells the story, in “Leonardo and the Last Supper,” of the improbable creation of one of art’s greatest masterpieces. With a fiction writer’s feel for character, King depicts a supremely ingenious, enigmatic, stubbornly independent, and underachieving Leonardo, and, with a nonfiction writer’s skill, he sets the sketch against a richly described background of a society in creative and often violent ferment.

“A commission to paint a wall was not the most obvious assignment for Leonardo,” King writes. He had never worked in fresco, the preferred technique of the day for painting murals. And he had never worked on a painting so large: 15 feet tall and nearly 29 feet wide.

Leonardo finished what he started, although he took about four years, going slowly enough to annoy the leader of the Dominican community at Santa Maria.

The Leonardo who emerges in King’s pages may have been a genius, but he was a refreshingly human one. King writes that Leonardo, brilliant as he was, was “a poor mathematician” and had difficulty with Latin: “That one of history’s greatest brains struggled with amo, amas, amat should be a consolation to anyone who has ever tried to learn a second language.”

– McClatchy Newspapers