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Sunday, December 11, 2011

Top weekend book picks: Chris Matthews, Gabby Giffords

What should you read — or listen to — this weekend? USA TODAY's top picks for book lovers include two new titles dedicated to JFK. Plus, during holiday travel season, consider tuning in to the audio editions of Gabby Giffords' and Newt Gingrich's new books.

The host of MSNBC's 'Hardball' goes back to the president's childhood in 'Jack Kennedy: Elusive Hero.'

The host of MSNBC's 'Hardball' goes back to the president's childhood in 'Jack Kennedy: Elusive Hero.'

The host of MSNBC's 'Hardball' goes back to the president's childhood in 'Jack Kennedy: Elusive Hero.'

Jack Kennedy: Elusive Hero

By Chris Matthews

Simon & Schuster, 406 pp., $27.50, non-fiction

Like millions of Americans, Chris Matthews is still fascinated by President John F. Kennedy nearly a half century after his assassination.

In this new biography of the "elusive" JFK, the host of MSNBC's Hardball goes back to Kennedy's childhood to discover what made the future president the man he was. There were always "two Jacks." One was "sunny and full of good humor," the other lonely "with a craving for company" and "already a victim of persistent ill health," Matthews writes. And Kennedy was ambitious, if ever enigmatic.

USA TODAY says: *** out of four. "Sure to be a hit with readers who love the inside baseball of politics and the Kennedy cult of personality."

•11/22/63 byStephen King

Scribner, 849 pp., $35, fiction

Craving more about JFK? Then Stephen King's time-traveling thriller should fit the bill. Schoolteacher Jake Epping is whisked back in time to try to prevent Kennedy's assassination. Can Jake keep Lee Harvey Oswald from squeezing the trigger in Dallas?

USA TODAY says: * * * * out of four. "King's latest epic is as fascinating as the premise sounds. … It is not typical Stephen King. It is extraordinary Stephen King."

• The Prague Cemeteryby Umberto Eco

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 464 pp., $27, fiction

Umberto Eco's first novel in seven years - a best seller abroad — is a literary thriller set in late-19th-century Europe. Its protagonist is a detestable anti-Semite - and a master forger of documents (not to mention a murderous spy).

USA TODAY says: *** out of four. "It's provocative and suspenseful, and it's already drumming up controversy."

•Gabby: A Story of Courage and Hopewritten and read by Gabrielle Giffords and Mark Kelly

Simon & Schuster Audio, $39.99, unabridged, 11.5 hours, non-fiction

Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords and her husband, Mark Kelly, tell the inspiring story of Giffords' road to recovery since she was shot in the head by a would-be assassin. Kelly reads most of the audio book, but Giffords takes over in the final chapter.

USA TODAY says: *** out of four. "A powerful story … In harrowing detail, Gabby captures Giffords' injuries and her struggle to regain her life and health."

•The Battle of the Craterwritten by Newt Gingrich and William R. Forstchen; read by William Dufris

Macmillan Audio, $44.99, unabridged, 12 hours, fiction

When he's not running for the Republican presidential nomination, Newt Gingrich (with writing partner William Forstschen) pens historical fiction. Their latest, about the catastrophic 1864 Battle of the Crater during the Civil War, will appeal to history buffs.

USA TODAY says: *** out of four. "William Dufris provides a lively narration and handles a variety of accents."

To read full reviews, go to

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