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Dave Wood's Book Report, June 25, 2008

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Heading for the lake? There's all manner of new books to take along for the rainy day.

"The Word of the Lord is Upon Me," by Jonathan Rieder (Harvard University Press, $29.95) takes a hard look at the enigmatic personality of Martin Luther King, basing his book on speeches, texts, and interviews with those who knew King best.

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Harvard prof Henry Louis Gates calls Rieder's book "brilliant," explaining that King's command of both standard English and African American idioms made him the stunning preacher and leader he was.

"Through Western Prairies," by Ben Sosniecki (Nodin Press, $29.95) is a beautiful coffee table books that incorporates both color photographs and poetry to celebrate the western prairie.

"Comanche Empire," by Pekka Hamalainen (Yale University Press, $35) turns the tables on conventional American history by describing the empire built by the Comanche Indians who ruled much of the American Southwest in the 18th and 19th centuries, outpacing Spanish and Mexican colonialists.

It all came to a halt in 1874. After the last defeat of the Comanches, "the warriors, many of whom had never been in the reservation, were locked in a windowless, roofless ice house. They slept on a stone floor, huddled in U.S. Army blankets. In the morning they received their first rations when the soldiers threw chunks of raw meat over the wall."

"Minnesota Hail to Thee: A Sesquicentennial History," by Karal Ann Marling (Afton Historical Society Press, $28) is a well turned out coffee table book, the text of which was penned by the talented Marling, longtime American studies professor at the University of Minnesota.

She comes to her task with lots of background, having written on many Minnesota topics, from stories about giant balls of twine to the Minnesota State Fair.

Summer at the lake wouldn't be complete without a few thrillers to peruse.

Try the following:

"Odd Hours," by Dean Koontz (Bantam, $27). The continuing adventures of Koontz's Odd Thomas.

First came Terri Persons' "Blind Spot" featuring FBI agent Bernadette St. Clare. Bernadette is back in Persons's second novel "Blind Rage" (Doubleday, $24.95).

She's called to the Twin Cities to help local cops investigate a string of murders by drowning of several young women.

Whodunit? Could be the professor at a local university who teaches courses like "The Poetry of Suicide."

Britisher Stephen Booth, author of "The Dead Place" is out with "Scared to Live" (Bantam, $25) in which detectives Ben Cooper and Diane Fry are out to solve to murders, one inexplicable and the other unspeakable.

Dave Wood is a past vice president of the National Book Critics Circle and former book review editor of the Minneapolis Star Tribune.

E-mail him at wood8722@sbcglobal.net

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