DIAMONDS AND DEADLINES: A tale of greed, deceit and a female tycoon in the Gilded Age, by Betsy Prioleau. (Abrams, $30.) Prioleau brings pleasant enthusiasm to this biography of Mrs. Frank Leslie, a media baroness in the Gay Nineties whose past was full of hidden drama and whose public life was awash with scandal and contradiction. But the real star of the book is Gilded Age New York in all its lavishness, right down to a monkey in a tuxedo. As Joanna Scutts puts it in her review, the complicated Leslie is “no heroine, no role model, no rebel. Despite all that, her story sparkles, as intoxicating as a champagne fountain someone else is paying for.”
KAIKEYI, by Vaishnavi Patel, read by Soneela Nankani. (Red Hook, audio, $26.98.) The ancient Hindu epic “Ramayana” is reinterpreted in this debut, told from the perspective of the often vilified queen of the same name. “Although written in prose, ‘Kaikeyi’ is told in a stripped-down style similar to that of the poetic source material, and lends itself well to an audio format,” writes Sebastian Modak in his latest audiobook column. “But on top of what came before, Patel brings a contemporary lens that will be familiar to any woman labeled cold for showing assertiveness. … Like the best stories, this captivating portrait will make you take another look at the things you already think you know.”
THE BERLIN SCHOLARSHIP, by Joseph Kanon. (Writer, $28.) The subtle power moves and shifting alliances of the Cold War era come to life in this story about Martin Keller, a disillusioned former spy who adapts to the suspicion, hypocrisy and brutal grayness of life in East Berlin. After a languid beginning, the plot shifts into high gear and turns into a complex, high-stakes operation. “Martin once believed he was working for the greater good, but now questions whether any side is worthy of his loyalty,” writes Sarah Lyall in her latest thriller column. “East Berlin is not a communist paradise, but a joyless city teeming with cops, informants, freelance hitmen and journalists with shady sideshows. … Martin excitedly pulls all the strings. He is one step ahead of his enemies and three steps ahead of us. Whether his plan will succeed is another question.”
RIVERMAN: An American Odyssey, by Ben McGrath. (Button, $29.) McGrath’s first book elegantly tells the true story of Dick Conant, a troubled and charismatic man who disappeared on a long canoe trip from New York to Florida. McGrath portrays him as a “Don Quixote in the water” and a classic American folk hero. I assessed this myself. “If the missing person element provides the current that propels ‘Riverman’, the book amounts to much more,” I wrote: “a portrait of forgotten American byways and the eccentric characters that populate them, a fleeting history of river travel in America and, last but not least, an attempt to solve the riddle of Conant himself – not only his whereabouts, but also his elusive and irresistible character.