Lynn Neary

Novelist Richard Powers lives in a house perched on a hillside, just on the edge of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. "It's very much a tree house," he says with a laugh. "That's why I live here."

His latest book, The Overstory, brought him to the old growth forests of Tennessee. The novel follows the lives of nine different people, all determined to save ancient trees from destruction. Their lives become entwined as they fight to save virgin forests, with unforeseen consequences.

Great artists are known to have big egos — they can suck up all the air in a room if given half a chance. And living in the shadow of such greatness can stunt a person's growth, which is exactly what happens to the central character in Tom Rachman's new novel, The Italian Teacher. Rachman takes us through the life of Pinch Bavinsky, from his childhood adoration of his famous father to the disappointments of adulthood, and in the process, explores what it means to be an artist.

In his latest book, A Long Way From Home, Australian novelist Peter Carey takes on his country's racist past, but he gets there by a circuitous route. The book begins as a kind of madcap adventure, as the characters hit the road in a race designed to test the endurance of cars. Halfway through, the adventure turns into a confrontation with history and an odyssey of self discovery.

Writer Sherman Alexie last week issued a statement admitting he "has harmed" others, after rumors and allegations began to circulate about sexual harassment. Without providing details, Alexie said "there are women telling the truth," and he apologized to the people he has hurt. Now, some of those women have come forward to speak to NPR about their experiences with him.

Asymmetry is a book whose title tells the tale: It's made up of two disparate stories with no apparent connection, and a third story that just hints at the link between the two. Debut author Lisa Halliday won the prestigious Whiting Award for her work — and while you may not have heard of her, you probably have heard of Colson Whitehead, Jeffrey Eugenides, Alice McDermott and Jonathan Franzen, all of whom are fellow Whiting winners

Take a little Hitchcock and a touch of Gone Girl. Add in a mysterious author and rumors of a very big price tag. Stir them all together and you come up with a rare bird: A debut novel that hits number one on the New York Times bestseller list in its first week on the market.

It seems fitting that 2017 has been bookended by two novels about women and power. When the year began, Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale, which depicts a future where women are stripped of all power, began making its way to the top of best-seller lists. As 2017 draws to a close, another dystopian novel has made it onto some prominent top ten lists: Naomi Alderman's The Power.

Mary Higgins Clark has made a good living off of murder. She creates characters that readers can identify with, then puts them in scary situations — and her fans love it.

Known as the "queen of suspense," Higgins Clark has sold 100 million copies of her books in the U.S. alone, but she didn't publish her first book until she was a widow in her early 40s. When Higgins Clark turns 90 on Christmas Eve, she'll still be turning out two books a year.

Among the many movies opening for the holidays is one with a new take on an old story. The Man Who Invented Christmas, starring Dan Stevens and Christopher Plummer, is about Charles Dickens and the creation of A Christmas Carol. It's a distinctly literary tale — which isn't surprising, since one of the film's producers is a well known bookseller taking his first dip in the world of film.

Binge-watching your favorite TV show is sometimes compared to reading a really good novel in a single sitting: You tell yourself you'll watch just one more episode. Before you know it, you've watched three, just like you keep moving to the next chapter of a book you just can't put down.

But Matthew Weiner says writing a novel is nothing like writing for TV, and he should know. He's the guy who created the very binge-worthy show Mad Men, and is now trying his hand at being a novelist.

Pages