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Programming note: the end of Book Radar

When I started writing the Book Radar column, almost three years ago, I was working at a bookstore, spending a fair amount of my weekly time paging through catalogs of upcoming releases, and marking the books I was interested in. The column was a natural byproduct of all that casual research.

In the time since, I stopped working at the bookstore and stopped having access to both the catalogs and the spare time to idly flip through them. Instead, I’d pull interesting books from Kirkus, which handily laid out reviews for all the books coming out in the next few weeks. Unfortunately, Kirkus changed their format, and you can no longer sort out upcoming books, and I can’t find a similar website that will let me research a Book Radar column in less than eight hours.

So I’m retiring the Book Radar column, and instead we’ll continue to highlight interesting books in the Week’s Best Book Reviews feature, it’ll just be after they come out. (And no, this isn’t the world’s worst April fool’s joke.)

Books Radar: March 2014

[This monthly feature is a brief look at interesting upcoming books. These are not reviews, these are previews; we have not read these books. Follow Book Radar here. Click the title links to find more info about these books.]


Definitely

brunist-day-of-wrathThe Brunist Day of Wrath, by Robert Coover (out 3/25)

Coover stands out as not only a postmodernist experimenter in the vein of Barth and Barthelme, but also a writer capable of infusing his experiments with the warmth and character of more traditional story-telling. Dave talked about Coover’s crazy book about a fantasy baseball league here. And Coover’s foray into genre territory, Noir, was one of my own favorite books of 2010. This new novel is the long-awaited sequel to Coover’s debut, The Origin of the Brunists. It clocks in at a staggering 1100 pages but promises “a scathing indictment of fundamentalism.” And it sounds like a perfect fit for my “really long audiobooks” reading program.

 

blazing-worldBlazing World, by Siri Hustvedt (out 3/11)

Hustvedt’s sixth novel follows a no-name female artist who suddenly gets great reviews when she launches a series of shows under a male pseudonym. Then there’s also a murder involved, and the whole thing is told as a series of found texts. Hustvedt herself is getting great reviews for this book, so it sounds like a risky premise that she’s pulled off.


shotgun-lovesongsShotgun Lovesongs, by Nickolas Butler (out 3/4)

The premise sounds like off-the-shelf debut lit novel fare: four friends, having grown up together and moved away, now move back to their hometown and sort through their issues. It’s hard to tell from the flap copy whether there’s a single dark secret they’re uncovering (which wouldn’t be too original, but would be better than the alternative), or just the “strong, American stuff” that usually turns out to be boring. However, I can’t ignore tons of great early reviews, most of which are already crowning Butler as an all-time great novelist. I would settle for a good book.


all-our-namesAll Our Names, by Dinaw Mengetsu (out 3/4)

Speaking of buzzed-about authors, Mengetsu is on just about every “under” list there is: the New Yorker’s 20 Under 40 and the National Book Foundation’s 5 Under 35. He’s also been the recipient of a MacArthur genius grant and a whole host of other awards. This new novel has gotten a mixed response, which might not be a surprise for a writer working in the controversial political novel tradition of “Naipaul, Greene, and Achebe.” The book’s about a pair of friend who grow up during an African revolution. Worth a try, at the very least.

 


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Book Radar: February 2014

[This monthly feature is a brief look at interesting upcoming books. These are not reviews, these are previews; we have not read these books. Follow Book Radar here. Click the title links to find more info about these books.]

 

Some craziness around the holidays (including a Boston blizzard that caused me to miss a flight to a wedding) prevented me from writing the January version of this column, so let’s catch up this month.


Definitely

barkBark: Stories, by Lorrie Moore (out 2/25)

New stories by Lorrie Moore, one of the funniest living writers, period. I don’t even have anything else to say in this blurb, because I didn’t bother to read anything else about the collection before I put it in the number 1 spot for the month. If you’ve never read Moore, start with Self-Help. Maybe the funniest and most original debut story collection ever.


badluck-wayBadluck Way, by Bryce Andrews (out now)

“Mine might have been a simple, pretty story, if not for the wolves. In late July, they emerged from the foothills . . .” That’s a hell of a first line. This memoir about life on a Montana ranch sounds like a ragged modern western. Sold.


annihilationAnnihilation, by Jeff VanderMeer (out 2/2)

I’m not on board with the first volume of a trilogy weighing in at a scant 208 pages. Why not write one 600-page book? It stinks a bit of squeezing three books’ worth of money out of a single book’s worth of writing. But I can’t ignore the early reviews, which are uniformly glowing. The story follows a secret expedition to a geographically vague location called Area X, where many previous expeditions have met their doom. There are colorful characters, including a leader with hypnotic powers, and a bizarre landscape to tackle, featuring such things as a fungus spore that bestows ESP. All in all, a decidedly supernatural, and probably highly stylized, tale of espionage and conspiracy.


dominionDominion, by CJ Sansom (out now)

I’m not usually one for speculative fiction, but this WWII alternate history—in which Germany won, the UK is a willing Third Reich territory, and Winston Churchill leads the resistance—sounds epic enough to be fun. And it’s available on Audible, which is my new kryptonite.



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Book Radar: November 2013

[This monthly feature is a brief look at interesting upcoming books. These are not reviews, these are previews; we have not read these books. Follow Book Radar here. Click the title links to find more info about these books.]


Definitely

death-of-the-black-haired-girlDeath of the Black-Haired Girl, by Robert Stone (out 10/10)

I read some Robert Stone years back and really enjoyed his weird, brilliant style. He kind of reminds me of a cross between Thomas Pynchon and Tom Robbins. This latest follows a woman who dies in a car accident and how her death affects those around her. Not a blow-you-away premise, but the pedigree makes it worth a shot.


isle-of-youthThe Isle of Youth, by Laura van den Berg (out 11/5)

Laura van den Berg’s story collections (two so far in her young  have consistently garnered rave reviews and this one is no different. Here she’s writing noir-tinged crime stories. Van den Berg was also the most prominent writer to emerge from Chamber Four’s birthplace, Emerson College, in the last few years. That’s not a conflict of interest if I disclose it, right?


death-of-santiniThe Death of Santini, by Pat Conroy (out now)

The authors of such classics as The Lords of Discipline and The Prince of Tides, returns with a memoir about his father’s abusive behavior and the rift that opened when Conroy wrote about his father in his breakout novel, The Great Santini.


hyperbole-and-a-halfHyperbole and a Half, by Allie Brosh (out now)

Count me among the masses of people that find Allie Brosh’s blog/comic Hyperbole and a Half hopelessly hilarious. If you’re familiar with the comic, all you need to know is that the book features new material (along with, presumably, a lot of old stuff), and it costs less than $11. If you’re not familiar with the comic, it’s, uh… well, it’s hard to explain. Just go ahead and check it out for yourself (especially the Best Of section in the right sidebar). If that doesn’t convince you, try this: H1/2 (®) was named one of the Funniest Sites on the Web by PC World, and that is the very first piece of information the marketing copy on Goodreads wants you to know.



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Book Radar: October 2013

[This monthly feature is a brief look at interesting upcoming books. These are not reviews, these are previews; we have not read these books. Follow Book Radar here. Click the title links to find more info about these books.]


Definitely

the-dark-pathThe Dark Path, by David Schickler (out now)

David Schickler’s debut, Kissing in Manhattan, is one of my favorite collections of all time. He’s simply one of those undeniable top-shelf talents. His latest book is a bit of a departure: it’s a memoir about how Schickler has spent much of his life torn between becoming a priest and still being able to have sex (in the flap copy’s words, “his equally fervent desire for the company of women”). Sounds like a weird starting point, but this guy is one of the best.


at-night-walk-circlesAt Night We Walk in Circles, by Daniel Alarcón (out 10/31)

Alarcón is an award-winning writer who’s only 35, though he casts an older shadow. His latest novel features a weird plot about a sad-sack actor who tours with a traveling play across Peru, witnessing the aftereffects of the civil war. That premise alone would not be quite enough to grab my attention, but Alarcón’s pedigree and good early buzz has me interested.


dirty-loveDirty Love, by Andre Dubus III (out 10/7)

The author of House of Sand and Fog and the memoir Townie (which Marc quite liked) returns to fiction with a set of linked novellas exploring sex and love. There’s a bit of a theme developing this month, and this book is no different: the premise is unexciting, but the writer makes it interesting.


last-car-sagamoreLast Car Over the Sagamore Bridge, by Peter Orner (out now)

Peter Orner’s last book, Love and Shame and Love, was one of my favorites of 2011. He’s a sharp writer who probably doesn’t get enough press. This new one is a story collection, which certainly makes sense: Love and Shame and Love was essentially a series of linked short-shorts, and Orner shines in the shorter form. I’m looking forward to it.


the-circleThe Circle, by Dave Eggers (out 10/8)

Dave Eggers has been keeping a bit of a lower profile since his rise to fame as the Pulitzer prize-winning wunderkind behind the McSweeney’s indie publishing empire. Still, he’s got the chops to be one of his generation’s best. Everybody’s heard of A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius, Marc loved Eggers’s last nonfiction book, Zeitoun, and I actually thought his novel You Shall Know Our Velocity! never got the praise it deserved (I’ll just ignore his involvement in the super-blah Matt Damon movie Promised Land.) This latest is a novel about a woman who works for a Google analog, and discovers a sinister side to what seems like a dream job. Hopefully it’s closer to Zeitoun than Promised Land.


the-creepsThe Creeps, by John Connolly (out 10/10)

Our resident YA fan has read and loved Connolly’s short story collection, Nocturnes, as well as his Samuel Johnson & the Devil series, The Gates and its sequel The Infernals. The Creeps continues where The Infernals left off, only the world is about to end. I’m sure Sean will review it soon.



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Book Radar: September 2013

[This monthly feature is a brief look at interesting upcoming books. These are not reviews, these are previews; we have not read these books. Follow Book Radar here. Click the title links to find more info about these books.]


Definitely

bleeding-edgeBleeding Edge, by Thomas Pynchon (out 9/17)

I have a lot of feelings about Thomas Pynchon, like this one. I think he’s an excellent writer with a tendency to make his books more dense than many of his mortal readers, like myself, can withstand. That said, his more recent work, like Inherent Vice, has been markedly more accessible, and it looks like this latest is more of the same. Not unlike Inherent Vice, Bleeding Edge follows an off-kilter investigator. This time, it’s an unlicensed financial investigator (and single mom) who accidentally gets herself into a big-time investigation, delving into the finances of a high-profile CEO. All the expected Pynchon weirdness will accompany, natch.


enonEnon, by Paul Harding (out 9/10)

Harding’s last book only won the Pulitzer, so no pressure or anything. This one, according to the ever-so-brief flap copy, follows a father trying to cope with the loss of his daughter. Harding is a lyrical, poetic writer, and he’s an outstanding one, so base your decision to read this on whether or not you like meandering poetic novels.


maids-versionThe Maid’s Version, by Daniel Woodrell (out 9/3)

The author of Winter’s Bone, which was made into a genuinely unsettling movie, returns with another story of the Ozarks, this one “far less noir-tinged” according to Kirkus, and based on the West Plains Dance Hall Explosion. A woman whose sister dies in the explosion reveals her suspicions about its cause to her grandson, many years later. Sounds short and odd, but perhaps great.


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Book Radar: August 2013

[This monthly feature is a brief look at interesting upcoming books. These are not reviews, these are previews; we have not read these books. Follow Book Radar here. Click the title links to find more info about these books.]


Definitely

you-are-now-less-dumbYou Are Now Less Dumb, by David McRaney (out now)

McRaney’s first pop psychology book, You Are Not So Smart, was one of my favorite books of 2011. In it, McRaney wittily summarized the results of hundreds of psychology studies, which arrived at some pretty alarming conclusions, all basically along the same lines: that humans have a strong tendency to lie to themselves and each other in order to make sense of the world and their place in it. This follow-up has been out since Tuesday. I’m about a quarter of the way through it, and it seems to be more advanced, deliberate and detailed—and not quite as funny—but so far it’s certainly worth reading. My review should be out next week.


claire-of-the-sea-lightClaire of the Sea Light, by Edwidge Danticat (out 8/27)

The preeminent living Haitian author has a new novel out, about a poor single father in Haiti who makes the agonizing decision to give away his daughter so that she can have a better life, but when he goes to find her that day, she’s disappeared. The search for her unearths painful secrets and memories, in a fable-like story. Danticat is known for her beautifully lyrical prose, and this sounds like a story to fit her best talents.


night-filmNight Film, by Marisha Pessl (out 8/20)

The critically acclaimed author of the wonderfully titled Special Topics in Calamity Physics returns with a new novel about the death—ruled a suicide—of a young woman whose father is a sinister mystery. When a journalist takes it upon himself to investigate, secrets emerge. Evidently it mixes postmodern literary sensibilities with mystery plotting, which also described her debut. Worth the risk, I think.
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Book Radar: July 2013

[This monthly feature is a brief look at interesting upcoming books. Because we evidently have to say it: these are not reviews; we have not read these books. Follow Book Radar here. Click the title links to find more info about these books.] Edit: The last blurb was edited to clarify that the John Birch Society is a national organization.


Definitely

The Illusion of Separateness, by Simon Van Booy (out now)

Missed this one last month, but since Van Booy’s 2009 story collection got a rave review from our own Eric Markowsky, I thought this new novel was worth mentioning. It’s about World War II and how “one man’s act of mercy” affects the lives of a wide-ranging group of seemingly separate people. So, kind of like the movie Crash with Nazis. So, kind of like the movie Crash. Not quite my cup of tea, but it’s been getting a ton of positive responses and seems like a good bet for those who like lyrical, emotional, character-driven novels.


The Night Gwen Stacy Died, by Sarah Bruni (out 7/2)

This odd book follows a young man who calls himself Peter Parker and casts the object of his obsession as Spiderman’s first girlfriend, Gwen Stacy. As you can imagine, things don’t go so well for Gwen. It’s difficult to tell whether this novel will be more of a dreamy, lyrical tour de force, or more of a creepy story about a crazy guy who kills some poor girl. But at least it has a chance at the former.


A Marker to Measure Drift, by Alexander Maksik (out 7/30)

Now that’s how you write a title. (Listening, Matt Bell?) The author of 2011′s much-hyped You Deserve Nothing is back with another globe-trotting novel. This one centers around a Liberian woman who lives in a cave next to the sea, and begins having intense visions because she’s so battered by the elements. Slowly, these visions fill in the parts of her violence-filled past that she’s tried so hard to forget. That is a hell of a tough premise to pull off, but it sounds as if Maksik might have done it.


Maybe

Midnight, by Kevin Egan (out 7/2)

Oddly enough, in a month with few really notable books coming out, there are several intriguing, critically acclaimed mysteries/thrillers (usually there’s no more than one in a month). This one leans more thrillery: a judge’s body is discovered on New Year’s Eve in a justice department with weird rules that mean his underlings will be fired at midnight unless they cover up his death for 24 hours. That leads to complications. I’m not sold yet, but it’s a book to keep in mind.

The Crocodile, by Maurizio di Giovanni (out 7/2)

Intriguing mystery #2 has just been translated from the original Italian. A disgraced Sherlock Holmes-like detective has been demoted after he’s accused of leaking information to the mob. Now assigned to Naples, he has to catch a vicious serial killer to clear his name. Sounds like a detective-driven novel, one that should reveal whether it fits your taste after the free ebook preview.

The Fire Witness, by Lars Kepler (out 7/9)

Intriguing mystery #3 became significantly less appealing after its flap copy claimed it should be “appealing to fans of Stieg Larsson and Jo Nesbo.” I’m not the biggest fan of either, but this straightforward detective novel has gotten good reviews, and might be worth a shot.

The Impossible Lives of Greta Wells, by Andrew Sean Greer (out now)

I still think of Greer as the guy who rewrote The Curious Case of Benjamin Button in novel form. He seems to be a critical darling and a popular shrug. This latest follows a woman whose experimental psychiatric treatment leads her to experience her alternate “impossible” lives. Then she evidently has to decide which life to live? I’m a bit unclear, but intrigued.

Blue Plate Special: An Autobiography of My Appetites, by Kate Christensen (out 7/9)

The author of 2011′s acclaimed novel The Astral now turns in a food memoir that mixes stories from her life and upbringing in with recipes and food memories.

Neptune’s Brood, by Charles Stross (out 7/2)

Charles Stross might be the most prolific living sci-fi writer. He’s written something like three dozen books in the last 12 years or so… which means that I wouldn’t expect much from any single novel. But this one sound intriguing, if not perhaps wholly satisfying: it’s all about a complicated interstellar banking system and one woman’s (sorry, one metahuman’s) attempt to find her sister. And it comes complete with accountant pirates, “subaquatic” monarchs, and good old-fashioned assassins.

Wrapped in the Flag: A Personal History of America’s Radical Right, by Claire Conner (out 7/2)

If you’re still bewildered by the actions of conservatives (such as the crazy goings-on in Texas as I type this), this might be a book that interests you. The daughter of a founder of the John Birch Society—a national organization so blindly ultraconservative that they opposed water fluoridation—explains what life was like under the iron grip of conservative fear, and how she eventually escaped.

Book Radar: June 2013

[This feature is a brief summary of interesting books coming out each month. Follow it here. Click the title links to find these books at Goodreads.]


Definitely

Lexicon, by Max Barry (out 6/18)

I’ve already pre-ordered this book, on the strength of Barry’s last novel, my favorite book of 2011. I’m trying to keep my expectations as low as possible, but Barry’s a rare talent. There’s a prep school where kids are taught “persuasion” instead of math and science—that’s about the first sentence and a half of the flap copy. My usual custom is to avoid any advance marketing for books I’ve already committed to reading, so I know next to nothing about this one. Which should explain why this blurb was a rambling run-on instead of anything useful. Let’s just move on.

 

The Ocean at the End of the Lane, by Neil Gaiman (out 6/18)

Internet darling Gaiman has had a pretty charmed career, from being considered one of the best comic book writers ever, to guest-starring turns writing on sci-fi TV shows like Babylon 5 and Doctor Who. He had a well-received book adaption in 2009′s Coraline (and, to be fair, a much worse adaptation in 2007′s Stardust), and adaptations of American Gods and (my favorite Gaiman book) Neverwhere have been announced. He’s the rare writer that can use the elasticity of sci-fi to dig into universal themes and feelings. He’s China Miéville with a point. So it’s no real surprise that this latest explores the ramifications of suicide using fantasy elements like otherworldly creatures and three ancient sisters.

 

TransAtlantic, by Colum McCann (out 6/4)

For some reason, I feel like this novel has already been released. The New York Times Magazine just published an interesting profile of the eccentric McCann and the “cupboard” where he writes. The profiler also says TransAtlantic boasts “stunning language [and] psychological acuity [and] humor and imagination” as well as “sheer ambition” as he weaves history and fiction, stretching from Frederick Douglass to the still-living ex-senator George Mitchell. Sounds a bit like E.L. Doctorow’s Ragtime, one of my all-time favorites.

 

Maybe

Doll, by Taylor Stevens (out 6/4)

Taylor Stevens might be the most interesting thriller writer in the world. She was born into a sexually abusive cult and her fiction seems to be reflective of the intricate fantasy life of a traumatized abuse victim. But, since she refuses to read any other books, her fiction is also quite bad. She’s a bit of a double-edged sword. I’m still waiting for her memoir.

Joyland, by Stephen King (out 6/4)

King’s latest is a half-horror half-mystery mashup that he refuses to release an ebook of. I’m reading it now. It’s OK. I should have a review up later this week.

The Silver Star, by Jeannette Walls (out 6/11)

The author of the widely acclaimed memoirs Half Broke Horses and The Glass Castle turns to fiction with this novel about two itinerant sisters, one of whom suffers a mysterious trauma (mysterious as in the advance press is keeping mum about it).

Big Brother, by Lionel Shriver (out 6/4)

Shriver’s latest novel follows a woman with a morbidly obese brother and a possibly anorexic husband. Big Brother is “about fat.” Early buzz is understandably mixed.

Engagements, by J. Courtney Sullivan (out 6/11)

If you enjoyed Maine, here’s another one by the same author.

Carnival, by Rawi Hage (out 6/17)

This high-risk high-reward novel might be totally overwritten or might be awesome. It follows a taxi driver who grew up in the circus, and all the weird people he meets. What can I say, I’m a sucker for a (pseudo-)circus book.

The Shanghai Factor, by Charles McCarry (out now)

An evidently well-respected spy novelist’s new book. There are foreign locales, intrigue, an unnamed protagonist, an organization called simply HQ. You know, spy novel stuff.

 

No

Taipei, by Tao Lin (out 6/4)

Are people still amused by the Tao Lin schtick? I’ll readily admit that the dude has a rare gift for churning up marketing buzz, but his actual writing makes me roll my eyes after a maximum of one paragraph. Anyway, I’m sure his new book won’t be exactly the same as the others…

Earth Afire, by Orson Scott Card (out 6/4)

Speaking of writers who turned one good idea into a career: Orson Scott Card, ladies and gentlemen! Beyond the fact that Card’s a pretty repulsive human being, he’s also been milking Ender’s Game for his entire life. This one’s flap copy starts: “One hundred years before Ender’s Game, the aliens arrived on Earth with fire and death.” In other words, nothing to do with Ender, but we have to shoehorn him in somehow, because that’s the only reason people read Card. Don’t buy this book.

Book Radar: May 2013

[This feature is a brief summary of interesting books coming out each month. Follow it here. Click the title links to find these books at Goodreads.]


Definitely

A Delicate Truth, by John le Carré (out 5/7)

John le Carré, possibly the world’s most famous spy novelist (at worst, he’s number 2 behind Ian Fleming) is still going strong at 81. His latest is about a counter-terror operation that goes wrong and gets covered up, and one man’s effort to correct it. If it’s anywhere near as good as its book trailer, I’m on board.

 

And the Mountains Echoed, by Khaled Hosseini (out 5/21)

The pre-eminent Afghan-American novelist has a new novel out this month. The flap copy is maddeningly vague, saying the new novel is “about how we love, how we take care of one another, and how the choices we make resonate through generations.” I’m not sure what that means, but as the preeminent writer about an often overlooked part of the world, Hosseini gets a pass for shoddy PR work.

 

 

 

A Guide to Being Born: Stories, by Ramona Ausubel (out 5/2)

Ramona Ausubel’s relatively well-received debut novel, No One Is Here Except All of Us, centered around a Jewish village in Romania in 1939, and their decision to “deny any relationship with the known and start over from scratch.” I’m a fan of magical realism, but I think it works better in the short form, and that’s why I’m more intrigued by this story collection, with an abundance of weird ideas.

 

Maybe

The Names of Our Tears, by P.L. Gaus (out 5/28)

A mystery revolving around an Amish drug mule. I’ve never heard of Gaus, so I can’t vouch that it’ll be good, but you don’t hear that premise every day.

NOS4A2, by Joe Hill (out now)

Joe Hill is Stephen King’s son, and he seems to be following in the old man’s footsteps (minus the booze and drugs, hopefully). Hill’s new horror novel, about a supernatural killer and the escaped victim who’s trying to hunt him down, feature a nauseating title and terrible flap copy, but it’s been getting pretty decent buzz.

The Kings and Queens of Roam, by Daniel Wallace (out 5/7)

The author of Big Fish returns with a new “modern fairy tale.”

You Are One of Them, by Elliott Holt (out 5/30)

Holt’s debut novel follows a pair of American girls—Jenny and Sarah—who, at the height of the cold war, write to the Soviet premier asking for peace. The premier invites Jenny to Moscow, but ignores Sarah’s letter, which makes Sarah jealous until Jenny’s plane crashes, killing her and her family. Ten years later, Sarah gets a letter suggesting that Jenny’s death might’ve been a hoax. Sounds like a unique premise for digging into the old exploring-a-friendship trope.

The River of No Return, by Bee Ridgeway (out now)

This sci-fi debut novel follows a Napoleon-era soldier who wakes up in a modern hospital two hundred years after he should have died, the ward of a time-travel organization known as The Guild.

Frozen in Time: An Epic Story of Survival and a Modern Quest for Lost Heroes of WW II, by Mitchell Zuckoff (out now)

The author of the well-received Lost in Shangri-La returns with another true story of WWII. This time around, Zuckoff follows the crews of two planes that crash in northern Greenland, and their struggle to survive in the harsh climate until rescue arrives.