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What to read this week: New books by Imogen Hermes Gowar, Lisa McCubbin and Peter Biskind

"The Mermaid and Mrs. Hancock," by Imogen Hermes Gowar. Credit: HarperCollins

THE MERMAID AND MRS. HANCOCK, by Imogen Hermes Gowar. The mermaid that sets this historical novel in motion is small, shriveled — and dead. The year is 1785, and she's a curiosity purchased by a voyaging sea captain and put on display by merchant Jonah Hancock. Fame and wealth bring Hancock into contact with Angelica Neal, a high-class courtesan who becomes the Mrs. of the title. When a second, live mermaid is discovered, this charming tale takes an unexpected turn. (Harper, $28.99)

BETTY FORD: First Lady, Women's Advocate, Survivor, Trailblazer, by Lisa McCubbin. The name of this First Lady — who lived in the White House from 1974 to 1977 — still has cultural currency; the California clinic she founded in 1982 is virtually synonymous with drug and alcohol rehab. This biography looks at Ford's legacy of speaking forthrightly about her own addiction, her breast cancer and support of equal rights for women. (Gallery Books, $28)

THE SKY IS FALLING: How Vampires, Zombies, Androids, and Superheroes Made America Great for Extremism, by Peter Biskind. Film critic Biskind, author of "Easy Riders, Raging Bulls," starts with an out-of-right-field assertion here: films and TV shows of what he calls the "apocalypse culture," — from "The Dark Knight" to "The Walking Dead" — set the table for American ideological extremism (and, you guessed it, Donald Trump). (The New Press, $26.99)

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