A list of newly released paperbacks.

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Fiction

“Europe Central” by William T. Vollmann (Penguin, $18). This National Book Award-winning novel mixes real and invented characters in a narrative juxtaposing the authoritarian cultures of 20th-century Germany and Soviet Russia. John Freeman wrote, “Vollmann works his prose into a froth of surreal imagery, trying to capture the noxious reality of humans bending before the will of the state.”

“Collected Stories” by Carol Shields (HarperPerennial, $16.95). A definitive collection of short fiction by the Pulitzer Prize-winner (“The Stone Diaries”). Valerie Ryan called these stories “truly remarkable, combining great good humor with poignant observation.” With an introduction by Margaret Atwood.

“Pompeii” by Robert Harris (Random House, $13.95). The author of “Enigma” sets a tale in Roman Empire-era Pompeii, just when Vesuvius is about to explode. David Flood wrote, “Harris has not only provided a chilling reminder of what happened in ancient Pompeii but an object lesson in the consequences of collisions between civilization and the awesome forces of nature.”

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“Hannah Coulter” by Wendell Berry (Shoemaker & Hoard, $14). A novel about a rural woman looking back on her long life, after her children have scattered to various cities. Tim McNulty commented, “As always in Berry’s work, family, faith, community and a shared regard provide a bridge across … gulfs of sorrow.”

“The In-Between World of Vikram Lall” by M.G. Vassanji (Vintage, $14.95). Winner of Canada’s Giller Prize, this novel about a racially mixed circle of friends — set in a Kenya moving from colonial status to corrupt independence — gives “a clear sense of how cruelly individuals get battered when the taking of sides is required,” noted Carol Doup Muller.

“Slick” by Daniel Price (Villard, $14.95). Debut novel about a Los Angeles PR man who has “shilled for Shell and lied for Tide” and is about to rehabilitate the tarnished reputation of a rap star by any means possible. This lengthy satire crackles with page-turning energy from beginning to end.

“The Family Tree” by Carole Cadwalladr (Plume, $14). A British author’s first novel about a London journalist who offers herself and her entire family tree to her scientist husband for a study of genetic heritage. Result: a poignant, hilarious family tragicomedy.

“A Thread of Grace” by Mary Doria Russell (Ballantine, $14.95). The author of “The Sparrow” takes a break from speculative fiction to write a historical novel about Jewish refugees in Italy toward the end of World War II. Melinda Bargreen noted, “Russell shows us the cost of war with images of startling clarity.”

“The Broker” by John Grisham (Dell, $7.99). Grisham’s latest thriller opens with an outgoing president’s last-minute pardon of an imprisoned Washington power broker.

“The Dark Tower VII: The Dark Tower” by Stephen King (Scribner, $18.95). King wraps up his seven-part saga.

Nonfiction

“Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed” by Jared Diamond (Penguin, $17). The Pulitzer Prize-winning author (“Guns, Germs and Steel”) uses prehistoric Easter Island and Viking-era Greenland as examples of societies that perished when they mismanaged their resources. Mary Ann Gwinn praised Diamond’s “ability to write about geopolitical and environmental systems in ways that don’t just educate and provoke, but entertain.” In stores Tuesday.

“Bad News: The Decline of Reporting, the Business of News, and the Danger to Us All” by Tom Fenton (ReganBooks, $15.95). A senior European correspondent for CBS News laments the way newsrooms “gutted” their overseas operations following the end of the Cold War — and thus left America “utterly unprepared for the war on terror about to descend on its doorstep.”

“The Life of Graham Greene, Volume III, 1955-1991” by Norman Sherry (Penguin, $25). The final volume of Sherry’s massive biography of the English writer (“The Quiet American,” “The Third Man”). Adam Woog called this a “masterful” treatment of “an astonishing life, one well worth studying in detail.”

“Why Marriage? The History Shaping Today’s Debate Over Gay Equality” by George Chauncey (Basic Books, $12.95). Chauncey (“Gay New York”) explains how the right to marriage became a goal of the gay-rights movement. With a new preface by the author.

“Free World: America, Europe, and the Surprising Future of the West” by Timothy Garton Ash (Vintage, $14.95). A professor of European studies at the University of Oxford sees a future for “the shared values of the West.” With a new afterword by the author.

“The Man in the Flying Lawn Chair and Other Excursions and Observations” by George Plimpton, edited by Sarah Dudley Plimpton (Random House, $13.95). A final collection of offbeat essays by the late editor of The Paris Review.

“Alcoholica Esoterica: A Collection of Useful and Useless Information As It Relates to the History and Consumption of All Manner of Booze” by Ian Lendler (Penguin, $14). Before they break open the champagne, New Year’s Eve revelers may want to study this witty, informative history of alcohol — complete with info on the founding of Alcoholics Anonymous. Bottoms up! And best wishes for the new year.

Compiled by Michael Upchurch, Seattle Times book critic, with contributions cited from staff or freelance critics for The Seattle Times