Books in Brief: John L Williams, Gene Luen Yang and Richard van Emden

Three new books you may have missed.

A woman in a bookshop.
An independent book shop in central Rio de Janeiro. Photograph: Getty Images.

America’s Mistress: the Life and Times of Eartha Kitt
John L Williams

Orson Welles once called her “the most exciting woman in the world”. Marilyn Monroe, Albert Einstein and T S Eliot were among her many admirers. Yet the American actress and singer Eartha Kitt (the sonorous voice of “C’est Si Bon” and “Santa Baby”) was deeply troubled. She was born on a cotton plantation in South Carolina in 1927 and never knew her father. In the 1950s, she became involved in the civil rights movement and she continued to support women’s charities and LGBT rights until her death in 2008. John L Williams, the author of recent biographies of Shirley Bassey and the London-based Black Power leader Michael X, offers an affectionate account of a woman who was ahead of her time.
Quercus, 336pp, £20

Boxers and Saints
Gene Luen Yang

In 2006, Gene Luen Yang’s American Born Chinese became the first graphic novel to be shortlisted for the National Book Award. His new diptych, Boxers and Saints, is set during the Boxer Rebellion in the late 19th century, in which nationalists in northern China rose up to “exterminate the foreigners”. In Boxers, a peasant boy named Little Bao is inspired by a vision to join the uprising. In Saints, a girl with no place in her village is taken in by Catholic missionaries. One story leads to massacre, the other to martyrdom.
First Second, 336pp, £12.99 (“Boxers”) and 176pp, £10.99 (“Saints”)

Meeting the Enemy: the Human Face of the Great War
Richard van Emden

In Meeting the Enemy, the historian Richard van Emden shifts his focus from the grim fields of the First World War to the small, all but unknown instances of compassion across enemy lines. A high-ranking British POW sings his troops’ praises to the kaiser; German soldiers try frantically to make contact with the families of British captives; married couples refuse to be split by a historical rift far beyond their control.
Bloomsbury, 384pp, £20