“The Saints of Lost Things: A Novel” by C.H. Lawler. CreateSpace, 2014. $19.99.

Love blooms as Hurricane Betsy sloshed ashore in Louisiana in 1965, and Louisiana native C.H. Lawler’s first novel takes Sammy Teague and Betsy Duplechain through a gauntlet of history, of class, of race and even a little bit of the devil. It’s an intricate book, down to the veritable Babel of conversations, accents and dialects Lawler works through.

Lawler is a man who knows his setting, and he can spin a good yarn.

—Beth Colvin, bcolvin@theadvocate.com

“Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption” by Bryan Stevenson. Spiegel & Grau, 2014. $28.

Bryan Stevenson, founder of the Equal Justice Initiative, a nonprofit legal entity that represents the most marginalized and voiceless defendants, found his calling when, as a young Harvard law student, he met Walter McMillan, a black Alabama man sitting on death row for killing a white woman before he was even tried.

McMillan’s case exposed Stevenson to our criminal justice system’s dysfunctional state. Our nation has the highest incarceration rate in the world. Mass incarceration and excessive sentencing have disproportionately affected the poor, the disadvantaged, the mentally ill and minorities. Thousands, including children, serve mandatory life sentences for nonviolent crimes, and innocent people sit on death row.

Stevenson, who has argued before the Supreme Court five times, is a modern-day Atticus Finch.

He persuasively argues that our nation’s character is measured by how we treat those in greatest need and without hope, and the justice and mercy we give.

— Laura Acosta, Baton Rouge