“Mona Lisa: A Life Discovered”

by Dianne Hales.

Simon & Schuster. $28.

Called by Italians “La Giaconda,” by the French “La Joconde,” the painting most of us know as the Mona Lisa is bewitching, no matter what you call it.

The masterpiece by Leonardo di Vinci is set into perfect and complete context by Dianne Hales. An enterprising work, Hales’ book starts with “la donna vera,” the real woman in the painting, dissecting her family tree, her culture and her place in the world. She also painstakingly re-creates the life of the master who painted her, questioning all the while his motivations and highlighting his earth-shattering skill.

The Mona Lisa, as Hales shows, has taken on a life far beyond “la donna vera,” and even beyond her creator. She shows clearly what is so special about this simple portrait on poplar, and why we can’t — and shouldn’t — break her spell.

— Beth Colvin, bcolvin@theadvocate.com

“The Book of Unknown Americans” by Cristina Henriquez. Knopf, 2014. $24.95.

After a tragic accident leaves their teenage daughter, Maribel, with severe injuries, Arturo and Alma Rivera leave their comfortable life in Mexico to emigrate to America for advanced medical treatment.

Arturo becomes a day laborer and Alma cares for Maribel as they settle into a run-down apartment building in Delaware.

Adjustment to their new life is complicated when Mayor Toro, a neighbor and son of Panamanian immigrants, and a disappointment to his gruff father, falls for Maribel. The families’ attempt to keep the teens apart fails and leads to tragic consequences. Woven into Maribel and Mayor’s story are the stories of other Latin American immigrant occupants.

Reasons for leaving their countries are told along with the obstacles and discrimination they face as the unknown Americans — the ones that “no one wants to know” because of preconceived and misconstrued ideas of who they are and why they immigrated.

— Laura Acosta, Baton Rouge

“Sweet as Cane, Salty as Tears”

by Ken Wheaton. Open Road, 2014. $13.99.

Katie-Lee’s got issues. Boot-shaped, tried-and-true Louisiana issues.

She thinks she’s left them behind, living in New York and going by Katherine, but then a freak zoologic accident brings her — and her issues — crashing home. In her journey home, Katie-Lee faces down many of them, bringing us along for a zany, yet emotional, ride.

Ken Wheaton gets back to his Opelousas roots with a quick and cathartic read. It’s perfect for the beach; the surf will drown out the sound of you laughing to yourself.

— Beth Colvin, bcolvin@theadvocate.com