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Seven Houses in France

Bernardo Atxaga (Graywolf)

Basque writer Atxaga's blackly comic novel set in the Congo under the brutal colonial rule of a captain who dreams of Paris and his wife, whose goal is to own seven houses in France, while slaves tap rubber and young girls are kidnapped into brothels.

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Pure

Andrew Miller (Europa)

In his Costa Prize–winning novel, Miller has fun with the history of Les Innocents, a cemetery fouling the center of Paris. The book begins on the eve of the French Revolution as Jean-Baptiste Baratte, an ambitious engineer, is hired to get rid of the site casting a deathly pall over the city. "The place is to be made sweet again," says a minister, with the dead disposed of, down to the "last knucklebone."

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Magnificence

Lydia Millet (Norton)

Rounding out her loose series about death and isolation, Miller's novel begins with Susan, who, upon learning that her hus-band has been killed, sees the death as punishment for her own voracious sexuality. When a relative wills Susan an enormous mansion full of taxidermied beasts, she moves in and finds the menagerie a comfort. Millet burrows deep into grief and love as though they were animals to be stuffed.

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Dear Life

Alice Munro (Knopf)

Munro depicts key moments without obscuring the reality of a life filled with countless other moments, told and untold. In her 13th story collection she again charts the shifts in norms after WWII. What's different is that Munro writes explicitly about her childhood. Read together, these stories speak to each other, accrete, and deepen.

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The Coldest Night

Robert Olmstead (Algonquin)

Olmstead's harrowing story of young Henry Childs's escape from love into war is poetic and brutal. "The men did not look human after war's subtraction: no eye, no ear, no nose, no face, no arm, no leg, no gut, no bowel, no bone, no spine, no muscle, no nerve, no breath, no heart, no brain, no faith." Olmstead powerfully evokes the hell of the Korean War on a man who thinks he has something to return to.

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The Yellow Birds

Kevin Powers (Little, Brown)

The war in Iraq through the eyes of a poet; the author an Iraqi veteran and a poet both, who's taken his experiences and his gifts to write a novel of friendship, loss, and the price of battle.

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The Cove

Ron Rash (Ecco)

A mute stranger with a dangerous secret who's on his way to New York is rescued by the lonely "witch" of the haunted cove of the title in the Appalachian mountains of North Carolina during WWI in this atmospheric gothic tale.

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The Watch

Joydeep Roy-Bhattacharya (Hogarth)

Greek tragedy, specifically Antigone, is channeled in this powerful story that opens with a legless Afghan woman demanding the return of her brother's body from an American army base in present-day Afghanistan.

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The Patrick Melrose Novels: Never Mind, Bad News, Some Hope, and Mother's Milk

Edward St. Aubyn (Picador)

St. Aubyn's semiautobiographical Patrick Melrose cycle, written over decades, is a bitter, biting pleasure. Each novel is focused and contained, detailing a few days in the troubled life of the scion of the eccentric, wealthy, and cruel David and Eleanor Melrose. Though St. Aubyn has clearly mined his own experience, he's refined it into something exquisite.

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Narcopolis

Jeet Thayil (Penguin)

Sidestepping the well-worn Indian novel themes, poet and songwriter-musician Thayil takes the low road with this gritty, in-ventive novel of sex, drugs, and desperation in Bombay from the 1970s past the turn of the 21st century.

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The Age of Miracles

Karen Thompson Walker (Random)

In this debut novel from a Columbia M.F.A.-graduate and former Simon & Schuster editor, the 11-year-old protagonist's blooming awareness of a boy is treated with as much respect as the end of the world. Walker has a surgeon's skill at ratcheting tension, parceling out in tiny portions the full impact of "the slowing" of the earth's rotation on the planet's unfortunate inhabitants. A triumph of vision and terrifying momentum.

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Little Sinners

Karen Brown (Univ. of Nebraska)

The angst of ordinary lives in a bleak suburban landscape dominates Brown's second collection, in which she explores the lust for escape from the lie of domestic bliss.

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Beautiful Ruins

Jess Walter (Harper)

A young actress arrives in a small Italian seaside town from the scandalous film set of Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton's Cleopatra with her own scandal that will propel an engaging and twisted love story.

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The Orchardist

Amanda Coplin (Harper)

Lush, evocative language marks this story of a reclusive farmer who reluctantly takes in two feral pregnant teenage girls, who will shatter the peace of his fruit orchard in rural Washington State at the turn of the 20th century.

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This Is How You Lose Her

Junot Díaz (Riverhead)

Irreverent, mesmerizing, gossipy, funny, poignant... how does one describe Díaz's latest outing, a collection overflowing with all the rhythm and pathos of his Dominican tribe, the recurring character of Yunior at the center of it all.

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A Hologram for the King

Dave Eggers (McSweeney's)

In this National Book Award nominee, Eggers takes failing salesman Alan Clay to Saudi Arabia to secure a lucrative IT con-tract with the King Abdullah Economic City. Eggers quotes Samuel Beckett at the beginning for a reason; as Alan and his team deal with tech issues and culture clashes, they wait, and wait, and wait for the king to show. A spare but moving elegy for the American century.

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Broken Harbor

Tana French (Viking)

In French's last novel, Faithful Place, Dubliners were just starting to worry about the city's increasingly unstable real estate market. In Broken Harbor, French's fourth Dublin murder squad novel, the economy is no longer a shadowy backdrop: it's moti-vation for murder. Neck-deep in the economic collapse, solving the case could put Det. Mick Kennedy back on top. But with a rookie partner, an unstable sister, and a haunted past, it will more likely kill him.

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Ghosting

Kirby Gann (Ig)

A brother gone missing along with a large cache of marijuana that belongs to a dying drug king precipitates a dangerous journey through the devastated landscape of Appalachia in Gann's bloody but beautiful novel.

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The Dog Stars

Peter Heller (Knopf)

In this hypervisceral postapocalyptic debut novel, adventure writer Heller tells the story of Hig, an amateur pilot living in an abandoned airport after a superflu decimates humankind. With evocative descriptions of hunting, fishing, and flying, Heller may have written the world's most poetic survival guide.

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