Sea of Hooks
Lindsay Hill (McPherson & Co.)
On a small scale, Hill, a onetime banker and now a poet with six published books, has written a fragmented portrait of a man’s troubled childhood and lost adulthood—a spiritual biography that’s both tragic and comic, and provides moments of pure reading pleasure on every single page, not to mention a wallop of pathos. On a larger scale, it’s a moving and unforgettable novel.
Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood & the Prison of Belief
Lawrence Wright (Knopf)
Wright’s prodigiously researched investigation of Scientology does what good reporting ought to do: examine something in search of truth, lay out the findings, and let conclusions be drawn. In this painstaking work, the author bravely confronts the lawyered-up and controversial church in a dramatic encounter woven right into the narrative. New Yorker staff writer and Pulitzer Prize–winner Wright offers a reality test about a set of beliefs and behaviors that constitute this formidable 20th-century religious movement.
My Bright Abyss: Meditation of a Modern Believer
Christian Wiman (Farrar, Straus and Giroux)
In his book of essays, Wiman is the consummate poet, wrestling with God, mortality, and faith—in exquisite language destined for savoring.
When We Were on Fire: A Memoir of Consuming Faith
Addie Zierman (Convergent)
Zierman’s memoir of growing up in a religiously zealous way stands out in a crowded field as modest, thoughtful, and illuminated with well-selected detail; it’s also delicate in its portrait of a young and changing life.
The Case of the Team Spirit
John Allison (Oni)
Set in a fictional British town, Allison’s Bad Machinery webcomic jumps to print, and there’s “nuffink” more entertaining than watching his droll school-age sleuths puzzle out a mystery involving a supernatural curse that is afflicting the local footy team. Better still, for those who fall for these characters as fast and hard as we did, several subsequent Bad Machinery cases are already available online.
Holly Black, illus. by Eliza Wheeler (S&S/McElderry)
A quest to appease the ghost of a murdered girl is at the heart of Black’s creepy, bittersweet novel about shifting friendships and the aches and pains of growing up. While the chilling and uncertain origins of the doll propel Zach, Poppy, and Alice’s journey, the children’s everyday concerns are, in their own way, no less scary.
Delilah Dirk and the Turkish Lieutenant
Tony Cliff (Roaring Brook/First Second)
First published online, Cliff’s graphic novel stars exactly the sort of “Strong Female Character" the world could use more of. This 19th-century rollick soars thanks to the relationship—and banter—between daredevil Delilah and the comparatively timid Turkish lieutenant, Selim, whose paths cross in ways that typically involve explosions, swordplay, and plummeting airships, much to Selim’s dismay.
The Kingdom of Little Wounds
Susann Cokal (Candlewick)
Adult author Cokal’s first book for teens can be jaw-dropping in its brutality, yet also hopeful and even empowering. Set in a fictitious 16th-century Scandinavian court, the story follows Ava, a seamstress, and Midi Sorte, a slave, as they attempt to surmount rape, violence, and political machinations. The mercilessness of the world Cokal constructs only emphasizes the strength of Ava, Midi, and others.
Susan Cooper (S&S/McElderry)
Cooper brings a touch of fantasy to this haunting story of the friendship between two boys—one a Pilgrim, the other Wampanoag—in the 17th century. Their friendship does not end well, but through their stories, Cooper paints a vivid portrait of the struggle to do right when facing widespread intolerance and injustice.
Flora & Ulysses: The Illuminated Adventures
Kate DiCamillo, illus. by K.G. Campbell (Candlewick)
Blending comics sequences and prose, DiCamillo and Campbell tell a story that’s as iconoclastic and memorable as its heroes: Flora, a comic book aficionado stung by her parents’ divorce; and Ulysses, the squirrel she rescues who, against all expectations, turns out have superpowers. Yes, there’s superhero-style fun here, but it’s the emotion at the heart of the story that lingers.
The Golden Day
Ursula Dubosarsky (Candlewick)
A field trip, a vanished teacher, and a group of girls left with unanswered questions are the focus of this novel of fading innocence and growing awareness of the injustices and evils of the world. Dubosarsky infuses her narrative with dread and uncertainty, right through the haunting, not-quite-conclusive ending.
Better Nate Than Ever
Tim Federle (Simon & Schuster)
Thirteen-year-old Nate Foster has Broadway dreams, and he’s willing to sneak off to the Big Apple to realize them. Debut author Federle has firsthand experience on the Great White Way, and it shows in this heartwarming and effortlessly funny story about a boy’s attempt to better understand himself and what he hopes to get out of life.
César Aira, trans. by Nick Caistor (New Directions)
Argentinian Aira’s homage to, and deconstruction of, the Victorian adventure novel revels in raising order from ambiguity, only to plunge headlong into new mysteries. It’s a postmodern historical detective novel set on the Pampas that delights in turning all upside down.
From Norvelt to Nowhere
Jack Gantos (Farrar, Straus and Giroux)
Gantos’s follow-up to his Newbery Medal–winning Dead End in Norvelt is as over-the-top as its predecessor, and just as rewarding. Gantos’s dark brand of humor shines through in the road-trip shenanigans between young Jackie Gantos and Miss Volker as they head for Florida in a secondhand VW Beetle.
Sally Gardner, illus. by Julian Crouch (Candlewick)
Gardner offers a violent and original twist on the dystopian genre in this alternate history set against the backdrop of the Cold War. In dyslexic 15-year-old Standish Treadwell, she creates a singular hero willing to risk everything to stand up to corruption.
How to Catch a Bogle
Catherine Jinks, illus. by Sarah Watts (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)
Victorian London wasn’t always a walk in Hyde Park, and the same is true of Jinks’s monster-ridden version of the city. True, a job that amounts to “monster bait” is risky, but it beats the workhouses, as far as orphan Birdie McAdam is concerned. Jinks’s alternate history brims with wit and peril.
The Thing About Luck
Cynthia Kadohata, illus. by Julia Kuo (S&S/Atheneum)
Kadohata offers a beautifully observed and often humorous story about a contemporary Japanese-American family of “custom harvesters,” centering on 12-year-old Summer as she and her grandparents travel between Midwest farms in an effort to keep the bills paid. While the specifics of Summer’s life may be unfamiliar to many readers, the pressure she feels is universal.
A.S. King (Little, Brown)
Training her eye on the world of reality TV, King introduces 16-year-old Gerald Faust, who gained notoriety as a child during appearances on a show called Network Nanny. Gerald’s rage and pain are visceral, and King tackles a sensational topic with sensitivity while turning a mirror on our culture’s own voyeurism.
Nick Lake (Bloomsbury)
Lake follows his Printz-winning In Darkness (about the 2010 earthquake in Haiti) with a gripping thriller set against another of-the-moment topic—piracy off the coast of Somalia. Expertly balancing teenage angst, social inequity, romance, and very real danger, Lake’s story is as gripping as it is provocative.
Whistle in the Dark
Susan Hill Long (Holiday House)
Life looks grim for 13-year-old Clem Harding as he’s pulled out of school to work in the lead mines in his 1920s Missouri town. Long paints Clem’s hopes and apprehensions with skill as he struggles to balance the loyalty he feels for his family, which desperately needs the income, with his dreams of a better life for himself.
The Truth of Me
Patricia MacLachlan (HarperCollins/Tegen)
MacLachlan gives newly independent readers plenty of food for thought in this story of intergenerational friendship between a boy named Robbie and his grandmother. Robbie has some very big revelations during his stay with Maddy, as well as a chance to save the day. It’s a quiet but elegantly written story about a boy’s first encounter with some grown-up problems and concerns.
Far Far Away
Tom McNeal (Knopf)
McNeal marries ghostly supernatural elements with all-too-human horrors in a story that places fairy-tale terror in a contemporary setting without compromising either. Readers’ dread will match that of the ghost of Jacob Grimm, who watches helplessly as danger circles in on a boy named Jeremy and his town.
Sex and Violence
Carrie Mesrobian (Carolrhoda Lab)
First-time author Mesrobian makes a bold, memorable debut with a novel that examines both the psychological aftereffects of an act of violence and a teenage boy’s growing awareness of his own destructive attitudes toward sex. Packed with big ideas, big struggles, and big questions with answers that are never clear-cut.
The Blind Man’s Garden
Nadeem Aslam (Knopf)
There are already a number of stateside-set 9/11 novels, but Aslam moves the drama to Central Asia with two Pakistani brothers who venture across the border to Afghanistan with humanitarian intentions that place them in the center of the chaos of war. As we said in our review: “Aslam gives an empathetic, unbiased look at one of the most polarizing issues of the day and allows us to see the humanity in those that we call our enemy.”
The Infinite Moment of Us
Lauren Myracle (Abrams/Amulet)
Through the romance of Wren Gray and Charlie Parker (no, not that Charlie Parker), Myracle creates a smart, honest, and valuable portrait of a teenage relationship built on love and respect. While the book’s frankness may rub some (adults) the wrong way, few books handle teenage sexuality as well as Myracle does here.
Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock
Matthew Quick (Little, Brown)
The pain (and the gun) Leonard Peacock carries with him make every page of Quick’s novel intense, dread-soaked, and all but impossible to turn away from. Leonard’s anguish, frustrations, disappointments, and rage are crystal clear as the teenager begins to put into action his plan to kill his former best friend, and then himself.
Picture Me Gone
Meg Rosoff (Putnam)
The betrayals and failings of adults rise to the surface of this coming-of-age story, in which a 12-year-old British girl accompanies her father to the U.S. in an effort to track down an old friend of his. As Mila’s keen observations begin to reveal secrecy and lies, readers will feel her awakening intensely and intimately.
Eleanor & Park
Rainbow Rowell (St. Martin's Griffin)
Rowell’s first book for teens has been one of the breakout success stories of the year, and it’s easy to see why. The way she captures the slow, tantalizing development of a romance between the two misfit teens of the title is dead on, and the relationship itself is breathtakingly realistic in its imperfections, pain, and joy.
The War Within These Walls
Aline Sax, trans. by Laura Watkinson, illus. by Caryl Strzelecki (Eerdmans)
First published in Belgium, this fictionalized account of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising in 1942 is as riveting as it is horrifying. The history speaks for itself, but Sax’s nameless young narrator and Strzelecki’s brutal, graphic illustrations plunge readers directly into the midst of the confusion, heartbreak, and devastation of the city’s Jewish residents.
Marcus Sedgwick (Roaring Brook)
Sedgwick brilliantly stitches together seven stories, moving backward in time across the centuries as he explores love, death, and sacrifice on a strange and isolated Nordic island. It’s a multilayered story whose motifs, interconnected characters, and underlying hints of menace draw readers in as they try to piece together the island’s mysteries.
Andrew Smith, illus. by Sam Bosma (Simon & Schuster)
Smith takes a break from the supernatural horrors of The Marbury Lens and Passenger with a boarding-school comedy/drama that pulls in rugby, bullying, late-night dares, romance, and tragedy. Awkward, searching, and hormonal, Ryan Dean West is a near-unforgettable narrator in this funny but also heartrending coming-of-age story.
Rose Under Fire
Elizabeth Wein (Hyperion)
Wein follows her acclaimed Code Name Verity with another WWII-era novel of heroism and friendship under brutal circumstances. Captured and imprisoned in the Ravensbrück concentration camp in Germany, American volunteer pilot Rose Justice strives to tells the world of the atrocities she witnesses firsthand in this hard-hitting, detail-rich work of historical fiction.
P.S. Be Eleven
Rita Williams-Garcia (HarperCollins/ Amistad)
Building on the social upheaval and coming-of-age themes of One Crazy Summer, Williams-Garcia continues the story of sisters Delphine, Vonetta, and Fern Gaither, as they return to Brooklyn after their summer with the Black Panthers. Once again, the author expertly examines a tumultuous slice of American history through the perspective of a sharp-eyed, steely-willed heroine.
Boxers and Saints
Gene Luen Yang (Roaring Brook/ First Second)
This diptych of graphic novels forces readers to consider the roles of faith, fervor, and nationalism in the Boxer Rebellion in China, which Yang explores from opposing viewpoints. The author does a remarkable job of humanizing this conflict and its players, creating fully realized and empathetic characters on both sides.
Life After Life
Kate Atkinson (Little, Brown/Reagan Arthur)
The many lives and deaths of Ursula Todd bridge wars and epidemics, and Atkinson’s dizzying start-stop puzzle is comical, harrowing and touching as her very Brit characters get on with life and the tumultuous events of history. Does Ursula learn from past mistakes? Sometimes. Will you love this book? We think so.
The Lucy Variations
Sara Zarr (Little, Brown)
Pressures—both self-imposed and external—are viscerally felt in this coming-of-age story about 16-year-old Lucy Beck-Moreau, a piano prodigy who has given up music. Zarr’s razor-sharp prose and multidimensional characterizations make Lucy’s world uncommonly real, as she works through past regrets, family tensions, and tricky decisions.
Mr. Tiger Goes Wild
Peter Brown (Little, Brown)
Against a backdrop of drab, buttoned-up Victoriana, Brown celebrates a tiger who rediscovers his wild self (and the joys of walking on all fours), shedding his inhibitions along with his clothes. Books that encourage children to embrace their true, unique selves are many, but few do so with such a big sense of fun and as little preachiness as Brown does here.
The Year of the Jungle: Memories of the Home Front
Suzanne Collins, illus. by James Proimos (Scholastic)
Collins draws on her childhood memories of her father’s absence while he was off fighting in Vietnam, in a story that manifests the uncertainties that accompany children growing up during wartime. Innocence and awakening, fear and security, change and hope intermingle as Collins speaks with clarity and empathy to a new generation of military kids.
If You Want to See A Whale
Julie Fogliano, illus. by Erin E. Stead (Roaring Brook/Porter)
Fogliano’s advice for children hoping to see a whale is full of don’ts: don’t get too comfy in that chair; don’t be distracted by the possibility of pirates in the harbor. But as Stead’s meticulous artwork and Fogliano’s soft ironies make clear, the world is full of marvels and mysteries that shouldn’t be overlooked.
Rosie’s Magic Horse
Russell Hoban, illus. by Quentin Blake (Candlewick)
The late Hoban’s final picture book is an out-and-out romp, filled with shape-shifting ice-pop sticks, nighttime adventures, pirate treasure, and Blake’s wild and instantly recognizable brand of cartooning. With a can-do heroine at the helm and rollicking humor, it’s a “kids first” kind of story and a wonderful cap on Hoban’s remarkable career.
The Tortoise & the Hare
Jerry Pinkney (Little, Brown)
Caldecott Medalist Pinkney has a knack for getting to the heart of the fables and legends he brings his pencils and paint to. Here, he lets Aesop’s “slow and steady wins the race” moral stretch and repeat itself over the course of the footrace, highlighting the words’ meaning in a profound way, while creating sumptuous artwork for readers to dwell on.
Lemony Snicket, illus. by Jon Klassen (Little, Brown)
Given Snicket’s and Klassen’s respective tendencies to create books with an edge, they are a dream pairing for a story about the fear of the dark. But while there are some deliciously tense sequences, heightened by the pitch-black hallways and basement that young Laszlo tentatively navigates, the book leaves readers in a place of confidence rather than terror.
Jon Scieszka and Mac Barnett, illus. by Matthew Myers (Simon & Schuster)
Drawing in books? Sacrilege! Or is it? While it’s hilarious to watch the Scieszka and Barnett’s unseen young “editor” transform the story’s sappy hero, Birthday Bunny, into a heavily armed warmonger, there’s an important message underneath: don’t see books you like? Make ’em. Maybe the most subversive children’s book of the year, and certainly one of the funniest.
Bob Staake (Random/Schwartz & Wade)
Staake makes a significant departure in tone from his earlier madcap work with this sensitive, wordless story about the salvation a lonely boy finds in the form of a friendly bluebird. Readers don’t get a traditionally happy ending (for some, it will be downright heartbreaking), but the book’s sense of hope transcends its tragedies.
Tomi Ungerer (Phaidon)
This eerie adventure, about a pair of brave siblings, a mist-shrouded island, and its mysterious keeper, has the feel of a rediscovered classic, a relic from a time when these kinds of stories were more common. Luckily for readers young and old, Ungerer is still creating them.
Margaret Atwood (Doubleday/Talese)
Rarely has civilization’s implosion been portrayed with as much queasy humor and earthy humanity as in Atwood’s MaddAddam trilogy, now brought to its satisfying, eponymous conclusion. The author pushes modern hubris to absurd reaches while grounding her violently fanciful plot in real-world echoes: just try not to think about ChickieNobs the next time you bite into a buffalo wing.
David Wiesner (Clarion)
Aliens invade! And humans don’t even notice! Wiesner has always been at home with the offbeat and the unusual, and this dramatic encounter between a landing party of Very Little Green Men and the ferocious housecat of the title combines comics-style panels, alien hieroglyphics, and cross-species teamwork, with wildly entertaining results.
This Is the Rope: A Story from the Great Migration
Jacqueline Woodson, illus. by James Ransome (Penguin/Paulsen)
Woodson’s family participated in the Great Migration, and that personal connection shows in this fictional account of a family’s move from South Carolina to New York City. Woodson’s weighted writing and Ransome’s luscious oils quietly emphasize both the tangible and intangible things the family carries with them as they seek a better life.
Brian Floca (S&S/Atheneum/Jackson)
In rhythmic prose and gorgeously crafted illustrations, Floca offers a tribute to the American railroad system that is simultaneously epic and personal. The author brings an almost cinematic sense of scope and scene to his meticulous paintings, while the free verse narrative captures the sights, sounds, and even smells that distinguished the early days of rail travel in the U.S.
Poems to Learn by Heart
Edited by Caroline Kennedy, illus. by Jon J Muth (Disney-Hyperion)
Kennedy and Muth encourage readers to commit poetry to memory in this gorgeously illustrated collection of verse, with Kennedy including selections from Nash, Dickinson, Milne, Prelutsky, and more. Muth’s watercolors show a fitting diversity of range and tone; poems on war, family, friendship, nature, and other themes speak to readers of every age and background.
Relish: My Life in the Kitchen
Lucy Knisley (Roaring Brook/First Second)
Teenagers and their parents alike will devour Knisley’s comics-style memoir (and, very likely, some of the recipes included), in which she shares memories of her childhood, family, and adolescence, seen through the lens of food. Writing with candor, honesty, and wit, Knisley demonstrates the value in seizing the adventures (culinary and otherwise) that life has to offer.
Kadir Nelson (HarperCollins/Tegen)
Nelson’s arresting paintings immediately captivate in this picture book biography of South Africa’s first black president. But the narrative has ample power of its own, as Nelson traces Mandela’s journey into adulthood, the fight against apartheid, imprisonment and other setbacks, and triumphant victories.
Stardines Swim High Across the Sky and Other Poems
Jack Prelutsky, illus. by Carin Berger (Greenwillow)
Prelutsky and Berger follow 2006’s Behold the Bold Umbrellaphant with another highly entertaining collection of poems featuring a cast of hybrid creatures that, this time, include sobcats, jollyfish, magpipes, and slobsters. Berger’s eclectic dioramas are the perfect match for the cleverness and wit of Prelutsky’s creations.
Parrots over Puerto Rico
Susan L. Roth and Cathy Trumbore, illus. by Susan L. Roth (Lee & Low)
A sense of humanity’s ability to both help and hinder the natural world courses like a river through this study of the rise, decline, and resurgence of parrots on the island of Puerto Rico. Roth’s stunning collages have a vibrancy that underscores the majesty of these birds (and nature on the whole), as well as the need to protect them.
My Brother’s Book
Maurice Sendak (HarperCollins/di Capua)
The late Sendak leaves readers with a haunting, elegiac tribute to his deceased brother, Jack, in a poem rife with highbrow references to Blake, Dickinson, Milton, and others. While adult readers are mostly likely to discern those influences, the story’s longing, humor, and desire for connection speak to all.
Lincoln’s Grave Robbers
Steve Sheinkin (Scholastic Press)
Sheinkin follows his acclaimed Bomb with a fascinating historical caper about an 1876 plot to steal the body of the late President Lincoln. Beyond the book’s value in sharing this slice of history, it also illuminates a pervasive counterfeiting industry at the time, which factored into the scheme.
Amor and Psycho
Carolyn Cooke (Knopf)
Through 11 stories, Cooke does everything from creating a mysterious culture to showing poetry as a blood sport, but this collection is at its best when contrasting its characters private lives and public lives—a Jungian analyst can’t stop moving to new places; a man builds a state of the art doghouse as his wife transforms into... a dog.
Courage Has No Color: The True Story of the Triple Nickles, America’s First Black Paratroopers
Tanya Lee Stone (Candlewick)
Stone explores a little-known chapter of WWII history as she studies the 555th Parachute Infantry Battalion, the first African-American paratroopers in the U.S. military. It’s a remarkable tale of trailblazing soldiers whose perseverance helped usher in the integration of both the armed forces and the country as a whole.
“The President Has Been Shot!”: The Assassination of John F. Kennedy
James L. Swanson (Scholastic Press)
On the 50th anniversary of the J.F.K. assassination, Swanson offers a riveting account of the days preceding and following the Dallas shooting, providing context to the actions of Lee Harvey Oswald, the tempestuous political climate of the 1960s, and the efforts to understand the assassination and the events surrounding it.
Claire of the Sea Light
Edwidge Danticat (Knopf)
The cycle of life and death in a small Haitian town is depicted through the first six birthdays of Claire Limyè Lanmè and the approach of her seventh. Danticat’s writing has never been better than in this gorgeous and profound story.
Percival Everett by Virgil Russell
Percival Everett (Graywolf)
What to make of Everett’s wacky, shape-shifting narrative, part Brautigan and part Beckett, in which Nat Turner writes William Styron’s memoir and characters say things like, “If you must know, it’s from Hamlet, act two hundred, scene fifty-nine”? But despite his tricks, Everett’s intention is personal—the book is dedicated to his father, who passed away in 2010—and the result is deeply moving.
Amity Gaige (Hachette/Twelve)
Written as a letter to the wife he let down, this is the story of Erik Schoder’s flight from the authorities with Meadow, the young daughter he’s lost in his custody battle. Schroder has made a mess of his life, but as his heartbreaking last trip with Meadow shows, at his core he’s a good man trying one last time to show his daughter that he loves her.
William H. Gass (Knopf)
In Gass’s third novel, average professor Joseph Skizzen flees 1938 Austria and ends up teaching at an average Ohio college, where he lives out his average days while tending to his attic’s “Inhumanity Museum” and privately worrying about what humanity might do to itself. Gass’s fine sentences belong in their own museum.
Dirty Wars: The World Is a Battlefield
Jeremy Scahill (Nation)
The Nation’s national security correspondent surgically exposes how the War on Terror is actually conducted: secret prisons, torture, extralegal assassinations, drone surveillance and warfare, gamesmanship with corrupt regimes. Neither the U.S. military nor the Bush and Obama administrations come off looking good here. The government twists the law and the Constitution to serve an ideology that sees the whole world as a potential battlefield, in which we make and remake the rules as we go. Scahill produces a masterwork of investigative journalism that offers a bleak, chilling vision of our militarized future.
The Signature of All Things
Elizabeth Gilbert (Viking)
Gilbert roars back into the fiction world with this adventurous tale of desire and curiosity set in the age of Enlightenment. Her wealthy young female botanist, consumed with the mysteries of evolution, also finds love, as the story crisscrosses the globe. There is much pleasure in this unhurried, sympathetic, intelligent novel by an author confident in her material and her form.
How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia
Mohsin Hamid (Riverhead)
Pakistani, Ivy League–educated Hamid keeps reinventing himself with wild storytelling and a clear view into today’s society. In this third novel, he claims, wickedly, to deliver the ultimate self-help book, with a protagonist who begins life in dusty rural poverty and goes on to achieve status and wealth... at a price. As he says in the last chapter, “We are all refugees from our childhoods. So we turn, among other things, to stories.”
Jim Harrison (Grove)
Harrison returns with 500 pages of the preposterously amusing shenanigans of Brown Dog, one of literature’s great characters. Spread across six novellas, the adventures of the part–Native American protagonist include stealing the petrified body of an Indian chief from the bottom of Lake Superior and taking a trip to Los Angeles to retrieve a lost bearskin, along with plenty of drinking and chasing women. An essential collection from an American legend.
Rachel Kushner (Scribner)
Narrated by a reckless recent art school graduate, Kushner’s second novel races across the American landscape, as her story becomes entangled with that of an Italian soldier growing up in Alexandria, Egypt. Kushner forges the very sharpest psychological insights for her cast of characters, as she covers the events of the 20th century with speed, violence, and enviable creativity.
J.M. Ledgard (Coffee House)
As the novel begins, Danielle Flinders is readying an exploration of the deep ocean while James More is being held captive in Somalia. But they once met by chance and had an affair, which is revisited in riveting prose through the characters’ harrowing, scientific, even tender experiences.
Eric Lundgren (Overlook)
At one point in his search for his missing wife, narrator Sven is mugged. He thinks: “I was momentarily uncertain whether to tense up or relax. It had been a while since I’d been touched.” Such is the lonely, odd pace of Sven’s life in the fictional Midwestern city of Trude, the perfect setting for Lundgren’s droll, existential detective story.
Alice McDermott (Farrar, Straus and Giroux)
Another gem from McDermott, who, while continuing to work the seemingly plain interiors of Irish-American life, deploys brilliant strategies for bringing the reader into her confidence, like a member of the family.
Charles Palliser (Norton)
A Victorian gothic mystery—told through the journal of 17-year-old Richard Shenstone—that never slows down. There’s a dilapidated mansion, family secrets, threatening letters, and a gossipy small town. Who is mutilating the village animals? Why was Richard sent home from Cambridge? What do Richard’s mother and sister know about his father’s death? Secrets are revealed in this old-fashioned reading treat.
Thomas Pynchon (Penguin Press)
New York City between the burst of the dot-com bubble and 9/11 is the setting for Pynchon’s novel, overflowing with invention, goofiness, and dread. While the characters wring their hands over who’s doing what on the Deep Web, the reader’s wringing her hands over the approaching events of September 2001.
Tenth of December
George Saunders (Random)
“Funny” used to be the first word for George Saunders’s fiction. But with his fourth collection, Tenth of December, a new pathos and compassion has crept in, showing a writer at the top of his game with disruptive and memorable stories ranging from of the abduction of a young girl to a cancer patient’s attempt at suicide, which is thwarted by a chance meeting with a boy in the woods.
Men We Reaped: A Memoir
Jesmyn Ward (Bloomsbury)
With graceful prose and a heavy heart, critically acclaimed novelist Ward bravely enters nonfiction terrain in this starkly honest and deeply tragic account of the deaths of five important men in her life. Through her personal narrative, Ward writes intimately about the pall of blighted opportunity, lack of education, and circular poverty that hangs over the young, vulnerable African-American inhabitants of DeLisle, Miss.
The Daylight Gate
Jeanette Winterson (Grove)
Winterson thrusts the reader back to the countryside of 17th-century England, where witches and Catholicism are eradicated with equal force. The stripped-down sentences and brutal happenings are lovely in the author’s hands, and because the characters are prone to betrayal and mystery, the pages turn very quickly.
Frank Bidart (Farrar, Straus and Giroux)
In this masterful collection, Bidart, long recognized as a major poet, looks back on his life and the times that shaped his imagination; he even remembers the process of writing his most famous poem, pushing language to its limits.
Rise in the Fall
Ana Bozicevic (Birds, LLC)
Sexy, audacious, and compassionate in surprising ways, Bozicevic’s sophomore effort is about as funny and smart as poetry gets.
Transfer of Qualities
Martha Ronk (Omnidawn)
Ronk, a lauded experimental poet, takes on the relationship between people and the objects they love in this collection of prose poems. She thinks her way into the things in a room, finding the music in the still and the silent.
Mary Szybist (Graywolf)
In her second book, Szybist puns her own name with that of the Biblical Mary, upending and recasting one of the founding myths of Western culture as a story of devotion and ambivalence for our age.
The Book of Goodbyes
Jillian Weise (BOA)
These fierce, hip, heartbreaking love poems call out to a lover who can’t be lived with or without. They’re humorous, odd, and full of all the unreasonable truth of love. This book is the real thing.
Hour of the Red God
Richard Crompton (FSG/Sarah Crichton)
Former BBC journalist Crampton joins the front rank of writers of fiction set in Africa with this mystery in which a Nairobi police detective, who lost his wife in the 1998 al-Qaeda bombing of the U.S. embassy, looks into the murder of a fellow Maasai tribe member.
The Crimson Fog
Paul Halter (Locked Room International)
First published in France in 1988, this brilliant fair-play mystery showcases the author’s ingenuity at misdirecting the reader and his unique approach to the Jack the Ripper murders of 1888.
The Silent Wife
A.S.A. Harrison (Penguin)
Gone Girl fans will welcome Canadian author Harrison’s first novel, a smart, nuanced portrait of a faltering marriage. Harrison breathes life into Adlerian psychology.
Death of a Nightingale
Lene Kaaberbol and Agnete Friis (Soho Crime)
Artfully drawn characters who are a pleasure to know populate this writing pair’s third thriller featuring Danish nurse Nina Borg, who bonds with Natasha Doroshenko, a Ukrainian refugee accused of murder.
The People in the Trees
Hanya Yanagihara (Doubleday)
Add Norton Perina to the pantheon of literature’s best unreliable narrators. Perina is a scientist who, after graduating Harvard medical school in the 1940s, travels to a remote Pacific island chain where he may or may not have stumbled upon the key to immortality. The book is composed of his memoirs, which he is writing from prison in the U.S. after being convicted of a heinous crime. The truth behind Perina’s story is both riveting and chilling.
The Other Child
Charlotte Link (Penguin Crime)
A college student leaves her babysitting gig late at night to travel home across a remote part of Yorkshire, only to become a murder victim, in German author Link’s U.S. debut, which will appeal to fans of Ruth Rendell and Minette Walters.
Jason Matthews (Scribner)
Matthews brings all the authenticity and tradecraft of his 33 years as a CIA agent to his first novel, in which CIA agent Nate Nash matches wits with beautiful Dominika Egorova, an agent of the Russian Foreign Intelligence Service.
Gods and Beasts
Denise Mina (Little, Brown/Reagan Arthur)
Det. Sgt. Alex Morrow’s third outing takes the reader into the dark, beating heart of modern Glasgow, where the real deals are struck and the spoils divided.
Murder as a Fine Art
David Morrell (Little, Brown/Mulholland)
Thomas De Quincy, author of the controversial essay “On Murder Considered as One of the Fine Arts,” sets out to solve a multiple murder case in 1854 London that replicates the real-life Ratcliffe Highway murders of 1811.
How the Light Gets In
Louise Penny (Minotaur)
In her ninth novel with Chief Insp. Armand Gamache of the Quebec Sûreté, Penny balances personal courage and faith with heartbreaking choices and monstrous evil, as Gamache looks into the murder of an elderly woman, the last survivor of a set of quintuplets who were once national celebrities.
Benjamin Percy (Grand Central)
A blend of supernatural thriller and alternate history showcases the plight of an underclass of citizens—lupine shapeshifters known as lycans—who illuminate much of recent U.S. history, including the “war on terror.”
Enigma of China: An Inspector Chen Novel
Qiu Xiaolong (Minotaur)
Qiu neatly delineates the dilemmas of being an ethical cop in a police state in his eighth novel featuring Chief Insp. Chen Cao, who looks into the apparent suicide of the director of Shanghai’s housing development committee.
Fear in the Sunlight
Nicola Upson (Harper/Bourbon Street)
Real-life mystery writer Josephine Tey is featured in Upson’s psychologically complex fourth whodunit. The murders of three women on the set of Rear Window in California in 1954 connect to three other murders committed 18 years earlier in the resort town of Portmeirion, Wales, where Tey met a promising young director named Alfred Hitchcock.
The Typewriter Girl
Alison Atlee (S&S/Gallery)
A feisty, headstrong woman and an ambitious, compassionate man seize the chance for improbable love in Atlee’s spectacular debut, set in a perfectly realized Victorian England.
Letters from Skye
Jessica Brockmole (Ballantine)
An epistolary relationship between a Scottish poet and an American college student becomes a shy romance whose progress overlaps with two world wars and a host of personal complications.
Lost Girls: An Unsolved American Mystery
Robert Kolker (Harper)
Even hardened true crime readers will be haunted by New York magazine contributing editor Kolker’s provocative tale of five young escorts who became linked by the tragic circumstances of their disappearances, and the discovery of their remains on Long Island’s Oak Beach. Kolker compassionately renders each woman’s descent into a world “that many of their loved ones could not imagine.”
Brothers of the Wild North Sea
Harper Fox (Samhain)
When Vikings target a monastery rumored to be hiding a treasure, the true wealth turns out to be in the love that develops between fledgling monk Caius and injured raider Fenrir, despite the barriers of faith, culture, and war.
Tremble: Erotic Tales of the Mystical and Sinister
Tobsha Learner (Plume)
These nine wonderfully strange and dark tales maintain a dreamy, fairy-tale feel as they explore historical and contemporary erotic encounters charged with magic, humor, wonder, and fear.
You Give Good Love
J.J. Murray (Kensington)
A chance meeting leads to a slow-building interracial and cross-cultural romance between a hopelessly overqualified copy shop clerk and a starry-eyed greeting card designer.
A Hero to Come Home To
Marilyn Pappano (Grand Central/Forever)
An amputee paratrooper and the widow of an Army sergeant find unexpected solace in Pappano’s tearjerker contemporary, which takes an unflinching look at all the joys and sorrows of daily life for America’s military families and veterans.
Robert Jackson Bennett (Orbit)
Bennett’s knockout novel, part science fiction and part eldritch horror, flips over the American dream and trains a spotlight on the nasty things that come scuttling out.
Great North Road
Peter F. Hamilton (Del Rey)
Mystery, religion, politics, and technology collide in Hamilton’s engrossing near-future whodunit, which juxtaposes an English policeman’s murder investigation with an interplanetary quest to find and understand alien life.
Twenty-First Century Science Fiction
D. G. Hartwell, P. Nielsen Hayden (Tor)
Hartwell and Nielsen Hayden’s mammoth anthology of recent science fiction stories by up-and-coming authors is a fascinating snapshot of a pivotal moment in the genre, as well as a compilation of wonderful writing.
The Inner City
Karen Heuler (ChiZine)
Heuler’s beguiling collection of literary speculative stories, some earthy and some ethereal, examines the ways individuals are influenced by society and influence it in turn.
Conservation of Shadows
Yoon Ha Lee (Prime)
Lee’s moody, rich first collection uses a wide variety of inspirations—including Korean history, higher mathematics, classic moral dilemmas, and genre fiction—as seeds around which complex and beautiful stories crystallize.
V.E. Schwab (Tor)
The line between superhero and supervillain is blurred to the point of nonexistence when two friends become enemies after discovering that near-death experiences can induce the development of extraordinary powers.
Miss Anne in Harlem: The White Women of the Black Renaissance
Carla Kaplan (Harper)
In this beautifully written, empathetic, and valuable addition to the history of the Harlem Renaissance, scholar Kaplan (Zora Neale Hurston: A Life in Letters) presents the untold story of six notable white women (including Fannie Hurst and Nancy Cunard, members of a larger group known collectively as “Miss Anne”) who embraced black culture—and life—in Harlem in the 1920s and ’30s, serving as hostesses, patrons, activists, comrades, lovers, writers, and editors.
March Book One
John Lewis, Andrew Aydin, Nate Powell (Top Shelf)
A vivid memoir of the life of Rep. John Lewis, former head of SNCC and legendary Civil Rights figure, that also serves as a you-are-there history of the war against Jim Crow segregation in the Deep South.
Today Is the Last Day of the Rest of Your Life
Ulli Lust (Fantagraphics)
As a teenage punk in the early '80s, Lust decided to hitchhike from her native Austria to Italy, accompanied by an unstable and untrustworthy friend. She faces abuse, poverty, and worse in her travels. A perceptive On the Road–like tale that captures the thrill of irresponsible youthful adventures and their inevitable price.
Rutu Modan (Drawn & Quarterly)
A grandmother returns to modern Warsaw with her granddaughter to reclaim property that was lost in World War II. Modan’s clear line art delineates the complex web of loves, lies, and invented pasts. This beautifully realized narrative shows how history shapes us but cannot destroy us.
Jeff Smith (Cartoon Books)
The lost journals of Nicola Tesla underpin this science fantasy by the creator of Bone. Rasl is a dimension-hopping art thief who is being pursued across realities by hit men set on killing him. Fusing mythology, noir, and SF, it’s a rousing tale with a memorably flawed hero and jangly pacing that propels the story in new directions every time Rasl jumps to a different world.
Boxers and Saints
Gene Luen Yang (Roaring Brook/First Second)
These two separate, yet intertwined graphic novels investigate the Chinese Boxer Rebellion, looking alternately through the eyes of the messianic rural insurrectionists (Boxers) and the Chinese Christian converts (Saints), who the former wanted to drive from their country.
Luke Barr (Clarkson Potter)
Barr, M.F.K. Fisher’s great-nephew and an editor at Travel & Leisure, enlists considerable research skills in re-creating a momentous convergence of preeminent American food writers in Provence, France, in the fall of 1970—a union that determined the development of American food culture for years to come.
To the End of June: The Intimate Life of American Foster Care
Cris Beam (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)
Castaway kids and adult caretakers create fragile bonds in this gut-wrenching panorama of American foster families. Beam’s sharp critique of foster care policies and her searching exploration of the meaning of family make for an important and mesmerizing read.
Knocking on Heaven’s Door: The Path to a Better Way of Death
Katy Butler (Scribner)
Butler writes affectingly of her émigré parents’ desire to make moral decisions about their deaths, in spite of a medical establishment bent on prolonging life at any cost. Butler usefully weighs the pros and cons of medical lifesaving and argues persuasively for helping elders and their caretakers face death with foresight and bravery.
Italo Calvino: Letters, 1941–1985
Italo Calvino, Wood, McLaughlin (Princeton Univ.)
The first English translation of 650 letters from the acclaimed Italian author includes his elegant and generous correspondence with Umberto Eco, Gore Vidal, Elsa Morante, and Primo Levi, among others, as well as insights on topics such as the role of the critic and the influence of Roland Barthes.
Mortal Sins: Sex, Crime, and the Era of Catholic Scandal
Michael D’Antonio (St. Martin’s/Dunne)
The definitive history of the Catholic Church’s poor handling of its extensive, long-running internal problems with sexual abuse. D’Antonio finds the humanity in abusers, victims, and power players on both sides, making this book both enthralling and disturbing.
A Constellation of Vital Phenomena
Anthony Marra (Random/Hogarth)
A Chechen village, a young girl watching her father taken by Russian soldiers and her house burned to the ground: so begins Marra’s startling debut, in which a tough doctor ponders the extent of her obligation to help Havaa, an eight-year-old girl who has been brought to the doctor’s wretched and abandoned hospital by Akhmed, the girl’s neighbor. Marra follows the three characters for five days in 2004 and weaves a tapestry of connections in the midst of an ugly war.
The Riot Grrrl Collection
Lisa Darms (Feminist)
Archivist Darms captures the excitement and angst of the underground feminist punk scene in the early 1990s through a selection of zines, posters, flyers, cassette tape covers, and other artifacts from the Riot Grrrl movement.
The Sports Gene: Inside the Science of Extraordinary Athletic Performances
David Epstein (Penguin/Current)
In this provocative study, Sports Illustrated writer Epstein explores whether some individuals are genetically disposed to excel at certain sports.
Thank You for Your Service
David Finkel (FSG/Sarah Crichton)
Finkel’s sequel to 2009’s The Good Soldiers reconnects with members of the 2-16 Infantry Battalion as they attempt to readjust to civilian life and a new set of struggles—fighting against PTSD, economic hardship, and bureaucracy of the Department of Veterans Affairs.
Johnny Cash: The Life
Robert Hilburn (Little, Brown)
A spellbinding storyteller, Hilburn traces Cash’s musical journey from his record deal with Sam Phillips and Sun Records to his famous 1957 San Quentin Prison show, which moved Merle Haggard to start playing country music again.
A Dreadful Deceit: The Myth of Race from the Colonial Era to Obama’s America
Jacqueline Jones (Basic)
Through the stories of six black Americans, Jones forcefully demonstrates how racial ideologies are used to uphold existing power relations and perpetuate injustice, denying some citizens their rightful place in civic life.
For a Song and a Hundred Songs: A Poet’s Journey Through a Chinese Prison
Liao Yiwu, trans. by Wenguang Huang (New Harvest)
In this vivid and lyrical memoir, exiled Chinese poet Liao recounts his politicization and imprisonment in the wake of the 1989 government crackdown on the democracy movement centered in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square. A consummate insider account of Chinese state terror.
A House in the Sky
Amanda Lindhout and Sara Corbett (Scribner)
This is a well-honed, harrowing memoir from a young Canadian journalist kidnapped for ransom, along with Australian photographer Nigel Brennan, by Somali Islamist rebels. Lindhout tells of enduring her 459-day captivity and of finding redemption upon returning to Somalia to form a foundation.
Forty-One False Starts: Essays on Artists and Writers
Janet Malcolm (Farrar, Straus and Giroux)
A master class on literary and art criticism, this stunning collection by Malcolm (Two Lives: Gertrude and Alice) gathers a quarter-century’s worth of subtle, sharply observed essays, with topics ranging from the history of the Bloomsbury Group to Ingrid Sischy’s revamp of Artforum.
Salt Sugar Fat: How the Food Giants Hooked Us
Michael Moss (Random)
In this eye-popping exposé of the processed-food industry, Pulitzer-winning New York Times reporter Moss explains the science of salt, sugar, and fat, which impart luscious mouthfeel and tantalizing tastes that light up the same neural circuits as narcotics.
Scarcity: Why Having Too Little Means So Much
Sendhil Mullainathan and Eldar Shafir (Times)
The struggle for resources—time, money, food, companionship—concentrates the mind, for better or, mostly, worse, according to this revelatory treatise on the psychology of scarcity from Harvard economist Mullainathan and Princeton psychologist Shafir.
The Silence and the Roar
Nihad Sirees, trans. by Max Weiss (Other Press)
Sirees’s deeply philosophical and satirical novel echoes Kafka and Orwell. Its hero is a banned writer in an unnamed Middle Eastern country that is shamelessly reminiscent of Syria (the author’s hometown is Aleppo), and the book is set on the day of a parade celebrating the 20th anniversary of the dictator’s ascension to power. With incisive wit, Sirees marks the celebration that affects freedom, romance, and the right to simply walk down the street unmolested.
The Unwinding: An Inner History of the New America
George Packer (Farrar, Straus and Giroux)
Through the personal histories of an Ohio factory worker, a Washington political operative, a North Carolinian small businessman, and an Internet billionaire, New Yorker staff writer Packer incisively charts the erosion of the social compact that had kept the country stable and middle-class for decades.
Biennials and Beyond—Exhibitions That Made Art History: 1962–2002
Phaidon Editors and Bruce Altshuler (Phaidon)
This superb companion volume to Altshuler’s 2008 book, Salon to Biennial: Exhibitions That Made Art History: 1863–1959, showcases 25 seminal exhibitions through archival photographs, alongside catalogue statements, exhibition materials, letters, interviews, articles, and previously unpublished materials.
The Last Cowboy: A Life of Tom Landry
Mark Ribowsky (Norton/Liveright)
In this thorough examination of the life of the former coach of the Dallas Cowboys, Ribowsky reveals how the game of football has changed since Landry’s heyday in the 1960s through the ’80s, while providing an eloquent, honest tribute to a sports genius.
Gulp: Adventures on the Alimentary Canal
Mary Roach (Norton)
No one but Roach could make a trip through the human digestive system entertaining. With stops along the way to explain the importance of saliva and the success rate of fecal transplants, this blend of science and humor provides the best account of the gross things your body does every day.
The Discovery of Middle Earth: Mapping the Lost World of the Celts
Graham Robb (Norton)
Peeling back layers of previously muddled or unexplored European “protohistory,” Robb rediscovers the technologies bequeathed to modern civilization by the long-misunderstood Celts. He throws down a challenge to historians who’ve dismissed the Celts as merely mysterious wizard hermits. Take that, Romans!
Amsterdam: A History of the World’s Most Liberal City
Russell Shorto (Doubleday)
In a fascinating telling, Shorto charts Amsterdam’s rise from a sleepy marsh town to an economic and intellectual powerhouse, whose greatest export is arguably the modern world itself.
Karl Marx: A Nineteenth-Century Life
Jonathan Sperber (Norton/Liveright)
Sperber produces a sympathetic, yet objective account of this eminently difficult man and thinker. Free of ideological or partisan leanings, it elucidates and criticizes as necessary, and is likely to be considered the standard biography for years to come.
Shocked: My Mother, Schiaparelli, and Me
Patricia Volk (Knopf)
Volk has a talent for unearthing meaning in the seemingly mundane in this wonderful tribute to two ambitious women—fashion designer Schiaparelli, and Volk’s mother—who were ahead of their time.
Mastering the Art of Soviet Cooking: A Memoir of Food and Longing
Anya von Bremzen (Crown)
Moscow-born food writer von Bremzen immigrated to the U.S. with her mother in 1974 when she was 10 years old, and in this fluid memoir cum Soviet history, she unlocks conflicted memories of her upbringing through reminiscences of certain dishes that have become her very own “poisoned madeleines.”
Sam Wasson (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)
In this luminous biography of Bob Fosse, the legendary Broadway choreographer and director of the trend-setting movie antimusicals Cabaret and All That Jazz, film critic Wasson depicts the master as a glittering, neurotic showbiz soul.
The Good Lord Bird
James McBride (Riverhead)
McBride’s account of a slave boy who’s caught up with John Brown’s band of abolitionists in the 1850s is funny, sad, and completely transportive. Mistaken for a girl and nicknamed Onion, 10-year-old Henry Shackleford travels the country and meets Frederick Douglass and Harriet Tubman, all while hurtling toward the historic Harpers Ferry raid and the Civil War.
The Gramercy Tavern Cookbook
Michael Anthony, with Danny Meyer (Clarkson Potter)
Anthony and Meyer have forged a partnership based on finding the freshest unprocessed and local ingredients, and this cookbook presents recipes designed to bring the warmth of the Gramercy Tavern into the home kitchen.
Daniel: My French Cuisine
Daniel Boulud and Sylvie Bigar (Grand Central Life & Style)
N.Y.C. restaurateur Boulud offers Michelin-worthy cuisine in a cookbook that “Chef of the Century” Paul Bocuse calls the “future bible of tomorrow’s chefs.”
Raising My Rainbow: Adventures in Raising a Fabulous, Gender Creative Son
Lori Duron (Broadway)
An optimistic, compassionate, and delightful memoir by “mommy blogger” Duron about how her family understands, supports, and celebrates her son, C.J., who prefers Barbies to trucks and would rather be a princess than a pirate.
River Cottage Veg: 200 Inspired Vegetable Recipes
Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall (Ten Speed)
Vegetable cookbooks are all the rage, not only for vegans and vegetarians but for the health-conscious among us. In this glorious celebration of all things vegetal, Fearnley-Whittingstall presents one of the best cookbooks available on the subject.
The Heart of the Plate: Vegetarian Recipes for a New Generation
Mollie Katzen (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)
Katzen elevated vegetables to the main act in her groundbreaking Moosewood Bible, and here she shines the spotlight on their natural flavors, without relying on rich accompaniments such as butter, cream, and cheese.
The Big Disconnect: Protecting Childhood and Family Relationships in the Digital Age
Catherine Steiner-Adair (Harper)
In this accessible, lucid, and provocative study, which should be required reading for all parents, clinical psychologist Steiner-Adair examines the extraordinarily negative impact of the digital revolution on parents and children, and offers sound and sympathetic advice.
Classico e Moderno
Michael White and Andrew Friedman (Ballantine)
Chef and restaurateur White, writing with Friedman, once again sublimely deals with his cuisine of choice—Italian—in an attempt to bridge the gap between classic and modern food, offering the reader an experience in beauty and taste.
Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth
Reza Aslan (Random)
Aslan admits that he breaks no new ground in Jesus studies with this exploration of the life of Jesus Christ, but it is a model of engaging exposition that vivifies the dusty events of 2,000 years ago, and it has certainly ignited the kind of cultural conversation that more scholars should seek to start.
The Historical David: The Real Life of an Invented Hero
Joel Baden (HarperOne)
All praise be—again—to those biblical studies scholars who can make ancient history matter and can shed light on long-held beliefs. In clear prose and with a documented command of what others have said before him, Baden offers a provocative reinterpretation of one of Western culture’s heroes.
Roland Merullo (Crown)
Merullo understands the power of faith, and he understands even better the power of story in shaping belief. His novel of a pious young Catholic woman who addresses what she thinks is a call to the priesthood sings with detail, surprise, and imagination.