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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.”

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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