The Marriage Plot
Jeffrey Eugenides (Farrar, Straus and Giroux)
Like many of the heroines of the Victorian novels she favors, Madeline Hanna, Brown University class of 1982 English major, must choose between men: the hungry wanderer Mitchell Grammaticus or the brilliant but troubled Leonard Bankhead. Madeline goes with the latter, sidelining her own intellectual pursuits in favor of riding a manic depressive's roller-coaster through the dawn of semiotics, post-structuralism, identity politics, and psychopharmacology. A coming-of-age novel that's as unapologetically erudite as it is funny, fun, and profound.
Christopher Hitchens (Hachette/Twelve)
As a political, cultural, and literary critic, Hitchens stands alone, as demonstrated by this major collection of mostly recent essays and reviews covering a range of topics, from America's founding fathers to the state of the English language. You don't always have to agree with this fearless polemicist to appreciate his erudite mind.
As Far as the Heart Can See: Stories to Illuminate the Soul
Mark Nepo (HCI)
Inner life gets made fun of by those who don't have one. The rest of us can read Nepo, whose stories aren't always nicey-nice but prod us, like a good companion, along the way.
Flunking Sainthood: A Year of Breaking the Sabbath, Forgetting to Pray, and Still Loving My Neighbor
Jana Riess (Paraclete)
Saints: they are so annoying. Reiss discovers this, and that God permits, and loves, goofups and shortcuts in her year of repeatedly failing at spiritual disciplines. As we said earlier: read and lighten up.
A Public Faith: How Followers of Christ Should Serve the Common Good
Miroslav Volf (Brazos)
The gifted Christian theologian answers a pressing question in a pluralistic culture, arguing that nonexclusionary theological truth is not only possible but also socially healthy.
Mouse & Lion
Rand Burkert, Nancy Eckholm Burkert (Scholastic/di Capua)
Retellings of the classic Aesop’s fable of good deeds rewarded are legion, but few are as elegantly and richly conceived as this mother-son collaboration. To say that the naturalistic and astonishingly detailed illustrations bring the African savannah to life hardly does them justice—paired with the story’s spare prose, each spread forms an intimate, perfectly framed vignette, charged with emotion.
Everything I Need to Know Before I’m Five
Valorie Fisher (Random/Schwartz & Wade)
Everything? Believe it. Fisher introduces readers to a wealth of concepts—numbers, letters, colors, shapes, weather, and more—and does so using cleverly composed photographic tableaus made up of vintage toys, knickknacks, thrift-store finds, and other odds and ends. Thorough, fun, and as one-of-a-kind as the objects that fill its pages.
I Want My Hat Back
Jon Klassen (Candlewick)
With deadpan humor and a hint of wickedness, illustrator Klassen makes his debut as an author with the deceptively simple story of a bear who just wants to find his missing hat. Don’t let the pared-down art and narration fool you: a wealth of emotion and personality hides behind the deadened eyes of Klassen’s woodland creatures, from anxiety to rage, stupefaction to satisfaction.
Tom Lichtenheld and Ezra Fields-Meyer (Chronicle)
So often it’s the simplest ideas that are the best—and the funniest. In this alphabetically audacious romp, the letter E has an accident, and while it is recovering, the letter O takes its place (with comodic rosults). The pages are jam-packed with so many linguistic puns, acronyms, and jokes that readers may not realize how much they’re learning about language along the way. Throo choors!
Heart and Soul: The Story of America and African Americans
Kadir Nelson (HarperCollins/Balzer + Bray)
Nelson raises the bar with every new book, and this ambitious account of the African-American experience, from slavery to the present day, may be his best yet. Pairing luminous, electric paintings with a grandmotherly narrative voice, it’s as unflinching, personal, and dignified an account as one could imagine, as Nelson confidently handles the triumphs and tragedies of African-American history.
Sea of Dreams
Dennis Nolan (Roaring Brook/Porter)
Wordless stories have a magic all their own, and that’s especially true of Nolan’s maritime fantasy, in which a child’s sand castle is besieged by the tide, setting in motion a dramatic escape for the miniature family that lives within. Nolan’s lush spreads provide abundant ammunition for readers’ imaginations, giving them an enchanting world in which to lose themselves.
John Rocco (Disney-Hyperion)
Second perhaps only to snow days, blackouts are one of the best unplanned sources of life-disrupting fun, especially from a child’s point of view. Rocco’s joyfully illustrated story of an urban family drawn together by a power outage tingles with the magic of a night lit only by candles and stars, while reminding readers that the technologies that connect us can sometimes keep us apart, too.
The Wandering Falcon
Jamil Ahmad (Riverhead)
Born in Punjab in 1931, Ahmad wrote the pages that would become his delayed debut while working for the Pakistani Civil Service at outposts in the remote Federally Administered Tribal Areas where Iran, Afghanistan, and Pakistan meet. Hidden away for 30 years and unearthed by his family, the novel is a captivating wonder that illuminates the harsh difficulties of life in this region.
Stephen Savage (Scholastic Press)
A triumph of design, Savage’s wordless game of cat-and-mouse (or rather walrus-and-zookeeper) demonstrates how much one can do with a few simple forms, some repetition, and an effortlessly charming tusked hero. The delight comes not from finding Walrus (that’s easy), but in seeing the ways in which his swoopy gray curves mimic the mannequins, firemen, and can-can dancers he tries to blend in with.
Lane Smith (Roaring Brook)
This may be Smith at his most earnest—a boy wanders through his great-grandfather’s topiary garden, the sculpted hedges reflecting the elder’s story, from a rural childhood to war and finding love. Grandpa Green isn’t dead, but he is in decline, and Lane’s young narrator serves as a poignant reminder that the things we create—stories, memories, art (in whatever form it might take)—endure long after we do.
Hervé Tullet (Chronicle/Handprint)
If Lane Smith’s It’s a Book was last year’s rallying cry in defense of the printed book, 2011 belongs to Tullet’s elementally simple and playfully interactive offering, which invites readers to press, shake, and turn it—and see the results on the next page. Let the apps proliferate: books like this prove that there will always be a place for smart, well-executed, and proudly low-tech picture books.
Hooray for Amanda and Her Alligator!
Mo WIllems (HarperCollins/Balzer + Bray)
Willems excels at putting his audience first, and the six and a half stories that make up this pitch-perfect collection are no exception. Friendship is friendship, whether with another child or with a blue toy alligator, and Willems treats the highs and lows of Amanda and her alligator’s relationship with honesty and humor, evoking such classic pairings as Charlie Brown and Snoopy or Calvin and Hobbes.
The Future of Us
Jay Asher and Carolyn Mackler (Razorbill)
These collaborators use a surprising and inventive premise—teens in 1996 gaining access to their future Facebook pages by way of an AOL disk—to explore the connections between the present and the future, and the consequences of our actions. Underneath the fantastical conceit and the fun is an authentic story that asks important questions.
Franny Billingsley (Dial)
Billingsley’s sharp-tongued, self-hating Briony is easily one of the year’s most memorable narrators, as she struggles to come to terms with guilt over family tragedies, while living in a town in which new 20th-century technologies threaten supernatural beings of old. It’s a rich and layered fantasy that grabs readers tight—not unlike the bogs of Briony’s Swampsea.
Small Persons with Wings
Ellen Booraem (Dial)
Call them Parvi Pennati, call them Small Persons with Wings, just don’t call them fairies. Booraem’s middle-grade novel, in which an outcast girl comes into her own, is frequently sad, but those moments are perfectly balanced with humor and hope. The result is a deeply believable and human story—one that also has room for vainglorious fairies, talking mannequins, and other wonders.
Libba Bray (Scholastic Press)
Few books are as unabashedly outrageous and fun as Bray’s story of a plane full of teenage beauty queen contestants that crashes on a deserted island. But the riotous “Survivor meets Miss America” premise is a vehicle for some sharp observations about our image-obsessed, media-driven culture. Somebody get this book a tiara!
Missing on Superstition Mountain
Elise Broach, Antonio Javier Caparo (Holt/Ottaviano)
Bursting with action and (real-life) mystery, Broach’s middle-grade novel updates classic adventure novel and thriller tropes to launch a series with broad appeal. As three brothers investigate mysterious deaths and disappearances in an Arizona mountain range, Broach’s tight storytelling and chilling details will keep readers riveted.
Where She Went
Gayle Forman (Dutton)
Forman pushes beyond the tragic events of her 2010 novel If I Stay to uncover their broader consequences in this knockout of a sequel, told from the perspective of Adam, the former boyfriend of the first book’s protagonist, Mia. Love, heartache, abandonment, and music intertwine as Adam and Mia try to find their way back to each other, three years after their relationship was ripped apart.
The Hottest Dishes of the Tartar Cuisine
Alina Bronsky, trans. by Tim Mohr (Europa)
Over three decades behind the Iron Curtain, a "perfect" (read powerful and relentless) Tartar matriarch narrats the hilarious and tragic story of her efforts to control her daughter and granddaughter as they attempt to flee her influence.
Dead End in Norvelt
Jack Gantos (Farrar, Straus and Giroux)
Set in 1962 in Norvelt, Pa., Gantos’s freewheeling, semi-but-thankfully-not-entirely-autobiographical novel is the story of a summer almost beyond belief, filled with geyserlike nosebleeds, the demise of one elderly resident after another, the arrival of the Hells Angels, and a real estate scheme that threatens the town’s existence. Suffice it to say, it’s a roller-coaster ride from start to finish.
Inside Out and Back Again
Thanhha Lai (Harper )
Lai’s debut middle-grade novel, written in free-verse poems, draws from her own memories of moving to the U.S. from Vietnam as a child and offers a poignant account of an immigrant’s experience. Ten-year-old Hà’s journey is confidence-shaking and full of hard decisions, yet her strong voice and resilient nature are testament to the human ability to conquer obstacles.
Marie Lu (Putnam)
Set in a grim, futuristic Los Angeles, Lu’s debut novel sets up an exciting dichotomy between her protagonists, Day and June, who are both brilliant and capable, but on opposite sides of the law. A gritty and thrilling dystopian novel, with expertly handled character development and world-building.
Maile Meloy, illus. by Ian Schoenherr (Putnam)
Meloy’s first book for young readers is a wonderfully imagined alternate history, set as cold war tensions between the U.S. and Russia are reaching critical mass, and a secretive group of apothecaries conspires to protect the planet from all-out destruction. With magic, history, adventure, romance, and smart writing, it’s truly a story with something for everyone.
A Monster Calls
Patrick Ness, illus. by Jim Kay (Candlewick)
Building on a foundation laid by the late Siobhan Dowd, Ness delivers a singular story that looks death squarely in the eye, unblinking, as Conor, a boy with an ailing mother, is visited nightly by a primeval monster, which tries to prepare him for the road ahead. Blurring fantasy and reality, Kay’s haunting illustrations fade in and out, guiding readers—and Conor—toward the book’s final, inevitable truth.
The Flint Heart
Katherine and John Paterson, John Rocco (Candlewick)
The Patersons’ loving adaptation of Eden Philpott’s 1910 novel of the same name is as deliciously whimsical, funny, and, well, original as the original, while streamlining and freshening it for a 21st-century audience. It’s a story of nonstop novelty, with cavemen, a talking water bottle, and imps and fairies aplenty, told in an effervescent narrative voice ideal for fireside family reading.
Veronica Roth (HarperCollins/Tegen)
Roth’s first novel lands near the front of the current crop of dark, action-laden dystopian novels. With a volatile futuristic setting, tight storytelling, heart-stopping action, and tentative romance, it’s a thrill-ride that speaks to teenagers’ desire to determine the course of their own lives.
Brian Selznick (Scholastic Press)
In a story that’s both cinematic and personal, Selznick builds and improves upon the graphic/prose hybrid narrative style he first used in The Invention of Hugo Cabret with a story about human connections that span miles and decades. The book shines a spotlight on Deaf culture, the theme of silence a brilliant fit with the illustrated sections of the narrative.
Between Shades of Gray
Ruta Sepetys (Philomel)
Sometimes, sadly, reality proves far more devastating than the latest dystopian premise of the moment. That’s certainly the case with Sepetys’s brutal account of Lithuanians deported to Siberian work camps during WWII. Every step of 15-year-old Lina’s journey is brought vividly to life, with no detail spared or punch pulled. The novel stands as a reminder of humanity’s capacity for cruelty, but also resiliency.
The Scorpio Races
Maggie Stiefvater (Scholastic Press)
Stiefvater creates a startlingly original mythology in this captivating novel set on an island that has an uneasy relationship with the vicious horses that rule its beaches and waters. Just as these fairy creatures are no ordinary horses, neither is this an ordinary horse novel; rather, it’s an atmospheric fantasy about a girl working to control not just her mount but her family and her life’s direction.
The Sisters Brothers
Patrick DeWitt (Ecco)
The Commodore wants Hermann Kermit Warm dead. And brothers Eli and Charlie Sisters, loving, bickering, and feared, are given the job for one reason: they are very good at killing. This darkly comic, expertly crafted picaresque western tracks their unsteady progress atop loyal horses Nimble and Tub (poor Tub), as gold fever grips the west and the brothers struggle to stay sober, ride side-by-side, and complete their dirty job.
Daughter of Smoke and Bone
Laini Taylor (Little, Brown)
Taylor has a gift for creating spellbinding fantasies that feel wholly novel and utterly real. This one is the story of Karou, a 17-year-old art student in Prague, raised by demons and caught in an escalating war with angels. Taylor takes star-crossed romance, wonderfully complex characters, and a fascinating mythology and spins a magical, heartbreaking story.
Anne Ursu, illus. by Erin McGuire (HarperCollins/Walden Pond)
Fairy tales are an evergreen source of inspiration for authors, and Ursu works some serious magic with “The Snow Queen” in this frequently somber but entirely beautiful story of an adopted fifth-grader from India pursuing her lost friend into a mysterious Minnesota forest. Sly references to other fairy tales and classics of children’s literature only sweeten the deal.
The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making
Catherynne M. Valente, illus. by Ana Jua (Feiwel and Friends)
Valente’s glittering fantasy playground began as an offhand mention in one of her other novels, turned into a crowd-funded e-book, and finally became a print book with artwork that matches the wonderfully surreal story of a girl’s journey from Omaha into Fairyland. With literary allusions scattered throughout, the book holds delights for readers of any age.
The Chronicles of Harris Burdick: Fourteen Amazing Authors Tell the Tales
Chris Van Allsburg et al (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)
Some might dismiss the idea of creating stories for the enigmatic illustrations in Van Allsburg’s The Mysteries of Harris Burdick as literary heresy. But really, that sort of imaginative extrapolation is the whole point of the earlier book, an exercise formalized in this volume with creepy, funny, and provocative entries from the likes of Sherman Alexie, Kate DiCamillo, Gregory Maguire, and Van Allsburg himself.
Robison Wells (HarperTeen)
Wells’s first novel is a blisteringly fast-paced thriller, set at a boarding school where students are trapped, divided into factions, and unable to escape. Wells keeps readers—not to mention his characters—on their toes, engineering twist after twist in a story that brings elements of boarding school and survivalist novels into grim, futuristic territory.
Where Things Come Back
John Corey Whaley (S&S/Atheneum)
This smart, darkly funny, and multilayered debut novel juxtaposes the disappearance of a 15-year-old boy with the possible reappearance of a woodpecker thought to be extinct. Whaley weaves numerous story lines and themes together with the confidence of a seasoned writer, resulting in a thought-provoking story about media, faith, and family.
Blink & Caution
Tim Wynne-Jones (Candlewick)
An unlikely premise—two homeless teens stumble into a faked kidnapping with major implications—forms the basis for a thrilling yet compassionate story that skillfully explores themes of social, environmental, and racial justice. Blink and Caution are unforgettable characters, working just as hard to find themselves as they do to unravel the ever-widening mystery.
How to Save a Life
Sara Zarr (Little, Brown)
Life and death, grief and joy are closely linked in this story of a family in flux. Deftly handling such emotionally turbulent subjects as the death of a parent, teen pregnancy, abusive relationships, and adoption, Zarr delivers a moving, funny, and emotionally honest story about three women whose understanding of family, and of themselves, shifts in profound ways.
Trapped: How the World Rescued 33 Miners from 2,000 Feet Below the Chilean Desert
Marc Aronson (S&S/Atheneum)
A year after the Chilean mining disaster that commanded the world’s attention, Aronson delivers a captivating account of the mine collapse, drawing on everything from Greek myth to eyewitness accounts. Aronson crafts vivid portraits of the miners’ experiences underground, as well as those of the families and countrymen breathlessly awaiting their safe return.
Levi Strauss Gets a Bright Idea: A Fairly Fabricated Story of a Pair of Pants
Tony Johnston, illus. by Stacy Innerst (Harcourt)
Few things are as quintessentially American as blue jeans, and that also goes for the story of their creation, which Johnston tells with humor, exaggeration, and liberal use of the word “Dang!” Levi Strauss emerges from this rip-roaring picture book biography as a savvy, quick-thinking entrepreneur; Innerst’s raucous artwork, painted on denim, provides the perfect counterpart.
Say Her Name
Francisco Goldman (Grove)
Goldman, whose young wife, Aura, like the Aura of the story, died an untimely death after a tragic surf accident on Mexico's western coast, calls his book fiction, an audacious and brilliant choice. A New Yorker excerpt solidified it as a "grief novel," but it's much more: a tender revelation of May-December love and marriage and the coincidences and arbitrariness of life.
Flesh and Blood So Cheap: The Triangle Fire and Its Legacy
Albert Marrin (Knopf)
One hundred years after the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire, Marrin offers an unflinching chronicle of the disaster that claimed the lives of nearly 150 workers, mostly immigrant women. The story is harrowing from start to finish, especially with the inclusion of contemporary parallels that make it clear that much progress remains to be made in ensuring the safety of workers around the globe.
Balloons over Broadway: The True Story of the Puppeteer of Macy’s Parade
Melissa Sweet (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)
Ingenuity and the excitement of creation are at the forefront of Sweet’s fascinating picture book biography of Tony Sarg, the man behind the floating balloons of the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. It’s a story that speaks directly to the American dream, as Sarg, a self-taught immigrant, worked and reworked his ideas to create something that endures to this day, beloved by millions.
The House Baba Built: An Artist’s Childhood in China
Ed Young (Little, Brown)
Caldecott Medalist Young shares a remarkable chapter of his family’s history in this picture book memoir about his upbringing during WWII in a sprawling house in Shanghai built by his father. The household feels like a small miracle, a haven filled with games, parties, and black-and-white Western films, all part of Young’s father’s commitment to keep his children safe until the end of the conflict.
Alan Heathcock (Graywolf)
In eight tough, tight stories, Heathcock descends into an unforgiving world of hardship and hurt. Recalling Daniel Woodrell's Ozarks and Donald Ray Pollock's Knockemstiff County, these tales unfold with Heathcock's very own grim economy, which can find a man's life altered terribly in the span of a single paragraph.
The Stranger's Child
Alan Hollinghurst (Knopf)
The Booker Prize–winning author's new novel covers a century and traces a love triangle torn from the pages of Brideshead Revisited, though at least one side of the triangle is addressed more directly than Waugh did in his classic tale. With ambition and scope Hollinghurst uses a "love in wartime" narrative to explore the deep and wildly complicated connections between memory and what passes for history.
Denis Johnson (Farrar, Straus and Giroux)
This astoundingly assured, pared down, and self-contained gem traces the life of Robert Grainer, a hard, unlucky man who earns his living with his hands as the 20th century unfolds. By pursuing Grainer over several decades of ups and downs, Johnson tracks America's crawl to the top.
Changó's Beads and Two-Tone Shoes
William Kennedy (Viking)
Writers turn to important moments in history for their fiction all the time, but Kennedy has borne personal witness to the epic moments he writes about in Changó. Set during the Cuban revolution as well as on the day that Robert Kennedy was shot, the seventh book in the Albany cycle showcases a writer in his 80s working at the top of his game.
The Night Circus
Erin Morgenstern (Doubleday)
An enchanting, extravagantly imaginative debut with a traveling night circus as the setting for the progeny of two magicians to compete and, thickening the plot, fall in love. The secret is, the magic is real.
The Devil All the Time
Donald Ray Pollock (Doubleday)
Take a man from Ohio who's worked blue collar, send him for an M.F.A., and set him loose. Pollock, whose debut collection, Knockemstiff, was a knockout, strikes again with a terrifying cast of rural characters: the haunted WWII veteran, the husband and wife serial killers who target young men along the Interstate, the predatory revival preacher and his wheelchair-bound guitar-playing cousin, all tied together with violence, sin, and gorgeous prose into a mesmerizing slice of Americana.
Yannick Murphy (Harper)
Boldly and playfully told in the form of a rural veterinarian's bullet-pointed log that shouldn't be anywhere near as sustainable as it is, Murphy's novel is effortless and absorbing. Almost daily calls—"a woman needs her horse's teeth floated"—bring work, healing, food, errands, death, travel, and contemplation on manure, the efficacy of ponchos, time travel, and more. Life unfolds along pretty quotidian lines until the vet catches a glimpse of strange objects in the sky on his way from giving a sheep its shots.
The Tiger's Wife
Téa Obreht (Random House)
An escaped zoo tiger and a man who seems impervious to death stalk the impressive debut of "20 under 40" youngster Obreht, in which Natalia Stefanovi, a doctor living in an unnamed country much like the author's native Croatia, crosses the border in search of answers about her late beloved grandfather, also a doctor.
José Saramago (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)
In his masterful final novel, Nobel Prize–winner Saramago (1922–2010) sends the biblical Cain on adventures through the stories of the sacred book, all the while arguing with his God. A thunder bolt, and pure Saramago.
Alex Shakar (Soho)
Dense, thoughtful, and humorous, Shakar's first novel is an alternate history that slyly showcases the ridiculousness of life right now. The tale is framed around two brothers—one brilliant and comatose, the other adrift after their tech startup was wrestled away. This enticing stew envelops ideas of spirituality, virtual reality, disaster simulation, utopia, and, yes, September 11, 2001.
Someday This Will Be Funny
Lynne Tillman (Red Lemonade)
With these formally inventive and linguistically nimble stories, Tillman tackles the strangeness of sex and love (and news events including, surprisingly, Clarence Thomas's confirmation hearings) with considerable intellect and sly humor.
I Married You for Happiness
Lily Tuck (Grove)
A woman looks back on a long marriage as she spends the night at the bedside of her newly dead husband. Tuck brings together the tenderness and the conflicts of love and conjoined life in a beautiful frame of memory.
R. Zamora Linmark (Coffee House)
A wildly energetic and irreverent view of the modern-day Philippines as seen through the eyes of a native son who returns after 13 years in the U.S.
Henri Cole (Farrar, Straus and Giroux)
The stunningly intimate expression of a master poet confronting lost love, lost loved ones, and the dangers of loving, in the sonnet form he's made his own.
Space, in Chains
Laura Kasischke (Copper Canyon)
Never before have poems of motherhood and domesticity—among many other things—seemed so strange, sharp, and haunting.
State of Wonder
Ann Patchett (Harper)
The best two female adversaries in recent memory cut a swath through the Amazon rain forest in Patchett's exotic, intelligent, ambitious, and engaging novel. A straitlaced, sincere research scientist from Minnesota is sent to find and assess the progress of the unorthodox septuagenarian doctor who's gone native while on a fact-finding mission to extend female fertility.
The Cold War
Kathleen Ossip (Sarabande)
Essayistic poems and poetic essays come together in this collection, which takes stock of dire political and personal situations in the age of information overload.
Life on Mars
Tracy K. Smith (Graywolf)
Riffing on David Bowie, Smith's poems keep waking up into a world not their own that's also home.
Bruce Smith (Univ. of Chicago)
Everywhere he looks in these powerful, extemporaneous poems, Smith finds, if not God, something holy in the most profane sense of the word.
The End of Everything
Megan Abbott (Little, Brown/Reagan Arthur)
This psychological thriller charts the friendship of two 13-year-old girls in pre-cellphone suburban America, one of whom disappears a few weeks before their eighth-grade graduation.
Started Early, Took My Dog
Kate Atkinson (Little, Brown/Reagan Arthur)
Semiretired PI Jackson Brody returns to his Yorkshire hometown to trace the biological parents of a woman adopted in the 1970s, but finds only questions in this intensely plotted, multilayered novel.
Rory Clements (Bantam)
John Shakespeare, the playwright's older brother and spy, seeks the truth behind the mysterious disappearance of the colonists of Roanoke, Va., in this first-rate Tudor historical full of intricate plots.
Reed Farrell Coleman (Tyrus)
Razor-edged contemporary whodunits don't get much better than Coleman's seventh Moe Prager mystery, in which the Brooklyn PI, recently diagnosed with cancer, looks into the stabbing murder of his ex-wife's estranged sister.
A Simple Act of Violence
R.J. Ellory (Overlook)
A must-read for noir fans, this crime thriller charts the efforts of Det. Robert Miller to catch a serial killer strangling women in an upscale Washington, D.C., neighborhood.
Philip Kerr (Putnam/Marian Wood)
Set in 1954 with flashbacks to the 1930s and '40s, Kerr's outstanding seventh Bernie Gunther novel finds the tough, wisecracking Berlin cop under interrogation by the U.S. authorities for his role in saving the life of the future East German spy master, the real-life Erich Mielke.
The Most Dangerous Thing
Laura Lippman (Morrow)
Childhood friends, long since splintered off, uneasily reunite after the death of one of their own, in this unsettling stand-alone from Lippman, who sets the action in the Baltimore suburb where she grew up.
After the Apocalypse
Maureen McHugh (Small Beer)
Incisive, contemporary, and always surprising, McHugh's second collection confronts near-future life with an ironic and particular eye. Her characters live with zombies, struggle to make ends meet on the Arizona–Mexico border, and cope with China's descent into capitalism in stories that stretch the boundaries of imagination.
A Trick of the Light
Louise Penny (Minotaur)
Chief Inspector Gamache of the Québec Sûreté and his team look into the mysterious death of a woman—found with a broken neck in the garden of artist Clara Morrow—in this subtle seventh entry in this acclaimed traditional series.
Two for Sorrow
Nicola Upson (Harper)
Upson upsets readers' expectations with a surprise three-quarters into her psychologically rich third Josephine Tey mystery, in which the author of The Daughter of Time draws inspiration for her novel-in-progress from the 1903 execution of two women convicted for murdering babies.
The Secret Mistress
Mary Balogh (Delacorte)
This delectable Regency reminds readers why Balogh is one of the foremost romance novelists of our time. An adorable pairing of a breathless, insecure debutante and a noble but nerdy earl is elevated by well-drawn secondary characters and abundant, colorful period details.
No Proper Lady
Isabel Cooper (Sourcebooks Casablanca)
A warrior from the future travels to Victorian England, where she falls in love with a magician who can help her destroy the demons that plague her dystopian time. Cooper's synergy of science fiction and historical romance could—and, we hope, will—spawn an entire new subgenre.
Scandalous Desires: A Maiden Lane Novel
Elizabeth Hoyt (Grand Central)
In Hoyt's third novel of passion and drama in the 18th-century London slums, a widow who runs a foundling home helps a notorious pirate rediscover his ability to love. Historical accuracy, including an unflinching look at poverty and politics, sets this series well above its fellows.
Angel's Rest: An Eternity Springs Novel
Emily March (Ballantine)
March (a pseudonym for Geralyn Dawson) breathes new life into the contemporary cozy romance with this sweet but never cloying tale, set in a small town where romance is bolstered by true friendship and community.
Fitzwilliam Darcy, Rock Star
Heather Lynn Rigaud (Sourcebooks Landmark)
Rigaud's entertaining fan fiction for Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice deserves its promotion to paperback. Austen fans looking for something new will thrill to see familiar characters in a modern setting with a pounding backbeat and electrified vibe.
Lauren Beukes (Angry Robot)
Beukes's smashing second novel is set in a near future where perpetrators of terrible crimes acquire strange powers and magical animal companions. The seamless inversion of one of fantasy's best-loved tropes is perfectly suited to the gritty Johannesburg setting and haunted, compelling heroine.
J.M. Frey (Dragon Moon)
Debut author Frey knocks it out of the park with a remarkable tale of alien refugees, time travel, intrigue, the pervasive madness of grief, and love that transcends culture, gender, and species. Classic science fiction elements are smoothly updated for a modern audience.
Daryl Gregory (Fairwood)
The knockout debut collection for fabulist Gregory, whose novels are often unjustly overlooked, proves that short stories make equally good homes for his quiet prose and twisted imagination, as well as the strange notions and subtle terrors he mines from the deepest crannies of the human psyche.
Tina Fey (Little, Brown/Reagan Arthur)
We know Fey's wit from her writing (and acting) in SNL, 30 Rock, and whatever movie she stars in, but she adds to her wit a disarmingly frank and uncensored account of her life, stitching together the serious and the comic.
Two Worlds and In Between: The Best of Caitlín R. Kiernan, Vol. 1
Caitlín R. Kiernan (Subterranean)
This hefty, astonishing collection showcases the best of Kiernan's consistently excellent and relentlessly unclassifiable short fiction, and makes many accessible to those unfortunate readers who haven't been following Kiernan's career from the beginning.
A.M. Tuomala (Candlemark & Gleam)
When a witch turns her beloved dead sister into a zombi[sic], the local king insists that she raise him an army of the undead. This deeply moral story of love and war boasts ominous, deliberate pacing and richly poetic prose.
Amir and Kahlil (Roaring Brook/First Second)
An Iranian blogger goes missing and his family enters a hellish twilight zone of obfuscation in a story that captures the uncertainty of living under religious dogma.
Gabriel Ba and Fabio Moon (DC/Vertigo)
Using a series of important events in the life of one man, this stunning work repeatedly uses his death at the end of each of these events to propel the readers into a new and illuminating excursion through another aspect of the man's life.
Hark! A Vagrant!
Kate Beaton (Drawn & Quarterly)
Jane Austen, the Great Gatsby, and Napoleon are all satirized with a knowing line in this very funny collection from the acclaimed Web comic.
The Influencing Machine: Brooke Gladstone on the Media
Brooke Gladstone and Josh Neufeld (Norton)
Host of NPR's On the Media, Gladstone uses a cartoon persona to take the reader on a thoughtful and entertaining excursion through the history of the media from ancient Rome to the rise of digital technology.
Love and Rockets: New Stories #4
Gilbert and Jaime Hernandez (Fantagraphics)
Even in a long career of masterpieces, Jaime's story about missed opportunities for happiness is a revelation, while Gilbert continues to cement his place as the Jorodowsky of comics with a vampire tale.
Infinite Kung Fu
Kagan McLeod (Top Shelf)
The traditional martial arts saga gets a lively comics updating with this tale of Lei Kung, who must defeat the heads of the emperor's five armies to free a land.
Carla Speed McNeil (Dark Horse)
In this epic work of science fiction, Rachel Grosvenor, an outcast in a world ruled by a complex network of clans, looks to find a place for herself by attempting to join a very exclusive clan.
Anders Nilsen (Drawn & Quarterly)
A massive meditation on the meaning of life unfolds as a flock of cartoon birds deal with the questions raised when an unexploded bomb lands among them.
Catherine the Great
Robert K. Massie (Random House)
Pulitzer-winning biographer Massie—of Nicholas and Alexandra and of Peter the Great—now relates the life of a German princess, Sophia of Anhalt-Zerbst, who became Empress Catherine II of Russia. Once again Massie delivers, with this masterful, intimate, and tantalizing portrait of a majestic monarch.
Galit & Gilad Seliktar (Fanfare Ponent Mon)
Created by a brother and sister team, these three haunting, semiautobiographical stories follow a young Israeli girl as she grows up in the 1980s and later during her military service in the occupied territories.
Craig Thompson (Pantheon)
Two escaped slaves find themselves prisoners of others' desires in a sea of Islamic-inspired calligraphy and lines in this lyrical fantasy.
The Convert: A Parable of Islam and America
Deborah Baker (Graywolf)
Pulitzer finalist Baker (In Extremis) unravels the often contradictory life of an American woman who became one of the pre-eminent voices of Islamic revivalism, in this stellar biography (an NBA finalist) that doubles as a meditation on the fraught relationship between America and the Muslim world.
The Anatomy of a Moment
Javier Cercas (Bloomsbury USA)
Novelist Cercas wields his considerable narrative skills in deconstructing a failed coup in Spain in 1981. From 35 minutes of TV tape of the attempted coup, Cercas profiles crucial figures, re-creates Spanish history back to the Civil War, and pulls apart the threads of Spain's burgeoning democracy.
The Beautiful and the Damned:A Portrait of the New India
Siddhartha Deb (Faber and Faber)
Deb offers a powerful rejoinder to the feel-good narratives about India's economic ascent in these gritty profiles of growing numbers of destitute farmers, factory workers, and migrants—the casualties of India's economic "miracle."
Joan Didion (Knopf)
In this subtly crushing memoir about the untimely death of her daughter, Quintana Roo, in 2005, Didion, as she did in The Year of Magical Thinking, turns face forward to the harsh truth: "When we talk about mortality we are talking about our children."
Townie: A Memoir
Andre Dubus III (Norton)
Dubus shuffled and punched his way through a childhood and youth full of dysfunction, desperation, and determination, and in this gritty and gripping memoir, he bares his soul in powerful and page-turning prose.
The Swerve: How the World Became Modern
Stephen Greenblatt (Norton)
In this delightful and erudite account, Greenblatt relates how an eccentric humanist's treasure hunt for a lost Latin text led to the birth of the Renaissance.
Life Itself: A Memoir
Roger Ebert (Grand Central)
From one of our most important cultural voices and the Pulitzer Prize–winning film critic for the Chicago Sun-Times comes this memoir of his life writing about movies.
A World on Fire: Britain's Crucial Role in the American Civil War
Amanda Foreman (Random)
Foreman presents the most original and elegantly written take on the Civil War in its sesquicentennial year, from diplomatic maneuvers to British volunteers for both North and South.
There but for the
Ali Smith (Pantheon)
One night at an unruly dinner party, a guest named Miles goes upstairs, locks himself in the spare bedroom, and refuses to come out—for months. Smith uses this absurd bit of theater to explore some serious issues, privacy (reference is made to the U.K.'s carpet of CCTV cameras) and authenticity among them. But it's the author's effortlessly inventive form (narration comes from four different characters, none of whom knows Miles well), and her playful, breathlessly ebullient style that make this book a gem.
Margaux Fragoso (Farrar, Straus and Giroux)
In this gut-wrenching, disturbing memoir of sexual abuse, Fragoso explores with unflinching honesty the ways in which pedophiles can manipulate their way into the lives of children.
Love and Capital: Karl Marx and Jenny Marx and the Birth of a Revolution
Mary Gabriel (Little, Brown)
Gabriel offers a magisterial account of the lives of Karl Marx and his wife, Jenny von Westphalen, remarkable for the ease with which it moves between the domestic and the political spheres.
The Information: A History, a Theory, a Flood
James Gleick (Pantheon)
With his ability to synthesize mounds of details and to tell rich stories, Gleick ably leads us on a journey from one form of communicating information to another, beginning with African tribes' use of drums and moving through scientists like Samuel B. Morse, who invented the telegraph.
Blood, Bones, and Butter
Gabrielle Hamilton (Random House)
Owner and chef of New York's Prune restaurant, Hamilton fashioned this frankly written, addictive memoir of her unorthodox trajectory to becoming a chef.
A Book of Secrets: Illegitimate Daughters, Absent Fathers
Michael Holroyd (Farrar, Straus and Giroux)
Novelist Violet Trefusis and Rodin's muse Eve Fairfax are among the women, masterfully portrayed by Holroyd, who had the misfortune of being entangled in the life of Ernest Beckett, second Baron Grimthorpe.
Rome: A Cultural, Visual, and Personal History
Robert Hughes (Knopf)
A captivating history of Rome filtered through the lens of its art and architecture as seen by celebrated art critic Hughes.
In the Garden of Beasts: Love, Terror, and an American Family in Hitler's Berlin
Erik Larson (Crown)
Larson's narrative skills bring to life a fascinating panoply of characters and the terror closing in on Berlin with Hitler's rise to power.
Boomerang: Travels in the New Third World
Michael Lewis (Norton)
Lewis's offbeat travelogue examines the recent global financial crisis, dissecting how the unique culture and history of each locale he visits (Iceland, Greece, Ireland, Germany, California) contributed to its response to the boom and bust.
Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention
Manning Marable (Viking)
Marable's posthumous epic draws on FBI and NYPD files and interviews with members of the Nation of Islam to enrich—and complicate—our notion of the iconic civil rights leader.
Paul Hendrickson (Knopf)
There's never been a biography quite like this one. Hendrickson covers Papa's rise and fall by focusing on his most steadfast companion: his boat, Pilar. She was the stage on which Hemingway fished, brawled, wrote his novels, ranted about his poor reviews, raised his sons, and seduced other men's wives. The stories are rich with contradiction and humanity, and so raw and immediate you can smell the salt air.
Believing Is Seeing: Observations on the Mysteries of Photography
Errol Morris (Penguin Press)
Acclaimed documentary filmmaker Morris revisits historical but still passionately alive controversies in photography (like accusations of photographers working for the Depression-era Farm Security Administration staging scenes). His powerful account puts him in the plot of a detective novel: he's a Hercule Poirot of the photographic world searching for the convolutions between art and truth telling.
Rin Tin Tin: The Life and the Legend
Susan Orlean (Simon & Schuster)
Orlean follows up her bestselling The Orchid Thief with another tale of dedication in the face of adversity, disbelief, even common sense—this one centering on Rin Tin Tin, the German shepherd responsible for a film and TV dynasty.
The Long Goodbye: A Memoir
Meghan O'Rourke (Riverhead)
In this eloquent, somber memoir about the death of her mother and grieving aftermath, poet and journalist O'Rourke ponders the eternal human question: how do we live with the knowledge that we will one day die?
The Psychopath Test
Jon Ronson (Riverhead)
In this engrossing exploration of psychiatry's attempts to understand and treat psychopathy, Ronson embarks on a tour of the "madness business," interviewing possible psychopaths in asylums and corporate boardrooms to reveal the difficulties in diagnosing and treating the disorder. Droll, disturbing, and unforgettable.
The Price of Civilization: Reawakening American Virtue and Prosperity
Jeffrey D. Sachs (Random House)
Economist Sachs surveys an America where the rich get richer and the rest grow poorer—and makes a compelling case for an activist state that redistributes wealth and makes life fairer and more productive for everyone.
Charles Dickens: A Life
Claire Tomalin (Penguin Press)
Readers will come away with a new understanding of the quintessential Victorian novelist in all his multiplicity and self-contradictions in Tomalin's rich, penetrating portrait.
The Rise and Fall of Ancient Egypt
Toby Wilkinson (Random House)
This authoritative history darkens our view of the glittering land of the pharaohs with its account of the brutality that sustained their rule.
Cook This Now
Melissa Clark (Hyperion)
Veteran cookbook author, James Beard recipient, and New York Times food columnist, Clark presents readers with 120 recipes organized by season and month inspiring use of fresh ingredients and a flexible attitude, making this a solid addition to any kitchen cookbook shelf.
Mourad: New Moroccan
Mourad Lahlou (Artisan)
Lahlou, chef and owner of the San Francisco restaurant Aziza, provides an entertaining and appetizing guide to Moroccan dishes and Morocco's culture, and will introduce many readers to this intensely flavorful cuisine.
Serious Eats: A Comprehensive Guide to Making and Eating Delicious Food Wherever You Are
Ed Levine and the editors of Seriouseats (Clarkson Potter)
Distilling the essence of the world's largest online community of food enthusiasts into a readable book is not easy, but this entertaining, handy debut from the creators of seriouseats.com manages to do just that. Part cookbook, part travel guide, it covers the best in American grub.
One Day I Will Write About This Place
Binyavanga Wainaina (Graywolf)
A Kenyan Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, this sublime word-drunk memoir from the Caine Prize–winning author describes a coming-of-age rent by political troubles and suffused by a love affair with language.
The Art of Living According to Joe Beef
Morin, McMillan, and Erickson (Ten Speed)
Morin and McMillan, chefs and co-owners of Joe Beef, a modern French restaurant in Montreal, team up with freelance writer Erickson to create a savvy page-turner full of meats, oysters, and irreverence.
Essential Pepin: More Than 700 All-Time Favorites from My Life in Food
Jacques Pépin (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)
One of the great cookbook masters of the world, Pépin has put together what might be considered his opus, offering more than 700 of his best French and French-accented dishes from decades of cooking and teaching.
The Knitter's Life List: To Do, to Know, to Explore, to Make
Gwen W. Steege (Storey Publishing)
From sheep to knits, fiberista Steege's book is authoritative, opus-y, good for novices and experienced alike, and fun, too. Not ba-a-a-d.
A Good and Perfect Gift: Faith, Expectations, and a Little Girl Named Penny
Amy Julia Becker (Bethany House)
Unexamined faith is not worth having, and Becker asks the right heartfelt questions after her first daughter is born with Down syndrome, in a beautifully written and unsentimental reflection.
Rob Bell (HarperOne)
This attention-getter of a book ignited a heated popular conversation about whether God saves people like Gandhi or sends him and billions of other non-Christians to a fiery and painful place in the afterlife.
Fire Monks: Zen Mind Meets Wildfire at the Gates of Tassajara
Colleen Morton Busch (Penguin)
Spiritual insight is good, but well-written spiritual insight is better. Busch's narrative of real people taking real risks to meet the unmanageable is absorbing and exemplary.
Jerusalem, Jerusalem: How the Ancient City Ignited Our Modern World
James Carroll (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)
Carroll brings his powers of observation, intellect, and passion to the city that epitomizes both faith and conflict, incisively raising, and answering, the question of sacred violence that haunts not only history but also contemporary life.
Conversions: Two Family Stories from the Reformation and Modern America
Craig Harline (Yale Univ.)
History as it should be written: with feet deep in research and a head for individual story. Harline finds parallels in lives lived centuries apart as he narrates historical particulars and differences.
The God Upgrade: Finding Your 21st-Century Spirituality in Judaism's 5,000-Year-Old Tradition
Jamie S. Korngold (Jewish Lights)
Tradition and heritage provide a rock-solid basis for contemporary faith, says a 21st-century rabbi as she argues for an update of God beyond one who keeps score.
Between Heaven and Mirth: Why Joy, Humor, and Laughter Are at the Heart of Spiritual Life
James Martin (HarperOne)
If religion is both violent and without humor, there really is no hope. Blessedly, the occasional chaplain of The Colbert Report saves the Christian tradition from soul-stifling joylessness. Read and lighten up.