Even without hurricane Sandy getting in the way, assembling the Best Books issue is tough. To decide on our top 10, we went back to our tavern annex this year, editor after editor making their case for what should and shouldn't make it. In 2011 we all rallied around a popular novel; this time we threw that love at Chris Ware, who designed and hand-lettered our cover (featuring the first alteration of the PW logo in the company's history) based on his brilliant book-in-a-box, Building Stories, plus nine other amazing books in our top 10, plus more than a hundred others that made 2012 an amazing year for books.
Seven Houses in France
Bernardo Atxaga (Graywolf)
Basque writer Atxaga's blackly comic novel set in the Congo under the brutal colonial rule of a captain who dreams of Paris and his wife, whose goal is to own seven houses in France, while slaves tap rubber and young girls are kidnapped into brothels.
Andrew Miller (Europa)
In his Costa Prize–winning novel, Miller has fun with the history of Les Innocents, a cemetery fouling the center of Paris. The book begins on the eve of the French Revolution as Jean-Baptiste Baratte, an ambitious engineer, is hired to get rid of the site casting a deathly pall over the city. "The place is to be made sweet again," says a minister, with the dead disposed of, down to the "last knucklebone."
I, Too, Am America
Langston Hughes, illus. by Brian Collier (Simon & Schuster)
Collier merges Hughes's 1945 poem "I, Too, Sing America" with the history of the Pullman railway porters, a job that helped build an African-American middle class in the decades following the Civil War. It's a brilliant and effective pairing, bringing provocative new dimension and context to Hughes's words about claiming a seat at America's table.
Lemonade in Winter: A Book About Two Kids Counting Money
Emily Jenkins, illus. by G. Brian Karas (Random/Schwartz & Wade)
The title may elicit furrowed brows, but this story of two kids and their lemonade stand (the quintessential childhood startup!) is a smart and entertaining primer on salesmanship, entrepreneurial thinking, capitalism, and an even stronger force—the bond between siblings.
I Have a Dream
Martin Luther King Jr. (Random/Schwartz & Wade)
Nearly 50 years after King delivered his iconic speech about racial inequality and a hope for a better tomorrow, two-time Caldecott Honoree Nelson pairs King's unforgettable words with paintings that crystallize their meaning and historical weight. More focused in scope than Nelson's Heart and Soul, a PW Best Book in 2011, but no less potent.
This Is Not My Hat
Jon Klassen (Candlewick)
It's testament to Klassen's skills as a writer and an artist that a book with the exact plot of his previous one—hat is stolen, hat is sought, hat is retrieved at costs unknown—offers a reading that's entirely different but just as delicious. This time, rather than focus on the victim, Klassen peeks into the giddy mind of a thief who thinks he's gotten away with it.
A Home for Bird
Philip Stead (Roaring Brook/Porter)
Kindness is not a trait that lacks for representation in picture books, but when it's portrayed with the kind of quiet humor and sweetness that Stead brings to this story, it feels fresh and new. It's impossible not to cheer on Vernon the toad's dedication as he tries to find where Bird belongs—never mind that Bird is a tad, well, wooden.
Goldilocks and the Three Dinosaurs
Mo Willems (HarperCollins/Balzer + Bray)
There's no question that Mo Willems writes for kids first; there's also no question that the older siblings, parents, grandparents, step-uncles, bus drivers, and teachers of those kids find his books just as hilarious as they do. That's certainly true of this uproarious (get it?) twist on a favorite story, in which the heroine isn't just a home-wrecker—she's prey.
Stefan Bachmann (Greenwillow)
Novels by teenage authors have become more common in recent years, but ones as dazzling as Bachmann's alternate history are rare. Fairies, steampunk mechanisms, and political subterfuge are the order of the day in Bachmann's version of Victorian England, which he describes in beguiling, detailed prose that establishes him as an author to be reckoned with—or at least thoroughly enjoyed.
Libba Bray (Little, Brown)
It's generally impossible to know what Bray has up her sleeve—few writers are as daring and varied in their output. One thing's for sure, though: it's always a blast. That definitely describes this electric combination of Jazz Age New York City, the occult and the psychic, and some truly gruesome murders.
Kristin Cashore (Dial)
Set in the same world as Graceling and Fire, this sprawling epic allows Cashore to contemplate the burden of leadership and the sins of the father (and in the case of Bitterblue's father, King Leck, those sins are both literal and horrific). Cashore is entirely at home in the world she's created, and it's a world readers will gladly lose themselves in.
The Mighty Miss Malone
Christopher Paul Curtis (Random/Lamb)
A minor character in Curtis's Newbery-winning Bud, Not Buddy, 12-year-old Deza Malone shines in the spotlight in this companion novel that follows Deza's family's efforts to subsist during the Great Depression. Curtis effortlessly weaves historical tidbits into his tale, while maintaining his focus on the resolve and faith that drive Deza and her family forward.
Lydia Millet (Norton)
Rounding out her loose series about death and isolation, Miller's novel begins with Susan, who, upon learning that her hus-band has been killed, sees the death as punishment for her own voracious sexuality. When a relative wills Susan an enormous mansion full of taxidermied beasts, she moves in and finds the menagerie a comfort. Millet burrows deep into grief and love as though they were animals to be stuffed.
Will Sparrow's Road
Karen Cushman (Clarion)
The sights, sounds, smells, and difficulties of Elizabethan England are almost tangible in Newbery Medalist Cushman's rollicking story of a 13-year-old runaway and thief. Will himself is perhaps the best part of this story: Cushman does a marvelous job of capturing the combined bravado, naïveté, and (sometimes misplaced) confidence of a boy determined to make it on his own.
The Second Life of Abigail Walker
Frances O'Roark Dowell (S&S/Atheneum)
Dowell is startlingly good at portraying the insidiousness of bullying among girls—the hurt that sixth-grader Abby suffers is painfully real. But Dowell doesn't leave readers without hope (neither does she patronize them with a pat happily-ever-after); instead, she takes them through Abby's gradual growth, while leaving room for a thread of magical realism and commentary on the problems facing modern-day soldiers.
In a Glass Grimmly
Adam Gidwitz (Dutton)
The imagination, cleverness, and (let's be honest) goriness that made Gidwitz's debut, A Tale Dark and Grimm, a PW Best Book in 2010 is on full display in this companion, an interwoven series of fairy tale–inspired stories starring Jack, Jill, and a certain frog who'd been promised a kiss. Scary, funny, and thought-provoking in just the right doses.
The Fault in Our Stars
John Green (Dutton)
Green's devotees are legion, and putting aside his massive online presence, it's books like this that make it clear why. A romance between two teenagers with cancer is a premise that could slip so easily into the maudlin or the manipulative. In Green's hands, it's intelligent, funny, and honest. And, yes, heartbreaking.
Ask the Passengers
A.S. King (Little, Brown)
The philosophical searching, multifaceted narratives, and sense of humor of King's earlier books are evident in this profound (in every sense of the word) account of a girl's contemplation of her sexuality and what it means to give and receive love. The love Astrid sends out because she can't bear to hold onto it? Readers will feel it.
Lies, Knives, and Girls in Red Dresses
Ron Koertge, illus. by Andrea Dezsö (Candlewick)
Koertge wreaks bloody havoc through fairy tales from Rumpelstiltskin to Rapunzel, finding often unpleasant truths where no one thought to look. Dezsö's cut-paper illustrations are no less sharp-edged, and these 23 giddy, grisly, and unexpected retellings take some very old stories in very new directions.
Robin LaFevers (Houghton Mifflin)
History, romance, politics, faith, magic—LaFevers offers all that and a secret order of assassin nuns in a spellbinding novel set in 15th-century Brittany. The historical detail and mythology woven into the story will leave readers eagerly awaiting more from Ismae and her sisters.
The Brides of Rollrock Island
Margo Lanagan (Knopf)
Lanagan brings dark, wonderful depth to the legend of the selkies, creatures whose limitations pale beside the weaknesses of men. While other writers revel in the novelty of supernatural romance, Lanagan exposes the true costs of such arrangements—financial, emotional, and otherwise—in stories that span generations.
Starry River of the Sky
Grace Lin (Little, Brown)
This companion to Lin's Newbery Honor book, Where the Mountain Meets the Moon, shares all of the elements that made its predecessor so beloved: rich use of Chinese folklore, vibrant writing, a strong sense of adventure and mystery (surrounding the moon's absence, in this case), gorgeous illustrations, and an elegant design. The combination is nothing short of magic.
Lois Lowry (Houghton Mifflin)
Lowry's Newbery Medal–winning The Giver is, by all accounts, a landmark piece of literature. Three books and almost 20 years later, Jonas's tale comes full circle in a deeply meaningful and satisfying way. Watching the pieces fall into place is thrilling—this is how you bring a story to a close.
Alice Munro (Knopf)
Munro depicts key moments without obscuring the reality of a life filled with countless other moments, told and untold. In her 13th story collection she again charts the shifts in norms after WWII. What's different is that Munro writes explicitly about her childhood. Read together, these stories speak to each other, accrete, and deepen.
Marissa Meyer (Feiwel and Friends)
Debut author Meyer skillfully fuses the classic with the futuristic (Cinderella? she's a cyborg mechanic, now) in a novel set on a fully imagined future Earth. Fans of science fiction and of fairy tales—as well as those who just love a good, action-packed romance—will be equally at home and impatient to find out what's next for Cinder.
No Crystal Stair
Vaunda Micheaux Nelson (Carolrhoda Lab)
This remarkable fictionalized account of the life of Nelson's great-uncle, Harlem bookseller Lewis Michaux, offers powerful evidence of the change that one person can bring about in ways small and large. The voices of Harlem residents, bookstore visitors, and others form a chorus in tribute to Michaux and his influence, joined by abundant artwork, photography, and research.
The False Prince
Jennifer A. Nielsen (Scholastic Press)
What's better than a great hero? A great antihero. And sharp-tongued, contentious Sage—one of three boys hoping to impersonate the heir to the throne of Carthya in the wake of a royal mass murder—is just that. First in a trilogy, Nielsen's story has more than just a personable lead going for it, including a rich supporting cast, intrigue aplenty, and some killer twists.
R.J. Palacio (Knopf)
Palacio's debut novel has attracted much attention this past year, and with good reason. The story of middle school student Auggie Pullman, who was born with a facial deformity but wants nothing more than to be treated like a regular kid, is as heartbreaking (and hopeful) as they come. The crucial conversations about acceptance and kindness that this book has started should continue for years to come.
Summer of the Gypsy Moths
Sara Pennypacker (HarperCollins/Balzer + Bray)
Let's not ignore the elephant in the room: 11-year-old Stella buries her late great-aunt in the garden of her Cape Cod home and keeps it a secret. It's an audacious move on Pennypacker's part, but it pays off; this story of family, friendship, and resilience in the face of impossible circumstances is hard to forget.
Liar & Spy
Rebecca Stead (Random/Lamb)
In her first book since her Newbery Medal–winning When You Reach Me, Stead proves she doesn't need a science fiction twist to capture the pain and uncertainty of adolescence. The author tackles bullying, economic troubles, and shifting friendships while deploying mysteries and secrets with aplomb.
The Raven Boys
Maggie Stiefvater (Scholastic Press)
Readers tend to fall in love with Stiefvater's characters (it's easy to do), and Blue, Gansey, and his prep school buddies are the type to linger in the mind and imagination. The same is true of the mystery that Stiefvater slowly builds as she establishes her new series, one in which the ancient and legendary bleed into the modern and the ordinary.
Three Times Lucky
Sheila Turnage (Dial)
The warmth and humor built into nearly every sentence of Turnage's sparkling middle-grade novel makes her invented town of Tupelo Landing, N.C., as memorable as her 11-year-old heroine, Mo LoBeau. Of course, for readers who need more, there's always murder, mystery, kidnapping, and the occasional hurricane.
Code Name Verity
Elizabeth Wein (Hyperion)
The less revealed about Wein's WWII novel of a teenage spy caught by the Gestapo the better; such is the nature of her twisty story, which unfolds as a written confession to her captors. Suffice it to say that this is a thrilling, one-of-a-kind work of historical fiction, and Wein handles her story's complexities with enviable skill.
Chuck Close Face Book
Chuck Close (Abrams)
In this remarkable autobiography, Close gives readers a breathtakingly intimate window into the mind and thought process of an artist. His portraits are reproduced beautifully throughout; in tandem with Close's no-holds-barred narrative, it's an inspirational piece of work for anyone with an interest in or passion for art.
The Coldest Night
Robert Olmstead (Algonquin)
Olmstead's harrowing story of young Henry Childs's escape from love into war is poetic and brutal. "The men did not look human after war's subtraction: no eye, no ear, no nose, no face, no arm, no leg, no gut, no bowel, no bone, no spine, no muscle, no nerve, no breath, no heart, no brain, no faith." Olmstead powerfully evokes the hell of the Korean War on a man who thinks he has something to return to.
We've Got a Job: The 1963 Birmingham Children's March
Cynthia Y. Levinson (Peachtree)
Much has been written for children about the civil rights movement, but portraits of the active roles played by youth are comparatively rare. Levinson helps correct that by profiling four children who joined thousands to protest school segregation in 1963. It's a valuable reminder of how small actions can have significant effects, and also of the racism and corruption that made such actions necessary.
One Times Square: A Center of Change at the Crossroads of the World
Joe McKendry (Godine)
In creating a biography of sorts for an address at what is now the center of New York City, McKendry offers a fascinating examination of the trade, development, and growth that transformed Manhattan into a hub of commerce and culture. McKendry's watercolors render One Times Square with precision and care through each of its incarnations.
Beyond Courage: The Untold Story of Jewish Resistance During the Holocaust
Doreen Rappaport (Candlewick)
In an ambitious and important work, Rappaport shares stories (some never before told) of real-life defiance, offering a heroic alternative to narratives that only portray Jews as helpless victims of Nazi genocide. Instead, she presents stories of dangerous and brave acts of resistance that speak to the human will to survive in the face of hatred and genocide.
Hilda and the Midnight Giant
Luke Pearson (Nobrow)
A girl and her mother get letters from elves begging them to leave their home in the mountains, leading to a confrontation with a mysterious giant. With a nod to Miyazaki, rising talent Pearson poetically reveals the wild magic of the unseen and folkloric figures of the north.
Raina Telgemeier (Scholastic/Graphix)
The title of Eisner-winner Telgemeier's middle school story neatly encapsulates the turmoil inherent in a musical theater production as crushes, flirtations, and breakups spice things up backstage and heroine Callie tackles her role as set designer. Telgemeier captures the emotional whirlwind of adolescence—and the theater—with humor, insight, and warmth.
Chris Ware (Pantheon)
Unabashedly rooted in the pre-digital age, Ware’s new work is really 14 individually bound books, ranging from gorgeous hardbacks to thin pamphlets, housed in an oversized box. Read in any order, all the tales within follow the tenants of the same apartment building, including an elderly landlady, a spiteful married couple, and a lonely female amputee. With his trademark obsessive precision, Ware presents the grind and folly of everyday life in the most exhilarating fashion.
Bring Up the Bodies
Hilary Mantel (Holt)
Though the novel that recently won Mantel her second Man Booker prize is a sequel to the novel that won Mantel her first Man Booker prize, it’s a startlingly different book. Where Wolf Hall was lush and expansive, this is focused and verbose, with Mantel eschewing descriptive prose for dialogue. Thomas Cromwell is older now, with more titles and power, but he nonetheless finds himself again having to wrestle the king out of another heirless marriage, this time to Anne Boleyn.
The Round House
Louise Erdrich (Harper)
This dark and entertaining National Book Award nominee sets a Native American boy’s coming of age against the brutal backdrop of racism and violence in North Dakota. When 13-year-old Joe becomes frustrated with the investigation into the attack that left his mother too traumatized to speak, he looks into the crime himself.
Happiness Is a Chemical in the Brain
Lucia Perillo (Norton)
The 14 stories of this Pulitzer Prize in poetry finalist’s (for Inseminating the Elephant) debut collection, set in the Pacific Northwest, display the poet’s emotional economy alongside raw honesty, haunting understatement, and a sharp wit. Women, damaged and vulnerable, make bad choices again and again, pursue fruitless obsessions, and somehow often come out on top.
The Devil in Silver
Victor LaValle (Spiegel & Grau)
LaValle’s third novel is poised on the intersection of psychological suspense and supernatural horror, leavened with dashes of wry humor. A menacing figure stalks the airless halls of a psychiatric ward; corrupt cops, bored staff, and drugged and deranged patients all think they know what's going on, but no one truly has a handle on reality. LaValle (whose Big Machine was a PW Best Books pick in 2009) balances the tension with moving and surprisingly intimate portraits of people caught in the gears of a malfunctioning mental health system.
The Yellow Birds
Kevin Powers (Little, Brown)
The war in Iraq through the eyes of a poet; the author an Iraqi veteran and a poet both, who's taken his experiences and his gifts to write a novel of friendship, loss, and the price of battle.
Detroit City Is the Place to Be: The Afterlife of an American Metropolis
Mark Binelli (Metropolitan)
Rolling Stone reporter and native son Binelli's nonfiction debut vividly captures Detroit's dramatic reversals of fortune. With empathy for his subjects, endless curiosity about his hometown, and a rare sense of humor, Binelli effectively punctures myths about this supposed urban wasteland and grapples with the city's ever-present socioeconomic and racial struggles.
All We Know: Three Lives
Lisa Cohen (Farrar, Straus and Giroux)
Erudite and exquisitely written, Wesleyan professor Cohen's first book, a triptych biography of three early-20th-century women—Esther Murphy, Mercedes de Acosta, and Madge Garland—successfully renders both these memorable and surprising personalities and the era in which they struggled with questions and expectations regarding career, marriage, and sexuality. Suitably dishy and remarkably humane, the book leaves readers wondering who these women would have become in a more progressive society.
People Who Eat Darkness: The True Story of a Young Woman Who Vanished from the Streets of Tokyo
Richard Lloyd Parry (Farrar, Straus and Giroux)
This chilling and multilayered account of the murder of Lucie Blackman in Tokyo sheds light on the tragedy of a family, a sexual predator, and Japanese society.
The Barbarous Years: The Peopling of British North America: The Conflict of Civilizations, 1600–1675
Bernard Bailyn (Knopf)
The culmination of a distinguished career, this is an original study of America’s colonial era and the link between the universal need for stability and the resulting violence that ravaged both settlers and natives.
Iron Curtain: The Crushing of Eastern Europe, 1945–1956
Anne Applebaum (Doubleday)
A searing narrative and analysis of a historical watershed—the USSR’s brutal takeover of Eastern Europe during and after WWII.
Ron Rash (Ecco)
A mute stranger with a dangerous secret who's on his way to New York is rescued by the lonely "witch" of the haunted cove of the title in the Appalachian mountains of North Carolina during WWI in this atmospheric gothic tale.
Joydeep Roy-Bhattacharya (Hogarth)
Greek tragedy, specifically Antigone, is channeled in this powerful story that opens with a legless Afghan woman demanding the return of her brother's body from an American army base in present-day Afghanistan.
The Patrick Melrose Novels: Never Mind, Bad News, Some Hope, and Mother's Milk
Edward St. Aubyn (Picador)
St. Aubyn's semiautobiographical Patrick Melrose cycle, written over decades, is a bitter, biting pleasure. Each novel is focused and contained, detailing a few days in the troubled life of the scion of the eccentric, wealthy, and cruel David and Eleanor Melrose. Though St. Aubyn has clearly mined his own experience, he's refined it into something exquisite.
Jeet Thayil (Penguin)
Sidestepping the well-worn Indian novel themes, poet and songwriter-musician Thayil takes the low road with this gritty, in-ventive novel of sex, drugs, and desperation in Bombay from the 1970s past the turn of the 21st century.
The Age of Miracles
Karen Thompson Walker (Random)
In this debut novel from a Columbia M.F.A.-graduate and former Simon & Schuster editor, the 11-year-old protagonist's blooming awareness of a boy is treated with as much respect as the end of the world. Walker has a surgeon's skill at ratcheting tension, parceling out in tiny portions the full impact of "the slowing" of the earth's rotation on the planet's unfortunate inhabitants. A triumph of vision and terrifying momentum.
Karen Brown (Univ. of Nebraska)
The angst of ordinary lives in a bleak suburban landscape dominates Brown's second collection, in which she explores the lust for escape from the lie of domestic bliss.
Jess Walter (Harper)
A young actress arrives in a small Italian seaside town from the scandalous film set of Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton's Cleopatra with her own scandal that will propel an engaging and twisted love story.
The Collected Poems of Lucille Clifton
Lucille Clifton (BOA Editions)
One of the most significant books of poetry to come out in years, this is the life's work of a major poet who wrote with powerful anger about the generations of injustice suffered by African-Americans and with equally powerful love for her family.
Eduardo C. Corral (Yale Univ.)
In his stunning debut, Corral, winner of the prestigious Yale Series of Younger Poets Award, craftily mixes English and Spanish to tell old and new stories about cultural roots and romantic desire.
Jorie Graham (Ecco)
Rage and fear about humanity's destruction of the Earth is only tempered by a mother's tenderness toward a daughter in this thrillingly vivid collection.
Useless Landscape, or, A Guide for Boys
D.A. Powell (Graywolf)
Powell is one of the most important poets now writing, and this may be his best book since his groundbreaking debut. In it, he looks back at a life—at lives—ravaged by AIDS and offers some slant advice to the coming generations of gay men, and to anyone else who tunes in.
Paisley Rekdal (Univ. of Pittsburgh)
Rekdal's longish poems in this fifth book—which ostensibly looks at nature—are brimming with anger and wit, often about where, why, and how love goes wrong.
Larry Bond (Forge)
In this ripped from the headlines tale of SEAL adventures and a plot to trick the Israelis and Americans into launching a first strike against Iran, Bond's refusal to demonize the Iranian characters gives them a solid, real-life feel that cranks up both the tension and the believability.
James Lee Burke (Simon & Schuster)
In the 19th entry in what may be the most consistently satisfying series in contemporary American crime fiction, New Iberia, La., sheriff Dave Robicheaux and his pal Clete Purcel face off against a number of formidable foes, including a possible Nazi war criminal.
Kill You Twice
Chelsea Cain (Minotaur)
Incarcerated serial killer Gretchen Lowell says she has some useful tips for Det. Archie Sheridan in the case of two Portland, Ore., murders that appear to be the work of another serial killer. But can Archie take Gretchen at her word? Four previous books featuring these two damaged souls suggest not.
Michael Connelly (Little, Brown)
The 18th Harry Bosch novel opens in 1992, as L.A. residents outraged by the acquittal of the cops who beat up Rodney King go on a rampage. Twenty years later, the LAPD detective gets a second chance to solve the case of a Danish photojournalist shot dead during the riots.
Amanda Coplin (Harper)
Lush, evocative language marks this story of a reclusive farmer who reluctantly takes in two feral pregnant teenage girls, who will shatter the peace of his fruit orchard in rural Washington State at the turn of the 20th century.
The Gods of Gotham
Lyndsay Faye (Putnam/Amy Einhorn)
Set in 1845, this first in a new series introduces Timothy Wilde, a former bartender and member of New York City's newly formed police force, whose investigation into the murder of a 12-year-old Irish boy leads him deep into the heart of human darkness.
Gillian Flynn (Crown)
When Amy Elliot, on the surface a privileged Gotham golden girl, disappears on her fifth wedding anniversary, her husband, Nick Dunne, becomes the prime suspect in her presumed murder. Both Amy and Nick prove to be far from blameless in this compelling story of a marriage gone horribly wrong.
Chris Knopf (Permanent)
In this inventive tale of revenge, market researcher Arthur Cathcart manages to have himself declared dead in his quest to dis-cover the who and the why behind a hit at his Stamford, Conn., home that left his wife dead and him in a coma for months.
Live by Night
Dennis Lehane (Morrow)
Set in Prohibition-era Boston, Florida, and Cuba, this epic crime novel charts the rise of Irish-American Joe Coughlin, from petty crook to creator of a huge empire in the illegal rum trade. Naturally, this idyllic existence can't last forever.
Rosamund Lupton (Crown)
A fire at a suburban London school during sports day leaves Grace Covey and her 17-year-old daughter, Jenny, a teaching as-sistant, gravely injured. Even worse, Grace's son, Adam, a student at the school, is accused of setting the blaze in this intricate psychological thriller.
Jo Nesbø (Knopf)
Former police officer Harry Hole returns to Oslo from Hong Kong to take on his most personal case yet in his seventh outing to be published in the U.S.—trying to help his estranged 18-year-old son, who has fallen in with a group of drug users and al-legedly shot dead another teenager.
Eliot Pattison (Minotaur)
The efforts of investigator Shan Tao Yun, now an official ditch inspector exiled to Tibet, to save an outlaw monk he has be-friended lands him in the middle of a murder inquiry in Pattison's seventh novel to dramatize the oppression suffered by the Tibetan people under Communist Chinese rule.
Tom Rob Smith (Grand Central)
The final volume of Smith's trilogy set in the Soviet Union takes former KGB agent Leo Demidov from Moscow to Manhat-tan, where tragedy strikes a Russian delegation intended to ease cold war tensions in 1965. Smith shows the toll a police state can take on those caught in its meshes.
Robert Jackson Bennett (Orbit)
A piano prodigy in early 20th-century middle America explores the dark side of performance and family in this eerie and love-ly homage to smalltime vaudevillians and the country's heartland.
The Killing Moon
N.K. Jemisin (Orbit)
Jemisin transports the reader to a fabulous Egypt-flavored realm where priests heal and kill through the power of dreams against a backdrop of dynastic politics and cultural revolution.
This Is How You Lose Her
Junot Díaz (Riverhead)
Irreverent, mesmerizing, gossipy, funny, poignant... how does one describe Díaz's latest outing, a collection overflowing with all the rhythm and pathos of his Dominican tribe, the recurring character of Yunior at the center of it all.
At the Mouth of the River of Bees
Kij Johnson (Small Beer)
Johnson's long-awaited first collection is full of thought-provoking and often emotionally wrenching stories that traverse the spectrum of speculative fiction.
Ted Kosmatka (Del Rey)
Kosmatka's debut is a gripping and gory near-future thriller in which genetic engineering and jingoism prove to be a terrify-ing combination.
Wonders of the Invisible World
Patricia A. McKillip (Tachyon)
McKillip's splendid new fantasy collection showcases her extensive range, bringing the resonance of folklore to tales of terror, poignant allegory, humor, and love.
The Shape of Desire
Sharon Shinn (Ace)
Shinn triumphantly recreates the paranormal romance with this dramatic and heartbreaking tale of a woman who falls in love with a shape-shifter's human form, but fears his animal form is a killer.
Edited by Ann and Jeff VanderMeer (Tor)
This physically and figuratively tremendous collection of "weird" stories—a label that embraces the scary, strange, liminal, and interstitial—traces the nebulous genre's evolution from 1908 to 2010.
The Bridegroom Wore Plaid
Grace Burrowes (Sourcebooks Casablanca)
Regency author Burrowes turns to Victorian-era Scotland with a tale populated by delightful and endearing characters who must contend with historically accurate economic tribulations.
A Week to Be Wicked
Tessa Dare (Avon)
In Dare's delicious and adorable second Spindle Cove romance, a bluestocking scientist and a bachelor lord embark on a made-for-film journey of hilarious mishaps, tall tales, and self-discovery.
Love on the Run
Zuri Day (Kensington/Dafina)
Domestic violence and competitive sports put the edge on this gripping contemporary romance between a professional runner and her trainer.
Mrs. Drew Plays Her Hand
Carla Kelly (Cedar Fort/Sweetwater)
A vicar's widow, threatened by her leering brother-in-law, reluctantly turns to her aloof landlord for help in this touching and gently inspirational Regency about making the best of difficult circumstances.
Elsa Watson (Tor)
A canine-phobic woman in love with a veterinarian swaps bodies with a delightful dog in this goofy and poignant story of overcoming trauma and finding a forever home.
A Hologram for the King
Dave Eggers (McSweeney's)
In this National Book Award nominee, Eggers takes failing salesman Alan Clay to Saudi Arabia to secure a lucrative IT con-tract with the King Abdullah Economic City. Eggers quotes Samuel Beckett at the beginning for a reason; as Alan and his team deal with tech issues and culture clashes, they wait, and wait, and wait for the king to show. A spare but moving elegy for the American century.
My Friend Dahmer
Derf Backderf (Abrams ComicArts)
Even one of the world's most savage serial killers was once just a high school dork. Backderf, who palled around with Dahmer in high school, writes a memoir that not only shows the killer's evolution and how all the signs were missed, but gets inside the cruelties and cliques of every high school with a dark-humored portrait of the murderer as teenage reject.
Are You My Mother?
Alison Bechdel (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)
Bechdel unwinds another tangled family situation with the story of her mother, whose marriage to a bisexual man (Bechdel's father) and ambivalence about motherhood lead to a mother/daughter dynamic where the unspoken is louder than any words. Quotes ranging from Virginia Woolf to Dr. Seuss and Bechdel's own precise prose combine with her fluid drawings to capture a complex relationship.
Gabrielle Bell (Uncivilized Books)
Alternating between funny, surreal recreations of her life as a globe-trotting celebrity indie cartoonist, and never ending neu-rotically obsessive self-examinations of her moods, comics, and friends, Bell's newest comics memoir is an oddball delight. She recounts, among other things, a charming (but failed) relationship with filmmaker Michel Gondry, details how she ended up committing (regretfully) to adapt the SCUM manifesto into a comic, and much more.
Ed Piskor (Top Shelf)
The stories of the early hackers are almost too incredible to be true, filled with daring crimes, mad escapes, and twisted pun-ishments. In his graphic novel debut, Piskor uses real-life tales to create the story of Kevin "Boingthump" Phenicle, a smart, awkward kid (based on a number of real-life hackers) whose computer genius takes him on a long, wild ride of daring escapades, a Robin Hood for the digital age.
Dotter of Her Father's Eyes
Mary and Bryan Talbot (Dark Horse)
Another literary exploration of the battle between creativity and parental approval. Esteemed scholar Mary Talbot compares her own upbringing by her father, James Joyce scholar William Atherton, with that of Joyce's daughter, Lucia, who died in a madhouse after a lifetime of frustration. Talbot's husband, Bryan, supplies charming and heartbreaking drawings that capture the evolution of feminism.
My Cross to Bear
Gregg Allman, with Alan Light (Morrow)
Like an old bluesman riffing through a tale of love, loss, and redemption, Allman in this fiercely honest memoir, sings the sto-ry of the band's early days, its glory times playing the Fillmore East, and the struggles to pull the band back together after Duane's and Berry's deaths.
Many Subtle Channels: In Praise of Potential Literature
Daniel Levin Becker (Harvard Univ.)
Composed in playfully erudite prose—exactly what you'd expect from an Oulipian—this intellectually stimulating journey into the infamous and provocative OuLiPo (the French acronym stands for "workshop for potential literature") is suffused with the tale of Levin Becker's artistic coming-of-age amid the ghosts of Perec, Duchamp, and Calvino.
The Second World War
Antony Beevor (Little, Brown)
Beevor offers a kaleidoscopic view of WWII, which, he says, was an amalgamation of many wars that he depicts both in closeup views of individual combatants and wide-angle views of battles around the world.
Behind the Beautiful Forevers: Life, Death, and Hope in a Mumbai Undercity
Katherine Boo (Random House)
Boo's compassionate, beautifully written, and carefully researched first book takes readers to the Mumbai slum of Annawadi, where her memorable cast, far removed from India's economic miracle, struggles with socioeconomic and political realities, and the injustices of daily life.
Tana French (Viking)
In French's last novel, Faithful Place, Dubliners were just starting to worry about the city's increasingly unstable real estate market. In Broken Harbor, French's fourth Dublin murder squad novel, the economy is no longer a shadowy backdrop: it's moti-vation for murder. Neck-deep in the economic collapse, solving the case could put Det. Mick Kennedy back on top. But with a rookie partner, an unstable sister, and a haunted past, it will more likely kill him.
On Extinction: How We Became Estranged from Nature
Melanie Challenger (Counterpoint)
Analyzing our "estrangement from nature" in the 20th century, Challenger's moving and lyrical first nonfiction book medi-tates on big picture questions as she travels from a writer's solitary cabin on England's Ding Dong Moor to Antarctica with the British Antarctic Survey, back to the North Yorkshire town of Whitby and on to the tundra of the Arctic.
Short Nights of the Shadow Catcher: The Epic Life and Immortal Photographs of Edward Curtis
Timothy Egan (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)
Egan develops the story of Edward Curtis in a fashion befitting the pre-eminent photographer of Native Americans at the turn of the 20th century—just as Curtis's masterful portraits increasingly evinced depth and character as he came to know his sub-jects, so too does each page of this stunning biography pulse with timeless vitality.
Paul Elie (Farrar, Straus and Giroux)
Reading Elie's stately and gorgeous prose is much like losing yourself in Glenn Gould's Goldberg Variations, for his dazzling study convincingly demonstrates that the music of Bach is the most persuasive rendering of transcendence there is.
Titian: His Life
Sheila Hale (Harper)
For this epic biography, Hale successfully uses Titian's career as a touchstone for events that carried Venice away from the Middle Ages and into the early modern period.
Christopher Hitchens (Twelve)
In his typically unflinching and bold manner, the late Hitchens candidly shares his thoughts about his suffering, the etiquette of illness and wellness, and religion in this stark and powerful memoir.
The Outsourced Self: Intimate Life in Market Times
Arlie Russell Hochschild (Holt)
Hochschild's provocative and entertaining study analyzes troubling developments in the global marketplace, where it's possi-ble to outsource burials at sea or potty-training a child to a growing community of "experts."
The Voice Is All: The Lonely Victory of Jack Kerouac
Joyce Johnson (Viking)
Johnson offers a vivid and intimate biography of the artist as a young man, up through the genesis of On the Road: struggling with family tragedy and his French-Canadian identity, and determined to find his literary voice.
Louise Krug (Black Balloon)
Fresh out of college, 22-year-old Krug moves to California with her French boyfriend, ready to begin their gilded lives. But just a few weeks after they arrive, Louise suffers a massive cavernous angioma, and the best laid plans, etc. In elegantly spare prose, Krug details the tragedy that prompted her to relinquish a dream in order to live her life.
The Patagonian Hare
Claude Lanzmann, trans. by Frank Wynne (Farrar, Straus and Giroux)
Best-known for his 9.5-hour Holocaust documentary, Shoah, Lanzmann's first book—dictated at the age of 84—is an impas-sioned and stirring memoir, wherein the acclaimed director ruminates personally and historically on some of the 20th century's most important events and figures.
Double Cross: The True Story of the D-Day Spies
Ben Macintyre (Crown)
The enthralling account of a young Spaniard who became England's most improbable double agent and helped the Allies win WWII.
Kirby Gann (Ig)
A brother gone missing along with a large cache of marijuana that belongs to a dying drug king precipitates a dangerous journey through the devastated landscape of Appalachia in Gann's bloody but beautiful novel.
A Wilderness of Error: The Trials of Jeffrey MacDonald
Errol Morris (Penguin Press)
The compelling newest from Academy Award–winning documentary director Morris is the product of more than two decades of research into the case of Dr. Jeffrey MacDonald, convicted in 1979 of the 1970 murders of his pregnant wife and two daugh-ters. Though MacDonald remains behind bars, Morris's exhaustive investigation leaves little room to doubt his innocence.
Spillover: Animal Infections and the Next Human Pandemic
David Quammen (Norton)
Quammen journeys around the world in an alarming and hortatory exploration of the past and possible future of deadly dis-eases that jump from animals to humans, such as AIDS, SARS, and Ebola.
Joseph Roth: A Life in Letters
Joseph Roth, trans. by Michael Hofmann (Norton)
In letters from 1911 to 1939, the great Austrian-Jewish journalist and novelist reveals his troubled interior world and his prescience about the even more troubled exterior world of post-WWI Germany.
Oliver Sacks (Knopf)
Sacks's latest entry in his annals of neurology views hallucinations not as a sign of madness but as windows into the brain's workings, whose impact extends into our folklore and culture.
Far from the Tree: Parents, Children, and the Search for Identity
Andrew Solomon (Scribner)
Solomon's own trials of feeling marginalized as gay, dyslexic, and depressive, while still yearning to be a father, frame these af-fecting real tales about bravely facing the cards one's dealt with.
Cheryl Strayed (Knopf)
In this detailed, in-the-moment re-enactment, Strayed delineates the travails and triumphs of three grueling months as she hiked solo the Pacific Crest Trail, a 2,663-mile wilderness route stretching from the Mexican to the Canadian borders, inter-twined with a raw examination of emotional devastation brought on by the death of the author's mother.
My American Revolution: Crossing the Delaware and I-78
Robert Sullivan (Farrar, Straus and Giroux)
Sullivan (Rats; The Meadowlands) makes a nostalgic, witty, and always informative topographic retrospective of the sites perti-nent to the American Revolution throughout the Middle Colonies, especially New York, Connecticut, and New Jersey.
Stranger Magic: Charmed States and the Arabian Nights
Marina Warner (Harvard/Belknap)
An elegant study of The Arabian Nights and the far-reaching influence of Scheherazade's endlessly unfolding takes on Western culture and on our visions of enchantment and fantasy.
The Ice Balloon: S.A. Andrée and the Heroic Age of Arctic Exploration
Alec Wilkinson (Knopf)
Spurred by an eerie photo of an enormous balloon downed in a wilderness of white, flanked by two marooned figures, Wilkinson, a longtime contributor to the New Yorker, details S.A. Andrée's doomed 1897 bid for the North Pole via hydrogen balloon.
How the French Invented Love: Nine Hundred Years of Passion and Romance
Marilyn Yalom (Harper Perennial)
Yalom's witty and enchanting tour of French literature—from Abélard and Héloïse in the 12th century to Marguerite Duras in the 20th and Philippe Sollers in the 21st—asks how the French manage their romances, marriages, affairs, and obsession with love and sex, and will send readers in search of these classic texts.
The Dog Stars
Peter Heller (Knopf)
In this hypervisceral postapocalyptic debut novel, adventure writer Heller tells the story of Hig, an amateur pilot living in an abandoned airport after a superflu decimates humankind. With evocative descriptions of hunting, fishing, and flying, Heller may have written the world's most poetic survival guide.
Concussions and Our Kids: America's Leading Expert on How to Protect Young Athletes and Keep Sports Safe
Robert Cantu and Mark Hyman (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)
Cantu, chief of neurosurgery and chairman of the Department of Surgery at Emerson Hospital, and co-director of Boston University's Center for the Study of Traumatic Encephalopathy, teams up with sports journalist Hyman to cover concussions in kids' sports in this essential manual for anyone involved in sports.
Burma: Rivers of Flavor
Naomi Duguid (Artisan)
Duguid's latest culinary immersion unveils food traditions from Burma (Myanmar), where more than a century of civil unrest and decades of seclusion hid a remarkably enduring culinary tradition.
Barefoot Contessa Foolproof: Recipes You Can Trust
Ina Garten (Clarkson Potter)
Once again Garten's culinary wizardry inspires, delights, and empowers, as she focuses on foolproof cooking: recipes that work, are satisfying to eat, and can be made ahead of time.
The Smitten Kitchen
Deb Perelman (Knopf)
A tiny kitchen and great eats are the winning formula for popular New York City food blogger Deb Perelman, confessed "picky" and "obsessive" self-taught cook of smittenkitchen.com blogging fame.
Gran Cocina Latina: The Food of Latin America and the Spanish Caribbean
Mariel E. Presilla (Norton)
Presilla, who runs a restaurant in Hoboken, N.J., and holds a doctorate in medieval Spanish history, offers this bible of Latin American food.
The Color of Christ: The Son of God and the Saga of Race in America
Edward J. Blum and Paul Harvey (Univ. of North Carolina)
This model of academic inquiry and analysis is clearly written, deeply researched, socially engaged, ambitious in the intellectual scope of its questions about race and religion, and methodical in its answers.
Religion for Atheists
Alain de Botton (Pantheon)
The right book for the historical moment of the rapid growth of the religiously unaffiliated is written with clarity, wit, intellectual rigor, and generosity.
Man in the Blue Moon
Michael Morris (Tyndale)
Religion? No, really. Morris's novel about a mysterious man whose advent changes the straightened circumstances of a WWI-era family is everything faith fiction ought to be and usually isn't: a fabulous (as in fable) and subtle tale of love, loyalty, grit, and on-fire imagination, a Southern stew lightly seasoned with the mystery of faith.
Revelations: Visions, Prophecies, & Politics in the Book of Revelation
Elaine Pagels (Viking)
An academic in command of her field of early Christian studies and also of clear, nonacademic prose offers wise analysis of a puzzling biblical text that has prompted many a fevered preacher to pencil the end times onto a calendar.
Still: Notes on a Mid-Faith Crisis
Lauren Winner (HarperOne)
Loss and failure season a life and challenge a faith. Winner's meditative writing is sadder, wiser, and more beautiful than be-fore.
The Orphan Master's Son
Adam Johnson (Random)
Johnson's second novel, set inside the closed world of North Korea, tells the story of Jun Do, a man who lives according to the dictates of the state, working as a tunnel expert, kidnapper, radio operator, and foreign dignitary, before taking his fate into his own hands. Johnson juxtaposes the regime's vicious atrocities with beauty, love, and hope.
Cast On Bind Off: 54 Step-by-Step Methods
Leslie Ann Bestor (Storey)
Clear presentation distinguishes this reference guide that should be on the shelves of knitters who want to develop their craft and their own style.
Showcase 500 Beaded Jewelry
Ray Hemachandra (Lark Crafts)
Dazzling and inspiring eye candy for beaders.
Mira Locher (Tuttle)
This showcase of the work of Japanese garden designer Shunmyo Masuno marries clear exposition of the designer's philosophy with drop-dead gorgeous color art.
Knit Your Own Cat
Sally Muir and Joanna Osborne (Black Dog & Leventhal)
With cats roaming and ruling byways and the Internet, it's purrfect that crafters and the cat-allergic can take part in the feline craze by knitting their own cat, which will not have a mind of its own.
Small-Space Container Gardens: Transform Your Balcony, Porch, or Patio with Fruits, Flowers, Foliage, and Herbs
Fern Richardson (Timber Press)
Nothing revolutionary, but the popular gardening practice gets thorough treatment, making the book a helpful and clear ad-vocate of the idea that apartment- and condo-dwellers can garden and enjoy the fruits and vegetables of their labor.
The Bear in the Book
Kate Banks, illus. by Georg Hallensleben (FSG/Foster)
In one of the finest examples of picture-book metafiction in recent memory, Banks and Hallensleben offer a spot-on portrait of the intimate, roundabout nature of reading with a child. The clever structure lets readers peek in as a mother and child read and discuss a book, then move into that book, fully sharing in the story. It's a superb model of the value of reading together.
Henry Cole (Scholastic Press)
Cole's detailed pencil drawings are thick with emotion and danger in this wordless Civil War–era story of the Underground Railroad. A frightened eye peering from a family's barn. A bundle of food delivered in secret. A small gift left in return. These and other stirring images don't need a single syllable to convey the risks involved for both those who sought freedom and those who tried to help them along.
Barbara DaCosta, illus. by Ed Young (Little, Brown)
DaCosta debuts with a bang—or, more accurately, a whisper—in this atmospheric account of a ninja's stealthy midnight journey. It's gratifying to see Caldecott Medalist Young flex his comedic muscles, and his collages are as masterful as ever. But what makes this story so outstanding is how seriously it takes the young ninja's mission, right up until the moment his secret is revealed.
Olivia and the Fairy Princesses
Ian Falconer (S&S/Atheneum)
From Cinderella to Kate Middleton, the allure of princessdom is a powerful one among girls—and, as Falconer's story notes, among some boys, too. For children (or pink-weary parents) seeking alternative sources of inspiration, look no further than Falconer's ever-iconoclastic piglet, who is determined to stand out from the crowd, channeling the likes of Anna Wintour and Martha Graham in the process.
And Then It's Spring
Julie Fogliano, illus. by Erin Stead (Roaring Brook/Porter)
This is as good a time as any to remember that spring doesn't come without months of drab, gray waiting. First-time author Fogliano and Caldecott Medalist Stead are in perfect synch in this delicate and understated vision of those long days and weeks before the first glimpse of green. Stead doesn't let the young gardener (or readers) down: when spring finally arrives, it's glorious.