Each November, our reviews editors look back at the nearly 9,000 titles we reviewed over the course of the year and pick favorites in several categories: fiction, poetry, mystery/thriller, SF/fantasy/horror, romance/erotica, comics, picture books, middle grade, and young adult. From those longlists, the editors choose an overall top 10, including five each of the year’s best fiction and nonfiction titles. This year, our cover author is Marlon James. His epic novel, A Brief History of Seven Killings, takes us to his native Jamaica and reveals its rocky past. Read on for the very best 2014 had to offer.
On Immunity: An Inoculation
Eula Biss (Graywolf)
Biss, while making an unimpeachable case for childhood vaccination, delves into the metaphors that accompany notions of purity and invasion, and recounts the medical history of vaccine development. It’s a touching personal story that seeks to understand why the antivax crowd exists and why it’s such a well-meaning, if misguided, movement.
Thirteen Days in September: Carter, Begin, and Sadat at Camp David
Lawrence Wright (Knopf)
Wright’s meticulous account of the 1978 Camp David Accords weaves a nail-biting chronicle of the accords themselves with the histories of the three leaders and the land that has been an unending center of conflict since biblical times. It’s an unparalleled work and one that deserves to be called objective.
Learning to Walk in the Dark
Barbara Brown Taylor (HarperOne)
At home on a page or at a podium, Taylor always offers eloquent provocation to thought. The title conceit exemplifies how the Episcopal priest and theologian develops insights from unusual perspectives that lead to more enlightened living.
The Age of Atheists
Peter Watson (Simon & Schuster)
Watson offers a history of atheism to show that the topic du jour does in fact have a heritage. His tour of modern thought in a variety of disciplines offers exhilarating and unexpected connections.
Living the Secular Life: New Answers to Old Questions
Phil Zuckerman (Penguin Press)
Zuckerman is a sociologist who in this groundbreaking book writes clearly, offers unobtrusive statistical support, and provides a persuasive and comprehensive look at the growing contemporary phenomenon of people who choose to live without religion, but with ethics and meaning in their lives.
My Grandfather’s Coat
Jim Aylesworth, illus. by Barbara McClintock (Scholastic Press)
This warmly told and splendidly illustrated tale of a coat repurposed and refashioned over decades of use celebrates the determination, resourcefulness, and ingenuity that are bedrock values for so many immigrant families. Here’s hoping copies of this book become as well worn as Grandfather’s blue coat itself.
Sam and Dave Dig a Hole
Mac Barnett, illus. by Jon Klassen (Candlewick)
Through humor, surprise, and careful attention to detail, Barnett and Klassen challenge readers’ expectations as two boys find both more and less than they imagined as they tunnel underground. Just as the act of digging a hole holds untold promise for any kid with a shovel, children will finish this story with a new appreciation for the possibilities that lie between the pages of a book.
My Teacher Is a Monster! (No, I Am Not.)
Peter Brown (Little, Brown)
It can be hard for children to imagine that their teachers have lives outside the classroom, but Brown goes a long way toward building empathy in the story of Bobby and his “monster” of a teacher, Ms. Kirby. Brown comically highlights the human complexity and depth of teachers (even the ones with fangs) and students (even the ones throwing paper airplanes).
Ashley Bryan’s Puppets: Making Something from Everything
Ashley Bryan (S&S/Atheneum)
Using wood, bone, shell, rope, and tattered bits of fabric, Bryan has fashioned a veritable pantheon of deities; his puppets exude playfulness, personality, and power despite (or perhaps because of) their humble origins. Bryan shows off an entirely new facet of his artistic gifts with this project, while opening readers’ eyes to a world of magic.
The Right Word: Roget and His Thesaurus
Jen Bryant, illus. by Melissa Sweet (Eerdmans)
If words fail when trying to encapsulate this remarkable introduction to Peter Mark Roget, what better course of action than to turn to the reference work that still bears his name? Bryant showcases the love of words that drove Roget to assemble his thesaurus, while Sweet’s visually exuberant mixed-media illustrations are themselves a tribute to the breadth of the English language.
Raul Colón (S&S/Wiseman)
A testament both to the power of imagination and to the creative impulse, Colón’s wordless tale follows a young artist’s daydream, which takes him to an African landscape full of animals to interact with and (most importantly) to draw. Colón’s sumptuous and finely detailed illustrations reveal the value of doggedly pursuing one’s dream, even when it seems impossible or out of reach.
Iris de Moüy (Groundwood)
Children will be hard-pressed not to recognize a bit of themselves in de Moüy’s cadre of grouchy, nap-refusing jungle animals (whether they wish to recognize themselves is another matter). In minimalist paintings bubbling over with emotion, de Moüy conjures the animals’ indifference, indignation, and withering disdain to hilarious effect.
H.G. Adler, trans. from the German by Peter Filkins (Random)
The third and final book in his Shoah trilogy, The Wall, a towering meditation on the self and spirit, follows a survivor of the Holocaust living in London, where he has “ceased to exist, called it quits.”
Take Away the A
Michaël Escoffier, illus. by Kris Di Giacomo (Enchanted Lion)
This alphabet book from the French duo of Escoffier and Di Giacomo is anything but typical as they remove letters from words (“Without the C, the chair has hair”) to create scenarios that are alternately romantic, comedic, whimsical, and surreal. The clever results are reward enough, but will also have children looking at words and their constituent letters in entirely new ways.
The Farmer and the Clown
Marla Frazee (S&S/Beach Lane)
Emotions are quietly portrayed but deeply felt in this wordless odd-couple story that traces the gradual defrosting of a farmer’s stoic temperament as he looks after a young clown catapulted from a passing circus train. Frazee’s always elegant pencil-and-gouache artwork establishes a vast rural landscape that radiates loneliness, then punctures that solitude with the gift of unexpected companionship.
Firefly July: A Year of Very Short Poems
Selected by Paul B. Janeczko, illus. by Melissa Sweet (Candlewick)
Drawing on a few dozen brief poems from Emily Dickinson, Langston Hughes, William Carlos Williams, and more, Janeczko and Sweet pull readers through the seasons, allowing them to take in the sounds of spring rain, visit a beach teeming with busy sandpipers, feel the whiff of a cool autumn breeze, and experience the quiet of a snowy winter landscape.
Once upon an Alphabet: Short Stories for All the Letters
Oliver Jeffers (Philomel)
Jeffers takes the alphabet book to new heights, creating short narratives for every letter; the results can be drolly funny, vaguely unsettling, or out-and-out absurd (witness the Frankensteinian origins of the “whiraffe,” part giraffe, part whisk). Whether it’s a glacier-guarding sentry or an owl and octopus that fight crime, Jeffers sketches unexpected characters that will linger in readers’ minds.
Yuyi Morales (Roaring Brook/Porter)
Less a picture-book biography than an evocative tribute to an artist’s way of seeing the world, Morales’s bilingual story makes expert use of exquisitely crafted marionettes and other props to create a vibrant vision of Frida Kahlo’s life. Mischief, mystery, and enigmatic imagery combine as the book builds to an elated revelation: “I love/ And create/ And so.../ I live!”
Hi, Koo! A Year of Seasons
Jon J Muth (Scholastic Press)
As Muth travels through the seasons of the year via haiku, he sidesteps dreary metric “requirements” (don’t look for five-seven-five syllable counts) to focus on emotion. Koo the panda serves as muse, equally in the moment whether he’s enjoying an autumn snack (“Eating warm cookies/ on a cold day/ is easy”) or expressing genuine remorse after accidentally squishing a bug.
A Boy and a Jaguar
Alan Rabinowitz, illus. by Cátia Chien (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)
In a moving autobiographical account of a lifelong struggle with stuttering, Rabinowitz takes a deeply personal story and allows it to speak universally about finding one’s voice and recognizing the need for empathy. Chien’s moody acrylics capture the story’s darkest moments and most triumphant successes as Rabinowitz finds an outlet and refuge through working with animals.
Give and Take
Chris Raschka (S&S/Atheneum/Jackson)
Raschka makes the case for compromise in this polished fable about a farmer caught between two elfin creatures who urge him alternately to give or take with abandon, without regard to his need or well-being. This story makes the value of moderation abundantly clear while evoking the air of a classic folktale that has always existed somewhere in our collective memory.
Aviary Wonders Inc.: Spring Catalog and Instruction Manual
Kate Samworth (Clarion)
Think dystopian stories are only for YA readers? Think again. Samworth’s gorgeously illustrated debut pushes the bounds of the picture book, taking the form of a catalogue from a future Earth where birds are extinct and consumers can purchase customizable avian automatons to replace the irreplaceable. Grim, yes, but extraordinarily powerful, too.
Rules of Summer
Shaun Tan (Scholastic/Levine)
Framed as a series of “rules” learned over the course of one summer, Tan’s haunting vignettes follow the misadventures of two boys. With appearances from giant red rabbits, armored demons the size of a strawberry, and miniature trains that hurtle to destinations unknown, the scenes could fuel much larger, longer stories of their own—stories that readers’ imaginations are all but certain to supply.
Margaret Atwood (Doubleday/Talese)
A keen ear and eye have set Atwood apart for all of her illustrious career, and she shines again in this collection, which begins with a woman conversing with her dead husband. His presence in their house sets her to remembering her youthful, often subservient relationships with men and how, ultimately, she’s triumphed.
Kwame Alexander (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)
Alexander’s excellent verse novel tackles sibling rivalries, romantic crushes, and parental pressures (though “tackles” is surely the wrong verb, since seventh-grader Josh Bell lives for basketball). The poems crackle with the intensity of a neck-and-neck game careening toward the final buzzer as Josh grapples with troubles on and off the court.
The Witch’s Boy
Kelly Barnhill (Algonquin Young Readers)
The fraught relationships between parents and their children resound through Barnhill’s coming-of-age fantasy, which features a pair of unlikely heroes: the daughter of a powerful bandit and a boy with a stutter who wields magic he can barely control. With a rich setting and supporting characters, the novel explores big, challenging ideas while avoiding tidy solutions.
Cece Bell (Abrams/Amulet)
Bell makes the most of the graphic format in this captivating memoir, which explores the loss of her hearing as a child and her subsequent efforts to find her footing. Drawing her characters as anthropomorphic rabbits (an inspired choice given the animals’ prominent ears), Bell shows how resilience, imagination, and a sense of humor served her well amid struggles with friends, family, and school.
Ophelia and the Marvelous Boy
Karen Foxlee, illus. by Yoko Tanaka (Knopf)
Here’s a retelling of “The Snow Queen” for readers who are finally ready to take a break from Frozen. Set in a museum that gradually reveals its unsettling secrets, Foxlee’s high-stakes fantasy follows 11-year-old Ophelia’s efforts to rescue an imprisoned boy while discovering courage she didn’t know she had.
Sally Gardner, illus. by David Roberts (Holt)
Wild, wicked humor runs through this first book in a series from British collaborators Gardner and Roberts, which finds nine-year-old Emily Vole ditching her abhorrent, self-obsessed adoptive parents for a world of magic and mystery—and citizens being transformed into rabbits by a malevolent witch. It’s dark comedy just right for kids who have laughed their way through Dahl’s oeuvre.
Lisa Graff (Philomel)
As 10-year-old Albie’s learning difficulties weigh on his mind at home and at school, Graff delivers a memorable story about a boy learning to value himself, even when the world sees him as lesser. Balancing Albie’s poignant and painful realizations with moments of lightness and joy, Graff’s novel is bittersweet in the best of ways.
Abby Hanlon (Dial)
Six-year-old Dory makes an unforgettable debut in this energetically illustrated early reader that treats readers to an unfiltered look at the way her brain operates. Dory’s full-volume exclamations, incessant questions, and tendency to see monsters everywhere just might be among the reasons Dory’s family can be exhausted by her, but readers will be in stitches.
Ann M. Martin (Feiwel and Friends)
In a gripping and empathetic account of a girl’s devotion and courage, especially where her dog is concerned, Martin nails the narrative voice of autistic fifth-grader Rose Howard. Without claiming to speak broadly to the experience of autism, Martin’s novel homes in on Rose’s singular, honest perspective on the world, as literal and metaphorical storms close in around her.
Nuts to You
Lynne Rae Perkins (Greenwillow)
Newbery Medalist Perkins basically outs herself as a squirrel whisperer with this buoyantly funny tale of a group of squirrels trying to keep their habitat safe from a perceived threat by humans. Perkins’s evocation of squirrel language and culture is as clever as it is entertaining, and the same is true of the illustrations she scatters like acorns throughout the book.
West of the Moon
Margi Preus (Abrams/Amulet)
Melding fairy tale themes and allusions with the grim, perilous journey of an immigrant seeking a better life, Preus draws from her own family history to create a coming-of-age story with real bite. Her hero, 13-year-old Astri, is as memorable as the Norwegian folktales that interlace her narrative.
A Little Lumpen Novelita
Roberto Bolaño, trans. from the Spanish by Natasha Wimmer (New Directions)
In just over 100 pages, Bolaño stuffs trademark dread and mystery into the story of Bianca, an aimless young woman who befriends an old, blind movie actor in order to rob him.
The Port Chicago 50: Disaster, Mutiny, and the Fight for Civil Rights
Steve Sheinkin (Roaring Brook)
An important piece of WWII history gets its due in this riveting account of the 1944 explosion of the Port Chicago naval base, which killed and injured hundreds of primarily African-American servicemen and resulted in a strike and mutiny trial. Sheinkin’s characteristically thorough research and storytelling expertise are on full display as he studies a disaster that held major civil rights ramifications.
The Thickety: A Path Begins
J.A. White, illus. by Andrea Offermann (HarperCollins/Tegen)
First-time author White’s harrowing fantasy wrestles with questions of good and evil, virtue and sin, and the ways communities turn on their own. As 12-year-old Kara comes into forbidden magical powers—the very kind responsible for her mother’s death—her increasingly desperate efforts to protect herself and those she cares about are both thrilling and terrifying.
Deborah Wiles (Scholastic Press)
This stellar second installment in Wiles’s Sixties Trilogy, following 2010’s Countdown, brings readers to 1964 Mississippi, where public pools are segregated and hundreds of volunteers are descending on the state to ensure black citizens are able to vote. Filled with vintage photographs and images, references to music of the day, and other period ephemera, it’s an immersive and important work of historical fiction.
Brown Girl Dreaming
Jacqueline Woodson (Penguin/Paulsen)
Woodson throws open her family history to readers in this elegantly crafted memoir-in-poems, sharing memories of life with her grandparents in segregated South Carolina, a move to Brooklyn, and her ongoing awakening to the power of words and writing. A vibrant, image-rich account of growing up in the civil rights era.
The True Tale of the Monster Billy Dean
David Almond (Candlewick)
A postapocalyptic novel with few peers in terms of its daring and ambition, Almond’s story of Billy Dean—born on the “day of doom” that heralded World War III—draws its power from the phonetic language used to represent Billy’s voice as he works to understand himself and his world. A challenging read that pays big dividends as it explores themes of connection, betrayal, and redemption.
The Impossible Knife of Memory
Laurie Halse Anderson (Viking)
Suffused with empathy, this honest examination of the far-ranging effects of PTSD follows 17-year-old Hayley as she tries to preserve her relationship with her father, a veteran of Iraq and Afghanistan who is suffering mentally and physically from his tours of duty. It’s yet another emotionally astute and compassionate performance from Anderson.
Through the Woods
Emily Carroll (S&S/McElderry)
Hey, kid, want to give yourself nightmares? Look no further than this profoundly chilling collection of comics, five stories in all, that combine lavishly illustrated historical settings with terrifying visions of otherworldly and psychological terrors. Abduction, possession, cold-blooded murder, parasitic tentacled fiends—they’re all here, and more.
Brandy Colbert (Putnam)
Colbert’s debut is a hard-hitting and unflinchingly realistic portrait of Theo Cartwright, a talented African-American ballet dancer whose ambitions are threatened by an eating disorder and the reappearance of her abducted best friend. A gritty, unsettling story featuring flawed characters who are all the more human for their mistakes and destructive decisions.
The Family Romanov: Murder, Rebellion, and the Fall of Imperial Russia
Candace Fleming (Random/Schwartz & Wade)
Fleming expertly traces the fall of Russia’s famous ruling family in the early years of the 20th century. Using extensive primary sources to underscore the conditions that set the stage for revolution, Fleming’s book reads like a gripping historical thriller.
Sally Green (Viking)
First in a planned trilogy, British author Green’s debut is a spellbinding and brutal story of magic and witchcraft in an alternate England. Caught between worlds, Green’s tormented hero, Nathan, leaves an indelible mark as he attempts to reconcile his desire to know his father, a hated Black Witch, with the fact that he is being trained to kill him.
Sergei Dovlatov, trans. from the Russian by Katherine Dovlatov (Counterpoint)
Broke and divorced, Boris has taken a job as a tour-guide at the Pushkin Hills Preserve, where he immediately goes about hilariously ridiculing the visitors and staff who so revere Pushkin. Dovlatov’s short novel begins as a comedy but, rife with pathos, progresses toward a moving final act.
Poisoned Apples: Poems for You, My Pretty
Christine Heppermann (Greenwillow)
Caustic and comic, raging and relevant, Heppermann’s poems pinpoint sexism, eating disorders, misogyny, body image, and myriad other crucial themes, interlacing them with fairy tale elements, characters, and language. The juxtapositions are brilliant, sometimes ferociously so, as Heppermann proves that big bad wolves aren’t the only ones with teeth.
The Story of Owen: Dragon Slayer of Trondheim
E.K. Johnston (Carolrhoda Lab)
In this deliciously imagined contemporary fantasy, debut novelist Johnston crafts a version of Earth in which dragons are a persistent and very real threat. Families of dragon slayers do battle with the dragons, and bards like 16-year-old Siobhan are never far from the action as they sing these warriors’ praises. A rollicking story that, primeval threats aside, has much to say about modern society.
Glory O’Brien’s History of the Future
A.S. King (Little, Brown)
Drinking the remains of a petrified bat allows teenager Glory O’Brien to see glimpses of a horrific future rife with misogyny and war—yep, just your average YA premise. King’s fans have come to expect the unexpected from her fiction, and this is one of her most potent and political books to date.
Beyond Magenta: Transgender Teens Speak Out
Susan Kuklin (Candlewick)
In this revealing collection, six transgender teenagers tell their stories in profiles shaped with Kuklin, and often accompanied by her photographs. The individuals, who self-identify as transgender, gender-neutral, or intersex, candidly share their self-doubts, ongoing struggles, experiences with intolerance, failures, and successes. A critical resource for both transgender teens and society at large.
We Were Liars
E. Lockhart (Delacorte)
Privilege and pain are intimately connected in Lockhart’s knotty examination of the lies we tell ourselves and others. As amnesiac Cady Eastman tries to piece together the mystery of what befell her family two years earlier on a private island off Cape Cod, readers are treated to an engrossing and unpredictable psychological thriller.
Say What You Will
Cammie McGovern (HarperTeen)
A romance between a girl with cerebral palsy and a boy with obsessive-compulsive disorder could easily turn maudlin, but McGovern sees past her characters’ diagnoses without minimizing the problems they are up against. The risks these teenagers face by opening themselves up to each other will be recognizable to anyone who has fallen in love.
I’ll Give You the Sun
Jandy Nelson (Dial)
Nelson explores the resilient—but not unbreakable—bonds of family and the process of healing from past wounds in a novel that unfolds through the alternating perspectives of twins Noah and Jude. As the story circles inward toward the event that drove a wedge between the once inseparable siblings, gloriously imaginative and evocative language revels in the dizzying aspects of making art and falling in love.
Eliot Schrefer (Scholastic Press)
In a thematic companion to his 2012 novel, Endangered, Schrefer crafts a thrilling survival story, set in contemporary Gabon, about a 13-year-old orphan named Luc who finds a home with a group of chimpanzees in the wake of tragedy. Schrefer writes with compassion, an eye for detail, and a keen awareness of the many threats facing both humans and chimpanzees alike.
Andrew Smith (Dutton)
In what amounts to a gonzo history of the end of the world—courtesy of rampaging and ravenous giant grasshoppers—Smith dives headlong into topics that include ethically dubious scientific advancements, the influence of history on the present, and teenage sexuality (which, like said grasshoppers, could also be described as rampaging and ravenous). It’s outrageous, thought-provoking, and a wild, wild ride.
This One Summer
Mariko Tamaki and Jillian Tamaki (First Second)
Cousins Mariko and Jillian Tamaki are startlingly good at evoking the rituals, claustrophobic close quarters, and languorous days of a summer getaway in this gorgeously melancholic graphic novel, set in a Canadian beach town. The summer proves transformative for friends Rose and Windy, as well as for the adults in their lives, and readers will feel their sorrows, thrills, and longings intimately.
The Blazing World
Siri Hustvedt (Simon & Schuster)
Newly widowed Harriet “Harry” Burden pulls a fast one on the New York art scene by creating three art installations and presenting them as the works of three different men. Hustvedt’s writing is always sharp, but never before has it felt so alive.
The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender
Leslye Walton (Candlewick)
In lush language suffused with elements of fable, folklore, and magical realism, Walton crafts a rich, multigenerational saga that explores the lineage of 16-year-old Ava, born with a pair of wings. Despite the novel’s supernatural trappings, including a profusion of ghosts and inexplicable events, its melding of the beautiful and brutal feels fully real.
John Corey Whaley (S&S/Atheneum)
Sure, Whaley’s sophomore novel has a killer hook—Travis’s cryogenically frozen head is reattached to another body after he dies of leukemia—but readers will quickly understand that the author is more interested in hearts than heads. Travis’s efforts to find his bearings and acknowledge that the world kept moving without him will resonate with any readers feeling disconnected from their lives and/or bodies.
Meg Wolitzer (Dutton)
Wolitzer brings a heady dose of magical realism to her enchanting first YA novel, which follows teenager Jam Gallahue’s time at a therapeutic boarding school for “emotionally fragile, highly intelligent” adolescents. Through an intensive study of Sylvia Plath’s life and work, Jam and her fellow classmates in a specialized English class face the demons and traumas that have brought them together.
Lily King (Atlantic Monthly)
Bringing to mind Margaret Mead and her reputation-making South Seas sojourn, King’s novel, a thought-provoking story with a barrelful of surprises, is about a trio of anthropologists living in a primitive society as observers.
Summer House with Swimming Pool
Herman Koch, trans. from the Dutch by Sam Garrett (Random/Hogarth)
In his signature blend of page-turner and exploration of the dark side of human nature, Koch follows The Dinner with a doctor and his famous patient (whom he doesn’t like much), as well as their two families, in a summer house. Bad things happen, and not always to good people.
On Such a Full Sea
Chang-Rae Lee (Riverhead)
Sixteen-year-old Fan abandons the city of B-Mor (a dystopic Baltimore, whose residents also supply the collective narrative voice) to search for her missing boyfriend, and the result is a series of wildly imaginative set pieces that shows Lee as a world-builder of the first order.
A Girl Is a Half-Formed Thing
Eimear McBride (Coffee House)
The fragmented voice of McBride’s narrator, growing up in rural Ireland under her mother’s religious mania, her brother’s brain tumor, and her sexual abuse, is overwhelming and unforgettable. McBride’s debut deconstructs and reconstructs language to great effect.
The Corpse Exhibition
Hassan Blasim, trans. from the Arabic by Jonathan Wright (Penguin)
Powerful and disturbing, these stories of the war in Iraq from an Iraqi perspective combine the grit of reality with the surreal. Wise and terrifying, comic and gripping, Blasim, in exile from his native Iraq, is an original voice whose writing is justifiably compared to Gogol, Bolaño, and Borges.
Thunderstruck & Other Stories
Elizabeth McCracken (Dial)
McCracken’s stories are often macabre, but always precise: plots in this collection include a librarian living with a disastrous memory and a grieving mother finding companionship in a neighbor’s child. With her askew perspective of the world and great psychological depth, McCracken proves she’s one of our finest practitioners of the form.
The Other Language
Francesca Marciano (Pantheon)
This first collection by an accomplished novelist moves across continents to explore relationships between men and women, the lure of fame, and the desire to escape one’s life. It’s both telling and amusing, peopled with charming protagonists and set in enticing places.
All Our Names
Dinaw Mengestu (Knopf)
The dual narrators of Mengestu’s novel tell two sides of the same story: a 25-year-old aspiring writer leaves his village in Uganda and becomes a revolutionary; an American social worker falls in love with an African refugee in the Midwest. Mengestu depicts the immigrant experience with unsettling perception, in a story of shifting and renewed identity.
Our Lady of the Nile
Scholastique Mukasonga, trans. from the French by Melanie Mauthner (Archipelago)
Mukasonga’s debut novel uses the titular girls boarding school, perched on a ridge near the source of the Nile, as a lens through which to examine the Hutu and Tutsi conflict in Rwanda. Mainly setting her story 15 years before the 1994 genocide, Mukasonga, through the girls’ daily experiences at the school, sheds light on the growing political, ethnic, and social hostility of a country moving toward disaster.
This Is the Water
Yannick Murphy (Harper)
The second-person narrator of Murphy’s novel faces the fear, hysteria, and mundane suburban problems of a middle-aged woman whose daughters are on the swim team, which happens to be the target of a serial killer. Murphy brilliantly inverts the “whodunit” into a “whogotit”: by revealing the killer early, the question becomes who will uncover him.
Dorthe Nors, trans. from the Danish by Martin Aitken (Graywolf)
The cutting, destructive stories in Nors’s slim book tackle violence, sex, daydreams, obsessions, delusions, and compulsions. At three or four pages each, there’s just enough time to catch your breath before the next one hits.
Boy, Snow, Bird
Helen Oyeyemi (Riverhead)
Oyeyemi continues to weave fairy tales, myth, and folklore together in this stellar reimagining of the Snow White tale, which also deftly handles themes of race, “otherness,” and beauty. Boy, a woman who flees her abusive father and ends up in 1950s Massachusetts, becomes stepmother to her husband’s daughter, Snow, then has a child of her own, Bird.
Gustavo Faverón Patriau, trans. from the Spanish by Joseph Mulligan (Grove/Black Cat)
This deviously dark and fun literary mystery finds a buttoned-up psycholinguist following clues fed to him by an old friend who has been locked up for murdering his fiancée. A rare-book-dealer network that’s actually a front for human organ traffickers, as well as some grotesque and macabre fables, complete this stellar debut.
Marilynne Robinson (Farrar, Straus and Giroux)
In her third novel set in Gilead, Iowa, Robinson focuses on Lila and her husband, the elderly Reverend Ames. The courtship and subsequent marriage of Lila and Ames is destined to be a classic—but who would expect anything less from Robinson?
We Are Not Ourselves
Matthew Thomas (Simon & Schuster)
Six decades in the life of Eileen Tumulty begins in Woodside, Queens, in the 1940s and traces her lifelong pursuit of a better social station. She marries, becomes a mother, has a career—the life portrayed by Thomas is not spectacular, and that’s what makes it so memorable.
Emmanuel Carrère, trans. from the French by John Lambert (Farrar, Straus and Giroux)
No run-of-the-mill biography, this witty, fascinating portrait of the paradoxical Edward Limonov—a far-right ally of Serbian war criminals and principled opponent of Putin; a butler in New York City; and a literary rock star in Paris—has biographer Carrère giving himself a supporting part in the story as he ponders his own relationship to a confounding man who mirrors Russia’s many transformations.
Nell Zink (Dorothy, a Publishing Project)
A young couple hits a bird while driving; the wife miscarries. This is the first page of Zink’s weird, funny, and sad debut. What follows is the on-and-off again marriage between Tiffany and Stephen, a dazzling depiction of the slippery nature of human intimacy.
They Don’t Kill You Because They’re Hungry, They Kill You Because They’re Full
Mark Bibbins (Copper Canyon)
With a title that perfectly encapsulates its tone and potential energy, Bibbins harnesses his venom and directs it toward those social forces that serve to numb people to the violence of their stultified lives. There’s urgency even in its moments of quiet, and beauty in every explosion.
Faithful and Virtuous Night
Louise Glück (Farrar, Straus and Giroux)
Balancing longer, flowing poems with prose blocks, Glück turns to the materiality of lived experience and takes on a conversational tone in this study of stillness, silence, and blankness. Beautifully enigmatic and enigmatically beautiful, Glück grasps the cycle of uncertainty and creation.
If the Tabloids Are True What Are You?
Matthea Harvey (Graywolf)
Harvey combines poetry and visual art in a way that heightens the effect of every element. It’s playful and emotionally wrenching, as prone to sparking bouts of pleasure as to drawing tears. More than a hybrid collection, it’s a beautiful new creature that demands a new way to engage.
Citizen: An American Lyric
Claudia Rankine (Graywolf)
Important and powerful, Rankine’s trenchant work on racism in the 21st century uses the innovative formal techniques she developed in Don’t Let Me Be Lonely to inspire sympathy, outrage, and the will to take a deep look at ourselves and our society.
The Black-Eyed Blonde: A Philip Marlowe Novel
Benjamin Black (Holt)
In the process of recreating the distinctive narrative voice of Raymond Chandler’s world-weary private eye Philip Marlowe, Black (aka John Banville) elevates this crime novel beyond mere thoughtful homage, injecting emotion into his wounded lead.
Memory of Flames
Armand Cabasson (Gallic; Consortium, dist.)
Lt. Col. Quentin Margont investigates a royalist plot to undermine the defenses of Paris as the allied forces advance on the city in 1814 in Cabasson’s third Napoleonic Murders whodunit. The intricate storytelling and sophisticated character development make this one of the best historical mysteries of recent years.
Sting of the Drone
Richard A. Clarke (St. Martin’s/Dunne)
Insider knowledge of politics paired with amazing state-of-the-art technical details fuels this realistic action thriller. A counterterrorism expert who has served under U.S. presidents from Reagan to George W. Bush, Clarke sets the standard by which the subgenre will be measured.
The Sweetness of Life
Paulus Hochgatterer (Quercus/Maclehose)
Hochgatterer, a child psychiatrist based in Vienna, makes his U.S. debut with this suspenseful and insightful thriller in which a child psychiatrist treats a little girl traumatized by the discovery of her grandfather’s faceless corpse in the snow outside a fairy tale Austrian town.
The Devil in the Marshalsea
Antonia Hodgson (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt/Mariner)
In her debut, Hodgson, editor-in-chief of Little, Brown U.K., conjures up scenes of Dickensian squalor and marries them to a crackerjack plot. Tom Hawkins, the 25-year-old wastrel son of an Anglican minister, looks into a suspicious hanging death in a hellish London debtors’ prison in 1727.
Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay
Elena Ferrante, trans. from the Italian by Ann Goldstein (Europa)
Ferrante’s series of Neapolitan novels has cemented its place as one of the greatest in modern fiction. This third installment, which follows the evolving and complicated relationship between girlhood friends Elena and Lila, is the best so far.
The Good Girl
Mary Kubica (Harlequin/Mira)
Free-spirited, 24-year-old art teacher Mia Dennett, a member of a well-connected Chicago family, goes missing at the start of Kubica’s debut, reminiscent of Gone Girl, but this Girl has heart—which makes it all the more devastating when the author breaks it.
The Iron Sickle
Martin Limón (Soho Crime)
In Limón’s ninth novel, a blend of well-crafted procedural with a harrowing portrayal of the psychic wounds of war set in 1970s-era South Korea, U.S. Army CID agents George Sueño and Ernie Bascom try to figure out why a Korean man entered the Seoul compound that houses the office responsible for claims against units attached to U.S. Forces in Korea and slit the throat of its civilian head.
Bradford Morrow (Grove/Atlantic/Mysterious)
The macabre mutilation-murder of a rare book dealer at his beachfront Montauk, Long Island, cottage kicks off this sly, artfully limned crime novel. The suspense grows as the shady past of the unreliable narrator, the boyfriend of the victim’s sister and a rare book aficionado who once forged literary artifacts, threatens to catch up with him.
Daniel Palmer (Kensington)
In this steel-trap-plotted suspense novel set in the Boston area, Gage Decker and his wife, who are eager for a child, take in a troubled pregnant woman, Lily, who promises to let them adopt her baby. Lily’s offer is both complex and logical, and Gage Decker’s travails almost too painful to read about.
Soul of the Fire
Eliot Pattison (Minotaur)
Pattison’s eighth mystery featuring Shan Tao Yun takes the former Beijing government investigator to Zhongje, a Tibetan community that the Chinese regard as a “showcase for the motherland,” where he investigates an apparent self-immolation. A thrilling plot blends smoothly with a passionate denunciation of the Chinese oppression of the Tibetan people.
Tom Rob Smith (Grand Central)
The narrator of this superior psychological thriller, a Londoner known only as Daniel, doesn’t know whether to believe his father or his mother when his parents, who have retired to Sweden, tell him conflicting stories about his mother’s hospitalization and subsequent escape from the Swedish hospital to England.
Andy Weir (Crown)
Engineering geeks will relish this SF thriller in which astronaut Mark Watney gets stranded on Mars with limited supplies and is presumed dead. Debut author Weir avoids the problem of the Robinson Crusoe tale that bogs down in repetitive behaviors by making Watney a good-humored, proactive hero who’s constantly testing new ideas to survive.
The Submission Gift
Solace Ames (Carina)
Ames’s phenomenal ménage romance brings together three deeply endearing characters: Adriana, a tough professional chef who’s submissive in the bedroom; Javier, her adoring and not very dominant husband; and Paul, the professional top Javier hires to fulfill Adriana’s desires. Nuanced negotiation and real-world concerns about money, health, and work make the story feel almost biographical, and the heat is off the charts.
Jenn Bennett (Berkley Sensation)
When a cursed bootlegger and a ghost-banishing medium meet in this knockout debut, they embark on a carefully navigated relationship that soon grows far beyond their expectations. Prohibition-era San Francisco provides the perfect backdrop for this meeting of wary equals and their gradual slide into romance.
The Honeymoon Trap
Kelly Hunter (Tule)
Friday afternoons spent immersed in an online role-playing game lead unexpectedly to love for Hunter’s delectable protagonists, sassy Zoey and shy Eli. This unabashedly geeky story is full of affection for games and gamers, and promises every game player—in any medium—a happy ending.
A Brief History of Seven Killings
Marlon James (Riverhead)
A virtuosic performance detailing three turbulent decades in Jamaican history, centering on the attempted assassination of Bob Marley. The voices of government agents, gang members, ex-girlfriends, and ghosts all contribute, and the result is shocking, cerebral, and exhilarating.
Rose Lerner (Samhain)
An obscure law turns a widow’s life upside down in Lerner’s hilarious Regency, which is packed with memorable characters. If Phoebe Sparks remarries, her husband will get two votes in a hotly contested election; the stakes are personal, not just political, and Lerner brings it all splendidly to life.
Deborah Fletcher Mello (Kensington/Dafina)
Amina, a Muslim Arab-American woman managing a mayoral campaign for her father, falls unexpectedly in love with Troy, a Christian African-American man who’s running for the same office. Threats from a conniving businessman keep the pace moving briskly, and Mello provides welcome nuance in her portrayal of Amina’s family. Fans of African-American romance will enjoy having their horizons broadened by this contemporary romantic thriller.
Somebody Like You
Beth K. Vogt (S&S/Howard)
In Vogt’s beautiful inspirational contemporary, a pregnant military widow and her husband’s estranged twin brother learn to let go of the past and discover that God often works in mysterious ways. Vivid depictions of grief and love will tug at every available heartstring.
A Darkling Sea
James L. Cambias (Tor)
Human scientists studying aliens in a frozen ocean are unaware that the aliens are also scientists and studying them right back, as a third race clumsily intervenes. Cambias’s spectacular hard SF debut is a study in well-meaning people—with very broad definitions of “people”—getting things spectacularly wrong, with results that are by turn humorous and devastating.
William Gibson (Putnam)
Gibson’s long-awaited return to science fiction is even better than his fans had dared to hope for. The narrative darts between a mostly recognizable near future and one much further away, touching on issues of race, gender, and class as it follows Flynne Fisher—a clever, stereotype-defying, unhesitating protagonist—through a world that first braces for and is then destroyed by economic and ecological collapse.
Langley Hyde (Blind Eye)
A dedication to “Mr. Dickens” makes clear the debt that this splendid steampunk novel owes to actual Victorian literature, but modern readers will find a comfortably familiar thriller plot to hang on to as Neil Franklin, a magician and member of the gentry unexpectedly forced to earn a living, swoops through an alternate past full of mystery and mayhem.
Tim Lebbon (Titan)
Scientists open an entrance to an alternate plane of existence, and when the contagious undead come through it, all the armed guards and lockdown protocols can’t stop them from getting out into the vulnerable wider world. From the first page, Lebbon’s pitch-perfect blend of zombie gore and the slow creeping horror of plague holds the reader in a terrifying grip.
The Mammoth Book of SF Stories by Women
Edited by Alex Dally MacFarlane (Running)
MacFarlane brings together some of the most exciting science fiction written by women in the past few decades. Works from around the world, some in translation, provide an invaluable snapshot of this moment in the genre as well as some tremendously enjoyable reading.
Our Lady of the Islands
Shannon Page and Jay Lake (Per Aspera)
Sian Kattë and her husband have an amicable empty-nest marriage and a thriving business, but that all changes when a god’s emissary assaults Sian and gives her mystical healing abilities that threaten the dominance of the male physician-priests. Longtime short fiction collaborators Lake and Page worked closely on this intimate novel (set in Lake’s Green universe) before Lake’s death in mid-2014, and their styles intersect with smooth perfection.
Young Woman in a Garden
Delia Sherman (Small Beer)
Lightly flecked with fantasy and anchored in vividly detailed settings, the 14 stories in Sherman’s first collection are distinguished by determined women who challenge gender roles in order to make their way in the world. Wry humor leavens the serious themes.
The Empathy Exams: Essays
Leslie Jamison (Graywolf)
Jamison is ever-probing and always sensitive in her first collection of essays, providing a heady and unsparing examination of pain. Her observations of people, reality TV, music, film, and literature serve as starting points for unconventional metaphysical inquiries into poverty tourism, prison time, random acts of violence, abortion, bad romance, and stereotypes of the damaged woman artist.
Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant?
Roz Chast (Bloomsbury)
The gentle mockery of Chast’s New Yorker one-pagers blossoms into an affecting full-length narrative that captures the simultaneously endearing and annoying habits of parents, as the author tries to negotiate the twilight years of her own mother and father.
Farel Dalrymple (Roaring Brook/First Second)
From the moment two brothers wander into a cave at the beginning of this dazzling, beautifully illustrated metacomic, the roller-coaster ride begins. The Wrenchies are both a gang of tough kids lost in a bleak netherworld, and a quirky group of superheros miraculously conceived to save them.
How to Be Happy
Eleanor Davis (Fantagraphics)
Like a Little Golden Book for depressed adults, this thoughtful short story collection showcases Davis’s virtuoso range of art styles in vignettes that spotlight how people approach the search for happiness, from clueless to suddenly, painfully aware.
The Love Bunglers
Jaime Hernandez (Fantagraphics)
Hernandez returns to the lives of his unforgettable heroines, Maggie and Hopey. They’re much older now, and he fills in the years we missed, reviving Maggie’s love affair with Ray Dominguez. Jumping back and forth in literary time, he reveals a lifetime of rejections, infidelities, goofy friends, and the loving connections at the root of Maggie Chascarillo’s irresistible personality.
Fabien Vehlmann and Kerascoët (Drawn & Quarterly)
A band of tiny fairies escape from the rotting corpse of a young girl and find a world of moral corruption even more destructive than the physical decay. The two-person team known as Kerascoët provides luscious fairy tale art that gives a syrupy satirical edge to the dark deeds.
Burning Down the House: The End of Juvenile Prison
Nell Bernstein (New Press)
An unsparing look at the U.S. network of detention centers for juvenile offenders, in which more than 66,000 youths are currently confined. Journalist Bernstein shows both abuse-ridden institutions and those dedicated to reform, but concludes that the system as a whole seems impervious to positive change.
Fire Shut Up in My Bones: A Memoir
Charles M. Blow (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)
In this brave and affecting memoir, New York Times columnist Blow describes growing up poor, African-American, and sexually conflicted in the 1970s Deep South, and of overcoming the sexual abuse he suffered at the hands of an older cousin.
Jerry Lee Lewis: His Own Story
Rick Bragg (Harper)
Writing closely with Lewis, Pulitzer Prize–winning journalist Bragg (All Over but the Shouting) offers this rollicking, incendiary tale of the man who kick-started rock and roll and blazed a fiery trail strewn with heartache, happiness, regret, and music.
Boy on Ice: The Life and Death of Derek Boogaard
John Branch (Norton)
New York Times reporter Branch’s chronicle of Derek Boogaard’s winning but tragic life as hockey’s greatest enforcer is as tense and exciting as a hockey game. Branch captures the sorrow and anguish of a young athlete’s career collapsing due to the combination of drugs and chronic traumatic encephalopathy, and asks piercing questions about violence in sports.
The Problem of Slavery in the Age of Emancipation
David Brion Davis (Knopf)
In the magisterial conclusion to his trilogy, Davis examines the end of the institution of slavery, the unintended consequences of its abolition, and the tragic legacies of its existence—primarily racism—that remains today. It’s a difficult and complex book, with lessons to be learned.
Lorrie Moore (Knopf)
In Moore’s fourth story collection, her characters seem to have caught up to her sly, sharp voice. The young women are gone, replaced by divorcées. The sadness may outweigh the humor, but the balance here may be Moore’s ideal combination, authentic and wise. No one captures what it’s like to live in today’s world quite like Lorrie Moore.
John Wayne: The Life and Legend
Scott Eyman (Simon & Schuster)
Drawing deeply on interviews with family and friends, biographer Eyman (Print the Legend: The Life and Times of John Ford) chronicles Wayne’s life and work from his birth in Winterset, Iowa, to his football hero college days at USC; his slow rise to stardom; his marriages; and his enduring screen presence.
The True American: Murder and Mercy in Texas
Anand Giridharadas (Norton)
Competing visions of the American Dream clash in this rich account of a hate crime and its unlikely reverberations. Giridharadas follows the encounter between Mark Stroman, a racist ex-con in Dallas who went on a killing spree targeting men he wrongly thought were Arabs after 9/11, and Raisuddin Bhuiyan, a Bangladeshi-born convenience-store clerk who was shot but survived, and went on to campaign to spare Stroman the death penalty.
On the Run: Fugitive Life in an American City
Alice Goffman (Univ. of Chicago)
Sociologist Goffman, who spent six years living in a low-income Philadelphia neighborhood, looks at the world of fugitives in America. She considers the frayed relationships, limited opportunities, and ingenious coping methods common in lives spent in “fear of capture and confinement”—in a country where nearly five million are on probation or parole.
The Short and Tragic Life of Robert Peace
Jeff Hobbs (Scribner)
Writing with novelistic detail, Hobbs narrates the life of Robert Peace, his college roommate at Yale, from a Newark, N.J., ghetto, born to an impoverished single mom and a father who went to prison for murder. After getting a biology degree, Peace returned to Newark to became a drug dealer and was eventually shot to death by rivals
Lives in Ruins: Archaeologists and the Seductive Lure of Human Rubble
Marilyn Johnson (Harper)
Many archaeologists credit Indiana Jones with sparking their passion, but Johnson may well inspire a new generation to take up this calling with her latest book, in which she travels the world, getting her hands dirty as she studies archaeologists in their natural habitats.
Garden of Marvels: How We Discovered That Flowers Have Sex, Leaves Eat Air, and Other Secrets of Plants
Ruth Kassinger (Morrow)
Kassinger stops to smell the flowers and captures their stories in the process. Ostensibly a memoir that divulges how she grafted her mind onto the world of botany, Kassinger’s enthralling read covers the evolutionary and intellectual histories of plants.
The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History
Elizabeth Kolbert (Holt)
With a series of essays on the otherwise depressing topics of species extinction and ecosystem collapse, Kolbert delivers an engaging and entertaining account of humanity’s fraught relationship with nature and still finds reasons for optimism.
Tennessee Williams: Mad Pilgrimage of the Flesh
John Lahr (Norton)
In what promises to be the definitive biography of Tennessee Williams, former New Yorker drama critic Lahr paints a portrait of the playwright with the same vitality and honesty that Williams brought to characters like Blanche Dubois and Maggie the Cat.
Penelope Fitzgerald: A Life
Hermione Lee (Knopf)
An illuminating biography that shows how the Booker Prize–winning novelist drew her characters not just from real life but from her own life, moving from Fitzgerald’s upbringing amid a remarkably accomplished family to her difficult adulthood.
Man Alive: A True Story of Violence, Forgiveness and Becoming a Man
Thomas Page McBee (City Lights)
McBee’s memoir sets out to answer the question, “What makes a man?” But the result is more generous, more inspiring, and more creative than the usual gender binaries. His meditations bring him a hard-won sense of self bound to inspire any reader who has struggled with internal dissonance.
Joseph O’Neill (Pantheon)
The unnamed narrator of O’Neill’s novel is an American adrift in Dubai, where he works as an “officer” for a wealthy Lebanese family, turning a blind eye to ethically questionable activity and knowingly pursuing his own dead end. It’s a devastating story of a man circling the drain, lost in the last society that will have him.
Factory Man: How One Furniture Maker Battled Offshoring, Stayed Local—and Helped Save an American Town
Beth Macy (Little, Brown)
Through the story of the Bassetts, a family from Virginia, whose Bassett Furniture Company was once the world’s largest producer of wooden furniture, Macy, a native Virginian, traces the effects of globalization on American manufacturing.
The Underground Girls of Kabul: In Search of a Hidden Resistance in Afghanistan
Jenny Nordberg (Crown)
Journalist Nordberg, with subtle, sympathetic reportage, explores the lives of bacha posh—girls who are made over as boys so that their parents can claim the honor of having a son.
Age of Ambition: Chasing Fortune, Truth, and Faith in the New China
Evan Osnos (Farrar, Straus and Giroux)
Osnos, the New Yorker’s former Beijing correspondent, captures how swelling individualism and the controlling political structure play an equal role in shaping the rising superpower. Profiles of artists, entrepreneurs, dissidents, and others give a firsthand quality to this sweeping panorama.
The Invisible Bridge: The Fall of Nixon and the Rise of Reagan
Rick Perlstein (Simon & Schuster)
How did a supposedly washed-up actor-turned-politician of the right-wing fringe nearly steal the 1976 Republican presidential nomination? Perlstein’s encyclopedic chronicle of 1973–1976 examines the Nixon years and why swaths of Americans pined for a figure like Ronald Reagan.
Capital in the 21st Century
Thomas Piketty (Harvard Univ.)
Politically controversial? You betcha. Too long and dense for casual readers? Most definitely. But it’s been roundly hailed as one of the—if not the—most important economic books of the year, reframing debates about inequality and the nature of capitalism. Piketty’s scholarship has changed the conversation.
The Sense of Style: The Thinking Person’s Guide to Writing in the 21st Century
Steven Pinker (Viking)
Forget Strunk and White’s rules; Harvard psycholinguist Pinker has created an iconoclastic writing guide that relies for its many insights on cognitive science. Every writer can profit from—and every reader can enjoy—Pinker’s suggestions.
Pro: Reclaiming Abortion Rights
Katha Pollitt (Picador)
With arguments that are both lucid and sensible, Pollitt debunks the myths surrounding abortion, and analyzes what abortion opponents really oppose: namely women’s growing sexual freedom and power. This groundbreaking book reframes the debate to show that, “in the end, abortion is an issue of fundamental human rights.”
Little Failure: A Memoir
Gary Shteyngart (Random)
In his typical hilarious writing style, novelist Shteyngart traces his journey from his birth in Leningrad and his decision to become a writer at age five to his immigration to America and his family’s settling in New York City in 1979.
Soldier Girls: The Battles of Three Women at Home and at War
Helen Thorpe (Scribner)
Thorpe traces the lives of three women in the Indiana National Guard who served in Afghanistan and Iraq, highlighting how profoundly military service changed their lives and the lives of their families. Twelve years in the making, this visceral narrative shows the disconnect between the civilian population and the veterans, and how the cost of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan is primarily shouldered by the poor.
A Fighting Chance
Elizabeth Warren (Metropolitan)
In recent years, political memoirs—an increasingly popular subgenre in 2014—seem to have taken a forward-looking turn, more geared toward ensuring a career than reflecting on it. Freshman senator Warren’s book stays humbly rooted in her past, offering a frank and lively account of how she became the banking and finance industry’s fiercest nemesis.
Deep Down Dark: The Untold Stories of 33 Men Buried in a Chilean Mine, and the Miracle That Set Them Free
Héctor Tobar (Farrar, Straus and Giroux)
Pulitzer Prize–winning journalist Tobar movingly revisits the story of the 33 miners who spent 69 days in 2010 trapped in Chile’s San José Mine. He captures, with compassion and without sensationalism, the experience of surviving more than 2,000 feet underground, and of emerging above ground into a media frenzy.
Mexico: The Cookbook
Margarita Carrillo Arronte (Phaidon)
In this definitive guide, Arronte, owner of Turtux restaurant in Mexico City, offers a glimpse into the geography, history, and agriculture of the country, as well as an introduction to Mexican staples such as corn, chiles, and tortillas.
Make It Ahead: A Barefoot Contessa Cookbook
Ina Garten, photos by Quentin Bacon and John M. Hall (Clarkson Potter)
Garten offers smart solutions with more than 75 recipes for make-in-advance dishes, suited for both family weeknight meal planning and for special occasions. A secret kitchen sidekick, the Barefoot Contessa quells the last-minute fears of those who entertain.
Baking Chez Moi: Recipes from My Paris Home to Your Home Anywhere
Dorie Greenspan (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt/Rux Martin)
Greenspan takes home bakers on a tour of Paris through her exceptional collection of recipes.
Gabrielle Hamilton (Random)
Brilliantly minimalist: no preface, no introduction, no interminable recounting of all that Hamilton has witnessed in her 15 years as the chef/owner of New York’s Prune restaurant. Instead, Hamilton scribbles in a handwritten font throughout the 250 recipes, in the form of orders rather than suggestions, as if the reader were on her payroll.
Start a Community Food Garden
LaManda Joy (TimberPress)
Joy’s timely handbook is about organizing people as well as planting produce, and the sustainable satisfaction of raising one’s own food.
Ketchup Is a Vegetable and Other Lies Moms Tell Themselves
Robin O’Bryant (St. Martin’s/Griffin)
A terrific collection of sketches about motherhood that will make readers laugh and think. O’Bryant’s tales of life with her three daughters and wonderful, intelligent, yet somehow still inept husband encompasses no small amount of wisdom.
Yotam Ottolenghi (Ten Speed)
Offered as a sequel to his 2011 bestseller Plenty, this book uses obscure vegetation in the service of highly creative dishes. The heart of his restaurant operation is a test kitchen nestled in a railway arch in central London, where he and his colleagues perfected these 150 recipes.
Redefining Girly: How Parents Can Fight the Stereotyping and Sexualizing of Girlhood, from Birth to Tween
Melissa Atkins Wardy (Chicago Review)
Taking on the media’s widespread stereotyping and sexualization of children—particularly girls—advocate Wardy offers a thoughtful, comprehensive guide to raising healthy, happy, confident children. She includes a savvy take on the consequences of “princess culture,” along with suggestions for gender-neutral toys, clothing, and parenting.
The Zimzum of Love: A New Way of Understanding Marriage
Rob and Kristen Bell (HarperOne)
The subtitle suggests this is a marriage book, but it’s really about those often problematic but necessary human staples: love and relationship. Iconoclastic pastor Bell writes with his wife in ways that are anchored in ancient sacred wisdom, but ever timely and even playful.
Anna Whiston-Donaldson (Convergent)
Donaldson writes about the death of her young son with raw honesty in this memoir, avoiding the sentimental, acting as guide on the ragged terrain of grief.