This coming-of-age story begs for a string of exuberant adjectives: heartbreaking, triumphant, lush and sparkling. Twelve-year-old Eva rambles from Ohio to orgiastic Hollywood to her eventual home on World War II–era Long Island, accruing along the way a homemade family that includes her starlet half sister, a gay Mexican beautician, a black nightclub singer and a Jewish orphan. The book is fanciful but deep, the world is flawed but beautiful, and Eva can never decide between grief and joy because, it turns out, you can’t: Life is a high-wire balancing act suspended between the two. —Catherine Newman
In this incantatory novel, three generations of passionate, strong-willed women navigate a reef of family secrets amid their native Caribbean islands—St. Thomas, St. John and Anegada (Spanish for “drowned”). Their will to love and be loved throws them off course; rogue currents draw them to dangerous men, and the past grabs at them like a riptide. “Family can be like an anchor,” thinks Eeona, who raised her sister, Anette, after their parents died. “An anchor may tether you. An anchor may also pull and sink your ship.” This bewitching saga grew from stories the author heard from her grandmother, who, like Anette, was raised by an older sister, in the Virgin Islands. Yanique sets the family memories in myth and makes them glow. —Liesl Schillinger
Like the best gothic fiction, this dark tale of manners and morals closely guards its secrets; over hundreds of pages, one unspoken word lurks in the corners of every character’s and reader’s mind. By the end of Owen’s precocious first novel, set in the narrow streets and cavernous interiors of Victorian England, you will understand viscerally how monsters are made and what it means to be human. —Cathleen Medwick
It's the 1930s, and maverick American anthropologist Nell Stone is traveling the “flamboyantly serpentine” Sepik River in the Territory of New Guinea with her anthropologist husband in search of a tribe to study. A chancereunion with a British colleague deepens their research and ignites their passions amid “the thrash and bustle of thousands of nocturnal creatures gorging themselves while their predators sleep.” Vibrant, absorbing and deliciously deliberate, the novel is based loosely on a moment in the life of Margaret Mead, and King honors her subject with meticulous observation of the heart at work. —Susanna Sonnenberg
This is a ravishing, stay-up-all-night-reading kind of novel—a sad, funny, almost impossibly good debut about a friendship that spans decades and continents, adolescence, motherhood, addiction and, improbably, joy. How well can we ever know another person? How known can we ever be? Every sentence is like a ringing buoy or a slap in the face: Rufi Thorpe can write. Let’s just hope she can write quickly, so we can read more soon. —Catherine Newman
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The many fans of Mary Gordon love her work for the way it mines mundane domestic life to produce powerful explorations of issues like faith and morality, deception and trust. These four novellas continue that tradition. Each of Gordon’s narrators wrestles with contradictory desires—for greatness and conventional happiness, intellectual purity and the ecstatic but messy pleasures of the body. Each experiences moments when her “carefully chosen, carefully tended” assumptions are upended and sent in another direction. A rich book to savor slowly. —Carol Mithers
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A superstorm has destroyed Cleveland, and other major cities are decaying from within. Universities are closing, water and electricity are scarce, the rich don’t ever leave their gated suburbs, the Internet has become so expensive that the lower classes lose all ability to function, and the Marxist revolutionaries are strangely indistinguishable from the religious right. Into this brilliantly rendered, eerily familiar near future Frida and Cal, an idealistic young couple who have fled Los Angeles, intend to bring a baby. They find their way to a wilderness settlement controlled by a charismatic, misogynistic, narcissistic Robin Hood gone wrong, and their troubles multiply exponentially. This fearless, wry, nuanced, page-turning, heart-pounding, heartbreaking novel will make your hair stand on end and keep you awake at night. —Pam Houston
Rakoff had never actually read J.D. Salinger when she stumbled into a job assisting his literary agent in 1996. By day she answered piles of ardent fan mail and fielded phone calls from Salinger himself (who was kind to her even though he was deaf and called her Suzanne). By night she forged a New York life replete with, yes, love and squalor. Trenchantly observed, beautifully written—the best kind of coming-of-age memoir. —Marcia Menter
For decades, no reporter got to interview the reclusive and prickly author of To Kill a Mockingbird. Mills, though, became friends with Lee and her sister and moved to their Alabama hometown to chronicle their lives. Her graceful, gracious memoir offers rare insight into the writer and her work—and the reason Lee never produced another novel. —Marcia Menter
Bulletproof Vest: The Ballad of an Outlaw and His Daughter
by Maria Venegas; Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Afraidto harbor resentment all her life, the author buries her childhood memories of drunken threats and casual violence and reunites with her Mexican father, a lifelong gun-toting outlaw. And yet, as their relationship deepens over the course of this enthralling memoir, it is thestory of his wild life—of all the vengeance and brutality, love and devotion—that explains her own innate tenacity and that manages, over time, to guide her home. —Laynie Rose
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With the skill of a veteran heart surgeon, first-time novelist Ng examines a mixed-race family in crisis after the mysterious drowning death of the middle daughter. Training her sights on Midwestern America in the 1970s, Ng writes of maternal expectations, ingrained prejudice and sibling conflict in a culture that has just begun to grapple with interracial marriage and shifting gender roles. —Jan Stuart
"Excellent Sheep: The Miseducation of the American Elite and The Way to a Meaningful Life"
by William Deresiewicz; Free Press
Parental alert: The escalating race to get kids into elite schools is churning out new armies of “bionic hamsters,” soulless super-students with a single-minded lust for credentials. This refreshingly barbed indictment of America’s prestige-education addiction reveals what college students are really getting out of all that work, all that struggle, all that stress—and all those tuition loans. —Jan Stuart
"The Ministry of Thin: How the Pursuit of Perfection Got Out of Control"
by Emma Woolf; Soft Skull
These are the rules: “Thoushalt not age; thou shalt not be ugly; thou shalt not be too emotionally open, nor too obviously clever—but being thin trumps them all.” Woolf, a onetime anorexic (and Virginia Woolf’s great-niece), writes about women’s addiction to dieting and self-deprecation with eye-opening candor. “If being thin is the answer,” she asks provocatively, “what is the question?” —Cathleen Medwick
"Doctored: The Disillusionment of an American Physician"
by Sandeep Jauhar; Farrar, Straus and Giroux
In this searing critique of overtreatment, cronyism and cover-your-ass medical care, a cardiologist confronts the “collective malaise” infecting the American medical profession as he opens a vein to reveal his own complicity and shattered ideals, Jauhar offers, if not a cure, a prescription for restoring dignity to patient and healer alike. —Nanette Varian
Dissembling aristocrats, distracted academics and watchful children populate Beauman’s tale of the discovery of Tutankhamun’s tomb in 1922. In this novel, the historic moment is witnessed by Lucy, an astute 11-year-old British girl who, many decades later, tells us the story. Her memories of romance, deception and colonial decadence inspire a wary nostalgia for a time, pre-Tutmania and Arab Spring, when the boy-king’s treasures were intact and Western interlopers were pampered like latter-day pharaohs. —Jan Stuart
"Perfectly Miserable: Guilt, God and Real Estate in a Small Town"
by Sarah Payne Stuart; Riverhead
The author had an idyllic childhood in what she calls Protestant Disneyland, aka Concord, Massachusetts. Well, actually, she didn’t, as we soon discover in this charming, funny new memoir. Stuart moves with her family back to her hometown, where Louisa May Alcott wrote Little Women and where Thoreau (who grew up there, with a mother he couldn’t bear to leave) meditated at nearby Walden Pond. Stuart envisions a storybook life in Concord for herself and her boys, but that proves as unattainable as Alcott’s domestic fantasy. Along the way, though, there’s great humor and surprising empathy with the matrons of the town. Apparently, sometimes we really can go home again. —Elaina Richardson
Journalist Denizet-Lewis is concerned that his adopted dog, Casey, a nine-year-old retriever mix prone to loud sighs and exaggerated yawns, might not like him very much. To find out more about the “breadth of human-dog relationships in contemporary life” (and to see where he and Casey fall on the spectrum), they embark on a cross-country trip that turns up an eccentric cast of canine-obsessed characters. Four months and 13,000 miles later, Casey still has a talent for looking miserable—and the author has learned to accept those he loves for who they are. —Laynie Rose
"Eating Wildly: Foraging For Life, Love and the Perfect Meal"
by Ava Chin; Simon & Schuster
She can gather field garlic in Brooklyn in the dead ofwinter, but can she untangle her thorny childhood and find true love on the cusp of 40? From the first pages of Chin’s memoir-with-recipes, you’ll be rooting for her as she roots for wild edibles in NYC. —Marcia Menter
"Burnt Toast Makes You Sing Good: A Memoir of Food and Love From An American Midwest Family"
by Kathleen Flinn; Viking
Hard times, hard luck, hard work—well, sure. Flinn’s Michigan-based clan faced years of struggle with grit and humor, and they always ate well, even if they had to growthe food themselves. Flinn shares uplifting stories of the recipes that shaped her life, from her Swedish grandmother’s pancakes to her mom’s chicken and biscuits. —Marcia Menter
"Delancey: A Man, A Woman, A Restaurant, A Marriage"
by Molly Wizenberg; Simon & Schuster
This best-selling author turns the labor of helping her husband open a restaurant into the story of a pivotal period in her marriage. Charming, funny and honest—in a hip, understated way—Wizenberg combines simple, appealing recipes with a tale of how nurturing her husband’s passion project helped her see him, and herself, more clearly. There were moments, though, “when I wondered if it wouldn’t be better to be eaten alive by a wild animal than to show upfor work.” —Judith Coyne
It's the nightmare scenario: a deranged male nurse, alone in a room with a helpless elderly patient. Fossum descends deep into the alienated mind of Riktor—his very name suggests a corpse’s grin—to create an exquisitely Poe-ish novel of psychological suspense. —Cathleen Medwick
A rookie reporter struggles to unlock the secrets of a Brooklyn Hasidic community where a woman was viciously murdered—even as she extracts hard truths about a sometime resident: her own deadbeat mom, who abandoned her as a baby. An astute investigation into crimes of the heart. —Cathleen Medwick
Newly reissued in paperback, this is the story of a Marin County teen and her kid sister, who covertly help their detective dad corner an elusive serial killer. A tangy genre sandwich of noirish chills and coming-of-age blues. —Jan Stuart Click to buy
"Helena Rubenstein: The Woman Who Invented Beauty"
by Michèle Fitoussi; Gallic
How a struggling merchant’s daughter from Kraków turns her mother’s passion for homemade face cream into a beauty-industry juggernaut. This globe-trotting biography is both epic and intimate, as befits the woman it calls “the Polish Scarlett O’Hara.” —Jan Stuart