Wrap Up a Novel

A State of Freedom

Neel Mukherjee. Norton, ISBN 978-0-393-29290-9

Set against a pitiless landscape of primitive villages and hellish urban slums, and amid extremes of scorching heat and billowing monsoon rain, this is a compassionate, deeply felt tribute to India’s forgotten people who strive to triumph over subjugation. With its mixture of prose styles and narrative voices, Mukherjee’s novel is a literary achievement.

After the Winter

Guadalupe Nettel, trans. from the Spanish by Rosalind Harvey. Coffee House (Consortium, dist.), ISBN 978-1-56689-525-5

Claudio, a misogynistic book editor originally from Cuba and now living in New York, and Cecilia, a Mexican postgraduate student in Paris, have a whirlwind affair across continents. Nettel’s sharp, potent novel depicts how even the briefest relationship can affect the rest of one’s life.

An Ocean of Minutes

Thea Lim. Touchstone, ISBN 978-1-5011-9255-5

An ideal choice for fans of The Time Traveler’s Wife and Station Eleven, Lim’s enthralling novel succeeds on every level: as a love story, an imaginative thriller, and a dystopian narrative. During a flu pandemic in a divided U.S., Polly Nader endures servitude, travels to the future, and risks everything to save the love of her life.

Clock Dance

Anne Tyler. Knopf, ISBN 978-0-525-52122-8

Tyler, a Pulitzer winner, has rabid fans who tend to run out and buy her books on the day they’re published. But if you know a fan who missed this one, wrap it up. This bittersweet, hope-filled look at two quirky families that have broken apart and are trying to find their way back to one another is a stellar addition to Tyler’s prodigious catalogue.

Demi-gods

Eliza Robertson. Bloomsbury, ISBN 978-1-63557-070-0

Set in both British Columbia and Southern California, Robertson’s searing debut novel is a richly layered coming-of-age story exploring the thrills and dangers of a young girl named Willa and her adolescent sexual awakening. The novel takes the form of an impressionistic montage of four decades of Willa’s memories that map her gradually becoming aware of her own body and how the repercussions of untamed desire can shape futures.

Killing Commendatore

Haruki Murakami, trans. from the Japanese by Philip Gabriel and Ted Goossen. Knopf, ISBN 978-0-525-52004-7

A new book from the acclaimed Murakami is reason enough for a holiday celebration. His latest work is a gripping story whose escalating surreal tone complements the author’s tight focus on the domestic and the mundane. A talented but unambitious portrait painter in Tokyo discovers his wife is having an affair; he quits painting, and embarks on a meandering road trip that leads him to the home of a famous, now-senile painter whose difficult secret from 1930s Vienna unfurls over the course of the book.

My Sister, the Serial Killer

Oyinkan Braithwaite. Doubleday, ISBN 978-0-385-54423-8

This short, darkly funny hand grenade of a novel is a debut from a promising, young Nigerian writer who was a finalist for the Commonwealth Short Story Prize in 2016. In 160 deliciously deadly pages, Braithwaite spins a tale about Korede and her younger sister, Ayoola, who is many things: the favorite child, the beautiful one, and a sociopathic serial killer.

The Clockmaker’s Daughter

Kate Morton. Atria, ISBN 978-1-4516-4939-0

In her outstanding, enigmatic novel, Morton tells the story of a love affair and a mysterious murder that cast their shadows across generations. The story moves from the 1860s to the present day when Elodie, a young archivist in London, uncovers a leather satchel that contains a sepia photograph of an arresting-looking woman in Victorian clothing, and an artist’s sketchbook. The oddly familiar find sets Elodie on a quest to unravel a mystery.

The Ensemble

Aja Gabel. Riverhead, ISBN 978-0-7352-1476-7

For the music lover who also loves lit, or the lit lover who also loves music, Gabel’s debut is a perfect fit. It follows the members of the Van Ness String Quartet over the course of 18 event-filled years. Readers will come away with a renewed appreciation for things people usually take for granted when listening to music. The four characters are individually memorable, but as a quartet they’re unforgettable.

You Think It, I’ll Say It

Curtis Sittenfeld. Random House, ISBN 978-0-399-59286-7

In her thoroughly satisfying first collection, Sittenfeld spins magic out of the short story form. The collection comfortably situates itself in contemporary America, focusing on female protagonists navigating friendships, family, politics, and social media. As in her novels, Sittenfeld’s characters are funny and insightful. Reading these consistently engrossing stories is a pleasure.

Criminally Entertaining

Hope Never Dies

Andrew Shaffer. Quirk, ISBN 978-1-68369-039-9

The careers of Barack Obama and Joe Biden take an unusual turn after they leave the White House in this entertaining, offbeat whodunit. Biden is the lead gumshoe, aided by the hypercerebral Barack. Fans of Carl Hiaasen’s comic crime novels will have fun.

A Shot in the Dark: A Constable Twitten Mystery

Lynne Truss. Bloomsbury, ISBN 978-1-63557-055-7

The author of Eats, Shoots and Leaves makes her crime fiction debut with this hilarious series. In a London theater in 1957, theater critic A.S. Crystal suddenly remembers a crucial detail about an unsolved stick-up case to which he was a witness. When he is shot dead before he can share the information, eager-beaver Constable Peregrine Twitten sets out to solve both crimes.

The Word Is Murder

Anthony Horowitz. Harper, ISBN 978-0-06-267678-8

In this spectacular series launch from bestselling mystery writer Horowitz, the author has inserted himself into the story as the Watson to a modern-day Holmes: Daniel Hawthorne, a former detective inspector. Deduction and wit are well-balanced, and fans of Peter Lovesey and other modern channelers of the spirit of the golden age of detection will clamor for more.

The Chinese Orange Mystery

Ellery Queen. Penzler, ISBN 978-1-61316-106-7

One of the most bizarre puzzles in crime fiction distinguishes this mystery (first published in 1934) by Queen, the pseudonym for Frederic Dannay and Manfred B. Lee, as well as the name of their gifted amateur sleuth. In it, a man is found bludgeoned to death with his clothes and all the furniture in the room facing backward. If this creates a new audience for a genre giant, Otto Penzler, editor of the American Mystery Classics series in which this is republished, will have done yet another service for whodunit lovers.

Red War: A Mitch Rapp Novel

Kyle Mills. Atria/Bestler, ISBN 978-1-5011-9059-9

A highly original plot lifts Mills’s outstanding fourth entry in the late Vince Flynn’s Mitch Rapp series. When Maxim Krupin, the Putinesque, psychopathic president of Russia is diagnosed with a terminal illness, he schemes with the equally insane Gen. Andrei Sokolov to protect his regime. Soon the events are poised to go nuclear. Mills is writing at the top of his game in this nail-biter.

A Murdered Peace: A Kate Clifford Mystery

Candace Robb. Pegasus Crime, ISBN 978-1-68177-862-4

Set in York in the year 1400, Robb’s superior third Kate Clifford mystery puts the redoubtable heroine in considerable peril in King Henry IV’s court. Robb effortlessly integrates the era’s intrigues into a whodunit framework and peoples the plot with a wide array of characters readers will come to care about.

Skyjack: A Kidnap-and-Ransom Novel

K.J. Howe. Quercus, ISBN 978-1-68144-301-0

Howe’s rip-roaring sequel to 2017’s The Freedom Broker finds kidnap and rescue expert Thea Paris escorting two orphaned brothers from sub-Saharan Africa, where they witnessed their parents’ beheading by Boko Haram, to London. The enthralling plot moves across Europe with lightning speed. With this page-turner, Howe seals her place as a first-class purveyor of adventure stories showcasing strong women characters.

Star of the North

D.B. John. Crown, ISBN 978-0-525-57329-6

This outstanding thriller from John brings to life the seldom-seen underbelly of North Korea, which the author visited in 2012, through an undercover CIA agent searching for her kidnapped sister. John excels at drawing the everyday details of life in a closed society. Those seeking a realistic, highly readable look at North Korea will be richly rewarded.

The Best Bad Things

Katrina Carrasco, MCD, ISBN 978-0-374-12369-7

A vivid, sensual barn burner of a historical crime novel, this book introduces Katrina Carrasco, a bold new voice, and her fiery protagonist, Alma Rosales—detective, smuggler, and spy. It’s 1887, and Rosales, trained in espionage—and subsequently dismissed for bad behavior—by the Pinkerton agency, is hired by the mastermind of a West Coast smuggling ring to search for stolen opium.

The Annotated Big Sleep

Raymond Chandler, edited by Owen Hill, Pamela Jackson, and Anthony Rizzuto. Black Lizard, ISBN 978-0-8041-6888-5

Nearly 80 years after its original publication, Chandler’s classic debut novel finally gets the scholarly treatment it deserves with this superb, lovingly annotated edition. The enduring 1939 tale of blackmail and corruption introduced readers to private detective Philip Marlowe and remains one of the most influential novels in American literature, inspiring countless books and films. This exhaustively researched edition shows us that Chandler’s vision is just as relevant today as ever.

’Tis the Season for Love

Josh and Hazel’s Guide to Not Dating

Christina Lauren. Gallery, ISBN 978-1-5011-6585-6

In Lauren’s hilarious standalone, hot mess Hazel Bradford and blueprint-perfect Josh Im were definitely not dating in college—or now. Hazel has more in common with the third graders she teaches than the exquisite genius Josh. But when it turns out Josh’s girlfriend has been cheating on him, Hazel and Josh find excuses to spend time together. Lauren finds the perfect balance between charming moments and sultry episodes.

The Kiss Quotient

Helen Hoang. Berkley, ISBN 978-0-451-49080-3

Hoang knocks it out of the park with this stellar debut about an autistic woman who takes a methodical approach to learning about sex and accidentally gets a lesson in love. When Stella hires an escort, Michael, her intentions are purely sexual, but his gentleness and compassion begin to alter the arrangement. Hoang carefully avoids stereotypes and clichés. The diverse cast and exceptional writing take this romance to the next level, and readers who see themselves in Stella will be ecstatic.

Mostly Sunny

Jamie Pope. Dafina, ISBN 978-1-4967-1825-9

Pope brings an unlikely pair together in her marvelous latest contemporary romance. Social worker Sunny Gibson and attorney Julian King have nothing in common but their trust issues, or do they? Pope’s sexy humor and lively dialogue create emotionally available characters who develop a fascinating relationship. Sunny and Julian are increasingly likable; even their missteps will keep romance readers invested and rooting for them straight through to the last word.

The Paris Seamstress

Natasha Lester. Forever, ISBN 978-1-5387-1477-5

Lester whisks readers from the WWII era to the present day in this marvelous pair of intertwined romances. Sweeping from Paris to New York City, from 1940 to now, Lester juxtaposes the life and loves of a seamstress who fled the Germans, against a contemporary high-society New York romance. This rich, memorable novel unfolds beautifully from start to finish.

Pride and Porters

Charlotte Greene. Bold Strokes, ISBN 978-1-63555-158-7

Greene’s charming retelling of Pride and Prejudice transplants the Bennets into the world of Colorado craft beer. As Jen Bennet falls in love with wealthy Charles Betters, her sister Erin must navigate not only her unwanted attraction to Darcy (here, a woman), but her strained relationship with her father, who doesn’t approve of the brewery or Erin’s interest in women. Feminism, lesbianism, and class are all touched on in this refreshing update on a classic.

Christmas Wishes and Mistletoe Kisses

Jenny Hale. Forever, ISBN 978-1-5387-3139-0

In this adorable contemporary, single mother and nurse Abbey Fuller gave up her dream of being an interior designer. But when a friend recommends her to wealthy Nicholas Sinclair, who needs his house redecorated in time for Christmas, Abby has a chance to change her life and find love. This charming novel feels realistic thanks to the well-paced romance and several sweet scenes of the main characters realizing the strength of their relationship. It’s a tender treat that can be savored in any season.

A True Cowboy Christmas

Caitlin Crews. St. Martin’s, ISBN 978-1-250-29523-1

In this joyful, sexy contemporary set in Colorado, widower and farmer Gray Everett looks for a marriage of convenience. No one fits the bill better than his longtime neighbor, Abby Douglas, a 30-year-old virgin who has pined after Gray since childhood. Once married, their dynamic changes. The story flows smoothly, loaded with charming characters and full of wit.

Leave This World

Ambiguity Machines

Vandana Singh. Small Beer, ISBN 978-1-61873-143-2

A delicate touch and passionately humanist sensibilities sweep through this magnificent collection from physicist and SF writer Singh, ranging from the near future of our world to eras far away in space and time. Refreshingly, the protagonists are often bright, passionate women in middle life, driven by some kind of art or science or cause and in no way defined by their relationships with men.

The Best American Science Fiction and Fantasy 2018

Edited by N.K. Jemisin. Mariner, ISBN 978-1-328-83456-0

An almost unheard-of diversity of tales absolutely sing in this superlative anthology of short speculative stories. Encompassing a wide range of styles and perspectives, the book swings gracefully from thoughtful superhero SF through nuanced horror to musings on justice and the multiverse, without a single sour note.

The Future Is Female! 25 Classic Science Fiction Stories by Women, from Pulp Pioneers to Ursula K. Le Guin

Edited by Lisa Yaszek. Library of America, ISBN 978-1-59853-580-8

These 25 distinguished short SF stories from the 1920s to the ’60s evince the important early contributions made to the genre by women authors, who were intrigued by its openness to hitherto unexplored experiences. Valuable short biographical sketches of the authors, some household names and others no longer familiar, round out this educational, enjoyable, and significant retrospective of science fiction’s foremothers.

Moonrise: The Golden Age of Lunar Adventures

Edited by Mike Ashley. British Library, ISBN 978-0-7123-5275-8

Ashley delivers a robust collection of 12 short science fiction classics representing the era when the moon was the center of the fantastic literary imagination. Included are such science fiction stalwarts as H.G. Wells (“First Men in the Moon”) and Arthur C. Clarke (“The Sentinel”). This anthology is a must-read for lovers of classic science fiction.

Robots vs. Fairies

Edited by Dominik Parisien and Navah Wolfe. Saga, ISBN 978-1-4814-6236-5

Distinguished authors take sides in battles between robots and fairies by crafting serious (and seriously weird) reflections on whether magical or mechanical will prove the stronger. The editors have cannily chosen a variety of stories offering individual, distinctive insights into both living machines and magical creatures.

The Fall of Gondolin

J.R.R. Tolkien, edited by Christopher Tolkien, illus. by Alan Lee.

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, ISBN 978-1-328-61304-2

Tolkien’s third son and literary executor has again painstakingly edited a posthumous work by his father. The Fall of Gondolin takes place long before the events of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings and fills in the historical record.

Trail of Lightning

Rebecca Roanhorse. Saga, ISBN 978-1-5344-1350-4

Roanhorse vividly depicts Navajo land, legends, and culture in her marvelous fantasy debut, which launches the Sixth World series. This is a rich tale from a strong Native American voice.

Give Graphically

Why Art?

Eleanor Davis. Fantagraphics, ISBN 978-1-68396-082-9

To Eisner Award–winner Davis, art is an obsession, a pathway, a curse, and a savior. She seeks to answer why that is so in a metaphysical jaunt through the artistic process. Her big-bodied figures, rendered in the elegantly sparse line that has become her trademark, stumble ever forward to answer the question precisely and with passion: why ever not?

Action Comics: 80 Years of Superman, the Deluxe Edition

Edited by Paul Levitz. DC, ISBN 978-1-40127-887-8

Any true comics lover will leap tall buildings in a single bound to devour this book faster than a speeding bullet. The commemorative hardcover celebrates the 1,000th issue of Action Comics—the comic book that introduced Superman to the world—with essays, tributes, and reprints of classic Superman stories. Essayists include Laura Seigel, the daughter of Superman creator Jerry Siegel, and legendary cartoonist and playwright Jules Feiffer.

Moebius Library: Inside Moebius, Part 1

Jean “Moebius” Giraud, trans. from the French by Diana Schutz. Dark Horse, ISBN 978-1-5067-0320-6

Dark Horse’s beautifully produced Moebius Library continues with a meandering, experimental self-examination from late in the artist’s career (he died in 2012). Drawn during the 2000s, when Giraud was in his 60s and 70s, the work depicts the artist’s wanderings through the air, locked in a box, and holding confabs with his characters. With his lifetime of experience, drawing is as automatic as breathing, and his pages are carelessly gorgeous.

Kafkaesque: Fourteen Stories

Peter Kuper. Norton, ISBN 978-0-393-63562-1

Another Eisner Award–winner, Kuper brilliantly accentuates both the absurd and menacing qualities of Kafka’s short stories in this graphic collection. Using a scratchboard technique to mimic the woodcut style of German expressionism, Kuper emphasizes the ways Kafka addressed social injustices rather than simply focusing on his trademark existential paranoia. Kafka’s timeless work has never hit so hard, nor more artfully.

Dirty Plotte

Julie Doucet. Drawn Quarterly, ISBN 978-1-77046-323-3

Doucet’s influential indie comic receives a high-end presentation in this lavish boxed set. The series develops from surreal, fearless autobiography to her comics masterpiece, My New York Diary. The set includes a companion volume with minicomics, other related work, and laudatory essays from cartoonists and critics. This spectacular, germinal feminist work, despite its steep price of $119.95, should hold appeal beyond collectors and libraries as a show-off coffee-table gift.

Et Tu, Brute? The Deaths of the Roman Emperors

Jason Novak. Norton, ISBN 978-0-393-63573-7

New Yorker and Harper’s cartoonist Novak turns his eye to the Roman Empire in this witty collection of cartoon vignettes depicting each of its rulers’ demises with savage brush strokes. Novak admits in his introduction that a few of his cartoons are “utter fabrication.” Despite this, Novak’s bite-size nuggets of history “retold” go down easy—making even rectal gangrene a reliable source of humor.

The Beatles’ Yellow Submarine

Bill Morrison. Titan Comics, ISBN 978-1-78586-394-3

The art style in this 50th-anniversary celebration of the 1968 animated fantasia is designed to mimic the original with a hippie Britannica visual scheme that resembles a mural made by Peter Max after spending too much time on Carnaby Street. Morrison , a former artist for Disney and The Simpsons, splashes out several rainbows’ worth of pleasing colors for this happy ode to harmless psychedelia.

Anne Frank’s Diary: The Graphic Adaptation

Ari Folman and David Polonsky. Pantheon, ISBN 978-1-101-87179-9

This spirited graphic adaptation, authorized by the Anne Frank Foundation, focuses on illuminating the humor, insight, and supporting cast of the original text. The beauty of Anne’s life and the untarnished power of her legacy—further elevated by Folman and Polonsky—are heartening reminders of the horror of her fate.

All the Answers: A Graphic Memoir

Michael Kupperman. Gallery 13, ISBN 978-1-5011-6643-3

An artist races to uncover and understand his father’s unusual childhood before his memories are lost to the onset of dementia in this striking and tragic memoir. Eisner Award–winning Kupperman uses varied angles, thick line work, facial stylings, and sharp prose to help turn an already incredible story into an electrifyingly fast-paced yet intimate memoir.

Woman World

Aminder Dhaliwal. Drawn Quarterly, ISBN 978-1-77046-335-6

In this darkly comic chronicle of women’s fortitude, men worldwide have died out, leaving only women and girls to carry the flame of civilization forward. Women’s creativity, sexuality, and fearlessness are unleashed by Dhaliwal’s end of days. These unlikely heroines are unafraid to meet Armageddon with irreverence as they laugh, love, and raucously live on in this unusual and charming farce.