Archives: Indie Publishers

Art of the Novella Challenge III: Dostoevsky vs. Chopin

August 30, 2011 

The last installment of my Art of the Novella mini-Tournament of Books is all about husbands and wives — specifically, unhappy husbands and unhappy wives.

At only 200 pages, who knew that Dostoevsky could tell a story in so few words? In The Eternal Husband, Velchaninov is leading a tedious existence in St. Petersburg waiting for a lawsuit to be resolved when he notices a man has started to follow him. The man seems familiar but Velchaninov can’t quite place him until a late night confrontation in which he finds the man lurking outside his home. It turns out that the man, Pavel Pavlovitch, is the husband of one of Velchaninov’s former lovers and his wife has recently died. It is not known — and will not be revealed until the end of the novella — whether the man knows that Velchaninov had an affair with his wife. The men engage in round after round of verbal swordplay in which words mean one thing if Pavlovitch knows and another if he doesn’t. The stakes are raised considerably when Velchaninov discovers that Pavlovitch has a daughter whom he mistreats and who could conceivably be the product of the affair.

The Eternal Husband felt surprisingly modern, a precursor to today’s psychological thrillers in which what the antagonist knowns or doesn’t know is the vehicle through which the suspense is built.

Most people know the story of The Awakening: unfulfilled wife and mother Edna Pontellier falls in love with another man during the summer she spends on Grand Isle. Returning to New Orleans at the end of the summer, her yearning for the other man and, more importantly her independence, only grows, as does her realization that there is no escape from the yoke of domesticity thrust upon the women of her generation. She flirts with other men and moves into her own little house, but this proves too little too late. In the end, the ocean is her only true friend.

Fewer people are familiar with the fate of author Kate Chopin. The novella was controversial upon its publication and Chopin faced censorship from many corners. She had difficulty placing stories for publication and never wrote another novel. Publishing The Awakening effectively ended her trajectory as a novelist.

Final score: Surprisingly, The Eternal Husband really gave The Awakening a run for its money. But the story goes off the rails a bit when the young girl, the best evidence of the affair, dies halfway through the book. The Awakening, on the other hand, is flawless: perfectly drawn characters, a vivid setting, and an inevitable end that is no less compelling for its inevitability. Not only is it the winner of this round, it is the overall champion of my mini-Tournament of Books. If I had the ability to give Kate Chopin any prize I wanted, I’d give her back her career. Who knows what other stories she could have written!

Hurricane Reading

August 29, 2011 

There is no shortage of post-apocalyptic novels these days, and I just happened to be finishing one and starting another as the imposing force of Hurricane Irene bore down on New York City. Although the City was spared the brunt of Irene’s ire, there was a point on Saturday evening when we were under the triple threat of a hurricane, a tornado and an earthquake, and the apocalypse seemed that much more possible. Trapped in my sixth floor apartment looking out on Brooklyn streets that had never been so empty and probably never would be again, I was lucky to have a few good books to keep me company.

Zazen, by Vanessa Veselka (Red Lemonade): Twenty-seven year old Della lives in an unspecified future America where bombs go off with increasing frequency and more and more citizens are escaping the country for far off places like Costa Rica or Bali. Della deals with the vaguely-apocalyptic state of the world by slowly unraveling herself — she abandons her dissertation in paleontology, moves in with her cause-oriented brother (aptly named Credence) and takes a job at a vegan diner. She also collects pictures of self-immolators, maps the sprawling network of suburban strip malls and calls in fake bomb threats under the guise of an imaginary militant/hippie group. But Della’s world truly breaks apart when real bombs start to explode at her fake targets.

I can’t say enough about this highly original debut novel. Veselka melds the language of science and religion with a satirical look at materialism and subcultures. It is funny and poetic and has an interesting plot trajectory that I found truly innovative. Buy it from your local indie bookstore!

The Leftovers, by Tom Perrotta (St. Martin’s Press): Perrotta, the master of suburban malaise, is the author of Little Children and The Abstinence Teacher. In his newest novel, out tomorrow, he tackles these familiar themes with a new twist. On October 14th, millions of people disappeared from the world without warning. Christians, Muslims, Buddhists, humanitarians, alcoholics, children, even J. Lo and Vladimir Putin — there is no apparent rhyme or reason to their disappearance. To those left behind, the random cruelty of The Sudden Departure, as it comes to be known, is unfathomable and they desperately search for meaning where there is none. For the Garvey family, this coming to terms manifests in different ways. Heartbroken by the disappearance of her best friend’s daughter, mother Laurie joins the Guilty Remnant, a cult in which members wear all white, take a vow of silence, and chain smoke. Son Tom finds himself caught up in the Healing Hug movement, led by a guru called Holy Wayne who has a weakness for teenage girls. Meanwhile the two members of the Garvey family who stay at home — father Kevin, who becomes the town’s mayor, and daughter Jill, who shaves her head and self-medicates with drugs and sex — try to pick up the pieces of their disintegrating family.

In Sunday’s New York Times Book Review, Stephen King called The Leftovers “the best ‘Twilight Zone’ episode you never saw — not ‘The Monsters Are Due on Maple Street’ but ‘The Monsters Are Us in Mapleton.’” I have only just started the book, but I am already enjoying the eerie familiarity of the story.

Art of the Novella Challenge II: Turgenev vs. Svevo

August 19, 2011 

The second round in my Art of the Novella mini-Tournament of Books pits Russian against Italian, old against young, first love against last love.

Ivan Turgenev’s First Love is, as the title makes clear, the tale of a teenage boy’s first love. In the summer of 1833, young Vladimir goes to the country with his family for the summer. Living next door in a lodge of decaying grandeur is the Princess Zasyekin. Once the wife of a rich but frivolous man, the Princess had since fallen on hard times. But it is her daughter, Zinaida, that Vladimir falls for. He first sees her in the garden surrounded by a gang of male suitors competing for her affections:

A few paces from me on the grass between the green raspberry bushes stood a tall slender girl in a striped pink dress, with a white kerchief on her head; four young men were close round her, and she was slapping them by turns on the forehead with those small grey flowers, the name of which I don’t know, though they are well known to children; the flowers form little bags, and burst open with a pop when you strike them against  anything hard. The young men presented their foreheads so eagerly, and in the gestures of the girl (I saw her in profile), there was something so fascinating, imperious, caressing, mocking, and charming, that I almost cried out with admiration and delight, and would, I thought, have given everything in the world on the spot only to have had those exquisite fingers strike me on the forehead.

Valdimir is head over heels for Zinaida, so it takes him awhile to realize she is also in love, just not with him. And so, like all first loves, this too comes to an end. The foreshadowing of love’s demise is a bit heavy-handed, but the novella’s strength is the way in which it captures all that “sweet oppression” — the agonizing mix of obsession and self-doubt that invariably accompanies one’s first love.

Whereas young Vladimir cannot forget his first interaction with object of his affection, the “old man” in Italo Svevo’s novella does not even remember meeting the “pretty girl” who will eventually become his lover. The second time they meet, she is recklessly driving a tram. He is taken with her, and they begin a love affair which also involves the exchange of money and advice on the old man’s part. When the old man falls ill, he attributes his malady to the girl. He breaks it off with her and begin to write his last words, a sort of treatise on the relations between old and young.

This is a strangle little book. You learn very little about the “pretty girl,” which frustrated me until I realized the novella is not really about love. Svevo uses the affair as a vehicle to illustrate the man’s psychological machinations — his justifications for his love affair, his fears about dying, his desire to leave a legacy that will last after he is gone from the world. It is an interesting concept, but ultimately the cardboard cut-out female characters of the novella annoyed me.

And let’s face it, any book called The Nice Old Man and the Pretty Girl has a lot of work to do to overcome the inevitable stench of pedophilia that a reader will associate with it. While Humbert Humbert is one of my favorite characters of all time, the old man never became anything more to me than a dirty old guy paying a young woman to sleep with him. I guess it takes the length of a novel — or the talent of Nabokov — to portray such a character as more than just a sum of his basest tendencies.

The verdict? Turgenev takes it with his tale of the agony and ecstasy of first love.

Art of the Novella Challenge: Balzac vs. Flaubert

August 11, 2011 

As those of you who follow this blog may have noticed, I haven’t posted a proper book review in a few months. Book reviews are hard work! And for various reasons — time and energy and other interests — they just haven’t been a priority for me as of late.

So I knew I wanted to do something different for the Art of the Novella Challenge. Of the novellas on my reading list for the challenge, the first I chose for obvious reasons — it was the shortest. Gustave Flaubert’s A Simple Heart is, according to the book jacket, a “heart-breaking tale of a simple servant woman and her life-long search  for love.” Okay, but how to blog about it and make it fun?

I thought back to the most fun I’ve had with reading since I started this blog and, hands down, it has to be the Tournament of Books. Every March, the Morning News hosts a fierce competition of some the year’s biggest novels (and some dark horses as well). It’s fun because it doesn’t even pretend to be a balanced critical examination of the books. It’s all about the judge and his or her prejudices and predilections.

So here goes nothing. Round 1: Balzac vs. Flaubert.

Both are dead white French guys. Both wrote during the nineteenth century and are considered pioneers of realism. Neither was lucky in love: Balzac corresponded with a married woman for fifteen years, finally wed her after her husband died and then died himself five months later. Flaubert slept with a lot of prostitutes and had syphilis.

But their novellas could not be more different.

Words that come to mind about A Simple Heart are restraint and sacrifice. The story centers on Félicité, a servant girl with a bottomless heart who will do anything for those she loves. The novella isn’t exactly a nail biter, but there is a nice bit of action when Félicité saves her mistress and two children from a raging bull by throwing clods of dirt in his eyes. Despite her pure heart, everyone Félicité has ever loved meets an untimely end, even the parrot. (Yes, that’s right, I said a parrot.)  It is clear that Flaubert agonized over every word in this 62-page novella. The ending is a particularly tightly crafted interplay between the servant girl’s violent death throes and a procession of children ringing bells through the streets during a religious celebration.

At the other end of the spectrum, The Girl with the Golden Eyes is all about excess. Balzac takes us into the sex lives of the upper echelon of Parisian society — the lust and the intrigue, but also the incest and the violence. First, however, he spends 40 pages describing in minute detail every intricacy of Parisian society. There are some great turns of phrase — “cadaverous physiognomy” and “feeble decrepitude” — but I found myself impatiently turning pages looking for the characters and the plot.  Then, when I finally got to what I considered to be an actual story, I found myself turning back the pages because often I had no idea what was happening.

Which to choose? If this were an episode of The Bachelor, I’d be bemoaning what a hard decision this was and how both novellas have such admirable qualities. But really this wasn’t much of a contest. In spite of the parrot, A Simple Heart was meticulous and heart-wrenching. The Girl with the Golden Eyes, for all its promise of lust and extravagance, was ultimately just too messy for me.

Winner: Flaubert

An Interview with John Milliken Thompson (and Giveaway)

August 05, 2011 

The Reservoir starts like any good murder mystery — with a body.  ”On March 14, 1885, a body is floating in the old Marshall Reservoir, in the light snow, and then under a waxing moon.”

The body is quickly identified as that of Lillie Madison, and she was eight months pregnant. Soon enough, there is a suspect: Tommie Cluverius, a reckless young lawyer who was Lillie’s cousin and lover.

Based on a real-life case, Thompson has deftly captured the details of the post-Civil War South, as well as the inherent drama of a high profile trial. There are certainly enough questions to keep the pages turning — whether Tommie killed Liilie, whether she committed suicide, or whether there is an even darker source of Lillie’s death. But what really makes this historical mystery stand out from the rest are the interior journeys of Tommie and his brother Willie, who was also romantically linked with Lillie for a time.

This is a novel about the ambiguities of guilt, the dark corners of temptation, and the possibility of redemption. It is a perfect read if you’re looking for a mystery with depth, or a historical novel with a contemporary current running through it (i.e., the celebrity trial).

John Milliken Thompson is the author of several nonfiction works, but this is his first novel. If you’re interested in how he discovered the actual court case and why he decided to use it as the basis for a fictional story, check out his website.

Be sure to check out the end of this post for details about how to win a free copy of The Reservoir!

The Reservoir derives from an actual court case and many of the book’s characters are based on people actually involved in the trial. How did you decide when to fictionalize and when to stay true to the historical record? Was it difficult to strike that balance?

Yes, I guess it was a kind of balancing act. My general plan was to stick with the historical record as much as I could–it’s a lot easier than having to create whole new scenes and characters. Of course, that only got me so far. There was almost nothing in the record about the backgrounds of the characters, and that’s where I did most of my imaginative work. Once the characters began coming to life, little episodes and plot twists began suggesting themselves.

Were there any books, historical fiction or otherwise, that served as models for you when you were writing The Reservoir?

Theodore Dreiser’s AN AMERICAN TRAGEDY and Caleb Carr’s THE ALIENIST were both helpful, the former for helping me see how a similar court case could be turned into fiction and the latter for its big-city, early 1900s setting.

How do you think the time period and setting — post Civil War South — plays into the story? Do you think that the fact that the South was still reeling from a bloody and devastating war affected the conduct or outcome of the trial?

Yes, the case was one of circumstantial evidence and so a lot depended upon the oratorical wizardry of the lawyers, respected men who had served with distinction in the war. The prosecution relied a great deal on persuading the 12 gentlemen of the jury that it was their sworn duty to protect the honor of Virginia.

The book differs somewhat from a typical mystery in that the primary question is not who did it, but whether the accused, Tommie Cluverius, did it. I don’t think I am giving anything away by saying that you raise more questions than you answer in that regard. Indeed, it seems that at times Tommie himself does not even know what truly happened. Why did you decide to structure the story in that way? Was that always your intention or did there come a time when a definitive answer was just not serving the story?

I don’t know that I’d always thought of that way, but the more I worked with the story the more interested I became in the issue of ambiguity in a case of circumstantial evidence. Since it’s partly a mystery, we’re allowed only so far into Tommie’s mind, and one of the main questions for readers then becomes not just whether he did it but just exactly what “it” is.

I was reading your book at the same time the Casey Anthony trial was coming to a close, and it struck me that the phenomenon of the celebrity trial has not changed all that much over time. Back then, like now, the community was intensely wrapped up in the details of the trial and everyone seemed to have an opinion on the guilt or innocence of the accused. Would you characterize the Cluverius trial as a celebrity trial? Do you see parallels between that trial and modern day celebrity trials?

Yes, absolutely. To tell you the truth, I’ve never had much interest in modern celebrity trials, because they can become such tawdry spectacles, exploiting tragedies that are often very personal and ugly. But, yes, this case was certainly a “celebrity” trial, as oxymoronic as that phrase is—people followed it in the newspapers for weeks and months, just as people follow trials today in the available media. Any trial, though, is by nature a public spectacle, and the larger audience becomes a de facto jury. We all have opinions on these cases. It was my hope, then, that the reader would become involved on two levels–as a paper-reading Richmond citizen, and as a family member who learns intimate details of a tragedy.

To be eligible to win a free copy of The Reservoir, published by Other Press, just leave a comment with your favorite mystery novel or courtroom drama. Whoever convinces me to read their choice wins. Entries limited to the U.S. and Canada. Contest closes at midnight EST on Friday, August 12.

The Europa Editions Reading Challenge

July 01, 2011 

The Europa Editions Reading Challenge officially goes live today! One of the best things about starting this blog has been discovering indie publishers with exquisite taste who champion lesser-known authors and literature in translation. Europa Editions is one of the best among this group. A few months ago I reviewed their 100th title, Alina Bronsky’s darkly comic The Hottest Dishes of the Tartar Cuisine. And I already decided that three of their books would be on my summer reading list. So when I heard Marie and Liberty were organizing a reading challenge, I jumped at the chance. To see the guidelines and learn how to participate, go to the challenge website.

Unlike my overly ambitious commitments to prior reading challenges, I am going to sign up for the modest Europa Ami level (4 Europa titles by the end of the year). But I may end up upgrading because I already have 5 books on my list:

  • Broken Glass Park, Alina Bronsky’s critically aclaimed debut novel (translated from the German by Tim Mohr)
  • The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery, which spent over a year on the NYT bestseller list (translated from the French by Alison Anderson)
  • Hygiene and the Assassin, the first novel by celebrated French writer Amélie Nothomb, now being published in English for the first time (translated from the French by Alison Anderson)
  • A Novel Bookstore by Laurence Cossé, about a Parisian bookstore (translated from the French by Alison Anderson)
  • You Deserve Nothing by Alexander Maksik, the debut book from Europa’s new Tonga print, guest-edited by Alice Sebold

Whether you’re new to Europa or a loyal fan, I hope you’ll consider joining us.

My Summer Reading List

June 15, 2011 

Read-Alongs: Group reads-alongs are a good idea if a book seems really long and you’re afraid you won’t get through it, or if you want to discuss it with others while you’re reading it. I’ll be participating in two read-alongs this summer: a group read of Justin Cronin’s 700+ page post-apocalyptic tale The Passage sponsored by Cassandra at Indie Reader Houston, and a group read of George Eliot’s 800-page classic Middlemarch, as part of a reading group dedicated to reading “old, unreasonably long books.”

Book club: The Rumpus has a great book club. Every month they send you a new book (pre-publication); you have the opportunity to talk about it all month with other members of the book club; and then they do a Q&A with the author at the end of the month. I’ve been a member of the book club for about nine months and so far, they have a great track record for picking books. Previous selections have included The Instructions, The Chronology of Water, and The Convert. This month we’re reading Bonnie Jo Campbell’s Once Upon a River, a coming-of-age tale reminiscent of Huck Finn, but narrated by a sixteen-year-old girl.

Literature in translation: Granta Best Young Spanish Novelist Santiago Roncagliolo just won the Independent Foreign Fiction Prize for Red April (translated by Edith Grossman.) According to the book jacket, it is “a chilling political thriller set at the end of Peru’s grim war between Shining Path terrorists and a morally bankrupt government counterinsurgency.” As an added bonus, it is less than 300 pages, which is pretty rare for novels these days. I’ll also be catching up on books from new favorite indie publisher, Europa Editions. Europa publishes primarily literature in translation in these fabulous paperback originals with great designs that make you want to collect all of them. They recently published their 100th book, The Hottest Dishes of the Tartar Cuisine, which I reviewed on this blog. This summer I’ll be reading three of their titles translated from the French: Muriel Barbery’s The Elegance of the Hedgehog, Amélie Nothomb’s Hygiene and the Assassin, and Laurence Cossé’s A Novel Bookstore.

Indie publishers: In addition to my new found love for Europa Editions, I have the biggest crush on Other Press, who published my absolute favorite book of the year so far — Galore by Michael Crummey (review coming soon). Other Press has a great summer lineup including Christie Watson’s Tiny Sunbirds, Far Away – set amid the poverty and violence of the Niger Delta — and John Miliken Thompson’s The Reservoir — a nineteenth century Southern murder mystery.

Indie publishers, Part II: The folks at Melville House are also up to some interesting things. They have initiated a series called the Neversink Library, dedicated to championing overlooked and underappreciated books. The first in the series is Irmgard Keun’s After Midnight, originally published in German in 1937. Keun has a fascinating biography. After being arrested and interrogated by the Nazis, she fled Germany and wrote After Midnight in exile while having an affair with the writer Joseph Roth.  In 1940, she faked her own suicide and re-entered Germany under a false identity. Jessa Crispin (aka The Bookslut) has said of Keun: she “has an amazing gift for exposing the conflict at the heart of the average citizen, whose naivete is eventually and sometimes violently stripped away.” (Incidentally, Other Press will be publishing another of Keun’s books this summer, The Artificial Silk Girl. This just makes me love them more!)

Indie publishers, Part III: I am fascinated with former Soft Skull publisher Richard Nash’s new publishing community, Red Lemonade. To be honest, I’m not quite sure what it’s all about yet, but I love its emphasis on the interaction between reader and writer. One of Red Lemonade’s first books is Vanessa Veselka’s Zazen. Writing for Kirkus Reviews, Michael Schaub (also of Bookslut) called the book “a masterpiece. It is not just a novel about pain; it is a novel against pain.”

Women of letters: Two of my favorite female authors — Ann Patchett and Kate Christensen — have new books coming out this month, and both are getting great reviews. Patchett’s novel Bel Canto, won the PEN/Faulkner Award in 2002 and is one my favorite books of all time. In her new book State of Wonder, a research scientist travels to the Amazon to track down the eccentric inventor of a fertility drug that would allow women to bear children into old ago. In this month’s Elle magazine, Christensen, also a PEN/Faulkner award-winning author, has a great essay about unleashing her “inner dick” (i.e., writing in a male voice). Of her new novel, she writes, ” [E]xactly two years ago, I fell in love with a much younger man and left New York to live in his farmhouse in the wild mountains of northern New England. I quit therapy, which had become more traumatic than helpful. Suddenly, my life was quiet and happy and calm. It was as if, after being in a decades-long hurricane, I could hear the leaves rustling in the sunshine. It was out of this state of strong emotion recollected in tranquility, as Wordsworth famously described it, that the voice of Harry Quirk emerged to narrate my latest novel, The Astral.”

Sequels: Two of BEA’s hottest late summer/fall books are sequels: Lev Grossman’s The Magician King (Aug.) and Luis Urrea’s Queen of America (Dec.). Since I’ve never read either of their predecessors, I’ll be catching up over the summer. Grossman’s 2009 bestselling The Magicians has been called Harry Potter for adults, which I guess sounds enticing if you like Harry Potter and doesn’t if you don’t. I’ve never read the Harry Potter books, so I plan on judging the book on its own merit. As for Urrea’s 2005 The Hummingbird’s Daughter, I can’t believe I’ve never read it. Writing in the NYTBR, Stacy D”Erasmo called it, “a mix of leftist hagiography, mystical bildungsroman, and melancholic national anthem.”

Werewolves: It is not something I would normally pick up, but the Twitterverse is all abuzz about The Last Werewolf by Glen Duncan. It’s being published in mid-July and is about — yup, you guessed it — the last werewolf left in the world. While the premise sounds somewhat trite, I have heard from multiple bibliophiles whose opinions I respect that the writing is amazing. If werewolves are your thing, you might also want to pick up Wolfsbane, the second in the Nightshade series by Andrea Cremer. While this is a young adult book with a Twilight-reminiscent love triangle, Cremer has a PhD in early modern history so it’s werewolves with an intellectual bent. A perfect beach read.

My Top Twelve BEA Finds

May 28, 2011 

My first year at BookExpo America was both exhilarating and exhausting. I met Lev Grossman, Luis Alberto Urrea, Alice Hoffman and Colson Whitehead, among others, and had a great time visiting with publishers like Europa Editions, Graywolf, and Other Press. I also snagged some amazing advance reading copies of books, many of which I’ll be undoubtedly reviewing here in the upcoming months. As a teaser, here’s a peak at twelve of my favorites. Some are already generating a lot of buzz, and others I had never heard of before BEA, but regardless, I have an exciting summer of reading ahead of me.

1.  Alma Katsu, The Taker (Simon & Schuster, Sept. 2011): Part historical fiction, part love story, part supernatural tale. A murder suspect turns up at a hospital in rural Maine with a disturbing affliction — immortality.

2.  Alexander Maksik, You Deserve Nothing (Europa Editions, Sept. 2011): This is the debut title from Europa’s new Tonga imprint, which is being guest edited by Alice Sebold. Set at an international high school in Paris, it is the story of a charismatic young teacher who “succumbs to a temptation that will change the course of his life.”

3.  Erin Morgenstern, The Night Circus (Doubleday, Sept. 2011): A love affair between dueling magicians set at a circus that is open only at night. This is the most talked about debut novel of the fall season, and the film rights have already been acquired.

4.  Steve Sem-Sandberg, The Emperor of Lies (FSG, Sept. 2011): The winner of Sweden’s most important literary prize, this book chronicles the four and a half year rule of Mordechai Chaim Runkowski, the man appointed by the Nazis to preside over the second largest Jewish ghetto of World War II in the Polish city of Lodz.

5.  Tom Perrotta, The Leftovers (St. Martin’s, Sept. 2011): By the bestselling author of Little Children, this book had one of the longest lines at BEA. The premise is the long-heralded arrival of the Rapture comes and the disappearance of millions. The novel focuses on these left behind as they cope with this irrevocable change in the world in different ways.

6.  Anonymous, The Mistress Contract (Unbridled Books, Oct. 2011): The book caught my eye because it it came packaged in a plain brown paper bag that says, “Maybe you should read this ARC before you sell the book to your neighbors.” Inside the bag was a slim volume which purports to be the recorded conversations of a woman and her wealthy lover. In 1981, the couple entered into a contract whereby, in exchange for a separate home and financial support, she agreed to provide “all sexual acts as requested, with suspension of historical, emotional, psychological disclaimers.” (In case you were wondering, this is a work of nonfiction.)

7.  Alice Hoffman, The Dovekeepers (Scribner, Oct. 2011): Historical fiction set in ancient Israel — the intersecting lives of “four complex and fiercely independent women” during the Roman siege of the Jews at Masada.

8.  Eduardo Sacheri, The Secret in Their Eyes (Other Press, Oct. 2011): This is the English translation of a bestselling novel published in Argentina [six] years ago and on which the Academy Award winning film of the same name is based. Set in Buenos Aires during the military dictatorship in the 1970s, it is the story of a detective obsessed with a decades-old rape case.

9.  Colson Whitehead, Zone One (Doubelday, Oct. 2011): Colson Whitehead is hilarious on Twitter, so I can only imagine what he’ll do with post-apocalyptic satirical zombie fare.

10.  Luis Alberto Urrea, Queen of America (Little, Brown & Co., Dec. 2011): The sequel to the bestselling The Hummingbird’s Daughter, this book follows healer  and Indian warrior queen, Teresita Urrea, on her journey through early twentieth century America.

11.  Naomi Benaron, Running the Rift (Algonquin, Jan. 2012): Winner of the Bellweather Prize (awarded biannually to a work of literary fiction that addresses social justice issues), this book follows a young Tutsi boy, an Olympic medal hopeful in track, as he grapples with the violence and war that plagues his home, Rwanda.

12.  Melissa Pritchard, The Odditorium (Bellevue, Jan. 2012): “[E]ight genre-bending tales” — a haunted Victorian hospital during World War II, the childhood playground of Edgar Allen Poe, the story of Robert leRoy Ripley of “Ripley’s Believe It or Not — by an award-winning author whose two previous short story collections were New York Times Notable Books.