Maggie O’Farrell is danger-prone, to put it mildly. Her unusual memoir-- I Am, I Am, I Am--chronicles her numerous near death experiences, starting with a childhood bout with Encephalitis, a profound experience that impressed upon her how precious life is, and inspired her to live more fully (it’ll inspire you, too). Senior Editor Adrian Liang says that "readers who were moved by The Last Lecture or When Breath Comes Air will find similar moments of affirmation here by a writer who has chosen to embrace the calamities that come with a life lived with curiosity and passion."
In Kristin Hannah’s The Great Alone, a damaged vet named Ernt Allbright returns from Vietnam and moves his family to the wilds of Alaska to start their lives anew. Initially it's a welcome change, but as winter approaches, and Ernt's mental state deteriorates, his wife and daughter find themselves in an increasingly precarious position. Leni and Cora are the heart of what is as much a mother-daughter love story as it is a pressure cooker of a page-turner. Together they reckon not only with the elements, but with some bad decisions, born from the stubborn faith that Ernt will somehow be restored to the person he was before the war. It’s a testament to Hannah’s compassionate storytelling that you’ll be hard-pressed to call him a villain; Ernt actually shares the same Achilles heel as the rest of the Allbright clan: they do not know how to ask for, or receive, help (so much so, you just want to shake them). Fortunately the cavalry comes anyway, including a homesteader named “Large Marge” who doesn’t suffer fools (or domestic abusers). The muse of The Great Alone is clearly Alaska--in all its untamed, stunningly beautiful, dangerous glory. It provides the perfect backdrop for an equally dramatic tale, one that feels remarkably current for the 1970s setting. But Hannah’s latest also harkens to her mega bestselling The Nightingale: it highlights the heroics of everyday people, especially women. And it’s just a damn good read. --Erin Kodicek
In this delightfully weird and funny novel, a young Iranian exile named Zebra makes her way from New York to Barcelona to dive deep into the past, when generations of her brilliantly intellectual, underachieving forebears were “gored by history.” Thanks to her father’s relentless tutelage, Zebra has an almost encyclopedic knowledge of literature, but her embrace of fatalism has left her oddly uncertain about why or how to live. Enter Ludo, a sexy Italian philologist. His advice to Zebra (“You need to get out of your head and have some fun”) leads to an explosive clash of sensibilities. Zebra is off-kilter and eccentric in a way that we rarely see in female literary characters, but she’ll remind you of Ignatius J. Reilly in A Confederacy of Dunces, and Cervantes’ Don Quixote, whose picaresque adventures inspire her own. If you loved the balance of warmth and cleverness in Helen DeWitt’s The Last Samurai, Call Me Zebra might be your next favorite novel. Endearingly deluded heroines are ultimately the most lovable, and you’ll be rooting for Zebra, and for love, until the end. —Sarah Harrison Smith
These days, mention of “the Border” stirs both imagination and emotion, what you see and feel depending on how you perceive the world. But how many of us understand this real-world interzone where actual borders shift and bleed, and hard scenes of death, drug smuggling, and human suffering unfold daily? The son of a park ranger, Francisco Cantú grew up in the southwest. When joined the Border Patrol, he became witness to the stark realities of the desert, where the obligations of his job weighed heavy against his sense of humanity. Dark material for sure, but Cantú is good no-nonsense writer, and his direct, stoic prose makes The Line Becomes a River a weighty and timely document on one of our most divisive arguments. --Jon Foro
In Force of Nature, Agent Aaron Falk (who we met in The Dry) is back to solve a mystery in the unforgiving Australian wilderness. Falk and his new partner, Agent Carmen Cooper, are called in to investigate the disappearance of a woman named Alice Russell, who went missing in the woods during a required company bonding exercise with five female co-workers. The narrative alternates between the events leading up to Alice’s disappearance and the search for her, dead or alive, and we eventually learn that Alice Russell was not a stranger to the detectives. She had been informing on some very shady business practices before her disappearance, and arrests were looming. Force of Nature is not as stark and electric a read as The Dry, but Harper has broadened the scope of her newest mystery to include not only subtle red herrings and twists, but complex family drama that kept me guessing all the way to its unexpected conclusion. —Seira Wilson
Set in 19th Century Australia, Only Killers and Thieves is a soaring debut. When teenage brothers Billy and Tommy McBride set out to hunt the scrub around their ranch, they stumble upon a terrible scene: a lynching of two native aboriginals. Later, when they return to their home, they find that their parents have been murdered. The signs point to it being an act perpetrated by their aboriginal stockman, Joseph, and the boys are soon drawn into a hunt for him. But as they travel under the direction of land baron John Sullivan and Inspector Edmund Noone, who leads the Native Mounted Police, the boys are drawn into a revenge hunt that divides them. One brother seeks justice; the other sees justice being undone. Everything about this novel is alive—the characters, the setting, and the language. The scenes and scenery last in your mind like the best westerns. And this book deserves that comparison. -- Chris Schluep