By Andrea Lee
Why not start with a knockout? Novelist Andrea Lee's sensuously unsentimental Lost Hearts in Italy mines the past of Miranda Ward, an American transplant to Italy who once cheated on her golden-boy husband with Zenin, an aging Italian billionaire with the inner warmth of a reptile. Years later and deep into another marriage, she still feels the pull of Zenin and Nick, her wounded ex-husband, "as we always belong forever to people who have hurt us badly, or been badly hurt by us." Lee's Rome is a city filled with gorgeous ruins, and she's not just talking about architecture.
By Jami Attenberg
Never get between a man and his mastiff: That's one hard lesson in Instant Love, Jami Attenberg's fiction debut—connected tales of women who angle online, offshore, out of town, and in country for men they're afraid to catch. "To give in to complete satisfaction," muses a rueful loner in "Sarah Lee Waits for Love," "is to allow that it can disappear as quickly as it arrived." Reality bites.
By Karin Fossum
Either somebody just slid an ice cube down your back or you're reading the opening pages of When the Devil Holds the Candle, a psychological tour de force by Norwegian thriller writer Karin Fossum. A handsome, thuggish teenager disappears, and his tormenter is a lonely, crazed old lady whose mind sucks you in like the most Poe-ish of maelstroms.
By T.C. Boyle
T.C. Boyle's Talk Talk makes the lurking danger of identity theft a dizzying reality as Dana, a beautiful deaf woman with a nose for deception, and her fiancé, Bridger Martin, careen cross-country in pursuit of the man who has helped himself to their lives. A tricky novel of unlikely intimacies.
By Eliza Minot
There's a startling revelation—the kind that turns an extended family upside down—in Eliza Minot's The Brambles. But read this novel of three adult siblings and their terminally ill father for its deeper discoveries: how family members muddle through loneliness, miscommunication, and loss, and how a harried mother of three young children ("a waitress, a handmaiden, a love slave… Humiliated and adored… every day varying, yet every day the same") keeps from going off the deep end.
By Zoë Wicomb
In Zoë Wicomb's Playing in the Light, Marion, a travel agent in tense, post-apartheid Cape Town, knows there's something peculiar about her Afrikaner heritage; too bad her elderly father won't tell her what it is. "Secrets, lies, and discomfiture—that was what her childhood had been wrapped in. Each day individually wrapped, lived through carefully, as only those with secrets live." Marion's close but prickly relationship with Brenda, her employee from the townships, guides her toward the liberating truth.
By Margaret Sartor
Most adolescent diaries should come to light only in bonfires. But Margaret Sartor's Miss American Pie: A Diary of Love, Secrets, and Growing Up in the '70s, written by a typical (boy crazy, bored, rebellious, religious) girl in Montgomery, Louisiana, and retrieved by Sartor 25 years later, is a charmer. August 1, 1974: "Doug Reed is naturally sexy, which I think could be a problem for a minister." November 15, 1974: "Today Mrs. Williams said I have the attention span of a bug." It all feels refreshingly authentic—like reality TV without the posturing.
By Aurelie Sheehan
Aurelie Sheehan's subtle and moving History Lesson for Girls looks back on a year in the lives of two 13-year-olds in a posh Connecticut town: self-conscious Alison, who wears a back brace for scoliosis, and her champion, the popular, nervy Kate. They bond over horses (this novel's presiding spirits), the failures of their oddball parents, and Kate's increasingly imperiled hopes. Says grown-up Alison, a veterinarian and something of an expert on loss, "Still, you know, you need to imagine something will survive. You need to imagine that every day."
By Monica Ali
Some writers you'll follow anywhere. In Alentejo Blue, Monica Ali, whose Brick Lane probed Bangladeshi subculture in London, zeroes in on an impoverished but picturesque region in Portugal (the writer lived there for a time) where tourists gawk, expatriates try to get lost, and locals drown their boredom in whiskey. Ali's news from nowhere can seem so starkly real, you'll want to scrape the mud from your shoes. But stick with her: This stunningly crafted fiction will knock you off your feet.
By Caroline Moorehead
Do you miss the 20th century yet? Selected Letters of Martha Gellhorn (release in August 2006), edited by Caroline Moorehead, offers nearly 70 years' worth of the renowned international journalist's passionate, political, and deeply personal correspondence with everyone from H.G. Wells to Eleanor Roosevelt (missives to her husband Ernest Hemingway are addressed to "Dearest Pup-pup"). The flamboyant Gellhorn reminds us of one reason we travel—to look homeward with a worldly eye.