This week: postmodernism depuzzled, Freud's mistress, and adventures with a bald cheerleader. Plus: Stephanie Evanovich's debut.

The Light in the Ruins by Chris Bohjalian (Doubleday) - An exploration of post-WWII Italy doubles as a murder mystery in this entertaining historical whodunit from Bohjalian (The Sandcastle Girls). In 1952 Florence, Francesca Rosati, a dress-shop worker, is brutally murdered by a killer who carves out her heart, and Detective Serafina Bettini is assigned to solve the homicide.

The Art of Intimacy: The Space Between by Stacey D’Erasmo (Graywolf) - Part of Graywolf’s “Art of” series on the craft of writing, edited by Charles Baxter, this first work of nonfiction by novelist D’Erasmo (The Sky Below) examines the concept of intimacy and the ways this mysterious phenomenon has been conveyed by writers, visual artists, and filmmakers. D’Erasmo organizes the book into chapters based on the places where intimacy occurs, and the results are lucid and provocative.

Big Girl Panties by Stephanie Evanovich (William Morrow) - Evanovich’s incredibly entertaining debut mesmerizes with wit, heart, and intelligence as a spirited large woman breaks out of her shell in a thin-obsessed world. Holly Brennan, widowed at 32, is worn out after months of caring for her dying husband and seeking consolation in food. She surprises herself by saying yes when personal trainer Logan Montgomery, a Greek-god lookalike, offers to help her break some bad habits.

After Iris by Natasha Farrant (Dial) - Twelve-year-old Bluebell Gadsby’s family has been collapsing ever since Blue’s twin sister, Iris, died three years ago. Blue’s father is working on the other side of the country, and their mother is traveling overseas, which leaves new au pair Zoran in charge. Between Blue’s older sister Flora’s rebelliousness, her two younger siblings’ antics, and the family’s pet rats, which live in the garden of their London home, Zoran has his hands full.

The Problem with Pleasure: Modernism and Its Discontents by Laura Frost (Columbia Univ.) - As most English majors would admit, reading modernist poetry or novels is often a difficult experience. But as New School literature professor Frost details in this accessible volume, the difficulty is part of the point. Covering writers like Gertrude Stein, D.H. Lawrence, and David Foster Wallace, this is a great tool for understanding the elusive topic.

Half Lives by Sarah Grant (Little, Brown) – Grant mines fresh material from the dystopian genre through an intriguing scenario and approach to the form. In the present day, 17-year-old Icie’s normal life is disrupted when her government advisor parents alert her to a biological threat and tell her to get to a shelter outside Las Vegas. En route, she encounters a perky, bald cheerleader named Marissa; young casino heir Tate; and a Native American teen named Chaske.

Saving Thaneheaven by Catherine Jinks (Egmont USA) - Noble the Slayer fights monsters with help from an ill-tempered, shape-shifting, magical weapon, Smite. Smite has always been with Noble, but how far back does “always” go? One day on the way to rescue a princess, Noble meets a skinny kid named Rufus who questions Noble’s very mission and autonomy. Gamers should adore this book.

Freud’s Mistress by Karen Mack and Jennifer Kaufman (Putnam/Amy Einhorn) - A portrait of forbidden desire based on historical speculations, Mack and Kaufman’s thoroughly researched novel explores the difficult moral questions that can arise from adultery. It all begins in 1895 at Berggasse 19 in Vienna, an apartment that’s home to Sigmund and Martha Freud, their six children, and the household’s latest addition, Minna Bernays, Martha’s sister. Minna grapples with the “burden of betrayal” and Sigmund’s cunning rationalizations while trying to answer this novel’s clichéd but nonetheless thought-provoking central question: how far are you willing to go to be happy? Read our interview with the authors.

I Hate to Leave This Beautiful Place by Howard Norman (HMH) - In this luminous memoir, novelist Norman (The Bird Artist) recalls moments of “arresting strangeness,” even in the midst of his quest to gain clarity and stay balanced emotionally. Norman writes of five places where he lived and the characters he met in each, providing him with an opportunity to reflect on his life. With a twinge of melancholy and a steely resolve not to let himself be moved or hurt, Norman regales us with his tale of lust, death (he inadvertently kills a swan on a local lake), and disappointment that mark his teenage summer of 1964 in Grand Rapids, Mich.