Relative Danger
Charles Benoit (Poisoned Pen)
This smashingly good mystery sends its hapless hero on a hilarious and often murderous chase through much of the Third World.
Natasha and Other Stories
David Bezmozgis (Farrar, Straus & Giroux)
A collection of seven linked stories that lives up to the hype, rendering the Russian-Jewish immigrant experience with powerful specificity.
Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell
Susanna Clarke (Bloomsbury)
The most anticipated debut novel of the year, about a pair of dueling magicians in early 19th-century England, masterfully blends history and fantasy. A massive push by Bloomsbury propelled this old-fashioned narrative, complete with deft footnotes, onto bestseller lists.
The Big Love
Sarah Dunn (Little, Brown)
An ex-evangelical Christian protagonist gives this quality chick-lit novel a twist; Dunn's marvelously dry humor and velvety prose do the rest.
A Woman of the World
Genie Chipps Henderson (Berkley)
Loosely modeled on photojournalist Margaret Bourke-White, Henderson's irrepressible heroine struggles with her career and her love life in this lively romance set in the 1930s and '40s.
Fitzpatrick's War
Theodore Judson (DAW)
Like Heinlein, Asimov and other SF greats, Judson doesn't let his message get in the way of his story, about a puritanical 26th-century agrarian empire.
The Preservationist
David Maine (St. Martin's)
Maine's spirited, imaginative debut puts a Life of Pi—ish spin on the adventures of biblical patriarch Noah and his clan as they labor, suffer and goof off in the service of the Lord.

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