"The Pale King" by David Foster Wallace
Incomplete or not, The Pale King is whole enough, a fully imagined, often exquisitely fleshed-out novel about a dreary Midwestern tax-return processing center that he has caused to swarm with life. By the time you're done, you may want to know more about the fates of particular characters, but you won't need to know more.
"Swim Back to Me" by Anne Packer
Her prose is so simple and direct it has a scrubbed-clean quality, and her patient investigations reveal human longing in such clear, stripped-down familiarity - never shirking from the difficult - that readers experience a singular sense of comfort.
"The Color of Night" by Madison Smartt Bell
Certainly Bell takes the reader on a twisted journey, but Mae is both believable and fascinating -- and the trip is thrilling.
"The Last Greatest Magician in the World" by Jim Steinmeyer
It takes some courage to write the biography of a man the reading public has mostly forgotten. Yet that's exactly what Jim Steinmeyer does in "The Last Greatest Magician in the World," a biography of the now-obscure Howard Thurston, the illusionist who held the title by acclaim in the 1920s and '30s. It's a clever marketing trick, and a necessary one, to include Houdini's name in the lumbering subtitle, but it's a piece of misdirection that, like many events in this telling of Thurston's life, doesn't play out quite the way it's supposed to.
"Beautiful and Pointless: A Guide To Modern Poetry" by David Orr
David Orr, that's who -- though in "Beautiful and Pointless," his new guide to modern poetry, the most important thing he reveals about codes is that there aren't any
"An Evil Eye: A Novel" by Jason Goodwin
Goodwin is an author of many strengths -- the books in this series can be read independently of each other, and they just keep getting better -- and the discovery of a Russian corpse in a Christian well in the heart of a Muslim land allows him to play to the best of those strengths: his remarkable ability to clarify the muddle of that decaying empire.