Craig Thompson. Pantheon, $35 (672p)
Humorous, heart-breaking, and visually stunning, Thompson's graphic novel tells the epic love story of two Middle Eastern slaves. Intended for grown-ups, this book contains some nudity, but it's real daring lies in the way it braids together the religious tales of both Islam and Christianity.
"State of Wonder"
Ann Patchett. Harper, $26.99 (368p)
A pharmacologist travels into the Amazon jungle in search of a rule-breaking doctor, who may have found a cure for infertility. Joseph Conrad's "Heart of Darkness" may have inspired the plot of this riveting novel, but Patchett's take on the clash between nature and civilization, and her fierce female scientists, are radiantly contemporary.
"The Barbarian Nurseries"
Hector Tobar. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, $27 (432p)
A California software engineer and his stay-at-home wife accuse their Mexican housekeeper of kidnapping their two young boys in this outstanding debut. Tobar handles all three characters with cold-eyed sympathy, creating a fascinating novel about the different socioeconomic layers of contemporary Los Angeles -- and the complicated dynamics of using undocumented immigrants for domestic help.
"The End of Everything"
Megan Abbott. Little, Brown/Reagan Arthur, $23.99 (256p)
Psychological thrillers rarely get more haunting than this tale about two 13-year-old girls, one of whom disappears just before their eighth-grade graduation. Menacing and poignant, Abbott's novel fuses Judy Blume's keen understanding of budding girls with the sustained tension of Tana French.
"A Simple Act of Violence"
R.J. Ellory. Overlook, $24.95 (464p)
Noir sensibility invades upscale Washington, D.C., in this standout thriller about a serial killer who targets women during the midterm elections. Ellory seamlessly connects this whodunit with a dirty history of the CIA, crafting a tale that grimly makes the personal political.
"Catherine the Great: Portrait of a Woman"
Robert K. Massie. Random, $35 (688p)
Best-selling author Massie turns his attention to the brilliant, passionate life of Sophia of Anhalt-Zerbst, a German princess who became Russia's longest-reigning ruler in this intimate and erudite biography. Benevolent despotism has never looked so good.
"Townie: A Memoir"
Andre Dubus III, Norton, $25.95 (352p)
Abandoned by his father at the age of 12, Dubus hardened himself for a new life filled with poverty, drugs and fistfights. In this moving and gritty memoir, the author of "House of Sand and Fog" shows how writing fiction ultimately led him away from violence, and helped him forge a new relationship with his father.
"The Swerve: How the World Became Modern"
Stephen Greenblatt. Norton, $26.95 (320p)
Harvard professor Greenblatt won the National Book Award for this spellbinding cultural history and he deserves it. In his hands, the story of how a 15th-century Italian discovered an ancient Roman poem that paved the way for the Enlightenment becomes as warm and accessible as a campfire yarn.
"Blood, Bones, and Butter"
Gabrielle Hamilton, Random, $25 (300p)
Restaurants provide both food and refuge in Hamilton's deliciously unpretentious memoir. Jolted into premature adulthood by her parents' divorce, Hamilton cared for herself by scraping plates at restaurant called Mother. But it wasn't until she opened her own place, Prune, in New York that she recaptured the comforts of early childhood.
Veronica Roth, HarperCollins/Tegen, $17.99 (496p)
The first in a planned trilogy of young adult novels, Roth's dystopian fantasy imagines a world in which adolescents must literally choose between lives of selfless abnegation or dauntless courage. As harrowing as "The Hunger Games," this novel also contains a tender romantic subplot; the combination will rivet readers of all ages. Ages 14 and up.