The Jaguar’s Children by John Vaillant

The Jaguar's ChildrenThe Jaguar’s Children by John Vaillant (January 27, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)

Héctor is trapped. The water truck, sealed to hide its human cargo, has broken down. The coyotes have taken all the passengers’ money for a mechanic and have not returned. Those left behind have no choice but to wait.

Héctor finds a name in his friend César’s phone. AnniMac. A name with an American number. He must reach her, both for rescue and to pass along the message César has come so far to deliver. But are his messages going through?

Over four days, as water and food run low, Héctor tells how he came to this desperate place. His story takes us from Oaxaca — its rich culture, its rapid change — to the dangers of the border. It exposes the tangled ties between Mexico and El Norte — land of promise and opportunity, homewrecker and unreliable friend. And it reminds us of the power of storytelling and the power of hope, as Héctor fights to ensure his message makes it out of the truck and into the world.

Both an outstanding suspense novel and an arresting window into the relationship between two great cultures, The Jaguar’s Children shows how deeply interconnected all of us, always, are. 

Award-winning non-fiction author John Vaillant makes his searing fiction debut with a timely story of a tragic border crossing. Trapped and dying inside a broken-down and sealed transport, Hector is going to die, but not before he records his story. Suffused with universal humanity, The Jaguar’s Children elevates a controversial political topic into a moving story of moral complexity that captures attention and inspires admiration.— Michele Jacobsen, A Reader’s Respite

One Step Too Far by Tina Seskis

One Step Too FarOne Step Too Far by Tina Seskis (January 27, William Morrow)

No one has ever guessed Emily’s secret.

Will you?

A happy marriage. A beautiful family. A lovely home. So what makes Emily Coleman get up one morning and walk right out of her life—to start again as someone new?

Now, Emily has become Cat, working at a hip advertising agency in London and living on the edge with her inseparable new friend, Angel. Cat’s buried any trace of her old self so well, no one knows how to find her. But she can’t bury the past—or her own memories.

And soon, she’ll have to face the truth of what she’s done—a shocking revelation that may push her one step too far. . . .

One Step Too Far is Tina Seskis’s haunting debut about the choices that define us. Young wife and mother Emily Brown can no longer stand the person she used to be and in an act of desperation tries to wipe the slate clean. Seskis effectively draws her narrative by alternating between Emily’s history and her efforts at a new life, creating a powerful tale of grief, regret, and second chances told through multiple points of view.—Amy Riley, My Friend Amy

Unbecoming by Rebecca Scherm

unbecomingUnbecoming by Rebecca Scherm (January 22, Viking Adult)

On the grubby outskirts of Paris, Grace restores bric-a-brac, mends teapots, re-sets gems. She calls herself Julie, says she’s from California, and slips back to a rented room at night. Regularly, furtively, she checks the hometown paper on the Internet. Home is Garland, Tennessee, and there, two young men have just been paroled. One, she married; the other, she’s in love with. Both were jailed for a crime that Grace herself planned in exacting detail. The heist went bad—but not before she was on a plane to Prague with a stolen canvas rolled in her bag. And so, in Paris, begins a cat-and-mouse waiting game as Grace’s web of deception and lies unravels—and she becomes another young woman entirely.

Unbecoming is an intricately plotted and psychologically nuanced heist novel that turns on suspense and slippery identity. With echoes of Alfred Hitchcock and Patricia Highsmith, Rebecca Scherm’s mesmerizing debut is sure to entrance fans of Gillian Flynn, Marisha Pessl, and Donna Tartt.

In the thriller debut Unbecoming, Grace has created a new identity and life for herself in Paris after fleeing an art heist gone wrong. The two men who paid the price for her crime – one she loves, one she married – are coming to find her. In this first-rate psychological thriller reminiscent of Hitchcock, the ultimate unreliable narrator drives a riveting narrative not to be missed.—Michele Jacobsen, A Reader’s Respite 

Black River by S.M. Hulse

Black RiverBlack River by S.M. Hulse (January 20, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)

When Wes Carver returns to Black River, he carries two things in the cab of his truck: his wife’s ashes and a letter from the prison parole board. The convict who held him hostage during a riot, twenty years ago, is being considered for release.

Wes has been away from Black River ever since the riot. He grew up in this small Montana town, encircled by mountains, and, like his father before him and most of the men there, he made his living as a Corrections Officer. A talented, natural fiddler, he found solace and joy in his music. But during that riot Bobby Williams changed everything for Wes — undermining his faith and taking away his ability to play.

How can a man who once embodied evil ever come to good? How can he pay for such crimes with anything but his life? As Wes considers his own choices and grieves for all he’s lost, he must decide what he believes and whether he can let Williams walk away.

With spare prose and stunning detail, S. M. Hulse drops us deep into the heart and darkness of an American town.

Forgiveness and atonement are the heart of S.M. Hulse’s remarkably confident literary debut Black River. Wes Carver is a broken man who has lost his faith in God and humanity and now he is embarking on a journey back to the small Montana town to face the convict who stole it away from him. A modern Western that poignantly captures both rage and virtue, Black River is pitch perfect.— Michele Jacobsen, A Reader’s Respite


The Magician’s Lie by Greer Macallister

The Magicians LieThe Magician’s Lie by Greer Macallister (January 13, Sourcebooks Landmark)

The Amazing Arden is the most famous female illusionist of her day, renowned for her notorious trick of sawing a man in half on stage. One night in Waterloo, Iowa, with young policeman Virgil Holt watching from the audience, she swaps her trademark saw for a fire ax. Is it a new version of the illusion, or an all-too-real murder? When Arden’s husband is found lifeless beneath the stage later that night, the answer seems clear.

But when Virgil happens upon the fleeing magician and takes her into custody, she has a very different story to tell. Even handcuffed and alone, Arden is far from powerless-and what she reveals is as unbelievable as it is spellbinding. Over the course of one eerie night, Virgil must decide whether to turn Arden in or set her free… and it will take all he has to see through the smoke and mirrors.

When famed female illusionist The Amazing Arden’s husband turns up dead, she is the prime suspect. As a magician Arden can make herself disappear but policeman Virgil Holt catches up to her and lets her tell her side of the story. Nothing is what it seems in Macallister’s work of historical fiction, but everything is told with such flair and vibrancy that the reader will easily slip into the alternating magic and horror of Arden’s life. —Jen Karsbaek, Devourer of Books 

The Deep by Nick Cutter

The DeepThe Deep by Nick Cutter (January 13, Gallery Books)

A strange plague called the ‘Gets is decimating humanity on a global scale. It causes people to forget—small things at first, like where they left their keys, then the not-so-small things, like how to drive or the letters of the alphabet. Their bodies forget how to function involuntarily. There is no cure.

But now, far below the surface of the Pacific Ocean, deep in the Mariana Trench, a heretofore-unknown substance hailed as “ambrosia”—a universal healer, from initial reports—has been discovered. It may just be the key to eradicating the ‘Gets.

In order to study this phenomenon, a special research lab, the Trieste, has been built eight miles under the sea’s surface. But when the station goes incommunicado, a brave few descend through the lightless fathoms in hopes of unraveling the mysteries lurking at those crushing depths…and perhaps to encounter an evil blacker than anything one could possibly imagine.

Eight miles under the ocean surface, a research lab has discovered a substance known as ambrosia, a universal healer that may rid the world of a plague that is decimating the human population. When the station goes silent, rescuers discover this “cure” may have implications deadlier than the plague itself. With an expertly driven plot, this chill-inducing thriller seizes and manipulates every imaginable fear. Remarkably imaginative horror at its finest!—Jenn Lawrence, Jenn’s Bookshelves

Descent by Tim Johnston

DescentDescent by Tim Johnston (January 6, Algonquin)

The Rocky Mountains have cast their spell over the Courtlands, a young family from the plains taking a last summer vacation before their daughter begins college. For eighteen-year-old Caitlin, the mountains loom as the ultimate test of her runner’s heart, while her parents hope that so much beauty, so much grandeur, will somehow repair a damaged marriage. But when Caitlin and her younger brother, Sean, go out for an early morning run and only Sean returns, the mountains become as terrifying as they are majestic, as suddenly this family find themselves living the kind of nightmare they’ve only read about in headlines
or seen on TV.

As their world comes undone, the Courtlands are drawn into a vortex of dread and recrimination. Why weren’t they more careful? What has happened to their daughter? Is she alive? Will they ever know? Caitlin’s disappearance, all the more devastating for its mystery, is the beginning of the family’s harrowing journey down increasingly divergent and solitary paths until all that continues to bind them together are the questions they can never bring themselves to ask: At what point does a family stop searching? At what point will a girl stop fighting for her life?

Written with a precision that captures every emotion, every moment of fear, as each member of the family searches for answers, Descent is a perfectly crafted thriller that races like an avalanche toward its heart-pounding conclusion, and heralds the arrival of a master storyteller.

On a clear July morning two teens go for a routine run in the Colorado mountains. Later, only the boy returns—in an ambulance—with little memory of the man who took his sister. Descent explores the terrifying nightmare of an unsolved abduction. Johnston’s writing is so powerful; the tension is so exquisitely taut that readers will find their own world falling away as they become fully invested in the fate of the family. Be prepared to gasp, to beg for the characters’ salvation, to read this novel straight through in one go.—Candace B. Levy, Beth Fish Reads

As Chimney Sweepers Come to Dust by Alan Bradley

As Chimney Sweepers Come to DustAs Chimney Sweepers Come to Dust by Alan Bradley (January 6, Delacorte Press)

Banished! is how twelve-year-old Flavia de Luce laments her predicament, when her father and Aunt Felicity ship her off to Miss Bodycote’s Female Academy, the boarding school that her mother, Harriet, once attended across the sea in Canada. The sun has not yet risen on Flavia’s first day in captivity when a gift lands at her feet. Flavia being Flavia, a budding chemist and sleuth, that gift is a charred and mummified body, which tumbles out of a bedroom chimney. Now, while attending classes, making friends (and enemies), and assessing the school’s stern headmistress and faculty (one of whom is an acquitted murderess), Flavia is on the hunt for the victim’s identity and time of death, as well as suspects, motives, and means. Rumors swirl that Miss Bodycote’s is haunted, and that several girls have disappeared without a trace. When it comes to solving multiple mysteries, Flavia is up to the task—but her true destiny has yet to be revealed.

Fans of Flavia de Luce rejoice! The young sleuth is back after uncovering a crucial family secret. As Chimney Sweepers Come to Dust finds Flavia forced out on her own – to Canada, and her new school, where she discovers a body stuffed up the chimney. But bigger still is the mystery of who she can trust, and watching Flavia come into her own makes this one of the best books yet.—Jenn Ravey, The Picky Girl 

Her by Harriet Lane

HerHer by Harriet Lane (January 6, Little Brown and Company)

Two different women; two different worlds. On the face of it, Emma and Nina have very little in common. Isolated and exhausted by early motherhood, Emma finds her confidence is fading fast. Nina is sophisticated and assured, a successful artist who seems to have it all under control. And yet, when the two women meet, they are irresistibly drawn to each other. As the friendship develops, as Emma gratefully invites Nina into her life, it emerges that someone is playing games-and the stakes could not be higher.

What, exactly, does Nina see in Emma? What does she want? And how far will she go in pursuit of it?

A gripping novel about friendship and identity, about the wild hopes and worst fears of parenthood, about the small and easily forgotten moments that come to define a life, Her is unputdownable-compelling and hauntingly discomfiting.

Recounted in the intriguing alternating perspectives of a struggling mother of two and the stylish, sophisticated artist she meets by chance on the street, Her is a harrowing and suspense-ridden tale of female friendship, fraught marriages, and the bittersweet dramas of motherhood. Guaranteed to keep you on the edge of your seat, you’ll also cast a wary eye towards new friends you’ve recently made.—Nicole Bonia, Linus’s Blanket

Things Half in Shadow by Alan Finn

Things Half in ShadowThings Half in Shadow by Alan Finn (December 30, Gallery Books)

The year is 1869, and the Civil War haunts the city of Philadelphia like a stubborn ghost. Mothers in black continue to mourn their lost sons. Photographs of the dead adorn dim sitting rooms. Maimed and broken men roam the streets. One of those men is Edward Clark, who is still tormented by what he saw during the war. Also constantly in his thoughts is another, more distant tragedy—the murder of his mother at the hands of his father, the famed magician Magellan Holmes…a crime that Edward witnessed when he was only ten.

Now a crime reporter for one of the city’s largest newspapers, Edward is asked to use his knowledge of illusions and visual trickery to expose the influx of mediums that descended on Philadelphia in the wake of the war. His first target is Mrs. Lucy Collins, a young widow who uses old-fashioned sleight of hand to prey on grieving families. Soon, Edward and Lucy become entwined in the murder of Lenora Grimes Pastor, the city’s most highly regarded—and by all accounts, legitimate—medium, who dies mid-séance. With their reputations and livelihoods at risk, Edward and Lucy set out to find the real killer, and in the process unearth a terrifying hive of secrets that reaches well beyond Mrs. Pastor.

Reporter Edward Clark tries to forget his past, but he cannot deny that it has given him a very specific skill set. These talents come in handy when Edward’s editor tasks him with an undercover job debunking the mediums that have sprung up in the years following get the Civil War. When one of the mediums he is investigating dies during a séance, Edward must find the real murderer to clear his name. Finn’s thriller is rich with historical detail, a compelling and realistic main character, and a plot full of incredibly satisfying twists and turns.—Jen Karsbaek, Devourer of Books