Penelope Fitzgerald: A Life by Hermione Lee. (Vintage) Elusive and eccentric, Fitzgerald (1916-2000) published her first book, a biography, when she was 58 and went on to win the Man Booker Prize with her third novel a few years later. Lee, a veteran biographer of literary figures (including Edith Wharton and Virginia Woolf), approaches her subject with surgical precision in this volume, one of the Book Review’s 10 Best of 2014.

’til The Well Runs Dry by Lauren Francis-Sharma. (Picador/Holt) In 1940s Trinidad, Marcia Garcia, the heroine of this debut novel, is quietly raising two young boys alone under mysterious circumstances and building a reputation as one of the best seamstresses for the island’s elite. When a handsome police officer meets her, he is instantly besotted (even seeking the help of a local obeah woman), which sets in motion a tumultuous, decades-long romance.

Lincoln And The Power Of The Press: The War For Public Opinion by Harold Holzer. (Simon & Schuster) Newspapers wielded significant influence in the era, and Lincoln was particularly concerned about managing his legacy and public image. Holzer’s fascinating study examines Lincoln’s political life through his relationship with the press, which was often antagonistic yet quickly became symbiotic.

If I Fall, If I Die by Michael Christie. (Hogarth) Will, 11 years old and the son of a profoundly agoraphobic mother, has been confined to his home for years. After cautiously venturing outside, he soon makes a friend, attends school and discovers the freedom of skateboarding. Christie’s novel explores the resilience of a child’s spirit in the wake of psychological upset and lasting trauma.

Midnight At The Pera Palace: The Birth Of Modern Istanbul by Charles King. (Norton) Taking its title from a once-grand hotel, a favorite of passengers traveling on the Orient Express, King’s account charts Istanbul’s transition from the Ottoman Empire’s longtime capital (then widely known as Constantinople) to a vibrant, cosmopolitan city of musicians, émigrés and entrepreneurs in a newly independent Turkish republic. At the heart of the story is the city’s interwar efforts to forge an identity both modern and Muslim.

We Are Pirates by Daniel Handler. (Bloomsbury) Handler, the author behind the pseudonym Lemony Snicket, tells the stories of Gwen, a restless teenager who shoplifts and is entranced by pirate tales; and her father, a creatively unfulfilled record producer who dreams of starting a new radio show. Both father and daughter share an outlaw spirit, which leads them into adventures rich with comedy and horror.

100 Essays I Don't Have Time To Write: On Umbrellas And Sword Fights, Parades And Dogs, Fire Alarms, Children, And Theater by Sarah Ruhl. (Farrar, Straus & Giroux.) “One must not think of life as an intrusion,” writes Ruhl, who uses her experiences as a playwright and mother to interrogate the nature of creativity, truth and moral objectivity in this collection.

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