"Sacré Bleu: A Comedy d'Art" by Christopher Moore Set in the Paris demimonde in 1890, this novel follows painters Lucien Lessard (fictional) and Henri Toulouse-Lautrec as they investigate the murder of their friend and colleague Vincent van Gogh. Wait, didn't van Gogh commit suicide? That isn't the only assumption Moore upends in this book, which boasts a cast of many other artists, a wonderfully evocative portrait of Paris and just enough touches of the sexily supernatural to intrigue.
"The Red House" by Mark Haddon A doctor with a newly acquired wife and problem stepdaughter invites his estranged sister and her family to a weeklong country getaway. Sounds like a recipe for the worst vacation ever, but Haddon ,a master of voice, layers the narrative from eight different points of view, piecing together the puzzle of family in surprising ways.
"The Limpopo Academy of Private Detection" by Alexander McCall Smith. Precious Ramotswe, proprietor of the No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency must interpret her dreams about a tall stranger while coping with several cases at once. Smith, has a delightfully light, affectionate touch with his characters and with the culture and landscape of Botswana.
"The Orphanmaster" by Jean Zimmerman. In the rough Dutch colony of New Amsterdam, at the tip of modern-day Manhattan, orphaned children are disappearing. The settlers blame a mythical being that eats human flesh, although there are more than enough real suspects. Law enforcement barely exists, so the investigation falls to amateurs: a successful young trader (herself an orphan), a dashing British spy, an African giant and a mute 7-year-old.
"They Eat Puppies, Don't They?" by Christopher Buckley. Political satirist's acerbic novel about Walter "Bird" McIntyre, a weapons system lobbyist coping with an expensive trophy wife in the economic downturn. How to ramp up his income stream? He teams with Angel Templeton, a ruthless Coulter-esque blonde at the Institute for Continuing Conflict, to "gin up a little anti-China mojo." Spread a baseless rumor that the Chinese government is trying to poison the cuddly Dalai Lama, and weapons appropriations will skyrocket. What could go wrong?
"Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail" by Cheryl Strayed. At 26, after her mother's death and the disintegration of her marriage, Strayed decided to hike the 1,100 miles from the Mojave Desert to Washington state — alone. In this unflinching memoir, she relates how, with a massive backpack and no long-distance hiking experience, she set out through perilous weather, rattlesnake and bear encounters, beauty and loneliness. Physically and mentally, the walk tore her down and built her back up.
"The Uninvited Guests" by Sadie Jones. On an evening in 1912, Emerald Torrington's aristocratic family is preparing for her birthday celebration dinner when a group of survivors from a nearby railway accident shows up at the manor house. This sly story is a little bit like Downton Abbey and a little more like Lemony Snicket's "A Series of Unfortunate Events," but very much for grown-ups.
"Wild Thing" by Josh Bazell This darkly comic thriller is a sequel to Bazell's "Beat the Reaper," with mob hit-man-turned-doctor Pietro Brnwa back in action. He's hired by a reclusive billionaire (referred to as Rec Bill) to determine the veracity of a rural legend: a lake monster that's dining on swimmers in Minnesota's remote, idyllic Boundary Waters. It's not the only maneater: On the hunt, Brnwa also has to wrangle his colleague, the sexy but self-destructive paleontologist Violet Hurst, as well as sort out the scam artists from the meth dealers in the little town of Ford.