BEACON 23 , by Hugh Howey (John Joseph Adams). A wisecracking, slightly obsessive-compulsive ex-soldier operates a space station that helps illuminate the Milky Way so ships can safely maneuver through it. This is a perfect blend of a fast-paced action coupled with a psychologically insightful portrait of loneliness, of the little idiosyncrasies we develop when living on our own, and how we crave companionship. — Reviewed by Nancy Hightower

BLUE LAWS : Selected & Uncollected Poems, by Kevin Young (Knopf). Encompassing 20 years of his work, this collection draws from and deepens the African American poetic tradition. Young brilliantly conveys the struggles and triumphs of those oppressed by slavery, economic hardship after emancipation, Jim Crow laws and prejudice that still tinge life today. — Reviewed by Elizabeth Lund

THE DEFENDER : How the Legendary Black Newspaper Changed America, by Ethan Michaeli (HMH). What makes the book so significant is that Michaeli not only details the history of the Chicago Defender but also demonstrates its role in shaping the local and national political landscapes. — Reviewed by Kim Gallon


FIXERS , by Michael M. Thomas (Melville). This isn’t just an audacious financial thriller, it’s also, even primarily, a meditation on values. It reveals the purported financial shenanigans that made possible the 2008 election of our current president and the real reasons the federal government bailed out the banks and investment groups that caused the global financial crisis of that same year. — Reviewed by Michael Dirda

A FRIEND OF MR. LINCOLN , by Stephen Harrigan (Knopf). Harri­gan offers us an acute and original portrait of Lincoln in the 1830s and 1840s, when our 16th president was still a young backwoods lawyer whose hair was “like a clump of crow feathers.” — Reviewed by Jerome Charyn

GINNY GALL , by Charlie Smith (Harper). This powerful story covers a great swatch of the Jim Crow South and conjures up the largely separate, ferociously repressed world of African Americans in the early 20th century. The protagonist is Delvin, born in 1913, to a “good-time gal” in Chattanooga, Tenn. He’s a bright boy, “a wonderanemous child,” quick to read and eager to make up stories, but his primary occupation is staying alive in a society that insists black men — even boys — remain dumb, shiftless and unthreatening. — Reviewed by Ron Charles


THE HIGHEST GLASS CEILING : Women’s Quest for the American Presidency, by Ellen Fitzpatrick (Harvard). Fitzpatrick is a worthy biographer, offering a rich, amply footnoted story of quick-witted and resilient women who preceded Clinton’s quest. In a world where women were expected to demur, they lived large — and paid the price. One finishes the book believing that they wouldn’t have had it any other way. — Reviewed by Connie Schultz

THE IMPORTANCE OF BEING LITTLE : What Preschoolers Really Need from Grownups, by Erika Christakis (Viking). If not quite a defense of Carpet Fluff 101, this is a fervent rebuke of academic-style early education — testing, flashcards and so on. Instead, Christakis favors a more nuanced approach, centered on the child and based on play. She makes a powerful and persuasive case, even if it’s hard to see how such a system would work on a large scale. — Reviewed by Nora Krug

IN OTHER WORDS , by Jhumpa Lahiri; translated from the Italian by Ann Goldstein (Knopf). Strikingly honest, lyrical, untouched by sentimentality, “In Other Words” chronicles as philosophical and quotidian a courtship with a language as Ovid’s “The Art of Love” does with amore itself. — Reviewed by Howard Norman

MASTER OF CEREMONIES : A Memoir, by Joel Grey (Flatiron). This lovely memoir by the actor best known for his role as the emcee in the film “Cabaret” is a reminder that just a few decades ago people in every profession believed that being perceived as straight was an essential prerequisite for success — even actors in the theater. — Reviewed by Charles Kaiser

A MOTHER’S RECKONING : Living in the Aftermath of Tragedy, by Sue Klebold (Crown). This book’s insights are painful and necessary, and its contradictions inevitable. It is an apology to the loved ones of the victims; an account of the Klebold family’s life in the days and months following the shooting; a catalogue of warning signs missed. Most of all, it is a mother’s love letter to her son, for whom she mourned no less deeply than did the parents of the children he killed. — Reviewed by Carlos Lozada

THE SWANS OF FIFTH AVENUE , by Melanie Benjamin (Delacorte). In this highly entertaining novel, Benjamin investigates the bonds between Truman Capote and socialite Babe Paley. It’s a bit like wandering through La Cote Basque at lunchtime and overhearing snippets of conversation. — Reviewed by Caroline Preston

TENDER , by Belinda McKeon (Lee Boudreaux). A poignant story about the deeply troubled relationship between a college student and her best friend when he comes out of the closet. — Reviewed by Ron Charles

13 WAYS OF LOOKING AT A FAT GIRL , by Mona Awad (Penguin). Awad follows the life of Elizabeth, a woman whose identity shifts along with her weight. The way food and body image define Elizabeth’s life is depressing and sad. But the book is neither. There is so much humor here — much of it dark, but spot on, like Dolores in Wally Lamb’s “She’s Come Undone” or Lena Dunham in “Girls.” — Reviewed by Julie Klam

UNITED STATES OF JIHAD : Investigating America’s Homegrown Terrorists, by Peter Bergen (Crown). Bergen makes the case that the real threat from the Islamic State will remain “lone wolves” — Americans inspired by the group, rather than directly financed or trained by it. And he frets about the convergence of the lone-wolf phenomenon with the Islamic State’s social-media savvy. — Reviewed by Mary Louise Kelly

THE YID , by Paul Goldberg (Picador). A ragtag group of Russians team up to assassinate Stalin in this darkly playful historical novel. — Reviewed by Glen David Gold

YOU COULD LOOK IT UP : The Reference Shelf from Babylon to Wikipedia, by Jack Lynch (Bloomsbury). This Rutgers professor of English takes a broad view of his subject and includes lively pages on several dozen radically different works, including “The Code of Hammurabi,” Pliny’s “Natural History,”the long defunct papal index of prohibited books, Hoyle’s rules for card games, the Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, the National Union Catalogue, Emily Post’s “Etiquette in Society,” “The Joy of Sex,” the Catholic Encyclopedia, the Handbook of Chemistry and Physics and even “Schott’s Original Miscellany.” — Reviewed by Michael Dirda

YOUNGBLOOD , by Matt Gallagher (Atria). In “Youngblood,” about a young Army lieutenant stationed outside Baghdad, Gallagher shows how war works in the human heart. — Reviewed by Roxana Robinson