By Marina Endicott. (Harper Perennial, 366 pages, $14.99)

Clara Purdy, 43, briefly married, long divorced, works as an insurance adjuster and lives in her childhood home, unchanged since her parents' death. One morning this beige, vaguely unhappy woman gets into her car, makes a careless left-hand turn and crashes right into -- well, into life itself. Out of the other car tumbles a down-and-out family -- Clayton; his mother; his wife, Lorraine; and their endearing raggedy children, Dolly, Trevor and Pearce. When Clara realizes that Lorraine has cancer and the family has no money and no home, she rashly takes them all in, and immediately her life is filled with complication, drama, mess, heartache and joy.

Endicott's novel -- shortlisted for Canada's Giller Prize and the Commonwealth Writers' Prize -- is full and wise, a reflection on family, on obligation, on class, and on the link between selfishness and goodness. Uncomfortable questions arise: Who, really, is Clara doing this for? Does she really want Lorraine to get well and have the family move on? Most of the story is told through Clara's eyes, but Endicott is deft at switching point of view and giving us glimmers into the minds of secondary characters, especially the sharp-eyed and troubled Dolly. She'll steal your heart.



By Elena Mauli Shapiro (Little, Brown and Co., 278 pages, $23.99)

When Shapiro was growing up in an apartment at 13, Rue Thérèse, in Paris in the 1980s, an elderly neighbor named Louise Brunet died. Because Brunet had no survivors, her landlord gave away her belongings. Shapiro's mother received a box of keepsakes -- photos, letters, postcards, coins, rosary, a scarf, delicate gloves -- "a sepulchre of Louise Brunet's heart," with most dating back to the years before, during and after World War I. Intrigued by these charming, mysterious items, which she includes photos of in the book, Shapiro crafted a clever, multi-layered story of Louise's life as imagined by another character, Trevor Stratton, an American researcher whose hands the items fall into in the story.

The fictional Louise is a complex, passionate young woman -- "blazes ... flare in her heart and find no outlet" -- who grieves for the cousin she had hoped to marry, killed in the Great War, and for her brother, who survived the war only to die of influenza. She loves her placid husband, but orchestrates a wild affair -- "flaming foolishness" -- with a handsome neighbor. Her story is narrated by Trevor, who himself is involved with a lovely young French secretary, and who suffers from a chronic fever, during which he finds himself turning into, or channeling, the characters from the early part of the century. This cleverly concocted, beautifully written novel is a sophisticated, thoroughly French romp about war, grief, love, sex and family that also honors the way we imagine the lives of other people based on the sparse, mysterious clues we are granted about them. (Antique as the book's setting may be, it includes a whimsical modern element -- readers are invited to use a smartphone app to read and decipher several illustrated clues in the book, but it's not necessary to do so to fully enjoy the story.)