by Alexis M. Smith (Tin House Books, $10.95)
Place and personality seamlessly merge to form a single day in the life of Isabel, the young twentysomething protagonist in Smith's striking debut novel. Postcards plucked from thrift-store shelves inform her dreams as she reflects on her childhood travels and steers her peripatetic heart to the future.
Jonathan Odell (Anchor, $15.95)
In Minnesota author Jonathan Odell's latest novel, a young slave girl struggles to believe in the strength of her own power as she apprentices to a mysterious midwife and healer on a Southern plantation during the mid-19th century. A masterful story with as many twists and turns as the Mississippi River itself.
MRS. QUEEN TAKES THE TRAIN
by William Kuhn (Harper, $25.99)
Even Queen Elizabeth gets a little depressed, and in this whimsical tale she decides to lift her spirits and visit the decommissioned Royal Yacht Britannia in Scotland. When she slips out the back door of the palace and hops on a train, a few of her loyal staff members stealthily follow and comedy ensues.
THE REVISED FUNDAMENTALS OF CAREGIVING
by Jonathan Evison (Algonquin, $23.95)
Although Ben Benjamin could barely take care of himself after a freak accident killed his two children, he becomes a hired caregiver for a physically disabled 19-year-old boy in this brilliant tragicomic tale where each character is as cynical, and yet as hopeful, as the next.
by Anna Keesey (Farrar, Strauss and Giroux, $26)
It's 1900 and young Esther Chambers heads to the wilds of Oregon, and a cousin she's never met, in order to begin a new life. Keesey fuses the unforgiving landscape and the rich inner life of Esther with an artist's eye to create an unforgettable portrait of the American West.
MEGANNE FABREGA, FREELANCE WRITER