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Readerly Top Picks in Paperback – November and December 2015

Many of wonderful titles we’ve loved and recommended are now out in paperback. Enjoy!

Isabella The Warrior QueenIsabella: The Warrior Queen by Kirstin Downey (Anchor) Queen Isabella of Castille’s life is revealed in all its flawed glory in Downey’s stunning biography. Often reduced to a footnote as the financier of Columbus’s fateful exploration, Downey’s portrayal reinvigorated Isabella as a calculating and powerful monarch who battled numerous betrayals and court intrigues to shape political and religious policies that have ramifications even to our present day. Thoroughly researched and thoughtfully presented, Isabella will delight history buffs and those who love a well­crafted story. —Nicole Bonia

DescentDescent by Tim Johnston (Algonquin Books) On a clear July morning two teens go for a routine run in the Colorado mountains. Later, only the boy returns—in an ambulance—with little memory of the man who took his sister. Descent explores the terrifying nightmare of an unsolved abduction. Johnston’s writing is so powerful; the tension is so exquisitely taut that readers will find their own world falling away as they become fully invested in the fate of the family. Be prepared to gasp, to beg for the characters’ salvation, to read this novel straight through in one go.—Candace B. Levy

RespectRespect by David Ritz (Back Bay Books) Ritz’s role as ghostwriter of Aretha Franklin’s earlier autobiography provides him a unique position from which to write a more definitive version of the singer’s fascinating and tumultuous life. Rich with intimate personal details and perspective contributed by Franklin’s sisters and confidantes, Ritz’s portrait gives new reasons to admire Franklin’s artistry in crafting an astounding body of work in the amidst of profound personal and professional challenges. Franklin, and this rendering of her, is an inspiration.—Nicole Bonia

One Step Too Farone step too fart by Tina Seskis (William Morrow Paperbacks) One Step Too Far is Tina Seskis’s haunting debut about the choices that define us. Young wife and mother Emily Brown can no longer stand the person she used to be and in an act of desperation tries to wipe the slate clean. Seskis effectively draws her narrative by alternating between Emily’s history and her efforts at a new life, creating a powerful tale of grief, regret, and second chances told through multiple points of view.—Amy Riley

Mademoiselle ChanelMademoiselle Chanel by C.W. Gortner (William Morrow Paperbacks) C. W. Gortner has made a career of mining the past for some of Europe’s most powerful and fascinating women. In Mademoiselle Chanel he turns his gaze from the Middle Ages and Renaissance to one of the fashion icons of the 20th century. As is his wont, Gortner brings Coco Chanel stunningly to life, demystifying her brilliant career by painting a picture of a young woman who questions her lot in life and is willing to work hard to change it.—Jen Karsbaek 

And Then I Found Youand then I found you by Patti Callahan Henry (St. Martins Griffin) When Kate discovered her pregnancy after Jack had married another woman, they chose adoption in hopes of giving their child the best possible future. And Then I Found You candidly explores how love, loss, and faith wrap around the hearts of all those touched by adoption like a bittersweet braid.—Jennifer Conner

at the waters edgeAt the Water’s Edge by Sara Gruen (Spiegel & Grau) Gruen’s latest is a classic example of immersive historical fiction. Set against a backdrop of World War II, At the Water’s Edge does not feel stale as do many novels set in that oft-used period. A disgraced brother and sister set out to earn their father’s approval in a search for the Loch Ness Monster, but what really drives the story is the eminently believable emotional life and growth of the characters. – Jen Karsbaek