1. City on Fire by Garth Risk Hallberg (Knopf)
Weighing in at over 900 pages, with a reported advance of nearly $2 million, this debut novel raised expectations – and it largely seems to be meeting them. On the front page of the New York Times Book Review, Frank Rich praised the “the delicate and ultimately moving balancing act that Garth Risk Hallberg pulls off in . . . his Dickens-size descent into New York City circa 1976-77.” Michiko Kakutani was even more effusive, calling City on Fire a “big, stunning first novel and an amazing virtual reality machine.”
2. Mrs. Engels by Gavin McRae (Catapult)
This debut novel is told in the voice of Lizzie Burns, Communist Manifesto co-author Friedrich Engels’s longtime lover. The illiterate Lizzie left no records so McCrea has had to imagine her into existence – which he has done impressively. Mrs. Engels, from the promising new publisher Catapult, just made The Guardian’s First Book Award 2015 longlist.
3. The Last of the President’s Men by Bob Woodward (Simon & Schuster)
Woodward’s 18th book, which hits stores Oct. 13, is a direct descendant of All the President’s Men -- his iconic first book, written with Carl Bernstein in 1974. This return to the intrigue of the Nixonian West Wing is based on more than 46 hours of interviews with Alexander Butterfield, the White House aide who revealed that Nixon was taping conversations in the Oval Office.
4. Voices from Chernobyl: The Oral History of a Nuclear Disaster by Svetlana Alexievich (Picador)
Alexievich’s Nobel Prize in Literature this year was the first for a non-fiction writer in more than half a century, and only the 14th ever given to a woman. Alexievich was a journalist in Minsk, the capital of Belarus, at the time of the 1986 Chernobyl disaster. Her book, based on interviews with survivors, won the National Book Critics Circle non-fiction award in 2005, and this month the Nobel Committee hailed her for "for her polyphonic writings, a monument to suffering and courage in our time."
5. Find Me Unafraid: Love, Loss, and Hope in an African Slum by Kennedy Odede and Jessica Posner. Foreword by Nicholas Kristof. (Ecco)
Boy meets girl, with a humanitarian twist. Odede and Posner met in Nairobi’s Kibera, one of Africa’s largest urban slums, where he grew up and where she was a Wesleyan student (from Denver) on semester abroad. Together, they founded the slum’s first tuition-free school for girls, and a school in another slum – and more than 170,000 people now benefit from their work. Along the way, they fell in love.