1. Invisible: The Forgotten Story of the Black Woman Lawyer Who Took Down America’s Most Powerful Mobster by Stephen L. Carter (Henry Holt and Co.)
Just a few pages into this engaging, inspiring biography, one question unavoidably comes to mind: Who will play her in the film? Frustratingly, history has all but erased the subject of this biography, Eunice Hunton Carter, a graduate of Smith College and Fordham Law School, daughter of a prominent African-American civil rights leader, mother of two children, who took on the notorious Lucky Luciano and the Mafia. Fortunately, her grandson is Yale law professor Stephen L. Carter, a prolific author and former law clerk for Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall. His talent honed as a fiction writer (The Emperor of Ocean Park, among his novels), Carter brings to life the era when Eunice Carter faced formidable discrimination, navigating a narrow path between Republican Thomas Dewey, with whom she worked, and African-Americans realigning toward the Democrats, forging ahead all the while to see that justice was done.
2. The Invisible Emperor: Napoleon on Elba from Exile to Escape by Mark Braude (Penguin Press)
Braude renders Napoleon Bonaparte’s 10-month exile on the tiny Mediterranean island of Elba and his brief return to power in 1815 in short, punchy chapters that read like an exciting novel, or an episode of Prison Break. Braude, whose previous book, Making Monte Carlo, told the story of the marketing of Monaco, has a talent for looking at history from a slant. Here he zeros in on the overlooked and revelatory moment when Napoleon was stripped of his wealth and disappeared from the global stage – an unusual episode in his dramatic life, which was so full of triumph and pageantry. As Braude eloquently writes, Napoleon considered the paradise of Elba not merely as punishment, but insult — a “stage of insufficient magnitude on which to perform his romantic epic.”
3. The Flame: Poems Notebooks Lyrics Drawings by Leonard Cohen (Farrar, Straus, and Giroux)
Cohen died in 2016, just after the release of his last album, “You Want It Darker,” but he worked on this extraordinary volume right up until the end. It leaves his fans with a magical, unvarnished mélange of his work, beginning with his poem “Happens to the Heart” with its refrain “I was always working steady/But I never called it art,” which closes: “Now the arc of justice bending/And the injured soon to march/I lost my job defending/What happens to the heart.” This intimate work has a vital, unfinished quality that poignantly evokes an iconic talent, recognized for his honesty about life, despair, and religion.
4. Killing Commendatore by Haruki Murakami (Knopf)
A new Murakami novel is something of a literary event, and this mega-book is evocative of his modern masterpiece, The Wind-up Bird Chronicle. The protagonist of this fantastical and surrealistic work is a Japanese portrait painter who sets off on a phantasmagorical journey, full of wild apparitions, Nazis, and a great deal more. In the wake of allegations of sexual harassment and assault in its ranks, the Swedish Academy has postponed its Nobel Prize in literature this year but will award two prizes in 2019, which, of course, doubles the odds for Murakami, so stock up on first editions now.
5. A Dream Called Home by Reyna Grande (Atria)
In The Distance Between Us, her memoir that was a finalist for a National Book Critics Circle award, Grande wrote about being left in a poverty-stricken town in Mexico with her abusive grandmother but fleeing across the border with her siblings to find their father, who was looking for work in California. In this sequel, she picks up her life journey as a young adult, leaving Los Angeles for college in Santa Cruz, where she grappled with finding her place in a predominantly white environment while her family disintegrated. Writing with a passion reflecting her tenacity, Grande eloquently describes discovering her voice and not only becoming the first person in her family to graduate from college, but also finding ground where she could root herself and grow as a writer.