1 Scholars of Mayhem: My Father’s Secret War in Nazi-Occupied France by Daniel C. Guiet and Timothy K. Smith (Penguin Press)
As World War II broke out, Jean Claude Guiet was recruited to a small cadre of the Special Operations Executive, often known as Churchill’s secret army, a volunteer organization operating outside the bounds of international law. A clandestine venture, its goal was to sabotage and subvert behind enemy lines, and Guiet, who trained in codes, parachuting, and subversive warfare, worked on a small team of maquisards to create havoc and organize resistance fighters. Thrillingly told, with a deep sense of history, Scholars of Mayhem is written by Guiet’s son Daniel and Smith, a long-time wordsmith and journalist, who is a former reporter and editor for the Wall Street Journal and an editor for Fortune magazine.
2. The Last Pirate of New York: A Ghost Ship, a Killer, and the Birth of a Gangster Nation by Rich Cohen
Are Rich Cohen’s bad guys really so charming, or perhaps his writing so captivating that even the loathsome become winsome? After his best-selling Tough Jews, he detours into more contemporary unsavory characters with a detour into comical and occasionally charming ones like the Chicago Cubs and Bears, Cohen looks to the past, bringing antebellum New York’s seedy lower Manhattan to life with his fascinating story of Albert Hicks, a pirate who committed grisly multiple murders, and who, in connecting the seas to the streets, may have been New York’s first gangster. Cohen is a talented tour guide through this sordid world and the sensational trial that led to Hicks’ conviction for piracy and his execution, the last public execution in U.S. history, which still echoes today.
3. This Land Is Our Land: An Immigrant’s Manifesto by Suketu Mehta (Farrar, Straus and Giroux)
In his clarion call for global immigration, Mehta argues that the U.S. cuts immigration at its own risk, because although immigrants are a tiny fraction of the U.S. population, those affiliated with American universities have won over a third of all the Nobel Prizes in science, with an overwhelming proportion founding tech companies and dominating Silicon Valley. Mehta, who teaches at New York University, recounted his return to the claustrophobic Indian city of Mumbai in Maximum City: Bombay Lost and Found, which was a Pulitzer Prize finalist. This Land Is Our Land may be a more fiery book, but the conversational and wide-ranging Mehta segues easily from the contemporary emotional horrors of the border fence between San Diego and Tijuana, to his years growing up in New York, to his deep knowledge of history and colonialism. “I am not calling for open borders,” he writes. “I am calling for open hearts.”
4. The Summer Demands by Deborah Shapiro (Catapult)
The point of summer is to be free of demands, but in Shapiro’s engrossing, seductive sophomore novel, the emotional demands prove to have a ferocious power. At the center of the story are two women: One is married yet unmoored, and has inherited her aunt and uncle’s run-down Massachusetts summer camp; the other is half her age, a fearless and somewhat reckless blue-nailed barista with an appealing mystical quality. Shapiro keys into the vulnerabilities of the older woman and in the dynamic between the pair, and in this overgrown, wild landscape, she has written a suspenseful, provocative novel.
5. Patsy by Nicole Dennis-Benn (Liveright)
In her excellent debut novel, Here Comes the Sun, Dennis-Benn explored sex tourism in her native Jamaica, and now she has gone even further in Patsy, a big social novel and a heartbreaking and eye-opening intergenerational story about undocumented immigration, a mother’s search for herself, and a child’s yearning for what does not exist. Dennis-Benn’s novel alternates perspectives, from the Jamaican lesbian title character to the daughter she leaves behind after failing to secure a visa for them both. This is no golden-hued story of America as the promised land: Patsy moves north to follow her dreams but ends up alone, cleaning toilets and eventually finding work as a nanny, while her daughter grows up, also alone, in this exquisitely written, highly nuanced, and powerful work of fiction.