"Snow Flower and the Secret Fan: A Novel," by Lisa See

See's engrossing novel set in remote 19th-century China details the deeply affecting story of lifelong, intimate friends (laotong , or "old sames") Lily and Snow Flower, their imprisonment by rigid codes of conduct for women and their betrayal by pride and love. While granting immediacy to Lily's voice, See (“Flower Net”) adroitly transmits historical background in graceful prose. Her in-depth research into women's ceremonies and duties in China's rural interior brings fascinating revelations about arranged marriages, women's inferior status in both their natal and married homes, and the Confucian proverbs and myriad superstitions that informed daily life. Beginning with a detailed and heartbreaking description of Lily and her sisters' foot binding ("Only through pain will you have beauty. Only through suffering will you have peace"), the story widens to a vivid portrait of family and village life. Most impressive is See's incorporation of nu shu , a secret written phonetic code among women—here between Lily and Snow Flower—that dates back 1,000 years in the southwestern Hunan province ("My writing is soaked with the tears of my heart,/ An invisible rebellion that no man can see"). As both a suspenseful and poignant story and an absorbing historical chronicle, this novel has bestseller potential and should become a reading group favorite as well.

— Publishers Weekly

“If the Creek Don't Rise: A Novel," by Leah Weiss

In this tender but powerful debut, Weiss paints both the bright and the dark in the lives of her fictional Appalachian community’s denizens. It is the fall of 1970 in Baines Creek, N.C., where pregnant teen Sadie Blue is newly married to her unborn child’s father, Rory Tupkin, a bully doesn’t hesitate to beat her. Her grandmother, Gladys Hicks, once had to deal with her own abusive husband and feels that it is up to Sadie to do the same. Marris Jones is a good-hearted woman who wants to help Sadie, as does Kate Shaw, the strong-willed teacher new to the mountain, and Birdie Rocas, the witchy woman. Each of these women bring some good to Sadie’s life and to others in the community. Others, like Rory and the preacher’s sister, Prudence Perkins, only bring venom and pain to those around them. All of these and more get a chapter or two to spin their own tales, while Sadie’s story slips in and out, highlighting Weiss’s considerable characterization skills.

— Publishers Weekly

Nonfiction

"The Lady in Gold: The Extraordinary Tale of Gustav Klimt's Masterpiece, Bloch-Bauer," by Anne-Marie O'Connor

One of Gustav Klimt’s most celebrated paintings (sold to Ronald Lauder for a record $135 million in 2006 and now in the Neue Galerie in New York City, encapsulates a fascinating, complicated cultural history of fin-de-siècle Vienna, its Jewish intelligentsia, and their near complete destruction by the Nazis. Washington Post journalist O’Connor traces the multifaceted history of Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer (1907) in this intriguing, energetically composed, but overly episodic study of Klimt, Adele Bloch-Bauer, and her niece, Maria Bloch-Bauer who reclaimed five Klimt paintings stolen by the Nazis and was extensively interviewed by O’Connor. According to Maria, Adele was “a modern woman, living in the world of yesterday.” The book’s first and strongest section vividly evokes the intellectually precocious and ambitious Adele’s rich cultural and social milieu in Vienna, and how she became entwined with the charismatic, sexually charged, and irreverent Klimt, who may have been Adele’s lover before and also during her marriage. During WWII, Adele’s portrait was renamed by the Nazis as the Dame in Gold to erase her Jewish identity. O’Connor’s final arguments about the tragic yet redemptive symbolism of Adele’s portrait are poignant and convincing: while it represents the failure of the dream of Jews like Adele to assimilate, through the painting she achieves “her dream of immortality.”

— Publishers Weekly

"Chosen by a Horse: How a Broken Horse Fixed a Broken Heart," by Susan Richards

The horse was Lay Me Down, a tall, scrawny, sick (with pneumonia), abused standardbred mare, with a hostile foal at her heels and a wheezing sigh. The human was middle-aged, also abused (both as a child and in a bad marriage), an AA veteran and the owner of three Morgan horses in upstate New York. The Morgan mare, Georgia, was furious about the new intruder, although, Richards writes, "I blamed myself for creating a monster, a monster named Georgia. All these years of spoiling her, of never allowing anyone else to ride her, of letting her boss me around...." Richards's first book is an engaging, honest and low-key memoir of her love affair with the sweet-natured Lay Me Down and her almost love affair with a fellow named Hank, with many digressions into horse lore as well as life lore. Charming and sensitive descriptions of fiery Georgia; the gallant, lovable old gelding, Hotshot; loyal friend and "horsewoman extraordinaire" Allie; and daily life with animals intersperse with the trials of dating and buying underwear. The end of neither affair is happy, but this is a bracing and likable book, highly recommended for backyard horsewomen and their admirers.

— Publishers Weekly

Others

"The Alienist," by Caleb Carr (fiction)

"Child 44," by Tom Rob Smith (fiction)

"Dog Songs," by Mary Oliver (nonfiction)

"Shadow Divers: The True Adventure of Two Americans Who Risked Everything to Solve One of the Last Mysteries of World War II," by Robert Kurson (nonfiction)