Mia Alvar writes about the Filipino diaspora in her story...

Mia Alvar writes about the Filipino diaspora in her story collection "In the Country." Credit: Vintage

A fresh crop of paperbacks is out on the shelves, including some of the best books published in the past year. Here’s a recommended list — four fiction, five nonfiction.


IN THE COUNTRY, by Mia Alvar (Vintage, $16.95) This debut collection by a Philippines-born author includes nine stories set in Manila, Bahrain and New York City, featuring pharmacists and housemaids, mothers and sons, exiles and those who return. Seattle Times reviewer Michael Upchurch offered the opinion that “debut story collections don’t come much better than this.”

THE STRANGLER VINE, by M.J. Carter (G.P. Putnam’s Sons, $16) M.J. Carter is another name for Miranda Carter, who has written two highly regarded biographies, one on British spy Anthony Blunt. Her deep history background shows in this thrilling mystery set in 1830s India. A famous British author has vanished into country controlled by the Thugs, a murderous religious sect. The British East India Company dispatches a green young naval officer and a mysterious special investigator to find him — and what they learn about the Thugs, the company and the author will make your hair stand on end. A second installment in this series, “The Infidel Stain,” has just been published in hardback.

A BRIEF HISTORY OF SEVEN KILLINGS, by Marlon James (Riverhead, $17) The plot of this enthralling novel, which won last year’s Man Booker Prize, is based on an assassination attempt on reggae singer Bob Marley in 1976. Narrating is a chorus of voices, from street thugs to corrupt politicians to a shady American government operative. “The rhapsodic tension and violence of the society that spawned these artists are not easy to look at, but in the hands of a writer like James, it’s impossible to look away,” Tyrone Beason wrote in a Seattle Times review.

CROW FAIR, by Thomas McGuane (Vintage Contemporaries, $16) Montana short-story master McGuane delivers another accomplished collection — stories of stoics and misfits wrestling down life. McGuane “enriches every life he renders,” said Mark Lindquist in a Seattle Times review.


DAYS OF RAGE, by Bryan Burrough (Penguin Books, $18) Maybe you thought you understood America’s radical protest movements of the 1960s-1980s, but I can almost guarantee you will learn something new from this book. Burrough, author of “Public Enemies,” dives deep into the archives and the memories of those who were there to tell the stories of the Weathermen, the Symbionese Liberation Army, the Black Liberation Army and others in a volume Times reviewer Kevin J. Hamilton called “utterly captivating.”

ROMANTIC OUTLAWS: The Extraordinary Lives of Mary Wollstonecraft and Mary Shelley, by Charlotte Gordon (Random House, $18) A mother-daughter story like no other — a dual biography of Mary Wollstonecraft, an English pioneer for women’s rights who risked her life and her reputation to write what she believed, and of her daughter Mary Shelley, author of “Frankenstein,” who ran away with a married Percy Shelley and was shunned by English society as a result. She eventually married Shelley and endured both his tragic drowning and the deaths of three of her children, but she never stopped writing. A National Book Critics Circle Award winner for biography.

THE TRIUMPH OF SEEDS, by Thor Hanson (Basic Books, $15.99) A delightful work of natural history by San Juan Islands writer Hanson, about seeds, their role in nature’s life cycle and in our lives. A Pacific Northwest Book Award winner.

H IS FOR HAWK, by Helen Macdonald (Grove Press, $16) An exquisite memoir — British author Macdonald’s account of training a goshawk (Mabel by name) while trying to recover from the unexpected death of her beloved father. “With the lightest touch and an instinct for the music in language, Helen Macdonald has hauled something precious and wise from the depths of despair,” said David Laskin in a Seattle Times review. A National Book Critics Circle Award finalist in autobiography.

ON THE MOVE, by Oliver Sacks (Vintage, $16.95) The neurologist-writer, who died of cancer in August 2015, tells the story of his varied life. “Sacks became famous, led a life rich in friends, travel, medicine, swimming daily, writing, producing critically praised best-sellers. His book ignores cancer. Instead, he ends by saying that in his lifetime he’s written millions of words and finds it as ‘fresh, and as much fun as when I started it nearly 70 years ago,’” said Irene Wanner in a Seattle Times review.

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