May 24, 2013 at 04:00 AM EDT


Maria Semple

The funniest novel of 2012 — and one of the smartest — introduced Bernadette Fox to the world. A former architect who’s now the wife of a Microsoft bigwig and the mother of a 15-year-old prodigy, Bernadette plunges into a steep downward spiral as she wrestles with yuppie-monster Seattle moms and an impending family trip to Antarctica. Semple is no stranger to wildly clever comedy — she was a writer for Arrested Development — and her satire has the all-too-rare quality of being both crafty and light-footed while also showing heart and insight into life’s unexpected twists.


Hilary Mantel

Beheadings and political machinations abound in Mantel’s masterful sequel to Wolf Hall. Often vilified in history books, Henry VIII’s adviser Thomas Cromwell makes for an endlessly compelling antihero in this novel as he steamrolls his enemies, including Anne Boleyn. Bookmark the index in the beginning to keep track of the huge cast of characters — so many Thomases! — but you’ll soon find yourself swept up in a royal romp.


Ben Macintyre

Much ink has been spilled and celluloid unspooled about the WWII heroics of the soldiers who landed on the beaches of Normandy. But in his latest nonfiction book, Macintyre relates the lesser-known, almost unbelievable story of the eccentric group of spies who duped the Nazis and made Allied victory on D-Day possible. Solid research combined with novelistic thrust will satisfy history buffs as well as those looking for a gripping yarn.


Maggie Shipstead

In her razor-sharp debut, Shipstead cuts deep into the Van Meter family as they prepare for the nuptials of daughter Daphne and WASP royalty Greyson Duff at their seaside New England getaway. While it’s fun to laugh at the gin-fueled antics of the preppy elite,Seating Arrangements also delivers poignant observations on class, family, and the art of keeping up appearances.


By Tom Reiss

Reiss pulled together more than six years of research for his fascinating, Pulitzer Prize-winning biography of Gen. Alex Dumas, the long-forgotten figure who’s been dubbed ”the inspiration for the modern action hero.” The son of a black slave, Dumas rose to become a sword-swinging hero of the French Revolution, a powerful rival of Napoleon Bonaparte, and the inspiration behind his son’s novel The Count of Monte Cristo.

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