A tough Michigan girl takes to the waterways in search of her mother. Life as a runaway teenager on the river turns out to be rough, but this heroine is up to the task. (W.W. Norton, $25.95)

"The Evolution of Bruno Littlemore" by Benjamin Hale

A primatologist takes a talking chimp under her wing, but she has no way of knowing the problems this unique chimp will have in the real world (Twelve, $25.99)

"You Think That's Bad: Stories" by Jim Shepard

Shepard tumbles through landscapes and time zones with a keen eye for the details that make each of his wild tales a winner. (Knopf, $24.95)

"Turn of Mind" by Alice LaPlante

This spooky thriller about a retired orthopedic surgeon suffering from dementia is both a poetic portrait and a page-turner. (Atlantic Monthly Press, $24)

"In This Light: New and Selected Stories" by Melanie Rae Thon

The undaunted Thon writes of brutal events — a child's murder at the hands of a slave nurse — but she threads compassion into all of her stories. (Graywolf Press, $16)


"And So It Goes: Kurt Vonnegut: A Life" by Charles J. Shields

This is the first time the esteemed author Vonnegut has been examined so thoroughly in a biography. Shields' excellent writing glows with his meticulous research culled from five years of access to Vonnegut's private letters. (Holt, $30)

"Cocktail Hour Under the Tree of Forgetfulness" by Alexandra Fuller

Fuller, who wowed us with her 2001 memoir "Don't Let's Go to the Dogs Tonight," revisits her tumultuous African childhood in this sequel. Her dry wit again cuts through the horrors she experienced as a child. (Penguin Press, $25.95)

"A Singular Woman: The Untold Story of Barack Obama's Mother" by Janny Scott

New York Times reporter Scott provides a nuanced portrait of the independent feminist who raised our current President. (Riverhead, $26.95)

"Midnight Rising: John Brown and the Raid That Sparked the Civil War" by Tony Horwitz

Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Horwitz revisits the infamous raid on Harpers Ferry and brings to life the vibrant people who ignited our country's Civil War. The ugly political divisions of that time strike a familiar chord today. (Henry Holt, $29)

"The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined" by Steven Pinker

Despite the dreary news out there, Pinker makes the case that worldwide violence is historically lower than it has ever been. Now these are happy tidings for the New Year! (Viking, $40)