Paperback picks

Time for a paperback roundup! Here are six potentially intoxicating reads — and, did you know your local indie bookstore is quite possibly open for curbside service? Call them up and order one of these, or ask for a recommendation.

The Ghosts of Eden Park: The Bootleg King, the Women Who Pursued Him, and the Murder that Shocked Jazz-Age America” by Karen Abbott (Crown, $18). This work of true-crime history — an Edgar Award nominee — introduces us to a famed 1920s bootlegger (at one point, he owned 35% of the liquor in the U.S.) tried for the murder of his wife. A Washington Post reviewer wrote that “Great Gatsby” author F. Scott Fitzgerald “would undoubtedly have appreciated this heady cocktail of murder, intrigue and Jazz Age excess.”

Trust Exercise” by Susan Choi (Henry Holt & Co., $15.99). Choi’s fifth novel, winner of the 2019 National Book Award for fiction, is initially set at a 1980s drama school, where several teenage students are manipulated by a charismatic teacher. A reviewer in The Guardian noted that the book is marketed, accurately, as a #MeToo novel, but “this designation doesn’t capture the complexity of Choi’s investigation into human relations. What she’s done, magisterially, is to take the issues raised by #MeToo and show them as inextricable from more universal questions about taking a major role in someone else’s life, while knowing that we’re offering only a minor part in return.”

Tiny Imperfections” by Alli Frank and Asha Youmans (Putnam, $16). This lighthearted debut novel, from two Seattleites who’ve spent their careers in education, centers on the director of admissions of a posh San Francisco private school — a single mother busily trying to sort out her job, her love life and her family. Kirkus Reviews called it a “fun, snappy read about the over-the-top world of private school admissions and the unbreakable bonds of family.”

The Sentence Is Death” by Anthony Horowitz (HarperCollins, $16.99). I love how Horowitz’s mystery novels (previous titles include “Magpie Murders” and “The Word Is Murder”) play with narration and character; there’s always an insouciant twist you don’t see coming. This one is his second featuring Inspector Daniel Hawthorne — and a supporting character who just happens to be a writer named Anthony Horowitz, hired to write a book for Hawthorne. An NPR reviewer wrote “Horowitz mimics Golden Age authors (Christie, Allingham, Marsh, Sayers) so well in his books’ scope and denouements that fans of both puzzle and cozy mysteries will savor the balance of clues and cups of tea (OK, more often pints and cocktails, here) that the author seems to have imbibed like mother’s milk.”

Becoming Dr. Seuss: Theodor Geisel and the Making of an American Imagination” by Brian Jay Jones (Penguin, $18). The man who invented the Grinch, the Lorax and the Cat in the Hat — and who, apparently, coined the word “nerd” — is the subject of this carefully researched biography. “As all successful biographers should do, Jones doesn’t cheerlead his own writing style by adding unnecessary flourishes or similes; he lets the subject’s actions and quotes energize the book,” wrote a Washington Post reviewer. “Thankfully, Geisel is a hilarious and insightful character whose love of literature is almost as infectious as his timeless rhymes.”

The Turn of the Key” by Ruth Ware (Gallery/Scout Press, $16.99). Ware is awfully good at British haunted-house novels, and this one adds a modern twist to Henry James’ “The Turn of the Screw”: A nanny arrives at a beautiful home in the Scottish Highlands — a place wired with an app that its owners can control from afar. “‘The Turn of the Key’ contains all the most pleasurable hallmarks of the genre,” wrote an NPR reviewer: “secret garden, handsome handyman, ghostly footsteps, a locked attic, whispers in the village of hauntings and deaths, a scribbled warning from the last nanny.” She calls it “a clever and elegant update to James’s story, one with less ambiguity but its own eerie potency.”