Borne of his experience fighting in Iraq, Brian Van Reet’s Spoils is a clear-eyed, gritty, and tension-filled story of young soldiers caught up in impossible circumstances. At the heart of the story is Cassandra, a 19 year old machine gunner who is captured by the enemy. Her ordeal as captive, along with two fellow soldiers, is harrowing but also insightful into the characters of the soldiers and their captors. Recent and current conflicts have inspired some excellent fiction and Spoils ranks with the best of it.
Set right here in Northwest D.C., Jonathan Safran Foer’s novel Here I Am (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, $28) is the story of a family in crisis. When Julia discovers a series of explicit text messages on her husband Jacob Bloch’s phone, it spells doom for their relationship and major changes for the couple’s three sons. Meanwhile, an earthquake in Israel leads to chaos in the Middle East that stretches all the way to the Bloch household. With wisdom and humor, Foer has produced another immensely entertaining novel. Here I Am captures the contradictions and enigmas of contemporary life and the immensity of love, even in a disintegrating family. Mark LaFramboise
In Heroes of the Frontier (Knopf, $28.95), Dave Eggers tells the story of Josie, who has left her dental practice and taken her two young children in a rickety RV (affectionately called “the chateau”) and fled to the wilderness of Alaska. Their adventure is exciting and memorable, but the most appealing aspect of Eggers’s novel is the depiction of Josie’s kids, Ana and Paul. Ana is an indefatigable force, likely to break anything she touches. Paul is an old soul, wise beyond his eight years, and his sister’s constant guardian. Together the three of them forge a unique and hilarious camaraderie. This is a book that pushes all the right buttons: heart, adventure, intelligence—all woven together to create a great novel.