by Robert Harris
In Conspirata, British political journalist turned novelist Robert Harris recounts the life of the ancient Roman politician Cicero in a way that easily resonates with our modern political debates. While an earlier novel, Imperium, traced Cicero's rise to power in the Roman republic, this one tells the story of Cicero's tumultuous year as the Roman chief executive. Harris does a wonderful job bringing Cicero to life, not as a white marble bust but as a very human politician making choices — some of them inspired, some of them mistaken, most of them a little of both. As Cicero struggles to realize his great ambition while preserving as much as he can of his principles, he tacks left and right like a ship sailing against the wind. The delight of Harris' plotting is the way that whenever Cicero takes a political shortcut, it comes back to bite him later.
400 pages, $16, Pocket Books
by Louise Erdrich
Shadow Tag is the story of a marriage unraveling. Irene America, a Native American scholar with a drinking problem and a long unfinished thesis weighing down on her confidence, is married to Gil, a Native American painter famous for his stunning and sometimes degrading depictions of his favorite and only model, his wife. As the book begins, Irene discovers that Gil has been reading her diary, and so she begins a fake diary filled with untruths, to plant doubts about her fidelity in her husband's mind. As the couple's tension intensifies, their three children become watchful and wary of their father's violent outbursts. It sounds grim, but Erdrich's gift for storytelling leaves the reader wanting and needing to know what happens next, hoping somehow that things will turn out all right for these quirky, smart and devastatingly vulnerable children. The novel's ending is like one of those movies where you think the climax has been reached and, just as you begin to breathe normally, a new twist springs up and leaves you stunned.
272 pages, $14.99, Harper Perennial
Known To Evil
by Walter Mosley
This second installment of Walter Mosley's new detective series opens at the dinner table — walnut cabinet, Blue Danube china, old quart pickle jar doing duty as a flower vase — then takes you inside the head of private detective Leonid McGill. Shades of Mosley's Easy Rawlins have made their way into this new character — which is good and bad. As McGill tries to find a missing woman, avoid police determined to jail him, deal with his imploding marriage, protect his sons from themselves, fend off a move to evict him from his offices and heal from a broken heart administered by an ex-lover, some readers may feels he's just an updated Easy in a new location. But Known to Evil is still good reading. As usual, Mosley keeps the twists and turns coming, artfully laying out a string of complications that lead you forward like a kitten chasing yarn, and ultimately waiting for the next installment.
352 pages, $15, NAL Trade
The Big Short
Inside the Doomsday Machine
by Michael Lewis
Even though it's been three years since the economy started its spiral, most of us still don't understand what "collateralized debt obligations" are, and why they've made our checking accounts dwindle. As a young investor who studied subprime mortgage bonds tells investigative journalist Michael Lewis: "[T]here's a reason why it doesn't quite make sense to us. It's because it doesn't quite make sense." In The Big Short, however, Lewis manages to explain the roots of the financial crisis in an absorbing, easy-to-understand way. His smart, entertaining book follows a handful of mavericks who saw the subprime mortgage crisis coming and, to the tune of millions, profitably shorted — i.e., bet against — the market. The present economic meltdown has changed everything, of course, from the way Americans vote to the way we conduct wars; The Big Short provides a necessary, if discouraging, explanation of how one of the worst financial crises in history came to pass.
320 pages, $15.95, W.W. Norton & Co.
by Elizabeth Gilbert
Having each survived painful divorces, Elizabeth Gilbert and Felipe, the Brazilian-born Australian citizen she fell in love with at the end of her best-selling memoir, Eat, Pray, Love, promised to love but never marry. But they are forced into a decision by a Homeland Security agent who detains Felipe at an airport: They must marry or he cannot live with her in the U.S. During months in exile, Gilbert agonizes about her reservations and explores the meaning of marriage across cultures and its historic implications for women. It's a book you can read in one sitting, made all the more fascinating by the idea that this megaselling author ditched the first draft of the sequel to Eat, Pray, Love. She seems wiser the second time around, and her conversations with her mother and grandmother give a telling and touching three-generational perspective.
304 pages, $16, Penguin Books
Charlotte Abbott edits "New in Paperback." A contributing editor for Publishers Weekly, she also leads a weekly chat on books and reading in the digital age every Friday from 4-5 p.m. ET on Twitter. Follow her at @charabbott or check out the #followreader hashtag .