Beatrice And Virgil: A Novel
by Yann Martel
Yann Martel, the Canadian author of the Booker Prize-winning Life of Pi, enchanted readers around the world with his picaresque tale of an Indian boy who survives 227 days aboard a lifeboat with a 450-pound Bengal tiger. Martel's new novel, Beatrice and Virgil, is another parable involving animals, but the results are more mixed. As with Pi, Martel divides his tale into multiple parts — an introductory discussion of a successful author named Henry's failed attempts to create a part-fact, part-fiction book about the Holocaust; a midsection in which he meets a sinister taxidermist, who asks him to collaborate on a Beckett-style play in which a donkey (Beatrice) and a howler monkey (Virgil) are starved and tortured; and a coda that describes horrific human practices in the concentration camps. Martel's use of a naive tone to explore the question of evil is reminiscent of Voltaire's Candide, but it lacks Voltaire's satiric edge. Still, Beatrice and Virgil is likely to appeal to many of Martel's fans.
224 pages, $14, Spiegel & Grau
Angelology: A Novel
by Danielle Trussoni
What do you get when an Iowa Writers' Workshop graduate and critically acclaimed memoirist vies for the same readers who loved Dan Brown's The Da Vinci Code? In the case of Danielle Trussoni's Angelology, the answer is a spellbinding quest novel built around puzzling lines in the Bible: specifically, the verse in Genesis that details how "the sons of God came in unto the daughters of men, and they bore children to them." In an eventful 48 hours, the young, beautiful nun Sister Evangeline discovers what she must do to protect humankind from the descendants of those angel-human unions — the monstrously beautiful Nephilim — who have been at war with mankind ever since. The novel succeeds despite Sister Evangeline's lack of life experience and depth, and a very long narrative flashback. Readers of The Da Vinci Code will find Angelology far less threatening to church doctrine — and almost as fascinating.
480 pages, $16, Penguin Books
The Heights: A Novel
by Peter Hedges
Peter Hedges has long had one foot in cinema and the other in literature. He adapted his novel What's Eating Gilbert Grape into a successful film and received an Oscar nomination for his screenplay of About a Boy. The Heights is his first novel in a decade, and it takes place in Brooklyn Heights, just across the river from Manhattan, where "you can't be bored because of the view," as one protagonist puts it. Hedges tracks the unfolding lives of gossipy parents known as "Mom with Moxie," "Mom Who Knows More About You than You Do" and even "Mom with a Beard." He bounces the narrative voice back and forth between Tim and Kate, husband and wife, as a glamorous newcomer moves into the Heights and pulls them into her orbit. The result is an inoffensive dramedy likely to resonate with anyone who daydreams about straying beyond the confines of their wedding vows.
304 pages, $15, Plume Books
by Diarmaid MacCulloch
MacCulloch, who teaches the history of the church at Oxford University, has put his interest in the multiple ways in which Christianity has morphed, clashed, invented and reinvented itself into a massive new book called Christianity: The First Three Thousand Years. That subtitle isn't an error. MacCulloch says it was important to look back over the 1,000 years that preceded Jesus' birth to see how Christianity shaped itself, and at the timelines of the two cultures that influenced what the religion would become. Over its nearly 1,200 pages, MacCulloch's book looks at issues that split the church and helped it to grow: the language Jesus spoke, how churches and Christian communities spread after his death, the unpredictability of Rome becoming the center of the Christian world, and why some countries remain resistant to Christianity while their neighbors embrace it.
1,184 pages, $25, 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 .