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Nahoonkara: A Novel

Peter Grandbois

Etruscan Press, $16.95/paperback (Release date: Feb. 22)

Peter Grandbois tackles grief's essence by demonstrating its transmission across generations in Nahoonkara, which takes us from rural Wisconsin to a Colorado silver mining town. This 19th-century tale of a single family and its sequential losses — as well as the multi-generational trauma that crafts each individual character — is told by a number of narrators in rotating chapters. Pain gets passed along, often without either the giver or the recipient knowing its source. Grandbois uses some elements of what's usually called "magical realism" — one narrator, Killian, is a sort of brain-damaged mystic — to provide the big picture. Why does a man raise his brothers' children, or a woman turn to whoring with her husband's employees? The amazing and masterful thing is the way that Grandbois ties this very personal, family story to the larger narrative of American expansion; it's not overt, but we see clearly how individual pain leads to national empire. — Kel Munger

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The Weird Sisters

Eleanor Brown

Amy Einhorn Books/Putnam, $24.95/hardcover

I'm a fan of the word "weird." You must contort lips and jaw to say it, and you must do mental backflips to use it; it can connote the disturbing, the outré, the sublimely foolish, and of course — as Shakespeare's bloodthirsty Scots use it — the inevitability of fate. Deliciously, Colorado author Eleanor Brown's novel Weird Sisters makes use of them all. From the moment we plunge into the collective conscious of Rosalind, Bianca and Cordelia (scions of a Shakespeare professor), the disturbing details of their rapidly crash-landing lives collide with sublime foolery in the form of lively, literary wit. But it's the last of those "weirds" — the "wyrd," if you want to be picky — that gives the novel its virtuoso impact. Amid the dark humor and even darker themes of failure, illness and dysfunction, there shines a redemptive tale about the pressure exerted by the sisters' inner sense of wyrd — and what happens when they throw it off completely. — Claire Swinford

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Zita the Spacegirl

Ben Hatke

First Second, $10.99/paperback

With touches of Alice in Wonderland, The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy and a plethora of younger children's books, Ben Hatke's debut graphic novel — aimed at 8- to 12-year-olds — isn't mind-blowingly original. But it's deftly written and illustrated by the author and surprisingly fun to read, even as an adult. Zita is our strong heroine, sans superpowers, who transports to another world to rescue her friend from squiggly, nefarious forces that snatched him from Earth. There, she befriends a fun, multi-creature cast that includes a giant mouse, a cantankerous robot (the most entertaining character) and a shy, clunky automaton with a big, game-changing secret. Hatke, the father of three daughters, gifts his protagonist a fearless spirit and endows the text with plenty of wit. The book's inside jacket sets this up as "Book One: Far From Home," and the author's bio at the end promises more adventures for Zita. If those tales are this endearing, count me in. — Matthew Schniper

  • Nahoonkara: A Novel, The Weird Sisters, Zita the Spacegirl

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