Alice McDermott (Farrar, Straus, and Giroux)

Eudora Welty once compared V.S. Pritchett’s fiction to “a well-going fire. Wasteless and, at the same time well-fed, it shoots up in flame from its own spark like a poem or magic trick.” The same could be said of McDermott, a Hopkins professor who writes with economy and elegance in this novel, which traces the life of one ordinary woman. Every page sparks with sensuous detail, fires the imagination, and leaves the reader asking, “How did she do that?”

James McHenry Forgotten Federalist

Karen E. Robins (University of Georgia Press)

Like a lot of Baltimoreans, my knowledge of Fort McHenry revolves around the War of 1812 and the writing of the national anthem. The man the fort’s named after, James McHenry, never gets much play and tends to be overlooked. Robbins recounts McHenry’s revolutionary cred—serving under Washington and Adams and representing Maryland at the Constitutional Convention—and helps move him from the margins to the pages of history.