Entertainment

NOTEWORTHY PAPERBACKS

Posted November 4, 2018 1:12 a.m. EST

A selection of summaries from The New York Times Book Review:

WINTER, by Ali Smith. (Anchor, $15.95.) In the second of Smith’s group of seasonal novels, four people — two long-estranged sisters, one of their sons and his girlfriend — converge at a sprawling house at Christmastime. Wordplay, grim humor and the uncanny (including a disembodied head that never speaks) are all thrown into the mix, and Smith has an enormously expansive vision, processing news items and our broader cultural moment.

TEN RESTAURANTS THAT CHANGED AMERICA, by Paul Freedman. (Liveright, $23.95.) The restaurants Freedman features aren’t necessarily the finest, but they represent a range ofpivots in the nation’s history. Howard Johnson’s, for example, appealed to families and pioneered franchising as a shrewd business plan. Chez Panisse’s focus on local ingredients continues to shape American taste.

FRESH COMPLAINT: Stories, by Jeffrey Eugenides. (Picador, $17.) The stories in Eugenides’ debut collection come in all shades of realism, with particular attention to one of his hallmark themes: failure, whether creative, marital or financial. Times reviewer Lauren Groff praised the book, writing, “Nearly every one of the stories in this collection is teachable, a model of its own kind of Swiss-clock craftsmanship.”

ALI: A Life, by Jonathan Eig. (Mariner/Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $16.99.) The first full biography of boxer Muhammad Ali since his death in 2016, Eig’s book offers an unsparing look at his politics, retirement and final years, including a Parkinson’s diagnosis. The themes of Ali’s life are timely and resonate today, and Eig’s fluent narrative reads like a novel; he doesn’t shy away from the darker sides of boxing that many other accounts ignore. Joyce Carol Oates, writing in The Times, called the book “an epic of a biography.”

CRAZY LIKE A FOX, by Rita Mae Brown. Illustrated by Lee Gildea Jr. (Ballantine, $16.) In Virginia horse country, a hunting horn goes missing, and only a mysterious selfie video is left as a clue. As she works the case, Sister Jane, the charming protagonist of this mystery novel, is surrounded by a number of memorable characters: a wise old gray fox; a hound at the top of his game; and a persnickety calico.

SPINELESS: The Science of Jellyfish and the Art of Growing a Backbone, by Juli Berwald. (Riverhead, $16.) Berwald’s engaging book is part memoir, part pop science, weaving together stories of her own twisting academic path along with fascinating, vivid details about the delicate creatures: Some giant species can grow to nearly 500 pounds, and others can “reverse-age” like Benjamin Button.