Ellen Heltzel: Fall's Best Books

      Book Critic Ellen Heltzel says that Fall brings out all the heavy hitters in fiction -- writers who hope their newest books will become the holiday gift of choice. This year there's a bumper crop of storytelling from some of the best, including --

      1. A TALE OF INDIA: "The Lowlands," by Jhumpa Lahiri. Lahiri, English-born but of Indian descent, came out of nowhere to win the Pulitzer Prize for her first story collection about a decade ago. Then came her novel "The Namesake" and its movie version. Now she's back with a novel of two brothers whose lives are shaped by India's independence and the repressive regimes that follow. One brother comes to America for more schooling while the other chooses radical politics -- a choice that shapes the fate of the entire family. ***

      2. ALL YOU NEED IS LOVE: "Someone," by Alice McDermott. Here's another writer of rare insight, a winner of the National Book Award for her novel "Charming Billy." In this new novel, she tells the story of Marie, a young woman growing up in Brooklyn's Irish Catholic community after World War II. She's no saint, this Marie, but as she experiences life's disappointments and small victories, we see the importance of connection in an imperfect world. ***

      3. HELICOPTER PARENT: "Enon," by Paul Harding. Sorrow frames this story of a man whose only child, a daughter, is killed in a biking accident when she's 13. In the year that follows, he collapses into his grief, letting go of his wife and the community in which he was raised. This sad but well-told tale is also a cautionary one about parents whose children provide their only sense of meaning.

      4. AGE OF DISCOVERY: "The Signature of All Things," by Elizabeth Gilbert. Gilbert, best known for her memoir "Eat, Pray, Love," is back with a blockbuster novel about a woman botanist whose life plays out against the backdrop of scientific discovery during the 19th century. This is more than the story of a restless heroine; it's not only a well-researched survey of the era but also a tour de force of the imagination. ***

      5. MYTH MAKERS: "MaddAddam," by Margaret Atwood. Canada's best-known novelist first peered into the future with "The Handmaid's Tale," which took readers into a grim future where women are forced to bear children. Then came two more novels that take us down a grim path to tomorrow, with humans disappearing in a man-made plague and the world basically falling apart. In this, the final installment of a trilogy, she focuses on a sympathetic group of survivors, the MaddAddamites, whose relative decency has an irrational side. You get the impression that Atwood doesn't take much stock in religion. But she sure can write.

      *** These are Ellen's favorites.