Beat the Reaper
by Josh Bazell (Little, Brown, $25)
For “flat-out” entertainment, no other January novel tops Josh Bazell’s “savvy and savagely diverting” comic thriller, said Sherryl Connelly in the New York Daily News. A former Mafia hit man is completing his medical residency at a New York hospital when one of his cancer patients recognizes him and threatens to blow his cover. “Told with exquisite acerbic humor,” the story “only gets better, turn by turn, page by page.” Think of it as a Quentin Tarantino movie made with Martin Scorsese “looking over his shoulder.”

College Girl
by Patricia Weitz (Riverhead, $25)
“Not everything rings true” in Patricia Weitz’s tale about a shy ­college senior who self-destructs after losing her virginity, said Kate Ward in Entertainment Weekly. But Weitz is so dead-on about “the pain and insecurity attached to campus life and love” that the loose ends hardly matter. College Girl will remind plenty of readers of the stupid decisions of their own early 20s. That alone makes an evening in its company more enjoyable than “a boozy night at a frat party.”

The Piano Teacher
by Janice Y.K. Lee (Viking, $26)
Janice Lee’s fast-moving, Hong Kong–set novel “reads so much like a film treatment that you can cast the major parts in your head as you sail along,” said Craig Seligman in The title character falls into an affair with an English chauffeur whose past includes a wartime imprisonment and a tumultuous romance. While the plot regularly “whets your appetite” for cinematic payoffs, the text veers toward earnest literary goals it can’t quite accomplish. Still, you may be too engrossed by the book’s mix of danger and glamour to care.

Going to See the Elephant
by Rodes Fishburne (Delacorte, $22)
Rodes Fishburne’s “smart, frolicsome, and charming” debut puts a contemporary spin on the standard superhero story, said Donna Seaman in Booklist. Soon after the novel’s naïve young hero arrives in San Francisco, determined to make it big as a writer, he falls in love, locks horns with the mayor, and stumbles upon a mad scientist. Fishburne adopts a “shrewdly stylized Jazz Age tone” to put all this hokum over, and he enlivens the yarn with “blithely caustic social commentary.”