17 May 2019

13 Novels for Your Wish List; Or What to Look for at Book Expo (2019)

For the second year in a row I will not be able to attend Book Expo in New York. I'm not all that upset because the real-life trade-offs I made are well worth it. On the downside, I hate missing the chance to visit with friends, see the city, and eat some good food. I'm also sorry to miss out on learning about all the new books coming out in the second half of the year.

I can't do anything about compensating for missed face-to-face conversations with friends, but I can do something about the books. I've been paying attention to the Book Expo buzz and looking through publishers' catalogues to discover the upcoming titles that I would have looked for when at Book Expo.

I found many good books to look forward to, and I want to share some of my discoveries with you. I'm going to save the thrillers, mysteries, and other crime fiction titles for next week, and I think I'll wait until closer to publishing dates to talk about speculative fiction and nonfiction.

Today, I'm featuring 13 novels that caught my eye. These are nowhere near the only books that interest me, but I'm making a start on my fall reading wish list. In the descriptions that follow, I tell you why I want to read each book and then provide the publisher's summary.

Authors I Like

all about The Starless Sea by Erin MorgensternThe Starless Sea by Erin Morgenstern (Doubleday, Nov. 5) Why: mysterious book, puzzle to be solved, non-reality

Zachary Ezra Rawlins is a graduate student in Vermont when he discovers a mysterious book hidden in the stacks. As he turns the pages, entranced by tales of lovelorn prisoners, key collectors, and nameless acolytes, he reads something strange: a story from his own childhood. Bewildered by this inexplicable book and desperate to make sense of how his own life came to be recorded, Zachary uncovers a series of clues—a bee, a key, and a sword—that lead him to a masquerade party in New York, to a secret club, and through a doorway to an ancient library hidden far below the surface of the earth.

What Zachary finds in this curious place is more than just a buried home for books and their guardians—it is a place of lost cities and seas, lovers who pass notes under doors and across time, and of stories whispered by the dead. Zachary learns of those who have sacrificed much to protect this realm, relinquishing their sight and their tongues to preserve this archive, and also of those who are intent on its destruction. Together with Mirabel, a fierce, pink-haired protector of the place, and Dorian, a handsome, barefoot man with shifting alliances, Zachary travels the twisting tunnels, darkened stairwells, crowded ballrooms, and sweetly soaked shores of this magical world, discovering his purpose—in both the mysterious book and in his own life.

all about The Innocents by Michael CrummeyThe Innocents by Michael Crummey (Doubleday, Nov. 12): Why: setting (Newfoundland), the premise
A brother and sister are orphaned in an isolated cove on Newfoundland’s northern coastline. Their home is a stretch of rocky shore governed by the feral ocean, by a relentless pendulum of abundance and murderous scarcity. Still children with only the barest notion of the outside world, they have nothing but the family’s boat and the little knowledge passed on haphazardly by their mother and father to keep them.

Muddling though the severe round of the seasons, through years of meager catches and storms and ravaging illness, it is their fierce loyalty to each other that motivates and sustains them. But as seasons pass and they wade deeper into the mystery of their own natures, even that loyalty will be tested.

all about Red at the Bone by Jacqueline WoodsonRed at the Bone by Jacqueline Woodson (Riverhead, Sept. 17): Why: I'll read anything Woodson writes.
As the book opens in 2001, it is the evening of sixteen-year-old Melody’s coming of age ceremony in her grandparents’ Brooklyn brownstone. Watched lovingly by her relatives and friends, making her entrance to the soundtrack of Prince, she wears a special custom-made dress. But the event is not without poignancy. Sixteen years earlier, that very dress was measured and sewn for a different wearer: Melody’s mother, for her own ceremony—a celebration that ultimately never took place.

Unfurling the history of Melody’s parents and grandparents to show how they all arrived at this moment, Woodson considers not just their ambitions and successes but also the costs, the tolls they’ve paid for striving to overcome expectations and escape the pull of history. As it explores sexual desire and identity, ambition, gentrification, education, class and status, and the life-altering facts of parenthood, Red at the Bone most strikingly looks at the ways in which young people must so often make long-lasting decisions about their lives—even before they have begun to figure out who they are and what they want to be.

all about Nothing to See Here by Kevin WilsonNothing to See Here by Kevin Wilson (Ecco, Nov. 5): Why: humor, themes (families, twins)
Lillian and Madison were the unlikeliest of roommates at their elite boarding school: Madison, the daughter of a prominent Atlanta family, being groomed for greatness; Lillian, a scholarship student, plucked out of nowhere based solely on her intellect and athletic prowess. The two were as tight as could be, reveling in their unique weirdnesses, until Lillian had to leave the school unexpectedly.

Years later, the two have lost touch, but Madison writes and begs Lillian for help. Her husband’s twin stepkids are moving in with them and she wants Lillian to be their caretaker. However, there’s a catch: the twins can spontaneously combust when they get agitated, flames igniting from their skin in a disturbing but beautiful way.

Disbelieving at first but ultimately too intrigued by these strange children, Lillian agrees. And as they hunker down in the pool house, Lillian and the twins learn to trust each other—and stay cool—just as Madison’s family is bracing for a major announcement. It all seems impossible to manage, but Lillian soon accepts that she and the children need each other, urgently and fiercely.With a white-hot wit and a big, tender heart, Kevin Wilson has written a most unusual story of deep parental love that proves to be his best book yet.

Diversifying My Reading List

all about On Swift Horses by Shannon PufahlOn Swift Horses by Shannon Pufahl (Riverhead, Nov. 5): Why: setting (American West, 1950s), themes (including LGBTQ+).
Muriel is newly married and restless, transplanted from her rural Kansas hometown to life in a dusty bungalow in San Diego. The air is rich with the tang of salt and citrus, but the limits of her new life seem to be closing in: She misses her freethinking mother, dead before Muriel’s nineteenth birthday, and her sly, itinerant brother-in-law, Julius, who made the world feel bigger than she had imagined. And so she begins slipping off to the Del Mar racetrack to bet and eavesdrop, learning the language of horses and risk. Meanwhile, Julius is testing his fate in Las Vegas, working at a local casino where tourists watch atomic tests from the roof, and falling in love with Henry, a young card cheat. When Henry is eventually discovered and run out of town, Julius takes off to search for him in the plazas and dives of Tijuana, trading one city of dangerous illusions and indiscretions for another.

all about Dominicana by Angie CruzDominicana by Angie Cruz (Flatiron, Sept. 3): Why: themes (immigration, feminism. POC), setting (1960s New York)
Fifteen-year-old Ana Cancion never dreamed of moving to America, the way the girls she grew up with in the Dominican countryside did. But when Juan Ruiz proposes and promises to take her to New York City, she has to say yes. It doesn’t matter that he is twice her age, that there is no love between them. Their marriage is an opportunity for her entire close-knit family to eventually immigrate. So on New Year’s Day, 1965, Ana leaves behind everything she knows and becomes Ana Ruiz, a wife confined to a cold six-floor walk-up in Washington Heights. Lonely and miserable, Ana hatches a reckless plan to escape. But at the bus terminal, she is stopped by Cesar, Juan’s free-spirited younger brother, who convinces her to stay.

As the Dominican Republic slides into political turmoil, Juan returns to protect his family’s assets, leaving Cesar to take care of Ana. Suddenly, Ana is free to take English lessons at a local church, lie on the beach at Coney Island, see a movie at Radio City Music Hall, go dancing with Cesar, and imagine the possibility of a different kind of life in America. When Juan returns, Ana must decide once again between her heart and her duty to her family.

all about Such a Fun Age by Kiley ReidSuch a Fun Age by Kiley Reid (Putnam, Jan. 7, 2020): Why: themes (race, class, social media), setting (Philadelphia)
Alix Chamberlain is a woman who gets what she wants and has made a living showing other women how to do the same. A mother to two small girls, she started out as a blogger and has quickly built herself into a confidence-driven brand. So she is shocked when her babysitter, Emira Tucker, is confronted while watching the Chamberlains’ toddler one night. Seeing a young black woman out late with a white child, a security guard at their local high-end supermarket accuses Emira of kidnapping two-year-old Briar. A small crowd gathers, a bystander films everything, and Emira is furious and humiliated. Alix resolves to make it right.

But Emira herself is aimless, broke, and wary of Alix’s desire to help. At twenty-five, she is about to lose her health insurance and has no idea what to do with her life. When the video of Emira unearths someone from Alix’s past, both women find themselves on a crash course that will upend everything they think they know about themselves, and each other.

all aboutYour House Will Pay by Steph Cha (Ecco, Oct. 15): Why: themes (race, police violence), setting (LA)
In the wake of the police shooting of a black teenager, Los Angeles is as tense as it’s been since the unrest of the early 1990s. Protests and vigils are being staged all over the city. It’s in this dangerous tinderbox that two families must finally confront their pasts.

Grace Park lives a sheltered existence: living at home with her Korean-immigrant parents, working at the family pharmacy, and trying her best to understand why her sister Miriam hasn’t spoken to their mother in years. The chasm in her family is growing wider by the day and Grace is desperate for reconciliation, and frustrated by the feeling that her sister and parents are shielding her from the true cause of the falling out.

Shawn Matthews is dealing with a fractured family of his own. His sister, Ava, was murdered as a teenager back in 1991, and this new shooting is bringing up painful memories. Plus, his cousin Ray is just released from prison and needs to reconnect with their family after so many years away. While Shawn is trying his best to keep his demons at bay, he’s not sure Ray can do the same.

When another shocking crime hits LA, the Parks and the Matthewses collide in ways they never could have expected. After decades of loss, violence, and injustice, tensions come to a head and force a reckoning that could clear the air or lead to more violence.

My Kind of Book

all about Call Upon the Water by Stella TillyardCall Upon the Water by Stella Tillyard (Atria, Sept. 17): Why: time period (1600s), themes (engineering, New World, love/hate, women)
In 1649, Jan Brunt arrives in Great Britain from the Netherlands to work on draining and developing an expanse of marshy wetlands known as the Great Level. It is here in this wild country that he meets Eliza, a local woman whose love overturns his ordered vision. Determined to help her strive beyond her situation, Jan is heedless of her devotion to her home and way of life. When she uses the education Jan has given her to sabotage his work, Eliza is brutally punished, and Jan flees to the New World.

In the American colonies, profiteers on Manatus Eyland are hungry for viable land to develop, and Jan’s skills as an engineer are highly prized. His prosperous new life is rattled, however, on a spring morning when a boy delivers a note that prompts him to remember the Great Level, and confront all that was lost there. Eliza has made it to the New World and is once again using the education Jan gave her to bend the landscape—this time to find her own place of freedom.

all about The Grammarians by Cathleen Schine The Grammarians by Cathleen Schine (Sarah Crichton, Sept. 3): Why: themes (language, twins), other (copyeditor, dictionaries, language)
An enchanting, comic love letter to sibling rivalry and the English language

The Grammarians are Laurel and Daphne Wolfe, identical, inseparable redheaded twins who share an obsession with words. They speak a secret “twin” tongue of their own as toddlers; as adults making their way in 1980s Manhattan, their verbal infatuation continues, but this love, which has always bound them together, begins instead to push them apart. Daphne, copy editor and grammar columnist, devotes herself to preserving the dignity and elegance of Standard English. Laurel, who gives up teaching kindergarten to write poetry, is drawn, instead, to the polymorphous, chameleon nature of the written and spoken word. Their fraying twinship finally shreds completely when the sisters go to war, absurdly but passionately, over custody of their most prized family heirloom: Merriam Webster’s New International Dictionary, Second Edition.

all about The Truants by Kate WeinbergThe Truants by Kate Weinberg (Putnam, Jan 28, 2020): Why: descriptions (obsession, coming of age, deceit, first love)
People disappear when they most want to be seen.

Jess Walker has come to a concrete campus under the flat grey skies of East Anglia for one reason: To be taught by the mesmerizing and rebellious Dr Lorna Clay, whose seminars soon transform Jess’s thinking on life, love, and Agatha Christie. Swept up in Lorna’s thrall, Jess falls in with a tightly-knit group of rule-breakers—Alec, a courageous South African journalist with a nihilistic streak; Georgie, a seductive, pill-popping aristocrat; and Nick, a handsome geologist with layers of his own.

But when tragedy strikes the group, Jess turns to Lorna. Together, the two seek refuge on a remote Italian island, where Jess tastes the life she’s long dreamed of—and uncovers a shocking secret that will challenge everything she’s learned.

Still Loving Dystopian

all about The Bear by Andrew KrivakThe Bear by Andrew Krivak (Bellevue Literary Press, Feb. 11, 2020): themes (nature takes over, father/daughter, survival)
A gorgeous fable of Earth’s last two human inhabitants, and a girl’s journey home

In an Edenic future, a girl and her father live close to the land in the shadow of a lone mountain. They possess a few remnants of civilization: some books, a pane of glass, a set of flint and steel, a comb. The father teaches the girl how to fish and hunt, the secrets of the seasons and the stars. He is preparing her for an adulthood in harmony with nature, for they are the last of humankind. But when the girl finds herself alone in an unknown landscape, it is a bear that will lead her back home through a vast wilderness that offers the greatest lessons of all, if she can only learn to listen.

A cautionary tale of human fragility, of love and loss, The Bear is a stunning tribute to the beauty of nature’s dominion.

all about The Divers' Game by Jesse BallThe Divers' Game by Jesse Ball (Ecco, Sept. 10): Why: themes (class divide, future, power)
The old-fashioned struggle for fairness has finally been abandoned. It was a misguided endeavor. The world is divided into two groups, pats and quads. The pats may kill the quads as they like, and do. The quads have no recourse but to continue with their lives.

The Divers’ Game is a thinly veiled description of our society, an extreme case that demonstrates a truth: we must change or our world will collapse.

What is the effect of constant fear on a life, or on a culture? The Divers’ Game explores the consequences of violence through two festivals, and through the dramatic and excruciating examination of a woman’s final moments.


rhapsodyinbooks 5/17/19, 6:20 AM  

These all look great, and I agree: I would read anything by Woodson!

Sarah (Sarah's Book Shelves) 5/17/19, 7:10 AM  

Oh fun! My first look at books coming out that far in advance! The Kevin Wilson looks good - I love a good campus novel and the Michael Crummey...I loved Sweetland a few years back!

I'm not going to BEA either. I went the one year I lived in NY, but not worth it to travel all the way there just for BEA.

Hopewell 5/17/19, 7:46 AM  

Interesting selections. Kids wo spontaneously combust....I'll need a while on that one 😎 Lots of copy cat covers. Well done! Lisa @ https://hopewellslibraryoflife.wordpress.com/

Amanda 5/17/19, 7:54 AM  

I'm really looking forward to the Starless Sea.

I haven't made it back to BEA since my first in 2010. I was supposed to go in 2011 but all the flights were canceled for the whole weekend due to weather between the two halves of the US, ugh, but since then I just haven't had a chance! I don't think I could even get in now - I think I heard it's no longer open with a blogger badge?

Kay 5/17/19, 8:51 AM  

Several of these have already caught my eye as well. Always fun to see the new books coming out. I've not ever been to BEA, but I have attended several mystery book conferences. I traded attending Malice Domestic this year for our trip to Colorado. It was a good trade. I'm planning to try to get to Left Coast Crime being held in San Diego next spring and might even see if I can squeeze Malice Domestic in as well in early May, 2020. We'll see.

JoAnn 5/17/19, 8:58 AM  

I added The Grammarians to my list earlier this week, but haven't seen any of the others. Several sound very tempting!

Tina 5/17/19, 9:56 AM  

I think your trade off was worth it. It must be fun going to the Expo though and seeing people we write to all the time. Not to mention the books and NYC food.

The Divers Game sounds scary considering today's culture and event. WTF is going on in our country?! The Bear is very intriguing, hadn't heard of it until you posted here. The Innocents is going on my Goodreads list, love the setting and premise.

Vicki 5/17/19, 3:07 PM  

Great list! I see a few I'm interested in reading.

(Diane) bookchickdi 5/19/19, 5:04 PM  

I have a lot of these on my list too- and the cover of the Grammarians is too funny!

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