The 10 Best Books of 2017 (So Far)

By Adam Vitcavage

The first half of 2017 brought an onslaught of so many terrific novels and short story collections, ranging from newcomers fresh off of getting their MFAs to the master of short stories finally releasing a novel. Then there were translations of beautiful work that introduced Americans to incredible writers from places like Argentina and France. Needless to say, regardless of what type of fiction you like, there was something for you to devour in the past six months. Here are 10 I read, couldn’t stop thinking about, and continually suggest to friends, families, and strangers.

One of the Boys by Daniel Magariel

An unnamed boy narrates the story about his father’s journey after a divorce. The boy and his older brother have been told countless times how evil their mother is. However, it turns out that the father is an addict and it’s all his fault. That’s the basic premise of Daniel Magariel’s debut. However, that doesn’t do the book justice. His novel is written with such heaviness in such a short amount of pages. He doesn’t waste time, and though your read can be over in less than a day, the content will stay with you long after.

Read my interview with the author.

Finding a distinct voice is the first benchmark any great writer must accomplish. Chanelle Benz, author of The Man Who Shot Out My Eye Is Dead, has created more than just a voice to stand out from the crowd. She’s created 10.

The stories in Benz’s debut collection are told from perspectives ranging from an eighteenth-century slave to a baroque-style piece told in the collective We. The book begins with a non-traditional western that pulls readers in close, then follows up with a contemporary story of family and violence that is just as gripping. It’s not just the wide-ranging eras and plots that make each story stand out; it’s the carefully crafted voices. Benz is a trained actress who learned presentation is everything when it comes to captivating an audience, and she translated that skill into her writing.

Read my interview with the author.

American War by Omar El Akkad

This literary speculative fiction is one I keep thinking about over and over. It’s set in 2074-2095 and there’s another American Civil War. A young girl sees the horrors of life and grows up fighting. The steps Sarat takes in life can be viewed as heroic or villainous. This book follows her arc from innocent child to what a human can be turned into during a time of war.

Homesick for Another World by Otessa Moshfegh

Eileen, Otessa Moshfegh’s debut novel, was one of 2015's best books. Even though her current short story collection was highly anticipated, it somehow sneaked up and surprised me. It’s filled with 14 bleak stories about offbeat loners, liars, and less-than-perfect people. The writer's grip on these unsteady characters is stellar; she never makes a farce of their desires. Even though she pushes the boundaries with expectations, the fringe-ness of Moshfegh’s stories are reeled back in by the protagonists. Expect the unexpected, as cliché as that sounds.

Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders

George Saunders is already one of the most prolific writers of this generation. His short stories have captivated the world for two decades. Since the release of his first collection, CivilWarLand in Bad Decline, in 1996, Saunders has published numerous books of prose, including the 2013 critical darling Tenth of December. This year, we finally have his first full-length novel, Lincoln in the Bardo. It’s the type of book only a master craftsman like Saunders could pull off.

The story, which tracks President Abraham Lincoln on a visit to the grave of his recently deceased son, is narrated largely by ghosts in the cemetery. At 60,000 words, this isn’t a traditional novel by any means. Expect to be tested by the writer’s prose and style.

Read my interview with the author

Black Moses by Alain Mabanckou

Technically this book may have come out in 2016, but the English translation came out recently and I devoured it. The French language is beautiful, but the prose is still gorgeous in this story. Tokumisa Nzambe po Mose yamoyindo abotami namboka ya Bakoko a/k/a Moses grows up in an orphanage and turns to life in the underground crime world of the 1970s and 1980s.

Things We Lost in the Fire by Mariana Enriquez

Enriquez’ stories are vibrant depictions of her native Argentina, mostly Buenos Aires, as well as some ventures to surrounding countries. She fills the dozen stories with compelling characters in haunting stories that evaluate inequality, violence, and corruption. Characters range from social workers to street dwellers and even venture into dark magic users. With those characters, the author explores tourists in Argentina, the rich visiting the slums, and so many more dynamic areas of her home country.

Read my interview with the author

No One is Coming to Save Us by Stephanie Powell Watts

The characters’ desires in this novel purposefully echo the ones from F. Scott Fitzgerald’s classic The Great Gatsby. The parallels between the two works themes are obvious, but do not go into this thinking it's a retelling. Watts has crafted her own world built on rich characters and eloquent prose.

Read my interview with the author.

What It Means When a Man Falls from the Sky by Lesley Nneka Arimah

It’s mesmerizing what Arimah can do with a seemingly traditional idea and stretch it into something distinct. Stories include a generational tale about ghosts of war, a father’s attempts to protect his daughter, a woman desperate for a child, and more. However, there is much more to these stories than a simple fragmented synopsis. For instance, the mother who wants a child weaves one out of her hair. Get ready to be wowed by these stories.

Marlena by Julie Buntin

When high schooler Cat meets Marlena, her world changes. She experiences a series of firsts thanks to her new friend, but then Marlena ends up dead. This leaves a lasting mark on Cat and the story shifts from that year to decades later. Half of the novel is an ace coming-of-age story. The other enlightens readers on what happens after.

18 Books That Should Be On Your Radar: July 2017

Every month, the Writer’s Bone crew reviews or previews books we've read or want to read. This series may or may not also serve as a confessional for guilty pleasures and hipster novels only the brave would attempt. Feel free to share your own suggestions in the comments section or tweet us @WritersBone.

Stephen Florida by Gabe Habash

Daniel Ford: Gabe Habash's debut novel not only has what might be the best cover of 2017, it also establishes the author as maybe the best literary up-and-comer in the business. I read Stephen Florida in one sitting on the beach, completely and totally engrossed in his manically-driven main character. Habash seeps you in Florida's brain matter to the point of forgetting where you end and the words begin. You'll ache, you'll fear, you'll rage, you'll hurt, and you'll hate along with Florida as he wrestles for glory. There's not one word of this novel I didn't love. I wouldn't leave the beach until I finished it, and was rewarded with one of the most satisfying endings I've read in the past couple of years.     

As an added bonus, Habash has been on book tour with his equally talented wife Julie Buntin (author of Marlena and last month's "Author's Corner"). I picture them as this generation's Zoe and F. Scott Fitzgerald…without the rampant boozing and emotional wreckage.

What We Lose by Zinzi Clemmons

Daniel: It’s hard to believe that this is Zinzi Clemmons’ debut novel. Told in a series of vignettes, What We Lose (out July 11) showcases a mature confidence as Clemmons explores racial identity and familial love and loss. Her protagonist Thadi is born in Johannesburg but grows up in Pennsylvania, labeled an outsider in her adopted country from an early age. As if that strain wasn’t enough, Thadi’s mother succumbs to cancer, upending the character’s already confusing coming-of-age. Throughout the novel, Thadi encounters first loves and lovers, navigates the racial tensions of two countries, and tries to bridge the distance between her and her widowed father. So many lines in this book are like sledgehammers to your heart; it's impossible to pick a favorite. If you’re like Dave Pezza and annotate your books, you’re going to be plenty busy while reading What We Lose. Look for my interview with Zinzi Clemmons later this month.

The Fallen by Ace Atkins

Sean Tuohy: Sheriff Quinn Colson returns in the latest from Southern crime writer Ace Atkins (who will be appearing on the Writer's Bone podcast in late July). As always, Atkins doesn’t disappoint. When a group of military-trained robberswith Hollywood flair—start knocking off banks in his county, Colson finds himself plunging into the seedy underbelly of his small Mississippi town. Atkins’ novel is packed with rich characters, bleeding-off-the-page dialogue, and a writing style that propels you to keep reading.

Madame Zero by Sarah Hall

Adam Vitcavage: Sarah Hall’s nine stories in her collection Madame Zero are wholly original, thoughtful, and enticing. The writer has won numerous awards for her novels and stories, including for “Mrs. Fox,” the first in this collection. While there are so many that are top notch because of Hall’s fervent prose, there are tremendous standouts. “Case Study No. 2” is written in, you guessed it, a case study. The narrator emotionally dissects a near-feral child while she learns about herself. Meanwhile, “Goodnight Nobody” offers insight into how children think about the world as they grow older. All of her stories meditate on what it means to be a woman in modern society.

Grunt by Mary Roach

Daniel: Mary Roach takes a deep dive into the weird science that powers the U.S. military in her latest book Grunt (now out in paperback). She explores everything from chicken guns and cadaver penis transplants to sweat analysis and submarine lodging. She also asked to get shot by a sniper (by paintball) just to experience how it felt. Considering the current attitude toward journalists, Roach is likely the only journo capable of requesting this without suffering serious harm—but, she admits, there was a long line of volunteers. I should also mention that Roach’s footnotes are works of art. Entertainment Weekly called them “zingy” (can you get better praise as an author?), and after reading “The head sweats like a mother,” I couldn’t agree more. Roach has become a Writer’s Bone favorite, and is likely to remain one for years to come.

The Orphan's Tale by Pam Jenoff

Sean: Two women, shattered and destroyed by World War II, discover new meaning in life when they find one another at a traveling circus. Noa, 16 years old, is kicked out by her family after becoming pregnant, and ultimately gives up her child. She finds hope when she stumbles onto a train car filled with Jewish newborns taken from their families, saving a child who is near death. Noa finds work at a traveling circus, where she connects with the bitter acrobat Astrid. This book is a tearjerker with a big heart. Filled with detailed research that brings the world to life, The Orphan's Tale is the perfect summer read.

UNSUB by Meg Gardiner

Daniel: Meg Gardiner’s new (and terrifying) thriller UNSUB moves like a freight train, never losing any of the great character beats she establishes early in the novel. The book’s unsettling villain and chain-smoke-inducing plot will twist your stomach at every turn, but Gardiner’s stellar heroine Caitlin Hendrix keeps you turning pages even when you might not want to. Her fraught relationship with her damaged father (torn apart by the case that now permeates Caitlin’s life) is the real backbone of UNSUB, and will likely cause you to tear up more than once.

During my recent chat with the author, Gardiner said that she doesn’t write to exercise her own demons; she writes to inflict them on her readers. Well, mission accomplished! I was reading the last 10 or so pages at home, and I noticed my father raising his eyebrows in concern. I apparently had the book in a death grip and was rifling through pages like some literary maniac. “You’re going to leave that behind when you leave, right?” He asked hopefully. I very much look forward to his future late-night text cursing me for putting UNSUB in his hands. Fictional demons are meant to be passed on, so read it and then spread the insomnia!

The Graybar Hotel by Curtis Dawkins

Adam: Curtis Dawkins is an MFA graduate serving life in prison without parole after committing a murder years ago. He has spent his time writing stories that offer a realistic view into the lives of prisoners and the prison itself. Dawkins’ stories aren’t like the glamorized prison tales that you’ll find watching “Orange Is the New Black.” They’re raw, revealing, and even sometimes filled with humor. You’ll meet a man who makes collect calls just to hear the voices and sounds of the outside world. One story recalls a life before prison and a descent into addiction while another reveals the intricacies of the bartering system behind bars. These moving narratives offer a soft touch to the harsh reality Dawkins and so many others face in jail.

Found Audio by N.J. Campbell

Daniel: I was reading N.J. Campbell’s mind-bending debut novel (out July 11 from Two Dollar Radio) on the T early one morning, and I muttered to myself, “Am I dreaming all this? Is it really happening?” That’s the sign of really good fiction. It makes you question your own reality and causes you to talk to yourself in public like a raving lunatic. Found Audio centers around three mysterious tapes that land on Amrapali Anna Singh’s desk, courtesy of an equally mysterious man. The Type IV audio cassettes contain a deposition from an adventuring journalist obsessively hunting for the “City of Dreams.” Not knowing what to expect, I bought into the novel’s premise whole cloth, and was rewarded with a gripping tale that my mind has been puzzling over ever since I finished the final page. Two Dollar Radio never fails to find and publish undiscovered talent, and Campbell is no exception.

Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi

Daniel: You’ll experience no shortage of emotions reading Yaa Gyasi’s beautifully written and structured debut Homegoing. From Africa’s Gold Coast during the slave trade to 20th century Harlem, Gyasi’s narrative follows a family broken apart by war, love, loss, slavery, drugs, and fate. The author pulls no punches, igniting a literary fire that illuminates issues and events typically reserved for the nonfiction section. Every character breaks your heart at one point or another, but there’s also so much hope (and, many times, a fool’s hope) infused in Gyasi’s prose that you can easily wade through the misery that befalls this unforgettable family. Homegoing is the best kind of generational saga: haunting, poignant, and emotionally charged.

The Dark Dark by Samantha Hunt

Adam: Samantha Hunt is one of the best writers in America right now who isn’t getting the credit she deserves. Repeat: Samantha Hunt deserves your respect. Her modern gothic ghost story Mr. Splitfoot was one of the best books of 2016. The writer followed up with a haunting collection of stories called The Dark Dark. In her debut collection (out July 18), Hunt uses her ability to deconstruct the norm by creating lush worlds in a few paragraphs and then flipping it upside down. I have been yammering on about a lot of short story collections, but the single best short story I’ve read this year can be found here. Don’t believe me? Read it for yourself. “A Love Story” was published in The New Yorker, which means you can even listen to Hunt read it herself.

Joe Gould's Teeth by Jill Lepore

Daniel: My kingdom for an interview with historian Jill Lepore. It’s probably for the best, considering I’d likely become Chris Farley interviewing Paul McCartney. I’ll just have to settle for heaping praise on her recent book Joe Gould's Teeth (now out in paperback).

Lepore went down the rabbit hole while investigating legendary New York City character Joe Gould, the self-professed author of “The Oral History of Our Time.” Did Gould really write the book? Are there physical copies that just haven’t been found yet? Based on Gould’s beliefs about race and sex, does he even deserved to be remembered at all?

All of these questions are intently and smartly probed in Lepore’s breezy narrative. As someone who has been a fan of hers for years, I was overjoyed at getting a glimpse into her research and writing process. Joe Gould's Teeth features the historian’s exquisite prose and trademark wit, and further cements Lepore place as one of our most important voices—nonfiction or otherwise.

St. Marks Is Dead by Ada Calhoun

Daniel: Two straight months on “Books That Should Be On Your Radar” for Ada Calhoun! She’s become a Writer’s Bone favorite since my interview with the author (as well as reading her book Wedding Toasts I’ll Never Give out loud on the beach). I’m a sucker for New York City history, and Calhoun’s St. Marks Is Dead is terrific. Calhoun’s writing style sounds like the city to me; it’s sharp, it’s witty, it’s a little brash, and, maybe most importantly, it’s fun. There’s a good chance St. Marks Is Dead is a book I’ll come back to repeatedly in the years to come.

Author’s Corner

By W.B. Belcher

The Songs by Charles Elton

The Songs explores the unraveling of aging protest singer and activist Iz Herzl, as told in alternating chapters by his children. I’m only about 80 pages in, but this is definitely my kind of novel. It’s character-driven, folk-infused, and mysterious. For those who know me or my book, Lay Down Your Weary Tune, the fact that I’m taken with this novel is no surprise. Beyond the conceit, I’m struck by the emotional depth and complexity Elton creates in the first quarter of the book. 

The Reason You’re Alive by Matthew Quick

David Granger, the narrator of Quick’s latest novel, is a 68-year-old Vietnam vet fresh out of brain surgery. You get a sense that he’s deeply wounded, but his worldview, hot-tempered patriotism, and gross generalizations frustrate, offend, and make you gnash your teeth. Still, there’s something about him and his consistent, no-holds-barred voice that draws you deeper into his story. Quick has an amazing ability to build characters who are big-hearted and hopeful even in the face of great tragedy, heartbreak, and trauma. In this case, once you get beneath the camo and insults, you begin to really see Granger.

Blind Spot by Teju Cole

If you’ve read Open City, you know that Teju Cole is an extraordinary writer. Many may know he’s also the photography editor at The New York Times. Blind Spot is an intriguing book that pairs Cole’s travel-based photography with prose pieces. As someone who works in both the visual arts (well, as an administrator) and the literary arts, I was curious to know more about how Cole straddles both forms—it’s clear that he’s a keen observer (with a writer’s eye) and a collector of details.

Sweat by Lynn Nottage

Unfortunately, I didn’t get a chance to see Lynn Nottage’s play at The Public or during its run on Broadway (Studio 54), but I ordered the paperback, which was released by TCG in June. As a playwright-turned-novelist, I’m one of those people who enjoys reading plays as much as seeing them on stage (sometimes more). By all accounts, Sweat is a smart, complex, compassionate play, which is wholly topical.          

Re: Summer

Some people dedicate their entire summer to tackling Infinite Jest, War and Peace, or Shakespeare’s complete works, but I start twitching at the mere thought of that kind of all-or-nothing approach. Instead, as a way to move beyond my typical summer novelfest, I revisit memorable plays, stories, poetry, and essays as part of my reading adventures. This year, I’ll re-read James Wright’s The Branch Will Not Break, Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar (for obvious reasons), Sven Birkerts’s “The Other Walk,” and Grace Paley’s Enormous Changes at the Last Minute, among others. Currently, I’m re-re-reading Megan Mayhew Bergman’s “Night Hunting,” which appeared in her collection Birds of a Lesser Paradise.  

W.B. Belcher is the author of Lay Down Your Weary Tune, which landed at #27 on our Top 30 Books of 2016. Also read our interview with the author.

#NovelClass

Dave Pezza and Daniel Ford’s discuss Jeff VanderMeer’s Borne.

20 Books That Should Be On Your Radar: June 2017

Every month, the Writer’s Bone crew reviews or previews books we've read or want to read. This series may or may not also serve as a confessional for guilty pleasures and hipster novels only the brave would attempt. Feel free to share your own suggestions in the comments section or tweet us @WritersBone.

The Force by Don Winslow

Daniel Ford: Don Winslow is generally regarded as the current king of crime fiction, and his new novel The Force (out June 20) adds another bauble to his crown. What happens when the people sworn to protect us are just as nefarious and organizational corrupt as those destined for prison or death? Winslow’s portrait of Denny Malone, a highly decorated NYPD detective sergeant called “the King of Manhattan North," provides answers to that perilous question while also crafting an entertaining thrill ride. Malone’s crew, called “Da Force,” would be more at home in a Martin Scorsese mobster movie rather than cleaning up the streets of New York City. A drug bust gone bad (or good if you’re the dirty cops hoping to pad their retirement nest egg with the purloined narcotics) sets the plot in motion and leads to Malone’s crisis of conscience. Is that enough to protect Malone’s way of life and the group of men he values above everything else in his life (including his estranged wife, his girlfriend, and his kids)? You’ll lose plenty of sleep finding out the answer to that one.

Killers of the Flower Moon by David Grann

Sean Tuohy: Author of the highly acclaimed The Lost City Of Z, David Grann comes back with a fantastic new book, Killers of the Flower Moon: The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI. During the 1920s, the Osage tribe of Oklahoma was one of the wealthiest groups on the planet because of the oil on its land. The tribe soon found itself in the crosshairs of a deadly conspiracy. With mounting bodies, the newly formed FBI, under the direction of J. Edgar Hoover, stepped in to solve the case.

The Light We Lost by Jill Santopolo

Stephanie Schaefer: Every now and then I come across a love story that I can’t put down. Jill Santopolo’s The Light We Lost was one of them. The novel focuses on Lucy and Gabe, two star-crossed lovers who first meet as students at Columbia University on September 11, 2001. The haunting day sets the stage for what will become a deep, yet turbulent relationship through adulthood. When Gabe’s passion for photojournalism takes him to the Middle East, Lucy embarks on a more conventional path in New York City—although she can never truly shake her past, and first true love. Within a series of flashbacks written in a second person narrative, Santopolo touches on the classic theme of fate vs. free will, giving it a modern spin. Although there were times where it seemed like Lucy’s character hadn’t matured in the 13 years since her college graduation, I was thoroughly intrigued by the plot of novel. Toward its conclusion I anxiously turned each heart-wrenching page to see if my predictions came true.

Mom & Me & Mom by Maya Angelou

Daniel: I hadn’t read Maya Angelou’s work in quite a long time, so it was refreshing to hear her voice again. (I’d be remiss if I didn’t credit Emma Watson and her Books on the Subway/Underground book fairy adventure for putting Mom & Me & Mom on my radar.)

This short memoir about her relationship with her mother featured Angelou’s stripped down, but still emotional and evocative, sentences, and a subtle storytelling style that more authors should employ (especially when writing about their own lives). Angelou’s mother was fond of telling her children, “Sit down, I have something to say.” I’d carve out some time in your reading schedule and listen.

Exit Strategy by Steve Hamilton

Daniel: Steve Hamilton’s new Nick Mason yarn is an absolutely perfect thriller from start to finish. The Second Life of Nick Mason may have set the bar high, but Hamilton clears it with room to spare in Exit Strategy. The stakes are raised, the action is more heart pounding, and never has Nick Mason’s tenuous hold on freedom…excuse me...mobility seemed so fragile. As Hamilton is fond of saying, Mason’s situation could take him anywhere in the world and that the possibilities are endless. After reading the first two books into the series, we’re convinced. Exit Strategy should be at the top of your beach bag this summer.

The Bright Hour by Nina Riggs

Gary Almeter: Anyone who read and enjoyed Paul Kalanathi's When Breath Becomes Air will likely enjoy this (to the extent one can enjoy the story of someone's demise). This book poses the same unanswerable questions that Kalanathi's does. Riggs, who passed away in February 2017 from cancer, endeavors to answer those questions with so with so much levity, warmth, honesty, and lyricism that it almost is enjoyable (even when she’s telling her children that she’s dying).

The Immortal Irishman by Timothy Egan

Daniel: I’ve reached the point that if Timothy Egan decided to write a history of the portable toilet, I would be first in line at the bookstore. The introduction to his National Book Award-winning The Worst Hard Time might be the best prose I’ve ever read. It’s no surprise then that his recent work, The Immortal Irishman: The Irish Revolutionary Who Became an American Hero, is an absolute treat to read. Thomas Meagher, an Irish nationalist booted from his home country after inciting (or more accurately trying to incite) a revolution against the British in 1848, certainly provides plenty of entertaining and mysterious material to work with. Egan follows the Irishman to his banishment in Van Dieman’s Land (present day Tasmania) in Australia, his command of the Irish Brigade in the American Civil War, and his tragic end as governor of the Montana Territory. Anyone with a rebellious streak, or a song for Ireland in their hearts, will absolutely love this narrative. Nonfiction writing at its finest.

American Bang By Doug Richardson

Sean: Lucky Dey is back in his fourth novel from #NicestGuyinHollywood Doug Richardson. From page one, it’s easy to tell this not going to be the standard Lucky thriller. Following multiple story lines that somehow tie together perfectly by the end, American Bang is fast paced and never loses the heart of the character.

Apollo 8 by Jeffrey Kluger

Daniel: 1968 was one of the bloodiest years in American history. Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King Jr. were assassinated. More than 500 American soldiers were killed in action during North Vietnam’s Tet Offensive in February. Protests and violence defined the Democratic National Convention much more than the nominee Vice President Hubert Humphrey.

All hope was not lost, however, thanks in large part to the men and women at NASA. Following the tragic fire of Apollo I, the space program briefly struggled to find its footing and initiative. President John F. Kennedy’s end-of-the-decade promise to land on the moon loomed, and Americans had barely figured out how to build a space command module nevermind plan a lunar mission. Spoiler alert: NASA got its act together and brazenly decided to fling a trio of astronauts to the moon and back for the first time.  

Jeffrey Kluger—who co-wrote Apollo 13 with astronaut Jim Lovell—thrillingly explains how mankind “went from being a species of one world to a species of two worlds” in Apollo 8. The book will not only reignite your passion for space and space travel, but also give you all the evidence you need that mankind must continue to explore and discover.

Gary: This short little book evolved from Calhoun's New York Times “Modern Love” essay of the same name. The author provides some astonishingly astute and extremely honest perspectives on marriage. She’s very funny, but the way she is able to infuse poignancy into the most mundane elements of a marriage is a real gift.

Girl at War by Sara Nović

Daniel: It’s shameful how long it took me to discover and read Sara Nović’s spellbinding debut Girl at War. The novel is set before, during, and after the Yugoslav civil wars in the early 1990s, and features one of the flintiest main characters you’ll ever meet. War creeps into Ana Jurić’s childhood, starting with air raids, food rationing, and making games out of generating power. The conflict between Croatia and Serbia eventually irreparably consumes Ana’s life through humiliation and gunpowder. There’s a demonstration of a father’s love that will leave you absolutely breathless. Have tissues handy. A lot of them. From war-torn Croatia to the gleaming skyline of New York City, Nović deftly explores the themes of war, memory, family, friendship, ethnicity, identity, and the true meaning of home.

Evicted by Matthew Desmond

Daniel: I’ve had a little time to sit with Matthew Desmond’s Pulitzer Prize-winning Evicted, and I’m still speechless and awed by both his research and prose. Desmond follows eight families in Milwaukee as they struggle to keep what so many of us take for granted on a daily basis: a home. Desmond puts you inside eviction hearings, grimy, roach-infested apartments, deteriorating trailer parks, homeless shelters, and, at times, the bitter cold of Milwaukee’s streets. From emotionally and physically damaged mothers choosing between food and rent to those in the conflicted and ambitious landlord class, Evicted shines a light on people often forgotten or overlooked in urban areas.

The epilogue is a rousing and convincing call to arms, and Desmond’s breakdown of how he managed this project will leave you just as slack-jawed as all the award-winning prose that came before it. As Desmond points out, this issue isn’t about resources; it’s about political will and rejection of the status quo. I encourage you not only to read the book, but also get involved in the author’s Just Shelter initiative. The program seeks to raise “awareness of the human cost of the lack of affordable housing” and “to amplify the work of community organizations working to preserve affordable housing, prevent eviction, and reduce family homelessness.”

Trajectory by Richard Russo

Daniel: I am constantly amazed at Richard Russo’s ability to cram a ton of poignant characterization into the small space of a short story. This short collection of four stories features broken, middle-aged characters in the middle of life-altering situations. Russo’s explores these characters’ actions and motivations while employing his trademark wit and lyricism. That sound you hear during the final story “Milton and Marcus”—about a screenwriter trying to land a job to provide his sick wife life insurance—is Sean Tuohy nodding his head at how perfectly Russo describes the ludicrous world of Hollywood.  

She Rides Shotgun by Jordan Harper

Daniel: She Rides Shotgun features Jordan Harper’s signature blend of angst and violence, but it also comes with a big helping of heart. His heroine, 11-year-old Polly McClusky, has to grow up quick when her damaged, jailbird father Nate veers into her life driving a stolen car. Nate’s a marked man as soon as he leaves prison, and he “kidnaps” Polly in order to save her life. Their relationship grounds this action-packed novel, and is one of the many reasons I felt Harper made a giant leap forward in his fiction writing. Plus, he made me emotional invested in a teddy bear (something I’ll make him pay dearly for in the future).

The Story of My Teeth by Valeria Luiselli

Daniel: This is Valeria Luiselli’s third-straight month on “Books That Should Be On Your Radar.” We adore her work here at Writer’s Bone (thanks to author and Porter Square Books' Josh Cook). The Story of My Teeth is not only great fiction, on par with John Kennedy Toole’s A Confederacy Of Dunces and Gabriel García Márquez’s One Hundred Days of Solitude, but also has an innovative and heartwarming backstory. Luiselli wrote the novel in collaboration with workers at a Mexican juice factory. She writes in the afterward that “many of the stories told in this book come from the workers’ personal accounts,” and that their “shared concerns” about life and art led to this narrative about “the production of value and meaning in contemporary art and literature.” The author refers to the collaboration as an ongoing one, “where every new layer modifies the entire content completely.” I suggest you fall in love with Gustavo “Highway” Sánchez Sánchez as soon as possible and find out why Luiselli is a master of modern literature.

Author’s Corner

By Julie Buntin

Goodbye, Vitamin by Rachel Khong

Rachel Khong’s debut novel is tender and winning—not only did I read it in one sitting (this book is impossible to put down), but it made me laugh and cry. Both, truly. In fragmented dated entries, it’s written from the perspective of 30-year-old Ruth, who returns home after a breakup to care for her father. He’s a history professor, and his memory is failing. That Khong captures both the comedy and the heartbreak of this family’s story is a rare accomplishment that showcases her gifts as a prose stylist and a human being. Rarely have I read a book with so much heart and generosity. A must read. It’s coming out in July but you should pre-order like, yesterday. 

There Are More Beautiful Things Than Beyoncé by Morgan Parker

I’ve said it before, and I will keep saying it until every single person in America has bought a copy of Morgan Parker’s latest poetry collection—these poems are written by an essential new voice. Morgan Parker is a force—when I read her I feel like I’m reading the poems that people will be looking to 50 years from now, when they’re try to figure out what this time meant. Parker writes about pop culture, about being black in America, about celebrities and bathtubs, and how fucked up it is sometimes to have a woman’s body. And how beautiful, too. Even when (especially when?) she writes about self-doubt, about envy, her voice is fearless, strong, so powerful that every poem in this collection gives me chills. I have several committed to memory. 

The Animators by Kayla Rae Whitaker

I have been telling everyone about this goddamned brilliant book. It’s a female friendship story, yes, but like all the female friendship stories I love, the relationship at the core of novel provides a way of investigating so many things about what it means to be a woman in the world, and in the case of these two particular women, the irresistible Mel and Sharon, what it means to be female artists. Animators, specifically. Whitaker is deft, hilarious, and terrific at plot—this book is fun. At the same time, it asks big questions about the risk of making art from experience, and how we can move on after losing someone we love. I finished the book months ago and think about it almost every day. 

White Fur by Jardine Libaire

This novel. I picked it up totally on a whim—I work at Catapult, and we share an office with Electric Literature, a literary website that, as you might imagine, receives an ungodly number of galleys and review copies every week. I spotted White Fur hanging out on one of the received shelves, and I grabbed it for no good reason—I guess I liked the cover. I read it in two frantic gulps over the course of a weekend, without leaving my couch. Honestly, the plot can be described in one familiar sentence—girl from the wrong side of the tracks meets rich boy, they fall in love, drama ensues. But that well-worn premise is brought to new life by Jardine Libaire’s vibrant, magnetic prose, and her two starring characters, who are so flawed and vivid they leap off the page. Plus, this book is hot. Like very, very sexy. It’s somehow both super steamy and satisfyingly literary, and after I read it, I wondered why we don’t see that combination more often. Because, damn, it works. 

Julie Buntin is the author of Marlena, “a coming-of-age story with real teeth.”

#NovelClass: IQ by Joe Ide

Sean: With this modern take on Sherlock Holmes set in Long Beach, Calif., Joe Ide proves that he's a welcome new face to the crime genre. Filled with ear-catching dialogue and interesting characters, IQ is a solid summer read.

Listen to Dave Pezza and I discuss more about the book in this month’s #NovelClass:

17 Books That Should Be On Your Radar: May 2017

Every month, the Writer’s Bone crew reviews or previews books we've read or want to read. This series may or may not also serve as a confessional for guilty pleasures and hipster novels only the brave would attempt. Feel free to share your own suggestions in the comments section or tweet us @WritersBone.

Salt Houses by Hala Alyan

Daniel Ford: Hala Alyan’s debut novel Salt Houses is an incredibly beautiful, tender read. Her prose feels personal and lived-in, her characters seem like they’re ready to wander into your kitchen and have a cup of tea with you, and her dialogue is as lyrical and poignant as her poetry. There’s a real heartbeat on every page of this novel.

One of the things I love most about the book is how it’s structured. She jumps from character to character while moving forward several years in the timeline. This allowed her to explore themes like the aftermath of war and the development of personal and familial relationships in a way typically reserved for short story collections. Alyan crafted some powerful lines about love, family, and conflict that only someone who had this story in her bones could have pulled off.

As I said during my interview with the author (which you can listen to on May 8), human stories like the ones found in Salt Houses need to be told widely and often during these troubled political times. Pain and suffering weren’t just invented after Nov. 8, 2016. Humanity has been grappling with issues like identity, race, property, nationalism, and warfare since human’s stepped over the threshold of their cave dwellings thousands of years ago. Thankfully, novels like Salt Houses can delve into those seemingly intractable subjects in a moving and haunting way in the hopes of raising the level of our discourse.

The Wrong Side Of Goodbye by Michael Connelly

Sean Tuohy: Detective Harry Bosch is back in Michael Connelly’s latest thriller. The relentless LAPD detective is hired to find the missing heir to a billion-dollar fortune, while also trying to capture a serial rapist. Connelly is able to make each novel feel fresh and full of life. His characters are well developed, the plot is fast-paced, and you never know what will happen next.

Marlena by Julie Buntin

Daniel: From the isolated cold of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula to the impersonal, sun-kissed skyscrapers of New York City, Julie Buntin’s haunting Marlena is a coming-of-age story with real teeth.

Fifteen-year-old Cat’s world is off its axis when we first meet her. Her mother has dragged her and her brother to rural Michigan (where they can barely make ends meet), and Cat makes friends with Marlena, an abused drug addict who sets in motion a litany of “firsts” for our troubled heroine. Marlena ends up drowning in six inches of water, and Cat’s life is never the same.

Buntin explores Cat’s psyche and motivations by bouncing back and forth from past to present. The contrast between the simple, hardscrabble life Cat leads in Michigan and her trendy, avant-garde New York City existence couldn’t be more stark, and, in many ways, more heartbreaking.

Marlena is incredibly well written and structured for a debut novel (especially when you consider Buntin wrote a good chunk of it on Google Docs!). Buntin’s passion and dedication to the craft is evident on every page, and you’ll be ready for more of her work as soon as you finish the book.    

Janesville, An American Story by Amy Goldstein

Gary Almeter: I have, in the past few months, read Evicted by Matthew Desmond and Hillbilly Elegy by J.D. Vance, so fancied myself an expert on the effects of post-industrialization on the Midwest and Appalachia. (Evicted has since won the Pulitzer.) So I thought it intriguing to see another middle class-focused book, this one about the closing of a General Motors plant in a Wisconsin town called Janesville.

Janesville, An American Story endeavors to chronicle the stories of people in that town following the plant's shutdown. What Goldstein, a Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter, has done here is astonishing. In an engrossing, chronological format, she follows several families, community leaders, politicians, and corporate representatives. She provides facts and the details that make up a life that newspaper headlines just can’t adequately convey.

Little Victories by Jason Gay

Mike Nelson: For six years I’ve been riding the bus to work. As a veteran, you can tell who’s a pro, who’s new, and who hasn’t been on wheels since their drunk uncle pulled them around in a Radio Flyer at a family reunion screaming, “And down the stretch they come,” while spilling his mint julep all over himself, you, and his soon-to-be-ex-girlfriend’s daughter sitting behind you. There are rules to be followed on the bus, etiquette to be embraced, common courtesy and thoughtfulness, and funny moments to be had.

This is exactly the type of thing you’ll find in Jason Gay’s Little Victories (but this, specifically, is not a thing you’ll find in his book). Gay, a sports writer for The Wall Street Journal, has had my attention for years as a refreshing voice who can make you think, learn, and laugh out loud (a breach of bus etiquette) all in the course of a paragraph. His stories range from interviewing Rihanna to playing touch football with his family at Thanksgiving to what it’s like to lose your job—each one sticking with you and teaching you lessons you might not need just yet but maybe someday will.

I have three complaints about Little Victories (this is how I rope you in to read the third paragraph of a book review for something you haven’t read):

  1. This is not a very long book (~200 pages), and even if you try to stretch it out, it goes too fast. I want more, Jason.
  2. I wish I saved this book for the summer because it is an absolutely perfect beach read.
  3. I can’t remember how to write with my own voice because Gay’s writing style is so infectious. 

The River of Kings by Taylor Brown

Daniel: I read Taylor Brown’s stunning debut Fallen Land in two sittings midway through 2015. I then had to wait six months to crow about it. (The novel ended up at #3 on our best books of 2016 list.) Brown’s sophomore effort, The River of Kings, was released this past March and I’m taking a different approach to reading it. Instead of rapidly powering through the novel, I’m savoring every sentence, every character, every line of dialogue, every chapter. There’s something about Brown’s writing that feels like home, regardless of what he’s putting his characters through. He’s a special talent, one that’s just going to get better with age.

American War by Omar El Akkad

Daniel: Omar El Akkad’s American War follows ably in the footsteps of Ben H. Winter’s Underground Airlines. The novel features a dystopian America, a second Civil War, shadowy characters, familial angst, and a culture that (horrifyingly) doesn’t feel too different than our own.

Within the thrilling tale lies a coming-of-age story (don’t they all?) for the main character Sarat. The young American refugee makes decisions that have implications for not only herself, but for the nation ravaged by war. The book’s release could not have been better timed, and offers a fictional cautionary tale to our politically divided country.

A Brutal Bunch Of Heartbroken Saps by Nick Kolakowski

Sean: I recently received this book from the author and I’m loving it. This is a must read for fans of gritty, hardboiled storytelling. Bill, a man on a run, has the misfortune of being taken hostage during his cross-country escape. Written by someone has a passion for the crime genre, this brutal story balances humor and violence brilliantly.

The Dinner Party by Joshua Ferris

Gary: I just got an email notification from my library that my copy of Joshua Ferris' The Dinner Party is ready for me to pick up on the reserve shelf. I reserved it back in January (I was the first one to do so), and periodically checked on it to make sure things were all systems go with the reservation.

This is one of the highlights of my 2017. Ferris is an author who makes books and writing cool. He’s the closest thing literature has to Matt Damon. His three novels have been spectacular. He chronicles the absurdity and the normalcy of life in the 21st century with characters that are likable and simple (and with whom we can all identify). This collection of short stories (many of which have appeared in The New Yorker already) is his first. The title story, about a dinner party, is a doozy.

Author’s Corner

By Josh Cook, author of An Exaggerated Murder

Tell Me How It Ends by Valeria Luiselli

In perhaps the most important book of 2017, Luiselli tells the story of her time volunteering as an interpreter for undocumented children fleeing violence in Central and South America seeking residency in the United States. Luiselli tries to change the way we talk about immigration, especially from our Southern neighbors, by exploring our complicity in the crises that turned these people into refugees and reminding us that quite often, when we're talking about “illegal aliens” and “undocumented immigrants,” or whatever other term someone might try to scare us with, we're talking about children.

The One-Eyed Man by Ron Currie

An exercise in questioning our assumptions, an examination of the state of our political discourse, and an exploration of the value of being irrational. Obviously, the topical aspects of Currie's great book stand out; reality television, political punditry, what counts for debate on cable, and the madness surrounding the American gun debate, but I think Currie's real target and real brilliance is something both smaller and bigger: how do we make sense of death and how do we figure out how to live.

Recitation by Bae Suah

A drifting lyrical book about place and identity that follows the story—as much as there is a story—of a mysterious Korean recital actress wandering through cities, lives, and apartments.

The Warren by Brian Evenson

If there is such a thing as “sci-fi noir” (and I'd argue there is) Evenson (who also writes more literary short stories) is a master of the genre. This novella is a good introduction to Evenson's dark, gritty, cynical fiction. Definitely for fans of PKD

Unbearable Splendor by Sun Yung Shin

Poetry as essay? Essayistic poems? Poetic essay? There are even some charts. Sometimes the pieces feel more like poems with fluid grammar and freer themes and some feel like they have the focus and coherence of essays. I love books like this that ask questions just by existing.

Hothouse by Karyna McGlynn

McGlynn is a favorite of mine. Her poems have a dark sense of humor and an interesting kind of intimidating sexuality to some of them. Though she is probably closest to Patricia Lockwood in style at the moment, this collection also has the weirdness that I love in James Tate

Make: A Decade of Literary Art

An anthology of short stories, essays, poems, and art from the literary magazine Make. Make isn't a magazine I'm familiar with, but it's a beautiful book and includes work by some great authors like Valeria Luiselli, Maggie Nelson, Dorothea Lasky, Martin Seay, Alejandro Zambara, and Kate Zambreno.

#NovelClass

Listen to Daniel Ford and Dave Pezza’s discussion about Jaroslav Kalfar’s debut novel Spaceman of Bohemia.   

16 Books That Should Be On Your Radar: April 2017

Every month, the Writer’s Bone crew reviews or previews books we've read or want to read. This series may or may not also serve as a confessional for guilty pleasures and hipster novels only the brave would attempt. Feel free to share your own suggestions in the comments section or tweet us @WritersBone.

Faces in the Crowd by Valeria Luiselli

Daniel Ford: Of all the Valeria Luiselli titles author Josh Cook recommended during our live podcast at Porter Square Books, of course I would choose the one with the F train on the cover.

Subway aesthetics aside, Luiselli’s inventive and trippy debut novel is everything you want in a genre-bending story. Is the main character the young woman navigating New York City while championing an obscure Mexican poet? Or is it the poet himself, a man in search of himself while destroying his family? Or, better yet, is our hero a mother juggling her matriarchal and literary responsibilities (while her marriage seemingly slips through her fingers)?

The more I read this novel, the less I cared about any of those questions. Reading Luiselli’s perfect sentences and reveling in the scenes (both large and small) she built was reward enough. Whether it was a Harlem sidewalk, a family’s home, a subway platform, or a character’s daydream, Luiselli crafted a world that felt intimate, lived in, and familiar.

I have more of her oeuvre to catch up on, but if this is the kind of work I can expect, then I’m going to have to revisit my upcoming reading list. There’s also a good chance Luiselli becomes a staple on “Books That Should Be On Your Radar.”

An Exaggerated Murder by Josh Cook

Daniel: Speaking of Josh Cook…

It was a real treat to sit down and pick his brain a couple weeks ago (along with Sirens author Joshua Mohr) about his writing process and his reading recommendations.

Like most trips to Porter Square Books, it ended with me walking out with an armful of fiction. The best part was Cook signed my copy of his novel An Exaggerated Murder and used a plethora of profanity.

I wasn’t surprised when the novel turned out to be a smart, fresh take on the detective genre. Cook’s characters are wonderfully flawed, earnestly eccentric, and hopelessly rationale in the face of a “stupid crime.” The pages start flying immediately, but make you take some time and truly appreciate the craftsmanship that went into this novel. We can’t wait to read what Cook writes next!

(P.S. The author will graciously sign a copy of the book provided you order it from Porter Square Books. Profanity costs extra.)

No One is Coming to Save Us by Stephanie Powell Watts

Adam Vitcavage: The Great Gatsby is one of the most read books in all of American literature. For better or worse F. Scott Fitzgerald’s novel has been a cornerstone of what the American Dream is and what it can do to people. Stephanie Powell Watts’ No One is Coming to Save Us is a profound novel that explores the similar themes Fitzgerald's classic work laid out.

Make no mistake, this isn't merely a retelling of the Jazz Age classic; it is unique and only borrows Gatsby’s mindset. Set in North Carolina, Watts’ novel is about a man returning home to build his dream house to woo his long lost love. Unlike Gatsby, this novel explores America through African-American eyes, and we see factories crumbling and Jim Crow still lingering.

Watts’ prose eloquently takes us on a journey of loss and hope. What stands out even more than her beautiful writing is her rich characters that are some of the most memorable of recent years. Make no mistake, this book deserves to be taught in high schools as much as any other right now.

The Wanderers by Meg Howrey

Daniel: When astronauts reach for the stars, who gets left behind on Earth? That’s the essential question Meg Howrey explores in her recently published novel The Wanderers.

Let me set the scene before I delve into this book’s eclectic cast of characters. A trio of astronauts is handpicked by a private space company to train for a potential mission to Mars. If all goes well, the group goes to Mars. If not, who knows. As thrilling as that sounds, and it is despite some of the monotony the space “wanderers” face, their thoughts are more tied to Earth than ever before in their career.

Everyone in this novel is searching for something, and likely nowhere close to finding it. Helen, a weathered, super-competent veteran of the U.S. space program who is much more at home in the cosmos, struggles to push away thoughts of her sad adolescence and loveless marriage. Her dramatic daughter “Meeps” grieves over the freak death of her father while also fearing for her mother’s safety, finding acting success, and developing a relationship in an unexpected place. Dmitri, whose astronaut father Sergei provides both comic relief and mild paranoia, unconventionally explores his sexual identity. And Yoshi, the crew’s third member, battles his own tortured past while also trying to emotionally connect with his distant, yet equally brilliant wife, Madoka.

That sounds like a lot of characters to juggle in one novel, but Howrey shifts perspectives so subtly and smoothly at exactly the right moments that you won’t have trouble keeping up with the novel’s events. If you’re anything like me, you’ll finish the last pages and think, “Wait, that’s it? I want more!” Trust me, do yourself a favor, spend some time with your head in the stars and read this book.

What it Means When a Man Falls From the Sky by Lesley Nneka Arimah

Adam: So far, 2017 has seen an incredible amount of short story collections. Add Lesley Nneka Arimah’s What it Means When a Man Falls From the Sky to that growing list. Familial connections tie these stories together, but stylistically the stories vary from sort of science fiction to modern realism.

It’s mesmerizing what Arimah can do with a seemingly traditional idea and stretch it into something distinct. Stories include a generational tale about ghosts of war, a father’s attempts to protect his daughter, a woman desperate for a child, and more. However, there is much more to these stories than a simple fragmented synopsis. For instance, the mother who wants a child weaves one out of her hair. Get ready to be wowed by these stories.

The Whore's Child by Richard Russo

Daniel: “Just one story,” I told myself. “You have a reading list a mile long and the third season of ‘Grace and Frankie’ just dropped on Netflix. You don’t have time to read more than one story.”

Well, not for the first time, I lost an argument with myself and ended up reading every story in Richard Russo’s short story collection The Whore’s Child in 24 hours. Also not surprising, Russo’s empathetic—and often hilarious—style translates beautifully to the shorter storytelling format.

The real stand out in the collection is the eponymous “The Whore’s Child.” The story features an older nun who crashes a creative writing class and slowly realizes a painful family truth while writing a “fictional” memoir. The story shamelessly fiddles with your heartstrings, but it also offers biting meta-commentary on the writing process. Paired with Luiselli’s collection, The Whore’s Child should give you all the literary inspiration you need to craft your own short stories.

The Stand by Stephen King

Mike Nelson: The Stand is much more than a prerequisite to Stephen King’s Dark Tower series, though that’s the catch that influenced me to dive in last summer (really hope my brother wasn’t lying to me about that, though it’d be a great prank). Yes, I wrote, “last summer,” and, yes, I know this column is meant to focus on books you recently read...we’re getting to that.

King takes readers on an epic, near-biblical journey through his version of the apocalypse, where forces of good are left to square off against forces of darkness in a battle for the earth’s soul. Or a battle for like, the western half of the United States, if you want to be super literal about it. Sitting at approximately a million pages and taking half-a-year for a very casual reader who stops to read other books in-between (out of necessity, I swear), The Stand is much more about the journey than it is the conclusion. As the world flirts with its desistance, how many of its occupants will seek to grant it an extension, and how many others will resign to fate no matter how dark?

If you don’t fear death...if you feel like you have everything in control...if you think humans are intrinsically good, spend some time with The Stand and tell me you feel the same. Or if you’re more like the man they call Trashcan Man, maybe just read it because you like to watch things burn.

The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach

Adam: Every year, April brings the welcome return of baseball in America. You better believe there is some “best baseball books” list that makes the rounds (even I wrote one on my blog in 2014). There’s a reason The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach gets recommended on every literature blog this time of year. It’s one of the best “baseball” books published. 

While the game plays a major role in this novel, it’s really about a young man’s evolution at a small college in Wisconsin. As the story progresses, baseball fades into the background for the majority of Harbach’s book as he explores sexuality, Moby Dick, confidence, and so much more.

Mad Men and Politics, co-authored and -edited by Lilly Goren

Daniel: I don’t need a good excuse to re-watch “Mad Men,” but I’m glad my recent podcast interview with Lilly Goren provided one. Goren appeared on the podcast recently to promote the thoughtful collection of essays she co-authored titled, Mad Men and Politics: Nostalgia and the Remaking of Modern America.

From Goren’s essay “If You Don’t Like What They Are Saying, Change the Conversation” The Grifter, Don Draper, and the Iconic American Hero” to Linda Beail’s “Invisble Men: The Politics and Presence of Racial and Ethnic ‘Others’ in ‘Mad Men,’” Mad Men and Politics takes a deep dive into how Matthew Weiner’s hit show depicted—both successfully and, some would debate, incompletely—corporate culture, machismo, feminism, race, family, war, and identity during the 1960s. Everything from Don Draper’s gray flannel suit and Joan Harris’ pen necklace to Peggy Olson’s rise and Bert Cooper’s stodginess are explored for political, sociological, and psychological context—both for that decade and our current era.

After reading these essays and re-watching a few episodes of the show, I’m reminded that in politics and culture it seems like everything has changed and nothing has changed. Obviously we’ve made strides as a society, but at the same time, we seem to be spinning our wheels with the same issues depicted in the show. Like any good academic or critical writing, Mad Men and Politics will force you to keep asking questions, and make you even hungrier to find the answers.

Dark Money by Jane Mayer

Daniel: Dark Money by New Yorker staff writer Jane Mayer is essential reading for anyone baffled or troubled by what’s going on politically and culturally in this country. The exploration into where all the “dark money” being funneled into our political system comes from starts with a furrowed-brow meeting with some of the richest people in the United States (and the globe) after President Barack Obama’s victory over John McCain in the 2008 election. This powerful cabal vowed to finance the opposition to the new President through any means (legal, illegal, shadowy, etc.) necessary.  

However, as chilling as the details of that meeting are, it’s nothing compared to Mayer’s investigation into how families like the Kochs made their fortune and then wielded it like a weapon in order to advance a deeply conservative agenda. All of the information Mayer finds is unsettling. From the Koch brother’s father building oil refineries for the Nazis to the DeVos family buying millions of dollars worth of influence, Dark Money makes clear that the radical right is more or less a collection of talking points and sacks of cash.

To be sure, the Democrats would love to have a system this sophisticated and efficient. And if they had anything close to this kind of organization and money, they’d never lose another election again, and a few marginalized groups of citizens might actually get help purely by happenstance. However, a radical wing of the GOP—that believes in a hyper-nationalist, super-racist, and downright grim view of America—has hijacked our political agenda, and is well funded, in large part, by a very small group of individuals.

Dark Money may be uncomfortable reading, but we’re never going to break out of our current political paralysis by avoiding the truth.

The Good Assassin by Paul Vidich

Daniel: I got sucked into Paul Vidich’s The Good Assassin—the follow up to the author’s excellent debut spy thriller An Honorable Man that hits shelves April 18—just as easily as George Mueller gets suckered into doing yet another shadowy errand for the CIA.

Vidich’s Cold War setting feels immediate because of the political shenanigans currently infecting the United States. The author turns up the heat in The Good Assassin—literally and figuratively—by dropping his character in Havana before the fall of Cuban dictator Fulgencio Batista. Mueller is investigating Toby Graham, a potentially corrupt and treasonous CIA operative, who our hero has known since college.

A gripping plot combined with Vidich’s signature understated prose and tortured characters makes The Good Assassin a worthy follow up to An Honorable Man. It’s a novel that should be under your arm as you head to the beach this summer (or while swirling a glass of dark alcohol in a plush chair by the fire).

Author’s Corner

Dimitry Elias Léger isn’t just one of our favorite authors, he’s also one of our favorite readers. He sent over a lovely photograph from Geneva of his current book pile for this month’s Author’s Corner. This is what reading should look like!Daniel Ford

Pictured: Mohsin Hamid's Exit West, Viet Thanh Nguyen's The Sympathizer, Paulo Coelho's The Spy, and Geoff Colvin's Humans Are Underrated.

Pictured: Mohsin Hamid's Exit West, Viet Thanh Nguyen's The Sympathizer, Paulo Coelho's The Spy, and Geoff Colvin's Humans Are Underrated.

Dimitry Elias Léger is the author of God Loves Haiti. To learn more about Léger, listen/read our podcast and print interviews with the author.

#NovelClass

Listen to Dave Pezza and Daniel Ford’s discussion about Lisa Gardner’s novel Right Behind You.

17 Books That Should Be On Your Radar: March 2017

Every month, the Writer’s Bone crew reviews or previews books we've read or want to read. This series may or may not also serve as a confessional for guilty pleasures and hipster novels only the brave would attempt. Feel free to share your own suggestions in the comments section or tweet us @WritersBone.

Setting Free the Kites by Alex George

Daniel Ford: Like Sean Tuohy, I have a soft spot for coming-of-age tales. They can leave a lasting impression on a reader if done well, and Setting Free the Kites is a shining example. I finished the novel in two sittings. I just couldn’t get enough of it, even when it was slamming my heart up against the wall.

The novel, which is set in a small town in Maine, opens with Robert Carter getting the snot kicked out of him by his nemesis. Nathan Tilly, the new kid in town, puts the ogre in his place, and then, naturally, becomes Robert’s best friend. Rather than put these two through the normal paces of adolescent life, George ups the ante by having the pair deal with one tragedy after another. Nathan’s father, who shares the same joie de vivre as his son, falls to his death early in the novel, and Robert’s brother slowly wastes away from degenerative muscular dystrophy.

However, while the novel squeezes a reader’s heart in a half a million ways, it never completely breaks it. There’s this underlying optimism and hopefulness that bubbles up. Whether rocking out to Liam’s beloved rock ‘n’ roll vinyls or getting the “it girl” to notice them at their job at Robert’s father’s amusement park, these two incredibly well crafted characters find joy in even the darkest corners. (But rest assured, you’ll be weeping in buckets by the end. Trust me, don’t be a hero, buy extra tissues.)

Like any worthy coming-of-age story, there isn’t one character you fall completely in love with. There are multiple characters you root for whether or not you’d want to be in same room with them for more than five minutes. Setting Free the Kites is a tender, funny, and passionate read, and I plan to follow George’s work for years to come.

The Refugees by Viet Thanh Nguyen

Daniel: Viet Thanh Nguyen’s The Sympathizer clocked in at #2 on our “Best Books of 2016” list (oh yeah, and won a Pulitzer Prize). The Refugees, a short story collection, is almost assured a spot on our 2017 list.

Set in both Vietnam and the United States, the eight stories (written over a period of 20 years) in this collection empathetically and honestly depict the global immigrant experience. Through an unforgettable cast of characters, Nguyen explores homosexuality, old age, healthcare, family, friendship, love, marriage, parenthood, and identity.

Nguyen’s prose makes one think of Alice Munro (featured in Nicole Blade’s “Author’s Corner” below) because of its earthiness and its ability to craft profound revelations out of the most ordinary of lives. He is an essential voice in these troubled political times.  

All Grown Up by Jami Attenberg

Stephanie Schaefer: In an era where almost 40 percent of young adults live with their parents, student loan debt is at an all-time high, and more and more people are delaying marriage—or rejecting the union altogether—it makes sense for a modern coming-of-age novel to focus on a 39-year-old protagonist. 

Jami Attenberg’s All Grown Up offers an un-sugarcoated commentary on adulthood in the 21st century. Written from the perspective of Andrea Bern, a flawed, almost-40, New York City dweller with as much baggage as JFK Airport, the novel deals with issues including addiction, depression, terminal illness, and what it means to be a woman who refuses to follow the status quo.

I enjoyed Attenberg’s eloquent writing style and her ability to be both raw and poignant at the same time. Essentially, All Grown Up reads like a grittier “Sex and the City”—that is if Carrie Bradshaw traded her shoe addiction for alcoholism, and if instead of Mr. Big she craved a series of one-night-stands in order to fill a void stemming from a broken childhood. 

Dark at the Crossing by Elliot Ackerman

Daniel: Boy, can Elliot Ackerman write. His debut novel, Green on Blue, was one of our favorite reads of 2015, and left us wanting so much more from the author. Ackerman’s sophomore novel, Dark at the Crossing, didn’t disappoint, and features a novelist fully growing into his literary powers.

The book centers on Haris Abadi, a wayward Arab American, who is attempting to cross the Turkish border into Syria to fight against Bashar al-Assad’s regime. As the title suggests, things don’t go according to plan (even though Abadi doesn’t have much of a plan to begin with). He finds shelter with a troubled and broken Syrian couple, Amir and his wife Daphne, and becomes embroiled in their complex relationship. All three are searching for something; something that beckons from beyond a border they struggle to cross (both metaphorically and physically).

Ackerman’s gift for prose and dialogue are on full display. He crafts a brutal love story and also beautifully depicts a violent part of the world largely misunderstood by those on the outside of the battle lines. Much like Green on Blue, Dark at the Crossing is a must read for anyone attempting to further their understanding of the Middle East, as well as our shared humanity.   

Forty Acres by Dwayne Alexander Smith

Daniel: Cancel all your plans before you sit down to read Dwayne Alexander Smith’s exceptional thriller Forty Acres. It’s constantly surprising, and you will not want to put it down once the pages start turning.

After up-and-coming attorney Martin Grey scores a surprise legal victory over a much more heralded rival, he’s invited to an exclusive club by some of the most prominent members of the black community. Grey finds himself on a private jet headed to an undisclosed hideaway founded by an eccentric, shadowy figure. Instead of nature hikes and burly masseuses, Grey discovers something far more insidious. Within the complex, white men and women are enslaved, bending to their black “masters” every whim and desire. The young, idealistic lawyer has to grapple with his racial identity, his country’s violent racial past (and present), and the true nature of power. And in true thriller fashion, his life, and that of his equally tenacious wife, depends on his finding answers as fast as humanly possible.  

Smith’s novel has trace DNA from Nelson DeMille’s The Charm School and constantly surprises. It asks big questions that readers will chew on long after the novel finally unshackles them.

One of the Boys by Daniel Magariel

Adam Vitcavage: Daniel Magariel’s debut novel (out March 14) is an emotionally packed exploration into family, negligence, and addiction. It’s only around 170 pages, but is still able to pack in so much ethos because of the writer’s sense of urgency. An unnamed 12-year-old boy narrates the novel, and we discover he and his older brother live with their father. After a bitter divorce—dubbed “the war” by the father—the trio heads to New Mexico for a fresh start. The happiness fades when violence and drug addiction begin to surface. Magariel’s plot and prose make this a memorable book that will leave you emotionally numb well after the last page is finished.

Exit West by Mohsin Hamid

Daniel: What kind of life can be lived in a war zone? Can new love find a spark? Can familial love sustain? What would one give up to walk through a door leading to escape? What life can be lived on the other side? 

These are the questions Mohsin Hamid attempts to answer in his incredibly moving, romantic, tender, and violent novel Exit West (out March 7). His narrative centers on two of the more original characters you’ll find in today’s fiction. Saeed, a sensitive and religious young man backed by a supportive family, and Nadia, a headstrong, independent woman who broke free from her family to establish an independent life on her own terms, kindle a romance that becomes more and more complicated as their country descends further and further into armed conflict. Their bond is tested and redefined when they are offered a chance at escape, and an entirely new story, one just as fraught and questioning, begins. 

This all sounds heavy, and it is, but Hamid tells the tale with such a deft and warm hand that your heart swells much more than it breaks. There are several laugh-out-loud moments that remind you that humor and love exist even when surrounded by humanity’s worst instincts. Exit West is a special novel, one that should be celebrated and embraced by readers of all nationalities, races, and creeds. 

Ill Will by Dan Chaon

Adam: The premise of Dan Chaon’s third novel (out March 7) is titillating and enthralling. Thirty years ago, a boy named Dustin told police his adoptive brother Rusty was behind the massacre of their parents, aunt, and uncle. Now, Dustin is a physiologist and Rusty has been exonerated by DNA evidence. Their two lives have been defined by the murders and are about to collide again. What Chaon does is take this dark, twisted story, and adds subtle twists to the narratives he unfolds with precision. The author manipulates how we are fed information: he uses traditional forms like flashback, but also allows one narrative to be told through first-, second- and third-person points of view. With Ill Will, Chaon has mastered the psychological thriller novel.

The Weight of This World by David Joy

Daniel: As you may already know, author David Joy is a Writer’s Bone favorite. He’s on our masthead (his essay “One Place misUnderstood” is not to be missed), we adored his debut novel, Where All the Light Tends to Go, and his Twitter feed is a must-follow. Even if all of that weren’t true (and he wasn’t a fan of Jefferson’s, one of our favorite bourbons), we’d still crow about his beautifully destructive second effort, The Weight of This World (out March 7).

This novel, set once again in the mountains of North Carolina, features Thad Broom, an Afghan war vet, and his best friend Aiden McCall. The pair is bound together by much more than mere friendship, and find out just how strong those ties are after they witness a drug dealer kill himself, leaving behind a pile of drugs and cash. As the two men decide what to do next, Thad’s mother April, deals with her own trauma as she prepares to leave the only home she’s ever known—one scarred by violence and anger.

Joy puts his main characters through hell, but it’s not hell for its own sake. There’s a purpose to every sentence and every line of dialogue Joy writes. He’s searching for answers to deeper truths about violence, trauma, and family; it just so happens that his path to answers tends to lead down the barrel of a gun.

Additionally, without giving anything away, The Weight of This World features one of the best, and most satisfying, endings to a crime fiction novel I’ve ever read. Joy was nominated for an Edgar Award for his first novel, and there’s no doubt in my mind he might find himself walking back home with one this time around. 

Adam: Boris Fishman’s two novels—2014’s A Replacement Life and 2016’s Don’t Let My Baby Do Rodeo—both landed on The New York Times 100 Notable Books the year they were released. Last year’s Rodeo is about a young Jewish American couple who immigrated to the United States from Eastern Europe. Their adoptive son is obsessed with nature and is almost a wildling. The story unfolds with the couple’s journey to Montana to discover why their son is the way he is. Fishman’s sense of humor is sprinkled through this absurd, but very serious, novel as he explores themes of identity, nature-versus-nurture, and genealogy.

The Shooting by James Boice

Gary Almeter: From its jarring opening sentence to its poignant conclusion, The Shooting fully and unrelentingly immerses the reader in gun culture. It does so in ways large and small, addressing the larger Machiavellian components of our nation's preoccupation with guns and fashioning small narratives of the individuals affected by gun violence. It is an epic story and one of the simplest too.

Three characters—the reclusive erratic scion of a wealthy family, a staunch anti-Second Amendment advocate whose daughter was murdered in a school shooting, and the teenage son of immigrant—all collide following one incident in New York City. The stories of these characters leading up to this moment are engrossing, and the paths these characters take after the incident will challenge what you think you know about America. 

This is one of the best books I have ever read.

Author’s Corner

By Nicole Blades

In honor of Women’s History Month, I decided to keep my “Books You Should Already Own Because Whaaaat Why Haven’t You Read Them Yet?” list limited to women writers. And the good news is, this wasn’t a challenge. The work that women fiction writers have been and continue to put out there is pure fire! Love story? We got you. Thriller? On it. Young Adult charmer? Here you go, buddy. Whatever you have a hankering for, there are long lists of exceptional books written by a woman from which to choose and devour. For me, the work was trying to limit this list to five books. But that’s another story that involves my—ahem—acute bibliosis (just pretend, okay?). Here are five books I’ve read in the last five years that you’ll want to have on your shelf too.

Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Whenever someone asks me for a book recommendation, this is one of the first that comes to my lips. It’s a love story, but that’s just one of the many rich layers to this novel. It’s also a story about belonging, home, loneliness, and being a black woman in a country that often acts like you’re not there. Plus there’s so much wit and heart here that you’ll find yourself head-back laughing one minute and then shouting “I know, right?!” the next.  But that’s the magic of Adichie. She is so focused on telling rich, real stories that you can see yourself on these pages. And even when you don’t see “you” in the story, the characters are authentic while also being complex and human that you are pulled into their world and perspective. It’s all very captivating.

Everything, Everything by Nicola Yoon

It’s a girl-meets-boy story, yes, but there’s nothing typical about it. For starters the girl, Madeline Whittier, is mixed race—African American and Asian. Also, she has a rare disease called severe combined immunodeficiency (SCID) that makes her essentially “allergic to the world.” The boy, Olly, is her new neighbor, and their meet-cute happens from behind the glass of their distant bedroom windows. From the first line in, you’ll be rooting for Maddy. You want all good things for her, even though she’s enduring this unlivable, limited life trapped in a virtual bubble. The dialogue is snappy and smart, and the characters and their relationships feel real. Plus, there are these darling illustrations sprinkled throughout the book that add yet another layer of sweetness to this wonderful story.

Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty

I read this one last summer knowing that the HBO adaptation was coming in early 2017. And since I’m one of those “gotta read the book first!” types—and I hadn’t been pulled into a dark, buzzy, page-turner mystery since maybe Gone Girl—I picked up the heavy hardcover and jumped right in. I’m happy to say, Big Little Lies was the first book in a long while with a twist that I never saw coming. When I got to the particular page near the end, I literally sat up in my bed with my jaw dropped. Having that “No. Waaaaaaaay!” moment was a real payoff.  It’s gossip and secrets and schadenfreude; all the ingredients for a classic beach read.

The Turner House by Angela Flournoy

Full disclosure: I know Angela in real life. She went to college with my sister. But even if she were a stone-cold stranger, I would still sing this book’s praises. Well-drawn and engrossing—while tackling some pretty heavy topics like mental health and addiction and the 2008 housing crisis as well as the knotted ties that bind a family—The Turner House is poignant, entertaining, heartfelt and haunting. It’s ambitious, but takes such care with the finer details while being beautifully written. A fascinating family saga that almost dares you to put it down. (Don’t take the dare, though. You’ll lose!)

Any Book by Alice Munro

Okay, fine. It’s kind of cheating, but it’s not really because, come on. This is Alice Munro we’re talking about here. Alice Munro, aka Great Fellow Canadian/Master of the Short Story/Winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature. I’m a loyal fan of Munro and her work. She’s permanently installed at the top of my list of favorite authors, and I’ll often pick up one of her collections at random times through the years to read a short story or two. But for the purposes of staying true to this “five for five” list, I’ll highlight her most recent release, Dear Life. It’s her thirteenth collection, but it’s as sharp and compelling as her first. The stories make the lives of ordinary people extraordinary.  And isn’t that the very definition of what good fiction is? I’ll answer for you: Yes. Now, if you really want to get on my bad side, ask me to choose one of her short stories as my all-time favorite. (I’m already frowning at you now, so don’t bother.)

Nicole Blades’ next book, Have You Met Nora?, will be released Oct. 31. Her latest novel, The Thunder Beneath Us, is available now wherever books and e-books are sold. Catch Nicole and her sister Nailah on “Hey, Sis!,” their brand new podcast about women finding their focus and place in business, art, culture, and life.

Learn more about Blades by visiting her official website, liking her Facebook page, or following her on Twitter @NicoleBlades, Instagram @nicole_blades, and Goodreads. Also read Lindsey Wojcik's interview with the author.  

#NovelClass

In the second installment of #NovelClass, Dave Pezza and Daniel Ford discuss Edie Meidav’s Crawl Space.

5 Short Story Collections by Women of Color You Need to Read Right Now

By Adam Vitcavage

Literature, for so much of its history, has been dominated by white men. The non-official canon boasts the likes of Twain and Hemingway to Chabon and DeLillo. In high school, while reading Fitzgerald, Miller, Steinbeck, and so many other white men, Harper Lee was the lone female that all of my friends seemed to have read. In college, I was obsessed with Salinger, Roth, Cheever, and Updike; enough so that I not so jokingly referred to them as The Beatles of American Literature.

Over the past couple of years, I spent time shying away from the traditional heavyweight white male writers, and sought out female writers. It’s easy. So many of my recent favorites (Jennifer Egan’s A Visit from the Goon Squad and Hanya Yanagihara’s A Little Life, to name a few) have been by women.

In addition to seeking well-written books by talented women, I also wanted to broaden my horizon even more by reading people of color. Again, this isn’t hard. So many of the most talent writers—Colson Whitehead, Jesmyn Ward, Aravind Adiga—are people of color who have written books that blew me away.

Recently, I had the chance to interview Mariana Enriquez—an immensely talented fiction writer and journalist who is Argentinean. Her most recently short story collection was translated into English and published as Things We Lost in the Fire this month.

Enriquez’ stories are vibrant depictions of her native Argentina, mostly Buenos Aires, as well as some ventures to surrounding countries. She fills the dozen stories with compelling characters in haunting stories that evaluate inequality, violence, and corruption. Characters range from social workers to street dwellers and even venture into dark magic users. With those characters, the author explores tourists in Argentina, the rich visiting the slums, plus so many more dynamic areas of her home country.

In December 2016, The New Yorker published “Spiderweb,” a story about a bad relationship growing more difficult. The story is a prime example of how Enriquez explores political themes, as well as her penchant to focus on the horrors of life.

The collection got me thinking about other short story collections by women of color I enjoyed recently. For the sake of saving (digital) space, I limited this to five recommendations that have been recently published. But, believe me, there are plenty more.

The Man Who Shot Out My Eye is Dead by Chanelle Benz

This collection of short stories succeeds in creating visceral voices over the course of centuries. Chanelle Benz is able to engage readers in invigorating stories about a 16th century monk to a 19th century baroque piece narrated by a chorus of We. "The West of Known,” the opening story, garnered Benz a lot of recognition when it was first published in The American Reader. The story earned her an O. Henry Prize and is an astonishing piece to introduce yourself to her writing. "James III" is a modern piece about violence and family that is narrated from the perspective of a high school freshman in Philadelphia. However, what stands out about Benz's writing is not the thought provoking plot; instead, it is the voice she is able to give James. He feels so real. So do all of her other narrators. Each one is a unique human who really lived. They're not just characters in a short story collection.

What is Not Yours is Not Yours by Helen Oyeyemi

Chances are you’ve read this book. It made nearly every “Best Of” list for 2016. But I’m here to make sure the rest of you who might have missed this collection why it’s great. While all of the collections I’m recommending are illuminating, I want to highlight Helen Oyeyemi’s originality and prose. Her novels are imaginative and she was able to take her toolkit and adapt them for stories extremely well. Throughout the collection, she uses keys and locks—figuratively and literally—as a foundation to hold the stories together. She’s able to produce expansive worlds in a limited space better than most writers are able to create in a full-length novel. She bends narratives’ structures until they nearly snap.

Whatever Happened to Interracial Love? by Kathleen Collins

Kathleen Collins might not be a name you recognize. She was a playwright, filmmaker, writer, and an African-American civil rights activist who died in her forties in 1988. So why is this 27-year-old white guy, whose life never overlapped with the author’s, writing about her? A collection of her stories called Whatever Happened to Interracial Love? knocked me on my ass, that's why. Her sixteen stories offer poignant insight into everyday life for African-Americans in the ‘70s and ‘80s. Collins earnestly invites readers into intimate stories like they were lifelong bosom buddies. The ease of the author’s writing balances the explosive content filling the collection, and while these stories are decades old, their themes are more relevant than ever at the close of one of the most racially turbulent years in modern history.

Difficult Women by Roxane Gay

In Bad Feminist, a collection of essays, Roxane Gay wrote eloquently about race, feminism, poverty and more in an accessible way. She continues to use her strong voice in this collection of short stories that take those same themes and waves them into stories of resilience and power. She avoids stereotypes within character development as well as plot. Her stories truly reflect modern America through the lens of black women. It is an invigorating read that is eye opening and enlightening.

In the Country by Mia Alvar

Most of these collections can almost be used in history classes to educate students on regions the writers know best. Alvar writes about the Philippines with a raw authenticity through a variety of lenses. Much like Gay’s collection, Alvar’s covers many different aspects of life in the Philippines; especially her hometown of Manila. Families deteriorate because of trust, or they grow stronger because of love. A foreign model learns the hard truths about a town. A bullied little boy finds and loses hope in an unlikely place. So many of her stories reveal the underbelly of a region not many Americans, especially white men like myself, ever think about. However, even if you’ve never read about the topics Alvar writes about, there is a familiarity to her themes and writing that is welcoming for any reader.

More From the Writer’s Bone Library

16 Books That Should Be On Your Radar: February 2017

Every month, the Writer’s Bone crew reviews or previews books we've read or want to read. This series may or may not also serve as a confessional for guilty pleasures and hipster novels only the brave would attempt. Feel free to share your own suggestions in the comments section or tweet us @WritersBone.

Lucky Boy by Shanthi Sekaran

Gary Almeter: To call this book a miracle is somehow an understatement, but it does achieve something miraculous. Sekaran has written a novel about immigration, the adoption of illegal immigrants' babies, the excesses of Silicon Valley, the Asian and Mexican immigrant experiences, marriage in the 21st century, and prison.

Even with the enormity of all that, the most compelling aspects of this novel are the simple love story and one immigrant mother's odyssey. Through it all, there are no heroes and no (well, maybe a few) villains. Everyone's hat is a shade of gray, and everyone elicits some sort of sympathy. I read this awaiting the ending—knowing that a happy ending was as close to metaphysically impossible as could be. The structure of that novel goes back and forth from Soli's story to Kavya's but the cadence never becomes repetitive. The author surprises you now and again and the writing is just too good to ever not be compelling.

What's also miraculous is the way Sekaran navigates all the worlds—the dusty village in Mexico, the sorority kitchen in Berkley, the Indian wedding, the Internet company's CEO's office. You walk through all these terrains as if you're really there.  And you find yourself questioning for whom you are cheering and why.

Days Without End by Sebastian Barry

Daniel Ford: Days Without End is a splendid novel from Irish author Sebastian Barry (who has twice been nominated for the Man Booker Prize). The novel follows Thomas McNulty as he comes of age in a violent era in American history. After surviving a harrowing journey from Ireland in the 1850s, Thomas finds himself signing up for the U.S. Army with his brother-in-arms John Cole.

As it turns out, John is more than just a friend or a close battlefield compatriot. Thomas and John are lovers, and their romantic bond is central to the novel rather than being vaguely alluded to or dismissed out of hand. In a recent interview (which ran in “Friday Morning Coffee”) Barry told me that his son coming out was a big inspiration for Thomas and John’s story. That influence shows in the tender and moving way he describes their love for each other. It’s made all the more poignant by Barry’s decision to tell the tale from McNulty’s point-of-view in a stream of consciousness that makes the novel’s events all the more immediate and crushing.  

Barry puts these two men through the ringer. They see all manner of death and destruction during the Indian Wars and the Civil War. However, there’s also a wealth of dark humor and empathy that permeate these pages. Days Without End deals with issues and themes that are set in the past, but are still relevant today in the United States and around the globe.

Selection Day by Aravind Adiga

Adam Vitcavage: Selection Day, the new novel by Man Booker Prize-winner Aravind Adiga, is the perfect novel for the post-2016 Election world our new President has created. Instead of shunning diversity, we should be embracing it. Agida’s novel takes place in his native Mumbai and explores a young boy’s life and how it is consumed by cricket (a sport we Americans know nearly nothing about). It’s not a sports novel by any means, but instead a witty social commentary on a corner of the world that has often been perceived in a cartoonish way by Westerners. The fascinating realism the writer provides for the setting makes this coming-of-age novel a richness that readers should welcome with open arms

Talking As Fast As I Can by Lauren Graham

Stephanie Schaefer: Reading this book was like grabbing coffee with an old friend—filled with laughs, advice, and plenty of sarcasm. I’ll admit that I was a late bloomer to “Gilmore Girls” fandom. Having only seen a few re-runs in high school, I started binge watching the series on Netflix just a few months ago in anticipation of Netflix’s reboot (I have since finished all 7 seasons + “Gilmore Girls: The Year in the Life “and am anxiously awaiting an announcement that they’ll be future installments *fingers crossed*).

Although it took me a while to jump on the Stars Hollow bandwagon, I instantly fell in love with Lauren Graham’s acting on NBC’s “Parenthood” (if you haven’t seen the show before, go watch it, but make sure you grab a box of tissues). I enjoy how Graham can effortlessly switch between comedy and drama in both beloved series. She doesn’t take herself, or Hollywood, too seriously, which is evident in her memoir (essentially, she’s the anti-Gwyneth Paltrow). In a world filled with political drama, I think Talking As Fast As I Can is just what we need: a lighthearted, unpretentious book to make as laugh and escape the tension of the last few months, if only for a few blissful chapters.

The Good Girls Revolt by Lynn Povich

Daniel: The Good Girls Revolt (the book that provides the basis for the Amazon television show) is essential reading for anyone with a judicious and rebellious heart. However, some of the early stats pioneering journalist Lynn Povich includes are shocking. She writes, “Until around 1970, “women comprised fewer than 20 percent of students in medical school, 4 percent of law school students, and only 3 percent of business school students.” Esh. 

The world began to change in the late 1960s and early 1970s in large part because of the women's movement. Povich, one of the women of Newsweek who sued the magazine for equal rights in 1970, spins a captivating narrative that details all of the obstacles women in the workplace attempted to vault over both legally and culturally. Based on myriad interviews with former Newsweek staff writers and editors, The Good Girls Revolt features one badass female writer after another, some of which never got to fully reap the benefits of the lawsuit they won. “When I found out the working conditions were illegal," Povich said in a recent interview with Writer's Bone, "I thought, oh my god, it’s a moral imperative that we do something.” 

The turbulent 2016 Presidential campaign and the conservative administration that resulted prove that the country has a long way to go in how it treats and values women. However, the size and fervor of the crowds during the Women’s March following Trump’s inauguration gives me hope that the ideals fostered by the women in Povich’s book are alive and well, and will give us all something to emulate and rally around in the days to come. 

Pachinko by Min Jin Lee

Daniel: It’s imperative we embrace all immigrant narratives during the next few years, but especially those as well written and sweeping as Min Jin Lee’s Pachinko (out Feb. 7). Lee’s novel follows generations of one Korean family, beginning in 1900s Korea. The narrative’s exquisite prose and well-crafted characters perfectly match Lee’s themes of family, love, and faith. The opening line sets the tone, both for the novel and our times:

“History failed us, but no matter.”

It’s in that failing that we discover who we are and who we care about. Lee’s novel may have been set from a Korean family’s point of view, but it could be any of our families. Familial bonds have a tendency to shape our identity and worldview, both for good and for ill, and Lee captures that tension and connection beautifully throughout Pachinko. I look forward to sitting down with the author to discuss her structure and character development later this month. 

Idaho by Emily Ruskovich

Adam: It’s easy for a psychological thriller to get lost in its own mystery. Some writers push plot twists down readers’ throats without worrying about much else. However, Emily Ruskovich’s debut is a high literary affair with lyrical prose and shifting perspectives that will live a lasting impression on its readers. Idaho is set in...well, Idaho. It explores a family torn apart by the murder of a child while another disappears. Fans of Smith Henderson’s Fourth of July Creek will experience a similar haunting feeling as these characters fall into the depths of despair. While the plot is extremely riveting, it is Ruskovich’s dedication to making her words leap off the page in a beautiful way that stands out. The juxtaposition of the horrors you’re reading and how breathtaking the prose makes this an early frontrunner for a future “Best Novels of 2017” list.

The Impossible Fortress by Jason Rekulak

Gary: The ‘80s were big for a host of reasons: big hair, big cell phones, big escapist television shows like "Dynasty," big concept albums like Paul Simon's "Graceland," big fears about Russia. But paradoxically, the decade was still small insofar as people still shopped in small stores on village main streets and people's obsessions were limited to that which could be covered by three networks and a finite number of media outlets; news spread slowly and stuck around for awhile.  When everyone talked about something, everyone talked about it for a long time.

Enter Vanna White's appearance in Playboy in May 1987. It was the only thing a 14-year-old boy could think or talk about for a month. Fourteen-year-old boys like Billy, Alf and Clark in Jason Rekulak’s The Impossible Fortress. The novel is the story of how they try to get a copy of that issue of Playboy so they can see ogle the “Wheel of Fortune” star. Rekulak does a spectacular job of recreating the ‘80s in all of its bigness and in all of its smallness. He does an even better job of recreating the world of a teenage boy—how they are simultaneously omnipotent and insanely vulnerable, and how their limitless dreams are limited by the logistics of adolescence. 

The writing is grand and filled with details that evoke a teenager’s mind: “Both of his parents worked—his father hung wallpaper and his mother was a secretary in a Realtor's office—so they were rolling in dough.”  Most importantly, Rekulak has created characters that are authentic and likable, which makes the book about much more than stealing a magazine to see Vanna’s hoo-hoo.  

Perfect Little World by Kevin Wilson

Adam: Kevin Wilson broke out onto the literary scene with a heartwarming and quirky family comedy. In Perfect Little World, he brings his sharp literary prose to a story with a plot that sounds like sci-fi: a commune where you live with your children, but they don’t know who their parents are. It’s clear that the author’s obsession with family is something he’ll continue to explore. Perfect Little World feels fresh every step of the way, at once breezy and thought provoking. His story is offbeat and wholly original. Even when the traditional tropes come into play, he puts an unorthodox spin on it that never makes them feel stale. In an interview with “Electric Literature,” the author expressed how important it was trying to avoid copying The Family Fang in Perfect Little World.

The Seventh Plague by James Rollins

Daniel: A missing archeology professor wanders out of the desert. His body is in a semi-mummified state and laden with clues about his disappearance. However, he unleashes an unknown, and possibly ancient, plague that threatens the globe. That’s the thrilling set up for James Rollin’s most recent Sigma Force novel, The Seventh Plague.

Readers are treated to mysterious assassins, a wise-crackin’ Kowalski, and Biblical mayhem in what should be yet another Rollins best-seller. His adventurous blend of science and history never fails to disappoint, and knowing the effort and dedication the author puts into his craft makes following Sigma Force all the more enjoyable. In our current political state, it’s also nice picking up a thriller that embraces and champions facts rather than cowers from them.

Oh yeah, Mark Twain and Nikola Tesla make an appearance and prove integral to the plot! We’re currently prodding Rollins to write a standalone buddy comedy featuring the famed author and inventor.

Lightwood by Steph Post

Daniel: One of the best things about interacting with as many up-and-coming authors as we do is seeing their work improve with each novel or short story collection. Steph Post’s debut novel A Tree Born Crooked was a lot of fun, but you could see how much potential she had to do even more with her prose and characters. She didn’t disappoint with her sophomore effort Lightwood!

Her main character, Judah Cannon, walks out of prison and right back into his family’s criminal enterprise. After a lucrative robbery goes sideways, Judah finds himself caught between his hillbilly king pin father, a disgruntled biker gang hell bent on recapturing its past glory, and a tyrannical, corrupt “lady preacher” who would be right at home on an episode of “Justified.”

Post is a natural fit for the “sunshine noir” genre, and Lightwood is getting great buzz from the crime fiction crowd. Don’t be surprised if Post is a household name by book three!

Desperation Road by Michael Farris Smith

Daniel: We do what David Joy says around here. (I also can’t wait to read this book!)

Author’s Corner

By Rory Flynn

The short days of a Boston winter call for compact, streamlined novels that can be read quickly, before it gets dark. We could turn on the lights, but that costs extra and thrifty New Englanders don’t splurge on lights or heat or food. Those are for libertines.

A short novel has to work like a little machine, with all the gears in place. But they also have to have enough depth to make them emotionally engaging. Here are some that do both.

The Devil in the Valley by Castle Freeman, Jr.

Castle Freeman Jr.’s deceptively simple retelling of the Faust legend, grafted to a flinty Vermont town, is a joy to read. He captures more in a few lines of dialogue than most writers can in several pages. While he may be best known for Go With Me, the cult classic favored by dark writers and readers, Freeman excels at capturing the darkness in broad daylight, the streaks of sin that run through even the most upright citizens. Confession: This novel is dedicated to me, and I couldn’t be more proud of it.

Hawthorn & Child by Keith Ridgway

Not all fictional cops act like real cops. And that’s good for readers, otherwise we’d live in a world of grinding procedurals. If you want to immerse yourself in cop reality, I suggest lighting a car on fire and waiting around to get arrested. You’ll get your fill of cops soon enough. That’s not a problem with Keith Ridgway’s twisted London cops, Hawthorn & Child, who seem as floaty and pleasantly surreal as an afternoon on codeine. Legendary bookseller Tom Wickersham recommended this one, and he’s never steered me wrong. I’m halfway through and this subversively absurd novel just keeps getting better.

Mothering Sunday by Graham Swift

Look out. It’s literature. No cops in sight here in Graham Swift’s earthy gem of a novel. I loved Waterland, his weirder and slightly longer novel. But Mothering Sunday is a textbook study of beautiful writing, indelible characters, and precise delineation of a lost era. I actually forced myself to stop reading so that the book would last longer. I went to one of Swift’s readings about a decade ago and he read so fantastically well that he restored my faith in bookstore events.

The Sympathizer by Viet Thanh Nguyen

Deserved winner of the 2016 Pulitzer, Viet Thanh Nguyen’s The Sympathizer (which checked in at #2 on Writer’s Bone’s “Best Books of 2016” list) could very easily have been a compressed novel in the style of The Quiet American. Saigon falls. The defeated Vietnamese decamp to California. Dissent in the ranks leads to murder and a return to Southeast Asia and new disasters. Most of these historical plot points are explored well in the many, many fine Vietnam-era novels, memoirs, and histories. (Dispatches, A Bright Shining Lie, et al). But luckily, Nguyen goes long, spinning out the story in vast swaths of smart, beautiful writing—the kind that makes even the most jaded reader notice. Though the end of the novel is telegraphed on the first page, I wanted to know how it all happened, even if it meant reading a longer novel.

Rory Flynn is the author of the Eddy Harkness series (the most recent entry, Dark Horse, is out in paperback from Mariner Books this spring), and a longtime friend of the Writer’s Bone podcast.

#NovelClass

Daniel Ford and Dave Pezza recently introduced #NovelClass, a new “Friday Morning Coffee” segment that features an in-depth discussion about a novel chosen by Writer’s Bone’s social media followers.

The first installment features Kevin Morris’ All Joe Knight, which was published December 2016 by Grove Press. (Be warned, this discussion contains spoilers.) 

To recommend their next read, email admin@writersbone.com

More From the Writer’s Bone Library

14 Books That Should Be On Your Radar: January 2017

Every month, the Writer’s Bone crew reviews or previews books we've read or want to read. This series may or may not also serve as a confessional for guilty pleasures and hipster novels only the brave would attempt. Feel free to share your own suggestions in the comments section or tweet us @WritersBone.

The Mothers by Brit Bennett

Daniel Ford: December and January are typically the months I frantically catch up on all the books I wasn’t able to fit into my reading schedule during the previous year. Brit Bennett’s soulful and empathetic debut The Mothers was one of the novels I was desperate to catch when it debuted but didn’t end up reading until the beginning of this year. I’m happy to report this book was well worth the wait.

Bennett showcases wisdom and verve well beyond her years. The novel, set in a black community in Southern California, begins with academic standout Natalie Turner considering an abortion after being impregnated by Luke Sheppard (the preacher’s son and injured football star). If that weren’t enough, Turner is still reeling from her mother’s suicide and her father’s distant grief. She finds friendship with Aubrey, who on the surface appears devoutly religious and squeaky-clean, but harbors her own secret past. In fact, the only people able to keep up with all the secrets in this novel (although they tend to be the wrong ones) are “the mothers,” a group of town women who likely found themselves in similar circumstances once upon a time.

Bennett’s dialogue matches each character exquisitely. Natalie’s is often angrily blunt and forceful, backed by intelligence and sadness. Luke mangles his words at times, never quite saying what he means, but revealing enough that readers are able to at least peek into his soul. Aubrey, who is arguably as damaged as Natalie, still retains a sense of innocent longing with her interactions, but isn’t afraid to cut right to the heart of the matter when pushed too far by Natalie or Luke.

The Mothers could have easily been a syrupy, paint-by-numbers drama in less capable hands, however, Bennett matches her pitch-perfect dialogue with lyrical prose that elicits just the right literary notes. Natalie, Luke, and Aubrey all stumble and regress at times, all the while revealing insights into the true nature of community, love, race, belonging, family, friendship, and ambition. Add The Mothers to your nightstand as soon as humanly possible, and put Bennett on your list of authors to watch.      

The Association of Small Bombs by Karan Mahajan

Daniel: A small bomb explodes in a crowded marketplace in Delhi in the mid-1990s. Two young brothers are killed, while their friend is both physically and psychologically scarred. Families mourn, government officials and security forces promise easy justice, and both terrorists and vigilant citizens follow new paths.

So begins Karan Mahajan’s masterful and devastating novel The Association of Small Bombs. Through the eyes of his conflicted characters, Mahajan examines how subtly and profoundly society is altered by “small” terrorist attacks. The author squeezes the humanity out of every character, including the perpetrators, and adds nuance to every decision and action they take. The novel is most effective in its “small” moments: A disillusioned victim finding solace and healing in prayer, a mournful father losing himself in his work, mothers confronting the limitations of their love and security, terrorists battling with internal and external demons, and a population striving for normalcy in an increasingly dangerous and uncertain world.

Mahajan’s sentences are a joy to read, even when he’s twisting your emotions to their breaking points. Considering the times we live in, as well as those we have endured during the last several decades, The Association of Small Bombs is not to be missed.

Sirens by Joshua Mohr

Sean Tuohy: Sirens, the brutally honest memoir by Joshua Mohr that will be released on Jan. 17, carries a hard punch. Mohr is blunt and upfront about his issues with addiction, however, don’t think this is a breezy, uplifting tale about a man overcoming his issues. Sirens features the ugly side of getting clean and relapsing, and Mohr bares his soul to further prove that addicts are never truly over their addictions. Make sure to listen to my interview with the author later this month.

The River at Night by Erica Ferencik

Adam Vitcavage: Erica Ferencik was inspired by “Deliverance” while writing The River at Night. Both are about unfortunate events deep in the wilderness. Ferencik’s takes place in Maine after a girls’ trip goes awry. The first-person narrative puts readers right in the plight, but the author’s focus isn’t too narrow. She carefully considers all points of view as she slowly unfolds the plot. One thing that stood out was the tight pacing that is frantic for the characters, but very breathable as a reader. The tidy construction of events is important for a thriller like this and Ferencik does not fall short.

TV (The Book) by Alan Sepinwall & Matt Zoller Seitz

Daniel: Alan Sepinwall and Matt Zoller Seitz—two of my favorite television critics—begin TV (The Book) with a question that’s long been a staple of living room couches and barroom debates: What’s the greatest TV show of all time? To arrive at the answer, the duo used a scoring system to rank the top 100 scripted shows. The result is a heartfelt, wonderfully written love letter to the small screen. While I was glad many of my favorite shows ended up on the list (Gentleman, I forgive you for leaving off “Men of A Certain Age,” but yay for “Terriers!”), I found myself even more enthralled with the shows I either hadn’t known about or haven’t seen in many years. I went back and watched shows like “Malcolm in the Middle,” “I Love Lucy,” and “The Dick Van Dyke Show” with fresh eyes, marveling at the things I missed during my first viewing.  

Sepinwall and Seitz’s passion for television—and for writing in general—is evident in every essay, but it’s the debate at the beginning of the book that stands above everything else. Their ranking system produced a five-way tie for first place (a true battle royal between “The Sopranos,” “Cheers,” “Breaking Bad,” “The Simpsons,” and “The Wire”), which led to an intense Google Chat discussion between the authors about who deserved the top spot. The debate features some of the most insightful critical writing I’ve ever read. The history, trivia, and episodic memories that follow are infinitely readable and shareable (You’ll surely annoy the significant other in your life by starting every conversation with, “Did you know that…”).

TV (The Book) is essential reading for any TV nut who frequently shouts, “Yes, Netflix, I am still f$%76-ing watching!”

Moonglow by Michael Chabon

Gary Almeter: I was giddy when, back in July, I became one of the first to place a request for Michael Chabon's Moonglow. This meant that I would be among the first to get it from the library upon its publication. Like the “Seinfeld episode” where the rental car place is good at taking the reservation but less good at holding the reservation, I am very adept at placing the hold requests and less adept at managing the requests. As such, I was in the middle of reading Nathan Hill's The Nix when I received an email from the library that Moonglow was available (along with Jonathan Lethem's A Gambler's Anatomy, Thomas Friedman's Thank You For Being Late, and John Edgar Wideman's Writing to Save a Life: The Louis Till File). 

With all that said, I only read the first chapter of Moonglow before I had to return it. It was not renewable because other, less astute library patrons had put request holds on it. However, the chapter I read was astonishing. Every sentence was an adventure. Sentences like, "Before the day of his arrest, my grandfather had distinguished himself to his coworkers only twice. During Game 5 of the 1956 World Series when the office radio failed, my grandfather had repaired it with a vacuum tube prized form the interior of the telephone switchboard.”

It became apparent that I was going to need all three weeks the library allots its patrons to give Moonglow the attention it warrants. I re-requested it and it remains on my radar screen.

Blankets by Craig Thompson

Adam: Start your year off with this lengthy comic memoir about Craig Thompson’s coming-of-age experiences. The majority of the plot unfolds after Craig meets Raina at a winter church camp, but you don’t have to be religious or from the Midwest to connect with Thompson’s poignant narrative. It offers that cozy feeling that your favorite novel or television series provides, but with a unique perspective that you might not be used to. For those of you who aren’t comic fans, fear not because the stark black and white art is beautiful and his prose is very fulfilling. It may be long, but you’ll be able to devour this fairly rapidly.

Juggling Kittens by Matt Coleman

Daniel: As I mentioned on Twitter in December, Matt Coleman’s debut novel Juggling Kittens had a lot in common with James Tate Hill's Academy Gothic. It’s sarcastic fun, and features an unsettling mystery. Newly minted teacher Ellis Maze has a pregnant wife at home and a wacky, but loyal and plucky, superior named “The Drew,” so why wouldn’t he add an unwise and haphazard murder investigation into the mix?

While Maze’s search for a missing student keeps the pages turning, Coleman’s subtle exploration of rural life, education, relationships, parenthood, and America’s response to 9/11 is the novel’s true selling point. I’m also not ashamed to admit that I would pay good money to watch The Drew in a hot dog eating (while he’s downing PBRs and cursing the entire time).     

The Man Who Shot Out My Eye Is Dead by Chanelle Benz

Adam: Creating multiple, distinct voices over a short story collection is perhaps one of the hardest concepts for a writer to grasp. Even the lauded Phil Klay's award-winning collection Redeployment struggled with this (though it didn't struggle with much else). Chanelle Benz's The Man Who Shot Out My Eye Is Dead succeeds in creating visceral voices over the course of centuries of time. The writer is able to engage readers in invigorating stories about a 16th century monk to a 19th century baroque piece narrated by a chorus of We. "The West of Known,” the opening story, garnered Benz a lot of recognition when it was first published in The American Reader. The story earned her an O. Henry Prize and is an astonishing piece to introduce yourself to her writing. "James III" is a modern piece about violence and family that is narrated from the perspective of a high school freshman in Philadelphia. However, what stands out about Benz's writing is not the thought provoking plot; instead, it is the voice she is able to give James. He feels so real. So do all of her other narrators. Each one is a unique human who really lived. They're not just characters in a short story collection.

The Infidel Stain by M.J. Carter

Daniel: M.J. Carter’s debut novel The Strangler Vine was a fun adventure deep within the heart of India that introduces readers to the unlikely duo of Blake and Avery. The Infidel Stain, which takes place three years later in Victorian London, finds the pair investigating the troubling murders of several disreputable publishers (is there any other kind?). Blake and Avery are a little worse for wear following their harrowing Indian experiences (especially Blake who spends much of the novel recovering from ailments, beatings, and grumpiness), but they still have enough of their deductive powers to hunt down the perpetrators that the city’s elite population and its corrupt police force would rather see stay in the shadows.

Carter’s novels satisfy the history nerd in me without being overly expository or pedantic. She builds a world in which you can smell, feel, and taste the grime and grandeur of London in 1841, as well as keep you guessing on where the story is ended next. Blake and Avery also prove once again that their hearts are always in the right place, even when one is slowly (or rapidly) driving the other crazy. I can’t wait to read the next book in the series, The Devil’s Feast, when it goes on sale in March 2017! 

Another Man's Moccasins by Craig Johnson

Daniel: I typically save one of Craig Johnson’s Walt Longmire novels for my end-of-the-year reading. I prefer to savor my interactions with Walt rather than indulge my literary desires and binge-read every one of his adventures. Johnson’s plots are always fun and unexpected, but it’s the time he takes eavesdropping on Walt’s inner monologue that makes all the yarns truly special. Another Man's Moccasins—Book 4 in the Walt Longmire series—just might be my new favorite. Walt finds a dead Vietnamese woman on the side of the road, and during his investigation, he’s haunted by a similar crime he sought answers to during the Vietnam War. Flashing back to Longmire’s war service, Johnson explores the themes of race, family, soldiers, and, as always, the mistreatment of Native Americans. If the series only gets better from here, I’m definitely going to have to revisit my Walt Longmire reading strategy. Boy howdy!   

Author’s Corner

Steph Post took some time out of promoting her new novel to share three books on her radar. Post’s Lightwood is out Jan. 24! Pre-order in bulk!

Be Cool by Ben Tanzer

Be Cool by Ben Tanzer is one of the most raw, honest, and hilarious memoirs I've ever read. Ben has a voice like no one else, fresh and self-deprecatingly witty, and his memoir tackles an issue I think we've all been dealing with since we were 11: how to be cool. Ben is a prolific writer, but Be Cool has to be my favorite of his works.

Leadfoot by Eric Beetner

Leadfoot by Eric Beetner is the follow up to Rumrunners, but goes back to the 1970s to tell the story of Calvin McGraw—the most badass old man character I've ever read about—in his prime. The McGraws remind me a lot of the Cannon family in my own novel Lightwood, and I swear one day our two fictional families are going to end up in a showdown. The McGraws are a hard luck outlaw family, and, in typical Beetner fashion, Leadfoot delivers everything you'd expect in a fast-paced, motor-fueled dark and funny caper.

Beachhead by Jeffery Hess

Beachhead by Jeffery Hess is another fast-paced read and this one is set in Florida in the 1980s. It's got everything you need in a killer crime and mystery read, but also has that beer-blurred sandy feel that I love about the "sunshine noir" genre. I think Jeffery is going to be a writer to keep your eye on in the future.

More From The Writer’s Bone Library

The 30 Best Books of 2016

By Daniel Ford

To date, I’ve read 96 books in 2016, which is up from the 87 I read last year. Since you’ve already called me a nerd in your head, please allow me to further strengthen the case. Those 96 books add up to 37,872 pages, myriad reading devices, and two dried out eyeballs. I also managed to get engaged, help build a website at my day gig, edit and shop a novel, and feed and bath myself.

While I’m troubled by the direction the United States and the world are headed in, I’m just as confident that art and literature will continue to inform, illuminate, and ignite a global citizenship that needs to be more engaged and educated than ever before.

Without further adieu, enjoy the 30 best books of 2016. Feel free to share your favorites in the comments section, on our Facebook page, or tweet us @WritersBone.

30. Everyone Loves You Back by Louie Cronin  

There was a lot to love about Louie Cronin’s debut novel. Cranky radio personalities, quirky Cambridge denizens, awkward love triangles, and jazz on vinyl all made Everyone Loves You Back one of the most fun reads of 2016.

29. Massacre on the Merrimack by Jay Atkinson          

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: Hannah Duston is a badass! Author Jay Atkinson’s passionate retelling of her story offers a glimpse of early American life and the steely resolve women needed (and still need) to brave the New World.  

28. A Hard and Heavy Thing by Matthew J. Hefti         

Matthew Hefti’s main character is writing a letter to a lifelong friend, but he could have easily been writing a letter to the ongoing conflicts the United States has been involved in since 2001. Hefti is a talent to watch, and he delivers a heartfelt and moving debut.   

27. Lay Down Your Weary Tune by W.B. Belcher         

This remains one of the best lines I’ve read this year: “We’re all here for one thing,” Eli says to Jack, “to find a live connection and hold onto it until it bucks us off.” Well done, W.B. Belcher. (Killer cover too!)

26. Swing Time by Zadie Smith

During a “Friday Morning Coffee” episode earlier this year, author Richard Dalglish implored writers not to forget about craftsmanship. There’s no finer example of craftsmanship than Zadie Smith’s new novel Swing Time. Smith asks big, important questions, and I hope that readers debate the answers throughout the new year.

25. We're All Damaged by Matthew Norman

I don’t think Matthew Norman’s main character Andy Carter truly recovers from getting dumping at an Applebee’s (and, really, who would?), but it’s fun watching him try to cobble his life back together. Midwestern sensibilities have never been so hilarious.

24. Dark Horse by Rory Flynn

Eddy Harkness isn’t the hero the real world (or the fictional one he inhabits) deserves, but he certainly is the one we need. In Eddy we trust!

23. The Infinite by Nick Mainieri

Nick Mainieri’s debut features two of my favorite characters from 2016. Jonah McBee and Luz Hidalgo’s fervent and turbulent relationship sets off a chain of events that leads to an unexpected conclusion. The Infinite is one of the best debuts I’ve ever read.

22. The Most Famous Writer Who Ever Lived by Tom Shroder         

The Most Famous Writer Who Ever Lived is essential reading for aspiring authors and journalists. Tom Shroder explores his Pulitzer Prize-winning grandfather’s life while also recounting his own writing career. The passionately researched narrative will fill up your creative tank.

21. Christodora by Tim Murphy

The more I learn about Tim Murphy and his work, the more I like him. His effortless nonlinear storytelling in Christodora perfectly complements his damaged, but tenacious, characters and his exploration of the AIDs epidemic. It’s a gut-wrenching read, but a necessary one.  

20. The Loved Ones by Sonya Chung

Sonya Chung puts her characters through hell throughout her sophomore novel. Their responses to tragedy and inner demons don’t make them the best human beings at times, but you’ll easily fall in love with them despite their myriad flaws. The Loved Ones also features one of the most haunting and beautifully sad farewells you’ll ever read.

19. Disappearance at Devil's Rock by Paul Tremblay 

http://www.writersbone.com/book-recommendations/2016/8/3/10-books-that-should-be-on-your-radar-august-2016

Disappearance at Devil's Rock scared the bejesus out of me. Top-notch suspense. Paul Tremblay also experiments with his prose by featuring text conversations, fragments of diaries, and police interview transcripts.

18. The Fireman by Joe Hill

Joe Hill’s brand of apocalyptic fiction ranks alongside Emily St. John Mandel’s Station Eleven and José Saramago’s Death With Interruptions. Much like those works, The Fireman features a harrowing (and down right sexy) epidemic, a sense of humor, and characters you wouldn’t mind spending damnation with. Hill is one of fiction’s best world builders, and his enthusiasm for the craft of writing is infectious. (His live readings also tend to feature kazoos!)

17. The Nix by Nathan Hill

Considering that Nathan Hill’s debut novel tops many year-end book lists, The Nix is arguably ranked too low here. That’s a testament to the quality of fiction we read in 2016. The Nix is a compulsive read that, at times, gets weighted down by some of its pop culture and societal critiques. However, since 2016 proved to be a bitch of a year culturally and politically, I’d much rather have too much of Hill’s wit rather than not enough.

16. Louisa by Louisa Thomas      

Louisa proved to be a very welcome and refreshing look at Revolutionary War-era America. Louisa Thomas explored the life of Louisa Adams, our first foreign-born First Lady. While Mrs. Adams does spend a good chunk of time recovering from or feigning illness, she proves more than a match for her surly, ambitious, and misunderstood husband (everyone’s favorite dinner guest, John Quincy Adams).

15. Dodgers by Bill Beverly

If “The Wire” had decided to spend a whole season devoted to a road trip with Bodie, Wallace, Poot, and D’Angelo Barksdale, I imagine it would have resembled something close to what Bill Beverly crafted in Dodgers. It’s a thriller with real heart and muscle, thanks in large part to its conflicted main character East. The opening chapters are written as if they were fired from a gun, and set the tone for the rest of the novel’s coming of age journey. 

14. Bobby Kennedy by Larry Tye

The Kennedys have been dissected ad nauseam, however, Larry Tye finds a fresh angle to examine the life of Robert Kennedy. Tye follows John F. Kennedy’s younger brother’s astounding political transformation from his days working as a lawyer under Senator Joe McCarthy to his tragic campaign for President in 1968. Bobby Kennedy is unsparing and objective, but also gives RFK aficionados plenty of new reasons to admire their hero.

13. Youngblood by Matthew Gallagher

Matthew Gallagher’s novel Youngblood is right up there with Elliot Ackerman’s Green on Blue, Ross Ritchell’s The Knife, Ben Fountain’s Billy Lynn’s Halftime Walk, Kevin Powers’ The Yellow Birds, and the aforementioned A Hard and Heavy Thing. Essential reading for anyone trying to make sense of our foreign policy and understand the men and women who execute it.

12. My Name is Lucy Barton by Elizabeth Strout

Elizabeth Strout’s short novel, My Name is Lucy Barton, hit me with the right words and subject matter at the right time. A book about healing, motherhood, and love.

11. Why We Came to the City by Kristopher Jansma   

Kristopher Jansma’s prologue, interlude, and epilogue are the most beautiful words ever written about New York City. His prologue in particular captures everything I feel about the city I’ve loved since childhood. This novel is a must read for anyone that’s been ensorcelled by the Big Apple’s many temptations.  

10. Seinfeldia by Jennifer Keishin Armstrong

It’s nice to know that the creators of one of the best sitcoms of all time were as eccentric as the characters many of us have come to love. Jennifer Keishin Armstrong discovers one great story after another about “Seinfeld” and its writers’ room. She also lovingly investigates the show’s curious, quirky fans who have kept it relevant well past its final episode. Seinfeldia is a breezy, energetic read that will have you binge-watching the show on Hulu by the time you’re finished. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.        

9. Underground Airlines by Ben H. Winters     

Ben H. Winters is the master of dystopian fiction, and he outdoes himself with Underground Airlines. In the novel, the Civil War never happened, slavery still exists, and a slave catcher desperate to repress and erase his past takes on an assignment that threatens to crack his carefully manufactured persona. This book is an absolutely thrilling and original tale that should shake a few assumptions of your own.  

8. This Side of Providence by Rachel M. Harper

One of the most powerful reads of 2016. Rachel Harper penned a tearjerker and beautifully developed the novel’s characters and themes. William Faulkner would be proud.

7. The Wangs vs. The World by Jade Chang

During a recent podcast interview author Jade Chang advised aspiring authors “to be ambitious.” Anyone who has read her debut novel The Wangs vs. the World knows how wonderfully ambition can pay off. Chang reinvigorates the immigrant narrative through the eyes of Charles Wang and his hilariously flawed family. Like many of the novels on this list, The Wangs vs. the World stress tests and critiques all of the tenets of the American Dream, but does so with an abundance of mirth and cynical optimism.

6. Everybody's Fool by Richard Russo

What a pleasure it was to revisit Sully and all of the misfits that live in North Bath, Maine. Richard Russo is one of my literary heroes, and he didn’t disappoint with this follow up to the classic Nobody’s Fool.    

5. You Will Know Me by Megan Abbott

Megan Abbott’s novel should have been titled, You Will Hold Your Breath The Whole Time. I barely survived reading this incredibly tense and finely crafted mystery; I can’t imagine what it was like writing it. She has more than earned the “maestro of the heebie-jeebies” distinction from The New York Times.

4. The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead

The Underground Railroad is why fiction exists. The novel serves as a brutal reminder of the past and a cautionary tale for how easily we can slip into easy violence, subjugation, and intolerance. Colson Whitehead has established himself as one of the great voices in fiction.   

3. Fallen Land by Taylor Brown

Taylor Brown’s achingly beautiful debut established itself as my favorite book of 2016 way back in August 2015 (I read an advanced copy leading up to its January 2016 pub date). It took two special novels to knock it off the top spot. After going back and rereading a few chapters while preparing this list, I was reminded of what made the book such a joy to read: hearty prose, snappy and spare dialogue, earthy characters, and a hard driving plot.  

2. The Sympathizer by Viet Thanh Nguyen        

Viet Thanh Nguyen’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel is great from the first line: “I am a spy, a sleeper, a spook, a man of two faces.” Nguyen crafts a timely, gritty tale that lives in the past, but has an eye on our uncertain future.

1. Be Frank With Me by Julia Claiborne Johnson

We met a lot of memorable characters this year, but there was only one Frank. Be Frank With Me is an unforgettable debut that everyone should read. (And, according to the author, the paperback edition can easily fit in a stocking!)

Honorable Mention

Any of these books could have been added to the top 30. I wrestled with this list for days. I'm just grateful that I got to read so many great novels and nonfiction titles this year! Give plenty of love to these authors’ books as well!

Valiant Ambition by Nathaniel Philbrick, Whatever Happened to Interracial Love? by Kathleen Collins, Perfect Days by Raphael Montes, Thanks for the Trouble by Tommy Wallach, Seven Sins by Karen Runge, A Single Happened Thing by Daniel Paisner, The Last Days of Magic by Marc Thompkins, The Duration by Dave Fromm, The Girls by Emma Cline, An Honorable Man by Paul Vidich, The Far Empty by J. Todd Scott, Come Twilight by Tyler Dilts, The Unseen World by Liz Moore, Nefarious Twit by Tony McMillen, The Point Is by Lee Eisenberg, and Born to Run by Bruce Springsteen

More From The Writer’s Bone Library

11 Books That Should Be On Your Radar: December 2016

Every month, the Writer’s Bone crew reviews or previews books we've read or want to read. This series may or may not also serve as a confessional for guilty pleasures and hipster novels only the brave would attempt. Feel free to share your own suggestions in the comments section or tweet us @WritersBone.

The Wangs vs. The World by Jade Chang

Daniel Ford: Jade Chang’s debut novel, The Wangs vs. The World, crackles with angsty verve, frustration, and familial crisis. The Wang family is incredibly dysfunctional, but also fervently proud and wondrously entertaining. Patriarch Charles Wang’s delusions of reclaiming ancestral lands in China, which exacerbate after losing his cosmetic empire, set the story in motion, and events quickly envelop his unsuspecting, and somewhat damaged, children. A tragically comedic family road trip ensues, offering one cringe-worthy humiliation after another. Chang brilliantly shifts perspectives between the main characters—including the car Charles repossesses from his hired help!—and doesn’t let the narrative let up for a moment.  

While the plot and tone certainly make for exciting reading, what distinguishes The Wangs vs. The World is its truly unforgettable characters. One can’t help but love the self-made (and self-destroyed) Charles, his successful, yet recently disgraced, eldest daughter Saina (whose Upstate New York house the family is fleeing to), and his youngest daughter grace, a financially needy social media star. However, for me, Andrew, the lone Wang son, stole the spotlight. He’s unfailingly earnest and sweet, even when he’s bombing on stage trying to get his stand-up comedy career off the ground. To be sure, each of them faces issues that are serious and potentially ruinous, but the Wangs also make you laugh out loud while you watch them burn their lives to the ground.

In The Wangs vs. The World, Chang explores many of the themes you’ll find in the other novels we recommend this month—family bonds, the struggle with the American dream, the immigrant experience, wealth, financial ruin, and race—but does so with an unparalleled joie de vivre. This novel is landing on a lot of “Best Of” lists for 2016, and deservedly so. Don’t miss out on one of the most fun reads of the year! 

The Infinite by Nick Mainieri

Daniel: I picked up Nick Mainieri’s stellar debut novel The Infinite thinking I’d only read a few chapters to get a feel for his work so that I was prepared for my interview with him. I ended up racing through 100 pages, and only put the book down because my eyes had dried out, my hands were cramped, and morning was rapidly approaching outside my window.

The Infinite’s star-crossed teenage lovers, the unflinchingly loyal Jonah McBee and Luz Hidalgo, an illegal immigrant trying to outpace her “ghost runner,” are two of my favorite characters from 2016. Jonah attempts to hold everything in his life together with baling wire and a dream, while Luz struggles to find acceptance both in New Orleans and across the border in Mexico. When an unexpected pregnancy tears their relationship apart, Luz and Jonah travel paths that converge, but never really intertwine as tightly as during their charmed beginning. Luz’s experiences in particular are jarring and violent, ending in a place far different than you might imagine.

That’s the other hallmark of Mainieri’s freshman novel. It is a constant surprise that never feels overburdened with red herrings or unnecessary plot devices. John Irving once remarked that good writers shouldn’t indulge in twists and turns that the reader doesn’t see coming. He said the most effective literary surprises are those the reader will look back on and think, “Oh, yeah, that makes sense.” That logic is exactly what Mainieri expertly deploys in The Infinite. Jonah and Luz’s fates feel earned and appropriate.

I had to keep reminding myself that this was a debut novel. Much like Taylor Brown’s Fallen Land, Julia Claiborne Johnson’s Be Frank With Me, and M.O. Walsh’s My Sunshine Away, The Infinite reads like it’s penned from a well known master storyteller. Mainieri deftly explores post-Hurricane Katrina New Orleans and a drug war-addled Mexico in pursuit of discovering the true natures of his main characters. I very much look forward to what Mainieri does next.

Adam Vitcavage: Kathleen Collins might not be a name you recognize. She was a playwright, filmmaker, writer, and an African-American civil rights activist who died in her forties in 1988. So why is this 27-year-old white guy, whose life never overlapped with the author’s, writing about her? A collection of her stories called Whatever Happened to Interracial Love? knocked me on my ass, that's why. Her sixteen stories offer poignant insight into everyday life for African-Americans in the ‘70s and ‘80s. Collins earnestly invites readers into intimate stories like they were lifelong bosom buddies. The ease of the author’s writing balances the explosive content filling the collection, and while these stories are decades old, their themes are more relevant than ever at the close of one of the most racially turbulent years in modern history.

The Loved Ones by Sonya Chung

Daniel: Sonya Chung’s The Loved Ones is a compulsive read that is exquisitely structured. The novel’s crunchy, broken characters tell a mutigenerational immigrant saga, a mixed race family struggle, and a coming-of-age tale all at once. Chung juggles these multiple perspectives and cultures with ease, and allows her themes to unfurl deliberately throughout a narrative that’s set primarily in Washington D.C. during the mid-1980s and early 1990s.

You can’t help rooting for Chung's characters despite some of their actions. Charles Lee, the African American patriarch whose father abandoned him, tries to do right by his family while also fighting against his inner demons and an increasingly distant wife. Hannah Lee, the teenage daughter of Korean immigrants who were shunned by their own family for falling in love, uncertainly steps into adulthood and becomes tragically intertwined with Charles’ family. Hannah’s parents silently internalize being ostracized, while also stubbornly clinging to their once forbidden love. Charles’ daughter Veda anchors the novel’s final act, coming into her own without being hurt too much by her family’s dysfunction.

A death early on in the novel sets all of these threads in motion, and sends Chung’s main characters in various, and often times opposite, directions. The second half of The Loved Ones is a fascinating exploration of grief and self-discovery that pairs so well with the author’s heartfelt prose and poignant dialogue. The resolution to Hannah Lee’s parent’s story, in particular, is one of the most moving scenes I’ve read in fiction this year. I’m getting dusty in Writer’s Bone HQ just thinking about it.  

Chung’s voice isn’t just a welcome one in the literary world; it’s a necessary one as we try to make sense of our increasingly uncertain future.

Swing Time by Zadie Smith

Daniel: I would pay good money to write like Zadie Smith. There’s real craftsmanship behind her prose, dialogue, and characters, and she asks big questions without beating you over the head them. Her exploration of a lifelong friendship touches on myriad themes that could easily be extrapolated into individual novels. Race, class, philanthropy, politics, family, friendship, companionship, globalism, identity, wealth, poverty, fame, commercialism, and art are all issues that are examined through her ever-evolving narrator’s eyes.

Swing Time lives up to its name, swaying effortlessly through multiple decades of the main character’s life and cities and villages around the world. However, with the exception of a scandal hinted at in the prologue, there’s nothing that necessarily propels the narrative forward; you’ve got to completely buy into a character study that, as a Kansas City Star reviewer pointed out, lacks a certain mirth at times. Rather than a weakness, I think that Smith’s straightforward, unadorned style is a strength; she’s much more interested in her characters’ search for joy than whatever cheap thrill one might feel when watching a performance of “Guys and Dolls” or a Fred Astaire film.

Swing Time will certainly inspire discussion and debate between readers, and I imagine those conversations will intensify once the novel is brought to the small screen.

The Pavilion of Former Wives by Jonathan Baumback

Daniel: There's something Paul Auster-like about Jonathan Baumbach's new short story collection The Pavilion of Former Wives. You may not always be able to figure out what’s real and what’s imagined in his characters’ lives, but you will appreciate the author’s determined pursuit of universal truths. Baumbach utilizes tough, but tender, dialogue, and provocative prose to explore the nature of relationships. This collection features a man who gets to re-live some of the most sorrowful moments of his life, a relationship purely defined by emails, a man who loses his parked car (!), and, my personal favorite, a stranded poet who meets a troubled woman at a train station. The Pavilion of Former Wives, much like Kelly Link’s Get in Trouble, finds the humanity in oddball stories that will haunt you well after you put them down. 

Night School by Lee Child

Daniel: I’ve been reading Lee Child’s work since my college roommate put Killing Floor in my hands more years ago than I’m willing to admit. It was a pleasure being the audience while Child discussed Jack Reacher and his approach to writing with Stephen King last year at Harvard. It was even cooler hearing Child’s passion for his character and future plans during his appearance on “Friday Morning Coffee” with Sean Tuohy. We recommend a lot of weighty fiction, particularly this month, but it’s important to remember that reading should also be fun. There’s no better literary palate cleanser than a Jack Reacher adventure, and Night School is no exception. It’s pure escapism that will remind you why you started reading in the first place.

Author's Corner

Murdery Delicious author Peter Sherwood shares four novels you should put on your shelf ASAP.

Hag-Seed by Margaret Atwood

Dive into the pages of Margaret Atwood’s recently published Hag-Seed and suddenly find yourself caught up in a play within a novel within the retelling of another play. Part of Hogarth’s new series where contemporary authors were asked to reinterpret several of the Bard’s texts in a modern day setting, The Tempest is the tossed landscape here. Atwood’s task was considerable and the resulting novel is as touching and beautifully orchestrated as are the magical works of Prospero himself.

Other Voices, Other Rooms by Truman Capote

Truman Capote’s haunting coming of age novel Other Voices, Other Rooms is exquisitely crafted and filled with fluttering, unforgettable characters clinging to a lazy, long ago South, as seen through the eyes of a young boy. If you haven’t read Capote’s explosive debut before or lately, the Master awaits.

The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt

The Goldfinch certainly takes its time, but anyone familiar with Donna Tartt knows there is no rush when she’s telling the story. While the novel winds mostly around a shadow-struck Manhattan, it also feels lush and richly told as our hero navigates his Salinger-esque way through the sudden loss of his mother and the uncertainty of what else could possibly happen afterward.

Moby Dick by Herman Melville

Finally, when someone says, “There are no words” to describe something, tell ‘em to pick up a copy of Moby Dick. Extraordinary.

Be sure to listen to the audio edition of "Books That Should Be On Your Radar!"

11 Books That Should Be On Your Radar: November 2016

Every month, the Writer’s Bone crew reviews or previews books we've read or want to read. This series may or may not also serve as a confessional for guilty pleasures and hipster novels only the brave would attempt. Feel free to share your own suggestions in the comments section or tweet us @WritersBone.

Christodora by Tim Murphy

Daniel Ford: I was completely enthralled by Tim Murphy’s heartbreaking novel Christodora. The novel features deep, well thought out, damaged characters that were hard to let go once the story ended. Much like Rachel Harper’s This Side of Providence, Christodora is an emotional ride that never suffers from syrupy sentimentality because of Murphy’s straightforward prose and sharp dialogue.

Nonlinear storytelling has been a literary trend of late, and can be tough to pull off. However, Murphy makes it look effortless, bouncing from character to character across multiple decades without ever losing narrative steam. The Christodora, the building in the East Village that the Traum family inhabits, is just as much a character as Milly, Jared and their adopted son Mateo, and really anchors the narrative while it sways in and out of each decade. Murphy never delves into cliché and captures the city I fell in love with more than many of the other New York-centric novels that have come out in recent years.

Murphy’s unblinking exploration of the AIDs epidemic also gave me a refresher on the early AIDs fight, as well as explaining issues that those with HIV and AIDs still battle with today. He paints a real human face on the epidemic and, for me at least, kicked away some of the complacency I felt toward recent medical breakthroughs.

This book is well worth the tears and anxiety it is sure to induce.

The Most Famous Writer Who Ever Lived: A True Story of My Family by Tom Shroder

DF: Tom Shroder’s insightful, personal investigation into his Pulitzer Prize-winning grandfather MacKinlay Kantor is the perfect tonic for despairing authors and journalists.

Kantor, who won said Pulitzer for his novel Andersonville in 1956, is endlessly fascinating. His childhood and early adulthood were marred by a rapscallion father, he suffered through poverty and bad breaks to become a respected author, made friends with the likes of Ernest Hemingway and John D. MacDonald, won the Medal of Freedom for his reporting during World War II, and published more than 30 novels.

Kantor’s rise to fame (and subsequent fall) was entertaining and wonderfully researched, but I was most struck by the personal elements in Shroder’s narrative. His relationship with his grandfather, Kantor’s relationship with his degenerate father, the remarkable women that kept this family together over the years, and Kantor’s dogged pursuit of the written word had me completely spellbound. And as an amateur historian myself, I also loved Shroder going into detail about his research process at the Library of Congress and everywhere else he found bits and pieces of Kantor’s story.

Shroder also absolutely nails what it’s like suffering through writing highs and lows. His journey as a writer eerily mirrors Kantor’s at times, and in some ways serves as a time capsule for journalists who came of age at the end of the 20th century. However, despite the obvious technological and format changes writing and journalism have undergone in the 2000s, the writing path still has similar perils, and Shroder offers plenty of useful tips and humorous anecdotes for those crazy enough to still want to pursue these maddening fields. The Most Famous Writer Who Ever Lived filled my creative tank and gave me the inspiration I needed to flood the world with more words.  

Before we move on, I’ll leave you with this poignant quote from Kantor that Shroder unearthed:

“I wish that all writers might have as good of friends as I have owned and still own. Writing is desperately lonely business. It is scarcely worth living for in itself. But friends help to keep you going.”  

The Thunder Beneath Us by Nicole Blades

Lindsey Wojcik: Thunder certainly rumbles throughout author Nicole Blades's second novel. In a flashback prologue, main character Best Lightburn literally experiences thunder beneath her feet as she walks across an icy lake in Montreal with her two brothers one Christmas Eve. When the ice cracks and all three fall in, Best's survival instincts kick in and she climbs out of the lake as the only one alive.

When we meet Best in present day New York City, a decade after the accident, she's a magazine writer with an arsenal of descriptive adjectives for vagina. With the opener, "Coochie. Vajayjay. Box. Beaver. Taco. Vadge. Bajingo. Lady Garden. Call it whatever you want; the goddamn thing just killed my career," readers are immediately drawn into The Thunder Beneath Us.

Present-day Best seems to have it all—she’s a rising star in the New York City magazine world, she’s dating a hunky actor, and has fabulous socialite friends. However, in New York City, this type of luck doesn’t last long in fiction without some sort of drama or angst rising up from the depths. In Best’s case, she is internally struggling with the guilt of surviving the horrible accident in her youth. Naturally, this plays a major role as her life begins to unravel. Best gets in her own way throughout the course of the novel and struggles to find a way to forgive herself, so she can heal and ultimately find happiness.

Blade crafts a distinctive voice for Best and the supporting cast of characters, and when the thunder settles, readers will find that compassion for the human condition that Blades hoped to achieve with The Thunder Beneath Us.

Be sure to read my full interview with Blades, and then go out and read the book!

The Nix by Nathan Hill

Gary Almeter: A big part of what makes protagonist Samuel Andresen-Anderson likeable, in addition to his redundant surname, is his love for the Choose Your Own Adventure books. I couldn't help but recall the wonder with which each of those books—each decision, each new world, each potential destiny—filled me as a kid. 

Author Nathan Hill fills The Nix with that same wonder. The book meanders and careens through 1968 Chicago Riots, the oppressive tranquility of rural Iowa, the chaos of 2011’s Occupy Wall Street, wealthy suburbs filled with unsupervised ‘80s kids, modern day academia, and ancient Norway. Hill has a keen awareness of the idiosyncrasies that make each event unique, and why they have made Mr. Andresen-Anderson distinctly disconnected. 

The book follows Samuel as he endeavors to reconnect with his mother—accused of pelting an uber-conservative Wyoming politician with rocks—who abandoned him decades ago. He struggles to connect with his students, his grandparents, and his “friends” who play "World of Elfscape," an online fantasy game. 

Along the way, Hill skewers modern popular music and politics, as well as a ton of other things that deserve to be satirized. It can often feel like a bit much, but the consummation and/or dissolution of the connections in Samuel's life really propel this timely narrative.

At Home by Bill Bryson

DF: I have been a huge fan of Bill Bryson’s ever since my cousin’s husband lent me I’m a Stranger Here Myself and A Walk in the Woods (which was recently made into a film starring Robert Redford and Nick Nolte). However, after slogging through A Short History of Nearly Everything, I took a break from the travel writer, more content to re-read A Walk in the Woods once a year rather than dabble in his newer material.

Following my trip to London earlier this year, I picked up Notes From A Small Island and caught the Bryson bug again! I quickly ordered some of the books I missed during my asinine hiatus, and hunkered down with At Home: A Short History of Private Life.

Bryson investigates every room in his house—a former Church of England rectory located in “a village of tranquil anonymity in Norfolk”—and quickly gets lost in a wonderful swirl of delectable forgotten history and entrancing trivia. The prose features Bryson’s trademark cheekiness, and never groans under the weight of all the fascinating (yet incredibly arcane) tales the author uncovers.

I can’t tell you how many conversations I had with family and friends while reading this book that started with “Did you know…” Like, did you know that the French were once known for “pissing in chimnies” and defecating in staircases, or that the invention of hydraulic cement made the Erie Canal possible, or that fires killed as many as six thousand people a year in America during the 1870s?

Listen, if that doesn’t send you running to your local bookstore, then I don’t know what will. At Home doesn’t belong in the attic (where Bryson begins and ends his homebound journey), it belongs in your hands.

The Murdery Delicious Blood Stone Secret by Peter Sherwood

DF: First our haunted Halloween collection and now “Books That Should Be On Your Radar?” What’s next for Peter Sherwood, a Pulitzer?!

Like Sean Tuohy mentioned during his intro to last week’s “Friday Morning Coffee,” Sherwood’s finale to the Murdery Delicious is much like the author himself: “very witty and very smart.” We find Reynald and Willoughby Chalmers, “a little older, perhaps wiser, and undoubtedly more terrified,” and trying to survive the perils of the Blood Stone Manor with their wives and children. The Murdery Delicious Blood Stone Secret is chock-full of Sherwood’s theatric dialogue and whimsical prose.

I always feel better about literature and writing whenever I finish a Sherwood yarn (not to mention hungrier!), and this novel was no exception. It’s been a real joy tracking Sherwood’s progress as a writer, and I can’t wait to see what he comes up with next. While I hope that this isn’t the last time we see with the Chalmers brothers, if it is, then it is more than a fitting (and ghostly!) conclusion to their adventures.

DF: I read the Best American Short Stories collection every year, but I typically don’t include it in “Books That Should Be On Your Radar” because I end up liking individual stories more than the overall compilation. The 2016 edition is a strong collection, however, and clearly (and positively) influenced by author Junot Díaz’s personality and style. Like any anthology, there are hits and misses, but Díaz made some inspired choices that led to a more eclectic, cohesive, and diverse reading experience. I found something that tickled my literary brain in just about every story, even the ones that didn’t quite work for me. There are also some absolute powerhouses that I expect to return to for inspiration, including Louise Erdrich’s “ The Flower,” Lauren Groff’s “For the God of Love, for the Love of God,” Meron Hadero’s “The Suitcase,” Smith Henderson’s “Treasure State,” Ben Marcus’s “Cold Little Bird,” Karen Russell’s “The Prospectors,” and Sharon Solwitz’s “Gifted.”

Collections like the Best American Short Stories and The O. Henry Prize Stories (next up on my reading list) are invaluable tools for aspiring writers who to gravitate to the short story form. These volumes also include contributor notes, which allow the authors to share their motivations and writing processes. In Best American Short Stories 2016, John Edger Wideman’s note includes a real gem: “A story desires and sets out to see what is there—and sometimes finds a bridge—with a history, names, walkers, jumpers, memories, etc.—so starts across.” Amen!

Author’s Corner

Starting with famous author Tony McMillan, “Books That Should Be On Your Radar” will now feature recommendations from our favorite authors. Or in Tony’s case, authors we tolerate. Enjoy!

Tony McMillian: I loved Sisters Brothers by Patrick deWitt. My favorite ongoing comic book right now is Head Lopper by Boston boy done good Andrew MacLean. Also, Skullcrack City by Jeremy Robert Johnson was damn fine, and transcends Bizarro the way Van Halen transcends butt-rock. Quote me.

Oh, and Notes from the Shadowed City by Jeffrey Alan Love is a fully illustrated book that's as lyrical in its prose as it is in its artwork.

Be sure to listen to the audio version of "Books That Should Be On Your Radar!"

‘Where Are the Scary Books?’ Read These YA Tales If You Dare!

By Lisa Carroll

Kids in my library are always asking, "Where are the scary books?" At this time of year, they are all displayed proudly on top of a shelf with a little bit of fake spider web and my "THE WITCH IS IN" sign. Because scary has a range of "creepy" to "terrifying," I like to get a sense of what the student's level of fear is before I recommend a title, but here are some of my favorites.

A Tale Dark and Grimm by Adam Gidwitz

You can't go wrong with the Brothers Grimm when it comes to creepy, and Adam Gidwitz has done a masterful job of incorporating the originals with a fresh, engaging first-person narrative voice.

"Once upon a time, fairy tales were awesome.

I know, I know. You don't believe me. I don't blame you. A little while ago, I wouldn't have believed it myself. Little girls in red caps skipping around the forest? Awesome? I don't think so.

But then I started to read them. The real, Grimm ones. Very few little girls in red caps in those.

Before I go on, a word of warning: Grimm's stories—the ones that weren't changed for little kids—are violent and bloody. And what you're going to hear now, the one true tale in The Tales of Grimm, is as violent and bloody as you can imagine.

Really.

So if such things bother you, we should probably stop right now.

You see, the land of Grimm can be a harrowing place. But it is worth exploring. For, in life, it is in the darkest zones one finds the brightest beauty and most luminous wisdom.

And, of course, the most blood."

The kids love it both because of the humorous tone the narrator takes and because it gets pretty bloody when a young maiden is chopped to bits and such.

Lisa Carroll with the author Adam Gidwitz

Lisa Carroll with the author Adam Gidwitz

Rot & Ruin by Jonathan Maberry

Fifteen-year-old Benny Imura takes up zombie hunting in this post-apocalyptic tale that teaches us that sometimes the "most terrible monsters are human."

Anything by Lois Duncan

This June, we lost acclaimed 1990s author Lois Duncan whose, I Know What You Did Last Summer, became a blockbuster hit starring Sarah Michelle Gellar, Jennifer Love Hewitt, Freddie Prinze Jr., and Ryan Phillipe.

Even though they're dated (what's a phone booth?) the suspense is great and kids love them. Don't Look Behind You, Stranger With My Face, Down a Dark Hall, Summer of Fear... the list goes on and on.

Anything by Mary Downing Hahn

Mary Downing Hahn is another favorite who writes creepy ghost stories. The movie version of Wait Till Helen Comes is currently in post-production and Deep and Dark and Dangerous, Closed for the Season, and All the Lovely Bad Ones are some of the most popular.

Anything by R.L. Stine

Finally, we have the man, the myth, the legend, R.L. Stine. Super formulaic—every chapter is a cliffhanger—and most of his current books have ghostwriters, but the stories he produces are suspenseful and just scary enough that they appeal to a wide range of kids.

More From the Writer’s Bone Library

8 Books That Should Be On Your Radar: October 2016

Every month, the Writer’s Bone crew reviews or previews books we've read or want to read. This series may or may not also serve as a confessional for guilty pleasures and hipster novels only the brave would attempt. Feel free to share your own suggestions in the comments section or tweet us @WritersBone.

The Sellout by Paul Beatty

Daniel Ford:  I hadn’t heard of Paul Beatty or his work before I learned that his recent novel The Sellout was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize. I was instantly intrigued by the racial satire’s premise, which I’ll include here since I don’t think I could do it justice:

Born in the "agrarian ghetto" of Dickens—on the southern outskirts of Los Angeles—the narrator of The Sellout resigns himself to the fate of lower-middle-class Californians: "I'd die in the same bedroom I'd grown up in, looking up at the cracks in the stucco ceiling that've been there since '68 quake." Raised by a single father, a controversial sociologist, he spent his childhood as the subject in racially charged psychological studies. He is led to believe that his father's pioneering work will result in a memoir that will solve his family's financial woes. But when his father is killed in a police shoot-out, he realizes there never was a memoir. All that's left is the bill for a drive-thru funeral.

Fueled by this deceit and the general disrepair of his hometown, the narrator sets out to right another wrong: Dickens has literally been removed from the map to save California from further embarrassment. Enlisting the help of the town's most famous resident—the last surviving Little Rascal, Hominy Jenkins—he initiates the most outrageous action conceivable: reinstating slavery and segregating the local high school, which lands him in the Supreme Court.

After quickly procuring a copy, I devoured The Sellout in two nights. It would actually be more accurate to say it devoured me. It’s a compulsive read, and each page contains biting, dark humor (which will make you laugh out loud more often than not) and poignant insights into the African-American experience in this country. The prologue alone is enough to scar your brain and soul in all the right places. I am very much looking forward to reading the rest of Beatty’s work, including The White Boy Shuffle and Slumberland

The Unseen World by Liz Moore

Daniel: Liz Moore’s The Unseen World starts innocently (and deliciously) enough. Ada is helping her father prepare and host an annual dinner with his lab colleagues. The lobster bibs are tied (this book is set around Boston after all), the conversations are sophisticated, lively, and smart, and Ada proves more than a serviceable bartender and sommelier (despite her youth). However, it doesn’t take the reader long to figure out that not all is well with Ada’s father, a man she has worshipped her entire life for his intellect and work ethic. David embarrassingly forgets the answer to his legendary riddle, which is the first crack in his carefully crafted façade. His mind continues to falter, breaking apart Ada’s entire existence and leads to a much different coming of age than she imagined.

Some readers might be put off by the novel’s early slow burn and decade-hopping, however, those who reach the book’s second half will be rewarded with a thrilling and poignant conclusion. Ada’s quest to unravel her father’s final riddle brings together all of the author’s mediations on technology, family, and love expertly.

Underground Airlines by Ben H. Winters

Daniel: As I mentioned during the audio edition of September’s “Books That Should Be On Your Radar,” I would caution readers not to tackle Ben H. Winters’s Underground Airlines and Colson Whitehead’s The Underground Railroad back-to-back. You might have a heart attack. It’s incredible how complementary and inventive these novels are. Whitehead imagines the Underground Railroad as an actual railroad, complete with tracks, conductors, and hidden stations, bringing his heroine from one nightmare to another.

But what if the Civil War and subsequent Constitutional amendments never put a stop to the tragedies so viscerally described in The Underground Railroad? Winters helps provide an answer. He invented a world in which slavery was never abolished. Lincoln’s assassination (in this world, coming before he took the oath of office) brings the country together, but only to save the Union by codifying slavery in the Constitution. The “Hard Four” states, and their rigid adherence to slavery, disrupt everything from international relations to intercontinental travel.

Underground Airlines follows Victor, a slave catcher who works for the U.S. Marshals Service, as he stalks yet another escaped fugitive. During his hunt, Victor does his best to suppress the memories of his past and ignore the complicated questions he has to face while fulfilling his objective. It’s a thrilling plot, which is made so much more harrowing because of the parallels to our current political, economic, and social ills. The world Winters crafts in Underground Airlines may not exist, but the underlying ugliness at its foundation is certainly alive and well.

Read Daniel Ford's interview with author Ben H. Winters.

Read Daniel Ford's interview with author Ben H. Winters.

The Windchime Legacy by A.W. MyKel

Sean Tuohy: The Windchime Legacy is a 1970s spy thriller written by an author who disappeared after publishing two best-selling novels. This novel actually feels like six put together, making for a fun rollercoaster ride. The book splices the styles of Ian Fleming and Robert Ludlum and adds a dash of Michael Crichton.

A supercomputer runs a network of spies who have microchips implanted into their brains, which will explode if one of the agents tries to leave the program. When one of the designers of the program tries to defect to the Soviet Union, the program's top agent must recover him.

The clothing styles and the sexist language coming out the main characters’ mouths may scream ‘70s, but the technology in this novel feels contemporary. Don’t over think the over-the-top fun and just enjoy the wild ride.

Red Right Hand by Chris Holm

Steph Post: I just got back from Bouchercon 2016 in New Orleans and so, of course, my current taste in reading has been running toward the crime and thriller genres. Chris Holm's Red Right Hand has been at the top of my TBR list for a while and so I'm glad that I finally dove right on in.

Holm's Red Right Hand, the second in a series starring badass anti-hero Michael Hendricks, offers up everything you could want from a classic thriller: fast-paced action, sharply drawn characters, and a plot brimming with intrigue. Hendricks, a hit man who takes down other hit men, walks a narrow, but wavering, moral line between the other factions in the novel, the FBI and a secret organization known as the Council.

Red Right Hand is a tight read that continues from The Killing Kind—the first novel in the series—and sets up what should be a thrilling conclusion to the Michael Hendricks saga.

Nicotine & Private Novelist by Nell Zink

Adam Vitcavage: Nell Zink’s 2014 debut novel The Wallcreeper was great. Mislaid, released a year later, was terrific. This October’s Nicotine somehow manages to top both of them. The German-based author’s third novel is about Penny Baker, a straight-laced business school graduate from a family of rebels. Circumstances find her in her family’s old home, which has been renamed “Nicotine” by a friendly group of anarchists. The book features Zink’s tremendous prose and sharp wit. It’s beautifully funny and poignant. That may sound like a cliché that writers use to describe literature/film/television/etc., but it’s completely true when it comes to Zink.

Also be sure to check out Private Novelist, which collects two early novellas that the author wrote for her friend, Israeli writer Avner Shats. If you do, you’ll see that this trifecta of novels released during the past three years weren’t a fluke and you’ll understand why Nell Zink is one of the most important writers of the 21st century.

Nefarious Twit by Tony McMillen

Daniel: If you’re an author friend of ours and you get married, you automatically get added to “Books That Should Be On Your Radar.” Those are the rules.

It also helps that Tony McMillen’s Nefarious Twit is cleverly structured, darkly funny, and filled with his trademark (and brilliant) illustrations. I couldn’t help but think of Hunter S. Thompson and Tom Wolfe as I read it. The narrative doesn’t move so much as slosh, as if David O. Russell was standing behind McMillen and telling him how he was going to film it. 

McMillen described himself as a “failed Bruce Springsteen character” when we met at Rory Flynn’s booze-fueled Dark Horse debut earlier this year, so he’s pretty much our hero. As Springsteen might say, “Tony, you ain’t no beauty, but, hey, you’re all right.”

Also listen to the audio version of "Books That Should Be On Your Radar!"

After All This Time: Harry Potter and the Cursed Child

By Rachel Tyner

As a child, I stayed up all hours of the night under my covers with a stolen flashlight, reading whatever books I could get my hands on. Some of my earliest memories are not actually my own personal memories, but random bits of dialogue and the adventures of my favorite characters.

When Harry Potter came into my life, nothing was ever the same. I remember lying on the floor, my feet kicked up against the wall, reading for hours at a time. I was totally immersed and time flew by. Periodically I would nervously eyeball the pages to see how far along I was in the book, breathing a sigh of relief if I was still less than halfway.

I will always be incredibly thankful for those books. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows was published in 2007, the summer before I started college. It seemed appropriate. Finally, "All was well," and it felt like the right time to shut the metaphorical door on the Harry Potter world. 

That brings me to Harry Potter and the Cursed Child. If you truly love the world that JK Rowling created nearly 20 years ago, then chances are you have read the script by now. If not, I urge you to do so. Here's why.

When I opened my long awaited Amazon package to find the bound script, I got goose bumps. However, I knew it wouldn't be the same. I went into it with no expectations, and honestly, I enjoyed it. It was different from the seven novels and certainly incomparable. I read one N/A star review that just said, "It's just a thing that exists and I'm accepting it for what it is." I think that pretty much sums it up.

At its worst, it’s not as well written as the original series, it’s cheesy (the "I love you" scene with Harry and Dumbledore would never happen), the plot has a lot of holes, and the characters are over the top. 

At its best, it’s Harry Potter. If you need more convincing than that, I'm not so sure you are quite the fan you think you are. Sure, you notice the inconsistencies and cringe at some parts, but you don't really care. That's not really the point. The point is that you're 27 years old and you’re holding in your hand something you never thought you would ever get to hold again. An unread, untouched, 308 pages of "Harry Potter and the..." with JK Rowling's name on it in that same magical font.  Suddenly you feel 8 years old again and you’re using your imagination. A part of your brain you thought maybe you had lost in between paying electrical bills, saving for a house, and figuring out your 401k.

"After all this time?"

"Always."