The 10 Best Short Story Collections of 2017

By Adam Vitcavage

George Saunders, the 21st century master of short stories, looks for a sense of a human being on the other side of the page. He says short stories are very hard work and oftentimes people hide behind showmanship or tricks to make a story impactful in such a short page count. He mastered these stories over his long career and released them as a collection in 2013. Saunders reached the pinnacle of the art form. This year, he finally released his follow up—only it was a debut novel. Only it was a debut novel instead. A debut that happened to win the Man Booker Prize, by the way.

This year, there was a general consensus on what were some of the best collections. Pulitzer Prize-winning author Jeffrey Eugenides released his first collection. As did Joshua Ferris. Haruki Murakami released his fourth collection translated into English. Hell, even two-time Best Actor Oscar winner Tom Hanks released a terrific collection.

Here are 10 collections—some that have been consensus crowd favorites and some under-the-radar ones—that I felt were the best this year. 

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 with invigorating stories from 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 Dark Dark by Samantha Hunt

In her debut collection, Hunt uses her ability to deconstruct the norm by creating lush worlds in a few paragraphs and then flipping it upside down. Metamorphosis, from the literal to figurative, is prevalent throughout these stories. With these changes, she explores womanhood in a roundabout way. A subtle, and peculiar, story involves a woman turns into a deer at night. A more upfront one would be a woman wondering why she and her husband haven’t had sex in nearly a year. Either way you go, Hunt is onto something eerily familiar, but wholly original.

Her Body and Other Parties by Carmen Maria Machado

Off-kilter stories about what it means to be female are a welcome trend. This collection uses hints of reworked fairy tales as a lens to view what society has to say about feminism. One story has a character who can hear porn stars thoughts. Another asks if being a female writer writing about a female writer is a tired trope. One is about sexual history. Through and through, this collection is so enthralling because it has drop dead gorgeous writing. A plot summary only goes so far. It’s the writing that makes this collection so remarkable.

Things We Lost in the Fire by Mariana Enriquez

Enriquez’ stories are vibrant depictions of her native Argentina, mostly Buenos Aires, though she also ventures out 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—even 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 tradition with the likes of Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie and NoViolent Bulawayo, this collection features well-crafted and vibrant stories about being black in America while still holding onto roots in Africa. These stories are all nearly about that specific idea, but never feel stale. Throughout the different stories, we meet a wide-ranging spectrum of characters in a variety of settings. Still, she brings a cohesion to the stories that make them feel connected, even though they all stand alone.

The Refugees by Viet Thanh Nguyen

Nguyen’s stories focus on mostly Vietnamese refugees whose stories take place from the 1970s through present day. Some do take place in Vietnam, however, most of the stories take place in America. Nguyen taps into the daunting reality refugees faced in America, but balances the haunting trauma with the beautiful humanity extremely well. None of the stories are necessarily autobiographical. They were influenced by Nguyen’s own experiences as well as what happened to his friends and family. This is important because it is vital to remember where refugees in America came from and what they accomplished. This is one of the most vital books released so far in 2017.

Sour Heart by Jenny Zhang

Using a thread to connect all the stories in a connection can be tricky. You don’t want each story to get stale. Zhang sets her stories mostly in Queens, focusing on the daughters of Chinese immigrants. Zhang uses very direct, in-your-face prose that is tough to swallow at times. She wants you to experience the rawness that these girls have to face every single day. It makes for an obscene collection you wince at, but in a good way.

Stories of migration and the toll it takes on families are the centerpiece of this collection. Most of the stories take place in anonymous Latin American cities, which really helps focus on the characters. These people can be anywhere. Alarcon adds flourishes to his stories, never letting them seem as earnest as they appear. He twists and turns until we learn more about the characters in a handful of pages than some authors portray in entire novels.

Difficult Women by Roxane Gay

In Bad Feminist, a collection of essays, Roxane Gay wrote eloquently about race, feminism, and poverty in an accessible way. She continues to use her strong voice in this collection of short stories that take those same themes and weaves 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.

Swimmer Among the Stars by Kanishk Tharoor

Tharoor is preoccupied with language. His stories want to make sense of what we are saying and how we are saying it. Technology plays a heavy role. But don’t be fooled! This isn’t science fiction. It’s an influence for sure, but these stories have a foot in the normal—even the mundane—while the other foot dips into the fantastical. He’s a stylish writer with plenty left to showcase.

17 Books That Should Be On Your Radar: December 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.

Smothered by M.C. Hall

Daniel Ford: Megan Cassidy delivers an innovative breath of fresh air into the crime fiction/mystery genre with Smothered. Rather than follow a dogged detective or sinister villain, the novel tells the story of a murdered young actress through an online tabloid, court transcripts, police recordings, and an unruly comments section. As more revelations come out, readers will not only question the characters' motivations, but also reconsider their own beliefs about celebrity, crime, familial bonds, race, and the fallibility of institutions we trust. Smothered is a winning narrative sure to put Cassidy’s name on the literary map.

The Demon Crown by James Rollins

Sean Tuohy: They're back! Sigma Force returns in The Demon Crown, the latest entry in James Rollins’ much loved and long-running series. As always, Rollins masterfully spins together cutting-edge science and forgotten history to create a breathtaking adventure. Alexander Graham Bell even makes a special appearance! Listen to my recent interview with the author to find out more about what inspired the latest Sigma adventure.

Daniel: This poetry collection is a furnace. Every word feels like it’s on fire. Essential writing of the highest order. I’ll be re-reading this for months.

The Lost Prayers of Ricky Graves by James Han Mattson

Daniel: I read this book months and months ago and I’m still haunted by it. Told from various perspectives, as well as online chats and emails, The Lost Prayers of Ricky Graves explores the aftermath of the title character taking the life of a classmate. All the characters in this novel are tragically broken, but not totally devoid of hope. The result is a narrative that deftly examines not only the motivations behind violent crime, but also how one community struggles to both learn and recover.

America's Women: 400 Years of Dolls, Drudges, Helpmates, and Heroines by Gail Collins

Daniel: Needless to say, without any of the women that Gail Collins’ profiles in this book, America would have been as obsolete as a powdered wig. 2017 has seen its share of heroines, and America's Women serves as a pressing reminder of those ladies who have passionately, rebelliously, and stoically shouted down the patriarchal society hell bent on shutting them up. Our staff features some of the smartest and fiercest women you’ll ever met, and I’m grateful every day that their words grace our website. We stand with them, and their badass predecessors, today, tomorrow, and forever.

King Of Spies by Blaine Harden

Sean: Author Blaine Harden dove into murky waters to discover the truth about one of America's most talented and disturbed intelligent officers during the Korean War. Donald Nichols had a seventh-grade education and grew up in the backwaters of Hollywood, Fla. (my hometown), before he joined the Air Force where he honed his hidden talent for gathering intelligence. Nichols quickly developed a giant spy network that helped turn the Korean War in favor of the United States. Working from a hidden base, Nicolas created an empire built on secrets. Harden uses Nichols' bloody rise to the top to explore the conflict and the lasting effect it had on the country.

What We Build Upon the Ruins by Giano Cromley

Daniel: This is a short story collection that I wish I had written. Cromley told me during our recent podcast chat that he had a desire to tell stories from a young age. It shows on every page in What We Build Upon the Ruins. I loved every word of this collection.

Chasing Portraits by Elizabeth Rynecki

Daniel: Chasing Portraits is a personal and visceral read that you won’t soon forget. The book chronicles Elizabeth Rynecki’s emotional quest to find her Polish-Jewish great-grandfather’s paintings that were lost during World War II. His artwork serves as a beautiful and sorrowful time capsule for Jewish communities that were essentially wiped out by the Nazis. How Rynecki was able to harness her emotions and get something coherent and readable on the page, I’ll never know. I very much look forward to seeing the documentary she’s working on! (Tissues will be required.)

The Frozen Hours by Jeff Shaara

Daniel: All of Jeff Shaara’s work brings past conflicts to life in an extremely well-written and poignant way, and The Frozen Hours is no exception. But this book had an added level of passion and intimacy based on Shaara’s experience talking to Korean War vets. It’s a group of Americans that has been clamoring for more people to tell their stories, and Shaara more than succeeds in telling it well. The cold of the war seeps into your bones early, and is only warmed by the valiant (and very human) courage of the author’s expertly crafted characters on both sides of the conflict. Shaara explains more about what went into writing The Frozen Hours during a podcast interview that will air in the next couple of weeks.

Double Feature by Owen King

Sean: Owen King creates an exquisite and witty family story in his debut novel. Sam, the son of a famed B-grade actor, is dealing with the aftermath of making his first film. Hiding out with his over-the-top father in a house in upstate New York, Sam must come to terms about their strained relationship. King’s characters feel like they are people who populate your own life. Double Feature smacks of reality and is brimming with humor.

Colorado Boulevard by Phoef Sutton

Daniel: Phoef Sutton’s main character Crush is entertaining and luckless as always, but his supporting cast really steals the show in this novel. You won't find more hapless and bumbling villains outside an Elmore Leonard novel. I loved the portrait of Los Angeles that Sutton explores throughout the book. His gift for dialogue and storytelling are on full display here, and readers will gluttonously devour pages deep into the night.

The Republic for Which It Stands: The United States during Reconstruction and the Gilded Age, 1865-1896 by Richard White

Daniel: Reconstruction and the Gilded Age are tough sells for even the most dedicated history geeks, but Richard White makes these eras come alive in his recently published narrative. Part of Oxford University Press’ stellar American history series, The Republic for Which It Stands also offers plenty of parallels to our own troubled political times. White wouldn’t completely recommend buying into signs for hope during a recent podcast chat, but his book certainly shows we’ve survived Gilded Age thinking before and likely will again.

A must if your love noir. Because of the black main character and the big city historical setting, it’s easy to immediately draw comparisons to Walter Mosley’s iconic Easy Rawlins. But Gardner’s Elliott Caprice is very much his own character—a mixed-race former cop forced to return to his Chicago hometown to battle both the police and organized crime toughs. What’s more is that Gardner’s depiction of race relations and corruption still feel especially relevant today. I’m excited for the next book in the series.

The Last Place You Look by Kristen Lepionka

A must if you love PI novels. Full disclosure, Kristen was my mentee in a contest called Pitch Wars in 2015 so I’ve loved this book for a while now. I knew when I read that final draft of what would become The Last Place You Look that it was the best mystery I’d read in years. The story centers on a bit-of-a-mess bisexual private investigator named Roxane Weary, who looks into a cold case involving a black teen convicted of killing his white girlfriend’s parents the same night the girlfriend goes missing. His sister hires Roxane when she swears she sees the missing woman at a gas station years after the crime. With Sue Grafton wrapping her Kinsey Millhone series, Roxane Weary is more than able to fill that void.

The Plot is Murder by VM Burns

A must if you love cozy mysteries. This debut features all the things I love about the lightweight amateur detective genre—small town setting, interesting cast of characters, lots of mouth-watering food, and an MC with a cool trade—while also featuring something unique to the genre: a book within a book. Samantha Washington is a widow finally following her dreams of opening a mystery bookstore while also writing a historical British mystery of her own. We get to read Samantha’s work in progress so we’re trying to solve two who-dun-its. And it’s a testament to the author that both are really well-written and engaging.

Are You Sleeping by Kathleen Barber

A must if you love domestic thrillers. This debut is part thriller, part family drama—all ripped from the headlines. Over a decade ago, Josie Burhman’s father was murdered and her neighbor was convicted of the crime. Case closed? Not quite. The murder gets new attention thanks to a melodramatic podcast that grips the country.  After running from her past for a decade, Josie’s finally forced to confront it—and her estranged twin sister—head on when she returns home after another family tragedy. When we're giddily listening to podcasts, flipping through the pages of magazines, and tweeting our thoughts on the lives of complete strangers like we know them, we never consider how it all must affect the victim's family. This book will have you thinking twice before you listen/watch to the next episode of your favorite true-crime podcast or show.

Listen to our live podcast interview with Kellye Garrett:

#NovelClass

Tune in on Dec. 15 for #NovelClass! Dave Pezza and Daniel Ford discuss Chiara Barzini's Things That Happened Before the Earthquake.

18 Books That Should Be On Your Radar: November 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.

Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng

Daniel Ford: There are a ton of cliché fire references I could use to describe Celeste Ng's Little Fires Everywhere, but the novel is just too damn good for that kind of nonsense. Like her debut, Everything I Never Told You, this novel proves that Ng is one of the best character builders in the business. Even the most minor players are fleshed out with backstories befitting dives down one rabbit hole after another. The main characters are birthed in gray and remain there throughout the narrative, never fitting easily into simple black-and-white judgments. You'll root and jeer for everyone in equal measure, wondering which character is going to strike the match that burns everything down (okay, I'm weak, sue me). Ng has reached Megan Abbott status with me already, which means I have to drop everything to read anything new she publishes. This sophomore effort is a winner by any measure.

The Winter of Frankie Machine by Don Winslow

Sean Tuohy: The Winter of Frankie Machine features one of the greatest opening chapters ever written. Don Winslow's thriller follows retired mafia hit man Frankie Machianno as he tries to figure out who wants him killed. What makes Winslow such an exceptional author is that he doesn’t try to be like anyone else. He simply writes with his own stellar voice, which makes every book he pens a fantastic read.

Garden of the Lost and Abandoned by Jessica Yu

Daniel: This is indeed an extraordinary story, however, its subject, Gladys, is anything but ordinary. Yu follows her as she doggedly transverses Uganda, helping as many lost and abandoned children as possible. Gladys is a larger than life personality, and Yu brings all her best sensibilities as a filmmaker and documentarian to bring every corner of this woman’s world to light. You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, you’ll get angry, but you’ll never lose hope while reading this book.

In the Distance by Hernan Diaz

Daniel: Porter Square Book’s Josh Cook has been spending our money all year, and it seems he’s going to keep doing so until the final bell rings in 2017. He recommended this book on Twitter recently, and it arrived at Writer’s Bone HQ soon after. Damn if that man doesn’t have good taste when it comes to words. I want to keep this review brief because I feel like readers should go into the story as fresh as humanly possible, but the opening line (and, really, the opening chapter) is worth double or triple whatever money you spend on this novel. It’s that good.

Mister Monkey by Francine Prose

Caitlin Malcuit: Francine Prose's Mister Monkey is the best character novel since Olive Kitteridge. Prose masterfully hops from one subject to the next like a silhouette of Darwinian evolution, all linked by a maudlin stage production of a beloved children's book. You may not be charmed by every character, but that's human nature, after all. It's tough to tear yourself away from Mister Monkey, as each story unfolds seamlessly thanks to Prose's natural and assured voice. 

Siddhartha by Hermann Hesse

Mike Nelson: Whenever someone tells you something is "the best" or changed their lives, you should always proceed with caution. But when Chris Evans told me* Siddhartha changed his life, I threw caution to the wind.

Siddhartha is beautiful, haunting, and divisive. It's 150 pages that you should read at the pace of 800. The care you put into absorbing and respecting every thought on the page will give it back to you tenfold. It's not a book to be read in between checking your friends' Insta feeds; it's a perspective to be considered with your deepest focus.

Or you can just whip through it just for the sake of getting through it and join what I assume are thousands of people who died thinking that book was useless.

(*told a reporter in an interview in a magazine I read on my toilet...most likely Rolling Stone)

The First Day by Phil Harrison

Daniel: Phil Harrison is able to pack a big punch in a short novel. A love affair between a preacher and a young woman quickly morphs into a fractured familial drama that descends to depths I never saw coming. There is real beauty in some of Harrison’s sentences and he lets readers right into the heads of all his emotional (and severely damaged) characters. The fact that the novel is set in Belfast and New York City is an added bonus.

Vacationland by John Hodgman

Gary Almeter: If you want to dislike John Hodgman for any of the panoply of reasons there might be to dislike John Hodgman (i.e., he has two vacation homes, he was on “The Daily Show” and got to hang out with Jon Stewart, he got oodles of money for being the PC Guy in the Apple commercials, and has great facial hair), then Vacationland is not the book for you. I was eager to dislike him too, but, sadly, this book makes it impossible to do so. In between the humor and the vivid descriptions of utopian Maine and Massachusetts, Vacationland is a memoir written by an extremely kind, genuinely funny, impossibly thoughtful, and anomalously caring man. It's hard to dislike a person who shares of himself so openly and while doing so weaves humor and insight into the narrative, which is really a whole big clever metaphor for living. This book is spectacular.

Eileen by Ottessa Moshfegh

Daniel: I finished Ottessa Moshfegh’s Eileen (which was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize in 2016) in late September, but I’ve had to sit with it for a while before writing a review. First of all, Moshfegh is a spectacular writer (a sentiment our London contributor Conor White-Andrews echoed in an email exchange recently). The prose here is superb. It grabs you from the get-go and doesn’t let go. You never really know where the plot is headed, but it doesn’t matter. You just want to find out as much about the main character as humanly possible without the book actually ending. Moshfegh is a Boston native, so don’t be surprised if we knock on her door in the near future for an interview.

A Head Full of Ghosts by Paul Tremblay

Sean Tuohy: Unsettling, haunting, and chilling are just few ways to sum up Paul Tremblay's 2014 horror novel. A crumbling family in need of money allows television producers to film their daughter, who may or may not be possessed by a demon. Tremblay breathes fresh air into the horror genre by keeping the reader engaged in the all-too-familiar characters that populate the book. They’re people you know, like, and wish the best for. You’ll be trying to guess if the young woman is possessed or not until the last few pages of this book. Like with Disappearance at Devil’s Rock, we suggest you read this book with the lights on.

Jane Steele by Lyndsay Faye

Daniel: Lyndsay Faye’s Jane Steele was nominated for the 2017 Edgar Award for Best Novel, and had Steele been a real person, as opposed to a fictional character, it would have been great fun to discover the myriad ways she would have killed off the competition. Faye brilliantly borrows from Charlotte Brontë’s classic Jane Eyre, and gives her orphaned heroine plenty of opportunities to hone her murderous craft. Steele also has more of a heart of gold than she might like to admit… I still can’t get the line, “Reader, I murdered him,” out of my head. Odds are good that you won’t either.

Author’s Corner

By Alex Segura, author of Dangerous Ends and Blackout (the next Pete Fernandez mystery)

Sunburn by Laura Lippman

I feel very #humblebrag-y by writing about a book that's not out yet, but this book has been buzzing around my brain for months. Lippman's latest is a powerful piece of modern noir that evokes the classics but also pushes things forward with an unforgettable protagonist and plenty of charm, allure, and twists. It’s quite possibly my favorite Lippman novel, which is saying a lot.

Little Deaths by Emma Flint

I had to keep double-checking to make sure this was, in fact, Flint's first novel because it has the poise, execution, and style of a veteran's work. A sharp, well-crafted piece of literary crime fiction that leaves you guessing and engaged throughout, Little Deaths features two compelling leads in divorced and troubled mom Ruth Malone and eager-beaver reporter Pete Wonicke. Their paths intersect after Malone faces a horrendous tragedy and the story deftly jumps from different time periods and points of view to build an irresistible mystery and a meaningful look at everyone's capacity for good—and evil.

The Castle by Jason Pinter

If you like your fiction ripped from the headlines and bursting with relevance, then The Castle's your jam. I'm biased, as Pinter is my editor at Polis Books, but that conflict of interest flew out the window a few paragraphs into The Castle, which is a high-octane rollercoaster of a read. The scary thing is just how close it veers to reality. Pinter's prose is on-target and his Trumpian villain, the bravado-filled Rawson Griggs, is as memorable as they come.

Under the Harrow by Flynn Berry

Like Little Deaths, this was another jaw-dropping first novel, and a superb psychological thriller that will linger for some time after you put the book down. Haunted by the vicious murder of her sister, Nora finds herself obsessed with discovering the truth, but is forced to face not only her love for her sibling, but the baggage and pain that comes hurtling toward her from their shared past. You won't be able to put this one down.

The Cutaway by Christina Kovac

A witty, polished, and evocative mystery that explores the inner workings of TV news, the Washington D.C. political landscape and those that strive to maintain the status quo, The Cutaway introduces readers to TV producer Virginia Knightly, who finds herself dragged into the darkest corners of the nation's capitol as she investigates the case of a missing woman, and just why she's been pulled off the map. Like Little Deaths and Under The Harrow, The Cutaway is another top-flight debut novel from a writer you'll want to keep your eyes on.

Listen to Daniel Ford interview Alex Segura and Radha Vatsal earlier this year in Queens, N.Y. Blackout comes out May 18, 2018.

Author’s Out Loud

Dr. Titus Plomaritis, retired chiropractor and former Lowell, Mass. football star, reads “The Demoulas Story” from this autobiography, Titus: The Life Story of Dr. Plomaritis.

#NovelClass

Tune in Nov. 17 for Dave Pezza and Daniel Ford’s discussion of Joe Hill’s Strange Weather.

Book Review: What Happened by Hillary Rodham Clinton

By Melanie Padgett Powers

Let’s face it: You probably aren’t going to read Hillary Clinton’s book What Happened unless you are already a fan, or at the very least, like her and trust her. So, I’ll address those potential readers.

The simple brilliant title, What Happened, could be read with a question mark and multiple exclamation marks at the end or as a simple statement: Let me tell you what happened. The book mostly focuses on the latter approach. I doubt Clinton has ever been this open. I don’t mean to imply I think she’s been dishonest in the past. But this book has freed her to say whatever she wants. She’s never running again for political office, and she can do and say about anything. She embraces that opportunity, which is refreshing.

She also feels relatable, believe it or not, as she says what so many of us have been thinking. She questions why the media gave Trump a free pass, especially in the beginning, treating him like a sideshow that was fun to cover until it was too late. She calls Trump a “creep” after he stalked her around the stage in the second debate. She reveals how furious she was at FBI Director James Comey and how devastated she was on election night and the weeks to follow.

She also takes responsibility and blame, particularly on how she handled her email scandal. My favorite parts of the book are her personal stories and her insider political tales. I love the stories she tells about her and Bill, and I laughed at her tales of watching HGTV obsessively and her strong desire to throw the remote at the television whenever she heard another Trump scandal or lie. 

It took me a month to read Clinton’s book because I stopped midway through for a few weeks when it got a little bogged down in policy. Clinton’s a lawyer and a wonk, and she goes into great detail about her never-realized plans for the economy and jobs, but also describes point by point how Russia influenced our election.

What Happened didn’t make me feel better about who was elected president, but it made me smile as I got to know Clinton a little better. And I found a little peace that she too felt the same feelings that many of her supporters had been and are still experiencing.   

More From the Writer’s Bone Library

19 Books That Should Be On Your Radar: October 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 Last Ballad by Wiley Cash

Daniel Ford: You can tell from the opening lines of The Last Ballad that Wiley Cash had this story in his bones. Based on true events, the novel tells the story of a fateful (and deadly) mill strike in Gastonia, North Carolina. Shifting between the perspectives of all those involved, Cash explores themes that are as alive today as they were in the 1910s.

On a recent podcast episode, Cash said he was chasing Ella May’s ghost the entire time he was writing the novel. That passion and research led to one of the most unforgettable and empathetic main characters you’ll read in fiction this year. If the book only focused on her, it still would have been great, but, to Cash’s credit, May’s supporting cast is just as finely drawn.

The Last Ballad is a special book, one that I think readers will fall in love with. Cash does the Southern storytelling tradition proud, and he adds even more to the remarkable fiction coming out of that region in the last couple of years.

Sean Tuohy: In the summer of 1987, a killer stalked the streets of New Bedford, Mass. He targeted young women who were addicts. He preyed on them, killed them, and left on the side of the road. In Boyle’s riveting narrative, the killer, a lurking, sinister figure, is left in the background. The author focuses on the victims, their family members, and the town itself. Boyle writes with a passion that shines in each passage, and she shares the pain of the victims.

Have You Met Nora? by Nicole Blades

Daniel: One day I’ll get to tell you my reaction to the final scenes of Nicole Blades’ cheeky and engrossing novel Have You Met Nora? Just know it made Blades “LMAO” in an email chain. Doesn’t get much better for a reader (or writer)!

We’ve come to expect great fiction out of Blades, and this novel is no exception. Have You Met Nora? (out Oct. 31) features a freight train plot and well crafted characters who deliver lines of sassy dialogue as if they were lightning strikes. Issues of identity, race, friendship, and family are all explored without beating you over the head with a blunt instrument. Blades gets bonus points for using punctuation in her title! Look for our next podcast discussion with the author in the very near future.

bone by Yrsa Daley-Ward

Daniel: I didn’t realize the recent paperback release of Yrsa Daley-Ward’s bone features 40 more pages of poetry not included in the original 2014 release until after I finished the collection in roughly one sitting. It says something about Daley-Ward’s talent that a publisher signed off on an expanded edition given today’s publishing market! What’s interesting is that none of these poems feel added on or misplaced (I can’t even imagine the process involved in narrowing them down for the first launch). The collection’s title is apt considering that each poem seems to be stripped down to only its essential components, reveling in their devastatingly honest and personal nature. There’s one section of a poem called “things it can take twenty years and a bad liver to work out” that could serve as a mission statement for most creative types:

There are parts of you
that want sadness.
Find them out. Ask them why.

Indeed.   

My Absolute Darling by Gabriel Tallent

Daniel: Gabriel Tallent's debut contains gut punches for days and will make you slam it down more much often than you anticipated. However, you'll keep picking up, sucking the marrow out of Tallent's prose. Turtle Alveston is a heroine for the ages, and the author gets inside her head in a way you won't find in any other fiction. My Absolute Darling also features one of the sweetest and well-earned denouements I've ever read.

Sing, Unburied, Sing by Jesmyn Ward

Gary Almeter: I read this book immediately after Gabriel Tallent's My Absolute Darling (see above). Sing, Unburied, Sing is also about a child, in this case, 13-year-old Jojo, let down and abused by parents. Jojo is a resilient and caring young man; his wisdom beyond his years is due in large measure to the patience of his grandfather, Pop, with whom he and his 3-year-old sister Michaela live, and the fact that he is tasked with caring for Michaela whenever their mother leaves them for days at a time. Jojo's white father, Michael, is at Parchman prison, the same prison Pop spent time in decades ago.

The whole book is teeming with ghosts. Leonie's brother was murdered and haunts her whenever she gets high; the rural Mississippi setting is haunted by the oppressive and omnipresent legacy of racism; Pop had a friend at Parchman prison whose memory stays with him. Woven into these ghost stories is a road trip to Parchman to retrieve Michael upon his release. The journey becomes a nightmare as everyone learns that there are absences that can never really be filled and ghosts that can never be outrun. Jojo perseveres nonetheless.

Read Adam Vitcavage's interview with Jesmyn Ward.

Read Adam Vitcavage's interview with Jesmyn Ward.

Once We Were Brothers by Ronald H. Balson

Sean: Ronald Balson does not waste any time. He quickly pulls the reader into the story and allows his characters to build over the course of the story until they are almost too real. After a Holocaust survivor accuses one of the city's wealthiest men of being a Nazi, it’s up to a burned out lawyer to find the truth. Rich in history, Once We Were Brothers is a wonderful tale.

Hollywood Homicide by Kellye Garrett

Daniel: Kellye Garrett's debut novel Hollywood Homicide is such a fun read. In Dayna Anderson, Garrett has created a sassy, determined, and sometimes confused heroine that will be entertaining readers for plenty of beach "Days" to come. Every supporting character is a gem, and the plot moves along like a binge-worthy TV dramedy. Garrett's voice is a welcome breath of fresh air, and I can't wait to see what it has to say next.

Blurred Lines: Rethinking Sex, Power, and Consent on Campus by Vanessa Grigoriadis

Daniel: Vanessa Grigoriadis' distinct voice and empathetic, curious reporting are used so well throughout Blurred Lines, a book that delves into the myriad issues surrounding campus rape in the United States. Grigoriadis tackles everything from "Mattress Girl" to Rolling Stone's errant reporting during the University of Virginia rape controversy and the new age of consent to Donald Trump. The author/journalist interviewed hundreds of people, including students, parents, administrators, lawyers, and advocates, and that dogged reporting led to an even-tempered (though not unemotional) narrative our polarized electorate desperately needs.

One of the most refreshing things about Grigoriadis' work here is her ability to include comments, research, observations, and facts that questioned her beliefs or hypotheses. She didn’t pretend to have all the answers or discard information because it didn’t fit into a concrete mold she decided on long before writing the book. Journalism like this is of the utmost importance because of our current political climate. Read this book and recommend it to others.

Daniel: There’s a reason Kat Howard is one of our favorite authors (check out her “Author’s Corner” below). She delivers opening lines like the ones found in her new novel An Unkindness of Magicians.

The young woman cut through the crowded New York sidewalk like a knife. Tall in her red-soled stilettos, black clothing, that clung to her like smoke, red-tipped black hair sharp and angular around her face. She looked like the kind of woman people would stop for, stare at, notice.

None of them did.

Yeah, we can get down with that. What we’ve read so far of An Unkindness of Magicians proves why Howard has amassed the following she has. This fantasy thriller, which features competing magicians fighting to preserve (or maybe it’s to demolish) the magical system that binds the world, is the perfect read headed into the Halloween season.

Dreamfield by Ethan Bryan

Daniel: I found myself grinning ear-to-ear reading fellow 50/50 Press author Ethan Bryan's debut novel. I think Sid Sanford and his main character “Ethan” would get along just fine. Ethan finds himself transported back to high school, where he has a chance to relive his dream of being a star baseball player (yes, Bryan made me an offer I couldn’t refuse). Part “Field of Dreams,” part “The Rookie,” Dreamfield is a fun meditation on time, religion, family, and baseball.  

Uncommon Type: Some Stories by Tom Hanks

Daniel: There is officially no limit to Tom Hanks’ talent. In his debut short story collection (out Oct. 17), the actor brings all of the traits that define him on the silver screen: honesty, irreverence, humor, and unending empathy and passion. Be warned, this is absolutely one of those collections that will cause you to stay up way past your bedtime and mutter, “Okay, just one more.” If these are the types of stories we can expect from Hanks and his typewriter in the future, we’re all very lucky readers.

Author’s Corner

By Kat Howard, author of An Unkindness of Magicians

Good Bones by Maggie Smith

I try to always have one book of poetry that I’m reading. This is the sort of collection that I’ll turn to again and again. Smith’s writing is clear-eyed, precise, and full of beauty. It gives me hope.

From the Dust Returned by Ray Bradbury

One of my very favorite books, and a quintessential October novel. Haunted and full of melancholy, it is also gorgeously written. I mean, it’s Bradbury.

All Our Pretty Songs by Sarah McCarry

The first of the completed Metamorphoses trilogy, it’s myth and Seattle and brilliant and a book I’ve reread at least once a year since it came out.

From the To Be Read pile:

Ask Baba Yaga: Otherworldly Advice for Everyday Troubles by Taisia Kitaiskaia

Okay, so maybe Baba Yaga doesn’t spring immediately to mind as the sort of person you’d go to for life advice. But I loved this column when it ran on The Hairpin, and I’m really looking forward to picking this up.

Tales of Falling and Flying by Ben Loory

Ben’s first collection, Stories for the Nighttime and Some for the Day, was a book I absolutely adored. He writes strange tiny gems of things, and I can’t wait to see what he’s done here.

Her Body & Other Parties by Carmen Maria Machado

Okay, no one needs me to tell you to read this collection, because it is winning all the awards, getting rave reviews, and is one of the most buzzed about books of the year. If you’ve ever read Machado’s writing, you know the praise is deserved. If not, you are in for a treat.

#NovelClass

Dave Pezza and Daniel Ford discuss Tom Perrotta’s Mrs. Fletcher.

16 Books That Should Be On Your Radar: September 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.

Home Fire by Kamila Shamsie

Daniel Ford: All the praise for Kamila Shamsie’s Home Fire is well deserved. It features some truly terrific writing. The opening chapter featuring Isma, one of the book’s main characters, being detained and aggressively questioned at a U.S. airport just might be the best prose I’ve read in 2017. Shamsie deftly alternates perspectives between Isma’s sister, a wayward, possibly radicalized brother, and a steely politician and his son. A modern take on Sophocles’ Antigone, Home Fire delivers one memorable scene after another, building to a pitch-perfect ending you won’t soon forget. Pick up this book as soon as humanly possible.

The Names of Dead Girls by Eric Rickstad

Sean Tuohy: The Names of Dead Girls, the heart-pounding sequel to The New York Times best-selling novel The Silent Girls, is finally available on Sept. 12. Detective Frank Rath must deal with a ghost of his past when his adoptive daughter becomes the next target of a deadly killer. Rickstad's character peel off the page, and the landscape of Northern Vermont is breathtaking. Rickstad will keep you awake late into the night to finish this stellar sequel.

Silencer by Marcus Wicker

Daniel: Marcus Wicker’s new poetry collection Silencer quite possibly features the most searing and personal poems I’ve ever read. Inspired by the uncomfortable conversations he was having with his friends and neighbors about gun violence, Wicker touches on everything from police brutality and racial identity to neighborhood ties and academia. Silencer hums with Midwestern sensibilities and taboos, anger, faith (no matter how questioned or questionable), and language and humor so sharp you might need to apply a tourniquet when you’re done reading. This masterful collection, which also features the thumping cadence of a hip-hop tune, is not to be missed. 

Sid Sanford Lives! by Daniel Ford

Rachel Tyner: I found myself absorbed in Sid Sanford Lives! (out Sept. 18 from 50/50 Press) this past Labor Day weekend. I read in bed, on the beach, even sitting in a living room surrounded by seven people.

This book features a series of short, funny, heart-wrenching, and relatable stories all based around the triumphs and tribulations of the main character, Sid Sanford. What I find so fascinating about Sid is that he lives in a gray area. How can a good person do such questionable things? He desires to be better man, but his demons always seem to rear their ugly heads. Through his experiences, Sid turns a corner and is able to find happiness and wisdom, sometimes in spite of himself.

Ford’s passion for the written word and humor was poured into this debut novel, and Sid Sanford Lives! is so completely engrossing that you’ll find yourself compelled to wring out every page.

Sean Tuohy: A covert mission in a far off land. The CIA and Army Special Forces team up to help bring the Vietnam War to an end. Sam Lightner Jr. tells the incredible tale of a secret mission in the hill lands of Vietnam. The author wastes no time, jumping into the meat of the story by explaining how a small group of volunteers went to work trying to stop the flow of troops through the Ho Chi Minh Trail. Find out more about the book, and Lightner's journey to bring this story to light, in our interview next week.

The Trespasser by Tana French

Daniel: During our recent podcast discussion, Tana French called her new main character Detective Antoinette Conway “a tough cookie.” That was a tremendous understatement. She doesn’t have much choice; she’s constantly under fire from her male counterparts both inside and outside the squad room. Judging by the job she does investigating what seems like an open and shut murder case at first, there’s no one else I’d rather have relentlessly digging for the truth. French is the master of atmosphere, but it’s her character work in The Trespasser that vaults her work into another weight class. This is crime fiction at its finest.

Mike Nelson: Odds are pretty good that you evaluate baseball wrong. It’s not really your fault, so like, step off the ledge there, psycho. A single baseball game is an intricate story, and each event within a game can generate a massive amount of data. The data used by the media and mainstream analysts when evaluating a baseball player (or team) is the easy stuff—stats people have used for decades because they’re known commodities. Wins and Saves to tell you how “good” a pitcher is, RBI to tell you how “clutch” a hitter is, fielding percentage to tell you how “effective” a fielder is.

Those numbers don’t tell you the full story, though, and there are much better metrics available today, which fans and analysts should adopt. Right now I’m the loser in the comments section yelling “first!” as I have been reading baseball books on this matter for over a decade now. But if I could rewind to that first book I read on baseball stats and evaluation, I would swap it out for Keith Law’s Smart Baseball. Law is an ESPN analyst who used to work in major league front offices. He knows his stuff. He knows his stuff real good. His new book is a perfect explanation of why old statistics are insufficient, with an eye towards what fans should really be paying attention to. It is a must-read for baseball fans, serious or casual.  

Welcome to the Slipstream by Natalka Burian

Caitlin Malcuit: Welcome to the Slipstream is Natalka Burian’s first foray into the world of novel writing, a young adult feature that delves into the pains of being a teenage vagabond with a flighty mother. Van, the music-loving protagonist, is used to traveling around the world with caregiver Ida for her mother Sofia’s work. Dropped into the glitz and high-octane Las Vegas scene when Sofia’s latest client brings them to the Silver Mustang Casino, Van struggles to fit in and hopes that this time, her mother’s bipolarism won’t rear its head. Seeking to break the humdrum cycle of room service and tutors, Van begins to carve a niche for herself when she joins an all-girl band. But her new life is upended when Sofia suddenly takes off to the deserts of Sedona, Arizona, abandoning her family and work. Van’s mission to find her mother tests the bonds of their relationship, and uncovers long-buried secrets.

I talked to Natalka about Welcome to the Slipstream, as well as her activist endeavor The Freya Project. Check it out!

Marcel's Letters by Carolyn Porter

Daniel: If you’re looking for a tender, passionate, and, at times, infuriating love story to counterbalance the daily news, you’ve come to the right place. Carolyn Porter found more than she bargained for when she discovered several beautifully written World War II letters by a Frenchman named Marcel in an antique store in Stillwater, Minn. Marcel’s swooping letters inspired Porter to start designing a font, but after having one of his letters translated, she dogged pursued the Frenchman’s story all the way to France. It’s evident on every page that Porter put her heart and soul into her research, and an equally passionate and tenacious support group aided her in uncovering all of Marcel’s secrets. This book is at special read, one that will make you laugh and cry in equal measure.

Before the Fall by Noah Hawley

Daniel: Admittedly, I’m way behind in praising Noah Hawley’s Edgar Award-winning novel Before the Fall. The premise is that a chartered flight from Martha’s Vineyard crashes, killing all but two people on board (a disillusioned painter and a young boy). Hawley then dives into the backstories of the victims and the aftermath experienced by the survivors. The narrative delves into themes ranging from celebrity journalism and the perils of insane wealth to what truly bonds family and strangers together. I finished this book in two nights, frantically flipping pages on my Kindle Paperwhite and not allowing myself to be overcome by sleep.

The Fire Next Time by James Baldwin

Daniel: The two essays that make up James Baldwin’s The Fire Next Time are just as shocking and relevant as they were when the book was published in 1963. Written to “celebrate” the centennial of the Emancipation Proclamation, these missives rage against America’s dark, and deep-seated, racism, and implores both white and black Americans to honestly confront the carnage this hateful legacy has wrought. In the wake of Charlottesville and a Presidential administration steeped in white nationalism, we need Baldwin’s words more than ever.     

Author’s Corner

By Kayla Rae Whitaker, author of The Animators

Marlena by Julie Buntin

New Yorker Cat looks back on her coming-of-age in Michigan, and her revelatory teenage friendship with the charismatic, troubled Marlena, whose life—and death—act as a traumatizing divider between Cat’s childhood and adulthood. I felt this book down in my bones. There is so much in this story, in its mix of ferocity and adrenaline and explosive discovery, that is the story of being woman, and it is written with such grace and intricacy. I didn’t want it to end.

Paulina and Fran by Rachel B. Glaser

A disturbing and delightful story of an art school friendship. Paulina, in particular, is just despicably fascinating. I wanted to stay away from her, but could not stop reading about both her exploits and her moments of plummeting insecurity (when threatened, she produces a shred of baby blanket from her bra and runs it incessantly over her lips). Some really wonderful detours into female friendship, artistry, and curly hair, a topic on which there is a surprising dearth of material. Highly recommended.

Stephen Florida by Gabe Habash

The story of Stephen Florida, Oregsburg College’s most formidable wrestler and one of the most pleasingly obsessive characters I’ve had the pleasure of following in a long time, has a weird, arresting beauty. Habash builds a complete world of the sport—its thrills, its pressures, its minutiae—against the perfectly icy backdrop of a North Dakota winter. Stephen’s voice is like no other—driven and unexpected, equal parts older than its years in its sense of purpose and endearingly youthful. So sharply written, I kept flagging my husband down so I could share passages with him. It’s a total joy to read.

Monsters: A Love Story by Liz Kay

I can’t remember the last time I read the story of a troubled relationship with such close, pained delight. Stacey, a poet and recent widow, gets a phone call that changes her life. Hollywood actor Tommy DeMarco wants to adapt her feminist take on Frankenstein into a screenplay. The two meet, are instantly attracted to one another, and embark upon an ill-advised relationship in which they proceed to wreck each other’s lives. Stacy is a much-needed departure from the female heroines of most relationship narratives—her personality, desires, and internal conflicts are hers alone, not elements totally at the mercy of the romance. She is textured and real, brimming with impulses good and bad, and the fact that she has as much a hand in lending this story its dysfunction as Tommy makes her raw and compelling. This is one of those can’t-eat-can’t-sleep-can’t-talk-until-I-finish-it books, and I loved it.

#NovelClass

Tune in on Sept. 15 to hear Dave Pezza and Sean Tuohy discuss Ian Fleming’s Casino Royale.

17 Books That Should Be On Your Radar: August 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.

Hum If You Don't Know the Words by Bianca Marais

Daniel Ford: “Just one more chapter,” I told myself. “Okay, one more…fine, last one, I need to work in the morning. This is really the last one…”

You’ll find yourself having the same conversation with…yourself while reading Bianca Marais’ sparkling and superbly structured debut novel Hum If You Don't Know the Words. The novel, set in Apartheid-era South Africa, alternates perspectives between Robin Conrad, a nine-year-old white girl leading a comfortable life, and Beauty Mbali, a Xhosa woman living in a rural village. Robin and Beauty’s worlds intertwine following the Soweto Uprising. Robin’s parents are murdered and Beauty’s daughter Nomsa disappears. Robin is taken in by her hard-drinking, jet-setting aunt, while Beauty relentlessly searches for her missing daughter.

One reveal after another in this novel just wowed me. Every chapter hooked you right into the next one. I revisited the book while writing my review and my heart got stuck in my throat all over again! Robin and Beauty are at times both incredibly strong and dangerously fragile. The supporting cast helps illuminate the two women’s struggle to realign their lives and provide insights into the segregated and racist world they’re living in. Hum If You Don't Know the Words is a master class in fractured familial drama and should be on the top of your reading list headed into the fall.

The Late Show by Michael Connelly

Sean Tuohy: The reigning king of detective fiction recently published his 30th book and added a brand new character for the modern era. Renée Ballard is a driven young detective who is exiled to the night shift, known as “the late show” at the LAPD’s Hollywood division. After witnessing a victim take their last breath in the aftermath of a brutal nightclub shooting, Ballard sets out to find the killer, even if it means risking her career. The author meets his high standard, as usual, and mixes together Los Angeles, compelling characters, and a driving plot line. The Late Show further proves why Connelly is the king of crime fiction.

Fierce Kingdom by Gin Phillips

Daniel: The premise of Gin Phillips’ recently published novel Fierce Kingdom is chilling: a mother and son are trapped in a zoo during a mass shooting. While the plot does make your heart race, it’s the relationship between Joan and Lincoln that will keep you flipping pages. Not only does Phillips establish them as characters quickly and efficiently, she also gives them depth typically lacking in this kind of thriller. Lincoln isn’t just an annoying kid who provides comic relief; he has real issues and motivations that test Joan’s ability to keep him safe. The supporting cast could have easily been cardboard cutouts by comparison, but it’s to Phillips’ credit that she burrows deep within the people Joan and Lincoln come in contact with. The situation is terrifying, even considering that these events have become commonplace in the United States. Phillips’ character work distinguishes Fierce Kingdom as a thriller of the highest order.    

Of Mess and Moxie by Jen Hatmaker

BookTrib: Part self-help and part inspirational, Of Mess and Moxie (out Aug. 8) is all about inspiring women to embrace struggle and recognize that they’re strong enough to overcome almost anything. Told with a blend of humor and personal stories, Hatmaker offers advice and inspiration, showing readers how to consistently find their inner strength.

Killerjoy by Jon Negroni

Daniel: Jon Negroni can flat out write. He knows how to build a world and suck you right into it. As I’ve mentioned, I’m not the biggest fantasy aficionado, but I couldn’t help but get swept up in Negroni’s characters and narrative. He has a remarkable vision for this project, and if the rest of the series reaches the heights established here, fantasy readers are in for something special. My fellow 50/50 Press writer-in-arms is an author to watch, and Killerjoy should be on your bookshelf ASAP.

A Clean Kill in Tokyo by Barry Eisler

Sean: Zero Sum, the ninth book in John Rain series, was released in June, so I figured I'd swing back and start with the first novel in the long-running book series about the half-American, half-Japanese assassin who makes his kills look natural.

This is a stellar thriller. A fast-paced, but well thought out plot line mixes well with layered characters against the fantastic Tokyo backdrop. Eisler quickly shows the reader that he is a top-notch thriller writer.

The Road to Concord by J.L. Bell

Daniel: J.L. Bell is a Massachusetts writer who runs the terrific history blog, “Boston 1775.” His book, The Road to Concord: How Four Stolen Cannon Ignited the Revolutionary War, features everything that makes Bell’s site great: accessible writing style, innovative historical storytelling, and a fresh perspective on events that occurred nearly two-and-a-half centuries ago. The Road to Concord focuses on how four stolen cannons (that British general Thomas Gage was desperately, and perhaps foolishly, trying to recover) may have helped spark the American Revolution. The narrative features colonial hijinks, high political drama, and Revolutionary War heroes not often discussed alongside Washington, Adams, and Jefferson. The Road to Concord is refreshingly original and structured like a thriller. Learning about what led the British and the colonies to war has never been this much fun.

All the Bayou Stories End With Drowned by Erica Wright

Daniel: During our recent podcast chat, Erica Wright told me it’s likely that people who say they don’t like poetry just haven’t found the right poem yet. Well, let me tell you, the poems you’ll find in her new collection are indeed the right ones. From her fiery, apocalyptic opener to the eponymous entry that inspired the collection, All the Bayou Stories End With Drowned showcases a poet in firm command of her genre. There’s such depth of character and snappy dialogue that you’ll think you’re reading a short story at times. You’ll marvel at how Wright packs so much heart and fury into such a concise structure. I have a whole new appreciation for modern poetry, and will likely seek out other poets thanks to this collection.

Mrs. Fletcher by Tom Perrotta

BookTrib: It’s all about discovering new parts of yourself in Perrotta’s novel about a mother and son who are thrust out of their comfort zones in various ways. For the 40-something Eve Fletcher that means a sexual awakening that’s connected to the idea of herself as a MILF. And for her son, Brendan, it means readjusting his expectations as he leaves home for his first year at college.

I Was Told to Come Alone by Souad Mekhennet

Daniel: I’ve been tweeting out how much I love Souad Mekhennet’s I Was Told to Come Alone: My Journey Behind the Lines of Jihad for a month. Mekhennet, an Arab-German journalist for The Washington Post, gives an honest and passionate account of her upbringing and journalism career. While her background gave her opportunities to discover stories that may have gone otherwise unnoticed, she also had to hurdle plenty of discrimination (both racist and sexist) in order to get those stories told. This memoir also provides a different perspective on Sept. 11, the War on Terror, and the fight against ISIS, one that’s much more nuanced than the current daily headlines. Mekhennet puts a very human face on both sides of this seemingly endless conflict, and her tenacity keeps her asking that all-important question: why? I Was Told To Come Alone should be required reading at journalism schools. All schools, actually. Read this book.

The Weight of Blood by Laura McHugh

Daniel: This novel is going to unsettle your senses from the get-go. Set in the Ozark Mountains, The Weight of Blood features a shadowy, absent mother, a ritualized murder, and a young woman coming of age in a secluded area with an alcoholic father. McHugh writes atmosphere so well, and the Ozarks provide the perfect tableau for this kind of storytelling. Secrets abound in this novel, and you’ll be white-knuckling it long into the night (yeah, you’re not going to sleep, don’t even try).   

Author’s Corner

By Bianca Marais, author of Hum If You Don’t Know the Words

Into the Forest by Jean Hegland

While on tour two weeks ago, I visited the fabulous Copperfield's Books in Healdsburg for an event. They were kind enough to allow me to pick a book in the store as a gift from them, and so I did what I always do: I asked a bookseller for a recommendation.

Emily suggested Into the Forest, saying that the author was local and that it was one of her favourite books, and so naturally, that’s the one I chose. I’m so glad I did, because I absolutely devoured the book that tells that story of two sisters, Eva and Nell, whose worlds are turned upside down when sickness and anarchy rage across the United States as it’s on the brink of collapse. The description appealed to me because I so thoroughly enjoyed Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel, which was also a favourite of Katie Smith’s, another wonderful bookseller at the store.

Hegland is a masterful storyteller who has written a page-turner that is both lyrical and challenges everything you think you know about society.

A House Among the Trees by Julia Glass

I’ve been a fan of Julia Glass’s since her Three Junes won the National Book Award in 2002. I’ve read all of her books multiple times and was very excited to hear that she had a new one coming out in July called A House Among the Trees. I was planning to buy, it but was given it as a gift by another fabulous bookstore that I visited while on tour, Towne Center Books. And it wasn’t just any copy; it was an autographed copy which made it even more special!

I’m halfway through it and absolutely loving it. Glass has a way of immersing you in her books so that you feel as though you’ve known the characters your whole life. In this, her fifth novel, she tells the story of the unusual bond between a world-famous writer and his assistant. I can’t wait to finish this but I’m trying to read it slowly to savour it.

A Distant View of Everything by Alexander McCall Smith

I haven’t gotten to this one yet, which is another book in the Isabel Dalhousie series that takes place in Edinburgh, but I love everything Alexander McCall Smith writes. I’ve become even a bigger fan of his since my 12-year-old goddaughter, Anya, who lives in Edinburgh, recently went to home to give him my book in the hopes that he might blurb it.

When she knocked on his door, instead of his being annoyed at the intrusion, he invited her (and her mother who was hiding behind the bushes around the corner) inside, offered them tea and even gave them a few autographed copies of his books. He then sent me a lovely email when he didn’t have time to blurb the book before the deadline.

Two for the Road

Two books that I also haven’t gotten to yet, but that I’ve heard amazing things about, are The Elephants in my Backyard by Rajiv Surendra and Everybody’s Son by Thrity Umrigar. I’ve bought them both and am looking forward to diving in shortly.

#NovelClass

Dave Pezza and Daniel Ford discuss Rachel Khong’s Goodbye, Vitamin. Also read author Julie Buntin's review in June's "Books That Should Be On Your Radar."

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.

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.