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.
Seven Sins by Karen Runge
Sean Tuohy: Deeply unsettling but overwhelmingly enjoyable, Karen Runge’s Seven Sins leads readers down a winding dark path where every twig that snaps makes you shutter, and every shadow sends a chill down your spine. In seven stories, Runge masterfully sets the tone as she dives into a world of the unnatural horror. I plowed through this collection of short stories in less than an hour. I was unable to put the book down, or contain my fright, as I read Runge's pitch perfect prose. She designed a true page-turner with stories that ranged from unholy love between mother and son or the secrets a seemingly lovely grandfather hides behind his smile. Seven Sins is truly one of the best short story collections of 2016.
Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng
Daniel Ford: I know, I’m super late on this novel. I’m ashamed that it took me this long to read it. Celeste Ng’s gripping, heartbreaking novel about a family torn apart by a daughter and sister’s death won myriad awards in 2014 and 2015 for good reason. It starts with the opening line: “Lydia is dead.” Other than, “Luke Skywalker has vanished” at the beginning of “The Force Awakens,” it’s one of the best openers I’ve read in a long time. Everything that comes after is exquisitely written and structured. Each member of this mixed race family experiences the mystery of Lydia’s death differently. The anguish and trauma of losing a loved one would be cause enough to unravel the most stable of family cores, but the Lee clan comes close to dissolving thanks to an undercurrent of secrets, lies, and misunderstandings. Ng weaves between past and present, putting the pieces of the puzzle together while twisting your emotions at every turn. It’s a master class in storytelling; one you should enroll in as soon as humanly possible.
Why We Came to the City by Kristopher Jansma
Gary Almeter: The first six pages of Kristopher Jansma’s Why We Came to the City are so good that I think it would be wholly appropriate to remove Alexander Hamilton from the $10 bill and replace him with Kristopher Jansma. They are that good.
I am someone who moved to the city—two cities actually; I moved to Boston right out of college and then to New York City with my fiancée—and Jansma captures the feelings associated with the endeavor. It can be invigorating, corrosive, fun, awful; debilitating, riotous, enchanting, and dreadful all at the same time. His book adeptly chronicles a few years in the life of a group of friends who have been close since their college years in Ithaca, and how they navigate their new lives and new dynamics in New York City. The city gives them much and the city takes much from them.
Jansma does a spectacular job of capturing the many varied relationships each character has—romantic relationships, employer-employee relationships, mere friendships, relationships that come from networking, and relationships that aren’t quite relationships yet but are on the cusp of being so—and rendering each with great authenticity. He makes them a family. Additionally, he examines each character’s relationship with the city authentic and vibrant. Sometimes the city is a muse or mistress, other times it’s an archenemy instigating both the suffering and joy of each protagonist. Jansma has a reverence for the city but it never becomes hagiography. He finds the absurdity in the city as well.
Jansma also has a joie de vivre for the creative process. It is apparent in the way he writes; the way he effortlessly captures the unique imagery of New York; and the way his sentences simultaneously meander and get exactly to the point. Sentences like, “She’d live with him in a refrigerator box, in a nursery rhyme show, a teepee, an igloo, or a fortress made of couch cushions. Let the doubters doubt. Let the future be unsure. In a city of eight million, they’d always be two.”
The Girls by Emma Cline
Daniel: Emma Cline’s debut novel The Girls has landed on all manner of “Best of” and “Perfect Summer Read” lists since it’s debut in June. The book follows a wayward teenage girl during “the violent end of the 1960s” as she drifts ever closer to an enigmatic recluse on the brink of exploiting his “followers” for his own nefarious means. There’s no question of Cline’s talent; she expertly sets a tone and a mood, and her sharp, observant descriptions allow the reader to feel, taste, and see everything the main character, Evie Boyd, experiences. There’s no romance attached to this coming-of-age tale. Evie is a damaged adult when we first meet her at the beginning of the novel, and that darkness is amplified more and more as we learn more about what hell she walked through in the service of fitting in and being a part of something not connected to her absent/self-involved parents. I did like that this was a deep character study, however, my one criticism is that the story seemed to be building to an end that kind of just petered out. I felt like the end didn’t quite match the slow burn that simmered throughout the novel. Perhaps that was the point. Maybe Cline was trying to illustrate that we think our lives are gearing up for some big moment defined by fireworks and the ashy aftermath when it’s really just a series of events we muddle through to try to figure out who the fuck we are. Regardless, The Girls is a stellar debut and should find its way to your nightstand or beach bag this summer.
The Duration by Dave Fromm
Daniel: Am I biased because Dave Fromm said we had a “cool website?” Yes. Did he also happen to write a funny, tender, and gut-wrenching novel about friendship, growing up, and the tug between home and the wider world? You beat your ass he did. We all have that friend you can’t give up on no matter what he does (I’m pretty sure I’m that guy to a bunch of people) or what problems are infecting your own life. Fromm takes that theme and adds in horrible breakups, drug addiction, and an endearing quest for a mysterious rhino horn. The prose makes you feel like you’re at a bar back home during the holidays while nursing a beer and listening to your friends tell tall tales about past exploits. You’ll laugh out loud at times for sure, but you’ll also experience an overwhelming sense of nostalgia for that time in your life when you didn’t have everything quite figured out and everything seemed to hang on a thread. Those who made it can look back and smile at the fire that touched our skin, while those who didn’t can only dance in the flame and wonder what might have been. That’s how The Duration made me feel, and I’m willing to bet you’ll have a similar reaction when you tear through this novel in one or two sittings.
The Second Life of Nick Mason by Steve Hamilton
Daniel: Edgar Award-winning author Steve Hamilton recently published novel The Second Life of Nick Mason has garnered praise from the likes of Stephen King, Don Winslow, Michael Connolly, and Lee Child.
Here’s the synopsis:
Nick Mason is out of prison. After five years inside, he has just been given the one thing a man facing 25-to-life never gets, a second chance. But it comes at a terrible price.
Whenever his cell phone rings, day or night, he must answer it and follow whatever order he is given. It’s the deal he made with Darius Cole, a criminal kingpin serving a double-life term who still runs an empire from his prison cell.
Forced to commit increasingly more dangerous crimes, hunted by the relentless detective who put him behind bars, and desperate to go straight and rebuild his life with his daughter and ex-wife, Nick will ultimately have to risk everything–his family, his sanity, and even his life–to finally break free.
A good crime novel not only needs a good premise, it needs a main character and an opening line that grabs you right away. Hamilton delivers for sure. Here’s the first line of The Second Life of Nick Mason:
Nick Mason’s freedom lasted less than a minute.
Needless to say, this book was stapled to my hands once I started it. That line perfectly captures the tension of the novel and contradictions Nick Mason faces as he adapts to his new “mobility,” rather than his out right freedom. Read it and then listen to Sean Tuohy's podcast interview with the author.
We Could Be Beautiful by Swan Huntley
Adam Vitcavage: The thing about this book is that it comfortably lays somewhere in between breezy beach read and an in-depth look at a wealthy woman’s psychological makeup. It leans a certain way every chapter. It's about a rich, white, 40-something-year-old woman who might annoy you at times. She wants to be loved, but as the story progresses, she discovers who deserves trust and what it means to be honest with another person. What is most interesting about this novel is that Huntley has a keen insight into this world. She was a nanny for a wealthy family and watched from an incredibly close distance before realizing there was a story to be told. We Could Be Beautiful is the on the cusp of literary fiction that both you and your mother can enjoy this summer.