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.
Friday Black by Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah
Daniel Ford: The stories we find in Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah’s debut collection Friday Black (out Oct. 23 from Mariner Books) are searing, timely, haunting, and extraordinary. Adjei-Brenyah expertly blends themes of race, family, and consumerism while building characters that will remain rooted in your brain. An impressive achievement from a young writer whose voice is most welcome and absolutely necessary on the literary scene. Listen to my interview with the author on Oct. 23!
November Road by Lou Berney
Daniel: Lou Berney’s November Road is bathed in luminous cigarette smoke and shady characters. Set during the Kennedy assassination, this book is a masterclass in mood, dialogue, pace, and character building. And if you don’t want to take my word for it, November Road has been praised by the likes of Don Winslow, Laura Lippman, and Megan Abbott. For anyone who loves a good chase thriller wrapped in smoky character study, November Road is not to be missed.
White Dancing Elephants by Chaya Bhuvaneswar
Daniel: I was completely ensorcelled by Chaya Bhuvaneswar’s writing in her debut short story collection White Dancing Elephants. Make no mistake, Bhuvaneswar puts her characters through hell, and it’s a visceral, palpable hell, but never without reason or conviction in her narrative purpose. White Dancing Elephants is a searing, honest collection that ensures Chaya Bhuvaneswar’s is a voice to be heard for decades to come.
The Parting Gift by Evan Fallenberg
Rebecca Weston: In The Parting Gift by Evan Fallenberg, a young man moves from the U.S. to Israel, where he meets Uzi, a ruggedly handsome spice farmer. Thus begins an erotic tale of lust, jealousy, and revenge, along with conniving and betrayal on a level that reminded me of Othello. Fallenberg has great control over language and over his unnamed narrator, who writes the story in letter-form. We learn slowly that he might not always be the most reliable narrator, nor the most well-intentioned. He is surrounded by a cast of characters with different motives, experiences, and cultures, who all serve to show us a slice of life in rural Israel that we might not otherwise have access to. The novel is infused with the aromas of the region’s spices as the narrator cooks in Uzi’s kitchen. I found myself reaching for my much-loved Ottolenghi cookbooks as I sat in my own kitchen, reading The Parting Gift. Be sure to catch my conversation with Evan Fallenberg, live on the Writer’s Bone podcast!
The Witch Elm by Tana French
Daniel: Tana French remains the master of setting, mood, and tone, even when not writing about urban gumshoes hot on a murderer’s trail. French’s first standalone, The Witch Elm, explores the relationship between luck and empathy through the eyes of her unsuspecting protagonist Toby. He’s led a rather happy-go-lucky life when we meet him, however, that changes when he’s severely beaten during the opening chapter. Toby retreats to his family’s ancestral home (is there a better setting for a mystery?), where a skull is found within an elm tree. This discovery upends Toby’s worldview and the investigation leads to answers he may or may not prepared to learn. French may have topped herself with this novel (no small feat), and while we miss the Dublin Murder Squad, we’re glad she’s in no hurry to return to the beat. More standalones please!
Ohio by Stephen Markley
Taylor Krajewski: My favorite type of novel is "long, wordy piece about the current social state of America," so Ohio was a perfect read for me. A group of high school friends (but more like acquaintances at this point) reunite one evening in their tired, Ohio hometown. Like many suburban communities, the town of New Canaan has lost so many to poverty, the opioid epidemic, and the wars in the Middle East. The homecoming group must come to terms with these issues, and the secrets they have kept from each other since graduation. The final two chapters of the novel are both so graphic and heartbreaking; and I do not recommend reading it late into the night as I did. Could not fall asleep afterwards!
Unnatural Habitats by Angela Mitchell
Heather Luby: As a native of the Ozarks, and a dedicated fan of works set in my childhood stomping grounds (think works by Daniel Woodrell or shows like “Ozark” on Netflix) I was eager to get my hands on Angela Mitchell’s debut collection Unnatural Habitats & Other Stories, released this month by WTAW Press.
I’ve always been drawn to fiction that explore of the capacity of imperfect, ordinary people to do surprisingly terrible things. Mitchell’s characters inhabit a world full of dirty deeds, drugs, lust, envy, and violence. These characters are the abused and the abusers, but mostly, they are simply folks looking to survive by any means necessary. Many of the characters aren’t particularly sympathetic, and yet, I felt compelled to see what each of them might be capable of doing from one page to next.
I also found the loosely linked nature of the stories added to the overall world building of the collection. While recurring characters certainly added continuity, it was the setting of the stories that seemed to provide an overall haunting quality. Mitchell makes the Ozarks an additional menacing character through language so honest and vivid I could taste the kicked up gravel from rutted dirt roads on my tongue.
More than anything I was relieved to see this collection avoided sentimentality, moralistic judgements, or worse, tidy epiphanies. Like the bobcat Bobbie, who prowls the pages in several stories, I came to this collection hungry for something raw and real and Mitchell sure as hell satisfied.
Burning Down the Haus by Tim Mohr
Daniel: In the highly readable and endlessly fascinating Burning Down the Haus, Tim Mohr tells the story of how East German punks fought against an oppressive system that would eventually crumble toward the end of the 1980s. There’s plenty of music and anarchy, but it’s never without cause. The young punks we met in Mohr’s narrative had steely nerves and integrity in the face of imprisonment, beatings, and deportation. An essential read for our times. We should all be East German punks right now.
In the Hurricane’s Eye by Nathaniel Philbrick
Daniel: The finale of Nathaniel Philbrick’s Revolutionary War trilogy lives up to its name in more ways than one. It begins with the plight of the Phoenix, which is a British ship that gets caught up in a hurricane and is the harbinger of all that’s to come for American, British, and French forces. What I love about this series is that Philbrick does an excellent job of infusing man into the marble and into the myth. And while this book is no different, but the task might be even harder because he had to humanize George Washington, arguably the most loved figure in American history. Readers meet a Washington who is frustrated, angry, slightly vindictive, and joyous depending on the historical moment. What also stands about this series, and this book in particular, is just how precarious American independence was throughout the war. Even when American forces had the right guy in the right place at the right time, the fledgling country still needed plenty of luck (and French ships) to defeat the British. Philbrick captured of all that drama in each book and In the Hurricane’s Eye is a fitting end to the series. Listen to my interview with the author on Oct. 29!
Basketball (And Other Things) by Shea Serrano
Mike Nelson: This is the most important book review I have ever written. It's basketball season, which means you need a basketball book that will get you in the mood. There is no greater book to do just that than Shea Serrano's "BAOT," which does very well with the "I don't usually read" crowd and also probably does well with the "I don't care that much about the actual sport of basketball, I just like the entertainment part of it" crowd. If you wanted to know what the most disrespectful dunk of all time was, if you want to know where Jim Halpert's pickup game ranks in the list of all-time fictional basketball performances, or if you just want to be entertained, this book is perfect.
Nevermoor: The Trials of Morrigan Crow by Jessica Townsend
Rebecca: Nevermoor was pitched to me by a bookseller as “a girl Harry Potter.” This comparison, as you may well know, is taboo in publishing. Except…when it just might be true! Nevermoor is the story of a young girl named Morrigan. Born on Eventide, Morrigan is fated to be blamed for everything that goes wrong in her town and to die on her eleventh birthday. But, just in time, Morrigan is whisked away to Nevermoor, a secret place where children compete to be in the prestigious Wundrous Society. Of course, this world, and even Morrigan herself, are not all that they seem. Jessica Townsend’s writing is strong and precise, her characters, including an enormous cat named Fen, are delightful, and who doesn’t want to fly off buildings using an oilskin umbrella? Good news for fellow fans—the second book in the series, Wundersmith: The Calling of Morrigan Crow, will be out from Little, Brown this November.
The Blue Kingfisher by Erica Wright
Daniel: It’s such a joy to have troubled, New York City private investigator Kat Stone back on the page. She’s arguably at her lowest point when the novel opens—a disgruntled drug lord wants her on the payroll or in the morgue—and that’s precisely when she finds a body atop the Jeffrey’s Hook Lighthouse in Fort Washington Park. Plenty of snark and snooping follow. I want Kat Stone to find some peace in her life, but not before getting herself wrapped up in a few more precarious capers.
By Kat Howard, author of An Unkindness of Magicians
Well, I’m going to start out by cheating a bit, and recommending a couple of books I haven’t yet read. First, Sara Gran’s The Infinite Blacktop. This is the latest in her Claire DeWitt detective series. I adored the first two and have no doubt the case will be the same here. If you love a smart and darkly quirky detective story, this is a series for you.
I’m also extremely looking forward to Tana French’s new standalone book, The Witch Elm. French is one of my favorite writers—she has such a gift for character and atmosphere—and she can push the mundane right up to the edge of the strange. I’m thinking this will be a perfect fall read.
If your idea of a seasonal October read is a little more witchy, let me suggest Lily Anderson’s Undead Girl Gang. It’s extremely fun, and has great, strong friendships. It’s also a story of grief, revenge, and magic and what it means to live through and with these things. I had the best time reading this.
Another great story of grief and revenge, women and monsters, is Maria Dahvana Headley’s The Mere Wife. It’s a brilliant and haunting retelling of Beowulf set it contemporary American suburbia. Listen, and you’ll hear the voices in the story that you didn’t before—those of the wives, the mothers, the monsters. This book has haunted me since I first read it and is a favorite of the year for me.
In Episode 2.10, Dave Pezza and guest host Caitlin Malcuit discuss Laura Van Den Berg's The Third Hotel.
In Episode 2.11, Dave Pezza and special guest host Elliot Ackerman (Waiting for Eden, Dark at the Crossing) discuss Tadzio Koelb's debut novel Trenton Makes.