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 Italian Teacher by Tom Rachman
Daniel Ford: The Italian Teacher really has it all—it’s a family drama, it makes you laugh, and you have a main character that you love to hate sometimes. Setting this novel in the art world allowed Rachman to play around with the debate I think all creative types have. What do you have to sacrifice to make great art? And what separates great from everything else? Which is great for everyone but poor Pinch. Rachman really put him through the ringer at times, but, of course, a lot of it is self-inflicted on his part. However, I felt like I knew him completely, and couldn’t help rooting for him the whole time even when he was being a dope.
Blackout by Alex Segura
Sean Tuohy: Alex Segura knows how to write about Miami. Not the sun soaked shores but about the dark, twisted underbelly that gets hidden away from tourists. His troubled detective Pete Fernandez returns in Blackout (out May 8 from Polis Books), the fourth installment in Segura’s South Florida-based mystery series. A murder from the past swirls to the present and Pete finds himself on a body-littered trail that leads to a long-forgotten Florida cult.
What makes this series so great is that the fact that no one is safe. Someone you have grown to love can get axed off on the next page or you find out they are truly an awful person. Segura designs his characters to be real people. They have flaws, make mistakes, but can win us over easily. Fernandez is character that you find yourself rooting for one page and on the next one shaking your head in disappointment. But that keeps us coming back. Blackout is a can’t-miss book.
Silver Girl by Leslie Pietrzyk
Kayla Rae Whitaker: Silver Girl has haunted me since I read it in the first days of 2018. I say read, but a more appropriate term, perhaps, is consumed. On the surface, it is a story of friendship between women: the book’s narrator and her best friend, Jess, attend a privileged university in 1980s Chicago, while the exploits of the Tylenol Killer spark a national panic. The setting elements alone were an immediate draw. This relationship narrative, however, is more fraught than the usual, dealing in issues of class, power dynamics, and control, and the devastating effects of all three. It details, in specific and intimate language, the experience of women attempting to locate identity and agency in a capitalist culture: in a life in which everything has a price tag, what am I worth? I understood this story, and felt it deeply and intuitively. Like the best books, Silver Girl felt as if it had been written for me. And everything in my life stopped, that January afternoon, until I reached the story's end.
Heart Berries by Terese Marie Mailhot
Nick Kreiss: Heart Berries is a sledgehammer of a book, a once-in-a-generation piece, a memoir with genuinely transformative power. Terese's brave honesty is matched only by her exacting, razor-sharp prose. Heart Berries reads like an autopsy, and it's a universal tale of renewal and resilience. This is the rare book that can grab its reader by the throat and the heart and say something alarmingly new and urgent about the human condition.
The Wild Inside by Jamey Bradbury
Caitlin Malcuit: Dark and moody, Jamey Bradbury’s debut The Wild Inside taps into the quiet isolation of the Alaskan wilderness, acres and acres of woods where protagonist Tracy Petrikoff feels most at home. In the wake of a family tragedy, Tracy and her family struggle to cope with loss. Tracy’s unusual first-person voice evokes Karen Hesse’s prose in Out of the Dust and creates a unique, feral stream-of-consciousness feel of a racing mind. And racing is all Tracy wants to do—she sets her sights on preparing for the Iditarod to recapture her father’s former glory. But there are bumps along the way; a bloody scrape in the forest with a stranger rattles and disorients Tracy, forcing her to keep the encounter secret as she also questions her intensifying dark urges. Bradbury’s novel is a compelling and vexing story that will keep you doubting both Tracy and yourself.
Green by Sam Graham-Felsen
Daniel: I made the mistake of asking the fine folks at Papercuts J.P. for a book recommendation before settling into my seat for Julie Buntin’s recent book reading/signing. Ask smart bookish folks for help and they’re going to make you an offer you can’t refuse. And I didn’t! I told bookseller John Cleary that I wanted a book that I could really fall in love with. He put Sam Graham-Felsen’s Green in my hands. Here are the opening lines:
“I am the white boy at Martin Luther King Middle. Well, one of two. Kev, my best friend and the biggest dick I know, is the other. But if you had to pick just one, it’d be me.”
Signed, sealed, delivered.
The Gunners by Rebecca Kauffman
Daniel: Speaking of Julie Buntin, she recommended some great titles during her chat with author Laura van den Berg. I thought I was safe because I had read many of them, but then she finished by praising Rebecca Kauffman’s The Gunners, which came out in March from Counterpoint. A group of childhood friends wrestling with issues stemming from a suicide by one of their own? Yeah, just swipe my card, I don’t need to eat this month. I’ll dine on quality fiction like this for every meal.
Mason’s Retreat by Christopher Tilghman
Alison Doherty: Revived from the archives of my mother’s bookshelf, this 1996 national best-seller by Christopher Tilghman made its way to my breakfast table. As I dipped my spoon into creamy oatmeal dotted with sliced strawberries and sprinkled with cinnamon, Tilghman’s descriptive characters' came to life. It isn't the exterior or physical character descriptions that permeate but rather the interior, psychological descriptions that pull one into the story. Set on the brink of America entering World War II, the Mason family only has its good name to carry to their new home in Chesapeake Bay. The fragile condition they find the inherited house in reflects the current state of the husband and wife’s relationship. While Edward, the bookish and intellectually driven father, fails in his new role as a farmer, his wife and two sons form strong bonds with their new community. The self-centered and anxious Edward is reluctant to give up his former expat life in England and ultimately leads the unwilling family to its bitter end.
The Paper Life They Lead by Patrick Crerand
Daniel: I think author Wiley Cash undersold Patrick’s Crerand’s short story collection The Paper Life They Lead (Out April 17 from Arc Pair Press) when he emailed me saying that it was “fucking brilliant." If you’re looking for a collection to bebop in your head for a good long while, this is it.
An Empire on the Edge: How Britain Came to Fight America by Nick Bunker
Daniel: I’m not the biggest British history fan, so I wasn’t sure how I was going to feel about a book that focused on the state of the British Empire before the American Revolution. That anxiety subsided pretty quickly after diving into Nick Bunker’s charming, well-researched prose. His passion for his subject, and for good storytelling, was evident on every page. As an added bonus, I learned about the Gaspee Incident, which, much to our own Dave Pezza’s delight, featured ass-kicking Rhode Islanders roughing up a meddling, rapacious lieutenant in the Royal Navy.
Ireland's Dread Nation has everything you could want. Powerful female characters fighting zombies, a perfectly paced story, and masterfully woven politics and historical truths that make this story feel as modern as it does historical. It's sharply written, and some of the descriptions will make you shiver. Very few books truly have something for everyone, but Dread Nation does.
The Diminished by Kaitlyn Sage Patterson
Do you remember how you felt when you were a kid and you picked up your first really good fantasy book? You'll feel like that when you read The Diminished. In a world where almost everyone is born with a twin, what happens when you're not? Not only is the world building strong, but The Diminished asks the age-old question so many people are still trying to answer: what type of person are you? Did I mention it has brown people in a fantasy setting? Because it does. One hundred points for Patterson.
The Summer of Jordi Perez by Amy Spalding
There is so much to love about this book. It has a lot of positive queer rep (and we need so much more F/F queer YA), but also, everyone can relate to being the "sidekick." The relatability of The Summer of Jordi Perez, set on a romantic, easygoing, light hearted backdrop, is exactly the type of YA teens, especially LGBTQ teens, need in this age of resistance. Books are mirrors and windows, and this book perfectly balances being both, in a way I'm jealous of.
Sky in the Deep by Adrienne Young
I was lucky enough to discover this book last year at YALLFEST and let me tell you, this book had me shooketh. Imagine Vikings meets Magic, but like, ten times better? Now multiply that 100. I'm a sucker for books that involve family dynamics, female characters who kick butt and take names, and amazing prose. You can check this all off when reading Sky in the Deep. Also, can we please talk about that cover.
White Rabbit by Caleb Roehrig
There are not enough LGBT books written and by gay authors out there, let alone mystery thrillers with a super relatable main character. That alone made me interested in White Rabbit. And then I read it, and my god...I don't want to spoil anything but...oh my god. There has been a lot of hype about this book and I want to say it's 100% deserved. Not only is the voice of this book amazing, but sometimes thrillers and mysteries disappoint in...well...the thrilling mystery. White Rabbit goes above and beyond. I'm calling it now. White Rabbit for Best YA Thriller of 2018. You can quote me on that.
Listen to Dave Pezza and Kayla Rae Whitaker discuss Leni Zumas’ Red Clocks.
On April 30, Dave Pezza and Nick Kreiss take a deep dive into David Joy's The Weight of This World. Read and tune in!