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.
What Should Be Wild by Julia Fine
Daniel Ford: This is the line that hooked me on Julia Fine’s debut. Buckle up because it’s a real doozy.
They grew me inside of my mother, which was unusual, because she was dead.
Wowser! The “me” in that sentence refers to Fine’s main character Maisie, who is born with the power to kill or resurrect anything at her slightest touch. Needless to say, this causes some physical and emotional issues. Maisie’s father disappears, and she has to leave her protected bubble for the first time to find him. Yup, I’m all in! What’s even more impressive is that Fine edited the novel while pregnant. I can’t edit if the lighting isn’t right where I’m working. I also can’t wait for whatever Fine writes next.
The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue by Mackenzi Lee
Rebecca Weston: The Gentleman's Guide to Vice and Virtue is a delightful, high-spirited, adventurous, romantic romp that subtly reveals issues of race, gender, class, sexism, alcoholism, and abuse . . . in the most fun way possible! In 1700s Cheshire, England, Monty, our antihero, is a gentleman and a rogue, happy to oblige every man and woman who finds him irresistible. Percy, his best friend, is loyal, kind, and dashing. Felicity, his annoying younger sister, can’t seem to remember that women and science aren’t supposed to mix (how silly of her!). The three set off for a year of touring the Continent, living it up one last time before life’s responsibilities get in the way. But when Monty makes one foolish mistake, everything, including their lives, is in peril. Fun, swoon-worthy, and hilarious, you won't want to miss this witty adventure! I, for one, can't wait to get my hands on the sequel, The Ladies Guide to Petticoats and Piracy, coming out from Katherine Tegen Books/HarperCollins in October 2018.
Call Me American by Abdi Nor Iftin
Alex Tzelnic: This is a strange book to recommend. It's not an easy read, as the journey it describes—the author's obsession with and eventual flight to America from his native Somalia—is as harrowing as they come. But that also makes it about as uplifting as they come, and I can't remember a reading experience in which I was rooting harder for a narrator. This makes his ups and downs, and goodness there are many of them, riveting, heartbreaking, and inspiring. If this story doesn't make you grateful to be an American, I'm not sure what can. It is a prescient reminder that our country has thrived thanks to its openness, and that we can't restrict our borders without closing off the best part of ourselves.
The Disappeared by C.J. Box
Sean Tuohy: Game warden Joe Pickett finds himself on a cold trail of a British executive who never makes it home after visiting a resort in Wyoming. Pickett receives pressure from the new governor and his staff to find her—or else find a new job. With his livelihood on the line, Pickett stumbles into a strange and far reaching mystery.
C.J. Box is able to make the harsh unforgiving Wyoming landscape a major character in his latest novel. Unlike most crime fiction detectives, Pickett is a stand out hero. He's a man driven by a moral code and a duty to his family. He's not a loner with nothing to lose; he's a man who has people depending on him to come home. Every time Pickett is in damage, the dread grows thick in the readers chest, you're not just worried for Joe but for his family as well. Box has the rare talent to write a genre book but inject his own voice into the story.
Motherhood by Sheila Heti
Nick Kreiss: This year, we’ve been blessed with several remarkable stories about motherhood. Each has been unique and profound in their own way, but readers will be hard pressed to find writing more honest, vulnerable, and accessible than that of Sheila Heti. In Motherhood, she broaches complicated topics with fearlessness and accessibility. By courageously examining her innermost thoughts on motherhood and humanity at large, Heti invites all of her readers on an extremely rewarding journey of self-actualization and social exploration.
Commonwealth by Ann Patchett
Rebecca: Every book from Ann Patchett is a gift. I pry open the covers slowly and bask in her sentences one at a time, making them last as long as possible. Commonwealth follows the lives of six step-siblings and their four parents. Through decades of intimacy, estrangement, tragedy, but, mostly, life simply moving forward, one develops a growing sense of the ever-unfinished quality of life and relationships. My favorite part of the novel is the dreamlike party scene at the beginning. Pachett deftly portrays the chaos, the heat of the day, the tipsy buzz in the air, the giddiness, the awkwardness, the ease, and the beginning and ending of a story about to unfold, sealed in a single moment. Each of Patchett's novels brings us inside a different world, from opera and hostages in Bel Canto to a perhaps more familiar, family drama in Commonwealth. The subject and plot almost don’t matter. Patchett could write about anything, and I would keep on reading; I would follow her anywhere.
Beneath A Ruthless Sun by Gilbert King
Daniel: To say this book is gripping would be an understatement, and Gilbert King’s dedication to covering stories about injustice is stamped on every paragraph in this narrative.
Beneath A Ruthless Sun starts with the rape of a white woman in Florida. She’s the wife of a Florida citrus baron, and she tells the authorities that a husky Negro assaulted her. A racist sheriff does what you might expect, and rounds up suspects that fit that description. However, the investigation then turns to Jesse Daniels, a mentally impaired, white 19-year-old who is eventually locked away in a state hospital without trial. He’s not without allies though, as King discovers, because journalist Mable Norris Reese pursues the story for years trying to find the truth.
It goes without saying that the issues King investigates in this book are still timely as all hell. What’s also important to note is that longform investigative journalism like this is alive and well and is still able to shed light on matters some would rather not acknowledge.
House of Nutter: The Rebel Tailor of Savile Row by Lance Richardson
Daniel: This may come as a surprise to some of our readers/listeners, but I know next to nothing about fashion (cargo shorts are still acceptable, right?). However, I love good storytelling, and Lance Richardson’s House of Nutter features damn good storytelling. Richardson decided to dig into Tommy Nutter’s life after hearing about the Savile Row icon jumping into the Thames after being denied entry into a party. His investigation led him to David Nutter, Tommy’s photographer brother, who had plenty of delicious stories of his own. Through the two brothers’ experiences, Richardson is also able to examine the rise and fall of bespoke, 1970s nightlife in New York City and London, queer life in England and the United States, and how the AIDS epidemic has taken a horrific toll on the world’s cultural life.
You All Grow Up and Leave Me by Piper Weiss
Daniel: This book fits right in with all the other memoir-true-crime narratives that have landed in bookstores the last couple of years. How does one come of age dealing with a darkness they don’t know about or don’t quite understand? What does it say about someone who remains obsessed over a case that either happened long ago or has limited hope of ever being solved? Piper Weiss’ narrative explores all of these questions, and it’s to her credit that there’s nothing in this book that feels inauthentic or disingenuous. She presents the facts she knows about Gary Wilensky’s shadowy life, as well as her own experiences as a teenager and young adult, in a straight forward manner that makes you invest in the stories she’s telling all the more. I was reading this book so intently, or intensely I should say, at one point that I actually broke the spine. I think it was author Alex Segura who called it raw and haunting a couple of weeks ago on Twitter, and I couldn’t agree more. Definitely find yourself a copy.
Robin by Dave Itzkoff
Daniel: Not only did I adore Robin Williams in just about every television show or film he ever appeared in, but I also worshiped his live stand-up performances. They were appointment viewing. I remember buying a cassette tape on a school trip of his mid-1980s performances at the Metropolitan Opera House (thank goodness for this trip’s lax parental supervision), and laughing uncontrollably on the bus while everyone else was asleep. I didn’t know shit about drugs, alcohol, or the Reagan administration, but Williams’ feverish and energetic delivery hit something within me that made me a fan for life. Reading Dave Itzkoff’s well-researched and empathetically-written biography was illuminating on so many levels, and made me realize how much I miss Robin Williams. The world seems to be falling apart, and I know he would have found someway to make us all smile (even if he couldn’t do so himself).
True Fiction by Lee Goldberg
Sean: Move over super spies, cops, and badass daredevils, there’s a new hero on the block: author Ian Ludlow. The latest novel from TV writer and novelist Lee Goldberg is a thrill ride, and Goldberg spins well-known genre into a fun “man stumbles into a conspiracy” story. Ludlow is far removed from his fictional, no-holds-barred action hero, but that changes when he finds himself in the crosshairs of international assassins. Aided by Margo, a tough and witty book escort, Ludlow has to stay one step ahead of the blazing guns. This is a fast read that gives you everything you want.
What do you call it when an homage surpasses the work to which it’s paying tribute? Sunburn clearly echoes the noir style of genre great James M. Cain, but Lippman crafts this story of a woman running from her past and the man who follows her with a kind of empathy and complexity that results in a deeper and more compelling novel than even greats like The Postman Always Rings Twice or Double Indemnity. Lippman lets in just enough light to reveal the genuine depths of the darkness surrounding her characters and that makes this book resonate long after its final words.
If I Die Tonight by Alison Gaylin
Too many contemporary suspense novels play fast and loose with point of view to heighten tension, withholding information and proffering revelations in ways that feel shallow and manipulative. If I Die Tonight, on the other hand, is a masterpiece of using perspective to build suspense. The tale of a small town high school football hero who dies in a hit-and-run and the outcast fellow student who is suspected of being responsible for the crime is told from multiple conflicting perspectives that painstakingly discover and reveal bits of the truth surrounding the death. Gaylin crafts these voices like a maestro conducting a symphony, and the result is a novel that is a rare combination of page-turning suspense and emotional power.
The Last Equation of Isaac Severy: A Novel in Clues by Nova Jacobs
A subtitle like A Novel in Clues would usually be a clear sign that the book wasn’t for me. I’m not really a puzzle fan when it comes to fiction. But this book isn’t about really clues, it’s about well-drawn and very human people trying to decipher them. When renowned mathematician Isaac Severy dies by suicide (or is it murder?), his granddaughter Hazel is tasked with following the trail he left for her to find the truth. The path leads her not only through the Severy clan, a family of eccentric mathematical and scientific geniuses but also a variety of outsiders seeking the titular last equation. Jacobs somehow manages to juggle the disparate elements here—the puzzling clues, the grand conspiracy, the richly drawn characters, the sly humor—with impressive aplomb, and the result is delightfully rewarding.
Listen to Dave Pezza and Daniel Ford discuss Jennifer Egan’s Manhattan Beach.
Also dig into Dave and Nick Kreiss’ chat about David Joy’s The Weight of This World!