22 Books That Should Be On Your Radar: July 2018

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.

Give Me Your Hand by Megan Abbott

Daniel Ford: To say we’re excited about Megan Abbott’s Give Me Your Hand (out July 17) would be an understatement. The author can do no wrong in our eyes. Those we know who have read the book have said nothing but glowing things about it. We’re waiting patiently for the pub date (just freakin’ get here already, god damn!), when we’ll tear through Abbott’s terrific prose in short order.

Freshwater by Akwaeke Emezi

Taylor Krajewski: This book started off slow, but I was hooked after the first few chapters. The main character, Ada is born with numerous gods within her body, all fighting to take control of her day-to-day actions. The chapters alternate between all of the different selves. It's a great metaphysical look into mental health.

Less by Andrew Sean Greer

Olivia Mandica-Hart: Exactly one year after The New York Times endorsed Less as its June Book Club Pick of 2017, I finally got my hands on the novel. Despite its Pulitzer, I opened Andrew Sean Greer's newest work with my guard up; books with gay characters have burned me so many times that I couldn’t help but feel a little skeptical. Too often, these books are poorly written, or the characters are one-dimensional, or the protagonist commits suicide, or, even worse, renounces homosexuality. With Less, it turns out that I needn't have worried.

About a dozen pages in, the omniscient narrator summarizes the protagonist's attitude towards his long list of failed flings: "They might have done, many of them. So many people will do. But once you've actually been in love, you can't live with 'will do'; it's worse than living with yourself." 

And oof, I was hooked. The next 250 pages of Greer's writing did not disappoint. In order to avoid the wedding of an ex-partner, Arthur Less, a 49-year old struggling novelist, embarks on a solo adventure around the world. Throughout his travels, Less struggles with several relatable themes, such as pining over an ex, navigating the highs and lows of an unexpected fling, lusting over an unattainable, beautiful stranger, and trying to find oneself through travel.

At times, Less can feel a bit predictable, but Arthur is so endearing and funny that you'll be happy to have met him and sad to let him go.

Florida by Lauren Groff

Daniel: I had read a handful of the short stories in Lauren Groff’s new collection Florida, but it’s always a pleasure dipping back into the author’s signature prose. Whether I was revisiting narratives that haunted me the first time around or discovering new characters to love, I couldn’t put Florida down. There’s something wonderfully evocative and electric about Lauren Groff’s writing style. Her passion for the craft is evident in every punctuation mark, every line of dialogue, and every perfectly succinct description. Standouts include “At the Round Earth’s Imagined Corners,” “Salvador,” “Above and Below,” and “The Midnight Zone.”

The Outsider by Stephen King

Gary Almeter: The first 300 pages of this novel are so good that you will not be able to put it down. Why so good? Stephen King uses the archetypal tools of his arsenal (regular kind-hearted likable small town folks struggle with inconceivable crime) in such a new way (the small town is in Oklahoma and everyone is a little sullied) and creates such an authentically mysterious mystery (how can one person be in two places at once?) that you just have to keep reading. You simply must come to know what is the answer to this mystery. 

Around page 300, King amps everything up in his kitchen sink kind of way and the 300-page ascent catapults you into a roller coaster of evil. It’s a great story. Most succinctly, King just understands people. He knows why a woman who needs an oxygen tank to breathe still yearns to smoke cigarettes; he knows why a high school English teacher might need to go to an English teacher convention in the summer; he knows how people choosing a restaurant in Ohio think. He just knows people. And that's one of the things that makes this book so compelling. 

King, blocked by Trump on Twitter, takes a sufficient number of digs at him in the book to foster a belief that the whole book is a metaphor for how Trump happened.  How people believe what they want to believe and end up easily misled, and evil is very hungry....  

The Outrun by Amy Liptrot

Rebecca Weston: The Outrun by Amy Liptrot is a beautifully written, tortured, hope-filled memoir. It is a story about addiction in grimy, alcohol-soaked London. It is a story about tides and wild creatures and the natural order of things on islands at the edge of the world. It is a story about a woman who shows us the pieces of herself, the dark and the light, the shameful and the lovely, the lost and the found, and tells us: This is who I am, all of me, and I have a place in this world. As I read, shuttled between the contradictory existences of jaded addiction and raw nature, I lived inside Amy’s continual work of recovery, and I felt restless and uncomfortable. The story reached through darkness to light, and I soaked it in, craving it.

Bluebird, Bluebird by Attica Locke

Daniel: I’m very late in praising Attica Locke’s Bluebird, Bluebird, but wowser. It’s an intense, layered crime novel that explores racial tensions, tortured familial ties, and the cost of adhering to your chosen path. Darren Matthews, a black Texas Ranger in midst of legal and martial strife, heads to a small, East Texas town to investigate the murder of a black lawyer from Chicago and a white, local woman. What he really finds is a town about to burst from its internal secrets and external pressures. Locke fuses all this together through music, food, Southern social norms (both good and bad) into a riveting narrative you’ll speed through as fast as travelers speed through Lark, Texas.

History Of Violence by Édouard Louis

Nick Kreiss: With The End of Eddy, the young and ferociously talented Édouard Louis delivered a mesmerizing gut punch that doubled as a meaningful meditation on identity, sexuality, class, and adolescence. In History of Violence, he cements his position as one of (if not the) most exciting writers in the world. This razor sharp autobiographical novel about surviving sexual assault and its aftermath is truly something to behold. With his keen eye for humanity, his superhuman observational skills, and his magically empathetic style, Édouard has written one of the most important novels in years. If any part of our society's future lies in the hands of young artists like Édouard, we might just be all right. Get this book and get to know this writer.

The Great Believers by Rebecca Makkai

Daniel: Most authors like supporting their fellow scribes. But you can tell when a literary bunch genuinely loves a novel. Check out what James Tate Hill said about Rebecca Makkai’s The Great Believers. And what R.O. Kwon said. And what we say: Read this book.

Taylor: I read this in one sitting. Told via e-mails and texts, any 20/30 something female will relate to this satirical story of eight friends planning the wedding festivities of the group's "first" bride.

Bel Canto by Ann Patchett

Daniel: Perhaps reading this book while trapped at a small airport abroad wasn’t the best idea (the airport was in Santorini, Greece, was I can’t complain too much). However, it doesn’t really matter where you end up reading Ann Patchett’s incredibly moving and lyrical novel Bel Canto because you’ll be so drawn in by her beautiful characters, plot, and dialogue that you’ll feel like you’re one of the hostages. Oh, yes, this novel is about a house full of strangers (brought together for a birthday party that stars a luminous opera singer everyone falls in love with) taken hostage by a radical South American guerrilla army. The deeply humanistic story that follows is as unexpected as it is sweet. I read this book several years ago, but I feel for it all over again during my travels. Definitely a book to re-read again and again.

What Remains of Her by Eric Rickstad

Sean Tuohy: The latest novel from best-selling author Eric Rickstad is a stunning and emotional thriller (What Remains of Her is available July 24). What starts of as a missing person thriller turns into a complex tale of loss and human connection. After his wife and daughter go missing, a Vermont professor must confront the demons of his past while proving his innocence to his small-town community. Rickstad bounces from character to character, interweaving their storylines like a well-designed spider web. Beautifully written and told in Rickstad's original literary voice, What Remains Of Her is a layered novel that pushes the reader to confront all sides of human nature. Rickstad stands alone when it comes to slick and taut literary thrillers.

The Unkind Hours by Dwayne Alexander Smith

Daniel: Dwayne Alexander Smith really doesn’t give readers any breathing room. His books plunge you right into the action and force you to hold your breath until you finish the story hours later racked with sweat and anxiety. His latest, The Unkind Hours, centers on Steven Burns, a father grasping for justice after his five-year-old daughter is abducted. The journey Smith sends Burns down might cause blood to spontaneous burst out of your veins. I mean, you can try to slow play reading this book to try to calm your heart rate, but, good luck with that. Smith is a Writer’s Bone favorite, and his latest effort further proves why. We look forward to him kicking our literary asses with this kind of prose for years to come.

The Book of M by Peng Shepherd

Sean: Peng Shepherd’s debut novel is stunning. Following a married through a post-apocalyptic world, Shepherd takes the time to develop a frightening but relatable world filled with characters with strong voices. This is a thrilling must-read from a new voice.

This One Summer by Mariko Tamaki (author) and Jillian Tamaki (illustrator)

Rebecca: Once you finish reading This One Summer, you will want to hug it, hold it tight, and just let it stay with you a little longer. Then, you will read it again, and again, pouring over the pages of this brilliant graphic novel. Rose and her family stay at the same cottage each summer. It is a safe, carefree space, always waiting for her, always with the same smells of trees, wind, and water. But this year, not everything is the same. Rose and her summer friend, Windy, are out of sync; Rose has a crush on an older boy; and something is going on with Rose’s mom. Shown through select moments—some big, some small, all important—during one summer of Rose’s life, we witness the universal truths of growing up, the changing relationships teens have with people and places, and the nostalgia we all feel for those summer days that were perhaps never quite as simple as we remember them.

Sean Tuohy: Paul Tremblay is the new headmaster of horror writing. Tremblay approaches the genre with a fan's heart and storyteller's eye. He flips the genre on its head by toying with storylines and injecting all-too-real characters. His latest is no different. A panic-attack-causing story that keeps your heart in your throat from page one.

The Cabin at the End of the World is rollercoaster of a novel playing off everyday fears and worries. While at a cabin that is cut off from the world, a family is taken hostage by four friendly people. And then the nightmare begins. Tremblay's characters aren’t heroes or villains. They’re people who live on your street, share drinks with you at bars, and sit next to you at baseball games. Which is why Tremblay is able to pump up the terror factor whenever he wants and you believe it fully.

Within the first 50 pages of the story, I reached out to Tremblay to let him know that the book was causing me anxiety. The Cabin at the End of the World is a compact novel, moving swiftly but never missing a beat.

Author’s Corner

Recent guest and Providence author Caroline Kepnes shared a few books on her radar during a recent tweet exchange.

Summer Book-it List

With NovelClass off until the fall, we’re introducing a new series! Melanie Padgett Powers has read some real gems recently, and we wanted to share them throughout the summer. These books may or may not have already been included in previous Radars, but not with Melanie’s unique insights! Add them to your summer “book-it list” as you head from adventure to adventure. Enjoy!

Exit West by Mohsin Hamid

This is a love story about Nadia and Saeed, who are living in an unnamed Middle Eastern city that is falling to extremists. The stunning, poetic writing is the main reason I fell in love with this book. It’s heartbreaking to watch this couple meet and try to get to know each other as the city falls apart around them. It speeds up their relationship in a heartbreakingly beautiful way. There’s almost two parts of this book, and some readers have not been fond of the second half. I’ll only say to keep an open mind and just go where the author takes you. I hope you’ll be pleasantly surprised.

Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel

This is easily one of my favorite books of 2018 so far. And like so many great books, it’s hard to explain why. It took me awhile to pick up this book because it sounded like it was full of quirky characters, an element I don’t usually like. But instead, it’s about characters thrown together who form a family. They just happen to be a family of nomads who travel from town to town performing Shakespeare and classical music two decades after a pandemic has wiped out nearly the entire global population. I’m a fan of dystopian and apocalyptic fiction, but I’ve never read a book in that genre that focused so heavily on the characters and their new normal. They’ve moved beyond the pandemic’s immediate aftermath—and most of the horror and violence—instead living out their daily lives in this strange new world.

Before the Fall by Noah Hawley

You quickly learn that most of the characters at the beginning of this book die in a plane crash. The story unfolds in present day with a quiet protagonist that you immediately know is a good guy. His strength of character is what kept me turning the page. I wanted to know how he would handle being the only adult survivor of the crash, as questions swirl around about the cause of the crash. The story is told partly in chapters that focus on each of the deceased characters, telling each of their stories that led up to the plane ride. I’m not a big fan of stories told in flashbacks, but there’s enough present day here to keep me interested, and the character study of each person is rich, detailed and interesting. Plus, there’s the mystery element of what caused the plane to go down.