17 Books That Should Be On Your Radar: February 2019

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 Suspect by Fiona Barton

Daniel Ford: Even if I went into Fiona Barton’s new novel The Suspect cold and didn’t know she was a journalist, I would have surmised it based on her taut prose and sparkling dialogue. This is a writer who has spent a career talking to people and getting to the heart of a story. In this novel, Barton turns the table on her main character Kate Waters—the textbook definition of intrepid reporter—and puts her at the center of an serpentine murder mystery that may or may not involve her wayward son. The author deftly explores motherhood and the effect of social media on our lives while also crafting a thrilling plot.

The Lost Night by Andrea Bartz

Daniel: The angst of living in New York City in your twenties coupled with a nostalgia-tinged investigation into a best friend’s mysterious suicide makes for heart-palpitating reading! In her debut (out Feb. 26 from Crown), Andrea Bartz deftly explores modern culture and its effect on our relationships while also making the pages fly by. Bonus points for making me homesick for New York and journalism.

Perfume River by Robert Olen Butler

Daniel: Perfume River is a devastatingly beautiful novel. Both Jennifer Keishin Armstrong and Spencer Wise have recommended Robert Olen Butler’s work to me and couldn’t be more grateful this book landed in my hands. In Perfume River, Butler writes, “You share a war in one way. You pass it on in another.” He crafts a narrative about how war—in this case, the Vietnam War—divides families, friendships, and even memories. What I marveled at was how Butler structured the novel. There are no chapter breaks and one memory or scene bleeds into another, ensuring you’re loath to put the book down before you’ve reached the conclusion (which is so well earned and genuine). Of course, I now have to read everything the author has every written (including his Pulitzer Prize-winning short story collection A Good Scent from a Strange Mountain), so expect his work to be featured on future “Books That Should Be On Your Radar.”

Leading Men by Christopher Castellani

Daniel: Let’s see if this description would entice you to pick up Christopher Castellani’s new novel Leading Men:

An expansive yet intimate story of desire, artistic ambition, and fidelity, set in the glamorous literary and film circles of 1950s Italy.

That’s what we thought. Couple that with one of our favorite opening lines of the year: “Truman was throwing a party in Portofino and Frank wanted to go.”

We know how Frank feels…

Daniel: DaMaris B. Hill’s new poetry collection is extraordinary and serves not only as a historical lesson about all these women, but also a call to arms to this generation. "I like to look at these poems like they're praise songs to these women," Hill told me during a recent podcast interview, and her passion for the women she features, and for the craft of poetry, is evident on every page.

Black Leopard, Red Wolf by Marlon James

Daniel: Sean Tuohy and I frequently chat about Marlon James’ 2015 Man Booker Prize-winner A Brief History of Seven Killings when we’re discussing our craft. So many lessons aspiring storytellers and established authors can take away in terms of dialogue, prose, and structure. When I learned James was writing an “African ‘Game of Thrones,’” well, I was quite excited. And then I read the first chapter. “The child is dead. There is nothing left to know,” it begins. That’s the way you start a series! Yes, we’d like to know more, Marlon James, please make this serious a billion pages.

The Chef’s Secret by Crystal King

Daniel: It is unfathomable that we haven’t had local author Crystal King on the show to talk about her work yet. While we swiftly rectify that, dine out on her new novel The Chef’s Secret, another wonderful recipe that combines quality historical fiction with delicious feasts. And yes, we intend to use all the food puns we have when we talk with her.

More Than Words by Jill Santopolo

Daniel: More Than Words features a main character Nina Gregory who is very much at a crossroads when we first meet her. She’s torn between her idealistic speechwriting (and nascent flirtation) with charismatic mayoral candidate Rafael O'Connor-Ruiz and her familial responsibilities to her father’s hotel and her childhood friend-turned-boyfriend Tim. Santopolo romantically spins Nina this way and that, making the character dig deep for who she really is. Like all stories set in New York City, this one left me jonesing for a walk in Central Park, a black and white cookie, and a Greek cup of coffee.

House of Stone by Novuyo Tshuma

Rebecca Weston: House of Stone is a cleverly written and compelling story that reveals the devastating history of Zimbabwe through present action and past secrets. Zamani is a lodger at the home of Abednego and Agnes Mlambo and is a master manipulator. His goal? To be loved by the Mlambos as they love their actual son, who has recently gone missing. Zamani will stop at nothing to get what he wants, even if it means breaking apart the family of which he desperately wants to be a part. House of Stone is a story of violence, war, destruction, manipulation, and love . . . of racism, sexism, and a diseased government. The narrative plays with what is true and how truth comes into being. It is tragic. It is darkly funny. It is for fans of The Talented Mr. Ripley and stories by Nabokov.

I had the privilege of speaking with Tshuma about her debut novel. Check out our interview!

The Collected Schizophrenias by Esmé Weijun Wang

Nick Kreiss: In The Collected Schizophrenias, Wang has given us a moving and enlightening memoir in pieces, a raw and powerful insight into living with mental illness, and access to a galaxy of profound emotions and thoughts. Reading this book felt like stumbling across the secret diary of a true genius, I couldn’t get enough.

What They Always Tell Us by Martin Wilson

Rebecca: What They Always Tell Us by Martin Wilson is a beautiful book that is just as powerful today as when it was published (Delacorte Press, 2008). Two brothers, James—popular, outgoing, athletic—and Alex—quiet, internal, searching—are grappling with who they are and who they want to be in the aftermath of a scary incident. The novel is skillfully narrated in the unusual third person present tense, alternating between the brothers’ perspectives. What They Always Tell Us has the subtlety that comes with a deep understanding of craft—of character, story, and the art of the sentence. Each piece feels within Wilson’s control. Treat yourself to this treasure.

The Border by Don Winslow

Daniel: Yes, we are thrilled that there are more Don Winslow words in the world, especially dealing with themes so pivotal to our current political climate. However, perhaps more importantly, it gives us a chance to publicly thank the author for his tireless advocacy for aspiring and established writers. He is a must-follow on Twitter and his advice and insights regarding the writing process and the publishing industry are invaluable. That said, we can’t wait to see how Winslow ties up his Cartel trilogy and what happens to Art Keller. The Border (out Feb. 26 from William Morrow) could not have come at a better time and we encourage Don to keep fighting for truth when it comes to issues involving the U.S.-Mexican border.

American Pop by Snowden Wright

Gary Almeter: I'm not ashamed to say that I was compelled to read American Pop in large measure because of its cover. The cover is an Americana-steeped painting of a woman drinking a bottle of soda, but something is sufficiently off about the picture to let the reader know something is very amiss. This is one of those books that is simultaneously epic in its scope and somehow very intimate and character-driven. It chronicles the Forster family's scion's immigrant experience as he settles in Mississippi, his son discovering Panola Cola and turning his company into a global empire, and the fortunes and misfortunes of his four children. The Forster family fight, love, argue, coerce, succumb, vanquish, and otherwise interact with persons real and fictitious in the century between the nation's centennial and its bicentennial. Wright makes their stories our stories and suddenly, despite their flaws, we know they are us. Remember how in “The Godfather” when even though the people were bad you still found yourself rooting for them? That's like how this is in American Pop. But much more effervescent. With all the heat, religion, dust, complex marginalization, opulent ballrooms, and decaying plantations of the south.

Author’s Corner

Jill Santopolo, author of More Than Words and The Light We Lost, returned to the podcast recently and shared several novels that you should add to your bookshelf ASAP.

Santopolo recommends Michelle Obama’s Becoming, Taylor Jenkins Reid’s Daisy Jones & The Six, Andrea Bartz’s The Lost Night, Josie Silver’s One Day in December, and Bianca Marais’ If You Want to Make God Laugh.


NovelClass returns for Season 3 in March! Check up on its past episodes and tune in for another great year of book discussions.