17 Books That Should Be On Your Radar: April 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.


Brass by Xhenet Aliu

Daniel Ford: I used to pass through Waterbury, Conn., on my way home from New York City via Metro North, so I have a soft spot for the city. I was beyond thrilled to discover that author Xhenet Aliu killer debut novel is set there. The novel follows the parallel narratives’ of Elsie and her 17-year-old daughter Luljeta as they battle absent husbands and fathers, small-town life, and both overbearing and standoffish family members. You won’t soon forget either woman or the Aliu’s bitingly honest prose.


Who Killed the Fonz? by James Boice

Gary Almeter: What do the characters in the seminal television show "Happy Days" look like in the 1980s? How far have they (and we) progressed in the decades since the 1950s? This one of the most fun, most ingenious, most inventive, and astonishingly thought-provoking novels you will read this year. California writer Richie Cunningham, facing a big decision in his career and wrestling with guilt from not having talked to his old best friend in years, heads home to Milwaukee for the funeral of Arthur Fonzarelli. Things have changed at home. There's a Bennigan's across from Arnold's—among other things. And Richie, propelled by guilt, feels compelled to find justice for his dead friend. James Boice's roller-coaster plot is very fun. As is getting reacquainted with the characters of one of TV's most beloved shows. Reliving where they (and we) have been and discovering where they (and we) are going is fun too. But Boice uses that fun to make us really think.


Pickle's Progress by Marcia Butler

Daniel: Anyone who listens to this podcast or reads “Books That Should Be On Your Radar” knows that I’m a sucker for a New York City story and your novel features a damn good one. I didn’t think anyone could be poetic about the George Washington Bridge, but Butler pulls it off with aplomb in your first chapter. I love all of her characters. I love how broken they are, I love why they’re broken. I love The Doodles (a dog who nearly steals the whole show), I mean, who wouldn’t? Butler also writes about New York without making it just a prop, and she earns bonus points for including Madison Square Park, quite possibly my favorite spot in the city. Richard Russo wrote that “the four main characters in Pickle’s Progress seem more alive than most of the people we know in real life because their fears and desires are so nakedly exposed.” I couldn’t agree more.


When We Left Cuba by Chanel Cleeton

Daniel: What a breath of fresh air this novel is. It’s packed with espionage, romance, and fascinating history. Beatriz Perez, a young Cuban exile hell-bent on avenging her brother’s death at the hands of Fidel Castro, is a witty swashbuckler, ready to exchange sharp banter and blows in equal measure. When We Left Cuba is a smart beach read I’m certain will be in the hands of sunburned readers this summer.


Daniel: Try sitting in your seat after reading the opening chapter of David R. Dow’s fiction debut Confessions of an Innocent Man.

Go ahead, I’ll wait.

Right?! Dow’s passion and thoughtfulness regarding capital punishment cases—he’s defended more than 100 death row inmates and founded the Texas Innocence Network—shows on every page. He crafts the perfect thriller that answers the question, “What would it look like if an innocent man recently freed from death row takes revenge on the system that imprisoned him?”


Blood Oath by Linda Fairstein

Rebecca Weston: Blood Oath, written by leading legal expert on sexual assault and domestic violence Linda Fairstein, is the twentieth book in the Alexandra Cooper crime series. The world has changed quite a bit since the first book, Final Jeopardy, was published in 1996, and attorney Alex Cooper and cop and love interest Mike Chapman have changed with the times. Blood Oath deals with the Me Too movement head on, as we witness sexual harassment and abuse of power in the workplace and learn about the grooming and rape of a minor. Through Fairstein’s experienced lens (she was chief of the Sex Crimes Unit of the district attorney’s office in Manhattan for over two decades), we are shown the difficult journey young women face when telling their stories. Through Fairstein’s skilled hand, even this firm believer started to doubt.

Listen in as Fairstein and I discuss her newest book and her careers as a prosecutor and a fiction writer.


Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro

Daniel: After overcoming the intimidation I felt from Haruki Murakami’s work for NovelClass’ Season 3 premiere, I decided to dive headfirst into Kazuo Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go. What a masterclass in tone, mood, and how an author can slowly reveal information that makes your skin crawl. There’s a sadness that permeates the book, and the reader is left with far more questions than answers about humanity, science, and our relationships to one another. I should also mention I reading a copy I picked up at Atlantis Books in Oia, Santorini, Greece. If you find yourself in Santorini for any reason, make sure you stop in and browse!


Daniel: Soon the Light Will be Perfect really hits you from the first chapter and doesn’t let up. A poor, young boy’s mother is dying of cancer in a rural town in Vermont. His life is soon defined by how his family deals with the crisis, how his brother drifts away from the household’s orbit (while still maintaining his love for everyone), and his first taste of twisted love. The novel’s setting becomes more of a mood and its own character rather than a location on a map. It also stirs questions about how we view and treat those living in poverty. After this stellar debut, Dave Patterson is a New England writer that we’re going to keep our eyes on for years to come.


The Editor by Steven Rowley

Nick Kreiss: Steven Rowley has authored an essential book for readers. I couldn't put it down. Each character is nuanced and complex, the story is poignant, original, and extraordinarily written. The central dynamic between an author and his famous editor is endlessly satisfying and sticks with you long after your first read. I love this writer. I love this book.


Rebecca: All the Lives We Ever Lived: Seeking Solace in Virginia Woolf by Katharine Smyth is memoir, biography, and an examination of Woolf’s To the Lighthouse all in one. Smyth’s book centers around her relationship with her charismatic yet erratic father, his decline in health, his death, and Smyth’s grief. Throughout the book, Smyth weaves together striking descriptions of nature, stories about Virginia Woolf’s family and Woolf’s own grief, and Smyth’s experience reading and connecting with To the Lighthouse. Smyth’s writing is lovely, and her story, which is so personal to her, also felt personal to me, as it would, I think, to anyone who has ever felt connected to Virginia Woolf, the outdoors, or the experiences of love and grief.

During our interview, Smyth and I discuss her writing process, Woolf’s writing, grief, and the art of the memoir.


Lot by Bryan Washington

Daniel: It will take one hell of a collection to unseat Bryan Washington’s Lot as best of the year. These stories are brutally honest, unsettling, and fiercely original. The dialogue sings with authenticity and Washington’s Houston-based characters reflect a city grappling with racial identities and traditions. Our pal Adam Vitcavage wrote in The Millions that “in every Washington piece there is a sense of tenderness, fortitude, and unguarded honesty.” He’s exactly right.


American Spy by Lauren Wilkinson

Daniel: Lauren Wilkinson’s American Spy isn’t your typical espionage novel. Sure, it starts with a bang. An African American woman is woken out of a sound sleep and has to defend her young sons from an armed intruder. However, Wilkinson deliberately unravels Marie Mitchell’s backstory—from her precocious childhood emulating her older sister to her stalled career at the FBI during the Cold War to her seducing a charismatic African leader for the CIA—and crafts the narrative into more of a family drama than anything else. There’s an underlying anger and angst that lies beneath every character in this book, and Wilkinson is careful not to let anything simmer too far over a low boil.


Author’s Corner

Author Don Winslow (The Border, The Force) recommends Elaine Shannon’s Hunting LeRoux, Lou Berney’s November Road, and Richard Russo’s That Old Cape Magic.


NovelClass

In Episode 3.03, Dave Pezza and guest host Steph Post (Miraculum, Lightwood) discuss Diane Setterfield's Once Upon a River.

In Episode 3.04, Dave Pezza chats with author Jessica Jarlvi (When I Wake Up and What Did I Do?) about Leila Slimani's The Perfect Nanny.