23 Books That Should Be On Your Radar: May 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 East End by Jason Allen

Daniel Ford: I had to brew a pot of coffee because I knew The East End was going to keep me up all night. In Allen’s hands, the Hamptons becomes a real place and not a cliché caricature of rich people behaving badly at the expense of the working class. Well, actually, rich people do behave badly in this narrative, but its author devotes the meat of the story to the people that keep the wealthy façade polished. Considering Allen is also a poet, it’s no surprise that his adjectives describing events large and small (for example, the death of an illicit lover or the smoke rising from a joint) are exquisite. During our recent chat, Allen told me that there could be more story to tell involving these characters. I hope he follows that impulse.

The Stonewall Reader by Jason Baumann and the New York Public Library

Daniel: Without hyperbole, Jason Baumann’s introduction to The Stonewall Reader, published by Penguin Classics and the New York Public Library, is one of the best things I’ll read all year. He writes:

The most important lesson I have hopefully learned working with these archives is that they are people’s lives. They are not just boxes of paper and magazines; they are people’s memories, hopes, and dreams that have been entrusted to us. It is my sincere hope that reading these stories will bring you closer to the generations of LGBTQ activists who precede us and that it will help to fuel future struggles for liberation.

It’s the perfect way to frame the firsthand accounts and periodic literature about one of the most significant events in LGBTQ history, as well as an essential refresher leading up to the Stonewall uprising’s 50th anniversary and Pride Month in June.

The Falconer by Dana Czapnik

Taylor Krajewski: My two favorite genres of fiction are: “family saga” and “books that remind me of Catcher in the Rye.” The Falconer fits in the latter, following one-to-two years of a teenage girl's life in Upper Manhattan in the early 1990s. Lucy Adler is an athletic, romantic, inquisitive, intelligent girl who loves basketball, philosophy, and art. I only have about 50 pages to go, and I don't want her journey through the city, friendship, family, art, culture, and athletics to end. I think that Lucy's thoughts on life and love will stay with me for a long time.

Gather at the River: Twenty-Five Authors on Fishing edited by David Joy with Eric Rickstad

Daniel: When two of your favorite authors get together to write/edit something, you read it even if you’ve never hooked a worm on a fishing lure in your life. David Joy and Eric Rickstad are joined by an all-star writing cast—including Ace Atkins, Ron Rash, Jill McCorkle, Leigh Ann Henion, M.O. Walsh, and more—to discuss all things fishing. As an added bonus, all royalties benefit CAST for Kids.

The Unpassing by Chia-Chia Lin

Adam Vitcavage: Beautiful. Bleak. Those are the two words I would ultimately use to describe Lin’s debut. It seems understated, mostly because a lot of people use beautiful to describe nearly everything. Everything from Lin’s prose to her characters to the unjust actions that happen to this Taiwanese family struggling to survive in Alaska is beautiful.

Lost Children Archive by Valeria Luiselli

Alex Tzelnic: As a new father, I’ve found myself gravitating towards books with a general theme of parent-child relationships (perhaps to assuage the guilt I feel for not reading any practical parenting guides). Valeria Luiselli's latest novel is about a road trip undertaken by a couple in a deteriorating marriage and their two children. The road trip itself is full of the playful and the absurd, as all good road trips are, and the dollops of family life, both whimsical and profound, are clearly informed by Luiselli's own experiences as a mother—they ring true. But against this backdrop of a nuclear family on the road Luiselli weaves another set of stories: that of the children attempting to cross the U.S.-Mexico border and the harrowing journeys they face, and that of the Apache who were native to the lands where the family is heading. Lost Children Archive is an ambitious project, an attempt to use fiction to ask how we should witness and document what is unfortunately non-fiction, and as these stories collide it is dazzling to see how she pulls it off. My daughter might one day have questions about the other children in the world who are lost, and I might not have the answers. But when she is ready, I do have a book recommendation.

Music for Wartime by Rebecca Makkai

Daniel: Word to wise, if you have a short story collection coming out in a few months, maybe don't read Rebecca Makkai's Music for Wartime. Just wait until yours drops. Golly, she's good. “The Worst You Ever Feel,” in particular, has been haunting me. Fiction to aspire to.

Daniel: I’ve been a fan of George Packer’s work ever since I read The Assassins’ Gate: America in Iraq—a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in 2006—back in college. His rich and informative writing style is reminiscent of the New Journalism birthed in the 1960s. In his latest, Our Man, Packer takes on the herculean task of capturing Richard Holbrooke—one of America’s most well-known diplomats and a frustrating and, at times, maddening individual—in a single volume. Packer’s almost conversational tone is set in the prologue and is perhaps more than fitting considering the book’s subject. Holbrooke’s brain never shut off, something a few people here at Writer’s Bone can commiserate with, and yours is unlikely to after pondering not only Holbrooke’s life and career, but also America’s place in the world following its more than half-century of supreme influence.

Rough Magic by Lara Prior-Palmer

Adam: Subtitled Riding the World’s Loneliest Horse Race, this memoir lured me in with the story of a 1,000-kilometer horse race across the Mongolian grassland. Lara Prior-Palmer became the first woman champion of the Mongol Derby Champion at the age of 19.

Disappearing Earth by Julia Phillips

Adam: Tightly wound, this book has all the makings of a story that will eventually become an Emmy-winning mini-series. Set in rural Russia, two girls go missing right in the opening chapter and the rest of the book follows the fallout from that singular event. Reading the prose of Phillips is such a visceral experience. Using the term “page-turner” doesn’t do this book justice, but it’s a damn good page-turner.

Daniel: On Independent Bookstore Day back in April, I wandered over to I Am Books in Boston’s North End with no real goal in mind, which is always dangerous when you’re a frequent book buyer. While browsing, I recalled that Caitlin Malcuit mentioned Stephen Puleo’s Dark Tide on a Friday Morning Coffee episode. Sure enough, the store had a copy and I was halfway through the book that evening. This is how nonfiction should be written. Dark Tide is deeply researched and written with a literary flourish. Puleo made an early 20th century court case come alive as well as any episode of “Law & Order.” I walk the streets where the molasses flood killed 21 people fairly frequently and while I have never smelled its sweet scent on a summer day, I can now envision those Boston dwellers involved in the crisis thanks to Puleo’s sensational narrative.

Daisy Jones & the Six by Taylor Jenkins Reid

Anna Kramer: Like a well-worn vinyl album that still sounds great on the turntable, this fun novel about a fictional ‘70s rock band called the Six is both timeless and nostalgic. By structuring her novel as an oral history, Reid transforms the group’s highs and lows into the stuff of epic drama: The drugs. The hook-ups. The break-ups. The creative differences. Though “Rumours” about the Six’s resemblance to a super-famous band of the era are not entirely off base (Stevie Nicks even gets a shout-out in the acknowledgements), there are plenty of unexpected twists to keep things interesting. My favorite part? The smart, complex female main characters, who defy groupie/muse stereotypes by living the rock ‘n’ roll life on their own terms.

Normal People by Sally Rooney

Daniel: It was so refreshing to read about two characters who functioned like real people who can't quite get their acts together. Normal People follows Connell and Marianne as they navigate their meandering love affair, as well as the trials and tribulations of Millennial life. Their issues are believable and their chemistry is touching and awkward. You know, just like real life. Rooney's spare prose yet affecting prose is sure to induce jealousy from authors. For instance, I wish to hell I had written this:

“Then the front door closes and she and Connell are alone. She feels her shoulder muscles relaxing, like their solitude is a narcotic.”

Or this:

"Maybe they were just curious to observe the chemistry between two people who, over the course of several years, apparently could not leave one another alone."

Daniel: It’s no surprise that No Visible Bruises was a heart-wrenching read, but it’s also a necessary one. “Private violence has such vastly profound public consequences,” writes Rachel Louise Snyder. She went further during a recent podcast interview, saying, "every social ill we are facing in this country intersects with domestic violence in some measure." She grounds some truly troubling statistics (such as, “54% of the mass shootings in the United States are domestic violence.") with stories from victims and survivors. She also looks turns the lens on some of the perpetrators, including some of those who have been willing to face and overcome their issues (to varying degrees of success). Our current political and societal climate makes No Visible Bruises even more timely, and should serve as a call to arms for all of us as we grapple with solutions for this seemingly ancient problem.

The Darkest Corners by Kara Thomas

Rebecca Weston: The Darkest Corners by Kara Thomas is a thrilling mystery that gets creepier and creepier, until you have to stay up into the wee hours of the morning to find out what happens. At least, that’s what I did. Tessa left her hometown of Fayette, Pa. when she was nine, after she and her friend Callie were key witnesses in Callie’s cousin’s murder trial. Almost 10 years later, Tessa returns to find that there are still a lot of questions surrounding the murder. But, when the darkest betrayals come from those meant to bring the most comfort, answers don’t come easily. Thomas does a masterful job of weaving together plot threads to culminate in a satisfyingly chilly ending. You won’t be able to put this book down. And, when it’s over, you’ll lock every door and window in your home. As for me, I’m off to read Thomas’s next books: Little Monsters and The Cheerleaders (Delacorte Press).

Of Fathers and Fire by Steven Wingate

Daniel: Readers are likely to remember Of Fathers and Fire’s main character from Tommy Sandor for some time. The teenager has one of the best introductions in fiction. At the beginning of the novel, which is set during Ronald Reagan’s 1980s, we find him headed to an abandoned church, not for any impassioned affair, but to angrily blow into his battered saxophone. He dreams about the day he escapes his insular small town in Colorado and meet up with his father, who his mother says abandoned him to play saxophone in New York City. Wingate asks plenty of questions through Sandor—about life, religion, humanity—and you’ll likely have even more at the end of the novel than when you started. That’s the beauty of fiction and storytelling, as Sandor would likely tell you. He may just add a few more colorful words while he’s doing so.

In West Mills by De’Shawn Charles Winslow

Daniel: Oh to have a drink at Miss Goldie’s Place with the characters in De’Shawn Charles Winslow’s charming and beautifully written debut In West Mills (out June 4 from Bloomsbury). It’s hard not to fall in love with “Knot,” a fiercely independent woman who in the novel’s opening kicks a man out of her house over her love of…moonshine. Of course, the story doesn’t end there and Winslow populates Knot’s world with a cast of characters that will warm and break your heart in equal measure. In West Mills also features some of the best dialogue you’ll read all year. Don’t miss this book.

Author’s Corner

Author Jason Allen appeared on the show recently and recommended a handful of great books that should be on your radar. Listen to the latest Clippings episode to hear them all!


In Episode 3.05, Dave Pezza chats with author Daniel Ford (Black Coffee, Sid Sanford Lives!) about Nico Walker's Cherry.

In Episode 3.06, Phoef Sutton (From Away, Colorado Boulevard) returns to NovelClass and talks to Dave Pezza about Ray Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451.