21 Books That Should Be On Your Radar: August 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.

Killer Curriculum by Doug Alexander

Daniel Ford: Author Doug Alexander's Killer Curriculum may take place in a small town, but there's nothing sleepy about this debut. It features a feisty fish-out-of-water, a witty (not to mention well-named) protagonist, and a smart, twisty plot. We all should be so lucky to have August Booker and company on the case if we're ever found dismembered on the side of the highway.

Mostly Dead Things by Kristen Arnett

Daniel: How many novels can suck you in with a taxidermy lesson followed by a daughter finding her father in the aftermath of suicide-by-shotgun? Kristen Arnett’s Mostly Dead Things is unapologetically weird and offers a wonderfully bizarre stew of familial drama. Not only does this book feature one of the best covers of the year, but its author is a must-follow on social media and her book tour. Mostly Dead Things is a Florida story for the ages!

Daniel: Author James Charlesworth ably recommended William Dameron’s memoir The Lie in last month’s “Author’s Corner,” but I loved it so much I can’t help adding my two cents.

I had to remind myself at times that this was a memoir because Dameron’s storytelling was so immersive, passionate, and honest. He sets the tone with one of the best opening lines you’ll read all year:

“Your face has meant a lot to me, and now I’ve found out it’s a lie.”

And I must admit, I was a complete mess reading the chapter about Dameron telling his brothers about being gay. And there were plenty of other times it got plenty dusty in my apartment while reading this. Like any good storyteller, Dameron balanced it with great humor, like his Eureka moment where he says, “Holy shit, I’m so gay.” Critics and readers alike are hailing The Lie and it deserves every ounce of praise it receives.

Miriam's Kitchen by Elizabeth Ehrlich

Rebecca Weston: My mother read Miriam's Kitchen, then gave it to me. One day, I will give the book to my daughter. Such is a lesson of this beautiful, patient, nurturing memoir: We are links in a chain of women that goes back thousands of years. What we have to give to the next generation, the next link in the chain, is our experience, wisdom, and love. The mode of transference? Food. In her memoir, Elizabeth Ehrlich, a longtime secular Jew, is wrestling with her lack of connection. With us, she shares her journey of spiritual discovery that begins in the kitchen of her husband’s mother. As Ehrlich grapples with feminism versus tradition, professional life versus home and kitchen, the secular world versus the religious one, she considers what it is to be human in this rarest of things—a love letter to a mother-in-law.

Hard Mouth by Amanda Goldblatt

Daniel: Just when I think I’ve read my favorite opening line of the year, a book like Amanda Goldblatt’s Hard Mouth lands on my desk and I’ve got to rethink the whole list. How’s this for an opener:

“In this story I do not mean to hide myself. Rather I want to be obvious. I want you to see, at least, me.”

The rest of her debut novel is just as good—touching on themes of love and grief through the eyes of her unforgettable main character Denny. Look for our interview with her in the very near future!

Screen Queens by Lori Goldstein

Rebecca: Screen Queens by Lori Goldstein, a blend of “Silicon Valley” and “The Bold Type,” is the perfect fun, smart, girl power summer read. Lucy Katz, Maddie Li, and Delia Meyer have only one thing in common—they were all accepted to ValleyStart, the prestigious high school tech incubator in Silicon Valley. There, they compete with other teams to create the best app and win internships at Pulse, the ultimate social media platform. Pulse tracks your likes and activity on all other apps and delivers you a score of zero to 10, from “Dead” to “Comatose” to “Thumping” to “Crushing It”. But the girls begin to suspect that there is more to Pulse than meets the eye. There is more to Screen Queens than meets the eye, too, as Goldstein explores deeper themes of sexism in Silicon Valley and the pitfalls of our social media-driven world. Pick up a copy to bring to the beach, and check out my conversation with the author!

Once More Unto the Breach by Meghan Holloway

Joseph Passanisi: Fans of historical thrillers will enjoy the journey author Meghan Holloway has in store with this novel. Set in World War II France, the story tells the tale of Rhys Gravenor, a Welsh sheep farmer and veteran of the first World War, in search of his son. With the help of an American ambulance driver named Charlotte, the two embark on a fast-paced journey where the stakes are raised with every turn of the page. I greatly appreciated the rich setting and research that went into this book. I also loved the main character's voice and the way in which we learn about his past. This story is as much about maintaining family bonds as it is living through the devastation of war. I related to all the emotions Rhys expresses as a father and that's what still resonates with me after reading.

Daniel: I loved everything about Bassey Ikpi’s essay collection I'm Telling the Truth, but I'm Lying (out Aug. 20 from Harper Perennial). It’s personal, it’s honest, it’s visceral, and it’s just ferociously well written. I read this in one day on the beach and it was such an emotional and mesmerizing reading experience. Everything from Bassey’s word choice to how she structured each chapter was simply perfect. Get your hands on this book ASAP.

Daniel: R.L. Maizes’ We Love Anderson Cooper is one of the best short story collections I’ve ever read. It is a pure joy. Any of the characters (including the furry ones) could have easily carried their own novels. She claimed during our podcast interview that all of these stories feel pretty closed, but I’ll work on her and see if we can’t change her mind on a few of them!

The Wolf Wants In by Laura McHugh

Daniel: What I love about Laura McHugh’s novels is that they’re really character studies masquerading as a mysteries/thrillers. This story revolves around two characters Sadie Keller and Henley Pettit—the former who is in present day and the latter is in the not too distant past. Sadie is grieving over the death of her brother Shane and her family is having a tough time of it, and it’s unclear at the beginning how Henley’s story fits in with that mystery. Many of the themes McHugh touches on in this book are so timely, including the opioid crisis and middle-class frustration. Place is so important to McHugh’s work and her settings seem like characters in their own rights. Blackwater, Kansas, where this book takes place is no different. The reader can see it, smell it, and experience it because of her strong prose and how her characters react to it. Take it from us, let the wolf in and offer it a cup of coffee and this book.

Binge Watching New York by Marion Miclet

Kimberly Potts: It’s no small thing to elevate the travel guide, or to make it a must-read book, especially with so many travel suggestions available free on the Interwebs. But Marion Miclet’s beautifully written and designed collection of recommendations for television- and movie-related locations to visit in New York does just that. Much more than a list, Miclet points to pop culture hotspots and provides wonderful insights about the shows she’s writing about, including what they mean to New York, and how the city plays a role in the life of shows like “Friends” and “Seinfeld,” of course, but also series like “Mad Men,” “Billions,” “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel,” “Will & Grace,” “How I Met Your Mother,” “Law & Order,” “Brooklyn Nine-Nine,” “Gotham,” “2 Broke Girls,” and more.

Binge Watching New York, a MetroCard, and your most comfortable pair of walking shoes are all you need for a pop culture lover’s dream NYC vacay.

Chances Are... by Richard Russo

Daniel: It was more than fitting that I read Richard Russo’s new novel (his first standalone in a decade) on my way to my first book event in my home state of Connecticut. That’s where I picked up Russo to begin with—a young high schooler whose life was about to change reading Nobody’s Fool. I had a smile on my face from the very first line. Sometimes it’s enough just to spend time with your favorite writer’s words, but Chances Are… has the added bonus of being great fiction. While friendship is at the heart of this book, there’s a dark and menacing mystery that pulses just underneath the surface that keeps you turning the pages. I’m far from subjective at this point, but Russo never fails to surprise me and teach me a few new things about writing and characters.

The Murder List by Hank Phillippi Ryan

Daniel: In addition to being an Emmy Award-winning newscaster and a constant supporter of up-and-coming and established authors, Hank Phillippi Ryan is an excellent author in her own right. Coming off Trust Me, her first standalone, Ryan pens another twisty thriller with great character beats. Despite the fact she’s an unreliable narrator, main character Rachel North is endlessly fascinating and you’ll be racing to the final pages to find out what happens. The Murder List lands in bookstores on Aug. 20.

Miami Midnight by Alex Segura

Daniel: The fact that Alex Segura is ending the Pete Fernandez run on his own terms is one of the many reasons Alex has been one of our favorite writers over the last couple of years. Sure he makes us hungry and covetous of all the Cuban coffee Pete drinks, but he always delivers a fun mystery while also exploring some of the demons his main character can’t quite shake. I’ll be honest, I plan on taking my time reading this one. I can’t quite picture a literary world without Pete, so I’m going to hang onto him as long as I can!

Daniel: We were lucky enough to get a sneak peek at Phoef Sutton’s short story in After Midnight: Tales from the Graveyard Shift—a collection produced by the Writers' Police Academy—and we’re happy to report the other entries are just as good! Get your hands on these “twisted tales” as soon as you need to wallow a bit in the “graveyard shift.”

Author’s Corner

R.L. Maizes, author of We Love Anderson Cooper, stopped by the podcast recently and gave us a ton of great recommendations, so you should add them all to your reading list and pick them up at your local bookstore.


One more month until NovelClass returns for the second half of Season 3! Catch up on all of the show’s episodes on SoundCloud: