This month's book recommendations feature works by Hank Phillippi Ryan, Kristen Arnett, Bassey Ikpi, Richard Russo, Lori Goldstein, Paul Goldberg, and more!
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.
Smothered by M.C. Hall
Daniel Ford: Megan Cassidy delivers an innovative breath of fresh air into the crime fiction/mystery genre with Smothered. Rather than follow a dogged detective or sinister villain, the novel tells the story of a murdered young actress through an online tabloid, court transcripts, police recordings, and an unruly comments section. As more revelations come out, readers will not only question the characters' motivations, but also reconsider their own beliefs about celebrity, crime, familial bonds, race, and the fallibility of institutions we trust. Smothered is a winning narrative sure to put Cassidy’s name on the literary map.
The Demon Crown by James Rollins
Sean Tuohy: They're back! Sigma Force returns in The Demon Crown, the latest entry in James Rollins’ much loved and long-running series. As always, Rollins masterfully spins together cutting-edge science and forgotten history to create a breathtaking adventure. Alexander Graham Bell even makes a special appearance! Listen to my recent interview with the author to find out more about what inspired the latest Sigma adventure.
There Are More Beautiful Things Than Beyoncé by Morgan Parker
Daniel: This poetry collection is a furnace. Every word feels like it’s on fire. Essential writing of the highest order. I’ll be re-reading this for months.
The Lost Prayers of Ricky Graves by James Han Mattson
Daniel: I read this book months and months ago and I’m still haunted by it. Told from various perspectives, as well as online chats and emails, The Lost Prayers of Ricky Graves explores the aftermath of the title character taking the life of a classmate. All the characters in this novel are tragically broken, but not totally devoid of hope. The result is a narrative that deftly examines not only the motivations behind violent crime, but also how one community struggles to both learn and recover.
Daniel: Needless to say, without any of the women that Gail Collins’ profiles in this book, America would have been as obsolete as a powdered wig. 2017 has seen its share of heroines, and America's Women serves as a pressing reminder of those ladies who have passionately, rebelliously, and stoically shouted down the patriarchal society hell bent on shutting them up. Our staff features some of the smartest and fiercest women you’ll ever met, and I’m grateful every day that their words grace our website. We stand with them, and their badass predecessors, today, tomorrow, and forever.
King Of Spies by Blaine Harden
Sean: Author Blaine Harden dove into murky waters to discover the truth about one of America's most talented and disturbed intelligent officers during the Korean War. Donald Nichols had a seventh-grade education and grew up in the backwaters of Hollywood, Fla. (my hometown), before he joined the Air Force where he honed his hidden talent for gathering intelligence. Nichols quickly developed a giant spy network that helped turn the Korean War in favor of the United States. Working from a hidden base, Nicolas created an empire built on secrets. Harden uses Nichols' bloody rise to the top to explore the conflict and the lasting effect it had on the country.
What We Build Upon the Ruins by Giano Cromley
Daniel: This is a short story collection that I wish I had written. Cromley told me during our recent podcast chat that he had a desire to tell stories from a young age. It shows on every page in What We Build Upon the Ruins. I loved every word of this collection.
Chasing Portraits by Elizabeth Rynecki
Daniel: Chasing Portraits is a personal and visceral read that you won’t soon forget. The book chronicles Elizabeth Rynecki’s emotional quest to find her Polish-Jewish great-grandfather’s paintings that were lost during World War II. His artwork serves as a beautiful and sorrowful time capsule for Jewish communities that were essentially wiped out by the Nazis. How Rynecki was able to harness her emotions and get something coherent and readable on the page, I’ll never know. I very much look forward to seeing the documentary she’s working on! (Tissues will be required.)
The Frozen Hours by Jeff Shaara
Daniel: All of Jeff Shaara’s work brings past conflicts to life in an extremely well-written and poignant way, and The Frozen Hours is no exception. But this book had an added level of passion and intimacy based on Shaara’s experience talking to Korean War vets. It’s a group of Americans that has been clamoring for more people to tell their stories, and Shaara more than succeeds in telling it well. The cold of the war seeps into your bones early, and is only warmed by the valiant (and very human) courage of the author’s expertly crafted characters on both sides of the conflict. Shaara explains more about what went into writing The Frozen Hours during our podcast discussion below.
Double Feature by Owen King
Sean: Owen King creates an exquisite and witty family story in his debut novel. Sam, the son of a famed B-grade actor, is dealing with the aftermath of making his first film. Hiding out with his over-the-top father in a house in upstate New York, Sam must come to terms about their strained relationship. King’s characters feel like they are people who populate your own life. Double Feature smacks of reality and is brimming with humor.
Colorado Boulevard by Phoef Sutton
Daniel: Phoef Sutton’s main character Crush is entertaining and luckless as always, but his supporting cast really steals the show in this novel. You won't find more hapless and bumbling villains outside an Elmore Leonard novel. I loved the portrait of Los Angeles that Sutton explores throughout the book. His gift for dialogue and storytelling are on full display here, and readers will gluttonously devour pages deep into the night.
Daniel: Reconstruction and the Gilded Age are tough sells for even the most dedicated history geeks, but Richard White makes these eras come alive in his recently published narrative. Part of Oxford University Press’ stellar American history series, The Republic for Which It Stands also offers plenty of parallels to our own troubled political times. White wouldn’t completely recommend buying into signs for hope during a recent podcast chat, but his book certainly shows we’ve survived Gilded Age thinking before and likely will again.
By Kellye Garrett, author of the Detective by Day Mysteries: Hollywood Homicide (out now) and Hollywood Ending (out August 8, 2018)
A Negro and an Ofay by Danny Gardner
A must if your love noir. Because of the black main character and the big city historical setting, it’s easy to immediately draw comparisons to Walter Mosley’s iconic Easy Rawlins. But Gardner’s Elliott Caprice is very much his own character—a mixed-race former cop forced to return to his Chicago hometown to battle both the police and organized crime toughs. What’s more is that Gardner’s depiction of race relations and corruption still feel especially relevant today. I’m excited for the next book in the series.
The Last Place You Look by Kristen Lepionka
A must if you love PI novels. Full disclosure, Kristen was my mentee in a contest called Pitch Wars in 2015 so I’ve loved this book for a while now. I knew when I read that final draft of what would become The Last Place You Look that it was the best mystery I’d read in years. The story centers on a bit-of-a-mess bisexual private investigator named Roxane Weary, who looks into a cold case involving a black teen convicted of killing his white girlfriend’s parents the same night the girlfriend goes missing. His sister hires Roxane when she swears she sees the missing woman at a gas station years after the crime. With Sue Grafton wrapping her Kinsey Millhone series, Roxane Weary is more than able to fill that void.
The Plot is Murder by VM Burns
A must if you love cozy mysteries. This debut features all the things I love about the lightweight amateur detective genre—small town setting, interesting cast of characters, lots of mouth-watering food, and an MC with a cool trade—while also featuring something unique to the genre: a book within a book. Samantha Washington is a widow finally following her dreams of opening a mystery bookstore while also writing a historical British mystery of her own. We get to read Samantha’s work in progress so we’re trying to solve two who-dun-its. And it’s a testament to the author that both are really well-written and engaging.
Are You Sleeping by Kathleen Barber
A must if you love domestic thrillers. This debut is part thriller, part family drama—all ripped from the headlines. Over a decade ago, Josie Burhman’s father was murdered and her neighbor was convicted of the crime. Case closed? Not quite. The murder gets new attention thanks to a melodramatic podcast that grips the country. After running from her past for a decade, Josie’s finally forced to confront it—and her estranged twin sister—head on when she returns home after another family tragedy. When we're giddily listening to podcasts, flipping through the pages of magazines, and tweeting our thoughts on the lives of complete strangers like we know them, we never consider how it all must affect the victim's family. This book will have you thinking twice before you listen/watch to the next episode of your favorite true-crime podcast or show.
Listen to our live podcast interview with Kellye Garrett:
In the Season 1 finale of #NovelClass, Dave Pezza and Daniel Ford discuss Chiara Barzini's Things That Happened Before the Earthquake.