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 Force by Don Winslow
Daniel Ford: Don Winslow is generally regarded as the current king of crime fiction, and his new novel The Force (out June 20) adds another bauble to his crown. What happens when the people sworn to protect us are just as nefarious and organizational corrupt as those destined for prison or death? Winslow’s portrait of Denny Malone, a highly decorated NYPD detective sergeant called “the King of Manhattan North," provides answers to that perilous question while also crafting an entertaining thrill ride. Malone’s crew, called “Da Force,” would be more at home in a Martin Scorsese mobster movie rather than cleaning up the streets of New York City. A drug bust gone bad (or good if you’re the dirty cops hoping to pad their retirement nest egg with the purloined narcotics) sets the plot in motion and leads to Malone’s crisis of conscience. Is that enough to protect Malone’s way of life and the group of men he values above everything else in his life (including his estranged wife, his girlfriend, and his kids)? You’ll lose plenty of sleep finding out the answer to that one.
Killers of the Flower Moon by David Grann
Sean Tuohy: Author of the highly acclaimed The Lost City Of Z, David Grann comes back with a fantastic new book, Killers of the Flower Moon: The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI. During the 1920s, the Osage tribe of Oklahoma was one of the wealthiest groups on the planet because of the oil on its land. The tribe soon found itself in the crosshairs of a deadly conspiracy. With mounting bodies, the newly formed FBI, under the direction of J. Edgar Hoover, stepped in to solve the case.
The Light We Lost by Jill Santopolo
Stephanie Schaefer: Every now and then I come across a love story that I can’t put down. Jill Santopolo’s The Light We Lost was one of them. The novel focuses on Lucy and Gabe, two star-crossed lovers who first meet as students at Columbia University on September 11, 2001. The haunting day sets the stage for what will become a deep, yet turbulent relationship through adulthood. When Gabe’s passion for photojournalism takes him to the Middle East, Lucy embarks on a more conventional path in New York City—although she can never truly shake her past, and first true love. Within a series of flashbacks written in a second person narrative, Santopolo touches on the classic theme of fate vs. free will, giving it a modern spin. Although there were times where it seemed like Lucy’s character hadn’t matured in the 13 years since her college graduation, I was thoroughly intrigued by the plot of novel. Toward its conclusion I anxiously turned each heart-wrenching page to see if my predictions came true.
Mom & Me & Mom by Maya Angelou
Daniel: I hadn’t read Maya Angelou’s work in quite a long time, so it was refreshing to hear her voice again. (I’d be remiss if I didn’t credit Emma Watson and her Books on the Subway/Underground book fairy adventure for putting Mom & Me & Mom on my radar.)
This short memoir about her relationship with her mother featured Angelou’s stripped down, but still emotional and evocative, sentences, and a subtle storytelling style that more authors should employ (especially when writing about their own lives). Angelou’s mother was fond of telling her children, “Sit down, I have something to say.” I’d carve out some time in your reading schedule and listen.
Exit Strategy by Steve Hamilton
Daniel: Steve Hamilton’s new Nick Mason yarn is an absolutely perfect thriller from start to finish. The Second Life of Nick Mason may have set the bar high, but Hamilton clears it with room to spare in Exit Strategy. The stakes are raised, the action is more heart pounding, and never has Nick Mason’s tenuous hold on freedom…excuse me...mobility seemed so fragile. As Hamilton is fond of saying, Mason’s situation could take him anywhere in the world and that the possibilities are endless. After reading the first two books into the series, we’re convinced. Exit Strategy should be at the top of your beach bag this summer.
The Bright Hour by Nina Riggs
Gary Almeter: Anyone who read and enjoyed Paul Kalanathi's When Breath Becomes Air will likely enjoy this (to the extent one can enjoy the story of someone's demise). This book poses the same unanswerable questions that Kalanathi's does. Riggs, who passed away in February 2017 from cancer, endeavors to answer those questions with so with so much levity, warmth, honesty, and lyricism that it almost is enjoyable (even when she’s telling her children that she’s dying).
The Immortal Irishman by Timothy Egan
Daniel: I’ve reached the point that if Timothy Egan decided to write a history of the portable toilet, I would be first in line at the bookstore. The introduction to his National Book Award-winning The Worst Hard Time might be the best prose I’ve ever read. It’s no surprise then that his recent work, The Immortal Irishman: The Irish Revolutionary Who Became an American Hero, is an absolute treat to read. Thomas Meagher, an Irish nationalist booted from his home country after inciting (or more accurately trying to incite) a revolution against the British in 1848, certainly provides plenty of entertaining and mysterious material to work with. Egan follows the Irishman to his banishment in Van Dieman’s Land (present day Tasmania) in Australia, his command of the Irish Brigade in the American Civil War, and his tragic end as governor of the Montana Territory. Anyone with a rebellious streak, or a song for Ireland in their hearts, will absolutely love this narrative. Nonfiction writing at its finest.
American Bang By Doug Richardson
Sean: Lucky Dey is back in his fourth novel from #NicestGuyinHollywood Doug Richardson. From page one, it’s easy to tell this not going to be the standard Lucky thriller. Following multiple story lines that somehow tie together perfectly by the end, American Bang is fast paced and never loses the heart of the character.
Apollo 8 by Jeffrey Kluger
Daniel: 1968 was one of the bloodiest years in American history. Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King Jr. were assassinated. More than 500 American soldiers were killed in action during North Vietnam’s Tet Offensive in February. Protests and violence defined the Democratic National Convention much more than the nominee Vice President Hubert Humphrey.
All hope was not lost, however, thanks in large part to the men and women at NASA. Following the tragic fire of Apollo I, the space program briefly struggled to find its footing and initiative. President John F. Kennedy’s end-of-the-decade promise to land on the moon loomed, and Americans had barely figured out how to build a space command module nevermind plan a lunar mission. Spoiler alert: NASA got its act together and brazenly decided to fling a trio of astronauts to the moon and back for the first time.
Jeffrey Kluger—who co-wrote Apollo 13 with astronaut Jim Lovell—thrillingly explains how mankind “went from being a species of one world to a species of two worlds” in Apollo 8. The book will not only reignite your passion for space and space travel, but also give you all the evidence you need that mankind must continue to explore and discover.
Wedding Toasts I'll Never Give by Ada Calhoun
Gary: This short little book evolved from Calhoun's New York Times “Modern Love” essay of the same name. The author provides some astonishingly astute and extremely honest perspectives on marriage. She’s very funny, but the way she is able to infuse poignancy into the most mundane elements of a marriage is a real gift.
Girl at War by Sara Nović
Daniel: It’s shameful how long it took me to discover and read Sara Nović’s spellbinding debut Girl at War. The novel is set before, during, and after the Yugoslav civil wars in the early 1990s, and features one of the flintiest main characters you’ll ever meet. War creeps into Ana Jurić’s childhood, starting with air raids, food rationing, and making games out of generating power. The conflict between Croatia and Serbia eventually irreparably consumes Ana’s life through humiliation and gunpowder. There’s a demonstration of a father’s love that will leave you absolutely breathless. Have tissues handy. A lot of them. From war-torn Croatia to the gleaming skyline of New York City, Nović deftly explores the themes of war, memory, family, friendship, ethnicity, identity, and the true meaning of home.
Evicted by Matthew Desmond
Daniel: I’ve had a little time to sit with Matthew Desmond’s Pulitzer Prize-winning Evicted, and I’m still speechless and awed by both his research and prose. Desmond follows eight families in Milwaukee as they struggle to keep what so many of us take for granted on a daily basis: a home. Desmond puts you inside eviction hearings, grimy, roach-infested apartments, deteriorating trailer parks, homeless shelters, and, at times, the bitter cold of Milwaukee’s streets. From emotionally and physically damaged mothers choosing between food and rent to those in the conflicted and ambitious landlord class, Evicted shines a light on people often forgotten or overlooked in urban areas.
The epilogue is a rousing and convincing call to arms, and Desmond’s breakdown of how he managed this project will leave you just as slack-jawed as all the award-winning prose that came before it. As Desmond points out, this issue isn’t about resources; it’s about political will and rejection of the status quo. I encourage you not only to read the book, but also get involved in the author’s Just Shelter initiative. The program seeks to raise “awareness of the human cost of the lack of affordable housing” and “to amplify the work of community organizations working to preserve affordable housing, prevent eviction, and reduce family homelessness.”
Trajectory by Richard Russo
Daniel: I am constantly amazed at Richard Russo’s ability to cram a ton of poignant characterization into the small space of a short story. This short collection of four stories features broken, middle-aged characters in the middle of life-altering situations. Russo’s explores these characters’ actions and motivations while employing his trademark wit and lyricism. That sound you hear during the final story “Milton and Marcus”—about a screenwriter trying to land a job to provide his sick wife life insurance—is Sean Tuohy nodding his head at how perfectly Russo describes the ludicrous world of Hollywood.
She Rides Shotgun by Jordan Harper
Daniel: She Rides Shotgun features Jordan Harper’s signature blend of angst and violence, but it also comes with a big helping of heart. His heroine, 11-year-old Polly McClusky, has to grow up quick when her damaged, jailbird father Nate veers into her life driving a stolen car. Nate’s a marked man as soon as he leaves prison, and he “kidnaps” Polly in order to save her life. Their relationship grounds this action-packed novel, and is one of the many reasons I felt Harper made a giant leap forward in his fiction writing. Plus, he made me emotional invested in a teddy bear (something I’ll make him pay dearly for in the future).
The Story of My Teeth by Valeria Luiselli
Daniel: This is Valeria Luiselli’s third-straight month on “Books That Should Be On Your Radar.” We adore her work here at Writer’s Bone (thanks to author and Porter Square Books' Josh Cook). The Story of My Teeth is not only great fiction, on par with John Kennedy Toole’s A Confederacy Of Dunces and Gabriel García Márquez’s One Hundred Days of Solitude, but also has an innovative and heartwarming backstory. Luiselli wrote the novel in collaboration with workers at a Mexican juice factory. She writes in the afterward that “many of the stories told in this book come from the workers’ personal accounts,” and that their “shared concerns” about life and art led to this narrative about “the production of value and meaning in contemporary art and literature.” The author refers to the collaboration as an ongoing one, “where every new layer modifies the entire content completely.” I suggest you fall in love with Gustavo “Highway” Sánchez Sánchez as soon as possible and find out why Luiselli is a master of modern literature.
By Julie Buntin
Goodbye, Vitamin by Rachel Khong
Rachel Khong’s debut novel is tender and winning—not only did I read it in one sitting (this book is impossible to put down), but it made me laugh and cry. Both, truly. In fragmented dated entries, it’s written from the perspective of 30-year-old Ruth, who returns home after a breakup to care for her father. He’s a history professor, and his memory is failing. That Khong captures both the comedy and the heartbreak of this family’s story is a rare accomplishment that showcases her gifts as a prose stylist and a human being. Rarely have I read a book with so much heart and generosity. A must read. It’s coming out in July but you should pre-order like, yesterday.
There Are More Beautiful Things Than Beyoncé by Morgan Parker
I’ve said it before, and I will keep saying it until every single person in America has bought a copy of Morgan Parker’s latest poetry collection—these poems are written by an essential new voice. Morgan Parker is a force—when I read her I feel like I’m reading the poems that people will be looking to 50 years from now, when they’re try to figure out what this time meant. Parker writes about pop culture, about being black in America, about celebrities and bathtubs, and how fucked up it is sometimes to have a woman’s body. And how beautiful, too. Even when (especially when?) she writes about self-doubt, about envy, her voice is fearless, strong, so powerful that every poem in this collection gives me chills. I have several committed to memory.
The Animators by Kayla Rae Whitaker
I have been telling everyone about this goddamned brilliant book. It’s a female friendship story, yes, but like all the female friendship stories I love, the relationship at the core of novel provides a way of investigating so many things about what it means to be a woman in the world, and in the case of these two particular women, the irresistible Mel and Sharon, what it means to be female artists. Animators, specifically. Whitaker is deft, hilarious, and terrific at plot—this book is fun. At the same time, it asks big questions about the risk of making art from experience, and how we can move on after losing someone we love. I finished the book months ago and think about it almost every day.
White Fur by Jardine Libaire
This novel. I picked it up totally on a whim—I work at Catapult, and we share an office with Electric Literature, a literary website that, as you might imagine, receives an ungodly number of galleys and review copies every week. I spotted White Fur hanging out on one of the received shelves, and I grabbed it for no good reason—I guess I liked the cover. I read it in two frantic gulps over the course of a weekend, without leaving my couch. Honestly, the plot can be described in one familiar sentence—girl from the wrong side of the tracks meets rich boy, they fall in love, drama ensues. But that well-worn premise is brought to new life by Jardine Libaire’s vibrant, magnetic prose, and her two starring characters, who are so flawed and vivid they leap off the page. Plus, this book is hot. Like very, very sexy. It’s somehow both super steamy and satisfyingly literary, and after I read it, I wondered why we don’t see that combination more often. Because, damn, it works.
#NovelClass: IQ by Joe Ide
Sean: With this modern take on Sherlock Holmes set in Long Beach, Calif., Joe Ide proves that he's a welcome new face to the crime genre. Filled with ear-catching dialogue and interesting characters, IQ is a solid summer read.
Listen to Dave Pezza and I discuss more about the book in this month’s #NovelClass: