Taylor Brown

17 Books That Should Be On Your Radar: March 2018

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 Fighter by Michael Farris Smith

Daniel Ford: Pardon the pun, but Michael Farris Smith’s latest novel The Fighter (out March 20 from Little, Brown and Company) knocked me out cold. Southern noir just doesn’t get much better than this. We’ve been following Smith’s work since his debut Rivers, and it’s been a true pleasure seeing his work progress with each new novel. The Fighter is an intense read for myriad reasons, and you’ll have to set it down a time or two to swig a shot of bourbon or take a cold shower, but Smith infuses this book with the honest, empathetic humanity that’s become the hallmark of his fiction. This is no holds barred, campfire storytelling, and, frankly, I’m jealous as hell that Smith is so good at what he does.


I'll Be Gone in the Dark by Michelle McNamara

Daniel: I made the mistake of reading the late Michelle McNamara’s I’ll Be Gone in the Dark right before going to bed. I made sure my trusty Louisville Slugger was close by before I finally shut my eyes (after jumping at every shadow, of course). Sean Tuohy and I interviewed McNamara way back in 2014, and we came away from that discussion convinced she was more passionate about her work than anyone we had talked to up to that point (and maybe since). To see her words in print a few years after her death is a surreal experience, but a welcome one. Yes, McNamara’s investigation into the Golden State Killer takes her into some shadowy corners, however, owing to McNamara’s natural inner light, the reader never feels completely engulfed in darkness. I'll Be Gone in the Dark is an exceptionally well-crafted and researched narrative by a skilled writer and investigator who was taken from us much, much too soon.


All the Pieces Matter by Jonathan Abrams

Daniel: What better way to explore “The Wire,” truly the greatest television show ever made, than with an oral history? Jonathan Abrams’ discussions with the cast and crew yielded just as much magic as what ended up on the small screen. Andre Royo’s protective and brotherly feelings toward his character Bubbles. Idris Elba literally drinking J.D. Williams under the table. David Simon fighting with HBO in order to write and execute his exact vision. The City of Baltimore embracing a cinematic version of itself that hemmed closer to reality than any show on record. Fans of “The Wire” will love every word, and every television junkie will appreciate the craft and love that went into making it.


The Book of Unknown Americans by Cristina Henriquez 

Melanie Padgett Powers: I read this book while traveling to Guatemala, which was fitting because it's about Latin American immigrants in the United States. It’s lovely and poetic, but sad and frustrating because of its timeliness. It really brings home what immigrants are facing in this country today. The book focuses on one family, but after a while you start to learn about their neighbors’ stories too. These are fully developed characters with lives you rarely see portrayed in books and whom most of us don’t get to know in real life. For that alone, it’s worth a read.


Speak No Evil by Uzodinma Iweala

Daniel: Uzodinma Iweala’s incredibly powerful second novel Speak No Evil is staring at me right now. I feel like it’s been glaring at me since I finished it. His characters are still speaking to me, and his narrative is still punching me in the gut. Iweala’s first novel Beasts of No Nation was adapted as a Netflix original, and readers will be lucky if that happens again with this novel. Just masterful and utterly devastating.


Adam Vitcavage: Set in at the rise of drag culture in the late-1980s, The House of Impossible Beauties by Joseph Cassara liberally takes historic members of the Latin New York City club scene and reinterprets them. Anyone who thinks this novel will simply be about drag competitions or the club scene will quickly learn it is a family drama. Angie and Hector Xtravaganza want to create a safe space for people like them. They are joined by a sensitive trans girl named Venus, a fashionista named Jaunito, and a butch queen named Daniel. There are only flashes of the club world. Instead, the novel follows the main characters navigating their personal lives. They turn to turning tricks near the piers to pay for money, attempt to pass as female models, and learn that love is even more complicated than they thought.


My Old Faithful by Yang Huang

Daniel: I marveled at what Yang Huang was able to pack into her slim short story collection My Old Faithful. Huang’s exploration of a close-knit Chinese family through everyday experiences (both in China and the United States) is expertly wrought, and her themes are as timely as they are timeless. The author employs an earthy, subtle humor that suggests an older soul at work. Very much looking forward to Huang’s appearance on the show so I can figure out how she pulled it off!


The Beloved Wild by Melissa Ostrom

Daniel: Author James Tate Hill doesn’t mess around with book recommendations. When he shares a book with us, we know it’s going to be great. Melissa Ostrom’s young adult novel The Beloved Wild (out March 27 from Feiwel & Friends) is no exception. Harriet Winter, the novel’s indomitable main character, is so determined to decide her own future that she leaves home with her brother disguised as an orphan named Freddy. Ostrom charmingly crafts a tale filled with internal and external battles, and it’s no surprise that Publisher’s Weekly called the book, “Pride and Prejudice with a western backdrop.”  


Daniel: I picked up Joe Fassler’s Light the Dark at Sherman’s Books, one of my favorite bookstores in Portland, Maine. This book has been on my radar ever since Caitlin Malcuit’s interview with Fassler last September. I always look for an added dose of literary inspiration while on vacation, and this collection ended up being the perfect complement to treats from The Holy Donut. Fassler asked some of today’s best known authors, “What inspires you?” The answers, from the likes of Stephen King, Junot Diaz, and Roxane Gay, will be buzzing in your head long after the caffeine (or in my case, sugar) leaves your system.


Daniel: Nathaniel Philbrick, author In the Heart of the Sea, Bunker Hill, and Mayflower, is one of my favorite writers. I was completely charmed by his personal memoir Second Wind, which was recently re-published by Penguin Books. I don’t know anything about sailing, but, being an author myself, I know a thing or two about persistence in the face of adversity and disappointment. Philbrick’s quest to reestablish his Sunfish sailing bona fides is not only filled with watery mishaps and questionable navigation, but also spirited family competition and bonding. The author always infuses his historical narratives with some of history’s more colorful characters, but I’m glad to see his own personality on full display here.


Melanie: As a native Hoosier and fan of the movie “The Fault in Our Stars,” I have been curious about John Green for several years. When he first started publishing his books, I was too old to be in his young adult audience, but any avid reader certainly heard how he was changing people’s perceptions of young adult books. Reading Turtles All the Way Down makes me want to search out more of his books.

In this book, he gives us Ava, a 16-year-old girl with a severe anxiety disorder that affects her relationships with everyone around her, including her mother, best friend and a former friend she reconnects with. Green has OCD, which allows him to know exactly how to put Ava’s anxiety into words that many of us can relate to—or learn how our loved ones with anxiety feel. I quickly developed a big sisterly love toward Ava and her friends, and I cheered her on as she struggled with her disorder while also trying to play “Encyclopedia Brown” and unravel a local mystery. 


Call Me Zebra by Azareen Van der Vliet Oloomi

Daniel: Azareen Van der Vliet Oloomi’s Call Me Zebra is deliciously erudite. Her use of language and her word choices perfectly match her characters. The story centers on Zebra, an Iranian exile living in New York City. The hyper-educated heroine is the keeper of her family’s vast knowledge, and attempts to retrace the journey she took with her father en route to the United States years before. I’ve been slow-reading this book, not wanting to rush through my time with Zebra and the rest of the novel’s eclectic cast of characters. I’ve laughed. I’ve gotten misty. By the time I’m finished, I know I’m going to be ready for more from this exceptional new voice.


Mercy Dogs by Tyler Dilts

Daniel: Find a fedora. Eat a good meal in Southern California (perhaps at one of Danny Beckett's favorite joints). Dig into Mercy Dogs. Repeat.


Author’s Corner

By Michael Farris Smith, author of The Fighter and Desperation Road

Gods of How Mountain by Taylor Brown

Taylor Brown writes like the landscapes he creates, the winding rivers and misty mountain tops want to drift into romance, but that ain’t gonna happen. His stories are wound with love and despair and I don’t expect this to be any different. (Gods of How Mountain is out 3/20 from St. Martin's Press.)

High White Sun by J. Todd Scott

You can’t help but get a little dust in your mouth when you’re reading about the reckless Texas of J. Todd Scott. High White Sun (out 3/20 from G.P. Putnam's Sons) is the follow up to The Far Empty and I can already feel the hot Southwestern wind pushing against my face.

Country Dark by Chris Offutt

I’m sneaking out of March and into April (April 10 to be exact) with this one. Country Dark is Chris Offutt’s return to fiction after too much time away, and this is a story that will make you grit your teeth and open your heart, at the same time.


NovelClass

Listen to the Season 2 premiere of NovelClass, live from The Dean Hotel in Providence, R.I.!

Also, start reading Swamplandia! by Karen Russell and tune into Dave Pezza and Caitlin Malcuit’s discussion on March 26.

17 Books That Should Be On Your Radar: May 2017

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.

Salt Houses by Hala Alyan

Daniel Ford: Hala Alyan’s debut novel Salt Houses is an incredibly beautiful, tender read. Her prose feels personal and lived-in, her characters seem like they’re ready to wander into your kitchen and have a cup of tea with you, and her dialogue is as lyrical and poignant as her poetry. There’s a real heartbeat on every page of this novel.

One of the things I love most about the book is how it’s structured. She jumps from character to character while moving forward several years in the timeline. This allowed her to explore themes like the aftermath of war and the development of personal and familial relationships in a way typically reserved for short story collections. Alyan crafted some powerful lines about love, family, and conflict that only someone who had this story in her bones could have pulled off.

As I said during my interview with the author (which you can listen to on May 8), human stories like the ones found in Salt Houses need to be told widely and often during these troubled political times. Pain and suffering weren’t just invented after Nov. 8, 2016. Humanity has been grappling with issues like identity, race, property, nationalism, and warfare since human’s stepped over the threshold of their cave dwellings thousands of years ago. Thankfully, novels like Salt Houses can delve into those seemingly intractable subjects in a moving and haunting way in the hopes of raising the level of our discourse.

The Wrong Side Of Goodbye by Michael Connelly

Sean Tuohy: Detective Harry Bosch is back in Michael Connelly’s latest thriller. The relentless LAPD detective is hired to find the missing heir to a billion-dollar fortune, while also trying to capture a serial rapist. Connelly is able to make each novel feel fresh and full of life. His characters are well developed, the plot is fast-paced, and you never know what will happen next.

Marlena by Julie Buntin

Daniel: From the isolated cold of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula to the impersonal, sun-kissed skyscrapers of New York City, Julie Buntin’s haunting Marlena is a coming-of-age story with real teeth.

Fifteen-year-old Cat’s world is off its axis when we first meet her. Her mother has dragged her and her brother to rural Michigan (where they can barely make ends meet), and Cat makes friends with Marlena, an abused drug addict who sets in motion a litany of “firsts” for our troubled heroine. Marlena ends up drowning in six inches of water, and Cat’s life is never the same.

Buntin explores Cat’s psyche and motivations by bouncing back and forth from past to present. The contrast between the simple, hardscrabble life Cat leads in Michigan and her trendy, avant-garde New York City existence couldn’t be more stark, and, in many ways, more heartbreaking.

Marlena is incredibly well written and structured for a debut novel (especially when you consider Buntin wrote a good chunk of it on Google Docs!). Buntin’s passion and dedication to the craft is evident on every page, and you’ll be ready for more of her work as soon as you finish the book.    

Janesville, An American Story by Amy Goldstein

Gary Almeter: I have, in the past few months, read Evicted by Matthew Desmond and Hillbilly Elegy by J.D. Vance, so fancied myself an expert on the effects of post-industrialization on the Midwest and Appalachia. (Evicted has since won the Pulitzer.) So I thought it intriguing to see another middle class-focused book, this one about the closing of a General Motors plant in a Wisconsin town called Janesville.

Janesville, An American Story endeavors to chronicle the stories of people in that town following the plant's shutdown. What Goldstein, a Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter, has done here is astonishing. In an engrossing, chronological format, she follows several families, community leaders, politicians, and corporate representatives. She provides facts and the details that make up a life that newspaper headlines just can’t adequately convey.

Little Victories by Jason Gay

Mike Nelson: For six years I’ve been riding the bus to work. As a veteran, you can tell who’s a pro, who’s new, and who hasn’t been on wheels since their drunk uncle pulled them around in a Radio Flyer at a family reunion screaming, “And down the stretch they come,” while spilling his mint julep all over himself, you, and his soon-to-be-ex-girlfriend’s daughter sitting behind you. There are rules to be followed on the bus, etiquette to be embraced, common courtesy and thoughtfulness, and funny moments to be had.

This is exactly the type of thing you’ll find in Jason Gay’s Little Victories (but this, specifically, is not a thing you’ll find in his book). Gay, a sports writer for The Wall Street Journal, has had my attention for years as a refreshing voice who can make you think, learn, and laugh out loud (a breach of bus etiquette) all in the course of a paragraph. His stories range from interviewing Rihanna to playing touch football with his family at Thanksgiving to what it’s like to lose your job—each one sticking with you and teaching you lessons you might not need just yet but maybe someday will.

I have three complaints about Little Victories (this is how I rope you in to read the third paragraph of a book review for something you haven’t read):

  1. This is not a very long book (~200 pages), and even if you try to stretch it out, it goes too fast. I want more, Jason.
  2. I wish I saved this book for the summer because it is an absolutely perfect beach read.
  3. I can’t remember how to write with my own voice because Gay’s writing style is so infectious. 

The River of Kings by Taylor Brown

Daniel: I read Taylor Brown’s stunning debut Fallen Land in two sittings midway through 2015. I then had to wait six months to crow about it. (The novel ended up at #3 on our best books of 2016 list.) Brown’s sophomore effort, The River of Kings, was released this past March and I’m taking a different approach to reading it. Instead of rapidly powering through the novel, I’m savoring every sentence, every character, every line of dialogue, every chapter. There’s something about Brown’s writing that feels like home, regardless of what he’s putting his characters through. He’s a special talent, one that’s just going to get better with age.

American War by Omar El Akkad

Daniel: Omar El Akkad’s American War follows ably in the footsteps of Ben H. Winter’s Underground Airlines. The novel features a dystopian America, a second Civil War, shadowy characters, familial angst, and a culture that (horrifyingly) doesn’t feel too different than our own.

Within the thrilling tale lies a coming-of-age story (don’t they all?) for the main character Sarat. The young American refugee makes decisions that have implications for not only herself, but for the nation ravaged by war. The book’s release could not have been better timed, and offers a fictional cautionary tale to our politically divided country.

A Brutal Bunch Of Heartbroken Saps by Nick Kolakowski

Sean: I recently received this book from the author and I’m loving it. This is a must read for fans of gritty, hardboiled storytelling. Bill, a man on a run, has the misfortune of being taken hostage during his cross-country escape. Written by someone has a passion for the crime genre, this brutal story balances humor and violence brilliantly.

The Dinner Party by Joshua Ferris

Gary: I just got an email notification from my library that my copy of Joshua Ferris' The Dinner Party is ready for me to pick up on the reserve shelf. I reserved it back in January (I was the first one to do so), and periodically checked on it to make sure things were all systems go with the reservation.

This is one of the highlights of my 2017. Ferris is an author who makes books and writing cool. He’s the closest thing literature has to Matt Damon. His three novels have been spectacular. He chronicles the absurdity and the normalcy of life in the 21st century with characters that are likable and simple (and with whom we can all identify). This collection of short stories (many of which have appeared in The New Yorker already) is his first. The title story, about a dinner party, is a doozy.

Author’s Corner

By Josh Cook, author of An Exaggerated Murder

Tell Me How It Ends by Valeria Luiselli

In perhaps the most important book of 2017, Luiselli tells the story of her time volunteering as an interpreter for undocumented children fleeing violence in Central and South America seeking residency in the United States. Luiselli tries to change the way we talk about immigration, especially from our Southern neighbors, by exploring our complicity in the crises that turned these people into refugees and reminding us that quite often, when we're talking about “illegal aliens” and “undocumented immigrants,” or whatever other term someone might try to scare us with, we're talking about children.

The One-Eyed Man by Ron Currie

An exercise in questioning our assumptions, an examination of the state of our political discourse, and an exploration of the value of being irrational. Obviously, the topical aspects of Currie's great book stand out; reality television, political punditry, what counts for debate on cable, and the madness surrounding the American gun debate, but I think Currie's real target and real brilliance is something both smaller and bigger: how do we make sense of death and how do we figure out how to live.

Recitation by Bae Suah

A drifting lyrical book about place and identity that follows the story—as much as there is a story—of a mysterious Korean recital actress wandering through cities, lives, and apartments.

The Warren by Brian Evenson

If there is such a thing as “sci-fi noir” (and I'd argue there is) Evenson (who also writes more literary short stories) is a master of the genre. This novella is a good introduction to Evenson's dark, gritty, cynical fiction. Definitely for fans of PKD

Unbearable Splendor by Sun Yung Shin

Poetry as essay? Essayistic poems? Poetic essay? There are even some charts. Sometimes the pieces feel more like poems with fluid grammar and freer themes and some feel like they have the focus and coherence of essays. I love books like this that ask questions just by existing.

Hothouse by Karyna McGlynn

McGlynn is a favorite of mine. Her poems have a dark sense of humor and an interesting kind of intimidating sexuality to some of them. Though she is probably closest to Patricia Lockwood in style at the moment, this collection also has the weirdness that I love in James Tate

Make: A Decade of Literary Art

An anthology of short stories, essays, poems, and art from the literary magazine Make. Make isn't a magazine I'm familiar with, but it's a beautiful book and includes work by some great authors like Valeria Luiselli, Maggie Nelson, Dorothea Lasky, Martin Seay, Alejandro Zambara, and Kate Zambreno.

#NovelClass

Listen to Daniel Ford and Dave Pezza’s discussion about Jaroslav Kalfar’s debut novel Spaceman of Bohemia.   

The 30 Best Books of 2016

By Daniel Ford

To date, I’ve read 96 books in 2016, which is up from the 87 I read last year. Since you’ve already called me a nerd in your head, please allow me to further strengthen the case. Those 96 books add up to 37,872 pages, myriad reading devices, and two dried out eyeballs. I also managed to get engaged, help build a website at my day gig, edit and shop a novel, and feed and bath myself.

While I’m troubled by the direction the United States and the world are headed in, I’m just as confident that art and literature will continue to inform, illuminate, and ignite a global citizenship that needs to be more engaged and educated than ever before.

Without further adieu, enjoy the 30 best books of 2016. Feel free to share your favorites in the comments section, on our Facebook page, or tweet us @WritersBone.

30. Everyone Loves You Back by Louie Cronin  

There was a lot to love about Louie Cronin’s debut novel. Cranky radio personalities, quirky Cambridge denizens, awkward love triangles, and jazz on vinyl all made Everyone Loves You Back one of the most fun reads of 2016.

29. Massacre on the Merrimack by Jay Atkinson          

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: Hannah Duston is a badass! Author Jay Atkinson’s passionate retelling of her story offers a glimpse of early American life and the steely resolve women needed (and still need) to brave the New World.  

28. A Hard and Heavy Thing by Matthew J. Hefti         

Matthew Hefti’s main character is writing a letter to a lifelong friend, but he could have easily been writing a letter to the ongoing conflicts the United States has been involved in since 2001. Hefti is a talent to watch, and he delivers a heartfelt and moving debut.   

27. Lay Down Your Weary Tune by W.B. Belcher         

This remains one of the best lines I’ve read this year: “We’re all here for one thing,” Eli says to Jack, “to find a live connection and hold onto it until it bucks us off.” Well done, W.B. Belcher. (Killer cover too!)

26. Swing Time by Zadie Smith

During a “Friday Morning Coffee” episode earlier this year, author Richard Dalglish implored writers not to forget about craftsmanship. There’s no finer example of craftsmanship than Zadie Smith’s new novel Swing Time. Smith asks big, important questions, and I hope that readers debate the answers throughout the new year.

25. We're All Damaged by Matthew Norman

I don’t think Matthew Norman’s main character Andy Carter truly recovers from getting dumping at an Applebee’s (and, really, who would?), but it’s fun watching him try to cobble his life back together. Midwestern sensibilities have never been so hilarious.

24. Dark Horse by Rory Flynn

Eddy Harkness isn’t the hero the real world (or the fictional one he inhabits) deserves, but he certainly is the one we need. In Eddy we trust!

23. The Infinite by Nick Mainieri

Nick Mainieri’s debut features two of my favorite characters from 2016. Jonah McBee and Luz Hidalgo’s fervent and turbulent relationship sets off a chain of events that leads to an unexpected conclusion. The Infinite is one of the best debuts I’ve ever read.

22. The Most Famous Writer Who Ever Lived by Tom Shroder         

The Most Famous Writer Who Ever Lived is essential reading for aspiring authors and journalists. Tom Shroder explores his Pulitzer Prize-winning grandfather’s life while also recounting his own writing career. The passionately researched narrative will fill up your creative tank.

21. Christodora by Tim Murphy

The more I learn about Tim Murphy and his work, the more I like him. His effortless nonlinear storytelling in Christodora perfectly complements his damaged, but tenacious, characters and his exploration of the AIDs epidemic. It’s a gut-wrenching read, but a necessary one.  

20. The Loved Ones by Sonya Chung

Sonya Chung puts her characters through hell throughout her sophomore novel. Their responses to tragedy and inner demons don’t make them the best human beings at times, but you’ll easily fall in love with them despite their myriad flaws. The Loved Ones also features one of the most haunting and beautifully sad farewells you’ll ever read.

19. Disappearance at Devil's Rock by Paul Tremblay 

http://www.writersbone.com/book-recommendations/2016/8/3/10-books-that-should-be-on-your-radar-august-2016

Disappearance at Devil's Rock scared the bejesus out of me. Top-notch suspense. Paul Tremblay also experiments with his prose by featuring text conversations, fragments of diaries, and police interview transcripts.

18. The Fireman by Joe Hill

Joe Hill’s brand of apocalyptic fiction ranks alongside Emily St. John Mandel’s Station Eleven and José Saramago’s Death With Interruptions. Much like those works, The Fireman features a harrowing (and down right sexy) epidemic, a sense of humor, and characters you wouldn’t mind spending damnation with. Hill is one of fiction’s best world builders, and his enthusiasm for the craft of writing is infectious. (His live readings also tend to feature kazoos!)

17. The Nix by Nathan Hill

Considering that Nathan Hill’s debut novel tops many year-end book lists, The Nix is arguably ranked too low here. That’s a testament to the quality of fiction we read in 2016. The Nix is a compulsive read that, at times, gets weighted down by some of its pop culture and societal critiques. However, since 2016 proved to be a bitch of a year culturally and politically, I’d much rather have too much of Hill’s wit rather than not enough.

16. Louisa by Louisa Thomas      

Louisa proved to be a very welcome and refreshing look at Revolutionary War-era America. Louisa Thomas explored the life of Louisa Adams, our first foreign-born First Lady. While Mrs. Adams does spend a good chunk of time recovering from or feigning illness, she proves more than a match for her surly, ambitious, and misunderstood husband (everyone’s favorite dinner guest, John Quincy Adams).

15. Dodgers by Bill Beverly

If “The Wire” had decided to spend a whole season devoted to a road trip with Bodie, Wallace, Poot, and D’Angelo Barksdale, I imagine it would have resembled something close to what Bill Beverly crafted in Dodgers. It’s a thriller with real heart and muscle, thanks in large part to its conflicted main character East. The opening chapters are written as if they were fired from a gun, and set the tone for the rest of the novel’s coming of age journey. 

14. Bobby Kennedy by Larry Tye

The Kennedys have been dissected ad nauseam, however, Larry Tye finds a fresh angle to examine the life of Robert Kennedy. Tye follows John F. Kennedy’s younger brother’s astounding political transformation from his days working as a lawyer under Senator Joe McCarthy to his tragic campaign for President in 1968. Bobby Kennedy is unsparing and objective, but also gives RFK aficionados plenty of new reasons to admire their hero.

13. Youngblood by Matthew Gallagher

Matthew Gallagher’s novel Youngblood is right up there with Elliot Ackerman’s Green on Blue, Ross Ritchell’s The Knife, Ben Fountain’s Billy Lynn’s Halftime Walk, Kevin Powers’ The Yellow Birds, and the aforementioned A Hard and Heavy Thing. Essential reading for anyone trying to make sense of our foreign policy and understand the men and women who execute it.

12. My Name is Lucy Barton by Elizabeth Strout

Elizabeth Strout’s short novel, My Name is Lucy Barton, hit me with the right words and subject matter at the right time. A book about healing, motherhood, and love.

11. Why We Came to the City by Kristopher Jansma   

Kristopher Jansma’s prologue, interlude, and epilogue are the most beautiful words ever written about New York City. His prologue in particular captures everything I feel about the city I’ve loved since childhood. This novel is a must read for anyone that’s been ensorcelled by the Big Apple’s many temptations.  

10. Seinfeldia by Jennifer Keishin Armstrong

It’s nice to know that the creators of one of the best sitcoms of all time were as eccentric as the characters many of us have come to love. Jennifer Keishin Armstrong discovers one great story after another about “Seinfeld” and its writers’ room. She also lovingly investigates the show’s curious, quirky fans who have kept it relevant well past its final episode. Seinfeldia is a breezy, energetic read that will have you binge-watching the show on Hulu by the time you’re finished. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.        

9. Underground Airlines by Ben H. Winters     

Ben H. Winters is the master of dystopian fiction, and he outdoes himself with Underground Airlines. In the novel, the Civil War never happened, slavery still exists, and a slave catcher desperate to repress and erase his past takes on an assignment that threatens to crack his carefully manufactured persona. This book is an absolutely thrilling and original tale that should shake a few assumptions of your own.  

8. This Side of Providence by Rachel M. Harper

One of the most powerful reads of 2016. Rachel Harper penned a tearjerker and beautifully developed the novel’s characters and themes. William Faulkner would be proud.

7. The Wangs vs. The World by Jade Chang

During a recent podcast interview author Jade Chang advised aspiring authors “to be ambitious.” Anyone who has read her debut novel The Wangs vs. the World knows how wonderfully ambition can pay off. Chang reinvigorates the immigrant narrative through the eyes of Charles Wang and his hilariously flawed family. Like many of the novels on this list, The Wangs vs. the World stress tests and critiques all of the tenets of the American Dream, but does so with an abundance of mirth and cynical optimism.

6. Everybody's Fool by Richard Russo

What a pleasure it was to revisit Sully and all of the misfits that live in North Bath, Maine. Richard Russo is one of my literary heroes, and he didn’t disappoint with this follow up to the classic Nobody’s Fool.    

5. You Will Know Me by Megan Abbott

Megan Abbott’s novel should have been titled, You Will Hold Your Breath The Whole Time. I barely survived reading this incredibly tense and finely crafted mystery; I can’t imagine what it was like writing it. She has more than earned the “maestro of the heebie-jeebies” distinction from The New York Times.

4. The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead

The Underground Railroad is why fiction exists. The novel serves as a brutal reminder of the past and a cautionary tale for how easily we can slip into easy violence, subjugation, and intolerance. Colson Whitehead has established himself as one of the great voices in fiction.   

3. Fallen Land by Taylor Brown

Taylor Brown’s achingly beautiful debut established itself as my favorite book of 2016 way back in August 2015 (I read an advanced copy leading up to its January 2016 pub date). It took two special novels to knock it off the top spot. After going back and rereading a few chapters while preparing this list, I was reminded of what made the book such a joy to read: hearty prose, snappy and spare dialogue, earthy characters, and a hard driving plot.  

2. The Sympathizer by Viet Thanh Nguyen        

Viet Thanh Nguyen’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel is great from the first line: “I am a spy, a sleeper, a spook, a man of two faces.” Nguyen crafts a timely, gritty tale that lives in the past, but has an eye on our uncertain future.

1. Be Frank With Me by Julia Claiborne Johnson

We met a lot of memorable characters this year, but there was only one Frank. Be Frank With Me is an unforgettable debut that everyone should read. (And, according to the author, the paperback edition can easily fit in a stocking!)

Honorable Mention

Any of these books could have been added to the top 30. I wrestled with this list for days. I'm just grateful that I got to read so many great novels and nonfiction titles this year! Give plenty of love to these authors’ books as well!

Valiant Ambition by Nathaniel Philbrick, Whatever Happened to Interracial Love? by Kathleen Collins, Perfect Days by Raphael Montes, Thanks for the Trouble by Tommy Wallach, Seven Sins by Karen Runge, A Single Happened Thing by Daniel Paisner, The Last Days of Magic by Marc Thompkins, The Duration by Dave Fromm, The Girls by Emma Cline, An Honorable Man by Paul Vidich, The Far Empty by J. Todd Scott, Come Twilight by Tyler Dilts, The Unseen World by Liz Moore, Nefarious Twit by Tony McMillen, The Point Is by Lee Eisenberg, and Born to Run by Bruce Springsteen

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5 Books That Should Be On Your Radar: January 2016

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.

Fallen Land by Taylor Brown

Daniel Ford: As I said before my interview with Taylor Brown, perhaps I was destined to fall in love with his debut novel Fallen Land. What more could I ask for than a pair of star-crossed lovers during the Civil War (one of my favorite areas of study)?

Holy roller coaster of emotions, General Grant! I had to stop every five pages to catch my breath or fervently hope tragedy didn’t strike the main protagonists (I’m not telling you whether my hopes were answered or not).

Fallen Land is achingly beautiful and its characters will break your heart in all the right ways. Ava and Callum’s banter—much needed levity as they tried to escape a “band of marauders”—was as lyrical as it was romantically sassy. In fact, I read so slowly at the end because I didn't want to put it down and leave their love/adventure story behind.

I received an advanced copy way back in August, and I’ve been impatiently waiting to champion this work from a breakout writer ever since. The book goes on sale on Jan. 12, and you’ll be hard pressed to find a better read, more perfect read in 2016.

Crime Beat: A Decade of Covering Cops and Killers by Michael Connelly

Sean Tuohy: The current master of crime fiction gives us a glimpse into his past with this collection of pieces collected from his time as a reporter in South Florida and Los Angeles. What really makes this book special is the introduction, which describes Connelly's indoctrination into the world of crime and cops. The opening chapter’s brutal honesty is stronger then a heavyweight boxer’s punch.

The Cartel by Don Winslow

Daniel: Author Don Winslow’s sprawling epic about Mexico and the “War on Drugs” landed on plenty of top 10 lists at the end of 2015 with good reason. There was never a point when I felt burdened by reading the 600+ page novel. It’s thrilling from DEA agent Art Keller’s first appearance to the final page.

Spanning four decades, The Cartel explores every angle of a struggle that has claimed far too many lives in both the U.S. and Mexico. Winslow’s style is bare bones, but manages to teach and illuminate the myriad issues facing both nations more effectively and coherently than any news article or historical tome.

I’d heard some compare him to Elmore Leonard, and while I can see where someone might settle on that comparison, I’m not so quick to dub him the heir to Elmore’s throne (For one thing, I can’t imagine the late crime writer sitting down to write a book that’s close to 700 pages long). However, Winslow’s morally ambiguous characters and pitch perfect phrasing puts him awfully close to that level.

News of Kidnapping by Gabriel García Márquez

Sean: Gabriel García Márquez’s fast paced and well-researched book covers the impact that 10 kidnappings had on Columbia during the heated war between the drug lords and the government. Providing an insight into the bloody conflict, the Noble Prize-winning author transports the reader into the world of gunmen, kidnappers, and hostages. Written in a simple, but beautiful style, this book showcases a wonderful storyteller tackling a brutal topic.

Friendship Fog by Peter Halsey Sherwood

Daniel: I mentioned to Peter Sherwood in our recent podcast interview that he had been working on Friendship Fog in some capacity since I first met him way back in 2009ish. After watching Sherwood publish several other novels in the past couple years, I was thrilled that this one finally made it to print!

The novel features all the hallmarks of a Sherwood yarn: theatrical characters with terrific names, snappy dialogue, and a sense of humor that allows lands the right joke at the right time. I know how long Sherwood spent writing, editing, and re-writing this work

There’s one “scene” in particular that made me long for a day of drinking in New York City. Clifford Bowles and his friend Van Dillon meet at a watering hole and spend the rest of the day, and into the early morning hours of the next day, talking, drinking, and interacting with a bartender who doesn’t bat an eye at their increasingly sloppy and slurred behavior. Plenty of weighty issues confound the novel’s protagonists, but this episode added the right amount of comedic relief that perfectly summed up these two men’s friendship. I look forward to the day I can raise a glass with Sherwood in the Big Apple and then choke him for being such a good writer.

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