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17 Books That Should Be On Your Radar: February 2019

17 Books That Should Be On Your Radar: February 2019

This month’s book recommendations feature works by Andrea Bartz, Jill Santopolo, Marlon James, Robert Olen Butler, DaMaris B. Hill, Snowden Wright, Crystal King, and more!

18 Books That Should Be On Your Radar: February 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.


How to Stop Time by Matt Haig

Daniel Ford: On the surface, knowing that you’re going to live for a couple hundred years (or more) sounds pretty awesome. However, as you march through time, you’ll likely be faced with some of the same questions Tom Hazard grapples with in Matt Haig’s new novel How to Stop Time. Sure, you may be lucky enough to have drinks with William Shakespeare or F. Scott Fitzgerald, but how many people can you stand to lose? How are you going to live with decisions that set the course of decades, or even centuries, of your life? As Tom discovers, his “gift” is much more a curse than anything else. While Haig does infuse his main character, and much of his narrative, with a sweet melancholy, he also builds time and time again to a hopeful crescendo. Haig beautifully balances an in-depth character study with a thrilling plot that weaves in and out of history and time.


An American Marriage by Tayari Jones

Daniel: Believe the hypeTayari Jones’ An American Marriage is exceptional. This novel was on our radar even before Oprah picked it for her book club earlier this month! Appearing as though they are the embodiment of the American Dream, Celestial and Roy’s marriage is already showing signs of strain when Roy is wrongly imprisoned for a crime he didn’t admit. The nuanced and layered narrative that follows Roy’s incarceration and beyond speaks to Jones’ extraordinary gifts as a storyteller. She explores all of the characters that populate this book from every angle in an empathetic, honest way, while also subtly and poignantly commenting on marriage, friendship, and black life in America.


Back Talk by Danielle Lazarin

Daniel: Short stories, when done right, leave you wanting more. I demand novels featuring all of the women found in Danielle Lazarin’s incredible debut collection Back Talk. There’s not a bad note in any of these stories.


Adam Vitcavage: Across nine exquisitely surreal stories (out Feb. 20 from Spiegel & Grau), Sachdeva covers a wide array of characters and settings. The opening story is about a pioneer woman longing for her husband who is away. The title piece is set in modern day war-torn Africa. A later story takes you to the future. Like all good collections, her stories are thematically cohesive. They explore large-scale influences like nature and religion and how they influence us on an everyday basis. Reading the book reminded me of the sci-fi anthology television series “Black Mirror.” Everything is always seemingly normal, but just a little off kilter.


Daniel: Talking Pictures by Washington Post film critic Ann Hornaday is essential reading for film buffs. Hornaday dissects filmmaking into its distinct characteristics and explores what critics think about when watching and reviewing a movie. What choices did a director make that paid off (or didn’t)? How much does star power matter when it comes to casting? How do sound, cinematography, and colors work together? Hornaday also includes plenty of examples of both good and bad films, and each chapter will likely make you think about classic movies (or guilty pleasures) in a fresh way.


Eat the Apple by Matt Young

Daniel: Judging by Matt Young’s writing prowess in Eat the Apple (out Feb. 27 from Bloomsbury USA), he could have easily written a more linear, and perhaps more tongue-in-cheek, war memoir that would have fit in nicely with some of the other veteran literature we’ve read the past couple of years. However, owing to his literary chops, Young played with form, structure, point-of-view, and, I’m assuming, his own memories to produce a searing, brutal look into American men at war. I couldn’t help but think of Joshua Mohr’s memoir Sirens while reading Eat the Apple because of how much honesty and thoughtfulness Young brings to moments that read more like Bukowski fiction rather than real life.


The Leavers by Lisa Ko

Daniel: I don’t know what took me so long to read Lisa Ko’s National Book Award-nominated debut The Leavers, but it was well worth the wait. The novel starts with Deming Guo’s undocumented immigrant mother, Polly, leaving for work at a nail salon and never coming home. Ko switches perspectives between Daniel, the name a foster family bestows on Deming, and Polly, whose disappearance is more layered than you can possibly imagine. Needless to say, both characters lives are upended and shaped by this initial act, and their paths are infused with longing, disappointment, anger, regret, and resentment. Ko, of course, offers timely commentary on immigrant life in today’s United States, but also astutely discusses how those themes collide with family, friendship, and finding your true self.


Thief in the Interior by Phillip B. Williams

Daniel: I thought poet Phillip B. Williams’ was a powerful read before I heard him read “Bound” aloud on a recent podcast episode (see below). That’s what I love about poetry; whatever is on the page isn’t static. There’s not only a symbiotic, and constantly changing, relationship with the author and his words, but also a completely independent one that exists between the finished poem and the reader. Williams’ collection Thief in the Interior has a chameleon-like skin, seemingly changing colors and styles line by line, poem by poem. Williams, during our chat, said that poems are never finishedthey’re just eventually “abandoned.” That’s certainly not the case for the reader. You’re going to want to keep the poems in this collection around for a good long while. 


All the Castles Burned by Michael Nye

Adam: Male adolescent friendship is very rarely portrayed in fiction. Well, it is. But usually their friendship has to be tied to the extraordinary. It’s about finding a kinetically gifted stranger or battling Pennywise the Clown. That’s not so much the case for Nye, who uses basketball and distant fathers to link his main characters together. We follow them in high school during the 1990s and then again decades later. The two bounce from brother-like friends to violent adversaries and back in this quick, yet challenging, read.

Read Adam’s interview with Michael Nye in Electric Lit.


Daniel: I started reading Danielle L. McGuire’s At the Dark End of the Street: Black Women, Rape, and Resistance after Oprah mentioned Recy Taylor in her powerful Golden Globes speech. The book not only sheds light on the sexual violence that black woman faced in the Jim Crow South, but also provides an exploration of Rosa Parks’ life before she changed history on a bus in Montgomery, Alabama. This isn’t easy reading by any means, and it shouldn’t be. The #MeToo and #BlackLivesMatter movements exist for a reason, and both organizations (as well as the NAACP) have roots that go back farther than you might imagine. As Oprah said, Recy Taylor died at 98 without receiving any kind of justice for the horrendous, inhuman crime inflicted on her. Maybe if we look back for at least a few minutes before setting our sights on the future, we can institute positive change for all minorities going forward. (We’ll also need a government that has actually read a book, but that’s a different story).


Daniel: Yes, David Litt’s memoir about his time as one of President Barack Obama’s speechwriter is cheeky, informative, and a much-needed dose of hope (there’s that word again!) for today’s bleak political times. However, more importantly, Litt answers one of the most important questions of any age: where are the best bathrooms in the White House and the West Wing?


Self-Portrait with Boy by Rachel Lyon

Adam: Set in 1990s Brooklyn, Lyon’s main character accidentally takes a photograph of a boy falling to his death. The rest of this debut novel shows what decisions an artist has to make when someone else’s tragedy will be shown to the world. The book allows readers to question what they would do when art and tragedy collide. It had me reminiscing about the Falling Man photograph from 9/11. It’s an interesting book for any writer who may or may not be inspired by someone they know.


Feel Free by Zadie Smith

Daniel: Even if the essays in Zadie Smith’s new collection Feel Free weren’t thoughtful and brilliantly written (they are), Smith’s forward would be worth the cost of the book and then some. “Reading involves all the same liberties and exigencies as writing,” Smith writes. She also warns against being ambivalent “in the face of what we now confront.” Hear, hear!


Bookstore Corner

By Kew and Willow, a Queens, N.Y., bookshop

Holly Nikodem

The Inquisitor's Tale by Adam Gidwitz is one of the most engaging middle grade books I've ever picked up. The sheer amount of research Gidwitz did to tell this story of three saintly children and one holy greyhound in medieval France is astounding. On top of that, though, the writing is incredibly clever, the story is funny, moving, and fast paced and it never feels bogged down or heavy because of the subject. The pages are also illuminated like a medieval manuscript, so the book is beautiful as well as entertaining.

The Best We Could Do by Thi Bui is a graphic novel memoir in which the author tries to understand her place as a new mother, and in the world at large, by exploring her family's escape from South Vietnam in the 1970s. It is incredibly insightful and beautifully drawn. It captures the unsettling creep of war very well, how the family observed small changes, and sometimes large ones, over time that finally culminated in the realization that they would need to leave their homeland. I wound up crying on a bus as I finished this book the first time I read it, and I only had the advanced reader's copy at the time, with pencil sketches in place of actual art.

Vina Castillo

Did You Ever Have a Family by Bill Clegg is beautiful yet devastating novel. Almost immediately, I found myself completely immersed and connected to each character as they try to overcome a tragic loss. Each chapter is told from a different perspective, it was so engaging and, in a sense, enjoyable to put the pieces together and see how they interconnected in the end.

A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara is an 814-page book that’s tough emotionally but completely worth the heartache. Ninety percent of the time I read a passage/page and had to close the book because I was blown away by the amazing writing; Hanya is phenomenal. I advise having a box of tissues next to you at all times!

Natalie Noboa

Having read Every Day by David Levithan a few years back, I’m not surprised to say that it still sometimes finds its way back to me. I love it (and you should too) for a few different reasons. The romantic storyline feels typical of any young adult novel but asks us a difficult question: what do we fall in love with, the body or the mind that lives there? Can we even separate the two? The writing is unpretentious and easy to fall into (which is probably one of my favorite things about reading YA—it almost never seems like they’re trying too hard to impress). Finally, there’s the fantastical aspect of it. I know usually we’re looking for an explanation of what’s happening and how it works, but Levithan doesn’t give that to us; it’s left to the reader to think about the mechanics of it. While for some it might be frustrating not to know, for me it’s always been a treat to flex my imagination muscle.

To learn more about Kew and Willow, visit its official website or read Lindsey Wojcik’s feature on the store!


NovelClass

NovelClass is now its own podcast! Listen to Dave Pezza’s introduction and all of Season 1 on iTunes and Spotify! Also stay tuned for information for the live Season 2 premiere in Providence, R.I., later this month (where Dave and a panel of experts will be discussing Stephen King’s The Shining).

Book Review: What Happened by Hillary Rodham Clinton

By Melanie Padgett Powers

Let’s face it: You probably aren’t going to read Hillary Clinton’s book What Happened unless you are already a fan, or at the very least, like her and trust her. So, I’ll address those potential readers.

The simple brilliant title, What Happened, could be read with a question mark and multiple exclamation marks at the end or as a simple statement: Let me tell you what happened. The book mostly focuses on the latter approach. I doubt Clinton has ever been this open. I don’t mean to imply I think she’s been dishonest in the past. But this book has freed her to say whatever she wants. She’s never running again for political office, and she can do and say about anything. She embraces that opportunity, which is refreshing.

She also feels relatable, believe it or not, as she says what so many of us have been thinking. She questions why the media gave Trump a free pass, especially in the beginning, treating him like a sideshow that was fun to cover until it was too late. She calls Trump a “creep” after he stalked her around the stage in the second debate. She reveals how furious she was at FBI Director James Comey and how devastated she was on election night and the weeks to follow.

She also takes responsibility and blame, particularly on how she handled her email scandal. My favorite parts of the book are her personal stories and her insider political tales. I love the stories she tells about her and Bill, and I laughed at her tales of watching HGTV obsessively and her strong desire to throw the remote at the television whenever she heard another Trump scandal or lie. 

It took me a month to read Clinton’s book because I stopped midway through for a few weeks when it got a little bogged down in policy. Clinton’s a lawyer and a wonk, and she goes into great detail about her never-realized plans for the economy and jobs, but also describes point by point how Russia influenced our election.

What Happened didn’t make me feel better about who was elected president, but it made me smile as I got to know Clinton a little better. And I found a little peace that she too felt the same feelings that many of her supporters had been and are still experiencing.   

More From the Writer’s Bone Library

19 Books That Should Be On Your Radar: October 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.

The Last Ballad by Wiley Cash

Daniel Ford: You can tell from the opening lines of The Last Ballad that Wiley Cash had this story in his bones. Based on true events, the novel tells the story of a fateful (and deadly) mill strike in Gastonia, North Carolina. Shifting between the perspectives of all those involved, Cash explores themes that are as alive today as they were in the 1910s.

On a recent podcast episode, Cash said he was chasing Ella May’s ghost the entire time he was writing the novel. That passion and research led to one of the most unforgettable and empathetic main characters you’ll read in fiction this year. If the book only focused on her, it still would have been great, but, to Cash’s credit, May’s supporting cast is just as finely drawn.

The Last Ballad is a special book, one that I think readers will fall in love with. Cash does the Southern storytelling tradition proud, and he adds even more to the remarkable fiction coming out of that region in the last couple of years.

Sean Tuohy: In the summer of 1987, a killer stalked the streets of New Bedford, Mass. He targeted young women who were addicts. He preyed on them, killed them, and left on the side of the road. In Boyle’s riveting narrative, the killer, a lurking, sinister figure, is left in the background. The author focuses on the victims, their family members, and the town itself. Boyle writes with a passion that shines in each passage, and she shares the pain of the victims.

Have You Met Nora? by Nicole Blades

Daniel: One day I’ll get to tell you my reaction to the final scenes of Nicole Blades’ cheeky and engrossing novel Have You Met Nora? Just know it made Blades “LMAO” in an email chain. Doesn’t get much better for a reader (or writer)!

We’ve come to expect great fiction out of Blades, and this novel is no exception. Have You Met Nora? (out Oct. 31) features a freight train plot and well crafted characters who deliver lines of sassy dialogue as if they were lightning strikes. Issues of identity, race, friendship, and family are all explored without beating you over the head with a blunt instrument. Blades gets bonus points for using punctuation in her title! 

bone by Yrsa Daley-Ward

Daniel: I didn’t realize the recent paperback release of Yrsa Daley-Ward’s bone features 40 more pages of poetry not included in the original 2014 release until after I finished the collection in roughly one sitting. It says something about Daley-Ward’s talent that a publisher signed off on an expanded edition given today’s publishing market! What’s interesting is that none of these poems feel added on or misplaced (I can’t even imagine the process involved in narrowing them down for the first launch). The collection’s title is apt considering that each poem seems to be stripped down to only its essential components, reveling in their devastatingly honest and personal nature. There’s one section of a poem called “things it can take twenty years and a bad liver to work out” that could serve as a mission statement for most creative types:

There are parts of you
that want sadness.
Find them out. Ask them why.

Indeed.   

My Absolute Darling by Gabriel Tallent

Daniel: Gabriel Tallent's debut contains gut punches for days and will make you slam it down more much often than you anticipated. However, you'll keep picking up, sucking the marrow out of Tallent's prose. Turtle Alveston is a heroine for the ages, and the author gets inside her head in a way you won't find in any other fiction. My Absolute Darling also features one of the sweetest and well-earned denouements I've ever read.

Sing, Unburied, Sing by Jesmyn Ward

Gary Almeter: I read this book immediately after Gabriel Tallent's My Absolute Darling (see above). Sing, Unburied, Sing is also about a child, in this case, 13-year-old Jojo, let down and abused by parents. Jojo is a resilient and caring young man; his wisdom beyond his years is due in large measure to the patience of his grandfather, Pop, with whom he and his 3-year-old sister Michaela live, and the fact that he is tasked with caring for Michaela whenever their mother leaves them for days at a time. Jojo's white father, Michael, is at Parchman prison, the same prison Pop spent time in decades ago.

The whole book is teeming with ghosts. Leonie's brother was murdered and haunts her whenever she gets high; the rural Mississippi setting is haunted by the oppressive and omnipresent legacy of racism; Pop had a friend at Parchman prison whose memory stays with him. Woven into these ghost stories is a road trip to Parchman to retrieve Michael upon his release. The journey becomes a nightmare as everyone learns that there are absences that can never really be filled and ghosts that can never be outrun. Jojo perseveres nonetheless.

Read Adam Vitcavage's  interview with Jesmyn Ward .

Read Adam Vitcavage's interview with Jesmyn Ward.

Once We Were Brothers by Ronald H. Balson

Sean: Ronald Balson does not waste any time. He quickly pulls the reader into the story and allows his characters to build over the course of the story until they are almost too real. After a Holocaust survivor accuses one of the city's wealthiest men of being a Nazi, it’s up to a burned out lawyer to find the truth. Rich in history, Once We Were Brothers is a wonderful tale.

Hollywood Homicide by Kellye Garrett

Daniel: Kellye Garrett's debut novel Hollywood Homicide is such a fun read. In Dayna Anderson, Garrett has created a sassy, determined, and sometimes confused heroine that will be entertaining readers for plenty of beach "Days" to come. Every supporting character is a gem, and the plot moves along like a binge-worthy TV dramedy. Garrett's voice is a welcome breath of fresh air, and I can't wait to see what it has to say next.

Daniel: Vanessa Grigoriadis' distinct voice and empathetic, curious reporting are used so well throughout Blurred Lines, a book that delves into the myriad issues surrounding campus rape in the United States. Grigoriadis tackles everything from "Mattress Girl" to Rolling Stone's errant reporting during the University of Virginia rape controversy and the new age of consent to Donald Trump. The author/journalist interviewed hundreds of people, including students, parents, administrators, lawyers, and advocates, and that dogged reporting led to an even-tempered (though not unemotional) narrative our polarized electorate desperately needs.

One of the most refreshing things about Grigoriadis' work here is her ability to include comments, research, observations, and facts that questioned her beliefs or hypotheses. She didn’t pretend to have all the answers or discard information because it didn’t fit into a concrete mold she decided on long before writing the book. Journalism like this is of the utmost importance because of our current political climate. Read this book and recommend it to others.

Daniel: There’s a reason Kat Howard is one of our favorite authors (check out her “Author’s Corner” below). She delivers opening lines like the ones found in her new novel An Unkindness of Magicians.

The young woman cut through the crowded New York sidewalk like a knife. Tall in her red-soled stilettos, black clothing, that clung to her like smoke, red-tipped black hair sharp and angular around her face. She looked like the kind of woman people would stop for, stare at, notice.

None of them did.

Yeah, we can get down with that. What we’ve read so far of An Unkindness of Magicians proves why Howard has amassed the following she has. This fantasy thriller, which features competing magicians fighting to preserve (or maybe it’s to demolish) the magical system that binds the world, is the perfect read headed into the Halloween season.

Dreamfield by Ethan Bryan

Daniel: I found myself grinning ear-to-ear reading fellow 50/50 Press author Ethan Bryan's debut novel. I think Sid Sanford and his main character “Ethan” would get along just fine. Ethan finds himself transported back to high school, where he has a chance to relive his dream of being a star baseball player (yes, Bryan made me an offer I couldn’t refuse). Part “Field of Dreams,” part “The Rookie,” Dreamfield is a fun meditation on time, religion, family, and baseball.  

Uncommon Type: Some Stories by Tom Hanks

Daniel: There is officially no limit to Tom Hanks’ talent. In his debut short story collection (out Oct. 17), the actor brings all of the traits that define him on the silver screen: honesty, irreverence, humor, and unending empathy and passion. Be warned, this is absolutely one of those collections that will cause you to stay up way past your bedtime and mutter, “Okay, just one more.” If these are the types of stories we can expect from Hanks and his typewriter in the future, we’re all very lucky readers.

Author’s Corner

By Kat Howard, author of An Unkindness of Magicians

Good Bones by Maggie Smith

I try to always have one book of poetry that I’m reading. This is the sort of collection that I’ll turn to again and again. Smith’s writing is clear-eyed, precise, and full of beauty. It gives me hope.

From the Dust Returned by Ray Bradbury

One of my very favorite books, and a quintessential October novel. Haunted and full of melancholy, it is also gorgeously written. I mean, it’s Bradbury.

All Our Pretty Songs by Sarah McCarry

The first of the completed Metamorphoses trilogy, it’s myth and Seattle and brilliant and a book I’ve reread at least once a year since it came out.

From the To Be Read pile:

Ask Baba Yaga: Otherworldly Advice for Everyday Troubles by Taisia Kitaiskaia

Okay, so maybe Baba Yaga doesn’t spring immediately to mind as the sort of person you’d go to for life advice. But I loved this column when it ran on The Hairpin, and I’m really looking forward to picking this up.

Tales of Falling and Flying by Ben Loory

Ben’s first collection, Stories for the Nighttime and Some for the Day, was a book I absolutely adored. He writes strange tiny gems of things, and I can’t wait to see what he’s done here.

Her Body & Other Parties by Carmen Maria Machado

Okay, no one needs me to tell you to read this collection, because it is winning all the awards, getting rave reviews, and is one of the most buzzed about books of the year. If you’ve ever read Machado’s writing, you know the praise is deserved. If not, you are in for a treat.

#NovelClass

Dave Pezza and Daniel Ford discuss Tom Perrotta’s Mrs. Fletcher.

17 Books That Should Be On Your Radar: August 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.

Hum If You Don't Know the Words by Bianca Marais

Daniel Ford: “Just one more chapter,” I told myself. “Okay, one more…fine, last one, I need to work in the morning. This is really the last one…”

You’ll find yourself having the same conversation with…yourself while reading Bianca Marais’ sparkling and superbly structured debut novel Hum If You Don't Know the Words. The novel, set in Apartheid-era South Africa, alternates perspectives between Robin Conrad, a nine-year-old white girl leading a comfortable life, and Beauty Mbali, a Xhosa woman living in a rural village. Robin and Beauty’s worlds intertwine following the Soweto Uprising. Robin’s parents are murdered and Beauty’s daughter Nomsa disappears. Robin is taken in by her hard-drinking, jet-setting aunt, while Beauty relentlessly searches for her missing daughter.

One reveal after another in this novel just wowed me. Every chapter hooked you right into the next one. I revisited the book while writing my review and my heart got stuck in my throat all over again! Robin and Beauty are at times both incredibly strong and dangerously fragile. The supporting cast helps illuminate the two women’s struggle to realign their lives and provide insights into the segregated and racist world they’re living in. Hum If You Don't Know the Words is a master class in fractured familial drama and should be on the top of your reading list headed into the fall.

The Late Show by Michael Connelly

Sean Tuohy: The reigning king of detective fiction recently published his 30th book and added a brand new character for the modern era. Renée Ballard is a driven young detective who is exiled to the night shift, known as “the late show” at the LAPD’s Hollywood division. After witnessing a victim take their last breath in the aftermath of a brutal nightclub shooting, Ballard sets out to find the killer, even if it means risking her career. The author meets his high standard, as usual, and mixes together Los Angeles, compelling characters, and a driving plot line. The Late Show further proves why Connelly is the king of crime fiction.

Fierce Kingdom by Gin Phillips

Daniel: The premise of Gin Phillips’ recently published novel Fierce Kingdom is chilling: a mother and son are trapped in a zoo during a mass shooting. While the plot does make your heart race, it’s the relationship between Joan and Lincoln that will keep you flipping pages. Not only does Phillips establish them as characters quickly and efficiently, she also gives them depth typically lacking in this kind of thriller. Lincoln isn’t just an annoying kid who provides comic relief; he has real issues and motivations that test Joan’s ability to keep him safe. The supporting cast could have easily been cardboard cutouts by comparison, but it’s to Phillips’ credit that she burrows deep within the people Joan and Lincoln come in contact with. The situation is terrifying, even considering that these events have become commonplace in the United States. Phillips’ character work distinguishes Fierce Kingdom as a thriller of the highest order.    

Of Mess and Moxie by Jen Hatmaker

BookTrib: Part self-help and part inspirational, Of Mess and Moxie (out Aug. 8) is all about inspiring women to embrace struggle and recognize that they’re strong enough to overcome almost anything. Told with a blend of humor and personal stories, Hatmaker offers advice and inspiration, showing readers how to consistently find their inner strength.

Killerjoy by Jon Negroni

Daniel: Jon Negroni can flat out write. He knows how to build a world and suck you right into it. As I’ve mentioned, I’m not the biggest fantasy aficionado, but I couldn’t help but get swept up in Negroni’s characters and narrative. He has a remarkable vision for this project, and if the rest of the series reaches the heights established here, fantasy readers are in for something special. My fellow 50/50 Press writer-in-arms is an author to watch, and Killerjoy should be on your bookshelf ASAP.

A Clean Kill in Tokyo by Barry Eisler

Sean: Zero Sum, the ninth book in John Rain series, was released in June, so I figured I'd swing back and start with the first novel in the long-running book series about the half-American, half-Japanese assassin who makes his kills look natural.

This is a stellar thriller. A fast-paced, but well thought out plot line mixes well with layered characters against the fantastic Tokyo backdrop. Eisler quickly shows the reader that he is a top-notch thriller writer.

The Road to Concord by J.L. Bell

Daniel: J.L. Bell is a Massachusetts writer who runs the terrific history blog, “Boston 1775.” His book, The Road to Concord: How Four Stolen Cannon Ignited the Revolutionary War, features everything that makes Bell’s site great: accessible writing style, innovative historical storytelling, and a fresh perspective on events that occurred nearly two-and-a-half centuries ago. The Road to Concord focuses on how four stolen cannons (that British general Thomas Gage was desperately, and perhaps foolishly, trying to recover) may have helped spark the American Revolution. The narrative features colonial hijinks, high political drama, and Revolutionary War heroes not often discussed alongside Washington, Adams, and Jefferson. The Road to Concord is refreshingly original and structured like a thriller. Learning about what led the British and the colonies to war has never been this much fun.

All the Bayou Stories End With Drowned by Erica Wright

Daniel: During our recent podcast chat, Erica Wright told me it’s likely that people who say they don’t like poetry just haven’t found the right poem yet. Well, let me tell you, the poems you’ll find in her new collection are indeed the right ones. From her fiery, apocalyptic opener to the eponymous entry that inspired the collection, All the Bayou Stories End With Drowned showcases a poet in firm command of her genre. There’s such depth of character and snappy dialogue that you’ll think you’re reading a short story at times. You’ll marvel at how Wright packs so much heart and fury into such a concise structure. I have a whole new appreciation for modern poetry, and will likely seek out other poets thanks to this collection.

Mrs. Fletcher by Tom Perrotta

BookTrib: It’s all about discovering new parts of yourself in Perrotta’s novel about a mother and son who are thrust out of their comfort zones in various ways. For the 40-something Eve Fletcher that means a sexual awakening that’s connected to the idea of herself as a MILF. And for her son, Brendan, it means readjusting his expectations as he leaves home for his first year at college.

I Was Told to Come Alone by Souad Mekhennet

Daniel: I’ve been tweeting out how much I love Souad Mekhennet’s I Was Told to Come Alone: My Journey Behind the Lines of Jihad for a month. Mekhennet, an Arab-German journalist for The Washington Post, gives an honest and passionate account of her upbringing and journalism career. While her background gave her opportunities to discover stories that may have gone otherwise unnoticed, she also had to hurdle plenty of discrimination (both racist and sexist) in order to get those stories told. This memoir also provides a different perspective on Sept. 11, the War on Terror, and the fight against ISIS, one that’s much more nuanced than the current daily headlines. Mekhennet puts a very human face on both sides of this seemingly endless conflict, and her tenacity keeps her asking that all-important question: why? I Was Told To Come Alone should be required reading at journalism schools. All schools, actually. Read this book.

The Weight of Blood by Laura McHugh

Daniel: This novel is going to unsettle your senses from the get-go. Set in the Ozark Mountains, The Weight of Blood features a shadowy, absent mother, a ritualized murder, and a young woman coming of age in a secluded area with an alcoholic father. McHugh writes atmosphere so well, and the Ozarks provide the perfect tableau for this kind of storytelling. Secrets abound in this novel, and you’ll be white-knuckling it long into the night (yeah, you’re not going to sleep, don’t even try).   

Author’s Corner

By Bianca Marais, author of Hum If You Don’t Know the Words

Into the Forest by Jean Hegland

While on tour two weeks ago, I visited the fabulous Copperfield's Books in Healdsburg for an event. They were kind enough to allow me to pick a book in the store as a gift from them, and so I did what I always do: I asked a bookseller for a recommendation.

Emily suggested Into the Forest, saying that the author was local and that it was one of her favourite books, and so naturally, that’s the one I chose. I’m so glad I did, because I absolutely devoured the book that tells that story of two sisters, Eva and Nell, whose worlds are turned upside down when sickness and anarchy rage across the United States as it’s on the brink of collapse. The description appealed to me because I so thoroughly enjoyed Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel, which was also a favourite of Katie Smith’s, another wonderful bookseller at the store.

Hegland is a masterful storyteller who has written a page-turner that is both lyrical and challenges everything you think you know about society.

A House Among the Trees by Julia Glass

I’ve been a fan of Julia Glass’s since her Three Junes won the National Book Award in 2002. I’ve read all of her books multiple times and was very excited to hear that she had a new one coming out in July called A House Among the Trees. I was planning to buy, it but was given it as a gift by another fabulous bookstore that I visited while on tour, Towne Center Books. And it wasn’t just any copy; it was an autographed copy which made it even more special!

I’m halfway through it and absolutely loving it. Glass has a way of immersing you in her books so that you feel as though you’ve known the characters your whole life. In this, her fifth novel, she tells the story of the unusual bond between a world-famous writer and his assistant. I can’t wait to finish this but I’m trying to read it slowly to savour it.

A Distant View of Everything by Alexander McCall Smith

I haven’t gotten to this one yet, which is another book in the Isabel Dalhousie series that takes place in Edinburgh, but I love everything Alexander McCall Smith writes. I’ve become even a bigger fan of his since my 12-year-old goddaughter, Anya, who lives in Edinburgh, recently went to home to give him my book in the hopes that he might blurb it.

When she knocked on his door, instead of his being annoyed at the intrusion, he invited her (and her mother who was hiding behind the bushes around the corner) inside, offered them tea and even gave them a few autographed copies of his books. He then sent me a lovely email when he didn’t have time to blurb the book before the deadline.

Two for the Road

Two books that I also haven’t gotten to yet, but that I’ve heard amazing things about, are The Elephants in my Backyard by Rajiv Surendra and Everybody’s Son by Thrity Umrigar. I’ve bought them both and am looking forward to diving in shortly.

#NovelClass

Dave Pezza and Daniel Ford discuss Rachel Khong’s Goodbye, Vitamin. Also read author Julie Buntin's review in June's "Books That Should Be On Your Radar."

The 10 Best Books of 2017 (So Far)

By Adam Vitcavage

The first half of 2017 brought an onslaught of so many terrific novels and short story collections, ranging from newcomers fresh off of getting their MFAs to the master of short stories finally releasing a novel. Then there were translations of beautiful work that introduced Americans to incredible writers from places like Argentina and France. Needless to say, regardless of what type of fiction you like, there was something for you to devour in the past six months. Here are 10 I read, couldn’t stop thinking about, and continually suggest to friends, families, and strangers.

One of the Boys by Daniel Magariel

An unnamed boy narrates the story about his father’s journey after a divorce. The boy and his older brother have been told countless times how evil their mother is. However, it turns out that the father is an addict and it’s all his fault. That’s the basic premise of Daniel Magariel’s debut. However, that doesn’t do the book justice. His novel is written with such heaviness in such a short amount of pages. He doesn’t waste time, and though your read can be over in less than a day, the content will stay with you long after.

Read my interview with the author.

Finding a distinct voice is the first benchmark any great writer must accomplish. Chanelle Benz, author of The Man Who Shot Out My Eye Is Dead, has created more than just a voice to stand out from the crowd. She’s created 10.

The stories in Benz’s debut collection are told from perspectives ranging from an eighteenth-century slave to a baroque-style piece told in the collective We. The book begins with a non-traditional western that pulls readers in close, then follows up with a contemporary story of family and violence that is just as gripping. It’s not just the wide-ranging eras and plots that make each story stand out; it’s the carefully crafted voices. Benz is a trained actress who learned presentation is everything when it comes to captivating an audience, and she translated that skill into her writing.

Read my interview with the author.

American War by Omar El Akkad

This literary speculative fiction is one I keep thinking about over and over. It’s set in 2074-2095 and there’s another American Civil War. A young girl sees the horrors of life and grows up fighting. The steps Sarat takes in life can be viewed as heroic or villainous. This book follows her arc from innocent child to what a human can be turned into during a time of war.

Homesick for Another World by Otessa Moshfegh

Eileen, Otessa Moshfegh’s debut novel, was one of 2015's best books. Even though her current short story collection was highly anticipated, it somehow sneaked up and surprised me. It’s filled with 14 bleak stories about offbeat loners, liars, and less-than-perfect people. The writer's grip on these unsteady characters is stellar; she never makes a farce of their desires. Even though she pushes the boundaries with expectations, the fringe-ness of Moshfegh’s stories are reeled back in by the protagonists. Expect the unexpected, as cliché as that sounds.

Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders

George Saunders is already one of the most prolific writers of this generation. His short stories have captivated the world for two decades. Since the release of his first collection, CivilWarLand in Bad Decline, in 1996, Saunders has published numerous books of prose, including the 2013 critical darling Tenth of December. This year, we finally have his first full-length novel, Lincoln in the Bardo. It’s the type of book only a master craftsman like Saunders could pull off.

The story, which tracks President Abraham Lincoln on a visit to the grave of his recently deceased son, is narrated largely by ghosts in the cemetery. At 60,000 words, this isn’t a traditional novel by any means. Expect to be tested by the writer’s prose and style.

Read my interview with the author

Black Moses by Alain Mabanckou

Technically this book may have come out in 2016, but the English translation came out recently and I devoured it. The French language is beautiful, but the prose is still gorgeous in this story. Tokumisa Nzambe po Mose yamoyindo abotami namboka ya Bakoko a/k/a Moses grows up in an orphanage and turns to life in the underground crime world of the 1970s and 1980s.

Things We Lost in the Fire by Mariana Enriquez

Enriquez’ stories are vibrant depictions of her native Argentina, mostly Buenos Aires, as well as some ventures to surrounding countries. She fills the dozen stories with compelling characters in haunting stories that evaluate inequality, violence, and corruption. Characters range from social workers to street dwellers and even venture into dark magic users. With those characters, the author explores tourists in Argentina, the rich visiting the slums, and so many more dynamic areas of her home country.

Read my interview with the author

No One is Coming to Save Us by Stephanie Powell Watts

The characters’ desires in this novel purposefully echo the ones from F. Scott Fitzgerald’s classic The Great Gatsby. The parallels between the two works themes are obvious, but do not go into this thinking it's a retelling. Watts has crafted her own world built on rich characters and eloquent prose.

Read my interview with the author.

What It Means When a Man Falls from the Sky by Lesley Nneka Arimah

It’s mesmerizing what Arimah can do with a seemingly traditional idea and stretch it into something distinct. Stories include a generational tale about ghosts of war, a father’s attempts to protect his daughter, a woman desperate for a child, and more. However, there is much more to these stories than a simple fragmented synopsis. For instance, the mother who wants a child weaves one out of her hair. Get ready to be wowed by these stories.

Marlena by Julie Buntin

When high schooler Cat meets Marlena, her world changes. She experiences a series of firsts thanks to her new friend, but then Marlena ends up dead. This leaves a lasting mark on Cat and the story shifts from that year to decades later. Half of the novel is an ace coming-of-age story. The other enlightens readers on what happens after.

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.   

16 Books That Should Be On Your Radar: April 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.

Faces in the Crowd by Valeria Luiselli

Daniel Ford: Of all the Valeria Luiselli titles author Josh Cook recommended during our live podcast at Porter Square Books, of course I would choose the one with the F train on the cover.

Subway aesthetics aside, Luiselli’s inventive and trippy debut novel is everything you want in a genre-bending story. Is the main character the young woman navigating New York City while championing an obscure Mexican poet? Or is it the poet himself, a man in search of himself while destroying his family? Or, better yet, is our hero a mother juggling her matriarchal and literary responsibilities (while her marriage seemingly slips through her fingers)?

The more I read this novel, the less I cared about any of those questions. Reading Luiselli’s perfect sentences and reveling in the scenes (both large and small) she built was reward enough. Whether it was a Harlem sidewalk, a family’s home, a subway platform, or a character’s daydream, Luiselli crafted a world that felt intimate, lived in, and familiar.

I have more of her oeuvre to catch up on, but if this is the kind of work I can expect, then I’m going to have to revisit my upcoming reading list. There’s also a good chance Luiselli becomes a staple on “Books That Should Be On Your Radar.”

An Exaggerated Murder by Josh Cook

Daniel: Speaking of Josh Cook…

It was a real treat to sit down and pick his brain a couple weeks ago (along with Sirens author Joshua Mohr) about his writing process and his reading recommendations.

Like most trips to Porter Square Books, it ended with me walking out with an armful of fiction. The best part was Cook signed my copy of his novel An Exaggerated Murder and used a plethora of profanity.

I wasn’t surprised when the novel turned out to be a smart, fresh take on the detective genre. Cook’s characters are wonderfully flawed, earnestly eccentric, and hopelessly rationale in the face of a “stupid crime.” The pages start flying immediately, but make you take some time and truly appreciate the craftsmanship that went into this novel. We can’t wait to read what Cook writes next!

(P.S. The author will graciously sign a copy of the book provided you order it from Porter Square Books. Profanity costs extra.)

No One is Coming to Save Us by Stephanie Powell Watts

Adam Vitcavage: The Great Gatsby is one of the most read books in all of American literature. For better or worse F. Scott Fitzgerald’s novel has been a cornerstone of what the American Dream is and what it can do to people. Stephanie Powell Watts’ No One is Coming to Save Us is a profound novel that explores the similar themes Fitzgerald's classic work laid out.

Make no mistake, this isn't merely a retelling of the Jazz Age classic; it is unique and only borrows Gatsby’s mindset. Set in North Carolina, Watts’ novel is about a man returning home to build his dream house to woo his long lost love. Unlike Gatsby, this novel explores America through African-American eyes, and we see factories crumbling and Jim Crow still lingering.

Watts’ prose eloquently takes us on a journey of loss and hope. What stands out even more than her beautiful writing is her rich characters that are some of the most memorable of recent years. Make no mistake, this book deserves to be taught in high schools as much as any other right now.

The Wanderers by Meg Howrey

Daniel: When astronauts reach for the stars, who gets left behind on Earth? That’s the essential question Meg Howrey explores in her recently published novel The Wanderers.

Let me set the scene before I delve into this book’s eclectic cast of characters. A trio of astronauts is handpicked by a private space company to train for a potential mission to Mars. If all goes well, the group goes to Mars. If not, who knows. As thrilling as that sounds, and it is despite some of the monotony the space “wanderers” face, their thoughts are more tied to Earth than ever before in their career.

Everyone in this novel is searching for something, and likely nowhere close to finding it. Helen, a weathered, super-competent veteran of the U.S. space program who is much more at home in the cosmos, struggles to push away thoughts of her sad adolescence and loveless marriage. Her dramatic daughter “Meeps” grieves over the freak death of her father while also fearing for her mother’s safety, finding acting success, and developing a relationship in an unexpected place. Dmitri, whose astronaut father Sergei provides both comic relief and mild paranoia, unconventionally explores his sexual identity. And Yoshi, the crew’s third member, battles his own tortured past while also trying to emotionally connect with his distant, yet equally brilliant wife, Madoka.

That sounds like a lot of characters to juggle in one novel, but Howrey shifts perspectives so subtly and smoothly at exactly the right moments that you won’t have trouble keeping up with the novel’s events. If you’re anything like me, you’ll finish the last pages and think, “Wait, that’s it? I want more!” Trust me, do yourself a favor, spend some time with your head in the stars and read this book.

What it Means When a Man Falls From the Sky by Lesley Nneka Arimah

Adam: So far, 2017 has seen an incredible amount of short story collections. Add Lesley Nneka Arimah’s What it Means When a Man Falls From the Sky to that growing list. Familial connections tie these stories together, but stylistically the stories vary from sort of science fiction to modern realism.

It’s mesmerizing what Arimah can do with a seemingly traditional idea and stretch it into something distinct. Stories include a generational tale about ghosts of war, a father’s attempts to protect his daughter, a woman desperate for a child, and more. However, there is much more to these stories than a simple fragmented synopsis. For instance, the mother who wants a child weaves one out of her hair. Get ready to be wowed by these stories.

The Whore's Child by Richard Russo

Daniel: “Just one story,” I told myself. “You have a reading list a mile long and the third season of ‘Grace and Frankie’ just dropped on Netflix. You don’t have time to read more than one story.”

Well, not for the first time, I lost an argument with myself and ended up reading every story in Richard Russo’s short story collection The Whore’s Child in 24 hours. Also not surprising, Russo’s empathetic—and often hilarious—style translates beautifully to the shorter storytelling format.

The real stand out in the collection is the eponymous “The Whore’s Child.” The story features an older nun who crashes a creative writing class and slowly realizes a painful family truth while writing a “fictional” memoir. The story shamelessly fiddles with your heartstrings, but it also offers biting meta-commentary on the writing process. Paired with Luiselli’s collection, The Whore’s Child should give you all the literary inspiration you need to craft your own short stories.

The Stand by Stephen King

Mike Nelson: The Stand is much more than a prerequisite to Stephen King’s Dark Tower series, though that’s the catch that influenced me to dive in last summer (really hope my brother wasn’t lying to me about that, though it’d be a great prank). Yes, I wrote, “last summer,” and, yes, I know this column is meant to focus on books you recently read...we’re getting to that.

King takes readers on an epic, near-biblical journey through his version of the apocalypse, where forces of good are left to square off against forces of darkness in a battle for the earth’s soul. Or a battle for like, the western half of the United States, if you want to be super literal about it. Sitting at approximately a million pages and taking half-a-year for a very casual reader who stops to read other books in-between (out of necessity, I swear), The Stand is much more about the journey than it is the conclusion. As the world flirts with its desistance, how many of its occupants will seek to grant it an extension, and how many others will resign to fate no matter how dark?

If you don’t fear death...if you feel like you have everything in control...if you think humans are intrinsically good, spend some time with The Stand and tell me you feel the same. Or if you’re more like the man they call Trashcan Man, maybe just read it because you like to watch things burn.

The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach

Adam: Every year, April brings the welcome return of baseball in America. You better believe there is some “best baseball books” list that makes the rounds (even I wrote one on my blog in 2014). There’s a reason The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach gets recommended on every literature blog this time of year. It’s one of the best “baseball” books published. 

While the game plays a major role in this novel, it’s really about a young man’s evolution at a small college in Wisconsin. As the story progresses, baseball fades into the background for the majority of Harbach’s book as he explores sexuality, Moby Dick, confidence, and so much more.

Mad Men and Politics, co-authored and -edited by Lilly Goren

Daniel: I don’t need a good excuse to re-watch “Mad Men,” but I’m glad my recent podcast interview with Lilly Goren provided one. Goren appeared on the podcast recently to promote the thoughtful collection of essays she co-authored titled, Mad Men and Politics: Nostalgia and the Remaking of Modern America.

From Goren’s essay “If You Don’t Like What They Are Saying, Change the Conversation” The Grifter, Don Draper, and the Iconic American Hero” to Linda Beail’s “Invisble Men: The Politics and Presence of Racial and Ethnic ‘Others’ in ‘Mad Men,’” Mad Men and Politics takes a deep dive into how Matthew Weiner’s hit show depicted—both successfully and, some would debate, incompletely—corporate culture, machismo, feminism, race, family, war, and identity during the 1960s. Everything from Don Draper’s gray flannel suit and Joan Harris’ pen necklace to Peggy Olson’s rise and Bert Cooper’s stodginess are explored for political, sociological, and psychological context—both for that decade and our current era.

After reading these essays and re-watching a few episodes of the show, I’m reminded that in politics and culture it seems like everything has changed and nothing has changed. Obviously we’ve made strides as a society, but at the same time, we seem to be spinning our wheels with the same issues depicted in the show. Like any good academic or critical writing, Mad Men and Politics will force you to keep asking questions, and make you even hungrier to find the answers.

Dark Money by Jane Mayer

Daniel: Dark Money by New Yorker staff writer Jane Mayer is essential reading for anyone baffled or troubled by what’s going on politically and culturally in this country. The exploration into where all the “dark money” being funneled into our political system comes from starts with a furrowed-brow meeting with some of the richest people in the United States (and the globe) after President Barack Obama’s victory over John McCain in the 2008 election. This powerful cabal vowed to finance the opposition to the new President through any means (legal, illegal, shadowy, etc.) necessary.  

However, as chilling as the details of that meeting are, it’s nothing compared to Mayer’s investigation into how families like the Kochs made their fortune and then wielded it like a weapon in order to advance a deeply conservative agenda. All of the information Mayer finds is unsettling. From the Koch brother’s father building oil refineries for the Nazis to the DeVos family buying millions of dollars worth of influence, Dark Money makes clear that the radical right is more or less a collection of talking points and sacks of cash.

To be sure, the Democrats would love to have a system this sophisticated and efficient. And if they had anything close to this kind of organization and money, they’d never lose another election again, and a few marginalized groups of citizens might actually get help purely by happenstance. However, a radical wing of the GOP—that believes in a hyper-nationalist, super-racist, and downright grim view of America—has hijacked our political agenda, and is well funded, in large part, by a very small group of individuals.

Dark Money may be uncomfortable reading, but we’re never going to break out of our current political paralysis by avoiding the truth.

The Good Assassin by Paul Vidich

Daniel: I got sucked into Paul Vidich’s The Good Assassin—the follow up to the author’s excellent debut spy thriller An Honorable Man that hits shelves April 18—just as easily as George Mueller gets suckered into doing yet another shadowy errand for the CIA.

Vidich’s Cold War setting feels immediate because of the political shenanigans currently infecting the United States. The author turns up the heat in The Good Assassin—literally and figuratively—by dropping his character in Havana before the fall of Cuban dictator Fulgencio Batista. Mueller is investigating Toby Graham, a potentially corrupt and treasonous CIA operative, who our hero has known since college.

A gripping plot combined with Vidich’s signature understated prose and tortured characters makes The Good Assassin a worthy follow up to An Honorable Man. It’s a novel that should be under your arm as you head to the beach this summer (or while swirling a glass of dark alcohol in a plush chair by the fire).

Author’s Corner

Dimitry Elias Léger isn’t just one of our favorite authors, he’s also one of our favorite readers. He sent over a lovely photograph from Geneva of his current book pile for this month’s Author’s Corner. This is what reading should look like!Daniel Ford

Pictured: Mohsin Hamid's  Exit West , Viet Thanh Nguyen's  The Sympathizer , Paulo Coelho's  The Spy , and Geoff Colvin's  Humans Are Underrated .

Pictured: Mohsin Hamid's Exit West, Viet Thanh Nguyen's The Sympathizer, Paulo Coelho's The Spy, and Geoff Colvin's Humans Are Underrated.

Dimitry Elias Léger is the author of God Loves Haiti. To learn more about Léger, listen/read our podcast and print interviews with the author.

#NovelClass

Listen to Dave Pezza and Daniel Ford’s discussion about Lisa Gardner’s novel Right Behind You.

17 Books That Should Be On Your Radar: March 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.

Setting Free the Kites by Alex George

Daniel Ford: Like Sean Tuohy, I have a soft spot for coming-of-age tales. They can leave a lasting impression on a reader if done well, and Setting Free the Kites is a shining example. I finished the novel in two sittings. I just couldn’t get enough of it, even when it was slamming my heart up against the wall.

The novel, which is set in a small town in Maine, opens with Robert Carter getting the snot kicked out of him by his nemesis. Nathan Tilly, the new kid in town, puts the ogre in his place, and then, naturally, becomes Robert’s best friend. Rather than put these two through the normal paces of adolescent life, George ups the ante by having the pair deal with one tragedy after another. Nathan’s father, who shares the same joie de vivre as his son, falls to his death early in the novel, and Robert’s brother slowly wastes away from degenerative muscular dystrophy.

However, while the novel squeezes a reader’s heart in a half a million ways, it never completely breaks it. There’s this underlying optimism and hopefulness that bubbles up. Whether rocking out to Liam’s beloved rock ‘n’ roll vinyls or getting the “it girl” to notice them at their job at Robert’s father’s amusement park, these two incredibly well crafted characters find joy in even the darkest corners. (But rest assured, you’ll be weeping in buckets by the end. Trust me, don’t be a hero, buy extra tissues.)

Like any worthy coming-of-age story, there isn’t one character you fall completely in love with. There are multiple characters you root for whether or not you’d want to be in same room with them for more than five minutes. Setting Free the Kites is a tender, funny, and passionate read, and I plan to follow George’s work for years to come.

The Refugees by Viet Thanh Nguyen

Daniel: Viet Thanh Nguyen’s The Sympathizer clocked in at #2 on our “Best Books of 2016” list (oh yeah, and won a Pulitzer Prize). The Refugees, a short story collection, is almost assured a spot on our 2017 list.

Set in both Vietnam and the United States, the eight stories (written over a period of 20 years) in this collection empathetically and honestly depict the global immigrant experience. Through an unforgettable cast of characters, Nguyen explores homosexuality, old age, healthcare, family, friendship, love, marriage, parenthood, and identity.

Nguyen’s prose makes one think of Alice Munro (featured in Nicole Blade’s “Author’s Corner” below) because of its earthiness and its ability to craft profound revelations out of the most ordinary of lives. He is an essential voice in these troubled political times.  

All Grown Up by Jami Attenberg

Stephanie Schaefer: In an era where almost 40 percent of young adults live with their parents, student loan debt is at an all-time high, and more and more people are delaying marriage—or rejecting the union altogether—it makes sense for a modern coming-of-age novel to focus on a 39-year-old protagonist. 

Jami Attenberg’s All Grown Up offers an un-sugarcoated commentary on adulthood in the 21st century. Written from the perspective of Andrea Bern, a flawed, almost-40, New York City dweller with as much baggage as JFK Airport, the novel deals with issues including addiction, depression, terminal illness, and what it means to be a woman who refuses to follow the status quo.

I enjoyed Attenberg’s eloquent writing style and her ability to be both raw and poignant at the same time. Essentially, All Grown Up reads like a grittier “Sex and the City”—that is if Carrie Bradshaw traded her shoe addiction for alcoholism, and if instead of Mr. Big she craved a series of one-night-stands in order to fill a void stemming from a broken childhood. 

Dark at the Crossing by Elliot Ackerman

Daniel: Boy, can Elliot Ackerman write. His debut novel, Green on Blue, was one of our favorite reads of 2015, and left us wanting so much more from the author. Ackerman’s sophomore novel, Dark at the Crossing, didn’t disappoint, and features a novelist fully growing into his literary powers.

The book centers on Haris Abadi, a wayward Arab American, who is attempting to cross the Turkish border into Syria to fight against Bashar al-Assad’s regime. As the title suggests, things don’t go according to plan (even though Abadi doesn’t have much of a plan to begin with). He finds shelter with a troubled and broken Syrian couple, Amir and his wife Daphne, and becomes embroiled in their complex relationship. All three are searching for something; something that beckons from beyond a border they struggle to cross (both metaphorically and physically).

Ackerman’s gift for prose and dialogue are on full display. He crafts a brutal love story and also beautifully depicts a violent part of the world largely misunderstood by those on the outside of the battle lines. Much like Green on Blue, Dark at the Crossing is a must read for anyone attempting to further their understanding of the Middle East, as well as our shared humanity.   

Forty Acres by Dwayne Alexander Smith

Daniel: Cancel all your plans before you sit down to read Dwayne Alexander Smith’s exceptional thriller Forty Acres. It’s constantly surprising, and you will not want to put it down once the pages start turning.

After up-and-coming attorney Martin Grey scores a surprise legal victory over a much more heralded rival, he’s invited to an exclusive club by some of the most prominent members of the black community. Grey finds himself on a private jet headed to an undisclosed hideaway founded by an eccentric, shadowy figure. Instead of nature hikes and burly masseuses, Grey discovers something far more insidious. Within the complex, white men and women are enslaved, bending to their black “masters” every whim and desire. The young, idealistic lawyer has to grapple with his racial identity, his country’s violent racial past (and present), and the true nature of power. And in true thriller fashion, his life, and that of his equally tenacious wife, depends on his finding answers as fast as humanly possible.  

Smith’s novel has trace DNA from Nelson DeMille’s The Charm School and constantly surprises. It asks big questions that readers will chew on long after the novel finally unshackles them.

One of the Boys by Daniel Magariel

Adam Vitcavage: Daniel Magariel’s debut novel (out March 14) is an emotionally packed exploration into family, negligence, and addiction. It’s only around 170 pages, but is still able to pack in so much ethos because of the writer’s sense of urgency. An unnamed 12-year-old boy narrates the novel, and we discover he and his older brother live with their father. After a bitter divorce—dubbed “the war” by the father—the trio heads to New Mexico for a fresh start. The happiness fades when violence and drug addiction begin to surface. Magariel’s plot and prose make this a memorable book that will leave you emotionally numb well after the last page is finished.

Exit West by Mohsin Hamid

Daniel: What kind of life can be lived in a war zone? Can new love find a spark? Can familial love sustain? What would one give up to walk through a door leading to escape? What life can be lived on the other side? 

These are the questions Mohsin Hamid attempts to answer in his incredibly moving, romantic, tender, and violent novel Exit West (out March 7). His narrative centers on two of the more original characters you’ll find in today’s fiction. Saeed, a sensitive and religious young man backed by a supportive family, and Nadia, a headstrong, independent woman who broke free from her family to establish an independent life on her own terms, kindle a romance that becomes more and more complicated as their country descends further and further into armed conflict. Their bond is tested and redefined when they are offered a chance at escape, and an entirely new story, one just as fraught and questioning, begins. 

This all sounds heavy, and it is, but Hamid tells the tale with such a deft and warm hand that your heart swells much more than it breaks. There are several laugh-out-loud moments that remind you that humor and love exist even when surrounded by humanity’s worst instincts. Exit West is a special novel, one that should be celebrated and embraced by readers of all nationalities, races, and creeds. 

Ill Will by Dan Chaon

Adam: The premise of Dan Chaon’s third novel (out March 7) is titillating and enthralling. Thirty years ago, a boy named Dustin told police his adoptive brother Rusty was behind the massacre of their parents, aunt, and uncle. Now, Dustin is a physiologist and Rusty has been exonerated by DNA evidence. Their two lives have been defined by the murders and are about to collide again. What Chaon does is take this dark, twisted story, and adds subtle twists to the narratives he unfolds with precision. The author manipulates how we are fed information: he uses traditional forms like flashback, but also allows one narrative to be told through first-, second- and third-person points of view. With Ill Will, Chaon has mastered the psychological thriller novel.

The Weight of This World by David Joy

Daniel: As you may already know, author David Joy is a Writer’s Bone favorite. He’s on our masthead (his essay “One Place misUnderstood” is not to be missed), we adored his debut novel, Where All the Light Tends to Go, and his Twitter feed is a must-follow. Even if all of that weren’t true (and he wasn’t a fan of Jefferson’s, one of our favorite bourbons), we’d still crow about his beautifully destructive second effort, The Weight of This World (out March 7).

This novel, set once again in the mountains of North Carolina, features Thad Broom, an Afghan war vet, and his best friend Aiden McCall. The pair is bound together by much more than mere friendship, and find out just how strong those ties are after they witness a drug dealer kill himself, leaving behind a pile of drugs and cash. As the two men decide what to do next, Thad’s mother April, deals with her own trauma as she prepares to leave the only home she’s ever known—one scarred by violence and anger.

Joy puts his main characters through hell, but it’s not hell for its own sake. There’s a purpose to every sentence and every line of dialogue Joy writes. He’s searching for answers to deeper truths about violence, trauma, and family; it just so happens that his path to answers tends to lead down the barrel of a gun.

Additionally, without giving anything away, The Weight of This World features one of the best, and most satisfying, endings to a crime fiction novel I’ve ever read. Joy was nominated for an Edgar Award for his first novel, and there’s no doubt in my mind he might find himself walking back home with one this time around. 

Adam: Boris Fishman’s two novels—2014’s A Replacement Life and 2016’s Don’t Let My Baby Do Rodeo—both landed on The New York Times 100 Notable Books the year they were released. Last year’s Rodeo is about a young Jewish American couple who immigrated to the United States from Eastern Europe. Their adoptive son is obsessed with nature and is almost a wildling. The story unfolds with the couple’s journey to Montana to discover why their son is the way he is. Fishman’s sense of humor is sprinkled through this absurd, but very serious, novel as he explores themes of identity, nature-versus-nurture, and genealogy.

The Shooting by James Boice

Gary Almeter: From its jarring opening sentence to its poignant conclusion, The Shooting fully and unrelentingly immerses the reader in gun culture. It does so in ways large and small, addressing the larger Machiavellian components of our nation's preoccupation with guns and fashioning small narratives of the individuals affected by gun violence. It is an epic story and one of the simplest too.

Three characters—the reclusive erratic scion of a wealthy family, a staunch anti-Second Amendment advocate whose daughter was murdered in a school shooting, and the teenage son of immigrant—all collide following one incident in New York City. The stories of these characters leading up to this moment are engrossing, and the paths these characters take after the incident will challenge what you think you know about America. 

This is one of the best books I have ever read.

Author’s Corner

By Nicole Blades

In honor of Women’s History Month, I decided to keep my “Books You Should Already Own Because Whaaaat Why Haven’t You Read Them Yet?” list limited to women writers. And the good news is, this wasn’t a challenge. The work that women fiction writers have been and continue to put out there is pure fire! Love story? We got you. Thriller? On it. Young Adult charmer? Here you go, buddy. Whatever you have a hankering for, there are long lists of exceptional books written by a woman from which to choose and devour. For me, the work was trying to limit this list to five books. But that’s another story that involves my—ahem—acute bibliosis (just pretend, okay?). Here are five books I’ve read in the last five years that you’ll want to have on your shelf too.

Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Whenever someone asks me for a book recommendation, this is one of the first that comes to my lips. It’s a love story, but that’s just one of the many rich layers to this novel. It’s also a story about belonging, home, loneliness, and being a black woman in a country that often acts like you’re not there. Plus there’s so much wit and heart here that you’ll find yourself head-back laughing one minute and then shouting “I know, right?!” the next.  But that’s the magic of Adichie. She is so focused on telling rich, real stories that you can see yourself on these pages. And even when you don’t see “you” in the story, the characters are authentic while also being complex and human that you are pulled into their world and perspective. It’s all very captivating.

Everything, Everything by Nicola Yoon

It’s a girl-meets-boy story, yes, but there’s nothing typical about it. For starters the girl, Madeline Whittier, is mixed race—African American and Asian. Also, she has a rare disease called severe combined immunodeficiency (SCID) that makes her essentially “allergic to the world.” The boy, Olly, is her new neighbor, and their meet-cute happens from behind the glass of their distant bedroom windows. From the first line in, you’ll be rooting for Maddy. You want all good things for her, even though she’s enduring this unlivable, limited life trapped in a virtual bubble. The dialogue is snappy and smart, and the characters and their relationships feel real. Plus, there are these darling illustrations sprinkled throughout the book that add yet another layer of sweetness to this wonderful story.

Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty

I read this one last summer knowing that the HBO adaptation was coming in early 2017. And since I’m one of those “gotta read the book first!” types—and I hadn’t been pulled into a dark, buzzy, page-turner mystery since maybe Gone Girl—I picked up the heavy hardcover and jumped right in. I’m happy to say, Big Little Lies was the first book in a long while with a twist that I never saw coming. When I got to the particular page near the end, I literally sat up in my bed with my jaw dropped. Having that “No. Waaaaaaaay!” moment was a real payoff.  It’s gossip and secrets and schadenfreude; all the ingredients for a classic beach read.

The Turner House by Angela Flournoy

Full disclosure: I know Angela in real life. She went to college with my sister. But even if she were a stone-cold stranger, I would still sing this book’s praises. Well-drawn and engrossing—while tackling some pretty heavy topics like mental health and addiction and the 2008 housing crisis as well as the knotted ties that bind a family—The Turner House is poignant, entertaining, heartfelt and haunting. It’s ambitious, but takes such care with the finer details while being beautifully written. A fascinating family saga that almost dares you to put it down. (Don’t take the dare, though. You’ll lose!)

Any Book by Alice Munro

Okay, fine. It’s kind of cheating, but it’s not really because, come on. This is Alice Munro we’re talking about here. Alice Munro, aka Great Fellow Canadian/Master of the Short Story/Winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature. I’m a loyal fan of Munro and her work. She’s permanently installed at the top of my list of favorite authors, and I’ll often pick up one of her collections at random times through the years to read a short story or two. But for the purposes of staying true to this “five for five” list, I’ll highlight her most recent release, Dear Life. It’s her thirteenth collection, but it’s as sharp and compelling as her first. The stories make the lives of ordinary people extraordinary.  And isn’t that the very definition of what good fiction is? I’ll answer for you: Yes. Now, if you really want to get on my bad side, ask me to choose one of her short stories as my all-time favorite. (I’m already frowning at you now, so don’t bother.)

Nicole Blades’ next book, Have You Met Nora?, will be released Oct. 31. Her latest novel, The Thunder Beneath Us, is available now wherever books and e-books are sold. Catch Nicole and her sister Nailah on “Hey, Sis!,” their brand new podcast about women finding their focus and place in business, art, culture, and life.

Learn more about Blades by visiting her official website, liking her Facebook page, or following her on Twitter @NicoleBlades, Instagram @nicole_blades, and Goodreads. Also read Lindsey Wojcik's interview with the author.  

#NovelClass

In the second installment of #NovelClass, Dave Pezza and Daniel Ford discuss Edie Meidav’s Crawl Space.

5 Short Story Collections by Women of Color You Need to Read Right Now

By Adam Vitcavage

Literature, for so much of its history, has been dominated by white men. The non-official canon boasts the likes of Twain and Hemingway to Chabon and DeLillo. In high school, while reading Fitzgerald, Miller, Steinbeck, and so many other white men, Harper Lee was the lone female that all of my friends seemed to have read. In college, I was obsessed with Salinger, Roth, Cheever, and Updike; enough so that I not so jokingly referred to them as The Beatles of American Literature.

Over the past couple of years, I spent time shying away from the traditional heavyweight white male writers, and sought out female writers. It’s easy. So many of my recent favorites (Jennifer Egan’s A Visit from the Goon Squad and Hanya Yanagihara’s A Little Life, to name a few) have been by women.

In addition to seeking well-written books by talented women, I also wanted to broaden my horizon even more by reading people of color. Again, this isn’t hard. So many of the most talent writers—Colson Whitehead, Jesmyn Ward, Aravind Adiga—are people of color who have written books that blew me away.

Recently, I had the chance to interview Mariana Enriquez—an immensely talented fiction writer and journalist who is Argentinean. Her most recently short story collection was translated into English and published as Things We Lost in the Fire this month.

Enriquez’ stories are vibrant depictions of her native Argentina, mostly Buenos Aires, as well as some ventures to surrounding countries. She fills the dozen stories with compelling characters in haunting stories that evaluate inequality, violence, and corruption. Characters range from social workers to street dwellers and even venture into dark magic users. With those characters, the author explores tourists in Argentina, the rich visiting the slums, plus so many more dynamic areas of her home country.

In December 2016, The New Yorker published “Spiderweb,” a story about a bad relationship growing more difficult. The story is a prime example of how Enriquez explores political themes, as well as her penchant to focus on the horrors of life.

The collection got me thinking about other short story collections by women of color I enjoyed recently. For the sake of saving (digital) space, I limited this to five recommendations that have been recently published. But, believe me, there are plenty more.

The Man Who Shot Out My Eye is Dead by Chanelle Benz

This collection of short stories succeeds in creating visceral voices over the course of centuries. Chanelle Benz is able to engage readers in invigorating stories about a 16th century monk to a 19th century baroque piece narrated by a chorus of We. "The West of Known,” the opening story, garnered Benz a lot of recognition when it was first published in The American Reader. The story earned her an O. Henry Prize and is an astonishing piece to introduce yourself to her writing. "James III" is a modern piece about violence and family that is narrated from the perspective of a high school freshman in Philadelphia. However, what stands out about Benz's writing is not the thought provoking plot; instead, it is the voice she is able to give James. He feels so real. So do all of her other narrators. Each one is a unique human who really lived. They're not just characters in a short story collection.

What is Not Yours is Not Yours by Helen Oyeyemi

Chances are you’ve read this book. It made nearly every “Best Of” list for 2016. But I’m here to make sure the rest of you who might have missed this collection why it’s great. While all of the collections I’m recommending are illuminating, I want to highlight Helen Oyeyemi’s originality and prose. Her novels are imaginative and she was able to take her toolkit and adapt them for stories extremely well. Throughout the collection, she uses keys and locks—figuratively and literally—as a foundation to hold the stories together. She’s able to produce expansive worlds in a limited space better than most writers are able to create in a full-length novel. She bends narratives’ structures until they nearly snap.

Whatever Happened to Interracial Love? by Kathleen Collins

Kathleen Collins might not be a name you recognize. She was a playwright, filmmaker, writer, and an African-American civil rights activist who died in her forties in 1988. So why is this 27-year-old white guy, whose life never overlapped with the author’s, writing about her? A collection of her stories called Whatever Happened to Interracial Love? knocked me on my ass, that's why. Her sixteen stories offer poignant insight into everyday life for African-Americans in the ‘70s and ‘80s. Collins earnestly invites readers into intimate stories like they were lifelong bosom buddies. The ease of the author’s writing balances the explosive content filling the collection, and while these stories are decades old, their themes are more relevant than ever at the close of one of the most racially turbulent years in modern history.

Difficult Women by Roxane Gay

In Bad Feminist, a collection of essays, Roxane Gay wrote eloquently about race, feminism, poverty and more in an accessible way. She continues to use her strong voice in this collection of short stories that take those same themes and waves them into stories of resilience and power. She avoids stereotypes within character development as well as plot. Her stories truly reflect modern America through the lens of black women. It is an invigorating read that is eye opening and enlightening.

In the Country by Mia Alvar

Most of these collections can almost be used in history classes to educate students on regions the writers know best. Alvar writes about the Philippines with a raw authenticity through a variety of lenses. Much like Gay’s collection, Alvar’s covers many different aspects of life in the Philippines; especially her hometown of Manila. Families deteriorate because of trust, or they grow stronger because of love. A foreign model learns the hard truths about a town. A bullied little boy finds and loses hope in an unlikely place. So many of her stories reveal the underbelly of a region not many Americans, especially white men like myself, ever think about. However, even if you’ve never read about the topics Alvar writes about, there is a familiarity to her themes and writing that is welcoming for any reader.

More From the Writer’s Bone Library

16 Books That Should Be On Your Radar: February 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.

Lucky Boy by Shanthi Sekaran

Gary Almeter: To call this book a miracle is somehow an understatement, but it does achieve something miraculous. Sekaran has written a novel about immigration, the adoption of illegal immigrants' babies, the excesses of Silicon Valley, the Asian and Mexican immigrant experiences, marriage in the 21st century, and prison.

Even with the enormity of all that, the most compelling aspects of this novel are the simple love story and one immigrant mother's odyssey. Through it all, there are no heroes and no (well, maybe a few) villains. Everyone's hat is a shade of gray, and everyone elicits some sort of sympathy. I read this awaiting the ending—knowing that a happy ending was as close to metaphysically impossible as could be. The structure of that novel goes back and forth from Soli's story to Kavya's but the cadence never becomes repetitive. The author surprises you now and again and the writing is just too good to ever not be compelling.

What's also miraculous is the way Sekaran navigates all the worlds—the dusty village in Mexico, the sorority kitchen in Berkley, the Indian wedding, the Internet company's CEO's office. You walk through all these terrains as if you're really there.  And you find yourself questioning for whom you are cheering and why.

Days Without End by Sebastian Barry

Daniel Ford: Days Without End is a splendid novel from Irish author Sebastian Barry (who has twice been nominated for the Man Booker Prize). The novel follows Thomas McNulty as he comes of age in a violent era in American history. After surviving a harrowing journey from Ireland in the 1850s, Thomas finds himself signing up for the U.S. Army with his brother-in-arms John Cole.

As it turns out, John is more than just a friend or a close battlefield compatriot. Thomas and John are lovers, and their romantic bond is central to the novel rather than being vaguely alluded to or dismissed out of hand. In a recent interview (which ran in “Friday Morning Coffee”) Barry told me that his son coming out was a big inspiration for Thomas and John’s story. That influence shows in the tender and moving way he describes their love for each other. It’s made all the more poignant by Barry’s decision to tell the tale from McNulty’s point-of-view in a stream of consciousness that makes the novel’s events all the more immediate and crushing.  

Barry puts these two men through the ringer. They see all manner of death and destruction during the Indian Wars and the Civil War. However, there’s also a wealth of dark humor and empathy that permeate these pages. Days Without End deals with issues and themes that are set in the past, but are still relevant today in the United States and around the globe.

Selection Day by Aravind Adiga

Adam Vitcavage: Selection Day, the new novel by Man Booker Prize-winner Aravind Adiga, is the perfect novel for the post-2016 Election world our new President has created. Instead of shunning diversity, we should be embracing it. Agida’s novel takes place in his native Mumbai and explores a young boy’s life and how it is consumed by cricket (a sport we Americans know nearly nothing about). It’s not a sports novel by any means, but instead a witty social commentary on a corner of the world that has often been perceived in a cartoonish way by Westerners. The fascinating realism the writer provides for the setting makes this coming-of-age novel a richness that readers should welcome with open arms

Talking As Fast As I Can by Lauren Graham

Stephanie Schaefer: Reading this book was like grabbing coffee with an old friend—filled with laughs, advice, and plenty of sarcasm. I’ll admit that I was a late bloomer to “Gilmore Girls” fandom. Having only seen a few re-runs in high school, I started binge watching the series on Netflix just a few months ago in anticipation of Netflix’s reboot (I have since finished all 7 seasons + “Gilmore Girls: The Year in the Life “and am anxiously awaiting an announcement that they’ll be future installments *fingers crossed*).

Although it took me a while to jump on the Stars Hollow bandwagon, I instantly fell in love with Lauren Graham’s acting on NBC’s “Parenthood” (if you haven’t seen the show before, go watch it, but make sure you grab a box of tissues). I enjoy how Graham can effortlessly switch between comedy and drama in both beloved series. She doesn’t take herself, or Hollywood, too seriously, which is evident in her memoir (essentially, she’s the anti-Gwyneth Paltrow). In a world filled with political drama, I think Talking As Fast As I Can is just what we need: a lighthearted, unpretentious book to make as laugh and escape the tension of the last few months, if only for a few blissful chapters.

The Good Girls Revolt by Lynn Povich

Daniel: The Good Girls Revolt (the book that provides the basis for the Amazon television show) is essential reading for anyone with a judicious and rebellious heart. However, some of the early stats pioneering journalist Lynn Povich includes are shocking. She writes, “Until around 1970, “women comprised fewer than 20 percent of students in medical school, 4 percent of law school students, and only 3 percent of business school students.” Esh. 

The world began to change in the late 1960s and early 1970s in large part because of the women's movement. Povich, one of the women of Newsweek who sued the magazine for equal rights in 1970, spins a captivating narrative that details all of the obstacles women in the workplace attempted to vault over both legally and culturally. Based on myriad interviews with former Newsweek staff writers and editors, The Good Girls Revolt features one badass female writer after another, some of which never got to fully reap the benefits of the lawsuit they won. “When I found out the working conditions were illegal," Povich said in a recent interview with Writer's Bone, "I thought, oh my god, it’s a moral imperative that we do something.” 

The turbulent 2016 Presidential campaign and the conservative administration that resulted prove that the country has a long way to go in how it treats and values women. However, the size and fervor of the crowds during the Women’s March following Trump’s inauguration gives me hope that the ideals fostered by the women in Povich’s book are alive and well, and will give us all something to emulate and rally around in the days to come. 

Pachinko by Min Jin Lee

Daniel: It’s imperative we embrace all immigrant narratives during the next few years, but especially those as well written and sweeping as Min Jin Lee’s Pachinko (out Feb. 7). Lee’s novel follows generations of one Korean family, beginning in 1900s Korea. The narrative’s exquisite prose and well-crafted characters perfectly match Lee’s themes of family, love, and faith. The opening line sets the tone, both for the novel and our times:

“History failed us, but no matter.”

It’s in that failing that we discover who we are and who we care about. Lee’s novel may have been set from a Korean family’s point of view, but it could be any of our families. Familial bonds have a tendency to shape our identity and worldview, both for good and for ill, and Lee captures that tension and connection beautifully throughout Pachinko. I look forward to sitting down with the author to discuss her structure and character development later this month. 

Idaho by Emily Ruskovich

Adam: It’s easy for a psychological thriller to get lost in its own mystery. Some writers push plot twists down readers’ throats without worrying about much else. However, Emily Ruskovich’s debut is a high literary affair with lyrical prose and shifting perspectives that will live a lasting impression on its readers. Idaho is set in...well, Idaho. It explores a family torn apart by the murder of a child while another disappears. Fans of Smith Henderson’s Fourth of July Creek will experience a similar haunting feeling as these characters fall into the depths of despair. While the plot is extremely riveting, it is Ruskovich’s dedication to making her words leap off the page in a beautiful way that stands out. The juxtaposition of the horrors you’re reading and how breathtaking the prose makes this an early frontrunner for a future “Best Novels of 2017” list.

The Impossible Fortress by Jason Rekulak

Gary: The ‘80s were big for a host of reasons: big hair, big cell phones, big escapist television shows like "Dynasty," big concept albums like Paul Simon's "Graceland," big fears about Russia. But paradoxically, the decade was still small insofar as people still shopped in small stores on village main streets and people's obsessions were limited to that which could be covered by three networks and a finite number of media outlets; news spread slowly and stuck around for awhile.  When everyone talked about something, everyone talked about it for a long time.

Enter Vanna White's appearance in Playboy in May 1987. It was the only thing a 14-year-old boy could think or talk about for a month. Fourteen-year-old boys like Billy, Alf and Clark in Jason Rekulak’s The Impossible Fortress. The novel is the story of how they try to get a copy of that issue of Playboy so they can see ogle the “Wheel of Fortune” star. Rekulak does a spectacular job of recreating the ‘80s in all of its bigness and in all of its smallness. He does an even better job of recreating the world of a teenage boy—how they are simultaneously omnipotent and insanely vulnerable, and how their limitless dreams are limited by the logistics of adolescence. 

The writing is grand and filled with details that evoke a teenager’s mind: “Both of his parents worked—his father hung wallpaper and his mother was a secretary in a Realtor's office—so they were rolling in dough.”  Most importantly, Rekulak has created characters that are authentic and likable, which makes the book about much more than stealing a magazine to see Vanna’s hoo-hoo.  

Perfect Little World by Kevin Wilson

Adam: Kevin Wilson broke out onto the literary scene with a heartwarming and quirky family comedy. In Perfect Little World, he brings his sharp literary prose to a story with a plot that sounds like sci-fi: a commune where you live with your children, but they don’t know who their parents are. It’s clear that the author’s obsession with family is something he’ll continue to explore. Perfect Little World feels fresh every step of the way, at once breezy and thought provoking. His story is offbeat and wholly original. Even when the traditional tropes come into play, he puts an unorthodox spin on it that never makes them feel stale. In an interview with “Electric Literature,” the author expressed how important it was trying to avoid copying The Family Fang in Perfect Little World.

The Seventh Plague by James Rollins

Daniel: A missing archeology professor wanders out of the desert. His body is in a semi-mummified state and laden with clues about his disappearance. However, he unleashes an unknown, and possibly ancient, plague that threatens the globe. That’s the thrilling set up for James Rollin’s most recent Sigma Force novel, The Seventh Plague.

Readers are treated to mysterious assassins, a wise-crackin’ Kowalski, and Biblical mayhem in what should be yet another Rollins best-seller. His adventurous blend of science and history never fails to disappoint, and knowing the effort and dedication the author puts into his craft makes following Sigma Force all the more enjoyable. In our current political state, it’s also nice picking up a thriller that embraces and champions facts rather than cowers from them.

Oh yeah, Mark Twain and Nikola Tesla make an appearance and prove integral to the plot! We’re currently prodding Rollins to write a standalone buddy comedy featuring the famed author and inventor.

Lightwood by Steph Post

Daniel: One of the best things about interacting with as many up-and-coming authors as we do is seeing their work improve with each novel or short story collection. Steph Post’s debut novel A Tree Born Crooked was a lot of fun, but you could see how much potential she had to do even more with her prose and characters. She didn’t disappoint with her sophomore effort Lightwood!

Her main character, Judah Cannon, walks out of prison and right back into his family’s criminal enterprise. After a lucrative robbery goes sideways, Judah finds himself caught between his hillbilly king pin father, a disgruntled biker gang hell bent on recapturing its past glory, and a tyrannical, corrupt “lady preacher” who would be right at home on an episode of “Justified.”

Post is a natural fit for the “sunshine noir” genre, and Lightwood is getting great buzz from the crime fiction crowd. Don’t be surprised if Post is a household name by book three!

Desperation Road by Michael Farris Smith

Daniel: We do what David Joy says around here. (I also can’t wait to read this book!)

Author’s Corner

By Rory Flynn

The short days of a Boston winter call for compact, streamlined novels that can be read quickly, before it gets dark. We could turn on the lights, but that costs extra and thrifty New Englanders don’t splurge on lights or heat or food. Those are for libertines.

A short novel has to work like a little machine, with all the gears in place. But they also have to have enough depth to make them emotionally engaging. Here are some that do both.

The Devil in the Valley by Castle Freeman, Jr.

Castle Freeman Jr.’s deceptively simple retelling of the Faust legend, grafted to a flinty Vermont town, is a joy to read. He captures more in a few lines of dialogue than most writers can in several pages. While he may be best known for Go With Me, the cult classic favored by dark writers and readers, Freeman excels at capturing the darkness in broad daylight, the streaks of sin that run through even the most upright citizens. Confession: This novel is dedicated to me, and I couldn’t be more proud of it.

Hawthorn & Child by Keith Ridgway

Not all fictional cops act like real cops. And that’s good for readers, otherwise we’d live in a world of grinding procedurals. If you want to immerse yourself in cop reality, I suggest lighting a car on fire and waiting around to get arrested. You’ll get your fill of cops soon enough. That’s not a problem with Keith Ridgway’s twisted London cops, Hawthorn & Child, who seem as floaty and pleasantly surreal as an afternoon on codeine. Legendary bookseller Tom Wickersham recommended this one, and he’s never steered me wrong. I’m halfway through and this subversively absurd novel just keeps getting better.

Mothering Sunday by Graham Swift

Look out. It’s literature. No cops in sight here in Graham Swift’s earthy gem of a novel. I loved Waterland, his weirder and slightly longer novel. But Mothering Sunday is a textbook study of beautiful writing, indelible characters, and precise delineation of a lost era. I actually forced myself to stop reading so that the book would last longer. I went to one of Swift’s readings about a decade ago and he read so fantastically well that he restored my faith in bookstore events.

The Sympathizer by Viet Thanh Nguyen

Deserved winner of the 2016 Pulitzer, Viet Thanh Nguyen’s The Sympathizer (which checked in at #2 on Writer’s Bone’s “Best Books of 2016” list) could very easily have been a compressed novel in the style of The Quiet American. Saigon falls. The defeated Vietnamese decamp to California. Dissent in the ranks leads to murder and a return to Southeast Asia and new disasters. Most of these historical plot points are explored well in the many, many fine Vietnam-era novels, memoirs, and histories. (Dispatches, A Bright Shining Lie, et al). But luckily, Nguyen goes long, spinning out the story in vast swaths of smart, beautiful writing—the kind that makes even the most jaded reader notice. Though the end of the novel is telegraphed on the first page, I wanted to know how it all happened, even if it meant reading a longer novel.

Rory Flynn is the author of the Eddy Harkness series (the most recent entry, Dark Horse, is out in paperback from Mariner Books this spring), and a longtime friend of the Writer’s Bone podcast.

#NovelClass

Daniel Ford and Dave Pezza recently introduced #NovelClass, a new “Friday Morning Coffee” segment that features an in-depth discussion about a novel chosen by Writer’s Bone’s social media followers.

The first installment features Kevin Morris’ All Joe Knight, which was published December 2016 by Grove Press. (Be warned, this discussion contains spoilers.) 

To recommend their next read, email admin@writersbone.com

More From the Writer’s Bone Library

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

More From The Writer’s Bone Library

After All This Time: Harry Potter and the Cursed Child

By Rachel Tyner

As a child, I stayed up all hours of the night under my covers with a stolen flashlight, reading whatever books I could get my hands on. Some of my earliest memories are not actually my own personal memories, but random bits of dialogue and the adventures of my favorite characters.

When Harry Potter came into my life, nothing was ever the same. I remember lying on the floor, my feet kicked up against the wall, reading for hours at a time. I was totally immersed and time flew by. Periodically I would nervously eyeball the pages to see how far along I was in the book, breathing a sigh of relief if I was still less than halfway.

I will always be incredibly thankful for those books. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows was published in 2007, the summer before I started college. It seemed appropriate. Finally, "All was well," and it felt like the right time to shut the metaphorical door on the Harry Potter world. 

That brings me to Harry Potter and the Cursed Child. If you truly love the world that JK Rowling created nearly 20 years ago, then chances are you have read the script by now. If not, I urge you to do so. Here's why.

When I opened my long awaited Amazon package to find the bound script, I got goose bumps. However, I knew it wouldn't be the same. I went into it with no expectations, and honestly, I enjoyed it. It was different from the seven novels and certainly incomparable. I read one N/A star review that just said, "It's just a thing that exists and I'm accepting it for what it is." I think that pretty much sums it up.

At its worst, it’s not as well written as the original series, it’s cheesy (the "I love you" scene with Harry and Dumbledore would never happen), the plot has a lot of holes, and the characters are over the top. 

At its best, it’s Harry Potter. If you need more convincing than that, I'm not so sure you are quite the fan you think you are. Sure, you notice the inconsistencies and cringe at some parts, but you don't really care. That's not really the point. The point is that you're 27 years old and you’re holding in your hand something you never thought you would ever get to hold again. An unread, untouched, 308 pages of "Harry Potter and the..." with JK Rowling's name on it in that same magical font.  Suddenly you feel 8 years old again and you’re using your imagination. A part of your brain you thought maybe you had lost in between paying electrical bills, saving for a house, and figuring out your 401k.

"After all this time?"

"Always."

7 Books That Should Be On Your Radar: September 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.

Everyone Loves You Back by Louie Cronin

Daniel Ford: Louie Cronin’s debut novel Everyone Loves You Back features everything I could ever want in a novel: Angtsy radio personalities, a bumbling love triangle, a fight with encroaching hipsters, and a New England sensibility. Yes, perhaps I’m biased because the book is set in Cambridge (where I work and across the river from where I live) and Cronin was the producer on “Car Talk,” one of my all-time favorite podcasts, but that doesn’t change the fact that the writing contained in Everyone Loves You Back is top notch. Main character Bob Boland, a humble radio show producer (something else I can also relate to), is trying to hang onto his neighborhood’s identity in the face of “urban treehuggers and uppity neighbors," while also attempting to bed two women after a small lifetime of loneliness and jazz on vinyl. It doesn’t help matters that his buddy Riff’s show, as well as the small radio station as a whole, is in a constant state of flux, or that one of the women Bob desires happens to work with him and the rest of the overnight crew. Wonderful shenanigans ensure (I also wouldn’t come to this novel hungry; Bob likes to eat).

Everyone Loves You Back is a breath of fresh air in the literary market. It’s so hard finding solid, heartfelt prose like this these days. The novel almost had a throwback feel to it; I can almost imagine it being produced as a mid-1990s dramedy (More crunchy and serious than “Wings,” but perhaps featuring a similar amount of mom-jeans and baggy shirts). As I wrote in my interview with the author last month, “Cronin’s passion for storytelling and bubbly optimism is infectious, and translates to every page of her fun debut novel.” Everyone Loves You Back is sarcastic, warm, earthy, and real. Be ready to shower it with plenty of literary love when it comes out on Oct. 21, 2016.

Read Daniel Ford's  interview with Louie Cronin .

Read Daniel Ford's interview with Louie Cronin.

Come Twilight by Tyler Dilts

Sean Tuohy: The Long Beach Homicide series reinvigorated my passion for the detective stories. Dilts breathed new life into the slowly decaying genre by refreshing the key elements all detective yarns need—interesting characters, a new city or culture to explore, and a solid who-done-it—and putting a modern spin on a gumshoe’s life.

In Come Twilight, we find an author firmly living up to all the potential we saw in the first three books of the Long Beach Homicide series. Danny Beckett's life is going well for the first time in a long time. He's got love in his life, giving him something to wake up for besides his job (which he’s still really good at). Of course, Beckett’s peace (although it’s still a begrudging peace on his part) is disturbed by trouble early on in the novel when someone tries to blow up his car.

Danny wants to put everything on the line to find out who is after him, and try to regain that peace, but is largely sidelined because he’s the victim for once and not the objective, determined investigator. This brings a completely new set of issues that Danny has to wrestle with, which is a perfect match for Dilts’s sensitive, conflicted prose. We’ve been saying Dilts is an author to watch since we started Writer's Bone. It’s time you started paying attention.

The Cursed Child by J.K. Rowling, John Tiffany, and Jack Thorne

Daniel: Yeah…

Listen, I loved being dropped in the world of Harry Potter again after all this time. I got goosebumps thinking about the gang at Station 9 ¾, I enjoyed seeing all of them become the corporate drones so many of us become after heroic beginnings (even if those heroics happened in your backyard while pretending you’re saving Lois Lane from harm), and I enjoyed the smaller moments between characters like Harry and his troubled son Albus.

But, whoa boy, does that storyline suffer from some serious high school creative writing class blues. Time travel plots? Was the ideas cupboard that bare? The Cursed Child was an amnesia subplot away from being an episode of “24.” And Ron, who I’ll admit wasn’t exactly my favorite character in the original series, is depicted as a cartoonish buffoon. I wouldn’t spend five minutes alone with his Dad jokes. The dialogue between all of the characters seemed forced and corny at times, the already meager plot kind of petered out at the end, and I felt more relief than satisfaction when I closed the book.

The Cursed Child isn’t as awful by any means, and it’s certainly worth a read. I also think it may benefit from a live performance; maybe something is getting lost in translation on the page and would be better suited to the stage. If nothing else, The Cursed Child will remind you how much you loved reading the original series, and may inspire you to pick up Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone and begin again (which I promptly did).

Bobby Kennedy by Larry Tye

Daniel: There’s something to be said for writing a fair, balanced biography—based on more than 400 interviews and prodigious secondary reading—and walking away a bigger fan of your subject than when you started. Larry Tye managed to do just that with Bobby Kennedy.

Being a liberal Democrat from New England, I am also predisposed to liking the Kennedys, however, I always find myself more interested in their faults than in their glossy, somewhat manufactured public image. Tye strips away all those public perceptions and really gets to the heart of who Bobby Kennedy was and why he mattered. From working with Joseph McCarthy (!!!) and rooting out organized crime to leading John F. Kennedy’s successful Presidential campaign (at an insanely young age), serving as U.S. Attorney General, and being elected to the Senate from New York State, Bobby Kennedy undergoes personal and political transformations that culminate in his spirited, and, in the end, tragic 1968 campaign for President. He’s quotable, shaggy-haired, and fiercely dedicated to his family and his country. As Tye points out, RFK would be skewered in today’s political climate for his evolving views on a whole host of issues, but his legacy should provide evidence that good politicians can change over time without being burned in effigy or eviscerated on social media.

Again, Bobby Kennedy is incredibly balanced, meticulously researched, and totally engrossing. It is not to be missed.

Read Daniel Ford's  interview with Larry Tye .

Read Daniel Ford's interview with Larry Tye.

Where Men Win Glory by Jon Krakauer

Sean: Jon Krakauer wonderfully tells the tragic story of Pat Tillman, the NFL player who gave up a $3 million dollar contract and joined the U.S. Army in the days following 9/11.

The book bounces between Tillman's life and the earlier events in Afghanistan—the Soviet invasion, the rise of the Taliban—and then details how Tillman’s life ended following the U.S. invasion. The following cover-up by the Army regarding Tillman's death by friendly fire, and how government officials tried to benefit from his death, are shown in troubling detail. Filled with great interviews and deeply researched, this is a great book that any reader of current events will eat up.

Dead Wake by Erik Larson

Daniel: A lot of nonfiction on this list! I love it.

As I mentioned in my feature essay about my recent trip to Canada, my older brother and I share an affinity for history. Erik Larson is one of the authors we follow religiously, and I’m ashamed how long it’s taken me to pick up Dead Wake. With some helpful nudging from Tom Ford (the principal, not the designer), I finally did and loved every harrowing page.

Dead Wake tells the story of the Lusitania’s doomed trip across the Atlantic. Larson expertly sets the scene, describing a world at war and an isolationist U.S. foreign policy led by a man more intent on getting some from Edith Galt than focusing on global issues. While the stories of those who survived the Lusitania’s sinking, as well as those who didn’t, are heartbreaking, the truly remarkable aspect of this work was Larson’s recreation of life aboard a German submarine. Who wouldn’t sign up for tight quarters, suspect craftsmanship, ever-changing weather patterns, a pissed off Royal Navy, and, oh yeah, the very real threat of sinking to the bottom of the ocean and never being found?

The best part of my reading experience was that Larson himself liked a snarky tweet I sent out while reading the book. You can’t beat that!

The Far Empty by J. Todd Scott

Daniel: I lost a bunch of sleep reading J. Todd Scott’s terrific debut novel. The Far Empty rumbles like a freight train, picking up steam as it goes. The novel features meaty, broken characters that weave in and out of trouble throughout the story. The plot kee