This list of 2019 under the radar books is sponsored by Simon & Schuster.
Queenie Jenkins is a twenty-five-year-old Jamaican British woman living in London, straddling two cultures and slotting neatly into neither. She works at a newspaper, where she’s constantly forced to compare herself to her white peers. After a messy break up from her boyfriend, Queenie seeks comfort in all the wrong places…including several hazardous men who do a bad job of affirming self-worth. As Queenie careens from one questionable decision to another, she finds herself wondering, “Who do you want to be?”—a question today’s woman must face in a world trying to answer for her.
The number of new books published each week can be dizzying and overwhelming. Especially in the publishing doldrums of early winter and late fall, the best new books can be swallowed up. As every bookworm knows, there’s simply not enough time to keep track of every new release. For the second year in a row, Book Riot is highlighting 50 must-read new books that might have slipped under the radar in 2019. Roughly divided into nonfiction (NF) and fiction (F), with a few poetry books included for good measure, this list promotes the books you won’t want to miss adding to your TBR. You’ll definitely also want to check out our Best Books of 2019 feature to get a glimpse of our Rioters’ favorites.
Descriptions graciously supplied from publisher descriptions and condensed when necessary.
Adèle by Leila Slimani (F)
“Adèle appears to have the perfect life: She is a successful journalist in Paris who lives in a beautiful apartment with her surgeon husband and their young son. But underneath the surface, she is bored–and consumed by an insatiable need for sex.
Driven less by pleasure than compulsion, Adèle organizes her day around her extramarital affairs, arriving late to work and lying to her husband about where she’s been, until she becomes ensnared in a trap of her own making. Suspenseful, erotic, and electrically charged, Adèle is a captivating exploration of addiction, sexuality, and one woman’s quest to feel alive.”
Anyone by Charles Soule (F)
“Inside a barn in Ann Arbor, Michigan, a scientist searching for an Alzheimer’s cure throws a switch—and finds herself mysteriously transported into her husband’s body. What begins as a botched experiment will change her life—and the world—forever…
Over two decades later, all across the planet, “flash” technology allows individuals the ability to transfer their consciousness into other bodies for specified periods, paid, registered and legal. Society has been utterly transformed by the process, from travel to warfare to entertainment; “Be anyone with Anyone” the tagline of the company offering this ultimate out-of-body experience. But beyond the reach of the law and government regulators is a sordid black market called the darkshare, where desperate “vessels” anonymously rent out their bodies, no questions asked for any purpose – sex, drugs, crime… or worse.”
Bangkok Wakes to Rain by Pitchaya Sudbanthad (F)
“A missionary doctor pines for his native New England even as he succumbs to the vibrant chaos of nineteenth-century Siam. A post-World War II society woman marries, mothers, and holds court, little suspecting her solitary fate. A jazz pianist in the age of rock, haunted by his own ghosts, is summoned to appease the house’s resident spirits. In the present, a young woman tries to outpace the long shadow of her political past. And in a New Krungthep yet to come, savvy teenagers row tourists past landmarks of the drowned old city they themselves do not remember. Time collapses as these lives collide and converge, linked by the forces voraciously making and remaking the amphibious, ever-morphing capital itself. Bangkok Wakes to Rain is an elegy for what time erases and a love song to all that persists, yearning, into the unknowable future.”
The Big Nine: How the Tech Titans and Their Thinking Machines Could Warp Humanity by Amy Webb (NF)
“We like to think that we are in control of the future of “artificial” intelligence. The reality, though, is that we–the everyday people whose data powers AI–aren’t actually in control of anything. When, for example, we speak with Alexa, we contribute that data to a system we can’t see and have no input into–one largely free from regulation or oversight. The big nine corporations–Amazon, Google, Facebook, Tencent, Baidu, Alibaba, Microsoft, IBM and Apple–are the new gods of AI and are short-changing our futures to reap immediate financial gain.
In this book, Amy Webb reveals the pervasive, invisible ways in which the foundations of AI–the people working on the system, their motivations, the technology itself–is broken. Within our lifetimes, AI will, by design, begin to behave unpredictably, thinking and acting in ways which defy human logic. The big nine corporations may be inadvertently building and enabling vast arrays of intelligent systems that don’t share our motivations, desires, or hopes for the future of humanity.”
Blowout: Corrupted Democracy, Rogue State Russia, and the Richest, Most Destructive Industry on Earth by Rachel Maddow (NF)
“In 2010, the words “earthquake swarm” entered the lexicon in Oklahoma. That same year, a trove of Michael Jackson memorabilia—including his iconic crystal-encrusted white glove—was sold at auction for over $1 million to a guy who was, officially, just the lowly forestry minister of the tiny nation of Equatorial Guinea. And in 2014, Ukrainian revolutionaries raided the palace of their ousted president and found a zoo of peacocks, gilded toilets, and a floating restaurant modeled after a Spanish galleon. Unlikely as it might seem, there is a thread connecting these events, and Rachel Maddow follows it to its crooked source: the unimaginably lucrative and equally corrupting oil and gas industry.
With her trademark black humor, Maddow takes us on a switchback journey around the globe, revealing the greed and incompetence of Big Oil and Gas along the way, and drawing a surprising conclusion about why the Russian government hacked the 2016 U.S. election. She deftly shows how Russia’s rich reserves of crude have, paradoxically, stunted its growth, forcing Putin to maintain his power by spreading Russia’s rot into its rivals, its neighbors, the West’s most important alliances, and the United States. Chevron, BP, and a host of other industry players get their star turn, most notably ExxonMobil and the deceptively well-behaved Rex Tillerson. The oil and gas industry has weakened democracies in developed and developing countries, fouled oceans and rivers, and propped up authoritarian thieves and killers. But being outraged at it is, according to Maddow, ‘like being indignant when a lion takes down and eats a gazelle. You can’t really blame the lion. It’s in her nature.'”
Boom: Mad Money, Mega Dealers, and the Rise of Contemporary Art by Michael Shnayerson (NF)
“The contemporary art market is an international juggernaut, throwing off multimillion-dollar deals as wealthy buyers move from fair to fair, auction to auction, party to glittering party. But none of it would happen without the dealers-the tastemakers who back emerging artists and steer them to success, often to see them picked off by a rival.
Dealers operate within a private world of handshake agreements, negotiating for the highest commissions. Michael Shnayerson, a longtime contributing editor to Vanity Fair, writes the first ever definitive history of their activities. He has spoken to all of today’s so-called mega dealers-Larry Gagosian, David Zwirner, Arne and Marc Glimcher, and Iwan Wirth-along with dozens of other dealers-from Irving Blum to Gavin Brown-who worked with the greatest artists of their times: Jackson Pollock, Andy Warhol, Cy Twombly, and more.
This kaleidoscopic history begins in the mid-1940s in genteel poverty with a scattering of galleries in midtown Manhattan, takes us through the ramshackle 1950s studios of Coenties Slip, the hipster locations in SoHo and Chelsea, London’s Bond Street, and across the terraces of Art Basel until today. Now, dealers and auctioneers are seeking the first billion-dollar painting. It hasn’t happened yet, but they are confident they can push the price there soon.”
Breaking and Entering: The Extraordinary Story of a Hacker Called “Alien” by Jeremy N. Smith (NF)
“When she arrived at MIT in the 1990s, Alien was quickly drawn to the school’s tradition of high‑risk physical trespassing: the original “hacking.” Within a year, one of her hallmates was dead and two others were arraigned. Alien’s adventures were only just beginning.
After a stint at the storied, secretive Los Alamos National Laboratory, Alien was recruited by a top cybersecurity firm where she deployed her cache of virtual weapons—and the trespassing and social engineering talents she had developed while “hacking” at MIT. The company tested its clients’ security by every means possible—not just coding, but donning disguises and sneaking past guards and secretaries into the C‑suite.
Alien now runs a boutique hacking outfit that caters to some of the world’s biggest and most vulnerable institutions—banks, retailers, government agencies. Her work combines devilish charm, old‑school deception, and next generation spycraft. In Breaking and Entering, cybersecurity finally gets the rich, character‑driven, fast-paced treatment it deserves.”
Brute by Emily Skaja (P)
“Emily Skaja’s debut collection is a fiery, hypnotic book that confronts the dark questions and menacing silences around gender, sexuality, and violence. Brute arises, brave and furious, from the dissolution of a relationship, showing how such endings necessitate self-discovery and reinvention. The speaker of these poems is a sorceress, a bride, a warrior, a lover, both object and agent, ricocheting among ways of knowing and being known. Each incarnation squares itself up against ideas of feminine virtue and sin, strength and vulnerability, love and rage, as it closes in on a hard-won freedom.
Brute is absolutely sure of its capacity to insist not only on the truth of what it says but on the truth of its right to say it. “What am I supposed to say: I’m free?” the first poem asks. The rest of the poems emphatically discover new ways to answer. This is a timely winner of the Walt Whitman Award, and an introduction to an unforgettable voice.”
Cheer Up, Mr. Widdicombe by Evan James (F)
“The inimitable—some might say incorrigible—Frank Widdicombe is suffering from a deep depression. Or so his wife, Carol, believes. But Carol is convinced that their new island home—Willowbrook Manor on the Puget Sound—is just the thing to cheer her husband up. And so begins a whirlwind summer as their house becomes the epicenter of multiple social dramas involving the family, their friends, and a host of new acquaintances.
The Widdicombes’ son, Christopher, is mourning a heartbreak after a year abroad in Italy. Their personal assistant, Michelle, begins a romance with preppy screenwriter Bradford, who also happens to be Frank’s tennis partner. Meanwhile, a local named Marvelous Matthews is hired to create a garden at the manor—and is elated to find Gracie Sloane, bewitching self-help author, in residence as well. When this alternately bumbling and clever cast of characters comes together, Willowbrook transforms into a circus of uncovered secrets, preposterous misunderstandings, and irrepressible passions.”
The Crying Book by Heather Christle (NF)
“Heather Christle has just lost a dear friend to suicide and now must reckon with her own depression and the birth of her first child. As she faces her grief and impending parenthood, she decides to research the act of crying: what it is and why people do it, even if they rarely talk about it. Along the way, she discovers an artist who designed a frozen-tear-shooting gun and a moth that feeds on the tears of other animals. She researches tear-collecting devices (lachrymatories) and explores the role white women’s tears play in racist violence.
Honest, intelligent, rapturous, and surprising, Christle’s investigations look through a mosaic of science, history, and her own lived experience to find new ways of understanding life, loss, and mental illness. The Crying Book is a deeply personal tribute to the fascinating strangeness of tears and the unexpected resilience of joy.”
The Current by Tim Johnston (F)
“In the dead of winter, outside a small Minnesota town, state troopers pull two young womenand their car from the icy Black Root River. One is found downriver, drowned, while the other is found at the scene—half frozen but alive.
What happened was no accident, and news of the crime awakens the community’s memories of another young woman who lost her life in the same river ten years earlier, and whose killer may still live among them.
Determined to find answers, the surviving young woman soon realizes that she’s connected to the earlier unsolved case by more than just a river, and the deeper she plunges into her own investigation, the closer she comes to dangerous truths, and to the violence that simmers just below the surface of her hometown.
Grief, suspicion, the innocent and the guilty—all stir to life in this cold northern town where a young woman can come home, but still not be safe. Brilliantly plotted and unrelentingly propulsive, The Current is a beautifully realized story about the fragility of life, the power of the past, and the need, always, to fight back.”
Dealing in Dreams by Lilliam Rivera (F)
“At night, Las Mal Criadas own these streets.
Sixteen-year-old Nalah leads the fiercest all-girl crew in Mega City. That role brings with it violent throwdowns and access to the hottest boydega clubs, but Nalah quickly grows weary of her questionable lifestyle. Her dream is to get off the streets and make a home in the exclusive Mega Towers, in which only a chosen few get to live. To make it to the Mega Towers, Nalah must prove her loyalty to the city’s benevolent founder and cross the border in a search of the mysterious gang the Ashé Ryders. Led by a reluctant guide, Nalah battles crews and her own doubts but the closer she gets to her goal the more she loses sight of everything–and everyone–she cares about.
Nalah must choose whether or not she’s willing to do the unspeakable to get what she wants. Can she discover that home is not where you live but whom you chose to protect before she loses the family she’s created for good?”
Dear Scarlet: The Story Of My Postpartum Depression by Teresa Wong (NF)
“In this intimate and moving graphic memoir, Teresa Wong writes and illustrates the story of her struggle with postpartum depression in the form of a letter to her daughter Scarlet. Equal parts heartbreaking and funny, Dear Scarlet perfectly captures the quiet desperation of those suffering from PPD and the profound feelings of inadequacy and loss. As Teresa grapples with her fears and anxieties and grasps at potential remedies, coping mechanisms, and her mother’s Chinese elixirs, we come to understand one woman’s battle against the cruel dynamics of postpartum depression.
Dear Scarlet is a poignant and deeply personal journey through the complexities of new motherhood, offering hope to those affected by PPD, as well as reassurance that they are not alone.”
The Deep by Rivers Solomon (F)
“The water-breathing descendants of African slave women tossed overboard have built their own underwater society—and must reclaim the memories of their past to shape their future in this brilliantly imaginative novella inspired by the Hugo Award–nominated song ‘The Deep’ from Daveed Diggs’s rap group clipping
Yetu holds the memories for her people—water-dwelling descendants of pregnant African slave women thrown overboard by slave owners—who live idyllic lives in the deep. Their past, too traumatic to be remembered regularly, is forgotten by everyone, save one—the historian. This demanding role has been bestowed on Yetu.
Yetu remembers for everyone, and the memories, painful and wonderful, traumatic and terrible and miraculous, are destroying her. And so, she flees to the surface, escaping the memories, the expectations, and the responsibilities—and discovers a world her people left behind long ago.
Yetu will learn more than she ever expected to about her own past—and about the future of her people. If they are all to survive, they’ll need to reclaim the memories, reclaim their identity—and own who they really are.”
Descendant of the Crane by Joan He (F)
“Tyrants cut out hearts. Rulers sacrifice their own. Princess Hesina of Yan has always been eager to shirk the responsibilities of the crown, but when her beloved father is murdered, she’s thrust into power, suddenly the queen of an unstable kingdom. Determined to find her father’s killer, Hesina does something desperate: she enlists the aid of a soothsayer—a treasonous act, punishable by death… because in Yan, magic was outlawed centuries ago.
Using the information illicitly provided by the sooth, and uncertain if she can trust even her family, Hesina turns to Akira—a brilliant investigator who’s also a convicted criminal with secrets of his own. With the future of her kingdom at stake, can Hesina find justice for her father? Or will the cost be too high?”
The DNA of You and Me by Andrea Rothman (F)
“Emily Apell arrives in Justin McKinnon’s renowned research lab with the single-minded goal of making a breakthrough discovery. But a colleague in the lab, Aeden Doherty, has been working on a similar topic, and his findings threaten to compete with her research.
To Emily’s surprise, her rational mind is unsettled by Aeden, and when they end up working together their animosity turns to physical passion, followed by love. Emily eventually allows herself to envision a future with Aeden, but when he decides to leave the lab it becomes clear to her that she must make a choice. It is only years later, when she is about to receive a prestigious award for the work they did together, that Emily is able to unravel everything that happened between them.
A sharp, relevant novel that speaks to the ambitions and desires of modern women, The DNA of You and Me explores the evergreen question of career versus family, the irrational sensibility of love, and whether one can be a loner without a diagnostic label.”
Dumpty: The Age of Trump in Verse by John Lithgow (P)
“Dumpty: The Age of Trump in Verse is a satirical poetry collection from award-winning actor and bestselling author John Lithgow. Chronicling the last few raucous years in American politics, Lithgow takes readers verse by verse through the history of Donald Trump’s presidency. Lampoons the likes of Betsy DeVos, William Barr, Rudy Giuliani, and dozens more. Illustrated from cover to cover with Lithgow’s never-before-seen line drawings. Draws inspiration from A. A. Milne, Lewis Carroll, Edward Lear, and even Mother Goose. The poems collected in Dumpty draw inspiration from A. A. Milne, Lewis Carroll, Edward Lear, Rodgers and Hammerstein, Mother Goose, and many more.
A feat of laugh-out-loud lyrical storytelling, this timely volume is bound to bring joy to poetry lovers, political junkies, and Lithgow fans alike.”
The Edge Of Every Day by Marin Sardy (NF)
“Against the starkly beautiful backdrop of Anchorage, Alaska, where the author grew up, Marin Sardy weaves a fearless account of the shapeless thief—the schizophrenia—that kept her mother immersed in a world of private delusion and later manifested in her brother, ultimately claiming his life.
Composed of exquisite, self-contained chapters that take us through three generations of this adventurous, artistic, and often haunted family, The Edge of Every Day draws in topics from neuroscience and evolution to the mythology and art rock to shape its brilliant inquiry into how the mind works. In the process, Sardy casts new light on the treatment of the mentally ill in our society. Through it all runs her blazing compassion and relentless curiosity, as her meditations takes us to the very edge of love and loss—and invite us to look at what comes after.”
Finding My Voice by Valerie Jarrett (NF)
“When Valerie Jarrett interviewed a promising young lawyer named Michelle Robinson in July 1991 for a job in Chicago city government, neither knew that it was the first step on a path that would end in the White House. Jarrett soon became Michelle and Barack Obama’s trusted personal adviser and family confidante; in the White House, she was known as the one who “got” him and helped him engage his public life. Jarrett joined the White House team on January 20, 2009 and departed with the First Family on January 20, 2017, and she was in the room–in the Oval Office, on Air Force One, and everywhere else–when it all happened. No one has as intimate a view of the Obama Years, nor one that reaches back as many decades, as Jarrett shares in Finding My Voice.”
Formation: A Woman’s Memoir of Stepping Out of Line by Ryan Leigh Dostie (NF)
“Raised by powerful women in a restrictive, sheltered Christian community in New England, Ryan Dostie never imagined herself on the front lines of a war halfway around the world. But then a conversation with an Army recruiter in her high-school cafeteria changes the course of her life. Hired as a linguist, she quickly has to find a space for herself in the testosterone-filled world of the Army barracks, and has been holding her own until the unthinkable happens: she is raped by a fellow soldier.
Struggling with PTSD and commanders who don’t trust her story, Dostie finds herself fighting through the isolation of trauma amid the challenges of an unexpected war. What follows is a riveting story of one woman’s extraordinary journey to prove her worth, physically and mentally, in a world where the odds are stacked against her.”
Golden Child by Claire Adam (F)
“Rural Trinidad: a brick house on stilts surrounded by bush; a family, quietly surviving, just trying to live a decent life. Clyde, the father, works long, exhausting shifts at the petroleum plant in southern Trinidad; Joy, his wife, looks after the home. Their two sons, thirteen years old, wake early every morning to travel to the capital, Port of Spain, for school. They are twins but nothing alike: Paul has always been considered odd, while Peter is widely believed to be a genius, destined for greatness.
When Paul goes walking in the bush one afternoon and doesn’t come home, Clyde is forced to go looking for him, this child who has caused him endless trouble already, and who he has never really understood. And as the hours turn to days, and Clyde begins to understand Paul’s fate, his world shatters—leaving him faced with a decision no parent should ever have to make.
Like the Trinidadian landscape itself, Golden Child is both beautiful and unsettling, a resoundingly human story of aspiration, betrayal, and love.”
The Good Immigrant: 26 Writers Reflect on America edited by Nikesh Shukla and Chimene Suleyman (NF)
“From Trump’s proposed border wall and travel ban to the marching of White Supremacists in Charlottesville, America is consumed by tensions over immigration and the question of which bodies are welcome. In this much-anticipated follow-up to the bestselling UK edition, hailed by Zadie Smith as “lively and vital,” editors Nikesh Shukla and Chimene Suleyman hand the microphone to an incredible range of writers whose humanity and right to be here is under attack.
These writers, and the many others in this urgent collection, share powerful personal stories of living between cultures and languages while struggling to figure out who they are and where they belong. By turns heartbreaking and hilarious, troubling and uplifting, the essays in The Good Immigrant come together to create a provocative, conversation-sparking, multivocal portrait of America now.”
Home Remedies by Xuan Juliana Wang (F)
“Xuan Juliana Wang’s remarkable debut introduces us to the new and changing face of Chinese youth. From fuerdai (second-generation rich kids) to a glass-swallowing qigong grandmaster, her dazzling, formally inventive stories upend the immigrant narrative to reveal a new experience of belonging: of young people testing the limits of who they are, in a world as vast and varied as their ambitions.
In stories of love, family, and friendship, here are the voices, faces and stories of a new generation never before captured between the pages in fiction. What sets them apart is Juliana Wang’s surprising imagination, able to capture the innermost thoughts of her characters with astonishing empathy, as well as the contradictions of the modern immigrant experience in a way that feels almost universal. Home Remedies is, in the words of Alexander Chee, ‘the arrival of an urgent and necessary literary voice we’ve been needing, waiting for maybe, without knowing.'”
In the Valleys of the Noble Beyond: In Search of the Sasquatch by John Zada (NF)
“On the central and north coast of British Columbia, the Great Bear Rainforest is the largest intact temperate rainforest in the world, containing more organic matter than any other terrestrial ecosystem on the planet. The area plays host to a wide range of species, from thousand-year-old western cedars to humpback whales to iconic white Spirit bears.
According to local residents, another giant is said to live in these woods. For centuries people have reported encounters with the Sasquatch―a species of hairy bipedal man-apes said to inhabit the deepest recesses of this pristine wilderness. Driven by his own childhood obsession with the creatures, John Zada decides to seek out the diverse inhabitants of this rugged and far-flung coast, where nearly everyone has a story to tell, from a scientist who dedicated his life to researching the Sasquatch, to members of the area’s First Nations, to a former grizzly bear hunter-turned-nature tour guide. With each tale, Zada discovers that his search for the Sasquatch is a quest for something infinitely more complex, cutting across questions of human perception, scientific inquiry, indigenous traditions, the environment, and the power and desire of the human imagination to believe in―or reject―something largely unseen.”
Initiated: Memoir of a Witch by Amanda Yates Garcia (NF)
“Smoke Gets in Your Eyes meets Women Who Run With The Wolves in this ‘gorgeously written, fierce, political, personal, and deeply inspiring’ (Michelle Tea) memoir about finding meaning, beauty, and power through a life in witchcraft.
An initiation signals a beginning: a door opens and you step through. Traditional Wiccan initiates are usually brought into the craft through a ceremony with a High Priestess. But even though Amanda Yates Garcia’s mother, a practicing witch herself, initiated her into the earth-centered practice of witchcraft when she was 13 years old, Amanda’s real life as a witch only began when she underwent a series of spontaneous initiations of her own.”
Juliet The Maniac by Juliet Escoria (F)
“This portrait of a young teenager’s fight toward understanding and recovering from mental illness is shockingly honest, funny, and heartfelt.
A highly anticipated debut—from a writer hailed as ‘a combination of Denis Johnson and Joan Didion’ (Dazed)—brilliantly captures the intimate triumph of a girl’s struggle to become the woman she knows she can be.
Ambitious, talented fourteen-year-old honors student Juliet is poised for success at her Southern California high school. However, she soon finds herself on an increasingly frightening spiral of drug use, self-harm, and mental illness that lands her in a remote therapeutic boarding school, where she must ultimately find the inner strength to survive.”
L.E.L: The Lost Life and Scandalous Death of Letitia Elizabeth Landon, the Celebrated ‘Female Byron’ by Lucasta Miller (NF)
“‘None among us dares to say / What none will choose to hear’–L.E.L., “Lines of Life”
Letitita Elizabeth Landon–pen name L.E.L.–dared to say it and made sure she was heard.
Hers was a life lived in a blaze of scandal and worship, one of the most famous women of her time, the Romantic Age in London’s 1820s, her life and writing on the ascendency as Byron’s came to an end.
Lucasta Miller tells the full story and re-creates the literary London of her time. She was born in 1802 and was shaped by the aftermath of the Napoleonic Wars, a time of conservatism when values were in flux. She began publishing poetry in her teens and came to be known as a daring poet of thwarted romantic love. We see L.E.L. as an emblematic figure who embodied a seismic cultural shift, the missing link between the age of Byron and the creation of Victorianism. Miller writes of Jane Eyre as the direct connection to L.E.L.–its first-person confessional voice, its Gothic extremes, its love triangle, and in its emphasis on sadomasochistic romantic passion.”
Land of Tears: The Exploration and Exploitation of Equatorial Africa by Robert Harms (NF)
“In just three decades at the end of the nineteenth century, the heart of Africa was utterly transformed. Virtually closed to outsiders for centuries, by the early 1900s the rainforest of the Congo River basin was one of the most brutally exploited places on earth. In Land of Tears, historian Robert Harms reconstructs the chaotic process by which this happened. Beginning in the 1870s, traders, explorers, and empire builders from Arabia, Europe, and America moved rapidly into the region, where they pioneered a deadly trade in ivory and rubber for Western markets and in enslaved labor for the Indian Ocean rim. Imperial conquest followed close behind.”
The Lazarus Files by Matthew McGough (NF)
“On February 24, 1986, 29-year-old newlywed Sherri Rasmussen was murdered in the home she shared with her husband, John. The crime scene suggested a ferocious struggle, and police initially assumed it was a burglary gone awry. Before her death, Sherri had confided to her parents that an ex-girlfriend of John’s, a Los Angeles police officer, had threatened her. The Rasmussens urged the LAPD to investigate the ex-girlfriend, but the original detectives only pursued burglary suspects, and the case went cold.
DNA analysis did not exist when Sherri was murdered. Decades later, a swab from a bite mark on Sherri’s arm revealed her killer was in fact female, not male. A DNA match led to the arrest and conviction of veteran LAPD Detective Stephanie Lazarus, John’s onetime girlfriend.
The Lazarus Files delivers the visceral experience of being inside a real-life murder mystery. McGough reconstructs the lives of Sherri, John and Stephanie; the love triangle that led to Sherri’s murder; and the homicide investigation that followed. Was Stephanie protected by her fellow officers? What did the LAPD know, and when did they know it? Are there other LAPD cold cases with a police connection that remain unsolved?”
Let Me Hear A Rhyme by Tiffany D. Jackson (F)
“Brooklyn, 1998. Biggie Smalls was right: Things done changed. But that doesn’t mean that Quadir and Jarrell are cool letting their best friend Steph’s music lie forgotten under his bed after he’s murdered—not when his rhymes could turn any Bed Stuy corner into a party.
With the help of Steph’s younger sister Jasmine, they come up with a plan to promote Steph’s music under a new rap name: the Architect. Soon, everyone wants a piece of him. When his demo catches the attention of a hotheaded music label rep, the trio must prove Steph’s talent from beyond the grave.
As the pressure of keeping their secret grows, Quadir, Jarrell, and Jasmine are forced to confront the truth about what happened to Steph. Only, each has something to hide. And with everything riding on Steph’s fame, they need to decide what they stand for or lose all that they’ve worked so hard to hold on to—including each other.”
Love From A to Z by S.K. Ali (F)
“A marvel: something you find amazing. Even ordinary-amazing. Like potatoes—because they make French fries happen. Like the perfect fries Adam and his mom used to make together.
An oddity: whatever gives you pause. Like the fact that there are hateful people in the world. Like Zayneb’s teacher, who won’t stop reminding the class how ‘bad’ Muslims are.
But Zayneb, the only Muslim in class, isn’t bad. She’s angry. When she gets suspended for confronting her teacher, and he begins investigating her activist friends, Zayneb heads to her aunt’s house in Doha, Qatar, for an early start to spring break. Fueled by the guilt of getting her friends in trouble, she resolves to try out a newer, ‘nicer’ version of herself in a place where no one knows her.
Then her path crosses with Adam’s.
Since he got diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in November, Adam’s stopped going to classes, intent, instead, on perfecting the making of things. Intent on keeping the memory of his mom alive for his little sister. Adam’s also intent on keeping his diagnosis a secret from his grieving father.
Alone, Adam and Zayneb are playing roles for others, keeping their real thoughts locked away in their journals. Until a marvel and an oddity occurs…
Marvel: Adam and Zayneb meeting. Oddity: Adam and Zayneb meeting.”
The Man Who Sold America: Trump and the Unraveling of the American Story by Joy-Ann Reid (NF)
“Is Donald Trump running the ‘longest con’ in U.S. history? How did we get here? What will be left of America when he leaves office?
Candidate Trump sold Americans a vision that was seemingly at odds with their country’s founding principles. Now in office, he’s put up a ‘for sale’ sign―on the prestige of the presidency, on America’s global stature, and on our national identity. At what cost have these deals come? Joy-Ann Reid’s essential new book, The Man Who Sold America, delivers an urgent accounting of our national crisis from one of our foremost political commentators.
What is the hidden impact of Trump, beyond the headlines? Through interviews with American and international thought leaders and in-depth analysis, Reid situates the Trump era within the context of modern history, examining the profound social changes that led us to this point.
Providing new context and depth to our understanding, The Man Who Sold America reveals the causes and consequences of the Trump presidency and contends with the future that awaits us.”
Mary Toft; or, The Rabbit Queen by Dexter Palmer (F)
“In 1726, in the town of Godalming, England, a woman confounded the nation’s medical community by giving birth to seventeen rabbits. This astonishing true story is the basis for Dexter Palmer’s stunning, powerfully evocative new novel.
Surgeon’s apprentice Zachary Walsh knows that his master, John Howard, prides himself on his rationality. But John cannot explain how or why Mary Toft, the wife of a local journeyman, has managed to give birth to a dead rabbit. When this singular event becomes a regular occurrence, John and Zachary realize that nothing in their experience as rural physicians has prepared them to deal with a situation like this—strange, troubling, and possibly miraculous. John contacts several of London’s finest surgeons, three of whom soon arrive in Godalming to observe, argue, and perhaps use the case to cultivate their own fame.
When King George I learns of Mary’s plight, she and her doctors are summoned to London, where Zachary experiences a world far removed from his small-town existence and is exposed to some of the darkest corners of the human soul. All the while Mary lies in bed, as doubts begin to blossom among her caretakers and a growing group of onlookers waits with impatience for another birth, another miracle.”
Meander, Spiral, Explode: Design and Pattern in Narrative by Jane Alison (NF)
“As Jane Alison writes in the introduction to her insightful and appealing book about the craft of writing: “For centuries there’s been one path through fiction we’re most likely to travel― one we’re actually told to follow―and that’s the dramatic arc: a situation arises, grows tense, reaches a peak, subsides . . . But something that swells and tautens until climax, then collapses? Bit masculosexual, no? So many other patterns run through nature, tracing other deep motions in life. Why not draw on them, too?”
W. G. Sebald’s Emigrants was the first novel to show Alison how forward momentum can be created by way of pattern, rather than the traditional arc― or, in nature, wave. Other writers of nonlinear prose considered in her “museum of specimens” include Nicholson Baker, Anne Carson, Marguerite Duras, Gabriel García Márquez, Jamaica Kincaid, Clarice Lispector, Susan Minot, David Mitchell, Caryl Phillips, and Mary Robison.
Meander, Spiral, Explode is a singular and brilliant elucidation of literary strategies that also brings high spirits and wit to its original conclusions. It is a liberating manifesto that says, Let’s leave the outdated modes behind and, in thinking of new modes, bring feeling back to experimentation. It will appeal to serious readers and writers alike.”
Mouthful of Birds by Samanta Schweblin (F)
“A powerful, eerily unsettling story collection from a major international literary star.
The brilliant stories in Mouthful of Birds burrow their way into your psyche and don’t let go. Samanta Schweblin haunts and mesmerizes in this extraordinary collection featuring women on the edge, men turned upside down, the natural world at odds with reality. We think life is one way, but often, it’s not — our expectations for how people act, love, fear can all be upended. Each character in Mouthful of Birds must contend with the unexpected, whether a family coming apart at the seams or a child transforming or a ghostly hellscape or a murder.
Schweblin’s stories have the feel of a sleepless night, where every shadow and bump in the dark take on huge implications, leaving your pulse racing, and the line between the real and the strange blurs.”
The National Team by Caitlin Murray (NF)
“The U.S. Women’s National Soccer Team has won three World Cups and four Olympic gold medals, set record TV ratings, drawn massive crowds, earned huge revenues for FIFA and U.S. Soccer, and helped to redefine the place of women in sports. But despite their dominance, and their rosters of superstar players, they’ve endured striking inequality: low pay, poor playing conditions, and limited opportunities to play in professional leagues.
The National Team, from leading soccer journalist Caitlin Murray, tells the history of the USWNT in full, from their formation in the 1980s to the run-up to the 2019 World Cup, chronicling both their athletic triumphs and less visible challenges off the pitch. Murray also recounts the rise and fall of U.S. professional leagues, including the burgeoning National Women’s Soccer League, an essential part of the women’s game.”
The New Me by Halle Butler (F)
“I’m still trying to make the dream possible: still might finish my cleaning project, still might sign up for that yoga class, still might, still might. I step into the shower and almost faint, an image of taking the day by the throat and bashing its head against the wall floating in my mind.
Thirty-year-old Millie just can’t pull it together. She spends her days working a thankless temp job and her nights alone in her apartment, fixating on all the ways she might change her situation–her job, her attitude, her appearance, her life. Then she watches TV until she falls asleep, and the cycle begins again.
When the possibility of a full-time job offer arises, it seems to bring the better life she’s envisioning within reach. But with it also comes the paralyzing realization, lurking just beneath the surface, of how hollow that vision has become.”
No Walls and the Recurring Dream by Ani DiFranco (NF)
“In her new memoir, No Walls and the Recurring Dream, Ani DiFranco recounts her early life from a place of hard-won wisdom, combining personal expression, the power of music, feminism, political activism, storytelling, philanthropy, entrepreneurship, and much more into an inspiring whole. In these frank, honest, passionate, and often funny pages is the tale of one woman’s eventful and radical journey to the age of thirty. Ani’s coming of age story is defined by her ethos of fierce independence–from being an emancipated minor sleeping in a Buffalo bus station, to unwaveringly building a career through appearances at small clubs and festivals, to releasing her first album at the age of 18, to consciously rejecting the mainstream recording industry and creating her own label, Righteous Babe Records. In these pages, as in life, she never hesitates to question established rules and expectations, maintaining a level of artistic integrity that has inspired and challenged more than a few. Ani continues to be a major touring and recording artist as well as a celebrated activist and feminist, standing as living proof that you can overcome all personal and societal obstacles to be who you are and to follow your dreams.”
Notes From a Young Black Chef: A Memoir by Kwame Onwuachi (NF)
“By the time he was twenty-seven years old, Kwame Onwuachi (winner of the 2019 James Beard Foundation Award for Rising Star Chef of the Year) had opened—and closed—one of the most talked about restaurants in America. He had launched his own catering company with twenty thousand dollars that he made from selling candy on the subway, yet he’d been told he would never make it on television because his cooking wasn’t “Southern” enough. In this inspiring memoir about the intersection of race, fame, and food, he shares the remarkable story of his culinary coming-of-age.
Growing up in the Bronx, as a boy Onwuachi was sent to rural Nigeria by his mother to “learn respect.” However, the hard-won knowledge gained in Africa was not enough to keep him from the temptation and easy money of the streets when he returned home. But through food, he broke out of a dangerous downward spiral, embarking on a new beginning at the bottom of the culinary food chain as a chef on board a Deepwater Horizon cleanup ship, before going on to train in the kitchens of some of the most acclaimed restaurants in the country and appearing as a contestant on Top Chef.
Onwuachi’s love of food and cooking remained a constant throughout, even when he found the road to success riddled with potholes. As a young chef, he was forced to grapple with just how unwelcoming the world of fine dining can be for people of color, and his first restaurant, the culmination of years of planning, shuttered just months after opening. A powerful, heartfelt, and shockingly honest story of chasing your dreams—even when they don’t turn out as you expected—Notes from a Young Black Chef is one man’s pursuit of his passions, despite the odds.”
The Plotters by Un-su Kim (F)
“Behind every assassination, there is an anonymous mastermind–a plotter–working in the shadows. Plotters quietly dictate the moves of the city’s most dangerous criminals, but their existence is little more than legend. Just who are the plotters? And more important, what do they want?
Reseng is an assassin. Raised by a cantankerous killer named Old Raccoon in the crime headquarters “The Library,” Reseng never questioned anything: where to go, who to kill, or why his home was filled with books that no one ever read. But one day, Reseng steps out of line on a job, toppling a set of carefully calibrated plans. And when he uncovers an extraordinary scheme set into motion by an eccentric trio of young women–a convenience store clerk, her wheelchair-bound sister, and a cross-eyed librarian–Reseng will have to decide if he will remain a pawn or finally take control of the plot.”
The Psychology of Time Travel by Kate Mascarenhas (F)
“In 1967, four female scientists worked together to build the world’s first time machine. But just as they are about to debut their creation, one of them suffers a breakdown, putting the whole project—and future of time travel—in jeopardy. To protect their invention, one member is exiled from the team—erasing her contributions from history.
Fifty years later, time travel is a big business. Twenty-something Ruby Rebello knows her beloved grandmother, Granny Bee, was one of the pioneers, though no one will tell her more. But when Bee receives a mysterious newspaper clipping from the future reporting the murder of an unidentified woman, Ruby becomes obsessed: could it be Bee? Who would want her dead? And most importantly of all: can her murder be stopped?
Traversing the decades and told from alternating perspectives, The Psychology of Time Travel introduces a fabulous new voice in fiction and a new must-read for fans of speculative fiction and women’s fiction alike.”
Queen Bey by Veronica Chambers (NF)
“Beyoncé. Her name conjures more than music, it has come to be synonymous with beauty, glamour, power, creativity, love, and romance. Her performances are legendary, her album releases events. She is not even forty but she has already rewritten the Beyoncé playbook more than half a dozen times. She is consistently provocative, political and surprising. As a solo artist, she has sold more than 100 million records. She has won 22 Grammys and is the most-nominated woman artist in the history of Grammy awards. Her 2018 performance at Coachella wowed the world. The New York Times wrote: “There’s not likely to be a more meaningful, absorbing, forceful and radical performance by an American musician this year or any year soon.” Artist, business woman, mother, daughter, sister, wife, black feminist, Queen Bey is endlessly fascinating.
Queen Bey features a diverse range of voices, from star academics to outspoken cultural critics to Hollywood and music stars.”
Sabrina & Corina by Kali Fajardo-Anstine (F)
“Kali Fajardo-Anstine’s magnetic story collection breathes life into her Latina characters of indigenous ancestry and the land they inhabit in the American West. Against the remarkable backdrop of Denver, Colorado—a place that is as fierce as it is exquisite—these women navigate the land the way they navigate their lives: with caution, grace, and quiet force.
Sabrina & Corina is a moving narrative of unrelenting feminine power and an exploration of the universal experiences of abandonment, heritage, and an eternal sense of home.”
Small Town Hearts by Lillie Vale (F)
“Fresh out of high school, Babe Vogel should be thrilled to have the whole summer at her fingertips. She loves living in her lighthouse home in the sleepy Maine beach town of Oar’s Rest and being a barista at the Busy Bean, but she’s totally freaking out about how her life will change when her two best friends go to college in the fall. And when a reckless kiss causes all three of them to break up, she may lose them a lot sooner. On top of that, her ex-girlfriend is back in town, bringing with her a slew of memories, both good and bad.
And then there’s Levi Keller, the cute artist who’s spending all his free time at the coffee shop where she works. Levi’s from out of town, and even though Babe knows better than to fall for a tourist who will leave when summer ends, she can’t stop herself from wanting to know him. Can Babe keep her distance, or will she break the one rule she’s always had – to never fall for a summer boy?”
Stony the Road: Reconstruction, White Supremacy, and the Rise of Jim Crow by Henry Louis Gates Jr. (NF)
“The abolition of slavery in the aftermath of the Civil War is a familiar story, as is the civil rights revolution that transformed the nation after World War II. But the century in between remains a mystery: if emancipation sparked ‘a new birth of freedom’ in Lincoln’s America, why was it necessary to march in Martin Luther King, Jr.’s America? In this new book, Henry Louis Gates, Jr., one of our leading chroniclers of the African-American experience, seeks to answer that question in a history that moves from the Reconstruction Era to the ‘nadir’ of the African-American experience under Jim Crow, through to World War I and the Harlem Renaissance.
Through his close reading of the visual culture of this tragic era, Gates reveals the many faces of Jim Crow and how, together, they reinforced a stark color line between white and black Americans. Bringing a lifetime of wisdom to bear as a scholar, filmmaker, and public intellectual, Gates uncovers the roots of structural racism in our own time, while showing how African Americans after slavery combatted it by articulating a vision of a ‘New Negro’ to force the nation to recognize their humanity and unique contributions to America as it hurtled toward the modern age.
An essential tour through one of America’s fundamental historical tragedies, Stony the Road is also a story of heroic resistance, as figures such as W. E. B. Du Bois and Ida B. Wells fought to create a counter-narrative, and culture, inside the lion’s mouth. As sobering as this tale is, it also has within it the inspiration that comes with encountering the hopes our ancestors advanced against the longest odds.”
Underground: A Human History of the Worlds Beneath Our Feet by Will Hunt (NF)
“When Will Hunt was sixteen years old, he discovered an abandoned tunnel that ran beneath his house in Providence, Rhode Island. His first tunnel trips inspired a lifelong fascination with exploring underground worlds, from the derelict subway stations and sewers of New York City to sacred caves, catacombs, tombs, bunkers, and ancient underground cities in more than twenty countries around the world. Underground is both a personal exploration of Hunt’s obsession and a panoramic study of how we are all connected to the underground, how caves and other dark hollows have frightened and enchanted us through the ages.
In a narrative spanning continents and epochs, Hunt follows a cast of subterraneaphiles who have dedicated themselves to investigating underground worlds. He tracks the origins of life with a team of NASA microbiologists a mile beneath the Black Hills, camps out for three days with urban explorers in the catacombs and sewers of Paris, descends with an Aboriginal family into a 35,000-year-old mine in the Australian outback, and glimpses a sacred sculpture molded by Paleolithic artists in the depths of a cave in the Pyrenees.
Each adventure is woven with findings in mythology and anthropology, natural history and neuroscience, literature and philosophy. In elegant and graceful prose, Hunt cures us of our “surface chauvinism,” opening our eyes to the planet’s hidden dimension. He reveals how the subterranean landscape gave shape to our most basic beliefs and guided how we think about ourselves as humans. At bottom, Underground is a meditation on the allure of darkness, the power of mystery, and our eternal desire to connect with what we cannot see.”
The Unlikely Adventures Of The Shergill Sisters by Balli Kaur Jaswal (F)
“The British-born Punjabi Shergill sisters—Rajni, Jezmeen, and Shirina—were never close and barely got along growing up, and now as adults, have grown even further apart. Rajni, a school principal is a stickler for order. Jezmeen, a thirty-year-old struggling actress, fears her big break may never come. Shirina, the peacemaking “good” sister married into wealth and enjoys a picture-perfect life.
On her deathbed, their mother voices one last wish: that her daughters will make a pilgrimage together to the Golden Temple in Amritsar to carry out her final rites. After a trip to India with her mother long ago, Rajni vowed never to return. But she’s always been a dutiful daughter, and cannot, even now, refuse her mother’s request. Jezmeen has just been publicly fired from her television job, so the trip to India is a welcome break to help her pick up the pieces of her broken career. Shirina’s in-laws are pushing her to make a pivotal decision about her married life; time away will help her decide whether to meekly obey, or to bravely stand up for herself for the first time.
Arriving in India, these sisters will make unexpected discoveries about themselves, their mother, and their lives—and learn the real story behind the trip Rajni took with their Mother long ago—a momentous journey that resulted in Mum never being able to return to India again.”
We Cast a Shadow by Maurice Carlos Ruffin (F)
“‘You can be beautiful, even more beautiful than before.’ This is the seductive promise of Dr. Nzinga’s clinic, where anyone can get their lips thinned, their skin bleached, and their nose narrowed. A complete demelanization will liberate you from the confines of being born in a black body—if you can afford it.
In this near-future Southern city plagued by fenced-in ghettos and police violence, more and more residents are turning to this experimental medical procedure. Like any father, our narrator just wants the best for his son, Nigel, a biracial boy whose black birthmark is getting bigger by the day. The darker Nigel becomes, the more frightened his father feels. But how far will he go to protect his son? And will he destroy his family in the process?”
The Weight of a Piano by Chris Cander (F)
“In 1962, in the Soviet Union, eight-year-old Katya is bequeathed what will become the love of her life: a Blüthner piano, on which she discovers an enrichening passion for music. Yet after she marries, her husband insists the family emigrate to America—and loses her piano in the process.
In 2012, in Bakersfield, California, twenty-six-year-old Clara Lundy is burdened by the last gift her father gave her before he and her mother died in a terrible house fire: a Blüthner upright she has never learned to play. Now a talented and independent auto mechanic, Clara’s career is put on hold when she breaks her hand trying to move the piano, and in sudden frustration she decides to sell it. Only in discovering the identity of the buyer—and the secret history of her piano—will Clara be set free to live the life of her choosing.”
What My Mother and I Don’t Talk About: Fifteen Writers Break the Silence edited by Michele Filgate (NF)
“Fifteen brilliant writers explore what we don’t talk to our mothers about, and how it affects us, for better or for worse.
As an undergraduate, Michele Filgate started writing an essay about being abused by her stepfather. It took her more than a decade to realize what she was actually trying to write: how this affected her relationship with her mother. When it was finally published, the essay went viral, shared on social media by Anne Lamott, Rebecca Solnit, and many others. The outpouring of responses gave Filgate an idea, and the resulting anthology offers a candid look at our relationships with our mothers.”