I keep procrastinating this post because I am still not done reading many of the big Fall Releases. But September is almost over and I really can’t put it off forever. They’re coming out right and left and best to have it done.
Fall is basically the season of heavy hitters in the book world, with most of the big guys coming out in September. It’s kind of like how all the big Oscar movies tend to come out in December. There are still light, fun books in Fall and there are plenty of big, literary books the rest of the year, but there’s definitely a concentration. Here’s a roundup of some of my favorites of the Fall Releases for 2015, links are to Amazon and all are affiliate links.
These are the books I get asked about the most because they get a lot of press, a lot of attention, and the gap between the critical reception and the real-world reception can be pretty wide. I tend to take a common-sense approach to literary fiction, when possible.
Fates and Furies seems to be getting the most buzz, if we focus on the book instead of the author. It’s not a surprise once you’ve read the book. This is a book that has a lot to say about the novel. It’s an exercise in structure. The first half of the book can even be read as satire in retrospect. Yeah, all this sounds really dull, doesn’t it? I admit, I was halfway through thinking, “Do I really want to finish this?” and I only pushed forward because I had so many friends who enjoyed it so much. I’m glad I did, turns out I enjoyed the second half like crazy. All that said, having to commit to over 200 pages before you know if you really like a book is a tall order. But if you’re looking for something that’s basically a fancy, cerebral Gone Girl, you should consider it.
If we’re talking about author buzz, then the award clearly goes to Franzen. His new novel, Purity, is interesting, a fast read, a page-turner, a domestic drama with an international lens. A book that manages to be about the East German underground, a Julian-Assange-like internet lord, and a rather dull twenty-something girl with a crazy mother who lives in a co-op in San Francisco at a dead-end job. This is Franzen, so it bounces between overly-brainy descriptions and genre-worthy plot twists. But if you’ve enjoyed either of his previous novels it’s worth a look. And I’m just going to leave it there.
There’s a new Margaret Atwood out this month! And it is… well it’s not normal. Atwood has been doing her own thing for several years now, experimenting and mashing genres and doing whatever it is she feels like. Respect. And this book perhaps expresses that better than any of her previous ones. The Heart Goes Last is just plain weird, a book that almost feels like someone dared her to mix 5 different Cards Against Humanity cards into her plot. But it works. It’s dystopian and has plenty to say about marriage, adultery, planned community, sex, obsession, and a lot more. There are sex dolls, Elvis impersonators, prisons, roving gangs, a huge financial crisis, and plenty more. Personally, I dig novels where I have absolutely no idea what’s going to happen next. But if you don’t like it when a book colors outside the lines, this one probably won’t be right for you.
There’s a new story collection by Adam Johnson, the recent Pulitzer winner for The Orphan-Master’s Son. It’s called Fortune Smiles and the title is used ironically. It’s depressing and heavy and really interesting. He’s got particularly interesting things to say about marriage and relationships that really stuck in my brain. There’s a new novel by Salman Rushdie, Two Years Eight Months and Twenty-Eight Nights, which includes a few thousand years of history, a jinn who marries a human, and a gardener who looks down one day to find he’s floating a few inches above the ground all the time. Like many of Rushdie’s recent novels, this isn’t one you can read in a fury, but it’s constantly smart. David Mitchell has a new novella that’s set in the universe of The Bone Clocks called Slade House which I didn’t love, but then again I’ve liked The Bone Clocks less and less as time passes. And there’s a debut novel from essayist Sloane Crosley which I also didn’t love, but I fully acknowledge that this book hit several of my totally subjective personal pet peeves (books about young rich people, 20-somethings struggling to find their place in the world, people making ridiculous choices that would destroy them if they weren’t in a novel, etc.) but I know many others who enjoyed it.
Genre = mystery, romance, sci-fi, etc. All those books that get grouped in some category based on their plot. There’s a bunch of great ones so I’d hate to focus too heavily on the literary stuff.
Sorcerer to the Crown is a fantasy novel and I am not a fantasy reader. But a fellow non-fantasy reader recommended it and I figured I’d try and holy cats, it is amazing. A kickass novel that reminded me more of J. K. Rowling’s light and agile wit than any other book I’ve read. Set in an alternate-universe 1800’s Britain where magic exists but most “magicians” are just rich dudes who use it as an excuse to make their own club. The Sorcerer Royal, whom no one cares for much, is Zacharias, a freed slave whose birth and skin color separate him from everyone around him. Then there’s Prunella, the orphaned girl whose parentage is unknown except that there’s clearly something “not British” in there, who’s been taken in by the proprietress of a girls’ magical boarding school and finds herself suddenly ousted upon reaching adulthood. Prunella and Zacharias cross paths, of course, and there’s a quest to save England from its quickly depleting supply of magic, and that’s just the beginning of this delightful book. I honestly can’t recommend it enough.
Getting into more of my usual stuff, my favorite thriller of the fall is Idyll Threats by Stephanie Gayle. Set about 10 years ago in a small Connecticut town, it’s about Thomas Lynch, a former NYPD cop who’s left the big city for a job as a small town sheriff after his partner dies. Oh, and he’s gay and closeted. Lynch lives a secret life on his own and then goes to work every day to a police force that eyes him with suspicion and disdain. A quick tryst one night seems uneventful, until he realizes that he was one of the last people to see a murder victim alive… and he can’t tell anyone. It’s a well-plotted book, heavy on character, and the first in a series. I am 100% on board, one of my favorite mysteries of the year.
There’s a new Karin Slaughter novel, and if you know Slaughter you know her books aren’t for the faint of heart. She has no problems finding plots from the darkest places in people’s lives. Pretty Girls starts out pretty normal: well-off woman’s husband is murdered in a robbery gone wrong, woman finds that husband was keeping secrets. But it gets pretty heavy pretty fast. I don’t want to spoil it, so if you’re considering it but are wondering if it’s too icky for you, you can see the spoiler in my Goodreads review (you have to click to open, the rest of you are safe). It is fast fast fast, Slaughter is getting better and better, in my humble opinion, and her recent standalone novels have all been incredibly strong and worthy of the title “thriller.”
Two of my favorite YA’s of the year are both September releases. First there’s Dumplin’ by Julie Murphy, which has had a pretty joyous and enthusiastic reception, and it deserves every bit of it. This is a joyous and enthusiastic book that is so full of feel-good that I’d happily put it in the hands of every teenage girl out there. Willowdean is fat. There’s no tiptoeing around it. And pretty much everything in Will’s life is going kind of crazy. She has a new secret boyfriend who won’t be seen with her in public. Her best friend, the beautiful and skinny Ellen, seems to be moving farther away from her. Her mom, who’s run the city beauty pageant since she won it decades earlier, just can’t understand how Will can be fat and happy with herself at the same time. Will is strong and full of sass, a girl who pulls her inspiration from Dolly Parton. It’s a fun read, an inspiring and funny book, one that gets you thinking about body image and just plain bodies.
I was kind of done with all the Sherlock knockoffs, but I picked up Lock & Mori by Heather W. Perry because this time Moriarty is a girl and I thought I’d be interested to see where the book took that. It took it to a very, very good place. Lock & Mori are teenagers in modern-day London, kids from very different backgrounds, who are drawn to each other due in large part to their shared brilliance. There is a murder, of course. But this is not a book where Sherlock gets to be the big hero. Mori is the narrator and she knows more about what happened than she’s willing to tell Lock, even when things start getting serious between the two of them. I tend not to really dig YA mystery, but this novel totally delivered. The will-they-won’t-they-will-they-stay-together of the teenage romance plus a serious mystery plus a heroine with some serious baggage = Jess is very happy.
There’s a few more YA that I’m saving for my upcoming horror post in October, so hold tight on those.
Yes, I have been reading nonfiction, as hard as it is to believe.
I am a sucker for a medical memoir, so reading Black Man in a White Coat was a no-brainer. Damon Tweedy’s book isn’t just a reflection on his life in training and practice, but a look at how different racial issues play out in medicine. A black doctor-in-training surrounded almost entirely by white trainees and doctors, attending Duke where much of the population is black and poor, Tweedy finds racism in expected and unexpected places. Then there’s issues that go beyond blatant racism, like the treatment gap between the poor blacks and the well-off whites; and the medical issues that disproportionately affect the black community (including Tweedy and his relatives). Tweedy has no agenda. He doesn’t get political. He also borrows freely from other memoirs by doctors of color (yes, including Ben Carson) to show that a problem can be systemic or isolated. It’s a book with heart but that is determined to stay scientific. If there’s someone you’d like to talk about race with but you think they’re not ready for Ta-Nehisi Coates, Tweedy’s memoir is a great, thought-provoking choice.
I started reading Symphony for the City of the Dead by M. T. Anderson not actually realizing it was nonfiction. Anderson wrote several novels I love, including the Octavian Nothing books which I find positively swoon-worthy, if those books were a person I would consider marrying them. The new book is about the composer Dmitri Shostakovich and the siege of Leningrad. I won’t lie, I am not done with this book yet. I’ve been reading it for a month now. Because the siege of Leningrad is DEPRESSING, YO, and I have to take breaks from the horrors of it. I’ve read my fair share of depressing holocaust books, both fiction and nonfiction, but this book is right up there with them in terms of horrors and crimes against humanity. This is technically a nonfiction book for young adults, but honestly I can’t tell. It is easy to read, but it’s no cake walk. It will be a challenging read for a teen, but I don’t see why a teen couldn’t read it. And I see no reason why adults can’t read it.
I’m also in the middle of a book of essays right now: Me, My Hair, and I: Twenty-seven Women Untangle an Obsession, edited by Elizabeth Benedict. There are some truly amazing essays in here, and if you are a curly girl like me, or someone who hasn’t quite made peace with her hair yet, you need to read this book. I just finished an essay by Deborah Tannen about why mothers are always so interested in their daughters’ hair that was insanely good and everyone should read right now. (Teaser: here’s another essay she wrote about how a woman’s appearance is “marked” in a way a man’s isn’t.) A lot of the essays share a theme of accepting your hair after fighting against it and if you need to hear that, you should probably read it. But anyone will find a lot to ponder, man we all have stories about our hair, it’s fascinating to pick that apart.
There’s more I haven’t gotten to yet, Anne-Marie Slaughter’s new book, Unfinished Business, is sitting next to my bed. (Updated to add I started this last night and OMG I think this may be the best book on work-life balance ever. I’m only through Part I but I am just full of praise-hands-emoji for everything Slaughter says.) But pretty soon it’ll be time to move on to 2016 reads and 2015 reading wrap-ups and holy cow, how did we get here?
How’s your fall reading going? Any big new books on your hold list or on your bedside table?