What an odd year it’s been for the book world. We’ve got a global pandemic interrupting lives, jobs, and supply chains, and publishers large and small haven’t escaped unscathed. Tons of titles I was eagerly awaiting had their release dates pushed back several months, many to this fall, just in time to have the news about them buried beneath the weight of what promises to be an ugly election.
Hence the (so far) in this post title. Despite all the chaos, there have been some incredibly powerful and evocative books published already, and from the looks of it, there are many more to come before we can say goodbye to this trashfire of a year.
I’m going to try to keep this post updated, adding releases as I read them or as they gain popularity and critical accord, so make sure to bookmark it and check back in for new recommendations!
Lucy and Jake live in a house by a field where the sun burns like a ball of fire. Lucy has set her career aside in order to devote her life to the children, to their finely tuned routine, and to the house itself, which comforts her like an old, sly friend. But then a man calls one afternoon with a shattering message: his wife has been having an affair with Lucy’s husband, Jake. The revelation marks a turning point: Lucy and Jake decide to stay together, but make a special arrangement designed to even the score and save their marriage–she will hurt him three times.
As the couple submit to a delicate game of crime and punishment, Lucy herself begins to change, surrendering to a transformation of both mind and body from which there is no return.
Told in dazzling, musical prose, The Harpy is a dark, staggering fairy tale, at once mythical and otherworldly and fiercely contemporary. It is a novel of love, marriage and its failures, of power, control and revenge, of metamorphosis and renewal.
In an Ireland doubly ravaged by war and disease, Nurse Julia Power works at an understaffed hospital in the city center, where expectant mothers who have come down with the terrible new Flu are quarantined together. Into Julia’s regimented world step two outsiders — Doctor Kathleen Lynn, a rumoured Rebel on the run from the police , and a young volunteer helper, Bridie Sweeney.
In the darkness and intensity of this tiny ward, over three days, these women change each other’s lives in unexpected ways. They lose patients to this baffling pandemic, but they also shepherd new life into a fearful world. With tireless tenderness and humanity, carers and mothers alike somehow do their impossible work.
In The Pull of the Stars, Emma Donoghue once again finds the light in the darkness in this new classic of hope and survival against all odds.
Finnmark, Norway, 1617. Twenty-year-old Maren Bergensdatter stands on the craggy coast, watching the sea break into a sudden and reckless storm. Forty fishermen, including her brother and father, are drowned and left broken on the rocks below. With the menfolk wiped out, the women of the tiny Northern town of Vardø must fend for themselves.
Three years later, a sinister figure arrives. Absalom Cornet comes from Scotland, where he burned witches in the northern isles. He brings with him his young Norwegian wife, Ursa, who is both heady with her husband’s authority and terrified by it. In Vardø, and in Maren, Ursa sees something she has never seen before: independent women. But Absalom sees only a place untouched by God and flooded with a mighty evil.
As Maren and Ursa are pushed together and are drawn to one another in ways that surprise them both, the island begins to close in on them with Absalom’s iron rule threatening Vardø’s very existence.
Inspired by the real events of the Vardø storm and the 1620 witch trials, The Mercies is a feminist story of love, evil, and obsession, set at the edge of civilization.
Danny—formerly Dhananjaya Rajaratnam—is an illegal immigrant in Sydney, Australia, denied refugee status after he fled from Sri Lanka. Working as a cleaner, living out of a grocery storeroom, for three years he’s been trying to create a new identity for himself. And now, with his beloved vegan girlfriend, Sonja, with his hidden accent and highlights in his hair, he is as close as he has ever come to living a normal life.
But then one morning, Danny learns a female client of his has been murdered. The deed was done with a knife, at a creek he’d been to with her before; and a jacket was left at the scene, which he believes belongs to another of his clients—a doctor with whom Danny knows the woman was having an affair. Suddenly Danny is confronted with a choice: Come forward with his knowledge about the crime and risk being deported? Or say nothing, and let justice go undone? Over the course of this day, evaluating the weight of his past, his dreams for the future, and the unpredictable, often absurd reality of living invisibly and undocumented, he must wrestle with his conscience and decide if a person without rights still has responsibilities.
Propulsive, insightful, and full of Aravind Adiga’s signature wit and magic, Amnesty is both a timeless moral struggle and a universal story with particular urgency today.
Following the breakout success of her critically acclaimed and award-winning novel Euphoria, Lily King returns with an unforgettable portrait of an artist as a young woman.
Blindsided by her mother’s sudden death, and wrecked by a recent love affair, Casey Peabody has arrived in Massachusetts in the summer of 1997 without a plan. Her mail consists of wedding invitations and final notices from debt collectors. A former child golf prodigy, she now waits tables in Harvard Square and rents a tiny, moldy room at the side of a garage where she works on the novel she’s been writing for six years. At thirty-one, Casey is still clutching onto something nearly all her old friends have let go of: the determination to live a creative life. When she falls for two very different men at the same time, her world fractures even more. Casey’s fight to fulfill her creative ambitions and balance the conflicting demands of art and life is challenged in ways that push her to the brink.
Writers & Lovers follows Casey–a smart and achingly vulnerable protagonist–in the last days of a long youth, a time when every element of her life comes to a crisis. Written with King’s trademark humor, heart, and intelligence, Writers & Lovers is a transfixing novel that explores the terrifying and exhilarating leap between the end of one phase of life and the beginning of another.
The Pizzeria Vesuvio looks like any other Italian restaurant in London – with a few small differences. The chefs who make the pizza fiorentinas are Sri Lankan, and half the kitchen staff are illegal immigrants.
At the center is Tuli, the restaurant’s charismatic proprietor and resident Robin Hood, who promises to help anyone in need. Welsh nineteen-year-old Nia, haunted by her troubled past, is running from her family. Shan, having fled the Sri Lankan civil war, is desperate to find his.
But when Tuli’s guidance leads them all into dangerous territory, and the extent of his mysterious operation unravels, each is faced with an impossible moral choice.
In a world where the law is against you, how far would you be willing to lie for a chance to live?
Kyuri is a heartbreakingly beautiful woman with a hard-won job at a “room salon,” an exclusive bar where she entertains businessmen while they drink. Though she prides herself on her cold, clear-eyed approach to life, an impulsive mistake with a client may come to threaten her livelihood.
Her roomate, Miho, is a talented artist who grew up in an orphanage but won a scholarship to study art in New York. Returning to Korea after college, she finds herself in a precarious relationship with the super-wealthy heir to one of Korea’s biggest companies.
Down the hall in their apartment building lives Ara, a hair stylist for whom two preoccupations sustain her: obsession with a boy-band pop star, and a best friend who is saving up for the extreme plastic surgery that is commonplace.
And Wonna, one floor below, is a newlywed trying to get pregnant with a child that she and her husband have no idea how they can afford to raise and educate in the cutthroat economy.
Together, their stories tell a gripping tale that’s seemingly unfamiliar, yet unmistakably universal in the way that their tentative friendships may have to be their saving grace.
In the present, Sacha knows the world’s in trouble. Her brother Robert just is trouble. Their mother and father are having trouble. Meanwhile, the world’s in meltdown—and the real meltdown hasn’t even started yet. In the past, a lovely summer. A different brother and sister know they’re living on borrowed time.
This is a story about people on the brink of change. They’re family, but they think they’re strangers. So: Where does family begin? And what do people who think they’ve got nothing in common have in common?
A woman describes a series of encounters she has with various people in the ordinary course of her life: an ex she runs into by chance at a public forum, an Airbnb owner unsure how to interact with her guests, a stranger who seeks help comforting his elderly mother, a friend of her youth now hospitalized with terminal cancer. In each of these people the woman finds a common need: the urge to talk about themselves and to have an audience to their experiences. The narrator orchestrates this chorus of voices for the most part as a passive listener, until one of them makes an extraordinary request, drawing her into an intense and transformative experience of her own.
In What Are You Going Through, Nunez brings wisdom, humor, and insight to a novel about human connection and the changing nature of relationships in our times. A surprising story about empathy and the unusual ways one person can help another through hardship, her book offers a moving and provocative portrait of the way we live now.
One evening, Mother tells Daughter a story about a tiger spirit who lived in a woman’s body. She was called Hu Gu Po, and she hungered to eat children, especially their toes. Soon afterwards, Daughter awakes with a tiger tail. And more mysterious events follow: Holes in the backyard spit up letters penned by her grandmother; a visiting aunt arrives with snakes in her belly; a brother tests the possibility of flight. All the while, Daughter is falling for Ben, a neighborhood girl with mysterious powers of her own. As the two young lovers translate the grandmother’s letters, Daughter begins to understand that each woman in her family embodies a myth — and that she will have to bring her family’s secrets to light in order to change their destiny.
With a poetic voice of crackling electricity, K-Ming Chang is an explosive young writer who combines the wit and fabulism of Helen Oyeyemi with the subversive storytelling of Maxine Hong Kingston. Tracing one family’s history from Taiwan to America, from Arkansas to California, Bestiary is a novel of migration, queer lineages, and girlhood.
Vincent is a bartender at the Hotel Caiette, a five-star glass and cedar palace on an island in British Columbia. Jonathan Alkaitis works in finance and owns the hotel. When he passes Vincent his card with a tip, it’s the beginning of their life together. That same day, Vincent’s half-brother, Paul, scrawls a note on the windowed wall of the hotel: “Why don’t you swallow broken glass.” Leon Prevant, a shipping executive for a company called Neptune Logistics, sees the note from the hotel bar and is shaken to his core. Thirteen years later Vincent mysteriously disappears from the deck of the Neptune Cumberland. Weaving together the lives of these characters, The Glass Hotel moves between the ship, the skyscrapers of Manhattan, and the wilderness of northern Vancouver Island, painting a breathtaking picture of greed and guilt, fantasy and delusion, art and the ghosts of our pasts.
In September 1969, a fumbling, cranky old church deacon known as Sportcoat shuffles into the courtyard of the Cause Houses housing project in south Brooklyn, pulls a .38 from his pocket, and in front of everybody shoots the project’s drug dealer at point-blank range.
In Deacon King Kong, McBride brings to vivid life the people affected by the shooting: the victim, the African-American and Latinx residents who witnessed it, the white neighbors, the local cops assigned to investigate, the members of the Five Ends Baptist Church where Sportcoat was deacon, the neighborhood’s Italian mobsters, and Sportcoat himself.
As the story deepens, it becomes clear that the lives of the characters–caught in the tumultuous swirl of 1960s New York–overlap in unexpected ways. When the truth does emerge, McBride shows us that not all secrets are meant to be hidden, that the best way to grow is to face change without fear, and that the seeds of love lie in hope and compassion.
Elizabeth is tired. Years after coming to New York to try to build a life, she has found herself with two kids, a husband, two jobs, a PhD―and now they’re filing for bankruptcy. As she tries to balance her dream and the impossibility of striving toward it while her work and home lives feel poised to fall apart, she wakes at ungodly hours to run miles by the icy river, struggling to quiet her thoughts.
When she reaches out to Sasha, her long-lost childhood friend, it feels almost harmless―one of those innocuous ruptures that exist online, in texts. But her timing is uncanny. Sasha is facing a crisis, too, and perhaps after years apart, their shared moments of crux can bring them back into each other’s lives.
In Want, Lynn Steger Strong explores the subtle violences enacted on a certain type of woman when she dares to want things―and all the various violences in which she implicates herself as she tries to survive.
Isabella is beautiful, inscrutable, and popular. Her best friend, Bridget, keeps quietly to the fringes of their Connecticut Catholic school, watching everything and everyone, but most especially Isabella.
In 1957, when the girls graduate, they land coveted spots at the Accademia di Belle Arti di Pentila in northern Italy, a prestigious art history school on the grounds of a silent convent. There, free of her claustrophobic home and the town that will always see her and her Egyptian mother as outsiders, Bridget discovers she can reinvent herself as anyone she desires… perhaps even someone Isabella could desire in return.
But as that glittering year goes on, Bridget begins to suspect Isabella is keeping a secret from her, one that will change the course of their lives forever.