Eggers, Kumar, Towles, Verble, Yanique & More Literary Stars, Oct. 2021, Pt. 2 |Prepub Alert

Top reads ranging from Khadija Abdalla Bajaber’s The House of Rust, a Graywolf Press Africa Prize winner, to NYPL Young Lion Claire Vaye Watkins’s I Love You but I’ve Chosen Darkness, which is autofiction like Violaine Huisman’s multi-award-winning debut The Book of Mother. Plus more award winners.

Bajaber, Khadija Abdalla. The House of Rust. Graywolf. Oct. 2021. 272p. ISBN 9781644450680. pap. $16. LITERARY

Inaugural winner of the Graywolf Press Africa Prize, this intriguing debut features Aisha, acover of Verble's Two Feathers Fell from the Sky Hadrami girl from Mombasa, Kenya, who sets out on a magical boat crafted from a single skeleton to rescue her father, lost at sea. Along the way, she’s aided by a talking scholar’s cat and other wise animals and encounters the terrifying Baba wa Papa, father of all sharks. Her mission accomplished, she returns home and is caught between her grandmother’s wish to marry her off safely and her own desire for adventure, as exemplified by the fantastical House of Rust.

Chambers, Clare. Small Pleasures. Custom House: Morrow. Oct. 2021. 288p. ISBN 9780063094727. $27.99. LITERARY

In late 1950s England, nearly 40 Jean Swinney is resigned to her scant opportunities as a reporter at a local paper in London’s southeastern suburbs and the ongoing burdens of caring for a querulous widowed mother. Then young Gretchen Tilbury contacts the paper, claiming that her daughter resulted from a virgin birth, and Jean senses a career-making story. Soon, she’s intimately involved with the Tilbury family as well. A huge hit in the UK; with a 50,000-copy first printing.

Eggers, Dave. The Every. Knopf. Oct. 2021. 496p. ISBN 9780593320860. $28. Downloadable. LITERARY

The Every: it’s a globally dominant, immeasurably rich, ominously powerful, yet wildly embraced new company that resulted from the merger of the world’s largest search engine/social media company and the top e-commerce site. Former forest ranger Delaney Wells wangles an entry-level job there with a secret purpose: she wants to take down the Every from within. More sharp social commentary from Eggers.

Huisman, Violaine. The Book of Mother. Scribner. Oct. 2021. 240p. tr. from French by Leslie Camhi. ISBN 9781982108786. $27. LITERARY

To daughter Violaine, her Maman, Catherine, is fabulously larger than life, extravagantly engaged in living and loving, smoking and laughing. Then Maman is hospitalized after a third divorce and a breakdown and returns home difficult and disruptive, soon revealing to Violaine and her sister her own traumatized upbringing. A former curator of the Brooklyn Academy of Music’s distinguished literary series, Paris-born Huisman first published this debut in France, where it racked up some big awards (e.g., the Prix Françoise Sagan). A ferocious look at the mother-daughter bond; with a 60,00-copy first printing.

Kawaguchi, Toshikazu. Tales from the Café. Hanover Square: Harlequin. Oct. 2021. 224p. ISBN 9781335630988. $19.99. LITERARY

In Kawaguchi’s internationally best-selling Before the Coffee Gets Cold, a LibraryReads pick, an underground café in Tokyo allows customers to travel back in time—they just have to sit in a particular seat on a particular day, and the journey will last only as long as it takes to down a cup of coffee. This follow-up introduces us to four more time travelers, from a man who revisits a friend deceased for over two decades to a detective who regrets having never given his wife a special gift. With a 100,000-copy first printing.

Kumar, Amitava. A Time Outside This Time. Knopf. Oct. 2021. 272p. ISBN 9780593319017. $26. Downloadable. LITERARY

In this timely work from the author of Immigrant, Montana, a New York Times Notable Book, Satya is in residence at an eminent artists’ retreat but cannot escape the world: COVID-19 rages, President Trump rants, and the media purvey what are often falsities 24 hours a day. Other residents shy from these painful truths as distractions, but Satya uses them to help clarify a new novel he’s writing about the lies we tell ourselves and others. Formally inventive with its blend of narrative and newspaper clippings, the president’s tweets, and meditations on key artworks; I’m betting on this one.

Mattson, James Han. Reprieve. Morrow. Oct. 2021. 416p. ISBN 9780063079915. $27.99. lrg. prnt. LITERARY

In 1997, four contestants have managed to make it to the final cell of a booby-trapped, chills-for-everyone escape room called Quigley House without shrieking the safe word, reprieve. It’s a rare feat defeated when someone breaks into the cell and kills one of the contestants. Those remaining—teenager Kendra Brown, who has lost her father and consequently her childhood home; Leonard Grandton, caught in a series of poisonous relationships; and international student Jaidee Charoensuk, hoping to reconnect with a beloved former teacher—reflect on their part in the tragedy. From Iowa Writers’ Workshop grad Mattson ( The Lost Prayers of Ricky Graves), literary horror for readers of all stripes (except the easily unsettled); with a 150,000-copy first printing.

Onuzo, Chibundu. Sankofa. Catapult. Oct. 2021. 304p. ISBN 9781646220830. $26. LITERARY

Her husband gone, her daughter grown, and her white English mother dead, the biracial Anna goes on a quest to learn what she can about the African father she never knew. Soon she discovers that after engaging in radical politics in 1970s London, he became the president (and perhaps dictator) of a small, imaginary nation in West Africa. What’s more, he is still alive. Roughly translated as “to return and get it,” the term Sankofa comes from the Akan people of West Africa and is symbolized by a mythological bird turning its neck to retrieve an egg off its back. Multi-award-winning British Nigerian author Onuzo follows up the acclaimed Welcome to Lagos.

Pride, Christine & Jo Piazza. We Are Not Like Them. Atria. Oct. 2021. 336p. ISBN 9781982181031. $27. LITERARY

Publishing veteran Pride joins forces with best-selling author Piazza ( Charlotte Walsh Likes To Win) to tell the story of two women, one Black and one white, who have been best friends since kindergarten. Jen marries young, while Riley becomes one of the first Black female anchors at a top-drawer news station in Philadelphia. Finally, Jen is happy to be pregnant after much struggle, but the relationship between the two friends suffers a terrible blow when Jen’s policeman husband shoots an unarmed Black teenager. With a 150,000-copy first printing.

Solomon, Asali. The Days of Afrekete. Farrar. Oct. 2021. 208p. ISBN 9780374140052. $26. LITERARY

After her husband, Winn, fails in his run for the state legislature, Liselle Belmont suffers through the dinner party she’s holding to thank key supporters while confronting the knowledge, gleaned from an FBI agent, that Winn is corrupt. She’s so distant from socially engaged college friend Selena that they barely spoke when encountering each other after Barack Obama’s election. But the women may come together yet. From National Book Foundation’s 5 Under 35 honoree Solomon (Disgruntled), inspired by Mrs. Dalloway and Sula.

Stine, Alison. Trashlands. Mira: Harlequin. Oct. 2021. 384p. ISBN 9780778311270. $27.99. CD. LITERARY

In an environmentally wrecked near-future, plastic is the main currency, and migrant workers like Coral survive by harvesting it from the fields and streams to sell. Coral herself is saving money to rescue her son, kidnapped by child labor traffickers seven years previously, while creating sculptures from refuse that she places anonymously in the woods. (Such is the enduring value of art.) When an accident takes all her savings, Coral must decide whether to become a dancer at Trashlands, the strip joint dominating the garbage dump where she lives. Following the LJ-starred Road out of Winter; with a 50,000-copy first printing.

Towles, Amor. The Lincoln Highway. Viking. Oct. 2021. 416p. ISBN 9780735222359. $30. CD/downloadable. LITERARY

In June 1954, when 18-year-old Emmett Watson is dropped back home by the warden of the juvenile work farm where he has just served 15 months for involuntary manslaughter, he expects simply to grab his little brother and skedaddle to California. His mother is long gone, his father recently dead, and the farm foreclosed. Then he spots two friends from the farm who surreptitiously hitched a ride on the warden’s truck and plan to steer him toward New York instead. Clearly, the author of the New York Times best sellers Rules of Civility and A Gentleman in Moscow aims never to write the same book twice.

Verble, Margaret. When Two Feathers Fell from the Sky. Houghton Harcourt. Oct. 2021. 384p. ISBN 9780358554837. $27. LITERARY

In 1926 Nashville, Cherokee horse-diver Two Feathers has temporarily left a Wild West show to work at the Glendale Park Zoo, where one of her best friends is Hank Crawford, another horse lover haling from an established, land-owning Black family. After catastrophe strikes one of her shows, followed by unsettling events that include apparitions from the past and the hippo’s mysterious illness, Two Feathers joins with other park workers and even stakeholders to discover what’s really happening. From Pulitzer Prize finalist Verble, an enrolled citizen of the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma; with a 35,000-copy first printing.

Watkins, Claire Vaye. I Love You but I’ve Chosen Darkness. Riverhead. Oct. 2021. 320p. ISBN 9780593330210. $27. LITERARY

Trying to shrug off postpartum depression, a writer named Claire travels to a speaking engagement in Reno and stays longer than anticipated, reconnecting with old friends and confronting the death of her first love, her father’s cult-member notoriety, and her mother’s steady dwindling down to focus on her addiction. What Claire is really doing: struggling with how she feels about marriage and motherhood and, in the sun-swept Mojave Desert, trying to figure out where she belongs in the world. Following the multi-award-winning Battleborn (e.g., Story Prize, NYPL Young Lions Award) and the multi-best-booked Gold Fame Citrus.

Yanique, Tiphanie. Monster in the Middle. Riverhead. Oct. 2021. 240p. ISBN 9781594633607. $27. Downloadable. LITERARY

Catholic science teacher Stela arrives in New York from the Caribbean ready to commit herself to love, while Black American musician Fly comes from a mixed religious background and is ready to get over heartbreak. They launch a relationship that appears to be the real thing, but its course will be shaped by family histories going back decades to their parents’ first loves and stories that move between the U.S. Virgin Islands and Ghana. From National 5 Under 35 honoree Yanique (Land of Love and Drowning).

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Barbara Hoffert

Barbara Hoffert (, @BarbaraHoffert on Twitter) is Editor, LJ Book Review; past chair of the Materials Selection Committee of the RUSA (Reference and User Services Assn.) division of the American Library Association; and past president of the National Book Critics Circle, to which she has just been reelected.

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