From the Edit Desk to the Stacks | Editors’ Fall Picks for 2021

LJ editors highlight personal favorites among the new slate of fall 2021 books. Selections span romance, biography, suspense, art, gardening, poetry, and more, including key debuts and the return of favorite authors.

Mahnaz Dar

Reference & Professional Reading Senior Editor, LJ Reviews

Working in publishing, I’m always looking ahead to the next crop of books. This season, some of the titles I’m most thrilled about have me looking back. With Music Is History (Abrams Image, Oct.), Questlove chooses a different song for each year from 1971 on, using each tune as a jumping-off point to discuss politics, pop culture, and the personal—like an aural version of Proust’s madeleine. Moving from music to the written word, The New York Times Book Review: 125 Years of Literary History (Clarkson Potter, Nov.) is a can’t-miss trove for bibliophiles and anyone wondering if the Gray Lady managed to predict what books would stand the test of time (yes in the case of Mrs. Dalloway; not so much for Anne of Green Gables). Danielle J. Lindemann’s True Story: What Reality TV Says About Us (Farrar, Oct.) has me reflecting on my guiltiest pleasure, but, as the author points out, in a world where most people can name more Kardashians than Supreme Court justices, reality TV is worth talking about. Finally, every year, I check to see if another book from Japanese mystery writer Keigo Higashino has been translated into English; this year, I was delighted to find that Silent Parade (Minotaur) is coming this December and with it the return of Detective Galileo.

Liz French

Senior Editor, LJ Reviews

In 2020, as protests against police violence led to dialogue about defunding and restructuring the police, the crime fiction community began to question the validity of police stories. There were calls to stop lionizing the mostly white detectives in books, movies, and TV shows and to publish and read more crime fiction by underrepresented voices. Two excellent debuts offer the opportunity to do just that. Tamron Hall’s As the Wicked Watch (Morrow, Oct.) features Black journalist Jordan, who is haunted by the murders of Black Chicagoans, dismayed at the lack of coverage of the murders, and certain the police are on the wrong track. Wanda M. Morris’s All Her Little Secrets (Morrow, Nov.; see LJ’s interview with Wanda Morris) is being compared to the works of Attica Locke and John Grisham. Her protagonist is Black Atlanta lawyer Ellice, who gets embroiled in a frightening conspiracy at her law firm after her white boss (and former lover) is murdered. In nonfiction, I can’t wait to get lost in the 1920s with Debby Applegate’s Madam: The Biography of Polly Adler, Icon of the Jazz Age (Doubleday, Nov.), a look at “the best goddamn madam in all America,” and step into the 1950s as envisaged by costume designer Donna Zakowska in Madly Marvelous: The Costumes of The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel (Abrams, Nov.).

Barbara Hoffert

Editor, Prepub Alert, LJ

In spring 2019, my editor’s pick was Jericho Brown’s The Tradition, an elegant, utterly piercing portrayal of Black and LGBTQ+ experiences that went on to win the Pulitzer Prize. In spring 2021, the Free Library of Philadelphia chose The Tradition for its annual reading program, One Book One Philadelphia—the first time poetry was represented in the program’s 19-year history. Says Director of Programming Brittanie Sterner, “Featuring The Tradition as the centerpiece of citywide conversation meant sitting with who we are, what our history is, and how it continues to shape this violent moment. Philadelphians from every neighborhood came together for eight weeks around the magic of Brown’s poetry, which gave us pause and space for tenderness and connection during so many intersecting crises.” Discussion questions were actively brainstormed with the publisher, Copper Canyon, a collaboration that continues with the forthcoming release of The Tradition: Civic Dialogue Edition (Nov.). Aimed at cities, schools, book groups, faith centers, and, of course, libraries, this special edition includes an interview with Brown and an introduction by Sonia Sanchez, along with the discussion questions themselves, which evoke the issues of social justice, creativity, and empathy to which Brown’s exacting lines are eminently suited: “None of the beaten end up how we began. / A poem is a gesture toward home.”

Stephanie Klose

Reviews Manager & Media Editor, LJ Reviews

Catriona Ward’s The Last House on Needless Street (Tor Nightfire, Oct.) is arguably this fall’s most anticipated horror novel. The story of a man who loses time, a teenage girl and a sentient cat who aren’t allowed out of his house, and a woman searching for her long-missing sister, it features a genuinely shocking twist and has been glowingly blurbed by Stephen King. In Zin E. Rocklyn’s Flowers for the Sea (, Oct.), survivors of a flood, including Iraxi, who is pregnant with something that may not be quite human, are adrift on an ark. Caitlin Starling turns her hand to gothic horror with The Death of Jane Lawrence (St. Martin’s, Oct.), in which the titular character must contend with the forces haunting her new husband’s ancestral home. Olivia Dade’s Hollywood-set All the Feels (Avon, Oct.) pits an impulsive actor against the woman hired to keep him in line. Sara Desai’s The Singles Table (Berkley, Nov.) is another opposites-attract romance featuring a focused workaholic and a chaotic matchmaker who vows never to love again. Self-pub phenomenon Chencia C. Higgins makes her trade debut with D’Vaughn and Kris Plan a Wedding (Carina, Jan. 2022), an f/f romance set in the world of reality TV. 

Stephanie Sendaula

Associate Editor, LJ Reviews

Last season, I eagerly anticipated books by writers and authors who have inspired me, and this fall I’m continuing to pick up books that make me think, laugh, or reflect. Like many, I was drawn to the “1619 Project” when it was published in the New York Times in 2019. I’ve since framed my copy, and I’m excited to read the expanded book-length treatment The 1619 Project: A New Origin Story (One World, Nov.) by Pulitzer Prize winner Nikole Hannah-Jones. I’ve also been a fan of writer and comedian Phoebe Robinson since her time cohosting 2 Dope Queens and her first book You Can’t Touch My Hair. Her latest, Please Don’t Sit on My Bed in Your Outside Clothes (Tiny Reparations, Sept.), the first book from her new imprint, brings the same humor and candor that fans have come to know and love. Lastly, I’m always interested in cookbooks, and I can already tell that Bryant Terry’s Black Food: Stories, Art, and Recipes from Across the African Diaspora (4 Color Books, Oct.), the first book from his new imprint, will earn a coveted space on my shelf alongside his award-winning Vegetable Kingdom, which is still one of my go-tos.

Sarah Wolberg

Associate Editor, LJ Reviews

This fall, I’m anticipating new nonfiction that rethinks existing narratives. At the top of my list is Teju Cole’s new book, Black Paper: Writing in a Dark Time (Univ. of Chicago, Oct.), with new and previously published essays on ethics, art, history, activism, and writing. In Sandfuture (MIT, Sept.), the artist Justin Beal examines the legacy of architect Minoru Yamasaki, whose most famous designs (the World Trade towers and St. Louis’s Pruitt-Igoe houses) were both destroyed on live TV; it’s biography crossed with cultural studies and art history. Architect Fred Scharmen writes a radical interdisciplinary history of space exploration in Space Forces: A Critical History of Life in Outer Space (Verso, Nov.), spanning 19th-century Russian cosmism, Arthur C. Clarke’s sci-fi, and commercial space travel. Finally, Thomas Heise’s The Gentrification Plot: New York and the Postindustrial Crime Novel (Columbia Univ., Dec.) might be interesting critical reading for mystery or crime-fic fans. It’s a literary study of race, class, and real estate speculation in 21st-century crime novels, including Ernesto Quiñonez’s Harlem thrillers and Henry Chang’s Chinatown-set “Detective Jack Yu” series.

Neal Wyatt

Reviews Editor, LJ

Readers have waited seven years for Diana Gabaldon’s ninth “Outlander” title, Go Tell the Bees That I Am Gone (Delacorte, Nov.). The book picks up in 1779 as the Frasers continue to face the many implications of the Revolutionary War. It promises hours of immersive reading. The Cat Who Saved Books by Sosuke Natsukawa (HarperVia, Dec.) features a talking cat on a mission to save neglected books. RA librarians looking for something new and dreamy will want to take note. Don’t consider the gardening season over. Two titles celebrate the astounding loveliness possible when gardens are designed for the colder months. Winter Gardens by Cedric Pollet (Frances Lincoln, Oct.) is being reissued after winning the award for Garden Book of the Year in 2018. New gardeners who missed it back then will find inspiration and a highly useful visual guide. Also look for Winterland by Cathy Rees (Princeton Architectural, Sept.). It too celebrates plants that put on their best show when temperatures drop.


Fall Preview 2021: 133 Titles To Know, Buy, and Suggest to Readers

Wanda M. Morris: Sharing Secrets

Roxane Gay: Modeling Change

Download a spreadsheet of the books getting early buzz this season 

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