Editors’ Fall Picks 2017

Forty-one timely titles for autumn and beyond
WHAT TIME IS IT? It’s time for the editors to pick their favorite fall books for your eager (we hope) consumption. Time for looking backward and forward to see how far we’ve come and how far we still have to go. Time for speaking out against misogyny, racism, fake news, and transphobia. Time to unlock our creativity and make our workplaces more family-friendly. Time to let the gray flourish. Time to graduate from “Girl” thrillers to, at last, a “Woman” title. Time to go back to school—in China. Time to indulge, too, with luscious cookbooks, juicy historical fiction and romance, counterculture success stories, murder mysteries, photo books, and a couple of graphic works. And time to pay tribute to Joni Mitchell, Star Wars (happy 40th!), and the first female Time Lord.—Liz French Illustration by C.M. Butzer

Actors’ Dream

The lustrous frivolity of William Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream shows that we’re made fools by love, and as evidenced by The Most Lamentable Comedy and Most Cruel Death of Pyramus and Thisbe, Shakespeare’s brilliantly befuddled play-within-a-play, we’ll even die for it—in this case, hilariously. Instead of indulging in a popular literary maneuver by retelling this enduring Dream, Bernard Cornwell’s Fools and Mortals (Harper, Jan. 2018) imagines the play’s first production in rollicking good historical fiction that encompasses brotherly rivalry, theatrical espionage, and a sense of playmaking at that time. Cornwell’s lead player is Shakespeare’s younger brother Richard, whom he makes a member of the Lord Chamberlain’s Men, the company for which Shakespeare mainly wrote and acted. Richard is mightily chafed by his brother’s disdain and his being stuck playing women, and he hopes that the new play, to be performed at the wedding of their patron’s granddaughter, will bring him a male role. The theft of key company property sets Richard on a dangerous adventure ending in one of those fabulous sword fights Elizabethan audiences adored, while Richard’s personal ambitions and love of lady’s maid Silvia capture the pathos of longing that defines Dream as much as its laughter. Cornwell also tells the larger story of performance in Shakespeare’s time, when the theater lay close to the gaming dens, brothels, and criminal underworld of London. That plunges his story into some dark territory, even as he shows the Puritans then in ascendance conducting raids to find anything smacking of sedition, the Papacy, or even fun. Of course, the Puritans also hated the theater, but they were countered by men such as the Lord Chamberlain and by the play-loving queen herself. As Cornwell states in an illuminating historical note, “The world owes a debt of gratitude to England’s monarchy and aristocracy because, without them, the nascent theatre might have been throttled at birth, and we would have no Shakespeare.” In the end, the novel’s greatest pleasure comes from its portrayal of the not-so-simple act of putting on a play. Though a few purists might bridle at some of Cornwell’s inventions (surely the prerogative of novelists as well as playwrights), no reader will be able to resist the camaraderie displayed here as the players frantically rehearse, forget lines and invent them, compete with vigor, rag one another mercilessly, trade around parts in emergencies, fret about the audience, endure full-blown panic at show time, and absolutely adore the glow of the stage. Those relentless efforts bind player to player, as we also see with the “rude mechanicals” in Dream. They may be foolish, but their fervid commitment to performing their bit of nonsense about Pyramus and Thisbe brings them together and lifts the heart. Richard’s entire life is informed by his craft, and he gets in the last word by speaking proudly of what he does: “We are the Lord Chamberlain’s players. We tell stories. We make the magical appear onstage. We turn dreams into truth. We are actors.”—Barbara Hoffert

Upended Expectations

Often, my picks hew closely to the familiar; I find myself diving into a biography of a favorite icon or revisiting a beloved author. This time? To quote Monty Python, “And now for something completely different!”

Though I wouldn’t usually gravitate to a novel based loosely on the Bill Clinton/Monica Lewinsky scandal (­especially since these days I’m burning out on stories of intrigue masquerading as serious politics), Gabrielle Zevin’s wickedly funny Young Jane Young (Algonquin, Aug.; LJ 6/1/17) speaks to me. Twenty-year-old Aviva Grossman falls in love with her boss, a married congressman. When the affair and Aviva’s blog chronicling the relationship come to light, the media viciously shred Aviva, who changes her name, flees to a small Maine town, and attempts to erase her past. For all our talk about how society has become more enlightened, we persist in cutting women down to size for so-called bad behavior, and Zevin’s utterly absorbing work provides incisive commentary on our still-misogynistic culture. Her dialog is spot-on and uncomfortably realistic: “The girl knew he was married and she seduced him. I guess she was drawn to the power or the limelight. Or maybe she was insecure. She was slutty and a bit zaftig—one of those such-a-pretty-face types—so it probably raised her self-esteem to attract a man like Levin.”

As well, I’ve long been a graphic novel fan, so it’s no surprise that another one has captured my fancy. However, Iasmin Omar Ata’s Mis(h)adra (Gallery 13: S. & S., Oct.) is like nothing I’ve read before, both in its subject matter and its innovative visuals. Inspired by Ata’s own experiences, this title about a student navigating the stresses of college life and epilepsy blends a psychedelic color scheme, arresting images, and a manga style for a searingly intimate work. Comics have long highlighted previously unseen perspectives, and the author-illustrator presents a queer Muslim Arab American protagonist dealing with a disability—identities that have gone underrepresented. Ata’s is a voice that should be heard.

For my final selection, I stepped into the realm of non-fiction with Lenora Chu’s Little Soldiers: An American Boy, a Chinese School, and the Global Race To Achieve (HarperCollins, Sept.; see the starred review, LJ 9/1/17, p. 131). Chu, an American journalist of Chinese descent, and her husband moved to Shanghai and enrolled their three-year-old son, Rainey, in a Chinese school. Initially shocked by what she saw as punitive, Dickensian teaching methods, the author eventually noticed Rainey becoming far more self- sufficient and mature than most American children his age. With this thought-provoking title, Chu uses her son’s ex-periences as a jumping-off point for an in-depth exploration of Chinese education and culture, tackling everything from the deep divide between rural and urban students to standardized testing.—Mahnaz Dar

Young at Heart

Even as I get older, I still find more than a few teen-centric novels making their way into my reading rotation. I may not embody the “young” in young adult anymore, but the ­compelling stories that make up the genre run the gamut and still fascinate—no age limit required. Amy Reed’s The Nowhere Girls (Simon Pulse, Oct.) tackles rape culture. Three high school students—who are beautifully drawn with brilliant and sometimes agonizing realism—spark a movement against the misogyny that reverberates so dangerously around them. Reed provides an honest and necessary look at sexuality and sexism. That Inevitable Victorian Thing (Dutton Books for Young Readers, Oct.) by E.K. Johnston mixes alternative British history, politics, and sf with the charm of a fairy tale. Crown Princess Victoria-Margaret poses as a commoner for one summer of freedom before she is to be genetically matched for a prosperous marriage. On the other side of the spectrum is I Hate Everyone but You (Wednesday: St. Martin’s, Sept.), a novel told exclusively through text messages and email. Online creators–turned–authors Gaby Dunn and Allison Raskin imbue best friends Gen and Ava with laugh-out-loud wit as they deal with growing pains and lives apart at their respective colleges.

One of the best parts of being a fan of something is engagement, whether chatting with other enthusiasts or eagerly expanding knowledge of the canon—perhaps through a book. BBC’s long-running Doctor Who recently announced its newest Doctor—Jodie Whittaker, the first woman to take up the mantle—which has reignited my interest in the series. To that end, I’m looking forward to James Goss’s Doctor Who: Now We Are Six Hundred (Harper Design, Sept.), a collection of poems about the Time Lord. With whimsical illustrations from former showrunner Russell T. Davis, this volume is sure to charm. Meanwhile, Star Wars celebrated its 40th anniversary this year, and From a Certain Point of View (Del Rey: Ballantine, Oct.) helps commemorate the occasion. Authors including Daniel José Older and Meg Cabot were called upon to write short stories about the original film from the perspective of background characters. As the Star Wars universe continues to grow, it will be fun to go back and appreciate the one that started it all in a whole new way.—Kate DiGirolomo

Fact & Fiction


As a longtime fan of Deb Perelman and her food blog Smitten Kitchen, I’ve been anticipating her latest cookbook, Smitten Kitchen Every Day: Triumphant and Unfussy New Favorites (Knopf, Oct.), which offers family-friendly recipes for each meal of the day. My family has been enjoying the spinach, mushroom, and goat cheese fritatta with the suggested biscuits as well as the chicken and rice, street-cart style. As with her blog, readers will feel like they’re getting recipes from an old friend. Another cookbook I’m looking forward to is David Tanis Market Cooking: Recipes and Revelations, Ingredient by Ingredient (Artisan, Oct). Tanis, City Kitchen columnist for the New York Times, shares several seasonal recipes in ingredient-based chapters. As the summer has been coming to an end, I’ve been appreciating his variations on corn on the cob.

More food for thought, I was drawn to Kevin Young’s Bunk: The Rise of Hoaxes, Humbug, Plagiarists, Phonies, Post-Facts, and Fake News (Graywolf, Nov.) by the author’s description of fantasy becoming history and history becoming fantasy at a time when the truth no longer mat-ters. Young explores how America’s cultural amnesia has allowed hoaxes to thrive since the days of P.T. Barnum and the penny press. This is a sobering, relevant history of how we got here that touches upon subjects such as mythology and media studies.

My interests in biographies and pop culture led me to pick up Joe Hagan’s Sticky Fingers: The Life and Times of Jann Wenner and Rolling Stone Magazine (Knopf, Oct). Journalist Hagan relates the history of Rolling Stone since its founding in 1967, as polarizing founder Wenner legitimized and mainstreamed the counterculture. In an era of celebrity, it’s interesting to read how the now-fragmented youth culture has led Rolling Stone to drift from music criticism, and what may be in store for Wenner’s declining media empire after the recent sales of Us Weekly and Men’s Journal.

Basketball is my favorite sport, and I couldn’t put down The Blueprint: Lebron James, Cleveland’s Deliverance, and the Making of the Modern NBA (Dutton, Oct.), about rescuing an ailing franchise. Here, sportswriter Jason Lloyd describes the coaching changes and roster mismatches the Cavs endured throughout the years, especially James’s unsuccessful attempt to re-create his Miami Heat Big Three (with Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh) via Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love in Cleveland. Don’t be dissuaded if you’re not a fan of the Cavs; this book will interest anyone whose team has had a long championship drought.

Like many of you, I’ve been looking forward to another book from Andy Weir since The Martian was released. The best-selling author doesn’t disappoint with Artemis (Crown, Nov.), the story of full-time porter, sometime-smuggler Jazz, whose small colony on the moon has become increasingly unaffordable for residents as more immigrants from Earth arrive. To make ends meet, Jazz participates in a heist that doesn’t go as planned. Let’s hope Weir’s latest is op-tioned for film, too.—Stephanie Sendaula

Sleight of Hand

In journalist and writer Emanuel Bergmann’s debut novel, The Trick (Atria, Sept.; see the starred review, LJ 9/1/17, p. 101), 11-year-old Max Cohn lives in Los Angeles with his soon-to-be-divorced parents. Among his father’s possessions Max finds a record album: Zabbatini: His Greatest Tricks. Max is certain that the spell guaranteeing eternal love is what he needs to heal his broken family and sets out to locate the great illusionist. The twin stories of Max and the octogenarian born Moshe Goldenhirsch in Prague will mesmerize readers as they move ever closer to the finale. While Max hunts down his quarry, I was envisioning the fortune-telling machine at the heart of the Tom Hanks film Big, but the images Bergmann creates are eerier and more devastating in his exceptional work.

There’s nothing tricky about how I first met Alyssa Cole: she contacted me about speaking at a local chapter of Romance Writers of America (RWA). Shortly after, LJ reviewed several anthologies in which she had short stories (all well received). An Extraordinary Union, the first installment in her Civil War–era spy series “The Loyal League,” garnered a starred review (LJ 4/15/17) and was talked up quite a bit at the recent RWA annual conference. A Hope Divided (Kensington, Dec.) continues the clandestine work of Southerners hoping to secure a victory for the Union. Marlie is a scientist whose tinctures and compounds bring a measure of relief to her neighbors and the prisoners at the Randolph encampment; Scottish-born philosopher soldier Ewan McCall quotes Epictetus but isn’t what he appears to be. “She reminded herself of the obvious: He was white…[she] had white blood in her veins, but she was a Negro woman in a country that was fighting a war to keep people like her enslaved.” Cole’s characters are complex and passionate. Readers will share the couple’s rage and admire their determination.

Loretta Chase’s historical romances (e.g., Silk Is for Seduction; Vixen in Velvet) have been on LJ’s Best Romance lists with good reason. Her new series begins with A Duke in Shining Armor (Avon, Dec.). It is Lady ­Olympia ­High-tower’s wedding day, and the groom, the Duke of Ashmont, is one of Their Dis-Graces, a trio of young dukes who thumb their noses at society and its dictates. In a slightly tipsy haze, Olympia runs from the scene and over a wall, with Ashmont’s friend the Duke of Ripley on her heels. Ripley engineers it so that Ashmont will find her and bring everything to rights. Until…. Glorious and giddy, this is another triumph that should be Chased down by all libraries.

Some might say that the talent and virtuosity of Joni Mitchell are magical, even smacking of wizardry. For those of us who came upon her early works, when strong ­female voices were demanded and treasured, it seems only right to see her as editor Barney Hoskyns does: “a towering troubadour and sometimes reckless daughter of America’s folk-rock revolution” (Joni: The Anthology, Picador, Oct.; LJ 6/15/17). We’ve fallen in love with her.—Bette-Lee Fox

Taste & Truth

Novelist and London Review of Books (LRB) editor at large Andrew O’Hagan is one of my favorite writers. His upcoming The Secret Life: Three True Stories of the Digital Age (Farrar, Oct.) is a collection of three long-form reported essays he wrote for LRB. Though I read them as they were originally published, it’s been wonderful to delve into them again. The pieces center on selfhood and stories and the ways lines of fact and fiction are blurred in “the wild west of the Internet” where “everybody can be anybody.” They include O’Hagan’s failed attempt to ghostwrite Julian Assange’s memoir, which is both a study of ghostwriting (“People think you’re helping me write my book, but actually I’m helping you write your novel,” Assange tells him) and of the WikiLeaks founder himself; O’Hagan’s own creation of an online identity using the name of a deceased man as his starting point, raising ethical questions of who owns one’s story; and a look at the fraught world of Craig Wright in the lead-up to his planned reveal as bitcoin creator Satoshi Nakamoto. They’re a joy to read and perhaps O’Hagan described them best, calling them “nonfiction thrillers.” BuzzFeed journalist James Ball’s Post-Truth: How Bullshit Conquered the World (Biteback, Nov.) also looks at the ways fact and fiction are blurred online but through the lens of the current political climate. He examines bullshit—“a catch-all word to cover misrepresentation, half-truths and outrageous lies alike”—and its role in two pivotal political campaigns of 2016: the Brexit referendum in the UK and the election of Donald Trump in the United States. Separated into four parts, his book looks at the larger picture of the power of bullshit—who spreads it, why it works, and how it can be stopped—examining the rise of populism and a growing distrust of institutions. I’m a fan of Ball’s journalistic work, which is why I initially picked this up, and so far have found it to be incredibly timely as terms such as fake news continue to be thrown about by politicians and their constituents alike. I’m also looking forward to cookbooks by two of my favorite chefs from the Food Network. Damiano Carrara’s A Taste of Italy: 100 Traditional, Homestyle Recipes (Sterling, Oct.) finds the Italian American chef and owner of two L.A. pastry shops sharing some of his favorite recipes—sweet and savory. Carrara was a runner-up on both Food Network Star and Spring Baking Championship and has been featured on a number of other shows as well. I’m more of a baker than a cook, and so far I have my eye on his tiramisu recipe. I’ll likewise be picking up Bobby Flay Fit: 200 Recipes for a Healthy Lifestyle (Clarkson Potter: Crown, Dec.) by Flay with Stephanie Banyas and Sally Jackson. I’m a big fan of Flay, whose Food Network shows include Beat Bobby Flay and Brunch at Bobby’s, and look forward to seeing what he’s got in this collection that focuses on eating healthy and being creative while sacrificing calories, not flavor.—Amanda Mastrull

Listen & Learn

There’s a lot of terrific nonfiction coming out on audio this fall. I’m particularly excited about Manoush Zomorodi’s Bored and Brilliant: How Spacing Out Can Unlock Your Most Productive and Creative Self (Macmillan Audio, Sept.). The host of Note to Self, WNYC’s popular podcast about the human side of technology, Zomorodi discusses what we gain and lose by being connected all the time and guides listeners through a series of exercises designed to help them identify detrimental patterns in their tech use and reshape their relationships with their phones, computers, and other devices. Another podcast host–turned–author, Aaron Mahnke considers the monsters of folklore in The World of Lore: Monstrous Creatures (Books on Tape, Oct.), while Tom Bissell collects a decade’s worth of writing on creativity in Magic Hours: Essays on Creators and Creation (Books on Tape, Dec.). Gold Star father Khizr Khan narrates his family’s journey to America and love for this country in An American Family: A Memoir of Hope and Sacrifice (Books on Tape, Oct.). As a relatively new parent myself, I’m looking forward to Sarah Lacy’s A Uterus Is a Feature, Not a Bug: The Working Woman’s Guide to Overthrowing the Patriarchy (HarperAudio, Nov.), which addresses the myth that mothers are less effective employees than their child-free coworkers, explores copious research proving that working mothers are good for families and businesses, and is a rallying cry for companies to implement more parent-friendly policies.—Stephanie Klose

Window Peeping

So many books are compared to The Girl on the Train, Gone Girl, and other blockbuster psychological thrillers, but very rarely do they exhibit the same sort of can’t-put-it-down dark suspense. A.J. Finn’s debut, The Woman in the Window (Morrow, Jan. 2018; LJ 8/17 starred review) fits the bill and does not disappoint. When Dr. Anna Fox, an agoraphobic, witnesses a horrific crime in her neighbor’s house, her credibility—and sanity—are called into question, and she’s not even sure she can trust her own mind. Chock-full of references to classic film noir and Alfred Hitchcock flicks, this compulsive read plays gently with the genre’s stereotypes while earnestly delivering all the red herrings and twists fans expect.—Kiera Parrott

Picture This

As an assigning editor, one of my greatest joys—and terrors—is the arts section. I try to squeeze many arts reviews into each issue, but occasionally I worry that some individuals and movements are underrepresented. I never have that concern about Gilded Age painter John Singer Sargent; it seems there’s a new title about him every season. But Donna M. Lucey’s got a new angle on the man and his milieu with Sargent’s Women: Four Lives Behind the Canvas (Norton, Aug.). Reviewer Carol Binkowski starred and praised this title (LJ 5/15/17), calling it “a lasting addition to academic and arts collections.” The life stories of four women in the artist’s orbit are by turns moving, life-affirming, frustrating, and bewitching. Lucey writes as if she were there with the various women, and she makes you care about them. One of the subjects was a working artist who was inspired by Sargent as he painted her older, prettier sister. Lucia Fairchild Fuller faced numerous hardships (including a remarkably lazy and improvident husband!). The women profiled in Firecrackers: Female Photographers Now (Thames & Hudson, Sept.) may have a slightly easier time of it, especially as they’re championed by photography experts Fiona Rogers and Max Houghton. The more than 30 female artists showcased are from all corners of the globe and work in a variety of styles, but a recurring focus in this well-curated work is on marginalized people and overlooked subjects “through a female lens.” An intimate biography of groundbreaking midcentury portrait and fashion photographer Richard Avedon (1923–2004), whose career spanned six decades, arrives in November from Spiegel & Grau. Replete with his black-and-white photos, Avedon: Something Personal is written by Norma Stevens, Avedon’s former studio manager, now director of the Richard Avedon Foundation, and veteran journalist and Avedon friend Steven M.L. Aronson. New Yorker cartoonist Roz Chast’s 2014 graphic memoir Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant? is a classic. I can’t wait to see what the Brooklyn-born suburban transplant does with Going into Town: A Love Letter to New York (Bloomsbury USA, Oct.). It’s sure to be biting and hilarious and spot-on, just like her previous tome. From the East Coast to the West—and speaking of biting! Isaiah Quintabe, the supersmart, hard-bitten hero of Joe Ide’s 2016 debut thriller, IQ, is back for another Los Angeles adventure in crime solving with Righteous (Mulholland: Little, Brown, Oct.; see the starred review, LJ 9/1/17, p. 107). IQ is still trying to piece together the facts of his older brother’s death ten years earlier; he’s also tracking the younger sister of his dead brother’s girlfriend, who’s gone missing in Vegas. If you’re into less dangerous pursuits, why not drop in on public television cooking host, cookbook author, and magazine publisher Christopher Kimball? He serves up more than 125 new recipes in Milk Street: The New Home Cooking (Little, Brown, Sept.). Kimball, formerly with Cook’s Illustrated, launched a new magazine earlier this year and he’s following that success with this brand-new title that’s going to make you love being in the kitchen.—Liz French

Tumultuous Ages

On my fall/winter reading radar are two wonderful coming-of-age novels that differ in tone and subject yet are both very much of our time. Orphaned ten-year-old Ludo Fleury, the hero of Romain Gary’s The Kites (New Directions, Oct.; see the starred review, LJ 9/1/17, p. 112), grows up on a farm in Normandy in the care of his eccentric Uncle Ambrose, a pacifist postman and renowned kite maker. Ludo’s life is transformed when he meets and develops a passion for Lila, the beautiful, self-absorbed daughter of an aristocratic Polish family, but the two are separated when the Nazis invade Poland. As France in turn is defeated and occupied, Ludo joins the Resistance. Now released for the first time in English, this final novel by one of France’s greatest 20th-century writers urges us to hold on to our humanity in the darkest of times through resistance in whatever form.

In Sam Graham-Felsen’s debut, Green (Random, Jan. 2018; see the review, LJ 9/1/17, p. 104), David Greenfeld is one of the few white students at the Martin Luther King Middle School in 1992 Boston; no matter how hard he tries to fit in, he is bullied until fellow nerdy loner Marlon Wellings sticks up for him in the cafeteria. The story of their friendship as it grows and then cracks will remind readers of Jonathan Lethem’s The Fortress of Solitude, but Graham-Felsen, who was President Obama’s chief blogger, offers his own particular take on issues of race and privilege through his protagonist’s funny and poignant voice.

On the historical fiction front, best-selling author Jennifer Chiaverini turns her attention away from Civil War America to Victorian England in Enchantress of Numbers (Dutton, Dec.). Her subject is the redoubtable Ada Byron King, Countess of Lovelace, Lord Byron’s only legitimate child. How the daughter of the most scandalous of the Romantic poets became the world’s first computer programmer is the fascinating story line of this fictional biography.

Sujata Massey, the Agatha and Macavity Award–winning author of the Tokyo-based Rei Shimura mysteries, draws on her family’s Indian roots in her historical series launch, The Widows of Malabar Hill (Soho Crime, Jan. 2018; see the starred review, LJ 9/1/17, p. 84), set in 1920s India. Parveen Mistry, Bombay’s first female lawyer, investigates a suspicious will on behalf of three Muslim widows living in full purdah, but then the women’s guardian is murdered. Did one of the three kill to protect her inheritance? Massey’s Parsi Indian-born Zoroastrian sleuth was partially inspired by real-life pioneer Cornelia Sorabji.

We love our families, but could we stand seven days in quarantine with our nearest and dearest? Find out what happens to the dysfunctional Birches in ­Francesca Hornak’s engaging debut novel, Seven Days of Us (Berkley, Oct.), when eldest daughter Olivia returns home for Christmas after a medical volunteering stint in Liberia.

There comes a time in every woman’s life when she must decide whether to let nature take its course and go gray. Lorraine Massey and Michele Bender, who advocated for once-unfashionable curly hair in their surprise best seller Curly Girl, have now written the manifesto for women seeking to embrace their natural beauty in Silver Hair: Say Goodbye to the Dye and Let Your Natural Light Shine (Workman, Feb. 2018).—Wilda Williams 

Mahnaz Dar is Assistant Managing Editor, School Library Journal (SLJ). Kate DiGirolomo is SELF-e Community Coordinator; Bette-Lee Fox is Managing Editor; Barbara Hoffert is Editor, Prepub Alert; and Stephanie Klose is Media Editor, LJ. Kiera Parrott is Reviews Director, LJ & SLJ. Liz French is Senior Editor; Amanda Mastrull is Assistant Editor; Stephanie Sendaula is Associate Editor; and Wilda Williams is Fiction Editor, LJ
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