Fall Fireworks: 36 Titles That Shine Bright | Editors' Fall Picks 2019

These 36 editors' picks for fall include political action, injustices fought, identities formed, invisible friends, kids bursting into flames, and much more. 

LJ editors’ fall forecast: stormy, with political action, injustices fought, identities formed and reformed, alliances made and broken, and folks finally having their say. Some patches of sunshine—romance, cookbooks, invisible friends, kids bursting into flame, graphic novels, mermaids. Look out for strong winds of change for women and plucky girls both real and fictional, with plenty of TV and movie tie-ins; men and boys, too, will experience some turbulence. Extended forecast: there’s plenty to keep you and your library users busy reading till spring 2020 and beyond.—Liz French

Hope & Horror

My reading tastes trend to the dark, the political, and, occasionally, to self-improvement; this fall, a handful of titles made their way to the very top of my pleasure reading pile. It’s a great time to be a horror fan (check out Becky Spratford’s horror preview, "Wicked Good Reads,"LJ 7/19). Two titles I’m looking forward to are Josh Malerman’s Malorie (Del Rey, Dec.), sequel to his smash hit, Bird Box (also adapted into a Netflix film starring Sandra Bullock), and Stephen Chbosky’s Imaginary Friend (Grand Central, Oct.), a sharp departure for the author best known for his sensitive teenage drama, The Perks of Being a Wallflower.

In the realm of all-too-real horror, Jessica McDiarmid’s Highway of Tears: A True Story of Racism, Indifference, and the Pursuit of Justice for Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls (Atria, Nov.) shines a much-needed spotlight on the crimes committed along infamous Highway 16 in British Columbia, Canada, and the systemic bias that pervaded police investigations over decades. Lindy West, perhaps best known for her laugh-out-loud memoir, Shrill (now a Hulu series starring Aidy Bryant), takes on critics of the #MeToo movement with The Witches Are Coming (Hachette, Nov.), a biting and profoundly funny social and political critique of rape culture, toxic masculinity, and misogyny. Finally, fall always represents, to me, a time to reset and refresh, especially when it comes to my productivity. BJ Fogg’s Tiny Habits: The Small Changes That Change Everything (Houghton Harcourt, Dec.) breaks down the myths about change (that it’s hard, that it’s all about willpower) and utilizes 20 years’ worth of behavior science to "crack the code of habit formation." Here’s hoping I can break the habit of buying or borrowing way more books than I can ever hope to finish.—Kiera Parrott 

High Stakes

In his forthcoming Stakes Is High: Life After the American Dream (Bold Type: Hachette, Jan. 2020), Mychal Denzel Smith notes tartly of Americans, "Our mythology is so obviously rooted in falsehoods that it is surprising it has managed for so long." Throughout his sharply reasoned collection, Smith surveys a country grounded in injustice that enfolds us daily, following up Invisible Man, Got the Whole World Watching: A Young Black Man’s Education with lessons for everyone. If he makes it clear that there’s work to be done, Leah Greenberg and Ezra Levin have bold recommendations for doing it.

After Donald Trump’s election, these former Congressional staffers (now married) founded Indivisible, a grassroots movement now comprising thousands of local groups working to elect progressive leaders and realize progressive policies, as summed up in the title of their impassioned and sometimes refreshingly playful book, We Are Indivisible: A Blueprint for Democracy After Trump (One Signal: Atria, Nov.).

We can also look fruitfully to the past to understand how defiance works. Featuring a group of dissident journalists and resistance fighters in 1943 Brussels who secretly produced a single-edition newspaper lampooning Hitler—and thereby fooling the German captors expecting them to write Nazi propaganda—E.R. Ramzipoor’s The Ventriloquists (Park Row: Harlequin, Aug., LJ Web Exclusives, 7/12/19) is page-turning fiction grounded in unsettling fact, reminding us that resistance can take many forms. Andrew Krivak’s The Bear (Bellevue Literary, Feb. 2020) looks to a postapocalyptic future with only two humans remaining, a father and the daughter to whom he teaches survival skills while telling her fable-like stories about bears. The narrative quietly reinforces our oneness with nature, which we’re reminded we had better start paying attention to now.

Finally, Kevin Wilson’s Nothing To See Here (Ecco: HarperCollins, Nov.) brings us back to the present, as a woebegone young woman agrees to nanny a wealthy former prep school roommate’s two stepchildren, who have an unfortunate tendency to burst into flame when upset. Throughout, Wilson articulates what it’s like to be uncomfortable in one’s own skin while also reminding us of the basic responsibilities of parenting. Life: it’s always high-stakes. [For a story on how the authors and editors worked together to create these books, see "Making the Book"]—Barbara Hoffert


Dealing with issues of intellectual freedom, gender and racial inequalities, and women fighting for agency over their own lives, two titles this year highlight the lesser-known history of the Packhorse Librarians of Depression-era eastern Kentucky, Kim Michele Richardson’s The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek (Sourcebooks, May, LJ 5/19) and Jojo Moyes’s The Giver of Stars (Pamela Dorman: Viking, Oct.). With her return to historical fiction, after several women’s fiction best sellers, Moyes introduces fierce and fearless Margery O’Hare, English transplant Alice Van Cleeve, industrious Beth Pinker, erudite Sophia Kenworth, and devoted Isabelle Brady, who serve on the front lines of a program that brought books to more than 100,000 residents in remote Appalachian communities from 1935 to 1943. Moyes’s signature descriptive characterizations draw us to a region destitute but beautiful and into the lives of women learning to trust and accept help from others. Librarians especially will not be able to resist its magic.

Service of a different but equally compelling nature is captured in Life Undercover: Coming of Age
in the CIA
(Knopf, Oct.), Amaryllis Fox’s spellbinding recounting of her eight years as an elite CIA operative. Recruited at age 22, after the 9/11 attacks and brutal 2002 terrorist execution of American journalist Daniel Pearl, Fox developed a sophisticated algorithm able to pinpoint areas of likely terrorist strongholds, saving countless lives. With honesty and grit, she delves into her reasons for joining the world’s most clandestine organization, Agency techniques and tactics, and why she ultimately left that life behind.

Romanian Jew Joseph Joanovici (1905–65) knew a thing or two about hiding in plain sight. Immigrating to France in the 1920s, he built an empire in the scrap metal business, supplying both the Nazis and the French Resistance during World War II. His story is at the center of one of the year’s most thrilling and morally complex works, Fabien Nury and Sylvain Vallée’s Angoulême Award–winning comics series Once Upon a Time in France (Dead Reckoning: Naval Inst., Sept.; starred review, LJ 8/19), now collected in an essential omnibus edition.

Also in September, master cartoonist Chris Ware’s Rusty Brown (Pantheon; starred review, LJ 8/19) presents an affecting generational saga set largely in the 1970s Midwest. Splicing the stories of an array of characters, Ware explores our interconnectedness and the fragility of relationships with nuance and a true artist’s touch. This being the first half of a highly anticipated series, 16 years in the making.—Annalisa Pešek

Rebel Yells

Since I began assigning performing arts titles last year, I’ve been thrilled to rediscover some of my favorite artists. Janis Joplin’s achingly vulnerable voice still blows me away every time I listen to "Piece of My Heart," so I eagerly picked up Holly George-Warren’s Janis: Her Life and Music (S. & S., Sept., starred review, LJ 8/19) when it landed on my desk. The book captures Joplin’s essence—a rebellious yet deeply insecure young woman torn between her longing for a conventional "white picket fence" life and her desire to shock the public and move audiences.

There’s no shortage of rebels in Ted Gioia’s Music: A Subversive History (Basic, Oct., LJ 7/19). Gioia argues that all musical innovation is disruptive. Hard as it might be for modern readers to comprehend, Ludwig van Beethoven’s Eroica Symphony elicited the same fury as Bob Dylan’s decision to go electric. But today’s revolutionaries are tomorrow’s members of the establishment; once a subversive style or genre catches on, it quickly becomes mainstream, says Gioia. Fascinating details enliven this at times dizzyingly sprawling tour of music through the ages.

Readers who enjoyed Rise of the Rocket Girls will be delighted to see another title from Nathalia Holt. The author switches focus from the human computers at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab to the animators and writers at Walt Disney Studios, but her aim is similar: to spotlight the long-ignored contributions of women in a male-dominated industry. With The Queens of Animation: The Untold Story of the Women Who Transformed the World of Disney and Made Cinematic History (Little, Brown, Oct., LJ 7/19), Holt offers sensitive, complex portrayals of trailblazers who, despite chauvinistic male colleagues, left their mark on films such as Dumbo, Cinderella, and Pinocchio.

The protagonist of David Yoon’s Frankly in Love (Putnam, Sept.) is a rebel of a different sort—the nerdy, quietly disobedient kind. Teenager Frank Li quickly falls for Brit Means, but his strict parents won’t let him date anyone who isn’t also of Korean descent. So Frank hatches a plan: he and his friend Joy Song, also Korean American and romantically involved with an unacceptable prospect, will pretend to date to throw their parents off the scent. Hilarity and disaster soon ensue. With a pitch-perfect blend of tenderness and sarcasm, this YA novel conveys the tension between individual desire and familial obligation—a conflict that will resonate just as readily with adults as with teenagers.—Mahnaz Dar

Made in America

A romantic comedy, an intense memoir, a journalistic work of true crime, and a deep dive into the American wool industry: my choices from among the fall releases are wide-ranging and cover a lot of ground. Andie J. Christopher’s Not the Girl You Marry (Berkley, Nov.; LJ 8/19) puts a new spin on the plot of How To Lose a Guy in Ten Days as journalist Jack Noland and event planner Hannah Mayfield have reasons of their own for entering into a fake relationship, but they’ll have to make some hard choices when it starts to feel real. In How We Fight for Our Lives (S. & S. Oct.; see review and Q&ALJ 8/19), Saeed Jones relates grappling with family obligations and what it means to be both black and gay, particularly in light of the murders of James Byrd Jr. and Matthew Shepard. In The Third Rainbow Girl: The Long Life of a Double Murder in Appalachia (Hachette, Jan. 2020), Emma Copley Eisenberg uses the unsolved 1980 murders of Vicki Durian, 26, and Nancy Santomero, 19, in Pocahontas County, WV, as a lens through which to consider the effects of violent acts on the communities where they occur. Clara Parkes takes a different approach to American culture in Vanishing Fleece: Adventures in American Wool (Abrams, Oct.), as she relates her experiences in buying a 676-pound bale of fleece and spending a year working with spinners, scourers, inventors, mill owners, and more to transform it into saleable yarn.—Stephanie Klose

Strong Stuff

First, a drink—nonalcoholic, but still zingy. Herbalist and gardening guru Rosemary Gladstar has championed the health benefits of homemade herb-infused apple cider vinegar drinks for decades; now she offers brave imbibers Fire Cider! 101 Zesty Recipes for Health-Boosting Remedies Made with Apple Cider Vinegar (Storey, Oct.), just in time for fall. Drink up, you’ll need your strength for the next stop, an amusement park in early 1900s Chicago, where a 14-year-old cross-dressing street urchin named Pin tracks a depraved child killer. Pin’s unlikely ally is real-life outsider artist Henry Darger (1892–1973), who also witnessed the killer enter a spooky ride with a young girl—and exit alone. Elizabeth Hand gets inside Darger’s head (and a murderer’s) convincingly in Curious Toys (Mulholland, Oct.; starred review, LJ 8/19). The Chicago-based, self-taught Darger seems to be experiencing another renaissance after large-scale exhibitions and retrospectives in the late 1990s and early 2000s. A paperback reprint of Henry Darger (Prestel, Sept.) by former Museum of Modern Art curator Klaus Biesenbach and others is the perfect companion to Hand’s thrilling adventure.

At BookExpo, I was handed a secret missive made to look like a passport. The woman—a secret agent?—who slipped me the note was dressed in perfect 1960s secretarial garb. The message: read Lara Prescott’s The Secrets We Kept (Knopf, Sept., starred review, LJ 8/19), about the overqualified, well-educated women who worked as typists for the CIA during the early days of the Cold War. Two are recruited to help smuggle Russian writer Boris Pasternak’s novel Dr. Zhivago out of the Soviet Union. Prescott intersperses chapters about Pasternak and his mistress Olga, the model for Lara in Dr. Zhivago, in her debut.

Finally, it’s back to school. The Image of Whiteness: Contemporary Photography and Racialization (SPBH Editions/Art on the Underground, Sept.), edited by writer and photography scholar Daniel C. Blight, addresses the "invention of the white race" and photography’s role in promoting white sovereignty. Philosophers, activists, and academics, as well as artists such as Buck Ellison, Michelle Dizon & Viêt Lé, Nate Lewis, Libita Clayton, Abdul Abdullah, Paul Mpagi Sepuya, and many others, discuss, dissect, and subvert the presentation of whiteness in a tome that looks perfect for an autumnal deep dive. —Liz French

Home Fires 

When I was first learning to cook, I discovered the blog Two Peas & Their Pod. Maria Lichty’s creative recipes helped guide me from being ambivalent about salads to becoming a pro at making them for special occasions. Naturally, I’m looking forward to her first cookbook, Two Peas & Their Pod Cookbook: Favorite Everyday Recipes from Our Family Kitchen (Grand Central, Sept.), which will incorporate some of her classic recipes as well as some new ones. I’ve also been a fan of the blog Half Baked Harvest since finding Tieghan Gerard’s first cookbook, Half Baked Harvest Cookbook: Recipes from My Barn in the Mountains (2017). I’m eagerly awaiting new meals, both savory and sweet, from her latest, Half Baked Harvest Super Simple: More Than 125 Recipes for Instant, Overnight, Meal-Prepped, and Easy Comfort Foods (Clarkson Potter, Oct.). I’ve been reading a lot of memoirs lately. After noticing Looking for Lorraine: The Radiant and Radical Life of Lorraine Hansberry last year, an LJ Best Book 2018, I was eager to read more of Imani Perry’s works. Her upcoming memoir, Breathe: A Letter to My Sons (Beacon, Sept.) talks about raising in a world that doesn’t cater to them. Finding your way in a difficult world is also the center of one of my favorite books this season—Ordinary Girls (Algonquin, Oct., starred review, LJ 8/19) by Jaquira Díaz. I’ve been raving about this one since meeting Díaz at LJ’s Day of Dialog; writing about a difficult childhood isn’t easy, but her voice is like conversing with an old friend about long-ago memories. Lastly, I picked up a copy of In the Dream House (Graywolf, Nov.) by Carmen Maria Machado at the American Library Association’s annual conference in Washington, DC. I can already tell the dreamlike sequences of each chapter will draw me in as did her 2017 short-story collection, Her Body and Other Parties.—Stephanie Sendaula 

Hold That Thought

The titles that drew me in this season play on themes of what from the past we cannot discard or ignore, and how that past is inescapably part of defining our way forward. I have a soft spot for stories that complicate cherished childhood things with bittersweet adult implications. Tyler Hayes’s The Imaginary Corpse (Angry Robot, Sept.) features a dinosaur detective: once a child’s imaginary friend, then loved enough to become real, Velveteen Rabbit–style—and then outgrown. Now Tippy the Triceratops sleuths for others like him—until he meets the Man in the Coat, who can kill an idea permanently. This reminds me of Jonathan Lethem’s Gun, with Occasional Music, plus the Brian Aldiss–inspired first act of AI, with splashes of Philip K. Dick and Haruki Murakami.

The Deep by Rivers Solomon, Daveed Diggs (of Hamilton fame), William Hutson, and Jonathan Snipes (Saga, Nov.) features mermaids descended from pregnant, enslaved African women tossed off slavers’ ships. While Diggs’s name first drew my attention, ultimately what most intrigued me was the aspect of outsourced memory. If we delegate only a few people to retain the lessons of the past, how can the whole society learn from it to make the right choices for the future? This title is doubly relevant in the wake of blowback to Disney casting a black actress in the title role of the forthcoming live-action The Little Mermaid.

In Jennifer Givhan’s Trinity Sight (Blackstone, Oct.; LJ 8/19), two ways of remembering are at odds: indigenous oral history traditions versus the geological record. Anthropologist Calliope Santiago awakens to find herself in a transformed New Mexico. Almost everyone else has disappeared. Pregnant with twins, she and fellow survivors must cross dangerous ground in search of answers. LJ’s reviewer tells me this debut is bleak and beautiful.

As increasing bandwidth makes livestreaming viable for everything from conference keynote speakers to author readings to musical performances, equity of opportunity increases, but some magic is lost. Sarah Pinsker’s A Song for a New Day (Berkley, Sept.; starred revew, LJ 8/19) takes that trend to its extreme, positing a world where large public gatherings are illegal. Spotlighting the personalities and relationships of two queer women—one an old-school rocker willing to flout the law and one raised in the new normal who must step outside her comfort zone—keeps the story from descending into one-note, so to speak, dystopia. —Meredith Schwartz 

Mahnaz Dar is Reference and Professional Reading Editor, LJS; Liz French is Senior Editor, LJ; Barbara Hoffert is Editor, Prepub Alert, LJ; Stephanie Klose is Media Editor, LJS; Kiera Parrott is Reviews Director, LJS; Annalisa Pešek is Assistant Managing Editor, LJ; Meredith Schwartz is Executive Editor, LJ; Stephanie Sendaula (SS) is Associate Editor, LJ

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Patricia Bryan

Ditto,Kate Belt.There is an element of mean spiritedness in this way of doing things.

Posted : Aug 13, 2019 05:00

Kate Belt

I am very disappointed that I cannot access this post without a paid subscription. I am a nearly 70-year old retired, life long reader and life long library supporter, now maintaining my retirement community library (all donated books). I also buy books for myself and have even bought books I've already read to donate them to this library. The retirement community is nonprofit, no budget for this subcription, and I cannot afford it personally. I mainly just want to read the posts for my own enjoyment and personal TBR list, however.

Posted : Aug 12, 2019 03:21

Kiera Parrott

Hi Kate. Thank you for your comment and feedback. As LJ has transitioned to a new content model in order to remain viable and able to continue delivering quality articles, columns, and reviews to our readers, we have placed some limits on some of our content. Given the trending nature of this article--and in our ongoing efforts to find the best way to balance free content with content for paid subscribers--we've decided to temporarily make this article freely accessible for any logged-in user.

Posted : Aug 12, 2019 03:21



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