Seasonal Selections | Editors' Spring Picks 2020

LJ editors' personal picks for spring 2020 spotlight horror and historical sagas, essays and romance, bold nonfic and raw poetry, from both emerging and established authors.

Winter is a little easier to bear for LJ’s editorial staff because we get to talk up our choices for books coming out early this year. Spring 2020 looks fantastic for horror stories and historical sagas; for essay collections and romance reads; for emerging and established authors; for bold nonfiction and raw poetry; for speculative fiction and superlative graphic novels; and for all the promise that one hopes for in spring.

Mahnaz Dar l Reference & Professional Reading Editor, LJ Reviews

Lionel Shriver’s fiction has long featured self-righteous characters whose barbed observations nevertheless hit home, and her latest, The Motion of the Body Through Space (Harper, May), is no exception. Sidelined after decades of running, former exercise junkie Serenata watches as everyone else, including her unhappily retired husband, worships at the altar of fitness. The book shines with its hilariously peevish commentary on modern culture and insights into how obsessions are often desperate attempts to fill emotional voids. Like Shriver, Tyler Feder chronicles human pain, but with a far gentler touch. Her graphic memoir, Dancing at the Pity Party (Dial, Apr.), is both a love letter to her mother, who died of cancer when the author was 19, and a frank musing on the relief, boredom, laughter, and other emotions that took her by surprise while mourning. Her peppy, pastel cartoons and ability to wring humor from her anguish will resonate with teens, adults, and anyone who has faced loss.

Liz French l Senior Editor, LJ Reviews

Laura Lippman’s fiction (Sunburn) is mesmerizing and intricate, her occasional nonfiction is insightful and funny, and her tweets about everyday life as a mother and observer of humanity are stellar. Somebody should put all this in a book! Now somebody has. Lippman’s collection of essays, My Life as a Villainess (Morrow) releases this May and it’s sure to be a winner. Janet Skeslien Charles became interested in the history of the American Library in Paris, the largest English-language lending library in Europe, when she worked there. The Paris Library (Atria: S. & S., Jun.) is based on the true story of the librarians who risked their lives standing up to Nazis at the American Library. Finally we have Bix Beiderbecke (1903–31), troubled jazz cornetist, sort of the Kurt Cobain of his time (musical genius, hugely popular, dependency problems, died young). Acclaimed cartoonist/illustrator Scott Chantler (Two Generals) presents Beiderbecke’s story in a nearly word-free graphic biography with Bix (Gallery 13: S. & S., Apr.).

Stephanie Klose l Media Editor, LJ Reviews

In Cherie Dimaline’s U.S. debut, Empire of Wild (Morrow, Jul.), which is inspired by the Canadian Métis legend of the werewolflike Rogarou, Joan had been looking for her missing husband for a year before finding him in a revival tent in a Walmart parking lot. But now he’s a preacher who calls himself Eugene Wolff and claims not to know who she is. David Joy’s When These Mountains Burn (Putnam, Aug.) addresses the opioid crisis from multiple perspectives, including those of a DEA agent, an addict who’s gotten in over his head, and his father, who decides to take matters into his own hands. The second in Alisha Rai’s "Modern Love" series, Girl Gone Viral (HarperCollins, Apr.), features former model Katrina King. When her privacy is violated, she flees with bodyguard Jas Singh to his family’s remote home. Molly Wizenberg and her husband had a young daughter and two restaurants when Wizenberg answered a jury summons and was blindsided by her intense feelings for the female defense lawyer. In The Fixed Stars (Abrams, May), she delves into questions of identity, selfhood, and family.

Diane Mehta l Managing Editor, LJ

Stealthy, language-dense, and unusual books pop up rarely. French poet and playwright Jean Genet (1910–86) sees the world slant in The Criminal Child: Selected Essays (NYRB, Jan.), which includes a new translation of the title essay, an account of the author’s youth in penitentiary Mettray. Provocateur Genet argues that it’s "from children’s own passion for evil" that cruelties of incarceration develop. Genet’s radical storytelling and critical takes are acutely reasoned; his outlandish aesthetic is embodied in associative takes and close reads. See reflections on the inner void, queer life, disease, death, a tightrope-walker lover, and Giacometti’s achievement. Equally thrilling is Catrachos (Graywolf, May), Honduran-American poet Roy Guzmán’s debut, marked by poems that are lyrical and syntactically daring. They try out everything, threading stream-of-consciousness thoughts on poverty, murder, asylum, and assimilation in alternately spacious or packed lines, boxed in with slashes or pipes—perpetually broken, caged in, or divided. The series "Queerodactyl" nods to the perseverance of excavating a queer self and giving it flight.

Kiera Parrott l Reviews & Production Director, LJ & SLJ

Grady Hendrix, known for his wonderfully weird and delightfully gruesome horror novels, such as My Best Friend’s Exorcism, is back this April with The Southern Book Club’s Guide to Slaying Vampires (Quirk, Apr.), in which a stay-at-home mom and her book club buddies investigate a dapper and dangerous new neighbor. Elsewhere on the dark fiction front, multiple Hugo and Nebula Award winner N.K. Jemisin (The Fifth Season) takes on the Big Apple in The City We Became (Orbit, Mar.), in which the soul of New York City—five souls, actually—must battle an ancient evil that threatens to destroy the metropolis. Finally, fans of Wolf Hall, rejoice! Hilary Mantel gifts us with the final book in her trilogy that brilliantly reimagines the lives and times of Henry VIII, Anne Boleyn, and Thomas Cromwell. The Mirror & the Light (Holt, Mar.) begins with Anne losing her head and Cromwell doing his best to appease the ever-volatile Henry.

Annalisa Pešek l Assistant Managing Editor, LJ Reviews

In 2038, dendrologist Jacinda "Jake" Greenwood works down her student debt by lying to the ultrarich on tours of Canada’s Greenwood Arboreal Cathedral, home to the planet’s last remaining old-growth forest that coincidentally bears her last name. Moving back in time from, 2008 to 1974, 1934, and 1908, and finally returning to 2038, Greenwood (Hogarth: Crown, Mar.) tracks the members of Jake’s family and their connection to both environmental preservation and devastation in this gorgeous literary saga reflecting the intensifying interest in the climate crisis by fiction writers. Canadian author ­Michael Christie, who is acclaimed in his homeland but largely unknown to U.S. readers, turns in a virtuosic sophomore novel that is indeed a "distinctive find," as noted in Barbara Hoffert’s "2020 Titles To Watch" (LJ Winter 2019). Enchanting for its beautiful language, this epic takes us through the tumultuous decades that have shaped our world today, reminding how those who came before endured and even thrived through the worst of times.

Meredith Schwartz l Editor-in-Chief, LJ

I’m excited for Katie M. Flynn’s debut The Companions (Scout: Gallery, Mar.) because it’s being compared to one of my all-time favorites, Kazuo Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go. Like the latter, The Companions crosses over literary and science fiction. Both explore a class of people with full consciousness but without full rights trying to find fulfillment in the cracks of a system that doesn’t value their humanity. Next I plan to read Hao Jingfang’s Vagabonds (Saga, Apr.). The plot—in which Martian youth are sent to Earth to repair a political rift but find themselves not truly at home on either world—reminds me of Ursula K. Le Guin’s classic The Dispossessed. Last but not least is Alaya Dawn Johnson’s Trouble the Saints (Tor, Jun.). Johnson wrote one of my favorite YA titles, The Summer Prince, and contributes to Tremontaine, which extends Ellen Kushner’s Swordspoint universe in a genre-advancing collaborative serial format. In Saints, she brings together a young female assassin, a New York City backdrop, a love story, and an exploration of racial injustice. I can’t wait.

Stephanie Sendaula l Associate Editor, LJ Reviews

I’m always drawn to personal stories, and this season offers plenty. In What We Carry (Dial, Apr.; LJ 2/20), Maya Shanbhag Lang tells of her challenging relationship with her mother, and what it means when caregiving roles are reversed as a parent ages. Sierra Crane Murdoch’s Yellow Bird: Oil, Murder, and a Woman’s Search for Justice in Indian Country (Random, Feb.) follows Lissa Yellow Bird as she investigates the disappearance of oil worker Krisopher "KC" Clarke from his reservation; I’m finding this tale of redemption difficult to put down. I’ve been a fan of Morgan Jerkins since her debut, This Will Be My Undoing. As a fellow daughter of the Great Migration, I’m eagerly awaiting Wandering in Strange Lands: A Daughter of the Great Migration Reclaims Her Roots (Harper, May), oral histories of her family’s experiences migrating north. Lastly, I’ve been enjoying the personal stories along with the recipes in Falastin: A Cookbook (Ten Speed, Apr.) by Sami Tamimi and Tara Wigley. Come for the foreword by Yotam Ottolenghi; stay for the enticing options. 

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