2020 Forward Forecast: Books To Have on Your Radar Now

Nearly 50 hotly anticipated titles for spring/summer, spanning fiction and nonfiction

The publishing season spanning January through June is when publishers traditionally introduce debut authors, pile on the health and gardening books, offer new cookbooks, and focus on key seasonal holidays and monthly celebrations. But while autumn is still considered the main money-making season in book publishing, winter-spring releases can be as notable as their late fall counterparts, and the early months of 2020 are no exception.

Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, and graduation help drive spring book sales, as do the Pulitzer Prize (April) and other major genre awards. There are also plenty of debuts for readers to discover and topical nonfiction to maintain the buzz. All in all, the season is not a time of fewer or lesser books; proving that point, there are far more titles of note than can fit here. For additional highlights, see the LJ editors’ picks for the season and the spring preview spreadsheet (libraryjournal.com/spring2020preview), which, while not exhaustive, digs far deeper and is tagged to help winnow through the riches found in the first half of the publishing new year.

Big Ticket Titles

Louise Erdrich arrives with The Night Watchman (Harper, Mar.), based on the life of her grandfather who fought against Native dispossession. N.K. Jemisin returns with The City We Became (Orbit, Mar.), about NYC and the five humans the city picks to save it from otherworldly evil. Another story about New York, Deacon King Kong by James McBride (Riverhead, Mar.), is set in the late 1960s and centers on the fallout from a shooting.

Elena Ferrante’s newest, The Lying Life of Adults, translated by Ann Goldstein (Europa, Jun.), is about a teenage girl searching for the lost history of her aunt, and for herself. Anne Enright’s Actress (Norton, Mar.) explores the history and bonds between mother and daughter as the stories of both women braid and branch out. Isabel Allende’s A Long Petal of the Sea (Ballantine, Jan.; LJ 1/20) ranges across Spain and Chile as war erupts and lives are spent in decades of exile. Jennifer Weiner’s Big Summer (Atria, May), which features an Instagram influencer, takes place on a much smaller scale, over a summer weekend in Cape Cod during a wedding.

There is nonfiction to note as well: Edward J. Larson considers the American Revolutionary period in Franklin & Washington: The Founding Partnership (Morrow, Feb.) while Erik Larson considers another British war era with The Splendid and the Vile: A Saga of Churchill, Family, and Defiance During the Blitz (Crown, Feb.). Jesmyn Ward offers an essay about hard work and tenacity, born from a 2018 commencement speech and out this season in an illustrated edition titled Navigate Your Stars (Scribner, Apr.). Marie Kondo is back and teams up with Scott Sonenshein to focus on the workplace in Joy at Work: Organizing Your Professional Life (Little, Brown Spark, Apr.). In what’s sure to be one of the key cookbook bestsellers of the season, Joanna Gaines returns with Magnolia Table, Volume 2: A Collection of Recipes for Gathering (Morrow Cookbooks, Apr.). Finally, best sellers Stephen King, David Baldacci, and Cassandra Clare each have new titles out this season.

Books Already Making Best-Of Lists

The annual accounting of the "best books of 2019" had hardly gotten into its groove before list-makers started looking at 2020. Beyond the expected focus on well-known, best-selling authors, Topics of Conversation by Miranda Popkey (Knopf, Jan.; LJ 1/20) is a highlight of many lists. The debut, told largely via timely and on-point conversations, has been compared to the work of Rachel Cusk and Jenny Offill.

On that note, Offill’s newest, Weather (Knopf, Feb.), is also getting attention. It is about a woman who works in a library, answers mail to a popular podcast, and tries to keep everyone around her in balance, even as the world is more and more off its rocker. Uncanny Valley: A Memoir by Anna Wiener (MCD, Jan.) might pair well with Offill’s latest. The debut about life in Silicon Valley explores the digital age, money, power, and disillusionment.

American Dirt by Jeanine Cummins (Flatiron: Macmillan, Jan.; LJ 12/19) seems to be on the tip of everyone’s tongue, an of-the-moment novel about a bookseller and her son fleeing for their lives, making their way from Mexico to the United States. Little Gods by Meng Jin (Custom House, Jan.) also deals with migration, as well as family, self-definition, and the way we remember and create a life.

Why We Can’t Sleep: Women’s New Midlife Crisis by Ada Calhoun (Grove, Jan.; LJ 11/19) is a relevant exploration of the Gen-X midlife crisis. On a similar theme, Separation Anxiety by Laura Zigman (Ecco: HarperColins, Mar.) is about the troubles of midlife, a comic novel about a woman who tries to fix her unraveling life.

Something That May Shock and Discredit You by Daniel M. Lavery, published under his previous name, Daniel Mallory Ortberg (Atria, Feb.), offers essays on pop culture and our times. Lastly, and already on the way to an HBO MAX series, is Anna K by Jenny Lee (Flatiron: Macmillan, Mar.). The YA novel reimagines Anna Karenina and is set in Manhattan and Greenwich, CT.

Long-Awaited Returns

Topping the list of authors from whom readers have been anxiously awaiting new material is Emily St. John Mandel, who returns with The Glass Hotel (Knopf, Mar.; LJ 2/20). Her 2014 post-apocalyptic sensation, Station Eleven, made the shortlist for the National Book Awards and won the Arthur C. Clarke Award. Here, she tells a very different kind of story in terms of setting, but one that once again is resonant of the human quest for connection.

Hilary Mantel ends her Cromwell trilogy with The Mirror & the Light (Holt, Mar.). Bring Up the Bodies won the Man Booker Prize, as did the trilogy launch, Wolf Hall, but while readers only had to wait two-and-a-half years between those stories, Mantel has postponed the end of Thomas Cromwell’s schemes, power plays, and knife dance with danger for eight long years.

Writers & Lovers (Grove, Mar.; LJ 2/20) sees the return of Lily King after 2014’s award-winning Euphoria. Her newest explores the life of a writer struggling to create the present and future she wants.

Liz Moore arrives with Long Bright River (Riverhead, Jan.; LJ 12/19), four years after the 1980s-set The Unseen World. This time the story is timely, a suspense novel about two sisters, one a cop and the other an opioid addict. It’s Not All Downhill From Here by Terry McMillan (Ballantine, Mar.) arrives four years after I Almost Forgot About You. It centers on Loretha Curry, a 68-year-old woman proving the future is always something to seize.

After a decade of waiting, readers can return to the brutal and corrupt world of Panem with Suzanne Collins’s The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes (Scholastic, May), starting on the morning the tenth Hunger Games gathers its victims. Interior Chinatown by Charles Yu (Pantheon, Jan.) marks another decade wait for a novel, after How To Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe. Yu, a National Book Foundation "5 under 35" honoree, has been busy on HBO’s Westworld and his newest novel is set in Hollywood. Julia Spencer-Fleming brings back the Clare Fergusson/Russ Van Alstyne mystery series with Hid from Our Eyes (Minotaur, Apr.) after a seven-year break. Fittingly, the case at hand is a long-simmering one, involving a murder to which Russ has a tie.

Julia Alvarez returns to adult fiction for the first time in 15 years with Afterlife (Algonquin, Apr.), a story of a writer in the middle of a domestic storm that causes her to ponder the key questions of our age. One more to look for, Natasha Pulley’s third novel, The Lost Future of Pepperharrow (Bloomsbury, Feb.), is the sequel to her debut, The Watchmaker of Filigree Street. This latest book marks another grand whirl of magical realism, playful oddities, and deep humanity.

Debuts To Watch

Spring brings to bat some new names to know and authors whose first works have sky-high expectations. Heading the list is the buzzy My Dark Vanessa by Kate Elizabeth Russell (Morrow, Feb.; LJ 9/19). Racking up early starred reviews, the novel explores the #MeToo era with the story of a 15-year-old girl enraptured with her predatory boarding school professor. Another title to watch is The Lion’s Den by Katherine St. John (Grand Central, May), an early candidate for beach-read lists; it’s about a vacation on a billionaire’s yacht gone dangerously wrong.

Deep State by Chris Hauty (Emily Bestler: Atria, Jan.; web review, 11/22/19) is a thriller inspired by a presidential talking point, penned by a screenwriter who should know how to keep the tension high and the pace fast. From Denmark comes another crime novelist to savor, Katrine Engberg. The first in her Danish best-selling series is The Tenant (Scout: Gallery, Jan.).

Set in California is Kept Animals by Kate Milliken (Scribner, Apr.), a story of three girls coming of age and navigating their desires, and of a daughter hoping to discover her mother’s secrets. How Much of These Hills Is Gold by C Pam Zhang (Riverhead, Apr.; see p. 86) is set against the waning days of the American gold rush, during which two Chinese American children left orphaned are fiercely determined to bury their father in accordance with Chinese traditions. Darling Rose Gold by Stephanie Wrobel (Berkley, Mar.) is a family story of a very different sort, a psychological thriller about a darkly brutal mother-daughter relationship.

In a completely different genre, Vagabonds by Hao Jingfang, translated by Ken Liu (Saga: Gallery, Apr.), marks the groundbreaking Hugo winner’s first novel (after earning accolades for her novelette, Folding Beijing). It takes place after a civil war between Mars and Earth as a group of children raised on Mars are sent back to Earth only to find they are displaced and unmoored.

Get These On Your Radar

There are plenty of gems to read this season, from even more debuts to authors who are just shimmering under the break-big line. A perfect case in point is Sharon Bolton, an award-winning author better known in the UK than in the States. Her newest is The Split (Minotaur, Apr.), a stand-alone novel about a glaciologist working at the edge of the world, hoping to escape her murderous husband. Stand-alone titles are great ways to meet writers, making Daughter from the Dark by Sergey and Marina Dyachenko (Harper Voyager, Feb.) another to note. The new story from the authors and translator of cult hit Vita Nostra focuses on the mysterious young Alyona and the DJ who is now firmly caught in what is very likely a magical, mysterious net.

This might be the year readers rediscover Stephen Wright. Processed Cheese (Little, Brown, Jan.; LJ 11/19) comes 14 years after his last novel; Hachette is marking its arrival with reissues of his previous four titles in ebook and paperback. The reign of short story collections also continues this year. Two to watch are So We Can Glow by Leesa Cross-Smith (Grand Central, Mar.) and And I Do Not Forgive You: Stories and Other Revenges by Amber Sparks (Liveright, Feb.; LJ 12/19). Cross-Smith tells tales of women and girls, desire and connection. Sparks is a new voice in weird fiction, and is being compared to Carmen Maria Machado, Kelly Link, and Karen Russell.

The focus on international fiction continues in 2020, too. A good example is Small Days and Nights by Tishani Doshi (Norton, Jan.; LJ 11/19). Her first book, The Pleasure Seekers, was longlisted for the Orange Prize and the International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award. This second novel, about two sisters and set in contemporary India, has already been named an Irish Times Book of the Year. Another top international pick is Ali Araghi’s debut, The Immortals of Tehran (Melville House, Apr.), a sprawling family saga.

Many of the high-profile titles this coming season reflect the issues readers are struggling with in this moment: disillusionment, the ongoining reckoning of the #MeToo movement, the opioid epidemic, finding and making one’s family and home. Other books take on ripped-from-the-headline themes, often infused with sense of political or social urgency. Balancing out the heavier fare, there is a focus on the future too, with debuts offering new ways of framing age-old issues—and stories—and beloved authors finally putting new books on the shelf. The titles cited here along with many others are listed and tagged in the spring preview spreadsheet (libraryjournal.com/spring2020preview). Dig in. 

Neal Wyatt is LJ’s readers’ advisory and Book Pulse columnist. She is also the coauthor of The Readers’ Advisory Guide to Genre Fiction, 3d ed. (ALA Editions, 2019). Contact her at nwyatt@mediasourceinc.com

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