12 Conversation-Worthy Books to Help Avert Holiday Dinner Disaster

Pie

Photo by Element5 Digital on Unsplash

The holidays are, of course, a time of family get-togethers, of meals and gift-giving and parties and the like. All those familial to-do’s invariably come with one unifying feature we all can relate to – conversations and small talk. It’s an unavoidable reality and one rife with pleasures and pitfalls alike, because for every uncle, sibling, or cousin you can’t wait to see, there’s another who simply drives you up the wall.

Whether it’s the particularly fertile minefield of political discourse (do not pull the pin on that particular grenade this year, friends and neighbors, you’ve been warned) or perhaps an elder family member’s excruciatingly detailed list of ailments, it’s always a good plan to have a few conversational diversions and redirects in your hip pocket. What better way to do that than bringing up a good book? The literary world, both fiction and non-, provides bevy of avenues for steering a conversation through the thornier patches of not-so- small talk to altogether more pleasant terrain.

Fortunately, we have a collection of thought-provoking non-fiction, entertaining novels, and a literary classic or two that are both delightfully entertaining and mercifully non-divisive.

The cover of the book Endurance

Endurance

Scott Kelly

Who doesn’t love an astronaut? They’re genuinely ready-made heroic icons. Scott Kelly, the astronaut who spent a record breaking year on the International Space Station, certainly fits the bill. Kelly lays it all out, from the awe-inspiring sights of life on a space station to the rigors of space travel on the human body to the razor’s edge between safety and peril that defines life among the stars.

The cover of the book Uncommon Type

Uncommon Type

Tom Hanks

Yes, we’re talking about that Tom Hanks. The Oscar-winning actor, who also seems to be the nicest guy on the planet, is also a pretty brilliant writer. Go figure. This oft-hilarious collection of short stories cover a broad swath of subjects all tied together by Hanks’ well-known love of the typewriter.

 

The cover of the book Artemis

Artemis

Andy Weir

Andy Weir made a huge literary splash with his 2014 novel The Martian, and there are high hopes for his sophomore effort, Artemis. It’s a near-future heist thriller set on the first and only colonized city on the moon. Add in Weir’s breakneck pacing and speculative sci-fi no-how and Artemis is a tough one to pass up and certainly worth bringing up before or after the turkey is carved.

The cover of the book The Four Tendencies

The Four Tendencies

Gretchen Rubin

Gretchen Rubin is best known for her bestseller Better Than Before, and her latest is yet another incisive foray into human nature and fulfillment. Building out research done for her both Better Than Before and The Happiness ProjectThe Four Tendencies is a practical guide to not only understanding oneself, but also the people that populate our lives and in doing so learn to make better decisions and become healithier, more productive, and ultimately happier.

The cover of the book American Wolf

American Wolf

Nate Blakeslee

Put this in the “No, seriously, this is really amazing” category of reads. Author Nate Blakeslee manages to spin a multi-generational saga of family, triumph, and adventure all centered around the endangered wolves that inhabit Yellowstone and their charismatic alpha, O-Six. It is a gripping nonfiction account of North America’s most iconic creatures, all told with novelist’s flair.

The cover of the book The Murder of Roger Ackroyd

The Murder of Roger Ackroyd

Agatha Christie

There really is no better time to sink your teeth into a good mystery than fall – the days get drearier, night comes faster, and it the mood just feels right. And really, what better way to avoid potentially prickly conversations than delving into a discussion of a literary classic? With Agatha Christie, there’s certainly plenty to choose from, but The Murder of Roger Ackyroyd might just be her best. More importantly who doesn’t love talking a good whodunit?

The cover of the book Spineless

Spineless

Juli Berwald

Another entry in the “No, seriously, this is amazing” category, Spineless is delightfully captivating deep-dive into the world of jellyfish. It’s part memoir, part travelogue covering Juli Berwald’s passion for ocean science generally and the jellyfish specifically. More importantly its filled with truly fascinating tidbits on one of the ocean’s most poorly understood creatures.

The cover of the book Consider the Lobster

Consider the Lobster

David Foster Wallace

David Foster Wallace walked an exceedingly thin line between well-honed absurdity and extraordinary human insight. Consequently, his works – particularly his myriad essays – make for particularly thought-provoking small-talk. There are also more than enough topics to go around including the titular review of the 2003 Maine Lobster Festival.

The cover of the book The Tao of Bill Murray

The Tao of Bill Murray

Gavin Edwards

The Tao of Bill Murray is a wickedly funny recounting of the most infamous sightings of America’s favorite mythical creature not named Bigfoot – Bill Murray. Murray has become particularly renowned in the internet age for his oft-hysterical forays into situations both mundane and outrageous as well as the inevitable surrealism that accompanies virtually any Murray sighting – most of which apparently end with Murray whispering “No one will believe you” before retreating into whatever pocket dimension of awesomeness and shenanigans from whence he hails.

The cover of the book Dandelion Wine

Dandelion Wine

Ray Bradbury

Ray Bradbury was not only one of the most influential minds of 20th Century fiction, but also one of the pre-eminent wordsmiths. His novels, built on complex and gorgeously crafted sentences, are often steeped in a sepia-toned haze of nostalgia as well as the sort of thought-provoking, high-concept idea that make his works so worth discussing. Dandelion Wine, his melancholic and surreal ode to summer, certainly fits that bill.

The cover of the book Lincoln in the Bardo

Lincoln in the Bardo

George Saunders

George Saunders’ long-awaited first novel certainly did not disappoint. Not that anyone really thought it would. Oscillating between Saunders’ penchant black comedy, his satirical edge, and his often-searing insight, Lincoln in the Bardo is fascinating, moving, and genuinely humorous examination of grief and loss. It seemingly ungainly intersection of Buddhist philosophy, the pathos of everyday life, and the devastation of war works entirely due to Saunders linguistic energy. That intersection also makes for some intriguing conversational diversion.

The cover of the book Meet Me in Atlantis

Meet Me in Atlantis

Mark Adams

Who doesn’t love a good adventure – particularly one built around one of the most enduring and legendary lost cities? Steeped in pop culture myth, conspiracy theories, and the writings of Plato, the allure of the lost city of Atlantis has long held sway over the minds of explorers of all stripes. Mark Adams is no different. Meet Me in Atlantis is humorous and wry examination of man’s drive to explore and discover. It’s also a particularly fun read.

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Happy Thanksgiving!

turkey-hand

Smart turkeys stay home and read on Thankgiving

The Moline Public Library will be closed Thursday, November 23 and Friday, November 24 in observance of the Thanksgiving holiday, but we will be full and sleepy open again on Saturday, November 25 for normal operating hours.

10 Space Operas to Read Before You See Star Wars: The Last Jedi

Space

Photo by NASA on Unsplash

With “Star Wars: The Last Jedi” due to arrive in theaters on December 15th, we still have a fair amount time to kill before we find out what the deal is with bearded, hermit Luke and to see the brilliance of the late Carrie Fisher onscreen one final time. Fortunately, there are quite a few literary options to both pique and maintain your love of all things space opera in the interim. With that in mind, here are eight of our recent space-faring, swashbuckling faves.

The cover of the book Phasma (Star Wars)

Phasma (Star Wars)

DELILAH S. DAWSON

What better way to get in the mood for “Star Wars: The Last Jedi” than reading a novel under the Journey to Star Wars: The Last Jedi banner? This latest novel from Delilah S. Dawson centers on one of the most mysterious new additions to Star Wars canon: Captain Phasma. This origin story lays out the dark and brutal background of one of the First Order’s most ruthless and relentless officers and is not to be missed.

The cover of the book Armada

Armada

ERNEST CLINE

Ernest Cline is best-known for the pop-culture extravaganza of Ready Player One. Armada is his sophomore effort and sees the author turns his nerd-approved eye toward the stars for an alien invasion thriller. Armada centers on Zack Lightman, a gaming maven and sci-fi junky whose life is changed forever when he sees a flying saucer and realizes the his favorite game, a flight simulator called Armada, is far more than it seems.

The cover of the book Aftermath: Star Wars

Aftermath: Star Wars

CHUCK WENDIG

Wondering what took place in the years between “The Return of the Jedi” and “The Force Awakens”? Don’t worry, Chuck Wendig has you covered. The Aftermath trilogy picks up following the infamous Battle of Endor and sees the fledgling New Republic working to maintain its foothold over the reeling Empire – but the Empire may have still have a few tricks left up its sleeve.

 

The cover of the book Artemis

Artemis

ANDY WEIR

Following the runaway success of Weir’s debut novel, The Martian, expectations are running high for his second effort: Artemis. The story follows Jazz Bashara, a smuggler on Artemis, the first and only city on the Moon. Struggling to make ends meet, Jazz lives a difficult and sometimes dangerous life. All of that changes, however, when Jazz lands the opportunity to commit the perfect crime. The crime is an impossible one. Artemis is an edge-of-your-seat thriller like only Andy Weir can write. It’s also a heist story. On the moon. What more do you need to know?

The cover of the book Lightless

Lightless

C. A. HIGGINS

In this intriguing sci-fi thriller, C.A. Higgins takes readers aboard the Ananke, an experimental military spacecraft funded by the ruthless organization that controls Earth. The novel centers on Althea, a computer scientist with an closer emotional bond to the ship’s systems than any of her crewmates. When a pair of terrorists gain access to the ship, it falls to Althea to defend the Ananke from its twisted saboteurs.

The cover of the book Empress of a Thousand Skies

Empress of a Thousand Skies

RHODA BELLEZA

This revenge epic from Rhoda Belleza falls somewhere on a spectrum that includes Pierce Brown’s Red Rising Saga and Joss Whedon’s “Firefly.” Rhee is the crown princess and sole surviving heir to a powerful dynasty. Aly is a war refugee falsely accused of murdering Rhee. With war looming just on the horizon, Rhee and Aly forced together to confront a ruthless evil putting the entire galaxy at risk.

The cover of the book Ascension

Ascension

JACQUELINE KOYANAGI

Featuring a quirky and eclectic cast of space-faring ne’er-do-wells, plenty of interstellar adventure, and even a bit of romance, Ascension is just the ticket for Star Wars fans not so patiently waiting for “The Last Jedi.” The story centers on Alana Quick, an ace starship mechanic who stows away on the Tangled Axion and gets way more than she bargained for.

The cover of the book On a Red Station, Drifting

On a Red Station, Drifting

ALIETTE DE BODARD

Set in the same universe as Aliette de Bodard’s award winning ImmersionOn a Red Station, Drifting centers on Prosper Station – which has thrived for generations under the guidance of artificial intelligence born from a human womb. When the station’s people are called to war to defend the Emperor, life as those on the station have long known quickly begins to unravel.

The cover of the book Red Rising

Red Rising

PIERCE BROWN

If you haven’t picked up Brown’s bestselling Red Rising Saga, now’s the perfect time. Reading like The Hunger Games by way of Ender Wiggin, Red Rising centers on Darrow, a red and member of the lowest caste of a color-coded society. He and his kind have spent generations toiling underground to make the surface of Mars livable for those remaining. When tragedy strikes, Darrow discovers that the world he has long known is built on a lie and he sacrifices everything to infiltrate the dominant Gold caste and exact his brutal revenge.

The cover of the book Star Wars Rebel Rising

Star Wars Rebel Rising

BETH REVIS

Jyn Erso’s story may have come to a heroic, if tragic, end in “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story,” but there were a lot of questions about the pivotal Rebel hero left unanswered in the film. Thankfully for Star Wars fans, Rebel Rising fills in those gaps. The novel takes place in the years between the moment a five year-old Jyn saw her mother murdered and her father taken away and the events of “Rogue One,” including Erso’s years with the infamous outlaw Saw Gerrera.

 

9 Book Characters You Would Want to Take a Road Trip With

by Hayley, September 29, 2017, first appearing on Goodreads Blog

Some of the most unforgettable fictional characters are fine right where they are—in fiction. After all, being fun to read about and being fun to hang out with are two very different things. (Do you want to spend the day with Gollum? Do you really?)

But then there are those characters who already feel like friends, like kindred spirits. With them, we’d endure the ultimate test in any friendship: a vacation. We asked on Facebook and Twitter: What book character would you want to go on a road trip with? Check out some of the top responses below!

HERMIONE
from the Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling

“She travels light, packs the essentials, and would research the heck out of a place before going there.” –Stephanie

 

 

SHERLOCK HOLMES
from the Sherlock Holmes books by Arthur Conan Doyle

“Look, man, whether you’re going with the book Sherlock, Robert Downey Jr., or Benedict Cumberbatch, I’m going to be there.” –Anaya

 

 

FORD PREFECT
from the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy books by Douglas Adams

“I know this great restaurant at the end of the universe….” –JB

 

 

HARRY BOSCH
from the Harry Bosch series by Michael Connelly

“He knows stuff, has great taste in music, I would be protected, and he doesn’t talk too much.” –Sherri

 

 

NANCY DREW
from the Nancy Drew books by Carolyn Keene

“We’d have great adventures solving crimes, eating all the time, playing sports, and riding in Nancy’s dreamy convertible!” –Diane

 

 

JO MARCH
from Title by Louisa May Alcott

“It would be a bookish, museum-filled, intense tour with her—and we’re very much alike.” –Emma

 

 

KVOTHE
from The Kingkiller Chronicle by Patrick Rothfuss

“Because he’ll have some insane stories to tell.” –Muhammad

 

 

JAMIE FRASER
from the Outlander series by Diana Gabaldon

“Life is sure to be interesting as that man attracts trouble.” –Tracey

 

 

THE LUGGAGE
from the Discworld series by Terry Pratchett

“Oh shoot. How could I forget the Luggage? Of course that’s the right answer.” –Maria

Topping the Charts: The 15 Best Music Books to Read Now

Music

Photo © Shutterstock

When I was ten years old, I picked up my first musical instrument – the clarinet. And (excuse me while I boast) I was really, really good. From there, I learned to play all variations of woodwind, from the saxophone (alto, tenor, and bari) to bass clarinet and the oboe. I’ll never forget what it felt like to play for the very first time, or the epiphanous moment when I realized I can read notes on a page and translate them into a song. I played in marching band, jazz band, classical band, pits for musicals – you name it, I’ve done it. (I was the epitome of a band geek growing up.) And when I stopped hiding behind a music stand and started to sing, it was the most freeing thing in the entire world.

If you’ve performed before, you know that there’s nothing quite like being in front of an audience. But even those that don’t play can do something powerful: listen. Listen and appreciate the magical melodies and harmonies, and let them mean something to you. Interpretation is what music is all about.

Music is a universal language, and one that is simultaneously beautiful and extraordinary. It transcends boundaries, breaks down walls, and stops time in its tracks, if only for a few minutes. It may not solve problems, but it certainly helps bring people together. The list of books below are a mix of fiction and nonfiction, showcasing musicians and their experiences around the world, the instruments that make it possible, and the emotion that binds it all together.

The cover of the book Swing Time

Swing Time

Zadie Smith

New York Times bestseller, this compelling story captures the essence of a faded childhood friendship between two girls, Tracey and Aimee, who dream of being dancers. Tracey has real talent while Aimee has ideas, and as a result, the two friends diverge on their paths as they enter adulthood. Tracey makes it to the chorus line but struggles with adult life. Aimee travels the world as an assistant to a famous singer, eventually moving to Africa with charitable aspirations. Zadie Smith’s Swing Time takes readers on an unforgettable journey from London to West Africa, where inequality and injustice soar high, and music is a saving grace to all.

The cover of the book Good Vibrations

Good Vibrations

Mike Love with James S. Hirsch

Ever wonder what it was like to be a Beach Boy? In this memoir, Mike Love – founder of The Beach Boys, and the group’s lead singer and lyricist – shares it all. Known as one of the most popular bands in American history, The Beach Boys have a story that needs to be told. From their California roots to their international fame in the 1960s, the band has defied time and continues to be well-known throughout the world by many generations. Love shares his experiences with his readers, holding nothing back as he divulges both the diabolical and the divine aspects of being a Beach Boy.

The cover of the book Not Dead Yet

Not Dead Yet

Phil Collins

Phil Collins, known for being the drummer and frontman of Genesis prior to a thriving solo career, has sold millions of records over the course of decades, making him a huge icon in the music industry. In this memoir, he documents the highs and lows of his musical journey, from the songs and shows, the hits and the misses, his dynamic love life, reaching the top of the charts, and retiring in 2007. Not Dead Yet is an inside look at Phil Collins – the man many know and love, and also the man not many know at all.

The cover of the book What Is It All but Luminous

What Is It All but Luminous

Art Garfunkel

Art Garfunkel, one half of the extremely famous Simon and Garfunkel, writes about his life before, during, and after topping the pop charts. In What Is It All But Luminous, we travel through his life with him as he recalls his early childhood, meeting Paul Simon in school, beginning the band, and traveling on the road for countless tours. He treks through the highs and lows of his career, and touches on personal life events that aren’t known to most of the public. Garfunkel paints a very real portrait of his lifelong friendship with Simon, shedding new light on the relationship that became one of the most successful music groups of all time.

The cover of the book Otis Redding

Otis Redding

Jonathan Gould

Jonathan Gould’s biography maps out Otis Redding’s life and explores his unparalleled musicianship through groundbreaking research, as never seen before. The portrait of the singer’s background, his upbringing, and his professional career are outlined in this beautiful book with the help of the Redding family. Otis Redding continues to have a strong influence on music today, despite his life being tragically cut short. This book is great for all music lovers out there who want to understand what The King of Soul was really like.

The cover of the book Gone

Gone

Min Kym

In her moving memoir, Gone, Min Kym explores each stage of her life with great speculation and transparency. We trek through Min’s life with her as she relives the highs and lows in her story of love, loss, and, of course, music. As a child prodigy, Min’s adolescent experiences strayed far from the norm, and in her writing, she speaks truthfully about what it was like to grow up feeling isolated, with crushing expectations. As an adult, Min found her soulmate: a 1696 Stradivarius. She felt that every painful experience from her past was worth it because she had found her life’s meaning in the sound and feel of this beautiful instrument – and then it was taken from her, and everything changed.

The cover of the book Testimony

Testimony

Robbie Robertson

This New York Times bestseller tells the story of The Band, a group that changed music history with songs like “The Weight,” “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down,” and “Up on Cripple Creek.” Robbie Robertson, the guitarist and principal songwriter in The Band, recalls the journey that led him to becoming a rock legend. Robertson writes about being a musician during the the 1960s and early ’70s, a pivotal time for the music world, when rock and roll was on the rise and talent was around every corner, set against the backdrop of a national celebration of love and freedom.

The cover of the book The Great Jazz and Pop Vocal Albums

The Great Jazz and Pop Vocal Albums

Will Friedwald

Will Friedwald, author of A Biographical Guide to the Great Jazz and Pop Singers, takes a look at the finest albums in jazz and pop history in this timeless book. The album was the primary format of music from the 1940s until the very recent decline of the CD, and because of that, albums will always be a treasured part of music history. Renowned musicians like Ella Fitzgerald, Frank Sinatra, Peggy Lee, Judy Garland, along with many others, are captured forever on vinyl, as a piece of musical history frozen in time for everyone to appreciate.

The cover of the book Sticky Fingers

Sticky Fingers

Joe Hagan

Sticky Fingers is the first and only biography of Jann Wenner, the founder of the popular Rolling Stone magazine. Wenner’s story is one of love, devotion, and a passion for rock and roll music that led him to create an iconic magazine that became a powerful influence in the music industry. Through documents, letters, and interviews, Joe Hagan successfully captures the complex life of Jann from the late twentieth century to the digital age, and demonstrates how he reinvented youth culture with Rolling Stone.

The cover of the book Maestros and Their Music

Maestros and Their Music

John Mauceri

A band is nothing without fluidity and togetherness, so how exactly does a group of musicians go about finding cohesion in spite of so many moving parts? In the case of classical music, with a conductor. In Maestros and Their Music, John Mauceri – a celebrated conductor with a longstanding international career – provides a beautifully illustrated look inside the art and craft of conducting. Mauceri explains that conducting is a composition of interpretation and intent, and is a vital part of communicating the emotions of a piece of music to the audience.

The cover of the book Play It Loud

Play It Loud

Brad Tolinski and Alan di Perna; Foreword by Carlos Santana

Not many people think about a time before electric guitars, given how crucial they are to music today. But they weren’t always around, and the history of the electric guitar is a story worth telling. In Play It Loud, music journalists Brad Tolinski and Alan di Perna bring the history of this iconic instrument to life by using twelve guitars as milestones to illustrate the conflict and passion the instruments have inspired. Tolinkski and Perna feature Leo Fender, the man who transformed the guitar into what it is today, along with other key players and builders that made the musical revolution possible with the electric guitar.

The cover of the book Schubert's Winter Journey

Schubert’s Winter Journey

Ian Bostridge

Completed in the last months of young Schubert’s life, Winterreise (Winter Journey) has come to be considered the single greatest piece of music in the history of Lieder (traditional German songs for voice and piano). Schubert’s Winter Journey is composed of twenty-four short songs that tell an emotional story unparalleled by any composition of its kind. Ian Bostridge explores the world’s most famous and challenging song cycle by a looking at the main themes – literary, historical, psychological – that weave through the twenty-four songs that make up this legendary masterpiece.

The cover of the book Absolutely on Music

Absolutely on Music

Haruki Murakami with Seiji Ozawa

International bestselling writer Haruki Murakami joins forces with Seiji Ozawa, revered former conductor of the Boston Symphony Orchestra, for a series of conversations on their shared passion: music. Murakami and Ozawa discuss everything about music, and examine some of their favorite performances while Murakami questions Ozawa about his career conducting orchestras around the world. This book is a thoughtful reflection on the nature of both music and writing, and how they connect to create the most wonderful, moving works of art.

The cover of the book The Music Shop

The Music Shop

Rachel Joyce

It’s 1988. In a run-down suburb stands a music shop that is jam-packed with records of every kind. Frank, the shop’s owner, has been known to always give his customers exactly the piece of music they need. One day, Ilse Brauchmann walks into the music shop and asks Frank to teach her everything he knows. Frank, used to a life of seclusion, is thrown off by this request and wants to say no – but reluctantly agrees. As the two spend more and more time together, old wounds threaten to reopen as the past resurfaces. This novel showcases two people that must tune in to their inner selves to let go of their emotional baggage, and find healing in music and love.

The cover of the book Good Things Happen Slowly

Good Things Happen Slowly

Fred Hersch

Fred Hersch worked for many years as a prodigious pianist for musical icons in the twentieth century, including Art Farmer and Joe Henderson, and in the 1980s he broke tradition with his transformative compositions that defied boundaries, combining classical, pop, and folk music to create a completely new type of jazz. Good Things Happen Slowly is Fred’s story of being a groundbreaking pianist and being the first openly gay, HIV-positive jazz player. Fred takes us through every step of his journey, and tells readers about his two-month-long coma in 2007 that led to the most compelling music of his career.

First—And Foremost | Debut Novels

by , OCTOBER 2, 2017, first appearing in Library Journal

Some debut novels are much anticipated, such as National Book Foundation 5 Under 35 honoree Thomas Pierce’s The Afterlives, Commonwealth Short Story Prize winner Akwaeke Emezi’s Freshwater, and A.J. Finn’s Frankfurt hit, The Woman in the Window. Others seem to come out of nowhere. Who knew Joseph Cassara’s The House of Impossible Beautieswould be that good, and how did C. Morgan Babst make us feel Hurricane Katrina’s lasting terror in The Floating World? Either way, debut novels are always a surprise, and therein lies their power.

LITERARY HOT SPOTS

The House of Impossible Beauties by Joseph Cassara

Opening in 1980 New York with 16-year-old Angel feeling trapped in her boy body, then weaving together the stories of various trans outsiders whom Angel collects into a family, this exceptional debut was inspired by the House of Xtravaganza, as seen in the documentary Paris Is Burning. “Erotically luscious, lyrically intense, forthrightly in your face, and pitch-perfect in the dialog.”

Freshwater by Akwaeke Emezi

A Nigerian-born Igbo and Tamil writer and artist now living in Brooklyn and Trinidad, Emezi won the 2017 Commonwealth Short Story Prize for Africa. Here, she grounds madness, as manifested in main character Ada, in an ancient cosmology that sees god-born selves creeping into human being when the gates between this world and the beyond aren’t properly closed. Readers agree: like nothing you have ever read.

Green by Sam Graham-Felsen

Chief blogger for Barack Obama’s 2008 presidential campaign, Graham-Felsen investigates ongoing inequality by fictionalizing his experiences as a white boy in a mostly black middle school in Boston. At the same time, he examines the complexities of friendship across a racial and cultural divide. This LJ Editors’ Fall Pick “poignantly captures the tumultuous feelings of adolescence against the historical backdrop of a racially segregated city and country.”

The First Day by Phil Harrison

In this blazing first novel by filmmaker Harrison, Belfast preacher Samuel Orr cannot resist the sins of the flesh, and son Philip’s resentment of half-brother Sam leads to a violent act with long-lasting repercussions. “Harrison’s absorbing debut will surprise readers with its ingenious plot twists and nuanced characters.”

Only Killers and Thieves by Paul Howarth

In 1880s Australia, adolescent siblings whose parents have been slaughtered and sister left for dead, presumably by a resentful Aboriginal stockman recently let go, join with an unscrupulous landowner in a violent search for revenge. This visceral yet elegantly written work is the publisher’s “Lead Read” for the season.

The End We Start From by Megan Hunter

With London sunk beneath the flood­waters, a woman escapes north with her baby in this fable-like, delicately told dystopic tale. “The story may seem familiar…but debut novelist Hunter’s spare prose and luminous writing give it a fresh immediacy.” A big hit at the London Book Fair and a Barnes & Noble Discover Great New Writers Selection.

Everything Here Is Beautiful by Mira T. Lee

Spun from an award-winning short story that originally appeared in the Missouri Review, this debut features two Chinese American sisters, steady Miranda and the volatile Lucia, who starts hearing voices after their mother dies and loses all direction despite Miranda’s best efforts to help. “A visceral portrayal of sister love and its limits.”

Dark Chapter by Winnie M. Li

In Ireland on a weekend break from her London job, Taiwanese American Vivian is enjoying a solitary walk when she is attacked and raped by an emotionally damaged Irish boy. “What is striking about this acclaimed first novel…is that not only is it based on an incident in the author’s life, but the facility with which Li is able to intertwine the life stories of Vivian and Johnny, giving each substance and depth.”

The Boat Runner by Devin Murphy

In a moving coming-of-age story set during World War II, a Dutch boy and his family face impossible choices. Do they cooperate with the invading Germans? Or engage in risky sabotage? And what happens when the Allies bomb the local factory because it supplies the German army? This Discover Great New Writers Pick is “an effectively detailed, morally complex book that will appeal to all readers of historical fiction.”

The Afterlives by Thomas Pierce

A National Book Foundation 5 Under 35 honoree who won high praise for his debut story collection, Hall of Small Mammals, Pierce tells the story of a man who dies briefly of a heart attack at age 30 and, after reviving, worries that he saw no hint of an afterlife. That sends him and his wife on a journey both thoughtfully and absorbingly written.

SMALL-PRESS GEMS

The Floating World by C. Morgan Babst

When older daughter Cora refuses to abandon New Orleans as Hurricane ­Katrina sweeps in, Joe Boisdoré, an artist descended from a freed slave, and his white, upper-crust wife, Dr. Tess Eshleman, must leave without her. “A richly written, soak-in-it kind of book; now you’ll know what it was like to have survived Katrina.”

This Is How It Begins by Joan Dempsey

Still tough at 85, art professor and ­Holocaust survivor Ludka Zeilonka wrestles with a new problem: her grandson Tommy has been fired, along with other gay high school teachers, after being accused of silencing Christian students. “Current events have only made this gripping story more relevant.”

In the Distance by Hernan Diaz

Associate director of the Hispanic Institute at Columbia University, Diaz challenges the conventions of writing fiction about the American West. In the 1840s, young Swedish immigrant Håkan Söderström boards the wrong ship in New York, ends up in San Francisco, and must travel east to find his brother. “Resonant historical fiction with a contemporary feel.”

Black Rock White City A.S. Patric

A Sarajevo-based Serb who fled unimaginable horrors with wife Suzana, Jovan now works as a janitor in a Melbourne hospital, where he’s forced to wash away increasingly disturbing graffiti that seems directed at him; he’s obliterating and cleansing terms like obliteration and ethnic cleansing. A Miles Franklin Literary Award winner; “Patric’s images will remain indelibly and affectingly in readers’ minds.”

A Loving, Faithful Animal by Josephine Rowe

In 1990 Australia, Ru’s increasingly disturbed Vietnam vet father disappears, and more troubles cascade down as her mother languishes in the past and her wild sister seeks escape. This debut from an Elizabeth Jolley Prize winner is “one of the smarter, most lyrically written stories you’ll read about a fracturing family.”

BIG THRILLS

Ember by Brock Adams

In this postapocalyptic thriller, winner of the South Carolina First Novel Prize, the sun is cooling, people desperate to survive clump in little enclaves, and armed militant rebels look to take over what’s left of the government. For those “who enjoy dystopian worlds, quick pacing, sympathetic if flawed protagonists, and compelling prose.”

The Blind by A.F. Brady

Routinely assigned the toughest cases at her elite psychiatric institution in Manhattan, psychologist Sam James is the only staff member willing to deal with seemingly normal new patient Richard. Working with him sends Sam down her own dark path. “A fast-paced, riveting psychological chiller; brilliant character study and superior writing make this an outstanding debut.”

Need To Know by Karen Cleveland

Counterintelligence analyst Vivian Miller has a talent for discovering the leaders of Russian sleeper cells in the United States, but a secret dossier of deep-cover agents brings her whole life crashing down. “This suspenseful espionage tale is a rousing Act 2 to the excitement of TV’s The Americans and the novels of Chris ­Pavone.”

The Woman in the Window by A.J. Finn

A big Frankfurt title, buzzing even before BookExpo last spring, sold to 35 countries, and in development as a Fox film, this white-knuckler is one of the most talked-about debuts of the season. Finn’s woman at the window peers out of her New York apartment and sees something she shouldn’t, and the result “lives up to its hype, stand[ing] out in a crowded genre.” An LJ Editors’ Fall Pick.

White Bodies by Jane Robins

Callie may be unusually obsessive about glimmering, popular twin sister Tilda, but she has good reason to worry about Tilda’s new boyfriend Felix. “After a slow beginning, this debut by a British journalist…offers a suspenseful and twisty foray into the world of obsessive love that suspense junkies should not miss.”

IT’S A MYSTERY

The House at Baker Street by Michelle Birkby

Bad move, Sherlock, turning down the case of that needy young woman. Now Mrs. Hudson and Dr. Watson’s wife, Mary, have joined forces to help her and have ended up with a fun new mystery short-listed for the 2016 CWA Dagger Awards. This work “captures the atmosphere and feeling of Arthur Conan Doyle’s original Sherlock Holmes stories while shining a spotlight on his overlooked female characters.”

Heaven’s Crooked Finger by Hank Early

Earl Marcus wants to forget a childhood riven by the excesses of his father’s fundamentalist church, but not so fast. He’s just received a photo of his father, presumably long dead but looking hale and hearty. “This gritty and riveting debut combines elements of a classic Southern gothic tale, enhanced by distinct pacing, a redolent sense of place, and striking characters.”

Dark Traces by Martin Steyn

A member of Cape Town’s Violent Crimes Unit, South African Police Warrant Officer Jan Magson goes after a nasty serial killer while mourning his wife’s death. “A damaged but determined detective is matched against a bold and intelligent killer in this captivating debut thriller.”

Lost Luggage by Wendall Thomas

Having worked hard at her family’s travel agency, Cyd Redondo is thrilled to win a trip to Tanzania, but things don’t go as planned—and lost luggage, jailed clients, and animal smugglers aren’t even the half of it. Now she’s the main suspect in a murder. “Thomas makes a rollicking debut.”

POPULAR FICTION

The Trick by Emanuel Bergmann

After World War I, rabbi’s son Moshe Goldenhirsch runs away from home and becomes a magician, performing as the Great Zabbatini. How his story connects with that of 11-year-old Max Cohn, trying to avert his parents’ divorce in 21st-century California, is “a magic trick of its own. Bergmann’s ability to create appealing, well-drawn characters and tell a gripping story is impressive.” An LJ Editors’ Fall Pick.

The Last Man in Europe by Dennis Glover

In a tumble-down farmhouse on one of Scotland’s far-flung islands, George Orwell battles illness to pen his masterpiece, Nineteen Eighty-Four. “This engrossing, timely, and finely detailed first novel about the creation of a 20th-century literary masterpiece is a must-read for lovers of history, literature, or politics.”

The Library at the Edge of the World by Felicity Hayes-McCoy

Having escaped a crumbling marriage, librarian Hanna Casey is home on Ireland’s southwestern coast, driving a book­mobile and leading the fight against developers who want to consolidate services and close the local library. “An appealing novel…. There are plenty of good discussion points about the nature of community for book clubs and thoughtful readers.”

Seven Days of Us by Francesca Hornak

Luckily for the Birch family, they’re getting to spend Christmas together for the first time in years. Unluckily for them, they’re forced together for seven days, quarantined because daughter Olivia is back from volunteering in Liberia. This “satisfyingly alternative holiday read” is an LJ Editors’ Fall Pick and the No. 1 ­LibraryReads pick for October.

Radio Free Vermont: A Fable of Resistance by Bill McKibben

Famed environmental activist ­McKibben steps into fiction with a work starring 72-year-old Vern Barclay, who broadcasts a subversive message via Radio Free Vermont: Vermont should secede from the United States and operate under a free local economy. “McKibben’s…spirited and thought-provoking modern fable will have readers grappling with the ethical questions of how and when resistance is necessary.”

Only Child by Rhiannon Navin

After a gunman ranged through their school, killing 19 people, six-year-old Zach retreats into his own special hideaway and uses his imagination to heal. One of the publisher’s biggest books of the spring—the voice immediately distinctive and riveting.

Virtually Perfect by Paige Roberts

Her cooking show, monthly magazine column, and cookbook deal all out the window, Lizzie Glass becomes personal chef to the über-wealthy Silvesters at their summer home on the Jersey Shore. “Roberts’s spot-on debut novel delves into the virtually perfect façade of an internally imperfect family.”

Heather, the Totality by Matthew Weiner

In the world of Manhattan’s one percent, a husband and wife frantically compete for their daughter’s attention even as a threatening young man steps in view. Weiner, the driving force behind Mad Men, delivers “a razor-sharp, fast-paced dark look at the class divide.”

Rosie Colored Glasses by Brianna Wolfson

Wolfson’s autobiographical debut features Willow, a child of divorce caught between her rigid father and a mother named Rosie who’s warm and loving and suddenly dangerously crazy. From a star on the San Francisco storytelling circuit; a big hit at BookExpo and a Publishers Lunch Buzz Book.

White Chrysanthemum by Mary Lynn Bracht

Of Korean heritage, Bracht boldly faces the ugly truth of the Japanese military’s forcing 200,000 Korean women into sexual slavery during World War II. Big buzz.

Song of a Captive Bird by Jasmin Darznik

Darznik follows The Good Daughter, her New York Times best-selling memoir, with a portrait of poet Forugh ­Farrokzhad, sometimes called Iran’s ­Sylvia Plath.

On the Horizon

Peculiar Ground by Lucy Hughes-Hallet

Winner of Samuel Johnson and Costa Biography honors, Hughes-Hallett got rave UK reviews for this novel, which chronicles a great house named ­Wychwood from the 17th century ­onward.

Heart Spring Mountain by Robin MacArthur

Following the PEN New England Book Award–winning story collection Half Wild, this soberingly relevant work features a young woman looking for her estranged mother after Tropical Storm Irene devastates ­Vermont.

Fire Sermon by Jamie Quatro

Quatro’s story collection, I Want To Show You More, won multiple honors; this full-length fiction features Maggie, married with children, who is drawn as if mesmerized to a wild affair with poet James.

The Invention of Ana by Mikkel Rosengard

In this Danish award winner, an aspiring writer fresh from Copenhagen meets a performance artist in Brooklyn who claims that she can time travel.

The Last Wolf by Maria Vale

Runty Silver Nilsdottir determines to make a place for herself with the Great North Pack by fighting for a wounded man who seeks the pack’s protection. The publisher wants a trilogy.

SF/FANTASTICAL

The City of Brass by S.A. Chakraborty

In 1700s Cairo, street hustler Nahri cons people with her tricks but rejects the idea that magic really exists until she manages to summon up a dark and wily djinn warrior who takes her to the magnificent City of Brass. An LJ Fantasy Debut Pick. “With a swiftly moving plot, richly drawn characters, and a beautifully constructed world…this lyrical historical fantasy…brings to vivid life the ancient mythological traditions of an Islamic world unfamiliar to most American ­readers.”

An Unkindness of Ghosts by Rivers Solomon

Solomon’s dystopian fantasy stars quietly rebellious Aster, whose family has lived for generations in the hold of the creaky HSS Matilda, putatively carrying the last of humanity to a Promised Land. “Harrowing and beautiful, this is sf at its best…. The fully rounded characters bring ­nuance and genuine pathos to this amazing debut.”

The Black Tides of Heaven & The Red Threads of Fortune by JY Yang

In this debut novel doubleheader, the Protector has sent her six-year-old twins ­Mokoya and Akeha to the Grand Monastery to satisfy a debt, but when ­Mokoya develops prophetic tendencies, she’s essentially recalled, and the twins spin down different paths. “While published simultaneously, each volume can be read separately…together, they make an impressive, fresh debut steeped in Chinese culture.”