Books with Serious Literary Recognition

"You lied. Luke lied. Be at the funeral." Federal Agent Aaron Falk is summoned home with these words after his best friend Luke dies in a heartbreaking murder-suicide, turning the gun on himself after killing his wife and 6-year-old son. Falk obeys—but he can't believe his best friend could have done such a thing, and so he starts digging, dragging long-buried secrets back to the surface. The setting is the drought-ravaged Australian Outback, and the brittleness and heat are almost palpable. Imagine an Australian Tana French, and you've got this stellar debut about right. (Psst—we're talking with the author in the MMD Book Club this summer.) Publication date: January 10.
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From the publisher: "Samuel Hawley isn't like the other fathers in Olympus, Massachusetts. A loner who spent years living on the run, he raised his beloved daughter, Loo, on the road, moving from motel to motel, always watching his back. Now that Loo's a teenager, Hawley wants only to give her a normal life. In his late wife’s hometown, he finds work as a fisherman, while Loo struggles to fit in at the local high school. Growing more and more curious about the mother she never knew, Loo begins to investigate. Soon, everywhere she turns, she encounters the mysteries of her parents' lives before she was born."
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From the publisher: "When a rusty cargo ship carrying Mahindan and five hundred fellow refugees from Sri Lanka's bloody civil war reaches Vancouver's shores, the young father thinks he and his six-year-old son can finally start a new life. Instead, the group is thrown into a detention processing center, with government officials and news headlines speculating that among the "boat people" are members of a separatist militant organization responsible for countless suicide attacks—and that these terrorists now pose a threat to Canada's national security. Told through the alternating perspectives of Mahindan; his lawyer, Priya, a second-generation Sri Lankan Canadian who reluctantly represents the refugees; and Grace, a third-generation Japanese Canadian adjudicator who must decide Mahindan's fate as evidence mounts against him."
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At age 16, Starr Carter has lost two close friends to gun violence: one in a drive-by; one shot by a cop. The latter is the focus of this novel: Starr is in the passenger seat when her friend Khalil is fatally shot by a police officer. She is the sole witness. Thomas seamlessly blends current events with lower-stakes themes common to teens everywhere, with great success. Fun fact: the title comes from a Tupac lyric. Publication date: February 28.
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This hefty and deeply-researched biography portrays a harder and grittier life than that captured in Wilder's beloved Little House books, from her peripatetic childhood to her later collaboration with her daughter on the books that would bring her fame. Fraser, the editor of the Library of America edition of this series, carefully sets the stories we think we know about Wilder against their greater historical context. Winner of the 2018 Pulitzer for Biography and the 2017 National Book Critics Circle Award.
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Engaging coming-of-age story about a 16-year-old African American girl struggling to find her place in the world. This is a nuanced but easy read about feeling out of place, coming into your own, and the perils of good intentions.
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This is Grann's all-too-real account of the Reign of Terror, the time between 1920 and 1924 when a shocking number of Osage Indians were murdered for their oil money. J. Edgar Hoover's relatively new FBI was brought in to solve the murders, and the investigation shaped the way that organization functions even today. Rumor has it that Leonardo DiCaprio and Martin Scorsese are developing the movie adaptation.
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In this sweeping domestic drama, Lee tracks four generations of a 20th-century Korean family back to the time when Japan annexed the country in 1910, affecting the fates of all. Lee portrays the struggles of one struggling Korean family against the backdrop of cultural and political unrest, as they endure fierce discrimination at the ends of the Japanese. A compelling portrait of a little-explored period of history.
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From the publisher: "In THE POWER, the world is a recognizable place: there's a rich Nigerian boy who lounges around the family pool; a foster kid whose religious parents hide their true nature; an ambitious American politician; a tough London girl from a tricky family. But then a vital new force takes root and flourishes, causing their lives to converge with devastating effect. Teenage girls now have immense physical power--they can cause agonizing pain and even death. And, with this small twist of nature, the world drastically resets. From award-winning author Naomi Alderman, THE POWER is speculative fiction at its most ambitious and provocative, at once taking us on a thrilling journey to an alternate reality, and exposing our own world in bold and surprising ways."
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Imagine a modern-day Bonnie and Clyde, torching houses in rural Accomack County, Virginia instead of shooting up banks, and you've got this true-crime nonfiction release about right. Hesse chronicles the hows and whys of the couple's unprecedented 5-month crime spree, in which they set fire to 67 houses. In the process, she examines their odd-couple relationship, local economics, volunteer fire departments, stakeout mechanics, and impotence. Publication date: July 11, 2017.
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This is the moving story of three generations of a struggling Mississippi family, set in the present day. Ward's evocative prose imbues even the family's most painful moments with tenderness and beauty. Previous National Book Award winner Ward has already received a slew of nominations and awards for her latest novel, among them the Bailey’s Prize longlist, PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction finalist, LA Times Award for Fiction honoree, and Aspen Words longlist.
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I've heard great things about this one. Louise Penny called this one "brilliant" and Lee Child said it's "like binge-watching a great British drama on Masterpiece Theater" including World War II spy games, Bletchley Park code breakers, and an English aristocrat's daughter.
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I loved this so much. This Pulitzer winner manages to be serious and seriously funny. The hero is Arthur Less, who is facing his 50th birthday, his ex-boyfriend of nine year's wedding to another, and his publisher's rejection of his latest manuscript, all at the same time. He decides to hit the road—and on this trip, everything that can go wrong, does. Nonstop puns on the author's name, an arch sense of humor, and an interesting narrative structure keep this book filled with sad things from feeling downcast.
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Honeyman's at times painful but ultimately feel-good debut has already been nominated for several notable awards: the 2018 Bailey’s Prize Longlist, 2018 Costa Debut Novel Award, 2018 RUSA Women’s Fiction Shortlist. I really enjoyed this story about an isolated young woman who is drawn into the world again, decidedly against her will, in the spirit of A Man Called Ove. Take note: the reviews are mixed, but it's got great book club potential. And Reese Witherspoon already owns the film rights.
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From the publisher: "You go through life thinking there’s so much you need. . . . Until you leave with only your phone, your wallet, and a picture of your mother. Marin hasn’t spoken to anyone from her old life since the day she left everything behind. No one knows the truth about those final weeks. Not even her best friend Mabel. But even thousands of miles away from the California coast, at college in New York, Marin still feels the pull of the life and tragedy she’s tried to outrun. Now, months later, alone in an emptied dorm for winter break, Marin waits. Mabel is coming to visit and Marin will be forced to face everything that’s been left unsaid and finally confront the loneliness that has made a home in her heart."
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This RUSA Notable Book (Nonfiction) tells the story of more than two dozen women who made their living painting luminous watch faces in the early twentieth century. Many were charmed by the "shining substance"—radium—that gave the watch its glow, but as we now know, radium is deadly. Moore uncovers what happened next. This is a story with heroes and villains, and can be hard to read (because the truth of history is sometimes painful), but it's a good story, well told. From the publisher: "Written with a sparkling voice and breakneck pace, The Radium Girls fully illuminates the inspiring young women exposed to the “wonder” substance of radium, and their awe-inspiring strength in the face of almost impossible circumstances. Their courage and tenacity led to life-changing regulations, research into nuclear bombing, and ultimately saved hundreds of thousands of lives."
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From the publisher: "Told from four intertwining points of view-two boys and two girls-the novel celebrates bravery, being different, and finding your inner bayani (hero). Virgil Salinas is shy and kindhearted and feels out of place in his crazy-about-sports family. Valencia Somerset, who is deaf, is smart, brave, and secretly lonely, and she loves everything about nature. Kaori Tanaka is a self-proclaimed psychic, whose little sister, Gen, is always following her around. And Chet Bullens wishes the weird kids would just stop being so different so he can concentrate on basketball. They aren't friends, at least not until Chet pulls a prank that traps Virgil and his pet guinea pig at the bottom of a well. Through luck, smarts, bravery, and a little help from the universe, a rescue is performed, a bully is put in his place, and friendship blooms."
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Christina Baker Kline, author of A Piece of the World and Orphan Train recommends this. From the publisher: "The New York Times bestselling author of the celebrated A Land More Kind Than Home returns with this eagerly awaited new novel, inspired by actual events. While the dirty, hazardous job at the mill earns Ella May a paltry nine dollars for seventy-two hours of work each week, it’s the only opportunity she has. When the union leaflets begin circulating, Ella May has a taste of hope, a yearning for the better life the organizers promise. Seventy-five years later, Ella May’s daughter Lilly, now an elderly woman, tells her nephew about his grandmother and the events that transformed their family. Intertwining myriad voices, Wiley Cash brings to life the heartbreak and bravery of the now forgotten struggle of the labor movement in early twentieth-century America."
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From the publisher: "We know her today as Harriet Tubman, but in her lifetime she was called by many names. As General Tubman she was a Union spy. As Moses she led hundreds to freedom on the Underground Railroad. As Minty she was a slave whose spirit could not be broken. An evocative poem and opulent watercolors come together to honor a woman of humble origins whose courage and compassion make her larger than life. A lush and lyrical biography of Harriet Tubman, written in verse and illustrated by an award-winning artist."
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This debut got all kinds of buzz. Reviews used words like "quirky" (NPR) and "darkly funny" (PopSugar). From the publisher: "Freshly disengaged from her fiancé and feeling that life has not turned out quite the way she planned, thirty-year-old Ruth quits her job, leaves town and arrives at her parents' home to find that situation more complicated than she'd realized. Her father, a prominent history professor, is losing his memory and is only erratically lucid. Ruth's mother, meanwhile, is lucidly erratic. But as Ruth's father’s condition intensifies, the comedy in her situation takes hold, gently transforming her all her grief."
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I can't do better than my bookstore-owning friend Holland to sum this one up: Imagine The Help meets Comic Con, and you've got this story about right. Talented graphic novelist Leia finds herself unexpectedly pregnant after a drunken one-night-stand at a comic book convention. She doesn't know the father's name, but he looked awfully cute in his Batman suit. As Leia absorbs the knowledge that she'll soon be a mother to a biracial baby, she is summoned home to Alabama to do what she can for her struggling family—her stepsister's unraveling marriage, her grandmother's worsening dementia, and a shocking secret hidden in the family attic. This is a fast-reading, big-hearted novel that tackles Serious Issues really, really well—while spinning a terrific story.
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