Books with Serious Literary Recognition
The Dry

The Dry

This 2018 RUSA Mystery Reading List shortlist title begins with a punch: "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. More info →
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The Twelve Lives of Samuel Hawley

The Twelve Lives of Samuel Hawley

This 2018 Edgar Award Best Novel Nominee is part coming-of-age tale, part love story, part literary thriller—and it's grounded in the ancient myth of Hercules and his twelve labors. The story takes place in Olympus (Massachusetts), and is about a father and daughter who love each other very much. But Tinti proves love often takes imperfect form: the father of her title is a criminal, and the twelve lives refer to his twelve scars from bullet wounds. His daughter is about to discover how he got them. (For a fascinating chart showing how Hawley's bullets and Hercules's labors match up, check out Tinti's chart in this interview.) More info →
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The Boat People

The Boat People

In her powerful and timely debut, a cargo ship carrying more than 500 refugees fleeing war-torn Sri Lanka docks on Canada's coast near Vancouver, thinking their journey is over, and they have made it to safety. After all, in the words of one character, "Canada has a reputation for being a soft touch." But government officials wonder if the ship holds members of a terrorist cell, and so all the occupants remain in detention until the national security crisis—whether real or imagined—is resolved. Bala uses three perspectives to great effect: a refugee, his lawyer, and a new adjudicator who feels woefully unprepared to make these potential life-or-death decisions. A 2018 Canada Reads contender. More info →
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The Hate U Give

The Hate U Give

$10.99$4.99Audiobook: 12.99 (Whispersync)
This has been called "the Black Lives Matter novel," for good reason, and it's been showered with awards and nominations, including the Edgar (YA) and Odyssey Award (Audiobook). 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. More info →
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Prairie Fires: The American Dreams of Laura Ingalls Wilder

Prairie Fires: The American Dreams of Laura Ingalls Wilder

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. More info →
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Piecing Me Together

Piecing Me Together

I'm happy to see this book getting some awards love: it's a Newbery Honor Book and winner of the Coretta Scott King Author Award. This is the story of Jade, a 16-year-old African American girl struggling to navigate two worlds—that of her wealthy mostly-white high school, and the poorer neighborhood where she lives with her family. This is a nuanced but easy read about feeling out of place, coming into your own, and the perils of good intentions. (Psst—my tween girls LOVED this one.) More info →
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Killers of the Flower Moon: The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI

Killers of the Flower Moon: The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI

This compelling and heartbreaking nonfiction read has racked up a slew of accolades, including National Book Award finalist and Edgar nominee (Best Fact Crime). 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. More info →
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Pachinko

Pachinko

In this sweeping domestic drama, shortlisted for the 2018 RUSA Historical Fiction Award, 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. More info →
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The Power

The Power

$24.953.95 (Audible Daily Deal)
This Bailey’s Prize Winner boasts a fascinating premise: what if we lived in a worldwhere women have electric power in their hands, and with it, the power to cause pain and death? If the premise sounds vaguely reminiscent of Margaret Atwood, it's for good reason: Atwood mentors author Alderman through the Rolex mentorship program. The reviews are decidedly mixed, which would make this an excellent book club pick. More info →
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American Fire: Love, Arson, and Life in a Vanishing Land

American Fire: Love, Arson, and Life in a Vanishing Land

This 2018 Edgar Award Best Fact Crime nominee centers on a modern-day Bonnie and Clyde, torching houses in rural Accomack County, Virginia instead of shooting up banks. 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. More info →
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Sing, Unburied, Sing

Sing, Unburied, Sing

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. 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. More info →
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In Farleigh Field: A Novel of World War II

In Farleigh Field: A Novel of World War II

I've heard great things about this one—and I keep hearing the audio is especially fantastic. Louise Penny called this "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. Before she began writing novels, Rhys (a pen name for Janet Quin-Harkin) worked in the drama department for the BBC, and her previous novels have won Agatha Awards. This year she's up for an Edgar (Best Paperback Original). More info →
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Less

Less

Emma Straub was just raving about this 2018 Pulitzer for Fiction winner in her Books Are Magic newsletter. This is the story of 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. More info →
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Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine

Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine

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. More info →
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We Are Okay

We Are Okay

This bittersweet novel unfolds over the course of three days in a deserted New York City dorm, as a young woman slowly comes to terms with the uneasy truth of her past with the help of a good friend. (Heads up: the nerdy adults in my life have loved this book; the younger teens don't feel they're ready for it.) Winner of the ALA's 2018 Printz Award for Excellence in Young Adult Literature. More info →
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The Radium Girls

The Radium Girls

$26.955.95 (Audible Deal)
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. More info →
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Hello, Universe

Hello, Universe

Kelly is no stranger to the awards scene; her latest novel won the 2018 Newbery Medal. The selection committee called it "masterfully told." In this middle grade novel, the lives of four middle school children come together in surprising ways over the course of one summer day, highlighting themes of self-acceptance, resilience, and hope. More info →
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The Last Ballad

The Last Ballad

$12.99$1.99Audiobook: 12.99 (Whispersync)
Cash's most recent novel has been named a RUSA Notable Book (Fiction). This is a fictionalized account of the 1929 Loray Mill strike in Gastonia, especially folk hero and ballad singer Ella Mae Wiggins, and was partly inspired by Appalachian mining town backgrounds of Cash's own grandparents. Though set nearly a hundred years ago, Cash's story sizzles with life. More info →
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Before She was Harriet

Before She was Harriet

This 2018 Coretta Scott King Honor Book (Illustrator) unfolds with a reverse chronology: we begin with an elderly Harriet Tubman, then move back in time through her life. This biography is written in verse and is lavishly illustrated. The target audience is ages 4-7 but grown-ups will enjoy a look at this as well. More info →
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Goodbye, Vitamin

Goodbye, Vitamin

$13.99$3.99Audiobook: 7.49 (Audible)
This debut got all kinds of buzz last summer, and is a 2018 LA Times Award for First Fiction honoree. Through a series of diary entries, we enter the story of 30-year-old Ruth: her father has recently been diagnosed with Alzheimer's, and his condition is rapidly worsening. Ruth decides to help her struggling family by moving back in with her parents for a year, where Ruth is forced to closely confront both her father's illness (which rapidly moves "from manageable to scary") and the troubled history of their relationship. This is just over 200 pages; you could also read it as your "book you can read in a day." More info →
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The Almost Sisters

The Almost Sisters

Joshilyn Jackson has written eight novels, which she describes as "Weirdo Fiction with a Shot of Southern Gothic Influence for Smart People Who Can Catch the Nuances but Who Like Narrative Drive, and Who Have a Sense of Humor but Who Are Willing to Go Down to Dark Places." Her most recent is the 2018 RUSA Reading List Women’s Fiction winner. I loved this story about a complicated Alabama family and the "two Souths" it inhabits: it's a fast-reading, big-hearted novel that tackles Serious Issues really, really well—while spinning a terrific story. More info →
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