Last month I recommended a stack of non-fiction; this month, it’s juicy novels. Why? Hey, I don’t make the publishers’ schedules, I just stay on top of them so you’ll have some great ideas about what to read.
• “Rock Needs River: A Memoir about a Very Open Adoption,” by Vanessa McGrady (Feb. 1)
Adoptions in the United States were once conducted with sealed files and sealed lips. Some have gotten much more open, but Vanessa McGrady took it to a different level when she invited the homeless biological parents of her adopted daughter to live with her. Nothing went according to plan, and McGrady chronicles her non-fairy-tale path to parenthood with uncommon candor.
• “Bowlaway,” by Elizabeth McCracken (Feb. 5)
Imagine the Great American Novel with a female protagonist who starts a New England candlepin bowling dynasty, and you’ll have some idea of this delicious family saga. Bertha Truitt arrives in Salford, Mass. early in the 20th century with a bowling ball, a candlepin and 15 pounds of gold. When she marries black doctor Leviticus Sprague, tongues wag - but she’ll give them much, much more to talk about.
• “On the Come Up,” by Angie Thomas (Feb. 5)
Thomas’ YA debut, “The Hate U Give,” and its subsequent movie adaptation, examined racism and police brutality, giving voice to experiences many of us never see (too often deliberately). Her sophomore effort proves she’s a literary force. We’re back in Garden Heights, this time following Brianna, a young woman determined to make it as a rapper.
• “The Age of Light,” by Whitney Scharer (Feb. 5)
Do you know the name Lee Miller? Too many people recognize the incredibly gifted photographer simply as the muse to her more famous lover, Man Ray. But they’ll have a better sense of her after reading Scharer’s debut novel, which shows how a woman brave enough to record the horrors of Nazi concentration camps could be cowed by a paramour.
• “The Hiding Place,” by C.J. Tudor (Feb. 5)
Tudor’s 2018 “The Chalk Man” was a standout mystery novel with a fresh voice and a spooky plot. “The Hiding Place” is even better. When middle-aged schoolteacher Joseph Thorne returns home to Arnhill, he has reasons that involve a long-missing sibling. Whether he’ll find out what happened to her becomes almost beside the point once his own past begins to unravel.
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• “The Source of Self-Regard: Selected Essays, Speeches, and Meditations,” by Toni Morrison (Feb. 12)
Divided into three parts - A prayer for the 9/11 dead, a meditation on Martin Luther King Jr. and a eulogy for James Baldwin - this book is a must. Naturally, it’s also about Peter Sellars, Toni Cade Bambara, Morrison’s own novels and much more. “A writer’s life and work are not a gift to mankind;” she writes. “they are its necessity.” Too true.
• “American Spy,” by Lauren Wilkinson (Feb. 12)
Novelist Lauren Wilkinson reminds us of a less-covered side of the Cold War with her debut set in 1986 Africa. FBI agent Marie Mitchell is stationed in Burkina Faso, and when she’s assigned to shadow Thomas Sankara, “Africa’s Che Guevara,” the personal, political and professional collide for her in unforgettable ways.
• “The Care and Feeding of Ravenously Hungry Girls,” by Anissa Gray (Feb. 19)
Sisters Althea, Viola and Lillian have always been forces of nature, but none are prepared for the swirling vortex that envelops them when Althea and her husband are arrested. Viola and Lillian do their best to pick up the pieces, including caring for the couple’s twin teenaged daughters. It’s an absorbing family drama for fans of Tayari Jones, Barbara Kingsolver, Brit Bennett and Anne Tyler.
• “The Border,” by Don Winslow (Feb. 26)
In the last in Winslow’s Cartel trilogy, DEA stalwart Art Keller finds himself not just at war with druglords but with his own government when he discovers that the incoming administration is in bed with the enemies he’s been fighting for decades.
• “The Priory of the Orange Tree,” by Samantha Shannon (Feb. 26)
Shannon follows up her fantasy trilogy The Bone Season with the tale of the matriarchal House of Berethnet that rules Inys. Queen Sabran the Ninth must conceive a daughter if she is to retain power. Her lady-in-waiting is actually a mole from a secret society of mages. Add to this a fierce dragon rider and a war between East and West, and you’ve got a mesmerizing diversion for a cold February weekend.