What’s it about: In the near future when climate change has made winter a memory and evolution seems to be reversing, pregnant Cedar Songmaker connects with her biological family seeking answers about her origin. Her life and autonomy are put at risk in a society increasingly obsessed with protecting the human race by controlling reproduction.
What made me pick it up: I’ve never read Louise Erdrich before even though she’s been on my TBR list for years, so I decided to start with her newest release.
My favorite things: I didn’t really know anything about this book going in, knowing only that Erdrich is known to write mostly literary fiction featuring native characters. I was pleasantly surprised to find out that I’d picked up her foray into dystopian and somewhat speculative fiction – one of my favorite areas to read. She does an incredible job of exploring themes of spirituality, identity, family, and resilience in the context of societal collapse.
My favorite things: While this doesn’t dip into the supernatural they way that Sing did, it still traces similar themes that I was hoping to find. Each character experiences specific manifestations of systemic racism unique to their era but undeniably tied to those of the other generations. The lines between each are clear, with the desperation escalating in younger characters. The people missing from each character’s life have almost as much of an impact on their stories as do those who are present.
Who it’s great for: Fans of family histories that trace multiple generations. Readers looking for writers telling complex stories of the African-American family; fans of Jesmyn Ward, Tayari Jones, and Angela Flournoy.
What’s it about: Clayton Byrd loves nothing more than playing his blues harp with grandfather – Cool Papa Byrd. When Cool Papa Byrd passes suddenly Clayton struggles to adjust. He leaves home hoping to catch up with Cool Papa’s band of Bluesmen and finds an unexpected adventure on the way.
My favorite things: There’s a reason why Rita Williams-Garcia has won so many awards – she’s a masterful writer who never shies away from difficult topics. She takes a tale of love, loss, and grief and makes it thrilling but relatable. She weaves music throughout the story, making Clayton’s world come alive. No character is two dimensional, rather, she writes everyone as a full and complex person.
Who it’s great for: Middle-grade readers looking for a story that treats black boys as real people and not as stereotypes. Fans of Williams-Garcia’s other work. Readers interested in the roles music can play in life.
What it’s about: After a horrendously neglectful and abusive childhood with their movie star mother, the three Sunshine Sisters are brought back together to deal with her impending death.
What made me pick it up: Jane Green is just the right level of fiction for me. Not terribly literary but not too fluffy either. I had previously read Summer Secrets and seen her speak and enjoyed both so I definitely keep an eye on her upcoming to her books now.
My favorite parts: Yes, there are love stories and mostly happy endings but there is real drama in this book as well. The damage of their childhood affects each sister differently, but definitely has negative consequences in their adult lives both in how they deal with their trauma but also in how they support or fail each other. I always appreciate personal transformations through adversity and all three of the sisters go through this in one way or another.
Who it’s great for: Readers looking for chick lit or romance with a little more substance. Fans of domestic fiction and family stories.
Originally published in: original 2007, in translation 2017
What it’s about: A graphic memoir chronicling relationships and family dysfunction, love and heartache.
What made me pick it up: I gravitated toward it the moment it showed up on our cart of new books – the bleak cover art was immediately compelling to me.
My favorite things: The art, the art! Written over the course of twelve years, the art varies in style and medium and still somehow fits together to paint a portrait of a life through time. Complexities and heartaches of real life, honest about flaws, weaknesses, and mistakes. I love the use of handwriting rather than a font for an even more expressive read.
Who it’s great for: Readers looking for an emotionally engaging exploration of family and relationships.
What it’s about: Merricat, Constance, and Uncle Julian are an odd, reclusive family, ostracized by the people of their community after the rest of their family die of arsenic poisoning.
What made me pick it up: This was a deep dive into my TBR backlist, but the audiobook was available on OverDrive so I went for it.
My favorite things: This isn’t a complex story, but it is elegantly told. Merricat’s narration is simple, uncomfortably direct, and quietly unsettling. And yet – her fears and anxieties feel valid and worthy of consideration. More sinister than odd, the Blackwood family still demands pity. Jackson was a master at creating creepy but believably human characters.
Who it’s great for: I don’t know about you, but when I’m in a reading slump, or really any kind of slump, I need a creepy story or two to kick me back into gear. If that’s true for you then you should definitely grab this the next time you need a pick-me-up. Good for fans of gothic novels, horror, and mysteries.
What it’s about: The Nix is ultimately a story about family relationships and the power of blood ties to overcome trauma and betrayal. But it’s kind of lighthearted and fun.
What made me pick it up: I kept seeing it pop up on bestseller lists so I figured I’d take the plunge. Plus, I knew those 600+ pages would do great things for my annual page count.
My favorite things: If I’m being completely honest, a lot of literary fiction misses the mark for me because I feel like it takes itself too seriously. The Nix doesn’t. From the moment we meet the Andresen-Andersons it’s clear that Hill is just as concerned with making his readers chuckle every once in a while as he is with exploring complicated relationships. I love the way he spends a chapter here and there following secondary characters, because the change in voice kept things fresh for me across the several hundred pages. I also really enjoyed getting to read excerpts of Samuel’s writing, instead of just reading about his (in)ability to create great work. This book is looong but I never wanted the end to come sooner.
Who it’s great for: Readers who love family drama but want a story that reaches beyond that. Those who think we’re prioritizing our digital lives a bit too much. Anyone seeking to pad their page count without losing interest.
Get a copy of The Nix at Amazon (affiliate link) or your local library.
It’s the start of a new reading year and there is a lot to look forward to! Especially these upcoming nonfiction titles:
Hunger: A Memoir of (My) Body by Roxanne Gay – Like the other issues she has tackled in writing, in this book Gay will take on body issues and image in herself and other women. Pub date: June 2017
South and West: From a Notebook by Joan Didion – The inimitable Didion will release a series of notes from her road trip through the American South during the 1970s and all her observations from it. Pub date: March 2017
Theft By Finding: Diaries 1977-2002 by David Sedaris – Didion is not the only one releasing past notes on life. The always entertaining Sedaris will publish this collection from journals he kept over 25 years. Pub date: May 2017
You Don’t Have To Say You Love Me by Sherman Alexie – This book will be a tribute to Alexie’s mother who died at the age of 78. It will feature 78 stories and poems that Alexie wrote to process his grief. Pub date: June 2017