We’re all looking for new reads, whether it’s fiction for relaxation or nonfiction for learning and surprise. This list of recommended titles is a good beginning:
Through 31 novels in four series, and five standalones, James Lee Burke has transcended his role of storyteller to become a writer of literature. His novel The Lost Get-Back Boogie was rejected 111 times before being released in 1986, and was promptly nominated for a Pulitzer Prize.
His best-known character is Dave Robicheaux, a Louisiana Cajun police detective and recovering alcoholic. In his 21st outing, Robicheaux, Dave falls off the wagon and suffers a blackout. He may or may not have murdered the man who killed his wife in a car wreck. To compound the plot, a hit man named Smiley has come to town and has gone on a spree. This is vintage Burke—full of deep characterizations, action, philosophy and soul-searching.
In The Great Alone by Kristin Hannah, a former POW returns from the Vietnam War and relocates his family to a remote Alaskan town, going off the grid for a new start. But that’s when the real trouble begins for his teen daughter, Leni, as her dad begins to unravel.
Poet-short story writer-novelist Denis Johnson, who died in May 2017, led a troubled life, and specialized in troubled characters. He was revered by the publishing industry for such landmarks asThe Laughing Monsters, Angels, Jesus’ Son and Tree of Smoke, the winner of the 2007 National Book Award for Fiction and a Pulitzer Prize finalist.
Now comes his final work, the five-story The Largesse of the Sea Maiden, a telling of lives and relationships on the verge of veering out of control, yet ultimately subject to salvation.
NPR book critic Maureen Corrigan had this to say: “The Largesse of The Sea Maiden contains the kind of work every writer would like to go out on: fresh, profound and singular. It affirms literature's promise to believers, the gift of eternal voice.”
Director-screenwriter David Mamet’s stage plays have set the bar over his 40-year career (American Buffalo, China Doll) but his skill as a novelist is often overlooked. Now, after a 20-year wait, comes Chicago. Set in 1920s mob-era Chicago, it tracks journalist Mike Hodge as he solves the puzzle of who murdered his girlfriend. Along the way, we’re treated to an examination of a city and culture that will never come again.
Jane Corry follows her 2016 best-selling My Husband’s Wife with another psychological thriller, Blood Sisters. It begins when three girls set off for school and one of them, Vanessa, is killed in a “seemingly random car accident.” Flash-forward 15 years to the two survivors—the wheelchair-bound Kitty and the emotionally damaged Alison. Enter an unidentified stalker of both, someone out for revenge. Or not. Shocks await.
Former CIA agent turned freelance “fixer” Court Gentry (a.k.a. the Gray Man) returns in Mark Greaney’s seventh thriller, Agent In Place. This time out, he’s hired to kidnap the wife of a Syrian dictator, but the never sees the upcoming consequences. International travel, spy craft and close calls are the hallmarks of the series.
The Atomic City Girls by Janet Beard is set in Oak Ridge, Tenn. in 1944, where June Walker and her fellow blue-collar workers have no idea they are actually helping support the Manhattan Project, the federal program that produced America’s first atomic bombs. A disparate group of characters create their own dramas, but relationships shatter when the truth is revealed.
Referencing the verse, letters, interviews and films of Iranian icon Forugh Farrokhzad, San Francisco-based novelist Jasmin Darznik offers a fictionalized biography of the poet-feminist in Song of a Captive Bird. Farrokhzad is credited for inspiring the women of Iran to seek freedom in their repressed lives.
Few writers have delved deeper into the American culinary landscape than Andrew Friedman (www.toqueland.com ), both as a cookbook collaborator and restaurant historian. In Chefs, Drugs and Rock & Roll: How Food Lovers, Free Spirits, Misfits and Wanderers Created a New American Profession , he traces “the evolution of the American restaurant chef” coast-to-coast in the game-changing 1970s and ‘80s. Let’s name-drop from the book: Jeremiah Tower, Ruth Reichl, Jonathan Waxman, Wolfgang Puck, Nancy Silverton, Bradley Ogden, Bobby Flay, Alice Waters, Chez Panisse, Quilted Giraffe, Spago, Stars, River Café. Hungry yet?
As the project historian of the Silicon Valley Archives at Stanford University, Leslie Berlin is perfectly positioned to write Troublemakers: Silicon Valley’s Coming of Age. She focuses on the formative decades of the 1970s and 1980s, guiding us through the lives and accomplishments of seven pioneers who “invented the future.” As Steve Jobs once said to her, “You can’t understand what’s happening today without understanding what came before.” Remember, context is everything.
Journalist Jason Fagone’s fascinating The Woman Who Smashed Codes explores the life of poet Elizebeth Smith, who became known as “America’s first female cryptanalyst.” When she married cryptographer William Frederick Friedman, they became known as “the Adam and Eve of the National Security Agency.” Breaking enemy codes in both world wars and during the Cold War, Smith Friedman—as Fagone put it in an interview— “changed the 20th century and helped win two world wars. She also shaped the intelligence community as we know it today.” The book has been optioned by CBS for a possible TV series.
One man wanted to preserve the ecosystem of Borneo, the largest island in Asia, while another wanted to exploit its people. The Last Wild Men of Borneo by Carl Hoffman follows the paths of Swiss environmentalist Bruno Manser and American art dealer Michael Palmieri in a fascinating “tale of true crime, clashing cultures, greed and the encroachment of Western civilization.”