Valerie's Picks for Winter/Spring 2019

January 3, 2019 | Wendy

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Valerie has every book-lover's dream job: she coordinates the selection of print books for adults at Toronto Public Library. In other words, she and her team of selectors investigate nearly every book that we order. So when we want to know what new books to get excited about, we know who to ask. 

This list contains Valerie’s picks of the most intriguing books coming out this winter and spring, along with her notes about why she's looking forward to them. Place your holds now to be first in line when they come in! 

Fiction

Machines Like Me

Machines Like Me by Ian McEwan

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Ian McEwan’s novels have always posed and probed moral and ethical dilemmas.  This new novel, his first speculative fiction since 1987’s The Child in Time, may be his deepest investigation yet into the nature of humanity. Machines Like Me is set in an alternate 1980s London, one in which Britain has lost the Falklands War and Alan Turing – still very much alive - has made a breakthrough in artificial intelligence. The story centres on Charlie and his girlfriend Miranda who acquire Adam, one of the first batch of synthetic humans, and then begin to design its personality. The near-perfect “human” they create is beautiful, strong, and clever. The love triangle that soon forms among these three provokes disturbing and profound questions. What makes us human? What does it mean to love someone? Can an artificially intelligent creation possess an inner life? What happens in a world where machines can understand the human heart?

Available April 2019.

 

Hark by Sam Lipsyte

Hark by Sam Lipsyte

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I am a huge fan of Sam Lipsyte’s satirical novels and this new one, his first since 2010’s The Ask, sounds like it might be the perfect comedic tonic for our time.  Set in a near-future America beset by some familiar-sounding problems – widespread cultural and political animosity, environmental degradation, and spiritual anxiety – Lipsyte offers up salvation in the form of reluctant guru Hark Morner.  Hark has developed something he calls “Mental Archery”, a farcical combination of mindfulness, mythology, yoga, and archery, that quickly becomes a global phenomenon. The best satire moves beyond social skewering to an eloquent exploration of human desperation and unhappiness, and I’m hoping that, with his usual stylistic brilliance, Lipsyte will do just that.

Available March 2019.

 

Bowlaway by Elizabeth McCracken

Bowlaway by Elizabeth McCracken

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It’s been 18 years since Elizabeth McCracken’s previous novel and by the sounds of this new one her reputation as an unconventional teller of unconventional and eccentric stories will remain intact. Spanning the 20th century, this tall tale is the story of a family who operate a bowling alley in a town in Massachusetts.  The matriarch, Bertha Truitt, as much an enigma to her own family as she is to the town, is brilliantly revealed and the legacy of her determination and spirit, her secrets and betrayals, will resonate across the generations.

Available February 2019.

 

Henry  Himself by Stewart O'Nan

Henry, Himself by Stewart O’Nan

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I have been an admirer of Stewart O’Nan’s novels for many years. Like Anne Tyler, he writes intelligently and compassionately about the everyday lives of ordinary people.  His seemingly small stories – the recently jobless and soon-to-be homeless couple in The Odds who go to the casino in Niagara Falls to try and recoup their losses or the manager of an about-to-be closed Red Lobster working his final shift in Last Night at the Lobster – nonetheless deal with the large and universal themes of fear, loss, and dislocation. Henry, Himself, the prequel to his sweet and sad novel Emily, Alone is about retired engineer Henry Maxwell who, at 75, is confused by the strangeness of living in a world he no longer understands and discouraged by the weight of his many regrets.  

Available April, 2019.

 

Immigrant City by David Bezmozgis

Immigrant City by David Bezmozgis

I am excited about this new collection of stories by Toronto author David Bezmozgis, his first since 2004’s award-winning stunner Natasha and Other Stories. Bezmozgis always writes brilliantly and without sentimentality about the complexities of the immigrant experience.

Available March, 2019.

 

Normal People by Sally Rooney

Normal People by Sally Rooney

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Sally Rooney follows her astounding debut Conversations with Friends with this new novel, Normal People, which The Guardian has already declared a “future classic”.   The story centres around two young people, Connell and Marianne, who meet as teenagers – Connell’s mother works as a cleaner for Marianne’s mother – and are immediately and secretly drawn to one another. They then find themselves together a year later at Trinity College in Dublin. Throughout their university years, they circle one another, sometimes together, sometimes apart, but always irresistibly pulled toward each other. What sets this coming-of-age story apart from many others is the clever narrative structure, the tenderness and intelligence of Rooney’s writing, and the beautifully realized characterizations of Connell and Marianne.

Available April, 2019.

 

Kaddish.com by Nathan Englander

Kaddish.com by Nathan Englander

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The publisher says this new comic novel by Englander is reminiscent of early Philip Roth, and the story certainly echoes Roth’s recurring preoccupation with the duties owed – or not – by a new generation of men to their fathers, families, religion, and culture.  Larry, an atheist in a family of orthodox Jews, wonders how he can carry out the solemn responsibility assigned to him as the surviving son to recite the Kaddish, the Jewish prayer for the dead, every day for eleven months. His solution is to hire a stranger through a website called kaddish.com to do it for him. A funny and bittersweet take on obligation and belonging.

Available March 2019.

 

Bina by Anakana Schofield

Bina by Anakana Schofield

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From Canadian novelist Anakana Schofield, author of Malarky and Martin John, comes a new “novel-in-warnings” narrated by Bina, a plain-spoken older Irishwoman who sounds like she just might be a contemporary incarnation of Hagar Shipley. Bina is under police surveillance for a crime that she refuses to name and has taken to her bed to write out a circuitous version of her story, leaving us to piece together the truth.

Available May 2019.

 

The Farm by Joanne Ramos

The Farm by Joanne Ramos

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A big debut from a former staff writer at The Economist, written in The Handmaid’s Tale school of dystopian fiction. Golden Oaks, or the Farm as the residents call it, is a luxury retreat where guests – all women - have every amenity and, what’s more, are paid big money to stay there. The catch is that they cannot leave for nine months, their movements are monitored, and they are entirely cut off from their former lives. Their job for those nine months is to produce the perfect baby. Jane, an immigrant from the Philippines desperate for a better future, is now trapped at The Farm but is determined to reconnect with her life outside. A chillingly plausible and provocative examination of inequality, power, and motherhood.

Available May 2019.

 

Parade by dave eggers

The Parade by Dave Eggers

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My favourite Dave Eggers novel is A Hologram for the King, and this new one sounds like there may be some thematic similarities. In The Parade, the main characters are two foreign contractors sent to oversee the building of a highway linking two halves of a country that, until recently, has been involved in a long and bloody civil war.  The two men have different attitudes toward the work they are there to do and the country they are living in, but both must ultimately confront the absurdity and futility of their positions as brokers of peace in a place whose history they can never comprehend.

Available March 2019.

 

How Long Til Black Future Month

How Long ‘til Black Future Month? by N. K. Jemisin

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I am not much of a Science Fiction reader but Jemisin’s groundbreaking novels have received so much praise and so many Hugo and Nebula awards that I am going to give this collection of stories a try. These 22 challenging and mind-expanding stories should be a great introduction to this writer’s work.

Available now.

 

Black Leopard Red Wolf by Marlon James

Black Leopard, Red Wolf by Marlon James  

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This first installment of the Dark Star trilogy by Booker Prize winner Marlon James is being called an African Game of Thrones.  High Fantasy and Afrofuturism are not genres that I typically read but, persuaded by the tremendous early enthusiasm the novel is receiving, I am going to give it a try. Expect it to be psychologically astute, gorgeously written, and impressively imagined.

Available February 2019.

 

When All Is Said by Anne Griffin

When All Is Said by Anne Griffin

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An intimate and lyrical debut by a young Irish writer. “If you had to pick five people to sum up your life, who would they be? If you were to raise a glass to each of them, what would you say? And what would you learn about yourself, when all is said?”  At a hotel bar in a small Irish town, 84-year-old Maurice Hannigan is about to tell his story.  Over the course of the evening, he will raise five toasts to the five people who have meant the most to him: his beloved older brother, his sorrowful sister-in-law, his daughter of 15 minutes, his son in America, and his late wife.

Available March 2019.

 

White Elephant by Julie Langsdorf

White Elephant by Julie Langsdorf

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A satirical and sharply observant debut novel about neighbours. That Nick Cox has built a hideous McMansion in the quaint suburb of Willard Park is crime enough, but when he cuts down his neighbour Ted Miller’s red maple tree, battles erupt in the once serene town. More tree (and other) carnage follows as the feud between long-time residents and newcomers spreads. How can we judge the actions, the tastes, or the dreams of others in a society increasingly without common ground? And how can a community of disparate people get along together in our increasingly fractious and self-involved world?

Available March 2019.

 

Lights All Night Long by Lydia Fitzpatrick

Lights All Night Long by Lydia Fitzpatrick

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A captivating debut literary mystery about two Russian brothers whose differences separate them but whose loyalty and history bind them.  Ilya is a brilliant young student who has been selected to participate in an exchange program in the U.S.  His brother Vladimir, drawn to a darker and more violent life in their hometown, has just been charged with the murders of three young women. As he attempts to adapt to the strangeness of life in America, Ilya is simultaneously pulled back into his native country as he embarks on a long-distance mission to prove his brother’s innocence.

Available April 2019.

 

The Silent Patient by Alex Michaelides

The Silent Patient by Alex Michaelides

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Of the many big psychological thrillers being published this winter – 35 and counting – this one is my pick. All is not as it seems for perfect couple Alicia and Gabriel Berenson, both successful and wealthy artists. It can’t be, because one night Gabriel returns home and Alicia shoots him five times in the face. Since that moment, Alicia has not spoken a single word. Told from the perspective of Theo Faber, a troubled and not entirely stable psychotherapist, and interwoven with excerpts from Alicia’s diary, the novel explores the line between psychosis and sanity with chilling intensity.

Available February 2019.

 

Non-Fiction

Everything in its Place by Oliver Sacks

Everything in its Place by Oliver Sacks

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A final collection of writings by the late neurologist and storyteller. A celebration of human consciousness in all its weirdness and wondrousness, and of Sacks as its most compassionate chronicler.

Available April 2019.

 

Current Events

Two books about two very different events that captured the public imagination in 2018:

 

Boys in the Cave by Matt Gutman

The Boys in the Cave by Matt Gutman

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The entire world was riveted to the fates of twelve boys and their soccer coach who were trapped in a flooded cave in Thailand and held its collective breath as they were being rescued.  Now the ABC News Chief Correspondent who was on the ground in Thailand from the beginning has written a full account of that miraculous story.

Available now.

 

Parkland by Dave Cullen

Parkland by Dave Cullen

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Yet another mass shooting at yet another U.S. school would ordinarily generate only momentary interest and the usual platitudes about hearts and minds, thoughts and prayers, were it not for the exceptional response of a remarkable group of young people. Parkland is the story of those young people, members of a generation who have lived their entire lives with the expectation that a mass murder would happen in their classrooms, and their choice to react to the trauma of that terrible event with righteous anger, courage, and resolve.

Available February 2019.

 

Memoirs

We have become a culture of memoir writers – everyone, it seems, has a story they need to tell – and readers.  In early 2019, many new memoir writers will contribute their fascinating personal stories to this growing chorus of voices. My two picks:

 

A Good Wife by Samra Zafar

A Good Wife by Samra Zafar

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Arriving in Canada as a teenage bride in an arranged marriage, Samra Zafar endured years of abuse before she was able to escape with her two daughters. Once free, she was determined to pursue the education she had always dreamed of.  This is her harrowing and inspiring story.

Available March 2019.

 

Once More We Saw Stars by Jason Greene

Once More We Saw Stars by Jayson Greene

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A heartbreaking memoir of how suddenly unimaginable loss can come out of nowhere.  Greene’s two-year old daughter Greta and her grandmother were sitting on a bench on the Upper West Side of Manhattan when a chunk of brick from an overhead windowsill fell, catastrophically and fatally injuring her. A quiet and moving meditation on how abruptly life can be completely upended and how to carry on living after incapacitating loss.

Available May 2019.

 

Self-Help

Usually publishers’ winter lists are dominated by diet books, but this year dietary self-help has been supplanted by mental health self-help.  Here are my three self-help picks for winter 2019:

Notes on a Nervous Planet by Matt Haig

Notes on a Nervous Planet: How to Survive the 21st Century by Matt Haig

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A timely and sensible follow-up to his previous non-fiction book about living with acute anxiety and depression, Reasons to Stay Alive.  Here, presenting good evidence that modern life is doing unprecedented damage to our mental health, he offers thoughtful advice and tools on coping with our anxiety-provoking culture. 

Available January 2019.

 

Everything is F*cked: A Book About Hope by Mark Manson

Cover coming soon

From the author of the mega-best selling The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck comes this new self-help book.  Expect more of Manson’s no-nonsense and refreshingly honest advice about how to live delusion-free, integrated, and contented lives.

Available April 2019.

 

How To Hold a Grudge by Sophie Hannah

How to Hold a Grudge by Sophie Hannah

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This one is for fun…if you appreciated Seinfeld’s fictitious holiday Festivus, the central ritual of which was The Airing of the Grievances, then you might want to give How to Hold a Grudge, by mystery writer Sophie Hannah, a try. Contrary to the standard advice that only by letting go of the sorrows and hurts of the past can we free ourselves from suffering, she argues that holding a grudge and nurturing those grievances may well provide the fuel needed to power constructive change.

Available January 2019.

 

What books are you looking forward to in 2019? Let us know in the comments!

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