Valerie's Picks: Spring and Summer 2019

April 18, 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. (It's a lot of work - you can hear her talk about how they do it on this podcast).

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:

Big Sky by Kate Atkinson

Big Sky by Kate Atkinson.

Great news for devoted fans of Jackson Brodie, Kate Atkinson’s troubled P.I.: he’s back! Since the events of 2010’s Started Early, Took My Dog, Jackson has relocated from Cambridge to a quiet seaside village where he continues to investigate all manner of human misery. These are novels that defy categorization: dark but also funny and smartly observant; compelling mysteries that are also nuanced explorations of grief and loss; portraits of terribly damaged characters who nonetheless manage acts of enormous empathy and kindness. If you haven’t read the previous in the series (Case Histories, One Good Turn, When Will There Be Good News?, and Started Early, Took My Dog), read them now before this new one is published at the end of June.

Release date: June 25

All formats

 

Late in the Day

Late in the Day by Tessa Hadley.

Another psychologically astute and quietly shattering piece of writing by the wonderful Tessa Hadley, available for some months in the U.S. and UK but only just released in Canada. What Hadley does so brilliantly is let us observe characters who are just on the brink of understanding themselves, usually prompted by some change in the circumstances of their lives. Her new novel is the story of the long and tangled relationship between two married couples, now in their 50s, who have known each other since university. Lydia is married to Zachary, a wealthy London art gallery owner, while Christine is married to Alex, a much poorer poet who teaches at a primary school. When a sudden heart attack kills Zachary, the unexamined assumptions and delusions that had propped up their world shift, with painful but illuminating results.

Release date: April 2

All formats

 

Orange World

Orange World and Other Stories by Karen Russell.

A third collection of deeply strange, ingenious, and witty stories by the sublimely imaginative Russell, following Vampires in the Lemon Grove: and Other Stories (2013) - one of my favourite story collections of the past decade - and her astonishingly original debut novel Swamplandia! (2011). I am hoping for more of the same here: writing so exuberant it leaps off the page and stories that blend the surreal with the real, the bizarre with the ordinary.

Release date: May 14

All formats

 

Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead

Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead by Olga Tokarczuk.

These next two books almost win their place on my list for the sheer fabulousness of their titles alone. Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead is another genre-bending and fabulist offering by the author of Flights, the recipient of 2018’s Man Booker International Prize. The reclusive Janina spends her days studying astrology, translating William Blake, and avoiding her neighbours. At least she does until many of them begin turning up dead.

Release date: August 13

All formats

 

On Earth We're Briefly Gorgeous

On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous by Ocean Vuong.

A debut novel by the author of the extraordinary poetry collection Night Sky with Exit Wounds, which won a slew of prestigious awards, among them the 2017 T.S. Eliot Prize. Dealing with many of the same themes – life in the aftermath of war and displacement, the crippling and persistent effects of the traumatic past on the present, the urgent necessity to tell one's story, the impossibility of ever being truly heard – the book takes the form of a letter from a son to a mother who cannot read. Written in language that is being called raw, searing, and luminous, this debut may be the literary event of the summer.

Release date: June 4

All formats

 

Nickel Boys

The Nickel Boys by Colson Whitehead.

And speaking of literary events: Colson Whitehead follows up his harrowing portrait of slavery in The Underground Railroad with what promises to be an equally harrowing portrait of segregation. Set in the Nickel Academy, a juvenile reform school located in the Jim Crow south, the novel is the story of two African American boys, incarcerated in this institution, who try to resist the hatred, brutality, and racism of those in charge.

Release date: July 16

All formats

 

Body in Question

The Body in Question by Jill Ciment.

Several years ago Montreal-born writer Ciment wrote a nearly perfect little novel that I loved called Heroic Measures about aging, terrorism, Manhattan real estate, and a paralyzed dachshund named Dorothy. This new novel sounds equally interesting – a gruesome murder of a child by a sibling, a question about whether the correct twin was charged and convicted in the subsequent trial, and an affair between two of the jurors – though definitely darker and less quirky.

Release date: June 11

All formats

 

Flight Portfolio

Flight Portfolio by Julie Orringer.

The World War II-themed historical fiction trend continues unabated, with many fine titles being published in the next few months. Among them are The Daughter’s Tale by Armando Lucas Correa, Mistress of the Ritz by Melanie Benjamin, and Paris 7 A.M. by Liza Wieland; but the one I am most eager to read is Flight Portfolio. This is a second novel for Julie Orringer, a follow-up to her superb debut The Invisible Bridge, which was set in World War II-era Hungary. Shifting the setting to Nazi-occupied France, her new novel is a fictionalized account of the real-life American journalist Varian Fry and his work, as part of the Emergency Rescue Committee, helping prominent Jewish intellectuals and artists flee to safety. I’m hoping that this one will be every bit as enthralling and affecting as her previous.

Release date: May 7

All formats

 

Lanny

Lanny by Max Porter.

Grief is the Thing with Feathers, Max Porter’s distinctive and profound first novel, used elements of folklore and fable to tell the story of a father and two young boys facing the unbearable sadness of a mother’s sudden death. In that novel Crow moved in with the grieving family and helped them to heal. In Lanny Porter again uses a figure from British folklore, Dead Papa Toothwort, to tell the more sinister tale of the disappearance of a young boy from his small English village. Magical and inventive yet emphatically situated in our modern anxious world.

Release date: May 14

All formats

 

Confessions of Frannie Langton

The Confessions of Frannie Langton by Sara Collins.

A debut literary historical thriller with echoes of both Alias Grace and The Underground Railroad. Frannie Langton, servant and former slave, is accused of the brutal murders of her employer and his wife. Though caught on the night of the murders covered with blood, Frannie cannot remember what happened and so attempts to find her way to the truth by writing her life’s story. Beginning with her birth on a Jamaican sugar plantation, her story continues through the brutalities of her childhood, to her life as a maid in Georgian London, to her passionate and forbidden relationship with her mistress, and finally to her sensational trial at the Old Bailey. Lots of big themes here: race, class, oppression, personal and societal guilt.

Release date: May 21

All formats

 

This Little Lights

This Little Light by Lori Lansens.

A timely and topical novel set in a near-future America in which the religious right has triumphed, by the wonderfully empathetic Canadian novelist, Lori Lansens. Rory Miller, accused of bombing her high school during an American Virtue Ball, is now being hunted by both social media trolls and law enforcement helicopters and drones. How did this 16-year-old girl come to be considered a terrorist as soon as she began to question her place as a female in this new social order?

Release date: August 13

All formats

 

Dual Citizens

Dual Citizens by Alix Ohlin.

From Scotiabank Giller Prize finalist Alix Ohlin comes a dual coming-of-age novel about two half-sisters who are unalike – Lark, the eldest, is quiet and studious, while Robin is wild and creative - but who are bound in childhood by their need, in the face of their young single mother’s neglect, to care for each other. Time and distance fray that bond but when Lark faces a crisis, it’s her sister she turns to for understanding and support.

Release date: June 4

All formats

 

Swan Song

Swan Song by Kelleigh Greenberg-Jephcott.

Covering some of the same ground as Melanie Benjamin’s The Swans of Fifth Avenue – both are fictionalized re-imaginings of Truman Capote’s last years - this debut novel by British author Kelleigh Greenberg-Jephcott has already been longlisted for the Women’s Prize for Fiction. In 1975 Capote published a series of excerpts from his unpublished roman à clef, Answered Prayers, in Esquire Magazine – excerpts that revealed the secrets and indiscretions of a circle of moneyed and powerful Manhattan socialites whom Capote called his “Swans”. Written in the collective voice of the Swans, the novel is a portrait of Capote’s desperately sad final years viewed through the eyes of the women whose friendship he had betrayed.

Release date: July 9

All formats

 

Disappearing Earth

Disappearing Earth by Julia Phillips.

There are several fantastic-sounding literary thrillers coming out this summer, notably The Body Lies by Jo Baker and The Snakes by Sadie Jones, both acclaimed British literary writers who are adding a thriller element to their work for the first time. The big debut literary thriller that I am excited about is by a young American author who spent her Fulbright Scholarship year living on Russia’s remote Kamchatka Peninsula, which is the setting for this exhilarating novel. As in many thrillers, the story opens with a disappearance, in this case of two young sisters from a summer beach. Each of the following twelve chapters, one for every month in the year after their disappearance, is the story of a different woman living on the peninsula and in the shadow of the missing girls. From all accounts this is a gorgeously written and utterly compelling mystery set in a remote and inhospitable part of the world few of us know anything about.

Release date: May 14

All formats

 

Bunny

Bunny by Mona Awad.

Toronto writer Mona Awad, author of the Giller finalist 13 Ways of Looking at a Fat Girl, has written what sounds like a literary version of Mean Girls. Set at an elite creative writing program, main character Samantha is the quintessential outsider – a scholarship student in a school of rich kids, an introvert amidst a clique of seldom-apart popular girls who call each other Bunny, sardonic to their saccharine. Yet when Samantha is summoned to one of the Bunnies’ secret and exclusive meetings, her repulsion turns into fascination as she becomes sucked into their dark and twisted world. A savage satire about female friendship and belonging.

Release date: June 11

All formats

 

Guest Book

The Guest Book by Sarah Blake.

A literary saga which charts the rise and fall of a WASP family. The Milton family, blessed by wealth, beauty, property, and enormous privilege have always gathered together at their summer retreat on their private island off the coast of Maine. But as later generations debate whether to keep their island inheritance, they must also confront less pleasant family legacies: a complicity with Nazi Germany that funded most of their wealth and the deep current of prejudice and racism that runs like a dark secret through their family’s story.

Release date: May 7

All formats

 

Frying Plantain

Frying Plantain by Zalika Reid-Benta.

The pleasure of recognizing familiar places and experiencing them through someone else’s eyes is one of the joys of reading a novel set in your own city, so I'm looking forward to this debut by Toronto’s Zalika Reid-Benta, set in Eglinton West’s “Little Jamaica” neighbourhood. The main character in these twelve interconnected stories is Kara Davis, a girl growing up between worlds who feels that she belongs nowhere. Funny, sad, and insightful stories about the tensions between mothers and daughters, second-generation Canadians and first-generation cultural expectations, and Black identity in a predominately white society. 

Release date: June 4

All formats


Non-fiction:

Thousand Small Sanities

A Thousand Small Sanities by Adam Gopnik.

From the ever-erudite Gopnik comes a manifesto, a defense of liberalism for these illiberal times. Taking us on a tour of the liberal tradition from Mill to the civil rights movement, he argues that liberalism is “one of the great moral adventures in human history”.

Release date: May 14

All formats

 

My Parents

My Parents / This Does Not Belong to You by Aleksandar Hemon.

A flipbook from the spectacularly talented Hemon. On one side, My Parents – the story of his parents’ immigration from Sarajevo to Canada, of the war that upended their life, and of their new lives here. On the flip side, This Does Not Belong to You – memories and observations of his own life in exile.

Release date: June 11

All formats

 

Toronto Reborn

Toronto Reborn: Design Successes and Challenges by Ken Greenberg.

From urban planner and passionate Torontonian Ken Greenberg comes a history of Toronto’s transformation over the past fifty years. From staid provincial capital to booming world-class city, Greenberg charts the who, what, and how of the refashioning of Toronto.

Release date: May 11

All formats

 

Coventry

Coventry: Essays by Rachel Cusk.

I have admired Cusk’s dazzling fiction and provocative memoirs and now am eager to read her first collection of essays on topics ranging from literature and art, to marriage, motherhood, and feminism.

Release date: August 20

All formats

 

Into the Planet

Into the Planet by Jill Heinerth.

This book is firmly in the category of things-I-would-never-do-but-am-fascinated-by-the-people-who-choose-to-do-them. Jill Heinerth, renowned Canadian cave diver and underwater explorer, has seen the planet in a way almost no one else has and this is her story - part memoir, part adventure, and part scientific exploration.

Release date: August 27

All formats

 

Human History:

Two new books offer sweeping analyses of human behavior and history, though written in very different tones:

Upheaval

Upheaval by Jared Diamond.

This is the final volume of geographer Diamond’s masterful trilogy (after Guns, Germs and Steel and Collapse), examining the evolution of human societies as they respond to various political, climatic, and historical shifts. Taking as his examples the critical crises faced by seven nations through history, he uses their successes and failures to talk about how our society is responding to its own critical turning point in history. But is it too late to correct our course?

Release date: May 7

All formats

 

Humans

Humans: A Brief History of How We F*cked It All Up by Tom Phillips.

The publisher is billing this as Sapiens meets The Darwin Awards, so this one is definitely on the lighter side, though the thesis is a pretty serious one: that the story of humanity is the story of disastrous errors, catastrophic misjudgements, and near-ruinous misunderstandings of the consequences of our actions.

Release date: May 7

All formats

 

Money:

Two big-picture money books that sound like must-reads:

Moneyland

Moneyland: The Inside Story of the Crooks and Kleptocrats Who Rule the World by Oliver Bullough.

If you want to understand money and power in the 21st century, join investigative journalist Oliver Bullough as he probes the financial and personal behaviours of the lawless, stateless superrich and exposes the institutions that launder their money. Selected as an Economist Book of the Year.

Release date: May 7

All formats

 

Finance Curse


The Finance Curse: How Global Finance is Making Us All Poorer by Nicholas Shaxson.

In his 2011 book, Treasure Islands, financial journalist Shaxson exposed the damage offshore banking and tax havens cause to the world economy. In this new book he focuses on the modern globalised financial system – the big banks – which he holds responsible for much of the inequality, low economic growth, hollowing out of public services, and damage to democracy that is occurring in the western world.

Release date: November 5

All formats

 

Will you be reading any of these books? What books are you looking forward to? Let us know in the comments!

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