Features

15 Must-Read Books This October

October is a great month for women writing fiction.

My favorite month is upon us! And it’s a good month for books. October 2017 will see the release of some huge titles, like Phillip Pullman’s long-awaited follow-up to His Dark Materials and Tom Hanks’s debut story collection, but I’m way more excited about the women, including National Book Award longlisters Carmen Maria Machado and Erika L. Sanchez, as well as new novels from Nnedi Okorafor and Louise Erdrich. Here are my recommendations for October’s most exciting new books.


9781555977887_4123aHer Body and Other Parties: Stories
By Carmen Maria Machado
Graywolf Press, October 3

“In Her Body and Other Parties, Carmen Maria Machado blithely demolishes the arbitrary borders between psychological realism and science fiction, comedy and horror, fantasy and fabulism. While her work has earned her comparisons to Karen Russell and Kelly Link, she has a voice that is all her own. In this electric and provocative debut, Machado bends genre to shape startling narratives that map the realities of women’s lives and the violence visited upon their bodies. A wife refuses her husband’s entreaties to remove the green ribbon from around her neck. A woman recounts her sexual encounters as a plague slowly consumes humanity. A salesclerk in a mall makes a horrifying discovery within the seams of the store’s prom dresses. One woman’s surgery-induced weight loss results in an unwanted houseguest. And in the bravura novella ‘Especially Heinous,’ Machado reimagines every episode of Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, a show we naively assumed had shown it all, generating a phantasmagoric police procedural full of doppelgängers, ghosts, and girls with bells for eyes.”


9780670785612_db1caAkata Warrior
By Nnedi Okorafor
Viking, October 3

“People in her Nigerian town call Sunny Nwazue “akata witch”—“akata” because she was raised in the United States, “witch” for the albinism that makes her skin and hair ghost-pale. They aren’t being kind or funny. They are cursing her. The irony is that Sunny actually is a witch, a “free agent” drawing from many magical traditions, and she’s coming into her own. In Akata Witch, Sunny discovered her powers, and became part of the elite magical Leopard community that exists in plain sight. Now, in Akata Warrior, she learns that she has been chosen to lead a dangerous mission to avert an apocalypse brought about by the terrifying masquerade, Ekwensu. Mythology, fantasy, science fiction, history, and magic blend into a compelling tale that will hold readers spellbound.”


9781617755880_cc8c6An Unkindness of Ghosts
By Rivers Solomon
Akashic Books, October 3

“Aster has little to offer folks in the way of rebuttal when they call her ogre and freak. She’s used to the names; she only wishes there was more truth to them. If she were truly a monster, she’d be powerful enough to tear down the walls around her until nothing remains of her world. Aster lives in the lowdeck slums of the HSS Matilda, a space vessel organized much like the antebellum South. For generations, Matilda has ferried the last of humanity to a mythical Promised Land. On its way, the ship’s leaders have imposed harsh moral restrictions and deep indignities on dark-skinned sharecroppers like Aster. Embroiled in a grudge with a brutal overseer, Aster learns there may be a way to improve her lot—if she’s willing to sow the seeds of civil war.”


9780316382939_a6da6A Moonless, Starless Sky
By Alexis Okeowo
Hachette Books, October 3

“In A Moonless, Starless Sky Okeowo weaves together four narratives that form a powerful tapestry of modern Africa: a young couple, kidnap victims of Joseph Kony’s LRA; a Mauritanian waging a lonely campaign against modern-day slavery; a women’s basketball team flourishing amid war-torn Somalia; and a vigilante who takes up arms against the extremist group Boko Haram. This debut book by one of America’s most acclaimed young journalists illuminates the inner lives of ordinary people doing the extraordinary–lives that are too often hidden, underreported, or ignored by the rest of the world.”


9780062678980_9d04dCivil Twilight: Poems
By Jeffrey Schultz
Ecco, October 3

“Beginning with the idea that nothing can be seen clearly in the light of the present, the poems in Civil Twilight attempt to resuscitate lyric’s revelatory impulse by taking nothing for granted, forming their materials under the light of a critical gaze. If there is any chance left for a humane world, a world in which poetry might become as transparent and evocative as it has always longed to be, these poems desire nothing but to find hints of that chance, and to follow them as far as they might lead. Jeffrey Schultz brings his distinct voice to bear on the stuff of twenty-first-century America—languishing FOIA requests, graffiti-covered city walls, the violent machinery of the state—without abandoning hope that the language of poetry might transport us to some better and as-yet-unimaginable world. Turning a call to be “civil” on its head, this collection nudges the reader toward revolution.”


9781613739716_46107Hemingway at Eighteen
By Steve Paul
Chicago Review Press, October 1

“In the summer of 1917, Ernest Hemingway was an eighteen-year-old high school graduate unsure of his future. The American entry into the Great War stirred thoughts of joining the army. While many of his friends in Oak Park, Illinois, were heading to college, Hemingway couldn’t make up his mind and eventually chose to begin a career in writing and journalism at the Kansas City Star, one of the great newspapers of its day. Award-winning writer Steve Paul takes a measure of this pivotal year when Hemingway’s self-invention and transformation began—from a “modest, rather shy and diffident boy” to a confident writer who aimed to find and record the truth throughout his life. Hemingway at Eighteen provides a fresh perspective on Hemingway’s writing, sheds new light on this young man bound for greatness, and introduces anew a legendary American writer at the very beginning of his journey.”

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9781566894883_5147bIn the Distance
By Hernan Diaz
Coffee House Press, October 10

“A young Swedish immigrant finds himself penniless and alone in California. The boy travels East in search of his brother, moving on foot against the great current of emigrants pushing West. Driven back again and again, he meets naturalists, criminals, religious fanatics, swindlers, Indians, and lawmen, and his exploits turn him into a legend. Diaz defies the conventions of historical fiction and genre, offering a probing look at the stereotypes that populate our past and a portrait of radical foreignness.”


41RUBuZRhZLThe Power
By Naomi Alderman
Little, Brown, October 10

“In The Power, the world is a recognizable place: there’s a rich Nigerian boy who lounges around the family pool; a foster kid whose religious parents hide their true nature; an ambitious American politician; a tough London girl from a tricky family. But then a vital new force takes root and flourishes, causing their lives to converge with devastating effect. Teenage girls now have immense physical power–they can cause agonizing pain and even death. And, with this small twist of nature, the world drastically resets. From award-winning author Naomi Alderman, The Power is speculative fiction at its most ambitious and provocative, at once taking us on a thrilling journey to an alternate reality, and exposing our own world in bold and surprising ways.”


9781619029590_dca9dHere in Berlin
By Cristina Garcia
Counterpoint Press, October 10

“An unnamed Visitor travels to Berlin with a camera looking for reckonings of her own. The city itself is a character—vibrant and post-apocalyptic, flat and featureless except for its rivers, its lakes, its legions of bicyclists. Here in Berlin she encounters a people’s history: the Cuban teen taken as a POW on a German submarine only to return home to a family who doesn’t believe him; the young Jewish scholar hidden in a sarcophagus until safe passage to England is found; the female lawyer haunted by a childhood of deprivation in the bombed-out suburbs of Berlin who still defends those accused of war crimes; a young nurse with a checkered past who joins the Reich at a medical facility more intent to dispense with the wounded than to heal them; and the son of a zookeeper at the Berlin Zoo, fighting to keep the animals safe from both war and an increasingly starving populace.”

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9781946448057_b809eCatapult: Stories
By Emily Fridlund
Sarabande Books, October 10

Selected by Ben Marcus as winner of the Mary McCarthy Prize in Short Fiction, Catapult follows Emily Fridlund’s acclaimed debut novel History of Wolves. Sometimes calculating, at other times bewildered, Catapult‘s characters orbit around each other, enacting a deeply human tragicomedy of wit, misunderstanding, and loss. With dexterous, atmospheric, and darkly comic prose, Fridlund conjures worlds where longing is open-ended, intentions misfire, and the line between comfort and cruelty is often difficult to discern. This is a gripping collection, unsettling as much in its familiarity as in its near-gothic strangeness.


9781524700485_1d75bI Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter
By Erika L. Sanchez
Knopf, October 17

“Perfect Mexican daughters do not go away to college. And they do not move out of their parents’ house after high school graduation. Perfect Mexican daughters never abandon their family. But Julia is not your perfect Mexican daughter. That was Olga’s role. Then a tragic accident on the busiest street in Chicago leaves Olga dead and Julia left behind to reassemble the shattered pieces of her family. And no one seems to acknowledge that Julia is broken, too. Instead, her mother seems to channel her grief into pointing out every possible way Julia has failed. But it’s not long before Julia discovers that Olga might not have been as perfect as everyone thought. With the help of her best friend Lorena, and her first kiss, first love, first everything boyfriend Connor, Julia is determined to find out. Was Olga really what she seemed? Or was there more to her sister’s story? And either way, how can Julia even attempt to live up to a seemingly impossible ideal?”


9781594631726_91129The King is Always Above the People
By Daniel Alarcón
Riverhead Books, October 31

“Migration. Betrayal. Family history. Art. Doomed love. In Alarcón’s hands, these topics are taken to heights of emotion and revelation. In “The Thousands,” people are on the move and forging into new lands, hopes and heartbreak abound. A man deals with the fallout of his blind relatives’ mysterious deaths and his father’s mental break down and incarceration in “The Bridge.” And in the tour de force story, “The Auroras”, a man severs from his old life and seeks to make a new one in a new city, only to find himself acting out the manipulations and desires of a powerful woman. Deeply humane and richly drawn, full of unforgettable characters, these stories reveal a time and a place that is both foreign and yet eerily familiar. Throughout the book, you are in the hands of an accomplished master.”


9781250101549_5fa19The Wicker King
By K. Ancrum
Imprint, October 31

“Written in vivid micro-fiction with a stream-of-consciousness feel and multimedia elements, The Wicker King explores a codependent friendship fraught with madness, love, and darkness. When August learns that his best friend, Jack, shows signs of degenerative hallucinatory disorder, he is determined to help Jack cope. Jack’s vivid and long-term visions take the form of an elaborate fantasy world layered over our own—a world ruled by the Wicker King. As Jack leads them on a quest to fulfill a dark prophecy in this alternate world, even August begins to question what is real or not. August and Jack struggle to keep afloat as they teeter between fantasy and their own emotions. In the end, each must choose his own truth.”


9781250154040_3d576Mr. Dickens and His Carol
By Samantha Silva
Flatiron Books, October 31

“For Charles Dickens, each Christmas has been better than the last. His novels are literary blockbusters, and he is famous on the streets of London, where avid fans sneak up on him to snip off pieces of his hair. He and his wife have five happy children, a sixth on the way, and a home filled with every comfort they could imagine. But when Dickens’ newest book is a flop, the glorious life he has built for himself threatens to collapse around him. His publishers offer an ultimatum: either he writes a Christmas book in a month, or they will call in his debts, and he could lose everything. Grudgingly, he accepts, but with relatives hounding him for loans, his wife and children planning an excessively lavish holiday party, and jealous critics going in for the kill, he is hardly feeling the Christmas spirit. Increasingly frazzled and filled with self-doubt, Dickens seeks solace and inspiration in London itself, his great palace of thinking. And on one of his long walks, in a once-beloved square, he meets a young woman in a purple cloak, who might be just the muse he needs. Eleanor Lovejoy and her young son, Timothy, propel Dickens on a Scrooge-like journey through his Christmases past and present—but with time running out, will he find the perfect new story to save him?”


9781632061317_d5422Beyond the Rice Fields
By Naivo
Translated by Allison M. Charette
Restless Books, October 31

“The first novel from Madagascar ever to be translated into English, Naivo’s magisterial Beyond the Rice Fields delves into the upheavals of the nation’s past as it confronted Christianity and modernity, through the twin narratives of a slave and his master’s daughter. Fara and her father’s slave, Tsito, have been close since her father bought the boy after his forest village was destroyed. Now in Sahasoa, amongst the cattle and rice fields, everything is new for Tsito, and Fara at last has a companion. But as Tsito looks forward to the bright promise of freedom and Fara, backward to a dark, long-denied family history, a rift opens between them just as British Christian missionaries and French industrialists arrive and violence erupts across the country. Love and innocence fall away, and Tsito and Fara’s world becomes enveloped by tyranny, superstition, and fear. With captivating lyricism, propulsive urgency, and two unforgettable characters at the story’s core, Naivo unflinchingly delves into the brutal history of nineteenth-century Madagascar.”

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