Features

The Best New Books of November 2017

Big-name novels and indie press gems await.

In November, we enter the two-month period of the year when people read—and purchase—the most books. Whether we’re flying to visit family, sitting on the couch after a warm meal, or just enjoying a few days off work, November and December bring plenty of extra reading time. Here are the 10 books we’re most thankful for at the Chicago Review of Books.


9780374119751_7a936Catalina by Liska Jacobs
MCD x FSG, November 7

From MCD x FSG: “Elsa Fisher is headed for rock bottom. At least, that’s her plan. She has just been fired from MoMA on the heels of an affair with her married boss, and she retreats to Los Angeles to blow her severance package on whatever it takes to numb the pain. Her abandoned crew of college friends (childhood friend Charlotte and her wayward husband, Jared; and Elsa’s ex-husband, Robby) receive her with open arms, and, thinking she’s on vacation, a plan to celebrate their reunion on a booze-soaked sailing trip to Catalina Island. But Elsa doesn’t want to celebrate. She is lost, lonely, and full of rage, and only wants to sink as low as the drugs and alcohol will take her. On Catalina, her determined unraveling and recklessness expose painful memories and dark desires, putting everyone in the group at risk.”


9781937512651_334f9They Can’t Kill Us Until They Kill Us: Essays
By Hanif Willis-Abdurraqib
Two Dollar Radio, November 7

From Two Dollar Radio: “In an age of confusion, fear, and loss, Hanif Willis-Abdurraqib’s is a voice that matters. Whether he’s attending a Bruce Springsteen concert the day after visiting Michael Brown’s grave, or discussing public displays of affection at a Carly Rae Jepsen show, he writes with a poignancy and magnetism that resonates profoundly. In the wake of the nightclub attacks in Paris, he recalls how he sought refuge as a teenager in music, at shows, and wonders whether the next generation of young Muslims will not be afforded that opportunity now. While discussing the everyday threat to the lives of black Americans, Willis-Abdurraqib recounts the first time he was ordered to the ground by police officers: for attempting to enter his own car. In essays that have been published by the New York Times, MTV, and Pitchfork, among others—along with original, previously unreleased essays—Willis-Abdurraqib uses music and culture as a lens through which to view our world, so that we might better understand ourselves, and in so doing proves himself a bellwether for our times.”


9781250172624_d9c45Steal the Stars by Nat Cassidy
and Mac Rogers

Tor Books, November 7

From Tor Books: “Forbidden love, a crashed UFO, an alien body, and a dangerous heist: A noir science fiction novel based on the dramatic podcast by the award-winning Mac Rogers. Dakota “Dak” Prentiss guards the biggest secret in the world. They call it “Moss.” It’s your standard grey alien from innumerable abduction stories. Moss still sits at what looks like the controls of the spaceship it crash-landed twenty-five years ago. A secret military base was built around the crash site to study both Moss and the dangerous technology it brought to Earth. The day Matt Salem joins her security team, Dak’s whole world changes. It’s love at first sight—which is a problem, since they both signed ironclad contracts before joining the base security team, vowing not to fraternize with other military personnel. If they run away, they’ll be hunted for the secret they know. So Dak and Matt decide to escape to a better life on the wings of an incredibly dangerous plan: They’re going to steal the alien body they’ve been guarding and sell the secret of its existence. And they can’t afford a single mistake.”


9781566894913_8c61aMean by Myriam Gurba
Coffee House Press, November 7

From Coffee House Press: “Gurba grows up queer, chicana, and take no prisoners. Her story is a revelation, a delight, and an eye-opener. True crime, memoir, and ghost story, Mean is the bold and hilarious tale of Myriam Gurba’s coming of age as a queer, mixed-race Chicana. Blending radical formal fluidity and caustic humor, Gurba takes on sexual violence, small towns, and race, turning what might be tragic into piercing, revealing comedy. This is a confident, intoxicating, brassy book that takes the cost of sexual assault, racism, misogyny, and homophobia deadly seriously.”


9780765326379_8f117Oathbringer by Brandon Sanderson
Tor Books, November 14

From Tor Books: “In Oathbringer, the third volume of the New York Times bestselling Stormlight Archive, the War of Reckoning comes to a sudden and destructive close as a new, far greater threat appears on the field of battle, kindled by the deadly Everstorm. Dalinar and the Alethi forces take refuge in the legendary tower city of Urithiru, once home to the lost Knights Radiant. There, he and the newly raised Radiants must explore the mysteries of the legendary city to understand and train their powers. In doing so they must also face long-lost truths that could upend everything they think they know. Humanity faces a new Desolation, and with the return of the Voidbringers, an enemy as great in number as in their thirst for vengeance, the world of Roshar will never be the same. Unless the nations unite behind Dalinar, putting aside his blood-soaked past, even the restoration of the Knights Radiant will not prevent the end of civilization.”


9781616204976_6f19bStrangers in Budapest by Jessica Keener
Algonquin Books, November 14

From Algonquin Books: “Budapest: gorgeous city of secrets, with ties to a shadowy, bloody past. It is to this enigmatic European capital that a young American couple, Annie and Will, move from Boston with their infant son shortly after the fall of the Communist regime. For Annie, it is an effort to escape the ghosts that haunt her past, and Will wants simply to seize the chance to build a new future for his family. Eight months after their move, their efforts to assimilate are thrown into turmoil when they receive a message from friends in the US asking that they check up on an elderly man, a fiercely independent Jewish American WWII veteran who helped free Hungarian Jews from a Nazi prison camp. They soon learn that the man, Edward Weiss, has come to Hungary to exact revenge on someone he is convinced seduced, married, and then murdered his daughter. Annie, unable to resist anyone’s call for help, recklessly joins in the old man’s plan to track down his former son-in-law and confront him, while Will, pragmatic and cautious by nature, insists they have nothing to do with Weiss and his vendetta. What Annie does not anticipate is that in helping Edward she will become enmeshed in a dark and deadly conflict that will end in tragedy and a stunning loss of innocence.”


9780062694058_3ae6fFuture Home of the Living God
By Louise Erdrich
Harper Books, November 14

From Harper: “The world as we know it is ending. Evolution has reversed itself, affecting every living creature on earth. Science cannot stop the world from running backwards, as woman after woman gives birth to infants that appear to be primitive species of humans. Thirty-two-year-old Cedar Hawk Songmaker, adopted daughter of a pair of big-hearted, open-minded Minneapolis liberals, is as disturbed and uncertain as the rest of America around her. But for Cedar, this change is profound and deeply personal. She is four months pregnant. Though she wants to tell the adoptive parents who raised her from infancy, Cedar first feels compelled to find her birth mother, Mary Potts, an Ojibwe living on the reservation, to understand both her and her baby’s origins. As Cedar goes back to her own biological beginnings, society around her begins to disintegrate, fueled by a swelling panic about the end of humanity. There are rumors of martial law, of Congress confining pregnant women. Of a registry, and rewards for those who turn these wanted women in. Flickering through the chaos are signs of increasing repression: a shaken Cedar witnesses a family wrenched apart when police violently drag a mother from her husband and child in a parking lot. The streets of her neighborhood have been renamed with Bible verses. A stranger answers the phone when she calls her adoptive parents, who have vanished without a trace. It will take all Cedar has to avoid the prying eyes of potential informants and keep her baby safe.”


9781944700348_917feMother of All Pigs by Malu Halasa
Unnamed Press, November 14

From Unnamed Press: “The Sabas family lives in a small Jordanian town that for centuries has been descended upon by all manner of invader, the latest a scourge of disconcerting Evangelical tourists. The border town relies on a blackmarket trade of clothes, trinkets , and appliances — the quality of which depends entirely on who’s fighting — but the conflict in nearby Syria has the place even more on edge than usual. Meanwhile, the Sabas home is ruled by women — Mother Fadhma, Laila, Samira, and now, Muna, a niece visiting from America for the first time — and it is brimming with regrets and desires. Clandestine pasts in love, politics, even espionage, threaten the delicate balance of order in the household, as generations clash. The family’s ostensible patriarch — Laila’s husband Hussein — enjoys no such secrets, not in his family or in town, where Hussein is known as the Levant’s only pig butcher, dealing in chops, sausages, and hams, much to the chagrin of his observant neighbors. When a long-lost soldier from Hussein’s military past arrives, the Sabas clan must decide whether to protect or expose him, bringing long-simmering rivalries and injustices to the surface. Enchanting and fearless, Halasa’s prose intertwines the lives of three generations of women as they navigate the often stifling, sometimes absurd realities of everyday life in the Middle East.”


 

9781681371399_9aa8cBalcony in the Forest by Julien Gracq
Translated by Richard Howard
NYRB Classics, November 21

From NYRB: “It is the fall of 1939, and Lieutenant Grange and his men are living in a chalet above a concrete bunker deep in the Ardennes forest, charged with defending the French-Belgian border against the Germans in a war that seems unreal, distant, and unlikely. Far more immediate is the earthy life of the forest itself and the deep sensations of childhood it recalls from Grange’s memory. Ostensibly readying for war, Grange instead spends his time observing the change in seasons, falling in love with a young free-spirited widow, and contemplating the absurd stasis of his present condition. This novel of long takes, dream states, and little dramatic action culminates abruptly in battle, an event that is as much the real incursion of the German army into France as it is the sudden intrusion of death into the suspended disbelief of life. Richard Howard’s skilled translation captures the fairy-tale otherworldliness and existential dread of this unusual, elusive novel (first published in 1958) by the supreme prose stylist Julien Gracq.”


9781944700065_11e10Djinn City by Saad Z. Hossain
Unnamed Press, November 28

From Unnamed Press: “Djinns live among us, and they aren’t happy about it — but Saad Hossain’s humor, acerbic wit, and infectious storytelling will make everything alright! Indelbed is a lonely kid living in a crumbling mansion in the super dense, super chaotic third world capital Of Bangladesh. His father, Dr. Kaikobad, is the black sheep of their clan, the once illustrious Khan Rahman family. A drunken loutish widower, he refuses to allow Indelbed go to school, and the only thing Indelbed knows about his mother is the official cause of her early demise: ‘Death by Indelbed.’ But When Dr. Kaikobad falls into a supernatural coma, Indelbed and his older cousin, the wise-cracking slacker Rais, learn that Indelbed’s dad was in fact a magician—and a trusted emissary to the djinn world. And the Djinns, as it turns out, are displeased. A ‘hunt’ has been announced, and ten year-old Indelbed is the prey. Still reeling from the fact that genies actually exist, Indelbed finds himself on the run. Soon, the boys are at the center of a great Djinn controversy, one tied to the continuing fallout from an ancient war, with ramifications for the future of life as we know it. Saad Z. Hossain updates the supernatural creatures Of Arabian mythology—a superior but by no means perfect species pushed to the brink by the staggering ineptitude of the human race.”

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