13 Fall Faves, Speed-Dating Style

Oh, good gracious! I can’t stand it: soooo many amazing books and my aging eyeballs just can’t keep up! Last week at ALA Annual, I got to “Read ‘n’ Rave,” but I had such an embarrassingly overflowing list, the buzzer went off (uh-oh!), and I couldn’t finish sharing all my titles. #Greedy, yep! But here I get a second change to share my list-in-full, speed-dating style. Let’s read!


Dominicana, by Angie Cruz (Flatiron, September)

Loosely based on her mother’s immigrant journey from the Dominican Republic to New York, Cruz’s story follows 15-year-old Ana, the new wife of an older, soon-to-be abusive, struggling immigrant husband, from her home village to Washington Heights.

Gun Island, by Amitav Ghosh (Farrar, September)

A Brooklyn-based Indian American rare books dealer gets wind of an obscure Bengali myth and his tenacious curiosity takes him around the world—enabled by an enigmatic Italian scholar and an Oregon marine biologist—in search of answers, both real and imagined. (And Ghosh groupies, he resurrects quite a few of his characters from The Hungry Tide!)

Olive, Again, by Elizabeth Strout (Random, October)

Yes, indeedy. Our favorite acerbic Maine widow is back—along with old friends, new lovers, and delightful strangers—presented in Strout’s inimitable style through interlinked stories.

Out of Darkness, Shining Light

Out of Darkness, Shining Light, by Petina Gappah (Scribner, September)

David Livingstone—yes, of “Dr. Livingstone, I presume” fame—died May 1873 after seven years of searching for the source of the Nile River in Africa. His body was interred almost a year later in Westminster Abbey. Gappa intriguingly fictionalizes the 1,000-mile odyssey from a small village (in what is now Zambia) to a British Zanzibar outpost from whence the dead doctor was ferried to his final resting place.

Queen of Bones, by Teresa Dovalpage (Soho, October)

A Cuban refugee returns to Havana with his American wife to confront unfinished relationships from decades past . . . but reconnecting with friends and lovers leads to murder.

Red at the Bone, by Jacqueline Woodson (Riverhead, September)

Melody’s 16-year-old coming-of-age ceremony becomes the catalyst for revealing the stories of her estranged parents, her extended grandparents, and her very best friend.

The Shadow King, by Maaza Mengiste (Norton, September)

Mengiste (Beneath the Lion’s Gate) channels her great-grandmother to create Hirut, an orphaned servant girl forced to work for a man who proves to be more monster than family. As Mussolini and war approach, Hirut matures into womanhood . . . but her humanity, and the humanity of many others, will be challenged, damaged, and discarded.

The Starlet and the Spy, by Ji-Min Lee and translated by Chi-Young Kim (Harper, September)

Lee, a famous screenwriter, draws from Marilyn Monroe’s real-life 1954 Korean visit to entertain U.S. troops, imagining a relationship between Marilyn and her interpreter, Alice. Employed by the U.S. military, Alice becomes a conduit through which Lee examines the lasting effects of abuse, betrayal, war, and the sometimes unbearable cost of survival.

The Sweetest Fruits, by Monique Truong (Viking, September)

Truong presents the enigmatic Lafcadio Hearn, still one of Japan’s preeminent literary expatriates, through the four most important women in his life: his willful Greek mother, his determined African American first wife, his protective Japanese last wife, and his tenacious biographer, Elizabeth Bisland, whose 1906 excerpts provide the book’s narrative footing.

The Water Dancer, by Ta-Nehisi Coates (One World, September)

The author of We Were Eight Years in Power and Between the World and Me debuts his first work of fiction, 10 years in the making. Set in mid-1800s Virginia and sprinkled with magical realism, Coates’s novel follows the enslavement-to-freedom story of compelling protagonist Hiram Walker.


How We Fight for Our Lives, by Saeed Jones (Simon & Schuster, October)

Award-winning poet and journalist Jones—a black, gay, young man—writes the story he needed “when he was confused, yearning, and hurting.”

I Will Never See the World Again: The Memoir of an Imprisoned Writer, by Ahmet Altan and translated by Yasemin Çongar (Other Press, October)

Arrested in 2016, Altan—one of Turkey’s most famous authors—is deemed guilty of “subliminal messages” against the Erdoğan regime, resulting in life imprisonment. Despite stifling, Kafkaesque circumstances, Altan escapes through his imagination; his creativity feeds his very soul and allows him to survive—and write.

The Ungrateful Refugee: What Immigrants Never Tell You, by Dina Nayeri (Catapult, September)

Iranian American novelist Nayeri’s nonfiction debut dovetails personal history with the contemporary experiences of today’s refugees. She focuses on “the feared ‘swarms’” at the heart of today’s immigration debates, alerting readers: “It is your choice how to hear their stories”—stories that will be judged as life-saving or dismissed to certain death.


About the Author:

Terry Hong created and maintains Smithsonian BookDragon, a book blog for the Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Center. She was the writer wrangler for the film Girl Rising. She taught for Duke University’s Leadership in the Arts in NYC. She co-authored two books, Eastern Standard Time: A Guide to Asian Influence on American Culture from Astro Boy to Zen Buddhism and What Do I Read Next? Multicultural Literature. She reviews extensively for many publications. Follow her on Twitter at @SIBookDragon.

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