March Fiction Roundup

Hello and welcome to our new releases roundup for Fiction for the month of March 2018! If this is your first time here, my name is Gregg and I’m a Readers’ Advisory librarian here at the Johnson County Library. I’ll take a brief look at some of the well-reviewed titles that are published this month that I’ve either read or have heard great things about. You’ll not find John Grisham, Michael Connelly, or Janet Evanovich on these lists; it’s not that we don’t like them – we do! – but those are authors who most folks have already heard of. We love spotlighting books and authors that you might not be familiar with, or are brand new and deserve a bit of attention. Feel free to tell us about the under-the-radar titles that you’re excited about.

We’re still living in the year of the psychological thriller. (Well, the novel that arguably kicked off the craze, Gillian Flynn’s GONE GIRL, was published in 2012, so I guess it’d be more accurate to say that we’re over halfway towards the decade of the psychological thriller.) However, there’s a very real sense of genre fatigue of late, where authors pile on twists and turns on top of even more twists and turns to the point that the plot gets bogged down. SOMETIMES I LIE by Alice Feeney tiptoes right up to this line without ever going over it and creates a wonderfully crafted story where the shocking reveals are just enough to leave the reader feeling satisfied instead of betrayed. Amber Reynolds wakes up in a hospital in a coma – she’s aware and can think, but cannot movie or communicate. As she tries to piece together what happened, the story shifts back in time. There is a rocky marriage, problems at work, a mysterious past…. Well, if we talk too much about the plot, we start giving things away, so trust us and put this one on your hold list if you loved THE WOMAN IN THE WINDOW or THE GIRL ON THE TRAIN.

If you love reading about America, this next book is for you. I’m not talking about the history of America, but novels about the American literary experience – the dusty highways, the sprawling prairies, the struggling communities, and the lonely dreams of their inhabitants. It’s the type of literary America that still lives on in Steinbeck and Phillipp Meyer and Louise Erdich. DON’T SKIP OUT ON ME by Willy Vlautin is about a half-Irish half-American Indian orphan who is raised by sheep ranchers, but cannot reconcile himself to that life. He moves to the American Southwest, changes his name, and becomes a boxer, seeking to discover himself by relying on his heart and his fists. This novel is a beautiful, heartbreaking work of art, full of raw emotion and aching humanity. It’s the kind of book that wins awards, frankly, and Valutin has the feel of an author who’s soon going to be getting a lot of national attention.

Moving on to another book that’s set all the way around the world, but also filled with that sense of connection and humanity, but in a completely different way. GIRLS BURN BRIGHTER by Shobha Rao is a dizzying, dazzling novel that cuts right to the heart of friendship that connectes people even in the most trying of circumstances. Two young women in a small Indian village, Poornima and Savitha, bond while creating clothes at their loom. “Bond” is a word that isn’t quite strong enough – it’s the rare, precious kind of friendship that completes a person. It defines lives. The kind of friendship that stretches across thousands of miles and across dozens of years. And it absolutely must, because the two friends are torn apart, and the novel is about the two trying to reunite, with only this unshakable connection that sustains them. Rich in character, strength, and heart, GIRLS BURN BRIGHTER will absolutely stick with you, make you think, and is great for fans of authors like Jesmyn Ward, Charles Frasier, and Yaa Gyasi.

Lisa Genova should be a name that some readers should at least be familiar with – she’s written critically acclaimed books like STILL ALICE and INSIDE THE O’BRIENS that also happen to be crowd-pleasers as well. Genova, a neuroscientist herself, excels at writing about physical afflictions such as Alzheimer’s and Huntington’s Disease deteriorate the brain, which in turn affects a person’s relationships, personal life, and even their own sense of self. Alongside a scientist’s gift of knowledge, Genova has an author’s sense of compassion and insight, and writes beautifully about the internal struggles that all characters have to go though. Here in EVERY NOTE PLAYED, the antagonist is Amyotrophic Later Sclerosis – ALS, previously known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease. Partial muscle tremors can quickly lead to full body paralysis, but leaving the mind intact. The novel follows Richard, a well-known classical pianist, who can command his hands and fingers to create amazing music for concertgoers worldwide, but is in the early stages of the disease. One arm is already paralyzed and he knows it’s only going to get worse. His marriage was teetering on the edge to begin with, and his wife, Karina, faces a choice on how to respond. With grace, redemption, and a deep sense of the internal lives of her characters, Genova’s novel should be highly sought out.

Wow. This month’s list got sort of heavy, didn’t it? Let’s pump the brakes a bit and turn our attention to something that’s a bit lighter, but just as good.

Most mystery novel fans absolutely love clues – they love to follow along with the detective to match wits and see if they could solve the crime even quicker than the characters in the novel can. Here, in THE LAST EQUATION OF ISAAC SEVERY by Nova Jacobs, a famous mathematician is found dead, apparently (?) by suicide. A few days later, his foster granddaughter Hazel receives a letter addressed by her deceased grandfather - dated before his death - containing clues to a brilliant, groundbreaking mathematical equation that everyone seems to be looking for. The race is on, and Hazel must follow the clues alongside government agents, rival professors, and bitter family members who want in on the action. Jacobs brings wit, warmth, and an exacting sense of sleuthing to the novel, which should appeal to fans of Gabrielle Zevin’s THE STORIED LIFE OF AJ FIKRY and Ellen Raskin’s THE WESTING GAME.