New Releases in Fiction - March 2020!

Star Rating
Reviewer's Rating
Mar 11, 2020

Hello and welcome to our look at some new releases in the fiction section at the Johnson County Library! Every month we look at five titles making their debut that we think you absolutely need to know about. Give one - or more - of these titles a chance to make it in your hold list. We hope you find something new!

Kate Elizabeth Russell’s MY DARK VANESSA is one of the most hotly-anticipated debuts this year, and for good reason. A fresh and powerful look at the aftermath of a relationship between a young student at an elite boarding school and her much older English teacher, this is bound to be the talk of book clubs in 2020. Vanessa Dye, a precocious yet isolated teenager, is singled out and groomed by Jacob Strane, her much older English teacher, into a very inappropriate relationship. Years later, Strane is plagued by accusations that he’s done the same thing to other students, throwing Vanessa’s life completely into chaos, as she thought their relationship was unique. Will she step forward and confront her demons or will she bury her past? MY DARK VANESSA might be presented as a successor of sorts to Nabokov’s LOLITA, but this novel is a very different beast, focusing on Vanessa’s interior life, where she struggles against years of psychological abuse by her mentor as well as a society that is itself fascinated by hyper-sexualized young women. This is a bit of a difficult read, but it is absolutely an essential one, as Russell delivers a dark, glittering gem of a novel and handles the heavy subject matter with grace and elegance. This is the sort of novel that sticks with you, and one you won’t soon forget. 

For anyone who’s taken even the most casual of glances at the news recently, all of us are in need of a good escape novel every so often. Mhairi McFarlane, author of delightful contemporary romances like DON’T YOU FORGET ABOUT ME and WHO’S THAT GIRL, has you covered with her latest novel, IF I NEVER MET YOU. Set in a law office, Laurie is a successful, determined in-demand lawyer who recently had a nasty break-up with a coworker who wanted kids while she wasn’t quite ready. But after the break-up he comes back to the office with a pregnant girlfriend, the office gossip machine kicks up in high gear. Laurie, wanting to turn the tables, strikes up a fake relationship with another coworker who has a bit of a caddish reputation but who also wants to support Laurie in tweaking the rest of the office. Sparks, of course, immediately fly between the two, and the beginnings of a normal, messy, real relationship get in the way of their perfectly fake one. If you like your novels full of witty banter, strong characters who know what they want, and a large helping of humor, this one will put a smile on your face and absolutely get your mind off the more depressing things in the world.

Are you in a book club? If you’re not, you should be - take a moment and check out the book clubs you can join at the library if you’re looking for a new group. In the meantime, however, there are hundreds of book clubs outside our library walls in the Johnson County area who are looking for something that’s good and, more to the point, discussable. Therese Anne Fowler’s A GOOD NEIGHBORHOOD absolutely fits the bill and should be on many book club lists this spring - Fowler, more known for historical fiction, writes a contemporary novel that has just the right amount of literary heft to keep your group talking way past their normal bedtimes. A slice-of-life novel set in a comfortable North Carolina suburb, A GOOD NEIGHBORHOOD focuses on two families: Valerie Alston-Holt is raising her biracial son, Xavier, a musical prodigy, the best she can, sacrificing much so that he is raised in a good, supportive neighborhood. Across the yard are the Whitmans, recent arrivals: HVAC business owner Brad, wife Valerie, and their brood of children, including the troubled Julia, a teen who strikes up a friendship - and possibly more - with Xavier. The dreams, hopes, and desires of the two families collide in a thought-provoking, emotionally-charged second half dealing with class, race, gentrification, and sex that will leave readers with PLENTY to think (and talk!) about. This will please fans of Celeste Ng’s LITTLE FIRES EVERYWHERE and Tayari Jones’ AN AMERICAN MARRIAGE. 

Fantasy is another genre, like romance, that whisks readers away (in this case, sometimes literally!) Sarah Maas has dominated the YA bestseller lists for years with her intoxicating mix of romance, fantasy, and action, with strong female characters proudly taking center stage. With her newest novel, HOUSE OF EARTH AND BLOOD, the first in her hotly-anticipated Crescent City series, she makes a crossover bid with adult audiences. Here, a half-fae and half-human Bryce Quinlan teams up with a mysterious (and darkly brooding, if you're in to that sort of thing) fallen angel to investigate a murder that has ties to them both. Maas spends a lot of time setting up a richly-described world full of supernatural creatures and the politics that drive them but she knows her audience is here for snark, action, and deep emotional connections, and readers will find a lot to sink their teeth into. (This book, the first in the series, weighs in at just over 800 pages!) Maas will likely pick up some fans due to her reputation with her YA work as well as an amazing cover. (Seriously. I nearly put this on my personal hold list based on the cover alone.)

So. You’ve seen “Knives Out” and absolutely loved it and you’re searching the library catalog for some old-school, artfully crafted whodunnits. Once you get through with Agatha Christie and Anthony Horowitz, give Peter Swanson’s newest a try. EIGHT PERFECT MURDERS kicks off with Malcolm Kershaw, a widower and owner of a small Boston bookshop who lives a quiet life until an FBI agent enters his shop and informs him that a murderer might be on the loose and that he might be involved with the crimes: years ago, he wrote a blog post about eight “perfect” crimes in literature. Someone apparently is committing their own murders based off of Malcolm's list - and it’s up to him to figure out if the FBI agent is enlisting his help to find the killer or if she’s trying to see if he’s a suspect himself. Swanson’s made a name for himself as a writer of successful psychological thriller novels, but he’s never quite broken through to a wider audience. With EIGHT PERFECT MURDERS, he sharpens his thriller skills with an absolutely delicious and devious mystery, and readers are going to love the result. Put this one right at the top of your list, especially if you’re the kind of reader who loves Swanson’s whiplash of red herrings and unreliable narrators. Mystery (and thriller) lovers take note!

That's it for this month, everyone! Thanks for using your library, and we'll see you next time. 

Written by Gregg W.

I have surprisingly strong opinions about comic book characters.