If Library Journal’s galley guides serve to bring good books to your attention, they also serve to bring good books to mine. Here are 12 books I discovered while compiling the ALA Midwinter guide. Some, like Emma Straub’s The Vacationers, Walter Kirn’s Blood Will Out, and Michael Winter’s Minister Without Portfolio, are real surprises I’m chagrinned not to have encountered; others, like Hassan Blasim’s The Corpse Exhibition, Kyung-sook Shin’s I’ll Be Right There, and Kenan Trebincevic’s The Bosnia List, are books I’m excited about but found too late to feature in Prepub Alert, so I’m grateful for this second chance. Take a look at them all.
Bauer, Shane & others. A Sliver of Light: Three Americans Imprisoned in Iran. Houghton Harcourt. Mar. 2014. 352p. ISBN 9780547985534. $27.
When Bauer, Josh Fattal, and Sarah Shourd were hiking through Iraqi Kurdistan in the summer of 2009, they strayed over the border into Iran and found themselves captured and imprisoned for two brutal years. Like Amanda Lindhout & Sara Corbett’s A House in the Sky, this is an inside look at confinement and the will to survive.
Blasim, Hassan. The Corpse Exhibition. Penguin. Feb. 2014. tr. by Jonathan Wright. 208p. ISBN 9780143123262. pap. $15.
From an author called “perhaps the best writer of Arabic fiction alive” (the Guardian), here’s a book that’s already a Discover Great New Writers pick. The first story alone blew me away. don’t miss.
Brookes, Adam. Night Heron. Orbit. May 2014. 352p. ISBN 9780316399838. $26.
Peanut used to spy for the British; now he’s escaped from a labor camp during a frigid winter in northwest China and is hunting for one of his MI6 contacts in Beijing. What intrigues me here is that Brookes, a BBC correspondent in Washington, DC, was formerly the BBC’s China correspondent.
Hoen, Sean Madigan. Songs Only You Know. Soho. Apr. 2014. 336p. ISBN 9781616953362. $25.
Raised in Dearborn, MI, Hoen grew up deeply involved in the Detroit hardcore punk scene. He also had to contend with a family splintered by drug abuse. From the winner of the 2011 Fiction Award from BOMB magazine.
Kerouac, Jack. The Haunted Life: And Other Writings. Da Capo. Mar. 208p. ISBN 9780306823046. $24.99
In late 1944, Kerouac lost the title novella, a coming-of-age story set in a fictionalized version of Kerouac’s hometown of Lowell, MA; its reappearance at Christie’s a decade ago and the Kerouac family’s decision to allow its publication are cause for curiosity.
Kirn, Walter. Blood Will Out: The True Story of a Murder, a Mystery, and a Masquerade. Liveright: Norton. Mar 2014. 272p. ISBN 9780871404510. $25.95.
Critic/author Kirn (Up in the Air) recalls how he met and forged a relationship with the imposter who called himself Clark Rockefeller, also the inspiration for Amity Gaige’s novel Schroder.
Lock, Norman. The Boy in His Winter. Bellevue Literary. May 2014. 192p. ISBN 9781934137765. pap. $14.95.
From Aga Kahn Prize winner Lock, here’s an ambitious retelling of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn that sends Mark Twain’s heroes through the Civil War, then on to a Gulf Coast wrecked by Hurricane Katrina, and finally to 2077 America.
Nahm, David Connerley. Ancient Oceans of Central Kentucky. Two Dollar Radio. Aug. 2014. 222p. ISBN 9781937512200. pap. $15.50.
From Two Dollar Radio, whose publications are always eye-catching, here’s a novel that could really catch fire. Leah is understandably torn when she encounters a man who claims to be her brother Jacob, who vanished when they were young. Gritty lyricism; no out until August, but I wanted to be sure that it wouldn’t get lost in the Prepub rush.
Shin, Kyung-sook. I’ll Be Right There. Other. Jun. 2014. 320p. ISBN 9781590516737. pap. $15.95.
“I recognized his voice right away. As soon as he said, ‘Hello?’ I asked, ‘Where are you?’ He didn’t say anything. Eight years—it was not a short length of time.” Those first lines hooked me, just as I was immediately hooked by Please Look After Mom, this Man Asian Literary Prize winner’s first book to be translated into English. Her new book is a story of complex, painful relationships in 1980s South Korea.
Straub, Emma. The Vacationers. Riverhead. Jun. 2014. 304p. ISBN 9781594631573 . $26.95.
From the author of Laura Lamont’s Life in Pictures, here’s the story of a couple celebrating their 35th wedding anniversary by vacationing in Mallorca with their daughter, who’s just graduated from high school. Naturally, things don’t go smoothly.
Trebincevic, Kenan & Susan Shapiro. The Bosnia List: A Memoir of War, Exile, and Return. Penguin. Feb. 2014. 336p. ISBN 9780143124573. pap. $16.
Having been forced from his Bosnian hometown in spring 1992 when former friends and neighbors turned on him and his family because they were Muslim, Trebincevic made it to America. He returned recently with revenge in his heart, but something different happened.
Winter, Michael. Minister Without Portfolio. Pintail. Feb. 2014. 336p. ISBN 9780143187813. pap. $16.
Home from Afghanistan, where he served as an army-affiliated contractor, Henry cannot live with himself because he knows he’s responsible for the death of several friends in a roadside tragedy. From a Canadian author who’s been longlisted for honors like the International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award and the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize.