The Rooster

The 2019 Tournament of Books Long List

Here are our favorite, Rooster-approved novels from 2018. In the coming weeks, we’ll cull this list down to our final set of competitors for the 2019 Tournament of Books, presented by Field Notes.

What a great year for fiction. We really mean that. No matter that the headlines every morning already read like fantasy. Honestly, more than ever we are convinced that literature is necessary to life. That it encourages our best intentions. That it expects better of our weaker ideas. Best of all, it puts us in somebody else’s shoes. Books—fiction in particular, the novel especially—are the most powerful empathy engines that humans have come up with yet.

(Side note, we assume you’re aware that our current president doesn’t read anything at all.)

Here’s the deal. We’re currently preparing for the 2019 Tournament of Books—our 15th edition—presented by Field Notes, to be held in March. (If you’re not familiar with the ToB, here’s how it works, and here’s a brief history of the event so far.) In the first week of January we’ll release the shortlist—the 16 or so books that make the final cut—which will be drawn from the 76 books below.

All the usual caveats apply. The following books represent, to our minds, some of the finest works of fiction published (in English, mostly in America) in 2018. However, this is not a “best of the year” list. Because we know we missed quite a few. We only can get through so much, and the same holds true for all the people we meet throughout the year who tell us what to read. Plus, a lot of the books are happy accidents of discovery. One book was in a stranger’s bag on a return flight from Lisbon and we loved the cover. One title was shouted at us while we were waiting for waves in the Pacific Ocean. Et cetera. The point is, this is an incomplete list of fabulous books, and we are grateful and excited to share them here with you.

Finally, we want to say an enormous thank you to our Sustaining Members, who have made this year’s Tournament possible once again. Literally: Without them, no Tournament, not to mention our Nonfiction Pop-up or the Summer Reading Challenge. So if you haven’t already, consider making a one-time donation or becoming a Sustaining Member today. (Members also get a 50 percent discount on merch in the TMN Store.)

One last thing: Sign up for the Rooster newsletter for ToB updates. You can also follow us on Twitter and Facebook. (You may also want to check out our daily TMN Headlines newsletter too.)

Book descriptions are excerpted from publishers’ summaries and edited for length. We get a cut from purchases made through the book links. Here is a spreadsheet of the full list.

Barack, Sasha, and Malia Obama at Politics and Prose in Washington, DC, Nov. 29, 2014. Credit: Pete Souza

 

Alice Isn’t Dead by Joseph Fink

Keisha Taylor lived a quiet life with her wife, Alice, until the day that Alice disappeared. After months of searching, presuming she was dead, Keisha held a funeral, mourned, and gradually tried to get on with her life. But that was before Keisha started to see her wife, again and again, in the background of news reports from all over America. Alice isn’t dead, and she is showing up at every major tragedy and accident in the country. Following a line of clues, Keisha eventually stumbles on an otherworldly conflict being waged in the quiet corners of our nation’s highway system. (Amazon / IndieBound / Powell’s)

 

America Is Not the Heart by Elaine Castillo

How many lives fit in a lifetime? When Hero De Vera arrives in America—haunted by the political upheaval in the Philippines and disowned by her parents—she’s already on her third. Her uncle gives her a fresh start in the Bay Area, and he doesn’t ask about her past. His younger wife knows enough about the might and secrecy of the De Vera family to keep her head down. But their daughter—the first American-born daughter in the family—can’t resist asking Hero about her damaged hands. (Amazon / IndieBound / Powell’s)

 

An American Marriage by Tayari Jones

Roy is a young executive, and Celestial is an artist on the brink of an exciting career. As the newlyweds settle into the routine of their life together, Roy is arrested and sentenced to 12 years for a crime Celestial knows he didn’t commit, and Celestial finds herself bereft and unmoored, taking comfort in Andre, her childhood friend, and best man at their wedding. After five years, Roy’s conviction is suddenly overturned, and he returns to Atlanta ready to resume their life together. (Amazon / IndieBound / Powell’s)

 

Asymmetry by Lisa Halliday

First we meet Alice, a young American editor, and come to know her relationship with the famous and much older writer Ezra Blazer. Then we meet Amar, an Iraqi-American man who, on his way to visit his brother in Kurdistan, is detained by immigration officers and spends the last weekend of 2008 in a holding room in Heathrow. Their seemingly disparate stories gain resonance as their perspectives interact and overlap, with new implications for their relationship revealed in an unexpected coda. (Amazon / IndieBound / Powell’s)

 

Blue Self-Portrait by Noémi Lefebvre

On a flight from Berlin to Paris, a woman haunted by composer Arnold Schoenberg’s self-portrait reflects on her romantic encounter with a pianist. Obsessive, darkly comic, and full of angst, her story unfolds among Berlin’s cultural institutions, but is located in the mid-air flux between contrary impulses, with repetitions and variations that explore the possibilities and limitations of art, history, and connection. (Amazon / IndieBound / Powell’s)

 

The Book of M by Peng Shepherd

One afternoon at an outdoor market in India, a man’s shadow disappears—an occurrence science cannot explain. He is only the first. The phenomenon spreads like a plague, and while those afflicted gain a strange new power, it comes at a horrible price: the loss of all their memories. Ory and his wife Max have escaped the Forgetting so far by hiding in an abandoned hotel deep in the woods. Their new life feels almost normal, until one day Max’s shadow disappears too. (Amazon / IndieBound / Powell’s)

 

Call Me Zebra by Azareen Van der Vliet Oloomi

Zebra is the last in a line of anarchists, atheists, and autodidacts. Alone and in exile, she leaves New York for Barcelona, retracing the journey she and her father made from Iran to the United States years ago. Books are her only companions—until she meets Ludo. Their connection is magnetic, and fraught. They push and pull across the Mediterranean, wondering if their love—or lust—can free Zebra from her past. (Amazon / IndieBound / Powell’s)

 

The Caregiver by Samuel Park

Mara Alencar’s mother Ana is her moon, her sun, her stars. Ana, a struggling voice-over actress, is an admirably brave and recklessly impulsive woman who does everything in her power to care for her little girl. With no other family or friends her own age, Ana eclipses Mara’s entire world. Their arrangement begins to unravel when Ana becomes involved with a civilian rebel group attempting to undermine the city’s torturous police chief, who rules over 1980s Rio de Janeiro with terrifying brutality. Ana makes decisions that indelibly change their shared life. (Amazon / IndieBound / Powell’s)

 

Census by Jesse Ball

When a widower receives notice from a doctor that he doesn’t have long left to live, he is struck by the question of who will care for his adult son—a son whom he fiercely loves, a boy with Down syndrome. With no recourse in mind, and with a desire to see the country on one last trip, the man signs up as a census taker for a mysterious governmental bureau and leaves town with his son. (As the winner of the 2018 Rooster Summer Reading Challenge, Census receives an automatic berth in the 2019 Tournament of Books.) (Amazon / IndieBound / Powell’s)

 

Cherry by Nico Walker

It’s 2003, and as a college freshman in Cleveland, our narrator is adrift until he meets Emily. The two of them experience an instant, life-changing connection. But when he almost loses her, he chooses to make an indelible statement: He joins the Army. The outcome will not be good for either of them. When he comes home, his PTSD is profound. As the opioid crisis sweeps through the Midwest, it drags both him and Emily along with it. As their addictions worsen, and with their money drying up, he stumbles onto what seems like the only possible solution—robbing banks. (Amazon / IndieBound / Powell’s)

 

Circe by Madeline Miller

In the house of Helios, god of the sun and mightiest of the Titans, a daughter is born. But Circe is a strange child—not powerful, like her father Helois, nor viciously alluring like her mother. Turning to the world of mortals for companionship, she discovers that she does possess power—the power of witchcraft. Threatened, Zeus banishes her to a deserted island, where she crosses paths with many of the most famous figures in all of mythology, including the Minotaur, Daedalus and his doomed son Icarus, the murderous Medea, and, of course, wily Odysseus. (Amazon / IndieBound / Powell’s)

 

The Desert and Its Seed by Jorge Barón Biza

Eligia’s face is disintegrating from acid thrown by her ex-husband while they signed divorce papers. Mario, her son, tries to wipe the acid from Eligia’s face, but his own fingers burn. What follows is a fruitless attempt to reconstruct Eligia’s face—first in Buenos Aires, thereafter in Milan. Mario becomes the shadow and witness of the reconstruction attempts to repair his mother’s outraged flesh. In this role, he must confront his own terrible existence and identity, both of which are bound to an Argentina he sees disintegrating around him. (Amazon / IndieBound / Powell’s)

 

The Dictionary of Animal Languages by Heidi Sopinka

Born into a wealthy family in northern England and sent to boarding school, Ivory Frame rebels. She escapes to interwar Paris, where, torn between an intense love affair with a married Russian painter and her ambition to create, Ivory’s life is violently interrupted by the Second World War. She flees from Europe, leaving behind her friends, her art, and her love. Now over 90, Ivory labors on her last, greatest work—a vast account of animal languages. And then unexpected news from the past arrives: She has a grandchild, despite never having had a child of her own. (Amazon / IndieBound / Powell’s)

 

Don’t Skip Out on Me by Willy Vlautin

Horace Hopper has spent most of his life on the ranch of his kindly guardians, Mr. and Mrs. Reese, herding sheep alone in the mountains. He decides to leave the only loving home he’s known to prove his worth by training to become a boxer. Coming down from the mountains of Nevada to the unforgiving desert heat of Tucson, Horace finds a trainer and begins to get fights. His journey to become a champion brings him to boxing rings of Mexico and finally, to the seedy streets of Las Vegas, where Horace learns he can’t change who he is or outrun his destiny. (Amazon / IndieBound / Powell’s)

 

Fire Sermon by Jamie Quatro

Maggie is entirely devoted to her husband Thomas, their two beautiful children, and to God—until what begins as a platonic intellectual and spiritual exchange between writer Maggie and poet James transforms into an erotically charged bond that challenges Maggie’s sense of loyalty and morality, drawing her deeper into the darkness of desire. (Amazon / IndieBound / Powell’s)

 

Flights by Olga Tokarczuk

Chopin’s heart is carried back to Warsaw in secret by his adoring sister. A woman must return to her native Poland in order to poison her terminally ill high-school sweetheart. A young man slowly descends into madness when his wife and child mysteriously vanish during a vacation and just as suddenly reappear. (Amazon / IndieBound / Powell’s)

 

Florida by Lauren Groff

In a world where storms, snakes, and sinkholes lurk at the edge of everyday life, the greater threats and mysteries are of a human, emotional, and psychological nature. Among those navigating it all are a resourceful pair of abandoned sisters; a lonely boy, grown up; a restless, childless couple, a searching, homeless woman; and a steely and conflicted wife and mother. The stories in this collection span characters, towns, decades, even centuries, but Florida—its landscape, climate, history, and state of mind—becomes its gravitational center. (Amazon / IndieBound / Powell’s)

 

French Exit by Patrick deWitt

Frances Price—tart widow, possessive mother, and Upper East Side force of nature—is in dire straits, beset by scandal and impending bankruptcy. Her adult son Malcolm is no help, mired in a permanent state of arrested development. Putting penury and pariahdom behind them, they decide to cut their losses. One ocean voyage later, the family lands in their beloved Paris, the City of Light serving as a backdrop not for love or romance, but self destruction and economical ruin. (Amazon / IndieBound / Powell’s)

 

The Friend by Sigrid Nunez

When a woman unexpectedly loses her lifelong best friend and mentor, she finds herself burdened with the unwanted dog he has left behind: a huge Great Dane traumatized by the inexplicable disappearance of its master. While others worry that grief has made her a victim of magical thinking, the woman refuses to be separated from the dog. Isolated from the rest of the world, she becomes increasingly obsessed with its care, and determined to fathom its heart. (Amazon / IndieBound / Powell’s)

 

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From a Low and Quiet Sea by Donal Ryan

Farouk has protected his wife and daughter as best he can from the war and hatred that has torn Syria apart. If they stay, they will lose their freedom. Lampy has too much going on in his small-town life in Ireland. He has the city girl for a bit of fun, but she’s not Chloe, and Chloe took his heart away when she left him. The game was always the lifeblood coursing through John’s veins: manipulating people for his enjoyment, or his enrichment, or his spite. Three men, searching for some version of home, their lives moving inexorably toward a reckoning that will draw them all together. (Amazon / IndieBound / Powell’s)

 

Fruit of the Drunken Tree by Ingrid Rojas Contreras

Seven-year-old Chula and her older sister Cassandra enjoy carefree lives thanks to their gated community in Bogotá, but the threat of kidnappings, car bombs, and assassinations hover just outside the neighborhood walls, where the drug lord Pablo Escobar eludes authorities. When their mother hires Petrona, a live-in-maid from the city’s guerrilla-occupied slum, Chula makes it her mission to understand Petrona’s mysterious ways. As both girls’ families scramble to maintain stability amidst the rapidly escalating conflict, Petrona and Chula find themselves entangled in a web of secrecy. (Amazon / IndieBound / Powell’s)

 

Girls Burn Brighter by Shobha Rao

Poornima and Savitha have three strikes against them: They are poor, they are ambitious, and they are girls. When a devastating act of cruelty drives Savitha away from their village, Poornima leaves behind everything she has ever known on a harrowing cross-continental journey to find her friend. (Amazon / IndieBound / Powell’s)

 

Gnomon by Nick Harkaway

In the world of Gnomon, citizens are constantly observed and democracy has reached a pinnacle of "transparency." Every action is seen, every word is recorded, and the System has access to its citizens’ thoughts and memories—all in the name of providing the safest society in history. When suspected dissident Diana Hunter dies in government custody, it marks the first time a citizen has been killed during an interrogation. Mielikki Neith, a trusted state inspector and a true believer in the System, is assigned to find out what went wrong. (Amazon / IndieBound / Powell’s)

 

Go by Kazuki Kaneshiro

As a Korean student in a Japanese high school, Sugihara has had to defend himself against all kinds of bullies. But nothing could have prepared him for the heartache he feels when he falls hopelessly in love with a Japanese girl named Sakurai. One night, after being hit by personal tragedy, Sugihara reveals to Sakurai that he is not Japanese—as his name might indicate. Torn between a chance at self-discovery that he’s ready to seize and the prejudices of others that he can’t control, Sugihara must decide who he wants to be and where he wants to go next. (Amazon / IndieBound / Powell’s)

 

The Golden State by Lydia Kiesling

Daphne, a young mother on the edge of a breakdown, flees her sensible but strained life in San Francisco for the high desert of Altavista with her toddler, in hopes the quiet will bring clarity. Then Daphne meets Cindy, who is active in a secessionist movement, and the elderly Alice, who has traveled to Altavista as she approaches the end of her life. When her relationships with these women culminate in a dangerous standoff, Daphne must reconcile her inner narrative with the reality of a deeply divided world. (Amazon / IndieBound / Powell’s)

 

The Great Believers by Rebecca Makkai

In 1985, the carnage of the AIDS epidemic grows around Yale Tishman. One by one, his friends are dying and after his friend Nico’s funeral, the virus circles closer and closer to Yale himself. Soon the only person he has left is Fiona, Nico’s little sister. Thirty years later, Fiona finds herself finally grappling with the devastating ways AIDS affected her life. The two intertwining stories take us through the heartbreak of the ’80s and the chaos of the modern world, as both Yale and Fiona struggle to find goodness in the midst of disaster. (Amazon / IndieBound / Powell’s)

 

Heads of the Colored People by Nafissa Thompson-Spires

Stories that grapple with black identity, from two mothers exchanging snide remarks through notes in their kids’ backpacks, to the young girl contemplating how best to notify her Facebook friends of her impending suicide, to a new mother and funeral singer who is driven to madness with grief for the young black boys who have fallen victim to gun violence, to the teen who struggles between her upper middle-class upbringing and her desire to fully connect with black culture. (Amazon / IndieBound / Powell’s)

 

The House of Broken Angels by Luis Alberto Urrea

In his final days, beloved and ailing patriarch Miguel Angel de La Cruz has summoned his entire clan to San Diego for one last legendary birthday party. But as the party approaches, his mother dies, transforming the weekend into a farewell doubleheader. Across two bittersweet days, the revelers celebrate the lives of Miguel and his mother, recounting the many inspiring tales that have passed into family lore, the acts both ordinary and heroic that allowed them to flourish in the land they have come to call home. (Amazon / IndieBound / Powell’s)

 

How to Be Safe by Tom McAllister

High-school English teacher Anna Crawford is stewing over the injustice at home when she is shocked to see herself named as a suspect in a shooting at the school where she works. Though she is quickly exonerated, her life is nevertheless held up for relentless scrutiny and judgment as this quiet town descends into media mania. Gun sales skyrocket, victims are transformed into martyrs, and the rules of public mourning are ruthlessly enforced. Anna decides to wholeheartedly reject the culpability she’s somehow been assigned, and the rampant sexism that comes with it, both in person and online. (Amazon / IndieBound / Powell’s)

 

The Immortalists by Chloe Benjamin

It’s 1969 in New York City’s Lower East Side, and word has spread of the arrival of a mystical woman, a traveling psychic. The Gold children sneak out to hear their fortunes. The prophecies inform their next five decades. Simon escapes to the West Coast, searching for love in ’80s San Francisco; Klara becomes a Las Vegas magician obsessed with blurring reality and fantasy; Daniel struggles to maintain security as an army doctor post-9/11; and Varya throws herself into longevity research, where she tests the boundary between science and immortality. (Amazon / IndieBound / Powell’s)

 

The Incendiaries by R.O. Kwon

Phoebe and Will meet in their first month at prestigious Edwards University. Phoebe doesn’t tell anyone she blames herself for her mother’s recent death. Will is a misfit scholarship boy who transfers to Edwards from Bible college. Grieving and guilt-ridden, Phoebe is drawn into a secretive cult. When the group commits a violent act in the name of faith, Will finds himself struggling to confront a new version of the fanaticism he’s worked so hard to escape. (Amazon / IndieBound / Powell’s)

 

Insurrecto by Gina Apostol

Two women, a Filipino translator and an American filmmaker, go on a road trip in Duterte’s Philippines, collaborating and clashing in the writing of a film script about a massacre during the Philippine-American War. Chiara is working on a film about an incident in Balangiga, Samar, in 1901, when Filipino revolutionaries attacked an American garrison, and in retaliation American soldiers created “a howling wilderness” of the surrounding countryside. Magsalin reads Chiara’s film script and writes her own version. (Amazon / IndieBound / Powell’s)

 

The Italian Teacher by Tom Rachman

Conceived while his father, Bear, cavorted around Rome in the 1950s, Pinch learns quickly that Bear’s genius trumps all. After Bear abandons his family, Pinch strives to make himself worthy of his father’s attention—first trying to be a painter himself; then resolving to write his father’s biography; eventually settling, disillusioned, into a job as an Italian teacher in London. But when Bear dies, Pinch hatches a scheme to secure his father’s legacy—and make his own mark on the world. (Amazon / IndieBound / Powell’s)

 

Killing Commendatore by Haruki Murakami

A portrait painter in Tokyo is abandoned by his wife and finds himself holed up in the mountain home of a famous artist. When he discovers a previously unseen painting in the attic, he unintentionally opens a circle of mysterious circumstances. To close it, he must complete a journey that involves a mysterious ringing bell, a two-foot-high physical manifestation of an Idea, a dapper businessman who lives across the valley, a precocious 13-year-old girl, a Nazi assassination attempt during World War II in Vienna, and an underworld haunted by Double Metaphors. (Amazon / IndieBound / Powell’s)

 

Kudos by Rachel Cusk

Within the rituals of Europe’s literary culture, Faye finds the human story in disarray amid differing attitudes toward the public enactment of the creative persona, and she begins to identify among the people she meets a tension between truth and representation that causes her to consider questions of acclaim, justice, and the ultimate value of suffering. (Amazon / IndieBound / Powell’s)

 

Lake Success by Gary Shteyngart

Myopic, narcissistic, hilariously self-deluded and divorced from the real world as most of us know it, hedge fund manager Barry Cohen oversees $2.4 billion in assets. Deeply stressed by an SEC investigation and by his three-year-old son’s diagnosis of autism, he flees New York on a Greyhound bus in search of a simpler, more romantic life with his old college sweetheart. Meanwhile, his super-smart wife Seema—a driven first-generation American who craved the picture-perfect life that comes with wealth—has her own demons to face. (Amazon / IndieBound / Powell’s)

 

Laura & Emma by Kate Greathead

One weekend in 1981 Laura meets Jefferson. The two sleep together. He vanishes. And Laura realizes she’s pregnant. Enter: Emma. Laura raises Emma by herself in the same blue-blood world she grew up in, surrounded by her eccentric mother, who informs her society friends and Emma herself that she was fathered by a Swedish sperm donor; her brother, whose childhood stutter reappears in the presence of their forbidding father; and her overbearing best friend, whose life has followed the Park Avenue script. Meanwhile, Emma begins to question her environment in a way her mother never could. (Amazon / IndieBound / Powell’s)

 

A Lucky Man by Jamel Brinkley

In these stories, fathers and sons attempt to salvage relationships and confront mistakes made in the past. A young boy from the Bronx goes swimming at a backyard pool in the suburbs, and faces the effects of power and privilege. A teen intent on proving himself a man can’t help but look out for his younger brother. A pair of college boys follow two girls home from a party and have to own the uncomfortable truth of their desires. And two brothers grapple with how to tell the story of their family, caught in the dance of their painful, fractured history. (Amazon / IndieBound / Powell’s)

 

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The Mars Room by Rachel Kushner

It’s 2003 and Romy Hall is at the start of two consecutive life sentences at Stanville Women’s Correctional Facility, deep in California’s Central Valley. Outside is the world from which she has been severed: the San Francisco of her youth and her young son, Jackson. Inside is a new reality: thousands of women hustling for the bare essentials needed to survive; the bluffing and pageantry and casual acts of violence by guards and prisoners alike; and the deadpan absurdities of institutional living. (Amazon / IndieBound / Powell’s)

 

The Maze at Windermere by Gregory Blake Smith

A reckless wager between a tennis pro with a fading career and a drunken party guest launches a narrative odyssey that braids together three centuries of aspiration and adversity. A witty and urbane bachelor of the Gilded Age embarks on a high-risk scheme to marry into a fortune; a young writer soon to make his mark turns himself to his craft with harrowing social consequences; an aristocratic British officer during the American Revolution carries on a courtship that leads to murder; and a tragically orphaned Quaker girl imagines a way forward for herself and the slave girl she has inherited. (Amazon / IndieBound / Powell’s)

 

The Mermaid and Mrs. Hancock by Imogen Hermes Gowar

It’s 1785, and the captain of one of Jonah Hancock’s trading vessels tells Jonah he’s sold his ship for a mermaid. The object the captain presents him is as small as an infant, with a torso that ends in the tail of a fish. It is also dead. As the gossip spreads, all of London is curious to see this marvel. Thrust from his ordinary existence, Jonah finds himself within the finest drawing rooms of high society. At an opulent party, he meets the coquettish Angelica Neal. This meeting sparks a perilous liaison that steers both their lives onto a dangerous new course. (Amazon / IndieBound / Powell’s)

 

Milkman by Anna Burns

In an unnamed city, middle sister stands out for the wrong reasons. She reads while walking, for one. And she has been taking French night classes downtown. So when a local paramilitary named Milkman begins pursuing her, she suddenly becomes “interesting,” the last thing she ever wanted to be. Despite middle sister’s attempts to avoid him—and to keep her mother from finding out about her maybe-boyfriend—rumors spread and the threat of violence lingers. (Amazon / IndieBound / Powell’s)

 

My Sister the Serial Killer by Oyinkan Braithwaite

Ayoola’s third boyfriend in a row is dead. Thankfully her sister, Korede, knows the best solutions for cleaning blood, has a car with a trunk enough for a body, and keeps Ayoola from posting pictures to Instagram when she should be mourning her boyfriend. Korede has long been in love with a doctor at the hospital where she works. But when he asks Korede for Ayoola’s phone number, she must reckon with what her sister has become and how far she’s willing to go to protect her. (Amazon / IndieBound / Powell’s)

 

My Year of Rest and Relaxation by Ottessa Moshfegh

Our narrator should be happy, shouldn’t she? She’s young, thin, pretty, a recent Columbia graduate, works an easy job at a hip art gallery, lives in an apartment on the Upper East Side of Manhattan paid for, like the rest of her needs, by her inheritance. But there is a dark and vacuous hole in her heart, and it isn’t just the loss of her parents, or the way her Wall Street boyfriend treats her, or her sadomasochistic relationship with her best friend, Reva. It’s the year 2000 in a city aglitter with wealth and possibility; what could be so terribly wrong? (Amazon / IndieBound / Powell’s)

 

Ohio by Stephen Markley

One summer night in 2013, in a small northeastern Ohio town ravaged by the Great Recession, an opioid crisis, and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, four former classmates converge on their hometown, each with a mission, all haunted by their shared histories. (Amazon / IndieBound / Powell’s)

 

The Overstory by Richard Powers

An Air Force loadmaster in the Vietnam War is shot out of the sky, then saved by falling into a banyan. An artist inherits a hundred years of photographic portraits, all of the same doomed American chestnut. A hard-partying undergraduate in the late 1980s electrocutes herself, dies, and is sent back into life by creatures of air and light. A hearing- and speech-impaired scientist discovers that trees are communicating with one another. All, summoned in different ways, are brought together in a last and violent stand to save the continent’s few remaining acres of virgin forest. (Amazon / IndieBound / Powell’s)

 

The Parking Lot Attendant by Nafkote Tamirat

On an island where the narrator and her father are the two newest and least liked members of a commune, it quickly becomes clear life here is not as harmonious as the founders intended. Our young heroine takes us back to Boston to recount the events that brought her here. Though she and her father belong to a wide Ethiopian network in the city, they mostly keep to themselves, which is how her father prefers it. This detached existence only makes Ayale’s arrival on the scene more intoxicating. Ostensibly a parking lot attendant, he soon proves to have other projects in the works. (Amazon / IndieBound / Powell’s)

 

The Perfect Nanny by Leïla Slimani

When Myriam decides to return to work as a lawyer after having children, she and her husband look for the perfect nanny for their son and daughter. They never dreamed they would find Louise: a quiet, polite, devoted woman who sings to the children, cleans the family’s chic Paris apartment, stays late without complaint, and hosts enviable kiddie parties. But as the couple and the nanny become more dependent on one another, jealousy, resentment, and suspicions mount, shattering the idyllic tableau. (Amazon / IndieBound / Powell’s)

 

The Pisces by Melissa Broder

Lucy has been writing her dissertation on Sappho for 13 years when she and her boyfriend break up in a dramatic flameout. After she bottoms out in Phoenix, her sister in Los Angeles insists Lucy dog-sit for the summer. Annika’s home is a gorgeous glass cube on Venice Beach, but Lucy can find little relief from her anxiety. Everything changes when Lucy becomes entranced by an eerily attractive swimmer while sitting alone on the beach rocks one night. But when Lucy learns the truth about his identity, their relationship take a very unexpected turn. (Amazon / IndieBound / Powell’s)

 

Red Clocks by Leni Zumas

Abortion is once again illegal in America, in-vitro fertilization is banned, and the Personhood Amendment grants rights of life, liberty, and property to every embryo. Ro, a single high-school teacher, is trying to have a baby on her own. Susan is a frustrated mother of two, trapped in a crumbling marriage. Mattie is the adopted daughter of doting parents, who finds herself pregnant with nowhere to turn. And Gin is the "mender" who brings all their fates together when she’s arrested and put on trial in a frenzied modern-day witch hunt. (Amazon / IndieBound / Powell’s)

 

A River of Stars by Vanessa Hua

Scarlett Chen is on the run. She’s eight months pregnant and stranded in Los Angeles. Her married lover sent her to a secret maternity center to give birth. But when she is betrayed by her lover, she flees, setting off a hunt for her and her unborn baby. In the stolen getaway van, Scarlett discovers a pregnant teenage stowaway, another escapee from the maternity center. In pursuit, Scarlett’s lover must decide where his true loyalties, and greatest love, lie—and Scarlett must stop running and commit to a future. (Amazon / IndieBound / Powell’s)

 

Sabrina by Nick Drnaso

When Sabrina disappears, an airman in the US Air Force is drawn into a web of suppositions, wild theories, and outright lies. He reports to work every night in a bare, sterile fortress that serves as no protection from a situation that threatens the sanity of Teddy, his childhood friend and the boyfriend of the missing woman. Sabrina’s grieving sister, Sandra, struggles to fill her days as she waits in purgatory. After a videotape surfaces, true tragedy is distorted when fringe thinkers and conspiracy theorists begin to interpret events to fit their own narratives. (Amazon / IndieBound / Powell’s)

 

Sadness Is a White Bird by Moriel Rothman-Zecher

Moving back to Israel after several years in Pennsylvania, Jonathan is ready to fight to preserve and defend the Jewish state. But he is also conflicted about the possibility of having to monitor the occupied Palestinian territories, a concern that grows deeper and more urgent when he meets Nimreen and Laith—the twin daughter and son of his mother’s friend. With his draft date rapidly approaching, Jonathan wrestles with the question of what it means to be loyal to your people, while also feeling love for those outside of your own tribal family. (Amazon / IndieBound / Powell’s)

 

Self-Portrait With Boy by Rachel Lyon

One day, while taking a self-portrait, photographer Lu Rile accidentally captures on film a boy falling to his death outside her window. The photograph turns out to be startlingly gorgeous, the best she’s ever taken. The boy is her neighbors’ son, and the tragedy brings all the building’s residents together. It especially unites Lu with the boy’s grieving mother, Kate. As the two forge an intense bond, Lu feels increasingly unsettled and guilty, torn between equally fierce desires: to use the photograph to advance her career, and to protect a woman she has come to love. (Amazon / IndieBound / Powell’s)

 

Severance by Ling Ma

Candace Chen is devoted to routine. She’s content to go to work, troubleshoot the teen-targeted Gemstone Bible, and watch movies in a Greenpoint basement with her boyfriend. So she barely notices when Shen Fever, a plague of biblical proportions, sweeps New York. Soon entirely alone, still unfevered, she photographs the eerie, abandoned city. Enter a group of survivors, led by the power-hungry Bob. They’re traveling to a place called the Facility, where, Bob promises, they will have everything they need to start society anew. But Candace is carrying a secret she knows Bob will exploit. (Amazon / IndieBound / Powell’s)

 

The Shakespeare Requirement by Julie Schumacher

Jason Fitger, chair of the Payne University English Dept., takes arms against a sea of troubles. His ex-wife is sleeping with the dean who must approve whatever modest initiatives he undertakes. The fearsome department secretary clearly runs the show and holds plenty of secrets she’s not sharing. The Econ Department keeps siphoning off English’s meager resources. And Fitger’s attempt to get a mossbacked and antediluvian Shakespeare scholar to retire backfires spectacularly when the press concludes that the Bard is being kicked to the curricular curb. (Amazon / IndieBound / Powell’s)

 

The Shepherd’s Hut by Tim Winton

Jaxie Clackton flees from the scene of his father’s violent death and strikes out for the vast wilds of Western Australia. But surviving in the harsh saltlands alone is a savage business. And once he discovers he’s not alone out there, all Jaxie’s plans go awry. He meets a fellow exile, the ruined priest Fintan MacGillis, a man he’s never certain he can trust, but on whom his life will soon depend. (Amazon / IndieBound / Powell’s)

 

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Small Country by Gaël Faye

Burundi, 1992. For 10-year-old Gabriel, life in the comfortable expatriate neighborhood of Bujumbura with his French father, Rwandan mother, and little sister, Ana, is something close to paradise. These are happy, carefree days spent sneaking cigarettes and stealing mangoes, as he and his mischievous gang of friends transform their tiny cul-de-sac into their kingdom. But dark clouds are gathering over this small country—and their peaceful idyll will soon shatter when Burundi, and neighboring Rwanda, are brutally hit by war and genocide. (Amazon / IndieBound / Powell’s)

 

So Lucky by Nicola Griffith

Mara Tagarelli is, professionally, the head of a multimillion-dollar AIDS foundation; personally, she is a committed martial artist. But her life has turned inside out like a sock. She can’t rely on family, her body is letting her down, and friends and colleagues are turning away. She needs to break that narrative: build her own community, learn new strengths, and fight. But what do you do if those around you don’t have your best interests at heart? Mara makes a decision and acts, but her actions unleash monsters aimed squarely at the heart of her new community. (Amazon / IndieBound / Powell’s)

 

Some Trick by Helen DeWitt

Thirteen stories whose jumping-off points range from statistics, romance, the art world’s piranha tank, games of chance and games of skill, the travails of publishing, and success. “Look,” a character begins to explain, laying out some gambit reasonably enough, even when things prove “more complicated than they had first appeared.” In various ways, each tale regards the near-impossibility of the life of the mind when one is made to pay to have the time for it, in a world so sadly “taken up with all sorts of paraphernalia superfluous, not to say impedimental, to ratiocination.” (Amazon / IndieBound / Powell’s)

 

Speak No Evil by Uzodinma Iweala

Bound for Harvard in the fall, Niru has a secret: He is queer—an abominable sin to his conservative Nigerian parents. No one knows except Meredith, his best friend. When his father discovers Niru is gay, the fallout is brutal and swift. Coping with troubles of her own, however, Meredith finds she has little left emotionally to offer him. As the two friends struggle to reconcile their desires against the expectations and institutions that seek to define them, they find themselves speeding toward a future more violent and senseless than they can imagine. (Amazon / IndieBound / Powell’s)

 

Stray City by Chelsey Johnson

Andrea Morales escaped her Midwestern Catholic childhood—and the closet—to create a home and life for herself in Portland, Ore. But one drunken night, reeling from a betrayal, she hooks up with a man. To her shock, Andrea soon discovers she’s pregnant—and despite the concerns of her astonished circle of gay friends, she decides to have the baby. A decade later, when her precocious daughter Lucia starts asking questions about the father she’s never known, Andrea is forced to reconcile the past she hoped to leave behind with the life she’s worked so hard to build. (Amazon / IndieBound / Powell’s)

 

Sugar Land by tammy lynne stoner

It’s 1923 in Midland, Texas, and Miss Dara falls in love with her best friend, who also happens to be a girl. Terrified, Miss Dara takes a job at the Imperial State Prison Farm for men. Once there, she befriends inmate and soon-to-be legendary blues singer Lead Belly, who sings his way out—but only after he makes her promise to free herself from her own prison. (Amazon / IndieBound / Powell’s)

 

Sunburn by Laura Lippman

Over the course of a punishing summer, Polly and Adam abandon themselves to a steamy, inexorable affair. Still, each holds something back from the other—dangerous, even lethal, secrets. Then someone dies. Was it an accident, or part of a plan? By now, Adam and Polly are so ensnared in each other’s lives and lies that neither one knows how to get away—or even if they want to. Is their love strong enough to withstand the truth, or will it ultimately destroy them? (Amazon / IndieBound / Powell’s)

 

A Terrible Country by Keith Gessen

When Andrei Kaplan’s older brother Dima insists that Andrei return to Moscow to care for their ailing grandmother, Andrei sublets his room in Brooklyn and moves into the apartment that Stalin himself had given his grandmother. Over the course of a year, as his grandmother’s health declines, Andrei learns to navigate Putin’s Moscow. When he becomes entangled with a group of leftists, Andrei’s politics and his allegiances are tested, and he is forced to come to terms with the Russian society he was born into and the American one he has enjoyed since he was a kid. (Amazon / IndieBound / Powell’s)

 

That Kind of Mother by Rumaan Alam

Like many first-time mothers, Rebecca Stone finds herself both deeply in love with her newborn son and deeply overwhelmed. She reaches out to the only person at the hospital who offers her any real help—Priscilla Johnson—and begs her to come home with them as her son’s nanny. Rebecca is white, and Priscilla is black, and through their relationship, Rebecca finds herself confronting the blind spots of her own privilege. When Priscilla dies unexpectedly in childbirth, Rebecca steps forward to adopt the baby. But she is unprepared for what it means to be a white mother with a black son. (Amazon / IndieBound / Powell’s)

 

There There by Tommy Orange

As we learn the reasons that each person is attending the Big Oakland Powwow, momentum builds toward a conclusion that changes everything. Jacquie Red Feather is newly sober and trying to make it back to the family she left behind in shame. Dene Oxendene is pulling his life back together after his uncle’s death. Opal Viola Victoria Bear Shield has come to watch her nephew Orvil, who has taught himself traditional Indian dance through YouTube videos and will to perform in public for the very first time. There will be glorious communion. And there will be sacrifice, and heroism, and loss. (Amazon / IndieBound / Powell’s)

 

The Third Hotel by Laura van den Berg

Clare, recently widowed, arrives in Havana, Cuba, to attend the 36th annual Festival of New Latin American Cinema, which her horror-loving film-professor husband, Richard, had purchased tickets for. The day after the screening of the movie Richard wanted most to see, Clare finds him standing outside the Museum of the Revolution. He’s wearing a white linen suit she’s never seen before, and he’s supposed to be dead. (Amazon / IndieBound / Powell’s)

 

Transcription by Kate Atkinson

In 1940, 18-year old Juliet Armstrong is reluctantly recruited into the world of espionage. Sent to an obscure department of MI5 tasked with monitoring the comings and goings of British Fascist sympathizers, she discovers the work to be by turns both tedious and terrifying. Ten years later, now a radio producer at the BBC, Juliet is unexpectedly confronted by figures from her past. A different war is being fought now, on a different battleground, but Juliet finds herself once more under threat. (Amazon / IndieBound / Powell’s)

 

Unsheltered by Barbara Kingsolver

Willa Knox begins to investigate the history of her house, hoping that the local historical preservation society might take an interest and provide funding for its direly needed repairs. Through her research, she discovers a kindred spirit from the 1880s, Thatcher Greenwood, a science teacher with a passion for honest investigation. Thatcher’s friendships draw him into a vendetta with the town’s most powerful men. At home, his family bristles at the risk of scandal, and dismisses his financial worries and the news that their elegant house is structurally unsound. (Amazon / IndieBound / Powell’s)

 

Waiting for Eden by Elliot Ackerman

Eden Malcom lies in a bed, unable to move or to speak, imprisoned in his own mind. His wife Mary spends every day on the sofa in his hospital room. He has never even met their young daughter. And he will never again see the friend and fellow soldier who didn’t make it back home—and who narrates the novel. But on Christmas, the one day Mary is not at his bedside, Eden’s re-ordered consciousness comes flickering alive. As he begins to find a way to communicate, some troubling truths about his marriage—and about his life before he went to war—come to the surface. (Amazon / IndieBound / Powell’s)

 

Warlight by Michael Ondaatje

In 1945, just after World War II, 14-year-old Nathaniel and his older sister, Rachel, stay behind in London when their parents move to Singapore, leaving them in the care of a mysterious figure named The Moth. They suspect he might be a criminal, and they grow both more convinced and less concerned as they come to know his eccentric crew of friends: men and women joined by a shared history of unspecified service during the war, all of whom seem, in some way, determined now to protect, and educate (in rather unusual ways) Rachel and Nathaniel. (Amazon / IndieBound / Powell’s)

 

Washington Black by Esi Edugyan

George Washington Black, or “Wash,” an 11-year-old field slave on a Barbados sugar plantation, is terrified to be chosen by his master’s brother as his manservant. To his surprise, the eccentric Christopher Wilde turns out to be an abolitionist. But when a man is killed and a bounty is placed on Wash’s head, Christopher and Wash must abandon everything. What follows is their flight along the eastern coast of America, and, finally, to the Arctic. What brings Christopher and Wash together will tear them apart, propelling Wash even further across the globe in search of his true self. (Amazon / IndieBound / Powell’s)

 

Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens

For years, rumors of the “Marsh Girl” have haunted Barkley Cove, a quiet town on the North Carolina coast. So when handsome Chase Andrews is found dead, the locals immediately suspect Kya Clark, the so-called Marsh Girl. But Kya is not what they say. Sensitive and intelligent, she has survived for years alone in the marsh that she calls home, finding friends in the gulls and lessons in the sand. Then the time comes when she yearns to be touched and loved. When two young men from town become intrigued by her wild beauty, Kya opens herself to a new life—until the unthinkable happens. (Amazon / IndieBound / Powell’s)

 

Winter by Ali Smith

Winter. Bleak. Frosty wind, earth as iron, water as stone, so the old song goes. And now Art’s mother is seeing things. Come to think of it, Art’s seeing things himself. When four people, strangers and family, converge on a 15-bedroom house in Cornwall for the holidays, will there be enough room for everyone? Winter. It makes things visible. (Amazon / IndieBound / Powell’s)

 

The Witch Elm by Tana French

Toby is a happy-go-lucky charmer who’s dodged a scrape at work and is celebrating with friends when the night takes a turn that will change his life—he surprises two burglars who beat him and leave him for dead. Struggling to recover from his injuries, beginning to understand that he might never be the same man again, he takes refuge at his family’s ancestral home to care for his dying uncle Hugo. Then a skull is found in the trunk of an elm tree in the garden—and as detectives close in, Toby is forced to face the possibility that his past may not be what he has always believed. (Amazon / IndieBound / Powell’s)

biopic

The Tournament of Books’ organizers Andrew Womack and Rosecrans Baldwin are TMN’s co-founders. Baldwin’s latest novel is The Last Kid Left (NPR’s Best Books of the Year). More by The Tournament of Books Staff