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Big books for spring 2019, including Lisa Scottoline’s latest and Oliver Sacks' last

Other big names with new books include Colson Whitehead, T.C. Boyle, Ian McEwan, and Philly's own Feminista Jones. Also coming soon: a Cosby trial talker, Ani DiFranco's memoir, and a Joe Frazier biography by former Daily News sportswriter Mark Kram, Jr.

Delicious new reads in 2019 fiction and nonfiction (clockwise from upper left): “On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous” by Ocean Vuong; “The Heartbeat of Wounded Knee” by David Treuer; “Trust Exercise” by Susan Choi; “A Woman of No Importance” by Sonia Purnell; “We Cast a Shadow” by Maurice Carlos Ruffin; and “How to Date Men When You Hate Men” by Blythe Roberson.
Delicious new reads in 2019 fiction and nonfiction (clockwise from upper left): “On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous” by Ocean Vuong; “The Heartbeat of Wounded Knee” by David Treuer; “Trust Exercise” by Susan Choi; “A Woman of No Importance” by Sonia Purnell; “We Cast a Shadow” by Maurice Carlos Ruffin; and “How to Date Men When You Hate Men” by Blythe Roberson.Read moreCourtesy of (clockwise from upper left): Penguin, Riverhead, Henry Holt, Viking, One World, and Flatiron publishers.

Are you ready, readers? Better be: Spring is packing unprecedented diversity, in authors, characters, stories, and themes.

New fiction brings tales of New Orleans, androids in London, the Philly 'burbs, Noah’s wife, scary (and funny) mysteries, and, of course, LSD.

In nonfiction, you have big new books on American Bandstand, dating, the Mongol Derby (the what?), the present “golden age” of TV, Dr. Seuss, and Philly’s own Joe Frazier.

New books are on their way from well-established masters like T.C. Boyle, Ian McEwan, and Oliver Sacks, joined by more recent standouts like Ani DiFranco, Marlon James, Emily Nussbaum, Colson Whitehead, and Ocean Vuong.

And just look at all the Philly-area names elbowing their way in: Sarah Blake, Lisa Scottoline, Mark Bowden, Mark Kram Jr., Feminista Jones, Lorene Cary, and Blythe Roberson.


We Cast a Shadow by Carlos Ruffin (One World, January). A man must choose between allowing his son to grow up biracial or having him undergo an operation that makes him lighter.

The Lost Children Archive by Valeria Luiselli (Knopf, February). A family road trip is heading straight at two crises: one in the family and one at the southwestern border.

Black Leopard, Red Wolf by Marlon James (Riverhead, February). Man Booker Prize-winner James is launching a spec-fantasy series titled Dark Star, and this is the first volume — wow. Set in ancient Africa, the novel sets forth in new directions.

The Chef by James Patterson (Little, Brown; February). Caleb Rooney of New Orleans is a police detective by day and runs the Killer Chef food truck by night. Now he’s wanted for murder. It’s getting to be Mardi Gras time in the Big Easy and … and …

Bowlaway by Elizabeth McCracken (Ecco, February). Strange and brilliant tale of a woman discovered mysteriously in a cemetery. She starts a bowling alley and marries the doctor who discovered her. From there, it’s a family saga, with family secrets, ghosts, and a lot of bowling.

Leading Men by Christopher Castellani (Viking, February). This work of historical fiction examines the ties among playwright Tennessee Williams, his lover Frank Merlo, and a woman named Anja in the summer of 1953. Castellani will speak at Temple University’s Poets and Writers Series on Feb. 21.

Gingerbread by Helen Oyeyemi (Riverhead, March). Much-awaited new one from this much-praised young British novelist. It all revolves around a family’s prize possession: a recipe for gingerbread.

Outside Looking In by T.C. Boyle (Ecco, April). He’s a master of just-barely-contained comedy set in fertile historical settings. What’s this one? The early days of LSD, including the wild Harvard experiments and much more.

Trust Exercise by Susan Choi (Henry Holt, April). Two young adults in a performance art class fall in love – and get entangled with their teacher. Beautiful surprises ensue. Choi comes to the Free Library on May 2.

The Department of Sensitive Crimes: A Detective Varg Novel by Alexander McCall Smith (Pantheon, April). Smith (No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency) starts yet another series, this one poking fun at Scandinavian noir and police procedurals. Droll, droll, droll.

Naamah by Sarah Blake (Riverhead, April). Blake has knocked the world on its ear with her poetry, and now this local writer is out with her first novel, about the spouse of Noah.

Someone Knows by Lisa Scottoline (G.P. Putnam’s Sons, April). A teenage prank gone wrong; family secrets that stain the years. The Philly thriller master and Inquirer columnist makes you turn the pages once again.

Machines Like Me by Ian McEwan (Nan A. Talese, April). What if, in an alternative version of the 1980s, Alan Turing made the first big breakthrough into artificial intelligence, meaning you could design your own humanly made human? What if two lovers got together and designed one named Adam? What if Adam ... ? A great new direction for the author of Atonement, The Comfort of Strangers, and other best-selling award-winners.

On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous by Ocean Vuong (Penguin, June). Born in Ho Chi Minh City, Vuong came to the United States in 1990 and started winning some of the greatest poetry awards in the world. This is his beautifully titled first novel, about a young man and the Vietnamese mother who raised him in America.

The Nickel Boys by Colson Whitehead (Little, Brown; June). As he did in The Underground Railroad, Whitehead’s taking a fictional tour of hot spots in the convulsed racial history of this country. Elwood and Turner are trapped in the Nickel Academy, a reform school in 1960s Florida, when Jim Crow still reigns and the civil rights movement is little more than a rumor.


The Heartbeat of Wounded Knee: Native America from 1890 to the Present by David Treuer (Riverhead, January). The writer is Ojibwe from Minnesota and tells the less-known part of the story of our indigenous peoples: What happened during the turbulent 20th century, the wars, the rise of the cities, the computer age. Much-needed. Treuer appears at the Free Library on March 7.

How to Date Men When You Hate Men by Blythe Roberson (Flatiron, January). This Philly writer’s comic-philosophical look at the sloppy swamp of men, dating, and sometimes just hating on everything all over the place. Roberson will appear with three other Philly writers at the Pen and Pencil Club on Feb. 16.

Underground: A Human History of the Worlds Beneath Our Feet by Will Hunt (Speigel & Grau, January). From subways to ancient subterranean cities, Hunt investigates the dark underside of the human and natural worlds, making it come alive with beautiful writing.

Reclaiming Our Space: How Black Feminists Are Changing the World from the Tweets to the Streets by Feminista Jones (Beacon, January). The Philly social worker and community activist knows whereof she speaks in this bracing survey of black women’s growing influence across our culture. Jones will be in conversation with Tanji Gilliam at the Penn Book Center on Feb. 13.

Fay Wray and Robert Riskin: A Hollywood Romance by Victoria Riskin (Pantheon, February). I just loved reading this. You know Fay Wray: She’s famous for screaming at King Kong. Riskin, writer of It Happened One Night, You Can’t Take It With You, and dozens of other famed flicks, was one of the great geniuses of film writing. Their daughter wrote this book.

Chasing Cosby: The Downfall of America’s Dad by Nicole Weisensee Egan (Seal Press, April). The former Daily News investigative reporter broke the earliest sexual-assault allegations against Bill Cosby and stuck with the story like glue for People magazine. Now she has one of the first books on the case. She speaks April 30 at the Free Library.

Bandstandland: How Dancing Teenagers Took Over America and Dick Clark Took Over Rock 'n Roll by Larry Lehmer (Sunbury, April). Lehmer, an Iowa guy who’s into early rock-and-roll lore, has tracked down folks who remember the days of Chubby Checker, Dick Clark, and the Philly show that helped change a nation’s popular culture.

A Woman of No Importance by Sonia Purnell (Viking, April). “She is the most dangerous of all Allied spies,” a Gestapo message said of Virginia Hall. “We must find and destroy her.” Whoa. Rejected by U.S. undercover agencies because of her wooden leg, she joined the British spy effort and … how could you not read on?

The Last Stone by Mark Bowden (Atlantic Monthly, April). The former Inquirer reporter tells of a 1975 double kidnapping in Baltimore, the cold case that followed, and the way it was solved only a few years ago. Bowden comes to the Free Library on April 24.

No Walls and the Recurring Dream by Ani DiFranco (Viking/Penguin, April). Thirty-two flavors and then some, this activist, poet, singer-songwriter, and all-around rebel personifies the ’90s, starting her own indie label, Righteous Babe Records, and showing she needed no one else’s wings to fly.

Everything in Its Place: First Loves and Last Tales by Oliver Sacks (Knopf, April). A wide-ranging collection of essays — said to be his last one — from the much-beloved writer on science, youth, ferns, and swimming, among many other things.

I Like to Watch: Arguing My Way Through the TV Revolution by Emily Nussbaum (Random House, May). This witty, opinionated writer is one of our best critics — of anything. Writing at this moment, the Great Age of Television, Nussbaum is on fire, omnivorous, and great fun to read.

Ladysitting: My Year With Nana at the End of Her Century by Lorene Cary (W.W. Norton, May). The beloved Philly author writes of her grandmother, how things changed when she moved in, and five generations of her African American family. Cary comes to the Free Library on May 7.

Rough Magic: Riding the World’s Loneliest Horse Race by Lara Prior-Palmer (Catapult, May). She rode, all right: The inexperienced author, only 19, entered the Mongol Derby, world’s longest horse race, a 600-plus-mile retracing of Genghis Khan’s messenger route. Saddle up.

Becoming Dr. Seuss: Theodor Geisel and the Making of an American Imagination by Brian Jay Jones. (Dutton, May). The subtitle has it right: This the story of not only a writer but also the making of a distinctive, nutty voice in the American vein, complete with cats, Grinches, and a moral view.

Ghosts of Gold Mountain: The Epic Story of the Chinese Who Built the Transcontinental Railroad by Gordon H. Chang (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, May). Yet another story everyone ought to know, about thousands of people who traveled across two continents to build the greatest transportation system the world had yet seen — only to be rejected once they were done.

Smokin' Joe: The Life of Joe Frazier by Mark Kram Jr. (Ecco, June). The former Daily News sports writer covers the life of the heavyweight champion and Philadelphia legend, as his father, the senior Mark Kram, also did.