Sidestep into the uncanny this fall with 12 new books

Book critic Katherine Ouellette recommends eight books to read this fall. (Courtesy the publishers)
Book critic Katherine Ouellette recommends eight books to read this fall. (Courtesy the publishers)

September feels off-kilter this year. It’s like exiting an elevator on the wrong floor — you don’t know what you were expecting, but this isn’t quite right. Between the annual suspicion that this summer passed by quicker than the last and climate change at our doors with cataclysmic rain and flooding, my brain is reluctant to adjust to yet another "new normal." These 12 books written by New England authors will turn your world upside down, inside out or maybe just 3 inches to the left. From historical novels that sound like the modern news cycle to nonfiction research that reads like science fiction and contemporary settings that take a twist toward the speculative, these books will make you click your heels three times and say, “We’re not in Boston anymore.” Or at least Boston as we know it.

By Melissa Lozada-Oliva

Sep. 19

A murder, an earthquake, and the end of the world are three things that 83-year-old Candelaria must confront in quick succession. Boston crumbles around her as she tries to save her crumbling family. Author Lozada-Oliva explores three generations of the Guatemalan diaspora through the lens of a doomsday apocalypse. Can Candelaria battle demons of the past while trying to save her granddaughters from the cults, cannibals and zombies of the present? Equal parts poignant, hilarious and horrific, this novel is a macabre feast for the senses — try a taste if you dare.

Melissa Lozada-Oliva will discuss “Candelaria” at the Cambridge Public Library on Wednesday, Sept. 20, at 6 p.m. This is a free, ticketed event.

'How to Say Babylon: A Memoir'
By Safiya Sinclair

Oct. 3

From temporary reprieve to permanent salvation, poetry is essential to Safiya Sinclair’s survival in her engrossing memoir. Throughout her childhood in Jamaica, Sinclair and her siblings suffered under their father’s oppressive interpretation of Rastafarian values. But her mother offered her a chance to escape through a book of poems. From age 10 onwards, Sinclair falls in desperate love with the immersive experiences that reading poetry and writing poetry can provide. “How to Say Babylon” examines tumultuous family dynamics and the cultural forces of Rastafari and patriarchy. Readers follow in Sinclair’s footsteps as the poet charts a course toward Bennington College and beyond, thanks to the power of words.

Safiya Sinclair will discuss “How to Say Babylon” at Harvard Book Store on Friday, Oct. 6, at 7 p.m. The event is free, and tickets are not required.

'The Literary Undoing of Victoria Swann'
By Virginia Pye

Oct. 3

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: a wealthy businessman purchases a company, nixes ideas that would advance the careers of current employees and refuses to pay fair wages to those same people whose work generates the company’s profits. A narrative familiar in today’s workforce landscape holds true in Virginia Pye’s novel set in 1890s Boston. “The Literary Undoing of Victoria Swann” follows the life of a dime novel author who aspires to trade in her melodramatic romances for literary stories that speak to issues of abortion, women’s suffrage and protections for diverse communities. Ironically, the character arc of Victoria Swann would appeal to the protagonist’s own Gilded Age audience, so real-world readers of 2023 will have to enjoy her story on behalf of those fictional readers.

Virginia Pye will be at Harvard Book Store on Oct. 3 at 7 p.m. for the launch of her new book “The Literary Undoing of Victoria.” The event is free, and tickets are not required.

'The Light of Seven Days'
By River Adams

Oct. 10

In this literary novel, Dinah Ash comes of age in the 1970s after a turbulent childhood in an even more turbulent Soviet Union. After the death of her parents, all Dinah dreams of is becoming a professional ballerina. Despite her hard work and talent that earns her spots at a prestigious ballet school and a renowned ballet company, rising antisemitism means she’ll never be fully welcome or fully safe. “The Light of Seven Days” is told from the perspective of adult Dinah, who has lived in Philadelphia for decades after securing refugee status to immigrate from Leningrad. Massachusetts-based author River Adams provides an intimate and nuanced exploration of religion, nationality and personal identity in their impactful debut novel.

River Adams will discuss “The Light of Seven Days” at Belmont Books on Thursday, Oct. 12, at 7 p.m. The event is free, and tickets are not required.

By Walter Mosley

Oct. 10

What if you dreamed that you had the power to destroy humanity? (You’re standing naked on your balcony. How could this be anything but a dream?) When Marty’s groggy morning leads to his arrest for public indecency, his ordinary life as a husband and father sidesteps into the uncanny. He can’t shake the nagging suspicion that he has supernatural strength gained through intergalactic intervention. With the personification of Death at his doorstep, Marty must circumvent planet-wide annihilation, or perhaps an undiagnosed mental health issue, while navigating his mundane daily life without arousing suspicion. From acclaimed mystery author Walter Mosley, “Touched” is a bizarre yet enjoyable romp of science fiction that will make you think.

'Straw Dogs of the Universe'
By Ye Chun

Oct. 17

Thousands of people immigrated to the U.S. from China to work on the Transcontinental Railroad during the 1860s — but not all of them came of their own volition. Ye Chun’s novel “Straw Dogs of the Universe” tells the real story of the cruel treatment of Chinese railroad workers through the fictional perspectives of 10-year-old Sixiang and her father, Guifeng. After being sold into servitude so her mother and grandmother could secure food during a famine, Sixiang hopes to reunite with her father, who departed for California years prior. Author Ye Chun, an associate professor at Providence College, infuses hope and resilience across decades of an intergenerational family saga against an abhorrent backdrop of American history.

Ye Chun will discuss “Straw Dogs of the Universe” at Newtonville Books on Friday, Oct. 27, at 7 p.m. The event is free, and tickets are not required.

'The Lotus Flower Champion'
By Pintip Dunn and Love Dunn

Oct. 31

Penned by Pintip Dun, a graduate of Harvard University, and her daughter, Love, this fantasy thriller brings Thai mythology to life during a family vacation gone wrong. At one point, the teenage protagonist’s OCD rituals keep her family safe, but not anymore. This trip to Thailand was meant to assuage her mother’s dying wish, but she and her parents become stranded on a lush, remote island with 10 strangers. One by one, people are disappearing — and changing. Should she listen to the tour guide who looks suspiciously like a minor god? Will her family survive if she doesn’t? Become enchanted by this mashup of Squid Games-like action and Thai folklore.

'Unmasking AI: My Mission to Protect What Is Human in a World of Machines'
By Joy Buolamwini

Oct. 31

Rhodes Scholar and Fulbright Fellow Joy Buolamwini was named one of Times’ Most Influential People in AI 2023 for her work studying and raising awareness of human bias encoded in artificial intelligence. She first encountered facial recognition software that had difficulty detecting people with darker skin as a graduate student at MIT Media Lab. Since then, Buolamwini has captured public attention with how this technology perpetuates racism, sexism and ableism through Ted Talks, the documentary 'Coded Bias' and art projects that sparked her title, “Poet of Code.” She is the founder of the Algorithmic Justice League, a Cambridge-based organization that combines art and research to illuminate the social implications and harms of artificial intelligence. “Unmasking AI” doesn’t shy away from the ways Big Tech poses significant threats to our social systems of healthcare, economics, criminal justice and beyond. By applying an intersectional lens, Buolamwini exposes both the problems and the solutions in the next frontier for civil rights.

'Eat, Poop, Die: How Animals Make Our World'
By Joe Roman

Nov. 7

Now that he has your attention, Joe Roman would like to save the planet from climate catastrophe. And we can do that by preserving the ecosystems of animals eating, dying and, yes, pooping. “Eat, Poop, Die” explores local ecosystems of the world, ranging from the volcanoes of Iceland to the tropical waters of Hawaii, emphasizing how the easily overlooked bodily functions of the animal kingdom could have a larger impact on the global climate cycle than we realize. Roman argues that a deeper understanding of these cycles could help humanity unlock ways of undoing the environmental damage we’ve wrought. The author is a conservation biologist, fellow at Gund Institute for Environment and research assistant professor at the University of Vermont.

'Today Tonight Forever'
By Madeline Kay Sneed

Nov. 7

Nothing like a wedding to heighten the sting of your messy divorce from your now ex-wife. But Athena Matthias will plaster on a smile to play the role of supportive bridesmaid to her longtime friend. The destination beach wedding surrounds Athena with sun, sand and loved ones. There’s even someone new who’s tugging at her battered heartstrings. But when someone from the wedding party’s past crashes the wedding and brings an old betrayal into light, will the wedding succumb to chaotic ruin? This delightful queer romcom insists that beach read season isn’t over yet. Author Madeline Kay Sneed received her MFA from Emerson College.

'Wings of Red'
By James W. Jennings

Nov. 21

June Papers is 28 years old with no prospects. The aspiring writer has an MFA and a substitute teaching job, but he also has a felony record, and after losing the game of dice that he hoped would win his overdue rent, he doesn’t have a place to live. But June is earnest in his ambitions and he’s doing what it takes to get by in the absurd world that is New York City. Told in an epistolary format of journal entries, this work of autofiction invites the reader to experience the visceral immediacy of June’s life through his clever and humorous voice. Jennings grew up in Hartford, Connecticut, and currently teaches at Martha's Vineyard Regional High School.

'Masculinity Parable'
By Myles Taylor

Dec. 5

Boston Poetry Slam producer Myles Taylor unearths the blueprints for the foundation of non-toxic masculinity. Poem by poem, brick by brick, their first full-length poetry collection, “Masculinity Parable,” builds the narrative of a working-class transmasculine person who views manhood “not quite as an aspiration, but as a curse to be broken.” They construct restaurant kitchens, filling the room with “a symphony of second-nature / movements, muscle-memorized like their country / is a fatigue mat and they have mapped every corner.” They make a home in the transient shell of a crab. They feed glitter to their inner child at the altar of the Patron Saint of Retail. Both incisively questioning and fiercely healing, this debut collection is a parable that challenges societal structures ranging from capitalism to the gender binary.


Katherine Ouellette Literature Writer
Katherine Ouellette covers literature for WBUR.



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