Many good books are being released in September, several by notable authors. Jesmyn Ward is publishing her second novel since winning the National Book Award for Salvage the Bones. Celeste Ng also is publishing her highly anticipated second novel that’s set in Shaker Heights, Ohio. Alice McDermott is also on the publishing roster this month, and the novel is one of her best. Below are quick previews of these and other books not to be missed.

Sing Unburied Sing by WardSing, Unburied, Sing by Jesmyn Ward
Jesmyn Ward’s second novel tells the story of a road trip taken by a drug-addicted black woman, her kids and a friend on their way to the Mississippi State Penitentiary to pick up the children’s father. The kids live with their grandparents in the Mississippi Gulf Coast region, with the mother drifting in and out of their lives. Ghosts from this African-American family’s past figure into the narrative. The publisher writes: “Sing, Unburied, Sing grapples with the ugly truths at the heart of the American story and the power, and limitations, of the bonds of family.” While both Kirkus Reviews and Publisher’s Weekly  give the book a star, for those who loved Salvage the Bones, the Washington Post says it “lacks the singular hypnotic power” of her first novel “only because its ambition is broader, its style more complex and, one might say, more mature.” Available September 5.

The Vietnam War by Burns_WardThe Vietnam War: An Intimate History by Geoffrey C. Ward and Ken Burns
This richly illustrated, comprehensive analysis of the Vietnam War is a print companion to the PBS 10-part, 18-hour documentary airing September 17. The popular PBS film-maker Ken Burns directed the film with co-director Lynn Novick. For the book, Burns and writer-historian Geoffrey Ward talked to war veterans from both sides. The publisher writes: “Rather than taking sides, the book seeks to understand why the war happened the way it did, and to clarify its complicated legacy.” The book’s 640 pages include more than 500 photos and several maps. (It’s also a bit pricey at $60.) Available September 5. Watch the documentary trailer.

Katalin Street by SzaboKatalin Street by Magda Szabo
This novel is published by New York Review Books Classics, which says its books are “discoveries, the kind of books that people typically run into outside of the classroom and then remember for life.” I have remembered Magda Szabo’s novel The Door in that very way, and so look forward to this next novel about three families living next door to one another on the eponymous Katalin Street in Budapest. But then their lives are destroyed by the 1944 German occupation. NYRB Classics writes: “Katalin Street…is a poignant, somber, at times harrowing book, but beautifully conceived and truly unforgettable.” Kirkus Reviews and Publisher’s Weekly cast their stars on this novel. Available September 12.

Little Fires Everywhere by NgLittle Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng
In Celeste Ng’s second novel, artistic Mia Warren and her 15-year-old daughter become tenants in a rental property owned by the Richardsons, who live in the tree-lined suburb of Shaker Heights, Ohio. The unconventional mother and daughter become closely involved in the perfect lives of their wealthy landlords. The publisher writes: “Little Fires Everywhere explores the weight of secrets, the nature of art and identity, and the ferocious pull of motherhood – and the danger of believing that following the rules can avert disaster.” The novel is receiving the attention-getting “un-put-downable” description by some, while Kirkus Reviews (“Outre and disturbingly engaging”) and Publisher’s Weekly  (“an impressive accomplishment”) also rave. Ng’s first novel, Everything I Never Told You, was a New York Times bestseller. Available September 12.

The Ninth Hour by McDermottThe Ninth Hour by Alice McDermott
The Ninth Hour, McDermott’s seventh novel, takes place in Brooklyn in the early 20th century when milkmen delivered fresh milk to households and nuns “moved through the streets of the city in their black and white, doing good where it was needed, imposing good where they found it lacking.” The story centers on the widowed Annie and daughter Sally, who spend their days at the convent of the Little Nursing Sisters of the Sick Poor, where Annie works as a laundress. Sally grows up under the protective eyes of the convent’s inhabitants and finds herself struggling with whether or not she is worthy to take vows. The nuns fill the pages with captivating stories. Kirkus Reviews and Publisher’s Weekly give stars. Available September 19.

On June 17, the winner of the International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award will be announced. This is one of my favorite annual awards to watch, as it progresses through a phenomenally long long-list of nominated novels (142 this year) into a short-list of 10 that yields the winner. The IMPAC always provides a great reading list of novels, from which I’ve discovered brilliant authors from different countries, but it is more a personal favorite because of its premise: Nominations are made by librarians from around the world, those wonderful people who watch, know, present, recommend and curate books for the public to read. They see hundreds of books move through their lending institutions and can showcase those that may not be getting the attention they deserve.

Past International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award winners have been Man Gone Down by Michael Thomas (2009), The Twin by Gerbrand Bakker (2010) and Let the Great World Spin by Colum McCann (2011) – novels I’ve read and can recommend.

One requirement: In order to be considered for the IMPAC award, the novel must have be written in English or translated into English.

The 2015 shortlist below includes several titles that have been mentioned here on TLC. You’ll also find Richard Flanagan’s popular 2014 Man Booker Prize-winner among the candidates.

Burial Rites by Hannah KentBurial Rites by Hannah Kent (Australian)
Nominated by four libraries from Australia and the United States

I recommended Burial Rites to several book groups. It’s a compelling story inspired by the real life fate of Agnes Magnúsdóttir, a young woman who was the last person to be executed (publicly beheaded) in Iceland in the early nineteenth century. She was condemned for murder. Prior to the execution, she was held in protective custody by the farm family of a government official. In the story, Agnes’ presence on the farm creates strife and challenge for the parents and their daughters, who wrestle with the convict’s sympathetic humanity. Among the librarian comments: “This meticulously researched novel provides a vivid voice for Agnes and those who shared her last days. Kent uses her powerfully drawn characters and compelling narrative to bring the time and events to life.”

Horses of GodHorses of God by Mahi Binebine (Moroccan)
Nominated by Chicago Public Library, United States
Translated from the French

This novel appeared on TLC in a list of books by French authors that I’d culled from the 2015 IMPAC longlist. It’s one of those novels that not only tells an engaging story but leaves the reader stunned by the awareness of how poverty and the promises of Islam can together create a young suicide bomber. It’s a phenomenal novel, brief (under 200 pages) and told in spare prose. BineBine focuses on four childhood friends growing up in the impoverished shantytowns of Sidi Moumen, a suburb of Casablanca. The story has roots in fact: On May 16, 2003, fourteen suicide bombers launched a series of attacks throughout Casablanca. It was the deadliest attack in Morocco’s history. The comment from the Chicago library includes: “This novel by Moroccan author Binebine concerns young boys who become suicide bombers, and it upends much of what is often assumed about such lives.”

Someone by Alice McDermottSomeone by Alice McDermott (American)
Nominated by the Veria Central Public Library, Greece

I’m a big fan of Alice McDermott since a long time ago when I read her second novel, That Night. It’s one of my all-time favorite books. McDermott has written several more novels — I also loved Charming Billy, which won the National Book Award (1998). McDermott is an uncontested master when it comes to portraying everyday life among Irish Americans, as she does with Marie Commeford in Someone. Booklist, Publisher’s Weekly and Kirkus Reviews gave starred reviews to the novel, and it’s been praised to the heights by many readers.  The librarian comment includes: “A novel that shows how indefinite and ordinary but also beautiful a life can be when you have someone to share it with.”

The Narrow Road to the Deep NorthThe Narrow Road to the Deep North by Richard Flanagan (Australian)
Nominated by four Australian libraries

Flanagan’s fictional take on the WWII Japanese POW experience and the “death railways” built in Burma is rooted in his father’s connection to the historical event. The protagonist is surgeon Dorrigo Evans, who struggles to treat and save suffering POWs working with him on the railroad. He is haunted by a love affair he had with his uncle’s wife two years earlier. Rave reviews abound; however, Kirkus Reviews came after Flanagan for flowery descriptions about the love affair, saying they border on the likes of a “swoon-worthy bodice ripper.” Among the librarians’ comments: “Flanagan’s novel explores love and death, the horror of war, and the nature of heroism.”

K by Bernardo KucinskiK by Bernardo Kucinski (Brazilian)
Nominated by two libraries from Brazil
Translated from the Portugese

K will be available in the United States on July 31. It’s the story of a father searching for his daughter who “disappeared” during the military dictatorship in Brazil. Forecasts for the novel prior to its American publication aren’t out there, from my search results, but from what the nominating librarian says, K promises to be an unforgettable page-turner. It’s based on a real story from the author’s life — Kucinski’s younger sister disappeared in 1973. From the book’s publisher, Latin America Bureau: “As the author says, ‘Everything in this book is invented but almost everything happened’.” From the librarians’ comments: “…a remarkable book written in sparse language hovering between memoir and novel, a compelling tale almost impossible to put down.”

Harvest, a novelHarvest by Jim Crace (British)
Nominated by a library from Switzerland and one from the United States

I’m not a big fan of Jim Crace due to personal taste, not professional critique. There’s something about his storytelling that, as a common reader, doesn’t appeal to me. I often think I should give his work another chance because he’s frequently among award nominees and his work is highly regarded. Harvest, for example, was also nominated for the 2014 Man Booker award. The story takes place in an isolated English farming village where the stable of the manor house burns down. Fingers are pointed at newcomers to the village. Witchcraft and revenge come into thematic play. Among the librarians’ comments:  “…tightly plotted; less than a week passes from the moment smoke is sighted until the book’s fateful outcome, and yet once underway, we have the sense that everything is inevitable.”

Brief Loves That Live ForeverBrief Loves That Live Forever by Andreï Makine (French, Russian-born)
Nominated by Bibliothèque de la Part-Dieu, Lyon, France

I’ve made the comment here on TLC that Andreï Makine is an author whose work, given the time, I’d chain-read. After I finished his novel Music of Life, I only wanted to keep reading whatever he wrote. Brief Loves That Live Forever will be available to U.S. readers in August. The Guardian begins their review of the book with this: “Siberian-born Andreï Makine’s latest novel lives in the memory long after the last page is turned. In a series of interlocking episodes the narrator – like Makine, an orphan – guides us through the totalitarian world of Brezhnev’s Soviet Union. Makine’s prose is both spare and meditative, and leads us deep into the memories of a world that is now gone.” Among the librarian’s comments: “…sober and powerful style of history and love stories from the Soviet time to the fall of the Berlin Wall. Prose of big sensibility, quiet in suggestion.”

TransAtlantic, a novelTransAtlantic by Colum McCann (Irish)
Nominated by six libraries from Canada, Ireland, Britain and the United States

Within this novel are the stories of Frederick Douglass on an international lecture tour in Ireland in 1845; the first nonstop transatlantic flight in 1919 by two WWI aviators headed for Ireland; and Senator George Mitchell’s 1998 peace talks in Northern Ireland. McCann weaves together the disparate stories into what many praised as a compelling narrative, much as he did with Let the Great World Spin, which won the 2011 IMPAC Award. Among the librarians’ comments:TransAtlantic is a delight to read. Through writing that is both lyrically lush and detailed, the reader meets fascinating characters, historically grounded in the 19th and 20th centuries, who are deftly linked through their connections to Ireland and America.”

Sparta by Roxana RobinsonSparta by Roxana Robinson (American)
Nominated by the San Diego Library, United States

With all the hub-bub over Phil Klay’s award-winning story collection about Iraq soldiers, Redeployment, I missed this novel about a soldier returning home from the same war after four years of duty. From the publisher’s description of Sparta: “His life becomes increasingly difficult to negotiate: he can’t imagine his future, can’t recover his past, and can’t bring himself to occupy his present. As weeks turn into months, Conrad feels himself trapped in a life that’s constrictive and incomprehensible, and he fears that his growing rage will have irreparable consequences.” Lots of praise from the media, except Kirkus Reviews described it as “well-intentioned but flawed.” The librarian’s comment: “A searing portrayal of the experience of a classics scholar and Iraq war veteran who returns home from the war to find he no longer belongs in either world.”

Americanah by C.Ngozi AdichieAmericanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (Nigerian)
Nominated by 11 libraries from Canada, Germany, Sweden, Ireland and the United States

Winner of the 2014 National Book Critics Circle Award for Fiction, Americanah tells the story of teenagers Ifemelu and Obinze who fall in love in Nigeria when it’s under military dictatorship. Everyone is leaving, including Ifemelu to study in the United States. Obinze is unable to join her and finds his way, illegally, to London. Years later they reconnect. Kirkus Reviews wrote, “Soap-operatic in spots, but a fine adult love story with locations both exotic and familiar.” Among the librarians’ comments: “A love story, an immigration story, and a portrait of race in America. Authentic and captivating.”

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