This week we're excited about Diane Johnson's hyped new novel, Riley Sager's latest, and a true crime tale about a decades-old cold case.
Lorna Mott Comes Home

Diane Johnson (Knopf)

Johnson's new novel, a domestic drammedy, has been a mainstay of the season's must-read lists, landing on, among others, People's 20 Best Books to Read This Summer and Good Morning America's 27 Books for June. In it, the titular heroine leaves her unfaithful French husband, after more than two decades of marriage, as well as her French home, and returns to her roots in San Francisco. Her aim is to reestablish herself as an academic and begin a new chapter, both personally and professionally. Along the way she reconnects with her pregnant, and diabetic, 15-year-old granddaughter, and is pulled back to the French village she fled after a freak accident there uncovers the remains of a well-known American painter. We called the book a "provocative family chronicle" and a real "treat."

Survive the Night

Riley Sager (Dutton)

One of CNN's 20 Most Anticipated Books to Read This June, Sager's elevated thriller is set in 1991 and centers on a woman trapped in a car with a stranger she believes could be a serial killer. Heroine Charlie Jordan has been unable to shake the guilt she feels after her best friend and college roommate, Maddy, was killed in a late night walk on campus. Charlie had fought with Maddy, letting her walk home alone from a local bar; Maddy then turned up stabbed, the potential victim of a murderer dubbed the Campus Killer. When Charlie decides to leave school before the semester ends, hitching a ride to Chicago with campus janitor Josh Baxter, she soon begins to think Josh is lying about his identity. We said Sager "excels at playing with reader expectations" and offers a series of "gut-wrenching twists."

The Vixen

Francine Prose (Harper)

Prose's latest, which we said offers a "dazzling take on America's tendency to persecute, then lionize, its most subversive figures" is set in 1953, at the height of America's Red Scare. Recent Harvard grad, Simon Putnam, has taken a job as a junior editor at a publishing house. Despite his Wasp-y sounding name, Simon comes from a liberal Jewish family--his mother went to high school with Ethel Rosenberg--and is aghast at his first assignment. He's supposed to edit a thinly veiled bodice ripper about the Rosenberg trial. The publisher's owner, Warren Landry, is desperate for cash and feels, despite the book's anti-Semitic underpinnings, that it will be a hit. Why newcomer Simon is given such a big editorial job is a mystery that underpins the novel, which we said shows Prose "at the top of her game."

Hell of a Book

Jason Mott (Dutton)

We touted Mott's new novel, which is on Entertainment Weekly's list of 15 Books You Need to Read this June, as a "stunning" achievement that examines the African-American experience. It follows a nameless Black author who, on his first book tour, is navigating the sudden realities of literary fame after the breakout success of his debut, Hell of a Book. When the author encounters a young Black boy, who bears a striking resemblance to a recent victim of police violence, he thinks he might be imagining the child. The sighting forces the author to recall his own early traumas, being bullied as a child in North Carolina. We said that the novel is "poetic" and "cinematic," and that "absurdist metafiction doesn’t get much better."


Out in August: Belly of the Beast

Da’Shaun Harrison—a fat, Black, disabled and nonbinary trans writer—offers an incisive, fresh and urgent exploration of anti-fatness, anti-Blackness, gender and the violence of policing in Belly of the Beast: The Politics of Anti-Fatness as Anti-Blackness.

Leaving Breezy Street

Brenda Myers-Powell (Holt)

Myers-Powell's memoir, written with April Reynolds, details how, in her late 30s, she escaped a life of prostitution and got off the streets. Now an advocate for victims of sex trafficking--the author also got sober after she stopped taking tricks--the author details her difficult childhood in this compelling debut. Sexually abused by an uncle while being raised by her alcoholic grandmother, Myers-Powell knew violence at the hands of men from a young age. By 14, she was addicted to crack and working the streets to earn money to raise two infant children. The author, who's been stabbed and shot multiple times, delivers, we said, a "page-turner" that "impresses from start to finish."

What Happened to Paula: On the Death of an American Girl

Katherine Dykstra (Norton)

On the New York Times' roundup of true crime books to read this summer this work from journalist Dykstra examines a 50-year-old cold case involving the disappearance of an 18-year-old girl. One night in 1970, Paula Oberbroeckling borrowed her roommate's car in the middle of the night and was never seen again. The Cedar Rapids, Ia., resident might have been pregnant at the time--she had recently broken up with one boyfriend and was dating another--but police showed little interest in the case, which was closed in 1972. Focusing on Dykstra's research and interviews with people who knew the victim, the book, we noted, is more than a real-life whodunit, as the author uses the case to cast "a searing light on racism, sexism, and the stigma of being a 'bad' girl."

Adult Books for Fall 2021
This fall is looking to be a great one on the book front, as you’re about to see. Our editors highlight 824 forthcoming titles and pick their top 10 books in each of 15 categories. more