Fall 2021 Book Preview

24 novels to make winter weather a bit more bearable

It’s only August and yet, in New York City, the leaves are already turning; yellow patches dot the trees lining the Greenpoint street I live on, and at the park, my dog’s paws crunch happily over the thin layer of fallen leaves blanketing the lawn.

Summer is no less a season for reading than any other, but I genuinely believe that the hotter season’s fast-paced novels, which one can read in ten-page chunks while waiting for a friend to meet you for a sunny outdoor brunch, should make way for bigger stories as the temperatures dip. The allure of the outdoors calls in summer, but in fall and winter, there are few better activities than losing track of an afternoon cozied up under a blanket with an absorbing book.

Many of the books I’m most excited for this autumn fall in this category, but not all. It would be boring — and frankly exhausting — if that were all one set out to read. I’m thrilled for Jonathan Franzen’s next Midwestern generational epic, CROSSROADS, and Juhea Kim’s BEASTS OF A LITTLE LAND, which catalogs a friendship across decades of turmoil in early 20th century Korea; but I’ll also be shoving Vera Kurian’s NEVER SAW ME COMING, an academic thriller about a research group of psychopaths, at anyone who will listen, while acclaimed crime novelist Julia Dahl’s THE MISSING HOURS is a sharp interrogation of how society implicates women in their own victimization.

I’d love to hear which of these exciting upcoming novels you’ve preordered (a reminder that preorders are immensely helpful to authors!). Find me on Twitter @lemonsand, and find my email on my website. (And if you don’t want to scroll through this entire list, you can find an abbreviated list in my Bookshop.)

THESE TOXIC THINGS, Rachel Howzell Hall. September 1. In this fun, addictive mystery, an Angeleno who creates digital scrapbooks from her clients’ memories finds herself in grave danger when a mysterious client, a curio shop owner, dies by supposed suicide. “A mystery/thriller/coming-of-age story you won’t be able to put down till the final revelation,” writes Kirkus. Bookshop.

MATRIX, Lauren Groff. September 7. Cast out of Eleanor of Aquitaine’s court, the ungainly and independent “bastardess” Marie de France becomes the prioress of a decrepit abbey, which she will elevate to glory over the course of her life. This clever, funny novel is undoubtedly one of the best books of the year. “Groff has outdone herself with an accomplishment as radiant as Marie’s visions,” writes Publisher’s Weekly in a starred review. Bookshop.

L.A. WEATHER, María Amparo Escandón. September 7. A Mexican-American family in Los Angeles is blindsided when their weather-obsessed patriarch reveals a devastating secret. In a starred review, Publisher’s Weekly calls it “a rollicking and hilarious family drama… This is by far one of the most endearing L.A. novels in recent memory.” Bookshop.

NEVER SAW ME COMING, Vera Kurian. September 7. A trio of psychopathic participants in a study of their disorder embark on a vigilante investigation when someone starts murdering psychopaths in the study. NEVER SAW ME COMING is hilarious, empathetic, startling, and unique; a dazzling debut. “This bar-raising debut exposes the gray areas in an often misunderstood disorder and defies readers to root against psychopathic antiheroes,” writes Booklist in a starred review. Bookshop.

FAULT LINES, Emily Itami. September 7. A privileged Japanese housewife embarks upon an affair with a successful restaurateur in a novel that Publisher’s Weekly calls “a brave, frank portrayal of Japan’s societal expectations of women.” Bookshop.

THE MISSING HOURS, Julia Dahl. September 14. A fast-paced, piercing evaluation of the aftermath of sexual assault, in which the wealthy daughter of a famous music producer and model seeks revenge after she’s raped and filmed at a party. Steph Cha calls it “a swift, heart-pounding novel about money and power and violation.” Dahl, who wrote the phenomenal Edgar Award-nominated Rebekah Roberts mysteries, writes brilliantly about how violence impacts victims and their communities. Bookshop.

HARLEM SHUFFLE, Colson Whitehead. September 14. In 1959 Harlem, an upstanding furniture salesman finds himself roped into a doomed plan to rob a local luxury hotel. “A sizzling heist novel…Don’t be surprised if this one wins Whitehead another major award,” writes Publisher’s Weekly in a starred review. Aggregated critical reviews, Bookshop.

THE LAST GRADUATE, Naomi Novik. September 28. In her sequel to the bizarre and brilliant A Deadly Education, the ill-tempered yet loveable El discovers that the magic school she intends is specifically designed to kill as many students as possible. Bookshop.

CROSSROADS, Jonathan Franzen. October 5. Another Midwestern family saga from the grouchy genius that is Jonathan Franzen. “Franzen’s intensely absorbing novel is amusing, excruciating, and at times unexpectedly uplifting — in a word, exquisite,” writes Kirkus in a starred review. Bookshop.

FIGHT NIGHT, Miriam Toews. October 5. In this heartbreaking, funny, wise novel, a cranky nine-year-old and her charming, irrepressible grandmother discover how heartbreak and struggle can lead to a life of joy. In a starred review, Kirkus calls it “charming [and] open-hearted.” Bookshop.

VESPERTINE, Margaret Rogerson. October 5. In this emotionally resonant, fast-paced fantasy, a young nun who prepares dead bodies so their spirits can safely transcend to the afterlife saves her abbey when it’s attacked by an army of dead spirits, forcing her to realize that the religion she’d grown up under hides shocking secrets. “Amid escalating danger and an unfolding mystery, Rogerson unveils a grim and intriguing world with a rich, plot-relevant history inspired by late-medieval France,” writes Kirkus. Bookshop.

LEMON, Kwon Yeo-Sun, Janet Hong (translator). October 12. In this odd, perfect puzzle of a novella, a rotating cast of voices describe the unsolved murder of a high school girl and its aftermath. “Those ready to sink into a creepy and intense yet understated emotional experience will find that this story hits and sticks,” writes Publisher’s Weekly. Bookshop.

LASERWRITER II, Tamara Shopsin. October 12. In 1990s New York, a teenager gets a job at an Apple repair shop in a short novel that Publisher’s Weekly calls an “unconventional and captivating debut novel” in a starred review. Bookshop.

WITHIN THESE WICKED WALLS, Lauren Blackwood. October 19. In this Ethiopian-inspired retelling of Jane Eyre, a young exorcist finds complicated new employment with the handsome, secretive Magnus Rochester. Kirkus calls it “a promising debut.” Bookshop.

THE PERISHING, Natashia Deón. November 2. A young Black journalist in 1930s Los Angeles sets out to investigate her origins when she begins to suspect she fell out of time for a specific — but as yet unknown — reason. R.O. Kwon calls it “remarkable, strange, and richly inventive.” Bookshop.

CARRY THE DOG, Stephanie Gangi. November 2. The daughter of a famous photographer, who along with her siblings was the subject of a series of nude photographs as a child, must decide if she wants to cash in when the Museum of Modern Art and Hollywood come knocking. “I can’t remember the last time I was as completely bewitched by a fictional character as I was by Bea Seger,” says Richard Russo. Bookshop.

THE FAMILY, Naomi Krupitsky. November 2. Two Italian American girls whose fathers are in the Mafia grow up together in Brooklyn alongside “disappearances,” World War II, and the trials of motherhood. “Krupitsky beautifully captures their day-to-day lives under never-ending tension,” writes Publisher’s Weekly. Bookshop.

WIN ME SOMETHING, Kyle Lucia Wu. November 2. A coming-of-age novel about a young biracial woman who becomes a nanny to a wealthy New York family that Alexandra Kleeman calls “taut, engrossing, and masterfully observed,” while Publisher’s Weekly notes that “fans of Kiley Reid’s Such a Fun Age will love this.” Bookshop.

THE ISLAND OF MISSING TREES, Elif Shafak. November 2. A fig tree witnesses the relationship between a Turkish Cypriot teen and a Greek Cypriot teen blossom into a decades-long love affair amid war, heartbreak, and a growing family. “When the novel’s sure and towering end arrived, nearly all Shafak’s decisions made sense, moving me to tears and humbling me with the confidence of a storyteller for whom every decision is deliberate,” writes The Guardian. Bookshop.

DAVA SHASTRI’S LAST DAY, Kirthana Ramisetti. November 30. A dying billionaire leaks news of her death early so that she can read her obituaries and witness the public’s grief, but her decision instead surfaces two secrets she’d long buried. Longlisted for the Center for Fiction’s First Novel Prize. Bookshop.

LEARWIFE, J.R. Thorpe. December 7. Nearly two decades after she’s exiled to an abbey for an unknown crime, King Lear’s wife seeks answers when she learns her children and husband are dead. Bookshop.

THE BALLERINAS, Rachel Kapelke-Dale. December 7. A 36-year-old ballerina with a dangerous secret returns to Paris from St. Petersburg hoping to revive her career with a new choreographed ballet, but the act will have consequences for herself and the friends she left behind years ago. Bookshop.

THE CAT WHO SAVED BOOKS, Sōsuke Natsukawa, Louise Heal Kawai (Translator). December 7. A lonely high schooler, on the verge of shutting down the bookshop he inherited from his recently deceased grandfather, meets a talking cat appears with an odd request — that the teenager help him liberate unloved books from negligent owners. Bookshop.

BEASTS OF A LITTLE LAND, Juhea Kim. December 7. In early 20th century Korea, a young girl at a courtesan school and a homeless orphan boy commence a lifelong friendship amid a changing country hurtling towards revolution. In a starred review, Kirkus calls it “extraordinary… Gorgeous prose and unforgettable characters combine to make a literary masterpiece.” Bookshop.

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I’m a columnist for OneZero, where I write about the intersection of health & tech. Also seen at Elemental, The Atlantic, VICE, and Vox. Brooklyn, NY.

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Angela Lashbrook

Angela Lashbrook

I’m a columnist for OneZero, where I write about the intersection of health & tech. Also seen at Elemental, The Atlantic, VICE, and Vox. Brooklyn, NY.

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