Editors Recommend: 7 Buzzworthy Books You Need to Read This Spring

April 26 2021
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Publishing insiders often have the scoop on the best books coming soon, and what better people to recommend riveting new reads than the editors themselves? We had so much fun asking editors about their first impressions of books publishing this spring, and their excitement is palpable. Being one of the first to discover a book gem is such a thrilling experience, and we hope you feel the same sense electric anticipation!

Leonora in the Morning Light
by Michaela Carter

Julianna Haubner, Associate Editor: The first time I read Michaela Carter’s LEONORA IN THE MORNING LIGHT, I knew I wanted to publish it—not because I knew much about the titular Surrealist artist Leonora Carrington or her work, but because after I turned the last page, I went straight to Google. For much of my reading life, fiction has been a gateway drug to fact. The Royal Diaries series introduced me to Anastasia Romanov, I WAS AMELIA EARHART led me to the lost aviator, Hadley Richardson emerged through THE PARIS WIFE, and WHITE HOUSES revealed the hidden life of Lorena Hickok. I loved these books because a good story was made even better by the realization that each brave, brilliant protagonist had actually existed in and shaped the world I live in. Such is the case with Michaela’s beautiful account of the early years of Leonora Carrington’s life, during which she was embroiled in a passionate affair with fellow Surrealist Max Ernst and trying to establish her own artistic identity as the Second World War threatened to tear everything apart. If you’re looking for a sweeping novel about a Great Woman (as opposed to a “Great Man’s Woman,” as Michaela says), this one is for you.

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Leonora in the Morning Light
Michaela Carter

One of O, The Oprah Magazine’s “Most Anticipated Historical Fiction Novels That Will Sweep You Away” and LitHub’s “Most Anticipated Books of 2021.”

For fans of Amy Bloom’s White Houses and Colm Tóibín’s The Master, a page-turning novel about Surrealist artist Leonora Carrington and the art, drama, and romance that defined her coming-of-age during World War II.

1940. A train carrying exiled German prisoners from a labor camp arrives in southern France. Within moments, word spreads that Nazi capture is imminent, and the men flee for the woods, desperate to disappear across the Spanish border. One stays behind, determined to ride the train until he reaches home, to find a woman he refers to simply as “her.”

1937. Leonora Carrington is a twenty-year-old British socialite and painter dreaming of independence when she meets Max Ernst, an older, married artist whose work has captivated Europe. She follows him to Paris, into the vibrant revolutionary world of studios and cafes where rising visionaries of the Surrealist movement like Andre Breton, Pablo Picasso, Lee Miller, Man Ray, and Salvador Dali are challenging conventional approaches to art and life. Inspired by their freedom, Leonora begins to experiment with her own work, translating vivid stories of her youth onto canvas and gaining recognition under her own name. It is a bright and glorious age of enlightenment—until the shadow of war looms over Europe and headlines emerge denouncing Max and his circle as “degenerates,” leading to his arrest and imprisonment. Left along as occupation spreads throughout the countryside, Leonora battles terrifying circumstances to survive, reawakening past demons that threaten to consume her.

As Leonora and Max embark on remarkable journeys together and apart, the full story of their tumultuous and passionate love affair unfolds, spanning time and borders as they seek to reunite and reclaim their creative power in a world shattered by war. When their paths cross with Peggy Guggenheim, an art collector and socialite working to help artists escape to America, nothing will be the same.

Based on true events and historical figures, Leonora in the Morning Light is an unforgettable story of love, art, and destiny that restores a twentieth-century heroine to her rightful place in our collective imagination.

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MENTIONED IN:

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Rhapsody
by Mitchell James Kaplan

Jackie Cantor, Senior Editor: When I first read the opening pages of Mitchell James Kaplan’s novel RHAPSODY—which details the relationship between George Gershwin and Kay Swift, his lover for a full decade—I knew I had to acquire it. Kaplan was inspired to write his novel shortly after the death of his father, who earned his way through college and medical school by playing jazz clarinet, and who had a particular love of Gershwin’s music. The players in this novel—not only the formidable Kay Swift, a woman ahead of her time, and Gershwin himself but also his brother Ira and Swift’s husband, James Warburg, a member of the wealthy Warburg banking family—are all larger-than-life characters who come fully alive in the pages of RHAPSODY. For readers who love period fiction, and yearn to understand the complicated lives of actual historical figures, this novel is likely to be on a lot of must-read lists.

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Rhapsody
Mitchell James Kaplan

“Mitchell James Kaplan [brings] his impressive knowledge of history, composition, and the heart’s whims to bear on this shining rendition of Swift and Gershwin’s star-crossed love.” —Therese Anne Fowler, New York Times bestselling author of Z and A Good Neighborhood

“A lilting, jazzy ballad as catchy as a Gershwin tune…Rhapsody will have you humming, toe-tapping, and singing along with every turn of the page.” —Kate Quinn, New York Times bestselling author of The Alice Network and The Huntress

One evening in 1924, Katharine “Kay” Swift—the restless but loyal society wife of wealthy banker James Warburg and a serious pianist who longs for recognition—attends a concert. The piece: Rhapsody in Blue. The composer: a brilliant, elusive young musical genius named George Gershwin.

Kay is transfixed, helpless to resist the magnetic pull of George’s talent, charm, and swagger. Their ten-year love affair, complicated by her conflicted loyalty to her husband and the twists and turns of her own musical career, ends only with George’s death from a brain tumor at the age of thirty-eight.

Set in Jazz Age New York City, this stunning work of fiction, for fans of The Paris Wife and Loving Frank, explores the timeless bond between two brilliant, strong-willed artists. George Gershwin left behind not just a body of work unmatched in popular musical history, but a woman who loved him with all her heart, knowing all the while that he belonged not to her, but to the world.

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The Last Thing He Told Me
by Laura Dave

Marysue Rucci, VP, Editor in Chief: When Laura Dave moved to Simon & Schuster eight years ago, little did I know that she was working on two novels—one that we published, and one that I never knew existed. Propulsive, twisty, and soulful, THE LAST THING HE TOLD ME was that secret second book—and it stole my heart. Hannah Hall has been married only a year when her husband, Owen, disappears, leaving her alone with his teenage daughter, Bailey. Bailey, who lost her mother at a tender age. Bailey, who can’t stand the sight of Hannah. But they alone believe there’s more to the story than the authorities suggest, and they quickly realize that if there are answers to be found, they will have to search for them—together. But first, they must communicate; and then, they must trust. Laura Dave’s brilliant talent for creating indelible characters and relationships is on full display here, and it’s matched by a scorching plot, the highest stakes, and an ending so satisfying and beautiful, I’d advise having tissues nearby.

Watch Marysue rave about THE LAST THING HE TOLD ME!

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The Last Thing He Told Me
Laura Dave

From internationally bestselling author Laura Dave comes a riveting new suspense novel about a woman’s search for the truth about her husband’s disappearance—no matter the cost.

We all have stories we never tell.

Before Owen Michaels disappears, he manages to smuggle a note to his beloved wife of one year: Protect her. Despite her confusion and fear, Hannah Hall knows exactly to whom the note refers: Owen’s sixteen-year-old daughter, Bailey. Bailey, who lost her mother tragically as a child. Bailey, who wants absolutely nothing to do with her new stepmother.

As Hannah’s increasingly desperate calls to Owen go unanswered; as the FBI arrests Owen’s boss; as a US Marshal and FBI agents arrive at her Sausalito home unannounced, Hannah quickly realizes her husband isn’t who he said he was. And that Bailey just may hold the key to figuring out Owen’s true identity—and why he really disappeared.

Hannah and Bailey set out to discover the truth, together. But as they start putting together the pieces of Owen’s past, they soon realize they are also building a new future. One neither Hannah nor Bailey could have anticipated.

With its breakneck pacing, dazzling plot twists, and unforgettable characters, The Last Thing He Told Me is bestselling author Laura Dave’s finest novel yet, certain to shock you with its final, heartbreaking turn. This propulsive thriller with a heart is for fans of Liane Moriarty and Jojo Moyes.

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Infinite Country
by Patricia Engel

Lauren Wein, Editorial Director: For any reader, and certainly for any editor, it is rare to encounter a writer who can compress a vast world of yearning, love, loss, humor, and suspense—a world that spans two continents and fifteen years—into 208 crystalline pages. But Patricia Engel has done just that with her exquisite new novel, INFINITE COUNTRY.

When we meet Talia, she’s at a correctional facility for adolescent girls in the forested mountains of Colombia, but she urgently needs to get out and get back home to Bogotá, where her father and a plane ticket to the States are waiting for her. Once she comes up with an escape plan (“It was her idea to tie up the nun”—probably one of my all-time favorite opening lines in fiction), the beats of her journey tick like a metronome. But what gives the novel its emotional ballast, its vivid texture, is the backstory, which comes into focus like so many twists of a kaleidoscope. From the urgency and defiance of the opening line to the beauty and ache of the last one, INFINITE COUNTRY is that rare specimen: a page-turner that is also a true work of art, by someone who knows the places and people she’s writing about—Patricia grew up here in the US, the daughter of Colombian immigrants—and can offer up this internal mapping so gorgeously and so deeply.

Head on over to Simon & Schuster's YouTube for CEO Jon Karp's rave review of INFINITE COUNTRY!

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Infinite Country
Patricia Engel

“Remarkable...this is as much an all-American story as it is a global one.” —Booklist (starred review)

For readers of Valeria Luiselli and Edwidge Danticat, an urgent and lyrical novel about a Colombian family fractured by deportation, offering an intimate perspective on an experience that so many have endured—and are enduring right now.

Talia is being held at a correctional facility for adolescent girls in the forested mountains of Colombia after committing an impulsive act of violence that may or may not have been warranted. She urgently needs to get out and get back home to Bogotá, where her father and a plane ticket to the United States are waiting for her. If she misses her flight, she might also miss her chance to finally be reunited with her family in the north.

How this family came to occupy two different countries, two different worlds, comes into focus like twists of a kaleidoscope. We see Talia’s parents, Mauro and Elena, fall in love in a market stall as teenagers against a backdrop of civil war and social unrest. We see them leave Bogotá with their firstborn, Karina, in pursuit of safety and opportunity in the United States on a temporary visa, and we see the births of two more children, Nando and Talia, on American soil. We witness the decisions and indecisions that lead to Mauro’s deportation and the family’s splintering—the costs they’ve all been living with ever since.

Award-winning, internationally acclaimed author Patricia Engel, herself a dual citizen and the daughter of Colombian immigrants, gives voice to all five family members as they navigate the particulars of their respective circumstances. And all the while, the metronome ticks: Will Talia make it to Bogotá in time? And if she does, can she bring herself to trade the solid facts of her father and life in Colombia for the distant vision of her mother and siblings in America?

Rich with Bogotá urban life, steeped in Andean myth, and tense with the daily reality of the undocumented in America, Infinite Country is the story of two countries and one mixed-status family—for whom every triumph is stitched with regret, and every dream pursued bears the weight of a dream deferred.

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Red Island House
by Andrea Lee

Kara Watson, Executive Editor: RED ISLAND HOUSE is beloved National Book Award–nominated author Andrea Lee’s first book in fifteen years, and I found it absolutely stunning. For those of us who haven’t traveled in the past year, opening the pages of this novel will transport you to Madagascar, a lush setting full of magic and myth. Through an enchanting heroine and an unforgettable cast of characters, Lee offers a provocative exploration of love and desire, identity and belonging.

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Red Island House
Andrea Lee

From National Book Award–nominated writer Andrea Lee comes a gorgeously evocative epic about love, clashing cultures, and identity, set in the tropical African island nation of Madagascar.

“People do mysterious things when they think they’ve found paradise,” reflects Shay, the heroine of Red Island House. When Shay, a Black American professor who’s always had an adventurous streak, marries Senna, an Italian businessman, she doesn’t imagine that her life’s greatest adventure will carry her far beyond their home in Milan to an idyllic stretch of beach in Madagascar, where Senna builds a flamboyant vacation villa. Before she knows it, Shay has become the somewhat reluctant mistress of a sprawling household, caught between her privileged American upbringing and her connection to the continent of her ancestors.

At first, she’s content to be an observer of the passionate affairs and fierce rivalries around her, but over twenty tumultuous years of marriage, as she and Senna raise children and establish their own rituals at the house, Shay finds herself drawn ever deeper into a place where a blend of magic, sexual intrigue, and transgression forms a modern-day parable of colonial conquest. Soon the collision of cultures comes right to Shay’s door, forcing her to make a life-altering decision that will change her and Senna’s lives forever.

A captivating, powerful, and profoundly moving novel about marriage and loyalty, identity and freedom, Red Island House showcases an extraordinary literary voice and an extravagantly lush, enchanted world.

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Vera
by Carol Edgarian

Kara Watson, Executive Editor: When I first read the manuscript of Carol Edgarian's VERA, set in San Francisco around the 1906 earthquake, I knew it was a gorgeous piece of literary historical fiction. But I couldn't have predicted how resonant and relevant this thoughtful, lively account of a world recovering from disaster would feel at the time of our publication. The girl at the center of this novel discovers an unexpected strength and resilience, and readers will root for her and her new family of survivors.

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Vera
Carol Edgarian

New York Times bestselling author Carol Edgarian delivers an astonishing feat of imagination, a grand adventure set in 1906 San Francisco—a city leveled by quake and fire—featuring an indomitable heroine coming of age in the aftermath of catastrophe and her quest for love and reinvention.

Meet Vera Johnson, the uncommonly resourceful fifteen-year-old illegitimate daughter of Rose, notorious proprietor of San Francisco’s most legendary bordello and ally to the city’s corrupt politicians. Vera has grown up straddling two worlds—the madam’s alluring sphere, replete with tickets to the opera, surly henchmen, and scant morality, and the violent, debt ridden domestic life of the family paid to raise her.

On the morning of the great quake, Vera’s worlds collide. As the shattered city burns and looters vie with the injured, orphaned, and starving, Vera and her guileless sister, Pie, are cast adrift. Vera disregards societal norms and prejudices and begins to imagine a new kind of life. She collaborates with Tan, her former rival, and forges an unlikely family of survivors. Together they navigate their way beyond disaster.

In Vera, Carol Edgarian creates a cinematic, deeply entertaining world, in which honor and fates are tested; notions of sex, class, and justice are turned upside down; and love is hard-won. A ravishing, heartbreaking, and profound affirmation of youth and tenacity, Vera’s story brings to life legendary characters—tenor Enrico Caruso, indicted mayor Eugene Schmitz and boss Abe Ruef, tabloid celebrity Alma Spreckels—as well as an unforgettable cast that includes Vera’s young lover, Bobby, protector of the city’s tribe of orphans, and three generations of a Chinese family competing and conspiring with Vera.

This richly imagined, timely tale of improbable outcomes and alliances takes hold from the first page, gifting readers with remarkable scenes of devastation, renewal, and joy. Told with unflinching candor and wit, Vera celebrates the audacious fortitude of its young heroine and marks a stunning achievement by an inventive and generous writer.

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MENTIONED IN:

The 10 Most Popular Books of July

By Off the Shelf Staff | July 30, 2021

Author Picks: My 6 Favorite Opening Lines of Literature

By Rémy Ngamije | July 29, 2021

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By Jennifer Proffitt | July 28, 2021

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By Off the Shelf Staff | July 27, 2021

10 Crowd-Pleasing Books That Are Easy to Love

By Chris Gaudio | July 26, 2021

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By Emily Lewis | July 22, 2021

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The Final Revival of Opal & Nev
by Dawnie Walton

Marysue Rucci, VP, Editor in Chief: I love this novel for its astonishing originality, for the page-turning mystery at its heart, for the encyclopedic musical knowledge author Dawnie Walton brings to the page, and of course for the unforgettable and turbo-charged character of Opal Jewel. Walton’s book is written with such energy and authority, you may just find yourself googling the characters, wondering if Opal & Nev, iconic rock duo of the 1970s, were real—and wishing they were.

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The Final Revival of Opal & Nev
Dawnie Walton

A kaleidoscopic fictional oral history of the beloved rock ’n’ roll duo who shot to fame in 1970s New York, and the dark, fraught secret that lies at the peak of their stardom.

Opal is a fiercely independent young woman pushing against the grain in her style and attitude, Afro-punk before that term existed. Coming of age in Detroit, she can’t imagine settling for a 9-to-5 job—despite her unusual looks, Opal believes she can be a star. So when the aspiring British singer/songwriter Neville Charles discovers her at a bar’s amateur night, she takes him up on his offer to make rock music together for the fledgling Rivington Records.

In early seventies New York City, just as she’s finding her niche as part of a flamboyant and funky creative scene, a rival band signed to her label brandishes a Confederate flag at a promotional concert. Opal’s bold protest and the violence that ensues set off a chain of events that will not only change the lives of those she loves, but also be a deadly reminder that repercussions are always harsher for women, especially black women, who dare to speak their truth.

Decades later, as Opal considers a 2016 reunion with Nev, music journalist S. Sunny Shelton seizes the chance to curate an oral history about her idols. Sunny thought she knew most of the stories leading up to the cult duo’s most politicized chapter. But as her interviews dig deeper, a nasty new allegation from an unexpected source threatens to blow up everything.

Provocative and chilling, The Final Revival of Opal & Nev features a backup chorus of unforgettable voices, a heroine the likes of which we’ve not seen in storytelling, and a daring structure, and introduces a bold new voice in contemporary fiction.

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Photo credit: iStock / Sonja Rachbauer

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