The best new books this month chosen by us and other
independent booksellers across the country.

This Month's #1 Indie Next List Pick...

The Immortalists

By Chloe Benjamin

(G.P. Putnam's Sons 9780735213180, $26)

"In 1969, four siblings visit a fortune teller, who tells each child the date of their death. We follow the Gold siblings both separately and together over the next four decades and see how these revelations affect their choices, their behavior, and their relationships with one another. Apart from raising the obvious question (would you want to know the date of your death?), Benjamin brilliantly explores how family members can be both close to and distant from one another, and ponders the point at which our actions cease to matter and fate steps in. I LOVED The Immortalists, and if there's any justice in bookselling, this book will find the massive audience it so deserves."
--Erika VanDam, RoscoeBooks, Chicago, IL

This Month's #1 Indie Next List Pick Author Interview

Booksellers across the country have chosen The Immortalists by Chloe Benjamin (G.P. Putnam's Sons, January 9, 2018), as their number-one pick for the January Indie Next List.

The novel begins in 1969, when four Jewish siblings--Varya, Daniel, Klara, and Simon--visit a fortune teller, who reveals to each child the day they will die. As the book follows the Gold siblings over the next 40 years, the reader sees how what they learned that day impacts their lives and relationships.

Benjamin's first novel is The Anatomy of Dreams (Atria Books), which received the Edna Ferber Fiction Book Award and was longlisted for the 2014 Center for Fiction First Novel Prize. Benjamin, who lives with her husband in Madison, Wisconsin, received a bachelor of arts degree from Vassar College and an MFA in fiction from the University of Wisconsin.

We spoke with Benjamin about the copious amount of research she did for the book, her favorite indies, and whether she would personally want to know the date of her own death.

How did you come up with the idea for the story?

I think it just came out of my own anxieties and neuroses. I've always struggled with uncertainty and the fact that we don't know how long we have in the world, which is kind of the greatest uncertainty there is. And, of course, we also don't know what happens afterwards. So I think it came about organically. I don't think I was intentionally trying to come up with a concept into which I could channel that, but it was always simmering in the background. I knew I wanted these four children to go see a fortune teller and that was the seed, but over time I got to know each of the siblings individually, and that was very much its own slower, longer process.

How would you personally answer the book's central question: Would you, given the choice, want to know the date of your own death?

I've gotten that question a lot since I've been doing interviews and I always say that I would want to know, but only if the news was good. Otherwise I wouldn't--would you? It's funny--I've only encountered two people who have said they would want to know, and that's after doing publicity since May. So those people are few and far between, but I'm always very curious about them.

This book takes on the age-old rivalry between science and magic, fate and free will, life on earth and life after death. In writing The Immortalists, did you draw on a diversity of literature and philosophical texts related to these questions?

Yes, I did a lot of overarching research about the ways people throughout different cultures and time periods have thought about death and dying and how best to live in the face of that. I also specifically looked at it through the lens of religion. I did dabble in some philosophy, but ultimately there was just so much out there about death, it almost got overwhelming, so I focused on religion and Judaism. One thing that really interested me about Judaism as opposed to Christianity is that there is very little emphasis on death and what happens afterward. It really is about what you do here on this earth, and so the more I realized that, the more I thought about how that gives this family's life particular urgency, because they wouldn't have grown up with that escape hatch of, "Well, there's still Heaven."

Aside from that, I also listened to interviews with coroners and with people who worked in morgues; I read Atul Gawande, who is such a beautiful writer on the subject of the body and mortality. There's just so much that you can soak in about that subject.

Each sibling ends up pursuing a very different path in life: Simon is a ballet dancer in San Francisco during the AIDS crisis; Klara becomes a magician whose signature trick is a dangerous stunt called the "Jaws of Life"; Daniel works as a military doctor; and Varya becomes a scientist doing longevity research on primates. What was your experience of researching for each of these characters?

Pretty much every section of the book required a ton of specialized individual research into the time and place, but also into the profession of that sibling. For example, Klara's section was really fun to do. I had no background in the world of magic and I just became totally fascinated with it. There's a book called Hiding the Elephant by Jim Steinmeyer (Da Capo Press) that traces the history of magic over the past two centuries. It also explains how particularly famous tricks were done, like the Proteus Cabinet or The Vanishing Birdcage, which Klara later recreates.

I also watched a lot of documentaries and magical performances, and I went down the rabbit hole on YouTube and online message boards to figure out how Klara would have done certain tricks and which tricks are really impressive. And Klara's grandmother, Klara senior, was inspired by a real person named Tiny Kline, a Hungarian immigrant and circus performer who originated the "Jaws of Life" (she was also the first Tinkerbell at Disneyland).

It's really important for me that any kind of writing I do about things that I haven't experienced I do with integrity, and I think research is the most important component of that. I find research really inspiring, but it's also a really big responsibility because I always want to do justice to what I'm researching.

What's been the role of indie bookstores in your life?

I always say that indie bookstores made me a reader and then a writer. I have been a huge, huge fan of indies as a consumer since I was young enough to read. I grew up in San Francisco in the Richmond District, so Green Apple Books was a place that we went all the time, as well as Books Inc. and the bookstore in the Haight, The Booksmith--really, there are so many amazing indies in San Francisco. No matter what neighborhood you're in, there's an incredible indie and I've probably shopped there.

I think that, like with being a writer, you don't necessarily go into bookselling because you want to get rich on it, and so it really is such a labor of love and passion. I love just being able to enter, browse the aisles, and find something that I never thought I would. And I always had the dream of seeing a book of mine in one of those places, so to have this particular honor and to know that it comes from indie booksellers is enormous. --Liz Button

More Indie Next List Great Reads

The Woman in the Window

By A.J. Finn

(William Morrow 9780062678416, $26.99)

"The Woman in the Window is being touted as one of the hottest releases of early 2018, and with excellent reason. A modern take on Hitchcock's Rear Window, with many nods to classic noir film, A.J. Finn's debut novel is told through the eyes of a narrator trapped inside her beautiful house by a severe case of agoraphobia and separated from her estranged husband and young daughter. She copes with her condition by spying on her neighbors and living vicariously through their drama, until the night she witnesses what appears to be a murder and finds herself swept up in its wake. Once this story gets rolling, it will bowl you over. Fans of psychological thrillers should take note of this banger of a tale!"
--Whitney Spotts, Schuler Books & Music, Grand Rapids, MI

The Wife Between Us

By Greer Hendricks and Sarah Pekkanen

(St. Martin's Press 9781250130921, $26.99)

"Oh. My. God! For readers looking for a book that has an absorbing and unique plot line, intriguing but flawed characters, and commands attention until the end of the story, The Wife Between Us is perfect! Vanessa is suffering from a recent divorce when she learns that her ex will soon marry again. She simply cannot allow this to happen. Why? This amazing story gallops along at breakneck speed and its ending will smack you between the eyes and take your breath away. These authors are destined to become trailblazers in the genre of psychological suspense books."
--Nancy Simpson-Brice, Book Vault, Oskaloosa, IA

Grist Mill Road

By Christopher J. Yates

(Picador 9781250150288, $26)

"I love finding a new author who writes something so great that I'm compelled to find more of their work. Christopher Yates is my new guy. At the start of Grist Mill Road, the reader witnesses an event that changes the lives of three people, Hannah, Matthew, and Patrick, who each have their moment to narrate their side of the story. Saying there is great character depth here doesn't do Yates justice; they become living, breathing human beings. This gripping story keeps your heart racing at just the right pace and the story concludes right where it should. Be prepared to put yourself in another person's shoes -- well, make that three pairs of shoes."
--Nichole Cousins, White Birch Books, North Conway, NH

Neon in Daylight

By Hermione Hoby

(Catapult 9781936787753, $16.95; trade paper)

"There are plenty of novels about hedonistic young people, washed-up alcoholic writers, or aimless academics struggling to find themselves. Few of them are written with the intelligence, freshness, honesty, style, observational eye, and command of language on display in Hermione Hoby's impressive debut, Neon in Daylight. As the lives of the three main characters (and a cat named Joni Mitchell) converge against the backdrop of a lonely, doomed, and dying downtown New York City, you'll find yourself missing your bus stop because you cannot put down this book."
--Nadine Vassallo, Book Soup, West Hollywood, CA

The Job of the Wasp

By Colin Winnette

(Soft Skull Press 9781593766801, $16.95; trade paper)

"What is it that stories about adolescent boys and orphanages so often seem abnormally rife with tragedy, allure, and horror? Such is the setting for Colin Winnette's fantastic new novel, which follows a boy recently admitted to such an institution, only to uncover a murder mystery that will cause him to question his own existence and purpose. Winnette successfully balances an atmosphere of the fantastic alongside the gritty reality of 30-odd orphaned boys and their headmaster, creating a world where answers are nearly impossible to manufacture and wild theories percolate. Lord of the Flies meets Guillermo del Toro's The Devil's Backbone in this incredibly haunting book, which might leave you wondering about the possibility of the paranormal within your own life. You've been warned; now pick it up."
--John Gibbs, Green Apple Books on the Park, San Francisco, CA

Fire Sermon

By Jamie Quatro

(Grove Press 9780802127044, $24)

"I'm presently gobsmacked by and head-over-heels in love with Jamie Quatro's Fire Sermon, a gorgeous, searing first novel that takes on themes of grace, God, desire, truth, and family. Told in an array of tenses and forms that range from poetry to e-mail (and everything in between), Fire Sermon takes great risks stylistically, as well as topically, leaving nothing stable in its wake. It is unsparing and uncompromising, singular, innervating, and strong, and it is a deeply, wonderfully stirring work of art."
--Will Walton, Avid Bookshop, Athens, GA

The Afterlives

By Thomas Pierce

(Riverhead Books 9781594632532, $27)

"In The Afterlives, Thomas Pierce follows a man's quest for what comes after death. The story skillfully intersects religion, technology, philosophy, humor, love, and fear, but love and fear are what really got to me. The novel celebrates the love we're born into with our family and the love we find, but behind that is the fear of its loss. The novel doesn't flinch. Pierce's characters are so natural and so funny that at times it felt like I was reading Douglas Coupland or Elan Mastai. The Afterlives didn't feel bleak or hopeless or preachy--it was sincere and hopeful."
--Myles Mickle, Village Square Booksellers, Bellows Falls, VT

Escape Artist: Memoir of A Visionary Artist on Death Row

By William A. Noguera

(Seven Stories Press 9781609807979, $28.95)

"This memoir is rich with sincere storytelling. It is inspiring to know that even in a harsh and unforgiving place like prison, it is possible for someone to produce such a creative expression. Noguera's art goes beyond the physical bars to express themes that represent his experiences and ideas. Readers will find that Noguera is not only an award-winning visual artist, but also a model of compassion and generosity."
--Alyson Turner, Source Booksellers, Detroit, MI

The Chalk Man

By C.J. Tudor

(Crown 9781524760984, $27)

"The Chalk Man by C.J. Tudor is an unusually gripping mystery reminiscent of Arthur Conan Doyle's story 'The Adventure of the Dancing Men.' It is amazingly well-written, and the pace does not let up, from the shocking beginning all the way through to the unsettling ending. This suspenseful page-turner is definitely a cut above and will keep you riveted. Highly recommended!"
--Margo Conklin, Brown University Bookstore, Providence, RI

Beneath the Sugar Sky

By Seanan McGuire

(Tor.com 9780765393586, $17.99)

"McGuire's Wayward Children series is a lush faerie-tale world in the vein of Hans Christian Andersen and the Brothers Grimm. It is dark and lovely, vivid and painful, weird and subtle. Beneath the Sugar Sky reintroduces many characters we met in Every Heart a Doorway and takes us to new worlds in an  exploration of friendship, family, and what is not possible when everything is possible. Rini exemplifies the lovely mix of what it means to be in that strange place between childhood belief and adult cynicism."
--Jessica Cox, Plot Twist Bookstore, Ankeny, IA

This Could Hurt

By Jillian Medoff

(Harper 9780062660763, $26.99)

"Who knew that a novel about a faltering company's HR department could be so gripping and compassionate? Anyone who has worked in a company with other people will appreciate the resentments, friendships, and competitions that develop in a long-time team. Medoff does a great job of making the reader care about each and every character."
--Susan Taylor, Book House of Stuyvesant Plaza, Albany NY

Green

By Sam Graham-Felsen

(Random House 9780399591143, $27)

"Please read Green. You will fall in love with Graham-Felsen's David from his first utterances on page one of this original, thought-provoking twist on an important subject--race relations. Thank God David has such a great voice and there are so many humorous moments, or else I may have felt extremely sad about his experiences of being such an outsider. A truly memorable moment-in-time novel and a great read."
--Sue Roegge, Chapter2Books, Hudson, WI

The Widows of Malabar Hill

By Sujata Massey

(Soho Crime 9781616957780, $26.95)

"This is a harrowing story--and the mystery is great, too! Life for a single woman in Bombay in 1916 is fraught. But Perveen Mistry has the support of her lawyer father and is educated as a lawyer, as very few women are in this time and place. She becomes essential when the law firm needs to interview three widows living in full purdah, secluded from the world in general and men in particular. When their house agent is murdered, the male police are stymied by the women's inaccessibility. The backstory is disturbing in how the law favored even abusive men over women. A fascinating start to a new series."
--Lisa Wright, Oblong Books and Music, Millerton, NY

Beneath the Mountain

By Luca D'Andrea

(Harper Paperbacks 9780062680174, $16.99; trade paper)

"This thriller starts off with a shock and then turns in an entirely different direction that will leave you torn between wishing the troubled filmmaker Salinger will drop his obsessive pursuit of a decades-old mystery and praying he doesn't so you can see how the mystery unravels. D'Andrea's characters and their relationships draw you into the story of how Salinger's relentless pursuits affect those around him. This is a cleverly crafted thriller with twists and turns that will keep you guessing until the end."
--Brent Bunnell, Fiction Addiction, Greenville, SC

The Perfect Nanny

By Leila Slimani

(Penguin Books 9780143132172, $16; trade paper)

"With The Perfect Nanny, Moroccan author Leila Slimani channels her inner Ruth Rendell and offers a truly disturbing page-turner. The first chapter reveals that a nanny has killed her charges, a boy and a girl, then killed herself. The rest of the book details the way the nanny's mind twists and turns as she becomes more and more damaged, leading up to the murder-suicide. It's a grim tale filled with commentary on motherhood, family power struggles, and economic disparity. Although it sounds depressing, The Perfect Nanny is truly original, dark, and suspenseful as hell!"
--William Carl, Wellesley Books, Wellesley, MA

Two Girls Down

By Louisa Luna

(Doubleday 9780385542494, $25.95)

"At last, a book with girl in the title that is about actual girls. Kylie and Bailey, ages 8 and 10, disappear from a strip mall. Their mother is frantic and the police are making no progress. When the family hires Alice Vega, an out-of-state bounty hunter, to find the girls, she teams up with Max Caplan, a former cop turned private investigator, and they combine their skills to try to find the missing girls before it is too late. A suspenseful and all-too-real scenario that will drive readers to finish the story before doing anything else."
--Sharon K. Nagel, Boswell Book Company, Milwaukee, WI

The Wolves of Winter

By Tyrell Johnson

(Scribner 9781501155673, $26)

"When all the terrible things imaginable--and unimaginable--happen, all that is left is your family, whether blood or those you bond with in the aftermath of devastation. Teenager Lynn McBride remembers the world before--before nuclear war, before the flu, and even before her family moved to the Canadian Yukon -- and those memories tease and haunt her while giving us clues to her history. While her family struggles daily for food and warmth, they are together and they watch out for each other, never encountering strangers--until Jax shows up..."
--Eileen McGervey, One More Page Books, Arlington, VA

The Stowaway: A Young Man's Extraordinary Adventure to Antarctica

By Laurie Gwen Shapiro

(Simon & Schuster 9781476753867, $26)

"The story of Billy Gawronski, the young man who repeatedly tried to join Richard Byrd's Antarctic expedition, reads like an adventure novel. The reality of his life is beyond the realm of the wildest imagination. Shapiro brings this resilient and resourceful man to life against the changing world of the Roaring Twenties, and his story perfectly reflects a world undergoing vast change. Combining narrative, science, and portraits of outsized personalities, Shapiro treats the reader to a story that is not only relevant but a total joy."
--Bill Cusumano, Square Books, Oxford, MS

Heart Spring Mountain

By Robin MacArthur

(Ecco 9780062444424, $25.99)

"Following her splendid 2016 short story collection, Half Wild (an Indies Introduce selection), Robin MacArthur's first novel revisits rural Vermont and uses a mixture of lyrical and earthy prose to explore three generations of a family riddled by secrets and burdens of the past. This area of the country, previously overlooked by literature, proves to be rich ground that, while isolated, cannot avoid intrusions from the outside world in the form of man-made and natural disasters. The focus is on an extended family that can trace its roots back to Puritan ancestors but struggles against poverty, the unforgiving environment, and the lure of drugs. Heart Spring Mountain will introduce you to a host of memorable characters engaged in human folly and saved by redemptive love."
--Joe Strebel, Anderson's Bookshop, Naperville, IL

Celine

By Peter Heller

(Vintage 9781101973486, $16)

"There should be an excused absence from life when a new Peter Heller novel is released. Heller's strong narrative voice and complex plotting have always stood out to me and Celine is another example of this. Loosely based on Heller's mother, Celine is a hard-nosed--if a bit worn down--private investigator living in post-9/11 Brooklyn. She has a stellar reputation, but when she is sent on a case to locate a young woman's missing father, it's clear that her age (and lifestyle) has caught up with her. You will fall in love with Celine--I would give just about anything to follow her on more adventures."
--Katelyn Phillips, WORD, Jersey City, NJ

The Dry

By Jane Harper

(Flatiron Books 9781250105622, $15.99)

"Twenty years ago Federal Agent Aaron Falk left his childhood home in the farming community of Kiiewarra under a cloud of suspicion. The only thing that saved him from a murder charge was the alibi provided by his best friend, Luke. Now Aaron is going home to attend Luke's funeral. Luke murdered his wife and son, and then took his own life, sparing only his baby daughter. But Luke's parents and Sergeant Greg Raco, question the official narrative. As Aaron delves into the secrets hidden in the drought-suffering community, tempers flare. This gritty mystery is well-written with clever plot twists and strong characters."
--Deon Stonehouse, Sunriver Books & Music, Sunriver, OR

The Girl Before

By JP Delaney

(Ballantine Books 9780425285060, $16)

"Immediate guarantee: You will NOT be able to put this book down. The Girl Before unfolds through the perspectives of two women: Emma (then) and Jane (now). It chronicles their lives in the stunningly and scarily minimalist home One Folgate Street and its aloof yet magnetic owner. Delaney spins a masterful story that epitomizes the notion that you never really know everything about anyone. Fans of Gone Girl and The Girl on the Train will enjoy this book."
--Destinee Hodge, East City Bookshop, Washington, DC

The Hearts of Men

By Nickolas Butler

(Ecco 9780062469694, $16.99)

"Two of Butler's strengths are his rich Wisconsin settings and his ability to probe the depths of men's friendships. His new novel, an epic about three generations at a Boy Scout camp, takes that to the next level. It starts with the bullied Nelson, who finds purpose in the Scouts and winds up running the camp, and Jonathan, the older boy who becomes both his manipulator and protector. Their complicated friendship unfolds through Jonathan's son and grandson, who both spend summers at Chippewa, but what's a Scout to do when the Scout Oath doesn't hold up in reality? In Butler's hands, the answers unfold, all in the context of a heck of a good story."
--Daniel Goldin, Boswell Book Company, Milwaukee, WI

The Lonely Hearts Hotel

By Heather O'Neill

(Riverhead Books 9780735213746, $17)

"If there is Canadian magical realism, this is it! The Lonely Hearts Hotel is the charming story of Rose and Pierrot, two children raised in a Montreal orphanage in the early 20th century. O'Neill traces their romance from their childhood of entertaining rich people in their homes to their less salubrious post-orphanage careers. When Rose and Pierrot meet again as adults, magic happens--but can this magic survive the rigors of the real world? Fantastic and fabulous in the truest sense of both words."
--Susan Taylor, Book House of Stuyvesant Plaza, Albany, NY

Midnight at the Bright Ideas Bookstore

By Matthew Sullivan

(Scribner 9781501116858, $17)

"Still reeling from witnessing a tragic event many years ago, Lydia is thrown headfirst into yet another tragedy after one of her favorite bookshop patrons commits suicide in the store and mysteriously leaves all his possessions to her. As Lydia follows the thread that he leaves her, she finds out more about him, her town, and even her own past. Midnight at the Bright Ideas Bookstore is a great book that keeps you guessing. Highly recommended for fans of a good mystery."
--Will Bason, BookPeople, Austin, TX

The Midnight Cool

By Lydia Peelle

(Harper Perennial 9780062475473, $15.99)

"The journey of middle-aged swindler Billy and his young, idealistic partner Charles is a journey into the history and heart of the oft-maligned American dream. As the nation considers whether it will join World War I, Billy and Charles must weigh the merits of freedom against patriotic obligation, their life on the road against the temptation of putting down roots, and their diverging desires against the love and loyalty they bear for each other. As Billy says, 'I reckon that's the beauty and the shame of it, all at once.' Peelle's exploration of this beauty and shame is exquisitely wrought, richly populated, and ultimately devastating. I finished the novel in tears."
--Mairead Small Staid, Literati Bookstore, Ann Arbor, MI

Mississippi Blood: The Natchez Burning Trilogy

By Greg Iles

(William Morrow 9780062311184, $9.99)

"Mississippi Blood is the culmination of the Natchez Trilogy, which follows characters who are trying to get to the bottom of brutal Civil Rights-era crimes. Penn Cage watches as the world around him calls into question everything he thinks he knows, including the moral fortitude of his father. Rippling with parallels to our everyday America, Mississippi Blood will, hopefully, push us all to recognize the truths about ourselves and our country."
--Veronica Brooks-Sigler, Octavia Books, New Orleans, LA

The Most Dangerous Place on Earth

By Lindsey Lee Johnson

(Random House Trade Paperbacks 9780812987126, $17)

"If only we had had the wisdom back in high school, to see behind the facades of the kids who intimidated us, fascinated us, irritated us, and disgusted us--and to understand how the ways we collided with each other and with life would play out for us. Johnson's literary superpower is to plunge us into such a school and make us feel it all again as if we are there--only this time with all of the wisdom we lacked previously."
--Nina Barrett, Bookends & Beginnings, Evanston, IL

The Old Man

By Thomas Perry

(Mysterious Press 9780802127532, $16)

"Dan Chase is a wealthy old man living a quiet life after the death of his wife and his daughter's move to another part of the country. But wait--he is being followed, and then his house is broken into and he has to kill the intruder. Next, the old man turns to his 'go' bag as it seems he has many identities, stashes of currency, and a plan to disappear. There are secrets to be discovered all throughout this tale and Perry keeps readers wondering what will come next. This is definitely one of Perry's best!"
--Barbara Kelly, Kelly's Books to Go, South Portland, ME

Setting Free the Kites

By Alex George

(G.P. Putnam's Sons 9780399576485, $16)

"This heartfelt and compelling novel from A Good American author Alex George is a story of friendship, loss, and how we deal with grief, a story about how a single friendship can change us forever. Yet again, George has developed beautiful, layered characters and you will quickly fall in love with Nathan, Robert, and Liam in blustery seaside Maine in the 1970s. You will hear the excitement each hot, blistering summer of children and families visiting the amusement park owned by Robert's family. You will laugh, you will cry, and you will grieve, but you will not be disappointed."
--Amanda Zirn, Bethany Beach Books, Bethany Beach, DE

The Women in the Castle

By Jessica Shattuck

(William Morrow Paperbacks 9780062563675, $16.99)

"Three war widows and their children help each other survive at the end of World War II in this engaging novel filled with rich period details. Their husbands died as members of the resistance, but aside from that common thread, Marianne, Benita, and Ania bring very different backgrounds to their makeshift home in the castle's kitchen. They also face repercussions from past choices and current secrets. Jessica Shattuck brings us into their world and shows us that the rules for love and loyalty are different in wartime."
--Dawn Rennert, The Concord Bookshop, Concord, MA