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 Incendiaries

By R.O. Kwon

(Riverhead Books, 9780735213890, $26)

"R.O. Kwon's debut knocked me sideways. The Incendiaries is a serious reckoning with the problem of fanaticism and the violence of blind devotion. The story of Will and Phoebe is told with an extraordinarily smart and soulful style. I was amazed at how perfectly Kwon's spare language fit her novel's expansive scope. A stunning portrait of what faith can do and undo, The Incendiaries will delight and disturb. But, most of all, it will impress."
--John Francisconi, Bank Square Books, Mystic, CT

Indies Introduce -- outstanding debuts as selected by independent booksellers

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

photo: Smeeta Mahanti

Booksellers have chosen the debut novel The Incendiaries by R.O. Kwon (Riverhead, July 31) as their number-one pick for the 2018 August Indie Next List.

The book, also a Summer/Fall 2018 selection for the American Booksellers Association's Indies Introduce program, explores the romantic relationship between two college students, Phoebe Lin and Will Kendall, who meet during their first month of school. Phoebe, grieving and guilt-ridden over the death of her mother, is drawn into an extremist religious cult founded by a charismatic man whose mysterious past involves North Korea and Phoebe's Korean American family. Meanwhile, Will, a scholarship student who transfers from Bible college after losing his faith, devotes himself to finding Phoebe, who disappears when the cult bombs an abortion clinic.

Born in South Korea, Kwon has lived most of her life in the U.S. She is a National Endowment for the Arts Literature Fellow and has an MFA from Brooklyn College, and her writing has been published or is forthcoming in The Guardian, Vice, Buzzfeed, Time, Noon, Electric Literature, and Playboy, among other places. Kwon has received awards from Yaddo, the MacDowell Colony, the Bread Loaf Writers' Conference, the Sewanee Writers' Conference, Omi International, the Steinbeck Center, and the Norman Mailer Writers' Colony.

Congratulations on booksellers choosing your debut work as their number one pick for the August Indie Next List!

Thank you! I'm so excited. I always look at those lists and I secretly really wanted this to happen but I also knew how long of a shot it was. I'm so grateful for booksellers and their support. Honestly, with the work that booksellers do, we would be nowhere without them. Hearing from booksellers about the book has been one of the most exciting parts of this whole experience.

Where did you get the idea to write this book?

The idea began with my interest in writing about the loss of faith as well as about the gaining of faith. I really wanted to cover how joyful and wonderful and complicated it can be to gain faith and how terrible it can be to lose it. It came very much from my own upbringing. I grew up deeply religious. My life plan was to become a preacher or a missionary or maybe even a religious recluse, and then at 17 I lost my faith and it was really catastrophic for me.

Did you have to, in that case, go back and revisit some very painful emotional territory to write this book?

Now I'm not religious at all, but I've realized that with this book I was spending so much time with a God in whom I no longer believed: I was listening to religious music, I was reading the Bible a lot, I was reading religious thinkers a lot. I joke--and I guess it's not a joke--that I spent more time with a God in whom I don't believe than I might have if I were still immersed in religion.

In addition to your religious reading, did you also research topics like cults, terrorism, and extremism?

Yes, there were periods where I researched each of them and read everything I could. I went on a nonfiction tear, but then after that I tried to forget everything I'd read because I really wanted this cult to be the novel's own cult and I wanted the terrorists to have their own terrorism. I didn't want it to be directly based on anything that I had read.

There was one part where I put in a lot of research beforehand, which turned out to not be all that necessary, but I'm still glad I did it. It was hearteningly difficult to figure out how the bomb in the novel would go off--just logistically how that would work. It was really, really hard to find reliable information, not just based on my passing knowledge of bombs from fiction and movies, but to have some sense of how these people could build a bomb that would take down a whole building. Eventually, I was able to talk to someone who was a demolitions expert for the Army, and he gave me some general information.

Was examining and trying to identify with Phoebe's grief a major part of creating her character?

Yes, I'd say it was two things: the loss of her mother, for sure, and the ways in which she believed she was to blame have a big effect on who Phoebe is, but also giving up the piano, which she was so passionate about and which was really the organizing principle of her life. She lost what she thought she was going to be. It's very hard stepping away from something so all-consuming as working toward becoming a professional musician. In my research, I learned that at least some terrorist groups recruit on college campuses around the world because college is a time when a lot of people are trying to figure themselves out. A lot of people might feel lost; people are uprooted from their old lives. College does tend to be where people are in the beginning stages of becoming, which is often an unstable place to be.

It seems as if Will sees Phoebe as someone who will fill the God-shaped void in his life. In writing this, were you also exploring the idea of a link between religious and romantic obsession?

Yes, what I remember most about having religion and what I miss the most about it was how much I loved my idea of God and how consuming that love was and how thrilling it was. To love is to love, and in that way I think they can be very similar. I tend to be hesitant about generalizing, given other people's experiences, but for me I think they were.

Have you always wanted to be a writer?

I always loved reading and I knew I wanted to be a writer starting around high school. Then when I went to college, I took writing classes and I absolutely loved them, but I'm an immigrant and my parents are immigrants and it didn't seem clear to me that being a writer was an available path--I just thought that I might need health insurance and things like that. So I worked for a consulting firm in New York and was miserable, in part because the job was terrible, but also because I wasn't writing.

I remember looking out the window on a flight that I was taking for work. The view was beautiful, and I was thinking to myself, if I give up writing I'll have no reason to try to describe it to myself, and that made me feel just so sad. It made me feel like there was no point to the beauty, in a way, if I wasn't trying to describe it in words. So that was a pivotal moment for me: realizing how I much I needed that and how much that gave purpose to my life.

What are some of your favorite local bookstores?

A few of the bookstores I frequent near where I live in the Bay Area are Green Apple and Green Apple Books on the Park, The Booksmith, Book Passage, East Bay Booksellers, Alley Cat Books, Pegasus Books, Walden Pond Books, Copperfield's Books, Point Reyes Books, Folio Books, and Dog Eared Books, among others. I feel incredibly spoiled--the Bay Area has such great bookstores. It's out of this world.

I'm going to be away on tour until mid-November: 35 events in 17 cities. I'm so excited because there are so many bookstores on the list that I've been a fan of and have been following on social media from afar. So it will be delightful. --Liz Button

More Indie Next List Great Reads

Dear Mrs. Bird

By AJ Pearce

(Scribner, 9781501170065, $26)

"What initially seems like a breezy career girl story quickly turns into a gripping novel set in the WWII London blitzkrieg. During the nightly bombing runs, Emmeline volunteers at a nearby fire dispatch center. She dreams of becoming a journalist, but instead lands a day job screening advice-seeking letters for a weekly magazine, Woman's Friend. All too soon, she and her friends become victims of the bombings and must deal with losses and new horrors each night. In Dear Mrs. Bird, AJ Pearce has given us a most memorable story about both the visible and hidden casualties of war. Recommended for all, including book clubs!"
--Nancy Simpson-Brice, Book Vault, Oskaloosa, IA

Meet Me at the Museum

By Anne Youngson

(Flatiron Books, 9781250295163, $23.99)

"This charming novel is told entirely in correspondence between Tina, a woman of a certain age in England who is questioning her place in the world after her best friend's death, and Kristian, a Danish museum curator who is adrift after the death of his wife. As their correspondence evolves and their friendship develops, they realize that the world may have more to offer than they initially thought. Meet Me at the Museum is sweet without being cloying, gentle without insulting the reader's intelligence, and a completely enjoyable read."
--Carol Schneck Varner, Schuler Books, Okemos, MI

Where the Crawdads Sing

By Delia Owens

(G.P. Putnam's Sons, 9780735219090, $26)

"Where the Crawdads Sing is a stunning and beautiful novel that readers will want to simultaneously savor and devour with every luxurious word. You'll hear the gulls cry on the beach through these pages, you'll see the light flickering through the marsh trees, you'll smell the homemade grits sizzling on the stovetop. Your heart will ache for the lonely marsh girl and your wheels will start turning when a body is discovered, but you'll never regret reading this gorgeous novel."
--Amanda Zirn, Bethany Beach Books, Bethany Beach, DE

Cherry

By Nico Walker

(Knopf, 9780525520139, $26.95)

"Cherry is a book for our times, a bit like if Jim Carroll, Denis Johnson, and Tim O'Brien had conspired to break your heart. Walker's writing is bare and essential, direct and unforgiving. Whether or not the reader has any sense of war, PTSD, or addiction, they will have a clearer one by the end of this blistering debut. I can't wait for an encore."
--Mathew Clouser, BookPeople, Austin, TX

The Family Tabor

By Cherise Wolas

(Flatiron Books, 9781250081452, $27.99)

"When you have the most skillfully prepared, decadent dessert placed in front of you, do you plunge in and devour it? Or do you slowly savor it? This is the happy predicament I find myself in when approaching the work of Cherise Wolas. Harry Tabor, a 70-year-old Jewish man living in Palm Springs, is about to receive the 'Man of the Decade' award for a lifetime of service to refugees. His beautiful, interesting, and seemingly perfect family is congregating to celebrate. In the span of less than two days, the story of their lives unravels and revelations occur. This brilliantly executed novel is filled with secrets, repressed memories, and unforgettable characters under a blazing California sun."
--Damita Nocton, The Country Bookshop, Southern Pines, NC

Jell-O Girls: A Family History

By Allie Rowbottom

(Little, Brown and Company, 9780316510615, $28)

"An absolutely fascinating memoir that combines a personal family account with one of America's most recognizable foods. Seamlessly exploring the foundation of her family's wealth and the seemingly cursed lives of three generations of women, Rowbottom has written a page-turning cultural history that hits on both the nostalgia many associate with Jell-O and the societal forces that propelled the brand."
--Kelly O'Sullivan, R.J. Julia Booksellers, Madison, CT

Indies Introduce -- outstanding debuts as selected by independent booksellers

America for Beginners

By Leah Franqui

(William Morrow, 9780062668752, $26.99)

"A poignant story that confronts cultural, racial, and gender stereotypes through three people who end up on a trip across the U.S. The story revolves around a Bengali widow of means whose gay son was disowned; a young Bangladeshi man who has a job as a tour agent; and a young, white American woman who aspires to be an actress. These three are united in the journey initiated by the widow to tour the U.S., but really to find her son and confront his lover. Courage to face the unknown--whether it is a foreign country or questioning a previously held conviction--shapes the story and shows that we all have the potential to grow and change."
--Susan Bush, Island Bound Bookstore, Block Island, RI

Baby Teeth

By Zoje Stage

(St. Martin's Press, 9781250170750, $26.99)

"I am a little afraid to write a review after finishing this book because I have the terrible feeling that I'm being watched, this due to the suspicion that seven-year-old Hannah has jumped from the pages of the book straight into my head -- something she undoubtedly planned the entire time, despite the obvious impossibility of it all. I could not put this book down--simply fascinating."
--Debra Barrett, Where the Sidewalk Ends, Chatham, MA

The Reservoir Tapes

By Jon McGregor

(Catapult, 9781936787913, $22)

"The Reservoir Tapes chronicles the disappearance of a young girl in a small English village, with each chapter written from the perspective of a different resident. It's not an easy writing feat, but Jon McGregor is able to instill a unique narrative clarity for every single character, weaving the young girl's disappearance with the distinctive stories of each villager. More than a missing persons story, The Reservoir Tapes is about the very universal and human struggle to find meaning and the sacrifices we have to make to feel safe, loved, and truly at home. If you haven't read anything by Jon McGregor before, make sure not to miss his latest novel!"
--Morgan McComb, Raven Book Store, Lawrence, KS

The Third Hotel

By Laura van den Berg

(Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 9780374168353, $26)

"Laura van den Berg's The Third Hotel is sublime and unsettling, haunting and sophisticated. The Havana that serves as the backdrop for this story is as surreal, soaked in perspiration, and capitulated to ruin as the sense of loss that drives the novel. This is one not to be missed. A mesmerizing masterwork."
--David Gonzalez, Skylight Books, Los Angeles, CA

Goodbye, Paris

By Anstey Harris

(Touchstone Books, 9781501196508, $24.99)

"When Grace's quiet existence takes an unexpected turn, she is forced to reevaluate her life and reassess who she is and what she is capable of. Goodbye, Paris is a beautifully crafted, bittersweet tale of one woman who feels her world collapse, but with some help from friends picks herself up, dusts herself off, and discovers that she can become her best self. An engrossing and uplifting story that will appeal to readers of Elizabeth Berg, among others."
--Tova Beiser, Brown University Bookstore, Providence, RI

Fruit of the Drunken Tree

By Ingrid Rojas Contreras

(Doubleday, 9780385542722, $26.95)

"Fruit of the Drunken Tree made me cry at the airport. I was impressed by the small kingdom of women Contreras builds, with violence always threatening to creep in, all seen through the eyes of Chula, the youngest daughter. Contreras made her perspective believably cloistered while masterfully writing all the people around Chula in ways that made them feel real. Also masterful was the way Contreras used Petrona's narrative throughout and the restraint she showed in dipping into her thoughts; she always left me wanting more. What Contreras chooses not to write has as big an effect as what she does. This novel is a dynamic exploration of what is known and, sometimes willfully, what is left unknown."
--Lillian Li, Literati Bookstore, Ann Arbor, MI

Poso Wells

By Gabriela Alemán

Dick Cluster (Transl.)

(City Lights Books, 9780872867550, $15.95, trade paper)

"Poso Wells explores the dichotomy between the new and old worlds of Ecuador through an exciting noir about missing women and corrupt politicians. Following a journalist's attempt to unravel the secrets of the infinitely labyrinthine cityscape of Poso Wells, this is an exciting debut translation of a celebrated Ecuadorian author and one that should lead to more translations of her work."
--Ely Watson, A Room of One's Own Bookstore, Madison, WI

Indies Introduce -- outstanding debuts as selected by independent booksellers

The Middleman

By Olen Steinhauer

(Minotaur Books, 9781250036179, $27.99)

"Two modern-day revolutionaries, one violent and one not, band together to get their message out to the masses. Violence explodes, and the movement is destroyed. Or is it? Two FBI agents who are in the middle of everything--one in seclusion in the mountains and the other just barely having escaped an assassination attempt--must unite to find the real answers to this international conspiracy. With a subtle nod to 1992's Sneakers, Olen Steinhauer crafts a fast-moving tale of intrigue that has echoes of today's politics."
--Cary Shapiro, Plot Twist Bookstore, Ankeny, IA

Kill the Farm Boy: The Tales of Pell

By Delilah S. Dawson and Kevin Hearne

(Del Rey Books, 9781524797744, $27)

"Wildly unpredictable, tremendously goofy, and brilliantly inventive, Kill the Farm Boy is a laugh-out-loud fantasy trope extravaganza. A talking goat, a fierce warrior, a bumbling rogue, a wannabe dark wizard, and an enchanted bard set out on a quest full of adventure, mishaps, and lots of cheese. I can't count the number of times I giggled, snorted, and chuckled at a clever quip or ludicrous joke. Fans of Monty Python and Robin Hood: Men in Tights will definitely find Kill the Farm Boy to their liking."
--Sami Thomason, Square Books, Oxford, MS

Chesapeake Requiem: A Year With the Watermen of Vanishing Tangier Island

By Earl Swift

(Dey Street Books, 9780062661395, $28.99)

"I was so impressed with this story of Tangier, an exploration of science, history, religion, and culture driven by emotionally salient commentary from people who live there today. I thought it was particularly interesting to learn that the community is conservative both religiously and politically, but their home is being swept away by rising sea levels thanks to climate change, which is usually a politically charged topic. It was also interesting to have insight into what is likely the United States' first group of 'climate refugees'--terms that are also politically charged. Thoughtfully, lovingly, and intelligently done. An important read!"
--Chloe Groth, Content Bookstore, Northfield, MN

A Noise Downstairs

By Linwood Barclay

(William Morrow, 9780062678256, $26.99)

"If you're looking for a wild ride, look no further, because you're not going to get wilder than A Noise Downstairs. For a book that seems to have a little of everything--unresolved trauma, untrustworthy characters, a mysterious typewriter, and a hefty dose of the paranormal--Barclay tells his story with a smooth ease that will pull you through the pages at a breakneck speed. And, well, no spoilers, but the ending will blow your socks clean off."
--Marya Johnston, Out West Books, Grand Junction, CO

His Favorites

By Kate Walbert

(Scribner, 9781476799391, $22)

"Kate Walbert is one of my favorite writers and she continues to create memorable novels, as evidenced by this new one. There's something about the way she tells her story of a young girl struggling to balance a wild energy with a soft heart who is preyed upon by a charismatic and overbearing teacher that makes the novel both sing and pierce the heart simultaneously. I read this in one evening and was completely overtaken by it. It is excellent."
--Sheryl Cotleur, Copperfield's Books, Sebastopol, CA

Tiffany Blues

By M.J. Rose

(Atria Books, 9781501173592, $26)

"After spending my vacation reading an entire stack of rather intense psychological suspense novels, I wasn't sure what kind of book I was ready for next! Alas, I picked up Tiffany Blues and couldn't stop reading. This book offers the reader so much to think about: it's a mystery, it's a love story, it's historical fiction, and, at the heart of it, it's art. Rose's newest follows Jenny Bell, an artist with secrets. The men in her life are domineering and the women can be that way, too. Jenny's story is as captivating as the backstory of Louis Comfort Tiffany and his art colony. I've read many books by M.J. Rose and this is definitely a favorite."
--Joanne Berg, Mystery to Me, Madison, WI

American Wolf: A True Story of Survival and Obsession in the West

By Nate Blakeslee

(Broadway Books, 9781101902806, $16)

"American Wolf uncovers the true legacy of the American wolf's survival following its reintroduction into the Rockies after nearly becoming extinct in the 1920s. The book focuses on renowned wolf Six-O, who's unlike any female wolf that Yellowstone park ranger Rick McIntyre has ever seen. Many of Six-O's survival challenges are directly linked to the larger issue between those against the reintroduction of wolves and those who see wolves as an integral part of our ecosystem. Nate Blakeslee's American Wolf is an essential read for anyone interested in learning more about an important issue that continues to plague the West."
--Stephanie Coleman, Tattered Cover Book Store, Denver, CO

The Child Finder

By Rene Denfeld

(Harper Perennial, 9780062659064, $15.99)

"In Rene Denfeld's new novel, a woman who searches for abducted or lost children must confront her own memories of being abducted as a young girl. While searching for a girl recently kidnapped in her hometown, she is haunted by her past and the lies that she used to weave her present. Meanwhile, the abducted girl must survive years of terror and heartbreak, all while constructing a magical mythology to shield herself from the atrocities of her captor. Readers who enjoyed Room will devour this literary thriller."
--William Carl, Wellesley Books, Wellesley, MA

Fierce Kingdom

By Gin Phillips

(Penguin Books, 9780735224520, $16)

"Joan and her four-year-old son, Lincoln, are just about to conclude a day at the zoo when Joan notices an unnatural stillness and a lack of other people. She hears sounds--loud popping noises--and cannot quite determine what they might be. Then she notices the bodies. She shushes Lincoln and hurries away, back into the zoo she knows so well, intent on finding a hiding spot until help arrives. This is an absolutely gripping exploration of what it is like to be hunted, to be trapped and awaiting rescue but still able to connect, with cell phone glimpses, to that other life that now seems so tenuous in the midst of real danger."
--Deon Stonehouse, Sunriver Books & Music, Sunriver, OR

Forest Dark

By Nicole Krauss

(Harper Perennial, 9780062431004, $16.99)

"No surprise: Forest Dark was worth the wait. Tapping into intellectual and deeply personal moments, the two main characters are ones to identify with even as the circumstances they find themselves in are fantastic. Krauss' reflections about marriage are poignant, and there is a lot to contemplate. At first, I enjoyed having moments when I wasn't reading to think, but toward the end I found myself not being able to put it down."
--Kira Wizner, Merritt Bookstore, Millbrook, NY

Guidebook to Relative Strangers: Journeys Into Race, Motherhood, and History

By Camille T. Dungy

(W.W. Norton & Company, 9780393356083, $15.95)

"I approached Dungy's book with the same feelings I had when starting Maggie Nelson's Argonauts. I had very little in common with the writers of these two books or the experiences related in them, yet with each I found myself drawn in by the acute intelligence of the writing and pulled along by the sheer compulsion of a story well told. Not only is Dungy a more than capable storyteller, she writes like the poet she is, and, like all poets, she leads us across a boundary, expanding our worlds."
--Stephen Sparks, Green Apple Books on the Park, San Francisco, CA

The Hidden Light of Northern Fires

By Daren Wang

(Picador, 9781250166029, $16)

"In The Hidden Light of Northern Fires, a town on the Underground Railroad secedes from the Union after it becomes fractured by the politics of the American Civil War. As a huge geek on the subject, I'm often skeptical of historical fiction relating to it. While Wang's tale benefits from being based on truth, that is a moot point. His well-developed, very real characters and masterful writing are all that's needed for an incredible debut. Though a novel of the home front, it is nonetheless a war novel focusing on how conflict brings out the best and worst in people. It is one of the best works of historical fiction on the Civil War that I've ever read, and perhaps even that exists."
--Carl Kranz, The Fountain Bookstore, Richmond, VA

Improvement

By Joan Silber

(Counterpoint, 9781640091139, $16.95)

"Improvement is a wide-ranging novel told in stories that connect disparate people through time and place to one tragic accident. Kiki, a free-spirited young adult of the 1970s turned wise woman, is the novel's lodestar. Silber masterfully pulls together the threads of lives in places as remote as rural Turkey and as common and close as New York City like a finely made Persian rug."
--Arsen Kashkashian, Boulder Book Store, Boulder, CO

Ranger Games: A Story of Soldiers, Family and an Inexplicable Crime

By Ben Blum

(Anchor, 9780804169691, $16.95)

"Ranger Games is a fascinating examination of family, duty, psychology, and crime. Ben Blum's cousin Alex wanted one thing in life, to be a U.S. Army Ranger, but after completing the program and right before his first deployment, he seemingly inexplicably wound up driving the getaway car for an armed bank robbery with three other Rangers. Blum digs deep into his cousin's story and the culture of the Rangers to find out why and how, and the result is a riveting, thought-provoking book."
--Cody Morrison, Square Books, Oxford, MS

The Readymade Thief

By Augustus Rose

(Penguin Books, 9780735221840, $17)

"Much to the chagrin of my household, once I started this book I refused to put it down. I let my children fend for themselves while I walked along the Philly streets with Lee and Tomi, solving the age-old puzzle in the midst of which 17-year-old Lee has found herself. She has many of the same struggles and life choices to make as high school seniors across the country, but with a mysterious conspiracy thrown in. This is a great read for vacation, for a long plane ride, or for an escape while in the comfort of your own home."
--Jessica Fowle, Bookbug, Kalamazoo, MI

Indies Introduce -- outstanding debuts as selected by independent booksellers

Sunburn

By Laura Lippman

(William Morrow Paperbacks, 9780062389985, $16.99)

"Sunburn pays homage to the novels of James M. Cain, offering up crooked cops, handsome drifters, and, of course, a femme fatale. Watch the secrets unravel as a runaway wife with an ugly past takes up in a small town. Lovers of noir will delight in the familiar tropes. We know she's bad, but how bad is she? Will an affair between two untrustworthy people turn into true love? Sunburn is the perfect book to take on that spring break to a sunny locale. Pour the lemonade and lay out your beach towel."
--Sarah Sorensen, Bookbug, Kalamazoo, MI

The Talented Ribkins

By Ladee Hubbard

(Melville House, 9781612197289, $16.99)

"In this debut novel, Ladee Hubbard has created an African-American family, outrageously gifted in very strange ways, headed by a 72-year-old gentleman who is searching all over the state of Florida for buried money. His backstory involves The Justice Committee, a group involved in civil rights, plus a life of crime and $100,000 owed to a man searching for him. Now he discovers he has a 13-year-old niece who wants to accompany him on his travels and use her talent to help him. I really enjoyed this story about family, fun, Florida, and life, told so well with humor and care."
--Kathleen Dixon, Fair Isle Books, Washington Island, WI

Touch

By Courtney Maum

(G.P. Putnam's Sons, 9780735212145, $16)

"Sloane is a strong, independent businesswoman working as a trend forecaster. While at an innovative company, Sloane finds that the very technology that is supposed to connect people to one another is actually tearing them apart. The entire story is both hilarious and slightly terrifying as it tells of a future where we outsource intimacy to strangers and lead very isolated lives. Touch is a warning about what can happen if we become too attached to the technology in our lives and a great reminder to put the phone down and connect with others in person."
--Kristen Beverly, Half Price Books, Dallas, TX