Here is what some of the Amazon Books editors had to say about the fantastic fictions on offer in September, including highly anticipated releases from Yaa Gyasi and Elena Ferrante, fan favorites Fredrik Backman and Jodi Picoult, the prequel to Ken Follett's phenomenal Kingsbridge series, and a debut that is drawing lots of well deserved attention.
Fifty Words for Rain by Asha Lemmie
Set in post WWII Japan, Fifty Words for Rain follows Noriko Kamiza, the love child of her married, aristocratic mother and an African American soldier. Left with her scandalized grandparents and kept out of sight in an attic, “Nori” succumbs to her sorry lot—which involves beatings and excruciating chemical baths to lighten her skin—until the unexpected arrival of her half-brother. Akira manages to crack Nori’s world open just enough to give her hope, triggering a nail-biting chain of events as her grandparents conspire to close it yet again. Depressing much? Actually no. You will root for Nori, her resilient spirit, and her determination to assert her own identity and live life on her own terms. Asha Lemmie has written a rousing and addictive debut you won’t want to miss. —Erin Kodicek
Transcendent Kingdom by Yaa Gyasi
Yaa Gyasi’s debut Homegoing was a sweeping, multi-generational novel that covered 300 years of Ghanaian and American history. It was moving and powerful, and it announced a rare new talent. The question was, how would she follow up that novel? Transcendent Kingdom is contemporary and grounded in one time period, but it is equally impressive. Gyasi’s talent is very real and very consistent. The story introduces Gifty, a PhD candidate in neuroscience at Stanford. She studies addiction and depression in mice, but addiction and depression exist in her family as well. Her once-promising brother died of a heroin overdose, and her depressed mother believes only prayer can heal her. Gifty is very much a contemporary, forward-looking character—a Ghanaian-American woman who is excelling in science at one of the best schools in the world—but she is also drawn by memories of faith and family in Alabama where she grew up. There are differences between Gyasi’s first two novels, but both are inhabited by characters that are multi-dimensional and real. And both are brilliant. –Chris Schluep
Anxious People by Fredrik Backman
An everyday apartment open house becomes the stage for Backman’s latest novel, when a bank robber bursts in and takes a group of strangers hostage. As the title hints, each member of the group bares his or her own anxieties, not just about the hostage situation, but about their individual lives. Backman is a funny, charming story teller, and Anxious People is a fine showcase for his talents as a writer. There are twists and surprises. There are editorial asides. Beneath it all, there is a deep sense of warmth and empathy. Backman is particularly gifted at creating a community of memorable characters and opening up their mental states to readers. And many readers of Anxious People will in turn reflect on their own anxieties. Ultimately, Backman seems to be telling us that—though it be a messy, ambiguous world we inhabit—we can turn toward one another to find calm and assurance. This is a novel that can, and should, be embraced by anxious people everywhere. –Chris Schluep
The Book of Two Ways by Jodi Picoult
How many of us have looked back on a decision that changed our lives and wondered: what if we had made a different choice? Picoult’s novel The Book of Two Ways digs into this very question and the result is incredibly thought-provoking. Dawn Edelstein was once a young grad student working on a dig in Egypt, in love with a fellow Egyptologist, and getting ever closer to proving a radical new theory about ancient Egyptians’ burial rituals for the road to the afterlife. Then a phone call from home changed everything. Fifteen years later, Dawn is married, with a teenage daughter, and working in Boston as a death doula, helping the dying prepare to leave this world in the best way possible. When Dawn has a near-death experience she is confronted with the question of whether the good life she has could have been a great one. Dawn doesn’t just ponder the question—she returns to Egypt, and the man she once loved, to see if she can find the answer. Picoult incorporates fascinating details about Egyptology into her novel—the title comes from an ancient Egyptian tome of the same name—bringing history and a universal connection into the story. The Book of Two Ways is a provocative exploration into monumental questions: about the life we are living, who we want to be with when we die, and whether it’s possible—and acceptable—to change our mind, return to the trailhead, and go another way. —Seira Wilson
The Evening and the Morning by Ken Follett
The inaugural book in the Kingsbridge series, The Pillars of the Earth, has sold over 27 million copies worldwide. So, Ken Follett knows what he’s doing, but no one would blame him for blinking twice at the prospect of penning the prequel. The Evening and the Morning proves he has nerves of steel. Set at the tail end of the Dark Ages when England was being pinched by the Vikings and the Welsh, it mines the growing pains of a budding legal system, one that wouldn’t only benefit the ruling class and corrupt clergymen. It’s also a star-crossed love story involving a humble boatbuilder and Norman noblewoman, two heroes whose journey provides the emotional center of an otherwise brutal, and yet beautiful, tale. Fans of Follett will certainly relish this very worthy addition to a beloved oeuvre, but it will also attract new admirers like yours truly, who initially balked at the 928 page count and then was disappointed that The Evening and the Morning didn’t stretch on to the afternoon. —Erin Kodicek
The Lying Life of Adults by Elena Ferrante
Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan series sparked readers around the world to immerse themselves in the intricate and intimate world of a neighborhood in Naples—the families, the friends, the lovers, the enemies, and the drama of life, loss, loyalty, and love. Ferrante and her translator, Ann Goldstein, revealed a world of extreme interiority that was richly satisfying and bursting with authenticity. And it’s thrilling to share that her new novel, The Lying Life of Adults, which follows Giovanna through childhood, adolescence, and adulthood, is just as rewarding. As she takes to heart her aunt’s maxim to “look, look carefully," an entirely new world opens up to Giovanna—one that simultaneously frightens and excites even as it changes her whole perception of her parents, the city she loves, and the people around her. Reading Ferrante’s The Lying Life of Adults is to be fully consumed by the contradictions and complexities of the human spirit, and it’s exhilarating indeed. —Al Woodworth
This month is an embarrassment of riches with highly anticipated releases from Yaa Gyasi and Elena Ferrante, fan favorites Fredrik Backman and Jodi Picoult, the prequel to Ken Follett's phenomenal Kingsbridge series, and a debut that is drawing lots of well deserved attention.