Gabino Iglesias

Betsy Bonner's The Book of Atlantis Black: The Search for a Sister Gone Missing is a haunting, heartbreaking, frustrating read.

A mixture of biography and true crime, this narrative explores the death of Bonner's sister under mysterious circumstances in a hotel in Mexico — and offers more plot twists, shocking revelations and shady characters than most contemporary thrillers.

Exquisite. It took a decade of writing book reviews to get here, but here we are — I've used "exquisite." The stories in Laura van den Berg's I Hold a Wolf by the Ears are exquisite. They're tiny, uncanny morsels about broken women and mysterious things that possess a literary umami that falls somewhere between horror, literary fiction, mystery, drama, and social critique. They deal with death and loss, with isolation and falling in love with the wrong person.

Unspeakable Acts, edited by author, editor and critic Sarah Weinman, works as both a superb collection of true crime writing and a text that looks at the nuances of our collective obsession with horrific murders, con men and serial killers in a historical and cultural context.

Those looking for titillating, gruesome chronicles of human depravity will find much to like here — and those who want great, smart writing and outstanding research that unveils things we would rather not look at under a microscope will be equally satisfied.

The most surprising thing about S.A. Cosby's Blacktop Wasteland, which is marketed as a crime novel, is that crime is the least important element in the book. If it weren't for the time it takes to write, edit, and sell a novel — and the months it takes to finally see it in print when dealing with a large press — you'd think Cosby plucked every crucial racial topic the past month's headlines and used them to build a novel. But he did no such thing. Instead, this book is a cry about race that starts somewhere in Appalachia and echoes across the country.

I'm always giddy when I start a new Stephen Graham Jones novel. Yes, I said giddy. Everything about the worlds, circumstances, characters, and atmospheres he creates appeals to me. When I open a SGJ novel, I know flawed characters and an engaging plot will get me hooked ... and then the weirdness will come and darkness will seep into everything, slowly, starting at the corners and spreading like a toxic, unstoppable fungus. Then people will die. In The Only Good Indians, Jones does that and more, and the more is quite special.

Charlie Kaufman's Antkind is a novel only Charlie Kaufman could have written. I'm aware of how vague that sentence is, but I assure you it fits the novel perfectly. Antkind is strange, disjointed, and obsessive. It's also a wildly imaginative narrative in which Kaufman mentions himself several times, discusses his own work, and claims no one has made a "real" movie about New York.

"Anytime I heard of another Arab girl's engagement, it immediately snapped me out of my gayness."

Arab. Bisexual. Migrant. Anorexic. The list goes on and on. The main character in Zaina Arafat's You Exist Too Much is a nesting doll of otherness, and her journey from 12-year-old Palestinian American girl walking around Bethlehem to young woman traveling the world and looking for love in the arms of strangers is a perfect example of how culture and family can affect those whose lives span different realities.

Making Michael Arceneaux's I Don't Want to Die Poor required reading in high schools across the country would help a lot of young people think twice about the promise that going to college at any cost is the only path to upward social mobility.

Arceneaux, also the author of I Can't Date Jesus, writes in his new book of essays:

"The student loan industry is a barely regulated, predatory system, and with Donald Trump in the White House and those equally useless people in Congress, oversight of the industry is becoming nonexistent."

Fernanda Melchor's Hurricane Season is so strange, wild, and foul-mouthed that I almost missed the sharp critiques embedded in the story. A mix of drugs, sex, mythology, small-town desperation, poverty, and superstition, this novel spreads like a fungus from the dark center of the literary space where crime fiction and horror meet.

When journalist Eduardo Porter moved to Los Angeles in the 90s and started writing about the city, he realized race was everywhere — and that it determined "where you go to school, church, or work; how you dress and talk; whom you marry; how you fare when you run into the cops."

That realization became the seed of his latest book, American Poison: How Racial Hostility Destroyed Our Promise.

James McBride's Deacon King Kong is a feverish love letter to New York City, people, and writing. The prose is relentless and McBride's storytelling skills shine as he drags readers at breakneck speed trough a plethora of lives, times, events, and conversations. The novel is 370 pages, but McBride has packed enough in there for a dozen novellas, and reading them all mashed together is a pleasure.

Andy Davidson probably wrote The Boatman's Daughter sitting at a table at home or at a coffee joint. But it reads as if he pulled it out of the wet earth of the Arkansas bayous with his bare hands on a moonless night while chanting an incantation he learned from a dying witch.

Tola Rotimi Abraham's Black Sunday will destroy you. It won't be an explosion or any other ultraviolent thing. Instead, the novel will inflict a thousand tiny cuts on you, and your soul will slowly pour from them. Well, at least I think that's what Abraham wants to do. I'm sure that's the reason this gem of a novel is packed with so much poetry, pain, abandonment, abuse, heartbreak, and poverty.

Meng Jin's Little Gods is one of the most complex character studies I've ever read. Each of us present a different version of ourselves to different people, and Jin looks at this performance with a clinical eye, showing us what it looks like through the perspectives of different characters. Steeped in trauma, loss, and imperfect love, Little Gods is a novel about performing the self, filtered through academia, abandonment, and migration. This is a smart and emotionally devastating novel.

Lee Goldberg's Lost Hills is not only the first book in what promises to be a superb series — it's also that rare novel in which the formulaic elements of mainstream police procedurals (blood, violence and forensic science) share narrative space with a unique female protagonist. All that, and it's also a love letter to the chaos and diversity of California.

The story of the Lady Franklin Bay Expedition, which would eventually be known as the Greely Expedition, is important in terms of the areas it helped map, the wealth of scientific observations made, and the fact that the group reached the Farthest North — a record that had belonged to the British for three centuries.

The first thing I learned about shopping after moving to Texas from the Caribbean was this: Go to Goodwill.

Andre Perry's Some of Us Are Very Hungry Now is a raw chunk of life sliced into essays packed with truths, devastating realizations, music, failed coping mechanisms, a constant search for the self, and a lot of booze.

The book is divided into three distinct sections, but they merge into a unified chronicle that follows a young black man standing at the intersection of race, art, masculinity, education, and the desire for growth and new experiences.

Carmen Maria Machado's In the Dream House is the most innovative memoir I've ever read.

On the surface, Sam Roberts' A History of New York in 27 Buildings: The 400-Year Untold Story of an American Metropolis is a book about the architectural history of New York City.

As How We Fight for Our Lives is Saeed Jones' biography, it is a unique narrative of the events that shaped him.

Turkish novelist Ahmet Altan is one of many writers thrown in prison by Recep Tayyip Erdoğan's oppressive regime.

Patti Smith's Year of the Monkey is a beautiful, elegant, and poetic memoir that takes a single year in the artist's life, 2016, and delves deep into the events that shaped it — and the feelings and memories they produced.

Paul Kingsnorth's Savage Gods is a series of questions in the shape of a book.

On the surface, the writing deals with the author trying to make sense of his need to belong to something meaningful, his desire to connect with an older reality tied to the earth. Right underneath that, however, are a series of other questions that wriggle around like termites inside the wood of Kingsnorth's heart: What does it mean to belong? Can we connect to culture in a world where there is none? Can words truly communicate life?

I love books that make me feel uncomfortable. I love books that crawl into an invisible space under my ribs and stay there like a twitching parasite. Rachel Eve Moulton's Tinfoil Butterfly did both. I don't know what her writing process was like, but if it resembled the way I read it, I can picture her bent over a desk in a dimly-lit room, typing away furiously while breathing the short, violent breaths of a scared animal.

Rob Hart's The Warehouse is an entertaining read as a slightly dystopian cyberthriller. But start looking at how plausible it is, notice all the ways in which the things Hart describes — awful healthcare, limited employment opportunities, and global monopolies — are already here, and it becomes a horrific cautionary tale that makes you wonder if we're already too far into a disastrous future, or if there's still some hope for humanity.

Jill Heinerth's Into the Planet starts with the world-renowned cave diver almost dying while being one of the first humans to search for caves inside the B-15 iceberg, the largest moving object on earth.

Investigative reporter Ian Urbina realizes that, for many people, the sea is "simply a place we fly over." That's why in The Outlaw Ocean he works so hard at sharing some of the wildest, darkest dramas taking place in seas and oceans across the world.

Timothy C. Winegard's The Mosquito is as wildly entertaining as any epic narrative out there. It's also all true.

J. Michael Straczynski's Becoming Superman is much more than a rag-to-riches story — and not only because he goes from rags to riches about half a dozen times.

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