Fall is the perfect time to curl up with a good book — something about the season calls for comfy socks, a warm beverage and extended time spent lounging on the couch with a new novel. As such, we have asked a handful of local literary authorities — librarians, advocates and alternative book purveyors — for their top newish fall reading recommendations. The options range from true-crime thrillers and lusty retellings of classic tales to trippy time travel page-turners and cross-country memoirs. There are nostalgic graphic novels to capture that childhood feeling of fall and lyrical literary selections that will break your heart. Whether you’re reading alone or with a book club, here are 24 options to pique your interest.
Samantha Evans, Under Cover Book Club
Samantha Evans founded Under Cover Book Club, a sort of literary scavenger hunt, in 2018. “I just the love the idea that at any moment you can just be surprised with something, just a gift,” she told CityBeat in an interview last year. “(People might say), ‘What’s the angle, what are you trying to achieve with this?’ It’s like, ‘I just really want you to read.’ ” Each month she chooses books to hide around the city and posts clues to find them on social media. “That being said, you do not have to be active online to find a copy, though it certainly helps,” she says. Finders get to keep any book they discover and each includes an official bookmark with info about the club. Evans also hosts monthly book discussions, interviews with authors and offers a membership club (with a cute official membership card). She says her hope is “that you get to explore the Queen City as you look for books and engage with your community through a love and passion for all things literary.” Visit undercover513.com for info about hidden books, author interviews, upcoming events and how to become an official Under Cover member.
Disappearing Earth: A Novel by Julia Phillips
I’m a sucker for true crime, a statement that — thankfully — doesn’t seem to be as ostracizing these days. So, I can tell you unequivocally that Julia Phillips’ novel has been one of the best I’ve read all year. Set in modern-day Russia, it is about two sisters who go missing, and how the mystery surrounding them touches those in different parts of the world. I will be hiding copies of this book this month, and it is also September’s book discussion pick!
The Deeper the Water the Uglier the Fish by Katya Apekina
I was stunned and astounded by this story, not only because of the bold originality of its title, but also the unique and unforgettable prose. Told from multiple perspectives, it is a story about two sisters trying to find their own identities among the wreckage of their parents.
Everything Under by Daisy Johnson
I remember the first time I saw this book. It was love at first sight, which like most situations described as such, I was purely lusting after the cover (but who among us could deny falling prey to that?). Little did I know that the story would ensnare me and elevate my adoration to soulmate-level status. Though the story is a delicate retelling of Oedipus (and Homer’s) The Odyssey, it bursts with originality.
Fake Like Me by Barbara Bourland
This is definitely a, “I’ll have this book finished in 24 hours because I need to know what happens ASAP” kind of read. Now, every time I pass a warehouse, I think it’d be a perfect place for the protagonist, Carey Logan, to create some massive works of art. Throughout the novel’s quick pace, Carey is submerged in a world that does not belong to her, but that she cannot simply walk away from. I don’t typically re-read stories, but I kind of want to keep living in its contents for the next few millennia.
Optic Nerve by Maria Gainza
This story is for anyone who loves art as it relates to life. The unnamed narrator describes various paintings, all while illuminating facets of her own life like some sort of myopic art critic.
Melanie Moore, the Cincy Book Bus
After 25 years of teaching in various schools across the country, Melanie Moore rerouted her career to focus on inspiring a passion for reading by delivering the joy of books to cafés, flea markets and nonprofit events all from the bed of a vintage Volkswagen pickup truck. Moore hand-picks each title on the bus and hopes her rolling library will inspire people to enthusiastically partake in the thrill books have to offer. “I think the book bus does just that,” she told CityBeat in an interview earlier this year. “It brings smiles to people’s faces.” Moore also uses profits from the bus to buy children’s books to build classroom libraries for schools in low-income neighborhoods to “give students the opportunity to experience the joy of reading for themselves,” she says. Find where the Book Bus will be next by following @cincybookbus on Instagram and Facebook.
This Tender Land by William Kent Krueger
I have no doubt that this new release that just came out in September will become a favorite to many. It’s storytelling at its best. I was immediately sucked in with the opening words,”‘I am a storyteller. I live in a house in the shade of a sycamore tree on the banks of the Gilead River. My grandchildren call me a liar but I remind them, ‘Not a liar. A storyteller’. There will be courage in this story and cowardice. There will be love and betrayal. And, of course, there will be hope. In the end, isn’t that what every good story is about?” Oh my heart! This beautifully written tale that takes place during the summer of 1932 is the epic journey of four orphans searching for a place called home.
Recursion by Blake Crouch
This book is one trippy ride! At times this sci-fi thriller is a true mind-bender as the author bounces the reader through time travel using advanced memory technology. You’re already scratching your head, aren’t you? It’s a page-turner and you don’t have to have a degree in science to understand it. I’m still wondering how Crouch came up with this out-of-the box plot and it still blows my mind.
The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek by Kim Michele Richardson
I am constantly drawn to books about books; go figure. This one takes place in Appalachian Kentucky during the 1930s. The main character, Cussy, is one of the last of her kind — the blue-skinned people of Kentucky. There actually was a family in Troublesome Creek that had a genetic disease that made their skin look blue. More importantly, Cussy is part of Roosevelt’s Pack Horse Library Project. I was completely drawn to Cussy’s strong spirit and her love of books. Like me, she has a passion for getting the right book into the right hands.
The Honey Bus: A Memoir of Loss, Courage and a Girl Saved by Bees by Meredith May
If it’s a memoir you are looking for, then I highly suggest that you get your hands on this one. I’m a bee lover so I was immediately drawn to the title. Not only will you learn a lot about beekeeping, but you will be swept into a beautiful story of a grandpa’s love and how he impacted Meredith’s life with gentle storytelling and the healing power of beekeeping. It’s a captivating memoir that at times will break your heart but will also fill you with hope and grace.
Hillary Copsey, Book Advisor at The Mercantile Library and Founder and Publisher of Make America Read
Hillary Copsey does double duty as the book advisor at downtown’s membership library The Mercantile Library, where she leads and helps organize books discussions and offers book recommendations, and as the mind behind Make America Read, a newsletter that provides choice literary picks and thoughtful ruminations on not only books but also the act of reading itself. Her stated goal is to “make Americans read more — more books, more often, about more diverse topics — to encourage compassion, critical thinking and civil discourse.” Sign up and learn more at makeamericaread.com and mercantilelibrary.com.
Frankissstein by Jeanette Winterson
I am a sucker for a retelling, and two decades after reading Written on The Body, I’m convinced no one writes as well as Jeannette Winterson about love, lust and longing. So yes, I’m very eager to read this 21st-century update of Frankenstein, exploring gender and artificial intelligence, and billed as a love story.
Where The Light Falls: Selected Stories of Nancy Hale edited by Lauren Groff
Hale was a prolific and acclaimed writer in the middle of the 20th century — 80 of her stories were published in The New Yorker! — but her work has been largely forgotten. This collection, edited by Lauren Groff (an author whose work I never miss), aims to remedy that. If you like these stories, The Mercantile has a slew of Hale’s books, including her most acclaimed novel, The Prodigal Women, in its stacks, just waiting to be checked out.
Heaven, My Home by Attica Locke
These Highway 59 mysteries — this is the second in a series — are some of the best I’ve read. Each follows Ranger Darren Mathews as he solves crimes in East Texas, sorting through tangles of family history, racial tensions and small-town connections, and wrestles with his own complicated family. Everything is messy and gray and real.
Reading Recommendations Copsey collected from the rest of The Mercantile Staff
Chris Messick, business and membership manager; Al Lloyd, assistant collector; John Faherty, executive director; Jasmine Griffin, membership coordinator; Cedric Rose, librarian and collector; and Amy Hunter, programs and marketing manager
The Water Dancer by Ta-Nehisi Coates
With most debut novels, the question is: Can this author write? Thanks to his essays, journalism and acclaimed memoir, Between The World and Me, we know — beyond doubt — that Coates can write, that he has a strong, lyrical style, thoughtful and innovative structuring, and a definite point of view. The question, then, is: How does all of that translate into fiction?
The Year of The Monkey by Patti Smith
Smith is both a Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee and a National Book Award winner. She is unique, and so is this memoir, which chronicles a cross-country trip taken in 2016, her 70th year, and blends facts with dreams, all of it illustrated by Polaroids.
Make It Scream, Make It Burn by Leslie Jamison
You probably know this author, often compared to Joan Didion and Susan Sontag, from her memoir of alcohol addiction, The Recovering, and several of our librarians were impressed by her other essay collection, The Empathy Exams. This collection explores everything from becoming a stepmother to the world of Second Life.
The Dutch House by Ann Patchett
Following two siblings mourning the loss of their family and family home, The Dutch House is really a story about the kind of stepmother (an awful one) she was afraid of becoming. Even without that little bit of insight, we were excited to dive into another of Patchett’s gorgeously written family dramas.
A Fortune for Your Disaster by Hanif Abdurraqib
Abdurraqib is from Columbus. He’s a poet, essayist, and music critic. We loved his essay collection, They Can’t Kill Us Until They Kill Us; reading it is like being transported into someone else’s music-fueled memories. This poetry collection considers grief, family, love, race and politics.
Marissa Clardy, Tween Librarian at the Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County
Marissa Clardy is a tween librarian at the Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County. She loves many things fall, coffee, and/or book-related. Here she gives her favorite graphic novel recommendations.
Grimoire Noir by Vera Greentea and Yana Bogatch
This book is worth picking up just for the illustrations, which are rich and gorgeous and perfectly noir. However, I also loved the story that magically wrapped up mystery, witches and ghosts all in one. I think that it is a perfect concoction for fall.
Pumpkinheads by Rainbow Rowell
If you are like me and love absolutely everything about fall, from candied apples to the chill in the air, you cannot miss this book. It is a story about two friends who have worked at the same pumpkin patch for all their high school years. But now they are headed out into the wide world, and this is their last day working together. I sat down with this book and did not stop until I finished it. It is a feels-inducing story about friendship and romance that is also a love letter to fall itself.
Check, Please! by Ngozi Ukazu
Bitty might be the most charming protagonist that I have ever read. I wish he was real so that we could be friends. This story follows Bitty through his freshman year of college, filled with hockey, lots of baking, shenanigans, romance mishaps and far too much fun. I read this and immediately wanted to start it again.
The Prince and the Dressmaker by Jen Wang
A story that can break your heart and put it back together again. This is the story of Sebastian — a prince with a secret. At night, the prince takes the fashion world by storm as Lady Crystallia, and the only other person that knows is his best friend and seamstress, Frances. But Sebastian’s secret could cost Frances the opportunity of a lifetime. I love this story because it has so much to say about loving others and loving yourself. And the fashion is to die for.
John Callon, Popular Library Team Leader at the Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County
John Callon is the Popular Library Team Leader at the downtown Main Library branch of the Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County.
The Nickel Boys by Colson Whitehead
Sometimes reality is far more frightening than fiction. Pulitzer Prize winner Colson Whitehead’s newest novel is a little bit of both. Inspired by the terribly true story of the Dozier School for Boys, the book follows the plight of Elwood Curtis and his fellow inmates of Nickel Academy in Jim Crow-era Florida. Victimized by a racist judicial system and the sadistic staff of the reform school, the boys do what they can to survive. Not your typical book for the spooky season, this suspenseful read showcases the resilience of the human spirit in the face of unimaginable horror.
The Ghosts of Eden Park by Karen Abbott
If you’re looking for a tale of intrigue, fortune, disgrace and murder with a Cincinnati twist, look no further than The Ghosts of Eden Park. A triumph of impeccable research and attention to detail, this New York Times bestseller feels like a Gatsby-era novel mixed with The Devil in the White City. It chronicles the rise and fall of the Bootleg King of Cincinnati, George Remus, and the women who helped him to the top — and brought him down. Karen Abbott will be appearing at this year’s Books by the Banks Festival on Oct. 26 at the Duke Energy Convention Center.
The Overstory by Richard Powers
Nature’s first green is gold and so is The Overstory by Richard Powers. This nuanced epic weaves together the stories of nine very different people whose lives become intertwined by the majesty and mystery of trees. In a time when we worship the colors of autumn but ignore deforestation, Powers reminds us just how critically important the delicate balance of nature is to our future. A love story mixing history, mystery and science, this sprawling novel is a must-read for fall.
Top 11 Challenged Books of 2018
The final week in September is Banned Books Week (Sept. 22-28 this year). And to raise awareness for the event, the American Library Association publishes an annual list of the most challenged books from the previous year, compiled by the Office for Intellectual Freedom, “in order to inform the public about censorship in libraries and schools.” However, these top 10 lists — the list for 2018 actually features 11 books — are not a comprehensive report of the actual extent of challenged books. According to the ALA, 82 to 97 percent of requests to remove books and materials from schools and libraries go unreported or are reported later.
The goal of the week — launched after the 1982 Island Trees School District v. Pico Supreme Court case, which ruled that school officials cannot ban books in school libraries just because of their content — is to raise awareness and support “of the freedom to seek and to express ideas, even those some consider unorthodox or unpopular.” That same year (1982), the American Booksellers Association displayed 500 challenged books stacked inside of cages at their BookExpo America trade show with a label cautioning attendees that some considered these tomes “dangerous.” That exhibit prompted the ABA to join forces with the OIF to launch Banned Books Week, which has been reporting the top 10 most challenged books each year since 2001.
The most challenged books list from 2018 distilled challenges to 483 materials in libraries, schools and universities to the following books and reasons why.
1. George by Alex Gino
Challenged/banned/removed because “it was believed to encourage children to clear browser history and change their bodies using hormones, and for mentioning ‘dirty magazines,’ describing male anatomy, ‘creating confusion’ and including a transgender character.”
2. A Day in the Life of Marlon Bundo by Jill Twiss, Illustrated by EG Keller
Banned/challenged for “including LGBTQIA+ content, and for political and religious viewpoints”
3. Captain Underpants series written and illustrated by Dav Pilkey
Challenged because “it was perceived as encouraging disruptive behavior, while Captain Underpants and the Sensational Saga of Sir Stinks-A-Lot was challenged for including a same-sex couple.”
4. The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas
Banned/challenged because “ it was deemed ‘anti-cop,’ and for profanity, drug use, and sexual references.
5. Drama written and illustrated by Raina Telgemeier
Banned/challenged because it includes “LGBTQIA+ characters and themes.”
6. Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher
Banned/challenged/restricted because it addresses teen suicide.
7. This One Summer by Mariko Tamaki, Illustrated by Jillian Tamaki
Banned/challenged for “profanity, sexual references, and certain illustrations.”
8. Skippyjon Jones series written and illustrated by Judy Schachne
Challenged for “depicting stereotypes of Mexican culture.”
9. The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie
Banned/challenged because of its “sexual references, profanity, violence, gambling, and underage drinking, and for its religious viewpoint.”
10. This Day in June by Gayle E. Pitman, Illustrated by Kristyna Litten
Challenged and burned for its LGBTQIA+ content.
11. Two Boys Kissing by David Levithan
Challenged and burned for its LGBTQIA+ content.
If you’d like to confidentially report a challenge to a book, movie, music, magazine or other content — or issues with additional services, hate crimes and access at libraries or schools — you can visit ala.org/challengereporting.