Year in Review: Best Books

We have been honored to feature an array of tremendous titles from incredibly talented and diverse writers of fiction, non-fiction and poetry, in our very first year of publishing online. Here are some of our favorites published by independent and established presses in an intrepid 2016.

Fiction

GRACE by Natashia Deón
The haunting, beautiful debut novel by Natashia Deón has been universally hailed as a new, essential slave novel and was selected as a 2016 New York Times book of the year and nominated for a best new work award by the NAACP.

“Johnny lets men walk by now. He watches ’em go in her door one way, buckling their belts on the way out. They step over him in the doorway like he ain’t a boy wanting his momma.”

*Read: the full excerpt and Q&A with Natashia Deón.
*Buy the book: Counterpoint Press.

THE WANGS VS. THE WORLD by Jade Chang
The fiery, celebrated debut novel by Jade Chang about a Chinese-American family that goes from riches to rags was named a New York Times Editors’ Choice, nominated for a Pen USA literary award, and featured on “Late Night” with Seth Meyers and on the “TODAY” show.

“He shouldn’t be here at all. Never should have set a single unbound foot on the New World. There was no arguing it. History had started fucking Charles Wang, and America had finished the job.”

*Read: the full excerpt and Q&A with Jade Chang.
*Buy the book: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.

IN THE NOT QUITE DARK by Dana Johnson
Dana Johnson’s acclaimed new collection was selected as one of NPR’s books of the year. Set in the heart of Los Angeles, her stories explore love, class and race in intimate and daring ways.

“For their anniversaries, other women get, what? Like a box of chocolate and roses if they got a boring boyfriend, or dinner at the Olive Garden or someplace like that if the guy’s half-trying. A stuffed animal? Or even jewelry, if he’s for real. Not no cheap bastard. Something. Me, I get something else not even close.”

*Read the full excerpt: here.
*Buy the book: Counterpoint Press.

WEDDING BUSH ROAD by David Francis
The new, mesmerizing novel by honed writer David Francis explores fractious relationships and the revealing journey of an L.A. transplant returning home to a family farm in rural Australia.

“I don’t mention the whole five hundred acres, houses and all, are now in my mother’s name, since my father was banished. I scan the squalor, the sink of plates angled precariously. No sign of Christmas. The Munnings is gone. The faded print of horses being led back from the gallops with blankets over their loins. I loved that picture.”

*Read: the full excerpt and Q&A with David Francis.
*Buy the book: Counterpoint Press.

NEW JERSEY ME by Rich Ferguson
Rich Ferguson’s visceral and poetic debut coming-of-age novel is breathtaking and barrier-breaking, tackling the search for identity, broken homes, sexuality and disability in lyrical prose.

“We stared at each other so intently it almost scared me how I felt like I was falling into her deep watery eyes. Drowning in Pale Jade Rivers Me. Never Want to Resurface Me. Callie glanced down at her fake leg. She leaned into me as if she’d be blown there by an invisible wind. “You can touch it if you’d like,” she said. “My leg.”

*Read: the full excerpt and Q&A with Rich Ferguson.
*Listen to: excerpts of the audiobook, including music by Josh Haden.
*Buy the book: Rare Bird Books.

EVERY KIND OF WANTING by Gina Frangello
Gina Frangello’s latest, heralded novel also is a portrait of the modern family in America, examining assimilation, the legacy of secrets and the morality of desire, across ethnicities, nationalities and sexualities.

“The last two years of her life have been marked by more Bette Davis exits than the whole forty years prior, but now that she is thinking of it, not one such departure has ever been met with anyone pursuing her. She leaves rooms in a thunder but no one ever seems to care that she is gone.”

*Read the full excerpt: here.
*Buy the book: Counterpoint Press.

DOWN THE DARKEST STREET by Alex Segura
L.A. noir-inspired drama hits Miami streets in this mystery series about a down-and-out journalist turned accidental PI by Alex Segura, the ARCHIE MEETS RAMONES comics creator by day, crime writer by night.

“On his hand pushing himself off the wall and toward the end of the alley. On each foot—left, right, left—as he started to walk. On what had led him back here, outside the Gables Pub, bloodied, drunk, and alone.

The night had started off routine. Standard. Pete needed to get out. Do some reading. His friends weren’t around anymore. He didn’t care. Fuck ’em. He was fine sitting at his favorite bar, reading his dead father’s worn copy of Night Shift.”

*Read the full excerpt and Q&A with Alex Segura.
*Buy the book: Polis Books.

HIGH IN THE STREETS by Matthew Binder
In his brazen debut novel, Matthew Binder evokes the romance and revulsion of the image of the debaucherous, celebrated author grasping to make life work off the page.

“I awake in the morning with Frannie standing over me. She’s speaking to me, but I don’t understand any of her words. My head is dull and pulsing, and my body is shaking violently. There is a small puddle of blood all around me, and the ground is littered with flower petals. I wonder what has happened: Am I injured? Is Frannie trying to kill me? Did I attempt suicide?”

*Read the full excerpt: here.
*Buy the book: Roundfire Books.

SING THE SONG by Meredith Alling
A whimsical, weird, compelling and acclaimed debut collection of crafted and surreal stories by L.A. writer Meredith Alling.

“Boil water. Remember when you thought it would be funny to take a tour at the Scientology Museum? They showed you a video of a pregnant woman carrying a large pot of boiling water and then spilling it on her egg­-shaped belly. She screamed and dropped the pot on the floor and the image froze, then a voiceover came in: ​A child can remember things from before birth. What can parents do to protect and benefit their child most?

*Read the full excerpt: here.
*Buy the book: Future Tense Books

THE BOOK OF ENDLESS SLEEPOVERS by Henry Hoke
Henry Hoke’s dazzling and daring new fiction challenges the concepts of memoir and dreamscape, reality and surrealism, literature and sexuality.

“Becky Thatcher sits in the middle of Tom and Huck in the closet. She takes turns kissing them, placing their hands on her knee. Tom imagines Huck. Huck imagines a guinea pig with broken legs. Becky Thatcher imagines herself in fifteen years, rolling around Alphabet City with Aunt Polly, the great poet, going to get her groceries, seeing this book, never existing.”

*Read the full excerpt: here.
*Buy the book: Civil Coping Mechanisms

Out in Paperback

OH! YOU PRETTY THINGS by Shanna Mahin
Shanna Mahin’s heralded debut novel traces the ups and downs of Jess, a troubled personal assistant who bears all the baggage of third-generation Hollywood.

“He laughs. ‘Don’t worry about it, Jess. I’m pretty low maintenance about this kind of stuff.’

Uh-oh. Death knell. When people say they’re low maintenance in L.A., it inevitably means that they’re anything but.

For the record, that was the last day Tyler’s coffee was ‘fine.'”

*Read the full excerpt: here.
*Buy the book: Penguin Random House.

PLUS ONE by Christopher Noxon
Christopher Noxon’s captivating debut novel centers on a Hollywood marketing executive’s midlife crisis when his TV-writer wife’s 15th attempt at a pilot is a runaway success.

“Alex coughed and looked up above the receptionist’s desk at a square of sky through a high window. ‘Sam, honey. Are you gay? You’re gay, right? You poor sweetie, that’s gonna be hard. I always knew. You’re so mad at me. Why are you so mad at me? I’m not mad at you—really I’m not. What other eleven-year-old has his own line of cosmetics? Do you know how incredible that is? You know you made more money than I did last year?'”

*Read the full excerpt: here.
*Buy the book: Prospect Park Books.

Non-Fiction

UNDER THE BIG BLACK SUN by John Doe with Tom DeSavia
In this best-selling collection, John Doe from X and a number of his friends — including Dave Alvin, Exene Cervenka, Pleasant Gehman, Chris Morris, Henry Rollins, Jane Wiedlin and others — recount the pulsing stories of L.A.’s budding punk scene, from 1977-1982. The audiobook has been nominated for a Grammy.

“It wasn’t the first time I’d been here & this had become a kind of ritual. But it was the first time in 1978 that the show was sold out & the Whisky added another. This was a place where you knew that something was definitely happening, that you were definitely headed somewhere. I would look down at my shoes and those red & black squares and think that we were part of something, like others had been part of something else.”

*Read an excerpt by and a Q&A with John Doe.
*Buy the book: Da Capo Press.

THE BITCH IS BACK, edited by Cathi Hanauer
A decade after the publication of her bestselling book THE BITCH IN THE HOUSE, 25 prominent women writers, including Hope Edelman, Sandra Tsing Loh, Anna March and Robin Rinaldi, pen powerful essays from older, stronger and wiser perspectives.

“I guess if there’s a takeaway, it’s how important it is in early midlife to stop and assess, how, if you want to grow and evolve and not ‘calcify,’ as Gail Sheehy puts it in her famous book, PASSAGES, you have to dig deep and figure out what you want and need and what’s missing and what’s there, and then go get that — to throw off the old, broken ways and get to a new, better self.”

*Read a Q&A with Cathi Hanauer and an excerpt of Robin Rinaldi’s essay “Fifty Shades of Free.”
*Buy the book: William Morrow.

LOS ANGELES IN THE 1970s edited by David Kukoff

A instant bestseller, LOS ANGELES IN THE 1970s, an anthology edited by David Kukoff, gives an insider’s look into the good, the bad and the ugly of L.A. in its 70s’ heyday, with contributions from The Doors’ John Densmore, Matthew Specktor, Luis Rodriguez, Susan Hayden, Deanne Stillman, Dana Johnson, Jeremy Rosenberg and more.

“Los Angeles of the 1970s might, on the surface, have looked like a cultural desert—complete with all the requisite mirage metaphors—but it was also a thirsty, parched terrain at the edge of Big Sky territory where smarts, hustle, and more than a little chutzpah could turn a half-assed dream into a full-fledged reality.”

*Read the full excerpt by David Kukoff.
*Buy the book: Rare Bird Books

TOGETHER THROUGH LIFE by Chris Morris
Revered L.A. music critic Chris Morris reveals the deep and timely role the oeuvre of the iconic singer-songwriter Bob Dylan played in his own life.

Early one mornin’ the sun was shinin’
I was layin’ in bed
Wonderin’ if she’d changed at all
If her hair was still red

That stopped me dead. I listened to the rest of the album in awe, my identification complete. Dylan may have been replaying his life in those songs, but he was recounting my own, in detail, right down to the hue of my lost love’s hair. Listening to it even now, I find myself living within those songs. I am sure I am not alone in this regard. The world embraced that record, and Blood On the Tracks, Dylan’s return to Columbia Records, became Bob Dylan’s second U.S. No. 1. People heard it in a very special way.”

*Read the full excerpt: here.
*Buy the book: ROTHCO Press.

HARLEY AND ME by Bernadette Murphy
After a traumatic adolescence and seeking shelter in a “safe” life that no longer fit, writer Bernadette Murphy finds her way back to her true self through dramatic, high risk-taking.

“I suppose I shouldn’t have been surprised, then, when the tomboy in me began to rustle, calling, bursting through the constraints I’d placed on her. I started backpacking, then climbing mountains, open-water kayaking, getting tattooed, running marathons, coming out as who I really was and had abandoned decades earlier. People who’d known me for years looked askance. Midlife crisis, they concluded.”

*Read: an excerpt and a Q&A with Bernadette Murphy.
*Buy the book: Counterpoint Press.

Out in Paperback

THE WILD OATS PROJECT by Robin Rinaldi
Robin Rinaldi’s comtroversial, riveting and honest memoir follows her self-ascribed, year-long open marriage project she felt compelled to undertake at the apex of midlife.

“Jude and I sat down to eat, and I pulled my phone from my purse. I texted Scott, I’m going to have dinner out here. I’ll be home by 10. Within seconds he responded: I want a divorce.

I froze. I typed I’m on my way home and threw the phone back in my purse. ‘I’m really sorry, I have to go,’ I told Jude. ‘Right this second.'”

*Read the full excerpt: here.
*Buy the book: Sarah Crichton Books.

Poetry

SURVEILLANCE by Ashaki M. Jackson
This stunning collection by activist poet/social psychologist Ashaki M. Jackson contains an examination of videos capturing police killing civilians and the public’s consumption of them.

“Within a week I have a police detail at my high school. I learn that my mother has detail too. Our Blackness is now public and shadowed. We let the phone grow cold. The answering machine picks up all calls, especially those that come after we sleep, when the only stirring comes from neighborhood wildlife and the officer outside our home.”

*Read: excerpts of prose poems by Ashaki M. Jackson and her critical recommended reading list on institutional/systemic racism.
*Buy the book: Writ Large Press.

TONIGHT, WE FUCK THE TRAILER PARK OUT OF EACH OTHER by C. Russell Price
C. Russell Price’s Pushcart Prize-nominated debut features his intense, crafted, on-edge and no-holds-barred poems on love, and words and music and more.

“For once in your wicked life,
let your skin breathe in the day heat
The freckles next door are singing.”

*Read: excerpts of prose poems from the collection.
*Buy the book: Sibling Rivalry Press.

POSADA: Offerings of Witness and Refuge by Xochitl-Julisa Bermejo
The lauded poetry of Xochitl-Julisa Bermejo, the daughter of Mexican immigrants, documents life and death on the U.S.-Mexico borderline.

“A young girl sings Noche de Paz
through a silent East L.A. night.
From my Grandmother’s stoop, I watch
families weave winter streets by candlelight.
Inside, my grandmother sets knitting needles down
to listen. We have found our shelter tonight
as a young girl sings Noche de Paz.

Una muchacha canta Noche de Paz
en las calles del barrio. Desde la entrada
de la casa de mi abuela, yo observo
familias desfilando bajo la luz de las velas.
Adentro, mi abuela descansa sus manos del tejido
y escucha la canción. En el refugio de la casa,
encontramos nuestra noche de paz.”

*Read: excerpts of prose poems from POSADA.
*Buy the book: Sundress Publications.

POETICS OF LOCATION by Mike Sonksen
The long-awaited collection by L.A.’s Mike Sonksen AKA Mike the PoeT features 25 poems and an essay addressing poetry of place, urban history, architecture, social justice and community arts.

“Memories become fables, families immortalized
& mythologized for their survival
Reborn upon
Arrival”

*Read: excerpts of prose poems from POETICS OF LOCATION.
*Buy the book: Writ Large Press.

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