Whether you’ve got big plans to travel the world in 2020 or intend to stay put, you’ll need a few good books to keep you company. All those hours waiting in airports, riding on trains, or spent tanning on beach loungers are always more satisfying and entertaining when filled with the written words. And if you happen to be home, but wish you could be elsewhere, the pages of a novel will provide the escapism you’re longing for. For those purposes (and more) we have selected 20 books being published in 2020 that will hit the spot, no matter where you are and what you’re doing. From historical fiction set in Ireland to a family saga in Norway, and nature writing in South Africa, these are the books most anticipated by Matador Network team this year.
1. Pine by Francine Toon — Doubleday, January 2020
Pine is a creepy thriller set in the very atmospheric Scottish Highlands. In a small village located in the middle of a pine forest, women’s disappearances stack up. A young girl named Lauren, age 10, and her dad Niall, who is rescued from the side of the road on Halloween night, are gone the next morning; a local teenage girl vanished without a trace; not to mention Lauren’s mom’s mysterious disappearance 10 years ago, just after her birth. The ghosts, hidden knives, dark forests, and strange noises of this suspenseful novel will have you sleeping with the lights on well after you’ve finished reading.
2. Meals, Music, and Muses: Recipes from My African American Kitchen by Alexander Smalls — Flatiron, February 2020
Alexander Smalls, opera singer and mastermind chef behind New York City’s first Afro-Asian-American restaurant, The Cecil, combines his two great loves — music and food — in Meals, Music, and Muses. Each chapter is named for a different genre of music, and the cookbook includes recipes for classic Southern dishes, interspersed with anecdotes from Smalls’ childhood. In addition to telling his own story, Smalls offers insight into the key dishes and musical traditions that shaped the South.
3. Greenery by Tim Dee — Vintage, February 2020
If reading Yuval Noah Harari’s Homo Deus and David Wallace Wells’ Inhabitable Earth has left you filled with anxiety and an intense feeling of powerlessness over climate change, it may be time to switch gears and pick up some uplifting nature writing for a change. You can’t and shouldn’t ignore or downplay the climate emergency, but a book about the wonders of nature like Tim Dee’s new work can spur just as much motivation to keep up the good fight than a deeply depressing one. In Greenery, Dee follows migrant birds as they cross the world at the exact same pace as spring advances from Cape Town, South Africa, all the way to the Arctic Ocean in northern Scandinavia. During his journey across the whole of Africa and Europe, he poetically observes all the changes brought forth by the new season, on birds, of course, but also on plants, land animals, and people.
4. The Patron Saint of Pregnant Girls by Ursula Hegi — Flatiron Books, February 2020
In the late 19th century, a circus visits the German island of Nordstrand in the North Sea where a religious home for unwed pregnant girls is located. During the circus’ visit, three of islander Lotte’s four children drown on the beach, a death witnessed by three mothers leading very different lives: Lotte herself; Sabine, a female member of the circus; and Tilli, a young woman from the home who is about to have her first child. Hegi’s latest novel is the story of womanhood and motherhood but also a portrait of how radically different people can become intertwined in the face of suffering.
5. The Animals at Lockwood Manor by Jane Healey — Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, March 2020
Jane Healey’s gothic and tense novel begins in at the start of WWII, in 1939. Because the British capital is under threat, the mammal collection of the London Natural History Museum is evacuated along with its curator, 30-year-old Hetty Cartwright, to Lockwood Manor, a supposedly cursed and haunted estate where they are to stay for the remainder of the war. There, Hetty faces Lord Lockwood’s terrible temper, and the odd young Lady Lucy, his distressed daughter. But more importantly, Hetty has to deal with the disappearance of some of her taxidermied animals and the sense that she is being followed in the large, dark house.
6. The Secret Guests by B.W. Black — Viking, March 2020
Those who binge-watched season three of The Crown, and then reveled in the recent drama of Harry and Meghan’s departure from the British royal family, will want to dive right into Black’s The Secret Guests. The novel starts in 1940 during The Blitz. London is unsafe, so King George VI and his wife Queen Elizabeth send their two young daughters, Elizabeth and Margaret, to Ireland, far away from the bombing, with a female MI5 agent for a custodian. Locals in County Tipperary are soon asking questions about the young girls suddenly living in the local castle, and a dead body found at the gates only fan the flames of suspicion towards the trio.
7. Footprints by David Farrier — Farrar Straus Giroux, March 2020
Most people think the only fossils worth finding are those of dinosaurs, but in Footprints, Farrier posits that humans are already leaving behind our own chemical and industrial fossils for future generations to find. He wonders how the humans of today will be remembered when our cities have disappeared, 100,000 years from now when the carbon we released will still be lingering in the atmosphere. Farrier travels from Shanghai to the Baltic Sea, crafting a message of warning and hope about the future of our species.
8. Threshold by Rob Doyle — Bloomsbury, March 2020
The central figure of Doyle’s Threshold is a Dubliner who has spent most of his young life taking drugs, reading literature, traveling around Europe, trying to find meaning in life. His wanderings take readers to the club world of Berlin and the cemeteries of Paris. As the narrator indulges in psychedelic drugs and contemplates his purpose in the universe, readers are in for a strange — but funny — journey into the depths of the mind.
9. My Wild Garden by Meir Shalev — Pantheon, March 2020
In this cheerful memoir of a beloved garden, Shalev details the natural wonders he grows with his own hands. Among his lemon tree and purple snapdragons, Shalev ruminates on restorative powers of gardening and argues that learning to love and respect the land — and everything that lives on it — is the key to finding joy in our short time on Earth.
10. Sharks in the Time of Saviors by Kawai Washburn — Farrar Straus Giroux, March 2020
In his debut novel, Kawai Washburn roots the story of a family living on The Big Island in Hawaiian legend. The sugarcane industry, once integral to Hawaii’s economy, has collapsed, forcing Nainoa Flores and his siblings to find opportunities on the mainland. But the spirit of the Hawaiian gods that visited Nainoa in his childhood follow him there, he begins to learn what belonging — both to his first home and his new one — really means.
11. Nobody Will Tell You This But Me — Bess Kalb (Knopf, March 2020)
Comedy writer Bess Kalb had a close and intense relationship with her quirky and fierce grandmother, Bobby Bell. Until Bobby passed away at age 90, Bess kept all her voicemails, and in this family memoir, she uses her grandma’s unique voice again to tell the story of their family, from Bobby’s mother who fled Belarus on her own and immigrated to the US to the rebellious adolescence of Bess’s own mother. Nobody Will Tell You This But Me is feminine, funny, and moving; it will tug at your heartstrings so hard that you might even shed a tear or two, followed by a belly laugh.
12. Everything Is Under Control by Phyllis Grant — Farrar Straus Giroux, April 2020
This hybrid memoir-cookbook follows Grant as a dancer at Juilliard, to her stint as a cook in four-star restaurants around New York City, to finally her move to California where she starts a family. Formatted as a series of vignettes followed by recipes, Everything Is Under Control is an exploration of motherhood, food, and how one woman carved out a place for herself in professional kitchens.
13. Sea Wife by Amity Gaige — Knopf, April 2020
Gaige’s novel follows Juliet, a mother of two young children struggling with postpartum depression. When her husband abruptly decides to leave his job and buy a sailboat, Juliet resists, then sees an opportunity to reinvent her life. The couple embarks on a seafaring adventure that at first revitalizes Juliet and Michael’s marriage. Soon, though, Juliet must come to terms with how life at sea has changed her family forever. This story of survival unfolds from both Juliet’s perspective and excerpts from Michael’s captain’s log.
14. Northernmost by Peter Geye — Knopf, April 2020
The last book of a four-volume family saga (each can be read independently), Northernmost weaves the stories of two different generations of the Eide family. One lives in Hammerfest in Northern Norway in the late 19th century and is composed of Odd Einar, previously believed to have died in the Arctic, and his wife Inger. Their daughter, Thea, has left to immigrate to the US two years before and never kept in touch with her parents. In modern times, the story follows Greta, who lives in Minnesota with her husband, currently away in Norway for work. When Greta decides to travel to Norway to put an end to her marriage, on an impulse, she goes to Hammerfest, the hometown of her great-great-grandmother Thea, where she learns about her heritage and all the hardship her ancestors went through.
15. Rockaway by Diane Cardwell — Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, June 2020
Rockaway is the true and uplifting story of how Diane Cardwell totally reinvented herself at close to age 50. Inspired by surfers she witnessed in Montauk during a writing assignment (Cardwell is a reporter and editor for the New York Times), she shakes off her unsatisfying life and takes up surfing, almost on a whim. She moves from trendy Brooklyn to Rockaway, a peninsula in Queens that’s home to a dedicated group of surfers, and takes lessons. As she begins to be comfortable in the water, Hurricane Sandy hits, and the community of which she is now a part comes together to rebuild and to keep riding the New York waves.
16. The House on Fripp Island by Rebecca Kauffman — Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, June 2020
The wealthy Daly family has plans to spend the summer on Fripp Island in South Carolina. Lisa Daly, the mother, has invited her old friend Poppy Ford and her family, a much less privileged bunch, to join them free of charge. But instead of a relaxing summer holiday, the two families of four bring their secrets and conflicts with them, making the vacation tense and full of suspicions. The House on Fripp Island is a page-turner made even more appealing by the knowledge that one of the eight characters won’t be returning home.
17. The Lying Life of Adults by Elena Ferrante — Europa, June 2020
If Elena Ferante’s Neapolitan Novels had you transfixed, her new book will undoubtedly help you recapture this state of wonder. Also set in Naples, The Lying Life of Adults is the story of Giovanna, a young woman whose childhood is slipping away and whose identity becomes as confusing and divided as the city she grew up in. The Italian reviews (the original novel was published in November 2019) promise classic Ferrante: a captivating world inhabited by complex, beautiful, and sometimes brutal characters that you won’t want to leave.
18. Last Harvest: The Fight Save the World’s Most Endangered Foods by Dan Saladino — Vintage, June 2020
In his journey to the far reaches of the globe, from the Balkans to Tanzania, Saladino examines what will happen to our food in the latest age of extinction. Saladino tracks down ingredients threatened by climate change and industrial agriculture, unearthing the history and cultural significance that is being threatened behind each one. As Saladino tracks down these elusive foods, he discovers a globe-spanning battle is being fought to preserve and protect these endangered plants.
19. Slime by Ruth Kassinger — Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, June 2020
Even Earth’s smallest creatures can play a crucial role in its survival. In Slime, Kassinger takes readers on a journey into the oceans to the realm of all-important algae. Though often overlooked (it’s not quite as glamorous as some of the more photogenic marine life), algae is responsible for creating the planet’s oxygen-rich atmosphere. Kassinger reveals how scientists are harnessing algae to save the planet, highlighting just how important these organisms are to sustaining life on Earth.
20. The Zoologists Guide to the Galaxy by Arik Kershenbaum — Viking, June 2020
Little green men are just the beginning of man’s limited perception of how alien life might look — if it does exist. Kershenbaum, a Cambridge zoologist, argues that in order to understand what aliens might look like and how they communicate, we need look no further than our own natural world. Fish reveal how aliens might communicate using electricity, for instance. Kershenbaum’s book breaks down Hollywood stereotypes about alien life while revealing what the Earthlings can expect if we ever do meet species from another world.
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