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AARP Picks Best Fiction of Fall 2019

12 new novels from Stephen King, John Grisham, Patricia Cornwell and more

The Institute, Red at the Bone and The Water Dancer book covers

Scribner/Riverhead/One World

An especially towering stack of fantastic fiction is coming this fall, including a typically creepy tale from Stephen King and a few highly anticipated sequels (Elizabeth Strout's follow-up to Olive Kitteridge and Margaret Atwood's return to the world of The Handmaid's Tale). Plus, a lesser-known writer offers what may be her breakthrough book (Angie Cruz's Dominicana), and renowned writer Ta-Nehisi Coates — author of the best-selling memoir Between the World and Me — publishes his first novel, The Water Dancer. Here is a look at some of the fall's best fiction.


Salman Rushdie

The author of The Satanic Verses likes big themes and this book, inspired by Don Quixote, is no different. Already a contender for the prestigious Booker Prize, it's about a quirky unemployed salesman with “retreating mental powers” named Ismail Smile who's watched so much television he can't distinguish between fantasy and reality. Calling himself Quichotte, he goes in search of a woman — a TV personality — he loves. That's just a small part of the wildly imaginative plot, a satiric take on the often surreal-seeming nature of our modern world.

Sept. 3 

Quichote book cover

Random House


Angie Cruz

This moving coming-of-age story centers on Ana Cancion, a 15-year-old girl from a poor family in the Dominican Republic during the tumultuous 1960s. After her mother pushes her into marriage with a much older man who promises her a new life in New York City — and, most importantly, economic opportunity for her family — she finds herself, isolated and naïve, in a run-down apartment with a brutish husband. You'll root for Ana (who's based on Cruz's mother) as she tries to navigate a new life that, at least at first, seems worlds away from the American Dream.

Sept. 3 

Dominicana book cover


The Testaments

Margaret Atwood

The most buzzy novel of the season has to be this sequel to Atwood's now-classic The Handmaid's Tale (1985), about a dystopian society where fertile women are enslaved to bear children — the basis for the hit Hulu series starring Elisabeth Moss. The publisher isn't releasing prepublication copies, but we do know a few things about the new book: It's set about 15 years after the end of the original story, and it's one of the 13 novels, along with Rushdie's Quichotte, that recently made the Booker Prize longlist (certainly a promising sign).

Sept. 10 

The Testaments book cover


The Institute

Stephen King

Children arrive at the Institute — but they don't leave. So learns 12-year-old prodigy Luke Ellis, who's brought there one night after kidnappers murder his parents. As Luke adapts to his circumstances and meets the other gifted children who are being held captive, the compound's sinister purpose is slowly revealed. Suspense lovers (especially fans of King's 1986 classic It) won't be disappointed; the author's latest is as creepy as ever.

Sept. 10 

The Institute book cover


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Red at the Bone

Jacqueline Woodson

Woodson, a poet and novelist, is best known for her autobiographical novel-in-verse Brown Girl Dreaming, the 2014 National Book Award winner for Young People's Literature. Her slim new novel for adults is written in prose, but the language is so lyrical it often reads like poetry. It begins with 16-year-old Melody at her coming-of-age ceremony held in her grandparents’ Brooklyn home. The story then dips back into her parents’ and grandparents’ pasts, including Melody's unplanned conception, exploring the many choices (and lack of them) that have led to this moment in time.

Sept. 17 

Red at the Bone book cover


The Water Dancer

Ta-Nehisi Coates

The highly anticipated first novel from the National Book Award-winning author of Between the World and Me is — no surprise for Coates’ readers — beautifully written and rich with historical detail. The title character is a slave named Hiram Walker who was bestowed with a mysterious power as a child when his mother was sold and taken away from their Virginia plantation. After surviving a near-death drowning incident as a teenager, he resolves to flee and dedicates himself to the Underground, a group working covertly to liberate enslaved people. It's an imaginative and complex story, and an especially vivid depiction of slavery's devastating psychological toll.

Sept. 24 

The Water Dancer



Patricia Cornwell

The first in a blockbuster new series from the author of the hugely popular Kay Scarpetta novels, Quantum features a young, whip-smart scientist caught in a race against time. Captain Calli Chase is a NASA test pilot, quantum physicist and cybercrime investigator who knows her way around the country's space facilities. When she discovers a security breach in a NASA utility tunnel on the eve of a top-secret mission, she takes it upon herself to find the culprit (and the stakes only get higher when her missing twin sister appears to be involved).

Oct. 1 

Quantum book cover


Olive, Again

Elizabeth Strout

Fans of Strout's 2009 Pulitzer Prize winner, Olive Kitteridge, are in for a treat: a truly worthy sequel to the story of the often grumpy but stunningly frank and compassionate Olive. It picks up where we left her, in Crosby, Maine, with Olive touching the lives of some old and new characters and assessing her own life and losses with some regrets — but finding a kind of contentment nonetheless. It's a wise and simply wonderful story, again.

Oct. 15 

Olive, Again book cover


A Dog's Promise

W. Bruce Cameron

First there was A Dog's Purpose (2010), then 2012's A Dog's Journey, and now this third installment in Cameron's best-selling, heartwarming franchise (which also includes a series for kids called A Dog's Purpose Puppy Tales). This new tale is told from the perspective of the eternally devoted pup Bailey, who's lived many lives with different humans. He's joined by a dog named Lacey as he works to fulfill his purpose, which he thinks may be simply “to be with people and to love them.”

Oct. 15 

A Dog's Promise book cover


The Guardians

John Grisham

Grisham's suspenseful new legal thriller is destined — like all his books — to shoot to the top of the best-seller list. Our hero is Cullen Post, a lawyer working to exonerate prisoners serving time for crimes they didn't commit (an issue Grisham, who's involved with the Innocence Project, cares deeply about). But when Post takes on the case of Quincy Miller, a Florida man wrongfully convicted of murder, his own life ends up on the line.

Oct. 15 

The Guardians book cover


All This Could Be Yours

Jami Attenberg

Attenberg is best known for her 2012 novel The Middlesteins, about a family weighted down, in every way, by food and an accompanying load of emotional baggage. Her latest, again about a troubled family, focuses on Alex Tuchman, a freshly divorced lawyer from Chicago who visits her parents in New Orleans and learns some secrets about her ailing father's past. It's an engrossing story, told from the perspective of Alex and other family members, as well as characters on the periphery whose lives briefly intersect with the floundering Tuchmans.

Oct. 22 

All This Could Be Yours book cover


Agent Running in the Field

John le Carré

Fans will be eager to dive into the 25th novel from the 87-year-old author of Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy and other spy novels. While maybe not in the same masterful league as some of le Carré's classics, this modern story offers a good dose of suspense with a touch of humor. It features Nat, a middle-aged, London-based spy and badminton champ who inadvertently is drawn down a radical, anti-Brexit path by a passionate young stranger.

Oct. 22 

Agent Running in the Field book cover