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The Big Fall 2023 Book Preview

For your reading list: 26 new novels from John Grisham, Lauren Groff, Stephen King and more

spinner image from left to right book covers holly by stephen king then the exchange by john grisham then north woods by daniel mason
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Fall is always rich with wonderful fiction — a wave of new releases arrives with the colder weather, then slows to a trickle in December, when the gift books and self-help guides start their rise. And this season brings some spectacular new novels, including, in September, my two favorites of the year (so far): Wellness by Nathan Hill and North Woods by Daniel Mason. Both are totally absorbing, brilliantly written stories. If and when you get a chance to check them out — or if you have your own suggestions for fall reading — please offer your thoughts in the comments section below.

These 26 books are just some highlights among the many worthy works of fiction coming in the next few months.

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Literary fiction 

First up is The Fraud by Zadie Smith (September 5), the British author of the bestselling 2000 novel White Teeth. Its various storylines include one focused on a legal trial that in real life riveted Victorian England involving an Australian butcher — possibly an impostor — who claimed to be the rightful heir to a wealthy British estate.  

In The Vaster Wilds (September 12), the always captivating Lauren Groff (2015's Fates and Furies, in particular) turns to meticulously researched historical fiction with a gripping story about a girl who exchanges starvation and violence in the 17th-century colonial settlement of Jamestown, Virginia, for the trials of surviving alone in the wilderness.

As noted above, one of my faves of the season so far is Wellness by Nathan Hill (September 19), about a couple, Jack and Elizabeth, who meet in Chicago and fall wildly in love … then out of love when we revisit them as parents and at a point of middle-age exhaustion and disenchantment. It ends up being a thoughtful, often humorous, cultural critique and exploration of why we believe the things we do, why we love who and what we love and so much more.

North Woods by Daniel Mason (September 19) is another must-read, with a unique premise, wonderfully executed. It’s the story of one house in Western Massachusetts and its various inhabitants, from the pre-Colonial era to modern times. The past ends up haunting (sometimes literally) the people who cycle through the home, including the twin daughters of an apple farmer and a man with mental illness who can perceive the ghosts that still live in his midst. Mason also offers rich, evocative depictions of the changing wooded landscape, which evolves along with the humans it harbors.

The Armor of Light by Ken Follett (September 26) is the fifth and final book in the author’s epic series that spans the last thousand years. This one is set in Europe during the Industrial Revolution.

A potential Booker prize winner comes out October 17: The House of Doors by Tan Twan Eng (October 17), who was on the 2012 Booker short list for his novel The Garden of Evening Mists. His latest is on the current Booker long list (the short list will be announced September 21). Set in 1920s Malaysia — where the author is from — it features the famed writer Somerset Maugham and some deep secrets between friends.

Julia by Sandra Newman (October 24) retells the classic George Orwell dystopian novel 1984 from the point of view of Julia, girlfriend of Winston Smith. Kirkus gave it a thumbs up, noting that Newman adds some “amusing flourishes” while keeping her story within the original novel’s Big Brother-controlled world and “Book clubs could have great fun reading the two together.”

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The author of the modern classic The Things They Carried, Tim O’Brien, is coming out with his first novel in 20 years, America Fantastica (October 24). The wild story begins when a disgraced journalist robs a bank and flees with a captured bank teller on a cross-country odyssey, hoping to settle a score before he’s caught by various antagonists on his trail. The publisher describes it as “a biting comic satire, in the tradition of Jonathan Swift and Mark Twain.”

In Let Us Descend by Jesmyn Ward (October 24), the two-time National Book Award winner (for 2017’s Sing, Unburied, Sing and 2011’s Salvage the Bones) takes us inside the mind of Annis, a young woman — enslaved by the white man who fathered her — who is forced to walk from the Carolinas to a slave market in New Orleans. Annis is strengthened by stories of her warrior ancestors as she struggles to retain her sense of self through the pain and terror of her journey.

Absolution by Alice McDermott (October 31) is a quiet, absorbing story set in Vietnam, where newlywed Tricia is living with her husband, who works for Navy intelligence and is stationed there during the war. She bonds with another young wife, Charlene, and we learn about the two friends’ attempts to assist the Vietnamese, in small ways, as Tricia tells their story to Charlene’s daughter decades later. McDermott, a beautiful writer, won the National Book Award for Charming Billy (1998), and her 1992 novel, At Weddings and Wakes, was a finalist for the Pulitzer. 

Day by Michael Cunningham (November 14), the author of The Hours, focuses on a family — Isabel and Dan, their two kids and, until he leaves for Iceland, Dan’s younger brother — stuck (and unraveling a bit) together in their Brooklyn home during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Other fall novels of note include Evil Eye by Etaf Rum (September 5), author of A Woman Is No Man, and Chenneville by Paulette Jiles (September 12), about a Union soldier who returns from the Civil War to find his sister and her family murdered, from the author of novels that include 2016’s acclaimed News of the World.

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A new novel from the master of suspense arrives September 5: Holly by Stephen King, a supremely creepy story featuring Holly Gibney from a few of the author’s other fantastically creepy books (Mr. Mercedes, The Outsider). King’s chilling latest revisits the private detective, who’s now on the case of a string of disappearances and contending with twisted husband-and-wife professors with some very dark secrets.

Another fixture on the bestseller list, James Patterson, features three thrillers in one book in 23½ Lies (September 12). The trio of stories concern some awfully mean characters; “Fallen Ranger” is about a Texas Ranger hunting down thieves, one of whom might be a formerly esteemed fellow Ranger gone bad. AARP members can get a free sneak peek at the first two chapters online, as well as full access to his novella The Trial.

There’s also The Exchange: After The Firm by John Grisham (October 17), a sequel to his famous novel The Firm that will return to the story of Mitch and Abby McDeere, who, in the first book (and the 1993 film starring Tom Cruise), fled the country after revealing the crimes of a Memphis law firm. In The Exchange, Grisham reconnects with them 15 years later in Manhattan, where Mitch is an international lawyer who ends up in Libya trying to thwart the threatened execution of his kidnapped associate.

On the lighter side is The Last Devil to Die by Richard Osman (September 19), where the four septuagenarian English sleuths from Osman’s Thursday Murder Club mystery series (the basis for a planned film from Stephen Spielberg) return for a fourth fun caper, following the bestselling The Bullet That Missed. This time they’re contending with a dangerous package gone missing and a killer on the loose. 

Other writers offer new installments in popular series, including The Raging Storm by Ann Cleeves (September 5), the third in the author’s mystery series featuring detective Matthew Venn, and The Longmire Defense, the 19th book in Craig Johnson’s Longmire series (September 5). Dirty Thirty by Janet Evanovich (October 31) is the 30th installment in Evanovich’s series featuring New Jersey bounty hunter Stephanie Plum and a colorful cast of characters. And Unnatural Death by Patricia Cornwell (November 28) is Cornwell’s 27th Kay Scarpetta novel.

The Reformatory by Tananarive Due (October 31) arrives just in time for Halloween. On my to-read list for sure, this one sounds like a truly scary story that Library Journal calls “a masterpiece,” about a boy in Jim Crow-era (1950) Florida who’s sent to a frightening, haunted reform school. Due told Publishers Weekly that she spoke with many survivors of such punishing schools to inform her novel, and she dedicates it to “Robert Stephens, my great-uncle who died at the Dozier School for Boys in Marianna, Florida, in 1937. He was fifteen years old.”

Tess Gerritsen, the author whose books inspired the Rizzoli & Isles TV series, is launching a new series called The Martini Club with The Spy Coast (November 1). The thriller stars a retired CIA operative, Maggie Bird, who has settled in for a quiet life as a chicken farmer in small-town Maine when she’s alerted to a breach that compromised the secrecy of her involvement in a long-ago case. She’s been targeted for murder and sets out to find out who wants her dead and why with the help of her fellow retired spies. Fun fact: Gerritsen, 70, is a former physician who started writing fiction while on maternity leave.

And, briefly: The River We Remember by William Kent Krueger is a literary murder mystery set in 1958 Minnesota (September 5); Resurrection Walk by Michael Connelly (November 7) brings back Lincoln lawyer Mickey Haller and retired LAPD detective Harry Bosch; and The Mystery Guest by Nita Prose (November 28) features Molly Gray, the maid at the center of the huge 2022 bestseller The Maid.

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