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Here's what our team recommends for this year's Texas Book Festival

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Colson Whitehead arrives Sept. 19 at the Emmy Awards in Los Angeles. He'll speak this month in a virtual session at Texas Book Festival.

Most book lovers are alike in that we have piles and piles of books, virtual or on shelves and floors, waiting to be read. And we're always adding more.

We'll miss the energy of gathering with thousands of fellow readers in person during this year's hybrid Texas Book Festival. But we'll come away with more to read, and that is a yearly treat we're glad the summer COVID-19 surge didn't take away.

Here are some recommendations for authors to explore from a couple of passionate readers on our team. Check the schedule for their appearance times, and remember that much of the fest is being recorded and can be viewed later.

— Sharon Chapman, executive features editor

More:Texas Book Festival announces full author lineup for 2021

Harlem Shuffle by Colson Whitehead

Sharyn Vane's picks

Vane, a former features editor at the Austin American-Statesman, continues to write regularly about books, from kids to adult titles, for us.

FOR ADULTS

Colson Whitehead: His literary bona fides are legion. Two Pulitzer Prizes for fiction (“The Underground Railroad,” “The Nickel Boys”), a National Book Award (“Railroad,” which also inspired the Emmy-nominated miniseries) to his MacArthur and Guggenheim fellowships. Whitehead's newest, “Harlem Shuffle,” is already a New York Times bestseller. It’s an elevated midcentury heist tale populated with an artfully drawn cast of characters, none more so than Whitehead’s protagonist Ray Carney. (Whitehead's appearance at 12:45 p.m. Oct. 25 is one of the few ticketed events at the fest. Tickets are $35 at www.texasbookfestival.org and include a copy of "Harlem Shuffle.")

More:Round Rock author Varian Johnson explores toxic masculinity, friendship and more in new book

Lawrence Wright is a featured author at this year's hybrid Texas Book Festival.

Lawrence Wright: “The Plague Year” has become more like a year and a half, and that makes New Yorker scribe’s Lawrence Wright’s look at the beginnings of COVID-19 all the more compelling. Wright, who wrote for Texas Monthly from 1980 to 1992, is also a playwright, screenwriter and novelist. He maps the virus’ start, political fumbles in the Trump administration’s handling of the pandemic, sudden shutdowns and heartbreaking personal stories from the hospital’s front lines.

Bryan Burrough, Chris Tomlinson and Jason Stanford: The authors of “Forget the Alamo” posit that the Texas creation myth thousands of Lone Star Staters hold dear whitewashes the truth of what really happened. Conservatives, including Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, have vehemently pushed back, with the resulting controversy (including a scuttled author talk at the Bullock Museum) catapulting the book onto the New York Times bestseller list. Get the scoop on all this plus ‘80s crooner Phil Collins’ trove of Alamo artifacts from the trio of  Burrough, Tomlinson and Stanford.

Austin book lovers be warned:Shop early for the holidays this year

Cecily Wong: Foodies, travelers and trivia fans alike will love “Gastro Obscura,” a compendium of culinary oddities and greatness found across all seven continents. An offshoot of Atlas Obscura, whose community provided the majority of tips for the book, “Gastro Obscura” includes England’s sippable King’s Ginger liqueur, “LSD Nightmare” fish (aka Cyprus’ salema porgy) and the hydroponic greenhouse that provides fresh vegetables for chefs at China’s Great Wall research station in Antarctica. Co-author Cecily Wong also penned the novel “Diamond Head.”

Cynthia D'Aprix Sweeney: “The Nest” author excavates marriages, friendship, careers and betrayal in her newest novel. A New York Times best-seller and pick of both Oprah and Jenna’s Book Club, “Good Company” kick-starts when Flora finds her husband’s supposedly lost wedding ring in the attic. The most potent reflections here are the practical trade-offs that adults make, ones Sweeney reveals as she revisits her couples’ lives together after Flora’s discovery.

Sandra Cisneros: She returns to the festival with her first work of fiction in nearly a decade, “Martita, I Remember You/Martita, Te Recuerdo.” In it, Corina dives into the memories fueled by a cache of letters from Martita, recalling how the two were hopeful young creatives in Europe along with a third woman, Paola. Corina is a Mexican American Chicagoan who decamped to Paris as an aspiring writer, but now works for the gas company back in her hometown, where she lives with her husband and children. She remembers the bleak financial realities of her time in Europe. But Cisneros also uses letters and memories to plumb the echoes and emotional fuel of friendship. Austin’s Liliana Valenzuela translated Cisneros’ English original into Spanish for this dual-language novella, and she will moderate the conversation. (Valenzuela also used to write the American-Statesman.)

Sandra Cisneros is a featured author at this year's hybrid Texas Book Festival.

YA/KIDS PICKS

“Wild Tongues Can't Be Tamed”: This is a profoundly thought-provoking anthology of 15 short stories reflecting the Latinx diaspora from the likes of National Book Award winner Elizabeth Acevedo, NBA finalist Ibi Zoboi and editor Saraciea J. Fennell, founder of The Bronx is Reading and a board member of Latinx in Publishing. These tales aim to redefine what it means to be Latinx, from Mark Oshiro’s exploration of being queer and Latino to Meg Medina’s take on migration. Medina, the Newbery-award winning author of “Merci Suárez Changes Gears,” will be at the festival along with Fennell and contributors Cristina Arreola and Jasminne Mendez.

“Roxy”: National Book Award winner Neal Shusterman (“Challenger Deep,” “Scythe”) teams once more with his son Jarrod (“Dry”) to tackle prescription-drug abuse in thriller form in “Roxy.” The Shustermans render Roxycodone and Adderall as gods in this genre-bending take on how two siblings, Isaac and Ivy, struggle with their use. Aspiring engineer Isaac turns to Roxy after an ankle injury; Ivy’s untreated ADHD leads her to Addy. The two gods race against each other in their quest to bring their prey to a dark Party, one no human truly wants to attend.

More:9 new books for kids this fall, including exciting reads from Texas authors

“Pony”: R.J. Palacio is best known for “Wonder,” her 2012 novel that inspired countless readers to “Choose Kind.” Her new historical-fiction standalone, “Pony,” was her pandemic project. It follows young Silas on a hunt for his kidnapped father with the steed that Silas is convinced his father has sent and some ghostly companions. Set in 1860s Ohio, this poignant tale of love’s unbreakable bonds has elements of traditional Westerns and adventure woven throughout. (Palacio's event at noon Oct. 23 is one of the few ticketed events at the fest. Cost is $25 at www.texasbookfestival.org and tickets include a copy of "Pony.")

"El's Mirror”: A collaboration between Bavu Blakes, until recently one of Austin ISD’s cultural proficiency and inclusion specialists, and his now 10-year-old son Ellison, is one of the books I see referenced most often by teachers and librarians on #EduTwitter. This story of a kindergartener who starts the year with high expectations started back at the 2018 Texas Book Festival, when young Ellison met “Magic Tree House” series co-author Mary Pope Osborne. Ellison has since been named “best new young author” by the Austin Chronicle, presented the book with his father as part of the festival’s Reading Rock Stars visit to Houston, and led an “El’s Mirror” event at the Bullock Texas State History Museum.

“Everything Sad is Untrue": Daniel Nayeri’s Scheherazade-esque tale of a young Iranian boy, “Everything Sad is Untrue,” was based on his own experiences of being a refugee and eventually moving to Oklahoma as a child. So many booksellers I know sang the praises of this novel, which was named to tons of best-of-the-year lists and earned the American Library Association’s Printz award, given to the best book written for teens based solely on literary merit. The title hints at the many dualities of young Khosrou’s life, from his mother’s devout Christian faith to the bullying he experiences at school to the history and humor he shares along the way.

"Beasts of Prey”: Koffi is learning to use her magic. Ekon prefers books to the warrior ways of his family. The two teens meet one fateful night and team up to hunt the monster in the jungle that their town has feared for decades in “Beasts of Prey,” Ayana Gray’s stunning pan-African fantasy debut. You may have seen Gray on “Good Morning America” on publication day, or read an excerpt in Entertainment Weekly. You’ll definitely want to read this first book in a planned trilogy before the already announced Netflix adaptation drops.

“How To Make A Book (About My Dog)”: Austin author Chris Barton has penned multiple award-winning non-fiction books about World War 1 “dazzle ships,” the inventor of the Super-Soaker and celebrated lawmaker Barbara Jordan. What better topic for his next non-fiction book than how to make one? “How To Make A Book (About My Dog),” illustrated by Sarah Horne and featuring beloved family pooch Ernie, takes readers into the journey from idea to finished product. As entertaining as it is informative, this is a behind-the-scenes peek into a process that’s much more complex than most realize.

Sarah Asch’s picks

Asch covers Westlake and Lake Travis for the Statesman, and she's one of the most passionate readers on our staff. Her whole time in Austin has been during the pandemic. She hopes to experience the full in-person version of the book fest one day.

BOOKS I'VE READ

Stacey Swann: "Olympus, Texas" by Swann places the mythic deities behind some of Western culture's oldest stories deep in the heart of Texas. The book follows the Briscoe family during the course of one week in a fictional town east of Houston. Greek myth lovers will recognize a number of parallels to the ancient tales. Through the recasting of these myths in the human world, the novel poses some big questions: What does it mean to face consequences for our actions? Can people change?  What makes humans different from gods?

Benjamin Alire Sáenz: In "Aristotle and Dante Dive into the Waters of the World," the long awaited sequel to Benjamin Alire Sáenz’s 2012 novel, fans can jump right back into the story where the first book left off. Full of the poignant moments and witty dialogue that made legions of readers fall in love with two young boys from El Paso who love the desert rain, this newest installment turns outward, toward the world the characters inhabit and their place in it. This book spans Ari and Dante’s senior year of high school and it might be billed as young adult, but can easily be enjoyed by readers of any age. 

Gabriela Garcia: In "Of Women and Salt" by Garcia, women carry stories in their hearts and on their bodies. Jeanette battles addiction in present-day Miami as she tries to learn more about her Cuban family history from her immigrant mother. Jeanette’s neighbor is detained by ICE, leaving her daughter behind. Spanning centuries and generations, this is a powerful story about diaspora, separation, homecoming and regret. 

Justin Deabler: "Lone Stars" by Deabler follows four generations of one Texas family from Eisenhower's immigration border raids, to love letters sent from the University of Texas at Austin during the Vietnam War, to an unhappy marriage in a Houston suburb. From this quagmire of hard circumstances and harder choices emerges Julian Warner, a new father who is grappling with what he will one day tell his son about the home he felt compelled to leave behind in order to be himself. This story is about the people who love us and the people we allow ourselves to love back. 

Rumaan Alam: "Leave the World Behind" by Rumaan Alam, in all its glorious strangeness, is the perfect pandemic read, though it never mentions illness or indeed any particular ailment facing society. Amanda and Clay head to a rental property on Long Island with their two children for a much awaited vacation, only to have the house’s owners, an older couple, arrive in a panic because a sudden blackout has swept New York City. Cell service and internet are down and strange things start to happen in and around the house. As both families grapple with what to do, they are forced to contend with what it means to be isolated, to trust strangers and to make decisions in the face of the unknown.

God Spare the Girls by Kelsey McKinney

BOOKS I'M MOST EXCITED TO READ NEXT

"God Spare the Girls" by Kelsey McKinney: I've had my eye on this debut novel for months. It tells the story of two sisters in northern Texas who discover a dark secret about their father, the head pastor of an evangelical megachurch, that upends their lives and community.

The Husbands by Chandler Baker

"The Husbands" by Chandler Baker:  Austin author Baker puts a gender twist on "The Stepford Wives." When Nora Spangler and her husband go house hunting in an exclusive neighborhood called Dynasty Ranch, they discover a group of high-powered women whose husbands offer them unfailing support at home. As Nora, an attorney, gets pulled into a wrongful death case in the neighborhood, she uncovers a plot that may explain what she is seeing and might unravel it all. 

S. Kirk Walsh is a featured author at this year's hybrid Texas Book Festival.

"The Elephant of Belfast" by S. Kirk Walsh: This sounds like somebody taking the two things my two parents like about books and combining them: World War II and elephants. The book, based on the life of a real person, tells the story of 20-year-old zookeeper Hettie Quin and Violet, a 3-year-old elephant who arrives in Belfast, Ireland, in 1940. The following year over 600 bombs fall on the city, and Hettie has to fight to save her animal charge and survive. 

"Firekeeper’s Daughter" by Angeline Boulley: This is the debut YA read that everyone has been talking about and I can’t wait to get my hands on it. Eighteen-year-old Daunis Fontaine is a biracial unenrolled tribal member and doesn’t quite fit in at home or on the nearby reservation. Her dreams on hold as she cares for her mother, Daunis is asked to go undercover after witnessing a shocking murder. As the body count rises, Daunis investigates further as the threat strikes close to home.