If there’s a silver lining to the two-year, pandemic-forced hiatus from normal life, it’s that more people are reading actual books. Not only are we able to enrich our lives with stories that both strike a chord and help us to escape, but we also can adorn our homes with the intellectual wallpaper provided by a full bookshelf.
This year, while we can expect new releases from Dean Koontz — “The Big Dark Sky” is his new page-turner coming in July — and other local blockbuster authors, there also are emerging authors worth meeting, and favorite authors with new works you might miss amid the daily hubbub.
So, with that in mind, here are some of the novels and memoirs by Southern California authors to look out for in 2022.
“Fiona and Jane” by Jean Chen Ho
Born in Taiwan, Jean Chen Ho grew up in Southern California and lives in Los Angeles where she’s a doctoral candidate in creative writing and literature at USC. Her debut novel, “Fiona and Jane,” introduces us to best friends since second grade, Fiona Lin and Jane Shen. They venture into the seedy side of Los Angeles together through their teens, surviving lousy romances, and grappling with the trauma of their families’ complex pasts. Fiona moves to New York and Jane remains in California. Separated by geography, grief, betrayal and the drama of life, the two struggle to manage a deeply meaningful friendship to them both. In stories told from alternating perspectives, “Fiona and Jane” unveils the complications of female friendship. Spanning counties and selves, the collection dives deep into the lives and hearts of two Asian American women who come of age together and apart. Look for this online and on bookstore shelves; it dropped on Jan. 4.
“The Family You Make” by Jill Shalvis
While New York Times bestselling author Jill Shalvis has a Lake Tahoe address now, for 34 years she called Southern California home, so we’ll still count her as one of our own. (Maybe she’ll move back when she’s done with the snow up there?) Anyway, her newest rom-com has an intriguing set up: Two strangers are alone in a gondola, surrounded by a crazy snowstorm, when the gondola in front of they go down. What happens? “The Family You Make” launches a new series for Shalvis, and was published Jan. 11.
“Mouth to Mouth” by Antoine Wilson
Antoine Wilson is the Los Angeles-based author of “Panorama City” and “The Interloper,” and on Jan. 11 his latest novel, “Mouth to Mouth,” hit bookstore shelves. In a JFK airport lounge, the narrator listens as former classmate Jeff Cook shares the story of when his life altered course — the story of when he resuscitated a drowning man and became compelled to learn more about the person he had saved, art dealer Francis Arsenault . The lives of both men become entangled, and the narrator is pulled into the world of art galleries and transactional relationships, calling into question authenticity and value. Wilson writes a compulsively readable narrative up to the very end.
“Somebody’s Home” by Kaira Rouda
After last year’s “The Next Wife,” Laguna Beach-based author Kaira Rouda returns with “Somebody’s Home.” Published Jan. 18, it’s the sort of domestic thriller readers have come to expect from Rouda, and that has made her a USA Today bestseller. In her new book, heroine Julie Jones helps her teenage daughter, Jess, start over after a suffocating marriage. Their new house in Oceanside looks like a promising fresh start, but then they meet Tom Dean, the son of the previous owners. Hint: All does not go well.
“The Lonely Hunter” by Aimée Lutkin
Aimée Lutkin is a writer, director and performer from New York City, where she was born and raised, until she made her way to the Golden Coast. On Feb. 8, Lutkin’s memoir and cultural critique, “The Lonely Hunter,” will be released with a deep dive into what it means to be single and lonely in society today. Thirtysomething Lutkin found herself at a dinner party surrounded by couples who were quick to assure her that love was out there, there were apps she could try, that she wasn’t hopeless. But then it struck Lutkin that hopelessness shouldn’t necessarily be synonymous with being alone. Over the course of a year, Lutkin read books about loneliness and love, went on endless dates, and ultimately discovered a cultural truth that society struggles to digest singlehood. This is one to look out for if you’re interested in making and breaking your own rules.
“One Italian Summer” by Rebecca Serle
Rebecca Serle is an LA local, USC graduate and a New York Times bestselling author. If you enjoyed “In Five Years” or “The Dinner List,” gear up for the March 1 release of “One Italian Summer.” The story of love between a mother and daughter, “One Italian Summer” follows Katy, bereft after her mother Carol’s death. A mother-daughter vacation was planned, and now Katy is off to Positano alone. Once on the Amalfi Coast, Katy begins to sense her mother’s spirit. Except it isn’t just her spirit, it’s her mother, there in the flesh — a younger more vibrant woman she never knew. Over the course of the summer, Katy gets to know young Carol, surprised by how different her mother once was.
“A Ballad of Love and Glory” by Reyna Grande
If you couldn’t put down Los Angeles author Reyna Grande’s “Across a Hundred Mountains” and her award-winning memoir “The Distance Between Us,” keep your eyes peeled for the March 15 release of her new novel, “A Ballad of Love and Glory.” In 1846, a Mexican army nurse and an Irish soldier fight for love and survival amid the Mexican-American War. Texas Rangers storm Ximena Salomé’s ranch and kill her husband. A gifted healer, she vows to honor her husband’s memory and defend her country, becoming an army nurse. John Riley, an Irish immigrant in the Yankee army, is disgusted with the atrocities he witnesses, and in an act of defiance, swims across the Rio Grande to join the Mexican Army. When Ximena and John meet, an intense attraction sparks, changing the course of both of their lives. Inspired by true events and historical figures, “A Ballad of Love and Glory” illuminates a story of an often-overlooked portion of history, still impacting the US-Mexico border today.
“Mecca” by Susan Straight
Susan Straight — a National Book Award finalist, California Gold Medal for Fiction winner and local literary icon — is back with a new novel, “Mecca,” out March 15. Already called a “masterpiece” by Michael Connelly and “a heartbreaker from beginning to end” by Noteworthy author (and Pulizer winner) Viet Thanh Nguyen, “Mecca” is an epic novel that examines issues of race, history, family and the idea of destiny through the interlocking stories of a group of native Californians. Straight has sometimes been called the “bard of Riverside County,” and here’s a word to the wise: Her Johnny Frías, a Mexican-American highway patrolman navigating a traumatic past, is a character no reader is going to forget.
“Finding Me” by Viola Davis
Available for pre-order now and on bookshelves starting April 26, “Finding Me” by Viola Davis, is the Academy Award-winning actress’ story, in her own words. The memoir spans her life from her coming of age in Rhode Island to her present day in Los Angeles. Advanced reviews call “Finding Me” an inspiring story of overcoming. A hero in her own right, Davis is unflinching in her personal account of her journey to the silver screen.
“I’ll Be You” by Janelle Brown
LA local Janelle Brown has a new novel hitting shelves April 26. If you loved her New York Times bestselling novels “Pretty Things” and “Watch Me Disappear,” then be on the lookout for “I’ll Be You,” the story of identical twin sisters and former child TV actors, Sam and Elli. After leaving their acting careers behind, Elli threw herself into becoming the perfect homemaker, while Sam grappled with trauma and addiction. The eleven-inseparable twin sisters become estranged but then Sam gets a call from their father and is shaken to discover Elli’s life has seemingly fallen apart. Elli’s husband moved out, she recently adopted a 2-year-old daughter, and now she’s ghosting all calls and has checked into a spa in Ojai — or has she? Sam works to unveil the truth and realizes the bond between her and her twin is more complex than she ever knew. In this twisty sister suspense novel, Brown dives deep into the way choices can define our families and our lives.
“Monkey Business” by Carleton Eastlake
Los Angeles television producer and past president of PEN Center USA, Carleton Eastlake has penned a madcap novel about a TV writer on location in Florida who hooks up with an exotic dancer. She claims to be an anthropologist in search of rational life on Earth, and, of course, romance ensues—just don’t expect it to be normal. It lands at bookstores May 3.
“Exalted” by Anna Dorn
LA-based Anna Dorn is a former criminal defense attorney who last year published her memoir, “Bad Lawyer.” She now brings us “Exalted,” a novel set in Southern California about Instagram astrology influencer Emily Forrest and Riverside diner waitress Dawn Webster. Forrest is skilled in deciphering moons and signs, but doesn’t take astrology too seriously until she happens upon the chart of Beau Rubidoux. His planets are in all the right places and their interest is piqued. She considers Beau may be her one true love and follows him around LA hoping to capture his gaze. Webster is fresh on the heels of a breakup at 48, and struggling to find her way again with no girlfriend and her only son living away in Hollywood. Told from the alternating viewpoints of Webster and Forrest, “Exalted” is a novel that examines desire, love and the deeper meaning behind the impulse to continue scrolling. In the end, there’s a twist (of course!) and Webster and Forrest’s shocking connection is revealed. Look for “Exalted” on bookshelves June 7.
“The Pink Hotel” by Liska Jacobs
Novelist Liska Jacobs is an Angeleno through and through. Available for pre-order now and on shelves July 19, “The Pink Hotel” is a story of class and wealth disparity that sparks when a raging wildfire confines guests and staff inside an opulent Beverly Hills hotel. Newlyweds Keith and Kit Collins are invited by the general manager of the Pink Hotel to come for a luxurious stay with the hopes of hiring Keith. Just as their stay begins, wildfires spread through the surrounding mountains, and the city of Los Angeles goes awry with riots consuming the streets amid rolling blackouts. The Pink Hotel closes its doors, and Keith and Kit are locked inside with disgruntled staff and ultra-wealthy guests. “The Pink Hotel” examines the class system within its walls, greed, true love and resentment — all while a city burns.
“Sweet, Soft, Plenty Rhythm” by Laura Warrell
Laura Warrell’s debut novel follows the life of a free-wheeling 40-something trumpet player and the women who love him. Circus Palmer refuses to be tied down, so when he finds out his girlfriend’s pregnant, he hits the road, setting off a chain of revelations from the women in his life — most notably his teenage daughter Koko. An ensemble-cast novel about the perennial temptations of dangerous love, “Sweet, Soft, Plenty Rhythm” is like a song in which a symphony of diverse female voices discovers the unique power of their instruments. Look for it in September.
“How to Write a Novel in 20 Pies: Sweet and Savory Secrets to Surviving the Writing Life” by Amy Wallen
Look out for this unusual but extremely entertaining how-to book: As a novelist, memoirist, and former associate director of the New York State Summer Writers Institute, Amy Wallen (based in San Diego) has a few things to say about the writing world , many of them irreverent and snarky. From her perspective as a teacher, mentor and published author, her belief is that the way to survive the hard knocks of writing a book and trying to get published is to bust a gut working, laughing and eating pie. “How to Write a Novel in 20 Pies: Sweet and Savory Secrets to Surviving the Writing Life” combines Wallen’s writing advice with the brilliant illustrations of Emil Wilson, including recipes for literary success and the full recipes for 20 sweet and savory pies. (Fun fact: Last year’s SCNG literary supplement featured an excerpt of the book while it was still in progress!) It’s slated to publish this September.
—Additional reporting by Amanda Fletcher