The Bullet Swallower

Elizabeth Gonzalez James

Antonio Sonoro, one of the protagonists of this spectacular new novel, is a desperate, violent man who’ll do anything to provide for his family. Well, not quite anything. He won’t stop drinking, won’t get a job, and often won’t come home at all. Antonio is happier scheming, stealing, and, when he’s so inclined, killing. When he hears, in the summer of 1895, that looted treasure is being taken from Mexico to Houston, he’s sure his family’s fortune lies on that train. Antonio’s journey from Dorado, Mexico, into Texas and back again leaves a trail of violence and blood—much of it his. 

In 1964, Jaime Sonoro is a successful Mexican actor who knows almost nothing about his grandfather Antonio or his other ancestors until a mysterious book arrives on his doorstep detailing generations of crime by the Sonoros. Soon Jaime, too, is on a journey—not in pursuit of treasure or in flight from vengeful Texas Rangers but in search of the truth of his family’s past, which he worries will exact a cost on him and his children. 

Gonzalez James, a South Texas native who drew on her ancestors’ experiences for The Bullet Swallower, has written the rare western that’s at once a thrilling adventure story and a beautifully crafted exploration of family across the generations. Simon & Schuster, January 23

The Blueprint

Rae Giana Rashad

This debut novel imagines a dystopian Texas, circa 2030, in which Black women aren’t allowed to choose where they live, what job they have, or whom they marry. Solenne Bonet is contracted to work for a high-ranking government official, and her only joy comes from researching and
writing about Henriette—a nineteenth-century ancestor who served as a concubine to her slave master. Although the women are centuries apart, Solenne’s story increasingly parallels Henriette’s as she too strives for freedom. Harper, February 13

The Turtle House

Amanda Churchill

In this tale about war and family secrets, twentysomething Lia Cope suddenly moves back to tiny Curtain, Texas, but won’t tell anyone what she’s running from. In late-night conversations, her grandmother Mineko talks about her childhood in Japan and the war that brought her to the U.S. At first neither woman understands the other, but as Lia and Mineko grow closer they eventually realize they might change each other’s lives. The Turtle House was inspired by Churchill’s grandmother, a Japanese war bride. Harper, February 20 

This article originally appeared in the February 2024 issue of Texas Monthly with the headline “The Checklist: Three Books Worth Reading This Month.” Subscribe today.