Forecasting the big books of the coming year is a bit like forecasting the weather: You know there'll be rain and wind, but you don't know when or how much. There will be hot books and good books, and maybe even a few that are both, but there are bound to be surprises, too.
In fiction, one surefire superseller is J. K. Rowling's Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, due out July 16. In nonfiction, the only certain hit looks to be historian David McCullough's 1776, due in stores May 24.
Dan Brown, author of the megaseller The Da Vinci Code, is working on a sequel to that book. That would give Harry Potter a run for the lead, but while Brown's Web site says it's tentatively scheduled to appear next summer, there has been no official announcement.
A few usual suspects -- John Grisham with The Broker and Danielle Steel with Impossible -- will surely sell tons of books, but teasing out the best to look forward to is a trickier business. Still, there are clear highlights in the first half of the year.
Andover's Mary McGarry Morris publishes her sixth novel, The Lost Mother, the story of a rural family in Depression-era Vermont, this month. Morris's first novel, Vanished, was a finalist for the National Book Award, and her best-selling Songs in Ordinary Time was an Oprah's Book Club pick. Writer Liz Benedict's new novel, The Practice of Deceit, is due in June. Ian McEwan's newest, Saturday, set amid a massive London peace demonstration, comes out in March. It's his first since his best-selling Atonement in 2003.
Kazuo Ishiguro's biggest book is still The Remains of the Day, made into a film with Anthony Hopkins and Emma Thompson. In his April novel, Never Let Me Go, three friends remember happy days at an English boarding school, but the dark truth about the school is gradually revealed. Novelist and war correspondent-emeritus Philip Caputo, of Connecticut, returns in May with a timely novel of the strife in Sudan, titled Acts of Faith.
This year also brings new collections of stories by John Edgar Wideman (God's Gym, February), Worcester-born John Dufresne (Jonny Too Bad, February), James Salter (Last Night, April), and Newton's Jonathan Wilson (An Ambulance Is on the Way, February). Wilson is chairman of the English Department at Tufts University. Wideman teaches at Brown University.
Also this month, Mary Gordon offers Pearl, the tale of a single New Yorker who learns that her daughter is protesting violence in Ireland and elsewhere by chaining herself to the US embassy in Dublin. Boston's Sue Miller has an April novel, Lost in the Forest, about the struggles of a woman bereft after her husband's death in a traffic accident. And Hull's Jennifer Haigh, whose Mrs. Kimble was a surprise hit in 2003, returns this month with her second novel, Baker Towers.
Stewart O'Nan's most famous recent book in these parts is probably Faithful, the chronicle of the 2004 Red Sox season, co-written with Stephen King. But fiction fans know him for Snow Angels, A Prayer for the Dying, and 2003's The Night Country.Now comes The Good Wife in April, the tale of a woman who must raise her child alone while her husband spends decades in prison.
In nonfiction, the Founding Fathers continue to inspire new books, the biggest of which will undoubtedly be 1776, McCullough's first book since the blockbuster John Adams. Beginning with the winter siege of Boston and ending with the battle of Trenton on Christmas Day, the book focuses on the characters and events of the most fateful year of the struggle for independence.