Best New Books: Week of 3/31/2020

“Too many of us are hung up on what we don’t have, can’t have, or won’t ever have. We spend too much energy being down, when we could use that same energy – if not less of it – doing, or at least trying to do, some of the things we really want to do.” – Terry McMillan, Disappearing Acts


Godshot by  Chelsea Bieker ★

godshotDrought has settled on the town of Peaches, California. The area of the Central Valley where fourteen-year-old Lacey May and her alcoholic mother live was once an agricultural paradise. Now it’s an environmental disaster, a place of cracked earth and barren raisin farms. In their desperation, residents have turned to a cult leader named Pastor Vern for guidance. He promises, through secret “assignments,” to bring the rain everybody is praying for.

Lacey has no reason to doubt the pastor. But then her life explodes in a single unimaginable act of abandonment: her mother, exiled from the community for her sins, leaves Lacey and runs off with a man she barely knows. Abandoned and distraught, Lacey May moves in with her widowed grandma, Cherry, who is more concerned with her taxidermy mice collection than her own granddaughter. As Lacey May endures the increasingly appalling acts of men who want to write all the rules, and begins to uncover the full extent of Pastor Vern’s shocking plan to bring fertility back to the land, she decides she must go on a quest to find her mother, no matter what it takes. With her only guidance coming from the romance novels she reads and the unlikely companionship of the women who knew her mother, she must find her own way through unthinkable circumstances.

Possessed of an unstoppable plot and a brilliantly soulful voice, Godshot is a book of grit and humor and heart, a debut novel about female friendship and resilience, mother-loss and motherhood, and seeking salvation in unexpected places. It introduces a writer who gives Flannery O’Connor’s Gothic parables a Californian twist and who emerges with a miracle that is all her own.

Description from Goodreads.

“Bieker has written a debut that joins Emma Cline’s The Girls and R.O. Kwon’s The Incendiaries in exploring the uneasy intersection of repressive religious belief and burgeoning sexuality, but Bieker’s exploration of the way that poverty and environmental ravishment also add to the subjugation of the female body adds more rich layers to this narrative. It’s a lot to juggle, but Lacey May is such a strong narrator, at once deeply insightful and painfully naïve, that readers will eagerly want to follow all the threads to the breathless conclusion. A dark, deft first novel about the trauma and resilience of both people and the land they inhabit.” – Kirkus Reviews, STARRED REVIEW

“Bieker’s debut novel is a vivid and cutting exploration of unconditional female love. It observes how mothers shape daughters, biological or otherwise, and how daughters must ultimately learn to mother themselves. Young readers will admire Lacy May’s resilience, moxie, and ability to survive in a world she did not choose.” – Booklist, STARRED REVIEW

“Religious fanaticism, environmental disaster, and gender inequality form the core of Bieker’s propulsive, ambitious debut… Bieker straddles the line between darkly comic and downright dark, and excels in portraying female friendships—mother-daughter duo Daisy and Florin, who run a phone sex operation and step in to help Lacey, are particularly memorable—and the setting, a town full of abandoned shops and concrete canals and surrounded by dusty fields. Delving into patriarchal religious zealotry, Bieker’s excellent debut plants themes seen in Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale into a realistic California setting that will linger with readers.” – Publishers Weekly

“Lacey May’s is an irresistible voice, part gullible believer, part whip-smart independent spirit who surprises at every turn. Debut novelist Bieker weaves in the political battles being fought on multiple fronts—climate change, controlling women by controlling their bodies, the intractability of cult-think, through the eyes of a wholly original, strong young woman who fiercely defends her soul against nearly overwhelming odds.” –  Library Journal, STARRED REVIEW

Available Formats:

Print Book | eBook

It’s Not All Downhill From Here by  Terry McMillan ★

it's not all downhill from hereLoretha Curry’s life is full. A little crowded sometimes, but full indeed. On the eve of her sixty-eighth birthday, she has a booming beauty supply empire, a gaggle of lifelong friends, and a husband who’s still got moves that surprise. True, she’s carrying a few more pounds than she should be, but she’s not one of those women who thinks her best days are behind her, and she’s determined to prove her mother, her twin sister, and everyone else with that outdated view of aging wrong–it’s not all downhill from here.

But when an unexpected loss turns her world upside down, Loretha will have to summon all her strength, resourcefulness, and determination to keep on thriving, pursue joy, heal old wounds, and chart new paths. With a little help from her friends, of course.

Description from Goodreads.

“Lively, perceptive… McMillan writes with a staggering depth of feeling, credibly capturing the characters’ emotions as she unpacks their interpersonal conflicts. This delightful novel balances inspiration for renewal with the hard facts of aging.” – Publishers Weekly, STARRED REVIEW

“McMillan brings her signature wit and wisdom to It’s Not All Downhill From Here.” – O: The Oprah Magazine

“This is a story of the power of women and the inspiring lives they lead.” – She Reads

“McMillan’s writing is smart and witty, throwing readers right into the action, and her dialogue is coated with humor that breathes life into her characters.” – Booklist

Available Formats:

Print Book | eBook

Days of Distraction by  Alexandra Chang ★

days of distractionThe plan is to leave. As for how, when, to where, and even why—she doesn’t know yet. So begins a journey for the twenty-four-year-old narrator of Days of Distraction. As a staff writer at a prestigious tech publication, she reports on the achievements of smug Silicon Valley billionaires and start-up bros while her own request for a raise gets bumped from manager to manager. And when her longtime boyfriend, J, decides to move to a quiet upstate New York town for grad school, she sees an excuse to cut and run.

Moving is supposed to be a grand gesture of her commitment to J and a way to reshape her sense of self. But in the process, she finds herself facing misgivings about her role in an interracial relationship. Captivated by the stories of her ancestors and other Asian Americans in history, she must confront a question at the core of her identity: What does it mean to exist in a society that does not notice or understand you?

Equal parts tender and humorous, and told in spare but powerful prose, Days of Distraction is an offbeat coming-of-adulthood tale, a touching family story, and a razor-sharp appraisal of our times.

Description from Goodreads.

“…a lens into the culture that allows us to see both our time and ourselves in new and striking ways… a mixed marriage of new forms and old that captures modern life then shapes it into something artistically abiding… This is an immersive, emotionally honest novel that thinks through our era’s complexities, histories and divisions; it wanders into the gray areas, and wonders where the path forward might be.” – Washington Post

“Chang portrays early adulthood with elegance and an offbeat humor that complements her poignant and deeply significant observations of life as a woman of color. She explores the struggle to be free in an oppressive society with incredible insight and clear, captivating prose that set her apart as a striking new voice in literature.” – Booklist, STARRED REVIEW

“…incisive… Chang’s humorous, timely observations on race, technology, and relationships lend immediacy to the narrator’s chronicle of self-awareness. This introduces a formidably talented writer.” – Publishers Weekly, STARRED REVIEW

“A coming-of-age tale for the 21st century… The narrator’s meditations on themes like racism, capitalism, the role of technology in our lives, and complicated family relationships are simultaneously uniquely insightful and accessible to anyone who has grappled with these issues themselves. Beautifully crafted and deeply thoughtful.” – Kirkus Reviews, STARRED REVIEW

Available Formats:

Print Book | eBook | Hoopla eBook

Valentine by  Elizabeth Wetmore

valentineMercy is hard in a place like this . . .

It’s February 1976, and Odessa, Texas, stands on the cusp of the next great oil boom. While the town’s men embrace the coming prosperity, its women intimately know and fear the violence that always seems to follow.

In the early hours of the morning after Valentine’s Day, fourteen-year-old Gloria Ramírez appears on the front porch of Mary Rose Whitehead’s ranch house, broken and barely alive. The teenager had been viciously attacked in a nearby oil field—an act of brutality that is tried in the churches and barrooms of Odessa before it can reach a court of law. When justice is evasive, the stage is set for a showdown with potentially devastating consequences.

Valentine is a haunting exploration of the intersections of violence and race, class and region in a story that plumbs the depths of darkness and fear, yet offers a window into beauty and hope. Told through the alternating points of view of indelible characters who burrow deep in the reader’s heart, this fierce, unflinching, and surprisingly tender novel illuminates women’s strength and vulnerability, and reminds us that it is the stories we tell ourselves that keep us alive.

Description from Goodreads.

“Stirring… Wetmore poetically weaves the landscape of Odessa and the internal lives of her characters, whose presence remains vivid after the last page is turned. This moving portrait of West Texas oil country evokes the work of Larry McMurtry and John Sayles with strong, memorable female voices.” – Publishers Weekly, STARRED REVIEW

“Drawing comparisons to Barbara Kingsolver and Wallace Stegner, Wetmore writes with an evidently innate wisdom about the human spirit. With deep introspection, she expertly unravels the complexities between men, women, and the land they inhabit. Achingly powerful, this story will resonate with readers long after having finished it.” – Booklist

“…as the story goes on it becomes a monument to a sort of singular grace, and true grit.” – Entertainment Weekly

Available Formats:

Print Book

The Familiar Dark by  Amy Engel

familiar darkSometimes the answers are worse than the questions. Sometimes it’s better not to know.

Set in the poorest part of the Missouri Ozarks, in a small town with big secrets, The Familiar Dark opens with a murder. Eve Taggert, desperate with grief over losing her daughter, takes it upon herself to find out the truth about what happened. Eve is no stranger to the dark side of life, having been raised by a hard-edged mother whose lessons Eve tried not to pass on to her own daughter. But Eve may need her mother’s cruel brand of strength if she’s going to face the reality about her daughter’s death and about her own true nature. Her quest for justice takes her from the seedy underbelly of town to the quiet woods and, most frighteningly, back to her mother’s trailer for a final lesson.

The Familiar Dark is a story about the bonds of family—women doing the best they can for their daughters in dire circumstances—as well as a story about how even the darkest and most terrifying of places can provide the comfort of home.

Description from Goodreads.

“[A] harrowing thriller… Without sacrificing any of the narrative’s ferocious urgency, Engel gradually discloses a few of Eve’s own guilty secrets—on the way to some gut-wrenching final revelations. This rural noir stakes Engel’s claim to that dystopian terrain somewhere between Gillian Flynn’s Sharp Objects and Daniel Woodrell’s Winter’s Bone.” – Publishers Weekly, STARRED REVIEW

“Engel masterfully creates a milieu in which women struggle against all odds to provide the best lives possible for their daughters… A stunning conclusion.” – Booklist, STARRED REVIEW

“[An] uncompromising and absorbingly written new novel… Not just a fine thriller but a fine character study, plumbing family and particularly mother-daughter relationships and showing Eve, her mother, and Izzie’s mother, too, as women unbendable as oak.” – Library Journal

Available Formats:

Print Book | eBook | eAudiobook


We Are the Wildcats by  Siobhan Vivian

we are the wildcatsTomorrow, the Wildcat varsity field hockey squad will play the first game of their new season. But at tonight’s team sleepover, the girls are all about forging the bonds of trust, loyalty, and friendship necessary to win.

Everything hinges on the midnight initiation ceremony—a beloved tradition and the only facet of being a Wildcat that the girls control. Until now.

Coach—a handsome former college player revered and feared in equal measure—changes the plan and spins his team on a new adventure. One where they take a rival team’s mascot for a joyride, crash a party in their pajamas, break into the high school for the perfect picture.

But as the girls slip out of their comfort zone, so do some long-held secrets. And just how far they’re willing to go for their team takes them all—especially Coach—by surprise.

A testament to the strength and resilience of modern teenage girls, We Are the Wildcats will have readers cheering.

Description from Goodreads.

“A fresh, beautifully written look at high school sports that sparkles with strong female athletes.” – Kirkus Reviews

“[Has] lots of appeal, both for athletes and readers on the sideline.” – School Library Journal

“…rousingly feminist… All of these girls are so much stronger than they realize, and it’s truly a joy to watch them discover how badass they can be when they stand together.” – Forever Young Adult

Available Formats:

Print Book


I Want You to Know We’re Still Here: A Post-Holocaust Memoir by  Esther Safran Foer

i want you to knowEsther Safran Foer grew up in a home where the past was too terrible to speak of. The child of parents who were each the sole survivors of their respective families, for Esther the Holocaust loomed in the backdrop of daily life, felt but never discussed. The result was a childhood marked by painful silences and continued tragedy. Even as she built a successful career, married, and raised three children, Esther always felt herself searching.

So when Esther’s mother casually mentions an astonishing revelation–that her father had a previous wife and daughter, both killed in the Holocaust–Esther resolves to find out who they were, and how her father survived. Armed with only a black-and-white photo and a hand-drawn map, she travels to Ukraine, determined to find the shtetl where her father hid during the war. What she finds reshapes her identity and gives her the opportunity to finally mourn.

I Want You to Know We’re Still Here is the poignant and deeply moving story not only of Esther’s journey but of four generations living in the shadow of the Holocaust. They are four generations of survivors, storytellers, and memory keepers, determined not just to keep the past alive but to imbue the present with life and more life.

Description from Goodreads.

“A vivid testimony to the power of memory.” – Kirkus Reviews, STARRED REVIEW

“…skillfully written… Foer’s engrossing, well-researched family history will resonate with those curious about their own roots.” – Publishers Weekly

“The story is at once beautiful and heart-rending, and sheds light on what happened after the war—an often overlooked aspect of the Holocaust experience… Foer explores her family with context and detail. Her story will interest readers of historical and personal narratives, especially memoirs and genealogy.” – Library Journal

Available Formats:

Print Book | eBook

Leave a Reply