Best New Books: Week of 5/12/2020

“We were a roiling mass of opinion, most of it mean. Here we sat at civilization’s technological peak, and what we chose to do on that shining pinnacle was hate each other’s guts.” – Lydia Millet, Mermaids in Paradise


A Children’s Bible by  Lydia Millet ★

children's biblePulitzer Prize finalist Lydia Millet’s sublime new novel—her first since the National Book Award long-listed Sweet Lamb of Heaven—follows a group of twelve eerily mature children on a forced vacation with their families at a sprawling lakeside mansion.

Contemptuous of their parents, who pass their days in a stupor of liquor, drugs, and sex, the children feel neglected and suffocated at the same time. When a destructive storm descends on the summer estate, the group’s ringleaders—including Eve, who narrates the story—decide to run away, leading the younger ones on a dangerous foray into the apocalyptic chaos outside.

As the scenes of devastation begin to mimic events in the dog-eared picture Bible carried around by her beloved little brother, Eve devotes herself to keeping him safe from harm.

A Children’s Bible is a prophetic, heartbreaking story of generational divide—and a haunting vision of what awaits us on the far side of Revelation.

Description from Goodreads.

“This superb novel begins as a generational comedy… and turns steadily darker, as climate collapse and societal breakdown encroach. But Millet’s light touch never falters; in this time of great upheaval, she implies, our foundational myths take on new meaning and hope.” – New York Times Book Review

“…darkly funny and painfully sharp.” – Los Angeles Times

“As bewitching, unflinching, wry, and profoundly attuned to the state of the planet as ever, supremely gifted Millet tells a commanding and wrenching tale of cataclysmic change and what it will take to survive.” – Booklist

“If you think it’s hard to find original voices in contemporary fiction, you’re not really reading properly―Millet is one such voice: comic, erudite, humane.” – LitHub

Available Formats:

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Catherine House by  Elisabeth Thomas ★

catherine houseYou are in the house and the house is in the woods.
You are in the house and the house is in you…

Catherine House is a school of higher learning like no other. Hidden deep in the woods of rural Pennsylvania, this crucible of reformist liberal arts study with its experimental curriculum, wildly selective admissions policy, and formidable endowment, has produced some of the world’s best minds: prize-winning authors, artists, inventors, Supreme Court justices, presidents. For those lucky few selected, tuition, room, and board are free. But acceptance comes with a price. Students are required to give the House three years—summers included—completely removed from the outside world. Family, friends, television, music, even their clothing must be left behind. In return, the school promises its graduates a future of sublime power and prestige, and that they can become anything or anyone they desire.

Among this year’s incoming class is Ines, who expects to trade blurry nights of parties, pills, cruel friends, and dangerous men for rigorous intellectual discipline—only to discover an environment of sanctioned revelry. The school’s enigmatic director, Viktória, encourages the students to explore, to expand their minds, to find themselves and their place within the formidable black iron gates of Catherine.

For Ines, Catherine is the closest thing to a home she’s ever had, and her serious, timid roommate, Baby, soon becomes an unlikely friend. Yet the House’s strange protocols make this refuge, with its worn velvet and weathered leather, feel increasingly like a gilded prison. And when Baby’s obsessive desire for acceptance ends in tragedy, Ines begins to suspect that the school—in all its shabby splendor, hallowed history, advanced theories, and controlled decadence—might be hiding a dangerous agenda that is connected to a secretive, tightly knit group of students selected to study its most promising and mysterious curriculum.

Combining the haunting sophistication and dusky, atmospheric style of Sarah Waters with the unsettling isolation of Kazuo Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go, Catherine House is a devious, deliciously steamy, and suspenseful page-turner with shocking twists and sharp edges that is sure to leave readers breathless.

Description from Goodreads.

“For fans of Donna Tartt’s The Secret History and Kazuo Ishiguro’s Never Let Me GoCatherine House is a haunting, atmospheric reflection on the discovery of self and others. At times terrifying, always gorgeously captivating, Thomas’ debut is one not to be missed, and perhaps to be revisited frequently.” – Booklist, STARRED REVIEW

“Thomas’s debut novel is a dark, delicious gothic read that hits all the right spots in the best way. If you want a book you can’t put down for even a second, this is it.” – Forbes

“Spellbinding… Surreal imagery, spare characterization, and artful, hypnotic prose lend Thomas’s tale a delirious air, but at the book’s core lies a profound portrait of depression and adolescent turmoil. Fans of Donna Tartt’s The Secret History will devour this philosophical fever dream.” – Publishers Weekly, STARRED REVIEW

“A luxurious tale of an ivory-tower institution with sinister secrets, Catherine House is pure Gothic suspense for the 21st century.” – Harper’s Bazaar

Available Formats:

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I’d Give Anything by  Marisa de los Santos

i'd give anythingGinny Beale is eighteen, irreverent, funny, and brave, with a brother she adores and a circle of friends for whom she would do anything. Because of one terrible night, she loses them all—and her adventurous spirit—seemingly forever. While the town cheers on the high school football team, someone sets the school’s auditorium ablaze. Ginny’s best friend Gray Marsden’s father, a fire fighter, dies in the blaze.

While many in the town believe Daniel York, a notoriously troubled local teen, set the fire, Ginny makes a shattering discovery that casts blame on the person she trusts most in the world. Ginny tells no one, but the secret isolates her, looming between her and her friends and ruining their friendship.

Over the next two decades, Ginny puts aside her wanderlust and her dreams. Moving back to her hometown, she distances herself from the past and from nearly everyone in it. She marries a quiet man, raises their daughter, Avery, and cares for her tyrannical, ailing mother, Adela. But when Ginny’s husband, Harris, becomes embroiled in a scandal, Ginny’s carefully controlled life crumbles, and, just when she believes she is regaining her bearings, the secret she’s kept for twenty years emerges and threatens to destroy her hopes for the future.

With the help of fifteen-year-old Avery and of friends both old and new, Ginny must summon the courage to confront old lies and hard truths and to free herself and the people she loves from the mistakes and regrets that have burdened them for so long.

Description from Goodreads.

“Written in gorgeous prose, I’d Give Anything is a novel about the mistakes we make, and how we can confront them and move forward.” – Popsugar

“As fans know, de los Santos uses exquisitely luxurious, poetic writing to tell her characters’ stories. She knows exactly where she’s going and how and when to get there. The rhythm of the prose will more than please those who love the thoughtful, precise language of Anne Tyler and Joshilyn Jackson.” – Booklist

“De los Santos’s heartfelt latest illustrates how tragedy can be overcome by love, honesty, and forgiveness… Thoughtful musings, engaging dialogue, and ironic wit… add to the drama.” – Publishers Weekly

Available Formats:

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Sorry for Your Trouble: Stories by  Richard Ford

sorry for your troubleIn Sorry for Your Trouble, Pulitzer Prize winner and New York Times bestselling author Richard Ford presents a stunning meditation on memory, love and loss.

“Displaced” returns us to a young man’s Mississippi adolescence, and to a shocking encounter with a young Irish immigrant who recklessly tries to console the narrator’s sorrow after his father’s death. “Driving Up” follows an American woman’s late-in-life journey to Canada to bid good-bye to a lost love now facing the end of his life. “The Run of Yourself,” a novella, sees a New Orleans lawyer navigating the difficulties of living beyond his Irish wife’s death. And “Nothing to Declare” follows a man and a woman’s chance re-meeting in the New Orleans French Quarter, after twenty years, and their discovery of what’s left of love for them.

Replete with Ford’s emotional lucidity and lyrical precision, Sorry for Your Trouble is a memorable collection from one of our greatest writers.

Description from Goodreads.

“A collection of stories about lives shattered by divorce or death, with protagonists discovering that the pieces they are trying to put together no longer fit, and perhaps never did… Powerfully unsettling stories in which men nearing the end of their lives wonder, befuddled, if that’s all there is.” – Kirkus Reviews

“Once again, virtuoso Ford deftly sails the seas and storms of consciousness.” – Booklist, STARRED REVIEW

“The finest and most substantial story here is “The Run of Yourself”. One could say it has the richness and breadth of a novel, but that would be to slight the short-story form, of which Mr. Ford has repeatedly proved himself a master… However understated and oblique, Sorry for Your Trouble—which is what Irish people say to the bereaved at a funeral—is both a coherent work of art and a subtle and convincing portrait of contemporary American life among the moneyed middle class. None of the main characters has to worry about money, which highlights the emotional malaise that underlies their lives and their frequent and almost absent-minded couplings and uncouplings. In the background are wars, financial crises, natural vicissitudes. This is America, and Richard Ford is its chronicler. In these superbly wrought tales he catches, with exquisite precision… the irresistible melancholy that is the mark of American life.” – Wall Street Journal

Available Formats:

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The Summer Set by  Aimee Agresti

summer setCharlie Savoy was once Hollywood’s hottest A-lister. Now, ten years later, she’s pushing forty, exiled from the film world and back at the summer Shakespeare theater that launched her career—and where her old flame, Nick, is the artistic director.

It’s not exactly her first choice. But as parts are cast and rehearsals begin, Charlie is surprised to find herself getting her groove back, bonding with celebrity actors, forging unexpected new friendships and even reigniting her spark with Nick, who still seems to bring out the best in her despite their complicated history.

Until Charlie’s old rival, Hollywood’s current it girl, is brought in to attract theater donors, threatening to undo everything she’s built. As the drama amps up both on the stage and behind the curtains, Charlie must put on the show of a lifetime to fight for the second chance she deserves in career and in love.

Description from Goodreads.

“A contained, deceptively complex story. The summer includes rehearsals and auditions, sure, but also financial panic, intrusive movie stars, gender-swapped Romeos and Juliets, and creative and personal epiphanies. This immensely satisfying read immerses the reader in the camp-for-grownups feel of a season of summer stock in the mountains, with all of its close company and electric energy, and the deus ex machina ending will earn a standing ovation.” – Booklist, STARRED REVIEW

“A fun charmer about the lives of actors both on and off the stage. You’ll never look at theater the same way again.” – PopSugar

“…the perfect staycation escape… exactly the uplifting summer read we all need when this year’s sunny season is shaping up to be a little less lavish than normal.” – Entertainment Weekly

Available Formats:

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We Had No Rules: Stories by  Corinne Manning

we had no rulesA defiant, beautifully realized story collection about the messy complications of contemporary queer life.

A young teenager runs from her family’s conservative home to her sister’s NY apartment to learn a very different set of rules. A woman grieves the loss of a sister, a “gay divorce,” and the pain of unacknowledged abuse with the help of a lone wallaby on a farm in Washington State. A professor of women’s and gender studies revels in academic and sexual power but risks losing custody of the family dog.

Corinne Manning’s defiant, beautifully realized story collection about the messy complications of contemporary queer life follow a cast of queer characters as they explore the choice of assimilation over rebellion, feeling the promise of a radically reimagined world but facing complicity instead.

Description from Goodreads.

“Manning’s debut collection exquisitely examines queer relationships with equal parts humor, heartache, and titillation… This enriching view of queer worlds unpacks narratives that have always been there, even if they’re not often seen.” – Publishers Weekly, STARRED REVIEW

“This debut short story collection from Seattle-based writer, artist, and teacher Corinne Manning is exactly the kind of book the queer canon needs… As necessary as it is delightful, We Had No Rules is not to be missed.” – LitHub

“…nuanced… At times funny, sad and frustrating, We Had No Rules is a collection of modern queer stories that embraces ambiguity over order.” – Shelf Awareness

Available Formats:

Hoopla eBook


The Last Trial by  Scott Turow

last trialAt 85 years old, Alejandro “Sandy” Stern, a brilliant defense lawyer with his health failing but spirit intact, is on the brink of retirement. But when his old friend Dr. Kiril Pafko, a former Nobel Prize winner in Medicine, is faced with charges of insider trading, fraud, and murder, his entire life’s work is put in jeopardy, and Stern decides to take on one last trial.

In a case that will provide the defining coda to both men’s accomplished lives, Stern probes beneath the surface of his friend’s dazzling veneer as a distinguished cancer researcher. As the trial progresses, Stern will question everything he thought he knew about his friend. Despite Pafko’s many failings, is he innocent of the terrible charges laid against him? How far will Stern go to save his friend, and–no matter the trial’s outcome–will he ever know the truth? Stern’s duty to defend his client and his belief in the power of the judicial system both face a final, terrible test in the courtroom, where the evidence and reality are sometimes worlds apart.

Full of the deep insights into the spaces where the fragility of human nature and the justice system collide, Scott Turow’s The Last Trial is a masterful legal thriller that unfolds in page-turning suspense–and questions how we measure a life.

Description from Goodreads.

“Turow has established the gold standard for legal thrillers for decades, and he delivers another bar-raising example of his talent here, with his signature absorbing legal details, cerebral suspense, and fascinatingly flawed characters all on full view.” – Booklist, STARRED REVIEW

“Scott Turow [is] arguably the godfather of the modern legal thriller… Seasoned pro that he is, Turow ratchet[s] up the tension while considering the implications of deceit, finance, Big Pharma and the physical and mental trials of aging.” – Seattle Times

“Twisty… a page-turner that makes a trial centered on fraud and insider trading fascinating. Turow remains in a class of his own in conveying the subtleties of criminal defense work while also entertaining his readers.” – Publishers Weekly

Available Formats:

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The Goodbye Man by  Jeffery Deaver

goodbye manIn pursuit of two young men accused of terrible hate crimes, Colter Shaw stumbles upon a clue to another mystery. In an effort to save the life of a young woman–and possibly others–he travels to the wilderness of Washington State to investigate a mysterious organization. Is it a community that consoles the bereaved? Or a dangerous cult under the sway of a captivating leader? As he peels back the layers of truth, Shaw finds that some people will stop at nothing to keep their secrets hidden.

All the while, Shaw must unravel an equally deadly enigma: locating and deciphering a message hidden by his father years ago, just before his death–a message that will have life-and-death consequences.

Description from Goodreads.

“[An] outstanding sequel to 2019’s The Never Game… Deaver balances suspense and plausibility perfectly… This is a perfect jumping-on point for readers new to one of today’s top contemporary thriller writers.” – Publishers Weekly, STARRED REVIEW

“The second Colter Shaw novel is even better than the first… It’s no surprise that the story has a lot of moving parts and just the right amount of twists and turns (Deaver’s reputation as a master of the corkscrewing plot is well earned), and fans of the author’s Lincoln Rhyme and Kathryn Dance novels will note the same attention to character construction and natural-sounding dialogue here. Colter Shaw seems certain to become an enduring series lead.” – Booklist, STARRED REVIEW

“[A] gripping and ingenious tale of greed and deception in the American wilderness” – The Times

Available Formats:

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Book of the Little Axe by  Lauren Francis-Sharma

book of the little axeIn 1796 Trinidad, young Rosa Rendón quietly but purposefully rebels against the life others expect her to lead. Bright, competitive, and opinionated, Rosa sees no reason she should learn to cook and keep house, for it is obvious her talents lie in running the farm she, alone, views as her birthright. But when her homeland changes from Spanish to British rule, it becomes increasingly unclear whether its free black property owners–Rosa’s family among them–will be allowed to keep their assets, their land, and ultimately, their freedom.

By 1830, Rosa is living among the Crow Nation in Bighorn, Montana with her children and her husband, Edward Rose, a Crow chief. Her son Victor is of the age where he must seek his vision and become a man. But his path forward is blocked by secrets Rosa has kept from him. So Rosa must take him to where his story began and, in turn, retrace her own roots, acknowledging along the way, the painful events that forced her from the middle of an ocean to the rugged terrain of a far-away land.

Description from Goodreads.

“[A] persuasively researched account so richly evocative of a relatively obscure corner of history as to make it seem almost phantasmagorical.” – Kirkus Reviews

“Francis-Sharma… offers fascinating characters across the broad sweep of the American continent at a time of great tumult, warring colonial powers, the spread of slavery, and expansion West. This is a compelling saga of family bonds, ambitions, and desires, all subject to the vagaries of powerful historical forces.” – Booklist, STARRED REVIEW

“As universally touching as it is original.” – New York Times

Available Formats:

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The Library of Legends by  Janie Chang

library of legends“Myths are the darkest and brightest incarnations of who we are…”

China, 1937. When Japanese bombs begin falling on the city of Nanking, nineteen-year-old Hu Lian and her classmates at Minghua University are ordered to flee. Lian and a convoy of students, faculty and staff must walk 1,000 miles to the safety of China’s western provinces, a journey marred by the constant threat of aerial attack. And it is not just the refugees who are at risk; Lian and her classmates have been entrusted with a priceless treasure: a 500-year-old collection of myths and folklore known as the Library of Legends.

The students’ common duty to safeguard the Library of Legends creates unexpected bonds. Lian becomes friends and forms a cautious romance with the handsome and wealthy Liu Shaoming. But after one classmate is arrested and another one is murdered, Lian realizes she must escape before a family secret puts her in danger too. Accompanied by Shao and his enigmatic maidservant, Sparrow, Lian makes her way to Shanghai in the hopes of reuniting with her mother.

During the journey, Lian learns of the connection between her two companions and a tale from the Library of Legends, “The Willow Star and the Prince”. This revelation comes with profound consequences, for as the ancient books travel across China, they awaken immortals and guardian spirits who embark on an exodus of their own, one that will change the country’s fate forever.

Description from Goodreads.

“Chang has created a lovely novel that is both joyful and lighthearted and deeply tragic as she explores a culture and people who are forced to accept that their country will never be the same following the war and the departure of the spirits that protected their land for centuries.” – Library Journal

“The novel is so immersive that if it ends up being read as widely as it deserves, I can see it becoming part of our collective global memory, causing readers to one day say to their children, ‘Let me tell you the legend of a group of university students who set out on a thousand-mile trek in order to protect China’s magical spirits…'” – Booktrib

“Based on true events, rich in Chinese history and lore, The Library of Legends is both an illuminating exploration of China’s recent past and an evocative tale of love, sacrifice, and the extraordinary power of storytelling.” – Book Club Chat

Available Formats:

Hoopla eBook | Hoopla eAudiobook


Superman Smashes the Klan by  Gene Luen Yang, art by  Gurihiru

superman smashes the klanThe year is 1946, and the Lee family has moved from Chinatown to Downtown Metropolis. While Dr. Lee is eager to begin his new position at the Metropolis Health Department, his two kids, Roberta and Tommy, are more excited about being closer to the famous superhero Superman!

Tommy adjusts quickly to the fast pace of their new neighborhood, befriending Jimmy Olsen and joining the club baseball team, while his younger sister Roberta feels out of place when she fails to fit in with the neighborhood kids. She’s awkward, quiet, and self-conscious of how she looks different from the kids around her, so she sticks to watching people instead of talking to them.

While the Lees try to adjust to their new lives, an evil is stirring in Metropolis: the Ku Klux Klan. The Klan targets the Lee family, beginning a string of terrorist attacks. They kidnap Tommy, attack the Daily Planet, and even threaten the local YMCA. But with the help of Roberta’s keen skills of observation, Superman is able to fight the Klan’s terror, while exposing those in power who support them–and Roberta and Superman learn to embrace their own unique features that set them apart.

From multi-award-winning and New York Times bestselling author Gene Luen Yang comes an exciting middle grade tale featuring Superman.

“Stylistically, Yang and Gurihiru have created something that is about as close to a perfect Superman comic as one is likely to find, particularly one featuring the Golden Age version of the character. But it’s not just a great superhero comic. It is also, and quite unfortunately, a relevant one. ” – School Library Journal

“This is one to read. If you’re a Superman fan then great, but if not you should definitely still read it. Yang and Gurihiru have created a new classic that deals with hate, identity, acceptance and community. The book reminds us why Superman was our favourite hero and makes us feel like the Lee children as we rediscover the wonder of Superman.” – DC Comics News

Superman Smashes the Klan is a powerful story of hope and unity, and one that doesn’t ignore the tremendous challenges facing anyone who seeks to do the right thing. Embracing that complexity is what makes this… mini-series one of the best Superman stories of the decade.” –

Available Formats:

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The Shapeless Unease: A Year of Not Sleeping by  Samantha Harvey

shapeless uneaseThis genre-defying debut memoir by Betty Trask Prize winner, Samantha Harvey, weaves a tapestry of confessional anguish, flash fiction, cathartic poetry, and feverish observations on politics and psychology in a transcendent search for reality and truth.

In 2016, Samantha Harvey began to lose sleep. She tried everything to appease her wakefulness: from medication to therapy, changes in her diet to changes in her living arrangements. Nothing seemed to help.

The Shapeless Unease is Harvey’s darkly funny and deeply intelligent anatomy of her insomnia, an immersive interior monologue of a year without one of the most basic human needs. Original and profound, and narrated with a lucid breathlessness, this is a startlingly insightful exploration of memory, writing and influence, death and the will to survive, from “this generation’s Virginia Woolf” (Telegraph).

Description from Goodreads.

“[A] profound, earthshaking memoir… This memoir churns deep in the soul. Here is a talented writer plumbing her personal experience as deeply as she can. The results are staggeringly beautiful.” – Shelf Awareness

“[A]n unmissable memoir of the restless depths of insomnia, and a lyrical new insight into the very essence of our lives.” – Foyles

“Poetic, visceral… The Shapeless Unease contains many beautiful and poignant passages about the human will to keep on living. Even in her most ragged moments [Harvey] can’t help but exult in what Philip Larkin calls “the million-petalled flower of being here”. Awake at 3am, she realises: ‘That’s the trick of life ― it seems so abundant, and even while we’re watching it die all around us it’s whispering in our ears sweet nothings of plenitude.’ Harvey’s imagery casts a spell.” – The Times

Available Formats:

Hoopla eBook

Braver Than You Think: Around the World on the Trip of My (Mother’s) Lifetime by  Maggie Downs

braver than you thinkAt age 34, newly married and established in her career as an award-winning newspaper journalist, Maggie Downs quits her job, sells her belongings, and embarks on the solo trip of a lifetime: Her mother’s.

As a child, Maggie Downs often doubted that she would ever possess the courage to visit the destinations her mother dreamed of one day seeing. “You are braver than you think,” her mother always insisted. That statement would guide her as, over the course of one year, Downs backpacked through seventeen countries―visiting all the places her mother, struck with early-onset Alzheimer’s disease, could not visit herself―encountering some of the world’s most striking locales while confronting the slow loss of her mother.

Interweaving travelogue with family memories, Braver Than You Think takes the reader hiking the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu, white-water rafting on the Nile, volunteering at a monkey sanctuary in Bolivia, praying at an ashram in India, and fleeing the Arab Spring in Egypt.

By embarking on an international journey, Downs learned to make every moment count―traveling around the globe and home again, losing a parent while discovering the world.

Description from Goodreads.

“Downs has a fluid, conversational writing style, zooming in to particular anecdotes that illuminate her experience rather than trying to cover the entire year… The travel sections are compelling and lively. A poignant tale of connection and disconnection through travel.” – Kirkus Reviews

“…beautifully written… the spirit of Maggie’s mother infuses the memoir with an inspiration and meaning beyond the superficial challenges and triumphs of such a journey–instead, we see the ways that Maggie forges a stronger connection to her mother while coming to understand herself more. Braver than You Think is a gorgeous meditation on love, loss, and grief. It’s also an exploration of how we come to understand what is meaningful and important in life and the ways that answer can be different for different people.” – Unabridged

“Her entertaining account of this year seamlessly blends exciting travelogue tales with musings about her mother, punctuated by concerns about whether Alzheimer’s disease will eventually manifest in her own body.” – BookPage

Available Formats:

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