Best New Books: Week of 6/9/2020

“Reading is the sole means by which we slip, involuntarily, often helplessly, into another’s skin, another’s voice, another’s soul.” – Joyce Carol Oates


Broken People by  Sam Lansky ★

broken people“He fixes everything that’s wrong with you in three days.”

This is what hooks Sam when he first overhears it at a fancy dinner party in the Hollywood hills: the story of a globe-trotting shaman who claims to perform “open-soul surgery” on emotionally damaged people. For neurotic, depressed Sam, new to Los Angeles after his life in New York imploded, the possibility of total transformation is utterly tantalizing. He’s desperate for something to believe in, and the shaman—who promises ancient rituals, plant medicine and encounters with the divine—seems convincing, enough for Sam to sign up for a weekend under his care.

But are the great spirits the shaman says he’s summoning real at all? Or are the ghosts in Sam’s memory more powerful than any magic?

At turns tender and acid, funny and wise, Broken People is a journey into the nature of truth and fiction—a story of discovering hope amid cynicism, intimacy within chaos and peace in our own skin.

Description from Goodreads.

“A haunting, honest, and humorous portrayal of how hard it is to find shelter from the ghosts of one’s past.” – O, The Oprah Magazine

“Revelant… bittersweet and delightfully circuitous… reminding us of the inconveniently true maxim that in order to heal, you first have to make some semblance of peace with yourself.” – Vogue

“Vividly realized… remains the story of one man’s deep personal struggles while at the same time speaking to and for all the broken people in this world… a deeply felt journey.” – Library Journal

“A searing read about truth and identity.” – Harper’s Bazaar

Available Formats:

Hoopla eAudiobook

You Exist Too Much by  Zaina Arafat ★

you exist too muchOn a hot day in Bethlehem, a 12-year-old Palestinian-American girl is yelled at by a group of men outside the Church of the Nativity. She has exposed her legs in a biblical city, an act they deem forbidden, and their judgement will echo on through her adolescence. When our narrator finally admits to her mother that she is queer, her mother’s response only intensifies a sense of shame: “You exist too much,” she tells her daughter.

Told in vignettes that flash between the U.S. and the Middle East―from New York to Jordan, Lebanon, and Palestine―Zaina Arafat’s debut novel traces her protagonist’s progress from blushing teen to sought-after DJ and aspiring writer. In Brooklyn, she moves into an apartment with her first serious girlfriend and tries to content herself with their comfortable relationship. But soon her longings, so closely hidden during her teenage years, explode out into reckless romantic encounters and obsessions with other people. Her desire to thwart her own destructive impulses will eventually lead her to The Ledge, an unconventional treatment center that identifies her affliction as “love addiction.” In this strange, enclosed society she will start to consider the unnerving similarities between her own internal traumas and divisions and those of the places that have formed her.

Opening up the fantasies and desires of one young woman caught between cultural, religious, and sexual identities, You Exist Too Much is a captivating story charting two of our most intense longings―for love, and a place to call home.

Description from Goodreads.

“Arafat’s protagonist is a messy, complicated character who doesn’t fit neatly into any single ‘multicultural’ category, and that, all by itself, is refreshing. An… intriguing debut.” – Kirkus Reviews

“This story about love, identity, gender and family is brilliantly written and questions the effects of maternal love.” – Good Morning America

“[An] extraordinary debut… It’s the trickiest of territories, this type of intense examination of the self, but Zaina Arafat’s lyrical, provocative writing is wholly captivating, startling in its honesty, unsettling in all the best ways.” – Refinery29

“Poignant… Arafat writes movingly of being caught between identities, homelands, and obligation and desire… [A] heartfelt wonder [that] delivers an emotional wallop.” – Publishers Weekly

Available Formats:

Hoopla eBook

Night. Sleep. Death. The Stars. by  Joyce Carol Oates

night sleep death the starsNight. Sleep. Death. The Stars. is a gripping examination of contemporary America through the prism of a family tragedy: when a powerful parent dies, each of his adult children reacts in startling and unexpected ways, and his grieving widow in the most surprising way of all.

Stark and penetrating, Joyce Carol Oates’s latest novel is a vivid exploration of race, psychological trauma, class warfare, grief, and eventual healing, as well as an intimate family novel in the tradition of the author’s bestselling We Were the Mulvaneys.

Description from Goodreads.

“…a brooding, thoughtful study of how people respond to stress and loss… Long and diffuse, but, as with all Oates, well worth reading.” – Kirkus Reviews

“Oates’s quintessential examination of grief (after Pursuit) draws on the closing lines of Walt Whitman’s ‘A Clear Midnight,’ which reverberate and reappear throughout this weighty chronicle of a family’s reckoning with the death of a father and husband… With precise, authoritative prose that reads like an inquest written by a poet (‘death makes of all that is familiar, unfamiliar’), Oates keep the reader engaged throughout the sprawling narrative. This is a significant and admirable entry in the Oates canon.” – Publishers Weekly, STARRED REVIEW

“…timely, monumental… It is brilliant. How blessed we are to have her as a novelist in our chaotic, confusing times.” – Star Tribune

Available Formats:

Print Book | eBook

The Distant Dead by  Heather Young

distant deadA body burns in the high desert hills. A boy walks into a fire station, pale with the shock of a grisly discovery. A middle school teacher worries when her colleague is late for work. By day’s end, when the body is identified as local math teacher Adam Merkel, a small Nevada town will be rocked to its core by a brutal and calculated murder.

Adam Merkel left a university professorship in Reno to teach middle school in Lovelock seven months before he died. A quiet, seemingly unremarkable man, he connected with just one of his students: Sal Prentiss, a lonely sixth grader who lives with his uncles on a desolate ranch in the hills. The two outcasts developed a tender, trusting friendship that brought each of them hope in the wake of tragedy. But it is Sal who finds Adam’s body, charred almost beyond recognition, half a mile from his uncles’ compound.

Nora Wheaton, the middle school’s social studies teacher, dreamed of a life far from Lovelock only to be dragged back on the eve of her college graduation to care for her disabled father, a man she loves but can’t forgive. She sensed in the new math teacher a kindred spirit–another soul bound to Lovelock by guilt and duty. After Adam’s death, she delves into his past for clues to who killed him and finds a dark history she understands all too well. But the truth about his murder may lie closer to home. For Sal Prentiss’s grief seems heavily shaded with fear, and Nora suspects he knows more than he’s telling about how his favorite teacher died. As she tries to earn the wary boy’s trust, she finds he holds not only the key to Adam’s murder, but an unexpected chance at the life she thought she’d lost.

Weaving together the last months of Adam’s life, Nora’s search for answers, and a young boy’s anguished moral reckoning, this unforgettable thriller brings a small American town to vivid life, filled with complex, flawed characters wrestling with the weight of the past, the promise of the future, and the bitter freedom that forgiveness can bring.

Description from Goodreads.

“Stunning… An ideal recommendation for fans of Kate Atkinson.” – Booklist, STARRED REVIEW

“”…at heart about the timelessness of human curiosity, the eternal possibility of forgiveness, and the everyday miracle of survival. Electrifying, ambitious, and crushingly beautiful.” – Kirkus Reviews, STARRED REVIEW

“Powerful and poignant.” – People

Available Formats:

Print Book | eBook

The Lost Diary of Venice by  Margaux DeRoux

lost diary of veniceIn the months following her beloved father’s death, introverted book restorer Rose has found solace in her work. But on one rainy Connecticut afternoon, struggling painter William Lomazzo appears at her door. He brings with him a sixteenth-century treatise on art, left remarkably intact; Rose is quickly able to identify the pages as a palimpsest, a document written over a hidden text that had purposely been scraped away. Yet the restoration poses a confounding issue: Rose and William–a married man–are captivated by one another, an unspoken attraction linking them almost instantly.

Five centuries earlier, Renaissance-era Venetians find themselves at the mercy of an encroaching Ottoman fleet, preparing for a bloody war. Giovanni Lomazzo, a respected portrait artist still grappling with the death of his wife and young son, is terrified to discover his vision declining with each passing day, forcing him to document his every encounter as he faces the possibility of a completely dark, colorless world. Commissioned to paint the enchanting courtesan of one of Venice’s most respected military commanders–what may very well be his final artistic feat–Gio soon finds himself enraptured by a dangerous, magnificent forbidden love. All the while, the threat of the Ottoman Empire looms as the rival army hopes to lay siege to the port city.

Spellbound by Gio’s revelations, Rose and William find themselves forced to confront the reality of their own mystifying connection. A richly detailed page-turner shadowed by one of history’s darkest times, The Lost Diary of Venice weaves a heartbreakingly vivid portrait of two vastly different worlds and two tales of entrancing, unrelenting love.

Description from Goodreads.

“[A] scintillating debut… DeRoux brilliantly evokes the 16th-century Venetian art world. [The Lost Diary of Venice] will satisfy bibliophiles and Renaissance art lovers alike.” – Publishers Weekly

Available Formats:

Print Book | eBook

The Garden of Monsters by  Lorenza Pieri

garden of monstersSet in the Maremma region of Southern Tuscany, this novel tells the story of two families against the backdrop of a rapidly transforming country. The Biagini are local ranchers, while the wealthy Sanfilippi belong to Rome’s upper middle-class. When Sauro, an ambitious rancher, and Filippo, a hedonistic politician, become business partners, the stories of their families become irrevocably intertwined. As an influx of new money pours into the town, political allegiances, family loyalties, moral codes, and sexual identities all begin to shift.

Sauro and Filippo, their wives Miriam and Giulia, and their sons, are the prototypes of the new Italy, ostensibly emancipated from traditional mores, but at the same time, insecure and blinkered. Fifteen- year-old Annamaria, fragile and anxious, struggles to find her place among them. Luckily, a parallel world is taking shape nearby: the Tarot Garden, the monumental sculpture garden created by the French-American artist Niki de Saint Phalle. It is in this magical place, through her conversations with the artist, that Annamaria will slowly find a sense of identity and belonging.

Description from Goodreads.

“Pieri adds to a robust tradition in modern Italian literature, popularized by authors like Elsa Morante in Arturo’s Island, Italo Calvino in The Path to the Spiders’ Nest, and Elena Ferrante in the Neapolitan Quartet: the novel of adolescent disenchantment, in which charmed and secret places are crucibles from which more hardened lives emerge.” – Literary Hub

“A perfectly narrated family saga, in which the loves and conflicts of each individual are composed to form a complex, vivid mosaic of the human heart and its revolutions.” – Corriere della Sera

“This book confirms Lorenza Pieri as one of the great narrators of adolescence.” – La Repubblica

Available Formats:

Hoopla eBook


Always the Last to Know by  Kristan Higgins

always the last to knowSometimes you have to break a family to fix it.

The Frosts are a typical American family. Barb and John, married almost fifty years, are testy and bored with each other… who could blame them after all this time? At least they have their daughters– Barb’s favorite, the perfect, brilliant Juliet; and John’s darling, the free-spirited Sadie. The girls themselves couldn’t be more different, but at least they got along, more or less. It was fine. It was enough.

Until the day John had a stroke, and their house of cards came tumbling down.

Now Sadie has to put her career as a teacher and struggling artist in New York on hold to come back and care for her beloved dad–and face the love of her life, whose heart she broke, and who broke hers. Now Juliet has to wonder if people will notice that despite her perfect career as a successful architect, her perfect marriage to a charming Brit, and her two perfect daughters, she’s spending an increasing amount of time in the closet having panic attacks.

And now Barb and John will finally have to face what’s been going on in their marriage all along.

From the author of Good Luck with That and Life and Other Inconveniences comes a new novel of heartbreaking truths and hilarious honesty about what family really means.

“A masterful exploration of all kids of love—romance, family, and friendship.” – Kirkus Reviews, STARRED REVIEW

“This sparkling story is perfect summer reading fare.” – Publishers Weekly, STARRED REVIEW

“A thoroughly entreatingly exploration of families’ complexities—from bitter disappointment to quiet strengths.” – People

Available Formats:

Print Book | eBook

Dance Away with Me by  Susan Elizabeth Phillips

dance away with meRun, run, as fast as you can!

When life throws her one setback too many, midwife and young widow Tess Hartsong takes off for Runaway Mountain. In this small town high in the Tennessee mountains, surrounded by nature, she hopes to outrun her heartbreak and find the solace she needs to heal.

But instead of peace and quiet, she encounters an enigmatic artist with a craving for solitude, a fairy-tale sprite with too many secrets, a helpless infant, a passel of curious teens, and a town suspicious of outsiders, especially one as headstrong as Tess. Just as headstrong, is Ian North, a difficult, gifted man with a tortured soul—a man who makes Tess question everything.

In running away to this new life, Tess wonders— Has she lost herself… or has she found her future?

Description from Goodreads.

“…deeply felt romance… Phillips layers this poignant love story with robust descriptions of mountain scenery and society, and a well-handled subplot about Tess’s fight for comprehensive sex education for the town’s teens. This stirring romance is sure to capture readers’ hearts.” – Publishers Weekly, STARRED REVIEW

“In this superbly written stand-alone, this master storyteller’s flair for highly imaginative plots and flawless characterization are on full display, resulting in an emotionally enriching, breathtakingly brilliant tale of heartbreak and hope… lively writing liberally laced with multiple layers of delicious wit and snarky charm.” – Booklist, STARRED REVIEW

Available Formats:

Print Book | eBook


Dead Reckoning: The Story of How Johnny Mitchell and His Fighter Pilots Took on Admiral Yamamoto and Avenged Pearl Harbor by  Dick Lehr

dead reckoning“AIR RAID, PEARL HARBOR. THIS IS NOT DRILL.” At 7:58 a.m. on December 7, 1941, an officer at the Ford Island Command Center frantically typed what would become one of the most famous radio dispatches in history as the Japanese navy launched a surprise aerial assault on the American navy stationed in Hawaii. In a little over two hours, the Japanese killed more than 2,400 Americans and propelled the U.S.’s entry into World War II. Dead Reckoning is the story of the mission to avenge that devastating strike.

New York Times bestselling author Dick Lehr expertly crafts this “hunt for Bin Laden”-style WWII story as he recreates the minute-by-minute events at Pearl Harbor. Lehr explores the tremendous spycraft and rising military tradecraft undertaken in its wake, and goes behind the scenes at Station Typo in Hawaii where U.S. Navy code breakers’ discovered exactly where and when to find Admiral Yamamoto, on April 18, 1943, and chronicles in detail the nearly impossible, nerve-wracking mission to kill him.

Lehr focuses on the key figures, including Yamamoto, the enigmatic, charismatic military genius whose complicated feelings about the U.S.—he studied at Harvard—add rich complexity; the American pilots of the attack squad—Thomas Lanphier Jr., Besby Holmes, Ray Hine, and Rex Barber; and their extraordinary leader, Major John Mitchell, who planned their record-setting mission literally to the second. Lehr adds tension using a Rashomon-like approach that tells the story of the operation through competing versions, and offers well-reasoned conclusions, including the identity of the pilot actually responsible for bringing Yamamoto down.

Description from Goodreads.

“An evenhanded history of the hunt for the mastermind of the sneak attack on Pearl Harbor… A sympathetic, exciting portrait of both American and Japanese warriors caught up in ‘targeted-kill operations.'” – Kirkus Reviews

“Lehr packs the narrative with intimate looks at both men’s personal lives, debates among U.S. and Japanese leaders over military strategy, and the history of ‘targeted kill’ operations. Even the most dedicated WWII buffs will learn something new from this granular account.” – Publishers Weekly

Available Formats:

Print Book


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