Best New Books: Week of 6/16/2020

“I shouldn’t say bad things about the illiterate, though… I should write it.” – Mike Birbiglia


The Lightness by  Emily Temple ★

lightnessOne year ago, the person Olivia adores most in the world, her father, left home for a meditation retreat in the mountains and never returned. Yearning to make sense of his shocking departure and to escape her overbearing mother—a woman as grounded as her father is mercurial—Olivia runs away from home and retraces his path to a place known as the Levitation Center.

Once there, she enrolls in their summer program for troubled teens, which Olivia refers to as “Buddhist Boot Camp for Bad Girls”. Soon, she finds herself drawn into the company of a close-knit trio of girls determined to transcend their circumstances, by any means necessary. Led by the elusive and beautiful Serena, and her aloof, secretive acolytes, Janet and Laurel, the girls decide this is the summer they will finally achieve enlightenment—and learn to levitate, to defy the weight of their bodies, to experience ultimate lightness.

But as desire and danger intertwine, and Olivia comes ever closer to discovering what a body—and a girl—is capable of, it becomes increasingly clear that this is an advanced and perilous practice, and there’s a chance not all of them will survive. Set over the course of one fateful summer that unfolds like a fever dream, The Lightness juxtaposes fairy tales with quantum physics, cognitive science with religious fervor, and the passions and obsessions of youth with all of these, to explore concepts as complex as faith and as simple as loving people—even though you don’t, and can’t, know them at all.

Description from Goodreads.

“A complex, psychological study of a young woman haunted by her past—and her capacity to hunger for violence and self-destruction… A dark, glittering fable about the terror of desire.” – Kirkus Reviews, STARRED REVIEW

“Emily Temple’s debut novel is 100 percent bingeable—I read carefully enough to soak it all in, but fast, because it’s so hard to put down… The Lightness addresses power dynamics, female friendships, and bodies in a coming-of-age tale.” – Tricycle: The Buddhist Review

“If you’re a fan of Emma Cline, Ottessa Moshfegh, and Jenny Offill, give this one a shot.” – Glamour

“An elegant and entertaining debut novel. A mystery disguised as a coming-of-age story… This is one of those books that breaks your heart when it’s over.” – Philadelphia Inquirer

Available Formats:

Print Book | eBook | eAudiobook

28 Summers by  Elin Hilderbrand

28 summersWhen Mallory Blessing’s son, Link, receives deathbed instructions from his mother to call a number on a slip of paper in her desk drawer, he’s not sure what to expect. But he certainly does not expect Jake McCloud to answer. It’s the late spring of 2020 and Jake’s wife, Ursula DeGournsey, is the frontrunner in the upcoming Presidential election.

There must be a mistake, Link thinks. How do Mallory and Jake know each other?

Flash back to the sweet summer of 1993: Mallory has just inherited a beachfront cottage on Nantucket from her aunt, and she agrees to host her brother’s bachelor party. Cooper’s friend from college, Jake McCloud, attends, and Jake and Mallory form a bond that will persevere — through marriage, children, and Ursula’s stratospheric political rise — until Mallory learns she’s dying.

Based on the classic film Same Time Next Year (which Mallory and Jake watch every summer), 28 Summers explores the agony and romance of a one-weekend-per-year affair and the dramatic ways this relationship complicates and enriches their lives, and the lives of the people they love.

Description from Goodreads.

“In her 25th novel, Hilderbrand gets everything right and leaves her ardent fans hungry for No. 26. Hilderbrand sets the gold standard in escapist fiction.” – Kirkus Reviews

“Summer on Hilderbrand’s Nantucket is never dull. This time she focuses on former lovers who now lead separate lives but share an island idyll once a year. Captivating and bittersweet.” – People

“This sweeping love story is Hilderbrand’s best ever… Her stories are relatable in an aspirational way, but her attention to detail is what makes her characters feel like living, breathing people you want to know. They would never skimp on citronella candles; they would save the least creaky rocking chair for you.” – New York Times Book Review

Available Formats:

Print Book | eBook | eAudiobook

The Margot Affair by  Sanaë Lemoine

margot affairMargot Louve is a secret: the child of a longstanding affair between an influential French politician with presidential ambitions and a prominent stage actress. This hidden family exists in stolen moments in a small Parisian apartment on the Left Bank.

It is a house of cards that Margot—fueled by a longing to be seen and heard—decides to tumble. The summer of her seventeenth birthday, she meets the man who will set her plan in motion: a well-regarded journalist whose trust seems surprisingly easy to gain. But as Margot is drawn into an adult world she struggles to comprehend, she learns how one impulsive decision can threaten a family’s love with ruin, shattering the lives of those around her in ways she could never have imagined.

Exposing the seams between private lives and public faces, The Margot Affair is a novel of deceit, desire, and transgression—and the exhilarating knife-edge upon which the danger of telling the truth outweighs the cost of keeping secrets.

Description from Goodreads.

“Visually and emotionally precise… an engrossing, impressive debut novel that skillfully charts a young Frenchwoman’s coming-of-age.” – Kirkus Reviews

“Sumptuous… The eclectic cast and rich Parisian backdrop deepen this dramatic exploration of family and the trials of early adulthood. Francophiles and anyone who appreciates an emotionally rewarding story will enjoy Lemoine’s lush, well-crafted tale.” – Publishers Weekly

“…gorgeous… Even when Margot is at her most misguided, the reader aches for her… Lemoine writes in lush, lyrical prose that perfectly captures the heightened emotion and confusion of being a young woman with a bruised heart and limited experience.” – New York Times

Available Formats:

Print Book | eBook | eAudiobook

A Short Move by  Katherine Hill

short moveIn a small Virginia town in 1971, a high school football star runs out on his pregnant girlfriend. Six years later, that child meets his father for the first time and discovers the athlete within. Before long he is on the fast-track to the NFL, coached by a relentless Vietnam veteran uncle, nourished by a patient working mom, and defended by an ambitious girlfriend, all of whom tie their own hopes to his career. When he finally makes it, as Mitch “Wilk” Wilkins, New England’s fearsome middle linebacker, it all seems preordained. Then, almost immediately, his life begins to fall apart: a billionaire owns him, his marriage is on the rocks, and his body is betraying him in stages. As Mitch and his wounded family press on, seeking meaning in a relentlessly incentive-driven and forward-moving life, the sacrifices necessary for success in sports―and in attaining the “American Dream”―are laid painfully and tragically bare.

Description from Goodreads.

“Fans of sweeping family epics will enjoy this dissection of fame, sports, and the drive for connection.” – Publishers Weekly

“The reader… meets Mitch at different points in his life, sometimes seeing the world through Mitch’s eyes, other times inhabiting the perspectives of Mitch’s parents, coaches, wives, and teammates. It’s a kaleidoscopic approach that looks beyond one man’s individual talent to the ecosystem of people, places, and industries that both nurture and exploit an athletic gift.” – The Millions

Available Formats:

Hoopla eBook

Saving Ruby King by  Catherine Adel West

saving ruby kingFamily. Faith. Secrets. Everything in this world comes full circle.

When Ruby King’s mother is found murdered in their home in Chicago’s South Side, the police dismiss it as another act of violence in a black neighborhood. But for Ruby, it’s a devastating loss that leaves her on her own with her violent father. While she receives many condolences, her best friend, Layla, is the only one who understands how this puts Ruby in jeopardy.

Their closeness is tested when Layla’s father, the pastor of their church, demands that Layla stay away. But what is the price for turning a blind eye? In a relentless quest to save Ruby, Layla uncovers the murky loyalties and dangerous secrets that have bound their families together for generations. Only by facing this legacy of trauma head-on will Ruby be able to break free.

An unforgettable debut novel, Saving Ruby King is a powerful testament that history doesn’t determine the present and the bonds of friendship can forever shape the future.

Description from Goodreads.

“[An] Ambitious, keenly observant debut… West’s tale of grace, redemption, and hope would translate handily to the screen. This should enjoy wide popularity with book groups.” – Publishers Weekly

“West delivers her debut with an honesty that jumps off the pages and into the laps of her readers. Telling Ruby’s story from multiple points of view, West writes with a precision that makes the story sing, with clear language and poetic imagery.” – Booklist

“A story of intrigue and heartbreaking family secrets… A fresh look into the church community of Chicago’s South Side with a bold female perspective.” – Library Journal

Available Formats:

Print Book | eBook

Bluebeard’s First Wife: Stories by  Ha Seong-Nan

bluebeardDisasters, accidents, and deaths abound in Bluebeard’s First Wife. A woman spends a night with her fiancé and his friends, and overhears a terrible secret that has bound them together since high school. A man grows increasingly agitated by the apartment noise made by a young family living upstairs and arouses the suspicion of his own wife when the neighbors meet a string of unlucky incidents. A couple moves into a picture-perfect country house, but when their new dog is stolen, they become obsessed with finding the thief, and in the process, neglect their child. Ha’s paranoia-inducing, heart-quickening stories will have you reconsidering your own neighbors.

Description from Goodreads.

“Ha Seong-Nan’s stories unfold like folk tales. Their clear, tightly focused problems and the counterintuitive way characters go about solving them leave room for hubris to be punished, for ironies to click into place in their final moments. But, like the book’s title, the premises in the Korean writer’s second collection published in English are often red herrings, as Ha eschews even the kind of ‘happy’ ending that the original Bluebeard story provided for far grimmer conclusions. As with her previous collection, last year’s Flowers Of Mold, in Bluebeard’s First Wife, Ha favors ruin and decay over tidiness, defying narrative expectations and crafting nightmarish visions that spark with dark energy.” – The A.V. Club

“Ha’s outstanding collection delivers heavy doses of guilt, hope, and pain… Dark, strange, and simultaneously cohesive and diverse, these stories show a superb writer in full force.” – Publishers Weekly, STARRED REVIEW

“This beautiful collection of short stories takes us into the dark side of Seoul’s suburbia, where petty resentments flare into unpredictable and shocking violence, and momentary lapses have long-lasting implications. Ha Seong-nan stunned me with her debut collection, Flowers of Mold, and her second set of stories to reach the US promises to be just as wondrous a combination of the horrifying and the banal.” – CrimeReads

Available Formats:

Hoopla eBook

Miss Iceland by  Auður Ava Ólafsdóttir

miss icelandIceland in the 1960s. Hekla is a budding female novelist who was born in the remote district of Dalir. After packing her few belongings, including James Joyces’s Ulysses and a Remington typewriter, she heads for Reykjavik with a manuscript buried in her bags. There, she intends to become a writer. Sharing an apartment with her childhood and queer friend Jón John, Hekla comes to learn that she will have to stand alone in a small male dominated community that would rather see her win a pageant than be a professional artist. As the two friends find themselves increasingly on the outside, their bond shapes and strengthens them artistically in the most moving of ways.

Description from Goodreads.

“Each new novel by Auður Ava Ólafsdóttir is like a meeting with a marvelous friend that immediately makes you feel like you have never parted.” – Madame Figaro

“In her sixth novel, award-winning author Ólafsdóttir paints a vivid portrait of Iceland: cold weather, volcanic eruptions, northern lights, whale hunting, darkness, sexism, and homophobia… In this excellent introduction to her work, Ólafsdóttir creates a world where either escape or hiding one’s true nature are the only choices.” – Library Journal

“Ólafsdóttir’s graceful and quiet tale of feminism, alienation, and artistic expression centers around Hekla, a young Icelandic woman who wants to become a writer in a male-dominated literary world… Ólafsdóttir tenderly explores how these authentic characters help each other overcome their fears and doubts. This winning tale of friendship and self-fulfillment will inspire readers.” – Publishers Weekly, STARRED & BOXED REVIEW

Available Formats:

Hoopla eBook

Sleepovers: Stories by  Ashleigh Bryant Phillips

sleepoversHailed by Lauren Groff as “fully committed to the truth no matter how dark or difficult or complicated it may be,” and written with “incantatory crispness,” Sleepovers, the debut short story collection by Ashleigh Bryant Phillips, takes us to a forgotten corner of the rural South, full of cemeteries, soybean fields, fishing holes, and Duck Thru gas stations. We meet a runaway teen, a mattress salesman, feral kittens, an elderly bachelorette wearing a horsehair locket, and a little girl named after Shania Twain. Here, time and memory circle above Phillips’ characters like vultures and angels, as they navigate the only landscape they’ve ever known. Corn reaches for rain, deer run blindly, and no matter how hungry or hurt, some forgotten hymn is always remembered. “The literary love child of Carson McCullers and John the Baptist, Ashleigh Bryant Phillips’ imagination is profoundly original and private,” writes Rebecca Lee.

Description from Goodreads.

“The lives of Phillips’s characters transform with startling quickness, and a kind of presumed violence is omnipresent―yet everyone here is still trying to do their best. The music of her literary predecessors (Larry Brown, Carson McCullers, Flannery O’Connor) is present in Phillips’s sentences, but what’s most remarkable about her writing is its generosity. Even when they’re f***ing up or making bad decisions or metabolizing deep grief, these characters are full and rich and gloriously recognizable.” – The New Yorker

“This collection stands out in the field of current Southern fiction.” – Publishers Weekly, STARRED REVIEW

Sleepovers is an unflinching collection through which the complexities, curiosities, and complications of rural Southern life come through.” – Foreword Reviews

Available Formats:

Hoopla eBook


Seven Lies by  Elizabeth Kay

seven liesGrowing up, Jane and Marnie shared everything. They knew the other’s deepest secrets. They wouldn’t have had it any other way. But when Marnie falls in love, things begin to change.

Because Jane has a secret: she loathes Marnie’s wealthy, priggish husband. So when Marnie asks if she likes him, Jane tells her first lie. After all, even best friends keep some things to themselves. If she had been honest, then perhaps her best friend’s husband might still be alive today…

For, of course, it’s not the last lie. In fact, it’s only the beginning…

Seven Lies is Jane’s confession of the truth—her truth. Compelling, sophisticated, chilling, it’s a seductive, hypnotic page-turner about the tangled, toxic friendships between women, the dark underbelly of obsession and what we stand to lose in the name of love.

Description from Goodreads.

“Wicked entertainment.” – Kirkus Reviews

“An electrifying psychological thriller… Even readers who suspect where the story is heading should brace themselves for a wild and surprising ride. Kay… is off to an impressive start.” – Publishers Weekly, STARRED REVIEW

“It’s completely original and stays on your mind long after you have finished.” – Booktopia

Available Formats:

eBook | eAudiobook


The Last Train to Key West by  Chanel Cleeton

last train to key westEveryone journeys to Key West searching for something. For the tourists traveling on Henry Flagler’s legendary Overseas Railroad, Labor Day weekend is an opportunity to forget the economic depression gripping the nation. But one person’s paradise can be another’s prison, and Key West-native Helen Berner yearns to escape.

The Cuban Revolution of 1933 left Mirta Perez’s family in a precarious position. After an arranged wedding in Havana, Mirta arrives in the Keys on her honeymoon. While she can’t deny the growing attraction to the stranger she’s married, her new husband’s illicit business interests may threaten not only her relationship, but her life.

Elizabeth Preston’s trip from New York to Key West is a chance to save her once-wealthy family from their troubles as a result of the Wall Street crash. Her quest takes her to the camps occupied by veterans of the Great War and pairs her with an unlikely ally on a treacherous hunt of his own.

Over the course of the holiday weekend, the women’s paths cross unexpectedly, and the danger swirling around them is matched only by the terrifying force of the deadly storm threatening the Keys.

Description from Goodreads.

“The perfect riveting summer read!” – BookBub

“Cleeton’s beach reads are often lit by the sun of places like Florida and Cuba, and her latest doesn’t disappoint.” – O, The Oprah Magazine

“Cleeton finds the right balance of historical detail and suspense, making this a riveting curl-up-on-the-couch affair.” – Publishers Weekly

Available Formats:



Devolution by  Max Brooks ★

devolutionAs the ash and chaos from Mount Rainier’s eruption swirled and finally settled, the story of the Greenloop massacre has passed unnoticed, unexamined… until now.

But the journals of resident Kate Holland, recovered from the town’s bloody wreckage, capture a tale too harrowing–and too earth-shattering in its implications–to be forgotten.

In these pages, Max Brooks brings Kate’s extraordinary account to light for the first time, faithfully reproducing her words alongside his own extensive investigations into the massacre and the legendary beasts behind it.

Kate’s is a tale of unexpected strength and resilience, of humanity’s defiance in the face of a terrible predator’s gaze, and inevitably, of savagery and death.

Yet it is also far more than that.

Because if what Kate Holland saw in those days is real, then we must accept the impossible. We must accept that the creature known as Bigfoot walks among us–and that it is a beast of terrible strength and ferocity.

Part survival narrative, part bloody horror tale, part scientific journey into the boundaries between truth and fiction, this is a Bigfoot story as only Max Brooks could chronicle it–and like none you’ve ever read before.

Description from Goodreads.

“Delightful… A tale of supernatural mayhem that fans of King and Crichton alike will enjoy.” – Kirkus Reviews, STARRED REVIEW

“With stellar worldbuilding, a claustrophobic atmosphere, an inclusive and fascinating cast of characters, and plenty of bloody action, this inventive story will keep readers’ heart rates high.” – Library Journal, STARRED REVIEW

­“It’s terrifying. Brooks is not only dealing with the end of humanity; he’s also showing us our further course toward a new, ineluctable, absolute brutality.” – BookPage, STARRED REVIEW

“Readers of Andy Weir’s The Martian or Blake Crouch’s Wayward Pines series will want to clear their schedules so they can savor every chilling scene of Devolution. Just don’t take this book with you while camping in the woods.” – Amazon Book Review

Available Formats:

Print Book | Playaway | eBook


Exercise of Power: American Failures, Successes, and a New Path Forward in the Post-Cold War World by  Robert M. Gates

exercise of powerSince the end of the Cold War, the global perception of the United States has progressively morphed from dominant international leader to disorganized entity, seemingly unwilling to accept the mantle of leadership or unable to govern itself effectively. Robert Gates argues that this transformation is the result of the failure of political leaders to understand the complexity of American power, its expansiveness, and its limitations. He makes clear that the successful exercise of power is not limited to the use of military might or the ability to coerce or demand submission, but must encompass as well diplomacy, economics, strategic communications, development assistance, intelligence, technology, ideology, and cyber. By analyzing specific challenges faced by the American government in the post-Cold War period–Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan, North Korea, Syria, Libya, Russia, China and others–Gates deconstructs the ways in which leaders have used the instruments of power available to them. With forthright judgments of the performance of past presidents and their senior-most advisors, first-hand knowledge, and insider stories, Gates argues that U.S. national security in the future will require learning, and abiding by, the lessons of the past, and re-creating those capabilities that the misuse of power has cost the nation.

Description from Goodreads.

“This important work dives deep into the past three decades of American foreign policy to provide a realistic picture of how key policy decisions were crafted. Highly recommended for those wanting an examination of America’s role within the global community.” – Library Journal, STARRED REVIEW

“…it’s refreshing to see a secretary of defense call for the use of the military as a choice of last resort. Recommended reading for foreign policy and geopolitics wonks.” – Kirkus Reviews

“…incisive… a judicious yet bracingly contrarian take on military and foreign policy from the ultimate insider.” – Publishers Weekly

Available Formats:

Print Book | eBook

Democracy in One Book or Less: How It Works, Why It Doesn’t, and Why Fixing It Is Easier Than You Think by  David Litt

democracyHere’s something true for almost every American. The democracy you live in today is different – completely different – than the democracy you were born into.

Since 1980, the number of Americans legally barred from voting has more than doubled. Since the 1990s, your odds of living in a competitive Congressional district have fallen by more than half. In the twenty-first century alone, the amount of money spent on Washington lobbying has increased by more than 100 percent. Meanwhile, new rules in Congress make passing new bills nearly impossible, no matter how popular or bipartisan they are.

No wonder it feels like our representatives have stopped representing us. Thanks to changes you never agreed to, and that you probably don’t even know about, your slice of power – your say in how your country is run – is smaller than it’s ever been.

How did this happen? And how can we fix it before it’s too late? That’s what former Obama speechwriter David Litt set out to answer.

Millions of Americans now recognize that our democracy is in trouble, and that the trouble goes beyond Trump. But too often, we’re looking in the wrong places for solutions. Voter suppression is real, but Voter ID laws aren’t tipping elections. Getting rid of bizarrely shaped districts won’t end gerrymandering. In fact, it would make gerrymandering worse. Calling for a Constitutional Amendment to overturn Citizens United is a nice gesture. But in the real world, it’s the least effective type of campaign finance reform.

If We, the People, want to save our republic, we need to start by understanding it.

Poking into forgotten corners of history, Litt tells the true story of how the world’s greatest experiment in democracy went awry. Translating political science into plain English, he explains how our system of government really works. Searching for solutions, he speaks to experts, office-holders, and activists nationwide.

He also tries to crash a party at Mitch McConnell’s former frat house. It goes poorly.

But Democracy in One Book or Less is more than just an engaging narrative. Litt provides a to-do list of meaningful, practical changes – a blueprint for restoring the balance of power in America before it’s too late.

Description from Goodreads.

“Country got you down?… Former Obama speechwriter David Litt is here to help. Though Litt’s fun and funny treatise on what makes this nation, what’s wrong with it, and how we can fix it, was written before we became a country of people ordering curbside pickup from murder hornets, it’s remarkably prescient and applicable. It’s rare to feel good about the way things are going, but Litt’s book will get you there.” – Elle

“Litt’s book laces his signature humor into his exploration of American Democracy and how it has transformed over the years.” – Time

“Casts a welcome, cleansing beam of light on a subject that has become increasingly murky and frustratingly confusing… Litt has a breezy, often conversational tone, but that in no way diminishes the force of his argument. Politics has changed, and not in a good way. But there are ways American democracy can be fixed, and it is to Litt’s credit that he offers practical albeit challenging solutions to the problems confronting our system of governance.” – Booklist, STARRED REVIEW

Available Formats:

Print Book | eBook | eAudiobook

The New One: Painfully True Stories from a Reluctant Dad by  Mike Birbiglia

new oneIn 2016 comedian Mike Birbiglia and poet Jennifer Hope Stein took their fourteen-month-old daughter Oona to the Nantucket Film Festival. When the festival director picked them up at the airport she asked Mike if he would perform at the storytelling night. She said, “The theme of the stories is jealousy.”
Jen quipped, “You’re jealous of Oona. You should talk about that.”

And so Mike began sharing some of his darkest and funniest thoughts about the decision to have a child. Jen and Mike revealed to each other their sides of what had gone down during Jen’s pregnancy and that first year with their child. Over the next couple years, these stories evolved into a Broadway show, and the more Mike performed it the more he heard how it resonated — not just with parents but also people who resist all kinds of change.

So he pored over his journals, dug deeper, and created this book: The New One: Painfully True Stories From a Reluctant Dad. Along with hilarious and poignant stories he has never shared before, these pages are sprinkled with poetry Jen wrote as she navigated the same rocky shores of new parenthood.

So here it is. This book is an experiment — sort of like a family.

Description from Goodreads.

“Fusing good humor and raw honesty with selections from Stein’s evocative poetry, Birbiglia narrates his journey into parenting… Hilarious, relatable, cringeworthy, and effortlessly entertaining.” – Kirkus Reviews, STARRED REVIEW

“Expanded from his one-man show of the same name (and including poetry by his wife), comedian Birbiglia’s rueful, hilarious take on new parenthood is a treat.” – People

“Birbiglia’s witty take on new parenthood will resonate especially with those who’ve been there.” – Publishers Weekly

Available Formats:

Print Book | eBook

The Hardest Job in the World: The American Presidency by  John Dickerson

hardest job in the worldJohn Dickerson looks at the history of the American presidency and how the office is altogether different than the job we discuss during presidential campaigns. In campaigns, the presidency is a magical place where the will of its occupant can move the nation. In reality, the presidency is stretched, burdened, and unmatched for the complexity of the modern world.

With both an historical and contemporary view of the presidency, Dickerson explores how and why the office has expanded and how America’s obsession with the presidency is at odds with its creation and leads to disappointment. Dickerson also charts Donald Trump’s departures from and innovations to the office, developing a picture of where the presidency stands on the eve of the 2020 election and beyond. Armed with an understanding of the office, Dickerson suggests new ways to test candidates, elect presidents thoughtfully, and fix the job so that it more closely can match our expectations.

Description from Goodreads.

“Evenhanded and insightful… Drawing on illuminating interviews with former White House officials and presidential historians, Dickerson packs the book with intriguing arcana and colorful quotes… This entertaining history rises above the political fray to cast even the most maligned chief executives in a new light.” – Publishers Weekly

Available Formats:

Print Book | eBook | eAudiobook


  1. This is a very nice feature sending out the best new books every week. So thank you. Much appreciated.
    Carolanne Helverson

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