Best New Books: Week of 8/18/2020

“Children aren’t supposed to like dark chocolate. It’s one of those bitter things that you are meant to acquire a taste for later in life, like olives and self-pity.” – Emma Jane Unsworth, Hungry the Stars and Everything


Grown Ups by  Emma Jane Unsworth ★

grown upsJenny McLaine’s life is falling apart. Her friendships are flagging. Her body has failed her. She’s just lost her column at The Foof because she isn’t the fierce voice new feminism needs. Her ex has gotten together with another woman. And worst of all: Jenny’s mother is about to move in. Having left home at eighteen to remake herself as a self-sufficient millennial, Jenny is now in her thirties and nothing is as she thought it would be. Least of all adulthood.

Told in live-wire prose, texts, emails, script dialogue, and social media messages, Grown Ups is a neurotic dramedy of 21st-century manners for the digital age. It reckons with what it means to exist in a woman’s body: to sing and dance and work and mother and sparkle and equalize and not complain and be beautiful and love your imperfections and stay strong and show your vulnerability and bake and box…

But, despite our impossible expectations of women, Emma Jane Unsworth never lets Jenny off the hook. Jenny’s life is falling apart at her own hands and whether or not she has help from her mother or her friends, Jenny is the only one who will be able to pick up the pieces and learn how to, more or less, grow up. Or will she?

Description from Goodreads.

“Fans of Fleabag will love this hysterical account of a thirtysomething woman dealing with a rocky love life, an eccentric mother, and a slight (OK, significant) social media obsession. It’s irreverent, it’s sharp, and it will sneak up on your heart when you’re busy giggling.” – Good Housekeeping

“[C]aptures the millennial struggle with humor and honesty.” – PopSugar

“Unsworth’s wise and invigorating novel captures something essential in the ways Jenny rules, and is ruled by, her digital self; readers will be hooked.” – Booklist

“[A] blistering tragicomic send-up of a life documented on Instagram… Emails, internet searches, online posts, and even a screenplay comprise the varied and playful forms through which Jenny’s surprisingly poignant drama unfolds. Though directed squarely at millennials, Jenny’s stumbling journey toward authenticity will resonate with anyone who’s taken the bold, hard step of assessing their life without any filters.” – Publishers Weekly

Available Formats:

Print Book

Impersonation by  Heidi Pitlor

impersonationAllie Lang is a professional ghostwriter and a perpetually broke single mother to a young boy. Years of navigating her own and America’s cultural definitions of motherhood have left her a lapsed idealist. Lana Breban is a powerhouse lawyer, economist, and advocate for women’s rights with designs on elected office. She also has a son. Lana and her staff have decided she needs help softening her public image and that a memoir about her life as a mother will help.

When Allie lands the job as Lana’s ghostwriter, it seems as if things will finally go Allie’s way. At last, she thinks, there will be enough money not just to pay her bills but to actually buy a house. After years of working as a ghostwriter for other celebrities, Allie believes she knows the drill: she has learned how to inhabit the lives of others and tell their stories better than they can.

But this time, everything becomes more complicated. Allie’s childcare arrangements unravel; she falls behind on her rent; her subject, Lana, is better at critiquing than actually providing material; and Allie’s boyfriend decides to go on a road trip toward self-discovery. But as a writer for hire, Allie has gotten too used to being accommodating. At what point will she speak up for all that she deserves?

A satirical, incisive snapshot of how so many of us now live, Impersonation tells a timely, insightful, and bitingly funny story of ambition, motherhood, and class.

Description from Goodreads.

“[Pitlor] dryly and sometimes poignantly channels the zeitgeist through nuanced characters, settings, and just-right details. Both the story and its resourceful heroine are fresh, intelligent, and charming.” – Kirkus Reviews, STARRED REVIEW

“In a novel that’s smart, surprising, thought provoking, and bound to set a few readers on edge, making for good book-club debate, Pitlor offers an astute study of what it means to be a woman today.” – Library Journal

“[A] searing and nuanced exploration of identity.” – Booklist

Available Formats:

Hoopla eBook

Ordinary Hazards by  Anna Bruno

ordinary hazardsThe Final Final is the kind of bar that doesn’t exist in cities, a peculiarity of a small town that has seen better days. It is so called because it’s the last bar on the edge of town. The final stop after the final stop: The Final Final.

It is 5 pm and Emma has settled into her hometown bar for the evening, nine months after her divorce from Lucas, a man she met in this very room on a blind date orchestrated by the very locals who now surround her. As she observes their banter and reminisces, key facts about her history begin to emerge, and the past comes bearing down on her like a freight train.

Why has Emma, a powerhouse in the business world, ended up here? What is she running away from? And what is she willing to give up in order to recapture the love she has lost? As she teeters on the edge of oblivion, becoming more booze-soaked by the hour, Emma’s night begins to spin out of control.

A meditation on contemporary love, loss, and the place we call home, and in the tradition of Ask Again, Yes and Little Fires EverywhereOrdinary Hazards follows Emma’s epic night of finding her way back to a life worth living.

Description from Goodreads.

“Bruno shows a masterful talent for sketching both the outlines and depths of depression, guilt, and self-loathing… A spellbinding portrait of grief.” – Kirkus Reviews, STARRED REVIEW

“Echoing the small-town atmospheric work of Richard Russo, Andre Dubus III, and Jane Smiley, Bruno’s novel introduces a lyrical, earnest, and heartfelt voice. For the regulars, or anyone who’s walked into a woodpaneled haven and had their drink of choice slid across a well-polished bar without exchanging a word, Ordinary Hazards burns deliciously, but goes down easy.” – Booklist, STARRED REVIEW

“…engrossing… the author convincingly portrays Emma’s ambition, grief, and desire to move on from the past. In the end, Bruno’s thoughtful tale offers memorable insights on the meaning of home.” – Publishers Weekly

Available Formats:

Print Book

The Switch by  Beth O’Leary

switchWhen overachiever Leena Cotton is ordered to take a two-month sabbatical after blowing a big presentation at work, she escapes to her grandmother Eileen’s house for some overdue rest. Eileen is newly single and about to turn eighty. She’d like a second chance at love, but her tiny Yorkshire village doesn’t offer many eligible gentlemen.

Once Leena learns of Eileen’s romantic predicament, she proposes a solution: a two-month swap. Eileen can live in London and look for love. Meanwhile Leena will look after everything in rural Yorkshire. But with gossiping neighbours and difficult family dynamics to navigate up north, and trendy London flatmates and online dating to contend with in the city, stepping into one another’s shoes proves more difficult than either of them expected.

Leena learns that a long-distance relationship isn’t as romantic as she hoped it would be, and then there is the annoyingly perfect – and distractingly handsome – school teacher, who keeps showing up to outdo her efforts to impress the local villagers. Back in London, Eileen is a huge hit with her new neighbours, but is her perfect match nearer home than she first thought?

Description from Goodreads.

The Switch brilliantly encompasses all the humor and whimsy of The Flatshare while delving into emotional topics like grief and the importance of watching out for neighbors. Charismatic Eileen stands out as the star of this witty, joyful show, illustrating that mature women need love, too.” – Booklist, STARRED REVIEW

“[A] cozy, hopeful escape that will make readers laugh, cry, or feel inspired.” – Kirkus Reviews, STARRED REVIEW

“…emotionally engaging and beautifully written… a delight.” – Yorkshire Times

Available Formats:

Print Book | eBook


The Second Wife by  Rebecca Fleet

second wifeWhen Alex met Natalie she changed his life. After the tragic death of his first wife, which left him a single parent to teenage daughter Jade, he was desperate to leave the pain of his past behind.

But his newfound happiness is shattered when the family home is gutted by fire and his loyalties are unexpectedly tested. Jade insists she saw a man in the house on the night of the fire; Natalie denies any knowledge of such an intruder.

One of them must be lying, but Alex is faced with an impossible choice: to believe his wife or his daughter. As Natalie’s story unravels, Alex realizes that his wife has a past he had no idea about, a past that might yet catch up with her.

But this time, the past could be deadly…

Description from Goodreads.

“This tale of deceit, obsession, and betrayal should win Fleet new fans.” – Publishers Weekly

“Compelling and well plotted.” – Kirkus Reviews

“Enjoyably twisty.” – The Observer

Available Formats:

Print Book | eBook

Little Disasters by  Sarah Vaughan

little disastersYou think you know her… but look a little closer.

She is a stay-at-home mother-of-three with boundless reserves of patience, energy, and love. After being friends for a decade, this is how Liz sees Jess.

Then one moment changes everything.

Dark thoughts and carefully guarded secrets surface—and Liz is left questioning everything she thought she knew about her friend, and about herself. The truth can’t come soon enough.

Description from Goodreads.

“Vaughan’s intense novel digs into universal issues: the strains of motherhood, tests of friendship, sources of obsession, and the rewards of forgiveness. For those legions of readers who like edgy, contemporary tales.” – Booklist

“Vaughan is proving herself a master of suspense and an author willing to probe the darkest reaches of our psyches.” – CrimeReads

“This thrilling and emotional depiction of family drama, friendship and trust will have you on the edge of your seat.” – CNN

Available Formats:

Print Book | eBook | eAudiobook


The Less Dead by  Denise Mina

less deadMargot is having a thirtysomething crisis: She’s burning out at work, a public-health practice; she’s just left her longtime boyfriend after discovering he was cheating; and her mother recently died. The only silver lining to her mother’s death is that Margot, who was adopted, can finally go looking for her birth mother.

What she finds is an imcomplete family–the only person left is Nikki, her mother’s older sister. Aunt Nikki brings upsetting news: Margot’s mother is dead, murdered many years ago, one of a series of sex workers killed in Glasgow.

The killer–or killers?–has never been found, Aunt Nikki claims. They’re still at large… and sending her letters, gloating letters about the details of the crime. Now Margot must choose: take the side of the world against her dead mother, or investigate her murder and see that justice is done at last.

Darkly funny and sharply modern, Denise Mina’s latest novel is an indelible, surprisingly moving story of daughters and mothers, blood family and chosen family, and how the search for truth helps one woman to find herself.

Description from Goodreads.

“The menacing atmosphere… effectively supports the novel’s themes of reconciliation, class divides, and violence against women. Mina is a master of the genre, with wide appeal, especially for those who appreciate character-driven stories with literary weight, like those of Tana French, Karin Slaughter, and Laura Lippman.” – Booklist, STARRED REVIEW

“A bold and bracing twist on the fallen-woman-as-victim story.” – Kirkus Reviews, STARRED REVIEW

“Mina writes with wonderful wit and compassion.” – Mirror

Available Formats:

Print Book | eBook


Raybearer by  Jordan Ifeuko

raybearerNothing is more important than loyalty.
But what if you’ve sworn to protect the one you were born to destroy?

Tarisai has always longed for the warmth of a family. She was raised in isolation by a mysterious, often absent mother known only as The Lady. The Lady sends her to the capital of the global empire of Aritsar to compete with other children to be chosen as one of the Crown Prince’s Council of 11. If she’s picked, she’ll be joined with the other Council members through the Ray, a bond deeper than blood. That closeness is irresistible to Tarisai, who has always wanted to belong somewhere. But The Lady has other ideas, including a magical wish that Tarisai is compelled to obey: Kill the Crown Prince once she gains his trust. Tarisai won’t stand by and become someone’s pawn—but is she strong enough to choose a different path for herself? With extraordinary world-building and breathtaking prose, Raybearer is the story of loyalty, fate, and the lengths we’re willing to go for the ones we love.

Description from Goodreads.

“All hail Raybearer… Fans of recent breakouts in the genre like Tomi Adeyemi and Sabaa Tahir may just find their next obsession.” – Entertainment Weekly

“Ifueko’s mesmerizing debut stuns as it weaves a tale of loyalty, fate, destiny, family, and revenge. Moreover, it places a dark skinned heroine front and center, who is beautiful and powerful, deadly and compassionate, and vulnerable and tough, giving YA literature more of the diverse representation teens need.” – Booklist, STARRED REVIEW

“By crafting a world plagued by imperialism, poverty, and institutionalized misogyny, and a mythology that literalizes the power of love, purpose, and sacrifice, Ifueko illustrates the need for social change and inspires readers to fight for it.” – Publishers Weekly, STARRED REVIEW

Available Formats:

Hoopla eBook

Dating Makes Perfect by  Pintip Dunn

dating makes perfectThe Tech sisters don’t date in high school. Not because they’re not asked. Not because they’re not interested. Not even because no one can pronounce their long, Thai last name—hence the shortened, awkward moniker. But simply because they’re not allowed.

Until now.

In a move that other Asian American girls know all too well, six months after the older Tech twins got to college, their parents asked, “Why aren’t you engaged yet?” The sisters retaliated by vowing that they won’t marry for ten (maybe even twenty!) years, not until they’ve had lots of the dating practice that they didn’t get in high school.

In a shocking war on the status quo, her parents now insist that their youngest daughter, Orrawin (aka “Winnie”), must practice fake dating in high school. Under their watchful eyes, of course—and organized based on their favorite rom-coms. ’Cause that won’t end in disaster.

The first candidate? The son of their longtime friends, Mat Songsomboon—arrogant, infuriating, and way too good-looking. Winnie’s known him since they were toddlers throwing sticky rice balls at each other. And her parents love him.

If only he weren’t her sworn enemy.

Description from Goodreads.

“Dunn, a first-generation Thai American, takes on the enemies-to-lovers romance trope with punchy dialogue and adorable twists while paying tribute to the culture’s prioritization of food and family. A laugh-out-loud YA romance with a smart cast.” – Kirkus Reviews, STARRED REVIEW

“[A] delightfully sweet read that will engage any fan of the Romance genre.” – Harlequin Junkie

“[A] beautifully written YA contemporary romance… Prepare to laugh, sigh, and cheer for this delightful read!” – YA Books Central

Available Formats:

Hoopla eBook


The Smallest Lights in the Universe: A Memoir by  Sara Seager

smallest lights in the universeSara Seager has made it her life’s work to peer into the spaces around stars–looking for exoplanets outside our solar system, hoping to find the one-in-a-billion world enough like ours to sustain life. But with the unexpected death of her husband, her life became an empty, lightless space. Suddenly she was the single mother of two young boys, a widow at forty, clinging to three crumpled pages of instructions her husband had written for things like grocery shopping–things he had done while she did pioneering work as a planetary scientist at MIT. She became painfully conscious of her Asperger’s, which before losing her husband had felt more like background noise. She felt, for the first time, alone in the universe.

In this probing, invigoratingly honest memoir, Seager tells the story of how, as she stumblingly navigated the world of grief, she also kept looking for other worlds. She continues to develop groundbreaking projects, such as the Starshade, a sunflower-shaped instrument that, when launched into space, unfurls itself so as to block planet-obscuring starlight, and she takes solace in the alien beauty of exoplanets. At the same time, she discovers what feels every bit as wondrous: other people, reaching out across the space of her grief. Among them are the Widows of Concord, a group of women offering consolation and advice; and her beloved sons, Max and Alex. Most unexpected of all, there is another kind of one-in-a-billion match with an amateur astronomer.

Equally attuned to the wonders of deep space and human connection, The Smallest Lights in the Universe is its own light in the dark.

Description from Goodreads.

“[A] brilliant, emotionally wrought memoir… Seager’s openhearted prose is clean and exact, and her observations—’We want to be a light in somebody else’s sky’—illuminate the human drive to connect with others. This wondrous tale of discovery, loss, and love is both expansive intimate.” – Publishers Weekly, STARRED REVIEW

“The interior journey she traces here is as extraordinary as her scientific career. A singular scientist has written a singular account of her life and work.” – Kirkus Reviews, STARRED REVIEW

“There’s something familiar and hopeful about her words, or maybe she’s just effortlessly channeling her beloved night sky: comforting, limitless, dark, and dazzling.” – Amazon Book Review

Available Formats:

Print Book | eBook

Show Them You’re Good: A Portrait of Boys in the City of Angels the Year Before College by  Jeff Hobbs

show them you're goodFour teenage boys are high school seniors at two very different schools within the city of Los Angeles, the second largest school district in the nation with nearly 700,000 students. Author Jeff Hobbs, writing with heart, sensitivity, and insight, stunningly captures the challenges and triumphs of being a young person confronting the future – both their own and the cultures in which they live – in contemporary America.

Combining complex social issues with the compelling experience of the individual, Hobbs takes us deep inside these boys’ worlds. The foursome includes Tiofilo, a nonchalant skateboarder harboring serious ambitions to attend an elite college despite a father who doesn’t believe in him; Carlos, son of undocumented delivery workers, who aims to follow in his older brother’s footsteps and attend Yale; Own, ambivalent about high school in general but still yearning to fulfill the expectations of his successful and loving parents; and Sam, devoted member of the academic decathlon team who lives in a tiny cramped apartment with his Chinese mother and Jewish father and cannot wait to have some independence.

Filled with portraits of secondary characters including friends, peers, parents, teachers, and girlfriends, this masterwork of immersive journalism is both intimate and profound and destined to ignite conversations about class, race, expectations, cultural divides, and even the concept of fate. Hobbs’s portrayal of these young men is not only revelatory and relevant, but also moving, eloquent, and indelibly powerful.

Description from Goodreads.

“[An] exceptional work of investigative journalism… A stirring examination of life in LA, the country’s political landscape, the flaws of the American higher education system, and the rites of passage from boyhood into manhood. Laced with compassion, insight, and humor, this appealing study deserves a wide readership.” – Publishers Weekly, STARRED REVIEW

“With [Hobbs’s] fly-on-the-wall reporting style, life happens and the boys emerge fully themselves: driven, funny, sweet, wise, terrified, excited. A uniquely illuminating window onto the lives of young people in the midst of a hugely consequential year.” – Booklist

“Hobbs arranges dozens of vignettes of these boys and their friends, foregrounding their experiences and centering their voice in a beautifully rendered group portrait of adolescents and of adolescence itself.” – Library Journal, STARRED REVIEW

Available Formats:

Print Book | eBook

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