Best New Books: Week of 8/25/2020

“Books mean all possibilities. They mean moving out of yourself, losing yourself, dying of thirst and living to your full. They mean everything.” – Ali Smith


Summer by  Ali Smith ★

summerIn the present, Sacha knows the world’s in trouble. Her brother Robert just is trouble. Their mother and father are having trouble. Meanwhile, the world’s in meltdown—and the real meltdown hasn’t even started yet. In the past, a lovely summer. A different brother and sister know they’re living on borrowed time.

This is a story about people on the brink of change. They’re family, but they think they’re strangers. So: Where does family begin? And what do people who think they’ve got nothing in common have in common?


Description from Goodreads.

“Ali Smith concludes her seasonal quartet with the triumphant Summer, the long-awaited final installment in a groundbreaking postmodern series… Smith reach[es] resonant conclusions on themes carried through… Now is the time to read straight through all four installments, which hang together in one grand, epic aria. Smith’s visionary series, ambitious in its scale and towering in its achievements, will be studied and imitated for decades to come.” – Esquire 

“A deeply resonant finale to a work that should come to be recognized as a classic… A novel that is wonderfully entertaining—for its humor, allusions, deft use of time and memory, sharply realized characters, and delightfully relevant digressions—and a reminder, brought home by the pandemic, that everything and everyone truly is connected and the sufferance of suffering hurts us all.” – Kirkus Reviews, STARRED REVIEW

“Though each book [in the Seasonal Quartet] raises the bar of social and political isolation ever higher, the goal of the novels is to connect these isolates one by one, through ingenious means both known and unknown to them. In doing so, Smith manages to restore both a sense of community and something even rarer in the wired world: narrative… A revelation of endurance and a balm even in the worst of times.” – Los Angeles Times

“[A] clear-sighted finale to a dazzling quartet… How fitting that this novel should narrate for you how you feel about reading it at the very moment when you feel it, text pressing so closely against life it’s as if we are being challenged to spot the difference… [B]oth wildly innovative and reassuringly familiar at the same time… transcendent… Smith’s project has felt all along as if it wants to nudge us towards hope, towards the idea that if we want to reverse the irreversible flow of history, we have to look to what the novel can do.” – The Guardian

Available Formats:

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The Last Great Road Bum by  Héctor Tobar ★

last great road bumJoe Sanderson died in pursuit of a life worth writing about. He was, in his words, a “road bum,” an adventurer and a storyteller, belonging to no place, people, or set of ideas. He was born into a childhood of middle-class contentment in Urbana, Illinois and died fighting with guerillas in Central America. With these facts, acclaimed novelist and journalist Héctor Tobar set out to write what would become The Last Great Road Bum.

A decade ago, Tobar came into possession of the personal writings of the late Joe Sanderson, which chart Sanderson’s freewheeling course across the known world, from Illinois to Jamaica, to Vietnam, to Nigeria, to El Salvador–a life determinedly an adventure, ending in unlikely, anonymous heroism.

The Last Great Road Bum is the great American novel Joe Sanderson never could have written, but did truly live–a fascinating, timely hybrid of fiction and nonfiction that only a master of both like Héctor Tobar could pull off.

Description from Goodreads.

“…stunning… Tobar brilliantly succeeds in capturing Joe’s guileless yearning for adventure through high-velocity prose that is both relentless and wry.” – Publishers Weekly, STARRED REVIEW

“The vividly realized particulars of [Joe Sanderson’s] restless journeys are offered in Tobar’s remarkable novelization of Sanderson’s real life, his adventures and misadventures… His life itself has inspired what is inarguably a great novel, a tribute to him that is beautifully written and spectacularly imagined. Tobar writes that it took him 11 years to complete this wonderful book. Readers will rejoice that he persisted.” – Booklist, STARRED REVIEW

“The speed and respect and sensitivity with which Tobar can encapsulate a life is dazzling… The novel muses on who gets to tell stories as it probes the lines between myth and reality. This is first rate storytelling from a writer who deepens the sky with every book he writes.” – Lit Hub

“A work of fiction and sort of true, The Last Great Road Bum is brilliant in its contemplation of a particularly American restlessness, innocence and foolishness.” – BookPage

Available Formats:

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Squeeze Me by  Carl Hiaasen

squeeze meCarl Hiaasen’s Squeeze Me is set among the landed gentry of Palm Beach. A prominent high-society matron–who happens to be a fierce supporter of the President and founding member of the POTUSSIES–has gone missing at a swank gala. When the wealthy dowager, Kiki Pew Fitzsimmons, is later found dead in a concrete grave, panic and chaos erupt. The President immediately declares that Kiki Pew was the victim of rampaging immigrant hordes. This, as it turns out, is far from the truth. Meanwhile a bizarre discovery in the middle of the road brings the First Lady’s motorcade to a grinding halt (followed by some grinding between the First Lady and a lovestruck Secret Service agent). Enter Angie Armstrong, wildlife wrangler extraordinaire, who arrives at her own conclusions after she is summoned to the posh island to deal with a mysterious and impolite influx of huge, hungry pythons…

Completely of the moment, full of vim and vigor, and as irreverent as can be, Squeeze Me is pure, unadulterated Hiaasen.

Description from Goodreads.

Squeeze Me is vintage Hiaasen — wry humor, social commentary and satire akin to Jonathan Swift, and all fun.” – South Florida Sun-Sentinel

“Hiassen’s latest foray into South Florida offers both an absurdist view of tomorrow’s headlines (it’s set in ‘postpandemic America’) and a welcome reprise of the outrageously surrealistic tropes that first established the author as the Hieronymous Bosch of crime fiction… rampagingly funny…” – Booklist, STARRED REVIEW

“…riotously funny…” – Tampa Bay Times

Available Formats:

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Final Cut by  S.J. Watson

final cutFor generations Blackwood Bay, a quaint village in northern England, has been famous only for the smuggling that occurred along its coastline centuries ago, but then two local girls disappear bringing the town a fresh and dark notoriety. When Alex, an ambitious documentary filmmaker, arrives in Blackwood Bay, she intends to have the residents record their own stories as her next project. But instead of a quaint community, Alex finds a village blighted by economic downturn and haunted by a tragedy that overshadows every corner.

Alex pushes on with her work, but secrets old and new rise to the surface, raising tensions and suspicions in a town already on edge. Alex’s work takes her to dark places and uncomfortable truths which threaten to lead to a deadly unravelling.

Description from Goodreads.

“A tight, brisk plot drives this sharp character study. Watson perfectly captures small town ennui while illustrating how corruption can hide in plain sight.” – Publishers Weekly, STARRED REVIEW

“The darkness runs deep in this skillfully plotted chiller.” – Kirkus Reviews, STARRED REVIEW

“…phenomenal… continues to push the boundaries of the psychological thriller…” – Lit Hub

Available Formats:

Print Book | eBook | eAudiobook


Winter Counts by  David Heska Wanbli Weiden ★

winter countsVirgil Wounded Horse is the local enforcer on the Rosebud Indian Reservation in South Dakota.  When justice is denied by the American legal system or the tribal council, Virgil is hired to deliver his own punishment, the kind that’s hard to forget. But when heroin makes its way into the reservation and finds Virgil’s nephew, his vigilantism suddenly becomes personal. He enlists the help of his ex-girlfriend and sets out to learn where the drugs are coming from, and how to make them stop.

They follow a lead to Denver and find that drug cartels are rapidly expanding and forming new and terrifying alliances. And back on the reservation, a new tribal council initiative raises uncomfortable questions about money and power. As Virgil starts to link the pieces together, he must face his own demons and reclaim his Native identity. He realizes that being a Native American in the twenty-first century comes at an incredible cost.

Winter Counts is a tour-de-force of crime fiction, a bracingly honest look at a long-ignored part of American life, and a twisting, turning story that’s as deeply rendered as it is thrilling.

Description from Goodreads.

“Weiden combines funny, complex, and unforgettable characters with strong, poetic prose… This is crime fiction at its best.” – Publishers Weekly, STARRED REVIEW

Winter Counts is not simply a crime novel, but a character-driven story about the meaning of justice in a colonialist country.” – Lit Hub

“This gritty thriller is filled with the twists and turns expected from a crime novel, but Weiden also offers deeper insight into racial identity and the violence that Native Americans face on a regular basis.” – Electric Lit

“Thought-provoking and suspenseful, uplifting and heartbreaking, moving and brutal, Winter Counts is a thriller that delivers so much more than the word thriller promises.” – Amazon Book Review

Available Formats:

Print Book | eBook

The Mother Code by  Carole Stivers

mother codeThe year is 2049. When a deadly non-viral agent intended for biowarfare spreads out of control, scientists must scramble to ensure the survival of the human race. They turn to their last resort, a plan to place genetically engineered children inside the cocoons of large-scale robots–to be incubated, birthed, and raised by machines. But there is yet one hope of preserving the human order–an intelligence programmed into these machines that renders each unique in its own right–the Mother Code.

Kai is born in America’s desert southwest, his only companion his robot Mother, Rho-Z. Equipped with the knowledge and motivations of a human mother, Rho-Z raises Kai and teaches him how to survive. But as children like Kai come of age, their Mothers transform too–in ways that were never predicted. When government survivors decide that the Mothers must be destroyed, Kai must make a choice. Will he break the bond he shares with Rho-Z? Or will he fight to save the only parent he has ever known?

In a future that could be our own, The Mother Code explores what truly makes us human–and the tenuous nature of the boundaries between us and the machines we create.

Description from Goodreads.

“Stivers’s sweeping, cinematic debut raises probing questions about the nature of family and human connection… painful, provocative, and ultimately infused with hope.”-  Publishers Weekly, STARRED REVIEW

“[A] propulsive page turner.”- Newsweek

“[A] fantastic read that made me shed many tears.” – The NERD Daily

Available Formats:

Print Book

When I Was You by  Amber Garza

when i was youIt all begins on an ordinary fall morning, when Kelly Medina gets a call from her son’s pediatrician to confirm her upcoming “well-baby” appointment. It’s a cruel mistake; her son left for college a year ago, and Kelly has never felt so alone. The receptionist quickly apologizes: there’s another mother in town named Kelly Medina, and she must have gotten their numbers switched.

But Kelly can’t stop thinking about the woman who shares her name. Lives in her same town. Has a son she can still hold, and her whole life ahead of her. She can’t help looking for her: at the grocery store, at the gym, on social media. When Kelly just happens to bump into the single mother outside that pediatrician’s office, it’s simple curiosity getting the better of her.

Their unlikely friendship brings Kelly a renewed sense of purpose, taking care of this young woman and her adorable baby boy. But that friendship quickly turns to obsession, and when one Kelly disappears, well, the other one may know why.

Description from Goodreads.

“The plot takes some murderous turns along the way to the unexpected ending. Through the skillful use of the second-person, Garza makes it tantalizingly unclear at times which Kelly is which. Fans of tricky tales of obsession and revenge will be well satisfied.” – Publishers Weekly

Available Formats:

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The Exiles by  Christina Baker Kline

exilesSeduced by her employer’s son, Evangeline, a naïve young governess in early nineteenth-century London, is discharged when her pregnancy is discovered and sent to the notorious Newgate Prison. After months in the fetid, overcrowded jail, she learns she is sentenced to “the land beyond the seas,” Van Diemen’s Land, a penal colony in Australia. Though uncertain of what awaits, Evangeline knows one thing: the child she carries will be born on the months-long voyage to this distant land.

During the journey on a repurposed slave ship, the Medea, Evangeline strikes up a friendship with Hazel, a girl little older than her former pupils who was sentenced to seven years transport for stealing a silver spoon. Canny where Evangeline is guileless, Hazel — a skilled midwife and herbalist – is soon offering home remedies to both prisoners and sailors in return for a variety of favors.

Though Australia has been home to Aboriginal people for more than 50,000 years, the British government in the 1840s considers its fledgling colony uninhabited and unsettled, and views the natives as an unpleasant nuisance. By the time the Medea arrives, many of them have been forcibly relocated, their land seized by white colonists. One of these relocated people is Mathinna, the orphaned daughter of the Chief of the Lowreenne tribe, who has been adopted by the new governor of Van Diemen’s Land.

In this gorgeous novel, Christina Baker Kline brilliantly recreates the beginnings of a new society in a beautiful and challenging land, telling the story of Australia from a fresh perspective, through the experiences of Evangeline, Hazel, and Mathinna. While life in Australia is punishing and often brutally unfair, it is also, for some, an opportunity: for redemption, for a new way of life, for unimagined freedom. Told in exquisite detail and incisive prose, The Exiles is a story of grace born from hardship, the unbreakable bonds of female friendships, and the unfettering of legacy.

Description from Goodreads.

“Both uplifting and heartbreaking, this beautifully written novel doesn’t flinch from the ugliness of the penal system but celebrates the courage and resilience of both the first peoples and the settlers who came after.” – Library Journal, STARRED REVIEW

“A tour de force of original thought, imagination and promise… [with] compelling characters who fully illuminate monumental events to make history accessible and forever etched in our minds.” – Houston Chronicle

“Filled with surprising twists, empathetic prose, and revealing historical details.” – Publishers Weekly

Available Formats:

Print Book | eBook | eAudiobook


Someone to Romance by  Mary Balogh

someone to romanceLady Jessica Archer lost her own interest in the glittering excitement of romance after her cousin and dearest friend, Abigail Westcott, was rejected by the ton when her father was revealed to be a bigamist. Ever practical, however, once she’s twenty-five, she decides it’s time to wed. Though she no longer believes she will find true love, she is still very eligible. She is, after all, the sister of Avery Archer, Duke of Netherby.

Jessica considers the many qualified gentlemen who court her. But when she meets the mysterious Gabriel Thorne, who has returned to England from the New World to claim an equally mysterious inheritance, Jessica considers him completely unsuitable, because he had the audacity, when he first met her, to announce his intention to wed her.

When Jessica guesses who Gabriel really is, however, and watches the lengths to which he will go in order to protect those who rely upon him, she is drawn to his cause—and to the man.

Description from Goodreads.

“Pitch-perfect… a riveting, fast-paced narrative… Regency fans will be delighted.” – Publishers Weekly, STARRED REVIEW

Available Formats:

Print Book | Large Print Book | eBook


Elatsoe by  Darcie Little Badger

elatsoeImagine an America very similar to our own. It’s got homework, best friends, and pistachio ice cream.

There are some differences. This America been shaped dramatically by the magic, monsters, knowledge, and legends of its peoples, those Indigenous and those not. Some of these forces are charmingly everyday, like the ability to make an orb of light appear or travel across the world through rings of fungi. But other forces are less charming and should never see the light of day.

Elatsoe lives in this slightly stranger America. She can raise the ghosts of dead animals, a skill passed down through generations of her Lipan Apache family. Her beloved cousin has just been murdered, in a town that wants no prying eyes. But she is going to do more than pry. The picture-perfect facade of Willowbee masks gruesome secrets, and she will rely on her wits, skills, and friends to tear off the mask and protect her family.

Description from Goodreads.

“Indigenous stories, modern-day technology, and the supernatural successfully blend to build a fast-paced murder mystery in Little Badger’s intriguing solo debut… Cai’s grayscale spot illustrations imbue the book with shadowy breath and movement, bringing a lyrical undertone to the energetic plot and multifaceted, refreshing voice.” – Publishers Weekly, STARRED REVIEW

“A brilliant, engaging debut written by a talented author, it seamlessly blends cyberstalking with Vampire Citizen Centers and Lipan Apache stories. This groundbreaking introduction to the fantasy genre remains relevant to Native histories even as it imaginatively looks to the future. Educates about settler colonialism while also entertaining with paranormal twists.” – Kirkus Reviews, STARRED REVIEW

“[A] clever mystery narrated by a teen whose voice radiates with wonderful self-confidence… Like the self-published comics Ellie regularly devours, Elatsoe presents readers with a strong heroine, a supernatural mystery and a unique and powerful Native American voice.” – BookPage, STARRED REVIEW

Available Formats:

Hoopla eBook


Vesper Flights by  Helen Macdonald ★

vesper flightsAnimals don’t exist in order to teach us things, but that is what they have always done, and most of what they teach us is what we think we know about ourselves.

Helen Macdonald’s bestselling debut H is for Hawk brought the astonishing story of her relationship with goshawk Mabel to global critical acclaim and announced Macdonald as one of this century’s most important and insightful nature writers. H is for Hawk won the Samuel Johnson Prize for Nonfiction and the Costa Book Award, and was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award and the Kirkus Prize for Nonfiction, launching poet and falconer Macdonald as our preeminent nature essayist, with a semi-regular column in the New York Times Magazine.

In Vesper Flights Helen Macdonald brings together a collection of her best loved essays, along with new pieces on topics ranging from nostalgia for a vanishing countryside to the tribulations of farming ostriches to her own private vespers while trying to fall asleep. Meditating on notions of captivity and freedom, immigration and flight, Helen invites us into her most intimate experiences: observing songbirds from the Empire State Building as they migrate through the Tribute of Light, watching tens of thousands of cranes in Hungary, seeking the last golden orioles in Suffolk’s poplar forests. She writes with heart-tugging clarity about wild boar, swifts, mushroom hunting, migraines, the strangeness of birds’ nests, and the unexpected guidance and comfort we find when watching wildlife. By one of this century’s most important and insightful nature writers, Vesper Flights is a captivating and foundational book about observation, fascination, time, memory, love and loss and how we make sense of the world around us.

Description from Goodreads.

“Macdonald experiments with tempo and style, as if testing out different altitudes and finding she can fly at just about any speed, in any direction, with any aim she likes, so supple is her style. She writes about migration patterns and storms, nests as a metaphor for the domestic and the danger of using nature as metaphor at all. I was reminded of the goshawk, so thickly plumed, so powerful that it can bring down a deer, and yet it weighs only a few pounds. These are the very paradoxes of Macdonald’s prose ― its lightness and force.” – New York Times

“[E]xhilarating… No one describes the everyday natural world with greater power or beauty.” – Slate

“A profound meditation on life and freedom.” – Entertainment Weekly

“Dazzling… Ms. Macdonald reminds us how marvelously unfamiliar much of the nonhuman world remains to us, even as we continue to diminish it.” – Wall Street Journal

Available Formats:

Print Book | eBook | Hoopla eBook

Superman’s Not Coming: Our National Water Crisis and What We the People Can Do About It by  Erin Brockovich

superman's not comingIn Erin Brockovich’s long-awaited book–her first to reckon with conditions on our planet–she makes clear why we are in the trouble we’re in, and how, in large and practical ways, we each can take actions to bring about change.

She shows us what’s at stake, and writes of the fraudulent science that disguises these issues, cancer clusters not being reported. She writes of the saga of PG&E that continues to this day, and of the communities and people she has worked with who have helped to make an impact. She writes of the water operator in Poughkeepsie, New York, who responded to his customers’ concerns and changed his system to create some of the safest water in the country; of the moms in Hannibal, Missouri, who became the first citizens in the nation to file an ordinance prohibiting the use of ammonia in their public drinking water; and about how we can protect our right to clean water by fighting for better enforcement of the laws, for new legislation and better regulations. She cannot fight all battles for all people and gives us the tools to take actions ourselves, and have our voices be heard and know that steps are being taken to make sure our water is safe to drink and use.

Description from Goodreads.

“Riveting… [Brockovich] shares personal anecdotes in addition to providing specific steps to assist readers in pursuit of their own community actions… Superman’s Not Coming will resonate strongly with anyone concerned about this important topic.” – Booklist, STARRED REVIEW

“Two decades after the movie that made her a national celebrity, Brockovich urges readers to confront a scary reality… [She] offers an easy-to-understand guide to common water pollutants, and she shares stories of citizen activists… The narrative’s real power comes from her clarion calls to regular citizens to get involved in the fight for safe water… she offers several concrete suggestions for how people can gauge the safety of their own drinking water and stand up to corporations and politicians… a call to arms about the global water crisis from a sharp, plainspoken activist.” – Kirkus Reviews

Available Formats:

Print Book

El Jefe: The Stalking of Chapo Guzmán by  Alan Feuer

el jefeJoaquin “El Chapo” Guzman is the most legendary of Mexican narcos. As leader of the Sinaloa drug cartel, he was one of the most dangerous men in the world. His fearless climb to power, his brutality, his charm, his taste for luxury, his penchant for disguise, his multiple dramatic prison escapes, his unlikely encounters with Sean Penn–all of these burnished the image of the world’s most famous outlaw.

He was finally captured by U.S. and Mexican law enforcement in a daring operation years in the making. Here is that entire epic story–from El Chapo’s humble origins to his conviction in a Brooklyn courthouse. Longtime New York Times criminal justice reporter Alan Feuer’s coverage of his trial was some of the most riveting journalism of recent years.

Feuer’s mastery of the complex facts of the case, his unparalleled access to confidential sources in law enforcement, and his powerful understanding of disturbing larger themes–what this one man’s life says about drugs, walls, class, money, Mexico, and the United States–will ensure that this is the one book to read about “El Chapo.”

Description from Goodreads.

“[A] fast-paced tale of the decadeslong quest to capture a notorious drug kingpin… Feuer builds a taut narrative of the cat-and-mouse game that found Guzmán… [and] he knows how to spin a tale. Fans of Don Winslow’s fiction and Mark Bowden’s nonfiction alike will be eager to read Feuer’s blood-spattered tale.” – Kirkus Reviews


“El Chapo Guzmán was both a criminal and a celebrity ― something like Depression Era-gangsters Al Capone and John Dillinger… New York Times reporter Alan Feuer, who covered Guzmán’s 2019 drug trafficking trial, charts his rise from teenage smuggler to drug lord ― a mix of tall tales and brutal crimes.” – San Antonio Express-News

“[A] brisk, rich account of the kingpin’s rise to power and his downfall” – New York Times

Available Formats:

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