Best New Books: Week of 6/22/2021

“Memory sifts. Memory lifts. Memory makes due with what it is given. Memory is not about facts. Memory is an inconsistent measurement of the pain in one’s life.” – Brandon Taylor, Real Life


Filthy Animals by  Brandon Taylor ★

In the series of linked stories at the heart of Filthy Animals, set among young creatives in the American Midwest, a young man treads delicate emotional waters as he navigates a series of sexually fraught encounters with two dancers in an open relationship, forcing him to weigh his vulnerabilities against his loneliness. In other stories, a young woman battles with the cancers draining her body and her family; menacing undercurrents among a group of teenagers explode in violence on a winter night; a little girl tears through a house like a tornado, driving her babysitter to the brink; and couples feel out the jagged edges of connection, comfort, and cruelty.

One of the breakout literary stars of 2020, Brandon Taylor has been hailed by Roxane Gay as “a writer who wields his craft in absolutely unforgettable ways.” With Filthy Animals he renews and expands on the promise made in Real Life, training his precise and unsentimental gaze on the tensions among friends and family, lovers and others. Psychologically taut and quietly devastating, Filthy Animals is a tender portrait of the fierce longing for intimacy, the lingering presence of pain, and the desire for love in a world that seems, more often than not, to withhold it.

Description from Goodreads.

“A stunning achievement… marked by a pervasive intelligence and empathy, a reminder that even in our despair and isolation, we are not wholly alone.” – Refinery29

“A probing short story collection that grapples with societal expectations and transgressions… a luminous exploration of identity, mental health, and sexuality.” – BuzzFeed

“Impressive… The cloistered world of student life offers Taylor the perfect canvas for the emotionally charged interplay between an insular cast. Most significantly though, these stories provide further evidence that intimacy is Taylor’s great subject.” – Financial Times

“A joy to devour. Filthy Animals is unflinching in its grounded views of relationships and introspection. Taylor draws characters like he’s channeling Tom Stoppard, revealing them in their conversations, projecting them off the page like they’re standing beside you. These are not characters, they are people. I promise, you will find yourself somewhere in this book. And it will make you glad to have been chosen out of the world.” – Little Village

“Resonant and poignant… Taylor writes about relationships like a modern E. M. Forster, poking and prodding at the places where the connection is thinnest, and observing what happens when people madly attempt to shore it up.” – Vulture

Available Formats:

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God Spare the Girls by  Kelsey McKinney ★

Luke Nolan has led The Hope congregation for over a decade, while his wife and daughters patiently uphold what it means to live righteously. Made famous by a viral sermon on purity co-written with his eldest daughter, Abigail, Luke is the prototype of a modern preacher: tall, handsome, a spellbinding speaker. But his youngest daughter Caroline has started to notice the cracks in their comfortable life. She is certain that her perfect, pristine sister is about to marry the wrong man—and Caroline has slid into sin with a boy she’s known her entire life, wondering why God would care so much about her virginity anyway.

When it comes to light, six weeks before Abigail’s wedding, that Luke has been having an affair with another woman, the entire Nolan family falls into a tailspin. Caroline seizes the opportunity to be alone with her sister. The two girls flee to the ranch they inherited from their maternal grandmother, far removed from the embarrassing drama of their parents and the prying eyes of the community. But with the date of Abigail’s wedding fast approaching, the sisters will have to make a hard decision about which familial bonds are worth protecting.

An intimate coming-of-age story and a modern woman’s read, God Spare the Girls lays bare the rabid love of sisterhood and asks what we owe our communities, our families, and ourselves.

Description from Goodreads.

“Compelling… Both a coming-of-age book and an examination of belief, identity, and family, God Spare the Girls is unflinching and entrancing, and a reminder of the dangers of blind faith, but also the power of love.” – Refinery29

“Read it for twists on twists, meditations on faith, and a deeply thoughtful treatment of an evangelical community.” – Glamour

“The highlight of McKinney’s authentic narrative is her treatment of relationships, and Caroline and Abigail’s growing connection as the rest of their world threatens to fall apart is at once engaging, witty, and heartbreaking. A loss of faith gives way to something much stronger.” – Kirkus Reviews

“Kelsey McKinney’s debut novel asks a difficult question: Why does God’s love often feel more conditional when it comes to women?… With a story about family, womanhood, and the question of goodness, readers will not be able to put God Spare the Girls down.” – Shondaland

Available Formats:

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The Secret Keeper of Jaipur by  Alka Joshi

It’s the spring of 1969, and Lakshmi, now married to Dr. Jay Kumar, directs the Healing Garden in Shimla. Malik has finished his private school education. At twenty, he has just met a young woman named Nimmi when he leaves to apprentice at the Facilities Office of the Jaipur Royal Palace. Their latest project: a state-of-the-art cinema.

Malik soon finds that not much has changed as he navigates the Pink City of his childhood. Power and money still move seamlessly among the wealthy class, and favors flow from Jaipur’s Royal Palace, but only if certain secrets remain buried. When the cinema’s balcony tragically collapses on opening night, blame is placed where it is convenient. But Malik suspects something far darker and sets out to uncover the truth. As a former street child, he always knew to keep his own counsel; it’s a lesson that will serve him as he untangles a web of lies.

In New York Times bestselling author Alka Joshi’s intriguing new novel, henna artist Lakshmi arranges for her protégé, Malik, to intern at the Jaipur Palace in this tale rich in character, atmosphere, and lavish storytelling.

Description from Goodreads.

“With lush details, a return to favorite characters, and emotional complexity, this story satisfies on every level.” – Library Journal, STARRED REVIEW

“Joshi excels at creating strong characters, the addition of Nimmi being no exception. As Lakshmi and Malik uncover the cause of the disaster, their loyalties are put to the test in this applause-worthy encore.” – Booklist

“Joshi’s sensuous descriptions of food, local color, and Lakshmi’s art make this gorgeous sequel to The Henna Artist worth savoring.” – Publishers Weekly

Available Formats:

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Blush by  Jamie Brenner

For decades, the lush vineyards and majestic manor house of the Hollander Estates winery made it the North Fork of Long Island’s premier destination for lavish parties and romantic day trips. Now the Hollander family fortunes have suffered, and as matriarch Vivian Hollander prepares for the arrival of her daughter and granddaughter for their annual summer reunion, she fears it might be their last. Worse, selling the family legacy to strangers might expose the dark secret she’s harbored for thirty-five years…

Visits to the winery have been bittersweet for Leah Hollander Bailey ever since her father refused to let her take her place in the family business. Now a successful Manhattan shop owner, Leah loves the life she’s built with her husband and daughter–but with her store, and her marriage, at a crossroads, she can’t help but view this year’s pilgrimage home as a sorely needed escape.

College senior Sadie Bailey has a thesis to write, and the towering shelves of the manor’s library offer endless academic inspiration. But when Sadie discovers evidence that her proper Grandma Vivian once ran a book club dedicated to the scandalous women’s novels of decades past, the shockingly outrageous tomes give her new insight into her family’s glory days.

Resurrecting the trashy book club begins as the distraction all three women need. But as they battle to save their birthright and heal old wounds, they just might find that the pages contain everything they need to know about how to fight for what they want–and for the life, and love, they deserve.

Description from Goodreads.

“Brenner deftly pulls from the canon for steamy encounters and dramatic confrontations—some worthy of a Dynasty reboot. A perfect beach read about a family crisis resolved by women.” – Kirkus Reviews

“Jam-packed with outrageous drama, sexy passion, and dysfunctional family dynamics, Brenner’s delectable soap opera is the epitome of escapist reading pleasure. [Blush] is also a homage to the glitz-and-glam novels of the 1980s, a brilliantly conceived and expertly executed tale that provides a welcome reassessment of the often underestimated but in their own way fiercely feminist works of Jackie Collins, Judith Krantz, Shirley Conran, and the other big-shoulder-padded popular fiction stars of the time. Brenner starts with the clever concept of women bonding in a book group dedicated to ‘trashy’ novels and spins it into beach-reading gold.” – Booklist

“Brenner’s lovely latest begs to be read with a view and a glass of wine… Brenner tackles complex issues including gender equality and the devaluation of women’s interests with a light hand, balancing heavy topics with copious descriptions of wine, cheese, and classic romances. [Blush] is sure to please.” – Publishers Weekly

Available Formats:

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Songs in Ursa Major by  Emma Brodie

The year is 1969, and the Bayleen Island Folk Fest is abuzz with one name: Jesse Reid. Tall and soft-spoken, with eyes blue as stone-washed denim, Jesse Reid’s intricate guitar riffs and supple baritone are poised to tip from fame to legend with this one headlining performance. That is, until his motorcycle crashes on the way to the show.

Jane Quinn is a Bayleen Island local whose music flows as naturally as her long blond hair. When she and her bandmates are asked to play in Jesse Reid’s place at the festival, it almost doesn’t seem real. But Jane plants her bare feet on the Main Stage and delivers the performance of a lifetime, stopping Jesse’s disappointed fans in their tracks: A star is born.

Jesse stays on the island to recover from his near-fatal accident and he strikes up a friendship with Jane, coaching her through the production of her first record. As Jane contends with the music industry’s sexism, Jesse becomes her advocate, and what starts as a shared calling soon becomes a passionate love affair. On tour with Jesse, Jane is so captivated by the giant stadiums, the late nights, the wild parties, and the media attention, that she is blind-sided when she stumbles on the dark secret beneath Jesse’s music. With nowhere to turn, Jane must reckon with the shadows of her own past; what follows is the birth of one of most iconic albums of all time.

Shot through with the lyrics, the icons, the lore, the adrenaline of the early 70s music scene, Songs in Ursa Major pulses with romantic longing and asks the question so many female artists must face: What are we willing to sacrifice for our dreams?

Description from Goodreads.

“Moving from New York to Los Angeles to Greece to the Grammys… Brodie’s debut is a furious page turner, meditating on the glittering beast of fame.” – Booklist

“Entrancing… This superbly crafted debut novel immerses readers in a story of family, love, and music from the first page… This book would make a wonderful movie; readers will long for an album of Jane’s songs to go with it.” – Library Journal, STARRED REVIEW

“Inspired by the folk rock scene of the late 1960s and ’70s, Brodie’s debut novel follows Jane Quinn, an ethereal and talented musician, as she navigates love, loss, and stardom… Brodie thoughtfully probes the different ways men and women were treated in the music industry: the men coddled and protected in the face of their faults while the women (especially rule breakers like Jane) were taken advantage of, undercut, and vilified… Brodie’s writing—about music, family, and grief—elevates the novel. An enjoyable debut that will appeal to fans of this iconic era.” – Kirkus Reviews

Available Formats:

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Dream Girl by  Laura Lippman ★

After being injured in a freak accident, novelist Gerry Andersen lies in a hospital bed in his glamorous but sterile apartment, isolated from the busy world he can see through his windows, utterly dependent on two women he barely knows: his young assistant and a night nurse whose competency he questions.

But Gerry is also beginning to question his own competency. As he moves in and out of dreamlike memories and seemingly random appearances of a persistent ex-girlfriend at his bedside, he fears he may be losing his grip on reality, much like his mother who recently passed away from dementia.

Most distressing, he believes he’s being plagued by strange telephone calls, in which a woman claiming to be the titular character of his hit novel Dream Girl swears she will be coming to see him soon. The character is completely fictitious, but no one has ever believed Gerry when he makes that claim. Is he the victim of a cruel prank—or is he actually losing his mind?

There is no record of the calls according to the log on his phone. Could there be someone he has wronged?

Is someone coming to do him harm as he lies helplessly in bed?

Then comes the morning he wakes up next to a dead body—and realizes his nightmare is just beginning…

Description from Goodreads.

“[The] book version of the mind-blown emoji.” – Entertainment Weekly

“Perceptive, often amusing insights into a writer’s mind make this a standout. Lippman is in top form for this enticingly witty, multilayered guessing game.” – Publishers Weekly, STARRED REVIEW

“Lippman never stops twisting the plot into a deliciously intricate pretzel, right up to the jaw-dropping finale. This is both a beguiling look at the mysteries of authorship and a powerful #MeToo novel, but that’s only the tip of a devilishly jagged iceberg…” – Booklist, STARRED REVIEW

“Lippman nods at Stephen King and Alfred Hitchcock in this hair-raising tale, but makes it wholly hers and completely riveting. She conveys the horror of being housebound and reliant on strangers, as well as the fear of losing one’s mind. It’s a page-turning, plot-twisting masterpiece.” – Library Journal, STARRED REVIEW

Available Formats:

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Hostage by  Clare Mackintosh

You can save hundreds of lives. Or the one that matters most.

A claustrophobic thriller set over twenty hours on one airplane flight, with the heart-stopping tension of The Last Flight and the wrenching emotional intensity of Room, Hostage takes us on board the inaugural nonstop flight from London to Sydney.

Mina is trying to focus on her job as a flight attendant, not the problems of her five-year-old daughter back home, or the fissures in her marriage. But the plane has barely taken off when Mina receives a chilling note from an anonymous passenger, someone intent on ensuring the plane never reaches its destination. Someone who needs Mina’s assistance and who knows exactly how to make her comply.

It’s twenty hours to landing. A lot can happen in twenty hours.

Description from Goodreads.

“The airborne equivalent of a classic country house mystery… Surprising twists propel the story to an unexpected finale.” – Publishers Weekly, STARRED REVIEW

“…Mackintosh fits the puzzle pieces of this mystery thriller together with incredible skill… Mackintosh has filled Hostage with fear, panic, and excitement, and jam-packed it with action. In addition, she has included bits of smart social commentary on prejudice and discrimination, extremism, and the assumptions we make about those around us. This is a true edge-of-your-seat suspense thriller that is not to be missed!” – The NERD Daily

“An incredibly tense read that has a satisfyingly clever ending” –  Good Housekeeping

Available Formats:

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Migratory Birds by  Mariana Oliver

In her prize-winning debut, Mexican essayist Mariana Oliver trains her gaze on migration in its many forms, moving between real cities and other more inaccessible territories: language, memory, pain, desire, and the body. With an abiding curiosity and poetic ease, Oliver leads us through the underground city of Cappadocia, explores the vicissitudes of a Berlin marked by historical fracture, recalls a shocking childhood exodus, and recreates the intimacy of the spaces we inhabit. Blending criticism, reportage, and a travel writing all her own, Oliver presents a brilliant collection of essays that asks us what it means to leave the familiar behind and make the unfamiliar our own.

Description from Goodreads.

“Oliver debuts with a thoughtful, roving meditation on migration, language, and home. In intimate pieces studded with references to history and literature, Oliver ponders such topics as the tug of home and the consequences of dislocation… Fans of lyrical essays will enjoy this literary global odyssey.” – Publishers Weekly

“Essays haunted by echoes and shadows… In the third entry of the publisher’s Undelivered Lectures series, Mexican-born essayist Oliver debuts with a collection of 10 graceful pieces that include meditations on place, language, exile, and memory.” – Kirkus Reviews

“Mariana Oliver touches down in various times and places, showing how people described their difficulties there and then, and revealing what changes in language arose from these events. From Normandy to Neverland, the through line of this excellent collection is movement, and the essays meander around history in an appealing way… Part memoir, part history, and part travelogue, Migratory Birds explores the vicissitudes of language.” – Foreword Reviews, STARRED REVIEW

Available Formats:

Hoopla eBook

The Woman They Could Not Silence: One Woman, Her Incredible Fight for Freedom, and the Men Who Tried to Make Her Disappear by  Kate Moore

1860: As the clash between the states rolls slowly to a boil, Elizabeth Packard, housewife and mother of six, is facing her own battle. The enemy sits across the table and sleeps in the next room. Her husband of twenty-one years is plotting against her because he feels increasingly threatened—by Elizabeth’s intellect, independence, and unwillingness to stifle her own thoughts. So Theophilus makes a plan to put his wife back in her place. One summer morning, he has her committed to an insane asylum.

The horrific conditions inside the Illinois State Hospital in Jacksonville, Illinois, are overseen by Dr. Andrew McFarland, a man who will prove to be even more dangerous to Elizabeth than her traitorous husband. But most disturbing is that Elizabeth is not the only sane woman confined to the institution. There are many rational women on her ward who tell the same story: they’ve been committed not because they need medical treatment, but to keep them in line—conveniently labeled “crazy” so their voices are ignored.

No one is willing to fight for their freedom and, disenfranchised both by gender and the stigma of their supposed madness, they cannot possibly fight for themselves. But Elizabeth is about to discover that the merit of losing everything is that you then have nothing to lose…

Description from Goodreads.

“A riveting chronicle… Moore packs in plenty of drama without sacrificing historical fidelity, and paints Elizabeth’s fierce intelligence and unflagging ambition with vibrant brushstrokes. Readers will be thrilled to discover this undersung early feminist hero.” – Publishers Weekly, STARRED REVIEW

“Moore’s expert research and impassioned storytelling combine to create an absolutely unputdownable account of Packard’s harrowing experience. Readers will be shocked, horrified, and inspired. A veritable tour de force about how far women’s rights have come and how far we still have to go… Put this book in the hands of every young feminist.” – Booklist, STARRED REVIEW

The Woman They Could Not Silence is compelling not only because of the way it creates an alliance between the reader and the courageous Packard, but also because of how it forces the reader to examine once more the language and attitudes around women’s mental health. In Packard we see a foremother of the female leaders of today: intelligent, tenacious and impossible to cow.” – BookPage

Available Formats:

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The Storm Is Upon Us: How QAnon Became a Movement, Cult, and Conspiracy Theory of Everything by  Mike Rothschild

Its messaging can seem cryptic, even nonsensical, yet for tens of thousands of people, it explains everything: What is QAnon, where did it come from, and is the Capitol insurgency a sign of where it’s going next?

On October 5th, 2017, President Trump made a cryptic remark in the State Dining Room at a gathering of military officials. He said it felt like “the calm before the storm”—then refused to elaborate as puzzled journalists asked him to explain. But on the infamous message boards of 4chan, a mysterious poster going by “Q Clearance Patriot,” who claimed to be in “military intelligence,” began the elaboration on their own.

In the days that followed, Q’s wild yarn explaining Trump’s remarks began to rival the sinister intricacies of a Tom Clancy novel, while satisfying the deepest desires of MAGA-America. But did any of what Q predicted come to pass? No. Did that stop people from clinging to every word they were reading, expanding its mythology, and promoting it wider and wider? No.

Why not? Who were these rapt listeners? How do they reconcile their worldview with the America they see around them? Why do their numbers keep growing? Mike Rothschild, a journalist specializing in conspiracy theories, has been collecting their stories for years, and through interviews with QAnon converts, apostates, and victims, as well as psychologists, sociologists, and academics, he is uniquely equipped to explain the movement and its followers.

In The Storm Is Upon Us, he takes readers from the background conspiracies and cults that fed the Q phenomenon, to its embrace by right-wing media and Donald Trump, through the rending of families as loved ones became addicted to Q’s increasingly violent rhetoric, to the storming of the Capitol, and on.

And as the phenomenon shows no sign of calming despite Trump’s loss of the presidency—with everyone from Baby Boomers to Millennial moms proving susceptible to its messaging—and politicians starting to openly espouse its ideology, Rothschild makes a compelling case that mocking the seeming madness of QAnon will get us nowhere. Rather, his impassioned reportage makes clear it’s time to figure out what QAnon really is — because QAnon and its relentlessly dark theory of everything isn’t done yet.

Description from Amazon.

“Reads like a thriller, with cliffhangers that leave you eager for the next episode… The Storm Is Upon Us is an impressive piece of research and a gripping read.” – The Sunday Times

“Compelling, comprehensive, meticulously-documented.” – Booklist, STARRED REVIEW

“Rothschild provides an enlightening history of the QAnon conspiracy theory… a disturbing and well-informed look at the darker side of modern American politics.” – Publisher’s Weekly

Available Formats:

Print Book

Distant Fathers: A Memoir by  Marina Jarre

This singular autobiography unfurls from author Marina Jarre’s native Latvia during the 1920s and 30s, and expands southward to the Italian countryside. In distinctive writing as poetic as it is precise, Jarre depicts an exceptionally multinational and complicated family: her elusive, handsome father—a Jew who perished in the Holocaust; her severe, cultured mother—an Italian Lutheran who translated Russian literature; and her sister and Latvian grandparents. Jarre tells of her passage from childhood to adolescence, first in a Baltic nation where she spoke and read German surrounded by the sound of many other tongues and religions, and then in traumatic exile to Italy after her parents’ divorce. Jarre lives with her maternal grandparents, French-speaking Waldensian Protestants in the Alpine valleys north of Turin, where she finds fascist Italy a problematic home for a Riga-born Jew. As an adult, she finds yet another identity for herself, marries and has children of her own in industrial Turin. This memoir, likened to Speak, Memory by Vladimir Nabokov or Annie Ernaux’s The Years, and now translated into English for the first time, probes questions of time, language, belonging and estrangement, while asking what homeland can be for those who have none, or many more than one.

Description from Goodreads.

“It’s an incalculable source of joy when… one of the greatest writers of the twentieth century can resume dialogue with the readers of today.” – Il Libraio

“Incandescent… Masterfully renders the simultaneous, interlaced experience of someone displaced in times, places, and cultures… This book speaks with such relevance to our own times… Marina Jarre is an extraordinary rediscovery.” – Printed Matter

“Marina Jarre… writes about being haunted, about never knowing quite where she was, and about ‘not belonging’… with imagery that ranges from poetic and contemplative to graphic and even disgusting, revealing herself as unafraid to show what is often kept hidden for fear of judgement. The eloquence of Marina Jarre’s insightful memoir reflects what had always been, even more than people and events, her true passion: words and stories.” – Foreword Reviews

Available Formats:

Hoopla eBook


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