Best New Books: Week of 4/5/22

“Because the sunset, like survival, exists only on the verge of its own disappearing. To be gorgeous, you must first be seen, but to be seen allows you to be hunted.” – Ocean Vuong, On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous

The Age of Astonishment: John Morris in the Miracle Century – from the Civil War to the Cold War by  Bill Morris

Nonfiction / History / Biography.

It all began with a black-and-white family snapshot of a distinguished elderly gentleman with a fine head of spun-sugar hair. He was wearing round, tortoise-shell glasses, a three-piece suit and an expression of delight mixed with terror, for on his right knee he was balancing a swaddled infant with a bewildered look. The baby is Bill Morris, the man is his father’s father, John Morris.

That photo, taken in November 1952, the month the United States detonated the first hydrogen bomb, a weapon a thousand times more powerful than the atom bombs that incinerated Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Three years later, John Morris died at the age of 92. Bill has no memories of the man, but even as a boy he found himself marveling at the changes John must have witnessed and experienced in his long lifetime.

He was born into a slave-owning Virginia family during the Civil War, and he died at the peak of the Cold War. At the time of his birth, the dominant technologies were the steam engine and the telegraph. He grew up in a world lit by kerosene and candles, he traveled by foot and horseback and wagon and drank water hauled from a well. He would live through Reconstruction, women’s suffrage, Prohibition, the Great Depression, two world wars, the Korean War and the advent of nuclear weapons.

Though he was from a slave-owning family, he changed his views as he grew into adulthood, and would unhappily witness the horrors of Jim Crow and work against it. Fluent in German, he would witness Hitler’s rise to power, just one of the unimaginable occurrences of his time that suddenly became all-too-real.

Deep in the Bible Belt, John was agnostic, perhaps even atheist, and held remarkably progressive beliefs on race relations, child rearing, women’s rights and religious freedom. He married an Irish Catholic from upstate New York at a time when Catholics, Jews and Yankees were not warmly welcomed in the South. And in that traditionally bellicose region, he was a life-long pacifist. He was, in a word, a misfit, but one whose story embodies a pivotal generation in American history.

An acclaimed journalist and novelist, Bill Morris makes history personal in The Age of Astonishment, painting a rich and vivid portrait of the time when America become modern by tracing the life of one man who lived through it.

Description from Goodreads.

“[Morris] does a superb job of recounting a life amid a series of significant decades. His imaginative ‘mongrel’ approach—a mix of… biography, history, reportage, memoir, autobiography, and, when the record runs thin, speculation that flirts with fiction—is successful. An entertaining combination of domestic and world history.” – Kirkus Reviews, STARRED REVIEW

“Novelist Bill Morris delivers a poignant biography of his grandfather, John Morris, a University of Georgia philologist. Though Morris touches on the technological and political upheavals of his grandfather’s lifetime, he pays the greatest attention to racial issues, noting that John was born on a Virginia plantation in 1863 and died in 1955, the same year Emmett Till was murdered. While some of his peers dove into Lost Cause fanaticism, John saw slavery as evil and once drove his daughter to a farmhouse where a Black man had been lynched because ‘he wanted her to know about [it] and think about [it] and never forget.’ An immersive and moving portrait of a quietly decent man and his monumental era.” – Publishers Weekly

The Candy House by  Jennifer Egan ★

Fiction / Science Fiction.

It’s 2010. Staggeringly successful and brilliant tech entrepreneur Bix Bouton is desperate for a new idea. He’s forty, with four kids, and restless when he stumbles into a conversation with mostly Columbia professors, one of whom is experimenting with downloading or “externalizing” memory. Within a decade, Bix’s new technology, Own Your Unconscious—that allows you access to every memory you’ve ever had, and to share every memory in exchange for access to the memories of others—has seduced multitudes. But not everyone.

In spellbinding linked narratives, Egan spins out the consequences of Own Your Unconscious through the lives of multiple characters whose paths intersect over several decades. Egan introduces these characters in an astonishing array of styles—from omniscient to first person plural to a duet of voices, an epistolary chapter, and a chapter of tweets. In the world of Egan’s spectacular imagination, there are “counters” who track and exploit desires and there are “eluders,” those who understand the price of taking a bite of the Candy House.

Intellectually dazzling and extraordinarily moving, The Candy House is a bold, brilliant imagining of a world that is moments away. With a focus on social media, gaming, and alternate worlds, you can almost experience moving among dimensions in a role-playing game.​ Egan delivers a fierce and exhilarating testament to the tenacity and transcendence of human longing for real connection, love, family, privacy and redemption.

Description from Goodreads.

“You don’t have to read A Visit From the Goon Squad to love this sibling novel to Egan’s stellar hit… complex and intimate.” – Good Housekeeping

“Inventive, effervescent… Egan plaits multiple narratives and techniques to underscore the manifold ways our own desires betray us in a brave new coded world.” – Oprah Daily

“Its teeming tapestry of strivers, dropouts, and dreamers as insistently alive as they were 12 years ago… The Candy House, for all its dips and spins and cul-de-sacs, its brain-weevil gadgets and future panics, does what only the best and rarest books can: peel back the thin membrane of ordinary life, and find transcendence on the other side.” – Entertainment Weekly

“An electrifying and shape-shifting story that one-ups its Pulitzer-winning predecessor… Egan cleverly echoes the ambitious, savvy marketing schemes of real-world tech barons with Own Your Unconscious… Twisting through myriad points of view, narrative styles, and divergent voices, Egan proves herself as perceptive an interpreter of the necessity of human connection as ever, and her vision is as irresistible as the tech she describes. This is Egan’s best yet.” – Publishers Weekly, STARRED REVIEW

Cover Story by  Susan Rigetti ★

Fiction / Mystery / Suspense.

After a rough year at NYU, aspiring writer Lora Ricci is thrilled to land a summer internship at Elle magazine where she meets Cat Wolff, contributing editor and enigmatic daughter of a clean-energy mogul. Cat takes Lora under her wing, soliciting her help with side projects and encouraging her writing.

As a friendship emerges between the two women, Lora opens up to Cat about her desperate struggles and lost scholarship. Cat’s solution: Drop out of NYU and become her ghostwriter. Lora agrees and, when the internship ends, she moves into Cat’s suite at the opulent Plaza Hotel. Writing during the day and accompanying Cat to extravagant parties at night, Lora’s life quickly shifts from looming nightmare to dream-come-true. But as Lora is drawn into Cat’s glamorous lifestyle, Cat’s perfect exterior cracks, exposing an illicit, shady world.

A whip-smart and delightfully inventive writer, Susan Rigetti brilliantly pieces together a perceptive, humorous caper full of sharp observations about scam culture. Composed of diary entries, emails, FBI correspondence, and more, Cover Story is a fresh, fun, and wholly original novel that takes readers deep into the codependency and deceit found in a relationship built on power imbalance and lies.

Description from Goodreads.

“[A] ridiculously fun romp.” – E!

“[A] page-turner that’s hilarious in its dedication to vamping on viral news stories about real-life strivers and cons from Delvey to Instagram personality Caroline Calloway… a delicious read.” –Time

“Rigetti’s fiction debut has a roller-coaster plot that gives off huge Anna Delvey vibes and an ending that will leave you with your jaw on the floor… If you’re a fan of tales about scams, grifters, and mysterious schemes, Cover Story needs to be on your TBR list.” – PopSugar

“Journalist Rigetti’s debut kicks off beach-read season with a bang… Drawing heavy inspiration from the true story of Anna Delvey, who conned New York’s elite for several years in the mid-2010s, this book will be a must-read for the legions who followed Delvey’s story with bated breath… It’s The Devil Wear’s Prada meets Gone Girl, and it’s delightful.” – Booklist, STARRED REVIEW

Dead Girls Can’t Tell Secrets by  Chelsea Ichaso

Fiction / Young Adult / Suspense / Mystery.

Piper Sullivan was in a strange hiking accident last month and has been in a coma ever since. Her older sister, Savannah, can’t pretend to be optimistic about it; things look bad. Piper will likely never wake up, and Savannah will never get any answers about what exactly happened.

But then Savannah finds a note in Piper’s locker, inviting Piper to a meeting of their school’s wilderness club… at the very place and on the very day that she fell. Which means there was a chance that Piper wasn’t alone. Someone might’ve seen something. Worse, someone might’ve done something. But who would want to hurt the perfect Piper Sullivan… and why?

To discover the truth, Savannah joins the club on their weekend-long camping trip on the same mountain where her sister fell. But she better be careful; everyone in the club is a suspect, and everyone seems to be keeping secrets about that tragic day.

And Savannah? She’s been keeping secrets, too…

Description from Goodreads.

“This fast-paced thriller will keep readers guessing from the very first page all the way to the final jaw-dropping sentence.” – School Library Journal

“A well-paced page-turner about uncovering the truth at any cost.” – Kirkus Reviews

Easy Beauty: A Memoir by  Chloé Cooper Jones ★

Nonfiction / Memoir.

“I am in a bar in Brooklyn, listening to two men, my friends, discuss whether my life is worth living.”

So begins Chloé Cooper Jones’s bold, revealing account of moving through the world in a body that looks different than most. Jones learned early on to factor “pain calculations” into every plan, every situation. Born with a rare congenital condition called sacral agenesis which affects both her stature and gait, her pain is physical. But there is also the pain of being judged and pitied for her appearance, of being dismissed as “less than.” The way she has been seen—or not seen—has informed her lens on the world her entire life. She resisted this reality by excelling academically and retreating to “the neutral room in her mind” until it passed. But after unexpectedly becoming a mother (in violation of unspoken social taboos about the disabled body), something in her shifts, and Jones sets off on a journey across the globe, reclaiming the spaces she’d been denied, and denied herself.

From the bars and domestic spaces of her life in Brooklyn to sculpture gardens in Rome; from film festivals in Utah to a Beyoncé concert in Milan; from a tennis tournament in California to the Killing Fields of Phnom Penh, Jones weaves memory, observation, experience, and aesthetic philosophy to probe the myths underlying our standards of beauty and desirability, and interrogates her own complicity in upholding those myths.

With its emotional depth, its prodigious, spiky intelligence, its passion and humor, Easy Beauty is the rare memoir that has the power to make you see the world, and your place in it, with new eyes.

Description from Goodreads.

“Jones’ writing is thoughtful and deeply felt, and her stories will fascinate anyone who wants to look at the world in a new way.” – Apple Books

“Cooper Jones challenges the unspoken social taboos about the disabled body, unpacking myths of beauty and our complicity in upholding those myths. Blending journalism, philosophy, and memoir, it’s a book that everyone will be talking about this Spring.” – Literary Hub

“[In her] dazzling debut… Chloé Cooper Jones challenges society’s rules of attraction with razor-sharp wit and intellect… [and] makes a brilliant case for the beauty of complexity.” – Publishers Weekly, STARRED REVIEW

“Soul-stretching, breathtaking… A profound, impressive, and wiser-than-wise contemplation of the way Jones is viewed by others, her own collusion in those views, and whether any of this can be shifted… A game-changing gift to readers.” – Booklist, STARRED REVIEW

Fool Me Once by  Ashley Winstead

Fiction / Romance.

Lee Stone is a twenty-first-century woman: she kicks butt at her job as a communications director at a women-run electric car company (that’s better than Tesla, thank you) and after work she is “Stoner,” drinking guys under the table and never letting any of them get too comfortable in her bed…

That’s because Lee’s learned one big lesson: never trust love. After four major heartbreaks set her straight, from her father cheating on her mom all the way to Ben Laderman in grad school—who wasn’t actually cheating, but she could have sworn he was, so she reciprocated in kind.

Then Ben shows up five years later, working as a policy expert for the most liberal governor in Texas history, just as Lee is trying to get a clean energy bill rolling. Things get complicated—and competitive as Lee and Ben are forced to work together. Tension builds just as old sparks reignite, fanning the flames for a romantic dustup the size of Texas.

Description from Goodreads.

“Winstead offers a sharp and witty rom-com styled novel in the vein of HBO’s The Flight Attendant and Julie Valerie’s Holly Banks Full of AngstFool Me Once is a gem.” – Booklist

“Sparks fly and laughs abound as Winstead rides the line between enemies-to-lovers and second-chance romance tropes. Readers will want to snap this up.” – Publishers Weekly

Four Treasures of the Sky by  Jenny Tinghui Zhang ★

Fiction / historical Fiction.

Daiyu never wanted to be like the tragic heroine for whom she was named, revered for her beauty and cursed with heartbreak. But when she is kidnapped and smuggled across an ocean from China to America, Daiyu must relinquish the home and future she imagined for herself. Over the years that follow, she is forced to keep reinventing herself to survive. From a calligraphy school, to a San Francisco brothel, to a shop tucked into the Idaho mountains, we follow Daiyu on a desperate quest to outrun the tragedy that chases her. As anti-Chinese sentiment sweeps across the country in a wave of unimaginable violence, Daiyu must draw on each of the selves she has been—including the ones she most wants to leave behind—in order to finally claim her own name and story.

At once a literary tour de force and a groundbreaking work of historical fiction, Four Treasures of the Sky announces Jenny Tinghui Zhang as an indelible new voice. Steeped in untold history and Chinese folklore, this novel is a spellbinding feat.

Description from Goodreads.

“A surreal and sprawling story… Historical fiction that lays bare the human tragedy behind the infamous Chinese Exclusion Act.” – NPR

“Engrossing… Epic… Zhang’s descriptive prose is an arresting combination of earthy and lyric… The resonance and immediacy of these barbarous 19th-century events are testament to Zhang’s storytelling powers, and should stand as a warning to all of us.” – New York Times

“The prides and prejudices of the Old West blaze to life in Zhang’s propulsive, fable-like novel… Zhang skillfully embellishes her novel with Chinese characters, suggesting that language is our most potent weapon against oppression.” – Oprah Daily

“Radiant… A treasure of a debut… [Zhang’s] first novel reveals storytelling skills both vast and specific, bringing shadowy history to light while also displaying a remarkable talent for sensory detail.” – BookPage, STARRED REVIEW

Lessons in Chemistry by  Bonnie Garmus ★

Fiction / Historical Fiction / Comedy.

Chemist Elizabeth Zott is not your average woman. In fact, Elizabeth Zott would be the first to point out that there is no such thing as an average woman. But it’s the early 1960s and her all-male team at Hastings Research Institute takes a very unscientific view of equality. Except for one: Calvin Evans; the lonely, brilliant, Nobel-prize nominated grudge-holder who falls in love with–of all things–her mind. True chemistry results.

But like science, life is unpredictable. Which is why a few years later Elizabeth Zott finds herself not only a single mother, but the reluctant star of America’s most beloved cooking show Supper at Six. Elizabeth’s unusual approach to cooking (“combine one tablespoon acetic acid with a pinch of sodium chloride”) proves revolutionary. But as her following grows, not everyone is happy. Because as it turns out, Elizabeth Zott isn’t just teaching women to cook. She’s daring them to change the status quo.

Laugh-out-loud funny, shrewdly observant, and studded with a dazzling cast of supporting characters, Lessons in Chemistry is as original and vibrant as its protagonist.

Description from Goodreads.

“A bold, smart, and often hilarious look at the value of so-called women’s work.” – Real Simple

“Strikingly relevant… Darkly funny and poignant… Lessons in Chemistry’s excellent experiment [is] quirky and heartwarming.” – The Atlantic

“A witty and sharp dramedy about resilience and found families… Readers won’t be able to get enough of Elizabeth and her makeshift family. Lessons in Chemistry is a story to return to again and again.” – BookPage

“[An] energetic debut… A more adorable plea for rationalism and gender equality would be hard to find.” – Kirkus Reviews, STARRED REVIEW

Let’s Not Do That Again by  Grant Ginder

Fiction / Comedy.

Nancy Harriman is running for Senate, and she’s going to win, God dammit. Not that that’s her slogan, although it should be. This is what she’s worked so hard for over the years after her husband’s untimely death (which was definitely not her fault) and inheriting his seat in the House of Representatives. She’s said all the right things. Passed all the right legislation. Chapped her lips kissing babies. There’s just one problem: her grown children.

Greta and Nick Harriman are adrift. Nick, recently heartbroken, is floundering in his attempts to write a musical about the life of Joan Didion (called Hello to All That). And then there’s his little sister Greta. Smart, pretty, and completely unmotivated by anything, allowing her life to pass her by like the shoppers at the Apple store where she works.

But then one morning the world wakes up not to Nancy making headlines, but Greta. She’s in Paris. With extremist protestors. Throwing a bottle of champagne through a beloved bistro’s front window. In order to save her campaign, not to mention her daughter, Nancy and Nick must find Greta before it’s too late.

Smart and poignant, funny and tear-jerking, Let’s Not Do That Again proves that like democracy, family is a messy and fragile thing that means more than any mother, or senator, could ever dream.

Description from Goodreads.

“In this smart, witty novel from the author of The People We Hate at the Wedding, no institution―from family to the U.S. government―is safe from skewering, and you’re sure to enjoy every word.” – Town & Country

“Highly entertaining… Ginder is at his best when tossing all his plates in the air, introducing new characters and subplots, weaving everything together. Ginder deftly blends politics and family, humor and drama, and brings the three Harrisons vividly to life. Buckle up and enjoy the ride.” – Boston Globe

“It’s a pleasure to find a book that’s genuinely funny, from the names of the businesses mentioned, to the snappy dialogue. But beneath the wit, there’s a warm tale of family ties; of how kin is kin, no matter how crazy-making they might be; and how love lurks beneath the mountain of drama.” – Seattle Times

Memphis by  Tara M. Stringfellow ★

Fiction / Historical Fiction.

In the summer of 1995, ten-year-old Joan, her mother, and her younger sister flee her father’s violence, seeking refuge at her mother’s ancestral home in Memphis. Half a century ago, Joan’s grandfather built this majestic house in the historic Black neighborhood of Douglass–only to be lynched days after becoming the first Black detective in Memphis. This wasn’t the first time violence altered the course of Joan’s family’s trajectory, and she knows it won’t be the last. Longing to become an artist, Joan pours her rage and grief into sketching portraits of the women of North Memphis–including their enigmatic neighbor Miss Dawn, who seems to know something about curses.

Unfolding over seventy years through a chorus of voices, Memphis weaves back and forth in time to show how the past and future are forever intertwined. It is only when Joan comes to see herself as a continuation of a long matrilineal tradition–and the women in her family as her guides to healing–that she understands that her life does not have to be defined by vengeance. That the sole weapon she needs is her paintbrush.

Inspired by the author’s own family history, Memphis–the Black fairy tale she always wanted to read–explores the complexity of what we pass down, not only in our families, but in our country: police brutality and justice, powerlessness and freedom, fate and forgiveness, doubt and faith, sacrifice and love.

Description from Goodreads.

“This vivid debut novel examines the tragedies, joys, and deep connections of one extraordinary Memphis family… A story populated with unforgettable characters. Stringfellow’s prose is evocative… A powerful family saga from a promising writer.” – Booklist

“Stringfellow’s vibrant debut celebrates the resilience of women over multiple generations in a Black Memphis family, as well as the city that is central to their lives… Just when this starts to feel sentimental, the author makes it achingly real. This satisfies like a bowl of butter pecan.” – Publishers Weekly

“With the skill of a poet, Stringfellow uses her mastery of language to describe everyday scenes with profound detail, transporting readers into the minds and hearts of the women she’s created.” – Epifania

“Description is Stringfellow’s great gift. Whether describing the house or the city of Memphis, each scene is grounded in its setting. Greater still is the way Stringfellow describes people, especially the women… a family tree has its limitations. It cannot show you these unnamed relationships, the ones that hold a person and make her. For that, you need art: giant canvases like the ones Joan paints, or tender and honest narratives like Tara M. Stringfellow’s Memphis.” – Chapter 16

Pest by  Elizabeth Foscue

Fiction / Young Adult.

Between her dad’s pest control company, her mom’s pond cleaning service, and her side gig at a tourist hotspot in Santa Barbara, Hal puts the “work” in working class. But Hal has qualms about gassing gophers. She’s tired of ditching friends to skim dead fish from fountains, and she’s weary of divorced-parent politics. So Hal has a plan: win the prestigious Verhaag Scholarship, go to an east coast school, and never come back.

But the Verhaag Scholarship has a proud history of nepotism and a last-minute contender just crawled out of the woodwork. Hal’s parking lot nemesis has usurped the Yearbook Committee, depriving her of her only extracurricular credit. To make matters worse, her Montecito clients are in a defensive frenzy over a rash of estate burglaries, and if her jobs keep making her tardy, she may not even graduate.

With her college plans rapidly derailing, Hal is forced to enlist the help of Spencer Salazar: the dim, infuriating (and kinda hot) rich kid next door. Hal’s willing to do anything to win the scholarship, but her side gigs are creating a tangled web that might keep her stuck in Santa Barbara forever, and now she’s wondering—maybe too late—if she misjudged the boy next door.

Description from Goodreads.

“Laugh-out-loud funny… Cheering for this scrappy underdog will appeal to younger and older adults alike.” – Washington Post

“Foscue’s debut young-adult novel is bursting with humor and charm, and readers will enjoy following and rooting for Hallie as she tries to escape the many burdens of her world.” – Booklist

Portrait of a Thief by  Grace D. Li ★

Fiction / Mystery / Suspense.

History is told by the conquerors. Across the Western world, museums display the spoils of war, of conquest, of colonialism: priceless pieces of art looted from other countries, kept even now.

Will Chen plans to steal them back.

A senior at Harvard, Will fits comfortably in his carefully curated roles: a perfect student, an art history major and sometimes artist, the eldest son who has always been his parents’ American Dream. But when a mysterious Chinese benefactor reaches out with an impossible—and illegal—job offer, Will finds himself something else as well: the leader of a heist to steal back five priceless Chinese sculptures, looted from Beijing centuries ago.

His crew is every heist archetype one can imag­ine—or at least, the closest he can get. A con artist: Irene Chen, a public policy major at Duke who can talk her way out of anything. A thief: Daniel Liang, a premed student with steady hands just as capable of lockpicking as suturing. A getaway driver: Lily Wu, an engineering major who races cars in her free time. A hacker: Alex Huang, an MIT dropout turned Silicon Valley software engineer. Each member of his crew has their own complicated relationship with China and the identity they’ve cultivated as Chinese Americans, but when Will asks, none of them can turn him down.

Because if they succeed? They earn fifty million dollars—and a chance to make history. But if they fail, it will mean not just the loss of everything they’ve dreamed for themselves but yet another thwarted at­tempt to take back what colonialism has stolen.

Equal parts beautiful, thoughtful, and thrilling, Portrait of a Thief is a cultural heist and an examination of Chinese American identity, as well as a necessary cri­tique of the lingering effects of colonialism.

Description from Goodreads.

“You are going to want in on this one.” – E!

“This clever debut is an absolutely thrilling ride from start to finish.” – Buzzfeed

“Li’s novel is a love letter to the Chinese American experience, and one cannot stop turning the pages and diving further into the pull of crimes, luxury and college-age romance. The writing is beautiful, the characters are beautiful, the story is seductive. The sophistication of the narrative is far beyond debut novel level, and it will certainly be exciting to read Li’s future work.” – Stanford Daily

Portrait of a Thief is a confident debut for Li, whose writing shows great control at the line level and of the overall narrative. Descriptions are both economic and poetic; the novel keeps a swift pace as the characters crisscross the world, from the American South to the San Francisco Bay Area, to Beijing and Europe. It’s easy to see why Netflix was so quick to nab TV rights for the book.” – KQED

Post-traumatic by  Chantal V. Johnson


To the outside observer, Vivian is a success story—a dedicated lawyer who advocates for mentally ill patients at a New York City psychiatric hospital. Privately, Vivian contends with the memories and aftereffects of her bad childhood—compounded by the everyday stresses of being a Black Latinx woman in America. She lives in a constant state of hypervigilant awareness that makes even a simple subway ride into a heart-pounding drama.

For years, Vivian has self-medicated with a mix of dating, dieting, dark humor and smoking weed with her BFF, Jane. But after a family reunion prompts Vivian to take a bold step, she finds herself alone in new and terrifying ways, without even Jane to confide in, and she starts to unravel. Will she find a way to repair what matters most to her?

A debut from a stunning talent, Post-traumatic is a new kind of survivor narrative, featuring a complex heroine who is blazingly, indelibly alive. With razor-sharp prose and mordant wit, Chantal V. Johnson performs an extraordinary feat, delivering a psychologically astute story about the aftermath of trauma that somehow manages to brim with warmth, laughter, and hope.

Description from Goodreads.

“Johnson’s debut is a captivatingly raw, funny and relatable take on the survivor narrative.” – Ms.

“The deep anxieties that permeate Post-traumatic are the other side of the class ascendency that many millennials of color navigate as we square our routinely chaotic lives with memories of go-go ’80s and ’90s years that instilled in us implausible fantasies of ‘the good life.’” – Vulture

“A brutally funny and poignant debut… Dark humor is another coping mechanism for Vivian, which Johnson deploys with tremendous skill… Throughout, Vivian’s confrontational interactions feel achingly true to life. This is revelatory and powerful.” – Publishers Weekly, STARRED REVIEW

The Return of Faraz Ali by  Aamina Ahmad

Fiction / Mystery.

Not since childhood has Faraz returned to the Mohalla, in Lahore’s walled inner city, where women continue to pass down the art of courtesan from mother to daughter. But he still remembers the day he was abducted from the home he shared with his mother and sister there, at the direction of his powerful father, who wanted to give him a chance at a respectable life. Now Wajid, once more dictating his fate from afar, has sent Faraz back to Lahore, installing him as head of the Mohalla police station and charging him with a mission: to cover up the violent death of a young girl.

It should be a simple assignment to carry out in a marginalized community, but for the first time in his career, Faraz finds himself unable to follow orders. As the city assails him with a jumble of memories, he cannot stop asking questions or winding through the walled city’s labyrinthine alleyways chasing the secrets–his family’s and his own–that risk shattering his precariously constructed existence.

Profoundly intimate and propulsive, The Return of Faraz Ali is a spellbindingly assured first novel that poses a timeless question: Whom do we choose to protect, and at what price?

Description from Goodreads.

“This novel has everything a reader could ask for: a sizzling, noirlike plot; political intrigue juxtaposed with a rich intergenerational family saga; capacious, conflicted characters, including women who may be marginalized by society but are masters of their own narratives; and sublime sentences. A debut novelist, Ahmad manages this complexity seamlessly. A feat of storytelling not to be missed.” – Kirkus Reviews, STARRED REVIEW

“This a nuanced, many-faceted story, fraught with complex interrelations of ethnicity, class and politics, of a man trying to unlock the secrets of his past so that he might discover who he is in the present. A first-rate literary mystery with the emphasis on literary.” – Library Journal, STARRED REVIEW

RUIN by  Cara Hoffman


A little girl who disguises herself as an old man, an addict who collects dollhouse furniture, a crime reporter confronted by a talking dog, a painter trying to prove the non-existence of God, lovers in a penal colony who communicate through technical drawings—these are just a few of the characters who live among the ruins. Cara Hoffman’s stories are brutal, surreal, hilarious, and transgressive, celebrating the sharp beauty of outsiders and the endlessly creative ways humans muster psychic resistance under oppressive conditions. Both bracingly timely and eerily timeless in its examination of an American state in free fall, RUIN is unsparing in its disregard for broken, ineffectual institutions while shining with compassion for the damaged left in their wake. The ultimate effect of these interconnected stories is one of invigoration and a sense of possibilities—hope for a new world extracted from the rubble of the old.

Description from Goodreads.

“Hoffman writes with a restraint that makes poetry of pain.” – New York Times

“Hoffman writes like a dream—a disturbing, emotionally charged dream that resolves into a surprisingly satisfying and redemptive vision.” – Wall Street Journal

“Beneath the deceptive lyricism of her prose, Cara Hoffman has long shown a healthy fascination with upending the social order… Her observations have the keen immediacy of lived scenes, similar to drawings sketched from life.” – Seattle Times

Sea of Tranquility by  Emily St. John Mandel ★

Fiction / Science Fiction / Historical Fiction / Fantasy.

Edwin St. Andrew is eighteen years old when he crosses the Atlantic by steamship, exiled from polite society following an ill-conceived diatribe at a dinner party. He enters the forest, spellbound by the beauty of the Canadian wilderness, and suddenly hears the notes of a violin echoing in an airship terminal–an experience that shocks him to his core.

Two centuries later a famous writer named Olive Llewellyn is on a book tour. She’s traveling all over Earth, but her home is the second moon colony, a place of white stone, spired towers, and artificial beauty. Within the text of Olive’s bestselling pandemic novel lies a strange passage: a man plays his violin for change in the echoing corridor of an airship terminal as the trees of a forest rise around him.

When Gaspery-Jacques Roberts, a detective in the Night City, is hired to investigate an anomaly in the North American wilderness, he uncovers a series of lives upended: The exiled son of an earl driven to madness, a writer trapped far from home as a pandemic ravages Earth, and a childhood friend from the Night City who, like Gaspery himself, has glimpsed the chance to do something extraordinary that will disrupt the timeline of the universe.

A virtuoso performance that is as human and tender as it is intellectually playful, Sea of Tranquility is a novel of time travel and metaphysics that precisely captures the reality of our current moment.

Description from Goodreads.

“An emotionally devastating novel about human connection: what we are to one another—and what we should be.” – Scientific American

Sea of Tranquility is broader in scope than any of Mandel’s previous novels, voyaging profligately across lands and centuries… Destabilizing, extraordinary, and blood-boiling…Mandel weds a sharp, ambivalent self-accounting—the type of study that tends to wear the label ‘autofiction’—to a speculative epic. We are shown what two forms can offer each other, and exposed to the interrogating possibilities of science fiction.” – The New Yorker

“If you loved Station Eleven and The Glass Hotel, you’ll devour this dystopian novel that’s about time travel and mystery as much as it is about love, the importance of family and how much our individual actions impact the world. With vivid and memorable characters, gorgeously imaginative settings and a plot that will have you gasping aloud, it ping-pongs from an eerie encounter in North America in 1912 to the anxiety of trying to escape a plague-ravaged Earth to moon colonies that feel at once just like home and far from it. This is a triumph of science fiction, so give it a try even if the genre usually leaves you cold.” – Good Housekeeping

“…stunning… The novel’s narratives crystallize flawlessly. Brilliantly combining imagery from science fiction and the current pandemic, Mandel grounds her rich metaphysical speculation in small, beautifully observed human moments. By turns playful, tragic, and tender, this should not be missed.” – Publishers Weekly, STARRED REVIEW

Sister Stardust by  Jane Green

Fiction / Historical Fiction.

From afar Talitha’s life seemed perfect. In her twenties, and already a famous model and actress, she moved from London to a palace in Marrakesh, with her husband Paul Getty, the famous oil heir. There she presided over a swirling ex-pat scene filled with music, art, free love and a counterculture taking root across the world.

When Claire arrives in London from her small town, she never expects to cross paths with a woman as magnetic as Talitha Getty. Yearning for the adventure and independence, she’s swept off to Marrakesh, where the two become kindred spirits. But beneath Talitha’s glamourous facade lurks a darkness few can understand. As their friendship blossoms and the two grow closer, the realities of Talitha’s precarious existence set off a chain of dangerous events that could alter Claire’s life forever.

Description from Goodreads.

“An enticing exploration of a bygone era in a fabled city and some of its real-life luminaries.” – Booklist

“Shimmering… Green convincingly describes the appeal of the music scene, as well as the allure of her beautiful characters, both famous and fictional. Green’s fans will be delighted by this story of glitter and tragedy.” – Publishers Weekly

“Chock-full of vibrant historical details about London and Morocco in the 1960s, Green’s first foray into historical fiction does not disappoint… Green portrays the scenery and atmosphere so vividly that readers will be instantly transported. The descriptions of Marrakech, with its bright colors and beautiful architecture, present an especial sensory delight… A provocative story about youth culture during the 1960s, overflowing with sex, drugs, and rock and roll.” – Kirkus Reviews

Time is a Mother by  Ocean Vuong ★

Nonfiction / Poetry.

How else do we return to ourselves but to fold
The page so it points to the good part

In this deeply intimate second poetry collection, Ocean Vuong searches for life among the aftershocks of his mother’s death, embodying the paradox of sitting within grief while being determined to survive beyond it. Shifting through memory, and in concert with the themes of his novel On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous, Vuong contends with personal loss, the meaning of family, and the cost of being the product of an American war in America. At once vivid, brave, and propulsive, Vuong’s poems circle fragmented lives to find both restoration as well as the epicenter of the break.

The author of the critically acclaimed poetry collection Night Sky With Exit Wounds, winner of the 2016 Whiting Award, the 2017 T.S. Eliot Prize, and a 2019 MacArthur fellow, Vuong writes directly to our humanity without losing sight of the current moment. These poems represent a more innovative and daring experimentation with language and form, illuminating how the themes we perennially live in and question are truly inexhaustible. Bold and prescient, and a testament to tenderness in the face of violence, Time Is a Mother is a return and a forging forth all at once.

Description from Goodreads.

“[Vuong] focuses on the complicated relationship with his mother in quiet, astonishing lyrics… Even the most ostensibly simple moments prove mesmerizing in Vuong’s treatment.” – Booklist, STARRED REVIEW

“Tender and heartbreaking… this collection of poems thoughtfully considers grief, both as an emotion and a sacred act, revisiting the history he shared with his mother and the understanding of family they forged together. Delving back into the visceral themes that made his 2019 novel On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous a revelation, Vuong traverses the intensely personal and the broadly political with grace and courage.” – Time

“These poems glisten and rattle, and they deftly mine a host of diverse topics—sex, privilege, beauty, art, poverty, death—to offer us a fresh way of evaluating and understanding our world. Vuong expertly unwraps clichés and rewraps them in fresh packaging so we can perceive their meanings anew. On each page he demonstrates that untranslatable is a meaningless word. His poems say, We’re all humans having human experiences. Let’s figure this all out together.” – Vulture

“Stories of personal loss are woven into vignettes and memories that explore the most sweeping of subjects—addiction, racism, war, death, family—with a gentle, modest touch and the occasional dose of humor. So, too, does Vuong once again prove himself the rare writer in whose hands experiments with form can become a thing of beauty in and of themselves… Indeed, for all his technical prowess, the most striking thing about Vuong’s writing will always be its warm, beating heart even in the face of life’s cruelties… It’s a body of work as hauntingly beautiful as it is ultimately hopeful, and very possibly Vuong’s best yet.” – Vogue

The Trayvon Generation by  Elizabeth Alexander ★

Nonfiction / current Events.

In the midst of civil unrest in the summer of 2020 and following the murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Ahmaud Arbery, Elizabeth Alexander—one of the great literary voices of our time—turned a mother’s eye to her sons’ and students’ generation and wrote a celebrated and moving reflection on the challenges facing young Black America. Originally published in The New Yorker, the essay incisively and lovingly observed the experiences, attitudes, and cultural expressions of what she referred to as the Trayvon Generation, who even as children could not be shielded from the brutality that has affected the lives of so many Black people.

The Trayvon Generation expands the viral essay that spoke so resonantly to the persistence of race as an ongoing issue at the center of the American experience. Alexander looks both to our past and our future with profound insight, brilliant analysis, and mighty heart, interweaving her voice with groundbreaking works of art by some of our most extraordinary artists. At this crucial time in American history when we reckon with who we are as a nation and how we move forward, Alexander’s lyrical prose gives us perspective informed by historical understanding, her lifelong devotion to education, and an intimate grasp of the visioning power of art.

This breathtaking book is essential reading and an expression of both the tragedies and hopes for the young people of this era that is sure to be embraced by those who are leading the movement for change and anyone rising to meet the moment.

Description from Goodreads.

“An essential read for our times by the only person who could’ve written it so exquisitely.” – Ms.

“A profound and lyrical meditation on race, class, justice and their intersections with art… Magnificent.” – New York Times

“In a taut, lyrical, and eminently readable volume, Alexander helps the reader make sense of the presents and futures being forged by Black artists who shall inherit the earth and thus have to find ways to delight themselves amid a continual abundance of racialized violence.” – Vulture

“Punctuated with gripping pieces of art that complement the text. Each piece is compelling in its own right as they entwine with the representation of human experience that Alexander demonstrates for readers… At its core, this is a powerful treatise on the humanity of Black Americans and how it has been denied, how generations of people have persisted despite that fact, and how it continues to be one of the most pressing issues we face as a nation. A dynamic critique on the sprawling effects of racism and its effects on today’s youth.” – Kirkus Reviews, STARRED REVIEW

The Wedding Crasher by  Mia Sosa ★

Fiction / Romance.

Just weeks away from ditching DC for greener pastures, Solange Pereira is roped into helping her wedding planner cousin on a random couple’s big day. It’s an easy gig… until she stumbles upon a situation that convinces her the pair isn’t meant to be. What’s a true-blue romantic to do? Crash the wedding, of course. And ensure the unsuspecting groom doesn’t make the biggest mistake of his life.

Dean Chapman had his future all mapped out. He was about to check off “start a family” and on track to “make partner” when his modern day marriage of convenience went up in smoke. Then he learns he might not land an assignment that could be his ticket to a promotion unless he has a significant other and, in a moment of panic, Dean claims to be in love with the woman who crashed his wedding. Oops.

Now Dean has a whole new item on his to-do list: beg Solange to be his pretend girlfriend. Solange feels a tiny bit bad about ruining Dean’s wedding, so she agrees to play along. Yet as they fake-date their way around town, what started as a performance for Dean’s colleagues turns into a connection that neither he nor Solange can deny. Their entire romance is a sham… there’s no way these polar opposites could fall in love for real, right?

Description from Goodreads.

“Rom-com lovers will adore this hilarious read.” – Today

The Wedding Crasher is a frothy, hilarious, steamy rom-com with poignant moments of vulnerability that reaffirms Mia’s masterful ability to deliver genuine humor in deeply romantic stories brimming with Afro-Brazilian culture.” – Entertainment Weekly

“Mia Sosa has enchanted me with her rom-coms. They provide the perfect amount of laughs and swoons you need in a book, and they always deliver!” – BuzzFeed

“A fake relationship upends the lives of two fiercely independent protagonists in Sosa’s brilliant follow-up to The Worst Best Man… Sosa takes incredible care developing this slow-burn romance, delivering characters readers will want to hang out with and plenty of belly laughs. With a smooth mix of cultures and a heartwarming narrative of self-discovery through love, this is an invigorating take on a favorite trope.” – Publishers Weekly, STARRED REVIEW

Welcome to the Neighborhood by  Lisa Roe


After years of struggling to make ends meet, Queens single mom Ginny falls for sweet, divorced Jeff, and relishes the idea of moving with her quirky eleven-year-old daughter Harri to his home in an upscale New Jersey suburb. Though she’s never been impressed by material things, she is thrilled that getting a second chance at love comes with the added bonus of finally giving Harri everything she never could before.

And then she meets the neighbors.

Ginny is quickly thrust into the complicated realities of a neighborhood defined by the ever-shifting alliances of PTA moms, Real Housewife contenders, and their mean-girl daughters. When the neighbors’ secrets, back-stabbing, and bad behavior take a devastating toll on her daughter and new marriage, Ginny must decide what really matters—and protect it at all costs.

Description from Goodreads.

“[A] feel-good story about loving yourself for who you are, this novel will fill your heart with inspiration. Roe’s debut is a perfect anthem for moms and daughters everywhere who are figuring out what it means to fit in.” – USA Today

The Younger Wife by  Sally Hepworth

Fiction / Mystery / Suspense.

A heart surgeon at the top of his field, Stephen Aston is getting married again. But first he must divorce his current wife, even though she can no longer speak for herself.

Tully and Rachel Aston look upon their father’s fiancée, Heather, as nothing but an interloper. Heather is younger than both of them. Clearly, she’s after their father’s money.

With their mother in a precarious position, Tully and Rachel are determined to get to the truth about their family’s secrets, the new wife closing in, and who their father really is.

Heather has secrets of her own. Will getting to the truth unleash the most dangerous impulses in all of them?

Description from Goodreads.

“A warped tale [that] boasts Jane Harper’s multilayered characters and Liane Moriarty’s wealthy suburban world saturated with lies and deceit. With each domestic thriller, best-selling Hepworth shines brighter and draws in more readers.” – Booklist

“[An] appealing domestic suspense novel from bestseller Hepworth [with a] fast-moving plot. This often funny and affecting outing should win Hepworth new fans.” – Publishers Weekly

Young Mungo by  Douglas Stuart


Growing up in a housing estate in Glasgow, Mungo and James are born under different stars–Mungo a Protestant and James a Catholic–and they should be sworn enemies if they’re to be seen as men at all. Yet against all odds, they become best friends as they find a sanctuary in the pigeon dovecote that James has built for his prize racing birds. As they fall in love, they dream of finding somewhere they belong, while Mungo works hard to hide his true self from all those around him, especially from his big brother Hamish, a local gang leader with a brutal reputation to uphold. And when several months later Mungo’s mother sends him on a fishing trip to a loch in Western Scotland with two strange men whose drunken banter belies murky pasts, he will need to summon all his inner strength and courage to try to get back to a place of safety, a place where he and James might still have a future.

Imbuing the everyday world of its characters with rich lyricism and giving full voice to people rarely acknowledged in the literary world, Young Mungo is a gripping and revealing story about the bounds of masculinity, the divisions of sectarianism, the violence faced by many queer people, and the dangers of loving someone too much.

Description from Goodreads.

“Richly abundant. It spills over with colourful characters and even more colourful insults. And like a Dickens novel it has a moral vision that’s expansive and serious while being savagely funny.” – The Times

“A nuanced and gorgeous heartbreaker of a novel… It’s a testament to Stuart’s unsparing powers as a storyteller that we can’t possibly anticipate how very badly—and baroquely—things will turn out. Young Mungo is a suspense story wrapped around a novel of acute psychological observation. It’s hard to imagine a more disquieting and powerful work of fiction will be published anytime soon about the perils of being different.” – NPR

“Exploring themes of religious conflict, family tension, and the ever-present danger of attempting to live an authentic life, Stuart writes with the same power and economy of language he displayed in his debut. With characters that are exquisitely drawn and a story you won’t be able to put down, this love story goes far beyond the conventional romance.” – BuzzFeed

“The astonishing sophomore effort from Booker Prize winner Stuart details a teen’s hard life in north Glasgow in the post-Thatcher years… Stuart’s writing is stellar… He’s too fine a storyteller to go for a sentimental ending, and the final act leaves the reader gutted. This is unbearably sad, more so because the reader comes to cherish the characters their creator has brought to life. It’s a sucker punch to the heart.” – Publishers Weekly, STARRED REVIEW


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