Bad Fruit

Best New Books: Week of 8/23/22

“And this is the forbidden truth, the unspeakable taboo – that evil is not always repellent but frequently attractive; that it has the power to make of us not simply victims, as nature and accident do, but active accomplices.” – Joyce Carol Oates

Afterlives by  Abdulrazak Gurnah ★

Fiction / Historical Fiction.

When he was just a boy, Ilyas was stolen from his parents on the coast of east Africa by German colonial troops. After years away, fighting against his own people, he returns home to find his parents gone and his sister, Afiya, abandoned into de facto slavery.

Hamza, too, returns home from the war, scarred in body and soul and with nothing but the clothes on his back–until he meets the beautiful, undaunted Afiya.

As these young people live and work and fall in love, their fates knotted ever more tightly together, the shadow of a new war on another continent falls over them, threatening once again to carry them away.

Description from Goodreads.

“A fascinating, necessary novel.” – Literary Hub

“Superb… Afterlives is a celebration of a place and time when people held onto their own ways, and basked in ordinary joys even as outside forces conspired to take them away… [Gurnah] is a novelist nonpareil, a master of the art form who understands human failings in conflicts both political and intimate — and how these shortcomings create afflictions from which nations and individuals continue to suffer, needlessly, generation after generation.” – New York Times

“This lyrical novel delves into the scars left by war, not just on the body and mind, but family and society too. We come to know and love Ilya and his sister Afiya, her lover Hamza, and the lives they’re desperately trying to create even as cascading conflicts threaten to tear them apart.” – Good Housekeeping

“Breathtaking… Gurnah constructs a remarkable portrait of tenderness, deep affection, and longing that stretches over time and across continents… Absorbing, powerful, and enduring, Afterlives is an extraordinary reading experience by one of the great writers of our time.” – Booklist, STARRED REVIEW

Babel, or The Necessity of Violence: An Arcane History of the Oxford Translators’ Revolution by  R.F. Kuang ★

Fiction / Fantasy / Historical Fiction.

Traduttore, traditore: An act of translation is always an act of betrayal.

1828. Robin Swift, orphaned by cholera in Canton, is brought to London by the mysterious Professor Lovell. There, he trains for years in Latin, Ancient Greek, and Chinese, all in preparation for the day he’ll enroll in Oxford University’s prestigious Royal Institute of Translation — also known as Babel.

Babel is the world’s center of translation and, more importantly, of silver-working: the art of manifesting the meaning lost in translation through enchanted silver bars, to magical effect. Silver-working has made the British Empire unparalleled in power, and Babel’s research in foreign languages serves the Empire’s quest to colonize everything it encounters.

Oxford, the city of dreaming spires, is a fairytale for Robin; a utopia dedicated to the pursuit of knowledge. But knowledge serves power, and for Robin, a Chinese boy raised in Britain, serving Babel inevitably means betraying his motherland. As his studies progress Robin finds himself caught between Babel and the shadowy Hermes Society, an organization dedicated to sabotaging the silver-working that supports imperial expansion. When Britain pursues an unjust war with China over silver and opium, Robin must decide: Can powerful institutions be changed from within, or does revolution always require violence? What is he willing to sacrifice to bring Babel down?

Babel — a thematic response to The Secret History and a tonal response to Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell — grapples with student revolutions, colonial resistance, and the use of translation as a tool of empire.

Description from Goodreads.

“A book that confirms Kuang as a major talent.” – SFX

“The true magic of Kuang’s novel lies in its ability to be both rigorously academic and consistently welcoming to the reader, making translation on the page feel as enchanting and powerful as any effects it can achieve with the aid of silver.” – Oxford Review of Books

Babel is one of the finest standalone novels I’ve read. It is a victory for literature, and its quality is what every other dark academia novel should strive to be. Paying homage to the importance of languages, translations, identity, and ethnicities, Babel is one of the most important works of the year.” – Novel Notions

“Kuang follows her award-winning Poppy War trilogy with an engaging fantasy about the magic of language. Her richly descriptive stand-alone novel about an ever-expanding, alternate-world empire powered by magically enhanced silver talismans scrutinizes linguistics, history, politics, and the social customs of Victorian-era Great Britain.” – Booklist, STARRED REVIEW

Babysitter by  Joyce Carol Oates

Fiction / Mystery / Suspense / Historical Fiction.

In the waning days of the turbulent 1970s, in the wake of unsolved killings that have shocked Detroit, the lives of several residents are drawn together, with tragic consequences. There is Hannah, wife of a prominent local businessman, who has begun an affair with a darkly charismatic stranger whose identity remains elusive; Mikey, a canny street hustler who finds himself on an unexpected mission to rectify injustice; and the serial killer known as Babysitter, an enigmatic and terrifying figure at the periphery of elite Detroit. As Babysitter continues his rampage of killings, these individuals intersect with one another in startling and unexpected ways.

Suspenseful, brilliantly orchestrated and engrossing, Babysitter is a starkly narrated exploration of the riskiness of pursuing alternate lives, calling into question how far we are willing to go to protect those whom we cherish most. In its scathing indictment of corrupt politics, unexamined racism, and the enabling of sexual predation in America, Babysitter is a thrilling work of contemporary fiction.

Description from Goodreads.

“Oates’s unflinching compulsion to go there taps into something powerful and disturbing. I can see a book club discussion of this coming to blows. And possibly some hurled rosé.” – Air Mail

“I can’t remember the last time I read a book with the excitement and tension of Babysitter… [Oates] is a master at pretty much everything, including domestic suspense… Everything crackles: the characters, the plot, she even pumps some new life into the serial killer trope.” – CrimeReads

“Carefully constructed sentences, pitch-perfect dialogue, and a central character who is simultaneously sympathetic and repellent. An outstanding novel from a true modern master who jumps across genres with unrivaled dexterity.” – Booklist, STARRED REVIEW

Bad Fruit by  Ella King ★

Fiction / SUSPENSE / Mystery / HORROR.

Just graduated from high school and waiting to start college at Oxford, Lily lives under the scrutiny of her volatile Singaporean mother, May, and is unable to find kinship with her elusive British father, Charlie. When May suspects that Charlie is having an affair, there’s only one thing that calms May down: a glass of perfectly spoiled orange juice served by Lily, who must always taste it first to make sure it’s just right.

As her mother becomes increasingly unhinged, Lily starts to have flashbacks that she knows aren’t her own. Over a sweltering London summer, all semblance of civility and propriety is lost, as Lily begins to unravel the harrowing history that has always cast a shadow on her mother. The horrifying secrets she uncovers will shake her family to its core, culminating in a shattering revelation that will finally set Lily free.

Beautiful and shocking, Bad Fruit is as compulsive as it is thought-provoking, as nuanced as it is explosive. A masterful exploration of mothers and daughters, inherited trauma and the race to break its devastating cycle, Bad Fruit will leave readers breathlessly questioning their own notions of femininity, race and redemption.

Description from Goodreads.

“A compelling debut that fizzes with tension from start to finish, blending the subtle erudition of literary fiction with the drama and suspense of the very best thrillers. Masterful in its evocation of the complexity of mother-daughter relationships, this is a darkly fascinating, tightly plotted narrative from a writer to watch.” – Harper’s Bazaar

“With searing writing, Ella King charts how abuse in a family affects everyone in it… The richness of detail and depth of understanding that King gives each character is quietly masterful.” – New York Journal of Books

“In her debut novel, King brilliantly portrays generational abuse and trauma passed down from parent to child and a resulting, conscious fight to break free from the toxic cycle. She writes with mastery as she explores the disturbing effects of childhood trauma within a biracial family. Thrilling and suspenseful, King’s exemplary novel will keep readers fascinated until the end.” – Booklist, STARRED REVIEW

Bad Fruit occupies that liminal space between psychological thriller and horror, beautifully written and incredibly disturbing.” – CrimeReads

Fox Creek by  William Kent Krueger

Fiction / Mystery / Suspense.

The ancient Ojibwe healer Henry Meloux has had a vision of his death. As he walks the Northwoods in solitude, he tries to prepare himself peacefully for the end of his long life. But peace is destined to elude him as hunters fill the woods seeking a woman named Dolores Morriseau, a stranger who had come to the healer for shelter and the gift of his wisdom.

Meloux guides this stranger and his great niece, Cork O’Connor’s wife, to safety deep into the Boundary Waters, his home for more than a century. On the last journey he may ever take into this beloved land, Meloux must do his best to outwit the deadly mercenaries who follow.

Meanwhile, in Aurora, Cork works feverishly to identify the hunters and the reason for their relentless pursuit, but he has little to go on. Desperate, Cork begins tracking the killers but his own skills as a hunter are severely tested by nightfall and a late season snowstorm. He knows only too well that with each passing hour time is running out. But his fiercest enemy in this deadly game of cat and mouse may well be his own deep self-doubt about his ability to save those he loves.

From “an author who never disappoints” (bookreporter), this is another gripping and richly told addition to a masterful series.

Description from Goodreads.

Fox Creek is the best book in the series yet.” – Star Tribune

“Outstanding… skillfully blends an evocative look at nature’s beauty and peril with Native American lore… fans will be enthralled.” – Publisher’s Weekly, STARRED REVIEW

“One of those rare authors who combines intricately plotted, issue-oriented stories with mysticism and action. A must for fans of beautifully written crime.” – Library Journal, STARRED REVIEW

Haven by  Emma Donoghue

Fiction / Historical Fiction.

In seventh-century Ireland, a scholar and priest called Artt has a dream telling him to leave the sinful world behind. Taking two monks—young Trian and old Cormac—he rows down the river Shannon in search of an isolated spot on which to found a monastery. Drifting out into the Atlantic, the three men find an impossibly steep, bare island inhabited by tens of thousands of birds, and claim it for God. In such a place, what will survival mean?

Three men vow to leave the world behind them. They set out in a small boat for an island their leader has seen in a dream, with only faith to guide them. What they find is the extraordinary island now known as Skellig Michael. Haven has Emma Donoghue’s trademark world-building and psychological intensity—but this story is like nothing she has ever written before.

Description from Goodreads.

“[A] timely allegory… Donoghue’s prose soars… satisfying…” The Guardian

“…frightfully good… provides a perfect confined space in which to examine, love, faith, grace and friendship.” – The Spectator

“Taking one of her regular breaks from contemporary fiction, Donoghue has left behind none of her ability to spin a compelling story and people it with sharp characterizations… Reminiscent of Room in its portrayal of fraught interactions in a confined space… More fine work from the talented Donoghue.” – Kirkus Reviews

Heartbreaker by  Sarah MacLean

Fiction / Romance / HISTORICAL FICtion.

A Princess of Thieves

Raised among London’s most notorious criminals, a twist of fate landed Adelaide Frampton in the bright ballrooms of Mayfair, where she masquerades as a quiet wallflower—so plain and unassuming that no one realizes she’s the Matchbreaker… using her superior skills as a thief to help brides avoid the altar.

A King of Reputation

Henry, Duke of Clayborn, has spent a lifetime living in perfection. He has no time for the salacious gossip that arises every time the Matchbreaker ends another groom. His own reputation is impeccable—and the last thing he needs is a frustrating, fascinating woman discovering the truth of his past, or the secrets he holds close.

A Royal Match

When the two find themselves on a breakneck journey across Britain to stop a wedding, it’s impossible for Clayborn to resist this woman who both frustrates and fascinates him. But late-night carriage rides make for delicious danger… and soon Adelaide is uncovering Clayborn’s truths, throwing his well-laid plans into chaos… and threatening to steal his heavily guarded heart.

Description from Goodreads.

“Bestselling author Sarah MacLean’s Regency romance novels are always worth getting excited about, and Heartbreaker is no different.” – PopSugar

“MacLean gathered accolades for the first in her Hell’s Belles series (LJ star–earner Bombshell), and this book continues on that high note with a great deal of wit, heart, and heat. Smart writing, deep characterizations, and a zippy pace will keep readers immersed while MacLean’s deft hand at a number of romance tropes simply delights. An essential title from a key author…” – Library Journal, STARRED REVIEW

“…filled with intimate thoughts, delicious yearning, and many sighworthy romantic moments… Subplots regarding the Hell’s Belles’ clients and targets add great tension to the book, while the women’s friendship brings levity and humor. But it’s the quiet, vulnerable moments between the central couple, who embrace each other as true equals, that will ensnare reader’s hearts. Sublimely sensual and passionate.” – Kirkus Reviews

The Hundred Waters by  Lauren Acampora


Formerly a model and photographer trying to make it in New York, Louisa Rader is back in her affluent hometown of Nearwater, Connecticut, where she’s married to a successful older architect, raising a preteen daughter, and trying to vitalize the provincial local art center. As the years pass, she’s grown restless in her safe and comfortable routine, haunted by the flash of the life she used to live. When intense and intriguing young artist-environmentalist Gabriel arrives in town with his aristocratic family, his impact on the Raders has hothouse effects. As Gabriel pushes to realize his artistic vision for the world, he pulls both Louisa and her daughter Sylvie under his spell, with consequences that disrupt the Raders’ world forever.

A strange, sexy, and sinister novel of art and attraction, in The Hundred Waters Acampora gives us an incisive, page-turning story of ambition, despair, desire, and the price of fulfillment and freedom at all costs.

Description from Goodreads.

“A thrilling drama… As Gabriel draws both Louisa and Sylvie into his thrall, their lush small town stops feeling quite so staid.” – Vogue

“Questions of the pursuit of art, stagnation, youth and aging, and how to exist on a planet that is, increasingly, made up solely of emergencies, are grounded in the richness of Sylvie and Louisa’s characters. And, as in The Paper Wasp, Acampora’s descriptions of the strangeness of artworks are not to be missed.” – Literary Hub

“In this tightly paced novel that echoes Celeste Ng’s Little Fires Everywhere,Tom Perrotta’s Mrs. Fletcher, and A. Natasha Joukovsky’s The Portrait of a Mirror, Acampora sets the idealism of youth against middle-age complacency and high-society reservations… With this gem of a novel, Acampora cements herself as a thrilling voice in fiction.” – Booklist, STARRED REVIEW

Love on the Brain by  Ali Hazelwood ★

Fiction / Romance.

Bee Königswasser lives by a simple code: What would Marie Curie do? If NASA offered her the lead on a neuroengineering project – a literal dream come true – Marie would accept without hesitation. Duh. But the mother of modern physics never had to co-lead with Levi Ward.

Sure, Levi is attractive in a tall, dark, and piercing-eyes kind of way. But Levi made his feelings toward Bee very clear in grad school – archenemies work best employed in their own galaxies far, far away.

But when her equipment starts to go missing and the staff ignore her, Bee could swear she sees Levi softening into an ally, backing her plays, seconding her ideas… devouring her with those eyes. The possibilities have all her neurons firing.

But when it comes time to actually make a move and put her heart on the line, there’s only one question that matters: What will Bee Königswasser do?

Description from Goodreads.

“The snappy prose, engaging and twisty plot, and utterly endearing characters combine to create pure romance gold.” – Publishers Weekly

“Utter perfection. Love on the Brain stole my heart, expanded my mind, made me laugh out loud, and had me falling in love with not only Ali Hazelwood’s writing all over again, but with a whole new set of amazing characters.” – Harlequin Junkie

“You don’t have to be a science lover to appreciate Bee’s resilience in a male dominated career and to enjoy her nerdy, flirty, and powerful love story unfold.” – The Southern Bookseller Review

“Snappy dialogue with witty zingers make this tender enemies-to-lovers story, set at NASA in Houston, an unforgettable follow-up to neuroscientist Hazelwood’s popular The Love Hypothesis… Light espionage, some derring-do, and an unexpected villain are just some of the delights in Hazelwood’s smart, unusual, and superbly enjoyable tale.” – Booklist, STARRED REVIEW

My Government Means to Kill Me by  Rasheed Newson ★

Fiction / Historical Fiction.

Born into a wealthy Black Indianapolis family, Earl “Trey” Singleton III leaves his overbearing parents and their expectations behind by running away to New York City with only a few dollars in his pocket. In the City, Trey meets up with a cast of characters that change his life forever—from civil rights leader Bayard Rustin, who he meets in a Harlem bathhouse, to his landlord, Fred Trump, who he clashes with and outfoxes. He volunteers at a renegade home hospice for AIDS patients, and after being put to the test by gay rights activist Larry Kramer and civil rights leader Dorothy Cotton, becomes a founding member of the AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power (ACT UP). Along the way Trey attempts to navigate past traumas and searches for ways to maintain familial relationships—all while seeking the meaning of life in the midst of so much death.

Vibrant, humorous, and fraught with entanglements, Rasheed Newson’s My Government Means to Kill Me is an exhilarating, fast-paced, coming-of-age story that lends itself to a larger discussion about what it means for a young, gay, Black man in the mid-1980s to come to terms with his role in the midst of a political and social reckoning.

Description from Goodreads.

“This book should charm its way onto lots of best books of the year lists.” – Philadelphia Inquirer

“…powerful… Newson’s writing is crisp and clear, witty and engrossing―the kind of prose that pulls you in so quickly you’ll miss your subway stop.” – CrimeReads

My Government Means to Kill Me is not only a brilliant historical novel of those times, it is a bold statement of how someone who could have been an outcast doesn’t settle for being left out.” – Daily Kos

“[Newson] lends his cinematic eye to his novel, which makes the grit, the sex, the activism and the political struggle all the more atmospheric and immersive. In short, I’ve never been prouder of an 18-year-old narrator who leads us through the New York City streets, and compels not just his friends and network to action, but the reader too.” – Amazon

Scenes from My Life: A Memoir by  Michael K. Williams with  Jon Sternfeld

Nonfiction / Memoir / Television.

When Michael K. Williams died on September 6, 2021, he left behind a career as one of the most electrifying actors of his generation. From his star turn as Omar Little in The Wire to Chalky White in Boardwalk Empire to Emmy-nominated roles in HBO’s The Night Of and Lovecraft Country, Williams inhabited a slew of indelible roles that he portrayed with a rawness and vulnerability that leapt off the screen. Beyond the nominations and acclaim, Williams played characters who connected, whose humanity couldn’t be denied, whose stories were too often left out of the main narrative.

At the time of his death, Williams had nearly finished a memoir that tells the story of his past while looking to the future, a book that merges his life and his life’s work. Mike, as his friends knew him, was so much more than an actor. In Scenes from My Life, he traces his life in whole, from his childhood in East Flatbush and his early years as a dancer to his battles with addiction and the bar fight that left his face with his distinguishing scar. He was a committed Brooklyn resident and activist who dedicated his life to working with social justice organizations and his community, especially in helping at-risk youth find their voice and carve out their future. Williams worked to keep the spotlight on those he fought for and with, whom he believed in with his whole heart.

Imbued with poignance and raw honesty, Scenes from My Life is the story of a performer who gave his all to everything he did–in his own voice, in his own words, as only he could.

Description from Goodreads.

“Moving… [Williams’s] warmth and hard-earned wisdom shine through the pages, his story ending far too soon.” – AV Club

“Immensely inspiring and candid… This bittersweet and poignant work will leave readers in awe.”- Publishers Weekly, STARRED REVIEW

Small Town, Big Magic by  Hazel Beck

Fiction / Romance / Fantasy.

Witches aren’t real. Right?

No one has civic pride quite like Emerson Wilde. As a local indie bookstore owner and youngest-ever Chamber of Commerce president, she’d do anything for her hometown of St. Cyprian, Missouri. After all, Midwest is best! She may be descended from a witch who was hanged in 1692 during the Salem Witch Trials, but there’s no sorcery in doing your best for the town you love. Or is there?

As she preps Main Street for an annual festival, Emerson notices strange things happening around St. Cyprian. Strange things that culminate in a showdown with her lifelong arch-rival, Mayor Skip Simon. He seems to have sent impossible, paranormal creatures after her. Creatures that Emerson dispatches with ease, though she has no idea how she’s done it. Is Skip Simon… a witch? Is Emerson?

It turns out witches are real, and Emerson is one of them. She failed a coming-of-age test at age eighteen—the only test she’s ever failed!—and now, as an adult, her powers have come roaring back.

But she has little time to explore those powers, or her blossoming relationship with her childhood friend, cranky-yet-gorgeous local farmer Jacob North: an ancient evil has awakened in St. Cyprian, and it’s up to Emerson and her friends—maybe even Emerson herself—to save everything she loves.

Description from Goodreads.

“[A] spellbinding magic-infused rom-com… Beck delivers a wonderfully realized heroine with a voice so clear readers will feel like one of her friends. This is sure to be a hit with any fan of paranormal romance.” – Publishers Weekly

“There is a lot of depth to her character development that makes Small Town, Big Magic a fabulous read… Hazel’s cast of characters really shines in this book… a fun and charming witchy romance…” – Romance by the Book

The Stolen Year: How COVID Changed Children’s Lives, and Where We Go Now by  Anya Kamenetz

Nonfiction / Sociology / education / Health.

The onset of COVID broke a 150-year social contract between America and its children. Tens of millions of students lost what little support they had from the government—not just school but food, heat, and physical and emotional safety. The cost was enormous.

But this crisis began much earlier than 2020. In The Stolen Year, Anya Kamenetz exposes a long-running indifference to the plight of children and families in American life and calls for a reckoning.

She follows families across the country as they live through the pandemic, facing loss and resilience: a boy with autism in San Francisco who gains a foster brother and a Hispanic family in Texas that loses a member to COVID, and finds solace when they need it most. Kamenetz also recounts the history that brought us to this point: how we thrust children and caregivers into poverty, how we over-police families of color, how we rely on mothers instead of infrastructure. And how our government, in failing to support our children through this tumultuous time, has stolen years of their lives.

Description from Goodreads.

“[W]ell-researched, enlightening… An insightful, educative treatise from a seasoned professional.” – Kirkus Reviews

“Striking an expert balance between the big picture and intimate profiles of students, teachers, parents, and school officials, this is an astute and vital first draft of history.” – Publishers Weekly

“Kamenetz leaves no stone unturned in her extensive exploration of the vast problems children faced during the first year of the COVID pandemic… Although this focuses on her expertise in education, Kamenetz deftly navigates the cracks in many pre-pandemic systems, cracks that exploded at the onset in March 2020… Kamenetz’s feat will surely be followed up with additional studies for years to come. For now, it’s a great starting point for the discussion.” – Library Journal


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