Best New Books: Week of 9/19/23

“People do not change, they are merely revealed.” – Anne Enright, The Gathering

Black AF History: The Un-Whitewashed Story of America by Michael Harriot

nonfiction / history.

Black AF HistoryAmerica’s backstory is a whitewashed mythology implanted in our collective memory. It is the story of the pilgrims on the Mayflower building a new nation. It is George Washington’s cherry tree and Abraham Lincoln’s log cabin. It is the fantastic tale of slaves that spontaneously teleported themselves here with nothing but strong backs and negro spirituals. It is a sugarcoated legend based on an almost true story.

It should come as no surprise that the dominant narrative of American history is blighted with errors and oversights—after all, history books were written by white men with their perspectives at the forefront. It could even be said that the devaluation and erasure of the Black experience is as American as apple pie.

In Black AF History, Michael Harriot presents a more accurate version of American history. Combining unapologetically provocative storytelling with meticulous research based on primary sources as well as the work of pioneering Black historians, scholars, and journalists, Harriot removes the white sugarcoating from the American story, placing Black people squarely at the center. With incisive wit, Harriot speaks hilarious truth to oppressive power, subverting conventional historical narratives with little-known stories about the experiences of Black Americans. From the African Americans who arrived before 1619 to the unenslavable bandit who inspired America’s first police force, this long overdue corrective provides a revealing look into our past that is as urgent as it is necessary. For too long, we have refused to acknowledge that American history is white history. Not this one. This history is Black AF.

“[A] razor-sharp reassessment of American history… Both entertainingly colloquial and impressively erudite, this meticulous survey of the American past is an invaluable resource.” – Publishers Weekly, STARRED REVIEW

“…vibrant… simultaneously humorous and heartbreaking… an impressively researched and thoughtful exploration of the African diaspora over the past 500 years… [Harriot] takes readers on countless edifying twists and turns that debunk myths or clarify accepted terms and conditions… Fresh eyes and bold, entertaining language combine in this authoritative, essential work of U.S. history.” – Kirkus Reviews, STARRED REVIEW

“With blunt, entertaining, irreverent, sarcastic, and sometimes laugh-out-loud statements, Harriot provocatively explains how the United States came to be and how money-focused, self-serving intentions made it what it is today.” – Thomas J. Davis, Library Journal

Black Sheep by Rachel Harrison

fiction / horror.

Black SheepNobody has a “normal” family, but Vesper Wright’s is truly… something else. Vesper left home at eighteen and never looked back—mostly because she was told that leaving the staunchly religious community she grew up in meant she couldn’t return. But then an envelope arrives on her doorstep.

Inside is an invitation to the wedding of Vesper’s beloved cousin Rosie. It’s to be hosted at the family farm. Have they made an exception to the rule? It wouldn’t be the first time Vesper’s been given special treatment. Is the invite a sweet gesture? An olive branch? A trap? Doesn’t matter. Something inside her insists she go to the wedding. Even if it means returning to the toxic environment she escaped. Even if it means reuniting with her mother, Constance, a former horror film star and forever ice queen.

When Vesper’s homecoming exhumes a terrifying secret, she’s forced to reckon with her family’s beliefs and her own crisis of faith in this deliciously sinister novel that explores the way family ties can bind us as we struggle to find our place in the world.

“Anyone who read Such Sharp Teeth knows that Harrison can absolutely nail thorny family dynamics and blend them with visceral horror, but with Black Sheep, there’s something new going on, proving yet again that Harrison is one of the most versatile authors in the genre.” – Matthew Jackson, Paste

“…Vesper’s story ruminates on themes that include nature vs. nurture, the legacy of family trauma, and the repercussions of organized religion in its various forms… this subject matter elevates a horror novel to a study in philosophy, even as the bloodletting ramps up.” – Julia Kastner, Shelf Awareness

“…deliciously spooky… Harrison finds new ways to press on the bruise of growing up as an outsider, delivering small-town religious horror with wit as sharp as a ritual dagger piercing through a bleeding core of familial trauma.” – Publishers Weekly, STARRED REVIEW

The Book of (More) Delights: Essays by Ross Gay 

nonfiction / memoir.

The Book of (More) DelightsIn Ross Gay’s new collection of small, daily wonders, again written over the course of a year, one of America’s most original voices continues his ongoing investigation of delight.

For Gay, what delights us is what connects us, what gives us meaning, from the joy of hearing a nostalgic song blasting from a passing car to the pleasure of refusing the “nefarious” scannable QR code menus, from the tiny dog he fell hard for to his mother baking a dozen kinds of cookies for her grandchildren. As always, Gay revels in the natural world—sweet potatoes being harvested, a hummingbird carousing in the beebalm, a sunflower growing out of a wall around the cemetery, the shared bounty from a neighbor’s fig tree—and the trillion mysterious ways this glorious earth delights us.

The Book of (More) Delights is a volume to savor and share.

“Keenly observed and delivered with deftness, these essays are a testament to the artfulness of attention and everyday joy.” – Kirkus Reviews, STARRED REVIEW

“Gay’s work never sugar coats the difficulties or fragility of life, but it is still so hopeful.” – USA Today

“…enchanting… These unforgettable vignettes will enhance readers’ appreciation for their own surroundings.” – Publishers Weekly, STARRED REVIEW

“[A] startling, sensuous collection… Many of these delights are tempered with sadness, as when the author attends his aunt’s funeral or deals with the challenges of ‘being a non-white person in mostly white spaces.’ But again and again, joy wins out over despair as Gay pays tribute to a world of people ‘bumbling, flailing, hurting, failing, changing.’” – Margaret Quamme, Booklist, STARRED REVIEW

Button Coming Soon AFPL

Bright Young Women by Jessica Knoll

fiction / suspense / mystery / historical fiction.

Bright Young WomenJanuary 1978. A serial killer has terrorized women across the Pacific Northwest, but his existence couldn’t be further from the minds of the vibrant young women at the top sorority on Florida State University’s campus in Tallahassee. Tonight is a night of promise, excitement, and desire, but Pamela Schumacher, president of the sorority, makes the unpopular decision to stay home—a decision that unwittingly saves her life. Startled awake at 3 a.m. by a strange sound, she makes the fateful decision to investigate. What she finds behind the door is a scene of implausible violence—two of her sisters dead; two others, maimed. Over the next few days, Pamela is thrust into a terrifying mystery inspired by the crime that’s captivated public interest for more than four decades.

On the other side of the country, Tina Cannon has found peace in Seattle after years of hardship. A chance encounter brings twenty-five-year-old Ruth Wachowsky into her life, a young woman with painful secrets of her own, and the two form an instant connection. When Ruth goes missing from Lake Sammamish State Park in broad daylight, surrounded by thousands of beachgoers on a beautiful summer day, Tina devotes herself to finding out what happened to her. When she hears about the tragedy in Tallahassee, she knows it’s the man the papers refer to as the All-American Sex Killer. Determined to make him answer for what he did to Ruth, she travels to Florida on a collision course with Pamela—and one last impending tragedy.

Bright Young Women is a story about two women from opposite sides of the country who become sisters in their fervent pursuit of the truth. It proposes a new narrative inspired by evidence that’s been glossed over for decades in favor of more salable headlines—that the so-called brilliant and charismatic serial killer from Seattle was far more average than the countless books, movies, and primetime specials have led us to believe, and that it was the women whose lives he cut short who were the exceptional ones.

“A stunning, engaging subversion of the Bundy myth—and the true-crime genre.” – Kirkus Reviews, STARRED REVIEW

“…brilliant, blistering… Writing with pulsepounding tension and urgency, Knoll expertly conjures an atmosphere of dread and anxiety while paying tribute to all the bright young women whose lives are cut short or forever changed by the craven actions of sociopaths. An utterly absorbing, disturbing, and absolutely essential read.” – Kristine Huntley, Booklist, STARRED REVIEW

“Jessica Knoll is a careful writer, and this, her third novel, is a perfect match for her cold dissection of social mores and her fierce rage at misogyny. Knoll takes on the story of Ted Bundy, told from the perspective of a student who survives a horrific attack on a sorority house… Some may claim that the crime genre is rift with misogyny; those people have not read Jessica Knoll. She tears apart the restrictive world of women’s roles and lays bare the purpose of such hobbles: to keep women from making a scene, to keep them from seeking justice, and most of all, to keep them from seeking their own lives.” – Molly Odintz, CrimeReads

“Based on true events surrounding the Ted Bundy murders, this fictionalized account from the author of Luckiest Girl Alive is an unsettling and thrilling page-turner. Though readers will know the history, Knoll’s haunting, must-read account will captivate them until the end.” – Lucinda Ward, Library Journal, STARRED REVIEW

The Golden Gate by Amy Chua

fiction / historical fiction / mystery / suspense.

The Golden GateIn Berkeley, California, in 1944, Homicide Detective Al Sullivan has just left the swanky Claremont Hotel after a drink in the bar when a presidential candidate is assassinated in one of the rooms upstairs. A rich industrialist with enemies among the anarchist factions on the far left, Walter Wilkinson could have been targeted by any number of groups. But strangely, Sullivan’s investigation brings up the specter of another tragedy at the Claremont, ten years earlier: the death of seven-year-old Iris Stafford, a member of the Bainbridge family, one of the wealthiest in all of San Francisco. Some say she haunts the Claremont still.

The many threads of the case keep leading Sullivan back to the three remaining Bainbridge heiresses, now adults: Iris’s sister, Isabella, and her cousins Cassie and Nicole. Determined not to let anything distract him from the truth―not the powerful influence of Bainbridges’ grandmother, or the political aspirations of Berkeley’s district attorney, or the interest of China’s First Lady Madame Chiang Kai-Shek in his findings―Sullivan follows his investigation to its devastating conclusion.

Chua’s page-turning debut brings to life a historical era rife with turbulent social forces and groundbreaking forensic advances, when race and class defined the very essence of power, sex, and justice, and introduces a fascinating character in Detective Sullivan, a mixed-race former Army officer who is still reckoning with his own history.

“Satisfyingly twisty, highly educational, and lots of fun.” – Kirkus Reviews, STARRED REVIEW

“[A] riveting mystery featuring a gifted detective and accidental charmer whose inner conflict about his family’s blended heritage offers a timeless perspective on prejudice. In her first novel, Chua skillfully creates tension around Sullivan’s complex investigation, tempting red herrings, and thoughtful examination of war-time social divisions.” – Christine Tran, Booklist, STARRED REVIEW

“The historical mystery debut by Yale Law School professor Chua (Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother) is a successful, compelling mash-up of California history, ghost story, family tale, and social commentary.” – Lesa Holstine, Library Journal, STARRED REVIEW

The Last Devil to Die by Richard Osman

fiction / mystery.

The Last Devil to DieShocking news reaches the Thursday Murder Club.

An old friend in the antiques business has been killed, and a dangerous package he was protecting has gone missing.

As the gang springs into action they encounter art forgers, online fraudsters and drug dealers, as well as heartache close to home.

With the body count rising, the package still missing and trouble firmly on their tail, has their luck finally run out? And who will be the last devil to die?

“REJOICE, for the new Thursday Murder Club book has arrived!!… The Last Devil to Die is a delightful romp… I’ve been waiting for this book for a whole year and it didn’t let me down. I just wish, as with every installment of the Thursday Murder Club series, that it were about a thousand pages longer.” – Olivia Rutigliano, CrimeReads

“Osman serves up another delightful mystery…” – Kirkus Reviews

“Skulduggery and laughs abound as our favorite gaggle of amateur-detective retirees tackle drug runners, dodgy antique dealers, art forgers and Battenberg cake recipes.” – People

“Osman follows The Bullet That Missed with a bittersweet mystery about the problems facing many older people: dementia, computer fraud, death. Humor does, however, alleviate the poignancy in this strongest, most emotional book in the best-selling series.” – Lesa Holstine, Library Journal, STARRED REVIEW

The Last Island: Discovery, Defiance, and the Most Elusive Tribe on Earth by Adam Goodheart

nonfiction / history / anthropolgy.

The Last IslandIn November 2018, a zealous American missionary was killed while attempting to visit an island he called “Satan’s last stronghold,” a small patch of land known as North Sentinel in the Andaman Islands, a remote archipelago in the Indian Ocean. News of the tragedy fascinated people around the world. Most were unaware such a place still existed in our time: an island unmolested by the advances of modern technology.

Twenty years before the American missionary’s ill-fated visit, a young American historian and journalist named Adam Goodheart also traveled to the waters off North Sentinel. During his time in the Andaman Islands he witnessed another isolated tribe emerge into modernity for the first time.

Now, Goodheart—a bestselling historian—has returned to the Andamans. The Last Island is a work of history as well as travel, a journey in time as well as place. It tells the stories of others drawn to North Sentinel’s mystery through the centuries, from imperial adventurers to an eccentric Victorian photographer to modern-day anthropologists. It narrates the tragic stories of other Andaman tribes’ encounters with the outside world. And it shows how the web of modernity is drawing ever closer to the island’s shores.

The Last Island is a beautifully written meditation on the end of the Age of Discovery at the start of a new millennium. It is a book that will fascinate any reader interested in the limits—and dangers—of our modern, global society and its emphasis on ceaseless, unbroken connection.

“A thrilling book that will leave you contemplating the concept of civilization.” – Kirkus Reviews, STARRED REVIEW

“[A] worthy addition to adventure and survival narratives—a satisfying effort to dispel some of the mystery shrouding the last earthly outpost of inhabitants who still live outside of time as many know it.” – Brian D. Henderson, Foreword Reviews

Button Hoopla Read

Leslie F*cking Jones: A Memoir by Leslie Jones

nonfiction / memoir / comedy / television.

Leslie F*cking JonesHey you guys, it’s Leslie. I’m excited to share my story with you.

Now, I’m gonna be honest: Some of the details might be vague because a b*tch is fifty-five and she’s smoked a ton of weed. But while bits might be a touch hazy, I can promise you the underlying truth is REAL. Whether I’m talking about my childhood growing up in the South, my early stand-up days driving from gig to gig through the darkest parts of our country and praying I wouldn’t get murdered, what Chris Rock told Lorne Michaels, that time I wanted to shoot Whoopi Goldberg on SNL, and yeah, I’ll tell you all about Ghostbusters and the nudes and Supermarket Sweep and The Daily Show… I’m sharing it all in these pages. It’s not easy being a woman in comedy, especially when you’re a tall-*ss Black woman with a trumpet voice. I have to fight so that no one takes me for granted, and no one takes advantage. These are the stories that explain why. (Cue the Law & Order theme.)

“Refreshingly candid, gritty, and real.” – Kirkus Reviews

“[It’s] got everything you’d expect from the comedian: verve, mayhem, tough love, tenacity, and that je ne sais f*cking quois.” – Maggie Lange, Bustle

Misfit: Growing Up Awkward in the 80’s by Gary Gulman

nonfiction / memoir / comedy.

MisfitFor years, Gary Gulman had been the comedian’s comedian, acclaimed for his delight in language and his bracing honesty. But after two stints in a psych ward, he found himself back in his mother’s house in Boston―living in his childhood bedroom at age forty-six, as he struggled to regain his mental health.

That’s where Misfit begins. Then it goes way back.

This is no ordinary book about growing older and growing up. Gulman has an astonishing memory and takes the reader through every year of his childhood education, with obsessively detailed stories that are in turn alarming and riotously funny. We meet Gulman’s family, neighbors, teachers, heroes, and antagonists, and get to know the young comedian-in-the-making who is his own worst―and most persistent―enemy.

From failing to impress at grade school show-and-tell to literally fumbling at his first big football game―in settings that take us all the way from the local playground to the local mall, from Hebrew School to his best (and only) friend’s rec room, young Gary becomes a stand-in for everyone who grew up wondering if they would ever truly fit in. And that’s not all: the book is also chock-full of ‘80s nostalgia (Scented Markers, indifference to sunscreen, mall culture).

Misfit is a book that only Gary Gulman could have written: a brilliant, witty, poignant, laugh-until-your-face-hurts memoir that speaks directly to the awkward child in us all.

“Gulman’s stories are shared with humor but also a heartfelt empathy for his young self and many of the people in his life.” – Diana Platt, Booklist

“[A] winsome memoir… Funny and poignant, this will satisfy adrift adults looking to reconnect with their inner child.” – Publishers Weekly

“[A] gem of a book… The characters of Gulman’s youth, from his unusual parents to the teachers and coaches who denote the best and worst of the profession, and the bullies and classmates who both tormented and inspired him, come alive with such exactitude that they leap from the pages and inspire emotional reactions. Familiarity with the author’s comedic career is unnecessary to appreciate his story. This title will undoubtedly generate new fans.” – Lisa Henry, Library Journal, STARRED REVIEW

Mr. Texas by Lawrence Wright

fiction / comedy.

Mr. TexasSonny Lamb is an affable, if floundering, rancher with the unfortunate habit of becoming a punchline in his Texas hometown. Most recently, to every one’s headshaking amusement, he bought his own bull at an auction. But when a fire breaks out at a neighbor’s farm, Sonny makes headlines in another way: not waiting for help, he bolts to the farm where his heroic actions make the evening news.

Almost immediately, and seemingly out of nowhere, a handsomely dressed lobbyist from Austin arrives at his ranch door and asks if he’d like to run for his West Texas district’s seat in the state legislature. Though Sonny has zero experience and doesn’t consider himself political at all, the fate of his ranch—and perhaps his marriage to the lovely “cowgirl” Lola—hangs in the balance. With seemingly no other choice, Sonny decides to throw his hat in the ring .

As he navigates life in politics—from running a campaign to negotiating in the capitol—Sonny must learn the ropes, weighing his own ethics and environmental concerns against the pressures of veteran politicians, savvy lobbyists, and his own party. In tracing Sonny’s attempt to balance his marriage and morality with an increasingly volatile professional life, Lawrence Wright has crafted a hilarious, immensely clever roller-coaster ride about one man’s pursuit of goodness in the Lonestar State.

“[A] rollicking satire… It is a testament to Wright’s talent that he can take a well-worn narrative arc and bend it in new ways… a character study, cleverly hidden within a raucous, fast-paced, hilarious sendup… a fiery sample of the chili of Texas politics: equal parts tragedy, comedy and farce.” – Paul Begala, New York Times

“Wonderful characters, Texas-sized helpings of wit and insight, and, believe it or not, a vision of post-partisan redemption.” – Kirkus Reviews

“Journalist and novelist Wright, whose nonfiction work The Looming Tower won the Pulitzer Prize, brings decades of insider knowledge to bear in this devilishly witty send-up of Texas politics… No one emerges unscathed in this rollicking satire.” – Publishers Weekly

The Mysterious Case of Rudolf Diesel: Genius, Power, and Deception on the Eve of World War I by Douglas Brunt

nonfiction / history / biography / mystery.

The Mysterious Case of Rudolf DieselSeptember 29, 1913: the steamship Dresden is halfway between Belgium and England. On board is one of the most famous men in the world, Rudolf Diesel, whose new internal combustion engine is on the verge of revolutionizing global industry forever. But Diesel never arrives at his destination. He vanishes during the night and headlines around the world wonder if it was an accident, suicide, or murder.

After rising from an impoverished European childhood, Diesel had become a multi-millionaire with his powerful engine that does not require expensive petroleum-based fuel. In doing so, he became not only an international celebrity but also the enemy of two extremely powerful men: Kaiser Wilhelm II of Germany and John D. Rockefeller, the founder of Standard Oil and the richest man in the world.

The Kaiser wanted the engine to power a fleet of submarines that would finally allow him to challenge Great Britain’s Royal Navy. But Diesel had intended for his engine to be used for the betterment of mankind and refused to keep the technology out of the hands of the British or any other nation. For John D. Rockefeller, the engine was nothing less than an existential threat to his vast and lucrative oil empire. As electric lighting began to replace kerosene lamps, Rockefeller’s bottom line depended on the world’s growing thirst for gasoline to power its automobiles and industries.

At the outset of this new age of electricity and oil, Europe stood on the precipice of war. Rudolf Diesel grew increasingly concerned about Germany’s rising nationalism and military spending. The inventor was on his way to London to establish a new company that would help Britain improve its failing submarine program when he disappeared.

Now, New York Times bestselling author Douglas Brunt reopens the case and provides an astonishing new conclusion about Diesel’s fate. “Equal parts Walter Isaacson and Sherlock Holmes, The Mysterious Case of Rudolf Diesel yanks back the curtain on the greatest caper of the 20th century in this riveting history” (Jay Winik, New York Times bestselling author).

“[A] thrilling investigation… Brunt’s audacious yet surprisingly tenable theory makes for a wildly enjoyable outing.” – Publishers Weekly, STARRED REVIEW

“Weaving together technological, economic, social, and political threads, Brunt offers much to ponder.” – Kirkus Reviews

“[A] textured and sensitive portrayal of Diesel’s personality in its private and public aspects.” – Gilbert Taylor, Booklist

Button Coming Soon AFPL

A Nobleman’s Guide to Seducing a Scoundrel by KJ Charles

fiction / romance / historical fiction / mystery.

A Nobleman's Guide to Seducing a ScoundrelMajor Rufus d’Aumesty has unexpectedly become the Earl of Oxney, master of a remote Norman manor on the edge of the infamous Romney Marsh. There he’s beset on all sides, his position contested both by his greedy uncle and by Luke Doomsday, son of a notorious smuggling clan.

The earl and the smuggler should be natural enemies, but cocksure, enragingly competent Luke is a trained secretary and expert schemer—exactly the sort of man Rufus needs by his side. Before long, Luke becomes an unexpected ally… and the lover Rufus had never hoped to find.

But Luke came to Stone Manor with an ulterior motive, one he’s desperate to keep hidden even from the lord he can’t resist. As the lies accumulate and family secrets threaten to destroy everything they hold dear, master and man find themselves forced to decide whose side they’re really on… and what they’re willing to do for love.

“This fun historical LGBTQ romance set 13 years after the first in the series is an idela beach read.” – Nancy Eggert, Library Reads

“The evocative setting—most of the book takes place in an ancient manor on the edge of a marsh—creates the perfect mood for this intensely readable, gothic-tinged tale. Charles proves she belongs in the top tier of historical romance authors with her latest engaging, fulfilling love story. A must-read for romance fans.” – Jenny Kobiela-Mondor, Library Journal, STARRED REVIEW

“Charles’s swashbuckling second Doomsday Books romance (after The Secret Lives of Country Gentlemen) enthralls as it transports readers back to the moors of 19th-century Kent… a beautifully executed sequel that will live up to fans’ expectations.” – Publishers Weekly, STARRED REVIEW

Button Hoopla ReadButton Hoopla Listen

Of Time and Turtles: Mending the World, Shell by Shattered Shell by Sy Montgomery; illustrated by Matt Patterson

nonfiction / science / nature.

Of Time and TurtlesWhen acclaimed naturalist Sy Montgomery and wildlife artist Matt Patterson arrive at Turtle Rescue League, they are greeted by hundreds of turtles recovering from injury and illness. Endangered by cars and highways, pollution and poachers, these turtles—with wounds so severe that even veterinarians would have dismissed them as fatal—are given a second chance at life. The League’s founders, Natasha and Alexxia, live by one creed. Never give up on a turtle.

But why turtles? What is it about them that inspires such devotion? Ancient and unhurried, long-lived and majestic, their lineage stretches back to the time of the dinosaurs. Some live to two hundred years, or longer. Others spend months buried under cold winter water.

Montgomery turns to these little understood yet endlessly surprising creatures to probe the eternal question How can we make peace with our time? In pursuit of the answer, Sy and Matt immerse themselves in the delicate work of protecting turtle nests, incubating eggs, rescuing sea turtles, and releasing hatchlings to their homes in the wild. We follow the snapping turtle Fire Chief on his astonishing journey as he battles against injuries incurred by a truck.

Hopeful and optimistic, Of Time and Turtles is an antidote to the instability of our frenzied world. Elegantly blending science, memoir, philosophy, and drawing on cultures from across the globe, this compassionate portrait of injured turtles and their determined rescuers invites us all to slow down and slip into turtle time.

“…moving… Montgomery captures the joy in the team’s successes and the sorrow in their losses, and Patterson’s sketches of spotted and painted turtles in their natural habitats delight. It’s an enjoyable if at times somber account of the everyday travails of dedicated conservationists.” – Publishers Weekly

“Deeply affected by these highly intelligent, sensitive earthlings, Montgomery contemplates how nature marks ‘turtle time, renewing the covenants that keep the world alive and offering us the stuff of eternity.’” – Donna Seaman, Booklist, STARRED REVIEW

“This book expertly demonstrates the advantage that the slowed-down lives of turtles can have on humans. Fans of Montgomery’s previous works will love this, and so will nature enthusiasts and environmentalists.” – Steve Dixon, Library Journal

The Pole by J.M. Coetzee


The PoleRenowned for his sparse yet powerful prose, J. M. Coetzee is unquestionably among the most influential—and provocative—authors of our time. With characteristic insight and a “brittle wit that forces our attention on the common terrors we don’t want to think about” (Washington Post), Coetzee here challenges us to interrogate our preconceptions not only of love, but of truth itself.

Exacting yet unpredictable, pithy yet complex, Coetzee’s The Pole tells the story of Wittold Walccyzkiecz, a vigorous, extravagantly white-haired pianist and interpreter of Chopin who becomes infatuated with Beatriz, a stylish patron of the arts, after she helps organize his concert in Barcelona. Although Beatriz, a married woman, is initially unimpressed by Wittold and his “gleaming dentures,” she soon finds herself pursued and ineluctably swept into his world. As the journeyman performer sends her countless letters, extends invitations to travel, and even visits her husband’s summer home in Mallorca, their unlikely relationship blossoms, though only on Beatriz’s terms.

The power struggle between them intensifies, eventually escalating into a full-fledged battle of the sexes. But is it Beatriz who limits their passion by paralyzing her emotions? Or is it Wittold, the old man at his typewriter, trying to force into life his dream of love? Reinventing the all-encompassing love of the poet Dante for his Beatrice, Coetzee exposes the fundamentally enigmatic nature of romance, showing how a chance meeting between strangers—even “a Pole, a man of seventy, a vigorous seventy,” and a stultified “banker’s wife who occupies her days in good works”—can suddenly change everything.

Reminiscent of James Joyce’s The Dead in its exploration of love and loss, The Pole, with lean prose and surprising feints, is a haunting work, evoking the “inexhaustible palette of sensations, from blind love to compassion” (Berna González Harbour, El País) typical of Coetzee’s finest novels.

“Exquisitely elevating the fundamental influences of music and language, The Pole unequivocally affirms the often-enigmatic relationships among art, love, and human experience.” – George Kendall, Booklist, STARRED REVIEW

“Coetzee is a master of shifting power dynamics and complex relationships…” – Emily Temple, Literary Hub

“[A] rich and engrossing story… Coetzee’s ability to render the human condition in all its vagaries is as masterful as ever.” – Publishers Weekly

Skinnytaste Simple: Easy, Healthy Recipes with 7 Ingredients or Fewer by Gina Homolka & Heather K. Jones, R.D.

nonfiction / food / cooking.

Skinnytaste SimpleA delectable collection of 120 healthy dishes that use seven ingredients or fewer to deliver big flavor without the fuss—the easiest, simplest recipes yet from #1 New York Times bestselling author of The Skinnytaste Cookbook.

Gina Homolka knows how tough it can be to put a meal together when she’s tight for time and energy. Skinnytaste Simple is the solution: recipes with minimum ingredients but maximum flavor and nutrition. These game-changing, no-fuss dinners use no more than seven ingredients each, allowing you to put easy, healthy meals on the table with little-to-no effort.

From hearty breakfasts like Chilaquiles with Fried Eggs and Acai Berry Bowls to crowd-pleasing dinners including One Pan Shrimp and Saffron Orzo and Sheet Pan Eggplant Lasagna, you’ll find recipes the whole family will love. Plus, sweet indulgences are a snap with quick-and-easy chocolatey Flourless Sea Salt Brownies and make-ahead Strawberry and Cheese Turnovers. Each recipe features a gorgeous photo, icons that indicate recipes that may suit your dietary needs (such as gluten-free, dairy-free, vegetarian), and nutritional info, with the most up to date Weight Watchers points available on the Skinnytaste site.

With Skinnytaste Simple, cooking delicious, nutritious meals for your family is easier than ever!

“Simple and healthy are rarely ever combined to much success in the cooking world, never mind if you want to add delicious to the unlikely pair. But here, you get all three: Simple, delicious, and healthy, for any meal of the day.” – Barnes & Noble

“Each recipe includes a brightly inviting photo of the finished product and visuals of the ingredients needed, with easy instructions that make cooking less daunting… With 120 recipes in total, there is a surprising amount of variety and something for everyone. A worthwhile addition to any cookbook collection, especially for those looking for simple and nutritional options.” – Sarah Filiberto, Library Journal

Starter Villain by John Scalzi

fiction / fantasy / action / comedy / suspense.

Starter VillainInheriting your uncle’s supervillain business is more complicated than you might think. Particularly when you discover who’s running the place.

Charlie’s life is going nowhere fast. A divorced substitute teacher living with his cat in a house his siblings want to sell, all he wants is to open a pub downtown, if only the bank will approve his loan.

Then his long-lost uncle Jake dies and leaves his supervillain business (complete with island volcano lair) to Charlie.

But becoming a supervillain isn’t all giant laser death rays and lava pits. Jake had enemies, and now they’re coming after Charlie. His uncle might have been a stand-up, old-fashioned kind of villain, but these are the real thing: rich, soulless predators backed by multinational corporations and venture capital.

It’s up to Charlie to win the war his uncle started against a league of supervillains. But with unionized dolphins, hyper-intelligent talking spy cats, and a terrifying henchperson at his side, going bad is starting to look pretty good.

In a dog-eat-dog world… be a cat.

“Scalzi again examines tropes in a tale of an ordinary individual being cast into an extraordinary situation with his trademark quick pacing, clever banter, and ability to find humor in desperate situations.” – Terrence Miltner, Booklist, STARRED REVIEW

“[A] clever, fast-paced thriller [that] subverts classic supervillain tropes with equal measures of tongue-in-cheek humor and common sense… Scalzi balances all the double-crosses and assassination attempts with ethical quandaries, explorations of economic inequality, and humor, including some foul-mouthed unionizing dolphins. The result is a breezy and highly entertaining genre send-up.” – Publishers Weekly

“Combining the sarcastic humor of Scalzi’s Redshirts with an origin story for James Bond–like supervillains operating with the competence-porn-level efficiency and work ethic of Hench by Natalie Zina Walschots, this story of snark with a heart reminds readers that the logical conclusion of ‘dogs have owners, cats have staff’ is that cats are management and never let anyone forget it. Readers of humorous fantasy are sure to love Scalzi’s latest (after The Kaiju Preservation Society) as much as those cats; it’s also for those who enjoy seeing superhero stories folded, twisted, and mutilated and anyone wishing for a righteous villain lair surrounded by intelligent sharks. Highly recommended.” – Marlene Harris, Library Journal, STARRED REVIEW

Turning Pages: The Adventures and Misadventures of a Publisher by John Sargent

nonfiction / memoir.

Turning PagesTurning Pages: The Adventures and Misadventures of a Publisher is the well-told story of forty years in the publishing business. For twenty-four of those years, John Sargent ran one of America’s largest publishing companies. Rather than a straight chronological narrative, Sargent uses the best stories of those years to give us an intimate look inside book publishing. In weaving these stories together, he brings the reader with him through triumph and despair, and a very interesting daily life. The reader will meet his odd publishing family, his interesting authors, and the celebrities with whom he worked. Sargent tells the tale of publishing Monica Lewinsky and recounts what it was like to have an author meeting in Buckingham Palace. He takes the reader with him into the Macmillan battles with Amazon, the Department of Justice, and President Donald Trump.

In Turning Pages, the reader will share his occasional pain and seemingly endless joy, from a one room schoolhouse in Wyoming to the Nelson Mandela Foundation in South Africa. Full of humor and grace, this is a book for those who enjoy a good story about a fascinating life. This behind-the-scenes look at some of the biggest moments in publishing over the last several decades is a must-read for every person who loves books and has always wondered about the industry surrounding them.

“A pleasant book about books with insights into publishing past and the conglomerate stranglehold of the present.” – Kirkus Reviews

“[Sargent] describes publishing as an exciting, rewarding, and at times very stressful life at the executive level… [his] memoir maintains the CEO-of-the-people style that made him one of publishing’s most popular CEOs…” – Jim Milliot, Publishers Weekly

Button Hoopla Read

The Unfortunate Side Effects of Heartbreak and Magic by Breanne Randall

fiction / fantasy / romance / mystery.

The Unfortunate Side Effects of Heartbreak and MagicSadie Revelare has always believed that the curse of four heartbreaks that accompanies her magic would be worth the price. But when her grandmother is diagnosed with cancer with only weeks to live, and her first heartbreak, Jake McNealy, returns to town after a decade, her carefully structured life begins to unravel.

With the news of their grandmother’s impending death, Sadie’s estranged twin brother Seth returns to town, bringing with him deeply buried family secrets that threaten to tear Sadie’s world apart. Their grandmother has been the backbone of the family for generations, and with her death, Sadie isn’t sure she’ll have the strength to keep the family, and her magic, together.

As feelings for Jake begin to rekindle, and her grandmother growing sicker by the day, Sadie faces the last of her heartbreaks, and she has to decide: is love more important than magic?

The Unfortunate Side Effects of Heartbreak and Magic will win readers over with both endearing small-town and eccentric magical characters… and will charm anyone who enjoys a good pastry or cup of tea.” – Julia Maxwell, Booklist

“[An] intimate portrait of an understandably guarded heroine learning to let down her walls.” – Publishers Weekly

“A light, witchy novel where the relationships aren’t just romantic – there are family issues for the main character to work through as well. The magic system is a favorite cozy trope – herbs and baking – and there are lots of tasty-sounding recipes to try throughout. Readers will look forward to more to come from Randall.” – Josephine Incolla-Moore, Library Reads

Button Hoopla Read

Unreliable Narrator: Me, Myself, and Impostor Syndrome by Aparna Nancherla

nonfiction / memoir / comedy / psychology.

Unreliable NarratorAparna Nancherla is a superstar comedian on the rise—a darling of Netflix and Comedy Central’s comedy special lineups, a headliner at comedy shows and music festivals, a frequenter of late night television and the subject of numerous profiles. She’s also a successful actor who has written a barrage of thoughtful essays published by the likes of the New York Times. If you ask her, though, she’s a total fraud. She’d hate to admit it, but no one does impostor syndrome quite like Aparna Nancherla.

Unreliable Narrator is a collection of essays that uses Aparna’s signature humor to illuminate an interior life, one constantly bossed around by her depression (whom she calls Brenda), laced with anxiety like a horror movie full of jump-scares, and plagued by an unrepenting love-hate relationship with her career as a painfully shy standup comedian. But luckily, crippling self-doubt comes with the gift of keen self-examination. These essays deliver hilarious and incredibly insightful meditations on body image, productivity culture, the ultra-meme-ability of mental health language, and who, exactly, gets to make art “about nothing.” Despite her own arguments to the contrary, Unreliable Narrator is undeniable proof that Aparna is a force—as a comedian and author alike—to be reckoned with.

“…hilarious and insightful…” – Sarah Stiefvater, PureWow

“…funny and insightful… Readers will relate and will find themselves laughing out loud at this honest and humorous debut.” – Rebecca Hopman, Booklist

“[The] sardonic humor and candid meditations on mental health resonate. It’s a surprisingly funny take on longing to feel comfortable in one’s own skin.” – Publishers Weekly

Wandering Through Life: A Memoir by Donna Leon

nonfiction / memoir / writing.

Wandering Through LifeIn a series of vignettes full of affection, irony, and good humor, Donna Leon narrates a remarkable life she feels has rather more happened to her than been planned.

Following a childhood in the company of her New Jersey family, with frequent visits to her grandfather’s farm and its beloved animals, and summers spent selling homegrown tomatoes by the roadside, Leon got her first taste of the classical music and opera that would enrich her life. She also developed a yen for adventure. In 1976, she made the spontaneous decision to teach English in Iran, before finding herself swept up in the early days of the 1979 Revolution. After teaching stints in China and Saudi Arabia, she finally landed in Venice. Leon vividly animates her decades-long love affair with Italy, from her first magical dinner when serving as a chaperone to a friend, to the hunt for the perfect cappuccino, to the warfare tactics of grandmothers doing their grocery shopping at the Rialto Market.

Some things remain constant throughout the decades: her adoration of opera, especially Handel’s vocal music, and her advocacy for the environment, embodied in her passion for bees—which informs the surprising crux of the Brunetti mystery Earthly Remains. Even as mass tourism takes its toll on the patience of residents, Leon’s passion for Venice remains unchanged: its outrageous beauty and magic still captivate her.

Having recently celebrated her eightieth birthday, Leon poignantly confronts the dual challenges and pleasures of aging. Complete with a brief letter dissuading those hoping to meet Guido Brunetti at the Questura, and always suffused with music, food, and her sharp sense of humor, Wandering through Life offers Donna Leon at her most personal.

“Leon’s wit and life well-lived will draw in varied audiences, who can live vicariously through her.” – Rebekah J. Buchanan, Library Journal

“Though fans will bask in these candid glimpses, one need not be a devoted Brunetti aficionado to appreciate Leon’s delightfully spirited account of a life well lived.” – Carol Haggas, Booklist

“In her eighties, Leon looks back on her own adventurous life, traveling the world, settling in Italy, and discovering her passion and aptitude for writing. I’ll be honest, the cover alone sold me here—this is exactly what I want to look when I’m 80: sunglasses, bob, blazer, blindingly cool. You just know she’s got some good stories in her bandoleer.” – Sophia M. Stewart, The Millions

Button Hoopla Read

Wellness by Nathan Hill


WellnessWhen Jack and Elizabeth meet as college students in the ’90s, the two quickly join forces and hold on tight, each eager to claim a place in Chicago’s thriving underground art scene with an appreciative kindred spirit. Fast-forward twenty years to married life, and alongside the challenges of parenting, they encounter cults disguised as mindfulness support groups, polyamorous would-be suitors, Facebook wars, and something called Love Potion Number Nine.

For the first time, Jack and Elizabeth struggle to recognize each other, and the no-longer-youthful dreamers are forced to face their demons, from unfulfilled career ambitions to painful childhood memories of their own dysfunctional families. In the process, Jack and Elizabeth must undertake separate, personal excavations, or risk losing the best thing in their lives: each other.

“Hill’s prose is radiant and ravishing throughout this saturated, intricately honeycombed novel of delving cogitation as he evokes the wonders of the prairie and the city, and the ever-perplexing folly, anguish, and beauty of the human condition.” – Donna Seaman, Booklist, STARRED REVIEW

“[A] smart, expansively written portrait of a marriage that also captures the social landscape of the last two decades… Jack’s friend Ben says of his master’s thesis, ‘Ostensibly it’s about Wicker Park. But really? It’s about life.’ Hill’s book is ostensibly about one couple’s relationship. But really? It’s about life. Highly recommended.” – Barbara Hoffert, Library Journal, STARRED REVIEW

“…triumphant… It’s to this books credit that it makes me want to rely on the trite language of blurbs. Unputdownable, whip-smart, keenly observed—they all fit! …a warm, wise, and deeply readable story about a marriage, and (sorry. Sorry!) what it means to be human.” – Jessie Gaynor, Literary Hub

“…expansive and surprisingly tender… Jack and Elizabeth’s story speaks to the way people craft narratives to give their lives meaning, and it asks whether believing in those narratives ultimately helps or harms. This stunning novel of ideas never loses sight of its humanity.” – Publishers Weekly, STARRED REVIEW

Wild Girls: How the Outdoors Shaped the Women Who Challenged a Nation by Tiya Miles

nonfiction / history / nature.

Wild GirlsHarriet Tubman, forced to labor outdoors on a Maryland plantation, learned from the land a terrain for escape. Louisa May Alcott ran wild, eluding gendered expectations in New England. The Indigenous women’s basketball team from Fort Shaw, Montana, recaptured a sense of pride in physical prowess as they trounced the white teams of the 1904 World’s Fair. Celebrating women like these who acted on their confidence outdoors, Wild Girls brings new context to misunderstood icons like Sacagawea and Pocahontas, and to underappreciated figures like Native American activist writer Zitkála-Šá, also known as Gertrude Bonnin, farmworkers’ champion Dolores Huerta, and labor and Civil Rights organizer Grace Lee Boggs.

This beautiful, meditative work of history puts girls of all races—and the landscapes they loved—at center stage and reveals the impact of the outdoors on women’s independence, resourcefulness, and vision. For these trailblazing women of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, navigating the woods, following the stars, playing sports, and taking to the streets in peaceful protest were not only joyful pursuits, but also techniques to resist assimilation, racism, and sexism. Lyrically written and full of archival discoveries, Wild Girls evokes landscapes as richly as the girls who roamed in them—and argues for equal access to outdoor spaces for young women of every race and class today.

“Miles is a wonderful writer, rigorous researcher, and visionary scholar, and here she takes a totally unique (and characteristically ingenious) perspective on how the natural world influenced many of our most consequential women thinkers and leaders.” – Sophia M. Stewart, The Millions

“With insight and imagination, Harvard historian Miles explores the ways in which the natural environment presented ‘new possibilities’ for 19th-century women and girls… an inventive take on what inspired people to challenge norms and agitate for change.” – Publishers Weekly, STARRED REVIEW

“The personal stories range from intriguing to downright inspiring—the Native American players of the Fort Shaw basketball team deserve a movie!—but it is the author’s insatiable curiosity and obvious affection for her subjects that will most captivate readers. So many fascinating women of different races are included in this little book. It’s a true treasure!” – Colleen Mondor, Booklist

Button Hoopla Listen

The Wolves of Eternity by Karl Ove Knausgaard; translated by Martin Aitken


The Wolves of EternityIn 1986, twenty-year-old Syvert Løyning returns from the military to his mother’s home in southern Norway. One evening, his dead father comes to him in a dream. Realizing that he doesn’t really know who his father was, Syvert begins to investigate his life and finds clues pointing to the Soviet Union. What he learns changes his past and undermines the entire notion of who he is. But when his mother becomes ill, and he must care for his little brother, Joar, on his own, he no longer has time or space for lofty speculations.

In present-day Russia, Alevtina Kotov, a biologist working at Moscow University, is traveling with her young son to the home of her stepfather, to celebrate his eightieth birthday. As a student, Alevtina was bright, curious and ambitious, asking the big questions about life and human consciousness. But as she approaches middle-age, most of that drive has gone, and she finds herself in a place she doesn’t want to be, without really understanding how she got there. Her stepfather, a musician, raised her as his own daughter, and she was never interested in learning about her biological father; when she finally starts looking into him, she learns that he died many years ago and left two sons, Joar and Syvert.

Years later, when Syvert and Alevtina meet in Moscow, two very different approaches to life emerge. And as a bright star appears in the sky, it illuminates the wonder of human existence and the mysteries that exist beyond our own worldview. Set against the political and cultural backdrop of both the 1980s and the present day, The Wolves of Eternity is an expansive and affecting book about relations—to one another, to nature, to the dead.

“If Knausgaard is your thing, it reads as compulsively as anything he’s written… despite his preoccupation with death and loftier philosophical purpose, Knausgaard remains one of the great chroniclers of the moment-by-moment experience of life. Alevtina will be thinking deep thoughts about evolution one minute and contemplating meatballs the next.” – Charles Arrowsmith, Washington Post

“A curiously affecting tale about science and spirit, optimistic despite its gloomy themes.” – Kirkus Reviews

“…inspired… Knausgaard’s book doesn’t shy away from big questions about the substance of his characters’ inner lives… Knausgaard captures the spirit of a Russian novel in this dense tale.” – Publishers Weekly

“The nature and possibility of immortality is a recurring theme, and digressions abound — communicating trees, broken families, Chernobyl, death, etc. But by sticking close to his characters, Knausgaard addresses those heady topics with an easy-going grace.” – Mark Athitakis, Los Angeles Times

The Wren, the Wren by Anne Enright 


The Wren, the WrenNell McDaragh never knew her grandfather, the famed Irish poet Phil McDaragh. But his love poems seem to speak directly to her. Restless, full of verve and wit, twenty-two-year-old Nell leaves her mother Carmel’s home to find her voice as a writer and live a life of her choosing. Carmel, too, knows the magic of her Daddo’s poetry—and the broken promises within its verses. When Phil abandons the family, Carmel struggles to reconcile “the poet” with the man whose desertion scars Carmel, her sister, and their cancer-ridden mother.

The Wren, the Wren brings to life three generations of women who contend with inheritances—of abandonment and of sustaining love that is “more than a strand of DNA, but a rope thrown from the past, a fat twisted rope, full of blood.” In sharp prose studded with crystalline poetry, Anne Enright masterfully braids a family story of longing, betrayal, and hope.

“Tender and truthful as ever, Enright offers a beguiling journey to selfhood.” – Kirkus Reviews, STARRED REVIEW

“Anne Enright is a master at unpacking the strange and complex relationships within families in perfect, crystalline prose.” – Emily Firetog, Literary Hub

“Enright’s luminous examination of the fallout from parental rejection and the emotional toll it exacts over time evokes the profound sense of confusion, mistrust, and denial those involved experience… Enriched by searing if beautiful poetry, Enright’s beseeching novel thrums with desire, heartache, and connection.” – Carol Haggas, Booklist, STARRED REVIEW

“…whip-smart… Enright imbues a sense of great importance to domestic incidents, such as in a flashback to Nell as a child, when Carmel strikes her after she acts out by breaking a light fixture, but the tone is far from despondent; the prose fizzes with wit and bite. Enright’s discomfiting and glimmering narrative leans toward a poetic sense of hope.” – Publishers Weekly, STARRED REVIEW


Read the avalon free public library top 100 books of the week HERE!

Curious how these lists are put together? CLICK HERE!

NOTE: The library does not receive any compensation for links TO OTHER SITES.

Leave a Reply