August's most anticipated new releases in a stack

August Most Anticipated: 16 Satisfying End-of-Summer Reads

August 3 2021
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As we approach August, we still have high hopes of finishing our summer piles, but to be honest, the majority of us have already shifted into cozy mysteries, atmospheric thrillers, and sprawling historical dramas. And our most anticipated August list reflects that! We’ve rounded up our most anticipated books—from new releases by bestselling authors, including Stephen King and Silvia Moreno-Garcia, to long-awaited follow-ups from AJ Pearce and William Kent Krueger. These reads have us buzzing with anticipation and cozying up our reading nooks for fall.

Lightning Strike
by William Kent Krueger

Emily’s Pick #1: William Kent Krueger’s thoughtful storytelling triumphs once more in this story that takes place in a quaint Minnesota lake town in 1963. A twelve-year-old Cork finds the body of a townsperson he greatly respected hanging from the trees, and he is still reeling when he begins to suspect that the person was murdered—rather than suicidal as everyone else suspects, including his sheriff father. This is a heartbreaking coming-of-age story that tackles big questions with care, and it’s a fantastic introduction to the beloved Cork O’Connor series.

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Lightning Strike
William Kent Krueger

The author of the instant New York Times bestseller This Tender Land returns with a powerful prequel to his acclaimed Cork O’Connor series—a book about fathers and sons, long-simmering conflicts in a small Minnesota town, and the events that echo through youth and shape our lives forever.

Aurora is a small town nestled in the ancient forest alongside the shores of Minnesota’s Iron Lake. In the summer of 1963, it is the whole world to twelve-year-old Cork O’Connor, its rhythms as familiar as his own heartbeat. But when Cork stumbles upon the body of a man he revered hanging from a tree in an abandoned logging camp, it is the first in a series of events that will cause him to question everything he took for granted about his hometown, his family, and himself.

Cork’s father, Liam O’Connor, is Aurora’s sheriff and it is his job to confirm that the man’s death was the result of suicide, as all the evidence suggests. In the shadow of his father’s official investigation, Cork begins to look for answers on his own. Together, father and son face the ultimate test of choosing between what their heads tell them is true and what their hearts know is right.

In this masterful story of a young man and a town on the cusp of change, beloved novelist William Kent Krueger shows that some mysteries can be solved even as others surpass our understanding.

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The Family Plot
by Megan Collins

Heather’s Pick #1: Megan Collins’s THE WINTER SISTER has stuck with me since I read it a couple years back, so I knew I needed her new novel before I’d even heard the details. Sure enough, those details have only increased my eagerness, because it’s a gothic suspense story! THE FAMILY PLOT introduces us to twenty-six-year-old Dahlia Lighthouse, who grew up in an isolated mansion surrounded by what sounds like some deeply weird family members, including parents who were fixated on morbid true crime cases. What’s more, her twin brother went missing when they were sixteen, and now, a decade later, she learns he was murdered. Dahlia’s convinced a serial killer is to blame at first, but the more odd behavior she observes from her family, the more she starts to fear her brother’s killer could lurk closer to home . . .

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The Family Plot
Megan Collins

From the author of The Winter Sister and Behind the Red Door, this “masterpiece of gothic suspense and horror, filled with dark family secrets and stunning twists” (Michele Campbell, author of It’s Always the Husband) follows a family obsessed with true crime as they gather to bury their patriarch—only to find another body already in his grave.

At twenty-six, Dahlia Lighthouse is haunted by her upbringing. Raised in a secluded island mansion deep in the woods and kept isolated by her true crime-obsessed parents, she is unable to move beyond the disappearance of her twin brother, Andy, when they were sixteen.

After several years away and following her father’s death, Dahlia returns to the house, where the family makes a gruesome discovery: buried in their father’s plot is another body—Andy’s, his skull split open with an ax.

Dahlia is quick to blame Andy’s murder on the serial killer who terrorized the island for decades, while the rest of her family reacts to the revelation in unsettling ways. Her brother, Charlie, pours his energy into creating a family memorial museum, highlighting their research into the lives of famous murder victims; her sister, Tate, forges ahead with her popular dioramas portraying crime scenes; and their mother affects a cheerfully domestic facade, becoming unrecognizable as the woman who performed murder reenactments for her children. As Dahlia grapples with her own grief and horror, she realizes that her eccentric family, and the mansion itself, may hold the answers to what happened to her twin.

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Velvet Was the Night
by Silvia Moreno-Garcia

Emily’s Pick #2: Judging by the cover this will be one sexy, dreamy book. And if it’s anything like Silvia Moreno-Garcia’s previous books, that promise will certainly hold true! Silvia showcases her noir writing skills, while also keeping her Mexico-set historical fiction, in VELVET WAS THE NIGHT. When protests erupt in Mexico City in the 1970s and an art student named Leonora goes missing, Maite sheds her secretary job and dons her amateur detective hat—a hobby that has been well-developed after reading her beloved Secret Romance magazine. Meanwhile, Elvis, an eccentric criminal, searches separately for Leonora. As he uncovers the mystery, he grows to love Maite, twisting his motives all up into a web of danger, secrecy, and adoration.

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Velvet Was the Night
Silvia Moreno-Garcia

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August Most Anticipated: 16 Satisfying End-of-Summer Reads

By Off the Shelf Staff | August 3, 2021

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All's Well
by Mona Awad

Holly’s Pick: Mona Awad, author of BUNNY, is back with a new novel, publishing early this August. ALL’S WELL is a beautiful concoction of dark humor, daring prose, and the dazzling setting of a college theater class. Miranda Fitch is on a downward spiral. An accident has left her with chronic pain, a failed marriage, and a worrisome dependency on pain medicine. And to top it all off, her job as a college theater director is wavering. Amid her determined effort to put on Shakespeare’s All’s Well That Ends Well, Miranda encounters three strangers with an eerie knowledge of her past. Mona Awad writes Miranda to her breaking point while touching on the incredible collective refusal to believe in female pain. ALL’S WELL is wild, magical, and sharp—so be sure to make some room for this new read on your shelf.

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All's Well
Mona Awad

From the author of Bunny, which Margaret Atwood hails as “genius,” comes a dazzling and darkly funny novel about a theater professor who is convinced staging Shakespeare’s most maligned play will remedy all that ails her—but at what cost?

A MOST ANTICIPATED BOOK OF SUMMER 2021 SELECTED BY * ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY * VULTURE * LITHUB * REFINERY29 * GOODREADS * POPSUGAR * NOW MAGAZINE * BOSTON * AND MORE

“[A] sparkling valentine to the Bard. A dream of a novel, perfect for a midsummer night’s read.”OPRAH DAILY
“A dazzling wild ride of a novel—daring, fresh, entertaining, and magical.” —GEORGE SAUNDERS
“Wild and exhilarating and so fresh it takes your breath away.” —LAUREN GROFF
“Oh my lord what a fabulous novel—knocked me out!”—MARY KARR

Miranda Fitch’s life is a waking nightmare. The accident that ended her burgeoning acting career left her with excruciating, chronic back pain, a failed marriage, and a deepening dependence on painkillers. And now she’s on the verge of losing her job as a college theater director. Determined to put on Shakespeare’s All’s Well That Ends Well, the play that promised, and cost, her everything, she faces a mutinous cast hellbent on staging Macbeth instead. Miranda sees her chance at redemption slip through her fingers.

That’s when she meets three strange benefactors who have an eerie knowledge of Miranda’s past and a tantalizing promise for her future: one where the show goes on, her rebellious students get what’s coming to them, and the invisible, doubted pain that’s kept her from the spotlight is made known.

With prose Margaret Atwood has described as “no punches pulled, no hilarities dodged...genius,” Mona Awad has concocted her most potent, subversive novel yet. All’s Well is the story of a woman at her breaking point and a formidable, piercingly funny indictment of our collective refusal to witness and believe female pain.

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When the Summer Was Ours
by Roxanne Veletzos

Karlyn’s Pick: WHEN THE SUMMER WAS OURS by Roxanne Veletzos will captivate readers’ hearts, so they can’t help but fall in love with Eva and Aleandro. Set in Hungary during WWII, this gorgeous novel follows their complicated love story and the haunting memory of the summer that will reshape their destinies. Spanning from the horrors of the Second World War to the 1956 Hungarian uprising and beyond, WHEN THE SUMMER WAS OURS is a sweeping story about the toll of war, the tension between private and public life, and the power of endurance. It’s a must-read!

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When the Summer Was Ours
Roxanne Veletzos

“This compulsively readable tale of loss and love during and after the Second World War is a masterpiece.” —Kristin Harmel, New York Times bestselling author

“A gorgeously written, impeccably researched historical novel, spanning decades and continents, and filled with a richly drawn cast of characters.” —Jillian Cantor, USA TODAY bestselling author

This epic World War II tale of star-crossed lovers separated by class, circumstance, and ​tragedy—from the international bestselling author of the “gripping…filled with passion and hope” (Kate Quinn, New York Timesbestselling author) The Girl They Left Behind—explores the impact of war on civilian life and the indestructible resilience of first love.

Hungary, 1943: As war encroaches on the country’s borders, willful young Eva César arrives in the idyllic town of Sopron to spend her last summer as a single woman on her aristocratic family’s estate. Longing for freedom from her domineering father, she counts the days to her upcoming nuptials to a kind and dedicated Red Cross doctor whom she greatly admires.

But Eva’s life changes when she meets Aleandro, a charming and passionate Romani fiddler and artist. With time and profound class differences against them, Eva and Aleandro still fall deeply in love—only to be separated by a brutal act of hatred.

As each are swept into the tides of war, they try to forget their romance. Yet, the haunting memory of that summer will reshape their destinies and lead to decisions which are felt through generations.

From the horrors of the Second World War to the tensions of the 1956 Hungarian uprising and beyond, When the Summer Was Ours is a sweeping story about the toll of secrets, the blurred lines between sacrifice and obsession, and the endurance of the human spirit.

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My Heart Is a Chainsaw
by Stephen Graham Jones

Sharon’s Pick #1: Stephen Graham Jones cemented himself as one of the most innovative horror authors to watch last year with THE ONLY GOOD INDIANS, a novel that melded eerie horror and incisive social commentary. He returns this year with MY HEART IS A CHAINSAW, at once an ode to slasher films and a critique on gentrification and colonialism. MY HEART IS A CHAINSAW follows Jade Daniels, a half-Indian outcast who finds solace in horror movies. When blood begins to spill in her rapidly gentrifying rural lake town, Jade predicts exactly how events will unfold, all the while revealing her vulnerabilities to the reader.

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My Heart Is a Chainsaw
Stephen Graham Jones

In her quickly gentrifying rural lake town Jade sees recent events only her encyclopedic knowledge of horror films could have prepared her for in this latest novel from the Jordan Peele of horror literature, New York Times bestselling author Stephen Graham Jones.

“Some girls just don’t know how to die…”

Shirley Jackson meets Friday the 13th in My Heart Is a Chainsaw, written by the author of The Only Good Indians Stephen Graham Jones, called “a literary master” by National Book Award winner Tananarive Due and “one of our most talented living writers” by Tommy Orange.

Alma Katsu calls My Heart Is a Chainsaw “a homage to slasher films that also manages to defy and transcend genre.” On the surface is a story of murder in small-town America. But beneath is its beating heart: a biting critique of American colonialism, Indigenous displacement, and gentrification, and a heartbreaking portrait of a broken young girl who uses horror movies to cope with the horror of her own life.

Jade Daniels is an angry, half-Indian outcast with an abusive father, an absent mother, and an entire town that wants nothing to do with her. She lives in her own world, a world in which protection comes from an unusual source: horror movies…especially the ones where a masked killer seeks revenge on a world that wronged them. And Jade narrates the quirky history of Proofrock as if it is one of those movies. But when blood actually starts to spill into the waters of Indian Lake, she pulls us into her dizzying, encyclopedic mind of blood and masked murderers, and predicts exactly how the plot will unfold.

Yet, even as Jade drags us into her dark fever dream, a surprising and intimate portrait emerges…a portrait of the scared and traumatized little girl beneath the Jason Voorhees mask: angry, yes, but also a girl who easily cries, fiercely loves, and desperately wants a home. A girl whose feelings are too big for her body. My Heart Is a Chainsaw is her story, her homage to horror and revenge and triumph.

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Yours Cheerfully
by AJ Pearce

Allie’s Pick: I absolutely adored AJ Pearce’s bestselling debut novel, DEAR MRS. BIRD, and I am so excited to return to the lives of Emmy and Bunty with this sequel. DEAR MRS. BIRD followed Emmy as she got a job at the London Evening Chronicle in 1940 and began responding to the many women who were desperately seeking help by writing to the paper’s advice columnist, Mrs. Bird. In this new story in the Emmeline Lake Chronicles, the military is calling on women's magazines to help recruit women, who are desperately needed in the war effort. Emmy is eager to help, but when she uncovers the struggles that many women face, she is torn between duty and standing up for her correspondence friends.

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Yours Cheerfully
AJ Pearce

From the author of the “jaunty, heartbreaking winner” (People) and international bestseller Dear Mrs. Bird, a new charming and uplifting novel set in London during World War II about a plucky aspiring journalist.

London, November 1941. Following the departure of the formidable Henrietta Bird from Woman’s Friend magazine, things are looking up for Emmeline Lake as she takes on the challenge of becoming a young wartime advice columnist. Her relationship with boyfriend Charles (now stationed back in the UK) is blossoming, while Emmy’s best friend Bunty, still reeling from the very worst of the Blitz, is bravely looking to the future. Together, the friends are determined to Make a Go of It.

When the Ministry of Information calls on Britain’s women’s magazines to help recruit desperately needed female workers to the war effort, Emmy is thrilled to be asked to step up and help. But when she and Bunty meet a young woman who shows them the very real challenges that women war workers face, Emmy must tackle a life-changing dilemma between doing her duty and standing by her friends.

Every bit as funny, heartwarming, and touching as Dear Mrs. Bird, Yours Cheerfully is a celebration of friendship—a testament to the strength of women and the importance of lifting each other up, even in the most challenging times.

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The Perfect Family
by Robyn Harding

Sara’s Pick #1: The perfect family doesn’t exist, but the Adlers seem like they come pretty close. This family of four is perfectly groomed, well-behaved, everything neat and controlled, and the toast of their neighbors. Or they were, until a series of increasingly aggressive pranks puts their standing in question. Why are they being targeted? Everyone in those perfectly maintained four little walls has secrets, ones they’re keeping even from each other. Robyn Harding’s latest thriller, THE PERFECT FAMILY, is sure to keep you up all night, racing to find out just whose dirty little secret is pulling their perfect facade apart.

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The Perfect Family
Robyn Harding

The bestselling author of the The Swap explores what happens when a seemingly perfect family is pushed to the edge... and beyond in this “propulsive, constantly surprising” (Laurie Elizabeth Flynn, author of The Girls Are All So Nice Here) thriller.

Thomas and Viv Adler are the envy of their neighbors: attractive, successful, with well-mannered children and a beautifully restored home.

Until one morning, when they wake up to find their porch has been pelted with eggs. It’s a prank, Thomas insists; the work of a few out-of-control kids. But when a smoke bomb is tossed on their front lawn, and their car’s tires are punctured, the family begins to worry. Surveillance cameras show nothing but grainy images of shadowy figures in hoodies. And the police dismiss the attacks, insisting they’re just the work of bored teenagers. Unable to identify the perpetrators, the Adlers are helpless as the assaults escalate into violence, and worse. And each new violation brings with it a growing fear. Because everyone in the Adler family is keeping a secret—not just from the outside world, but from each other. And secrets can be very dangerous….

This twisty, addictively page-turning suspense novel about a perfect family’s perfect façade will keep you turning pages until its explosive ending.

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August Most Anticipated: 16 Satisfying End-of-Summer Reads

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Billy Summers
by Stephen King

Jessica’s Pick: I absolutely cannot wait for Stephen King’s new novel, BILLY SUMMERS! I have been a huge fan of the King’s for years and having a new standalone story from him is always something to look forward to. He is a master at developing characters and finding a new way to do horror. I can’t wait to see what he’s done with Billy, a killer for hire with a conscience. I’m expecting, as with every King, a few twists and surprises that will keep me on my toes. What more can you ask for in a summer thriller read?

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Billy Summers
Stephen King

From legendary storyteller and #1 bestseller Stephen King, whose “restless imagination is a power that cannot be contained,” (The New York Times Book Review) comes a thrilling new novel about a good guy in a bad job.

Billy Summers is a man in a room with a gun. He’s a killer for hire and the best in the business. But he’ll do the job only if the target is a truly bad guy. And now Billy wants out. But first there is one last hit. Billy is among the best snipers in the world, a decorated Iraq war vet, a Houdini when it comes to vanishing after the job is done. So what could possibly go wrong?

How about everything.

This spectacular can’t-put-it-down novel is part war story, part love letter to small town America and the people who live there, and it features one of the most compelling and surprising duos in King fiction, who set out to avenge the crimes of an extraordinarily evil man. It’s about love, luck, fate, and a complex hero with one last shot at redemption.

You won’t put this story down, and you won’t forget Billy.

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The Witch Haven
by Sasha Peyton Smith

Emily’s Pick #3: This historical fantasy set in NYC during the early twentieth century is about a young seamstress sent off to a school for witches. Bored with learning the mundane rules of magic, she seeks out excitement and becomes attracted to an enchanting boy who promises to teach her everything she wants to know about magic and her past. But in this new world she’s navigating, she’s not sure whom to trust, especially when the magical control over all of Manhattan is at stake. This book is being praised by Casey McQuiston, Alexis Henderson, and so many more. And I’d just like to know: Who invaded my mind and wrote the book of my dreams? 

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The Witch Haven
Sasha Peyton Smith

“Spectacular, singular, and spellbinding.” —Casey McQuiston, New York Times bestselling author of Red, White & Royal Blue

The Last Magician meets The Lady’s Guide to Petticoats and Piracy in this thrilling and atmospheric historical fantasy following a young woman who discovers she has magical powers and is thrust into a battle between witches and wizards.

In 1911 New York City, seventeen-year-old Frances Hallowell spends her days as a seamstress, mourning the mysterious death of her brother months prior. Everything changes when she’s attacked and a man ends up dead at her feet—her scissors in his neck, and she can’t explain how they got there.

Before she can be condemned as a murderess, two cape-wearing nurses arrive to inform her she is deathly ill and ordered to report to Haxahaven Sanitarium. But Frances finds Haxahaven isn’t a sanitarium at all: it’s a school for witches. Within Haxahaven’s glittering walls, Frances finds the sisterhood she craves, but the headmistress warns Frances that magic is dangerous. Frances has no interest in the small, safe magic of her school, and is instead enchanted by Finn, a boy with magic himself who appears in her dreams and tells her he can teach her all she’s been craving to learn, lessons that may bring her closer to discovering what truly happened to her brother.

Frances’s newfound power attracts the attention of the leader of an ancient order who yearns for magical control of Manhattan. And who will stop at nothing to have Frances by his side. Frances must ultimately choose what matters more, justice for her murdered brother and her growing feelings for Finn, or the safety of her city and fellow witches. What price would she pay for power, and what if the truth is more terrible than she ever imagined?

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In My Dreams I Hold a Knife
by Ashley Winstead

Sara’s Pick #2: If we're being honest, no one likes school reunions. It’s just a chance to watch everyone you hated or ignored in school get older and more successful before heading off to commiserate with your friends at the bar. For Jessica Miller, her college reunion is even more complicated—hers involves an unsolved murder. Jessica and her friends learn that someone is determined to find out who killed Heather ten years ago, and they have to confront what they did, and who they were, on that dark and fateful night. Full of intrigue, secrets, and some haunting reveals, IN MY DREAMS I HOLD A KNIFE will make shivers run up your spine, and make you think twice about RSVPing to your own reunion.

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In My Dreams I Hold a Knife
Ashley Winstead

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August Most Anticipated: 16 Satisfying End-of-Summer Reads

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The Shimmering State
by Meredith Westgate

Emily’s Pick #4: I’m a huge fan of Black Mirror, so I loved having my mind blown by THE SHIMMERING STATE. Memoroxin is an experimental new drug designed to treat memory issues. This propulsive drama follows two people who witness various uses (and abuses) of the drug. Lucien, living in LA, watches the results as his grandmother takes it for her Alzheimer’s. And Sophie, a ballet dancer, witnesses the abuse of “Mem” in the world of Hollywood. But the story really takes off when Lucien and Sophie end up at the same recovery center and have no memory of how they got there. Exploring the powerful forces of memory, manipulation, and storytelling, especially the tales we tell ourselves, this one is a surefire hit for any dystopian or speculative fiction fans.

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The Shimmering State
Meredith Westgate

“Cinematic, dreamlike, at times brutal yet poignant.” —Frances Cha, author of If I Had Your Face

“Meredith Westgate has an extraordinary ear, not only for the stories we tell ourselves in order to live, but for the ways that we endlessly revise them to suit the new selves we continue to construct.” —Adam Wilson, author of Sensation Machines

A luminous literary debut following two patients in recovery after an experimental memory drug warps their lives.

Lucien moves to Los Angeles to be with his grandmother as she undergoes an experimental memory treatment for Alzheimer’s using a new drug, Memoroxin. An emerging photographer, he’s also running from the sudden death of his mother, a well-known artist whose legacy haunts him even far from New York.

Sophie has just landed the lead in the upcoming performance of La Sylphide with the Los Angeles Ballet. She still waitresses during her off-hours at the Chateau Marmont, witnessing the recreational use of Memoroxin—or Mem—among the Hollywood elite.

When Lucien and Sophie meet at the Center, founded by the ambitious yet conflicted Dr. Angelica Sloane to treat patients who’ve abused Mem, they have no memory of how they got there—or why they feel so inexplicably drawn to one another. Is it attraction, or something they cannot remember from “before”?

Set in a city that seems to have no memory of its own, The Shimmering State is a graceful meditation on the power of story and its creation. It masterfully explores memory and how it can elude us, trap us, or even set us free.

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The Eternal Audience of One
by Rémy Ngamije

Sharon’s Pick #2: Rémy Ngamije is poised to become one of the freshest voices in literature this year with THE ETERNAL AUDIENCE OF ONE, a humorous yet moving coming-of-age story about identity, migration, race, and war. Readers follow Séraphin, a playlist-making Rwandan living in Windhoek, Namibia, who seeks independence from his stifling surroundings. He leaves Namibia for Cape Town, South Africa, where he embarks on a journey filled with parties, race controversies, and adventurous conquests, all while he reconciles with his past and attempts to earn a degree from a prestigious university.

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The Eternal Audience of One
Rémy Ngamije

The Eternal Audience of One is laugh-out-loud funny with writing that is sometimes so beautiful that it dances off the page—to a millennial beat—in perfect tempo with its tales of migration, love, loss, and friendship.—Sarah Ladipo Manyika, author of In Dependence

Reminiscent of Zadie Smith and Michael Chabon, thisgorgeous, wildly funny and, above all, profoundly moving and humane” (Peter Orner, author of Am I Alone Here) coming-of-age tale follows a young man who is forced to flee his homeland of Rwanda during the Civil War and make sense of his reality.

Nobody ever makes it to the start of a story, not even the people in it. The most one can do is make some sort of start and then work toward some kind of ending.

One might as well start with Séraphin: playlist-maker, nerd-jock hybrid, self-appointed merchant of cool, Rwandan, stifled and living in Windhoek, Namibia. Soon he will leave the confines of his family life for the cosmopolitan city of Cape Town, in South Africa, where loyal friends, hormone-saturated parties, adventurous conquests, and race controversies await. More than that, his long-awaited final year in law school promises to deliver a crucial puzzle piece of the Great Plan immigrant: a degree from a prestigious university.

But a year is more than the sum of its parts, and en route to the future, the present must be lived through and even the past must be survived.

From one of Africa’s emerging literary voices comes a lyrical and piquant tale of family, migration, friendship, war, identity, and race following the intersecting lives of Séraphin and a host of eclectic characters from pre- and post-1994 Rwanda, colonial and post-independence Windhoek, Paris and Brussels in the 70s, Nairobi public schools, and the racially charged streets of Cape Town.

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MENTIONED IN:

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Damnation Spring
by Ash Davidson

Sharon’s Pick #3: DAMNATION SPRING by Ash Davidson caught my attention because of the buzz it generated among my coworkers. Its sweeping scope and the fact that this is Ash Davidson’s first novel make me highly intrigued to read it. It takes place in 1970s Northern California, in the world of Damnation Grove and the small logging-dependent town that borders it. Rich Gundersen, a logger working for the Sanderson Logging Company, wants a better life for his wife, young son, and himself; when he sees the opportunity to buy 24-7 Ridge, which lies beyond Damnation Grove, he purchases it with the family’s savings, unbeknown to his wife. When the environmental degradation caused by the logging company becomes increasingly evident, Rich’s plans for the ranch, his marriage, and his community are put at stake.

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Damnation Spring
Ash Davidson

An epic, immersive debut, Damnation Spring is the deeply human story of a Pacific Northwest logging town wrenched in two by a mystery that threatens to derail its way of life.

For generations, Rich Gundersen’s family has chopped a livelihood out of the redwood forest along California’s rugged coast. Now Rich and his wife, Colleen, are raising their own young son near Damnation Grove, a swath of ancient redwoods on which Rich’s employer, Sanderson Timber Co., plans to make a killing. In 1977, with most of the forest cleared or protected, a grove like Damnation—and beyond it 24-7 Ridge—is a logger’s dream.

It’s dangerous work. Rich has already lived decades longer than his father, killed on the job. Rich wants better for his son, Chub, so when the opportunity arises to buy 24-7 Ridge—costing them all the savings they’ve squirreled away for their growing family—he grabs it, unbeknownst to Colleen. Because the reality is their family isn’t growing; Colleen has lost several pregnancies. And she isn’t alone. As a midwife, Colleen has seen it with her own eyes.

For decades, the herbicides the logging company uses were considered harmless. But Colleen is no longer so sure. What if these miscarriages aren’t isolated strokes of bad luck? As mudslides take out clear-cut hillsides and salmon vanish from creeks, her search for answers threatens to unravel not just Rich’s plans for the 24-7, but their marriage too, dividing a town that lives and dies on timber along the way.

Told from the perspectives of Rich, Colleen, and Chub, in prose as clear as a spring-fed creek, this intimate, compassionate portrait of a community clinging to a vanishing way of life amid the perils of environmental degradation makes Damnation Spring an essential novel for our time.

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MENTIONED IN:

My 8 Favorite Audiobook Listens of 2021 (So Far)

By Kelly Dasta | September 17, 2021

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The People We Keep
by Allison Larkin

Emily’s Pick #5: As an amateur songwriter, I can’t wait to read this novel that explores the healing powers of music. Living in a small town in New York in 1994, young songwriter April Sawicki never felt at home in her father’s motorhome, won from gambling. On a whim, she drives off with no destination in mind, and winds up in a coffee shop in Ithaca where the people she meets begin to feel more like family than April’s ever known. Because she is still deeply scarred from her upbringing, April’s not sure if she’s able to trust and feel safe just yet, but music and creativity help her work through it. Music lovers are sure to enjoy this story, especially as author Allison Larkin ingeniously inserts April’s melodies to show us her inner turmoil, adding emotional color to a heartwarming, beautiful premise.

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The People We Keep
Allison Larkin

“Raw, surprising and ultimately uplifting, Allison Larkin’s The People We Keep will break your heart a million different ways before putting it back together again.” —Julia Claiborne Johnson, author of Be Frank with Me and Better Luck Next Time

The People We Keep is a “big-hearted and deeply moving novel” (Bruce Holsinger, author of The Gifted School) from the bestselling author of Stay and Swimming for Sunlight about a young songwriter longing to find a home in the world.

Little River, New York, 1994: April Sawicki is living in a motorless motorhome that her father won in a poker game. Failing out of school, picking up shifts at Margo’s diner, she’s left fending for herself in a town where she’s never quite felt at home. When she “borrows” her neighbor’s car to perform at an open mic night, she realizes her life could be much bigger than where she came from. After a fight with her dad, April packs her stuff and leaves for good, setting off on a journey to find a life that’s all hers.

Driving without a chosen destination, she stops to rest in Ithaca. Her only plan is to survive, but as she looks for work, she finds a kindred sense of belonging at Cafe Decadence, the local coffee shop. Still, somehow, it doesn’t make sense to her that life could be this easy. The more she falls in love with her friends in Ithaca, the more she can’t shake the feeling that she’ll hurt them the way she’s been hurt.

As April moves through the world, meeting people who feel like home, she chronicles her life in the songs she writes and discovers that where she came from doesn’t dictate who she has to be.

This lyrical, unflinching tale is for anyone who has ever yearned for the fierce power of found family or to grasp the profound beauty of choosing to belong.

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MENTIONED IN:

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Where the Truth Lies
by Anna Bailey

Heather’s Pick #2: Suspense novels make perfect beach-blanket reads, so I also plan to gobble up Anna Bailey’s WHERE THE TRUTH LIES on my upcoming vacation. Emma is haunted by the disappearance of her seventeen-year-old best friend, Abi, from a party in the woods. If she had been there, would Abi have made it home safely that night? Determined to help find her friend, Emma starts making inquiries around the small town of Whistling Ridge, Colorado, that get the secretive residents all riled up. Not only does she learn surprising things about Abi’s brothers and parents, but she comes to see a whole other side of the friend she thought she knew so well. Then there are the influential members of the community who may have their own connections to the case . . . Emma’s quest for answers and the drama it stirs up will keep you glued to the page.

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Where the Truth Lies
Anna Bailey

When a teenaged girl disappears from an insular small town, all of the community’s most devastating secrets come to light in this stunningly atmospheric and slow-burning suspense novel—perfect for fans of Megan Miranda and Celeste Ng.

The town of Whistling Ridge guards its secrets.

When seventeen-year-old Abigail goes missing, her best friend Emma, compelled by the guilt of leaving her alone at a party in the woods, sets out to discover the truth about what happened. The police initially believe Abi ran away, but Emma doesn't believe that her friend would leave without her, and when officers find disturbing evidence in the nearby woods, the festering secrets and longstanding resentment of both Abigail’s family and the people of Whistling Ridge, Colorado begin to surface with devastating consequences.

Among those secrets: Abi's older brother Noah’s passionate, dangerous love for the handsome Rat, a recently arrived Romanian immigrant who has recently made his home in the trailer park in town; her younger brother Jude's feeling that he knows information he should tell the police, if only he could put it into words; Abi's father's mercurial, unpredictable rages and her mother's silence. Then there is the rest of Whistling Ridge, where a charismatic preacher advocates for God's love in language that mirrors violence, under the sway of the powerful businessman who rules the town, insular and wary of outsiders.

But Abi had secrets, too, and the closer Emma grows to unraveling the past, the farther she feels from her friend. And in a tinder box of small-town rage, and all it will take is just one spark—the truth of what really happened that night—to change their community forever.

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MENTIONED IN:

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Photo credit: Simon & Schuster

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