Fall is just around the corner, so soak up these last few weeks of summer with a fun vacation and showstopping new-to-paperback read this August. Whether you’re escaping to a remote island or returning to your old hometown this summer, you’ll love having these characters follow you on your journey, wherever it may lead. With plenty of cathartic plots, imaginative settings, and inspirational characters, these titles are bound to serve up one more memorable summer read before your cramped fall schedule brings you back down to earth.
WHAT COULD BE SAVED alternates timelines, revealing in masterful prose both an astute family portrait and a heart-pounding mystery. One timeline in 2019 follows Laura Preston, who is shocked when a man claiming to be her long-lost brother requests a meeting. But the secrets as to what exactly happened to Laura’s brother reside in 1972 Bangkok, leading to the second timeline. Laura’s mother, Genevieve Preston, settles her family into a secluded estate in Bangkok and grows restless with her husband gone all the time working in American intelligence. As Genevieve tries to replicate the life she had in America, the world outside her walls threatens to break through, bringing out culture shock as the family deals with trauma and loss.
When a mysterious man claims to be her long-missing brother, a woman must confront her family’s closely guarded secrets in this “delicious hybrid of mystery, drama, and elegance” (Jodi Picoult, #1 New York Times bestselling author).
Washington, DC, 2019: Laura Preston is a reclusive artist at odds with her older sister Beatrice as their elegant, formidable mother slowly slides into dementia. When a stranger contacts Laura claiming to be her brother who disappeared forty years earlier when the family lived in Bangkok, Laura ignores Bea’s warnings of a scam and flies to Thailand to see if it can be true. But meeting him in person leads to more questions than answers.
Bangkok, 1972: Genevieve and Robert Preston live in a beautiful house behind a high wall, raising their three children with the help of a cadre of servants. In these exotic surroundings, Genevieve strives to create a semblance of the life they would have had at home in the US—ballet and riding classes for the children, impeccable dinner parties, a meticulously kept home. But in truth, Robert works for American intelligence, Genevieve finds herself drawn into a passionate affair with her husband’s boss, and their serene household is vulnerable to unseen dangers in a rapidly changing world and a country they don’t really understand.
Alternating between past and present as all of the secrets are revealed, What Could Be Saved is an unforgettable novel about a family broken by loss and betrayal, and “a richly imagined page-turner that delivers twists alongside thought-provoking commentary” (Kirkus Reviews).
In this wise and funny debut novel, Ariel is shocked to learn that her mother’s animal sanctuary in Western Kansas has not only suffered anti-Semitic hate crimes but is also up for sale. Despite having been estranged from her mother and her hometown for six years, Ariel knows she must return, even though it means leaving her fiancé, Dex. What she doesn’t expect, however, is to find her first love, a farmhand, still working at the animal sanctuary. When Dex comes looking for her, Ariel will have to decide where she is meant to be.
From the winner of the 2016 Flannery O’Connor Award for Short Fiction comes a “heartwarming and sharp-witted debut” (Publishers Weekly, starred review) set over one emotionally charged weekend at an animal sanctuary in western Kansas, where maternal, romantic, and community bonds are tested in the wake of an estranged daughter’s homecoming.
The Bright Side Sanctuary for Animals is in trouble.
It’s late 2016 when Ariel discovers that her mother Mona’s animal sanctuary in Western Kansas has not only been the target of anti-Semitic hate crimes—but that it’s also for sale, due to hidden financial ruin. Ariel, living a new life in progressive Lawrence, and estranged from her mother for six long years, knows she has to return to her childhood home—especially since her own past may have played a role in the attack on the sanctuary. Ariel expects tension, maybe even fury, but she doesn’t anticipate that her first love, a ranch hand named Gideon, will still be working at Bright Side.
Back in Lawrence, Ariel’s charming but hapless fiancé, Dex, grows paranoid about her sudden departure. After uncovering Mona’s address, he sets out to confront Ariel, but instead finds her grappling with the life she’s abandoned. Amid the reparations with her mother, it’s clear that Ariel is questioning the meaning of her life in Lawrence, and whether she belongs with Dex or someone else, somewhere else.
Acclaimed writer Pam Houston says that “Mandelbaum is wise beyond her years and twice as talented,” and The Bright Side Sanctuary for Animals poignantly explores the unique love and tension between mothers and daughters, and humans and animals alike. “A story of reconciliation and forgiveness (and so many animals)” (Steven Rowley, bestselling author of Lily and the Octopus), Mandelbaum’s debut offers a panoramic view of the meaning of home and reminds us that love provides refuge, and underscores our similarities as human beings, no matter how alone or far apart we may feel.
California is the only home Emilio has ever known, but when he discovers that he is undocumented, he knows continuing with life as normal won’t be possible. Then, when he’s two years into earning a degree at UC Berkeley, a car accident tosses him into the hands of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, who have him deported to Guatemala. Determined to make it back home, Emilio sets out on a journey that leads him thousands of miles to the border in this heart-pounding, visceral adventure.
This “harrowing, heartbreaking story” (Kirkus Reviews) depicts the epic journey of a young Guatemalan American college student, a “dreamer,” who gets deported and decides to make his way back home to California.
One day, Emilio learns the shocking secret: he is undocumented. His parents, who emigrated from Guatemala to California, had never told him.
Emilio slowly adjusts to his new normal. All is going well, he’s in his second year at UC Berkeley...then he gets into a car accident, and—without a driver’s license or any ID—the policeman on the scene reports him to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).
Once deported to Guatemala, Emilio is determined to get back to California, the only home he has ever known. It is an epic journey that takes him across thousands of miles and eventually the Sonoran Desert of the United States-Mexico border, meeting thieves and corrupt law enforcement but also kind strangers and new friends.
Inspired in part by interviews with Central American refugees, and told in lyrical prose, Micheline Aharonian Marcom weaves a “powerful, heartbreaking” (Publishers Weekly) tale of adventure. In The New American, Marcom “depicts inhumanity with visceral force, but her bracing empathy (and hope) shines above all” (Entertainment Weekly). This is a compassionate story of one young man who risks so much to return home.
ORDINARY HAZARDS is a masterful and poignant debut that will appeal to fans of Celeste Ng. Emma, a successful businesswoman who left her hometown years ago, has returned to the local bar at 5 p.m. on a Wednesday. As she and the chaotic group of regulars descend into a booze-fueled night of catching up, the secrets of Emma’s past emerge and a series of decisions that all occur in that one night will reveal why Emma has returned and the lengths she is willing to go to retrieve what she once lost.
For fans of Celeste Ng and Mary Beth Keane comes an impeccably paced and transfixing debut novel that “vividly renders the messiness of a single human life in all its joy and heartbreak” (Claire Lombardo, New York Times bestselling author).
It’s 5 p.m. on a Wednesday when Emma settles into her hometown bar with a motley crew of locals, all unaware that a series of decisions over the course of a single night is about to change their lives forever. As the evening unfolds, key details about Emma’s history emerge, and the past comes bearing down on her like a freight train.
Why has Emma, a powerhouse in the business world, ended up here? What is she running away from? And what is she willing to give up to recapture the love she once cherished?
A “crisp, haunting, and intelligent” (Stephen Markley, author of Ohio) exploration of modern love, guilt, and the place we call home, Ordinary Hazards follows one woman’s epic journey back to a life worth living.
In this gorgeous and shattering memoir, Nadia Owusu recounts her nomadic childhood as the daughter of a United Nations official and her young adulthood in New York. Not only was Nadia sent back and forth between Europe and Africa during her childhood, but also her unstable mother was always spontaneously dipping in and out of her life. After her father dies suddenly, her stepmother reveals more dark family secrets that may or may not be true, leaving Nadia to pick up the pieces of her and her siblings’ lives as they grow up together, yet feeling apart.
In the tradition of The Glass Castle, this “gorgeous” (The New York Times, Editors’ Choice) and deeply felt memoir from Whiting Award winner Nadia Owusu tells the “incredible story” (Malala Yousafzai) about the push and pull of belonging, the seismic emotional toll of family secrets, and the heart it takes to pull through.
“In Aftershocks, Nadia Owusu tells the incredible story of her young life. How does a girl—abandoned by her mother at age two and orphaned at thirteen when her beloved father dies—find her place in the world? This memoir is the story of Nadia creating her own solid ground across countries and continents. I know the struggle of rebuilding your life in an unfamiliar place. While some of you might be familiar with that and some might not, I hope you’ll take as much inspiration and hope from her story as I did.” —MALALA YOUSAFZAI
ONE OF THE BEST BOOKS OF 2021 SELECTED BY VULTURE AND TIME MAGAZINE!
Young Nadia Owusu followed her father, a United Nations official, from Europe to Africa and back again. Just as she and her family settled into a new home, her father would tell them it was time to say their goodbyes. The instability wrought by Nadia’s nomadic childhood was deepened by family secrets and fractures, both lived and inherited. Her Armenian American mother, who abandoned Nadia when she was two, would periodically reappear, only to vanish again. Her father, a Ghanaian, the great hero of her life, died when she was thirteen. After his passing, Nadia’s stepmother weighed her down with a revelation that was either a bombshell secret or a lie, rife with shaming innuendo.
With these and other ruptures, Nadia arrived in New York as a young woman feeling stateless, motherless, and uncertain about her future, yet eager to find her own identity. What followed, however, were periods of depression in which she struggled to hold herself and her siblings together.
“A magnificent, complex assessment of selfhood and why it matters” (Elle), Aftershocks depicts the way she hauled herself from the wreckage of her life’s perpetual quaking, the means by which she has finally come to understand that the only ground firm enough to count on is the one written into existence by her own hand.
“Full of narrative risk and untrammeled lyricism” (The Washington Post), Aftershocks joins the likes of Don’t Let’s Go to the Dogs Tonight and William Styron’s Darkness Visible, and does for race identity what Maggie Nelson does for gender identity in The Argonauts.
In this novel, the eclectic Brooklyn neighborhood of Cobble Hill has plenty of colorful characters: ex-groupie Mandy, who is determined to regain her ex-band member husband Stuart’s attention by faking a disease; Peaches, the unconventional school nurse on whom Stuart has a crush; Roy, a famed British novelist who can’t seem to write a new novel or figure out his mysterious wife; and Tupper, the anxious industrial designer who collects prosthetic limbs. Together, these characters and others clash and come together in this clever and tender novel by the author of the Gossip Girl series.
The #1 New York Times bestselling author of the Gossip Girl series brings her sharp-eyed and irresistible wit to this “quirky novel of lovable misfits” (Publishers Weekly) chronicling a year in the lives of four families in an upscale Brooklyn neighborhood as they seek purpose and community—until one unforgettable night at a raucous neighborhood party knocks them to their senses.
Welcome to Cobble Hill.
In this eclectic Brooklyn neighborhood, private storms brew amongst four married couples and their children. There’s ex-groupie Mandy, so underwhelmed by motherhood and her current physical state that she fakes a debilitating disease to get the attention of her skateboarding, ex-boyband member husband Stuart. There’s the unconventional new school nurse, Peaches, on whom Stuart has an unrequited crush, and her disappointing husband Greg, who wears noise-cancelling headphones—everywhere.
A few blocks away, Roy, a well-known, newly transplanted British novelist, has lost the thread of his next novel and his marriage to indefatigable Wendy. Around the corner, Tupper, the nervous, introverted industrial designer with a warehouse full of prosthetic limbs struggles to pin down his elusive artist wife Elizabeth. Throw in two hormonal teenagers, a ten-year-old pyromaniac, a drug dealer pretending to be a doctor, and a lot of hidden cameras, and you’ve got a combustible mix of egos, desires, and secrets bubbling in brownstone Brooklyn.
“Breezy, witty, and compulsively fun to read” (Kirkus Reviews), Cobble Hill is highly entertaining portrait of contemporary family life and the colorful characters who call Brooklyn home.
TROUBLE THE SAINTS is a startling alternate history and unsparing love story set in a gritty New York City on the brink of World War II. Phyllis is a young Black woman from Harlem who becomes embroiled in Manhattan’s underworld, where she’s hired to work as an assassin. Years later, she finds herself isolated from her past, her dreams, and her lover. Nevertheless, the history of what she’s done threatens to overwhelm her and those she cares about, unless she can push herself to the brink and prevent what she dreads most. While Phyllis’s story is the main one, we also see two other alternating storylines, altogether providing a thought-provoking novel that explores racial conflicts, various manifestations of guilt, and the pursuit of happiness.
In this beautifully wrought memoir about coping with grief, Rachel Brathen recounts the three years after her best friend’s sudden death. Although Rachel and Andrea looked nothing alike, their intense friendship had always seemed magical. And when Rachel is taken to the hospital with mysterious pain in her abdomen only to discover that at the same time Andrea was killed in a car accident, Rachel knows it’s true. In the years that follow, Rachel gets married, struggles through childhood traumas, becomes pregnant, and learns how to love fiercely even after loss.
“Rachel beautifully illustrates that loving fiercely and grieving deeply are often two halves of the same whole. Her story will break you down and lift you up.” —Glennon Doyle, author of the #1 New York Times bestseller Love Warrior and founder of Together Rising
While on her way to teach a yoga retreat in March 2014, Rachel Brathen collapses at an airport, brought to her knees by excruciating stomach pains. She is rushed to the hospital on the tiny island of Bonaire, and hours later forced to undergo surgery. When she wakes up from anesthesia, her boyfriend is weeping at her bedside. While Rachel was struck down with seemingly mysterious pain, her best friend, Andrea, sustained fatal injuries as a result of a car accident. Rachel and Andrea had a magical friendship. Though they looked nothing alike—one girl tall, blond, and Swedish, the other short, brunette, and Colombian—everyone called them gemelas: twins.
Over the three years following Andrea’s death, at what might appear from the outside to be the happiest time—with her engagement to the man she loves and a blossoming career that takes her all over the world—Rachel faces a series of trials that have the potential to define her life. Unresolved grief and trauma from her childhood make the weight of her sadness unbearable. At each turn, she is confronted again and again with a choice: Will she lose it all, succumb to grief, and grasp for control that’s beyond her reach? Or can she move through the loss and let go?
When Rachel and her husband conceive a child, pregnancy becomes a time to heal and an opportunity to be reborn herself. As she recounts this transformative period, Rachel shares her hard-won wisdom about life and death, love and fear, what it means to be a mother and a daughter, and how to become someone who walks through the fire of adversity with the never-ending practice of loving hard and letting go.
The wedding of the year is about to occur on a remote island off the coast of Ireland. The groom is a handsome and charming television star, and the bride is an ambitious magazine publisher. As the night gets going and the groomsmen begin playing an old drinking game, tensions and long-hidden secrets rise to the surface. But when someone turns up dead, the trapped guests must uncover who truly didn’t wish the couple well. THE GUEST LIST is an atmospheric thriller perfect for fans of Agatha Christie’s AND THEN THERE WERE NONE.
Rory works at her stepfather’s stable, giving rides to rich clientele in the early 1990s. It’s there that she catches the attention of the proud, confident June, but Rory can’t stop watching the wealthy girl Vivian who lives nearby. After a terrible accident that leaves Rory’s stepfather forever wounded and guilty, Rory’s relationships with June and Vivian become increasingly tense, and she begins to find a life independent of the stable she’s known. And when a forest fire rips through the area, everything simmering beneath the surface of Rory’s life will finally come to a head.
Named a most anticipated novel by Oprah Daily, Vogue, Parade, The Millions, and Electric Lit • A Reader’s Digest Quarantine Book Club Pick • Longlisted for the Center for Fiction First Novel Prize
A “rugged and ravishing” (Oprah Daily) debut novel of desire, betrayal, and loss, centering on three teenage girls, a horse ranch, and the accident that changes everything.
It’s 1993, and Rory Ramos works as a ranch hand at the stable her stepfather manages in Topanga Canyon, California, a dry, dusty place reliant on horses and hierarchies. There she rides for the rich clientele, including twins June and Wade Fisk. While Rory draws the interest of out-and-proud June, she’s more intrigued by Vivian Price, the beautiful girl with the movie-star father who lives down the hill. Rory keeps largely separate from the likes of the Prices—but, perched on her bedroom windowsill, Rory steals glimpses of Vivian swimming in her pool nearly every night.
After Rory’s stepfather is involved in a tragic car accident, the lives of Rory, June, and Vivian become inextricably bound together. Rory discovers photography, begins riding more competitively, and grows closer to seductive, mercurial Vivian, but despite her newfound sense of self, disaster lurks all around her in this “exquisite exploration of hurt and desire” (Jeannette Walls): in the parched landscape, in her unruly longings, in her stepfather’s wrecked body and guilty conscience. One night, as the relationships among these teenagers come to a head, a forest fire tears through the canyon, and Rory’s life is changed forever.
Narrated by Rory’s daughter, Charlie, in 2015, more than twenty years after that fateful fire, Kept Animals is “gorgeous, sensual...an event-packed novel of class, desire, [and] coming-of-age” (The New York Times Book Review).
Photo credit: iStock / patpitchaya