Another month has rolled around and, with it, the many continuing stresses and fears affecting our daily lives. So, we turn to books not only as an escape, although it can be that, but also as a strengthening and nourishing force that lend us warmth and endurance. Our favorite reads this month include a splash of young adult novels that run the gamut from dystopic to escapist, memoirs about family and aspiration and fighting for the lives of others, and—of course—a whole host of adult fiction that includes some squee-worthy romance, deeply-felt lit-fic, sweeping historical arcs, and much more.
Gifty is an independent and sometimes lonely PhD student in Stanford’s neurosciences doctoral program. Her most consistent companions these days are the mice on whom she runs experiments, trying to understand the links between depression and addiction, reward-seeking behavior and how it might be curtailed. There’s also Han, her lab partner, who always keeps the A/C on. When Gifty’s mother arrives from Alabama to stay with her for a while, she hopes she can help—but how, when her mother won’t talk to her about what ails her, or about the loss they both still mourn so keenly?
The Book of Two Ways
Dawn Edelstein’s career was derailed by her mother’s death when she was a graduate student. Taking care of her younger brother, only 13 at the time, took precedence, and Dawn left behind her studies in Egyptology and became a death doula instead, working in hospice with those nearing death. She married a physicist named Brian and had a child of her own. Years later, when Dawn survives a plane crash, two choices open up to her—return home, or take a flight to the site of her former studies and the man she left behind. Can she follow both? Sliding Doors fans will love Jodi Picoult’s newest novel.
A Deadly Education
The Scholomance is no Hogwarts: this dangerous magic school has a notorious graduation ceremony full of magic-eating monsters. Galadriel “El” Higgins knows this firsthand: she was a fetus when her mother survived her own graduation with the help of her father, who died trying to make sure she made it out alive. Now El is attending the Scholomance, and she’s not well liked—her own powers tend to draw on other people’s life forces, plus she’s kind of a bitch and proud of it. So why is Orion, the popular kid, trying to save her life all the time?
Daughter, Mother, and Ama are three generations of Taiwanese women whose lives in the U.S. bear the scars of multiple forms of violence—but there is more than violence in their histories, and more to read in their scars than its inception. Daughter is falling in love with Ben, who helps her find the stories her Ama—her mother’s mother—never told her. Mother tries to balance the harms done to her and the ones she has witnessed with the stories that she tells her children to keep the memories of power and beauty alive as well. In their bodies, myths come alive.
A Knock at Midnight
Brittany K. Barnett
Brittany K. Barnett was no stranger to the way the American criminal justice system treated Black people, but when she started law school, she intended to go into corporate law. Except that a case she learned about in a criminal law course stuck with her: Sharanda Jones, sentenced to life in prison without parole for a first-time drug offense. Barnett did begin working at a corporate law firm in 2011, but on the side, worked on Jones’s case and others. In this memoir, she shares the various methods she tried, and her arrival at the advocacy work she does now.
When Timothy Snyder was hospitalized in late December of 2019, he waited for hours in the ER, symptoms worsening, before finally being diagnosed and rushed into an emergency surgery. After that, through five hospitals over the course of three months, he took notes on his care—or lack thereof—as he passed through one doctor after another, as well as the early stirrings of the pandemic. But the most serious sickness he witnessed was that which afflicts American healthcare: the placing of profit over human life, dignity, and actual treatment. In this impassioned critique, he examines also our failings at containing COVID-19.
A Rogue of One’s Own
Lady Lucie Tedbury has just bought as many shares as she can in London Print, publisher of a women’s magazine, and is planning to use the press to publish materials disputing the Married Women’s Property Act along with her suffragist friends. The catch? The rest of the shares have been snapped up by Lord Tristan Ballentine, her old nemesis. Tristan needs to make the publisher profitable and escape his parents’ control, and certainly can’t let Lucie publish the dross she wishes to—or maybe he will, but only if she agrees to share his bed. Is the price too steep?
The Big Door Prize
M. O. Walsh
Deerfield, Louisiana is the kind of small town where people know one another’s names and where people are supposed to be satisfied with their lot. When the DNAMIX machine arrives in the town grocery store, it promises to give people a new lease on life: give it a swab of DNA, and the machine reveals a person’s potential. Soon, many of the townsfolk are quitting their jobs—from mayor to schoolteacher—in order to fulfill destinies as vague as “royalty” and “cowboy.” Why not dream big for once? But dreams don’t make a reality, and community might be stronger than individual ambitions.
What Can I Do?
Jane Fonda, like many of us, is aware of the brink of disaster upon which we’re teetering. Climate change is here and has been for some time. In order to tip the scales, save the earth and countless species from further destruction, and save possibly billions of human lives as well, we must act NOW, decisively, quickly. Fonda, a lifelong activist, knows the issue doesn’t exist in isolation—in order to enact change, we must also fight racism, misogyny, and colonialism, alongside our own despair. Fonda is on the front lines and is inviting us to join her as well.
American Royals II: Majesty
In a U.S. that has a royal family, King George IV has just died, and his oldest child becomes the first all-American queen—long live Queen Beatrice! Her first order of business is to get married, and though she’s engaged to the Duke of Boston’s son, she’s in love with a commoner. Beatrice also has to keep an eye on her twin siblings, Princess Samantha, always busy partying, and Prince Jefferson, who used to date Beatrice’s best friend Nina, and whose prior annoying ex Daphne is trying to win him back. Queening isn’t all it’s cracked up to be!
Vernell LaQuan Banks and Justyce McAllister are best friends who grew up in Wynwood Heights in Southwest Atlanta. Justyce ends up going to college at Yale, while Quan is at the Fulton Regional Youth Detention Center. How did Quan get there? The simple answer: an un-justice system that Quan witnesses punishing a 12-year-old Black boy with a year behind bars for “associating with” gang members, that lets a white 17-year-old who stabbed his father walk free after 60 days. But there is Quan’s own inner world too, his hopes, his hurts, his particular personhood—and his sustaining friendship with Justyce.
When Colombian immigrant Valentina González Ramirez was younger, the president won a third term, implanted ID chips in citizens, and increased deportation raids even further while building the Great American Wall along the border of the U.S. and Mexico. It’s 2032 now, Vali is a teenager, and her mother’s counterfeit chip—implanted because the family is undocumented, which is almost impossible to be anymore—has started malfunctioning. The good-ish news is that California has recently seceded and become a sanctuary, and Vali, her mother, and younger brother decide their best bet is to make the harrowing cross-country journey there from Vermont.
Born Ursula Kuczynski, given the code name Sonya, and later, writing children’s books and memoirs in German under the name Ruth Werner, the subject of this book sure lived a long and fascinating life. Ursula became a devoted communist as a teenager and began working as a spy for the Soviet Union in 1930. She was never caught, though many foreign agencies searched for her. Her crowning achievement was also perhaps the one she became most conflicted about—helping the USSR gain scientific knowledge for building the atom bomb. In this nonfiction thriller, follow her adventures and exploits as she exercised her formidable power.
Before the Ever After
ZJ has always been in his dad’s shadow, but then again, nearly anyone who comes into his light would be. Zachariah 44 is a star football player with millions of fans all across the country. At home, though, ZJ has always known that his dad puts him first. Recently, though, the 12-year-old ZJ is beginning to wonder if he really does come first. His dad is getting headaches all the time, he’s moody and angry and forgetting things. As the family tries to find answers from doctors, ZJ has to come to terms with mourning a father who is still there. Though this novel is for ages 10 and up, it will resonate with older readers as well as younger ones.
A Brooklyn-based writer arrives in Wannsee, a suburb of Berlin, Germany, that just so happens to be where the Nazi Party planned the Final Solution, for a prestigious fellowship that’s meant to give him time to finally work on his book examining the self in literature. But even with time and space, the writer can’t concentrate, instead becoming obsessed with Blue Lives, a violent cop show that he begins to binge-watch, bleakly losing hope in the purpose of his own writing altogether. When he meets the creator of Blue Lives, he starts becoming convinced that the show is brainwashing viewers into the alt-right.
Me and Sister Bobbie
It’s nearly impossible that you haven’t heard of Willie Nelson, legendary country and blues singer. It’s likely that if you’re a fan of Willie’s, you know that he calls his backup band “the Family.” What you might not know was that he gave the band that name only when his older sister, Bobbie, joined. The siblings have always been close, but this is the first time Bobbie tells her story as well, alongside Willie’s. A talented musician herself, Bobbie had obstacles in her career path: abusive relationships, loss of custody of her children. But music, love, and family ultimately prevail.
Fifty Words for Rain
Noriko Kamiza is the child of an affair between a Black American soldier and the daughter of an aristocratic Japanese family. In 1948, Nori is left with her grandparents, her mother’s parting words giving her little comfort. Nori’s grandparents are appalled by her illegitimate birth and by her skin tone, which, they believe, reveals her origins. They put her through painful bleaching baths, lock her in the attic, and eventually sell her to a brothel. But Nori is not as alone as she thinks: her older half-brother, Akira, becomes a powerful ally in her struggle for dignity and freedom.
The Midnight Library
Nora Seed’s cat has died, she’s lost her job, and she has no real relationships with her family and friends anymore. Depressed, she overdoses on her antidepressants, and wakes up not in a hospital, nor in some blissful or punishing afterlife, but in a rather peculiar library. A library full of books that contain versions of her own life. She can try them on, the librarian tells her, by opening the books and entering those lives. She can change her career, her relationship history, realize old dreams—but will any of these other lives make her happy?
Eat a Peach
Momofuku is a well-known and global culinary brand (14 restaurants, a catering business, and various other ventures including the also-famous Milk Bar and its yummy desserts) but it could have ended up a total flop, as chef, owner, and founder David Chang knows, because starting a restaurant is one of the riskier business ventures a person can undertake. In this candid memoir, Chang describes his upbringing in Virginia, the spark that led him to a future in food that came in the wake of his first manic episode in Japan, and the pitfalls and joys along the way to success.
The Evening and the Morning
In a prequel to Ken Follett’s famous Pillars of the Earth, the forces of ambition, religion, and love clash in epic proportions once again. Just before the turn of the first millennium, the Welsh and the Vikings are attacking England from different directions, leading our main characters to cluster near the tiny hamlet of Dreng’s Ferry, where the ferryman, Dreng, wields his power cruelly as can be. A young man named Edgar loses his beloved to a raid, a pious monk named Aldred pines for another man, a French noblewoman named Ragna marries a local—and this is just the beginning.