Books are one of the best antidotes to isolation and social distancing. Here are some new books to add to your ever-growing TBR pile this month.
1. All Adults Here by Emma Straub
When Astrid Strick witnesses a school bus accident in the center of town, it jostles loose a repressed memory from her young parenting days decades earlier. Suddenly, Astrid realizes she was not quite the parent she thought she’d been to her three, now-grown children. But to what consequence?
Astrid’s youngest son is drifting and unfocused, making parenting mistakes of his own. Her daughter is intentionally pregnant yet struggling to give up her own adolescence. And her eldest seems to measure his adult life according to standards no one else shares. But who gets to decide, so many years later, which long-ago lapses were the ones that mattered? Who decides which apologies really count? It might be that only Astrid’s thirteen-year-old granddaughter and her new friend really understand the courage it takes to tell the truth to the people you love the most.
In All Adults Here, Emma Straub’s unique alchemy of wisdom, humor, and insight come together in a deeply satisfying story about adult siblings, aging parents, high school boyfriends, middle school mean girls, the lifelong effects of birth order, and all the other things that follow us into adulthood, whether we like them to or not.
2. The Hilarious World of Depression by John Moe
For years John Moe, critically-acclaimed public radio personality and host of The Hilarious World of Depression podcast, struggled with depression; it plagued his family and claimed the life of his brother in 2007. As Moe came to terms with his own illness, he began to see similar patterns of behavior and coping mechanisms surfacing in conversations with others, including high-profile comedians who’d struggled with the disease. Moe saw that there was tremendous comfort and community in open dialogue about these shared experiences and that humor had a unique power. Thus was born the podcast The Hilarious World of Depression.
Inspired by the immediate success of the podcast, Moe has written a remarkable investigation of the disease, part memoir of his own journey, part treasure trove of laugh-out-loud stories and insights drawn from years of interviews with some of the most brilliant minds facing similar challenges. Throughout the course of this powerful narrative, depression’s universal themes come to light, among them, struggles with identity, lack of understanding of the symptoms, the challenges of work-life, self-medicating, the fallout of the disease in the lives of our loved ones, the tragedy of suicide, and the hereditary aspects of the disease.
The Hilarious World of Depression illuminates depression in an entirely fresh and inspiring way.
3. The Lincoln Conspiracy: The Secret Plot to Kill America’s 16th President—and Why It Failed by Brad Meltzer, Josh Mensch
Everyone knows the story of Abraham Lincoln’s assassination in 1865, but few are aware of the original conspiracy to kill him four years earlier in 1861, literally on his way to Washington, DC, for his first inauguration.
The conspirators were part of a pro-Southern secret society that didn’t want an anti-slavery President in the White House. They planned an elaborate scheme to assassinate the brand new President in a Baltimore train station as Lincoln’s inauguration train passed through en route to the Capital. The plot was investigated by famed detective Allan Pinkerton, who infiltrated the group with undercover agents, including one of the first female private detectives in America. Had the assassination succeeded, there would have been no Lincoln Presidency, and the course of the Civil War and American history would have forever been altered.
The bestselling team that brought you The First Conspiracy now turns their attention to the story of the secret society that tried to kill Abraham Lincoln and the undercover detectives who foiled their plans.
4. Ghosts of Harvard by Francesca Serritella
Cadence Archer arrives on Harvard’s campus desperate to understand why her brother, Eric, a genius who developed paranoid schizophrenia took his own life there the year before. Losing Eric has left a black hole in Cady’s life, and while her decision to follow in her brother’s footsteps threatens to break her family apart, she is haunted by questions of what she might have missed. And there’s only one place to find answers.
As Cady struggles under the enormous pressure at Harvard, she investigates her brother’s final year, armed only with a blue notebook of Eric’s cryptic scribblings. She knew he had been struggling with paranoia, delusions, and illusory enemies—but what tipped him over the edge? With her suspicions mounting, Cady herself begins to hear voices, seemingly belonging to three ghosts who walked the university’s hallowed halls—or huddled in its slave quarters. Among them is a person whose name has been buried for centuries, and another whose name mankind will never forget.
Does she share Eric’s illness, or is she tapping into something else? Cady doesn’t know how or why these ghosts are contacting her, but as she is drawn deeper into their worlds, she believes they’re moving her closer to the truth about Eric, even as keeping them secret isolates her further. Will listening to these voices lead her to the one voice she craves—her brother’s—or will she follow them down a path to her own destruction?
5. Catherine House by Elisabeth Thomas
You are in the house and the house is in the woods.
You are in the house and the house is in you . . .
Catherine House is a school of higher learning like no other. Hidden deep in the woods of rural Pennsylvania, this crucible of reformist liberal arts study with its experimental curriculum, wildly selective admissions policy, and formidable endowment, has produced some of the world’s best minds: prize-winning authors, artists, inventors, Supreme Court justices, presidents. For those lucky few selected, tuition, room, and board are free. But acceptance comes with a price. Students are required to give the House three years—summers included—completely removed from the outside world. Family, friends, television, music, even their clothing must be left behind. In return, the school promises its graduates a future of sublime power and prestige, and that they can become anything or anyone they desire.
Among this year’s incoming class is Ines, who expects to trade blurry nights of parties, pills, cruel friends, and dangerous men for rigorous intellectual discipline—only to discover an environment of sanctioned revelry. The school’s enigmatic director, Viktória, encourages the students to explore, to expand their minds, to find themselves and their place within the formidable black iron gates of Catherine.
For Ines, Catherine is the closest thing to a home she’s ever had, and her serious, timid roommate, Baby, soon becomes an unlikely friend. Yet the House’s strange protocols make this refuge, with its worn velvet and weathered leather, feel increasingly like a gilded prison. And when Baby’s obsessive desire for acceptance ends in tragedy, Ines begins to suspect that the school—in all its shabby splendor, hallowed history, advanced theories, and controlled decadence—might be hiding a dangerous agenda that is connected to a secretive, tightly knit group of students selected to study its most promising and mysterious curriculum.
Combining the haunting sophistication and dusky, atmospheric style of Sarah Waters with the unsettling isolation of Kazuo Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go, Catherine House is a devious, deliciously steamy, and suspenseful page-turner with shocking twists and sharp edges that is sure to leave readers breathless.
6. Shakespeare for Squirrels by Christopher Moore
Set adrift by his pirate crew, Pocket of Dog Snogging—last seen in The Serpent of Venice—washes up on the sun-bleached shores of Greece, where he hopes to dazzle the Duke with his comedic brilliance and become his trusted fool.
But the island is in turmoil. Egeus, the Duke’s minister, is furious that his daughter Hermia is determined to marry Demetrius, instead of Lysander, the man he has chosen for her. The Duke decrees that if, by the time of the wedding, Hermia still refuses to marry Lysander, she shall be executed . . . or consigned to a nunnery. Pocket, being Pocket, cannot help but point out that this decree is complete bollocks, and that the Duke is an egregious weasel for having even suggested it. Irritated by the fool’s impudence, the Duke orders his death. With the Duke’s guards in pursuit, Pocket makes a daring escape.
He soon stumbles into the wooded realm of the fairy king Oberon, who, as luck would have it, IS short a fool. His jester Robin Goodfellow—the mischievous sprite better known as Puck—was found dead. Murdered. Oberon makes Pocket an offer he can’t refuse: he will make Pocket his fool and have his death sentence lifted if Pocket finds out who killed Robin Goodfellow. But as anyone who is even vaguely aware of the Bard’s most performed play ever will know, nearly every character has a motive for wanting the mischievous sprite dead.
With too many suspects and too little time, Pocket must work his own kind of magic to find the truth, save his neck, and ensure that all ends well.
A rollicking tale of love, magic, madness, and murder, Shakespeare for Squirrels is a Midsummer Night’s noir—a wicked and brilliantly funny good time conjured by the singular imagination of Christopher Moore.
7. The Library of Legends by Janie Chang
China, 1937. When Japanese bombs begin falling on the city of Nanking, nineteen-year-old Hu Lian and her classmates at Minghua University are ordered to flee. Lian and a convoy of students, faculty and staff must walk 1,000 miles to the safety of China’s western provinces, a journey marred by the constant threat of aerial attack. And it is not just the refugees who are at risk; Lian and her classmates have been entrusted with a priceless treasure: a 500-year-old collection of myths and folklore known as the Library of Legends.
The students’ common duty to safeguard the Library of Legends creates unexpected bonds. Lian becomes friends and forms a cautious romance with the handsome and wealthy Liu Shaoming. But after one classmate is arrested and another one is murdered, Lian realizes she must escape before a family secret puts her in danger too. Accompanied by Shao and his enigmatic maidservant, Sparrow, Lian makes her way to Shanghai in the hopes of reuniting with her mother.
During the journey, Lian learns of the connection between her two companions and a tale from the Library of Legends, The Willow Star and the Prince. This revelation comes with profound consequences, for as the ancient books travel across China, they awaken immortals and guardian spirits who embark on an exodus of their own, one that will change the country’s fate forever.
8. Daughter of the Reich by Louise Fein
As the dutiful daughter of a high-ranking Nazi officer, Hetty Heinrich is keen to play her part in the glorious new Thousand Year Reich. But she never imagines that all she believes and knows about her world will come into stark conflict when she encounters Walter, a friend from the past, who stirs dangerous feelings in her. Confused and conflicted, Hetty doesn’t know whom she can trust and where she can turn to, especially when she discovers that someone has been watching her.
Realizing she is taking a huge risk—but unable to resist the intense attraction she has for Walter—she embarks on a secret love affair with him. Together, they dream about when the war will be over and plan for their future. But as the rising tide of anti-Semitism threatens to engulf them, Hetty and Walter will be forced to take extreme measures.
Will the steady march of dark forces destroy Hetty’s universe—or can love ultimately triumph…?
Propulsive, deeply affecting, and inspired by the author’s family history, Daughter of the Reich is a mesmerizing page-turner filled with vivid characters and a meticulously researched portrait of Nazi Germany. A riveting story of passion, courage and morality, Louise Fein introduces a bold young woman determined to tread the treacherous path of survival and freedom, showing readers the strength in the power of love and reminding us that the past must never be forgotten.
9. The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes by Suzanne Collins
It is the morning of the reaping that will kick off the 10th annual Hunger Games. In the Capitol, 18-year-old Coriolanus Snow is preparing for his one shot at glory as a mentor in the Games. The once-mighty house of Snow has fallen on hard times, its fate hanging on the slender chance that Coriolanus will be able to out charm, outwit, and outmaneuver his fellow students to mentor the winning tribute.
The odds are against him. He’s been given the humiliating assignment of mentoring the female tribute from District 12, the lowest of the low. Their fates are now completely intertwined – every choice Coriolanus makes could lead to favor or failure, triumph or ruin. Inside the arena, it will be a fight to the death. Outside the arena, Coriolanus starts to feel for his doomed tribute… and must weigh his need to follow the rules against his desire to survive no matter what it takes.
10. Rodham by Curtis Sittenfeld
In 1971, Hillary Rodham is a young woman full of promise: Life magazine has covered her Wellesley commencement speech, she’s attending Yale Law School, and she’s on the forefront of student activism and the women’s rights movement. And then she meets Bill Clinton. A handsome, charismatic southerner and fellow law student, Bill is already planning his political career. In each other, the two find a profound intellectual, emotional, and physical connection that neither has previously experienced.
In the real world, Hillary followed Bill back to Arkansas, and he proposed several times; although she said no more than once, as we all know, she eventually accepted and became Hillary Clinton.
But in Curtis Sittenfeld’s powerfully imagined tour-de-force of fiction, Hillary takes a different road. Feeling doubt about the prospective marriage, she endures their devastating breakup and leaves Arkansas. Over the next four decades, she blazes her own trail—one that unfolds in public as well as in private, that involves crossing paths again (and again) with Bill Clinton, that raises questions about the tradeoffs all of us must make in building a life.
Brilliantly weaving a riveting fictional tale into actual historical events, Curtis Sittenfeld delivers an uncannily astute and witty story for our times. In exploring the loneliness, moral ambivalence, and iron determination that characterize the quest for political power, as well as both the exhilaration and painful compromises demanded of female ambition in a world still run mostly by men, Rodham is a singular and unforgettable novel.
11. Weird but Normal: Essays by Mia Mercado
Birth control. Body hair removal cream. Boobs. It’s all weird, but also pretty normal.
Navigating racial identity, gender roles, workplace dynamics, and beauty standards, Mia Mercado’s hilarious essay collection explores the contradictions of being a millennial woman, which usually means being kind of a weirdo. Whether it’s spending $30 on a candle that smells like an ocean that doesn’t exist, offering advice on how to ask about someone’s race (spoiler: just don’t, please?), quitting a job that makes you need shots of whiskey on your lunch break, or finding a more religious experience in the skincare aisle at Target than your hometown Catholic church, Mia brilliantly unpacks what it means to be a professional, absurdly beautiful, horny, cute, gross human. Essays include:
• Depression Isn’t a Competition but Why Aren’t I Winning?
• My Dog Explains My Weekly Schedule
• Mustache Lady
• White Friend Confessional
• Treating Objects Like Women
With sharp humor and wit, Mia shares the awkward, uncomfortable, surprisingly ordinary parts of life, and shows us why it’s strange to feel fine and fine to feel strange.
12. The Equivalents: The Untold Story of the Five Friends Who Started a Personal, Political, and Artistic Revolution by Maggie Doherty
An important new work of narrative nonfiction: the timely, never-before-told story of five brilliant, passionate women who, in the early 1960s, converged at the newly founded Radcliffe Institute for Independent Study, stepping outside the domestic sphere and shaping the course of feminism in ways that still resonate today.
In 1960, at the height of an era that expected women to focus solely on raising families, Radcliffe College announced the founding of an Institute for Independent Study, offering fellowships to women with a Ph.D. or “the equivalent” in artistic success. Acclaimed writer and Harvard lecturer Maggie Doherty introduces us to five brilliant friends–poets Anne Sexton and Maxine Kumin, painter Barbara Swan, sculptor Marianna Pineda, and writer Tillie Olsen–who came together at the Institute and would go on to make history. Drawing from their notebooks, letters, lecture recordings, journals, and finished works, Doherty weaves from these women’s own voices a moving narrative of friendship, ambition, activism, and art. Beautifully written and urgently told, The Equivalents shows us where we’ve been–and inspires us to go forward.
13. To Wake the Giant: A Novel of Pearl Harbor by Jeff Shaara
New York Times bestselling author Jeff Shaara takes on Pearl Harbor, the world-changing attack that catapulted America into World War II, in a novel featuring his trademark “you are there” immediacy.
The master of military fiction details the lead-up to the attack, the events of that terrible Sunday in December, and the aftermath with his signature sense of urgency and intensity. Based on voluminous research and unprecedented access to the archives at the Pearl Harbor memorial and museum in Honolulu, among many other sources, this is destined to be one of Shaara’s definitive works and most enduring bestsellers.
14. The Price of Peace: Money, Democracy, and the Life of John Maynard Keynes by Zachary D. Carter
In the spring of 1934, Virginia Woolf sketched an affectionate biographical portrait of her great friend John Maynard Keynes. Writing a full two years before Keynes would revolutionize the economics world with the publication of The General Theory, Woolf nevertheless found herself unable to condense her friend’s already-extraordinary life into anything less than twenty-five themes, which she jotted down at the opening of her homage: “Politics. Art. Dancing. Letters. Economics. Youth. The Future. Glands. Genealogies. Atlantis. Mortality. Religion. Cambridge. Eton. The Drama. Society. Truth. Pigs. Sussex. The History of England. America. Optimism. Stammer. Old Books. Hume.”
Keynes was not only an economist, as he is remembered today, but the preeminent anti-authoritarian thinker of the twentieth century, a man who devoted his life to the belief that art and ideas could conquer war and deprivation. A moral philosopher, political theorist, and statesman, Keynes immersed himself in a creative milieu filled with ballerinas and literary icons as he developed his own innovative and at times radical thought, reinventing Enlightenment liberalism for the harrowing crises of his day–which included two world wars and an economic collapse that challenged the legitimacy of democratic government itself. The Price of Peace follows Keynes from intimate turn-of-the-century parties in London’s riotous Bloomsbury art scene to the fevered negotiations in Paris that shaped the Treaty of Versailles, through stock market crashes and currency crises to diplomatic breakthroughs in the mountains of New Hampshire and wartime ballet openings at Covent Garden.
In this riveting biography, veteran journalist Zachary D. Carter unearths the lost legacy of one of history’s most important minds. John Maynard Keynes’s vibrant, deeply human vision of democracy, art, and the good life has been obscured by technical debates, but in The Price of Peace, Carter revives a forgotten set of ideas with the power to reinvent national government and reframe the principles of international diplomacy in our own time.
15. Stray by Stephanie Danler
From the bestselling author of Sweetbitter, a memoir of growing up in a family shattered by lies and addiction, and of one woman’s attempts to find a life beyond the limits of her past. Stray is a moving, sometimes devastating, brilliantly written and ultimately inspiring exploration of the landscapes of damage and survival.
After selling her first novel–a dream she’d worked long and hard for–Stephanie Danler knew she should be happy. Instead, she found herself driven to face the difficult past she’d left behind a decade ago: a mother disabled by years of alcoholism, further handicapped by a tragic brain aneurysm; a father who abandoned the family when she was three, now a meth addict in and out of recovery. After years in New York City she’s pulled home to Southern California by forces she doesn’t totally understand, haunted by questions of legacy and trauma. Here, she works toward answers, uncovering hard truths about her parents and herself as she explores whether it’s possible to change the course of her history.
Lucid and honest, heart-breaking and full of hope, Stray, is an examination of what we inherit and what we don’t have to, of what we have to face in ourselves to move forward, and what it’s like to let go of one’s parents in order to find a peace–and family–of one’s own.
All excerpts have been picked up from Goodreads