RIF’s Favorite Reads of August 2018

Helping you sort out the best from the rest published this month.

best august books

Happy summer, everyone! We’re more than halfway through (well, depending on where you live, and what climate change has in store for us this year), and that means we can start buying books for the new school year…even if we’re not in school. Any excuse to read more, am I right? As we do every month here at Read It Forward, we picked some of the best, brightest, and most exciting of this month’s published books, and we’re here to spread the word. From poetry to novels to memoir, you’ll find a bit of everything here. Do you agree with our list? Have some more awesome reads to recommend? Tweet us @ReadItForward and let us know!

Vox by Christina Dalcher

Vox

Author Christina Dalcher has a history in linguistics, and her debut novel explores what happens when language is prohibited. In the world of this novel, a not-too-distant future, women’s speech has been physically hampered: they’re allowed only 100 spoken words a day. Any more than that, and they’re physically zapped by a monitor they now wear on their wrists. At the heart of this novel is Jean, who was a linguist before the new laws prohibiting women from reading, writing, or speaking. When the President’s older brother gets in an accident that hurts his ability to speak, Jean—who was once foremost in her field—is summoned to help cure him. Moving between the time leading up to the laws and the time after, we see the dangers of complacency and the need to take threats to our rights seriously. (Berkley)

Ohio by Stephen Markley

Ohio

Centered around the fictional town of New Canaan, Ohio, each of this debut novel’s four parts centers around a single person who once knew Rick, before he was killed in action in Iraq. The town is ravaged with economic hardship, and the characters who return home on this summer night in 2013 are ravaged too, each with their own emotional turmoil. There’s drug-loving Bill, smuggling something out of New Orleans; Stacey, who has a bone to pick with her high school girlfriend’s homophobic mom; Dan, an Iraq veteran himself, about to be reintroduced to an old flame; and Tina, also meeting an old acquaintance, but for much darker reasons. As the fateful night unfolds from each perspective, the tension rises to a thrilling and emotionally poignant climax. (Simon & Schuster)

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We That Are Young by Preti Taneja

We that are Young

In a modern retelling of King Lear, Preti Taneja moves the action to India in the 21st century, when anti-corruption protests, a history of colonization, encroaching Westernization, and an economy growing at breakneck speed make for a politically vivid landscape. The Company, run by Devraj Bapuji and Ranjit Singh, is wealthy but stuck in the past. When Bapuji decides to retire and leave the company to two of his daughters—the third has run off to avoid marrying a man her father chose for her—a struggle for power ensues. Meanwhile, Singh’s estranged son who’s been in the U.S. for 15 years has just returned and witnesses the turmoil, while Singh’s other son has given up on life in the lap of luxury in order to take a pilgrimage. A well-wrought family drama paired with social and political commentary, this is a gripping, intelligent read. (Knopf)

The Masterpiece by Fiona Davis

The Masterpiece

Who knew that once upon a time, Grand Central Terminal in NYC played host to an art school? Fiona Davis does, and her newest novel focuses on this aptly named grand building. In the late 1920s, just before the Great Depression, Clara is an artist living in the Big Apple and teaching at the art school on the 7th floor of the terminal’s east wing. A passionate artist, her commercial interests lie in getting her illustrations on the cover of Vogue. Almost 50 years later, Virginia’s working at the information desk of the now-dilapidated Grand Central, which is on the verge of being torn down. Happening upon a piece of dust-covered art in the back hallways of the station, she’s intrigued. Along with her college-age daughter, Virginia works to solve the mystery of the painting’s creator—that is, what happened to Clara. (Dutton)

An Unwanted Guest by Shari Lapena

An Unwanted Guest

In a loose take on Agatha Christie’s classic crime novel And Then There Were None, Shari Lapena brings us to the idyllic winter getaway of Mitchell’s Inn, nestled in the Catskills. Soon after the weekend guests settle in, a storm hits, cutting off power and phone lines; they have no choice but to settle in even further. When one woman trips down a staircase and dies, they’re left in the awkward situation of needing to keep the corpse where it is so as not to disturb the evidence, but as time goes on and more guests begin to die under mysterious circumstances, paranoia and fear begin to run rampant. What’s really happening at Mitchell’s Inn? Whose secrets are to blame? Settle in yourself with this immensely readable thriller. (Pamela Dorman Books)

Horse by Talley English

Horse

Teagan is a teenager when her father leaves her mother and moves in with another woman. He leaves behind his version of the midlife-crisis car: a large, headstrong horse named Obsidian, which Teagan shortens to Ian. Perhaps in an attempt to stay connected with the father she’s furious with, Teagan takes Ian to her new boarding school, where a riding program allows for such a pet. Learning to ride and get along with Ian isn’t easy, and Teagan’s alienation from others at school becomes increasingly noticeable as time goes by. Her narrative of grief, isolation, and a difficult sense of mistrust flows through her relationship with the headstrong Ian, and the writing gorgeously conveys this emotional thread. (Knopf)

The Air You Breathe by Frances De Pontes Peebles

The Air You Breathe

On a sugar plantation in 1930s Brazil, two girls of wildly different worlds meet: one is the privileged daughter of a sugar industry tycoon, Graça, and the other is Dores, who works in the kitchens of the plantation. Their friendship begins simply because they’re girls of a similar age, but when they discover their shared love for music, and samba, in particular, they seem destined to be friends for life. They’re also, however, rivals, each attempting to escape the roles they were born into and achieve stardom. Traveling far from home and then going back over the decades of their lives, their fates are different but always intertwined. Questions of love, loyalty, and roots arise, as well as that of the deep, abiding worth of friendship. (Riverhead)

The Reservoir Tapes by Jon McGregor

The Reservoir Tapes

In this follow-up (which also works as a standalone) to his 2017 novel, Reservoir 13, McGregor returns to the English village from which the 13-year-old Becky Shaw disappeared. In his first book, McGregor focused on the aftermath: the search, the slow fading of memory, the way a tragedy becomes a town legend. In this volume, McGregor goes back to the beginning, when a reporter interviews village members and collects anecdotes about Becky Shaw as a living girl and theories about what might have happened to her. The outsider observing the village’s goings-on is a powerful viewpoint, and the return of the central mystery of Becky isn’t old; in fact, it becomes startlingly fresh and newly disturbing in this book. (Catapult)

The Shakespeare Requirement by Julie Schumacher

The Shakespeare Requirement

Julie Schumacher’s sequel to her 2014 Dear Committee Members is just in time for the beginning of the academic school year, and good thing, too. Jason Fitger is the newest head of an English department so beleaguered that it’s under threat of being entirely discontinued. His ex-wife is sleeping with one of the deans, but at least she’s on his side of the argument; others, not so much. The funding cuts, the shunting aside of programs—these, one character argues, are a blood sport to the administration, but the powers that be won’t win this fight, not if Fitger has anything to say about it. His other allies are his loathing administrative assistant and the chair of the Consolidated Languages department. Will they best the forces of bureaucracy? (Doubleday)

Whiskey When We’re Dry by John Larison

Whiskey

For fans of Westworld and Westerns in general—and for fans of strong women characters who recognize the one-sidedness of the masculine world around them—here comes a heroine you won’t soon forget. Jess is stranded on her family’s homestead after both her parents die and her brother runs off. Intent on finding the last living member of her family, Jess binds her chest, cuts off her hair, and plies her skills as a sharpshooter for anyone who’ll pay and help her find him. Joining up with the governor’s men, who are hunting her brother for his outlaw activities with a Jesse James-like band of rogues, Jess makes her way bravely through the violent world of the wild, wild west. Action-packed and full of smart observations, this is a great addition to the genre, and a great read all its own. (Viking)

Maeve in America by Maeve Higgins

Maeve in America

In her early 30s, despite a successful career in her home country of Ireland, Maeve Higgins decided to broaden her world—so she moved to New York City, a place that often calls to writers and comics like Higgins. In these essays, she explores her immigration to the U.S. and the history of Irish immigration: how the Irish shifted from being a minority to being part of a white ruling class of Americans. Higgins tries to use her power with words for good, from teaching a writing workshop in Iraq to refusing to simplify immigration issues into easy-listening fluff. But the book isn’t all about such serious topics; there’s also a remarkable piece about Higgins’s first rental dress, the only affordable option when she has to attend a fancy ball. Charmingly funny, self-aware, and intelligent, this collection is a great one to dig into. (Penguin Books)

If They Come for Us by Fatimah Asghar

If They Come for Us

Fatimah Asghar’s debut poetry collection is full of difficult questions and hard-to-find answers. A Pakistani Muslim woman in contemporary America, Asghar explores her own cultural history and conflicting desires and addresses the violence so often turned toward the bodies of women, especially brown and black women. She writes about intergenerational trauma, but also the magic that can be found in remembering and loving. There’s abundant conflict in these poems: with the self, with a world that’s manipulated by those in power, with the systems set in place to keep them there. But there is hope too, and love. Balancing these brilliantly, Asghar’s lyrical, exploratory writing is searingly relevant. (One World)

Bad Man by Dathan Auerbach

Bad Man

Ben was 15 when everything changed. He took his little brother, Eric, to the grocery store with him; Eric was there one minute and gone the next. Poof. Disappeared without a trace. Five years later, Ben is living with his father and stepmother, who refuses to leave the only home that Eric ever knew, even though they can barely make ends meet. Ben, wanting to help out and still sick with grief himself, gets the only job he can find: working at the very store Eric disappeared from. But it feels right to Ben to spend his time there, especially as he begins to sense the entire place is more sinister than anyone could have imagined. With a terrible boss, some odd coworkers, and mysteries he’s convinced he needs to solve, Ben’s journey through the darkness of small-town Florida is just beginning. (Doubleday)

Becoming Belle by Nuala O’Connor

Become Belle

Based on a famous court case involving class divisions and divorce, Nuala O’Connor’s newest novel is a shining period piece. Born Isabel and raised in a military garrison town, our heroine changes her name to Belle when she arrives in London with her sister, Flo. The duo begins performing together as a sister act, and while Flo settles down to get married, Belle is more than happy to keep visiting spots famed for their bohemian nightlife. Drawn to power, Belle first gets involved with a man who claims he’s a baron and impregnates her, though he’s soon convicted of fraud and imprisoned. But he’s not her last chance at near-royalty. When Belle meets William, an Irish viscount, she falls in love—only to have his family and her own humble upbringing ruin it all. (G.P. Putnam’s Sons)

Sons of Cain by Peter Vronsky

Sons of Cain

True crime is all the rage these days, and if you’ve joined the curious “murderinos” among us (i.e., those folks who find certain crimes fascinating, perhaps in order to be less terrified of them), this book will be right up your alley. In this volume, Peter Vronsky examines the nature of the sexual serial killer, the one who gets off on the violence and death he (and it’s usually a he) propagates. He delves into the history of such killers, going back as far as pre-civilization times—some 17,000 years ago—and into their minds, to find what makes them so uniquely human, fascinating, and ultimately disturbing. Add this to your true-crime collection, and learn about those who for so long have existed as the monsters that plague society. (Berkley)

Housegirl by Michael Donkor

Housegirl

Belinda is 17 and works for an elderly couple in Ghana as their housegirl, a live-in maid. She’s training Mary, only 11, in the ways of the household and is happy to do so because she’s always wanted a little sister. But her employers, wealthy after having made their fortune in England, have a daughter still studying in London. When Amma begins attending exclusive parties and lets her grades slip, they decide that Belinda’s calm and steady presence would be useful for her. Belinda’s dispatched to London forthwith, where she and Amma find they have more in common than not, though they also each carry secrets. Moving between London, the lavish house Mary still works in, and the village where Belinda was born, this remarkable novel explores growing up, the pain of loss, and the shifting identities of those who live in more than one world. (Picador)

Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens

Where the Crawdads Sing

Kya has essentially been alone since she was a child. After her mother skipped out on her children, Kya’s siblings eventually abandoned her too, leaving her with a temperamental father who taught her just enough to survive in the wilderness and marshland outside North Carolina’s coastal town of Barkley Cove, before he too disappeared. But over the years, Kya finds herself yearning for human presence. A local boy in town teaches her to read, and she takes another as a lover later on. When her lover, Chase, is found murdered and left in the marsh, she’s the immediate suspect. She’s an outsider, after all, a weirdo dubbed the “Marsh Girl” by the locals who’ve long told tales and spread rumors about her. As the investigation into the murder goes on, Kya needs to face the world of people and find her way out of this accusation. (G.P. Putnam’s Sons)

Sight by Jessie Greengrass

Sight

In this remarkable debut, Jessie Greengrass takes the subject of motherhood as her starting point. The unnamed narrator is watching her daughter grow up while pregnant with another child. She yearns to be close to her daughter, but the more she grows, the less the narrator feels like she knows her. To try to understand the secrets of entering into another person, the book looks at those scientists who tried and managed to: the x-ray that sees through our skin to our very bones, the surgeries that taught doctors about the pregnant body, and Freud and his daughter Anna, who tried to learn the secrets of the human mind. Meditative, insightful, and lyrically beautiful. (Hogarth)

Penelope Lemon: Game On! by Inman Majors

Penelope Lemon

Pushing 40, Penelope Lemon has had a tough year. Her son is getting bullied on the school bus, she’s recently divorced her husband, and she’s living in her parents’ basement. Her mother tries to get her back on the horse through a Christian dating site, while her friends advocate self-care and reflection. Penelope, using her father’s ancient computer that can’t control pop-up ads, discovers something even worse one day when she notices a photo on a porn-site ad that she recognizes. Yes, she realizes, there was that one time she posed nude while smoking weed. And yes, apparently those photos are online. Figuring out the modern dating world while balancing caring for her son and getting the hell out of her parents’ basement may not be easy, but Penelope Lemon is a high-spirited character who will keep you laughing. (LSU Press)

A Life of My Own by Claire Tomalin

A Life of My Own

After spending years working on biographies of figures like Charles Dickens, Mary Wollstonecraft, and other literary greats, Claire Tomalin finally turns to telling her own story. With candor and great detail, Tomalin writes about meeting the charming journalist Nicholas Tomalin and, after wedding him, their de facto open marriage—he was a philanderer, so she took up extramarital affairs, too. She describes the four children they had together and the terrible loss of Nick’s death when he was sent to Israel as a correspondent for a British newspaper. She also shares the joys and pitfalls of a literary life as a critic and editor of the New Statesman and the Sunday Times, while also struggling with single parenthood, her son’s disability, and her daughter’s suicide. Honest and painful and full of her signature clear and gorgeous writing, Tomalin’s story is one well told. (Penguin Press)

The Distance Home by Paula Saunders

The Distance Home

Eve and Al married young, and in the 1960s have three children: Leon, René, and little Jayne. Leon and René love each other and are both passionate about ballet, but where René’s talent is accepted, Leon’s is not. Al doesn’t think ballet is for boys, and he’s harsh with Leon, who stutters. Over time, we watch as René and Leon, treated differently by their parents—whose fights only get worse—grow up differently too, though both carry pain and trauma in some way. But where René’s response to the tension at home is to become an overachiever trying to prove herself, Leon’s is more inward-oriented, as he pulls out his hair and eventually begins using drugs. A heavy, painful, yet moving novel about the scars we can’t leave behind, no matter how hard we might try. (Random House)


Featured Images: Matt McCarty

About Ilana Masad

Ilana Masad

ILANA MASAD is an Israeli-American writer living in New York. Her work has appeared in The New Yorker, Tin House, Printer’s Row, The Toast, The Butter, The Rumpus, Hypertext Magazine, and more. She is the founder of TheOtherStories.org, a podcast for new, emerging, and struggling writers. She is (way too) active on Twitter @ilanaslightly.

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