RIF’s Favorite Reads of August 2016

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

Faves of August

It’s been hot, hot, hot all around the United States this month with record-breaking temperatures (well, they at least feel that way) making everyone sweat and heave in the staid air. But slow, lazy August is not without its own form of entertainment, even if it feels like everyone is wilting. Fall is just around the corner (please, let it be so!) and the last days of summer must be enjoyed now before the laxness in offices ends, before schools start up, before the world basically decides that vacation is over. What better way to fill in these last few days with the cream of the newest crop? Please enjoy our favorite books of August and try to stay cool.

Click on the images to shop our picks and then let us know the books you’ve been enjoying this month in the comment section below.

The Glorious Heresies by Lisa McInerney

Faves of August

A debut novelist, Lisa McInerney is a well-known writer in Ireland and this book has already won the 2016 Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction. The Glorious Heresies is an irreverent portrait of Ireland’s post-2008 recession struggle, circling around a few characters who are all inadvertently involved in an accidental murder. After Maureen attacks an intruder with a rather holy rock and kills him (whoops), her gangster son Jimmy and his friend Tony help get rid of the body and protect her. Georgie is a sex-worker trying to leave the biz and lives in Maureen’s building but is also buying drugs from Tara, neighbor of Ryan, who is Tony’s son. Convoluted? It sounds like it, but the novel comes together and is an obscene and wild ride towards redemption or its opposite. (Tim Duggan Books)

To the Bright Edge of the World by Eowyn Ivey

Faves of August

Two diaries make up the bulk of Eowyn Ivey’s brilliant new book: one belongs to Colonel Allen Forrester, an explorer on a mission to go beyond the edge of the world into the frozen Alaska territory. The second belongs to Sophie, his wife, a woman with the heart of an explorer and the body of, well, a woman. And it is 1885, after all, and women aren’t allowed to travel with their war-hero husbands to dangerous places like Alaska. The Colonel’s diary is full of the expected difficulties but also, in his more secret journal that is meant to go back to Sophie if he doesn’t come back alive, he includes some weird things he’s seen (or hallucinated? Imagined? We may never know), while Sophie, in her journal, is discovering photography after the grief of a miscarriage. The couple’s attempts to push as far as society will allow them are coupled with letters exchanged between a museum curator reading the Colonel’s journals and the Colonel’s grand-nephew, giving us a glimpse into the future beyond the exploration of the 19th century. (Little, Brown and Company)

The Invisible Life of Ivan Isaenko by Scott Stambach

Faves of August

Amidst discussions of the differently-abled being portrayed in literature, it was a joy to see Scott Stambach’s Ivan, who, conceived soon after the Chernobyl nuclear disaster when radiation poisoning was abundant, is born without legs and with one hand. His home is a hospital, and his companions are children who don’t possess the same level of intellect that Ivan was born with. When a girl with leukemia comes to the hospital when he’s 17, he meets his equal—though she may be able-bodied and vivaciously teenagerish, she is, after all, gravely ill and their ensuing relationship is heartbreaking and beautiful. In fact, Eowyn Ivey calls it “a grittier, Eastern European, more grown-up The Fault in Our Stars.” (St. Martins)

Another Brooklyn by Jacqueline Woodson 

Faves of August

You may remember Woodson’s incredible children’s book, Brown Girl Dreaming—we sure do. Now, for the first time in two decades, Woodson is publishing a novel aimed at an older audience. In Another Brooklyn, we’re taken back to two Brooklyns that are different than today’s bustle and alarmingly rapid gentrification. August, who runs into someone she knew way back when, remembers the Brooklyn of her youth in the 1970s, when she and her group of girlfriends could galavant around their neighborhoods with comfort and glee. Except this remembered Brooklyn carries another, darker side, one that August also remembers. The darker Brooklyn is where the hurt happened, where parents left or harmed their children, where men preyed on young bodies. In Woodson’s heartbreaking book, there is a world of feeling. (Harper Collins)

The Jealous Kind by James Lee Burke

Faves of August

James Lee Burke gives a little autobiographical hint in this new book, which he’s said completes a trilogy about the Holland family he has written about in Wayfaring Stranger and House of the Rising Sun. The narrator, Aaron, comes of age in the 1950s (when the author did as well), and narrates his story from the distance of an age similar to the author’s as well. Regardless of these intriguing details, the story is well woven, as 17-year-old Aaron becomes involved in mob and gang violence in Houston, post-World War II amidst the realities of the shellshock men returned from the front lines with. Aaron’s grizzly adventure (he learns how violent he can be) begins with a Cadillac—hiding quite a lot of wealth— that goes missing, and is an engaging page-turner.  (Simon & Schuster)

Get recommendations for the greatest books around straight to your inbox every week.

A Wife of Noble Character by Yvonne Georgina Puig

Faves of August

Inspired by Edith Wharton’s House of Mirth, Yvonne Georgina Puig’s novel takes place in present-day Texas, with Vivienne Cally at its center. If you remember from Wharton’s work, Lily Bart’s whole thing is that she loses her social and monetary status and needs to figure out how to live without them. In Vivienne’s life among the modern-day elite (who are still concerned with marriage and money), the Houston crowd that Vivienne hangs out with embraces her name as if it were a title of nobility—Cally Petroleum is her family’s claim to fame—though it comes with little to no money for Vivienne herself. While she has managed to catch a seemingly eligible rich bachelor, the tide turns against her when he leaves her; when she blunders things with her less-successful-but-kinder other love interest; and when she quits her job. Will Vivienne find her happy ending after all or is her downward spiral eternal, like Lily Bart’s? (Henry Holt)

Known and Strange Things: Essays by Teju Cole 

Faves of August

Teju Cole, author of Open City and Every Day is for the Thief comes out with a collection of essays reminiscent in structure of Zadie Smith’s On Changing My Mind. Cole’s book is divided into sections about reading, seeing, and being. His short essays cover many topics, from the craft of photography to analyzing photographers’ work to discussing authors of important literature and philosophy to topics current in the news today. He criticizes the American view of history and is obsessed with how history is packaged and doled out. He looks head-on at issues of race and justice yet comes at them from the side and from behind as well. The work is, in other words, not a single-minded rant, but a well-rounded, lyrical, controversial, and beautiful deconstruction and interpretation of, well, pretty much everything. (Random House)

Harmony by Carolyn Parkhurst

Faves of August

Parents deal with their children’s differences in myriad ways. In the case of Alexandra and Josh Hammond, it is by taking Tilly, who is neurodivergent, along with sister Iris, who is NT (neurotypical) to live at Camp Harmony, run by a man named Scott Bean. Told through three narratives, we learn how Iris comes to understand that her older sister is autistic, how Alexandra is dealing with the camp and her marriage and her daughters, and how, years later, Tilly looks back on the experience. Another wonderful addition to the roster of stories that need to be told, Carolyn Parkhurst weaves a gripping tale in her newest novel. (Pamela Dorman Books)

The Fire This Time, edited by Jesmyn Ward 

Faves of August

In 1963, James Baldwin released a book of two essays, The Fire Next Time. It is, by now, next time, and so Jesmyn Ward’s The Fire This Time takes Baldwin’s work as its origin point from. In this anthology, Ward has collected voices to discuss the realities of race in the United States. In light of the many highly publicized police shootings and the #BlackLivesMatter movement, this anthology feels absolute and 100% essential to both the literary and social conversations today. From Claudia Rankine to Edwidge Danticat, the collected thought leaders discuss racial violence, the realities of being a parent in a world that is most emphatically not post-racial, and the definitions of racial identity and belonging. A stunning and moving and, above all, necessary collection. (Scribner)

Still Here by Lara Vapnyar

Faves of August

In Lara Vapnyar’s new book, contemporary technology provides an escape from life. The four Russians living in New York City who are at the center of this novel all have different connections to social media and entertainment. In Sergey’s case—he is a failing financial analyst—it is the idea of an app that would allow the dead to keep living online lives through Facebook and Twitter. Vadik is a successful programmer with zero romantic excitement in his life. And Regina, married to a money-making entrepreneur in the tech industry, loses herself in dated television. There is also the somewhat defeated Vica, wife of Sergey, who’s given up on going to med school to allow her husband to follow his downwardly spiraling career. The four have known each other since school days in Russia, and as Sergey’s morbid app is developing, they wonder how their online selves, the ones who would remain after death, compare to their selves IRL. (Hogarth)

Shining Sea by Anne Korkeakivi 

Faves of August

From 1962 to 2015, the family of Michael Gannon, who dies one day on his front lawn, keep living and living, one generation after another. The Gannons work their way through failed marriages, abandonment, and tragic death in one war after another as the landscape behind them turns from Southern California to London to Scotland to Woodstock and back again. Moving through the months, years, and decades, this sweeping novel gathers several lives’ worth in it, giving us a portrayal of an American family, and what that means to this particular clan. (Little, Brown and Company)

Behold the Dreamers by Imbolo Mbue 

Faves of August

In Imbolo Mbue’s debut novel, two families—Cameroon immigrants Jende and Neni, and nouveaux riches Mr. and Mrs. Edwards—become involved in expected ways that become ever more surprising over time. Mr. Edwards hires Jende to be his chauffeur, handing him the keys to the Lexus and crisp suits to accompany them, while Neni (pregnant with a child who will not face the immigration difficulties she is going through) is hired soon after by Mrs. Edwards for help with childcare. But as 2007 progresses, problems in New York banks and cracks in the Edwards marriage shine a light on the flawed American dream that Jende and Neni so desperately want to believe in. (Random House)

I’m Supposed to Protect You From All This by Nadja Spiegelman 

Faves of August

Nadja Spiegelman is the daughter of pretty famous parents: Françoise Mouly, art director of The New Yorker, and Art Spiegelman, creator of Maus. But Nadja Spiegelman is entirely her own person in this memoir of life with parents, grandparents, and the dark and tumultuous secrets that she discovers in the reasons her mother left Paris. Spiegelman goes farther back, from her mother to her grandmother and beyond, telling stories through memory and told tales, tracking habits and neuroses and patterns of how mothers and daughters love one another. (Riverhead)

When Watched by Leopoldine Core 

Faves of August

2015 Whiting Award winner Leopoldine Core’s short story collection is remarkable. Her characters navigate sexuality and identity throughout these nineteen stories, while also navigating the space around them, whether it’s a cramped apartment or a subway train. Boldly drawn and believably outspoken, the characters Core has peopled her stories with search for connection and understanding to cut through their hardened New York outlook on life. With voices both distinct and uniform enough to keep us going through these stories, Core’s work is a wonderful mess of detail, of language, of situations into which we become the peeping Toms, watching the train wrecks of lives alongside their glimmers of understanding and hope. (Penguin)

Ashes of Fiery Weather by Kathleen Donohoe 

Faves of August

Debut novelist Kathleen Donohoe takes on a fascinating subject in her first book: the lives of firefighters and those who wait for them at home. Specifically, the novel tackles the lives of the women in six generations of firefighters, from Ireland to New York. From a time when these women must live and wait with baited breath for their sons, husbands, fathers, brothers, or lovers to come back alive and unburnt from a job to the first woman to become a firefighter in the family line, Donohoe takes us through emotional turmoil, tenderness, and tearful realities. A wonderful storyteller, the century-plus the book spans is a fascinating and accessible glimpse into a life many of us don’t recognize. (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)

Land of Enchantment by Leigh Stein 

Faves of August

Not all abuse leaves physical marks. Leigh Stein, co-founder of the non-profit Out of the Binders (which aims to professionally benefit and advance the writing of women and gender non-binary folks), has written a searingly beautiful memoir about her ex-boyfriend Jason, a James-Dean lookalike who took her on the ride of her life—literally. After meeting when he was 19 and she 22, they moved to New Mexico together, and the isolation in the Albuquerque landscape began to highlight Jason’s erratic behavior, his mood swings, and the fact that Stein simply didn’t feel safe around him. She explores both why she stayed and how she left and unpacks the complexities of abuse in her tumultuous relationship in beautiful prose. (Plume)

Patient H.M.: A Story of Memory, Madness, and Family Secrets by Luke Dittrich Faves of August

To call Patient H.M. a portrait would be deceptive; Dittrich’s book is an entire landscape, maybe a mural, in scope. Henry Molaison, who received a lobotomy to cure his epilepsy (which ended up causing him intense amnesia and the inability to form long-term memories), is just the jumping off point for Dittrich, whose own grandfather was the surgeon who operated on Molaison (or Patient H.M., as he was known). Part memoir about his complex grandfather’s morality, part discussion and critique of past treatments for people with mental illnesses, and part investigative journalism into the scientific obsession with Patient H.M.’s brain, Dittrich’s masterful book is enthralling. (Random House)

Carousel Court by Joe McGinniss Jr. 

Faves of August

It’s not often that dark novels (not thrillers) about marriage are page-turning in the way that Joe McGinniss Jr.’s decade-in-the-making book is. Carousel Court is the eponymous name of the street in a Los Angeles suburb that Nick and Phoebe move to in an attempt to flee some of their past and preserve something of their future. But the two of them are on rocky ground even before they find out that their pretty new house is in a neighborhood that is quickly becoming a foreclosure fun-house. There’s history to every marriage, but this couple’s past feels urgent and present. As Nick becomes a repo man and Phoebe’s job at a drug company seems ironic considering her constant chemical high, and their toddler is recovering from some unnamed traumatic event, the past, inevitably, comes back to haunt them. (Simon & Schuster)

Photography: Ryan Deshon

About Ilana Masad

ILANA MASAD is a queer writer of fiction, nonfiction, and criticism. She is the founder and host of The Other Stories, an interview podcast featuring fiction writers, and is currently a doctoral student at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Her debut novel, All My Mother’s Lovers, comes out May 2020.

[email_signup id="4"]