Today's releases include a provocative feat of journalism that provides an unflinching exploration of desire; a surreal psychological thriller with a deeply emotional core; a heart-wrenching novel about a unique family living off the grid in Appalachia Ohio; and one of the best white-knuckle reads of the summer.
Learn more about these and all of our picks for the Best Books of the Month.
Three Women by Lisa Taddeo
This will likely be one of the most talked about books of the year. Author Lisa Taddeo has spent eight years covering the lives of three women. There is Maggie, who met her lover when she was a seventeen-year-old high school student and he was a married schoolteacher. There is Lina, a mother of two who leaves her marriage and rekindles a flame with her high school sweetheart. And there is Sloane, gorgeous and happily married, whose husband likes to pick out her extramarital sexual partners. Taddeo is a talented journalist who thoroughly documents her subjects’ lives; but the language she employs is reaching higher than simple journalism. Likewise, with the subject matter: at first blush, this may seem like a book about sex. But really it is more about desire—and really it is about more than that. This book can be a profound read, but it is also just a good read. There will be moments when the words and the images make you forget that you even are reading; other times you will feel like you want to turn off the light and never speak to another human being again. But that would mean you wouldn’t get to talk about this book. --Chris Schluep
The Need by Helen Phillips
Teeth-grindingly tense? Check. Mind-bogglingly surreal? Check. An ending you’re going to debate with your friends? Check. Helen Phillips playfully nudged the concepts of reality and fate in The Beautiful Bureaucrat, but this time she gives those concepts a big ol’ shove and then spins them like a top in The Need. When paleobotanist Molly uncovers strange artifacts at a dig—including a plastic toy soldier with a monkey tail and a Coke bottle with the letters slanted backward—the finds are intriguing but not alarming. But sleepless nights devoted to her two children under age 5, more weird discoveries, and inexplicable sounds twist into an acidic fear. And the source of these oddities, once revealed, is both more horrible and more sympathetic than Molly could ever imagine. Phillips makes motherhood a transcendent power even as she gives it a ferocious bite. Luckily The Need is a fast read, because I dare anyone to try to sleep after starting the first chapter. —Adrian Liang
Stay and Fight by Madeline ffitch
Winter is coming! And if you’re on your own in Appalachian Ohio, you’d better come up with a good game plan. For Helen, this means enlisting recently displaced neighbors Karen and Lily, along with the couple’s precocious son, Perley, to create a homestead with her on 20 acres of land. Perley is an intrepid soul, and by the time he expresses interest in leaving their isolated existence to go to school, you’re almost used to his normal: living (and sometimes sleeping with) black rat snakes, minding the “humanure” pile, and foraging for dinner when the daily game of “survival dice” doesn’t win a trip to the grocery store. Social services, however, is decidedly more fazed, so when an innocent accident attracts their attention, the family’s imperfect, but preferred, utopia is upended. First-time novelist Madeline ffitch’s background as an environmental activist is evident in Stay and Fight, which deftly pivots from family drama to an encroaching political one that poses even more of a threat to their way of life. If that sounds stress-inducing, it is, but it’s tempered by the characterizations of this unconventional family, particularly the exquisitely endearing Perley, who is uniquely bonded to each member of this motley crew and provides the motivation behind the book’s title. Stay and Fight is an earnest and heart-wrenching celebration of family, and what it means to be free. --Erin Kodicek
The Chain by Adrian McKinty
The Chain is one of those white-knuckle, stay-up-till-3 a.m. thrillers that keeps you reading feverishly because you just need to know how this one plays out. Part of the appeal lies in a fiendishly clever and original premise, a premise Adrian McKinty plots out flawlessly. Rachel is driving to an oncology appointment in the city when she gets a call from a panicked woman who says her child’s been kidnapped and that the only way to get him back is to join The Chain by kidnapping another child. So the woman has just kidnapped Rachel’s daughter, Kylie, from a bus stop. Now the only way to save Kylie and the caller’s child is for Rachel to join The Chain by kidnapping another child, whose parents will also be forced to kidnap a child…and so The Chain goes. Oh, and each must also send $25,000 in Bitcoin before the child will be released. Divorced, poor, a cancer survivor, and a working mom, Rachel is no one’s idea of a wealthy mark. But as with any parent, failure is not an option when your child’s life hangs in the balance. Before the last page is turned, Rachel, assisted by her ex-brother-in-law (a Special Forces veteran who’s hiding a secret), will cross lines she’s never crossed before. Ultimately empathy is the other ingredient that lifts this terrifying thriller a cut above—seeing ordinary people just like us trying to rise to extraordinary circumstances. —Vannessa Cronin
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