Today's releases include a page-turner about the mysterious breakup of a fictional '70s band, a heart-pounding ode to climbing history and culture, and facing your fears, a nail-biting novel about a leisurely canoe trip that turns into a nightmare, and more.
Learn more about these and all of our picks for the Best Books of the Month.
There is something a little intoxicating about Daisy Jones & the Six. This is the story of a young, captivating singer who came of age in the late 60s/early 70s, all told as an oral history. The Six did not hit the big time until Daisy joined the band as their lead singer, but her presence brought along drama, intrigue, and a variety of tensions between herself and Billy Dunne, the leader of The Six. It’s best not to know too much about this book going into it; instead, allow the transcribed interviews from the band members (they weren’t real, but they seem real), and from those who tagged along during this great fictitious band’s run, to unspool the story for you. --Chris Schluep
As far as celebrity goes, Alex Honnold’s seems a bit unlikely; self-possessed practitioners of niche sports, performed in the hardest-to-reach corners of the Earth, usually keep to the edges of the mainstream. But much has changed over the last decade: Drones, adventure cameras, and the internet have allowed armchair adventurers and other lookie-loos unprecedented access to the farthest frontiers, as well as the daredevils who push them. And with E. Chai Vasarhelyi and Jimmy Chin's Free Solo—the Academy Award-winning ride-along with Honnold on his rope-free climb up Yosemite's El Capitan and its 3,000 feet of vertical granite—well, that’s the sort of thing that’ll make you famous. On assignment for the New York Times, writer Mark Synnott also covered Honnold in Yosemite, and the resulting book, The Impossible Climb, is a must-read for anyone curious about Honnold’s background, personality, and motivations. Synnott shadowed the enigmatic climber for months as he prepared, deliberated, and occasionally wavered over the project. He even followed him up a wall on occasion—Synnott also happens to be a professional climber (yes, that is a thing), and his first-hand experience makes his account much more than a summary of an unprecedented, previously unthinkable feat. Along with Synnott’s recollections of his own first ascents and harrowing adventures with Honnold, Chin, and other legends of the sport, he surveys Yosemite’s climbing culture from the “golden age” rivalry between big-wall pioneers Royal Robbins and Warren Harding, to latter-day risk-takers like Dean Potter, who push the limits of extreme sports, often at the cost of their lives. When asked why anyone would test their fate against a mountain, George Mallory famously said “Because it’s there.” The question is ultimately unanswerable, but The Impossible Climb gives the rest of us a firmer hold, even as we watch from a safer elevation. As a climber might say, “This book goes.” --Jon Foro
Peter Heller has written three previous novels, but he has been writing about the outdoors in magazines like Outside and Men’s Journal for much longer. In The River Heller has drawn from all that experience to create an exciting, thoughtful, and well-paced thriller about two friends paddling into trouble in northern Canada. A distant wildfire is the first portent of danger. When the friends hear a man and woman arguing on the foggy riverbank, they decide to warn them about the fire—but their search for the pair turns up nothing. The next day a man appears solo on the river. Was he one of the people they heard the day before? The River starts out as a leisurely backwoods paddle and inexorably picks up speed before spilling readers down its cascade of an ending. This is a thriller, an adventure novel, and a meditation on friendship, the outdoors, and something altogether deeper. As I read, I felt like I had been waiting for this book without knowing it, and I fully expect The River to persist as one of my favorite reads of 2019. --Chris Schluep
Newlywed Isra thought life would be different when she immigrated to America from Palestine, but her dreams were quickly dashed. You’ll need to steel yourself the more you delve into Etaf Rum's penetrating debut novel A Woman Is No Man, which follows Isra’s journey, and that of her daughter Deya. The clash between dual cultures creates much of the drama, as Deya tries to do what her mother ultimately couldn’t--break free from their family’s violent, misogynistic past and forge her own path in life. While A Woman Is No Man is a rallying cry to resist patriarchal strictures designed to keep women in ‘their place,’ it is also a love letter to books and their transformative power. Reading was one of the only comforts, and acts of rebellion, that Isra enjoyed, and she had a particular affinity for literary heroine Scheherazade: “For a thousand and one nights [her] stories were resistance. Her voice was a weapon—a reminder of the extraordinary power of stories, and even more, the strength of a single woman.” It’s the harnessing of that strength that sets Deya, and this family, free. --Erin Kodicek
In An American Summer, Alex Kotlowitz turns his compassionate investigative eye back to the urban violence of the Windy City. In order to understand the level of violence that still plagues Chicago, Kotlowitz chronicles the events of a single summer in some of the city’s most neglected neighborhoods. Of the people Kotlowitz profiles, some end up dead, while others have committed violent acts, including murder. And far too many others are the collateral damage of revenge, pride, and poverty. There are a shocking number of children in Chicago who suffer from high levels of anxiety, sleeplessness, and even auditory hallucinations as the result of the things they’ve seen. As the pages add up, so do the bullets and the collective grief--but also a deeper connection to what is happening. There is so much heartbreak here, from the social worker who makes valuable headway with a difficult student only to find herself cut from the school program, to the story of a young man courageous enough to name his cousin’s killer, who is later murdered for it. As he did in his bestseller There Are No Children Here, Kotlowitz gives readers an opportunity to see for themselves the lives and substance of the people behind the statistics. These are people who, without his book, may very easily stay hidden from view. --Seira Wilson
A Friend Is a Gift You Give Yourself is one those books that announces itself as a classic in the making by the way it reads as both familiar and startlingly fresh. Mob widow Rena has clocked an insistent suitor with an ashtray, and believing she’s killed him, stolen his vintage Impala and headed for the Bronx, where her estranged daughter Adrienne lives. That however, is where Adrienne’s boyfriend Richie has just given several mobsters “early retirement,” stolen $500K from them, and is preparing to go on the run with Adrienne and her teenage daughter. It’s a really inconvenient day to try to force a family reunion. After a lifetime of willfully keeping her head in the sand when it comes to her husband’s occupation, Rena has just thrust herself into the center of it, as her flit becomes entangled with Richie’s and both of them pick up unexpected flight companions. In Rena’s case it’s the retired adult movie star who lives next door as well as a granddaughter who may have inherited some of her grandfather’s traits. In Richie’s case it’s a guy who solves problems with a hammer. What develops has been dubbed “screwball noir” and it’s an apt description. But what gives this unexpectedly charming albeit violent tale its heart is the way the women, endangered by the men in their lives, discover that the family you make for yourself may have your back in ways your actual family never will. --Vannessa Cronin
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