Today's releases include the follow-up to Elizabeth Strout's Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, Olive Kitteridge; a provocative memoir about a mother who manipulates her daughter into becoming an accomplice in the cover-up of a long-term extra marital affair; the heartwarming story of a down-and-out donkey getting a second chance at life; and another memoir that goes uncover with a covert CIA operative.
Learn more about these and all of our picks for the Best Books of the Month.
Olive, Again: A Novel by Elizabeth Strout
She’s baaaaack. Elizabeth Strout’s 2008 novel, Olive Kitteridge, won the Pulitzer Prize and spawned a hit HBO miniseries starring Frances McDormand and Bill Murray. In Olive, Again she resurrects the endearing curmudgeon from Crosby, Maine in thirteen interconnected stories that remind us that you’re never too old to grow up. As the book opens, Olive is being wooed, in a manner of speaking, by fellow widow Jack Kennison. Even he is at a loss to explain the precise reasons for his affection for her, but as we see Olive fumbling through everyday life—still grappling with its disappointments and mysteries—we recognize a kindred soul. Olive, Again is not what you would call a page-turner. There are the none of the requisite heart-racing moments, but a steady beat of ordinary magic (which ends up being not so ordinary at all). —Erin Kodicek
Wild Game: My Mother, Her Lover, and Me by Adrienne Brodeur
When Adrienne Brodeur was fourteen years old, her mother entered her room to tell her “Ben Souther just kissed me.” Her mother wasn’t upset, despite the fact that Ben was not Adrienne’s stepfather. In fact, she was happy about it. This event sets off Brodeur’s memoir exploring her outwardly comfortable upbringing and the odd triangle that she, her mother, and Ben eventually created—the result is an engaging, at times breathless, read that builds in anticipation, even after that bang of a beginning. There is barely a wasted word in the book, and the tensions that develop between various members of the family, good or bad, recognized or not—as well the tensions we feel as readers—keep the narrative humming. It’s difficult to describe what makes one memoir more readable than another. But put this one at the top of your list. —Chris Schluep
Running with Sherman: The Donkey with the Heart of a Hero by Christopher McDougall
Readers—and runners—will recognize Christopher McDougall’s name as the author of the best-seller Born to Run, and his latest, Running with Sherman, is part animal love story, part adventure book, part feminist running manifesto, and part scientific exploration into healing. What it lacks in the cutting edge scientific research that helped make Born to Run a hit, it makes up for with heart and…fuzzy animals. Journalist McDougall lives on a farm in Amish Country (PA), and one day his neighbor alerts him to a donkey that has been neglected by its hoarder owner. McDougall adopts the donkey—Sherman—sight unseen and receives a traumatized, unhealthy animal who can barely walk due to his neglected hooves. While nursing Sherman back to health with the help of an equine expert, McDougall learns that donkeys thrive from having a job, and he remembers that ambitious athletes like himself race burros once a year in Colorado. Thus kicks off McDougall and Sherman’s training for the aforementioned annual burro race. Along the way they pick up a wacky cast of characters: two additional donkey running pals; a young man recovering from depression and a suicide attempt; McDougall’s incredibly patient, former hula-dancer wife turned trail runner and donkey whisperer; an Amish running club; two women who drive McDougall and donkeys across the country…you get the idea. McDougall is a fantastic storyteller and a witty writer: “The Amish have a better retention rate than Netflix: roughly 90 percent of young Amish adults choose to stick with the faith and join the church for life.” A fascinating and inspiring hybrid nonfiction salve to the problems of our day, Running with Sherman achieves the running equivalent of a hole-in-one. —Sarah Gelman
Life Undercover: Coming of Age in the CIA by Amaryllis Fox
While Amaryllis Fox’s memoir of her years as a CIA covert agent reads like a John le Carré novel come to life, the writing makes vehemently clear that a real person is moving in and out of the shadows. When the CIA recruits Fox as a Georgetown graduate student after she writes an algorithm to help predict terrorist attacks, her double life begins. After Fox goes through the weeding-out process, she’s forced to tell a good friend, also in contention for a CIA role, that she wasn’t selected. “Yeah right, I bet they just told you to say that,” the friend sagely remarks, and Fox bursts into tears, gutted by losing the last friend who knows the truth. Six months of advanced operations training at “the Farm” launches her into covert operations in the Middle East, where she’s tasked with finding would-be terrorists or terrorist suppliers and turning them into CIA sources. But marriage to another agent, a baby, and living in China while under constant supervision also take their toll. Even as Fox wins praise from Langley for her astonishing work in the field, her interior life is crumbling. Fox demonstrates not only the bravery and guts of young CIA agents—for they are almost all young—but the courage it takes to challenge whether a life of lies is a life worth living. Sparely written and gripping, Amaryllis Fox’s memoir dives into the beating heart of undercover work, illuminating its corrosive effects on the spirit even as she celebrates the humanity behind the hard-won triumphs. —Adrian Liang
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