Best literature and fiction of August

Erin Kodicek on August 15, 2019
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A deliciously irreverent coming-of-age tale; a story that puts a human face on a faraway conflict; a deeply strange (in a good way) murder-mystery, and more. 

See all of our literature and fiction picks, or browse the rest of the Best Books of the Month


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gods with a little g by Tupelo Hassman

Diabolically irreverent, sardonic, and sad, gods with a little g is a deeply felt novel about belonging, loss, and sex—I mean love. The novel is about a rebellious teenager growing up in a fanatically religious town with her father, who so deeply mourns the death of his wife that his daughter must remind him of the most basic tasks—showering, for one. She’s punky but beneath the bravado is a good kid despite her hanging out with a crew that likes to punch each other for fun. Make no mistake, there are dark moments to this book, but it’s also about a teenager making her way through life—making friends, making fun, pretending it’s all fine as she finds the parts of her that are lost. Hassman’s writing vibrates with honesty, hilarity, and twists of language that sparkle with gusto. Very few books have the ricochet verve that this novel does. It is special, and amidst the hardship, the beer cans, and the rebellion, there is great effervescent hope, which keeps us all going. —Al Woodworth


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The Beekeeper of Aleppo by Christy Lefteri

When I would hear of Aleppo, the image it conjured is the now-iconic photo of a stunned and bloodied child sitting in an ambulance--collateral damage in Syria’s ongoing civil war. In the U.S. this conflict seemed so remote, but that image brought it close and engendered empathy for the plight of the people there. That’s what Christy Lefteri’s novel The Beekeeper of Aleppo does as well, a heart-wrenching story that humanizes the immigration debate by illuminating the sorts of desperate circumstances that compel people to flee their home countries or face a violent, and likely deadly, end. When the novel begins, ordinary Syrian couple Nuri and Afra’s son has been killed, Afra is blinded, and Nuri’s beloved apiary has been destroyed. Increasingly imperiled, they set out on a treacherous trek to the UK by way of Turkey and Greece—a journey that will test their already fractured relationship, and their faith in the world. Lefteri is the daughter of refugees and volunteered at a center for the displaced in Athens. What that experience imprinted on her permeates the pages of The Beekeeper of Aleppo; reading it will mark you in a deeply personal way too. —Erin Kodicek


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Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead by Olga Tokarczuk

Janina Duszejko, the book’s solitary, 60-something main character, is earnest bordering on kooky. She writes long, unanswered letters to the police department about animal rights issues. (Hunting is popular in the remote Polish village where she lives and cares for part-time residents’ summer houses.) When she’s not preparing simple meals for herself and a former student with whom she translates William Blake on Friday nights, she’s weathering her ”Ailments” or looking for correlations between what’s on TV and the configuration of “the Planets.” Thinking that names don’t match the person (including her own), she refers to those around her by their defining characteristics: Oddball, Bigfoot, Dizzy, Good News. And it’s through her eyes that we watch the body count rise in this most unusual literary murder mystery.

The book opens with a widely disliked neighbor found dead in his home. As more local figures are murdered, Janina develops a peculiar theory that brings her closer and closer to the truth. Between the indelible first-person voice and the pitch-perfect translation of author Olga Tokarczuk’s original Polish, it’s easy to forget that this engaging portrait of small town life is also a devilishly well-plotted crime novel. —Katy Ball


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Things You Save in a Fire by Katherine Center

Texan firefighter Cassie Hanwell loves her job and the men and women she works with at her Austin-based station. When Cassie’s estranged mother calls up out of the blue to ask Cassie to move to Boston to help her after an operation, Cassie reluctantly agrees, but her pending transfer to the nearby all-male fire station doesn’t worry her overly until her female captain in Austin starts offering advice: “If you make eye contact, make it straight on, like a predator.” “No sex with firefighters. Or friends of firefighters. Or relatives of firefighters.” “If your captain says to run a mile, run two.” As for pull-ups? “Do thirty, at least…. And make sure you can do at least a few one-handed.” Cassie hopes this advice will turn out to be anachronistic, but a fire station that’s never had a “lady” firefighter in 120 years adapts slowly. And reluctantly. Making the whole situation even worse is the rookie, the bighearted new guy whom all the other firefighters like far more than they do Cassie, though she’s clearly more skilled. And Cassie, to her horror, really likes the rookie as well. Funny, smart, and smartly paced, Things You Save in a Fire ignites around the topics of equality, love, redemption, and forgiveness even as it delivers an unforgettable protagonist who shows off not just “a few” but nine breathtaking, cheer-worthy one-handed pull-ups on her first day at work. —Adrian Liang


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Chances Are… by Richard Russo

In Richard Russo's Chances Are..., three men in their sixties have arrived on Martha's Vineyard for a Memorial Day weekend. They attended college together, and while the men haven't seen each other recently, they reconnect naturally, as old friends often do. Lincoln, who lives out west, is the owner of the Chilmark cottage where they are staying; Teddy is a small press publisher from Syracuse; Mickey is a musician who lives on Cape Cod. Not present, but always present in their minds, is Jacy, another college friend, and the girl they were all not-so-secretly in love with who disappeared from the island on Memorial Day weekend in 1971. The time before she disappeared holds an important place in each man's identity and memory, and she stands as a reference point to many of their conversations and thoughts. What would Jacy think if she saw them now? one of them wonders. Three goddamn old men. But what starts off as a story about three aging baby boomers begins to open up into a mystery, as the men, especially Lincoln, try to uncover the events that led to Jacy's disappearance so long ago. This is not a full-fledged mystery novel, mind you; rather it's a thoughtful book on aging, memory, friendship, and expectation. But there is a mystery within it, and the payoff is genuinely unexpected. And Russo's observations on life are worth the ticket all by themselves. Chances Are... is a really enjoyable summer read. --Chris Schluep

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