Today's releases include a story that inspired Harper Lee to embark on her own true crime masterpiece, a lyrical, morally complex family saga, and a heart-wrenching but hopeful novel by "one of the West’s best literary legends."
Learn more about these and all of our picks for the Best Books of the Month.
Casey Cep’s Furious Hours is composed of many parts, and any one of those parts would make a good book. Together, they make a great book, describing the elements of a gothic true crime set in the south, and then placing Harper Lee there to cover the trial and write about it. When relatives of the Reverend Willie Maxwell started dying in the 1970s, many locals suspected him of practicing voodoo. The police thought otherwise, noting that Maxwell had taken out life insurance policies on the deceased relatives; still, for years Maxwell managed to evade punishment. Justice eventually caught up with the Reverend when a relative shot him dead at his stepdaughter’s funeral. And that’s where Harper Lee comes in. Lee, who had assisted her friend Truman Capote in researching In Cold Blood, wanted to observe the vigilante’s trial with the idea of writing a book about it. Furious Hours sets one of our most beloved authors in an Alabama courtroom to watch the drama unfold. Then Cep describes the years when Harper Lee reportedly tried to write about the case. This is a story concerned with justice and the truth, but it is also about art, mystery, and our darkest temptations. —Chris Schluep
The Guest Book: A Novel by Sarah Blake
Sarah Blake’s latest novel, The Guest Book, is a gorgeous epic that charts the course of an American family over three generations, from the 1930s to present day. Blake draws you into the Milton clan, and the more I became privy to their secrets, fears, and desires, the more I felt at home with every flawed one of them. Early in the novel, Blake’s character Evie tells her students, "History is between the cracks,” and so it is in this book: a history created in moments big and small, knitting itself together inside us, and of us. Crockett Island, off the coast of Maine, bought by Kitty and Ogden Milton in 1936 as a place of refuge and legacy, is as much a character in the novel as those who gather there. Through Blake’s writing I could smell the ocean, see the lilac tree beside the door. And I could feel Kitty and Ogden’s dream fray when the grandchildren inherit the island and all it represents. The Miltons’ story mirrors the times in which they lived, and we watch as parents and siblings make choices driven by ambition, prejudice, or pride that later haunt them and their progeny. Issues of gender inequality, classism, racism, breaking free from the past—Blake tackles them all, because all play an important role in the history of the family as well as that of the country in which we live. There is so much I want to tell you about this book. So many passages I have underlined and returned to. Instead, I invite you to visit the Miltons of Crockett Island in the pages of The Guest Book yourself, so that you too may experience the emotional resonance of Blake’s remarkable and thought-provoking novel. —Seira Wilson
A Job You Mostly Won't Know How to Do: A Novel by Pete Fromm
For Taz and his wife, Marnie, the fixer-upper they buy is symbolic of so much about them and where they are in life. It’s a work in progress, the first step in the life they hope to build together. And when they learn Marnie is pregnant during the renovation, it is one more piece falling into place. But their grand plan to build the perfect life falls apart when Marnie dies in childbirth. Now Taz must navigate first-time fatherhood alone, mentally clinging to the shattered remains of how he thought his life would be, with barely enough time or mental energy to cope with the way it’s turned out. A carpenter by trade, Taz is used to fixing and making, but this is an ordeal he can’t fix or make conform to plan. Pete Fromm excels at showing how everyday people cope with tragedy and endure what they cannot evade. A Job You Mostly Won't Know How to Do is a quietly elegant novel about working through grief and loss by putting one foot in front of the other and about letting people into your broken places to comfort and to heal you. —Vannessa Cronin
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