Today's releases include the highly anticipated new novel by the author of The Night Circus; Susannah Cahalan does a deep dive into an infamous 50-year-old experiment; Flea of The Red Hot Chili Peppers tells his origin story; Jenny Slate gets weird, and more.
Learn more about these and all of our picks for the Best Books of the Month.
The Starless Sea: A Novel by Erin Morgenstern
Those of us who loved The Night Circus have waited nearly a decade for Erin Morgenstern’s next novel and The Starless Sea does not disappoint. In fact, Morgenstern’s enchanted touch with words and imagery, so vivid it’s impossible not to picture even the most delicate of details, is as exquisite as ever. The Starless Sea is a love letter to books and readers, a masterpiece of stories within a story where fables of pirates and princesses converge with the saga of Zachary Ezra Rawlins, the son of a fortune teller. A series of unusual events leads Rawlins to a secret repository of books and fairy tales, a place that contains worlds within time and somewhere a starless sea. Rawlins falls in love first with a book and later a person, both of which compel him to embark on a dangerous journey through time and place, lost loves, and lives lived again and again. I was delighted by Morgenstern’s nods to the beloved world-bending classic Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and—as I began to hope for in a book with many magical doors—Narnia. The Starless Sea reveals increasing layers of complexity as fiction and reality start to blend, and characters collide in surprising ways. I could go on and on about the beauty of Morgenstern’s writing, and the symbolism of the bee, the key, and the sword, but instead I will tell you that the night I finished this book I dreamt about it. And it was pure magic —Seira Wilson
The Great Pretender is a panoramic look at the mental health industry, but at its center is a mystery. As Cahalan, who is a journalist, sets out to learn more about David Rosenhan’s 1973 study, "On Being Sane in Insane Places," her work uncovers as many questions as it does answers. The result is a book that broadens our understanding of a system that many feel is broken, at the same time that it deepens our relationship to the people who are affected by that system (those who are admitted and those who are administering). It may also serve as a reminder that it’s not always good for us to meet our heroes. The more we read about Rosenhan, the more we begin to wonder if he wasn't a different kind of pretender than people thought him to be.—Chris Schluep
In the Dream House: A Memoir by Carmen Maria Machado
The shattering memoir In the Dream House from Carmen Maria Machado (Her Body and Other Parties) pivots around the small house in Bloomington, Indiana, that Machado’s girlfriend moves into shortly after they meet. This cozy domestic abode soon turns into a harrowing locus of emotional abuse. Short chapter after short chapter initially seem like pieces from five different puzzles as Machado describes the lead up to the relationship, the months of attacks, and the roller-coaster aftermath. But the ultimate picture Machado builds is brave and bold. Machado’s raw language and vulnerability unveils the deep confusion and pain from abuse that falls outside traditional expectations. At the same time, Machado puts her own strengths on display as she refuses to adhere to a memoir’s customary (and comfortable) structure. This isn’t a book for everyone. The cover design alone might give the prospective reader a hint as to the style of the journey ahead. But those who read In the Dream House will likely never forget it. —Adrian Liang
Acid for the Children: A Memoir by Flea
Red Hot Chili Peppers bassist Flea, born Michael Peter Balzary, has penned a soulful and absorbing memoir of his journey from his early childhood in Melbourne, Australia, to stadiums around the world as a first-class rock star. The Balzary family moved to the States when Flea and his older sister were four and six, first to New York City and later Los Angeles. A shy, quirky kid, Flea was an outsider, and as things deteriorated in his home he spent more and more time running the streets. Flea was introduced to jazz music at a young age and it became the great love of his life. Always a kid who pushed boundaries, in Los Angeles Flea found kindred spirits in music, drugs, and embracing life on the edge. Flea pours his heart onto these pages: his insecurity and longing for family, his innermost thoughts and dreams, even his pain and guilt over the death of his beloved friend and bandmate, Hillel Slovak. Before Flea enters into his complex but unbreakable friendship with Anthony Kiedis, he writes: “I’m scared to poison things between us, or scare the magic out of it by trying to understand it, but so be it. Here I go.” Flea’s writing style—with its full-stop honesty amid lyrical musings and meanderings—is both startling and riveting, like a burst of jazz trumpet rhythm. Musician, poet, reader, friend, troublemaker, seeker, hoops enthusiast, writer, Flea is a many-faceted individual, and readers will see all sides. Acid for the Children is equal parts wisdom and wildness, from a man who has only ever cared about the music. —Seira Wilson
Little Weirds by Jenny Slate
Author and comedian Jenny Slate is a little weird (in a very good way). Her aptly named collection of personal essays, Little Weirds, gives readers a glimpse into her strangely funny and tender, magically delicious mind. Divorced and broken-hearted, Slate returns to her childhood home in Massachusetts—an old house haunted by the ghost of a forlorn sea captain—and mines her rich inner world for stories of birth and death, crafts outrageous dating profiles from a Color-Spirit who loves spicy food and hates rock climbing, and sends formal cease and desist letters to her own boring dreams. Slate’s writing style is deeply personal, yet her prose is crisp to the taste in her retelling of the simple joy of a well-made sardine sandwich, and there’s a heft to her language, not unlike the weight of the Meyer lemons she carries in from the backyard. In one particularly poignant story, a psychic tells her to grow up, and Slate allows herself to finally let go and listen to her soft and bruised heart, paving the way for her to become the wild, free creature she knows herself to be—the one who’s having her bona fide moment in the spotlight now. —Marlene Kelly