Today's releases include a heartfelt novel about a female firefighter; a deeply strange (in a good way) murder mystery; and a deliciously irreverent coming-of-age tale.
Learn more about these and all of our picks for the Best Books of the Month.
Things You Save in a Fire: A Novel 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
Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead: A Novel 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
gods with a little g: A Novel 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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