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What to Read in August

Zoomer's best fiction picks this month include a hardboiled noir from Stephen King, a heartbreaking and hilarious novel from Miriam Toews and another nail-biter by Paula Hawkins / BY Nathalie Atkinson / July 30th, 2021

We’ve got 11 novels for the flickering hot days of August, which Sylvia Plath called “the odd uneven time.” From Stephen King taking a pulse-pounding page from the legendary crime writer Donald Westlake and a satire of Conran-era design to Charlotte McConaghy’s lyrical new eco-fiction and a sprawling saga named for the influential African-American rights activist who co-founded the NAACP,  here are our picks for the best fiction coming out this month.

Obsessive Book Buyers: Zoomer editors have carefully curated our book coverage to ensure you find the perfect read. We may earn a commission on books you buy by clicking on the cover image. 

1Something New Under the Sun Alexandra Kleeman

As a writer oversees the big-screen adaptation of his novel, the machinations of the movie business commingle with a looming eco-catastrophe. It’s set in a near-future Hollywood ravaged by wildfire, where the synthetic water supply is privatized; it also skirts southern California cults and conspiracies. As she did in her acclaimed debut You Too Can Have a Body Like Mine, the U.S. writer grapples with contemporary maladies. While water was the source of Los Angeles corruption in Chinatown, here it’s a way of exploring how much can be lost, and how quickly. (Aug. 3)

2Billy Summers Stephen King

King, who recently observed that the pandemic isn’t that different from his bleak fantasy The Stand, sets his customary supernatural horror aside for this hardboiled noir about a well-read former military sniper turned ruthless killer-for-hire. It’s a rescue and revenge story set during the penultimate summer of the Trump presidency when Summers, the hit man with PTSD, is doing his proverbial final job before taking a stab at redemption. All the while, Summers is penning a memoir, so the taut set pieces are interspersed with musings about the craft that recall King’s memoir On Writing. A road-trip crime thriller stuffed with highbrow literary references and hints of The Shining? Hell, yes. (Aug. 3)

3Once There Were Wolves Charlotte McConaghy

In her instant bestselling novel Migrations, McConaghy followed a woman who traced what might have been the last migratory journey of the Arctic tern. The Australian writer returns to the lessons and perils of the natural world in this literary eco-thriller about twin sisters who grow up in the forests of Alaska and British Columbia, where one goes on to make a career out of reintroducing grey wolves to habitats where they have gone extinct. Inti arrives in Scotland to lead a conservation team in the Scottish Highlands, and there’s a whodunit element as the local farming community resists her work. (Aug. 3)

4We Are the Brennans Tracey Lange

What is it about summer reading, where we escape real-life family drama by reading novels about family drama? The engrossing reason is that Tolstoy was probably right: All happy families are alike, but each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way. This perceptive and compassionate debut about a wayward daughter who reluctantly returns to the fold of her multi-generational, dysfunctional, Irish Catholic family after a failed attempt at independence has been compared to Ann Patchett’s novels and Cynthia D’Aprix Sweeney’s The Nest. The U.S. author comes from a big Irish family herself, and this novel singles her out as one of Publishers Weekly’s Writers to Watch this season. (Aug. 3)


5Clark and Division Naomi Hirahara

In this Second World War story inspired by real events, 20-year-old Aki Ito doggedly uncovers the truth behind the Chicago subway death, by apparent suicide, of her beloved older sister, Rose. After the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor in 1941, the Japanese-American Ito family was incarcerated in California’s Manzanar internment camp. In 1944, after their release, they are about to be reunited with Rose – who was relocated to Chicago’s Clark and Division neighbourhood two months before – when she dies. Based on years of meticulous historical research, this resonant, bracing mystery from the author of the Edgar-winning Mas Arai series explores rising anti-Asian sentiment in the 1940s, as well as the dark, racist legacy of the federal 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act, which banned the immigration of all Chinese labourers, and the 1924 Immigration Act that barred all Arabs and Asians from entering America. (Aug. 3)


6The Shimmering State Meredith Westgate

In this enthralling novel, Memoroxin is an experimental new drug developed for Alzheimer’s patients, but the twist is that the pills contain happy personal memories chosen by its subjects. Naturally, off-label applications have made it a black-market sensation for those who seek the allure (and nostalgia) of experiencing other people’s memories. The dreamlike story from this New York writer follows two patients who bond over possible déja vu in rehab, after one of them steals his grandmother’s Mem pills in order to re-experience his late mother through her eyes. (Aug. 10)

7Fight Night Miriam Toews

With the movie of her international bestseller All My Puny Sorrows set to have its world premiere at TIFF and Sarah Polley currently filming Women Talking with Frances McDormand, Claire Foy and Rooney Mara, it’s the season of Toews. The Toronto writer’s latest novel takes the form of a letter written by a precocious nine-year-old girl, who lives with her physically frail grandmother and psychologically damaged, pregnant mother, to her absent father. The Fight of the title is a nod to Fight Club novelist Chuck Palahniuk, but it’s about women girding themselves to be resilient, and, as always with a Toews novel, it’s both heartbreaking and hilarious. (Aug. 24)

8Mrs. March Virginia Feito

Our titular housewife is married to a bestselling writer and has an enviable life – much like Virginia Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway – forever preparing to host cocktail parties in their handsome Upper East Side apartment. The fact that she’s reading Daphne du Maurier in this domestic potboiler is a clue, however, that sex and jealousy aren’t far off. Mrs. March believes she is the inspiration for the unlikable prostitute in her husband’s latest novel, and that not only is he having an affair, he’s also a murderer. We’re privy to the paranoia and insecurity of her inner monologue as she dwells on her perceived deficiencies and (slowly, maybe) unravels. The story from Feito, a Spanish writer, so enraptured Emmy-winning actress Elisabeth Moss (The Handmaid’s Tale, Mad Men) that she’s developing it into a movie. (Aug. 10)

9The Love Songs of W.E.B. DuBois Honorée Fanonne Jeffers

This ambitious epic spans 500 years (and more than 800 pages) and covers the genocide of Native Americans and the Atlantic slave trade as it follows the fortunes of a Black American family to the near-present. Rooted in Georgia, it’s also the renowned National Book Award-nominated poet’s novel debut. Modern-day protagonist Ailey was raised in Washington, but moves to the South and explores the roots of her maternal ancestors. The much-anticipated novel from the U.S. poet is described as a “loving and sprawling portrait of Black Americans who survive slavery only to fight to make space for themselves in a country that continues to question their worth.” (Aug. 24)

10A Slow Fire Burning Paula Hawkins

There’s no girl in the title, but there are several in the plot – and all three become prime suspects after a young man is murdered. Unfolding with inventive layers and a large cast of characters, the small-town secrets and drama is a novel-within-a-novel, interspersed with excerpts of a book written by one of them (not unlike Margaret Atwood’s Booker winner, The Blind Assassin). What a ride! You’d expect no less from the British author of the relentless page-turner, The Girl on the Train. (Aug. 31)

11The Art of Living Stephen Bayley

Best known in his native Britain as a cultural commentator, Bayley wrote many appreciations of democratic design pioneer Sir Terence Conran after his legendary friend and colleague died last fall. Now he’s written the roman à clef. Imagine a not-entirely flattering but avidly entertaining portrait of the Habitat mastermind called, in these pages, Sir Eustace Dunn. Through witty set pieces and episodes, Bayley paints an immersive, nostalgic picture of how revolutionary it was to introduce “good design” (Scandi ceramics, Japanese paper lanterns and everyday French kitchen kit) to post-war England’s aspirational and emerging suburban middle class. The sly romp is both a blistering satire and a love letter about the genius magpie who changed British society through design. (Aug. 31)


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