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Summer’s Last Stand: 12 Books to Read in August

A new Julian Barnes, more thrills from Lisa Jewell and the latest from Taylor Jenkins Reid round out our list of the month’s best fiction / BY Nathalie Atkinson / July 28th, 2022


For these waning summer days and nights, our pick of the month’s top fiction includes a spooky literary gothic, domestic suspense, artistic ambition, female friendship and a masterful campus novel that takes on colonialism in an inventive way.

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. 

1Kismet by Amina Akhtar

If it’s summer and there’s a swimming pool on the cover, I am going to read at least the first chapter. This darkly funny nail-biter set in the upscale New Age spa world of the Arizona desert kept me turning the pages. Like her protagonist Ronnie, Akhtar (a former fashion editor at Vogue and The Cut) is of Pakistani descent, and this is a witty satire of the white wellness industry’s cultural theft. You can read our interview with Akhtar here. (Aug. 1)


2Mercury Pictures Presents by Anthony Marra

Marra’s debut novel A Constellation of Vital Phenomena brought fame, and his latest – similarly sweeping and also set largely during the Second World War –  is about an Italian-born movie producer who tries to keep her studio afloat in Los Angeles. The New Haven, Conn.-based author explores Hollywood’s propaganda films. and the racial stereotyping that fuelled American xenophobia, through a community of artistic exiles and emigrés who take refuge from the fascism advancing in Europe, all plying their creative skills in the industry as much as they are allowed. (Aug. 2)


3The Last White Man by Mohsin Hamid

Anders wakes up one day to find his white skin has turned dark, and he’s not alone – everyone in town is slowly turning brown. British-Pakistani novelist Hamid (How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia; Exit West) says he wanted to explore whiteness unsparingly and honestly in this powerful allegory that recasts Kafka’s Metamorphosis and interrogates the current racial age. “My need to write this novel grew during the aughts, when I lived in London, encountering more of a threatened whiteness during the unease that morphed into Brexit.” (Aug. 2)

 


4The Book Eaters by Sunyi Dean

The enchanting cover by my long-time favourite English paper artist Su Blackwell is what led me to this modern fairy tale about a secret line of people who metabolize the contents of the books they eat – and I’m thrilled it did. The story of Devon, who takes her son on the run to escape her community’s tradition of arranged marriages, is a speculative fiction meditation on queerness and motherhood that Dean, an autistic author of fantasy fiction, calls a love letter to fairy tales and a critical examination of their flaws. It’s a perfect fit for Neil Gaiman fans. (Aug 2.)


5Small Angels by Lauren Owen

I’ve been anxiously awaiting this novel since I read the English writer’s epic Victorian vampire debut, The Quick, which, at the time, I described as Henry James meets Bram Stoker’s Dracula. The tense and atmospheric Gothic, about a family cursed to serve the whims of a vengeful spirit, leans into folk-horror when a wedding in a small English village reawakens a perhaps-haunted, perhaps-magical wood. Exploring landscape, folklore, the bonds of sisterhood and a long-ago murder, it’s a sumptuously written contemporary update on the classic ghost story. (Aug. 2)


6The Family Remains by Lisa Jewell

You don’t have to have read the first book to be gripped by the continuing twists and turns of the beleaguered Lamb family in the sequel to the London writer’s bestseller, The Family Upstairs. (But you should: it’s a chilling house of horrors). The taut psychological suspense novel picks up a few years later, when mysterious human remains wash up on the shore of the Thames and unanswered questions from the previous case resurface, with a new inexplicable murder-mystery that’s somehow related. (Aug. 9)


7Utopia by Heidi Sopinka

It begins as if Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca was set in the patriarchal Los Angeles art scene of 1970s, and the resemblance is deliberate. Following ambitious young artist Paz, who takes the place, so to speak, of her husband’s late first wife Romy (also an artist), this novel of entanglements among a group of artists muses on power, artisthood and female friendship. Toronto writer Sopinka, one half of the made-in-Canada women’s clothing label Horses, has written a California-desert dream capsule. (Aug. 9)


8Elizabeth Finch by Julian Barnes

The Elizabeth of the title is an inspirational continuing-education teacher of a Culture & Civilization class that profoundly marked her pupils. She is recalled in the narration by former (and still devoted) student Neil, a middle-aged man of failed marriages and careers. Musing on the notes Elizabeth left him after her death, it’s full of sentiment, inquisitiveness and philosophy. British Booker Prize-winner Barnes (The Sense of an Ending), 76, has written a sort of roman-à-clef homage: the remarkable subject of Neil’s fascination and tribute is based on Barnes’s close friend, the award-winning novelist Anita Brookner. (Aug. 16)


9Please Join Us by Catherine McKenzie

If you crossed Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In with the not-quite-secret collective of international business and political elites called the Bilderberg Group, you’d get something like this potboiler by former Montreal lawyer McKenzie (whose You Can’t Catch Me has been optioned for TV). The idea of a similar female cabal forms the plot of this sinister tale about a mid-career lawyer whose fortunes change after she joins an exclusive anonymous women’s networking group, but ends up with more trouble than she signed up for. (Aug. 23)


10Babel by R.F. Kuang

This dark academic thriller is set in an alternate 1830s Oxford, where scholars from colonized nations work at the university’s prestigious institute of translation. The novel’s hero, Robin, a Chinese boy saved from a cholera epidemic and raised in England, is dropped into this rich milieu of secret societies and, soon, student protests. Pitched as a decolonial response to Kuang’s favourite book, Donna Tartt’s The Secret History, as well as Susanna Clarke’s Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell, the award-winning author, translator and Yale academic (of The Poppy War trilogy) takes on imperialism, translation studies and global trade. Liberally footnoted, richly drawn and extremely ambitious, it’s already being hailed as a masterpiece. (Aug. 23)


11The Witches of Moonshyne Manor by Bianca Marais

What if the Golden Girls were a coven? That’s the premise of this rom-com about misfit octogenarian witches who have fallen behind on their mortgage payments and become the target of unscrupulous developers. Written in the lockdown winter of 2021, it is  interspersed with recipes from the witches’ grimoire (including love spells, shaving potions and cocktails – because the witches are distillers, naturally).  The South Africa-raised, Toronto-based author of Hum if You Don’t Know the Words has been praised by Ann Patchett, and this is a great romp of a read – especially if, as Marais says in her author’s note, you “have big plans to age as disgracefully as you possibly can.” (Aug. 23)


12Carrie Soto is Back by Taylor Jenkins Reid

Los Angeles bestseller TJR was already a superstar of summer reads when her 2017 novel The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo blew up on BookTok, and now the forthcoming adaptation of her Daisy Jones & The Six will star Elvis Presley’s granddaughter, Riley Keough. Her latest smart, breezy read tells the story of tennis champ Carrie Soto, a minor character from last year’s hit, Malibu Rising, who was coached to greatness by her father. When nemesis Nicki Chan topples Soto’s record-setting 20 Grand Slams, she comes out of retirement to reclaim it. Much of the novel is set in a fictional version of the 1980s women’s tennis scene (with composites of Chris Evert Lloyd, Martina Navratilova, et al.), and takes readers inside the making of an elite athlete – the game tactics, relationships and sacrifice, complete with media misogyny. Think: The Natural, but make it feminist and tennis. Even if you aren’t into the sport (I’m not), you’ll be riveted (I was). (Aug. 30)


THE SCROLL

Salman Rushdie, Novelist Who Drew Death Threats, Is Stabbed at New York LectureThe Indian-born novelist who was ordered killed by Iran in 1989 because of his writing, was attacked before giving a talk on artistic freedom.


Raymond Briggs, Creator of Beloved Children’s Tale ‘The Snowman’, Dies at 88First published in 1978, the pencil crayon-illustrated wordless picture book sold more than 5.5 million copies around the world while a television adaption became a Christmas favourite in Britain and was nominated for an Oscar.


Canadian Author Emily St. John Mandel Makes Barack Obama’s 2022 Summer Reading ListObama's list includes everything from fiction to books on politics, cultural exploration and basketball.


Canadian Author Rebecca Eckler to Launch RE:books Publishing House Focused on Female Authors and Fun ReadsThe former National Post columnist says her tagline is ‘What’s read is good, and what’s good is read.’”


Brian Thomas Isaac’s “All the Quiet Places” wins $5,000 Indigenous Voices AwardThe B.C. author, a retired bricklayer, drew on his childhood growing up on the Okanagan Indian reserve for his coming-of-age story set in 1956


Canadian-American Author Ruth Ozeki Wins Women’s Book Prize for “The Book of Form and Emptiness”The UK judges said her fourth novel, inspired in part by the Vancouver Public Library, contained "sparkling writing, warmth, intelligence, humour and poignancy."


The Bill Gates Summer Reading List Includes a Sci-Fi Novel On Gender Inequality Suggested by His DaughterBill Gates' summer reading list includes fiction and non-fiction titles that cover gender equality, political polarization and climate change.


American novelist Joshua Cohen wins the Pulitzer Prize for fiction for “The Netanyahus”The 2022 Pulitzer prizes include this satirical look at identity politics, focused on the father of former Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, at a crucial time in the Jewish state’s history


Margaret Atwood, Alice Munro Among Canadian Authors Recognized in Commemorative Reading List Marking Queen’s Platinum JubileeThe authors are among six Canadian scribes included on the The Big Jubilee Read list.


Queen Elizabeth II’s Aide Reveals Details of Life in Royal Pandemic Lockdown in New Addition to BookAngela Kelly, who's worked for the Queen for 20 years, discusses everything from cutting the Queen's hair to "the light and laughter that was shared ... even in the darkest moments."


New Leonard Cohen Story Collection, ‘A Ballet of Lepers,’ Set for October ReleaseThe collection features a novel, short stories and a radio play written between 1956 and 1961.


Archived Letters Reveal How Toni Morrison Helped MacKenzie Scott Meet Future Husband Jeff BezosBezos hired Scott at the hedge fund where he worked after receiving a recommendation from Morrison. Shortly thereafter, the pair married and Scott helped Bezos launch Amazon.


Prince Harry’s Memoir is Set to Rock the MonarchyFriends say the California-based royal got a million-pound book deal to write "an intimate take on his feeling about the family."


European Jewish Congress Asks Publisher to Pull Anne Frank BookThe Congress says 'The Betrayal of Anne Frank' has "deeply hurt the memory of Anne Frank, as well as the dignity of the survivors and the victims of the Holocaust."


Canadian Author Details Anne Frank Cold-Case Investigation That Named Surprise Suspect in Her Family’s Betrayal in New BookAhead of the 75th anniversary of the publication of Frank's 'The Diary of a Young Girl' in June, a team that included a retired FBI agent and around 20 historians, criminologists and data specialists identified a relatively unknown figure as a leading suspect in revealing her family's hideout.


Man Who Tricked Authors Into Handing Over Unpublished Manuscripts Arrested by FBI in New YorkFilippo Bernardini, an employee of a well known publication house, has been arrested for stealing hundreds of unpublished manuscripts.


Hollywood Legend Betty White Has a Last Laugh in New Biographic Comic BookThe creators of the biographical comic book have released similar books about Hollywood legends like Carrie Fisher, Lucille Ball, David Bowie and Elizabeth Taylor.


Barack Obama Reveals His List of Books That Left “A Lasting Impression” in 2021Obama's favourite 2021 reads include two-time Pulitzer Prize-winning author Colson Whitehead's 'Harlem Shuffle' and 'Klara and the Sun,' by Nobel Prize-winning author Kazuo Ishiguro


“Interview With the Vampire” Author Anne Rice Dies at 80 — Tributes Pour in From Stuart Townsend and OthersThe author, who was best known for her work in gothic fiction, died on Saturday evening as a result of complications from a stroke.


Norma Dunning wins $25,000 Governor General’s English fiction prize for ‘Tainna’The Edmonton-based Inuk writer explores themes of displacement, loneliness and spirituality in six short stories


Omar El Akkad wins $100,000 Giller prize for “What Strange Paradise”The former Globe and Mail reporter, who published "American War" to acclaim in 2017, tackles the global migrant refugee crisis in his second novel


South African Author Damon Galgut Wins the Booker Prize For ‘The Promise’Galgut received nominations for his 2003 and 2010 works before finally taking home the prize this year. 


Hollywood Legend Paul Newman Discusses Life, Acting and Aging Gracefully in Newly Discovered MemoirPublishers of the newly discovered memoir say the Hollywood legend wrote the book in the 1980s in response to the relentless media attention he received during that time.


Here’s What You Need to Know About the Toronto International Festival of AuthorsDirector Roland Gulliver lands in Toronto to open his second, much-expanded virtual festival with more than 200 events


Tanzanian Novelist Gurnah Wins 2021 Nobel Prize in Literature for Depicting the Impact of Colonialism and Refugee StoriesGurnah, 72, is only the second writer from sub-Saharan Africa to win one of the world's most prestigious literary awards


Miriam Toews Garners Third Giller Prize Nomination for “Fight Night” after Shortlist AnnouncedSophomore efforts from novelists Omar El Akkad and Jordan Tannahill join debut books from Cheluchi Onyemelukwe-Onuobia and Angélique Lalonde


Tina Brown’s New Book, ‘The Palace Papers’, Covers the Royal Family’s Reinvention After Diana’s Tragic DeathTina Brown's sequel to her 2007 release 'The Diana Chronicles' is set to hit shelves April 12, 2022. 


Audible.ca Releases Andrew Pyper’s Exclusive Audiobook “Oracle” For New Plus Catalogue LaunchThe thriller about a psychic FBI detective is one of 12,000 titles now available for free to members


Barack Obama and Bruce Springsteen to Release Book Based On Their “Renegades” PodcastThe new book will feature a collection of candid, intimate and entertaining conversations


Prince Harry Will Publish a Memoir in Late 2022Harry says he's writing the book "not as the prince I was born but as the man I have become."


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