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Take It as Read: The 14 Best Books of August

Any of this month's fiction picks will make a perfect addition to your summertime reading list / BY Nathalie Atkinson / July 27th, 2023

As French Riviera resident Somerset Maugham once wrote to a friend: “The heat is intense, the garden lovely, the chair long and cool, the lime-juice at hand, a bathing-pool there if one wishes to splash, scenery, books, gramophones, pretty people.” But which book? We’re here to help. Double-crossing suspense, families grappling with grief, historical figures criss-crossing continents and centuries to excavate forgotten figures, and ties that bind (for better or for worse) populate our August fiction highlights, with new novels by Zed Book Club favourites Emma Donoghue, William Boyd, Terry Fallis and Ann Patchett.

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.

1The African Samurai by Craig Shreve

Toronto author Shreve’s historical novel charts the rise of Yasuke, and is the true story of a young Black soldier granted the title of a traditional Japanese warrior in spite of being a foreigner, and who, as a boy, was sold as a slave to Portuguese mercenaries and later imprisoned by a warlord in Japan. Thanks to international publishing deals and advance buzz, a Netflix series is already in the works about this historical figure. The novel hopscotches continents, as well as the 16th century, in order to excavate his powerful story.

2Tom Lake by Ann Patchett

Meryl Streep narrates the Audible audiobook, and you’ll be forgiven for assuming it was inspired by Chekhov: When the pandemic prevents seasonal worker travel in 2020, Lara’s three grown daughters make their way to the family farm in northern Michigan to help with the cherry crop. While harvesting, their mother recounts her youthful romance with a now-famous movie star (while they performed “Our Town” in summer stock at Tom Lake Theatre Company), and exposes how little children know or understand about their parents’ lives before them. It’s exactly the rich tale of family and legacy we’ve come to expect from the beloved Nashville author of Bel Canto and The Dutch House. (Aug. 1)

3The Apology by Jimin Han

Family drama is great … when it’s someone else’s. After receiving a letter, a 105-year-old woman living in South Korea travels to the U.S. to prevent a tragedy but unfortunately dies and is thrust into the afterlife burdened with a generational curse. Told in the curmudgeonly centenarian’s voice as she tries to set things right with those who remain among the living, the New York-based Korean American author has crafted a ghost story about diaspora, trauma and family sacrifice — as well as redemption, at any age — that’s both funny and tender. (Aug. 1)

4Sun Damage by Sabine Durrant

Book blurbers are, in my view, reckless with unmerited comparisons to Patricia Highsmith — but this suspense novel is a worthy Ripley successor. Both the toxic relationship between two con artists on the make in the idyllic south of France (including machinations that reveal casual privilege) and later, the awkward power dynamic between a rich family and their holiday chef Lulu in Provence are riveting. They’ll throw readers off balance, with the bonus of a critique of gourmet foodie culture embedded in there. (Aug. 1)

5Family Loreby Elizabeth Acevedo

This month marks the 50th anniversary of hip-hop, widely acknowledged to be born during a Bronx party on Aug. 11, 1973 when DJ Kool Herc pioneered the break beat style on two turntables. That rhythm permeates The Poet X’s and National Book Award-winning YA superstar’s first adult fiction foray: An engrossing drama told through the voices of several supernaturally gifted Dominican American family members who are gathered for a living wake. It’s a hotly anticipated work by the Afro Dominican NYT bestselling author who is a former junior high English teacher, and an exemplar of ensemble storytelling loosely inspired by the author’s own eight aunts. (Aug. 1)

6Bridge by Lauren Beukes

Between the hit animated Spider-Verse and Oscar-sweeping Everything Everywhere All at Once, the multiverse continues to have a moment. This high concept novel serves grief well in its suspenseful portrait of a daughter’s longing for her late mother. While emptying her mother’s house, Bridget finds an object that allows her to visit all the possible versions of her life, including those where her mother might still be alive. (Aug. 8)

7California Golden by Melanie Benjamin

As adults, the Donnelly sisters Mindy and Ginger try to make peace with their unconventional upbringing by a mother who broke the gender barrier to become a top female surfer in the 1960s. This is my reco for fans of Daisy Jones, thanks to the ability of the bestselling historical fiction author of The Swans of Fifth Avenue and The Aviator’s Wife to conjure the heady early days of California surf culture so thoroughly that you can practically hear Jan & Dean, as well as Pet Sounds, wafting off the page. (Aug. 8)

8The Heaven & Earth Grocery Store by James McBride

The New York-based National Book Award winner (for The Good Lord Bird) and noted musician unravels the events (and secrets) that have bound the fates of the neighbourhood’s Black and Jewish families together for decades in this gritty, absorbing saga that draws on the author’s mixed-race upbringing and milieu chronicled in his bestselling memoir The Color of Water. Set in the summer of 1972, with flashbacks, it’s about a skeleton found at the bottom of a well that sets a reckoning in motion for the neighbourhood. (Aug. 8)

9None of This is True by Lisa Jewell

This is a creepy pas de deux about two women who meet by accident on what turns out to be a shared birthday. With Josie the latest subject of Alix’s podcast, Alix becomes the real subject as it turns into true crime. Alternating chapters reveal how Josie insinuated herself, and are interspersed with interviews for an after-the-fact (fictional) Netflix docu-series called ‘The Birthday Twin.’ Things escalate, as they are wont to do in psychological thrillers by this No. 1 British author. Trust me when I say that not only does it toy with expectations as it escalates, but it also gets satisfyingly meta. (Aug. 8)

10The Romantic by William Boyd

Purporting to be the memoirs of Logan Mountstuart, who lived in every decade of the 20th century, 2002’s Any Human Heart is a book I have bonded over with many strangers, so I will follow its Scottish author anywhere. In Boyd’s latest amusing and fast-paced ‘whole-life’ pseudo-autobiography (his fourth!), anywhere turns out to be a wild romp through Ireland, England, France, America, Austria and Africa on the heels of ‘Cash’ Greville Ross. The 19th century everyman fought at Waterloo, knew poets Lord Byron and Shelley and is as briskly energetic as my fave. (Aug. 15)

11Eden by Jim Crace

The Booker-shortlisted author of Harvest harnesses all his poetic language to retell the myth of Eden after the departure of Adam and Eve. Is it paradise lost or paradise found? There are at least 50 gardeners left tending to the gorgeous grounds who must obey the whims of God, who communicates his caprices through angels (in the form of birds) and the head gardener. Soon they too are longing for escape beyond the walls and, possibly, insurgency is afoot. We think we know how this ends but Crace’s recreation — a fable about freedom — has a surprise or two in store. (Aug. 22)

12Learned by Heartby Emma Donoghue

The Irish-born Canadian novelist (Room) was very enthusiastic about 19th century York landowner, lesbian and industrialist Anne Lister (at the time, the subject of HBO drama Gentleman Jack) back when we spoke about her 2019 novel, Akin. Donoghue has been studying Lister since 1991 (!) so it was only a matter of time before she’d draw on years of fascination and research — and Lister’s secret journals — to excavate the historical figure’s dangerous youthful romance with an Indian heiress at the Manor School for young ladies. (Aug. 29)

13Rage the Nighby Donna Morrissey

The bestselling Canadian author’s latest novel about Roan, a young man’s search for his true identity incorporates the 1914 Sealing Disaster in which local ships made their way into the dangerous ice floes off Newfoundland’s north coast for the spring hunt. In the disaster, 132 sealers from the SS Newfoundland were stranded on the ice in blizzard conditions without adequate shelter. The hardship and tragedy is a crucial backdrop to the orphan’s intimate personal quest. (Aug. 29)

14 A New Season by Terry Fallis

The Toronto writer’s stock in trade is vividly observed satire in books that have won Canada Reads (The Best Laid Plans) and earned the Stephen Leacock Medal for Humour (twice). His latest is more melancholy. More than two years after losing his beloved wife, Annie, during the COVID-19 pandemic, 62-year-old freelance writer Jack is still living, zombie-like, awash in grief. Inspired by a love of jazz age Paris writers like Ernest Hemingway and F. Scott Fitzgerald (and at the urging of his late wife in a final video message), the widower takes himself to the City of Light in the hopes of resetting his life for the future. The billing is “a thoughtful exploration of aging, loss, family, friendship and love” and the first-person narration gives voice to the many dimensions of sorrow collectively and individually experienced these past few years. (Aug. 29)


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