August’s Top Picks in Fiction

In the final month of summer, we’re looking for reads that are dishy with depth, and page-turners that are smart and engrossing enough to keep our attention in the season’s dog days. From the debut works of a fiction master to a survival story set in Henry VIII’s court, these are the books we’re reading right now.

Wind/Pinball, by Haruki Murakami
For the first time, Murakami’s two earliest novels are available in English translation outside of Japan. Both follow the unnamed protagonist of later masterpieces A Wild Sheep Chase and Dance Dance Dance, in roving narratives set in a prototypically Murakamian world of uncanny women, jazz bars, and encounters with the occult, told in his deceptively simple style. These are must-reads for both fans and newcomers to Japan’s best-known author.

Fortune Smiles, by Adam Johnson
Over the course of six long-read stories, Pulitzer Prize winner Johnson (The Orphan Master’s Son) explores dark corners of the world and of human experience, focusing on an array of narrators whose voices are rarely heard in fiction: a struggling pedophile, a single father whose life was upended by Hurricane Rita, a pair of North Korean criminals. In his hands their stories are layered, sometimes surreal, often sad, and always convincing. Sci-fi exists alongside dark realism, the minutiae of the every day is cast against a backdrop of richly realized, deeply strange settings. This collection is not to be missed.

Secondhand Souls, by Christopher Moore
In this hilarious follow-up to 2007’s Dirty Job, Moore returns to San Francisco with a surrealist romp through demons, death, and worse. Though people keep dying, their souls are no longer being collected—instead, they’re stolen by parties unknown. An unlikely crew including death merchants Charlie Asher (a new recruit in Dirty Job) and Minty Fresh, a policeman-turned-bookseller, and the emperor of San Francisco himself is on the case—which is a good thing, considering those rumors about the impending war over the fate of mankind…

Who Do You Love, by Jennifer Weiner
Beginning one night with a chance meeting at a hospital, when both are eight years old, Rachel Blum and Andy Landis cross paths again and again throughout their lives. Despite their vastly different circumstances—Rachel is the delicate daughter of rich parents, Andy the commitment-phobic child of a poor single mother—the two form a seemingly fated connection, as life continues to bring them together only to see them fall apart. Over the course of 30 years, the characters grow into people whose happily ever after you’ll root for.

The Dog Master, by W. Bruce Cameron
Cameron’s story unfolds in a distant Paleolithic past, exploring warring tribes, the redemptive power of love, and the dangers of clashing belief systems. At the book’s heart is the relationship between Mal, whose deformed leg almost led to his murder at birth, and the wolf cub he loves and trains, domesticating her to the point that she wears a leash when they hunt together. This taming of a wild thing inflames the religious sensibilities of a wolf-worshipping tribe, putting Mal in great danger. Animal lovers won’t be able to resist this compassionately written tale.

The Taming of the Queen, by Philippa Gregory
The Other Boleyn Girl author Gregory returns with another account of the inner life of one of King Henry VIII’s brides: the sixth and the only survivor, Kateryn Parr. Twice-widowed and in love with Thomas Seymour when ordered to marry Henry, Kateryn enters the union knowing it might prove fatal. Gregory fascinates with her depiction of a royal court ruled by a tempestuous tyrant, and with her Kateryn, an intelligent survivor who must learn from her predecessors’ mistakes how best to manage her husband—as well as her family’s expectations that she champion their Protestant cause.

The Marriage of Opposites, by Alice Hoffman
Hoffman takes as her subject the headstrong young woman who will become the mother of impressionist painter Camille Pissarro. Rachel belongs to a rigidly tradition-bound immigrant Jewish community on the lush island of St. Martin. At her mother’s command, teenaged Rachel marries a widower, becoming stepmother to three children. But when he dies, and his handsome nephew arrives to settle his affairs, she jumps headfirst into a scandalous affair with wide-reaching consequences, for both herself and the famous son who will be born of her remarriage.

Friction

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Friction, by Sandra Brown
Crawford Hunt is a widowed, hotheaded Texas ranger fighting to regain custody of his daughter from his in-laws. Holly Spencer is the ambitious judge presiding over his case. When a masked man attempts to assassinate Spencer during custody proceedings—and escapes despite Hunt’s best efforts—the ranger has to decide whether tracking him down is worth the damage it might do to his case…and whether to ignore the budding attraction between him and the judge deciding his fate.

The Night Sister, by Jennifer McMahon
Amy Slater grew up at the Tower Motel, and years later, the now-abandoned structure is where she murdered her husband and young son. Or did she? Two of her childhood friends don’t believe it, and start investigating both the crime and Amy’s past. Their present-day story is interwoven with flashbacks to 1989, when the three girls discovered a horrifying secret within the Tower’s walls, and to 1950, when Amy’s mother and aunt were coming of age in the motel. It’s a chilling multigenerational page-turner that’s not to be missed.

Everybody Rise, by Stephanie Clifford
Prep school grad Evelyn Beegan is a member of the nouveau riche at best, but when she finagles an outreach job at elitist social media site People Like Us, she has to call on every one of her tenuous connections to the upper crust. Soon she’s going to ever greater lengths—lying, shamelessly social climbing, racking up debt—to gain entrance to the glittering world of New York’s superrich. She finally makes it to the peak in this pre–2008 crash comedy of manners, but the journey’s a lot farther going down than coming up.

We Never Asked for Wings, by Vanessa Diffenbaugh
Letty Espinosa is the kind of mother whose children—14-year-old Alex and 6-year-old Luna—had to grow up fast, to compensate for her indifferent parenting. But when Letty’s own parents, the children’s primary caregivers, return to Mexico, Letty is forced to recommit to her kids and to her own future. Winning Alex’s trust might prove as difficult as overcoming the daily injustices of undocumented life in America, but Letty shapes up to be a heroine who can face down anything.

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