What to Read in August

collageEach month we ask a panel of our bloggers to suggest a book based on what they’re reading right now. Here’s what we think you should read this month!

Joel: Cinnamon and Gunpowder, by Eli Brown
If the romantic comedy you’ve been waiting to read involves a meet-cute (blood-soaked kidnapping!) between a ruthless, fearsome female pirate captain and a timid gourmet chef, then I have just the book for you. The vivid descriptions of pitched sea battles and the gruesome results of cannonball wounds treated by 19th-century doctors are matched only by the mouthwatering descriptions of the meals the chef must prepare weekly for the captain in order to earn his living—literally—on the ship.

Dahlia: Dangerous Girls, by Abigail Haas
This ripped-from-multiple-headlines YA psychological thriller is a killer read (pun partially intended) for any age, especially for fans of Gillian Flynn, and was one of my favorite books of 2013. It was just released in paperback, right in time for Haas’s next (unrelated, but equally solid) offering, out later this month.

Sara: Wondrous Beauty, by Carol Berkin
One of my favorite romance authors, Joanna Bourne, writes books set during the Napoleonic wars, and while I’m waiting impatiently for her next one, I’m reading Berkin’s Wondrous Beauty, the true story of scrappy American Betsy Patterson, who infuriated the emperor by capturing the heart of his younger brother, Jérôme Bonaparte. Her life after that marriage was even more fascinating—this was a woman who confounded the expectations of her age, and lived a truly amazing life.

Melissa: Boy, Snow, Bird, by Helen Oyeyemi
This story of the making of a wicked stepmother is told in such a clear-eyed, addictive fashion, I was in over my head on the stepmother’s side by the time she broke bad. It also speaks from the perspective of the woman’s confident, surprisingly resilient children—one biological, the other her husband’s first daughter—and introduces everyday magic so deftly you’ll forget you aren’t reading a straight fairy tale.

Nicole: Wars of the Roses: Stormbird, by Conn Iggulden
Iggulden is so good at humanizing history that I would snap up his retelling of the bloodshed and mayhem behind the invention of the No. 2 pencil if he felt inclined to write it. Fortunately, the man who brought Caesar and Kublai Khan to life set his sights upon something more interesting for his latest series: the neverending squabbles over the throne of England, including the dynamite perspective of a heroine for our time, Margaret of Anjou.

Lauren: American Salvage, by Bonnie Jo Campbell
Broken people are expertly and honestly explored in this beautiful and fearless short-story collection. The (always, endlessly) struggling characters are treated with respect and compassion, not pity, though their lives and situations are bleak and heartbreaking. If you’re not ready to read about domestic violence, murder, drugs, and rape in a way you haven’t before, don’t open this book. It will complicate the way you feel. I fell in love with the characters and every time a segment ended, I felt loss.

Rebecca: The Ask, by Sam Lipsyte
It’s hard to say a lot about the book without ruining the whole thing. Suffice to say it’s got the greatest opening sentence in fiction…maybe ever, and not to be too spoilery, but the ending is deliciously funny in spite of its darkness.

Dell: Men Explain Things to Me, by Rebecca Solnit
This compact volume (the fourteenth from acclaimed feminist and Harper’s contributing editor Rebecca Solnit) is revolutionary. In the title essay (from which the term “mainsplaining” was taken), and the six succinct commentaries that follow, Solnit examines and connects a dizzying array of topics—from contemporary social dynamics and human rights to Virginia Woolf and the concept of personal space and identity—ultimately creating a groundbreaking narrative of the silenced woman in American culture.

Molly: The Two Faces of January, by Patricia Highsmith
With a highly anticipated film adaptation just around the corner, picking up Highsmith’s taut psychological thriller this August is a no-brainer. Thanks to a colorful cast of simultaneously sympathetic and repellent characters engaged in a compelling struggle for dominance over one another, this was my first Highsmith novel, but it certainly won’t be my last.

Ginni: California, by Edan Lepucki
There’s been an astonishing amount of attention paid to California (some of it on The Colbert Report), and all of it is well-deserved. It’s unlike any postapocalyptic novel I’ve ever read because of the exacting detail with which relationships are rendered. Lepucki manages to show that survival is not just fight or flight, it can also be a daily chore that leaves room for secrets, intimacies, and betrayals. And while other dystopian novels focus on fleeing the end of the world, Lepucki suggests that returning to society might be the more dark, dangerous, and emotionally devastating journey. If you’ve heard the hype, believe it—California is incredible.

Amy: Just Breathe Normally, by Peggy Shumaker
I first came across the poetry of Peggy Shumaker in college, but it’s her nonfiction—more specifically, this memoir, which chronicles the trauma of an accident through startlingly lyrical, poignant prose—that now keeps me coming back. At once a work on mortality and legacy, pain and family and blame, Shumaker’s is a beautiful search for narrative and meaning.

Paul: We Are All Completely Fine, by Daryl Gregory
Gregory (Pandemonium, The Devil’s Alphabet, et. al.) has done it again with yet another singularly unique, genre-blending masterwork about a support group of victims of paranormal violence who realize that their nightmarish traumas are all related. This creepy concoction of supernatural fiction, mystery, and horror is a dark little literary gem that readers will absolutely cherish.

What are you reading this month?

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