We have reached the dog days of summer, a perfect time to grab some books and splay them out under the sun. This year, you shouldn’t even be tempted by the cool interiors of a movie theatre, considering how underwhelming your cinematic options are (Cars 3, Pirates 5, Transformers 5, blegh). Here are the new novels, short story, poetry, and essay collections we recommend in July.
The Tower of the Antilles
by Achy Obejas
Akashic Books, July 4
From Akashic: “The Cubans in Achy Obejas’s story collection The Tower of the Antilles are haunted by an island: the island they fled, the island they’ve created, the island they were taken to or forced from, the island they long for, the island they return to, and the island that can never be home again. In “Superman,” several possible story lines emerge about a 1950s Havana sex-show superstar who disappeared as soon as the revolution triumphed. “North/South” portrays a migrant family trying to cope with separation, lives on different hemispheres, and the eventual disintegration of blood ties. “The Cola of Oblivion” follows the path of a young woman who returns to Cuba, and who inadvertently uncorks a history of accommodation and betrayal among the family members who stayed behind during the revolution. In the title story, “The Tower of the Antilles,” an interrogation reveals a series of fantasies about escape and a history of futility. With language that is both generous and sensual, Obejas writes about lives beset by events beyond individual control, and poignantly captures how history and fate intrude on even the most ordinary of lives.
The Hidden Machinery
by Margot Livesey
Tin House Books, July 4
From Tin House: “In The Hidden Machinery, critically acclaimed and New York Times bestselling author Margot Livesey offers a masterclass for those who love reading literature and for those who aspire to write it. Through close readings, arguments about craft, and personal essay, Livesey delves into the inner workings of fiction and considers how our stories and novels benefit from paying close attention to both great works of literature and to our own individual experiences. Her essays range in subject matter from navigating the shoals of research to creating characters that walk off the page, from how Flaubert came to write his first novel to how Jane Austen subverted romance in her last one. As much at home on your nightstand as it is in the classroom, The Hidden Machinery will become a book readers and writers return to over and over again.
Thousand Star Hotel: Poems
by Bao Phi
Coffee House Press, July 5
From Coffee House: “Poems from a father, a refugee, an activist resisting the invisibility of the Asian American urban poor. Thousand Star Hotel confronts the silence around racism, police brutality, and the invisibility of the Asian American urban poor. Bao Phi is a multiple-time Minnesota Grand Slam poetry champ and National Poetry Slam finalist who has been on HBO’s Russell Simmons Presents Def Poetry and whose work was included in the Best American Poetry anthology of 2006. He is the author of Sông I Sing and is currently the program director of the Loft Literary Center.”
When the English Fall
by David Williams
Algonquin Books, July 11
From Algonquin: “When a catastrophic solar storm brings about the collapse of modern civilization, an Amish community in Pennsylvania is caught up in the devastating aftermath. Once-bright skies are now dark. Planes have plummeted to the ground. The systems of modern life have crumbled. With their stocked larders and stores of supplies, the Amish are unaffected at first. But as the English (the Amish name for all non-Amish people) become more and more desperate, they begin to invade Amish farms, taking whatever they want and unleashing unthinkable violence on the peaceable community. Seen through the diary of an Amish farmer named Jacob as he tries to protect his family and his way of life, When the English Fall examines the idea of peace in the face of deadly chaos: Should members of a nonviolent society defy their beliefs and take up arms to defend themselves? And if they don’t, can they survive?
What We Lose
by Zinzi Williams
Viking, July 11
From Viking: “Raised in Pennsylvania, Zinzi Clemmons’s heroine Thandi views the world of her mother’s childhood in Johannesburg as both impossibly distant and ever present. She is an outsider wherever she goes, caught between being black and white, American and not. She tries to connect these dislocated pieces of her life, and as her mother succumbs to cancer, Thandi searches for an anchor – someone, or something, to love. In arresting and unsettling prose, we watch Thandi’s life unfold, from losing her mother and learning to live without the person who has most profoundly shaped her existence, to her own encounters with romance and unexpected motherhood. Through exquisite and emotional vignettes, Clemmons creates a stunning portrayal of what it means to choose to live, after loss. An elegiac distillation, at once intellectual and visceral, of a young woman’s understanding of absence and identity that spans continents and decades, What We Lose heralds the arrival of a virtuosic new voice in fiction.”
Telling the Map: Stories
by Christopher Rowe
Small Beer Press, July 11
From Small Beer: “There are ten stories here including one readers have waited ten long years for: in new novella The Border State Rowe revisits the world of his much-lauded story “The Voluntary State.” Competitive cyclists twins Michael and Maggie have trained all their lives to race internationally. One thing holds them back: their mother who years before crossed the border … into Tennessee.”
Gork, the Teenage Dragon
by Gabe Hudson
Knopf, July 11
From Knopf: “Gork isn’t like the other dragons at WarWings Military Academy. He has a gigantic heart, two-inch horns, and an occasional problem with fainting. His nickname is Weak Sauce and his Will to Power ranking is Snacklicious—the lowest in his class. But he is determined not to let any of this hold him back as he embarks on the most important mission of his life: tonight, on the eve of his high school graduation, he must ask a female dragon to be his queen. If she says yes, they’ll go off to conquer a foreign planet together. If she says no, Gork becomes a slave. Vying with Jocks, Nerds, Mutants, and Multi-Dimensioners to find his mate, Gork encounters an unforgettable cast of friends and foes, including Dr. Terrible, the mad scientist; Fribby, a robot dragon obsessed with death; and Metheldra, a healer specializing in acupuncture with swords. But finally it is Gork’s biggest perceived weakness, his huge heart, that will guide him through his epic quest and help him reach his ultimate destination: planet Earth.”
by Carrie Vaughn
John Joseph Adams/Mariner Books, July 11
From JJA/Mariner: “Decades after economic and environmental collapse destroys much of civilization in the United States, the Coast Road region isn’t just surviving but thriving by some accounts, building something new on the ruins of what came before. A culture of population control has developed in which people, organized into households, must earn the children they bear by proving they can take care of them and are awarded symbolic banners to demonstrate this privilege. In the meantime, birth control is mandatory. Enid of Haven is an Investigator, called on to mediate disputes and examine transgressions against the community. She’s young for the job and hasn’t yet handled a serious case. Now, though, a suspicious death requires her attention. The victim was an outcast, but might someone have taken dislike a step further and murdered him? In a world defined by the disasters that happened a century before, the past is always present. But this investigation may reveal the cracks in Enid’s world and make her question what she really stands for.”
by Nnedi Okorafor
Speak, July 11
From Speak: “Twelve-year-old Sunny lives in Nigeria, but she was born American. Her features are African, but she’s albino. She’s a terrific athlete, but can’t go out into the sun to play soccer. There seems to be no place where she fits. And then she discovers something amazing-she is a “free agent,” with latent magical power. Soon she’s part of a quartet of magic students, studying the visible and invisible, learning to change reality. But will it be enough to help them when they are asked to catch a career criminal who knows magic too?”
by Rachel Kong
Henry Holt, July 11
From Henry Holt: “Freshly disengaged from her fiancé and feeling that life has not turned out quite the way she planned, thirty-year-old Ruth quits her job, leaves town and arrives at her parents’ home to find that situation more complicated than she’d realized. Her father, a prominent history professor, is losing his memory and is only erratically lucid. Ruth’s mother, meanwhile, is lucidly erratic. But as Ruth’s father’s condition intensifies, the comedy in her situation takes hold, gently transforming her all her grief. Told in captivating glimpses and drawn from a deep well of insight, humor, and unexpected tenderness, Goodbye, Vitamin pilots through the loss, love, and absurdity of finding one’s footing in this life.”
by N.J. Campbell
Two Dollar Radio, July 11
From Two Dollar Radio: “For the first time ever, Found Audio presents a complete transcription of the unsettling audio recordings of a mysterious unnamed adventure journalist and his decades-long pursuit of the Borgesian “City of Dreams,” alongside analysis from audio expert, Amrapali Anna Singh Amrapali Anna Singh is an historian and analyst capable of discerning the most cryptic and trivial details from audio recordings. One day, a mysterious man appears at her office in Dutch Harbor, Alaska, having traveled a great distance to bring her three Type IV audio cassettes that bear the stamp of a library in Buenos Aires that may or may not exist. On the cassettes is the deposition of an adventure journalist and his obsessive pursuit of an amorphous, legendary, and puzzling “City of Dreams.” Spanning decades, his quest leads him from a snake-hunter in the Louisiana bayou to the walled city of Kowloon on the eve of its destruction, from the Singing Dunes of Mongolia to a chess tournament in Istanbul. The deposition also begs the question: Who is making the recording, and why?”
The Dark Dark: Stories
by Samantha Hunt
FSG Originals, July 18
From FSG Originals: “The acclaimed novelist Samantha Hunt’s first collection of stories blends the literary and the fantastic and brings us characters on the verge—girls turning into women, women turning into deer, people doubling or becoming ghosts, and more. Strange things happen all around us all the time, but is it best to acknowledge or to turn away from moments when the weird pokes its way into our ordinary lives? In these marvelously inventive stories, Samantha Hunt imagines numerous ways in which lives might be altered by the otherworldly. An FBI agent falls in love with a robot built for a suicide mission. A young woman unintentionally cheats on her husband when she is transformed, nightly, into a deer. Two strangers become lovers and find themselves somehow responsible for the resurrection of a dog. A woman tries to start her life anew after the loss of a child but cannot help riddling that new life with lies. Thirteen pregnant teenagers develop a strange relationship with the Founding Fathers of American history. A lonely woman’s fertility treatments become the stuff of science fiction.”
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Adam Morgan is the founding editor of the Chicago Review of Books and the Southern Review of Books. His essays and criticism have appeared in The Paris Review, Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, Chicago magazine, and elsewhere.