Features

12 Books You Should Definitely Read This August

Including 5 new books by Chicago writers.

This August is a huge month for books in Chicago, because not one, not two, not three, not four, but five local authors have career-solidifying books coming out over the next few weeks! In fiction, Jac Jemc and Lindsay Hunter return with creepy and hilarious novels (respectively), while Augustus Rose makes his debut with a literary, art-infused thriller. In nonfiction, Megan Stielstra’s third collection of essays is her most biting to date, while Liesl Olson’s account of Chicago’s literary renaissance re-establishes the city’s place at the center of the modernist movement.


9780374536916_c34b2The Grip of It
by Jac Jemc
FSG Originals, August 1

“Jac Jemc’s The Grip of It tells the eerie story of a young couple haunted by their new home. Julie and James settle into a house in a small town outside the city where they met. The move—prompted by James’s penchant for gambling, his inability to keep his impulses in check—is quick and seamless; both Julie and James are happy to leave behind their usual haunts and start afresh. But this house, which sits between lake and forest, has plans for the unsuspecting couple. As Julie and James try to settle into their home and their relationship, the house and its surrounding terrain become the locus of increasingly strange happenings. The architecture—claustrophobic, riddled with hidden rooms within rooms—becomes unrecognizable, decaying before their eyes. Stains are animated on the wall—contracting, expanding—and map themselves onto Julie’s body in the form of bruises; mold spores taint the water that James pours from the sink. Together the couple embark on a panicked search for the source of their mutual torment, a journey that mires them in the history of their peculiar neighbors and the mysterious residents who lived in the house before Julie and James.”


9780735221833_b46f6The Readymade Thief
by Augustus Rose
Viking, August 1

“Lee Cuddy is seventeen years old and on the run, alone on the streets of Philadelphia. After taking the fall for a rich friend, Lee reluctantly accepts refuge in the Crystal Castle—a cooperative of homeless kids squatting in an austere, derelict building. But homeless kids are disappearing from the streets in suspicious numbers, and Lee quickly discovers that the secret society’s charitable façade is too good to be true. She finds an unexpected ally in Tomi, a young artist and hacker whose knowledge of the Internet’s black market is rivaled only by his ability to break into and out of buildings. From abandoned aquariums to highly patrolled museums to the homes of vacationing Philadelphians, Tomi and Lee can always chart a way to the next, perfect hide-out. But the harder Lee tries to escape into the unmapped corners of the city, the closer she unwittingly gets to uncovering the disturbing agenda of the very men who pull the strings of the secret society she’s hoped to elude, a group of fanatics obsessed with the secrets encoded in the work of early-twentieth-century artist Marcel Duchamp. What these men want is more twisted than anything Lee could’ve imagined, and they believe Lee holds the key to it all.”


9780062429209_3c421The Wrong Way to Save Your Life
by Megan Stielstra
Harper Perennial, August 1

“In this poignant and inciting collection of literary essays, Megan Stielstra tells stories to ward off fears both personal and universal as she grapples toward a better way to live. In her titular piece “The Wrong Way To Save Your Life,” she answers the question of what has value in our lives—a question no longer rhetorical when the apartment above her family’s goes up in flames. “Here is My Heart” sheds light on Megan’s close relationship with her father, whose continued insistence on climbing mountains despite a series of heart attacks leads the author to dissect deer hearts in a poetic attempt to interrogate her own feelings about mortality. Whether she’s imagining the implications of open-carry laws on college campuses, recounting the story of going underwater on the mortgage of her first home, or revealing the unexpected pains and joys of marriage and motherhood, Stielstra’s work informs, impels, enlightens, and embraces us all. The result is something beautiful—this story, her courage, and, potentially, our own. Intellectually fierce and viscerally intimate, Megan Stielstra’s voice is witty, wise, warm, and above all, achingly human.”


9781594487095_9ad3eNew People
by Danzy Senna
Riverhead, August 1

“As the twentieth century draws to a close, Maria is at the start of a life she never thought possible. She and Khalil, her college sweetheart, are planning their wedding. They are the perfect couple, “King and Queen of the Racially Nebulous Prom.” Their skin is the same shade of beige. They live together in a black bohemian enclave in Brooklyn, where Khalil is riding the wave of the first dot-com boom and Maria is plugging away at her dissertation, on the Jonestown massacre. They’ve even landed a starring role in a documentary about “new people” like them, who are blurring the old boundaries as a brave new era dawns. Everything Maria knows she should want lies before her—yet she can’t stop daydreaming about another man, a poet she barely knows. As fantasy escalates to fixation, it dredges up secrets from the past and threatens to unravel not only Maria’s perfect new life but her very persona.”


9780374253370_f85b3Safe
by Ryan Gattis
MCD x FSG, August 1

“Ryan Gattis’ gritty, fast-paced thriller, Safe, hurtles readers toward a shocking conclusion that asks the toughest question of all: how far would you go to protect the ones you love? Ricky ‘Ghost’ Mendoza, Jr. is trying to be good. In recovery and working as a freelance safecracker for the DEA, the FBI, and any other government agency willing to pay him, Ghost is determined to live clean for the rest of his days. And maybe he could, if the most important person in his life hadn’t gotten into serious financial trouble. To fix it, all Ghost has to do is crack a safe and steal drug money from under the noses of the gangs and the Feds without getting caught. Or killed. Rudy ‘Glasses’ Reyes runs drugs and cleans up messes for the baddest of bad men. When Ghost hits one of his safes, Glasses must hunt him down or be held accountable. But Glasses is worried about more than just money. The heist puts everything in his life at risk—his livelihood, his freedom, even his family.”


9781616205003_d9c13Shadow of the Lions
by Christopher Swann
Algonquin Books, August 1

“In the middle of his senior year at the Blackburne School in Virginia, Matthias Glass’s roommate and best friend Fritz Davenport runs off into the woods after the two boys have an argument–and vanishes without a trace. Ever since, Matthias has felt responsible, thinking that their fight, about a betrayal of the school’s honor code, led to Fritz’s disappearance. A decade later, after an early triumph with his first novel, followed by too much partying and too little work, Matthias realizes he has stalled out and become a failure as a writer, a boyfriend, a man. So when he is offered a job at Blackburne as an English teacher, he sees it as a chance to put his life back together. But once on campus, Matthias gets swiftly drawn into the past and is driven to find out what happened to Fritz. Along the way he must reckon with Fritz’s complicated and powerful Washington, D.C., family and the shocking death of a student–and begin to understand his own place in the privileged world of Blackburne. In the spirit of film noir, Shadow of the Lions takes plenty of dark, surprising twists–it’s a thriller, but also a moving debut that is as much about the mystery as it is about the redemption of a broken friendship and a lost soul.”


9780374146153_c672cEat Only When You’re Hungry
by Lindsay Hunter
FSG, August 8

“In Lindsay Hunter’s achingly funny, fiercely honest second novel, Eat Only When You’re Hungry, we meet Greg—an overweight fifty-eight-year-old and the father of Greg Junior, GJ, who has been missing for three weeks. GJ’s been an addict his whole adult life, disappearing for days at a time, but for some reason this absence feels different, and Greg has convinced himself that he’s the only one who can find his son. So he rents an RV and drives from his home in West Virginia to the outskirts of Orlando, Florida, the last place GJ was seen. As we travel down the streets of the bizarroland that is Florida, the urgency to find GJ slowly recedes into the background, and the truths about Greg’s mistakes—as a father, a husband, a man—are uncovered. In Eat Only When You’re Hungry, Hunter elicits complex sympathy for her characters, asking the reader to take a closer look at the way we think about addiction—why we demonize the junkie but turn a blind eye to drinking a little too much or eating too much—and the fallout of failing ourselves.”


9781945814297_5c1e3Darkansas
by Jarret Middleton
Dzanc Books, August 8

“Jordan is a country musician living in the shadow of his father, legendary bluegrass musician Walker Bayne. A man who has made a lifetime of poor decisions, Jordan bounces between dive bars, accruing women and drinking himself to the brink of disaster. When he returns home to the Ozarks for his twin brother’s wedding, Jordan uncovers a dark vein in the Bayne family history: going back to the end of the Civil War, every generation of Bayne men have been twins—and one twin has always murdered their father. As old tensions resurface and Jordan searches for a way to escape his family’s legacy, a mysterious hill dweller and his grotesque partner stalk the brothers’ every move, determined to see the curse through to its end. Praised by Donald Ray Pollock as “one of the best debuts of the year,” Middleton establishes himself as a novelist in good company with Brian Panowich and Smith Henderson, yet in a category all his own.”


9780735217683_58827Home Fire
by Kamila Shamsie
Riverhead, August 15

“Isma is free. After years of watching out for her younger siblings in the wake of their mother’s death, an invitation from a mentor in America has allowed her to resume a dream long deferred. But she can’t stop worrying about Aneeka, her beautiful, headstrong sister back in London, or their brother, Parvaiz, who’s disappeared in pursuit of his own dream, to prove himself to the dark legacy of the jihadist father he never knew. When he resurfaces half the globe away, Isma’s worst fears are confirmed. Then Eamonn enters the sisters’ lives. Son of a powerful political figure, he has his own birthright to live up to—or defy. Is he to be a chance at love? The means of Parvaiz’s salvation? Suddenly, two families’ fates are inextricably, devastatingly entwined, in this searing novel that asks: What sacrifices will we make in the name of love?”


9781619029224_acee8A Kind of Freedom
by Margaret Wilkerson Sexton
Counterpoint, August 15

“Evelyn is a Creole woman who comes of age in New Orleans at the height of World War II. Her family inhabits the upper echelon of Black society, and when she falls for no-account Renard, she is forced to choose between her life of privilege and the man she loves. In 1982, Evelyn’s daughter, Jackie, is a frazzled single mother grappling with her absent husband’s drug addiction. Just as she comes to terms with his abandoning the family, he returns, ready to resume their old life. Jackie’s son, T.C., loves the creative process of growing marijuana more than the weed itself. He was a square before Hurricane Katrina, but the New Orleans he knew didn’t survive the storm. Fresh out of a four-month stint for drug charges, T.C. decides to start over—until an old friend convinces him to stake his new beginning on one last deal. For Evelyn, Jim Crow is an ongoing reality, and in its wake new threats spring up to haunt her descendants. A Kind of Freedom is an urgent novel that explores the legacy of racial disparity in the South through a poignant and redemptive family history.”


9781612196657_66507The Doll Funeral
by Kate Hamer
Melville House, August 15

“On Ruby’s thirteenth birthday, a wish she didn’t even know she had suddenly comes true: the couple who raised her aren’t her parents at all. Her real mother and father are out there somewhere, and Ruby becomes determined to find them. Venturing into the forest with nothing but a suitcase and the company of her only true friend—the imaginary Shadow Boy—Ruby discovers a group of siblings who live alone in the woods. The children take her in, and while they offer the closest Ruby’s ever had to a family, Ruby begins to suspect that they might need her even more than she needs them. And it’s not always clear what’s real and what’s not—or who’s trying to help her and who might be a threat. Told from shifting timelines, and the alternating perspectives of teenage Ruby; her mother, Anna; and even the Shadow Boy, The Doll Funeral is a dazzling follow-up to Kate Hamer’s breakout debut, The Girl in the Red Coat, and a gripping, exquisitely mysterious novel about the connections that remain after a family has been broken apart.”


9780300203684_7b4faChicago Renaissance
by Liesl Olson
Yale University Press, August 22

“This remarkable cultural history celebrates the great Midwestern city of Chicago for its centrality to the modernist movement. Author Liesl Olson traces Chicago’s cultural development from the 1893 World’s Fair through mid-century, illuminating how Chicago writers revolutionized literary forms during the first half of the twentieth century, a period of sweeping aesthetic transformations all over the world. From Harriet Monroe, Carl Sandburg, and Ernest Hemingway to Richard Wright and Gwendolyn Brooks, Olson’s enthralling study bridges the gap between two distinct and equally vital Chicago-based artistic “renaissance” moments: the primarily white renaissance of the early teens, and the creative ferment of Bronzeville. Stories of the famous and iconoclastic are interwoven with accounts of lesser-known yet influential figures in Chicago, many of whom were women. Olson argues for the importance of Chicago’s editors, bookstore owners, tastemakers, and ordinary citizens who helped nurture Chicago’s unique culture of artistic experimentation.”

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