A little madness here, a little murder there, and good books everywhere in this month’s anticipated reads.
The Ambassador by Susan Ronald
On February 18, 1938, Joseph P. Kennedy was sworn in as US Ambassador to the Court of St. James. To say his appointment to the most prestigious and strategic diplomatic post in the world shocked the Establishment was an understatement: known for his profound Irish roots and staunch Catholicism, not to mention his plain-spoken” opinions and womanizing, he was a curious choice as Europe hurtled toward war.
Initially welcomed by the British, in less than two short years Kennedy was loathed by the White House, the State Department and the British Government. Believing firmly that Fascism was the inevitable wave of the future, he consistently misrepresented official US foreign policy internationally as well as direct instructions from FDR himself. The Americans were the first to disown him and the British and the Nazis used Kennedy to their own ends.
Due August 3
The Madness of Crowds by Louise Penny
It starts innocently enough.
While the residents of the Quebec village of Three Pines take advantage of the deep snow to ski and toboggan, to drink hot chocolate in the bistro and share meals together, the Chief Inspector finds his holiday with his family interrupted by a simple request.
He’s asked to provide security for what promises to be a non-event. A visiting Professor of Statistics will be giving a lecture at the nearby university.
When a murder is committed it falls to Armand Gamache, his second-in-command Jean-Guy Beauvoir, and their team to investigate the crime as well as this extraordinary popular delusion.
And the madness of crowds.
Due August 24
The Irish Assassins by Julie Kavanagh
One sunlit evening, May 6 l882, Lord Frederick Cavendish and Thomas Burke, Chief Secretary and Undersecretary for Ireland, were ambushed and stabbed to death while strolling through Phoenix Park in Dublin. The murders were funded by American supporters of Irish independence and carried out by the Invincibles, a militant faction of republicans armed with specially-made surgeon’s blades. They ended what should have been a turning point in Anglo Irish relations. A new spirit of goodwill had been burgeoning between British Prime Minister William Gladstone and Ireland’s leader Charles Stewart Parnell, with both men forging in secret a pact to achieve peace and independence in Ireland—with the newly appointed Cavendish, Gladstone’s protégé, to play an instrumental role in helping to do so. The impact of the Phoenix Park murders was so cataclysmic that it destroyed the pact, almost brought down the government, and set in motion repercussions that would last long into the 20th century.
Due August 13
The Republic of False Truths by Alaa Al Aswany
Cairo, 2011. After decades under a repressive regime, tensions are rising in the city streets. No one is out of reach of the revolution. There is General Alwany, a high-ranking member of the government’s security agency, a pious man who loves his family yet won’t hesitate to torture enemies of the state; Asma, a young teacher who chafes against the brazen corruption at her school; Ashraf, an out-of-work actor who is having an affair with his maid and who gets pulled into Tahrir Square through a chance encounter; Nourhan, a television personality who loyally defends those in power; and many more.
As these lives collide, a new generation finds a voice, love blossoms across class divides, and the revolution gains strength. Even the general finds himself at a crossroads as his own daughter joins the protests. Yet the old regime will not give up without a fight.
Due August 10
Pilgrim Bell by Kaveh Akbar
With formal virtuosity and ruthless precision, Kaveh Akbar’s second collection takes its readers on a spiritual journey of disavowal, fiercely attendant to the presence of divinity where artifacts of self and belonging have been shed. How does one recover from addiction without destroying the self-as-addict? And if living justly in a nation that would see them erased is, too, a kind of self-destruction, what does one do with the body’s question, “what now shall I repair?” Here, Akbar responds with prayer as an act of devotion to dissonance—the infinite void of a loved one’s absence, the indulgence of austerity, making a life as a Muslim in an Islamophobic nation—teasing the sacred out of silence and stillness.
Richly crafted and generous, Pilgrim Bell’s linguistic rigor is tuned to the register of this moment and any moment. As the swinging soul crashes into its limits, against the atrocities of the American empire, and through a profoundly human capacity for cruelty and grace, these brilliant poems dare to exist in the empty space where song lives—resonant, revelatory, and holy.
Due August 3
Fight Nights by Miriam Toews
Fight Night is told in the unforgettable voice of Swiv, a nine-year-old living in Toronto with her pregnant mother, who is raising Swiv while caring for her own elderly, frail, yet extraordinarily lively mother. When Swiv is expelled from school, Grandma takes on the role of teacher and gives her the task of writing to Swiv’s absent father about life in the household during the last trimester of the pregnancy. In turn, Swiv gives Grandma an assignment: to write a letter to “Gord,” her unborn grandchild (and Swiv’s soon-to-be brother or sister). “You’re a small thing,” Grandma writes to Gord, “and you must learn to fight.”
As Swiv records her thoughts and observations, Fight Night unspools the pain, love, laughter, and above all, will to live a good life across three generations of women in a close-knit family.
Due August 24
Life in the City of Dirty Water by Clayton Thomas-Muller
There have been many Clayton Thomas-Mullers: The child who played with toy planes as an escape from domestic and sexual abuse, enduring the intergenerational trauma of Canada’s residential school system; the angry youngster who defended himself with fists and sharp wit against racism and violence, at school and on the streets of Winnipeg and small-town British Columbia; the tough teenager who, at 17, managed a drug house run by members of his family, and slipped in and out of juvie, operating in a world of violence and pain.
But behind them all, there was another Clayton: the one who remained immersed in Cree spirituality, and who embraced the rituals and ways of thinking vital to his heritage; the one who reconnected with the land during summer visits to his great-grandparents’ trapline in his home territory of Pukatawagan in northern Manitoba.
And it’s this version of Clayton that ultimately triumphed, finding healing by directly facing the trauma that he shares with Indigenous peoples around the world
Due August 24
All’s Well by Mona Awad
Miranda Fitch’s life is a waking nightmare. The accident that ended her burgeoning acting career left her with excruciating, chronic pain, a failed marriage, and a deepening dependence on painkillers. And now she’s on the verge of losing her job as a college theatre director. Determined to put on Shakespeare’s All’s Well That Ends Well, the play that promised—and cost—her everything, she faces a mutinous cast hell-bent on staging Macbeth instead. Miranda sees her chance at redemption slip through her fingers.
That’s when she meets three strange benefactors who have an eerie knowledge of Miranda’s past and a tantalizing promise for her future: one where the show goes on, her rebellious students get what’s coming to them, and the invisible, doubted pain that’s kept her from the spotlight is made known.
Due August 3
Tunnel 29 by Helena Merriman
In September 1961, at the height of the Cold War, 22-year-old Joachim Rudolph escaped from East Germany, one of the world’s most brutal regimes. He’d risked everything to do it. Then, a few months later, working with a group of students, he picked up a spade… and tunneled back in.
The goal was to tunnel into the East to help people escape. They spend months digging, hauling up carts of dirt in a tunnel ventilated by stove pipes. But the odds are against them: a Stasi agent infiltrates their group and on their first attempt, and dozens of escapees and some of the diggers are arrested and imprisoned. Despite the risk of prison and death, a month later, Joachim and the other try again and hit more bad luck: the tunnel springs a leak. After several attempts, run-ins with a spy and secret police, and some unlikely financial aid from an American TV network, they finally break through into the East, and free 29 people.
Due August 24
Last Summer in the City by Gianfranco Calligarich
In a city smothering under the summer sun and an overdose of la dolce vita, Leo Gazarra spends his time in an alcoholic haze, bouncing between run-down hotels and the homes of his rich and well-educated friends, without whom he would probably starve. At thirty, he’s still drifting: between jobs that mean nothing to him, between human relationships both ephemeral and frayed. Everyone he knows wants to graduate, get married, get rich—but not him. He has no ambitions whatsoever. Rather than toil and spin, isn’t it better to submit to the alienation of the Eternal City, Rome, sometimes a cruel and indifferent mistress, sometimes sweet and sublime? There can be no half measures with her, either she’s the love of your life or you have to
First discovered by Natalia Ginzburg, Last Summer in the City is a forgotten classic of Italian literature, a great novel of a stature similar to that of The Great Gatsby or The Catcher in the Rye. Gianfranco Calligarich’s enduring masterpiece has drawn comparisons to such writers as Truman Capote, Ernest Hemingway, and Jonathan Franzen and is here made available in English for the first time.
Due August August 10