Summer books to add to your pile

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Modern and historical fiction, a horror-tinged thriller, ingenious satires and several gripping memoirs offer multiple selections to read under an umbrella or atop a hammock.

‘Joan’ by Katherine J. Chen (Random House)

Joan of Arc has long fascinated novelists, who portrayed her as a virginal warrior with holy visions. In his afterword, Chen describes having tried to reconcile these contradictory representations of the combatant and the saint. It wasn’t until she imagined the brutality of Joan’s youth in a medieval war zone that she was able to realistically capture her protagonist’s humanity. Joan de Chen has a difficult and resilient childhood filled with both abuse and love. She grows up learning to fight, but always for justice on behalf of the people and country she loves.

21 books to read this summer

“Fellowship Point”, by Alice Elliott Dark (Scribner/Marysue Rucci Books)

Dark, best known for her award-winning short story ‘In the Gloaming’, adapted for the cinema with Glenn Close, has published her first novel in 20 years, an ambitious and satisfying account of the lifelong friendship between two women in their eighties. When coastal Maine development encroaches on the land trust held by the few residents of their Quaker-inspired summer community, friends Agnes and Polly face shifting demands and loyalties while considering what they believe is right for their own heritage and for the nature they strive to preserve.

“Corinne”, by Rebecca Morrow (St. Martin’s Press)

As a teenager in a fundamentalist church, Corinne idolizes Enoch Miller, the eldest son of the people who brought her family home. More than a decade later, after Corinne was kicked out of the church and cut off from her family, she never felt she was worth loving. But after a chance encounter with church-going Enoch, a mutual attraction rekindles — and raises a question about love and faith: can you have one when you don’t share the other?

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“Any Other Family”, by Eleanor Brown (Putnam)

Two weeks in a vacation rental will test the bonding skills of any family, especially one that has just bonded. Brown thoughtfully explores the ways in which the dynamics of a chosen family do or do not work, through the voices of three adoptive mothers of four biological siblings. Pledging to keep their children connected, their fragile unity is tested when the children’s birth mother announces she is pregnant again. Brown’s experience with adoption brings emotional depth to her chronicle of every woman’s anxieties.

“Warrior Mother Sister”, by Vanessa Riley (William Morrow)

Two real women – Marie-Claire, a free woman of color who became Haiti’s first Empress, and Gran Toya, a slave warrior turned freedom fighter – were Riley’s inspirations for this expansive saga. Despite having different backgrounds, their ties to revolutionary leader Jean-Jacques Dessalines brought them together to play a crucial role in Haiti’s struggle for independence from French colonial rule. Riley skillfully weaves the stories of the women, vividly reframing a defining moment in Western history.

‘Dirtbag, Massachusetts: A Confessional’, by Isaac Fitzgerald (Bloomsbury, July 19)

After his early years in Boston, Fitzgerald’s childhood was abruptly transformed at age 8 with a move to rural western Massachusetts to a dilapidated house next to his disapproving grandparents. Suffering from his parents’ rocky marriage and his mother’s mental instability, he made rage-induced choices like starting a teenage fight club and getting drunk to oblivion, but he didn’t. never stopped looking for a community that would embrace it. This search took him from San Francisco to Burma (now Myanmar), and he candidly shares the formative experiences that helped him put aside anger to live with acceptance and understanding.

“The Strength of Such Beauty”, by Barbara Bourland (Dutton, July 19)

This is not your grandmother’s fairy tale. Caroline, a former Olympic athlete and world record holder, marries Finn, the prince of an idyllic seaside kingdom. As she transforms into an international symbol of femininity, becoming the wife and mother her new homeland demands, luxurious adornments quickly become a prison. Even her physical body, which once carried her powerfully through competitions, becomes something others admire and control. Influenced by the struggles of real-life princesses, Bourland’s brilliant satire muddles the theatrics of power, excessive materialism and economic corruption.

“The Devil Takes You Home,” by Gabino Iglesias (Mulholland Books, August 2)

With a 4-year-old daughter with cancer and no health insurance, Mario agrees to kill a man for money in a desperate attempt to pay his bills. When the act of slaughter releases pent-up rage, he takes on another more lucrative and dangerous job that sends him on a bloody journey through Texas and Mexican border towns. Iglesias describes his fiction as “Barrio Noir”, a genre that combines crime and horror with multiculturalism and political issues. The incongruity of devotion to family with brutal vigilante justice creates horrific tension as Mario tests his new moral compass.

“Diary of a Void”, by Emi Yagi, translated by David Boyd and Lucy North (Viking, August 9)

Ms. Shibata doesn’t like that her unwritten job description includes cleaning up half-empty cups filled with cigarette butts left in her office meeting room, so she announces a fake pregnancy as an experiment to see if her colleagues will. clean up after themselves. Attention and accommodation follow. She is encouraged to leave on time instead of working late, and her free evenings allow her to take better care of herself by cooking healthy meals and exercising. As the months pass, she continues her charade, both at work and with her new friends at Mom’s aerobics club. Yagi cleverly blurs the line between truth and lies with this wacky solution to women’s challenges in the workplace.

“Fruit Punch: A Memoir,” by Kendra Allen (Ecco, August 9)

Allen’s powerful early memoirs rely on coming of age after a childhood assault. The chapters alternate between current conversations with her therapist and the memories sparked by those conversations. Labeled “disobedient” and “fast” while growing up in Texas in the 1990s and early 2000s, Allen experienced the widespread adultification of young black girls. As she tries to understand herself, she deftly forces her humanity into consideration – each sentence of a chapter about her teenage groping begins with a reminder of her youth (“I’m thirteen and. ..”; “I’m twelve and…”). His writing is full of insight and humor, and offers a nuanced portrayal of often marginalized voices.

‘All Signs Point to Paris: A Memoir of Love, Loss, and Destiny’, by Natasha Sizlo (Mariner, August 16)

Sizlo’s marriage and real estate had fallen apart when she met Philippe. He was handsome, French and ready to have fun, and their relationship was perfect, until that was no longer the case. After their breakup, she receives a session with a famous exclusive astrologer, who tells her that her soul mate was born in Paris on November 2, 1968, just like Philippe. But in a flash, she realizes that her ex is not the only man born on this date in this city. Her soul mate is still there – all she has to do is find him. Sizlo’s engaging account of her trip to Paris has all the pleasures of a lively romantic comedy, bolstered by her real-life bravery in confronting the doubts and fears she’s been hiding.

“Scenes From My Life: A Memoir,” by Michael K. Williams and Jon Sternfeld (Crown, August 23)

Williams, known for his roles in “The Wire” and “Boardwalk Empire,” spent his formative years at the East Flatbush projects in Brooklyn, where he longed to stay alive. Janet Jackson’s 1989 “Rhythm Nation” video was an earthquake that shook her world, showing her optimistic, proud and courageous black people. He followed his artistic dreams, until his burgeoning modeling career was derailed when his face was cut off during a bar fight; but the scar would become one of his trademarks as an actor. Williams suffered from a lifelong drug addiction, even when her stardom soared to stratospheric levels. “I’m still battling demons that won’t leave me alone,” he wrote in his moving memoir. “They never leave; they become just quiet enough for me to think clearly. Williams died in 2021 of a drug overdose; he was 54 years old.

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