August Lights: 21 Great New Reads

Even though yesterday was March and lasted seven years, somehow it’s August. Right? It’s a mixed-up, muddled-up, shook-up world, but one thing you can rely on is that when the calendar turns over, we’ll be back with a fresh round of recommended reads. So, without further ado, we present our August books, hand-picked by our staff and hand-delivered to you (contactless, curbside) or shipped to wherever you may be!

Recommended by Karen

Hamnet Cover ImageHamnet

Little is known about the life and family of William Shakespeare, but with what little is known, O’Farrell has woven an unforgettable story. The turning point of this novel is the death of Shakespeare’s son, Hamnet (a name that at that time was interchangeable with Hamlet) at age 11. The main focus is the remarkable Agnes (or Anne), William’s wife. She is the centerpiece of this exquisite tale.

Recommended by Steve

The Death of Vivek Oji: A Novel Cover ImageThe Death of Vivek Oji

Before you even open this book you know that Vivek Oji is dead. But a life is so much more than how it ends. As it unravels the backstory, this taut, lyrical novel shows how sometimes even those closest to someone aren’t able to see them as they really are — especially when they don’t fit simplistic gender definitions. Moving and tenderly drawn.

Recommended by Sarah

Saving Ruby King Cover ImageSaving Ruby King

This is a timely debut about friends, family, faith, community, and the Black experience on the South Side of Chicago. It’s told from several different perspectives, but the voices I loved most were those of the bold, unapologetic women trying to piece together their families’ pasts so they can take control of their own futures.

Recommended by Kathy

Blue Marlin Cover ImageBlue Marlin

Only 123 short pages in this novella by Lee Smith. Delight yourself with this funny and touching story of a family vacation to Florida in 1958. We need books like this right now!

Recommended by Ben

Migrations: A Novel Cover ImageMigrations

Franny Stone is determined to follow the last Arctic terns as they migrate south. Aboard the fishing vessel Saghani, her fraught love with Niall and deep-buried secrets emerge, endangering the motley crew. Wild, fragile Franny can’t escape what haunts her, even by going to the farthest reaches of the coldest seas. Daring in scope and vividly detailed, this debut is atmospheric, resolute, heartbreaking, and ultimately hopeful.

Recommended by Steve

Must I Go: A Novel Cover ImageMust I Go

A woman named Lilia, near the end of her life, annotates the diaries of a former lover — who was also the father of her first child. That child, Lucy, killed herself. In her notes, Lilia addresses her granddaughter, Lucy’s daughter, while trying to make peace with the past. An odd and quietly heartbreaking novel about the fallibility of love and writing — and who tells your story.

Recommended by Becca

Sex and Vanity: A Novel Cover ImageSex and Vanity

Sex and Vanity was my only summer vacation for 2020, and I don’t know what I would have done without this break from reality. It has all of the decadence of Crazy Rich Asians, with even more heart and substance. As the characters flit around the world from Capri to East Hampton, it’s almost impossible not to get wrapped up in the rumors and intrigue of the international upper upper upper class. Dip your feet in a kiddie pool, keep the sparkling water on ice, and enjoy this trip from the comfort of your own back yard!

Recommended by Marcia

The Lost and Found Bookshop: A Novel Cover ImageThe Lost and Found Bookshop

Anyone else need a fun escape for summer 2020? Rae Ann and I both love this book! Not many of us here can resist a story about a main character inheriting a bookstore in San Francisco and the hunky contractor she hires to make repairs on the building. But wait! There’s another guy! My coworker’s text to me: “A date with Trevor Dashwood & Peach on guitar. Mmm hmm. 💗”

Recommended by Chelsea

Deal with the Devil: A Mercenary Librarians Novel Cover ImageDeal with the Devil: A Mercenary Librarians Novel

The phrase “mercenary librarians” caught my eye, and I knew I needed to read this. Nina and her friends live in a post-apocalyptic Atlanta, providing hope to their crumbling neighborhood. She crosses paths with Knox, captain of a rogue squad of highly trained soldiers. Their magnetic draw towards each other (and their possible mutual destruction) is what makes this story so much fun, even with its bleak setting.

Recommended by Rae Ann

Her Last Flight: A Novel Cover ImageHer Last Flight

In 1947, a photojournalist and war correspondent tracks down a woman she believes to be the world’s most famous aviator — who vanished during an around-the-world flight. The past and present collide as the truth is slowly revealed in this dual-timeline narrative.

Recommended by Chelsea

The Year of the Witching Cover ImageThe Year of the Witching

Immanuelle lives in a strict society where the Prophet and his church are the first and final word, but she is acutely aware of how her very existence is blasphemous. She does her best to keep her head down and follow the rules, but an accidental detour into the banned Darkwood brings her into contact with the spirits of four ancient evils. Henderson takes all the horror and witchy tropes and adds in a feminist twist, making the reader cheer on Immanuelle as she comes into her own while changing her society forever.

Recommended by Sissy

The Bright Lands Cover ImageThe Bright Lands

Friday Night Lights meets The Heart’s Invisible Furies with a hint of Stranger Things. This dark thriller explores homophobia and toxic masculinity in a small Texas football-crazed town. The supernatural elements are mere whispers — the people themselves are frightening enough.

Recommended by Kay

Axiom's End: A Novel (Noumena #1) Cover ImageAxiom’s End

This is a book about aliens. It’s also about communication, both the barriers that restrict it and the consequences when those barriers are crossed. It prominently features the looming existential threat of an alien-based apocalypse while also containing a pug named Monster Truck. I absolutely cannot wait to see what the sequel has in store.

Recommended by Karen

Lady Romeo: The Radical and Revolutionary Life of Charlotte Cushman, America's First Celebrity Cover ImageLady Romeo: The Radical and Revolutionary Life of Charlotte Cushman, America’s First Celebrity

When I read the subtitle of this book I was intrigued. I’d never heard of this person. A gay women who revolutionized the way Shakespeare was performed in the 19th century and was admired by almost every great figure of the day. How did she become world famous and then disappear so completely? This short book pays homage to someone who should still be celebrated today.

Recommended by Karen

The Book of Atlantis Black: The Search for a Sister Gone Missing Cover ImageThe Book of Atlantis Black: The Search for a Sister Gone Missing

In 2008 Betsy Bonner’s sister — a talented musician and performer who changed her name to Atlantis Black and always lived on the edge — is found dead on the floor of a hotel in Tijuana. Is it suicide, or overdose? Is it even her sister? Bonner’s love is apparent as she relays their overlapping stories and tries to unravel the mysteries of her sister’s life.

Recommended by Cat

Memorial Drive: A Daughter's Memoir Cover ImageMemorial Drive: A Daughter’s Memoir

You know Trethewey from her time as the US Poet Laureate, but this intensely personal memoir creates another facet to her story. Taking us back to her childhood, she recounts the years leading up to her mother’s murder at the hands of her former stepfather. This is a must-read for lovers of memoir, true crime, and propulsive narratives.

Recommended by Chelsea

Our Lady of Perpetual Hunger: A Memoir Cover ImageOur Lady of Perpetual Hunger

Half memoir and half kitchen narrative, this is the story of Donovan’s reckoning with her past as she struggles to make her way in a male-dominated food scene. Her writing is tight and engaging, and her description of pastry is particularly mouth-watering. Nashville foodies and home bakers, this is a must-read for you.

Recommended by Ben

The Road from Raqqa: A Story of Brotherhood, Borders, and Belonging Cover ImageThe Road from Raqqa: A Story of Brotherhood, Borders, and Belonging

Riyad Alkasem (owner of Café Rakka, one of the best restaurants near Nashville: fact, not opinion) left Syria for opportunities in the U.S. while his brother, Bashar, stayed to raise a family in their ancestral town, even as revolution devolved into chaos. Both encounter staggering struggles, as well as the strength of family and the kindness of strangers. Absorbing and transporting, this is a heartfelt page-turner about bonds that span distance and time.

Read an excerpt from The Road to Raqqa here!

Recommended by Sissy

Riding with the Ghost: A Memoir Cover ImageRiding with the Ghost

The generational divide between those of us who seek therapy and those who never think to seek it can completely rip apart families. Taylor relates his complicated feelings for his dad in a way I’ve not read before. This is a love letter to a man who always felt like a failure, but who unknowingly gave his son the best he had. Rich detail and humor relay the pain, music, laughter, work, and struggle inside a close yet scarred family.

Recommended by Chelsea

Unspeakable Acts: True Tales of Crime, Murder, Deceit, and Obsession Cover ImageUnspeakable Acts: True Tales of Crime, Murder, Deceit, and Obsession

Weinman has curated a collection of essays that goes beyond the sensationalist true crime stories and explores the too often forgotten human side of crimes and those who commit them. This is a must-read and good reminder for all true crime fans.

Recommended by Sissy

We Are Called to Be a Movement Cover ImageWe Are Called to Be a Movement

I’ve not been to church in a long time. Sometimes I need a sermon. This short piece reminds us to lift up the oppressed and serve the rejected if we want to save our democracy.

In-person book club is on hold for the time being. Stay tuned for more information on how to join the conversation virtually!

First Editions Club: August Selection

An enthralling literary tour-de-force that pays tribute to Detroit’s legendary neighborhood, a mecca for jazz, sports, and politics, Black Bottom Saints is a powerful blend of fact and imagination reminiscent of E.L. Doctorow’s classic novel Ragtime and Marlon James’ Man Booker Award-winning masterpiece, A Brief History of Seven Killings.

From the Great Depression through the post-World War II years, Joseph “Ziggy” Johnson, has been the pulse of Detroit’s famous Black Bottom. A celebrated gossip columnist for the city’s African-American newspaper, the Michigan Chronicle, he is also the emcee of one of the hottest night clubs, where he’s rubbed elbows with the legendary black artists of the era, including Ethel Waters, Billy Eckstein, and Count Basie. Ziggy is also the founder and dean of the Ziggy Johnson School of Theater. But now the doyen of Black Bottom is ready to hang up his many dapper hats.

As he lies dying in the black-owned-and-operated Kirkwood Hospital, Ziggy reflects on his life, the community that was the center of his world, and the remarkable people who helped shape it.

Inspired by the Catholic Saints Day Books, Ziggy curates his own list of Black Bottom’s venerable 52 Saints. Among them are a vulnerable Dinah Washington, a defiant Joe Louis, and a raucous Bricktop. Randall balances the stories of these larger-than-life Saints with local heroes who became household names, enthralling men and women whose unstoppable ambition, love of style, and faith in community made this black Midwestern neighborhood the rival of New York City’s Harlem.

Accompanying these “tributes” are thoughtfully paired cocktails — special drinks that capture the essence of each of Ziggy’s saints — libations as strong and satisfying as Alice Randall’s wholly original view of a place and time unlike any other.

Look for an excerpt from Black Bottom Saints, coming soon to Musing!


More about our First Editions Club: Every member receives a first edition of the selected book of the month, signed by the author. Books are carefully chosen by our staff of readers, and our picks have gone on to earn major recognition including the Pulitzer Prize, the National Book Award, and the PEN/Faulkner Award. Plus, there’s no membership fee or premium charge for these books. Build a treasured library of signed first editions and always have something great to read! Makes a FABULOUS gift, too.