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Carry the summer into fall with the 10 best books of August

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Ralph Waldo Emerson observed, “When summer opens, I see how fast it matures, and fear it will be short; but after the heats of July and August, I am reconciled, like one who has had his swing, to the cool of autumn.”

Readers may feel like their swing through summer books was all too brief, before autumn’s highly anticipated books begin arriving in September. No matter. There is still plenty of daylight and time left to explore a wealth of fiction and nonfiction titles published this month. 

Why We Wrote This

Books can provide a change in perspective, a different angle on a subject we think we know well. Whether the topic is poet Emily Dickinson or the patriarch of the Kennedy clan, the titles this month explore alternative viewpoints.

As August leans into September, the book satchel may not travel to the beach, but it doesn’t need to hang in the closet. These novels, memoirs, and works of history are well worth carrying into fall. 

1. Emily’s House by Amy Belding Brown

Irish immigrant Margaret Maher works as the maid in the family home of poet Emily Dickinson, cleaning, cooking, and defending her mistress from prying eyes. Margaret’s Tipperary-tinged voice brings this captivating novel to life; it’s a perspective rife with honesty, humor, and clever observations. Upon discovering Emily’s verses, Margaret breathes, “Like sparks they were – tiny scraps of light.”

Why We Wrote This

Books can provide a change in perspective, a different angle on a subject we think we know well. Whether the topic is poet Emily Dickinson or the patriarch of the Kennedy clan, the titles this month explore alternative viewpoints.

2. The Human Zoo by Sabina Murray 

A Filipino American writer named Ting flees to Manila, where her extended family lives in fading, upper-class ease. As she researches a native tribe for a book on human zoos, Ting witnesses the human and political damage inflicted by the country’s strongman leader. Sabina Murray’s smart, idea-packed story grapples with corruption, identity, and loyalty, building to a searing climax.

Farrar, Straus and Giroux

3. Agatha of Little Neon by Claire Luchette

“When people saw our habits, they ceased to see our faces,” muses Agatha, one of four young nuns tending to the residents of Little Neon, a lime green-colored halfway house in Rhode Island. The relationship between individuality and faith underpins Claire Luchette’s spare, deeply sympathetic debut. Sharp dialogue and fresh observations bring the characters’ quirks and doubts to life.

4. The Madness of Crowds by Louise Penny

Louise Penny’s 17th mystery in her “Chief Inspector Gamache” series deals with hot-button issues, from free speech and academic freedom to euthanasia. Set in a post-pandemic world (Penny wrote the novel during the coronavirus lockdown), this riveting murder mystery explores moral quandaries with her trademark incisiveness. 

5. The Husbands by Chandler Baker

This feminist noir mystery is a gender-flipped “Stepford Wives” in which high-powered working women attain their dream careers while their men handle the domestic duties. With satirical wit and insightful compassion, author Chandler Baker gives voice to the frustrations borne of society’s expectations of women. The book’s thriller undertones make for propulsive reading.

6. The Long-Lost Jules by Jane Elizabeth Hughes

When a suspiciously charming Oxford professor begins traipsing after a shy London banker, insisting she is the long lost heir of Henry VIII’s last queen (Katherine Parr), an enthralling contemporary romantic mystery heats up. Add in secret agendas, family drama, international money-laundering rings, and European locations, and this is a terrific romp for history buffs and adventure lovers.

7. All In by Billie Jean King

The tennis champion writes about her life with self-awareness and humility, while not underplaying her role as a trailblazer for women’s rights. She gently criticizes her younger self for feeling a need to hide her sexual identity to safeguard her career, and touches on the toll that secret exacted. Find the full review here.

8. Pastoral Song by James Rebanks

English sheep farmer and writer James Rebanks offers a sustainable method for raising animals, preserving habitat, caring for the environment, and nurturing small farmers all at the same time. Find the full review here

9. The Ambassador by Susan Ronald

Susan Ronald, who wrote a thought-provoking biography of Condé Nast, turns to a different name-brand plutocrat: Joseph Kennedy, the patriarch of the Kennedy family, concentrating on his disastrous turn as ambassador to England. Ronald respects her readers by not trying to rehabilitate Kennedy; instead, she presents a three-dimensional portrait of a flawed but fascinating man.

10. All the Frequent Troubles of Our Days by Rebecca Donner

Rebecca Donner’s harrowing book tells the story of American-born Mildred Harnack, a bright, unassuming young woman who played a central role in organizing German resistance to the Nazis – planning sabotage and helping Jewish people escape.  

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