October’s best new books

In Reading Lists - Best New Books by The Editors

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This month we’re excited for treats like spooky new reads from Alice Hoffman, Rebecca Roanhorse, Lisa Jewell, and Emily M. Danforth — just in time for Halloween!

For readers seeking to avoid frights (like the looming election), escape into buzzy new books like Leave the World Behind (already optioned by Netflix for the screen), The Cold Millions, and Dylan Farrow’s new YA fantasy.

Leave the World Behind by Rumaan Alam

A simple premise belies the provocative racial themes that unfold in this slow burn thriller (a finalist for the National Book Award for Fiction). A white Brooklyn family rents a luxurious house in the Hamptons for a weeklong getaway, but they’re barely settled in when there’s a late-night knock at the door. It’s an older Black couple claiming to be the owners who rented the house out, but they’re back due to a severe power outage in the city. With no internet or cell phone access in this remote area, it’s difficult to verify what’s really going on. The tension keeps ratcheting up until the pulse-pounding end. Netflix has already scooped up the movie rights with Julia Roberts and Denzel Washington to star.
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Is This Anything? by Jerry Seinfeld

In his first book in over 25 years, Jerry Seinfeld invites us into a time machine to hear his favorite bits from a storied stand-up career that has been going strong since the mid ’70s. During our current tough times when a good laugh is more precious than ever, this book is a total must-listen.
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Earthlings by Sayaka Murata

In her follow-up to the bestselling Convenience Store Woman, Sayaka Murata creates a dark modern fairy tale. As a child, outcast Natsuki’s only joy is her family trips to her grandparents’ wooden house deep in the forests of Nagano. On one visit her cousin Yuu confides in her that he’s an alien trying to return to his home planet. Is Natsuki an alien too? As an adult, Natsuki returns to Nagano to escape her unfulfilling life and reunites with Yuu, seeking answers to questions plaguing her since childhood.
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Let Love Rule by Lenny Kravitz with David Ritz

Let Love Rule is the name of Lenny Kravitz’s 1989 debut album. It’s also the title of his new autobiography, which is an account of a life that was extraordinary even before it became public. Born to interracial parents, both of whom were in the public eye, Kravitz shares how his early life in New York, Southern California, and Europe shaped him into the creative and talented artist he became. This compelling chronicle belongs on any music lover’s list.
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Magic Lessons by Alice Hoffman

This highly anticipated sequel to Alice Hoffman’s cherished Practical Magic series takes us all the way back to 17th century England where kindly witch Hannah Owens discovers baby Maria abandoned in a snowy field. Hannah not only raises Maria, but also imparts all of her knowledge of the “Unnamed Arts,” which have been passed down from generation to generation. The story spans the globe as Maria grows up and becomes obsessed with a man who spurns her, following him all the way to Salem, Massachusetts.
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Ten Lessons for a Post-Pandemic World by Fareed Zakaria

As hard as it is to imagine, the Covid-19 pandemic will one day come to an end (we hope), but what can we learn from this experience? Diving into this question, Fareed Zakaria, host of CNN’s long-running news program GPS, compiles 10 fascinating lessons about how the world has suddenly changed in the wake of this crisis. From the ramping up of “digital life” to the study of other potential biological dangers, this is a critical primer on the new world we suddenly find ourselves in.
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What Were We Thinking by Carlos Lozada

Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Carlos Lozada took one for the team and consumed over 150 different books about Donald Trump (pro, con, and somewhere in between) to take the pulse of what these works have to say about the Trump era so far. Though Lozada finds that the vast majority — from all sides of the political spectrum — contain blind spots, his expert analysis provides crucial context for this historic moment. Plus, he highly recommends a few of the titles for further reading, including We’re Still Here by Jennifer Silva and The End of the Myth by Greg Grandin (both of which are available on Scribd!).
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A Lover’s Discourse by Xiaolu Guo

Set in London during the Brexit campaign when outsiders weren’t always welcomed, a Chinese grad student and an Australian landscape architect fall for each other in this tender love story with a real sense of humor. Lit Hub (which named A Lover’s Discourse one of the most anticipated books for the second half of 2020) writes: “[Xiaolu Guo] gives her careful eye and her wonderful ear for dialogue to this … exploration of what it looks, sounds, and feels like to merge two cultures and two lives together.”
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Hush by Dylan Farrow

Dylan Farrow takes her first foray into YA fantasy writing, and it’s easy to see how her personal story and work as an advocate for survivors of sexual abuse influences Hush. In the dystopian Montane, there’s a plague called the Blot, spread through ink, meaning that only a select few powerful magic users are allowed to learn to read and write. When increasingly shady circumstances arise, protagonist Shae is determined to discover the truth.
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Apple (Skin to the Core) by Eric Gansworth

Apple (Skin to the Core) was longlisted for the National Book Award for Young People’s Literature. This memoir — so titled after a slur for Native Americans who are supposedly “red on the outside, white on the inside” — is painful and poetic, a journey through Eric Gansworth’s personal life and the history of hurts exacted upon his family and all of the Onondaga Nation.
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Blazewrath Games by Amparo Ortiz

Imagine the FIFA World Cup, but instead of playing soccer, people rode dragons. Lana Torres is excited by the opportunity to represent Puerto Rico in the island’s first-ever appearance in the Blazewrath Games, a sports tournament where most humans ride dragons in search of glory for their homeland. We’re not sure why you needed that plot synopsis after our opening sentence, but there it is. We’ll say it again: Lots of dragons. And a very diverse cast. Plus plenty of action. (Definitely makes us less sad about 2020’s Olympics getting pushed to next year!)
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Return of the Thief by Megan Whalen Turner

This conclusion to Megan Whalen Turner’s beloved Queen’s Thief fantasy series has been decades in the making. The Thief originally came out in 1996 and became a Newbery Honor Book. Every fantasy trope you’ve ever loved (only a mild exaggeration) is present — and turned on its head — during all of Eugenides’ quests. His final doesn’t disappoint.
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Your Goal Guide by Debra Eckerling

If you’re looking for a practical guide to keep you on track to achieve your goals, start right here. Learn how to set actionable goals and plot the best course to make them happen. With expert tips to help you stay motivated and reach peak productivity during tough times, this is a timely tool kit for setting yourself up for success even when circumstances aren’t perfect.
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Black Sun by Rebecca Roanhorse

Trail of Lightning author Rebecca Roanhorse is back with the first book in her new epic fantasy trilogy Between Earth and Sky. Drawing on indigenous pre-Columbian cultures, Roanhorse mixes in magic, revenge, and adventure as three fierce but flawed characters embark on a collision course during a fateful solar eclipse.
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Invisible Girl by Lisa Jewell

Just in time for spooky season, the latest thriller from Lisa Jewell (The Family Upstairs and Then She Was Gone) is a twisty, slow-burning page-turner. A teenage girl’s disappearance sends dangerous shock waves reverberating through the lives of several strangers, including her former therapist and a disgraced teacher with ties to incel groups.
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Ring Shout by P. Djèlí Clark

In this propulsive alternative history (with a supernatural twist), a group of resistance fighters hunt down Ku Klux Klan members. Simultaneously haunting and rousing, P. Djèlí Clark’s novella has been hailed by author Annalee Newitz as “a fantastical cross between Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man and Buffy the Vampire Slayer.”
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She Come By It Natural by Sarah Smarsh

If you love Dolly Parton (and who doesn’t?), this book’s for you. It’s also for anyone who loves the “Dolly Parton’s America” podcast (if you haven’t heard it, binge it now), which guest stars author Sarah Smarsh. In her new book, Smarsh expands on themes from her memoir Heartland, exploring the experiences of working-class women through the life and music of the country icon. Many of these women see themselves in Dolly’s songs, and like the singer, reject the label of “feminist” but fiercely live the spirit of the word.
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A Golden Fury by Samantha Cohoe

Thea Hope is an alchemist who’s been working with her mom to finally create the legendary Philosopher’s Stone, which can cure any and all ills. But if the Stone deems the alchemist unworthy, it will turn them mad — the fate of Thea’s mother. While this novel certainly adds a new layer to lore on the Philosopher’s Stone, the most intriguing twists involve the romantic storyline. A can’t-miss debut YA fantasy.
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Dressed for a Dance in the Snow by Monika Zgustova

During Stalin’s reign in Soviet Russia, at least 18 million people — from petty criminals to political prisoners — were sent to gulags in Siberia. Monika Zgustova collects the stories of nine women who spare no details of the horror and deprivation they endured in the infamous forced labor camps. Their testimonies radiate the power of the creative spirit as they speak of the strength they gained from sharing stories, poems, songs, and anything else that could bring a modicum of beauty into their unimaginably ugly situation.
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Plain Bad Heroines by Emily M. Danforth

What better way to get those Halloween vibes than with a wickedly good Gothic tale about a haunted school for girls? In the first adult novel from The Miseducation of Cameron Post author Emily M. Danforth, a spellbinding story within a story within a story(!) unfolds around a curse. This wildly imaginative horror-comedy delights in celebrating the queer and defiant young women it depicts.
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The Heart by Marc Petitjean

Following the devastating news that her husband Diego Riviera wanted a divorce (after several transgressions, including his affair with her sister), Frida Kahlo set off for France. While there, she hobnobbed with fellow masters like Pablo Picasso, flourished creatively, and had a whirlwind romance with Michael Petitjean. Michael’s son Mark writes this captivating chronicle of a seldom-explored area of Kahlo’s life.
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The Silence by Don DeLillo

Don DeLillo (White Noise, Underworld) finished The Silence just weeks before the Covid-19 outbreak, which makes this novella all the more eerie and prescient. Friends gather for dinner in New York City on Super Bowl Sunday when suddenly, mysteriously all digital connections are cut, trapping the group in a tech blackout while the world as they know it seems to crumble around them.
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Among the Beasts & Briars by Ashley Poston

Cerys lives in a peaceful kingdom, but just beyond this beauty lies a dark, dark forest that killed her mother and imbued Cerys’ blood with special power to make greenery grow. With the woods threatening the kingdom, Cerys and her closest friend — a fox — embark on a journey to find the root of her and the forest’s curse in this gorgeous YA fairy tale.
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Letter to a Bigot by Myriam Gurba

Growing up in a mostly white California town as a queer Mexican American woman, Myriam Gurba learned early in life about the long-term devastating harm of racism, sexism, and xenophobia. In this Scribd Original, Gurba directly addresses the mayor of her hometown, calling him out for allowing bigotry to flourish. Like her true-crime memoir Mean, this unnervingly candid piece is a rallying cry to shatter the status quo, from a woman who has a hard-won understanding of the costs of complacency.
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The Cold Millions by Jess Walter

Beautiful Ruins author Jess Walter brings us the adventures of two freight-train-jumping orphaned brothers and the unforgettable characters they encounter in 1900s Spokane. Vaudeville performers, union organizers, suffragettes, and burlesque dancers swirl around the brothers as they yearn for a better life during turbulent times. All the Light We Cannot See author Anthony Doerr calls The Cold Millions, “a literary unicorn: a book about socio-economic disparity that’s also a page-turner, a postmodern experiment that reads like a potboiler, and a beautiful, lyric hymn to the power of social unrest in American history.”
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Group by Christie Tate

Glennon Doyle meets Maybe You Should Talk to Someone in this fearlessly raw memoir. Christie Tate shares her experiences stripping down emotionally and psychologically in front of a bunch of strangers in group therapy in this hilarious, heartbreaking, and transformative story of healing. Group proves a book can be both therapeutic and a gripping page-turner.
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Djinn City by Saad Z Hossain

Steampunk and magic meet Arabian mythology in this tale of Indelbed, a lonely boy from a distinguished Bangladeshi family that’s seen better days. But when he discovers his eccentric, alcoholic father is actually a magician and his late mother was a djinn, he and his rascally cousin Rais embark on a harrowing journey to learn the ways of the djinn in this richly imagined fantasy adventure.
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