It’s August, time to grab hold of every last bit of summer you can. Ever since I spent the dog days of 2020 lying in a hammock reading James McBride’s Deacon King Kong, it’s been the epitome of a summer read for me, the one I’m always trying to replicate. I’m glad to report that McBride has delivered again with The Heaven & Earth Grocery Store (Riverhead, Aug. 8), a warm and exuberant introduction to Pottstown, Pennsylvania, where in the 1930s the Jewish and Black communities live together on Chicken Hill, united by Chona Ludlow’s grocery store and her husband Moshe’s dance hall, which hosts klezmer and jazz alike. “If it’s possible for America to have a poet laureate, why can’t James McBride be its storyteller-in-chief?” our starred review asks. He’s got my vote.

Ann Patchett’s Tom Lake (Harper, Aug. 1) is set over two summers: one during the Covid pandemic, when Lara and Joe Nelson and their three adult daughters are isolating on their Michigan cherry farm, picking fruit as fast as they can before it spoils on the tree; and one several decades earlier, when Lara was a young actress starring in a summer stock production of Our Town. Her daughters want to hear about that earlier summer, and particularly about Lara’s relationship with Peter Duke, who went on to become a huge movie star. Our starred review calls the book “poignant and reflective, cementing Patchett’s stature as one of our finest novelists.” 

Edan Lepucki returns with Time’s Mouth (Counterpoint, Aug. 1), her first novel since Woman No. 17 (2017), and our starred review says that “in a word, [it’s] a trip, narrated by Time itself.” Sixteen-year-old Sharon discovers that she can revisit her own past, and she finds herself happy to be reliving her father’s funeral. She’s run away from her awful childhood in Connecticut and reinvented herself in California, where her unusual abilities turn her into a cult leader. “Lepucki is known for combining domestic realism with a magical worldview and/or SF–adjacent elements…and for evoking California in all its real, surreal, and unreal glory. She does it again,” according to our review. “This emotionally intense, wildly imaginative novel is both down-to-earth and out-to-lunch.”

Jamel Brinkley’s first book, the story collection A Lucky Man, was a National Book Award finalist in 2018. He’s returned with Witness (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, Aug. 1), and our starred review says that “after just two collections, Brinkley may already be a grand master of the short story.” Set in gentrifying New York City neighborhoods, the stories show people grappling with their lives and their changing circumstances. “In some ways, the plots of these stories, however engrossing, are less significant than their vivid physical details, graceful language, and acute observations of even the most bewildering of human behavior,” according to our review.

August is Sarah MacLean month in my home, and I’m looking forward to reading Knockout (Avon, Aug. 22), the third installment of MacLean’s Hell’s Belles series. The Belles are a group of women in Victorian London who are dedicated to helping people “whom society ignored,” particularly women who are being exploited by powerful men. Lady Imogen Lovelace is the group’s explosives expert, and she’s sure been lighting a fire under Detective Inspector Thomas Peck of Scotland Yard. “MacLean delivers big action, high heat, profound emotions, and a thoughtful critique of power and privilege in this dynamite tale sure to keep readers tearing through the pages,” according to our starred review. “This sensational romance completely lives up to its title.” And if you prefer audiobooks, Mary Jane Wells brings MacLean’s books brilliantly to life.

Laurie Muchnick is the fiction editor.