We asked our contributors to share the best book they read this month. We’ve got fiction, nonfiction, YA, and much, much more- there are book recommendations for everyone here! Some are old, some are new, and some aren’t even out yet. Enjoy and tell us about the highlight of your reading month in the comments.
13 Ways of Looking at a Fat Girl by Mona Awad (Blackstone Audio, Inc)
I don’t often do fiction on audio, but I’ve been trying to squeeze in more leisure reading now that I’m in grad school and my walk to work in the mornings seemed like the perfect time to get a book in my ears. This book is a series of linked short stories centered around Lizzie/Elizabeth/Beth (“the fat girl”) from adolescence to adulthood. It really digs into the concept of what it’s like to be a fat girl and explores the ways in which it forms Lizzie’s identity, even after she has lost the weight in her adulthood. The narration for the audio is excellent, as well.
— Amanda Kay Oaks
A Promise of Fire by Amanda Bouchet (Sourcebooks Casablanca)
Oh my god. This is easily my favorite book of 2016! It’s a fantasy romance that takes heavy inspiration from Greek mythology (howdy, my fellow mythology nerds!) and a flawed, badass heroine who can literally melt faces. It’s gritty, full of action, and Bouchet does such a beautiful job of building the setting. I was hooked from the first page. My only complaint is that because Bouchet is a debut author, there was no backlist I could dive into once I finished A Promise of Fire. The continuation Breath of Fire comes out in early 2017 and it cannot come soon enough.
— Amanda Diehl
A Torch Against the Night by Sabaa Tahir
The first book in this series, An Ember in the Ashes, was just the kind of intricate fantasy I love, complete with political intrigue and mysterious prophecies. I waited until I could get the audiobook, just as I had for the first book (the audio productions are outstanding), and devoured it over just two days. I just could not turn it off. The first book is told from two perspectives, Laia and Elias, but now Elias’s best friend turned enemy, Helene, is added to the alternating voices. Helene’s portrayal was one of my only complaints about the first book, because she was poised to be so interesting but never given the chance to tell her own story. But man it was worth the wait. Tahir is as excellent with setting as she is with voice, and as the story ventures past the school where most of the Ember took place, she paints new settings across cities and deserts that are lush and vivid. The first book was about a world teetering on a cliff of ancient grudges and warnings, but in the second it is plummeting toward and unknown future. The tension is relentless as characters struggle to choose their loyalties and balance personal desire with the greater good.
The Accident Season by Moïra Fowley-Doyle
I chose this book from my library’s digital audiobook collection mostly because it was immediately available and I needed something to listen to right away! Turns out, it is a story that hits so many of my literary sweet spots. Read by excellent Irish narrator Colbie Minifie, this eerie story follows the lives of one family who, every October, are mysteriously afflicted with what they call “the accident season,” in which family members are subject to injury and disaster. From minor bumps and bruises to fatal car accidents, the accident season wreaks havoc physically and psychologically. This year, 17-year old Cara is particularly anxious as she investigates why a missing classmate has been showing up in the background of every photograph she takes with her phone. Dark family secrets and clues to the origin of the accident season will rise to the surface. Spooky, atmospheric and overflowing with lush prose, this book will transport you to the cobblestone streets of Dublin, broken down houses in the countryside, and the chilling quiet of an Irish forest. Fanastic!
Amberlough by Lara Elena Donnelly (Tor Books, 2017)
Even though this book isn’t coming out until next Winter, it needs to be on your “To Buy,” list ASAP! John Le Carre and Cabaret set in a secondary fantasy world, Donnelly’s debut novel is set in the decadent, whirlwind city of Amberlough, whose lifestyle of luxury and indulgence have fueled the fire of the One State Party (Ospies), a new radically conservative fascist faction on the rise, looking to pluck Amberlough’s sweetness away and reclaim the city for their nationalist vision. Cyril DePaul, an agent with Amberlough’s central intelligence, gets made while trying to infiltrate the Ospies, and must betray his nation, the man he loves, and his ideals if he wishes to survive. Meanwhile, Cyril’s lover, the smuggler and performer Aristide Makricosta, must do his best to keep Amberlough and Cyril from both falling apart at the hands of the Ospies. Enter Cordelia Lehane, a fellow performer at the renowned Bumble Bee Cabaret, who may just be the answer both men need for their plans to come to fruition. Through these three amazingly complex and deep characters, Donnelly weaves a beautiful world of music, culture, fascism, revolution, love, longing, history, and taking a stand for what you believe in. A timely novel exploring the roots of hatred, nationalism, and fascism, while at the same time celebrating the diversity, love, romance, fashion, and joy the world is capable of producing, Donnelly’s Amberlough is a thrill and a wonder from start to finish, and is the gay fantasy spy novel you’ve been waiting for. You’re not going to want to miss this one, friends.
Another Brooklyn by Jacqueline Woodson
After reading, and loving, Brown Girl Dreaming last year, l eagerly awaited Jacqueline Woodson’s newest book. My high expectations were only exceeded. This tale of growing up and girlhood friendship, set in 1970s Brooklyn, is hauntingly beautiful. Lyrical, poetic, and non-linear, August’s memories from her childhood weave together to tell a story of family loss and portray a neighborhood as both hopeful and perilous. Memory itself is almost a character within the story, hiding things from the characters and the reader until it is ready. This was a quick read, but I’ve been thinking about it for a long time since I finished the last page.
— Alison Doherty
The Bastard of Istanbul by Elif Shafak (Penguin Books, 2008)
A beautiful, entangled tale of a Turkish and Armenian family coming to terms with their past, rooted in the Armenian genocide of the early 20th century, and set mostly in a real, beautiful and gritty Istanbul. It’s a passionate story told with whimsy, humor and beauty in its portrayal of both love and unimaginable suffering.
— Kareem Shaheen
The Brain’s Way of Healing by Norman Doidge, M.D.
The Brain’s Way of Healing is the sequel to Doidge’s earlier introduction to the science of neuroplasticity, The Brain That Changes Itself. While that book took a more general look at the subject, this book hones in on the specific ways that harnessing the brain’s ability to rewire itself can result in remarkable recoveries from stroke and other traumatic brain injury, and halt or slow the progression of diseases like Parkinson’s and MS. This is some of the most exciting science of the twenty-first century, and Doidge does an amazing job of making it accessible to the average reader without dumbing it down. If you own a brain, you need to read this book.
Conrad’s Fate by Diana Wynne Jones
It’s been a while since I read the Chrestomanci series, so when I started out with the first book, I just kept going until I’d reread the whole thing. My favorite out of the lot, curiously enough, is right in the middle of the series. Conrad’s Fate is a later book by Diana Wynne Jones, and I don’t often hear much about it, but it’s just as good as the rest of the series and a perfect example of what makes Diana Wynne Jones great. The worldbuilding, little character moments, and just general, well, wordage is laugh-out-loud incredible and always wonderful to revisit.
— Jessica Yang
Dear Reader by Mary O’Connell (Flatiron Books, May 2017)
This weird and wonderful book doesn’t come out for months (sorry!) but I just can’t wait to talk about it. Mary O’Connell’s writing transports the reader—to a sun-baked rock in the Flint Hills of Kansas at sunset, to a bathroom stall in a Catholic girls’ school in Connecticut, to the back of a cab zooming through upper Manhattan, as if you are sitting beside Flannery Fields all along as she searches for her missing English teacher with the help of her strange diary that appears on the pages of an old copy of Wuthering Heights. Which really is quite the peculiar story, but the writing is so captivating I just went along for the ride, enjoying all the irreverent humor and earnest angst in equal measure. This is a story for anyone who believes in the power books have to help you figure out your life and remind you to go out and live it.
— Molly Wetta
Exit West by Mohsin Hamid (Penguin Random House, 2017)
This one isn’t out for some months, but I have to scream from the rooftops about it. The book opens in a city somewhere in South Asia, presumably; we aren’t told where exactly. Saeed, a young, charming, honest man, falls in love with the outrageous and rebellious Nadia. As their relationship develops, Hamid also gives you parallel snippets of their city going to war, and normal life being slowly, and then suddenly, thrown out the window. Some chapters in, the book takes a sharp turn and enters a magic realist tunnel that left me gaping. In a world taken by storm my war and subsequent immigration, Hamid beautifully and poignantly tells us the course Saeed and Nadia’s relationship takes as they move across the globe.
— Deepali Agarwal
The Face: A Time Code by Ruth Ozeki
I loved Ozeki’s Tale for the Time Being, and I also love genre-defying nonfiction, so of course I was going to pick this up. It’s a short book about … Ozeki’s face. She decides to spend three hours staring at her face in the mirror and writing about the experience. The three hours were — spoiler alert! — boring, but the resulting book most certainly is not. Descriptions of her feelings about her face are the jumping off point for personal stories and thoughts that are both charming and emotionally rich.
— Rebecca Hussey
Ghost by Jason Reynolds
This book is the first of Jason Reynolds’s middle grade series about track, and what a beginning this is. Ghost, otherwise known as Castle Crenshaw, is a boy on the run, a kid who runs fast and doesn’t look back. But when he wanders onto a field where a track team is training, Ghost proves he has what it takes to run with the best of them. Quickly, Ghost realizes that being a part of a team is more than running faster than everyone else. The question is, will he run toward the challenge or away from it? This middle grade book, on the long list for the National Book Award for Young People’s Literature, is a must read for kids ages ten and beyond.
Fat Girl, Skinny by Amye Archer
I saw Amye Archer read an excerpt from her book at HippoCamp, a conference for creative nonfiction writers. She had the entire room in stitches, belly laughs so big our stomachs hurt. I was particularly intrigued by the topic of her memoir because my relationship with my body has, for much of my life, been my most complicated relationship. After that evening’s reading, I made a beeline for the book table and picked up a copy. This humorous account of Archer’s own struggles with weight and body image didn’t disappoint.
— Steph Auteri
The Fifth Season by N.K. Jemisin
I’d been planning to read this since it came out. I was interested, but but for some reason it hadn’t made it off my TBR pile and into my hands. Then it won a 2016 Hugo for Best Novel, and I figured I’d finally give it a go. And now I have a few questions: What kind of moron would wait to read this book? How could that moron (a.k.a., me) have put off entering a world this richly imagined? Did I have something against stories that are carefully-wrought and well-told? Did I think about picking up this suspenseful, sad, strange book and think, “No, no—I’d rather be bored”? To be fair, I hadn’t known its plot played so intricately and intimately with chronology (a particular weakness of mine). But still. What kind of moron, indeed.
Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi (Knopf)
Pretty much everyone at Book Riot has been raving about this book, but I’m going to rave about it some more. I hope you guys aren’t tired of hearing about this book, because it really is that good. It’s a multigenerational family saga about two sisters born in 1700’s Ghana and separated at birth, and each chapter alternates between the different family lines, looking at a different generation each time. You don’t get to spend much time with each individual character, but the breadth and scope of the story is mind-blowing. And with each new chapter, we see how the injustices of the past, whether they’re rooted in American slavery or African colonialism, build on each other to affect the future. The story is brutal, but the language is absolutely gorgeous, and this is a MUST READ for anyone looking for a new perspective on racial history. I’m blown away that this was a debut novel.
How the Duke Was Won by Lenora Bell (HarperCollins)
I stumbled on Bell’s debut while looking for something light but clever to balance out a crazy month. How the Duke was Won has pretty much everything that you’d expect of a soapy historical – an illegitimate daughter posing as her half-sister, a reluctant duke with a social conscience, and a premise reminiscent of TV’s The Bachelor – but Bell balances the ridiculous with just enough heart to make it resonate. In an otherwise chaotic September, How the Duke Was Won was my fun oasis.
Juliet Takes a Breath by Gabby Rivera
During the Diverseathon, I decided that there couldn’t be any better book for me to pick up than Juliet Takes a Breath, which has been sitting on my shelf for far too long. In fact, when I picked it up, my partner said “Finally! I feel like I’ve been hearing about that book every day for six months!” And it’s true: I’ve been reading so many good things about it… So much so, that I was reluctant to pick it up in case it didn’t match the hype. Well, I shouldn’t have worried. This is such a fantastic book about feminism, racism, sexuality, and coming of age. My favourite thing about it, though, is its recognition that people are complicated and flawed. You can have some things figured out and get other completely, devastatingly wrong. And it’s up to us to decide which people are worth sticking with despite their fuck-ups and which people are toxic for us despite the things they get right. I think that’s such an important and affirming thing to see in a book about social justice. And that’s just a small part of this story. This is definitely one that will stick with me.
Kindred by Octavia Butler (Doubleday, 1979)
Kindred is one of those books that feels like it should be required reading for everyone. It’s a page-turning, disturbing, provocative, complex, incredibly smart novel. Technically it’s science fiction, since it involves time travel, but it doesn’t follow a lot of other SF conventions. Dana, an African-American woman living in late 70s LA, is suddenly taken back to Antebellum Maryland, where she saves a young white boy from drowning. Although she is inexplicably whisked home, she is brought back to the past again shortly, where she realizes her task is to save the life of this white man who turns out to be her ancestor, over and over and over. If you didn’t already know Octavia Butler was a genius, this book will convince you.
— Casey Stepaniuk
Last Seen Leaving by Caleb Roehrig (Feiwel & Friends, October 2016)
For the most part, YA thrillers tend to leave me surprised and gasping… not holding back ugly sobs. Somehow Caleb Roehrig has managed to do some serious genre blending in his debut YA novel, which introduces readers to Flynn, a teen boy that has the eyes of his local police on him when his girlfriend goes missing. He finds himself the prime suspect, and as he searches for answers, those prying eyes raise the anxiety the tension tenfold. Because he isn’t just trying to discover what happened to his girlfriend. He’s trying to unearth answers about himself, as a gay teenager. It mixes real scares and thrills with very real emotion. What would it be like, trying to figure out something so deeply personal about yourself, while the eyes of the world are on you? Guaranteed to be one of your favorite YA novels of the year. Pick it up.
— Eric Smith
Moriarty by Anthony Horowitz
If you’re a Sherlock junky like me, then go get this book. Moriarty is one of the best Sherlock Holmes pastiche I’ve ever read, which is surprising because neither the great detective or his scribbling protege make an actual appearance. And that’s all I can say because anything else would risk spoiling. I hope Horowitz continues to write these Sherlock Holmes/Arthur Conan Doyle Estate sanctioned stories. He brings a new twist to them, exploring and expanding upon the canon. And he has a real gift for unsettling the reader. I felt this sense of menace as I turned the pages – but it wasn’t until the very end that everything fell into place and I realized how craftily I’d been manipulated.
— Tara Cheesman
Mr. Fox by Helen Oyeyemi
Oyeyemi’s books are always kind of strange but filled with interesting ideas, and this is no exception. The main character, a writer named Mr. Fox, has been writing stories in which the women always die. Mary Foxe, an imaginary woman he made up as a sort of guide and muse, is now challenging him to do better. The two begin to write stories to each other, and although Mr. Fox does not immediately change his ways, the stories get deeper and more complex as the two writers, one real and one not, collaborate. It becomes even more complicated when Mr. Fox’s wife, Daphne, gets involved.
Of This New World by Allegra Hyde (Iowa Press, October 2016)
Winner of the John Simmons Short Fiction Prize, Allegra Hyde’s debut collection is a gorgeous examination of paradise in all its shapes and forms. Over a dozen stories, Hyde focuses on characters in geographical and spiritual transition, all the while exploring wild frontiers and sullied dwellings. The prose is striking and memorable, stamping peculiar places across an interstellar map from Eden to Mars. It is a truly wonderful reading experience.
Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi
I always feel a little silly and, well, superfluous adding my voice to years of praise for a well-loved work like Persepolis but in this case I can hardly help it. I absolutely adored this insightful, enchanting book. In Persepolis, Marjane Satrapi tells the story of her girlhood and adolescence in revolutionary Iran in a way that is immediately accessible and recognizable, even if you grew up in a totally different decade and on a different continent. There’s a warmth and frankness to her way of turning a phrase or expressing an idea that is totally unique. Her artwork is at the same time simple and deeply evocative: straightforward and expressive. It’s a rich, captivating novel and I recommend it to anyone who loves a good coming-of-age story.
Swan Song by Robert McCammon
This book is the best book I read this month by virtue of being the only book I read this month (though it is good, don’t get me wrong). It is a big book, one that might in an emergency be used to hold down ships in bad weather, as it comes in at over 900 pages in the fine-print version I have. Even so, it is a hellfire ride through the end of the world via nuclear holocaust, the post-apocalypse for the few survivors all the way to the tiny glimmer of hope at the end of the book.
This book is not a forgiving read, with plenty of horror both supernatural and otherwise, but it is one that is hard to put down. Originally published in 1987, it holds up well and is often compared to Stephen King’s The Stand.
Not for the squeamish, Swan Song will make you despair for humanity, give you bad dreams and make you hate the direction the world is headed. In a good way.
— Johann Thorsson
Tell the Truth, Shame the Devil by Melina Marchetta
When you spend roughly 400 pages with characters and it still doesn’t feel like enough you know you’ve read a great book. Actually, an excellent book.
The complexity of the characters weaving in and out of each other’s lives after a bomb on a school trip expertly slices out every human emotion as the true identity of one of the children and her family’s past is brought to light.
While a mystery and drama–Bish, suspended from the Met, is roped into looking into who is responsible and finding the kids who have runaway–the book offers wonderful moments of humor and never falls near the territory of tragedy porn. I can only hope I will get to meet these characters again in a future book.
Three Dark Crowns by Kendare Blake
Triplet sisters, separated at a young age, are raised to be queens by high priestesses. Each girl is trained in a different power. (One is a poisoner, one controls the elements, and one controls nature.) They are also trained to kill. Because upon the arrival of their sixteenth birthday, there can only be one true queen – and she will have to prove herself by killing her sisters. But each of the girls are experiencing some apprehensions about murdering their flesh and blood and/or being queen, and rebellion is in the air. This is dark, demented, delightful fun! It’s sooooooo twisty and twisted. I cannot wait for the next one!
— Liberty Hardy
Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead
I went into this book with expectations sky high (Oprah AND Obama picked it as a must-read) and I’m happy to report that Underground Railroad more than lived up to the hype. It’s a searing account of American racism and African American agency set against the backdrop of pre-Civil War America. I tend to be very picky about my historical fiction and, under normal circumstances, I’d be grumpy about a book that takes events from several different eras and has them happen simultaneously or suggested that the Underground Railroad was literally a railroad. In Underground Railroad it all works beautifully. I never once felt grumpy that Whitehead condensed events or shifted some details in service of a larger truth. This book gave me ample fodder for thought, conversation, and writing.
— Ashley Bowen-Murphy
When the Moon Was Ours by Anna-Marie McLemore (St Martin’s, October)
I read McLemore’s debut The Weight of Feathers last year and knew that I’d want to scoop up her books as they came out in the future, and her sophomore effort, recently named a National Book Award long list title in Young People’s Literature, is a treat. This is a story about fables and legends, as well as a story about gender and gender fluidity. The writing is lush and vibrant and urgent, and the story itself is a true shining example of magical realism. I took my time reading it because the prose and the story itself marry in such wonderful, thought-provoking ways. For readers eager for representation in fiction, there is a transboy at the heart of the story, as well as a transwoman. McLemore’s author’s note at the end is also well worth the read — she talks about the influences of the story and especially the myths behind it, and it adds even more richness to the book. One of the best YA books this year, hands down.
— Kelly Jensen
Wintersong by S. Jae-Jones
The tail end of adolescence is fraught with desire and danger and determination, and S. Jae-Jones brings all of those things to life in Wintersong. Liesl is one of the most relatable characters I’ve ever found in YA fiction–she is as petty as she is selfless, as confused as she is surefooted and strong. In other words, she’s a teenager on the edge of adulthood, who still isn’t quite sure what either of those things mean quite yet. She’s a girl discovering her own edges and limitations, and you’re never in doubt that she will manage those challenges with resilience. Admittedly, I have not seen the film Labyrinth, so I may have missed any parallels and comparisons that fans of the movie will see. But the story stands beautifully without recognizing those callbacks.
— Angel Cruz