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
Suburban girlhood into womanhood hounded down to the pique of humor, Awad has our body obsessed culture nailed. The opportunity and danger of the female body, the power and vulnerability is alternately humorously and scathingly examined in this debut novel. Lizzie and her best friend Mel navigate the male gaze, their own sometimes cartoonish desire, and weighing the shocking boredom of everyday life against the dangers of adventure. I am loving every minute of reading this book.
The Adversary: A Story Of Monstrous Deception by Emmanuel Carrere
I came to this book when I heard it billed as “France’s In Cold Blood.” It’s a good comparison, but the crime described could not be more different. While the killers in Capote’s book were basically just lowlifes, the villain at the center of The Adversary is frighteningly intelligent, and frighteningly blank inside. I don’t want to say too much, but the book begins with a house fire. Inside, are the bodies of a mother, two children, and the father. But it is quickly determined that the father, a well-respected doctor who practiced medicine for 18 years, is the killer, and that his family was dead before the fire. Also, he never had a medical degree, never practiced medicine, and, basically, never told the truth about anything. The “monstrous deception” of the title doesn’t even come close to what is revealed during his trial. A haunting book that I can’t recommend for everyone, but can’t recommend highly enough.
— Josh Hanagarne
Another Brooklyn by Jacqueline Woodson (Amistad, August 9th)
This book had a lot to live up to since Brown Girl Dreaming is one of my favorite books–and one of the only books that as soon as I finished reading it I turned right back to the first page and proceeded to read it again. That gives you a measure of the expectation I started this book with so I count it a win that I finished reading being a bit sad that my time with August had come to an end because I wanted to continue following her further in life. Even though Another Brooklyn is a completely different book, written in a different style, Woodson still managed to capture for me the magic from Brown Girl Dreaming with a combination of the rhythm in her writing, characters that come alive from their introduction, and settings I was transported to. I naturally read quickly but Woodson makes me yell at myself when reading her books to slow down, to savor every word, every image, every feeling. And if you want me to tell you what it’s about already it centers around August and her 3 friends growing up in ‘70s Brooklyn and flashes back to her hometown with her mother before they moved to the city. It effortlessly packs a lot into a quick-ish read where friendship, heartache, death, religion, desire, race, family, and loyalty are explored.
Chase Me by Laura Florand (Self-published, April 5)
Violette Lenoir is a badass chef who’s had to claw her way up to the top of Paris’ culinary scene, so she’s not happy when her kitchen is closed because of a suspicious salmonella report. Could it have anything to do with the American she caught snooping around the restaurant? Hmm… Chase Me is a bit of a departure from Florand’s usual work, but definitely not in a bad way. It’s a fun, fast-paced adventure with clever, witty dialog and a romantic comedy vibe. I adored the opening scenes, and Chase might be Florand’s first non-broody hero. He and Violette had crazy chemistry together. The last few chapters lost a lot narrative tension, but everything that went on previous to that was completely worth it. If you’re a fan of shows like Castle or The Chase you definitely pick this one up. As always I can’t wait for Florand’s next book!
— Tasha Brandstatter
A Clash of Kings (A Song of Ice and Fire #2) by George R. R. Martin
I am a bit of a Game of Thrones/A Song of Ice and Fire obsessive. I named my cat “Jon Snow” after my favorite character and have binge-watched the HBO series a few times. Still, it took me ten months from when I first added the second novel in the series, A Clash of Kings, on Goodreads to finish it this month partially because I wanted to linger over it. Right around the final third of the novel it really picks up. Awesome chapters followed awesome chapters, giving the novel real momentum. This propelled me forward to start the third novel, A Storm of Swords. With virtually nonstop action, brilliant character development, and a firm grounding in the epic hero’s bildungsroman, this series cannot be beat in terms of entertainment and literary value.
— Sarah S. Davis
Delicious Foods by James Hannaham
Page 1 of Delicious Foods opens with a teenage boy driving a getaway car with his hands chopped off. If you’re still with me, this is the book for you! After his father is murdered, Eddie’s mother Darlene spirals into depression and a crack cocaine addiction. One night she’s tricked into signing a contract to work on a Louisiana farm where she’s held captive as a modern-day slave. Eddie, her eleven-year-old son, is left to fend for himself and to try to find out what happened to her.
Oh, and some of the chapters are narrated by Crack BTW.
This is fiction at its weirdest and wackiest, but Delicious Foods is also somehow completely accessible, funny, human, and warm. It’s my new favorite book published in 2015 — if we used star ratings, I would give it FIVE MILLION.
—Rachel Smalter Hall
Gena/Finn by Hannah Moskowitz and Kat Helgeson (Chronicle Books, May 17)
It’s not often that I feel representations of fandom in YA are realistic and honest, but Gena/Finn was almost too real at times. Each awkward conversation and emotional email were reminders of my own early days in fandom, and though my story diverges from Gena and Finn’s in a few ways, the intersections are powerful. Moskowitz and Helgeson stay true to their fandom experiences and in doing so, provide an excellent mirror to what teens and young adults are encountering on the screen and in real life. If nothing else, Gena/Finn made me appreciate the way my fandom friendships burgeoned into the strongest support system I’ve ever known.
— Angel Cruz
Here Comes the Sun by Nicole Dennis-Benn (W. W. Norton, July 19)
Don’t be fooled by the sunny title and cover of this novel, set in the resorts and ghettos of Jamaica. Here Comes the Sun is a novel about three women in one family who make desperate decisions to save themselves and each other. Mostly it is about Margot, who landed a prestigious job at a resort despite coming from a poor village. Betrayed by her mother when she was young, she is determined that her younger sister Thandi won’t suffer the same fate. Margot does whatever she must to afford private school for Thandi, with the promise of college and financial deliverance for the family. She keeps unspeakable secrets, but she doesn’t realize her mother and sister have secrets of their own. This book is a dark exploration of the sacrifices we make in the name of family and how sometimes we destroy the very thing we’re trying to save. I had to brace myself every time I sat down to read this book and dived into the tumult of Margot’s life. I read it the way I read a thriller, holding my breath, waiting for the next new revelation. It’s Shakespearean-level drama and compulsively readable.
— Jessica Woodbury
I Woke Up Dead At The Mall by Judy Sheehan
Sixteen-year-old Sarah has been murdered, which is not as bad as the fact that she was wearing the worst-ever bridesmaid dress when she died. With the help of her matronly death coach, Sarah needs to move on or become stuck reliving her last moments for all eternity. Falling for charming, adorable, also dead Nick was not part of the plan.
The premise of purgatory being The Mall of America struck me as hilarious, but what I didn’t expect from I Woke Up Dead At The Mall was a streak of quiet loveliness that quickly elevated it for me. There are plenty of Our Town references (the newly murdered get their Thorton Wilder day, where they can go back and watch a single day from their life) and a Lovely Bones feel. I really enjoyed every part of this book- the quiet romance, the rich characters, the magical realism, the comforting idea that we can cycle through and start all over again, a little smarter for what’s happened before.
— Ashlie Swicker
The New Guy (And Other Senior Year Distractions) by Amy Spalding (Poppy, April 5)
The war between print and digital has never been so funny or filled with passive-agressive dog walking. In Amy Spalding’s latest YA, readers are thrown into the battle for high school news domination, as Jules, the passionate editor of her school’s historic paper, is pitted against Alex, a former boy-band star turned regular high school kid, and now making waves on the school’s popular YouTube-esque news channel. Only problem? Jules and Alex are a thing. A secret thing. The resulting spiral of romance and rivalry makes for one of the funniest YA novels I’ve read. And it’s the little things that give this book so much color and life. Jules’ wonderful moms. The shelter she walks dogs at with Alex. The hilarious and wince-inducing moments as the print and digital kids wage war. You’ll love every minute of it.
One True Loves by Taylor Jenkins Reid (Washington Square Press, June 7)
I’ve been following Taylor Jenkins Reid’s career since her début novel, Forever Interrupted, which was my favourite read of 2013. And when I read the blurb for this novel, her fourth, I was doubly excited, because at its heart is an emotional dilemma, and I love those. In the words, more or less, of one review I read: can new love trump first love? And should it? Emma has mourned her high school sweetheart, Jesse, after he died in a helicopter accident; she has finally moved on and found happiness again with Sam. She is, the first line tells us, finishing dinner with her (new) fiancé when her (old) husband calls. The author does such a good job of leading us through Emma’s emotional journey – I was as ambivalent as she was for a while, and then really invested in the ending.There’s some pretty deep truths in this, too.
— Claire Handscombe
The Paper Menagerie and Other Stories by Ken Liu
This collection ate my entire month of March, and that’s absolutely fine. Ken Liu, one of the industry’s hardest working writers, has selected fifteen short stories of his that he feels best displays the width and breadth of his writing, and it shows. The Paper Menagerie and Other Stories is a devastating and beautiful collection of science fiction, fantasy, and wonder, whose every tale demanded complete and utter focus, whose every ending struck me in some unseen and essential place within me. Ken’s writing can seem straightforward, yet there is a subtlety and grace to everything he writes. From the charm and imagination of “The Bookmaking Habits of Select Species,” to the horror and brutality of “The Man Who Ended History: A Documentary,” Liu explores the human heart in an unflinching, honest vision, distilling humanity to the paradox that drives many of the stories in this collection: our capability of great beauty and our capability of great pain. Liu explores both ends of that paradox and every space in between, making this one of the best collections I’ve ever read, affirming Ken Liu as one of our modern storytelling grandmasters.
— Martin Cahill
If you’re the sort of person who regularly rewatches Miss Marple on Netflix and fantasizes about going on holiday to the English countryside, this book is for you. The Road to Little Dribbling is the next best thing to actually visiting the land of fish and chips, bright red mailboxes, and little old ladies who solve mysteries. It’s charming, insightful, honest (sometimes painfully so), a bit cheeky, and full of those useless little facts that will make you sound smart at dinner parties. It’s also quite political, commentating on the worrying state of environmental affairs in Great Britain and the importance of actively preserving the nation’s greatest treasure, the countryside. I highly recommend the audiobook, narrated by Nathan Osgood.
— Kate Scott
The Shepherd’s Life: A People’s History of the Lake District by James Rebanks
I’ve already written about just how much I love this book, but damn son, it turned out a deep dive into the world of shepherding was just what I needed this month. I can now tell you what a tup is, or pick a Herdwick sheep out of a line up, and I’ve got a whole new level of respect for my knitwear.
— Rachel Weber
This novel about a young woman learning about life, love, and wine in New York City gave me the worst book hangover. Tess moves from the Midwest to the city with no job and no money in her bank account and by sheer luck, gets a job at a posh foodie restaurant. She quickly becomes tangled in the complex web of her co-workers, but particularly Simone, the accomplished, worldly server who takes her on as a protegé, and Jake, the damaged bartender in a motorcycle jacket who Tess quickly falls for, despite his complicated relationship with Simone. Anyone who has ever worked in a restaurant will recognize the rhythms and rituals of service and the intimate and incestuous relationships that can develop between people who work together. Anyone who has ever fallen in love with a city or with someone who’s terminally unavailable will see the heartbreak coming. But you shouldn’t read this for the plot—read it for the language, which bursts with flavor, and for the dialogue, that will entrance you.
— Molly Wetta
The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead (Doubleday, Sept. 13)
I have had three weeks to sit with this book since I finished it, and I am still not done processing it. I don’t know that I will ever be done, or that I want to be. Whitehead’s tale of Cora, an escaped slave fleeing numerous dangers, is harrowing and heart-wrenching, and the writing is so exquisite that I felt the story sharply. I cried three times by page seven, and countless times after, repeatedly moved by Cora’s struggle to find a moment’s peace in a horrific world that does not believe her worthy of it. That is the magic of this book. Whitehead tells Cora’s story so simply, so matter-of-fact, it makes the horrors all the more real. To us, it is a horrifying look at a shameful, inexcusable part of history; to Cora, it is just life as she knows it. My heart felt like it had been sledgehammered by the end. I cannot stop thinking about this book, and will not be surprised in the least if it wins all the awards. Whitehead is a remarkable, multifaceted writer, and this is his best yet.
— Liberty Hardy
When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi
I feel like the story behind this book is pretty well known. At 36 years old, just short of completing more than a decade of training as a neurosurgeon, Paul Kalanithi was diagnosed with stage IV lung chance. In just an instant, Kalanithi went from being a doctor to a patient with a terminal illness. In this memoir, Kalanithi explores with this transformation means and how life changes when the goals that have been a guiding force for years no longer have meaning. I expected that this book would bring me to tears, but I didn’t expect that the truly heartbreaking moments would come from the epilogue written by Kalanithi’s wife, Lucy, describing what life is like now that Paul is gone. It’s one of those books that makes you sad for a truly wonderful life cut off too soon and grateful for the time and effort spent getting these words on a page to read.
— Kim Ukura
The Winner’s Trilogy by Marie Rutkoski
Kestrel and Arin come from opposite worlds. She is a Valorian, the daughter of a beloved general famed for conquering half the world. He is a slave, a once-gentle boy now full of simmering rage at the injustices done to his conquered peoples in the lush country of Herran. She wants peace. He wants justice. They both (unthinkably) want each other. But how far are they willing to go to get what they want? And what are they willing to give up?
Is the premise of this series problematic? Yes. The author, however, knows this — and uses it to discuss themes of power, privilege, and loss in stunning language that captures the wild beauty, and the impossible pain, of love found in the most horrific of circumstances. Richly imagined and searingly told, Rutkoski’s story of the struggle between love & country is a breathtakingly lyrical exploration of how “asymmetries of power are poisonous.” A MUST READ for fans of fantasy YA.
— Sharanya Sharma
The Woman Upstairs by Claire Messud
Angry angry rage. I love books about women on fire, and this is one. The first 15 pages blew me away with the heat radiating off the page. While the middle dips into less heated territory for a while, it all builds up again as the protagonist, Nora Eldridge, a quiet teacher dabbling in art, begins to fall into a deep and complicated relationship with a student’s parents. Nora invests much of herself into these relationships, and when the dynamics change, she has to figure out what to do with herself. Fascinating!
— Andi Miller
Wrapped in Rainbows: The Life of Zora Neale Hurston by Valerie Boyd
I read this for the Women’s Lives Club. Hurston is a fascinating figure and Boyd’s biography does her justice. I learned so much I never knew about Hurston and am inspired to read more of her work. Boyd’s writing is great: entertaining, narrative-driven, smart, and fair. She gives you an intriguing glimpse into life for people of color during the first half of the twentieth century. I love a good literary biography, and this one was perfect.
— Rebecca Hussey