mWe 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.
This was an enjoyably dark book that takes readers into the mind of a seriously warped woman. Narrator Annie moves into a new home and almost immediately becomes attached to her neighbor, Will. Her obsession leads to aggressive acts against his girlfriend, Lucy. It’s evident that Annie has some secrets in her past and that the story she presents to her neighbors (and her readers) isn’t entirely accurate. As the nature of her past is revealed, the big looming question is, What will Annie do next? I recommend this for fans of Notes on a Scandal or anyone who enjoys books with narrators who aren’t quite right.
Katelyn Beaty, the youngest managing editor ever of Christianity Today, writes a strong call to Christian women to reevaluate their place in the workplace, the home, and the Church. Beaty examines how women are viewed in the Christian church and by the world at large, then examines work and how important it is in preserving dignity in all people, and then commissions women to embrace their ambition. This book has been so encouraging to me, and I have gobbled it up with a lot of underlining andYESes andFINALYs. This book is a must-read for for any Christian, man or woman.
— Jesse Doogan
I put off reading this book because of how many rave reviews it got at release time — I wanted to experience this with my whole self, away from the buzz. I was not disappointed. Adichie develops a wonderful story about the challenges of race and class, while also creating an intense love story full of pushes and pulls, hits and misses, and an ending that is wildly satisfying for the characters. I thought a nearly 600-page book would take me a long time to read, but Adichie’s writing is fluid and gorgeous, her characters whole and wonderfully flawed, and it’s a book that’s hard to put down. If you haven’t picked it up, you should. The buzz was merited and this will easily become a modern classic. I am so excited to read the rest of Adichie’s fiction.
— Kelly Jensen
I was lucky enough to snag a galley of this Editor’s Buzz pick when I attended Book Expo America in May. Younge, an author and columnist for the Guardian and Nation, uses the lens of a single day to explore the uniquely American phenomenon of children killed by gun violence. The stories of the 10 children killed on Nov. 23, 2013 are each harrowing in their own ways, but Younge takes the book even further, looking at the wide range of social, economic, and political factors that contribute to America’s epidemic of gun violence. This is a book that I hope will reach many people, and prompt some thoughtful discussions on what we can do to try and make our communities safer and less violent.
– Kim Ukura
I read this book in one sitting. It’s a book that you endure rather than flip through casually. O’Neill’s writing is like a gut punch with a kick to throat for good measure. It follows Emma, a beautiful eighteen year old from a small Irish town. Emma and her circle of friends are a “Mean Girls” kind of clique. They are obsessed with their appearance, are cruel to other people and even to each other. This all changes after Emma is raped at a party by multiple boys. The incident is recorded and plastered all over social media and a firestorm ensues. Not only is Emma’s side of the story largely ignored, she finds herself the centre of a modern day public shaming ritual. She is blamed for ruining the lives of the “good natured” boys. She can’t even find solace within her own family. This novel exposes the sickening way rape victims are treated in the UK and the U.S. O’Neill expertly draws the reader into Emma’s psychological decline after it becomes clear to her that everyone around her thinks it’s her fault that she was raped. It’s an important book that covers a topic that needs to be discussed with and by teenagers of both sexes.
In the introduction to this graphic novel set on Africa’s Ivory Coast in the 1970s, the author notes that it’s not common to read a story about Africans that is lighthearted, and some readers might go so far as to question whether Africans could really live the way the characters are portrayed. The answer is yes. Aya focuses on three teen girls, two of which are bound up in frivolous romances, and as one might expect, there is humorous fallout. Aya herself is the exception to the teen angst and dreams of becoming a doctor, even though most of the people in her life try to dissuade her. It’s a fun, melodramatic story reminiscent of so many teen stories and lacking most of the African stereotypes experienced across the media. It was a breath of fresh air, a new reading experience, and there is more to discover in this series.
I’m a huge fan of Marcia Clark’s novels (seriously, if you haven’t read her previous series, don’t let the famous name fool you. Marcia Clark is an amazing writer), so when I heard she had a new series coming out, I was immediately intrigued. This new series features criminal defense attorney Samantha Brinkman who is hired to defend a detective accused of killing a TV star. It might seem like a common premise for a legal thriller, but Clark delivers incredible twists and turns. She writes her characters incredibly well; I already can’t wait to revisit Samantha in a future installment.
— Swapna Krishna
I think that in a couple of years this novel is going to be on a lot of African Lit 101 syllabuses. The novel takes place in Sokoto State in northwestern Nigeria and is an exploration of the rise of fundamentalist groups (both violent and non-violent) in that region. Told as the coming of age story of Dantala (meaning “born on a tuesday”) or Ahmed, as he is later named, it reminded me a lot of Ahmadou Kourouma’s Allah is Not Obliged in its tone and themes. Troubling but beautiful.
I’m a fan of (all different kinds) of vampires stories, but it was refreshing to read a suitably dark novel with excellent world-building. Moreno-Garcia weaves together Aztec mythology into her vampire lore, and situates the clans in the drug world of Mexico. There’s a cast of sympathetic and layered characters, and the writing is equally effortless even when describing gory action scenes and contemplative moments considering moral dilemmas. This is a new favorite.
This is in severe contention for my Favorite Book of 2016. We live in a time where HIV/AIDS is no longer seen as a death sentence, but this story reminded me of just how recently being diagnosed attached to you a stigma that would remain with you for your few remaining days. This sweeping tale of AIDS activists and the incredible changes they inspired is heart-wrenching, hopeful and beautiful. Murphy writes in the voices of his characters so distinctly that I could almost hear an audio quality to his writing. The minute this comes out in August… pick it up immediately!
I spent basically all of July reading this manga series, and it was glorious. Shizuku’s dad was a world-famous wine critic, so naturally Shizuku hates wine and works at a beer company. But then his dad dies, and in order to inherit his father’s estate, Shizuku has to battle against his father’s adopted son in a treasure hunt to find the “Twelve Apostles” of wine and the ultimate prize, the Drops of God. I loved the two main characters, Shizuku and Miyabi, a sommelier-in-training. I’m also a sucker for books where people learn stuff and make friends, which is essentially what this story is all about. But what really makes these books stand out is how perfectly they express the experience of drinking wine, and how it can be both a food and an art. If you only ever read one book about wine, please let it be this one!
Like many Rioters, I have been eagerly anticipating Megan Abbott’s newest release, You Will Know Me. When adding it to my TBR I realized that I had missed out on her 2011 novel, The End of Everything. I immediately rectified this situation. The End of Everything is, well, everything I’ve come to expect from Megan Abbott: an addictive, potboiler plot combined with gorgeous, fluid writing and a gimlet eye. The End of Everything takes an often-used and often-sexist trope — the missing teenage girl — and makes it feel vital, original, and even edgy. After her best friend Evie goes missing, thirteen-year-old Lizzie becomes a valuable source of information for the police’s investigation and begins to launch an investigation of her own, all while growing closer to her missing friend’s father. Abbott deftly represents the potency of teenage girls’ burgeoning sexuality without exploiting it, or letting those who would exploit it off the hook. While most missing-girl stories end with “who did it?” and “what was done to her?” Abbott shows how incredibly limited those questions are; instead, she paints a larger picture of the broader context of Evie’s disappearance. The End of Everything is deeply uncomfortable in the best way possible — a perfect hazy, squirmy summer read.
— Maddie Rodriguez
I read this in a few hours after hearing Amandla Stenberg was cast as the female lead in the upcoming movie adaptation. It was incredible. About Maddy, a teenage girl with SCID (which requires her to be confined to her home and severely limits her ability to interact with others) and Olly, the new next door neighbor she falls for, there’s a certain loveliness about the whole book from the prose to the characters to the romance to the illustrations. I’m annoyed with myself for waiting so long to read it.
This anthology has a stellar list of contributors, including Edwidge Danticat, Kiese Laymon, Claudia Rankine, Isabel Wilkerson, and many more. It’s fabulous. The pieces are varied, ranging from essay to memoir to poetry. They are consistently moving and powerful, each capturing a different perspective on what it means to be Black in America today. Readers will come to this book for different reasons, but it remains essential reading for everyone who cares about the American experience, past, present, and future.
— Rebecca Hussey
Told through shifting episodes between present and past, The Girl Before recounts the arrest and investigation of Clara Lawson’s role as a mother figure in a human trafficking operation. Scenes of interrogation, individual and group therapy sessions, and flashbacks reveal Clara’s training to be an ideal mistress for a wealthy client, a plan that is derailed by her growing relationship and eventual marriage to the heir to the trafficking business. Complicating the investigation is Clara’s dual role as both a perpetrator complicit in the racket and a victim who has been groomed since age six to understand her abusive, exploitative lifestyle as normal. Olson’s fractured narrative illustrates Clara’s struggle to reconcile her two lives and understand how the innocent, spunky girl she was before her abduction became a naive, misguided woman indoctrinated to believe she is preparing her “daughters,” other kidnapped young girls and women, for better lives with loving husbands.
— Cheyenne Comer
I fell so hard in love with this book that I was almost afraid to finish it or approach it again after the first couple of chapters. It’s a gorgeously-woven story about awful things: a drought, an evacuation, a cult, a kidnapping, drug addiction, fame. Reading Watkins’s language was like slipping out of silk pajamas and into the most perfect bubble bath you’ve ever experienced. So luxurious.
— Susie Rodarme
I’ve had this book on my to-read list since the moment I laid eyes on that amazing superhero cover. The actual stuff behind the cover did not disappoint. It’s a high-energy superhero adventure from start to finish with compelling (read: funny and snarky) narration courtesy of Evie Tanaka, superhero assistant extraordinaire. If you want some sweet Asian representation mixed in with superpowers, get this book. But don’t be misled by the cover art – this is definitely not YA lit.
— Jessica Yang
I thought I’d take a break from all the fiction I was reading and delve into something a bit lighter. This book was perfect. I’ve always been a fan of French style. Parisian women are so effortlessly chic and give out this, “I’m an intellectual but also beautiful” vibe that is, simply put, timeless. This book contains practical information on closet essentials, but also hilariously deconstructs the mystique of the Parisian woman. The spreads are also amazing and filled with everything from end-to-end Pantone swatches to portraits of gorgeous French women throughout history. I was reading this on my lunch break one day at a sandwich shop and heard a guy say to his friend as he was leaving, “Did you see what she was reading? I really wanted to know!”
— Shara Lee
It all starts out fine and dandy like any fairy tale: all Gertrude has to do is complete a little quest (should take a day) to return back home from Fairyland. Nope. Poor Gertrude ends up stuck in Fairyland for 27 years which makes her a grown ass woman stuck in a little girl’s body and still unable to go home because she hasn’t completed the mission. Let’s just say she’s now lost all patience, is no longer rational, is all kinds of angry, is creative with cursing, and she’s violent! All of which makes for loads of fun to read contrasted by all the bright colors and adorable characters. Like an acid trip gone wrong in Candy Land this is gory, violent, funny, silly, sadistic and adorable!
I saw Guns N’ Roses for the first time in my life this month, so naturally I had to beef up on my GN’R factoids. This book isn’t really that, though. Duff McKagan writes about his alcohol addiction and his dances with death. He writes about how he overcame it all and has to tell himself every day that he’s an addict. Did you ever think a memoir could be a page-turner? This one is. One hundred percent. Its structure is perfect — it starts with his daughter’s 13th birthday party, then goes to his childhood, then begins the tale of Guns N’ Roses and beyond. His stories are gnarly, but he’s eloquent in telling them. He’s wise. He’s funny. He made me cry a little. It’s all I talked about while I read it, and I’ll probably continue talking about it for a while.
— Ashley Holstrom
I hate election years, and I know I’m not alone. I hate them because every day brings horrible new campaigning, the good guys are often indistinguishable from the bad guys, and social media is a 24/7 garbage fire. I also think they’re incredibly important — you can’t make change by checking out, or fight injustice by walking away, so we have to stay tuned in enough to vote on the things we care about. Malka Older’s Infomocracy is the election-year sci-fi thriller I didn’t know I wanted and desperately needed. It takes place in a near-future where micro-democracy rules and voters are divided into “centenals” (100,000-person regions), the organization Information (think Google on an unlimited budget with a public mandate) provides constant real-time facts to the voting populace, and politics are still a quagmire. There are fight scenes and data-crunching scenes and characters with wildly different ideologies, and Older puts them all together beautifully. Above all, this book explores the idea of citizenship in a way that will make you think — and maybe even help you get through to November.
— Jenn Northington
I admit that I am usually too hesitant to pick up books about slavery. This year I’m trying to get over my hesitation and this was one of my biggest overlooked books. Even though it’s a few decades old, Kindred really holds up. Every time I thought it might be getting a little problematic, it was just me not seeing that Butler was setting me up to address the very issue that was making me uncomfortable. She stares harsh truths and prejudices right in the face and she also creates a story you cannot stop reading.
By leaps and bounds—no, by lightyears and parsecs—this is the best space-based scifi I have read in years. It’s enormous fun even as it hits deep notes with clarity, charm, and empathy. In a lot of ways, it’s kind of like if Firefly had aliens and was written by an anthropologist. The novel follows a motley, multi-species team of wormhole-tunnelers as they travel the eponymous long way to a small, angry planet (which has recently signed a tenuous treaty with the galactic government, to uncertain effect). Along the way, with stops on various planets and long stretches in open space, Chambers is intensely interested in the ways different sapient species interact in both galactic politics and, especially, the close quarters of a single ship. Some of the differences are obvious (i.e, number of limbs or skin vs. scales) and some are more subtle (i.e., ideas about modesty or conceptions of justice), but all are explored with care and generosity. And all in the service of a rip-roaring plot, which is an especially tough balance to strike, and one Chambers hits perfectly in this fantastic novel.
The story begins on the day twelve-year-old Nick Reeves and his father take his mom to a new home. Doctors say his mother has early-onset Alzheimers, and apparently Sunrise House can help manage her symptoms. Nick struggles against his mother’s diagnosis, believing that his father and the doctors are going too far. He finds a chance to help her when he starts a new online multi-player game, Wellhall, where he plays a gray elf named Severkin who is a fierce fighter and savvy problem solver. In the course of the game he comes across another gray elf, Reunne, who just might be the key to bringing his mom home.
Rosen pens a compelling book, alternating between reality and gaming with ease. His world building in Wellhall is stunning, sure to draw readers in with his vivid descriptions and imagery. In the end, this story speaks to the deepest longings of our hearts and the things we do to save the ones we love.
— Karina Glaser
This book came out a few years ago but it feels like a perfect commentary on recent events and #BlackLivesMatter. Everyone (including Amanda, who listed this as her April 2016 pick) told me this book was beautiful and gutting but I still wasn’t prepared for Ward’s incredible memoir. I’d planned to read for just a half hour or so and found myself unable to break away from her story of grief and racism, the south and home, growing up and navigating the world as a black, poor or working class, southern woman. While this is, absolutely, a book about the black men in Ward’s life that died between 2000-2004, it’s also a memoir of black women’s survival. It’s as much about losing men as it is about becoming one of the women left in their wake (for good and ill). This is a fantastic book to read in conjunction with Coates’ Between the World and Me because it tackles similar themes about black men and black bodies in the world. Just be prepared: it’s so beautiful and engrossing that even if it makes you cry, you won’t want to put it down.
Even if this wasn’t an incredible piece of storytelling, the art alone in this graphic novel would have put it at the top of my list. Takeda’s steampunk art deco graphics are mind-meltingly beautiful and amazing. But Liu’s story of a girl in an alternate 1900s matriarchal Asia is worthy of such beauty. Maika is fighting the forces of darkness and evil (holy cats, such EVIL – this book definitely earns its ‘M’ rating) while also struggling with an actual monster inside her, whose agenda she hasn’t quite figured out. It’s bananapants. This is like Saga meets Buffy meets The Girl with All the Gifts meets the aesthetics of 1980s sci-fi movies like Solar Babies and Time Bandits, and then they all have a key party at Pinhead from Hellraiser’s place. More like this, please.
— Liberty Hardy
This debut novel about a family divided during the Mariel boatlift is the most engaging novel I’ve read this year. The loyalties and dualities that push together and pull apart the Encarnacion family are complex and wondrous, yet acutely believable. While the family patriarch, Uxbal, is left in Cuba to lead a sparse revolutionary sect, his wife Soledad and children, Isabel and Ulises, head north to Connecticut. They are never able to abandon Uxbal’s gigantic presence, which leads his family to take disparate and profound actions. Throughout, Palacio’s prose is like well-brewed coffee: robust, strong, earthy, and awakening. The Mortifications is without doubt in contention for my favorite book to come out this year.
This book tells the story of a group of girls whose only link is that they were all part of a sex-related scandal that made headlines. They had affairs. They were sexually harassed and/or assaulted by their employers or people in positions of authority. And, one morning, they wake up on a run-down sheep station. Their heads are shaved, they are given old-fashioned, highly uncomfortable clothing, and they’re forced into a life of servitude. They don’t know why. They don’t know how. And they don’t know if there is an end in sight. It’s “As if the girls somehow, through the natural way of things, did it to themselves.” I picked this one up because someone said it had a Margaret Atwood vibe, and while there are definite hints of Atwood there, The Natural Way of Things is definitely its own animal. And that’s true in more than one way.
This is the first of three print volumes of the comic originally published online and it’s the most recent book I ‘ve read that reminded me of how much I love reading. Reading it was one of those times where you really wanna find out what happens and are enjoying the book so much that you can’t stop reading but you also want to slow down because you don’t want the book to end. Well, I couldn’t resist and read it all in one day. Not only was this super smart and a totally interesting science fiction take on AI, it had all this cute queer and trans stuff happening: men falling in love, male-assigned robots becoming girls, girls giving girls their phone numbers. I totally fell in love with the characters. I may or may not have squealed out loud when the guys got together. This is the best kind of sci-fi/fantasy in my opinion, because it does something otherwise great speculative fiction doesn’t always do: emotional engagement and complex characters.
I read this book in one sitting. Three young men, from dysfunctional homes from the rough streets of Newark, NJ overcome the odds by making a pact to become dentists and then working hard and achieving their goal. With unflinching honesty and rawness the 3 doctors talk about the obstacles they faced, the people who gave them support and encouragement, and how they were able to persevere through legal troubles, poverty, and personal turmoil to achieve success. My only regret was that I was just now finding this book. This is a very moving and inspiring story about never giving up.
Humans have discovered a way to eliminate all illness through the use of genetically modified tapeworms until *spoiler!* people realize that this is not a good idea. This is exactly what I’ve been looking for in my dystopian fiction – suspense, high-level secrets, great characters without the romantic drama YA fiction, compelling writing, and just a touch of horror. It’s first in a trilogy, and I’m really excited to read the next two books!
— Katie McLain
Reich explains how political changes in the last three decades is accelerating wealth inequality. This is a book that any Bernie Sanders supporter would love. Reich is a great explainer, and entertaining writer. This is not dry economics. Anyone hoping to save the middle class will want to read Reich’s ideas about how to save capitalism.
— James Wallace Harris
A book about fandoms, fanfiction, hormones, and high school Scarlett Epstein Hates It Here is funny and wise; Breslaw has perfectly captured the way teens talk and the many ways they angst. Scarlett is precocious without being twee, and I love the Buffy-like fandom she’s so enamored with and involved in. This is perfect summer reading; a quick read that deals in real emotions without being too heavy.
— Emma Nichols
Trapped in a hospital, surrounded by children inflicted with stillwaters, Emmaline keeps a secret: she can see winged horses in the mirrors. When one of those winged horses arrives injured in her world, it’s up to Emmaline to protect it – but how can you protect something so magical when you’re barely able to stand? The Secret Horses of Briar Hill pushes the boundaries of magical realism, leaving readers entirely uncertain as to whether or not the magic is in Emmaline’s heart or in her hospital – but the ultimately hopeful ending will satisfy even the most disbelieving reader. Filled with beautiful prose and moments of unbridled tenderness, The Secret Horses of Briar Hill is the perfect book for both middle grade reader and parent.
Although I had a few issues with this book–namely the cissexism–I can’t ignore that this was a life-changing read for me. It completely changed how I think about sexual orientation and identity, and it was the most affirming book I could possibly read at this point in my life. It argues that women’s sexuality is characterized by change and fluidity (to different degrees for different people). Diamond demonstrates that our framework for viewing sexuality is fundamentally flawed. It blew my mind. If you’ve ever felt like you didn’t fit in traditional narratives about sexual orientation, pick this one up. It’ll make you realize that you’re far from being alone.
All hail Lindy West! This collection of essays is one of the funniest and most infuriating books I have read. West is an expert in exposing the absurd messages women (and men) receive about our bodies, sexuality, and autonomy. From the first chapter where she lists the pathetically small (and ultimately flawed) list of fat female role models she had in her youth, I was hooked. The list includes Ursula the Sea Witch, The Neighbor with the Arm Flab from The Adventures of Pete & Pete, and Baloo Dressed as a Sexy Fortune Teller. A disturbing chapter that begins with West calling the FBI to report vicious harassment by a Twitter follower is delightfully titled “Why Fat Lady So Mean To Baby Men?” It’s this dichotomy that makes Shrill an such an entertaining and important read.
I have this sweet situation going on where my partner has spent the last year reading only books I’ve recommended to him. As most book nerds can attest to, living with someone who takes every book suggestion you give them is a dream come true! So when he finally asked me to read something he loved I knew I owed it to him, but I’ll be damned if I wanted to do it. It took me a bit to get into it but once I did I was blown away by how touching and funny and lovely it was. Westerns aren’t typically on my genre radar but this one was paced perfectly, with really impressive character development, and lots of surprisingly funny bits. I was sorry to see it end.
— Tracy Shapley
In this novel, a young woman named Reina lives with the guilt of a crime her brother committed, which affects many aspects of her life, including her bonds with family and a new relationship. As the book moves forward, Reina pushes her own limits and through a connection with the ocean, is able to see a reflection of herself that keeps her moving forward. This book is centered in the immigrant experience and tackles tough issues like grief, family, fate and love with such grace. I took my time with the beautiful language of this novel and highly recommend it!
This book is the sequel to Vivian Apple at the End of the World. In general, I always get nervous about sequels to dystopian novels because things so often take a nosedive from bad to worse to just plain unreadable.This sequel, however, did not disappoint. The amazing characters from the first book were back in full force, the plot made sense as a follow-up to the first book, and the two part series hangs together beautifully. These books both had me laughing out loud and groaning because Coyle’s depiction of a post-apocalyptic America is sometimes a bit too real to be swallowed easily. This was probably the best YA dystopia I’ve read, and definitely the best YA dystopia sequel.
–Amanda Kay Oaks
I’m reading this in bits in between others. I’m fascinated by the pseudo Anglo-Saxon the author created to tell the tale. After a few sentences, you really forget it’s not in “modern” English and you’re absorbed by the story.
Such grit. Very western. Wow murder.
I love books that can be enjoyed by children and adults alike, and Rachel Ignotofsky’s Women in Science fits the bill perfectly. It’s an illustrated collection of short biographies on fifty female pioneers in the STEM field. The stories of these inspiring innovators are accompanied by stunning illustrations. This book is an absolute joy to read. Buy one for every girl and woman in your life!
I received this chef memoir in a food-themed Book Riot box, along with an apron, a dishtowel, a charming bookmark, and other goodies. It hadn’t been on my radar previously, but I ended up really enjoying this account of a chef who worked his butt off through years of feeling like an outsider, and who established an identity for himself as someone who was skilled at creating and melding flavors that transcended cultural boundaries.
Mark and Katie sit next to each other at school, but have never actually spoken. When they meet during a Pride celebration at a San Francisco gay bar, both are struggling with romantic quandaries. Katie’s supposed to meet the girl of her dreams, but is worried about having the highest of high expectations. Mark’s in love with his best friend and trying to find out if Ryan feels the same way. The two quickly become indispensable to each other as they help each other survive the ups and downs of first love. This humorous, romantic, and emotional book was perfect to read last month during Pride celebrations and after the horrific Orlando Pulse shooting. I loved that while the story’s mostly about falling in love Mark and Katie’s friendship is the primary relationship celebrated in the book.
— Alison Doherty
This is a short, beautiful read with some incredible moments.
– Nicole Froio