So remember how I had a nice, organized Google doc to regiment my reading and cut down on the endless stack of stuff that comprises my TBR? Well, I had to move in a hurry, so all my books (without heed for series completion) got shoved into boxes, thrown in bags, donated to willing parties, and a few of them were even torn-up in the process (when I look at my copy of Through the Woods, I have this weird feeling. It looks like it went toe-to-toe with an unruly, homework-munching dog, but it survived and so will I). So now I basically just read what I’ve managed to unpack, a hodgepodge of genre fiction that, mostly, I’ve read before. Also, none of it is remotely scary. I mean, one of them pretty prominently features an American black bear, but it’s not what you think (sorry friends, it’s not that kind of bear, either).
The Raven Cycle by Maggie Stiefvater
Honestly, I finished The Raven King this morning, and I have not stopped shrieking like a pterodactyl since (internally, obviously). Not only am I incredibly happy with myself for actually finishing a series for the first time in who-knows-how-long, but it was one of the most lyrically-written, unexpected adventures I’ve ever had the pleasure of reading. There’s so much about The Raven Cycle that people will try to tell you— there are psychics and there’s magic and a girl whose kiss is lethal to her true love and this quest for a dead king, and all this other weird shit happens along the way but it’s literally all connected and it just kind of makes you want to live in Henrietta, Virginia, so you can be part of the action, you know?— but they won’t be able to describe it to you without sounding a little crazy and/or spoiling something good. I honestly think it has a little something for everyone, and it’s the perfect read for October (also: year-round. It’s just timeless).
Girls Burn Brighter by Shobha Ro
This is decidedly not YA, but honestly, women of all ages will want to get their hands on Girls Burn Brighter at some point. A contemporary read chronicling the lives of two women who are brought together and then torn apart, this book is not for the faint of heart. Ro tackled quite a few difficult modern issues with delicate grace, using her prose to shine light on the darkest parts of today’s society. This is not an easy read, but it is an unforgettable, hopeful one, and allowing it to take your hand and show you these things can only enrich you as a human being. I didn’t cry while reading this, or anything, the words just got fuzzy and my eyeballs leaked a little. No big. I can handle reading this again.
My Boyfriend Is A Bear by Pamela Ribon (author) and Cat Farris (artist)
When you’re finished wiping your eyes after reading Girls Burn Brighter, you’ll probably feel a little raw, and slightly betrayed, because like, I did tell you to read a book that messed with your feelings. Never fear! My Boyfriend Is A Bear is the cure for cases of the glums, and it will lift your spirits and make you giggle even as you’re arching an eyebrow and asking yourself, ‘Am I really reading a love story between a girl and a bear?’ Not a girl and a werebear; not a girl and a guy with a beard that’s better-maintained than my life; a girl and an actual bear. I know, I know, it sounds weird, but it’s actually heartfelt, sweet, and relatable. Whether you’re lucky in love, or still searching for The (mystical and purported) One, My Boyfriend Is A Bear will make you laugh the whole way through.
The Book of M by Peng Shepherd
Can I recommend a book I’m currently reading? Is that cheating? Full disclosure: I picked this up because the summary reminded me of Disney’s version of Peter Pan: a grown man loses his shadow on an otherwise ordinary day, except no flying pirate ships or eternal children come to spirit him off to a land of make-believe. Soon, more and more people find themselves without a shadow, plus cool new powers, sans all the memories that make up the very essence of who they are. Husband-and-wife duo, Ory and Max, are hoping to outrun this strange affliction, but when Max’s shadow disappears, so does she, ditching Ory in an attempt to keep him safe. While Max is on the hunt for what she lost, Ory refuses to give up on her and begins a two-fold quest: he will find his wife, and together, they will find a cure to restore her memories and end this horrible plague.
Are You Sleeping by Kathleen Barber
I’d be remiss if I didn’t add one mystery to this pile. I know, it’s kind of useless to reread mysteries— if you know what happened, who did what, and how everything came to be, what’s the point of going back?— but I rarely keep books from that genre, unless they’re compelling in some other way. Kathleen Barber’s debut novel fits the bill. The premise is this: as a teenager, Josephine Buhrman’s twin sister, Lanie, saw their father get shot and killed by the creepy boy-next-door, Warren Cave. Following the tragedy, the girls’ mother abandoned them to join a cult, and Lanie traded in the scraps of her broken family for a world of drugs and bad decision-making— one decision in particular that drove her twin sister away for good.
Now an adult with a fiance and a life free of the stigma of being “the murder victim’s daughter,” Josephine Buhrman has become Josie Borden, and she never wants to visit her old life again. But a tenacious podcaster has picked up the story of her father’s murder, and is hell-bent on proving Warren Cave’s innocence; to put her demons to rest and find out what really happened, Josie must become Josephine once again, trying to go back to a home that is now just a house, trying to understand a sister who is now just a stranger.
I loved this book because, aside from taking inspiration from the amazing Serial podcast, it’s not just a mystery. I mean it is, obviously, but there’s so much more to it than that: if you’ve ever been a young, unwilling character in the story of someone else’s addiction, this novel will strike a very familiar nerve over and over again. I kept it because it’s a reminder of the ways a family devolves, but it’s also a reminder of the ways an individual becomes more than their circumstances.
Bury What We Cannot Take by Kristin Chen
This is a fairly new release (March of this year), and I’m shocked more people aren’t talking about it. Set in Communist China, Bury What We Cannot Take explores the strength of family ties, and the horrors of our world’s own history. When Ah Liam reports his grandmother to the Party for vandalizing a picture of Chairman Mao, his family must run for their lives; however, the government is having none of this, and decides that if the family wants to go, one of their children must be left behind, an insurance policy that guarantees their eventual return. This book had me feeling like a short-circuiting robot; I was furious and horrified and grief-stricken all at once. I didn’t know how to feel and was just a mess. I just don’t understand how a book can be this good and this beautiful and this heart-wrenching all at once, and if you only read one of the books on this list: make sure it’s this one. Honestly, I’m not ready to be eviscerated again, but like: I’m gonna do it.