Riot Headline 10 Exciting Books to Read this Summer

Riot Roundup: The Best Books We Read January–March 2019

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Danika Ellis

Associate Editor

Danika spends most of her time talking about queer women books at the Lesbrary. Blog: The Lesbrary Twitter: @DanikaEllis

We asked our contributors to share the best book they read last month and like always they delivered—kiss your TBR goodbye! We’ve got smooching books, a lady spy, a picture book, zombies, memoir, essays, dragons, and so much more—there are book recommendations for everyone here! We’ve got backlist, new releases, and not-even-out-yet reads. Remember to tell us in the comments what your favorite read so far this year is!

Looking for a great book, new or old? Dig into these books, which were the best ones the team at Book Riot read in the first quarter of 2019. book lists | best books | best books 2019 | backlist books | new release books

All the Ways Home cover imageAll the Ways Home by Elsie Chapman (Feiwel & Friends, May 28)

When the place you were born in used to be “home,” but then wasn’t for many years, but then it’s “home” again? It’s disorienting and surreal and hard. Elsie Chapman captures so much of what that feels like, day to day, in this book. We follow Kaede through grief back to Japan, where he spent part of his childhood and where his father and stepbrother still live. In the physical and emotional distance Kaede feels towards them, we start to recognize the gap between the facets of Kaede’s identity, and the struggle he endures trying to bridge them all. My heart broke for Kaede over and over again because I recognize how he feels being back in Japan and wondering what “home” means to him. I have lived those emotions for years without knowing how to articulate them to anyone else. Chapman inhabits those emotions with a palpable gentleness and understanding, and Kaede’s voice is so strong that reading this book almost feels like talking with a friend who just understands it all, without need for further explanation. That’s a gift I’ll always treasure.

—Angel Cruz

American Spy by Lauren Wilkinson book coverAmerican Spy by Lauren Wilkinson

Marie is an FBI agent and she has a complicated relationship with her job. She’s talented but undervalued by her bosses, and as a young black woman, she faces daily discrimination. When she’s sent undercover to Burkina Faso to gather intelligence on a revolutionary new president, she learns a lot about the FBI’s agenda and her own beliefs. This book has a little bit of everything—mystery, romance, family drama, historical fiction—and the storytelling is absolute perfection. Marie is a complex and imperfect heroine, and her story kept me on the edge of my seat through every dangerous twist. If you love character-driven intrigue, you must read this book!
—Susie Dumond

The Binding cover imageThe Binding by Bridget Collins

We’re in a world where books are strictly forbidden—as they contain stories from real people’s lives. Stories that they want to forget and keep locked away. Emmett Farmer is a seemingly remarkable young man who receives a mysterious summons to begin an apprenticeship as a Bookbinder, who collects the stories and the memory out of existence from the person’s life. But when Emmett goes on his first solo Binding, he discovers a book with his name on it. 2019 has been a tough year for me readingwise, and I hadn’t read a book that I completely fell in love with until this one. It’s a mystery, historical fantasy, and beautiful love story all in love. Cannot recommend more.

—Kate Krug

Black Leopard, Red Wolf cover imageBlack Leopard, Red Wolf by Marlon James

The first in a new trilogy, Black Leopard, Red Wolf finds Marlon James in peak form, with meticulous and thrilling plotting and some of the author’s tightest, most quietly poetic prose. This fantasy novel follows a man known only as Tracker, who is known for his ability to follow people’s scents all over the planet, and his cohort of fellow mercenaries, as they try to track down a boy who has been missing for three years. Relayed in Tracker’s own voice, the narrative weaves through varying notions of time and space, and often veers into unexpected twists of chronology. Ever since reading A Brief History of Seven Killings, I have been enthralled by Marlon James’s writing, and have eagerly anticipated Black Leopard, Red Wolf for well over a year. Be advised, the novel contains many instances of graphic violence, including sexual violence and violence against children.
—D.R. Baker

The Bride Test cover imageThe Bride Test (The Kiss Quotient #2) by Helen Hoang (Berkley, May 7)

Can someone be crowned the Queen of Romance after only two books? Yes, you say? Okay, then I shall decree! Seriously, my expectations for this book were ridiculously high and I used this book to combat absurd levels of stress. And it surpassed my expectations and allowed me a temporary break from life. Everything lovely, and swoony, and smoochy, and heart melty that you want from a romance is in here, but it’s also wildly funny, heartfelt, and voiced from an immigrant and an autistic person’s viewpoint. It’s literally perfect. PERFECT.

—Jamie Canaves

The Care and Feeding of Ravenously Hungry Girls by Anissa Gray

The Care and Feeding starts with an arrest. Althea—eldest sister and step-in matriarch of the Butler family—and her husband Proctor are put in handcuffs while sitting down to eat in the restaurant they own. What follows is the story of a family and the ways in which their actions reverberate off each other. Sisters returning home to the house they grew up in, facing their pasts, and looking forward to the future—not only of their family, but of the two daughters Althea and Proctor let behind. It’s hard to give the depth of this story justice in a short summary. I loved spending time with every character in this book, each so beautifully written and thought out. This novel was Gray’s debut and I am anxiously waiting for what she comes out with next. (TW: Eating disorders)
—Sophia LeFevre

Care Work cover imageCare Work: Dreaming Disability Justice by Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha

I don’t feel like I can properly speak to this book, but I’ll give a shot. Care Work is about disability justice: disability activism that centres queer and trans black, indigenous, and people of colour, and advocates leadership from the most impacted. Piepzna-Samarasinha is honestly operating on a different level than anything I’ve read before (other than her book of poetry, Bodymap). Although it’s written in an easy-to-read way, it’s densely packed with ideas, to the point that I’d often find myself reading only a few sentences before staring off in a daze for five minutes to process the thoughts they brought up. These essays are part memoir, part theory, and part guidebook through ableism/colonialism/capitalism/heteropatriarchy. Piepzna-Samarasinha isn’t afraid to talk about the complicated and uncomfortable, praising the joys of care network while detailing their shortfalls. I learned so much reading this, and I know I was barely scratching the surface. I’ll be getting something new out of this every time I read it. I cannot recommend this highly enough.
—Danika Ellis

Carmilla cover imageCarmilla by Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu, edited by Carmen Maria Machado (Lanternfish Press, April 23)

Carmilla is basically the first vampire book, but as with many Gothic texts, the translation and the seemingly erratic punctuation always prevent me from finishing them. This edition, though, has been edited by my new favorite, Carmen Maria Machado, and not only is her introduction as interesting—if not MORE interesting than this prototype bloodsucking tale—but she has footnotes throughout, where she has outlined minor characters’ backstories, defended the queer reading of the text (despite so many people insisting, that nuh-uh! Nuh-uh! That’s not a love affair! They’re just best friends!), and really just made it a whole new experience despite its classicness. PLUS, some AWESOME illustrations by Robert Kraiza.
—Mary Kay McBrayer

The City in the Middle of the Night by Charlie Jane Anders

Between night (dark, frigid) and day (fiery, bright), lies a city in which even sleep is harshly regulated, where humans forge a difficult, oppressive existence. Sophie and Bianca are young city dwellers ready to rebel; Mouth is the last of a dying nomadic culture. As they connect with strange beasts native to the planet, they think about its future, about climate change and regulation, and about the meaning of humanity, flawed but full of hope. This novel is a patient build powered by complex, tough heroines, by female friendship and romance. It left me unmoored: lost in questions about the human experience and bright icy plains that evoked The Left Hand of Darkness. Anders has written an accessible but deeply inquisitive work of science fiction that will continue asking us questions for years to come.
—Leah Rachel von Essen

Congratulations Who Are You Again by Harrison Scott Key cover imageCongratulations, Who Are You Again? by Harrison Scott Key

This hilarious memoir about pinpointing and eventually achieving your dreams doesn’t pull any punches. In Key’s characteristic comic way, he lays out the ugly truth—the immense letdown—of what it’s like to finally do or be or have the thing you’ve been wanting your entire life. Sure, it’s not all bad. In fact, it’s often amazing. But as someone stuck in the muck of post-publication malaise herself, I appreciated Key’s honesty around the not-so-great bits.
—Steph Auteri

Dread Nation by Justina Ireland

When I first heard this book had zombies, I passed it by. Zombies are just not my thing. But after hearing so many fellow Rioters raving, I decided to give it a go, and I am so glad I did. I listened to the audiobook and it was absolutely fantastic. This young adult book is set post–Civil War and features a smart, badass, teenage heroine, protecting the town from the undead. There are riveting (and not too gory) descriptions of young women facing off against the aforementioned zombies, plus some insightful discourse on racial disparity and white supremacy to boot. Brains and action! What more could you want?
—Heather Bottoms

Fruit Of The Drunken Tree Ingrid Rojas Contreras coverFruit of the Drunken Tree by Ingrid Rojas Contreras

I’m pretty late to the game on this beautiful book, as I feel like it was all anyone was talking about last year. Well, let me tell you. Better late than never. This book was worth. the. hype. It’s been a slow reading year for me, for various reasons, but this is the best book I’ve read this year so far (by far). And while Contreras’s debut novel didn’t fully pull me out of my reading slump, it did perk me up quite a bit. But what is it about? Set in 1990s Columbia, this novel alternates between two young girls’ stories: Chula, a 7-year-old girl trying to make sense of the political unrest surrounding her while living in a gated community in Bogotá, and Petrona, Chula’s family’s live-in maid. Narrating from a later point in her life, Chula looks back at her strange friendship with Petrona and how it opened her eyes to the violent world right outside of her sheltered doors. This novel is semi-autobiographical, based on Contreras’s own experiences growing up in Bogotá, and her passion and closeness to the material comes through in her gorgeous prose. If you, like me, didn’t pick this one up when everyone was talking about it last year, now is the time! Go read it!
—Emily Martin

Ghost Wall cover imageGhost Wall by Sarah Moss

A short novella, Ghost Wall is told from the point of view of Silvie, a teenage girl whose domineering, abusive father is obsessed with the idea of Iron Age Britain, a society, as he sees it, pure and untainted by foreign invaders. The family is spending their summer holidays in Northumberland, participating for two weeks in an experimental archaeology project which tries to recreate Iron Age life. As they do, Silvie strikes a friendship with one of the students. Slowly, she begins to look at her life in a different way. I must confess: as someone who studies the classical world and is currently working on a degree in archaeology, I generally tend to avoid works of fiction related to these subjects. Before reading this book, I had not heard of Sarah Moss, and therefore was not sure what to expect. An ongoing curiosity in Prehistoric Britain and hearing much praise of the book from fellow readers whose opinions I trust encouraged me to give it a go. The result: I stayed up until 3 AM, mesmerised, unable to put it down. The experimental archaeology is almost part of the setting – in the center of the narrative are themes of domestic abuse, misogyny, xenophobia, and class differences. In the space of 150 pages, Moss delivers a powerful story. One of the best books I have read, and I will be sure to return to it.
—Blaga Atanassova

Gingerbread by Helen Oyeyemi

“A gingerbread addict once told Harriet that eating her gingerbread is like eating revenge…with darts of heat, salt, spice, and sulfurous syrup, as if honey was measured out, set ablaze, and trickled through the dough along with the liquefied spoon.” Swoon. British schoolgirl Perdita and her mother, Harriet, are known for being a little weird and for making gingerbread that no one seems to really…want? When it appears as though Perdita has attempted suicide via ingestion of poisoned gingerbread, Harriet finds a note from Perdita that essentially reads, “Hey mum, BRB! I know this looks bad but I’ve just popped out to find the long-lost friend you often talk about!” That friend’s name is Gretel and the mythical place Perdita has gone off in search of is Druhástrana, the faraway land where Harriet spent her youth that most people don’t believe exists. Perdita survives and comes back with a story, one she will only tell if Harriet first shares the truth about her mysterious past. This book, y’all…Helen Oyeyemi shows us once again just how brilliantly she can flip a fairy tale on its head.
—Vanessa Diaz

The Gods of Tango by Carolina De Robertis cover imageThe Gods of Tango by Carolina De Robertis

This is one of those books that is hard to summarize eloquently. It’s about a young person who leaves Italy for Buenos Aires in 1913, and the life they find there in the world of tango. The writing is outrageously beautiful. The novel is fiercely queer. It’s a love story, an immigrant story, a coming-of-age story, a finding yourself story, a story about music, a story about friendship, a story about family. It’s so many things. I loved the characters so hard. I sobbed at the end. It’s been ages since a book touched me so deeply and so completely. If you like writing that drips with poetry, so thick and perfect you can taste it, and if you crave queer representation in historical fiction, please please please make this your next read.
—Laura Sackton

Hands Up by Breana J McDaniel cover imageHands Up! by Breanna J. McDaniel, illustrated by Shane W. Evans

In our school library we shelve picture books under a sign that reads “Everybody” because that’s who they’re for, and this picture book is a stunning example of exactly that. Taking a charged phrase and recasting it among scenes of a child’s daily happenings, the Black girl at the center of this story reached hands up for a hug, stretches hands up to wash, raises hands up to be called on in class, holds hands up to be passed a ball in the court, and praises hands up with the song of her church choir. The text challenges that charged phrase and provides readers of any age with the chance to reframe how those words can heal, love, and draw near. The illustrations are vibrant and Hope is apparent on each spread, but I found the most touching moment cake in Breanna’s note to her readers at the end of the book. This is one that belongs in every library and one that’s offers up something really special when read aloud.
—Matthew C. Winner

How it Ends by Laura Wiess cover imageHow It Ends by Laura Wiess

I’ve owned this book since its publication in 2009, and it has moved with me from apartment to apartment, remaining on my unread shelf for a full decade. Something kept me from giving it away, though, and I was never sure what. I’m moving next month, so as I’ve been packing and cleaning and downsizing, I came across this again and made the decision to finally reading it, not really knowing what I was in for. What I read was a powerful, realistic, and incredibly emotional story of a teenager learning to be independent and make her own decisions. What really got me though was her relationship with Gran, an elderly neighbor who is not really her grandmother, who has slowly worsening Parkinson’s. This book was deeply personal to me as I go through that exact experience now, and I’m not sure I’ll ever be able to put it into words properly how much this book meant to me as I was reading it and how emotional I felt. As her Gran reveals, quietly and through an audiobook, her own past, Hanna is able to empathize with a life so different than hers and learns from others as she navigates the turbulent waters that is teenagehood.
—Cassie Gutman

The Kiss Quotient by Helen HoangThe Kiss Quotient by Helen Hoang

I have been a fan of romantic comedies for as long as I can remember, and the reason I enjoyed this book so much is because it is literally a romantic comedy. It’s a little “hooker with a heart of gold” with a side of smart career driven woman who doesn’t have time for dating and relationships. What I really loved was Stella, the driven woman in this story, is a brilliant statistician instead of the usual “work in publishing” career that women have in romantic comedies. That was a nice deviation from the romcom norm, but you will still be rooting for Michael and Stella to make it work. This was the feel good love story I needed in my reading life. If you need some of that too, then run (don’t walk) and get The Kiss Quotient. Plus, you will be excited when the adaptation hits theaters in a few years.
—Katisha Smith

The Love and Lies of Rukhsana Ali by Sabina Khan

Rukhsana and Ariana have been dating for a while now, and things are great. Except for when they’re in public and have to pretend they’re not a couple. Anyone could see them—more particularly, anyone in Rukhsana’s mother’s circle could see and spread the word to the Bengali community. It’s difficult for Ariana to understand, and even more difficult for Rukhsana to explain. But then Rukhsana’s mom catches them making out, calls them horrible names, kicks Ariana out of her house, and swiftly comes up with a plan to whisk Rukhsana off to Bangladesh to find a nice boy to marry. Once there, she bonds with her grandmother, who shares her diary with her, giving her the perspective she needs to be true to herself and get through this awful season. The Love and Lies of Rukhsana Ali is incredible and I had every feeling imaginable while reading it. Trigger warnings (that I wish I’d had before reading): extreme homophobia, islamophobia, domestic violence, sexual assault.
—Ashley Holstrom

Lovely, Dark and Deep by Justina Chen

I have to confess, I’m at a crossroads in my life. While I’m doing some of the dreams that I wanted to do as a kid, others seem far and out of reach. Some of those dreams may be shelved, indefinitely, but not for health reasons. I’m hale and hearty. Then we get to this story. Viola finds out she has to shelve her dreams of investigative journalism after developing extreme photosensitivity. She loves baking for charity, adapts to spoiling her little sister rotten, and flirts with a guy finishing a personal comic that his brother started. Viola wants to fight injustice with her pen, but she learns that a few minutes in direct sunlight and her skin will blister. That means no traveling to the Serengeti Plains again, going to school normally, or even suntanning on the beach in a bikini. The more Viola rebels to find ways to go outside and resume her routine, the more strongly her body and parents freak out. Eventually, she sinks into despair that she can’t do the things she wanted to do, apart from baking and cooking. Her parents, who accidentally enabled this despair, try to drag her out of the metaphorical darkness if not the literal one, but they aren’t enough. Fortunately, she has a circle of friends and family who can reach out to her.

There’s always a way out of the darkness. People will disappoint you about it when they vanish, or discourage you. Others will find the Plan B’s, and wait for you to listen to the alternatives, which are not always deficient. The moments of Viola’s friends and aunt talking to her about what she can do instead and checking on her strike the hardest. Of course, Viola has to put in the work because her parents don’t have the answers. No one really does.
You need to read Lovely, Dark and Deep if you are stuck, and you feel the dreams you want to accomplish wither and die. It presents a situation that seems hopeless, which Viola even points out in a moment of anger with her parents. But there’s always hope, when life doesn’t work out. There always is.
—Priya Sridhar

The Luminous Dead by Caitlin Starling

Gyre Price lied her way into a cave expedition in the hopes of a paycheck that would let her get off-planet and find her mother. But there is something decidedly off about her expedition. For one, instead of a team of handlers for an expedition this big, all she has is Em. She’s also pretty sure Em is keeping secrets from her. The further Gyre descends into the cave, the more she questions she has. Like why are there missing supplies? Why have so many cavers before her died? And why is exactly is Em spending so much money on this expedition when she doesn’t even want the cave mapped? The Luminous Dead is a claustrophobic psychological thriller that is reminiscent of Annihilation. The writing is fantastically immersive, and it’s far too easy to get lost in Gyre’s head full of questions and doubts.
—Adiba Jaigirdar

M Archive After The End of the World by Alexis Pauline Gumbs CoverM Archive: After The End Of The World by Alexis Pauline Gumbs

A hypothetical meditative collection of prose-poetry-research after humanity does itself in, M Archive captures the essence reality through speculation. Its futurism of a proposed scientist looking back creates a grim scene for our current state of affairs. Gumbs takes on the political society of race, gender, climate, and at the very core, what it is to be human through source material from the Black feminist theorist M. Jacqui Alexander. This collection’s got endnotes, y’all! I’m in heaven whenever I dig into a page as Gumbs digs into our souls.
—Christina M. Rau

Old in Art School: A Memoir of Starting Over by Nell Irvin Painter

Old in Art School is the story of Nell Irvin Painter’s retirement in her 60s from a successful career as a historian at Princeton in order to go to art school full time. She studied first at Rutgers and then at the Rhode Island School of Design, and grew tremendously as an artist but also encountered sexism, racism, and ageism. Her account of everything she learned as well as the struggles she faced along the way is fascinating. Painter writes honestly and movingly about what it’s like to be surrounded by young students who don’t really get her and professors who belittle her work and the work of the artists she loves. Her dives into art history and the art world are enlightening and enjoyable. This is a charming, entertaining, moving, and wise memoir.
—Rebecca Hussey

The Proposal by Jasmine Guillory

I loved Guillory’s first novel, The Wedding Date, and this book is a worthy follow-up. The Proposal is set in the same universe as The Wedding Date, so some of the characters make reappearances, which is always something I like seeing in my romantic comedy novels (straight sequels are rare in this genre). Like her first novel, this book has strong female characters, close female friendships, an extremely attractive and wonderful love interest, and a plot that keeps you turning the pages long past your bedtime. It’s a book that leaves you with warm fuzzy feelings and contentment in your heart.
—Jen Sherman

RafeRafe: A Buff Male Nanny by Rebekah Weatherspoon

When Leah from The Ripped Bodice handed me a copy of this book, sure I giggled. It has a very tongue in cheek title and cover. And Rebekah Weatherspoon makes good use of this comedic potential within the story, but she takes these characters and goes so much deeper. Sloan is a Black heart surgeon whose recently escaped a bad marriage and needs help taking care of her twin daughters. Rafe is a big, buff dude who just happens to be great with kids, but he’s not sure what he wants to do with his life. The way they work together to build their attraction, intimacy, and family equals true #relationshipgoals. Romance readers, get past the giggles to swoon of this sexy happily ever after.
—Alison Doherty

The Rose by Tiffany Reisz cover imageThe Rose by Tiffany Reisz (MIRA, April 16)

This is the erotic Greek mythology retelling you didn’t know you were looking for, but will read in one (very fast and entirely too short) sitting. Reisz is a master at twining fantastical elements into this delicious story of a young woman who is gifted a powerful artifact only to find out that it makes sensual fantasies come true. The gods come to play, and as you read, you’ll discover the secrets of the artifact and the secrets of Lia’s life, and how one August Bowman can help her untangle all of them.
—Nikki VanRy

Seventeen by Hideo Yokoyama cover imageSeventeen by Hideo Yokoyama, translated by Louise Heal Kawai

Based on author Hideo Yokoyama’s own experiences, Seventeen is an intense and immersive newsroom drama that depicts the unfolding events at a local newspaper following the 1985 crash of Japan Airlines Flight 123—the deadliest single-aircraft accident in aviation history—right on their doorstep. It’s a fascinating and insightful account of newsroom politics and proceedings, but it’s also a complex and thoughtful look at relationships, stress, grief, and the seen and unforeseen effects of a tragic event, even decades later.
—Pierce Alquist

Sooner or Later Everything Falls Into the Sea by Sarah Pinsker

This was my first time reading Pinsker, and she BLEW MY MIND. I already knew it would be amazing, because it’s published by one of my favorite indie presses, Small Beer Press, and they have impeccable taste. I trust them implicitly and read everything they release. These 13 stories are wildly original and, frankly, jaw-dropping. A man’s new prosthetic arm dreams that it is a road in Colorado; the dream children of childless parents sun themselves on the rocks like seals; a rock star washes up on an island, where she is rescued by a recluse. So. Many. Amazing. Stories. My favorite might be the last story, in which a bunch of Sarah Pinskers attend a writer’s conference, where one of them is murdered. Every story was unlike anything I had read before, as well as smart and fun, which is everything I want from a story collection. RUN, DON’T WALK.
—Liberty Hardy

Tell Them of Battles, Kings & Elephants by Mathias Énard

In fifteenth century Constantinople, the Ottoman Sultan is looking for somebody to design a bridge over the magical Golden Horn, linking the two halves of Istanbul’s European side. Énard tells the story of Michelangelo traveling to the ancient city and designing the bridge. It is a story told beautifully, with florid description and a luscious portrayal of the city and its inhabitants. There is no evidence that Michelangelo went to Constantinople, only tantalizing hints. Around them Énard weaves a tale that will leave you dreaming long of a disappeared age for weeks afterwards.
—Kareem Shaheen

The Girl He Used to Know by Tracey Garvis Graves

The Girl He Used to Know is an exquisite second chance romance that finds a young autistic Annika who falls in love with Jonathan in college over their love of chess. After a devastating breakup that spans 10 years, Annika and Jonathan meet once again, this time trying figure out what went wrong and find their way back to each other. But as much as we want these two to unite, it’s Annika’s tremendous growth that drives this story, and watching it all culminate when she realizes she’s worthy of Jonathan’s love and decides to fight hard for it feels like a win for all of us. Her struggles over following social cues is heartbreaking to watch and is a wake-up call to how much even the most minuscule of actions and behaviors are influenced by the society we live in and at what point do our acts transition from genuine to artificial.

By juxtaposing the bullying Annika faces over her mannerisms against her patient and sensitive relationship with Jonathan, Graves offers an emotionally rich yet tragically realistic duality of society and people. A bewitching love story that is guaranteed to make you cry and want to become best friends with Annika stat.
—Kamrun Nesa

The True Queen by Zen ChoThe True Queen by Zen Cho

First of all, if you haven’t read Sorcerer to the Crown, get on that ASAP. The True Queen is its sequel, but one that can be read as a standalone. Basically, if you’re interested in regency fantasy, dragons, no-nonsense witches, queer romance, and sisterhood, then you definitely want to check out The True Queen. Zen Cho’s writing is both charming and incredibly sharp. Also, while you’re at it, why not read her short story anthology, Spirits Abroad? You’ll love it, I promise.
—Jessica Yang

The Unlikely Adventures of the Shergill Sisters by Balli Kaur Jaswal book coverThe Unlikely Adventures of the Shergill Sisters by Balli Kaur Jaswal (William Morrow, April 30)

After I read Jaswal’s Erotic Stories for Punjabi Widows, I had to have more. The Unlikely Adventures of the Shergill Sisters is another women-centric story, this time of three sisters traveling across India to complete their late mother’s last wish. As each sister deals with her own personal drama, the three find perhaps so much time apart and their adversary personalities have done more damage to their relationship than they could have realized. But Mother knows best, even when it comes to her adult children. Like Erotic Stories, Shergill Sisters is at turns heartbreaking, heartrending, comedic, and tragic, and is told with beautiful prose.
—Abby Hargreaves

Water Music cover imageWater Music by T.C. Boyle

This was my second time reading Water Music, and it remained as relentlessly entertaining as the first time around. The novel follows the exploits of a real-life Scottish explorer Mungo Park, who travelled along the Niger River around the turn of the 19th century. The adventures of Park and the other characters are hilarious and gripping.
—Christine Ro

Cover of The Winter of the Witch by Katherine ArdenWinter of the Witch by Katherine Arden

All three of the books in Katherine Arden’s Winternight trilogy read like quality, classic literature. The finale in the trilogy tells the story of Vasya, a young woman who is a fierce warrior and strategist in medieval Russia who is accused of being a witch. In reality (or, in this case, fiction), she is one of the few people left who are able to see the Little Folk who keep the monsters at bay. To save her family, friends, and the land from ruin, she must transcend time and space to find her allies. With descriptions so rich the reader can actually feel the cold bite of winter, and characters so fleshed out it feels like they are in the room while reading, Winter of the Witch is a book I plan to read and reread again and again.
—Abigail Clarkin

The World I Live In and Optimism A Collection of Essays cover imageThe World I Live In by Helen Keller

Helen Keller’s first book, The Story of My Life, is firmly lodged in the autobiographical canon, and even people who haven’t read it or seen its adaptations—usually under the title The Miracle Worker—are familiar with the details of Keller’s childhood and education under Anne Sullivan. You would expect her followup book to be a sequel, but The World I Live In is a completely different beast. From the direct first page to the rapturous final chapter, Keller explains her condition, corrects misunderstandings, and dispels the notion that she is incapable of living a full life. Ironically, through putting her experience on paper and bringing herself down to earth, Keller comes off as even more extraordinary. The term “life-changing” gets attached to books easier than any other art form, but The World I Live In wholeheartedly deserves the label. You can’t help but be transformed by it.
—Michael Herrington