Riot Round-Up: The Best Books We Read in April

This content contains affiliate links. When you buy through these links, we may earn an affiliate commission.

Chris M. Arnone

Senior Contributor

The son of a librarian, Chris M. Arnone's love of books was as inevitable as gravity. He holds an MFA in Creative Writing from the University of Missouri - Kansas City. His novel, The Hermes Protocol, was published by Castle Bridge Media in 2023 and the next book in that series is due out in winter 2024. His work can also be found in Adelaide Literary Magazine and FEED Lit Mag. You can find him writing more books, poetry, and acting in Kansas City. You can also follow him on social media (Facebook, Goodreads, Instagram, Twitter, website).

Chris M. Arnone

Senior Contributor

The son of a librarian, Chris M. Arnone's love of books was as inevitable as gravity. He holds an MFA in Creative Writing from the University of Missouri - Kansas City. His novel, The Hermes Protocol, was published by Castle Bridge Media in 2023 and the next book in that series is due out in winter 2024. His work can also be found in Adelaide Literary Magazine and FEED Lit Mag. You can find him writing more books, poetry, and acting in Kansas City. You can also follow him on social media (Facebook, Goodreads, Instagram, Twitter, website).

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.


All for You by Laura FlorandAll For You by Laura Florand

In All For You, Florand takes us back to Paris and the laboratoire of rebel chocolatier, Dominique Richard. Rather than focusing on Dom, however, this book is about his chef, Célie, and her childhood sweetheart who abandoned her without a word to join the Foreign Legion. Now he’s back and expecting Célie to welcome him with open arms, but Célie is: 1. still upset about him leaving; 2. not sure she wants to change herself and her life around to include him anymore; and 3. is a bit gun-shy with the whole trust issue. All For You exemplifies everything I love about Florand’s novels. It’s super angsty and emotional, yet still fun with moments of humor. Not to mention, Florand tells a great story! I raced through the first third and then spent two days dragging out the ending, not wanting it to end. The emotional payoff gave me warm fuzzies for days. I seriously wish I could just live in a Florand novel. If you’re a fan of her writing, I promise you won’t be disappointed. — Tasha Brandstatter

Ascension by Jacqueline KoyanagiAscension by Jacqueline Koyanagi

This is the diverse, queer sci-fi novel you’ve (I’ve) been waiting for! This was so much fun to read. A sky surgeon (spaceship mechanic) sneaks onto a ship to try to get a job, but things don’t go according to plan, and she may accidentally be involved in the kidnapping of her own sister. The plot is entertaining (including alternate universes!), but what made it even better was reading this space adventure story from the perspective of a black lesbian with a chronic illness. Ascension just makes it all the more obvious how much this layering of experiences makes for a richer, more interesting story, and I’m impatient for more Tangled Axon books. — Danika Ellis

Attachments by Rainbow RowellAttachments by Rainbow Rowell

Two of the three books I’ve read by Rowell I’ve finished in one sitting, because her work is too damn spell-binding to put it down. Attachments is a ‘90s rom-com fit to stand alongside the work of Nora Ephron. Rowell mines the uncertainty of late-20s adulthood and Y2K hysteria with poignant dimension and insight. — Ellison Langford

The Book of Strange New Things by Michel FaberThe Book of Strange New Things by Michel Faber

One of the few parallels between Ridley Scott’s 1979 classic sci-fi film Alien and Michel Faber’s latest novel is that space exploration seems, well, dull. Instead of supernovas and interstellar dogfights, monotony and annoying workmates are the order of the day. Faber’s vision of what will happen when we chance upon the far flung reaches of the galaxy is so much more believable as a result. Forget Star Trek-style utopianism, what we’ll take with us beyond the stars is corporations, failing marriages and religion. His alien world, Oasis, is admirably pared back and yet still sounds beautiful – as if the bleak islands off Scotland’s west coast were writ large over a corner of the cosmos. The mysterious USIC company select Peter to bring Christianity to the aboriginal inhabitants of Oasis. While living with these vividly described aliens who are strangely hungry to hear more about Jesus, Peter is emailing his wife, Bea, back on an increasingly turbulent earth. Faber doesn’t patronise faith. He deeply understands the Bible and the spiritual and all-too-human motivations and failings of missionaries. It is the aliens that poetically refer to the Bible as The Book of Strange New Things. It serves as the title and the perfect description of Faber’s own book. — Edd McCracken

Come as You Are- The Surprising New Science that Will Transform Your Sex Life by Emily NagoskiCome as You Are: The Surprising New Science that Will Transform Your Sex Life by Emily Nagoski

It’s hard not to love a book with a pseudo-vagina on the front; it’s even harder not to love that same book for smashing all the preconceived ideas we have about female (and by comparison, male) sexuality. Like, for example, did you know that the hymen as an indication of virginity is entirely a social construction and there is no scientific evidence backing it? Using actual, real science, Dr. Emily Nagoski – a speak-the-truth-and-only-the-truth sex educator/professor – breaks down all the things we think we know about sex and desire and drive and, in the process, makes you feel like not are you normal, but we’re ALL normal. As she says over and over and over, “We’re all made up of the same basic parts, just organized differently.” In other words, there is no normal. This is a game changer of a human sexuality book – not just for women, who have always been told that men’s sexuality is the default (HINT: it’s not) – but for men who love women and don’t understand why the things that work for them, don’t work for women. Just….just go buy this. Buy this and read it and try not to be that weird person pushing a sex book on every single lady person you know. Because these are all lessons we need to learn. Better for us, better for everyone. — Rachel Manwill

A Darker Shade final for IreneA Darker Shade of Magic by V.E. Schwab

There are four Londons in this excellent fantasy by V.E. Schwab; Grey London is the normal Londob we all know and love, Red London is a London in another world, filled with magic and wonder, White London is a harsh place, full of wickedness and a stark desperation. And then there’s Black London, but we do not speak of Black London. Kell is a magician who travels between the Londons, an act that is forbidden, and he smuggles items between them. But when he accidentally ends up with a stone from Black London he knows something is very wrong.

Chased between Londons by sinister magicians and aided by a not-entirely-helpful thief from Grey London who oddly appears to be somewhat apt at magic, Kell tries to make his way to Black London to destroy the stone.

A Darker Shade of Magic has everything fans of fantasy want; a complex and complete fantasy world with great characters and a touch of the darkness of George Martin’s Ice and Fire books, though less of the vulgarity. With nothing held back, V.E. Schwab has created quite a book. Highly recommended. — Johann Thorsson

Dragon Hunter- Roy Chapman Andrews and the Central Asiatic Expeditions by Charles GallenkampDragon Hunter: Roy Chapman Andrews and the Central Asiatic Expeditions by Charles Gallenkamp

Dinosaur fossils. The Gobi Desert. Indiana Jones-ish adventures. Are you intrigued yet?? Here, Gallenkamp tells the story of Roy Chapman Andrews, an employee at the American Museum of Natural History who successfully launched and led a series of wildly successful expeditions into the Gobi Desert (Inner and Outer Mongolia) during the 1920s. And while he was seeking to prove his mentor’s theory that modern humans originated in Asia, he instead uncovered, with the help of his talented team, innumerable dinosaur and mammal fossils, as well as dinosaur eggs in various stages of development. Supported financially by both America’s wealthy elite and an enthusiastic general public, Andrews and his team dodged and fought bandits, wrangled with politicians in China and Mongolia for entry and excavation rights, and introduced to the world many new dinosaurs and mammals that would otherwise have remained much longer under the shifting sands of the Gobi. An engrossing listen. (Audiobook) — Rachel Cordasco

The Dream of Doctor Bantam by Jeanne ThorntonThe Dream of Doctor Bantam by Jeanne Thornton

An operatic, intensely surprising, and deliciously weird ode to dealing with grief in all the wrong ways, Thornton’s debut novel follows wise-ass Julie Thatch, a seventeen-year-old girl determined not to acknowledge how devastated she is by her older sister’s suicide. Instead, she falls head over heels for Patrice, the deeply troubled devotee of a Scientology-esque cult. Thornton tackles her themes head-on with an ear finely tuned to the morbidly funny, and what could easily turn into a maudlin or heavy-handed wallow is instead a sharp, witty gem of a novel that refuses easy answers or tidy arcs. — Sarah McCarry

Find Me by Laura Van Den BergFind Me by Laura Van Den Berg

This is such an interesting and surreal dystopian novel. Essentially, the reader meets a super unique protagonist, Joy, who has her own complications even as the human race is struggling with its own. After an outbreak of a disease that causes people to forget those around them, Joy enrolls in a hospital program that separates her from the rest of the world and the book kicks off from there. I really enjoyed this one even more than I expected because the caricatures of people that populate this novel feel so strange but so completely necessary in this kind of traumatic, dark story. — Jessi Lewis

The Fishermen by Chigozie ObiomaThe Fishermen by Chigozie Obioma

This novel is so, so wonderful. It’s about a group of young brothers in Nigeria who must cope when their father leaves them at home with their mother and younger siblings to go live and work in the city. But the lack in discipline caused by their father’s absence has a negative effect on the boys, who manage to find trouble by fishing down at the forbidden river, where they cross paths with the town’s prophecy-spewing madman. This leads to tragic consequences for the boys. Narrated by Ben, the fourth brother, The Fishermen is a beautiful novel about family, and the power of superstition and faith in a small village. Obioma has a gift for storytelling, and this book is a remarkable, powerfully charged tale of culture and grief. I didn’t want it to end. — Liberty Hardy

Girl at War by Sara NovićGirl at War by Sara Nović

I’m really starting to enjoy historical fiction. I’ve not read much in the genre, but every time I do, it makes me want to go research the time period in question. Nović’s debut novel is about a girl living in Croatia at the tender age of 10 when the Yugoslavian Civil War breaks out. The novel fast-forwards to her college years in America, where the tragedies of her youth still haunt her budding adulthood. She decides to return to Croatia for closure. Nović manages to balance the darkness of war with breaths of hope and joy. This is really an astounding book for a debut author. — Chris Arnone

Haldol & Hyacinths by Melody MoezziHaldol & Hyacinths by Melody Moezzi

The subtitle of Moezzi’s memoir is “A bipolar life” which tends to suggest what the major focus of the book will be about, and so it was with some surprise when I discovered that “bipolar” had an awful lot less to do with the story than “a life” did. This might sound like a complaint, but it isn’t remotely. Melody Moezzi is an amazing writer, sharp and witty and very funny, describing life as a young Iranian woman raised by her family in the American midwest, balancing those two sides of her world and cultures in a pre- and post-9/11 world. The trickier bit happens when her own brain, which is the thing trying to do all that balancing, is itself off-kilter and goes to pieces as bipolar rears its ugly head.

If you came looking for lots of note-taking information about bipolar, you’ll be kind of disappointed, but that’s okay. There’s other books for that. This is, instead, a great memoir that is exciting (and frequently very funny, even in seemingly dark or bleak moments). I read it in a single day, too charmed to even think about stopping. — Peter Damien

It’s What I Do- A Photographer’s Life in Love and War by Lynsey AddarioIt’s What I Do: A Photographer’s Life in Love and War by Lynsey Addario

Lynsey Addario is a conflict photographer, a woman who goes towards violence and combat rather than away from it, in a profession made ever more complicated by the fact that she is a woman. This book is a lot of things, but what resonated with me when I read it this month is the way Addario wrote about how difficult her decision to become a mother was and the anxiety she felt about how motherhood would affect how others – subjects, editors, colleagues and family – saw her and her ability to to her job. She is unapologetic about how important her career is as well as honest in her deep love for her husband and son. It’s a wonderful memoir about work and family, made even better by the inclusion of many of Addario’s beautiful photos in full color. If you read this one, definitely grab the hardcover. — Kim Ukura

Men We Reaped by Jesmyn WardMen We Reaped by Jesmyn Ward

If I could name one book to be required reading for all American people at this exact moment in our history, especially those in the South, it would be this one. Jesmyn Ward’s memoir of growing up poor and black in the South and of the deaths of five young black men in her life, including her brother, make real and clear the effects of systemic racism and how it leads to poverty, violence, and injustice. I listened to this audiobook as I was taking a road trip back to my hometown in Southeastern Virginia, driving along back country roads named after Civil War Confederate “heroes,” thinking about how even though I grew up poor and ambiguously brown in the South, my experience was so exponentially, infinitely less crushing simply because I am not black. Every time you hear someone snidely say the word “thug,” you’ll want to throw this book at them. Hard. In Men We Reaped, privilege is given names, and that’s not a thing you can erase or forget. — Amanda Nelson

Missoula- Rape and the Justice System in a College Town by Jon KrakauerMissoula: Rape and the Justice System in a College Town by Jon Krakauer

There are no easy ways to talk about rape, or its troubled relationship with the justice system. In Missoula, Krakauer takes on these complicated topics by zeroing in on one city and a few specific cases. His research is exhaustive, and follows the victims and accused from the incidents through the court process (or lack thereof). What emerges is a picture of the numerous ways that our society and our judicial system are failing victims of sexual assault. This is not an easy book to read nor is it comprehensive (for example, intersectionality and race are not addressed), but it’s an important addition to the literature on rape culture, trauma, and the way the United States does and doesn’t deal. — Jenn Northington

Ongoingness- The End of a Diary by Sarah MangusoOngoingness: The End of a Diary by Sarah Manguso

I loved Ongoingness, about Sarah Manguso’s decades-long habit of keeping a diary. In the beginning, she says, “I wrote about myself so I wouldn’t become paralyzed by rumination—so I could stop thinking about what had happened and be done with it.” Now, her experience of keeping a diary is an altogether different thing…though this book is less about beginnings and endings than what happens in between.

Ongoingness is a great pick for journalers or anyone else who feels compelled to record life in some way. Why do we do it? What do we attempt to remember or forget? Manguso is a clean, precise writer, but her words are packed with emotion. More than anything, this is a book about growing up. — Lynn Crothers

Orlando by Virginia WoolfOrlando by Virginia Woolf

I’ve been trying recently to read more books with queer themes, particularly older books, and this one was a perfect pick. Orlando follows the story of a young man, born in the 17th Century who one day wakes up with a female body and then lives until at least the beginning of the 20th century. It took me until I’d finished Orlando to be able to piece it together and make sense of what I just read. But I loved that things in this book happen without explanation, the focus is not on how or why it all happens, but the person they happen to. — Rah Carter

Parade’s End by Ford Madox FordParade’s End by Ford Madox Ford

Parade’s End is one of the most underread classics of the twentieth century, which is a shame because it’s also arguably one of the best war novels of all time. It examines the impact of World War I on English society through the domestic lives of its protagonists–Christopher Tietjens, the last true Tory in England, his philandering wife, Sylvia, and Valentine, a young suffragette with whom he falls in love. At over nine hundred pages it’s a monster to tackle, but the three months it took me to wend my way through it was time well spent. It’s a brilliant modern novel that explores the still-relevant theme of how a rapidly changing culture impacts the individual. — Kate Scott

The Princess in Black by Shannon Hale & Dean HaleThe Princess in Black by Shannon Hale & Dean Hale

Princess Magnolia secretly moonlights as the Princess in Black, a monster-fighting, ass-kicking lady after my own heart. Yes, this is a book for 5 – 8 year olds, and yes, it’s the best book I read this month! Its 80-odd pages ooze with humor and sass, and it makes me want to romp around lassoing the fuzzy blue monsters of Monster Land and evading the prying questions of Duchess Wigtower. Shannon Hale won me over when she blogged about boys not being allowed to hear her talk about “girl books,” and I love her even more now that I’ve read her books. The Princess in Black is exactly the kind of fearless feminist hero that I want all little boys and girls to be able to root for and look up to. — Rachel Smalter Hall

Recipes for a Beautiful Life by Rebecca BarryRecipes for a Beautiful Life by Rebecca Barry

Meet Rebecca–mother, writer, wife, self-distracting procrastinator who makes clay cats and mermaids instead of working on her novel.  Meet Rebecca and Tommy, a charming, witty couple who love, fight, kiss-and-make-up, and then start yelling at their toddler sons to stop peeing on each other.  Meet the Barrys, co-managers of a chaotic household and a couple of characters who could have easily stepped out of Later, at the Bar, Rebecca’s debut collection of short stories.  Later, at the Bar was published seven years ago and in that time Rebecca struggled to write a novel.  Did I mention that she and her husband Tommy decided to move out of the city to upstate New York where they bought a century-old house in desperate need of repair?  Did I also explain that along the way, Tommy quit his high-profile well-paying job and Rebecca gave birth to two lovely-but-often-rampaging boys and that peace and quiet are now the most valuable commodities in her life?  Meet Rebecca Barry–she’ll make you laugh on one page and maybe get a little misty-eyed on the next with this new “memoir in stories” which is full of hilarious dialogue, recipes for things like “Angry Mommy Tea,” and tips on how to fool your kids into picking up their toys (scare them with stories about a green-toothed fairy named Gladys who steals un-picked-up toys at night). Recipes for a Beautiful Life is the book Rebecca Barry wrote while she was on her way to write another book–and, frankly, I think it’s the most beautiful thing that could have happened to all of us. — David Abrams

The Red Notebook by Antoine LaurainThe Red Notebook by Antoine Laurain

A young woman is mugged outside her apartment building and having fled to safety, finds solace in a hotel overnight. She slips into a coma while just a few streets away a bookseller, Laurant, finds her abandoned bag sitting on a trash bin. On a lark, he takes it home to search through the contents and hopefully uncover the owner. He’s intrigued by the little tokens and souvenirs he finds inside, as well as a little red notebook full of snippets and thoughts. Laurant is able to uncover more of the woman’s identity than anticipated and perhaps more than is advisable.

While it might sound a little creepy from the description, it’s not at all. This little novella has an atmospheric French charm and the whole conundrum feels so genuinely accidental that I was swept along, pulling for the woman to wake up and recover her life and for Laurant to meet her. It’s rare that I read more than one of an author’s works close together, but I immediately ran out and purchased Laurain’s previous book, The President’s Hat.  –Andi Miller

Re Jane by Patricia ParkRe Jane by Patricia Park

Y’all know I love Jane Eyre. I also really, really love retellings that bring something entirely new to the story. And this book really does. Jane Re is Korean-American and works in her uncle’s grocery store. She does not know her parents. She has a degree from a not-prestigious college and Wall Street aspirations that she comes to realize aren’t actually her own. She takes a job as an au pair for an academic couple and their adopted Chinese daughter. Here, the madwoman in the attic character (Bertha Mason in the original, who inspired the title of a seminal work of feminist criticism) is Beth Mazer, a women’s studies professor, which is just cute. Mid-novel, tragedy strikes—not that one, a much different one—and everything changes for Jane. I loved this book with many loves. It’s up there with Wide Sargasso Sea. — Jeanette Solomon

A Sense of the Infinite by Hilary T. SmithA Sense of the Infinite by Hilary T. Smith (Katherine Tegen, May 18)

Friendship stories done well really work for me, and Smith has a great one here. Annabeth and Noe have been best friends for a long time. They’ve planned out their future together, that they’ll attend the same college, live together, and grow up with one another side-by-side. But something changes senior year and Noe begins to venture in a different direction. Annabeth feels like she’s left hanging — suddenly all of those plans aren’t there any longer, and she has to figure out whether she still wants to pursue those alone or if it’s time for her to strike out on her own path without Noe. This is a real coming-of-age story for Annabeth, who begins to really discover who she is in this final year of high school.

Smith doesn’t shy away from hard stuff in the book and her writing is fluid, poetic, and engaging. Annabeth is imperfect, but she’s quite likable, and it’s hard not to hope she figures out where it is she needs to be, with or without Noe by her side. Change is hard and change can hurt, but that pain is worth it in this one. Smith is one of my favorite authors writing in YA and this book, quiet as it might be, feels like a classic in the making. — Kelly Jensen

Stella by Starlight by Sharon M. DraperStella by Starlight by Sharon M. Draper

This is Draper’s newest release, following the success of her best-seller Out of My Mind. In Stella by Starlight, Draper brings us to the segregated south in the middle of the Depression. The story begins when eleven-year-old Stella and her little brother Jojo happen across nine robed figures dressed all in white. Stella and her family, along with the small black community they live among in Bumblebee, North Carolina, confront this new reality with fear and anger and courage. In one scene, in which the black men of the community gather to register to vote for the first time, the voting registrar warns, “You’re gonna be real sorry you did this.” The pastor replies, “Sorrow is part of life.” And sorrow is so clearly etched in this story, but joy and triumph too. Geared for readers 9 to 13, I would recommend this historical novel for any middle grader and beyond. — Karina Glaser

Sweet by Emmy LaybourneSweet by Emmy Laybourne (Feiwel & Friends, June 2)

Chances are, you recognize Laybourne’s name from Monument 14 trilogy, which was a really thrilling end-of-the-world YA series. Well, she’s back with a new book that mashes up so many genres that I’m having a hard time defining it. And that is awesome.

Sweet takes readers on board a luxury cruise ship, packed with celebrities, reality stars, models, etc… all of whom are geared up to try out a new sweetener, Solu, which promises to shed weight no matter how much someone might eat. Just add a packet, and watch the weight fall off. The story goes back and forth between two protagonists, Tom, a former child star, and Laurel, a girl who isn’t one of the elite wealthy, but has tagged along with a friend.

The romance that blossoms between the two of them is very swoon-worthy and, well, sweet. But this isn’t a cute romantic YA novel set on a cruise ship. It takes a seriously dark turn, as Solu starts to… well, affect the passengers in a terrifying way. It’s a book that’s part romance, part thriller, part horror novel, and all fun. And with strong messages about body image! Definitely look for this one in bookstores come May. — Eric Smith

Touched by an Alien by Gini KochTouched by an Alien by Gini Koch

This book is by no means Pulitzer material. But it is the MOST FUN I had all month. Friends have been telling me to start this series for years, and I finally saw Gini Koch herself on a panel at the Tucson Festival of Books. The author herself was amusing enough I decided to go ahead and start the 11 book series.

If you can’t handle the ridiculous, this book is not for you. Katherine “My Parents Call Me Kitty” Katt works in Marketing in a nonexistent city in Arizona. She’s leaving jury duty one day when she sees a man turn into an angry winged monster man. Somehow, she knows how to kill the creature, and finds herself wrapped up in an underground alien war between the Alpha Centaurians (or ACs) and a parasitic foe. All ACs, who have settled on Earth to deal with said parasites, are gorgeous model-types in Armani–even the scientists. The parasites are…distinctly not. Obviously, since this is a romance, there is a model-type love interest and a secret to unveil! Seriously, if you need a break from the overwhelming emotion of the amazing heavy-hitters you’ve been reading, read one of these every month or so. — Jessica Pryde

Viper Wine by Hermione EyreViper Wine by Hermione Eyre

A lot of historical fiction is just an expression of nostalgia for a time that will never come again, and reading that sort of thing is a perfectly pleasurable indulgence. The historical fiction I like best, though, is the kind that truthfully re-creates a long-gone era as a way of commenting on the present moment. It gives the reader the best of both worlds. This seems to be exactly what Hermione Eyre is up to with her debut novel, set in the 17th century and focusing on a fascinating couple, Kenelm and Venetia Digby. He was an adventurer and natural philosopher, and she was the most celebrated beauty of her time. In Eyre’s version of their life together, it’s clear that she’d be remembered for much more today if her society had allowed her broader avenues of expression. As is, the fictional Venetia is compelled to cling to her fading appearance through desperate and dangerous pseudo-scientific means. The language is rich, the plot is corkscrewing and complex, and the period detail is thoroughly convincing without being at all dusty or cobwebby. Viper Wine may look at first like an antique, but a it’s really a reinterpretation of one, a book with a fresh, feminist, and very modern perspective. — James Crossley

The Walls Around Us by Nova Ren SumaThe Walls Around Us by Nova Ren Suma

I’m almost done with this, but I’m calling it now as the best book I’ve read this month. Nova Ren Suma has created something extraordinary with this book, being billed as “Orange Is The New Black Swan,” and for good reason. The Walls Around Us is a dual narrative, centering around Ori and Vee, best friends connected by ballet and blood; Ori’s tale is told within the juvenile correctional facility, while Vee’s is told from outside. How they each end up where they do is an integral part of this compelling, supernatural story.

One of the great strengths of this novel isn’t just its delicious prose or its knife-sharp characterization, it’s the themes and questions that Suma asks around the deadly secret held by two friends divided; it’s about young women and the systems that fail them. It’s about being true to yourself, even when the truth within can be an ugly thing. It’s about confronting those parts of yourself you hate or that you love, and making peace not only with them, but with those who reinforce them. It’s a ghost story that shows how strong the past threads itself to the present, and how if nothing is learned from the past, nothing will be changed. I don’t read a lot of YA, but with books like this, I’m going to have to start! — Marty Cahill

We All Looked Up by Tommy WallachWe All Looked Up by Tommy Wallach

I spent a recent Saturday morning at Houston’s TeenBookCon, where Tommy Wallach was a part of the “Reality Need Not Apply” panel.  He seemed to feel a little out of place with the other panelists, since his debut novel is pretty realistic. The one thing that makes it stand apart from the average contemporary YA novel is the fact that an asteroid is hurtling toward the Earth. They know this, but they don’t know what will happen.  So it’s a story about  perfectly normal group of people figuring out how to deal with what may well be the end of their world. Their reactions are perfectly appropriate to the situation, and the way in which each person tells his or her story is pretty compelling. Wallach, who is also a musician, gets bonus points for recording an album to go along with his book, containing the songs that two of its characters write during the countdown to the asteroid’s arrival.  — Cassandra Neace

White Teeth by Zadie SmithWhite Teeth by Zadie Smith

Is there a name for the very specific emotional combination of relief, satisfaction, and joy that occurs when a piece of art that has been massively hyped lives up to that hype entirely? If there isn’t, I propose we call it the Zadie Smith effect. I missed White Teeth when it came out originally and have spent the last couple of years almost afraid to read it, because I thought nothing could be as good as people said White Teeth was. I needn’t have been. White Teeth is rich and sprawling and warm and painfully funny and, of course, incredibly sharp and insightful. If you are like me and you haven’t already read it, DO SO. You won’t regret it. — Maddie Rodriguez

The Whites by Richard Price writing as Harry BrandtThe Whites by Richard Price writing as Harry Brandt.

Full disclosure: I am a longtime Price fan; it’s almost impossible for me to bring him up without waxing poetic about his greatness. As a crime writer, he brings big, bold questions crashing into the lives of his cops and criminals. With The Whites, Price tried to do something different. Happily for us, he ended up writing a stellar novel with two intertwined stories of revenge. It’s as good as anything he’s ever done. If you like crime fiction and you haven’t read Price, rectify that immediately. — Jessica Woodbury

The Woman Who Thought She Was a Planet and Other Stories by Vandana SinghThe Woman Who Thought She Was a Planet and Other Stories by Vandana Singh

A woman realizes she’s of the Naga people, serpent deities in Hindu mythology. An alien tetrahedron crashes into New Delhi, blocking traffic and inspiring some to explore its multiple dimensions. A future, starfaring people tell three mythologies sprung out of their history. A woman finds a universe (and its inhabitants) within her.

These short stories make up one of the loveliest speculative fiction collections I’ve read. Even though fantastical things are happening, the stories are rooted in the personal struggles of their characters. Some are looking for love or acceptance, others are looking for a way out of a loveless marriage or familial duties, and some are learning how to live during a new stage in their lives. Singh also has a PhD in theoretical particle physics, so I’m assuming that the math and science she’s drawing on to tell these stories is always spot-on (not that I would know). It’s definitely a must-read. — Nikki Steele