Riot Round-Up: The Best Books We Read in April
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.
A Lady In the Smoke by Karen Odden
Pretty much everything I want in a historical novel: trains, historical detail, secrets, family drama, two lovers separated by society, conspiracy, crusading journalists, women sneaking out of the house, lawyering, and a pickpocket who could give Artful Dodger a run for his money. When Lady Elizabeth Fraser and her mother are involved in a terrible train crash, Lady Elizabeth helps the railway surgeon tend to the wounded while keeping her aristocratic roots a secret. But everything hits the fan when the surgeon and his BFF, an investigative journalist, uncover a greedy plot that may have caused the crash. While this book has some problems–for example, long conversations that are pretty much nothing but exposition–at its core it’s a great story with tons of Victorian atmosphere, sympathetic leads, and an awesome romance. I was a very satisfied reader by the time I finished this book. I’ll definitely be keeping an eye out for Odden’s next novel!
– Tasha Brandstatter
Are You My Type, Am I Yours? Relationships Made Easy Through the Enneagram by Renee Baron & Elizabeth Wagele
Many books about the Enneagram personality typing system focus on self-understanding and personal growth, but few focus on how the Enneagram can help people of differing personality types get along. This easy-to-read cartoon-illustrated book goes into detail about what every type likes and dislikes about every other type, which types are most likely to pair up in romantic relationships, and how partners, friends, and coworkers can best support people of different types. It also explores how the Enneagram relates to Myers-Briggs. It’s a great book to read if you’re trying to better understand yourself and your relationships.
– Kate Scott
The Book of Unknown Americans by Christina Henríquez
When I posted on Instagram that I was about to start reading The Book of Unknown Americans I got a bunch of comments that basically said “Yay, you will love this book!” And everyone who said that was right – this book is sweet, sad, and brings depth to the varied stories of Hispanic immigrants to the United States. The book is set in a Latino neighborhood in Delaware, and is carried along by the teenage love story between Major and Maribel. Major, a social outcast at his high school, grew up in the U.S. while Maribel has only recent come to the country with her parents to attend a special needs school – she is suffering from the effects of a traumatic brain injury. Their story is illuminated by brief first-person narratives from their friends and neighbors on their lives and experiences. I couldn’t stop turning the pages.
– Kim Ukura
The Border of Paradise by Esmé Weijun Wang (Unnamed Press)
I’ve been a longtime fan of Wang’s blog, where she chronicles living and working with mental illness in a way that’s refreshing, honest, and useful, and I’ve been eagerly awaiting her debut novel, out this month from Unnamed Press. This haunting (and frequently creepy) novel shifts perspectives between multiple characters to tell the story of David, scion of a highly successful piano manufacturing company, his wife Daisy—the daughter of a Taiwanese madam David meets and marries while abroad—and their two children. As David’s health deteriorates and he moves his family to a world of total isolation in the Northern California wilderness, the family is forced to come to terms with a legacy of secrets, trauma, and lies. In the hands of a lesser novelist this baroque, otherworldly story would come off as dizzyingly maudlin, but in Wang’s extraordinarily assured multivocal prose it transcends genre to become an unforgettable gothic classic that will stick with you long after you’ve finished it.
– Sarah McCarry
The Girl Who Raced Fairyland All The Way Home by Catherynne Valente
The final book in Valente’s wondrous Fairyland series, The Girl Who Raced Fairyland All The Way Home is by turns beautiful, harrowing, heart-wrenching, hilarious, and filled to the brim with love. Picking up directly after The Boy Who Lost Fairyland, September and company are free, only to find themselves surrounded by all of the madcap, murderous, and malignant rulers of Fairyland who ever were, and all of them want the crown that now sits on September’s head. And thus, in pure Fairyland fashion, the only way to choose the new ruler, is with a race to find the Heart of Fairyland itself. Valente said that when she finished writing this book, she bawled her eyes, and honestly, I was right there with her. For four books, we’ve seen our girl September grow and change, seen her heart learn how to be full, seen how she learns to juggle bravery and common sense with one hand, how the most important thing a person can do is love and understand and exercise compassion and empathy over terror and intimidation, how that is the greatest magic a being can master. And as we’ve seen her grow, we’ve grown with her, too. Our own hearts are that much bigger, our own sense of love and empathy that much brighter. And at the close of this novel, we’ve explored every nook and cranny of this home, and while I’m sure we’ll come back out to the porch and tell tales under the stars, this home is known to us, and now it is time for bed. The Girl Who Raced Fairyland All The Way Home ends the only way it possible can: perfectly, sweetly, with a smile and a wink and a promise of magic to come. This book wrapped itself around like the warmest blanket and hug and home all wrapped in one, and I’ll always carry a piece of this series in my pocket with me.
– Marty Cahill
The Hospital Always Wins by Issa Ibrahim (Chicago Review Press, June 2016)
I can’t express how awesome I thought this book was. It’s morally complex, vivid in setting and character development, and the pacing of this memoir kept me turning pages into the night. I found it somehow reminiscent of On the Road, even though it wasn’t about a road trip; maybe more like if Kerouac, Richard Wright, and Vincent van Gogh had all gotten together and written One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. (Never mind that it’s temporally impossible for that to have happened.)
– Susie Rodarme
In the Country We Love: My Family Divided by Diane Guerrero
People always mention how brave an actor is for altering their weight for a role or playing a sexual orientation different than their own but I don’t think that’s brave in the least. I think putting your life down on paper as honest and raw as Diane Guerrero has done is brave. Imagine being 14 years old when your family is deported and you fall through the cracks of the system so no one from social services or any agency come to check on you, to make sure you’re okay and cared for. This is what happened to Guerrero: an American born child whose brother and parents were undocumented immigrants. While you probably know her for her roles on OITNB and Jane the Virgin her memoir isn’t about her acting career (although it does touch on her pursuit of her dreams) it’s about the reality of undocumented life in the U.S. that never seems to be discussed while people are too busy shouting about building walls, deportation, and the terrible term “anchor baby.” From her childhood, through her teen years struggling to live without her family, the years of resentment, her serious bout with mental illness, Guerrero bares her life showing her faults, her heart, her humor, that the saying kids are resilient is not so, and most importantly her fight to thrive and succeed. I could not recommend this book enough, especially if you liked The Book of Unknown Americans.
– Jamie Canaves
Infomocracy by Malka Older (Tor.com, June 2016)
In the future, countries don’t exist anymore. The planet is a patchwork of independent governments, ruling constituents in blocs of 10,000 neighbors at a time. Every 10 year there’s an election in which governments try to get the most territories possible — the Supermajority. Watching over all of this is Information, a sort of global internet-news source-election commission-social media hybrid of an organization. But not everyone loves Information, or the election cycle. This book, told from the points of view of an Information worker and a campaign worker is science fiction for election nerds and for media geeks. I highly recommend it.
– A.J. O’Connell
The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondō
I finally read it (necessary during a move-out) and it was everything I wanted it to be. Quirky and wonderful and focused on getting your shit together and uncluttered. If you’re about to go through the same, it’s a highly recommended read and also great to listen to on audio!
– Nikki Steele
The Long Shadow of Small Ghosts by Laura Tillman
Tillman started out as a journalist writing an article about the proposed fate of a building in Texas where a horrific crime took place. Some of the town’s residents wanted the building demolished, while other people in the neighborhood thought it should stay. While investigating her article, Tillman ended up with an amazing work of nonfiction, not just about the building, but about poverty, mental health issues, superstition, ghosts, crime, the death penalty, and more. This is not an easy book to read – the horrifying crime is described in a chapter called “Don’t Read This Chapter Before You Go To Bed” – but Tillman’s writing and penchant for expressing the most truthful, stripped down facts about everything she discusses, makes it an amazing read. Expect this book to win awards.
– Liberty Hardy
Places No One Knows by Brenna Yovanoff (Delacorte/Random House, May 2016)
I’ve always enjoyed Yovanoff’s work – her previous books have always been solid reads for me, but never favorites, until now.The story of a popular, insomniac overachiever who’s hiding her freak flag and the stoner loser who intrigues her is my kind of YA book: realistic, gritty look at high school, a dash of magical realism, and characters with incredible voice. It’s a complicated and nuanced look at how difficult it can be to inhabit your own skin, especially in high school, and how sometimes, the right person can make it easier to breathe.
– Molly Wetta
Scarlett Epstein Hates It Here by Anna Breslaw
This is a funny, savvy, sharp book about fandom, about being stubborn and wrong headed (hello to how I related to Scarlett in this capacity even though I didn’t want to), and about how nuanced and layered each and every person is. I absolutely loved Scarlett and her attitude. She’s a no holds barred feminist, and when she screws up, she owns it. Her background as a poor Jewish girl is unexpected and refreshing.
The real winner of a character in this story is Ruth, the old lady who lives near Scarlett and with whom Scarlett develops an unexpected and delightful friendship. And there’s also a sheep!
I love SEEING the fandom here, and I had no problem reading the fanfiction created here, as it was a retelling of Scarlett’s own life through a fan-lens. You don’t need to “get” anything to be invested in it).
Laugh-out-loud funny, smartly feminist, and absolutely enjoyable from start to finish.
– Kelly Jensen
Smoke Gets in Your Eyes: And Other Lessons from the Crematory by Caitlin Doughty
A little bit morbid, a little bit gross, a whole lot empowering. That’s basically the only way I can describe this book. Caitlin Doughty has been obsessed with death her whole life, so it’s only natural she goes to work at a crematory. In her tales, she busts a lot of myths about the death industry, like, no, crematories don’t dump the day’s worth of bodies in and scoop out bits of ash for the families’ urns afterward. At least, reputable ones don’t. She ends on a philosophical look at life and death, how our culture views death, and how we can change that. It’s just the book I needed this month.
– Ashley Holstrom
Something New: Tales from a Makeshift Bride by Lucy Knisley (First Second, May 3, 2016)
Calling all Lucy Knisley fans! As we know from her past graphic memoirs and travelogues, the mysterious ex-boyfriend John is the one Lucy’s been pining after for so many years. Thankfully, John shows up big time in this new graphic novel as Lucy plans her wedding. Hooray! A sweet, heartfelt memoir of the ups and downs of planning a DIY wedding, complete with outdoor wedding tips (bring a pair of galoshes), gifts for the wedding party and guests (if only we had Lucy’s drawing ability), and the background story to how Lucy and John get together again (I’m a sucker for a happy ending). A deeply satisfying read; a perfect choice as wedding season begins.
– Karina Glaser
Violation: Collected Essays by Sallie Tisdale
I’m always here for a good personal essay, and this collection was an exciting find. I love Tisdale’s writing. She does the thing I look for in an essayist, which is to show her thought process on the page. She gives us a peek into her mind, and it’s a fascinating place. She’s a fabulous writer too — her sentences sometimes made my jaw drop with their inventiveness and audacity. Tisdale gets a spot on my list of favorite essayists.
– Rebecca Hussey
The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead (Doubleday, September 13)
Colson Whitehead is one of my favorite authors and I am here for anything he writes, especially because every book is such a different experience than anything he’s written before. This story of a runaway slave named Cora has prose that is both rich and fluid, where you know it’s beautifully written but you have trouble slowing down to appreciate it because you’re moving along so quickly through the story. It has the weight and depth of an allegory, as well as the detail and insight of a character-driven novel. The cherry on top of this impressive accomplishment is a burst of magical realism that is yet another reason this book is unlike any other you’ve read. This will be one of the big fall releases, but it’ll also be one of the big books of the year. Get ready to see it on a lot of “Best of 2016” lists, including mine.
– Jessica Woodbury
Highly Illogical Behavior by John Corey Whaley (May 2016, Dial Books)
I haven’t cheered for a loveable geek this hard since reading Ready Player One. In Whaley’s latest, readers are introduced to Solomon, an agoraphobic teenager who loves nothing more than watching Star Trek and laying down in his faux holodeck in his family’s garage, and a girl named Lisa who thinks she can “fix” him. Right away, you can see the problem, and as Lisa tackles this mission for entirely selfish reasons, the two of them grow close, and the result is hilarious, heartbreaking, and impossible to put down. Out in May, I expect this one will be big. Look for it.
– Eric Smith
The Good Divide by Kali VanBaale (June 14, 2016, MG Press)
VanBaale’s precise prose and esoteric Midwestern stoicism makes The Good Divide a delightful read. The author manages to combine the boiling romantic frustrations of Ethan Frome with the warped psychopathy of Gone Girl, all among a small community of dairy farms in rural Wisconsin, a balance that makes the plot shiveringly plausible. Her keen ability to build a sense of locality while also maintaining regional tropes gives the novel a sense of timelessness. The events that unfold in The Good Divide could be tucked anywhere in the lush countryside of middle America, a fact that speaks both to VanBaale’s skill as a storyteller and the reality of the startling events within her pages.
– Aram Mrjoian