Riot Headline 10 Exciting Books to Read this Summer

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

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Amanda Diehl

Staff Writer

Amanda Diehl escaped to Boston to get her MA in Publishing & Writing. Though she loves her new home in the Northeast, she will forever mourn the loss of Publix and sweet tea. As for Amanda’s voracious love of reading, she got it from her mama, though her favorite genres are romance, horror, and the occasional memoir. She reviews romance novels for Smart Bitches, Trashy Books, and when she’s able to scrounge together some free time, you can find her napping in front of the TV with the latest trashy reality show or scarfing down brunch-related foods. Twitter: _ImAnAdult

We asked our contributors to share the best book they read this month. We’ve got fiction, nonfiction, YA, and much, much more. 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.


acceptance by jeff vandermeerAcceptance by Jeff Vandermeer (September 2, FSG Originals)

The final book in Vandermeer’s Southern Reach Trilogy delivers on every level. Building off of the events of the first two books, Annihilation and Authority, Acceptance takes us into Area X one last time, for a final journey that will lead to answers, heartbreak, and revelation. To say too much about Acceptance would spoil and ruin it; it has to be experienced. Vandermeer has a solid grasp on the ephemeral and strange nature of the world as well as the delicate and tragic nature of humanity; in Acceptance, he brings both home for a breathtaking and bittersweet finale. Having studied with Jeff at the Clarion Writers’ Workshop this summer, I know just how hard he’s worked to make this novel shine. And it does, like a lighthouse breaking through the absolute night. Hands down, Acceptance is one of the best books of the year, and caps off an amazing trilogy. — Marty Cahill

anna and the french kiss by stephanie perkinsAnna and the French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins

I like to fancy myself somewhat of a Young Adult aficionado. I know a thing or two about a thing or two. However, somehow, I managed to miss one of the biggest YA titles of the last four years. With Isla and the Happily Ever After (the last in the series of interconnected novels) having just come out I thought it might be time to pick up the first. And I am so, so glad that I did. Anna and the French Kiss follows Anna Oliphant who has just been shipped off to a fancy-shmancy boarding school in France. It’s here she hits it off with a group of friends, one of whom is Etienne St. Clair. A very attractive, charismatic Briton who quickly captures her attention. The downside? He has a girlfriend. What I loved so much about Anna was that it was the perfect romantic comedy YA story. Once or twice I actually exclaimed, “Oh, Anna!” at our heroine’s thoughts or actions. It’s relatable and funny and well-written. And no matter how stressful or poor things are going, you know it’s going to go the way you want it to. It was a thoroughly enjoyable read! (And quite frankly, so are the two follow up novels, I’d suggest reading all three!) — Preeti Chhibber

ari and danteAristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Saenz

Aristotle and Dante become fast friends the summer before their junior year of high school. Ari, our narrator, is something of a loner, an outsider, unable to connect with the macho guys at school or his silent father. Dante, the child of a college professor, is unlike anyone Ari has ever known. I listened to this on audiobook and LIn-Manuel Miranda brings Ari to life beautifully.  While I loved the audiobook, there were certainly times when I was driving when I wished it were easier to highlight a section of audio to go back and listen. Alire Saenz’s writing is rich and beautiful and worth quoting. Though the title of the novel leads you to believe that the majority of this novel is about the relationship between Ari and Dante, but it is also about the relationship between Ari and his parents. The fully fleshed out, fallible, loving parents in this novel made it for me. — Leslie Fannon

arts and entertainments by christopher behaArts & Entertainments by Christopher Beha

Earlier this month, I found myself in a reading slump. I kept starting books that seemed super promising—judging by plot summaries, jacket copy, and buzz—only to have them fizzle out, dull or awkward or annoying, halfway through. It was time for an experiment! To break the slump, I picked up Beha’s novel without reading any jacket copy, without reading a review, without knowing what Twitter had to say about it. (Since I got it in digital galley form, I didn’t even have the awesome cover to sway me.) It turns out that there should have been a giant neon IRONY! sign flashing when I decided to read this particular novel without being influenced by publicity or surfaces or gossip. Because this whole book is about publicity, surfaces, and gossip. Plot: a failed actor sells a sex tape (featuring his not-failed, now-famous ex) to fund his wife’s fertility treatments, and his whole life explodes. Perfectly walking a line between believable absurdity and implausible ridiculousness, Beha explores fame and “reality” without being dull, preachy, or gimmicky. In the end, my experiment was a qualified success. I don’t know whether avoiding promo material makes a difference, but I do know that Arts & Entertainments is really, really good. That’s enough for me. — Derek Attig

bellweather rhapsodyBellweather Rhapsody by Kate Racculia

Teen prodigies suffering a mixture of hormones and insane talent, for all intents and purposes trapped together in a dying Catskills hotel for the weekend with parents instead of chaperones–and did I mention that the dying hotel was actually home to a death 15 years ago? A murder-suicide, to be exact, and one that was witnessed by a little girl, now 28, who has chosen the weekend of the Statewide music festival to return to the scene that turned her childhood forever awry. But is that murder-suicide even the mystery worth solving anymore? Racculia’s first novel deserves a better descriptor than “genre-bending,” with its deft mix of horror, high school drama, locked-door mystery (or, rather, locked-hotel mystery), twin-seeking-twin closeness, adult (and teen!) romance, and some truly adult violence and guilt. At its heart, Bellweather Rhapsody as about talent: what it means to have it, what it means to lose it (if that’s possible), how on earth you’re supposed to wield a magic you can barely understand before you’re even old enough to drive, and what kind of adult you might turn out to be if you fail. — Nicole Perrin

the bone clocks by david mitchellThe Bone Clocks by David Mitchell (September 2, Random House)

Holly hears voices- she calls them the Radio People- and they’re with her through her childhood until a nice doctor quietly fixes her. Fast forward to Holly at 15, a runaway troubled teen who finds herself wrapped up in the shady dealings of fringe groups of people who appear to have troubling and bananas-powerful psychic abilities. The Bone Clocks follows the important people in Holly’s life as they struggle against the threads in the webs made by these dangerous folks- usually without knowing there’s even a struggle happening. This is one genre-busting, mind-bending, beautifully written ride, that takes you from the Australian bush in the 19th century, all the way to the near future in the middle of the collapse of modern civilization. — Amanda Nelson

broken monstersBroken Monsters by Lauren Beukes

The author of The Shining Girls gives us another story of grisly murders. And again there is a supernatural slant to the killer. Broken Monsters tells the story of Detective Gabriella Varsado who is investigating the murder of a boy whose body is found in an unusually disturbing state. We follow Varsado, her daughter, an ambitious blogger who needs a new story and the killer himself, who needs the world to see his work. The story changes viewpoints frequently throughout but Beukes makes it work. I haven’t turned a books pages this fast since… well, since The Shining Girls. Great for fans of the fiction that disturbs. — Johann Thorsson

Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of PilgrimageColorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage by Haruki Murakami

This was my second Murakami novel (The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle was my first) and I loved both of them. Murakami’s voice is so steady, quiet, hypnotic, and strange. At first glance, CTT seems like a straightforward story about a man searching for his purpose in life and clearing up the mystery of why he was rejected years before by his closest friends. And yet, by the end of the novel, I wanted MORE of everything that the story had offered: what were all of those dreams really about? did Tazaki actually assault his former friend on some subconscious level, through dreams? what is he holding back from us? Some central mystery nags at the brain when you read CTT, and I was left hoping that it is actually the first in a trilogy or tetralogy. If Murakami wasn’t planning on that, maybe someone can convince him to do it. — Rachel Cordasco

Dark SkyeDark Skye by Kresley Cole

I have been waiting for this book for the past five years and it’s the latest installment in Cole’s Immortals After Dark series. The two main characters, Lanthe and Thronos, were introduced back in 2009 (about seven books ago) in the Kiss of a Demon King, and I’ve been craving their story ever since. I was blessed enough to secure a copy from NetGalley and I devoured it in less than twenty-four hours. It was such a perfect blend of angst and action, plus it includes one of my favorite tropes in romance: a second chance at love. Add in the fact that the heroine is a sorceress and the hero has wings (legit wings) and this paranormal romance left my brain a soupy, delicious mess. — Amanda Diehl

Deep Magic, Dragons, and Talking MiceDeep Magic, Dragons, and Talking Mice by Alister McGrath.

Subtitled “How reading C.S. Lewis can change your life,” each chapter of this book imagines a private conversation with Lewis on topics such as friendship, religion, the meaning of life, and suffering. This format is used to guide us through Lewis’s beliefs and discusses how these ideas and beliefs evolved over time. The book works as an easy to read insight into some of Lewis’s ideas on questions that a lot of people would like answers to. — Rah Carter

The End of the PointThe End of the Point by Elizabeth Graver

This novel, long-listed for the 2013 National Book Award, tells the story of the Porter family’s journey through the second half of the twentieth century. And just as important as the family is the setting, Ashaunt Point, Massachusetts, a shore town that calls to mind Cape Cod, but wilder, less inhabited, more exclusive – that is, until the Army shows up to start training there during World War II, setting off a chain of events that changes not only Ashaunt, but also the Porter family. This book is so much about wildness, about exploration and seeking out what could have been, what was never meant to be, and what was inevitable – this balance of potential, possible life paths extends to the matriarch, her children and grandchildren, and even the family servants. The End of the Point is a beautiful, sprawling, multi-generational tale of love, resentment, motherhood, wildness, and place. — Dana Staves


father brown the essential talesFather Brown: The Essential Tales by G.K. Chesterton

This is a collection of fifteen of the early Father Brown stories–brief cozy mysteries featuring a bumbling but brilliant Catholic priest with a penchant for solving crimes. Perhaps the only thing equal to Father Brown’s crook-catching genius is Chesterton’s ingenuity for plotting complex mysteries and developing compelling characters over the course of only one or two dozen pages. Add to this his subtle exploration of morality and the human condition, not to mention his gorgeous sentences, and you’ll quickly discover why Father Brown is widely considered a genre classic. — Kate Scott

Flowers of the SeaFlowers of the Sea
by Reggie Oliver

All of the thirteen stories (and two novellas) included in this book have a copyright date of 2013/14 (how does that work, by the way? Did the print run start just before midnight on New Year’s Eve?) but that’s a little hard to believe. It’s easier to imagine pulling Flowers of the Sea off a dusty shelf in a second-hand shop where it’s been sitting untouched for a century, waiting patiently for the right reader to pick it up and fall under its spell. These Traditional Tales of Terror rely on atmosphere for their effect rather than explicitness, and are more satisfyingly dreadful because of it. Oliver has Poe’s knack for Gothic architecture, but his true skill is with character. In his introduction, critic Michael Dirda compares him to William Trevor in this regard, which is aptly high praise. Even if you don’t normally seek out stories that try to raise the hair on the back of your neck, curl up in a club chair on a dark and stormy night with Flowers of the Sea. — James Crossley

A Girl is a Half-Formed ThingA Girl is a Half-Formed Thing by Eimear McBride (September 9, Coffee House Press)

Imagine me as the Dos Equis guy for a second: I don’t always read experimental prose, but when I do I have discovered that I prefer Eimear McBride. My galley came with a note from the publisher that more or less said, “Read in a safe place with a drink in hand,” and that could not be better advice.

McBride is telling a theoretically simple story; A Girl is a Half-Formed thing follows the growth of a young woman whose family life has centered around her ill older brother. In her hands it becomes not only a beautiful example of the flexibility of prose, but a story with layer upon layer of emotional depth and complexity. The writing itself is fragmented and circuitous, so much so that the sentences themselves aren’t really sentences. The fragments are as sharp and jagged as the narrator’s struggles with family, with abuse, with religion, with identity, with finding personal freedom. I became entranced with it, to the point that I found myself quoting section after section.

A Girl is a Half-Formed Thing is a difficult read but an essential one. Read it in a safe place, with a drink in hand. — Jenn Northington

the girl with all the giftsThe Girl with All the Gifts by M.R. Carey

This is a book that I would have stayed far away from had I known that it was essentially full of – well, I shouldn’t tell you. That’d be giving too much away. It’s enough to say that I will not look at any other book about….I still won’t tell you…the same way. All you need to know is that it’s a book about a special girl, one that is very different from all the people that surround her. She is bright, inquisitive, and loyal. She craves attention and affection. Melanie is just like any other little girl. Except that she’s not. Not at all. She’s more like Pandora, who she learns about from her beloved teacher, Miss Justineau. She has all the gifts. It’s just a matter of whether or not they’ll be released on the world.

There may never have been a more perfect casting of audiobook narrator than Finty Williams in The Girl With All the Gifts. Her voice gave me delightful goosebumps at all the right times. I can’t imagine having experienced the book in any other way. Go. Listen. Now. — Cassandra Neace

The Good Lord BirdThe Good Lord Bird by James McBride

I was recently in Harper’s Ferry, West Virginia, with my kids, tubing on the Shenandoah River. I knew little of abolitionist John Brown’s raid on the armory there to arm slaves to end slavery,  an event that historians believe lit the fire of the Civil War.  The Good Lord Bird, as historical fiction, introduces John Brown as a Bible-thumping, God-loving long-winded-sermon-preaching nutjar, and his rag tag band of believers as just that — a rag tag band of thieves first, hungry for their next meal, and far second, an Army in the cause of Abolition. The story is told from the perspective of Little Onion, also known as Henry, also known as Henrietta, a slave boy John Brown frees, initially mistaking him for a girl and giving him dress and bonnet under which Henry chafes with indignation. Henry is a wise-child, a tale-teller, a fibber, and a sass. He gets himself into all kinds of scrapes, and scrambles up a florid colorful language; I laughed out loud reading as McBride lets himself bubble and flow with a monarch’s word hoard, and an easy hand. I was pulled along to the story’s inevitable end as surely as I was along the Shenandoah’s current on my inner tube to Harper’s Ferry. — Elizabeth Bastos

in real life doctorowIn Real Life by Cory Doctorow, Illustrations by Jen Wang (October 14, FirstSecond)

There’s a lot to love when it comes to Cory Doctorow’s writing. The fact that he’s able to create memorable characters, imaginative settings, and exciting storylines… sure, all awesome. But what I absolutely adore about his work, is his ability to explain complex, topical, important issues through his narratives. In Pirate Cinema, he touches on illegal downloads, the future of the Internet, and net neutrality. In Little Brother, he brings up themes around civil liberty. And now, in his graphic novel In Real Life, he addresses economics.

In Real Life starts off with a bang, with a wise introduction from Doctorow that I’m certain he’ll excerpt someplace soon. The story? We meet Anda, a new girl in town that gets involved in the world of online gaming. While playing the MMORPG, she starts getting sent on quests to take out gold farmers, gamers who mine the game tirelessly for digital currency and then sell it for real world cash. However, she befriends one of these farmers, and starts to learn just why some of these people are working these jobs.

It’s the kind of book you’ll sit down and read in an hour or two, and will leave you with a lasting, powerful impression. Doctorow brings to light the complicated issues behind these in-game economics through a wonderfully written story, accompanied by Jen Wang’s gorgeous art. Hands down my favorite book of the month, and a serious must-read. — Eric Smith

The Laughing MonstersThe Laughing Monsters by Denis Johnson (November 4, Farrar, Straus and Giroux)

I consider Denis Johnson to be the greatest living American writer still publishing today, so I couldn’t have been happier to receive this book! In it Roland Nair, a duel Scandinavian and U.S. citizen – and wholly reprehensible guy – travels back to Africa after a decade away to reconnect with (and possibly spy on) Michael Adriko, an African friend he made during the civil war in Sierra Leone. Adriko is an imposing, well-connected schemer. Both men are interested in making mad cash for themselves, by illegal means, but it becomes immediately evident that Michael’s way is a lot more dangerous. Roland agrees to join Michael and his girlfriend on a trip to Michael’s hometown to be a part of their wedding before they pull off their big venture. During his trip, Roland reports back to his girlfriend and his bosses, though he isn’t faithful to either. The only person he is faithful to is Michael, which leads him down a path of destruction and madness. It’s kind of like Heart of Darkness, if Kurtz was trying to save Marlow. It’s insane and brilliant. Also, I squealed out loud with delight when I reached the part that explained what the title of the book meant. Couldn’t be more perfect. — Liberty Hardy

Liar Temptress Soldier Spy- Four Women Undercover in the Civil WarLiar Temptress Soldier Spy: Four Women Undercover in the Civil War by Karen Abbott

I thought I knew a lot about the Civil War, since I live in a part of the country where folks dress in blue or gray and reenact battles. Then I read Karen Abbott’s Liar Temptress Soldier Spy, and I sure didn’t know as much as I thought I did. Abbott resurrects four forgotten indomitable women who were spies (two for the Union, two for the Confederacy) during the war. One woman, Emma Edmonds, even disguised herself as a man and enlisted in the Union army. All four unsung heroes were total badasses in their own right, and I plowed through 429 pages in a weekend because when I stopped reading, I found myself wondering what happened to these women who risked their homes, lives, and freedom, but were unable to vote. It’s as eye-opening as it is empowering; an easy read but a deep thinker. — Emily Gatlin

looking at artLooking at Art by Richard Nagler

This concept of this art book is so seemingly simple, it just blew my mind: Nagler took photos of random people looking at art in galleries and museums all across the world. The result is a beautiful book featuring art that is familiar and new-to-you, and the photos become sort of mini-essays in themselves, gaining more perspective each time you look at them. Nothing is posed, and the viewers aren’t aware they’re being photographed. So in lots of cases, Nagler truly captures life imitating art. Is the little girl sitting with her head resting on her hand consciously mirroring The Thinker she’s posing beneath? How did he capture a woman wearing a lily print dress staring a Monet’s Water Lily Pond? It’s mesmerizing to watch how we interact with each work of art, giving it more depth than if Nagler were merely photographing the art itself. I already want to a) visit an art museum or gallery, b) try this same experiment and see how my photos come out, and c) get a hold of more Nagler art. — Alison Peters

The LuminariesThe Luminaries by Eleanor Catton

This is the kind of book they will build university courses, if not whole departments, around. Catton’s Booker Prize-winning doorstop beguiles and impresses on countless levels, even the most superficial. In fact, lets start with the book’s topsoil: the plot. Twelve figures secretly congregate in a dingy pub in remote New Zealand during the 1860s gold rush. They’ve assembled to piece together their personal histories, a jigsaw project that could solve the mystery of a missing local prospector, a heap of gold, and an attempted suicide. Their congress is interrupted by an outsider who unwittingly may or may not hold the key to everything. It’s a tantalising set-up. And then there’s the structure. Catton slices up the narrative, flashing back and forward with Hitchcockian timing. Just when you feel you know where things are going, key plot points are revealed and you reassess everything that has gone before. Everything is in motion, nothing is at rest. Which brings us to another level of awesomeness – all the characters represent either a heavenly body or sign of the zodiac. Each chapter is exactly half the length of the one before, like the waning of the moon. In less accomplished hands this could of been a showy, new agey affectation. Instead it is deeply literary, poetical and deftly handled. Just like the moon’s pull on the oceans, Catton’s assembly of all these facets (and so much more) is an invisible force which once you’re aware of just deepens your sense of awe. — Edd McCracken

My Life as a Foreign CountryMy Life as a Foreign Country by Brian Turner (September 14, W. W. Norton)

Near the end of this gut-honest memoir about his time in Iraq, Brian Turner writes: “America, vast and laid out from one ocean to another, is not a large enough space to contain the war each soldier brings home.”  Likewise, this book and its 224 pages probably cannot hold all the rampaging emotions of Turner’s war experience, but damn if he doesn’t spill a lot of emotional blood in the course of these 136 short chapters.  As anyone who has read Turner’s two collections of poetry (Here, Bullet and Phantom Noise) will tell you, he’s able to turn even the most horrific topics–death, dismemberment, post-traumatic nightmares–into things of linguistic beauty.  In My Life as a Foreign Country, he once again brings the war home to us.  Are we bold enough to hold his words? — David Abrams

The Little IslandThe Little Island by Golden MacDonald (aka Margaret Wise Brown), illustrated by Leonard Weisgard

Picking up a beloved picture book from your childhood can be a dangerous proposition. Upon rereading, many of the old standards feel a bit outdated (sometimes they just come off a bit stodgy, other times a bit, well, racist). This 1947 Caldecott winner, however, remains refreshingly perfect.  Personally, I’d take this over Brown’s Goodnight Moon any day (or night for that matter). — Minh Le

nochitaNochita by Dia Felix

I have an inexplicable fascination with stories of Californa girlhoods gone awry (I read this back-to-back with Wendy Ortiz’s memoir Excavation and read that after rereading Janet Fitch’s White Oleander), and Dia Felix’s debut novel Nochita is a stellar contribution to that canon. Nochita’s counterculture childhood as the daughter of a divorced New Age guru mother, and her subsequent life with her cowboyish father and his mean-spirited fiancée after her mother dies, evoke that sweet spot of bleached-out canyons, creepy hippies, and clear light (I don’t even like Los Angeles, don’t ask me); but the real standout here is Felix’s prose, which is equal parts hallucinatory and pinpoint-specific. Nochita’s voice is so singular, and the book so beautifully constructed, that the feel of its pages will linger long after you set it down. — Sarah McCarry

OrfeoOrfeo by Richard Powers

Orfeo is a novel that covers avant garde classical music, bioengineering of bacteria, and something called biocomposing, which all may sound about as exciting as watching paint dry, until you realize this is a Richard Powers novel. The guy is a master at constructing enthusiastic, energetic, fascinating, and fun-to-read fiction based on little-known science-y ideas. And Orfeo certainly fits that bill. A retired avant garde composer named Peter Els goes on the lam when federal agents find a biology lab in his house. What is Els up to — is he a terrorist, or does he just have a strange hobby to wile away the hours? We delve deeply into Peter’s past to find the answer. You don’t need to know much about any of Powers’ subjects here, but you’ll definitely want to stop along the way and google some of the pieces of music he mentions. This is a novel that’s as educational as it is entertaining. — Greg Zimmerman

Overwhelmed- Work, Love, and Play When No One Has the TimeOverwhelmed: Work, Love, and Play When No One Has the Time by Brigid Shulte

Attention: Harried moms. This one’s for you. If you can find the time to read it, Shulte’s personal and journalistic account of modern time pressures can help you get a grip on your frenetic schedule.  Candid descriptions of her own scattered, fragmented, exhausting life give Schulte street cred.  And in-depth interviews with time-use researchers, sociologists, neuroscientists, futurists, social psychologists, labor economists, legal scholars and more provide illuminating context.  It’s like hearing from a wise elder who battled at the frontlines of work-family conflict, returned home with post-traumatic stress syndrome and went on to get a Ph.D. in the subject.  Shulte’s immersed in her subject matter in the best possible ways–she’s got skin in the game, but has the reporting chops to keep the book from devolving into a mere chronicle of modern motherhood’s busyness. “Overwhelmed” inspired me to reclaim time for leisure and time to advocate for workplace and government policies that make work and family more tenable for more women. — Maya Smart

packing for marsPacking for Mars by Mary Roach

This is a back-list read, but Roach is brilliant. She covers all of the nuances of space travel and our bodies in space, and keeps it super funny while doing so. I had to interrupt my husband every ten minutes as I told him about another piece of space trivia until I got the look. Y’know, the “why are you still talking to me, I’m clearly reading” look? Before now, I had thought I was the only one allowed to make that look in this house. Nope. — Nikki Steele

The Proud Highway. Saga of a Desperate Southern Gentleman 1955–1967The Proud Highway. Saga of a Desperate Southern Gentleman 1955–1967 by Hunter S Thompson

The Proud Highway is the first volume of three of selected letters from Hunter S Thompson from the age of 17 to age 30. This is Thompson before Gonzo, during the Puerto Rico and Hells Angels years. During his lifetime, he wrote 22,000 letters, all of which are available and serve as a direct conduit into the strange mind of this strange man with a big heart. Hunter S Thompson constituted his own system and didn’t fit in with any group or movement. His role model was Ayn Rand’s Howard Roark. Nixon was evil incarnate. LBJ should be impeached for his policy in Vietnam. Anarchy was a potential solution to society problems. Marx made sense, but Communists were idiots. And the introduction of zip codes in 1963 was a government conspiracy aimed at him personally. But even among all this craziness, there is love for his wife and son and honest concern for family and friends. And the funniest letter of them all is Hunter S Thompson, at the time unknown and virtually unpublished, writing to his idol William Faulkner. — EH Kern

Salem’s LotSalem’s Lot by Stephen King

In this follow-up novel to his debut, Carrie, young author Stephen King proves that he has more in him than that rather slim novel about high school bullying and rage, with this much longer exploration of small towns and the darkness which can lurk inside of them, and also the darkness which can come from outside and land upon them, nestled into a dark house on top of a hill. Ben Mears is a writer who has come back to town to work on a book about the Marsten House which sits, looming and insane, atop a hill overlooking town. At the same time comes back, though, so do two strange and very menacing figures who buy Marsten House and set up a little shop in town. And shortly after their arrival, two little boys go missing, only for one of them to return, very very anemic. A fascinating blend of Dracula myth and The House on Haunted Hill by Shirley Jackson, this is an excellent demonstration of where young mister King might go with his future career. I only hope he produces another book or two over the next few years and doesn’t clam up. — Peter Damien

the secret placeThe Secret Place by Tana French

This provocative novel takes readers into the minds of teenage girls, as Detective Stephen Moran must use all his resources to figure out who murdered a teenage boy on the grounds of an all-girls’ prep school. It’s absolutely riveting to watch the way French crafts this tale; each of her mystery novels is singular, and The Secret Place is no exception. French will keep you guessing while simultaneously creeping you out thoroughly in this thoughtful read. — Swapna Krishna

secondsSeconds by Bryan Lee O’Malley

This standalone graphic novel follows Katie, a successful chef who runs her own restaurant and is about to open a second one. Suddenly everything starts to go wrong, the restaurant gets delayed, her ex-boyfriend comes back into town, her best waitress gets hurt. When Katie gets the chance to start things over and fix some of her past mistakes, she jumps at the opportunity. The art in this book is absolutely GORGEOUS and does a great job of really selling the story. While it could be argued that Katie is a “unlikeable character,” I found her stubbornness and desire to fix her life and make it perfect (plus her hilariously dry sense of humor) extremely relatable. This is a great graphic novel to pick up and gives you a good look at O’Malley’s style if you have not checked out the Scott Pilgrim series yet. — Rincey Abraham

The Skies Belong to Us- Love and Terror in the Golden Age of HijackingThe Skies Belong to Us: Love and Terror in the Golden Age of Hijacking by Brendan I. Koerner

I am not a big nonfiction reader, but I do love strong crime stories so every now and then I dabble. This was an expertly done, truly spellbinding story, especially for those of us who didn’t live through (or remember) the string of airliner hijackings in the 1960s and 70s. Koerner takes you through the entire movement as well as focusing in on one particular team of unlikely hijackers to follow their journey. Few of the hijackers are criminal masterminds and the airlines freely give in to their demands, making it a truly bizarre read in our modern day world where it’s hard to imagine any business tolerating handing over millions of dollars on a regular basis to anyone making threats, or a world where people would freely continue to travel by plane knowing they could be off to Cuba at a moment’s notice. — Jessica Woodbury

Star Wars Jedi Academy- Return of the PadawanStar Wars Jedi Academy: Return of the Padawan by Jeffrey Brown

I gush about Jeffrey Brown’s work all the time, so I’ll just use this opportunity to talk again about just how delightful his Star Wars books are. Back when the first Jedi Academy book was released, I absolutely loved what he did with that universe – how he made it accessible for all readers, fans and newbies alike. The story is fresh and fun, and this second entry continues the story where it left off. They’re great for kids because there are some lessons there about bullying, maintaining friendships, being considerate, and all of that kind of thing, and it’s good for me as an adult because of the straight-up charm and thought put behind everything. Great for anyone into all-ages (or MG) reading, and bonus if you’re a Star Wars fan. Makes a great gift, too. — Kristina Pino

the stepsisterThe Stepsister (Fear Street #9) by RL Stine

I’m hosting a bookstore event for Jovial Bob Stine, author of all my best childhood nightmares, this fall, and have been on a Fear Street reading tear in preparation. Listen to me when I tell you this: These books are fucking awesome. They are awesome if you remember them from when you were a teenager, and they are awesome if you have no earthly clue who RL Stine is, though if that is the case you have some work to do on your reading habits before your time on this great earth is done, respectfully. The Stepsister is the best of the currently-existing Fear Street titles. It will take you 35 minutes to read make you feel like you have super powers. — Cristin Stickles

Still Life With StringsStill Life With Strings by LH Cosway

LH Cosway is one of the best self-published authors out there, especially for those of us who enjoy romance. Her characters are always so unique, and Cosway really knows how to tell a story. In Still Life With Strings, Jade—a street performer and symphony bartender—meets up with Shane, the symphony’s new violinist. Sparks fly immediately, but both of these two have a ton of baggage. As with so many great novels, this book’s actually very difficult to summarize, but let me tell you: I loved the characters, Jade and Shane had incredible chemistry, Dublin is brilliantly utilized as a setting, and Cosway elegantly blends magical realism, fate, music, humor, and mystery together. I am definitely fangirling this one. — Tasha Brandstatter

Stone Mattress- Nine TalesStone Mattress: Nine Tales by Margaret Atwood (Nan A. Talese, September 16)

Between the buzz about HBO’s upcoming adaptation of her MaddAddam trilogy and renewed online chatter about the prescience of The Handmaid’s Tale, Margaret Atwood is having something of a moment. But the thing is, Margaret Atwood is kind of *always* having a moment. She is remarkably prolific, and if you don’t know this, it’s because the publishing hype machine does a great job of talking about her novels and a pretty terrible job of talking about everything else she writes: poetry, short stories, essays, nonfiction, and lots of it.

So I’m here to tell you this collection is worth every bit of the excitement Atwood’s higher-profile books receive. These nine tales are quietly creepy and subtly unsettling. They are filled with cutting insights and biting wit, observations about behavior and relationships that many of us feel but only Margaret Atwood has the guts–and the chops–to give voice to. There’s real-world angst alongside magic and monsters. There’s commentary on art and academia, publishing and fandoms. There’s sex and marriage and murder, and they’re not necessarily unrelated. Every story here is excellent, and each is a reminder in its own way of Atwood’s staggering range and immense talent.

They are set in the real world, or a world that looks like it but is sprinkled with magic and lore. — Rebecca Schinsky

vacationersThe Vacationers by Emma Straub

Generally, books that take place within a prescribed amount of time – a school year, a prison sentence, a 24-hour period – can result in one of two outcomes: a plot that feels plodding or a plot that feels intentional. Emma Straub’s latest novel, the story of the Post family’s two-week vacation in Mallorca, Spain, falls into the latter of these plot categories. Franny and Jim are trying to recover from Jim’s infidelity with a 23-year-old that has not only cost him his job, but also possibly his marriage. Their 18-year-old daughter Sylvia is bound and determined to lose her virginity before she leaves for college, and their 27-year-old rudderless son Bobby, along with his much older girlfriend Carmen, is trying to figure out how to ask his parents for help after sinking into mountains of debt. Rounding out the characters are Charles, Franny’s best friend, and his husband Lawrence who are waiting for news from an adoption agency.

I read The Vacationers in one sitting on a beach in Delaware, appropriately enough, and while it doesn’t feel suspenseful on the surface, I kept turning pages to find out if each of these complicated characters would get some kind of resolution for the problems that plagued them. It’s a wonderfully funny and honest look at family dynamics, how well we know or don’t know the people we’re related to (or not related to but are part of our family nonetheless), and obviously the restorative properties of Mallorca. Let’s all go, okay? — Rachel Manwill

the walls around us by nova ren sumaThe Walls Around Us by Nova Ren Suma (March 24, 2015, Algonquin)

Imagine if you combined Orange is the New Black and Black Swan with the flavor of Shirley Jackson. That’s The Walls Around Us. Told from the point of view of Violet, a dancer who is on the brink of one of the biggest and most important performances of her life, as well as the point of view of Amber, who has been behind bars for years for a crime that she may or may not have committed, Suma’s novel comes together through the story of a third narrator whose voice you never hear: Orianna. This is a story about guilt and innocence, about secrets and how deep we let people into those places within us, and it’s a story about how the past can define our present, even if we try desperately to keep that past under wraps. This story about girls and how girls treat one another, how they can turn against and turn toward one another, is written in luscious and deliciously creepy prose not easy to forget. Put it on your radars now; this is an outstanding literary young adult novel more than worth the wait. — Kelly Jensen

wayward 1Wayward #1 by Jim Zub (story); Steve Cummings (art)

I’m pretty new at the whole comic thing, though I’ve been a devoted Sandman lover since high school, when I borrowed trades here and there from people who were much cooler than I was. Now, I’ve turned into some kind of Image Comics fangirl, and Wayward continues that trend. It’s described as “Buffy for a new generation,” which is what got my attention. Rori Lane is half-Irish, half-Japanese (and has been taught to fight by her Irish father, she boasts at one crucial point). She moves to Japan to live with her mom after her parents’ divorce, and while she’s out exploring her new city, Things Happen. Brightly-colored, slightly trippy things since this is, after all, from Image. I added it to my pull list immediately upon hearing about it, and I’m so looking forward to seeing where it goes. — Jeanette Solomon

wildWild by Cheryl Strayed

I bought this book when it first came out (was a huge fan of Cheryl’s when she was writing as Sugar for The Rumpus), and then it sat on my shelf for a few years for various reasons. I tore through it and marked it up while reading it this month. So much more than a book about hiking (obviously), though to many people seem to get tripped up about what she was doing right and wrong in the wilderness. The point of the book was that she felt like everything was wrong (and much of it was, including her preparation for a trip that could have cost her her life). This hike was a wake up call to her in a lot of ways, as well as a lesson and resolution in others. Beautiful prose that Cheryl is known for. Read it before the movie comes out in December. — Wallace Yovetich


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