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

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Michelle Anne Schingler, a former librarian and Hebrew school teacher, is the managing editor at Foreword Reviews. Her days are books, books, books; she knows how lucky that makes her.  Twitter: @mschingler

Michelle Anne Schingler, a former librarian and Hebrew school teacher, is the managing editor at Foreword Reviews. Her days are books, books, books; she knows how lucky that makes her.  Twitter: @mschingler

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.


Alex + Ada, Vol. 3Alex + Ada, Vol. 3 by Jonathan Luna and Sarah Vaughn

I really like to include both the first and second volumes of Alex + Ada too, since I re-read them in anticipation of this final volume coming out. Alex is a human who makes the decision to “unlock” his android, Ada, so she can experience life as a sentient being. In the third volume, Alex and Ada are on the run from government authorities concerned about the power and potential danger of sentient artificial intelligence. Although the concluding chapters felt a little rushed, I just adored this unique and touching love story.  — Kim Ukura

Annihilation by Jeff VandermeerAnnihilation by Jeff Vandermeer

So I’m finally getting to this one after all the buzz has died down a little, and holy smokes, this book really is a mind trip and a half. For anyone who doesn’t know, Annihilation is presented as the journal of a biologist on an expedition into a mysterious Area X, a pristine wilderness that apparently just suddenly appeared one day and from whence people rarely return unaltered (if they return at all). It’s a creeping, eerie story with atmospheric prose and a narrator who is cold yet compelling, observant yet unreliable. This was also an excellent marriage of book and reading setting. I read Annihilation in two parts: first, as a parade raged several blocks from my house with the muffled sounds of shrieks and thumping bass filtering in off the street, and second, plagued by insomnia in the wee, pre-dawn hours of morning when the light is at its eeriest and everything is a little too still. It was perfect. – Maddie Rodriguez

The Assassination of Margaret Thatcher by Hilary MantelThe Assassination of Margaret Thatcher by Hilary Mantel

I’m not always one for a short story collection, but this was not a title my bleeding liberal heart could resist picking up. I loved Wolf Hall, so I knew I would enjoy the writing in Mantel’s collection if nothing else. I didn’t except the heart-rending honesty of the domestic portraits, from a woman struggling with undiagnosed endometriosis to a man struggling with his moment of infidelity. The breezily-constructed stories are deceptive: quick and deliberate, easily consumed but difficult to forget. And the eponymous story? That’s one that will haunt you in ways compelling and troubling. Read it if you loved Thatcher; read it if you hated Thatcher; read it if you’ve never thought twice about Thatcher. It forces a reconsideration of political ideals and zealotry, but also what it means to be a bystander and all the ways we enable the behaviours around us. I read The Assassination of Margaret Thatcher in one sitting, sprawled out on a rocky beach while the ocean roared. Take one last breath of summer and do the same. — Brenna Clarke Gray

between the world and meBetween The World And Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates

This one feels so important, it is overwhelming. A series of essays about being black in the U.S. reveal the unbelievably crisp, deep writing of Coates. It is heartbreaking in some points as you would expect, particularly when Coates writes to his son directly. Other points show a self awareness that is incredible and makes me really wish that more people could train themselves to realize the expectations and demands of the body in society. We never ask enough questions. In fact, Coates’s work will make me try to be more self aware and aware of others around me. I rarely come across books like this one that inspire such introspection.– Jessi Lewis

Biogenesis by Tatsuaki Ishiguro, translated by Brian Watson and James BalzerBiogenesis by Tatsuaki Ishiguro, translated by Brian Watson and James Balzer

This book of four science fiction tales is about as science-y as you can get. Written like reports, these stories focus on individuals who are drawn into tantalizing and difficult scientific problems, whether it’s the bizarre extinction of the winged mouse species, or a plant that thrives on human blood. Ishiguro asks us to consider where we should draw the line between objective investigation and personal quest, and if that line is even useful. Highly recommended. — Rachel Cordasco

Bodymap by Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-SamarasinhaBodymap by Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha

I don’t read a lot of poetry, but it’s collections like this that make me realize I should correct that. Bodymap deals with race, sexuality, class, and disability, always handling with these topics as intersecting aspects of everyday life, not as abstract theories. Piepzna-Samarasinha plays with tone and form throughout, but it says grounded and accessible. I spent most of Bodymap impatient to be rereading it, because I know that I’m going to get more out of it every time. I read this as an ebook, but I’ll be buying a physical copy and probably at least one more copy to give away. This is the sort of poetry that punches you in the gut, which is exactly the best kind. — Danika Ellis

CinderCinder (Lunar Chronicles, Book 1) by Marissa Meyer

The opening scene of this book involves a sixteen-year-old cyborg named Cinder installing a new robotic foot–onto herself. This book is a futuristic take on the classic Cinderella story involving a deadly international plague, an evil queen from the republic of Luna (the moon!), and of course, a pumpkin-colored Volkswagen beetle. It’s the first of a series involving a mega life-or-death situation between Earth and Luna that could end in war if Cinder and friends don’t step up to the plate. Besides being an awesome work of steampunk-esque fantasy, Cinder is funny, quirky and fast-paced. Meyer had said that the book was inspired by her own Sailor Moon fandom, and interestingly some of her first beta readers were friends from the SM fan group she was part of online. I hated to see Cinder end, but luckily for all of us Meyer is still writing short stories set in her world. — Mateeka Quinn

Daughters Unto Devils by Amy LukavicsDaughters Unto Devils by Amy Lukavics

It’s late summer, the time of year when I read all the horror novels I can in anticipation of the fall rush. This one is definitely the scariest, the creepiest, the most riveting I’ve found this year. While it’s YA, it’s scarier than plenty of adult horror I’ve read. Take Little House on the Prairie, add religious mania, rural isolation, demons, ghost babies, the scariest cabin in the woods of all time, and you’ve got yourself a book you really shouldn’t read alone at night. — Jessica Woodbury

CoverReveals_F15_DumplinDumplin’ by Julie Murphy (Balzer + Bray, September 15)

Earlier this summer, I talked about fat phobia in YA and noted that I hadn’t yet read Dumplin’ but had read a lot of positive reviews of it. It’s everything I wanted and more. This is a book where Willowdean, a fat girl who knows she’s fat and owns her body as such, but it’s a story about grief, about family, and about Dolly Parton impersonators. There is a sweet relationship that develops here, and I thought the experiences Willowdean had as a fat girl were realistic, honest, and vulnerable — a key element that so many of these books lack.

Willowdean has a real voice, and her voice isn’t 100% confident all the time. Despite being comfortable in her own skin, she has moments of absolutely feeling crushed beneath the expectations the world around her has for her and her body. And those things rang so painfully, authentically true.

We rarely get stories where the fat girl gets to be funny, have friendships, have romances, and have challenges unrelated to her body/”health” of her body. More, we rarely get them where the voice is key. And that’s because as a society, we silence fat people. We make them invisible. We make them make themselves disappear (and I say this as someone who has certainly seen the looks people give when you are climbing into an airplane seat or a bus seat and are made to shrink yourself, as to not take up space that you paid for and can fit perfectly within). So that Murphy gives Willowdean that voice? That’s powerful as hell, and teen girls who read this….FAT teen girls who read this…will see that they matter. That they are seen. That THEIR lives matter and are important and they are welcome and encouraged to take up all the space in their lives that they need to.

I only wish I could hand this book to my high school self. But I’m so glad it’s there for today’s readers. — Kelly Jensen

the-fifth-season-coverThe Fifth Season by N.K. Jemisin

I love N.K. Jemisin’s work, but this book sat on my nightstand for a few nights because I could pick it up, for two reasons: 1) I’m a fan of Inheritance, so I was a little worried that I wouldn’t enjoy Fifth Season as much, and 2) because, as the summary says, the novel starts with a mother coming home to find that her three-year-old has been murdered by her husband. I have a toddler, and I didn’t think I could handle that. But eventually I did start reading and found that worry #1 was completely off-base. I love the world Jemisin has created in this new book, and in fact, I think it’s a more compelling world than the one in the Inheritance trilogy. As for worry #2, well, those scenes (and all the other child endangerment scenes) are hard to take, but they are necessary and deserve the reader’s full attention.  — A.J. O’Connell

Fuse by Julianna BaggottFuse by Julianna Baggott

Fuse is the middle book in Baggott’s Pure trilogy, which is a post-apocalyptic exploration of scientific madness, the abuse of power and riches, and the complications of acting as a hero. Fuse concentrates heavily on those living outside of the Dome, a massive structure with its own ecosystem that was designed to survive total destruction–and did. Pressia, its heroine, and Bradwell, her maybe-love interest, lead a small, determined band of “Wretches,” those who survived the blast from outside the Dome, though with altered DNA and bits of material objects fused to them. (Apparently that’s a real thing–it’s just one of those horrific details we choose to omit from discussions of Hiroshima.) Their mission is to reverse the horrors wrought by those in the Dome, utilizing the science of those who undermine it from within. This is not technically my genre; it’s a little darker than I typically go for; but I’m reading the series slowly, and am not looking forward to its end.  — Michelle Anne Schingler

gabi a girl in piecesGabi, A Girl in Pieces by Isabel Quintero

I read 20 books this month–including Between the World and Me, The Book of Unknown Americans, Everything I Never Told You–so rather than driving myself insane trying to pick the best/favorite I went with the one I wanted to hug immediately after I finished reading it. Super scientific, I know. But after watching Gabi navigate through her senior year of high school, her dad’s drug addiction, a friend’s coming out, a friend’s pregnancy, dating… I’m left wanting not only to befriend this smart, witty, unique and amazing character but I’d also like to meet her again in her twenties, thirties, forties—basically every decade of her life. I loved every single thing about this book and would have no qualms about running up to strangers and tossing copies at them shouting “And you get a fantastic book!” — Jamie Canaves

H is for HawkH is for Hawk by Helen MacDonald

At the outset, H is for Hawk looks like it would be something like My Side of a Mountain, the survival story about a boy and his hawk, except this would be, you know, about a grown woman and her hawk. And, I guess, in a way, it is a survival story. Helen is a literature professor who recently and suddenly lost her father, and she loses her moorings in life. To try to find her way back, she returns to one of her old loves: falconry. H is for Hawk is rope made of three interwoven stories: the story of MacDonald’s grief, the story of a young Helen falling in love with falconry, and in an unexpected twist, T.H. White’s life story. White, an amatur falconer, wrote a book about falconry early in his career. MacDonald revisits his book through her own. This is a beautiful, sad, wild, but carefully restrained book. You grieve with MacDonald, but are distracted from your grief by the falconry history and technique. I listened to the audio, which is read by MacDonald. I always shy away from books read by the author, but MacDonald has a deep, clear, trained voice, and actually I would like her to read all audiobooks from now on.

(Just a note, since this was something I’m sensitive to and was worried about: there is some animal violence, but not as much as you would expect from what is essentially a hunting memoir. If you’re very squeamish, skip this one.) — Jesse Doogan

The Handmaid’s Tale by Margerat AtwoodThe Handmaid’s Tale
by Margaret Atwood

I’m shamefully late to the party on this one, but better late than never. I had high expectations, but was still completely blown away and couldn’t put it down. I think the genius of this book is that the dystopian society it portrays is so foreign and yet eerily familiar. Thematic elements from our cultural experience are woven into the story in such a way as to give the reader the unsettling feeling that maybe Atwood’s Republic of Gilead isn’t as far removed from modern Western society as we would like to think. — Kate Scott

Happy City by Charles MontgomeryHappy City by Charles Montgomery

Have you seen the terrific scathing TED talk of professional urban design gadfly James Howard Kunstler “The Ghastly Tragedy of The Suburbs,” in which he outlines all that is wrong with malls, suburban housing developments, and modern life, generally? I loved it because I frequently weep in the aisle of my minimall’s big box store buying back-to-school supplies and wonder why can’t we all live in the so-called “blue zones” (the places in the world where people live longest and are the happiest) with strong communities and great architecture and gelato. Happy City —  happily, optimistically — outlines how the design of our shared urban spaces can be humanized and changed for the better.  We have evolved to enjoy looking at softly branching and overlapping trees, views, and “bodies of clear, still water,” not asphalt and the sharp edges of empty atriums in dead mall.  — Elizabeth Bastos

if you find meIf You Find Me by Emily Murdoch

There is still an teary eyeliner stain on my pillow, and it’s Emily Murdoch that should pay my laundry bill. Taken to live off the grid in the woods by their unreliable mother, two sisters scrape by on beans and old books, until social services intervene. This book deals with a lot of issues and could have felt Dr Phil special, but lead character Carey’s voice never lets that happen. I was rooting for her from start to tear-stained finish. — Rachel Weber

In the Heart of the Sea- The Tragedy of the Whaleship Essex by Nathaniel PhilbrickIn the Heart of the Sea: The Tragedy of the Whaleship Essex by Nathaniel Philbrick

This book has it all: shipwrecks, sharks, and cannibalism. And it’s all true! The Essex is the whaleship that inspired Herman Melville’s classic (and one of my favorite books), Moby-Dick, and its real-life tale is stranger than fiction. After an 80 ton sperm whale repeatedly rammed and sank their ship, 20 crew members were left stranded in three tiny boats in the middle of the ocean. Spoiler: not everyone makes it. This book is a doozy of a page-turner, and Philbrick does an incredible job digging into all of the nuances of life before, during, and after surviving such a mind-boggling tragedy. In the Heart of the Sea is a perfect companion piece to Moby-Dick, or a great stand-alone read for anyone who’s ever wanted to read Moby-Dick but can do without all that riveting whale taxonomy.  — Rachel Smalter Hall

In The Light Of What We Know by Zia Haider Rahman

Where to begin? It’s a fitting question to ask when trying to describe a book that itself struggles with the same query. Do you start with the War on Terror or the 2008 banking crisis? Do you begin amidst the raping and carnage of 1971 Bangladesh or the storied privilege of Oxbridge and the Ivy League? Or do you simply start with an interrupted friendship or a toxic love story? Rahman’s debut novel, the recent winner of this year’s James Tait Black Prize for Fiction, questions whether we can know any of our stories’ origins. It begins, as it technically must, with the reunion of two university friends. As they fill in the gaps of their relationship, an epic tale unfolds, which hopscotches through the major geopolitical events of the last several decades. The conversational style suits Rahman’s love of a good digression. Pages on cognitive psychology, short stories set in World War Two, cartography’s political biases, high mathematics and much, much more pepper the novel, giving it an odd, elliptical but always fascinating, appeal. It is unapologetically Melvillian in its ambition. No wonder that after reading it, James Wood wrote an equally sprawling New Yorker piece on its myriad themes. It’s an angry book too, raging against class systems and the blundering, thick-fingered actions of NGOs. But at it’s heart is an aching love story. Rahman argues that all the accumulated knowledge in the world can’t predict how you will act when you’re in love. The title is ironic, then. After more than 500 incredibly rich pages, you will feel less certain about knowing anything, even yourself. — Edd McCracken

Nova by Margaret FortuneNova by Margaret Fortune

Lia Johansen is just one of hundreds of POWs who find themselves on New Sol Space Station. For most, they are just waiting for transportation back to their home worlds. For a few, like Lia, there’s no home to go to. But even in this small group, Lia stands alone. She doesn’t intend to return home. She never intends to leave the station. She is a genetically-engineered bomb, and she’s been sent to destroy New Sol and everyone on it. There are, of course, a few complications. First, her identity used to belong to someone else and that someone else was the childhood best friend of Michael Sorenson, who lives on the station with his sister and grandmother.  Second, her timer malfunctions and when she’s set to go NOVA nothing happens. She begins to question her entire existence, fighting to regain her memories from before her arrival on the station. Once she does, she’ll need the help of those around her to do the right thing and, just maybe, save humanity.  Did I mention that Lia is a teenager?  And that she’s a badass?  ‘Cause she is.  This book definitely scratched my kick-ass teen heroine itch, and it did it in SPACE. That’s a perfect combo if I’ve seen one.  — Cassandra Neace

Rat Queens, Vol. 1- Sass & SorceryRat Queens, Vol. 1: Sass & Sorcery by Kurtis J. Wiebe and Roc Upchurch

I’d been seeing Rat Queens pop up roughly forever on my social media feeds thanks to my dear friend sj, and I was always like, “dang, that looks hilarious and I love the art.” Why I did not immediately acquire it is beyond me, but I’m glad I finally did; it’s a great mix of fantasy and humor and quests and ass-kicking. I can’t even pick a favorite character because I want them all to be my favorite. — Susie Rodarme

scorpion rulesThe Scorpion Rules by Erin Bowman (September 22nd, Margaret K. McElderry Books)

Oh my goodness, this hit every single mark on my checklist of what I love in a Young Adult book. Dystopian setting? Check. Epically high stakes? Check. Lil’ bit o’ romance? Check. Political intrigue? Check check check. Set in a future where peace is only maintained due to the world leaders’ children being held hostage and will be killed by an A.I. that controls the Earth’s weapons (what!), The Scorpion Rules has a seriously dark sci-fi setup, that pulled me in immediately and refused to let go. Highly recommend. Sequel now, please. — Eric Smith

Scrum- The Art of Doing Twice the Work in Half the TimeScrum: The Art of Doing Twice the Work in Half the Time by Jeff Sutherland

Scrum started as a system for organizing software creation, born out of ideas from Toyota. It is intended to help those making software to work in teams to make prototypes faster and then iterate in response to reviews and feedback. This way, the software created faster and, once delivered, has fewer bugs and cost less.

And it turns out, you can use Scrum for a lot of things. If the creators of Scrum are right (and they make a convincing argument) the companies that don’t use Scrum will simply be left in the dust by their Scrum-using competitors. The book really does a great job of both convincing us of Scrum’s value to a business, and of explaining how to implement it. If you work in a business and you feel that things are taking too long or costing too much, this is one of those rare times that a book may actually change your life. Trust me. — Johann Thorsson

The Serpent King by Jeff ZentnerThe Serpent King by Jeff Zentner (Crown, March 8th, 2016)

The son of a snake-handling preacher (daddy’s in jail right now for possession of child porn), a too-smart-for-her-small-town fashion blogger, and a linebacker-sized, fantasy-novel-obsessed kid who carries a staff like Gandalf embark on their senior year of high school in rural Tennessee. There’s tragedy, broken families, all the big questions teenagers ask themselves, light teenage vandalism, and characters who are quirky and odd without ever being stock or foolish (and the adults aren’t all stupid or clueless, which I suddenly appreciate since I rounded 30 and had kids of my own). When I finished the book, I immediately tweeted that it’s a warm summer night and fireflies and heartache in book form, and I stand by it– Zentner combines the melancholy of being 17 with the melancholy present in the best of Southern fiction and gives us a novel that will fill the infinite space that was left in your chest after you finished The Perks of Being a Wallflower. — Amanda Nelson

Sister Mine by Nalo HopkinsonSister Mine by Nalo Hopkinson

I came out of The Library at Mount Char with a craving for contemporary demigod fantasy and missing father misadventures and, as luck would have it, I picked up a copy of Sister Mine. This is a book about gods but, moreover, it’s about dysfunctional families. First of all, I am all about family dysfunction (in fiction); secondly, I have an older sister so the tense muscle of sibling rivalry that runs through this book spoke to my childhood and the close yet snarling relationship I shared with my big sis. I mean, I never had to search for my missing mojo even as I searched for an identity apart from my sister, but still. There’s drama and fighting with sharp words and vegetation, a lively cast of characters to outshine any Greek myth, sarcasm like I never dreamed, and descriptions of food that made me want to find a local Caribbean restaurant. I had a blast reading this one. — S. Zainab Williams

Slade House by David MitchellSlade House by David Mitchell (October 27th, Random House)

This David Mitchell book caused an awful lot of excitement for me before I had even read a single word of it. For one thing, it came out pretty quick after his last book, a hefty tome called The Bone Clocks, so I figured I had a couple-plus years to wait for the next one. But no! Then I learned that it would be a David Mitchell take on a haunted house novel, my very favoritest sort of story? The top of my head unscrewed and fell off and a rainbow of pure joy shot out (It was weird for everyone). Anyhow, it’s fortunate that the book held up to all my giddy expectations for it. Early on, I described it for someone as being like The Secret Garden mixed with Salem’s Lot, and that holds up pretty well…but only to a point, because mostly it’s like a David Mitchell book. Also, like most of his books, it had stuff in it that made me drastically reconsider bits in earlier books. So I read it in a rush, and was left over with lots to think about. Top-notch effort from him, I think. Well worth your time. — Peter Damien

Sorcerer to the Crown by Zen ChoSorcerer to the Crown by Zen Cho

For reasons unknown to the sorcerers of Great Britain, Fairyland has cut off their supply of magic. Zacharias Wythe, the Sorcerer Royal, finds his position threatened and sets off to visit Fairyland on a mission to bring magic back. Along the way, he meets Prunella Gentleman, a young woman whose powers are so remarkable that they force him to acknowledge that suppressing women’s magic is harmful not just to women but to the overall state of magic. So Zacharias adds a second objective to his quest: he will campaign to reform magical education and extend the rights and privileges that male sorcerers enjoy to girls and women, tradition and old-school laws be damned. Zacharias and Prunella make quite the odd couple, and Cho plays it up to maximal effect. This is a fast-paced, funny novel with a gloriously diverse cast and undeniably rad female characters (elements that are all too often absent from fantasy). It’s EVERYTHING I want from a fantasy story (not to mention everything I wish Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell had been), and I only wish there were a million more pages of it. — Rebecca Joines Schinsky

The Sorcerer of the Wildeeps by Kai Ashante WilsonThe Sorcerer of the Wildeeps by Kai Ashante Wilson

The first in the Publishing’s line of novellas, The Sorcerer of the Wildeeps by the inimitable and powerful Kai Ashante Wilson is the story equivalent of the shot heard around the world. A rich, immersive, heartbreaking study in the character of Demane, one of the last grandchildren of the gods, and the mysterious, beautiful Captain, Wilson’s world is full of characters that honestly reflect the world we live, each with their own language and homeland and life, that they bring with them on the caravan they’re protecting through the magical and malevolent Wildeeps. Mixing up the language and imagery of epic fantasy and science fiction with the shorthand and vernacular of our own modern day, Wilson writes achingly beautiful prose through this vibrant story, where there is magic in the everyday, and mysteries centuries old that turn the world. Demane’s struggle between his nascent godhood and mortal life are the throughline of the tale, but there is so much more going on that I’ll need to reread this three or four times to really grasp everything. It’s a dense read for a novella, but rewarding, asking of the reader the same concentration and focus as the Captain does of his men. But I guarantee, if you give this novella the time and attention it absolutely deserves, you’re going to come away changed. Please, please read this, and share it, and enjoy your time with Demane and the Captain. — Marty Cahill

SuperMutant Magic Academy by Jillian TamakiSuperMutant Magic Academy by Jillian Tamaki

I love boarding school settings, magic, and the kinds of stories that make you feel smart/confused/amused all at once. SuperMutant Magic Academy hit all these notes and it’s a comic book. The strip, now anthologized, follows a number of students at a school for paranormal teens— and mostly they have the same issues as “normal” teenagers (boring classes, unrequited crushes, fears of an unknowable future), despite being able to cast spells, disappear, and fly. Tamaki’s balance of the mundane high school experience with fantastical powers was endlessly fascinating and hilarious.  — Emma Nichols

Sweet, Filthy Boy by Christina LaurenSweet, Filthy Boy by Christina Lauren

Christina Lauren (a team of two women, by the way – Christina Hobbs and Lauren Billings) is much loved in the romance community with both the Beautiful and Wild Seasons series. And finally, after much cajoling and coaxing, I gave my first Lauren a try. I tend to shy away from authors that have very large and positive followings because I always wind up being that person, the one who just doesn’t get what everyone loves and it really stinks. But not this time. Though the original premise of a drunken, Vegas wedding seems silly, I can assure that it’s only part of the story. Full of emotion and growth, this romance took me pleasantly by surprise. The sexy parts certainly aren’t half bad either. After finishing the book, I dropped a significant amount of money on creating my own little Christina Lauren library. I foresee a binge reading in the near future. — Amanda Diehl

A Taste of Heaven by Penny WatsonA Taste of Heaven by Penny Watson (Self-published, September 14th)

If you love foodie romances, I think it’s practically guaranteed you’ll love this book. Sophia Brown, lonely widow, is pushed into entering a Top Chef-esque cooking competition by her daughters. The good news is she’s a pretty amazing amateur cook; the bad news is she’s paired with Chef Elliott Adamson, a grumpy Scot who makes Gordon Ramsay seem soft-spoken and open-minded. Who doesn’t love grumpy chefs, though, amirite? A Taste of Heaven is an absolutely charming story about trust and family. I do wish there’d been more food descriptions–it was hard to appreciate a loss or win when I had only the vaguest idea of what Sophie and Elliot’s competition was cooking–but otherwise this book was pretty perfect. Watson may even have convinced me to try haggis. At some point. In the unforeseeable future. — Tasha Brandstatter

An Untamed StateAn Untamed State by Roxane Gay

I had been kind of scared to read this book for a while, because I knew it was going to be tough to read. I’d already heard that, although the writing is brilliant and depictions of awful things weren’t gratuitous, it’s still an uncomfortable subject to willingly jump into when so much of my reading is to find new things that’ll make me happy, or filled with wonder. All that said though, I can’t stress enough that if this book is on your radar and you’re curious but hesitant, definitely go for it. It isn’t a constant barrage of awful, it’s also a steady stream of flashbacks to happier times, and a lot of sadness, but also a lot of hope. I didn’t feel too drained after finishing the book, either – I was able to jump right into my next read without too bad a book hangover. I wish I had read it sooner. — Kristina Pino

The Warmth of Other Suns- The Epic Story of America's Great Migration by Isabel WilkersonThe Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration by Isabel Wilkerson

How does one read this and not feel humbled, infuriated, and enriched, all at the same time? In a feat of investigative journalism and oral history documentation, Wilkerson traces the dangerous north and westward journeys of various African-American individuals yearning to create a future that is unfettered by the dehumanizing effects of Jim Crow. This silent, half a century-long revolution created giants such as Mahalia Jackson, Louis Armstrong, James Baldwin, Richard Wright, and its effects continue to echo in today’s society. The book ties the human story of the migration with news reports on white supremacist violence in the US South, sociological studies on the emergence of economically depressed tenements in Northern cities, and rhetoric from politicians and intellectuals in their attempt to address the phenomenon. Just tremendous. — Kristel Autencio

water-knifeThe Water Knife by Paolo Bacigalupi

I’ve been telling everyone I know to get to their closest bookstore or library so they can read this book. Better yet, listen to it, because the audio by Almarie Guerra is so well-done I couldn’t stop listening. Set a few decades in the future, The Water Knife imagines a United States in which states have their own militias and flight each other, refugees flee their drought-ridden homes, and entire states have become uninhabitable – all because of the lack of enough fresh water to sustain the Western half of the US. It’s a dark story about three unforgettable characters: Angel Velasquez, a Las Vegas Water Knife, or a soldier who fights for water rights, Lucy Monroe, a journalist documenting the decline of Phoenix, and Maria Villarosa, a Texas refugee just trying to survive. Part noir and part speculative fiction, The Water Knife is a book you can’t forget. — Leslie Fannon

Cover_AW_The Wind City_01.inddThe Wind City by Summer Wigmore

Imagine a quirkier Rivers of London. Or a darker Gods Behaving Badly. Or a more complex and queerer Neverwhere. Or a more earth-bound (well, earth-set) Perdido Street Station.  Now take that, put it in a Wellington, New Zealand, populated with Māori atua. Have you done that? Okay, then you have just a hint of the awesome weirdness that is Summer Wigmore’s The Wind City. The book is urban fantasy of the highest order—fun, smart, surprising, textured, morally ambiguous—and definitely worth a read. — Derek Attig

The Witch of Duva by Leigh BardugoThe Witch of Duva by Leigh Bardugo

I’ve missed the Grisha universe since Ruin and Rising came out last year, and I only discovered this short story/novella floating around in my local library’s ebook collection a few weeks ago. The prose is reminiscent of Catherynne Valente’s Deathless, one of my favourite books (and a title I never really shut up about): Bardugo leads the reader into the village of Duva and its woods with a careful hand, wrapping them in words until they don’t realize how dangerous the village really is. Nadya’s perspective is a tense one, with doubt and distrust in every thought. It is hard to trust any of the characters in the story, which I absolutely loved. I didn’t bother to try guessing why the girls were disappearing, because I trusted the text from the start to bring a satisfying and powerful conclusion to the story. I’m happy to report that it did, and I’ve since reread The Witch of Duva several times to pick it apart and study how and why it works. — Angel Cruz

wonderful wizard of ozThe Wonderful Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum 

I have never ever read this book! So when I spied a cute paperback copy in a random store while on vacation in Pismo Beach, it seemed like the perfect beachy escape read. And it is—I even learned stuff from reading it. Like, did you know that in the book it’s a cyclone that hits Kansas? And that poor little Dorothy, with her non-affection showing Aunt, is just desperate for any pop of color, after a long, dry Kansas summer? It actually sounded just like drought-stricken California right now, so when we did arrive in colorful Oz, I was just about as happy as our heroine. And reading this with the ‘hindsight’ of the Wicked books just gives everything that extra ‘aw’ feeling. An excellent flashback, new-to-me pick. — Alison Peters

Yes, Chef by Marcus SamuelssonYes, Chef by Marcus Samuelsson

This is the memoir of chef Marcus Samuelsson, Ethiopian-born but adopted at age three by Swedish parents when his mother passed away from tuberculosis. As Samuelsson grew up, he nurtured a love of flavors in his Swedish grandmother’s kitchen where he helped her cook pan-fried herring and roast chicken. Later in his life he stepped out of that kitchen and into the kitchens of the most demanding and innovative chefs in the world, from Switzerland to cruise ships to France to the White House to New York City. His stories are rich with flavors, loud with the crash of cookware, and steady and strong in his perseverance to pursue excellence. — Karina Glaser

You Too Can Have a Body Like Mine by Alexandra KleemanYou Too Can Have a Body Like Mine by Alexandra Kleeman

I love this book so much, I wanted to punch myself in the face out of sheer joy while I read it. It’s brilliant and biting and so, so strange. I clung to it like a spider monkey. Here’s what happens: A lives a fairly unsatisfactory life in an unnamed city, with her roommate, B, who is clingy and jealous at the best of times. A & B live in unusual times. Their neighbors across the street seem to have gotten themselves mixed up in a weird religion that’s sweeping the nation (it’s like the Heaven’s Gate cult meets It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown), middle class fathers are disappearing without a trace, and the media’s new darling is a man who almost killed someone with veal. On top of these odd occurrences, A’s boyfriend, C, wants her to join him on a ridiculous reality show called That’s My Partner! where the losing couples are no longer legally able to contact their significant others. This book is bonkers! Kleeman holds up a big mirror to the world and what shines back is over the top and scary, mostly because it’s stomach-churningly familiar. I loved it with the heat of a thousand suns. — Liberty Hardy