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

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Martin Cahill

Staff Writer

Martin lives in New York, just outside that sprawling metropolis everyone’s always talking about. Bookseller by day, bartender by night, freelancer at all other times, he writes whenever he can. Every so often he remembers that sleep is important. He has fiction appearing in Nightmare Magazine and Fireside Fiction. He can be found writing about books and craft beer at his blog. Tweet him about craft beer, books, Community or Locke & Key and you’ll most likely become fast friends. Blog: Craft Books Twitter: @Mcflycahill90

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.


32 Candles32 Candles by Ernessa T. Carter

I immediately bought this book after reading that the main character, Davidia, wanted a “Molly Ringwald Ending” after she watched 16 Candles. AND THEN as soon as I finished reading the ebook I immediately bought the book in paperback because I needed this book to sit on my shelf so I could smile at it. The story starts with Davidia using Molly Ringwald movies to escape her terrible childhood until she finally flees, leaving behind her “Jake Ryan” and her hopes for her own Molly Ringwald Ending. You’ll have to read to see how her adult life turns out… But I can say that this book had it all: great story, real characters, humor, heart, heartbreak, spirit, and that magical feeling you get when you rewatch your favorite ‘80s movies. — Jamie Canaves

The Absolutely True Story of a Part-Time IndianThe Absolutely True Story of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie

It seems I’ve taken my sweet time getting to Sherman Alexie’s work, and for that I’m kind of bummed. While I’ve heard the rave reviews of this novel in particular–with its National Book Award and all–I had my doubts. I don’t always read the YA books, but when I do, I hope that they are as finely written as this one with a unique narrative voice, an emotional reading experience, and plenty to think about, no matter what your age. — Andi Miller

untitledBinary by Stephanie Saulter

Earlier this year, I could not stop raving about Saulter’s Gemsigns. It tells the story of a future in which genetically modified humans are the norm, and those engineered with “commercial modifications” (imagine if pearl divers didn’t need oxygen tanks to breath underwater, or extra organs could be grown by one person for another) are fighting for their rights in a society that is used to considering them as less than human. Binary is the follow-up to that novel, and I literally am dreaming about it as I read it. This, friends, is a sequel done right. By setting it a few years into the future, she’s able to both continue the threads begun in Gemsigns and introduce new levels of complexity to the intricate, compelling world she’s created. If you love science fiction that holds a mirror back up to society, that uses technology to explore the questions of what it means to be human, and that tells an amazing story in the process, pick these up now. — Jenn Northington

Bloodchild and Other Stories by Octavia ButlerBloodchild and Other Stories by Octavia Butler

Octavia Butler hit me with the humanity and relatability I didn’t know I was seeking in the often cool and clinical world of science fiction. This was my first Butler book and, as it turns out, I adore the writer as much as I adore the writing. Who couldn’t fall for someone who sets out to write a pregnant man story (“Bloodchild), and gets real about that day she was so disgusted with humans and our inability to communicate with each other that she had to tell a grim tale about the end of communication through words (“Speech Sounds”)? For this reason, please don’t pass over the afterwords following each story or the two essays at the end. Butler was one of the greats; I can’t wait to read Kindred. — S. Zainab Williams

Blue Lily, Lily Blue by Maggie StiefvaterBlue Lily, Lily Blue by Maggie Stiefvater

June was a tough month for me, and when things are tough, I return to the books I know. Blue Lily, Lily Blue is the third book in Stiefvater’s Raven Cycle (The Raven King, the fourth and final, is scheduled for Feb. 2016, and I am already quite sure it will break my heart), and it is full of things I love: a bright brave girl, smart boys who are trying to be better than they are, a therapy dog named Dog, a raven named Chainsaw, my most favorite hitman, sleeping kings, ley lines, a wood that speaks (Latin, in case you were wondering), and absolutely stunning writing. This was my second time reading this book, and I loved it even more this time. — Kat Howard

Chronology of Water by Lidia YuknavitchChronology of Water by Lidia Yuknavitch

Like many memoirs, Chronology of Water is about loss and pain; it’s about hitting rock bottom and clawing your way back up; it’s about creativity, alcohol, sex, motherhood, swimming. Unlike many memoirs, this one knocked me sideways with its weird and wonderful language. Yuknavitch knows how to tell a story—how to take pain and loss and wring something beautiful out of them. —Emma Nichols

Conservation of Shadows by Yoon Ha LeeConservation of Shadows by Yoon Ha Lee

Lee writes the kind of speculative fiction that incorporates abstraction and math, resulting in prose that is as contemplative and challenging as poetry. But what makes the stories work is the astounding imagery that accompanies his meditations on revenge, fate, colonialism, and other weighty themes. He writes evocatively about intergalactic war-kites, fatal music, paper doll warriors. One story takes on Star Trek’s famous Kobayashi Maru scenario and turns it on its head. The writing evokes barely restrained heartache, as if each beautiful bead of a story is on the brink of shattering. I’ve read several of the stories collected in this volume over the years (thanks to online SF magazines), but the cumulative effect of reading and rereading everything hit me hard. — Kristel Autencio

Denton Little’s Death Date by Lance RubinDenton Little’s Death Date by Lance Rubin

You’d think a YA novel about a world in which everyone knows on what day they’ll die would be dark. You’d also think knowing that Denton, the book’s 17-year-old protagonist, will be dead in a couple of days would be kind of a killjoy. It’s weirdly and remarkably the opposite. Rubin manages to make life, death, and everything in between hilarious and poignant (and yes, sometimes heartbreaking). But that’s probably the point. As Denton attends his own funeral, says his last words to friends and family, and discovers an odd purple rash on his body that he’s convinced will be the death of him, the way he spends his remaining time on Earth got me thinking a lot about the ways we choose to spend our own. — Natalia Sylvester

The Devil and Winnie Flynn by Micol and David OstowThe Devil and Winnie Flynn by Micol and David Ostow (October 13, Soho Teen)

Following her mother’s apparent suicide, Winnie is spending the summer with her aunt Maggie in New Jersey. Her aunt is the creator of a reality TV show that investigates strange and paranormal activity, Fantastic, Fearsome. Maggie’s a production assistant while they delve into the mystery of the Jersey Devil.

On the surface, this is a story about life behind the scenes of a reality television show. But it’s much more about the exploration of grief, of the things that scare us, of tropes and storytelling. It’s written with illustrations, script pieces, and more scattered throughout. Ostow weaves in some great twists to this one, and throughout the book, we’re given insight into the background of producing a “reality” TV show through Winnie’s realistic and very grounded voice. She’s writing it as a journal to her best friend Lucia, which takes readers even one step further from the action. It’s a very smart, very FUN horror story that would work for those who don’t necessarily gravitate toward horror, since it doesn’t rely on typical scares/tropes of horror to be horror. Readers who love reality television, especially the behind-the-scenes elements, as well as those who love thinking about the world of creation will dig Winnie’s story and the means through which the Ostow’s reveal it. A creative, engaging, memorable read. — Kelly Jensen

Everything Everything by Nicola YoonEverything Everything by Nicola Yoon (September 1, Delacorte)

I decided to download an egalley of Everything, Everything because Kelly mentioned it briefly in a piece about trends in YA as an example of mixed media storytelling. While I absolutely love epistolary stories, I didn’t expect to fall quite so head-over-heels for this book, the story of a girl kept inside a bubble because of a serious illness and the boy across the street who makes her think about the risks of going out into the world. It’s not really similar to Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell in any significant ways, but reading about Maddie and Olly did give me the same swoony feelings I had for Cat and Levi. I just loved it. — Kim Ukura

Broke my heart then stitched it back together again. There’s just something so pure and human about this book, the tale of a girl trapped inside thanks to a very specific medical condition, that you drop all your defenses a few pages in. Then it makes you laugh, then it pummels you right in the feels, then it does it all over again. I want to buy this book for so many people. — Rachel Weber

Fates and Furies by Lauren GroffFates and Furies by Lauren Groff  (September 15, Riverhead)

The tale of a life-long marriage between a privileged golden boy and a mysterious, stoic woman who keeps her cards close to her chest, told first from his perspective and then from hers. The book takes you from the Florida coast to New England prep schools to New York’s theater scene, floods you in secrets and Greek tragedy and beautiful, delicate sentences, and leaves you wondering where Lauren Groff has been all your life. (She’s been around- be sure to pick up her last novel, Arcadia, which is similarly lovely and heart-breaking.) If you’ve read Groff before, the wit and insight won’t surprise you. If not, I’m jealous that you get to read her for the first time. — Amanda Nelson

A Fine Summer’s Day by Charles ToddA Fine Summer’s Day by Charles Todd

The best fun facts: I read this excellent British WWI-era mystery in 24 hours. It is co-written by a mother/son team. It is the upteenth in the Inspector Ian Rutledge mystery series, but also happens to be a flashback/prequel to before the first book in the series was written, when Scotland Yard Inspector Rutledge was just getting his start. Which means I came in on a series at the absolute beginning, and now have a whole bunch of catch ups, just waiting for me to devour. Because it’s really, really good, and the mystery was not one but several going on simultaneously, and because I cannot get enough of mystery in the summertime…bliss. Just, reading bliss. — Alison Peters

Gathering Moss- A Natural and Cultural History of Mosses by Robin Wall KimmererGathering Moss: A Natural and Cultural History of Mosses by Robin Wall Kimmerer

I have been on a total nature writing kick lately, and I feel completely in love with this book. Mosses are small and easy to overlook but absolutely crucial to the functioning of a forest, impacting everything from tiny insects to giant trees. Kimmerer teaches about the biology of mosses while weaving in personal insights, reflections, and wisdom from her Native American heritage. She writes about moss both as a scientist and as a mother, friend, nature lover, neighbor, and woman. I was enthralled, a writer who can make mosses sound like the most interesting thing in the world is truly special. — Valerie Michael

the gracekeepersThe Gracekeepers by Kirsty Logan

Make this a movie now. I’ll cast it for you, Hollywood, just to make sure you get it right. What a lovely book, one whose feel I’ve been missing since The Night Circus, not just because Logan’s features a circus, too, but because it has that same melancholy but beautiful atmosphere. I was so intrigued by every character, not just North, the bear girl; and Callanish, the mysterious gracekeeper whose duty is to give the deceased a respectable burial at sea. YOU GUYS, this book. It’s so beautiful. The circus is on a ship! The world has flooded! The damplings and the landlockers don’t exactly trust each other and definitely don’t understand each other. This book is so full of everything that rings my bells: family, friendship, ships, circuses, bears, bodies, and badass women. I. Loved. It. (Obviously.) — Jeanette Solomon

Hello, Goodbye, and Everything in Between by Jennifer E. SmithHello, Goodbye, and Everything in Between by Jennifer E. Smith (September 1, Poppy)

Jennifer E. Smith’s books have been gorgeous little corners of romance for as long as I’ve been reading them, and her newest novel is just as delightful. Hello, Goodbye, and Everything in Between is a story about the moments where leaving one’s loved ones might seem inevitable, and the hopes and doubts we try not to see in ourselves. Claire and Aiden feel almost too real sometimes, their love for each other as flawed and human as they are. Smith never forces the story to be more than what it is: a quiet character study reflective of the crossroads we all face, and the people we want at our side at those moments. — Angel Cruz

Hospice by Gregory HowardHospice by Gregory Howard

Trying to describe how it felt to read Hospice, the debut experimental novel by Gregory Howard, is like describing the color of a mirror. I could say it’s a story about how Lucy, whose brother disappeared and returned in equally surreal circumstances, navigates a series of caretaking jobs across public and private realms. I could say it feels like a fairy tale in the form of a set of nesting dolls. I could say it’s melancholy but also wryly funny, sad, shocking, and rueful. I could say the way agency slithers from character to character and in and back through inanimate objects makes post-recession suburbia feel like a heaving, watchful forest. But there’s no way to capture the disorienting and magical experience of picking my way through this challenging book, which invited me to “disappear into the gauzy present.” — Jessica Tripler

In the Garden of Beasts by Erik LarsonIn the Garden of Beasts by Erik Larson (audiobook)

Yes, yes, I’m finally listening to this one, and while I’m only a few chapters in, I’m hooked. I’ve read a lot of fiction and nonfiction about WWII, but this history is told from the perspective of the U.S. ambassador to Germany (and his family). It’s particularly chilling because as early as 1933, reports started coming back to FDR about Germany’s volatility and the brutal treatment of Jews, Communists, and many others. I always appreciate Larson’s books because they suck you in until the last page every time, and I know Garden won’t be any different. — Rachel Cordasco

Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? (And Other Concerns)Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? (And Other Concerns) by Mindy Kaling

It was a slow month for me and my reading, but I found myself listening to this audiobook again and I am not sorry. Mindy Kaling has been in the news for her show’s move to Hulu, and it was her birthday this month as well. I guess I just had a craving for some Mindy Kaling. Her book is brutally honest about her life, including her struggles with weight and body image, but she still has a sense of humour about it all. So much sense of humour. From stories about her and her brother’s childhood, to the stories about her move to New York, Kaling manages to keep it funny and insightful. Oh, and her delivery is on point. One of the best audiobooks I’ve listened to so far. I literally laughed out loud throughout this book. — Samantha Gualito

Island of The Blue Dolphins by Scott O’DellIsland of The Blue Dolphins by Scott O’Dell

This is high-stakes armchair adventure-travel culture clash for the under 12 set with a strong female lead and I enjoyed feeling like I was in a canoe paddling for devil fish under the dark night Pacific stars with Karana, and my son, 10. His 3rd grade teacher recommended he read this over the summer because of his interest at recess in making lean-tos with sticks. There are passages in this book of lyrical self-reliance, the collection of abalones, the taming of wild dogs, the interaction between the natives of the island and the Aleuts who come to exploit the abundance of sea otters. It is a story told in a simple direct way that is unforgettable, and will incite children to start asking the kinds of complex historical questions that adults can’t always easily answer, such as, Why, Mom? Why did they kill so many sea otters? And, What happened to Karana’s people? — Elizabeth Bastos

the library at mount charThe Library at Mount Char by Scott Hawkins

I had only heard a basic description of this book, something about orphans being taken in and living in a library, and I thought, “Awww, how sweet, kids growing up in a library.” Um. Turns out, describing this book like that is like describing Oedipus as a story about a guy who moves to a new town and gets married. THIS BOOK IS BANANAS. The more I think about it, the more I want to go running through the streets, pulling my hair and shrieking over its amazingness! Here are true facts: There are orphans, and, yes, there is a library. But here’s the real deal: Father is an in-no-way benevolent god who adopts twelve orphans and raises them to be more than human. Each child studies a particular subject in his library. (Imagine The X-Men at school, if Professor Xavier occasionally ate a student. Or the students at Hogwarts competing in the Hunger Games.) Now a decade or so later, Father has gone missing, and his children are trying to figure out what happened to him before another god – or their ultra-violent brother, David – takes control. This book is so mad-packed with originality and delightful WTF-ishness! Told mostly from the point of view of Carolyn, the sister who has learned all the current and dead languages of the world, The Library at Mount Char is a fantastic, mind-blowing novel. It’s an epic nerdpurr. Please, please, please, let there be another one! — Liberty Hardy

Loving Day by Mat JohnsonLoving Day by Mat Johnson

This is a book I’ve been waiting to read for a long time. One of the reasons I was excited to read this is because of the focus on mixed/mulatto identity and Johnson did not hold back. It is an honest story of how complicated love and identity can be. — Jamie Moore

A Madness So Discreet by Mindy McGinnisA Madness So Discreet by Mindy McGinnis (October 6, Katherine Tegen Books)

I mentioned that I was reading McGinnis’s latest Young Adult novel back in April. So yeah, I’ve spent a lot of time on this one. Why? I wanted to savor every page of this incredibly dark historical thriller. If you’ve read her other novels, Not a Drop to Drink and In a Handful of Dust, you’ll know that McGinnis is great at writing haunting stories that stick with you, and A Madness So Discreet is definitely one of those. The novel introduces readers to Grace, a young woman locked up in an asylum, and the tortures within. She finds herself aligned with a doctor, hunting a serial killer… while battling with the demons of her past. It’s an engrossing read that kept me on the edge of my seat every single chapter, and I can’t wait for it to hit stores in October. — Eric Smith

nimonaNimona by Noelle Stevenson

Nimona isn’t the kind of person you’d normally root for. She likes murder and mayhem, and she’s a little bit evil. She works for Ballister Blackheart, the biggest name in supervillainy, whose nefarious plans include genetically modified dragons, kidnappings, ransoms, and explosions. Together, they’re two halves of a perfect buddy comedy — Blackheart is the straight-laced logical one, and Nimona is the loose canon with a punk rock sensibility and a little magic up her sleeve. At the heart of this weird, wonderful, and funny graphic novel from the co-creator of Lumberjanes is the message that you don’t have to be perfect or good to be loved — you can even be a monster. If you like cats, sharks, or slightly offbeat humor laced with moral ambiguity, you’ll want to get your hands on a copy of Nimona as soon as humanly possible! — Rachel Smalter Hall

april none of the aboveNone of the Above by I. W. Gregorio

Kristin Lattimer is many things– a good student, a kind peer, an excellent runner, a sweet girlfriend– but after her first time is a painful, awkward affair, Kristin’s visit to the OB/GYN reveals that she is one more thing: intersex. What follows is an informed and informative novel about Kristin coming to terms with a medical truth that doesn’t add up with her own truth. And of course, somehow, the entire school knows of Kristin’s diagnosis, so the whole “coming to terms” process may not actually be on her own terms. Gregorio is skillful in all aspects of her writing: whether she is peeling away the layers of a world that can show so much cruelty and so much bravery, or whether she is systematically dealing with the question of identity and what that word means to a teenager when so much is taken for granted and so much is blank space. None of the Above may well be one of my favourite reads of the year. — Yash Kesanakurthy

Nova by Margaret FortuneNova by Margaret Fortune

There is nothing better than a story about a kick-ass girl in space.  Lia is 16. She’s a prisoner of war. Her home planet has been destroyed. She has no family, and she’s holding on to her one friend in the whole universe as tightly as she can. But she has a secret, too. She’s not the real Lia. She’s a bomb, and when she doesn’t go off as planned, she has to figure out how to live the life she never thought she’d have.  It’s not your typical teenage love story, and that makes it well worth the read. That and SPACE. — Cassandra Neace

Paprika by Yasutaka TsutsuiPaprika by Yasutaka Tsutsui

Until I spotted it sitting on a table at a bookstore, I didn’t know one of my favorite films was based on a book. Things start out pretty easy as we get to know the rules of the world, but it gets so weird – definitely a page-turner. In this world, devices have been developed which allow psychiatrists to treat patients by accessing (and assessing) their dreams. But when a prototype is stolen, our main heroine Dr Atsuko Chiba has to summon her alter ego, Paprika, to save the world from those who would abuse the technology designed to help people. Eventually, dreams start spilling into reality and things get super exciting. There are some shifting perspectives, which is always a plus for me in any book. A word of warning, though: might cause book hangover. — Kristina Pino

A Reunion of Ghosts by Judith Claire MitchellA Reunion of Ghosts by Judith Claire Mitchell

The Alter sisters were raised on dark family histories, all woven together by the notion that the sins of our ancestors fall upon us for generations. Aging alone, but together, in an apartment in New York City, they resolve to stop the cycle once and for all: they’ll kill themselves on New Year’s Eve. Mitchell’s novel is black comedy at its finest. Her diction is sharp and wry, the dramatic turns her character’s lives take are fascinating, and she deals with the historical implications of individual choices intelligently, even philosophically. This novel surprised and delighted me. — Michelle Anne Schingler

Roller Girl by Victoria JamiesonRoller Girl by Victoria Jamieson

A friend of mine first introduced me to roller derby a few years ago (Go Gotham Girls!), so when I was handed this book by my daughter who had borrowed it from her cousin, I had to take a look. Jamieson’s illustrations and narrative are intriguing, sweet, and inspiring. The story follows the world of twelve-year-old Astrid who discovers roller derby and joins the junior team. After many, many mishaps; a liaison through letters with her roller derby idol Rainbow Bite; the discovery that her best friend may have moved on without her; and her first bout, Astrid remains a steadfast, relatable character that all middle graders will adore. — Karina Glaser

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

David Mitchell is probably my favorite living author, so it’s no surprise that I read his forthcoming novel in a single sitting. Slade House tells the tale of a mysterious English home, accessible only by an almost always hidden gate in a nondescript alley. Over a period of more than thirty years, we follow a series of seemingly disparate visitors through the little black gate, each of whom grants us a little more insight to the unsettling truth about Slade House’s occupants and the purposes they have for the outsiders they invite onto its grounds. The novel is compelling, edge-of-your-seat tense, and it unravels with painstaking precision: as always with Mitchell, we know only what we absolutely need to until we need to know more. The only caveat I have to my recommendation of Slade House is that it will definitely be best if you’ve read Mitchell’s 2014 novel The Bone Clocks. I won’t spoil it, but there is a substantial connection between the two novels (related to concept, not plot) that will pay off much more fully if you read them in order. The Bone Clocks was my favorite book of 2014, so I feel okay about tacking on the additional recommendation. Best get to reading! — Josh Corman

Spinster-  A Life of One’s OwnSpinster by Kate Bolick

Bolick’s examination of what makes a woman a spinster is thought provoking. Particularly given that Bolick, now over 40, has rarely been single since she first started dating, and considers herself at least a type of spinster. Her interpretation defines spinsterhood in terms of a woman’s dedication to her own dreams and desires, rather than to a romantic partner. The women she profiles in her book almost all married at some point in their lives, but their careers are what people remember about them.

As someone who recognized early in her 20s that being a person of faith, a raging feminist, and a Netflix-and-books introvert is not conducive to steady dating, it was refreshing to feel like I was finally having a conversation with another person about feelings I’ve been mulling over for years. — Ellison Langford

The Story of a New Name by Elena FerranteThe Story of a New Name by Elena Ferrante

Hi, I’m Jessica, and I am addicted to Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan series. These books follow two close friends who grow up in a poor neighborhood of Naples and end up taking vastly different paths in life. In June I read both My Brilliant Friend and The Story of a New Name and I’ve already started the third book, Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay. I just cannot stop. They are just so utterly amazing, they speak to something in me that I cannot fully articulate. It’s strange to read books knowing that they are some of the best books I’ve ever read, that they will have a spot of honor on my shelves, and that I will come back and read them again and again. Believe the hype, Ferrante is for real. — Jessica Woodbury

Tales of Nevèrÿon by Samuel DelanyTales of Nevèrÿon by Samuel Delany

This was a random bookstore grab, part of an attempt to fill the holes in my Delany reading. Full disclosure: I write fantasy, and this book has completely flipped the way I look the kinds of narrative performances that fantasy fiction is able to display. Nevèrÿon’s tales are driven by perception, and that perception works to display a kind of world that we see often in fantasy fiction–but rarely ever in such a sociologically sensitive manner. The overarching themes of the work are the differing levels of social change, but our witnessing of these changes is obscured because the perceptions of our narrators are limited. Nevèrÿon is heady stuff, which is to be expected from Delany, but the things that it teaches about the power of language, human and tribal relationships, and the incremental nature of social change rings true. Also, there are a couple of adventure-y parts in the collection that floated my boat. Nevèrÿon is definitely a title that will challenge the reader, if they choose to accept it. — Troy Wiggins

Taste Test by Kelly FioreTaste Test by Kelly Fiore

A fun YA novel where Top Chef meets The Hunger Games (actually, it’s too bad Hunger Games was already taken, because that would have been a much better title than Taste Test. But I digress). Nora grew up cooking in her dad’s barbeque joint, but always dreamed of something bigger. So when the opportunity to compete in the teenage cooking competition Taste Test comes along, she grabs at it. Her nemesis? The son of a frou frou fine dining chef, Christian van Lorton, who rubs Nora in all the wrong-but-so-so-right ways. I can never resist romances where the hero and heroine fight all the time, especially when they’re equals, and Taste Test delivers on entertaining sparring and snappy dialog. I also loved that these teenagers are highly skilled and talented with very focused goals, yet still acted like actual teenagers. The ending left everything unresolved, which was annoying, but this is a very fast, unputdownable read you can finish in a day. Recommended if you want a quick foodie romance! — Tasha Brandstatter

The Traitor Baru Cormorant by Seth DickinsonThe Traitor Baru Cormorant by Seth Dickinson

This book was on my radar for sometime, but it wasn’t until I finally got my hands on a copy and dove headfirst into the rich, bittersweet world, that I realized what a gift it is. The novel starts on the island of Taranoke, where young Baru Cormorant stands on the beach with her mother and two fathers as ships with red sails begin to pull into the harbor. The Empire of Masks has arrived and with them, they bring new math, star charts, tools, food, weapons, and support for the people of Taranoke. They also bring plague, rigid education, new metrics for “hygienic living,” and cultural/hereditary taxonomy and control. Their velvet-gloved hand begins to slowly choke Taranoke, and it’s only when Baru is already enrolled in one of the schools, kept from home, and one of her fathers goes missing that she sees the Empire for what they are: conquerors.

But Baru knows that the best weapons are knowledge, information, and strategy. She vows to save her home, by rising high in the ranks of the Empire of Masks, enough take it down from the inside. And so, at eighteen, she is sent as Imperial Accountant to the unforgiving cold of Audrwynn, a country to the north under control of the Empire; it is fractured and proud, and in need of an imperial hand to stave off rebellion. But smart as she is, Baru is young, and finds that she may have wandered right into a pack of wolves. But if she is save her country, her family, she’ll need to outpace the wolves around her, and prove her worth to the Empire.

This book is a brutal treasure in every way. Baru is one of the most complicated, best-written characters I’ve read in some time, who must balance agenda against agenda against personal feelings against everything at stake; she wears dozens of masks, switching so effortlessly at times, my head was spinning trying to keep track of them all (but in a good way). She is a fully realized, queer woman of color with agency and power, and is an amazing breath of fresh air in a genre that is getting better with representation, but still has a long way to go. The world she lives in is beautiful and heart-breaking, a mixture of Guns, Germs, and Steel and epic fantasy; there are hints of the supernatural in this secondary world, but for the most part, Dickinson focuses on the political maneuvering, character development, economics, warfare, and emotional arcs. His sentence-level prose is delicious, tightly focused, and he never treats the reader as anything less than capable and intelligent. Every page draws you in closer, until the end, when he delivers one of the most shattering and fling-across-the-room-y twists in a book I’ve ever read. I could go on, but I’ll just say: please, please, please read this heartbreaking, amazing novel. — Martin Cahill

Wolf Winter by Cecilia Eckback.Wolf Winter by Cecilia Eckback

I heard about this book via one of our Book Riot podcasts and it sounded perfect for me. And there was no doubt that the content of this book was incredibly compelling: a young girl discovering her sorcery in witch-fearing Scandinavia in the 1700s. The writing though through pacing and description produces the complications of a different era with ease. — Jessi Lewis

Year of the Flood by Margaret AtwoodThe Year of the Flood by Margaret Atwood

Last year, I accidentally bought the third and last book of the MadAddam series without the knowledge that it was part of a series. I had read Atwood before and wanted to know what she was writing these days. Only recently did I realize I probably needed to read the two first books before I finally got to my new purchase. I will be honest and admit I didn’t love the first book of the series (Oryx and Crake) because the anti-hero just wasn’t interesting enough to me. Things definitely got better when I started reading Year of the Flood, although I wasn’t and still am not super gripped by the story. I liked Year of the Flood better than Oryx and Crake because it was about the women who survived the scientifically engineered plague and what they did to survive. Also, I got a glimpse of the oppression they suffered in corporation-dominated world, which went completely untouched in the last book. — Nicole Froio