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

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Rachel Cordasco

Staff Writer

Rachel Cordasco has a Ph.D in literary studies and currently works as a developmental editor. When she's not at her day job or chasing three kids, she's writing reviews and translating Italian speculative fiction. She runs the website, and can be found on Facebook and Twitter.

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.


BECOMING NICOLE- THE TRANSFORMATION OF AN AMERICAN FAMILYBecoming Nicole: The Transformation of an American Family by Amy Ellis Nutt

Nicole Maines won a landmark transgender rights victory when she and her family took her Orono Maine school district to court for failing to provide her with the same access to school facilities as other female students. But behind the headlines was the personal journey of a transgender child who knew from the age of two that “I’m a boy-girl.” And that journey took place in a close knit family context, with parents who weren’t even sure what “transgender” meant at first, a father who struggled to accept it, and an identical twin brother trying to find his own way. Maines’ lawsuit was a big local story, and even though I don’t know the family personally, I was curious to go beyond the headlines. I knew the plot going in, but I didn’t know the characters, all of them imperfect but loving human beings trying to figure it out. As soon as I read the first page, I was hooked. Becoming Nicole is the very last book I read this month, but also the best. I’ll end with a beautiful passage from Nicole’s sixth grade poem, “Disequality”: “They have you sit alone, away from friends in hopes that your difference will come to an end. What do you call a girl with a head who regrets what she heard that equality said? That you deserve the same as your peers without blame? You call her Nicole. And her difference makes her whole.” — Jessica Tripler

Bollywood BrideThe Bollywood Bride by Sonali Dev

I’ve been neck-deep in romance in preparation for an all-romance edition of Get Booked, and this has been one of my favorite of the bunch so far. Ria Parkar is a Bollywood star with a troubled past, returning home to Chicago to 1) attend a family wedding and 2) escape a bit of scandal. While home, she is thrown into the loving but overwhelming arms of her family, and must deal with being in constant company with Vikram, her childhood friend and first love. What I love about Dev’s work is that she doesn’t shy away from her characters’ darkness: Ria has a serious family history of mental illness, and herself suffers from intense social anxiety. Her characters face heavy issues (the heroine in her first book A Bollywood Affair is a child bride) and her couples overcome to find each other through all that darkness.

–Amanda Nelson


G. Willow Wilson moved to Egypt to teach after college. She already had an inkling to convert to Islam, but she was apprehensive about having to explain her choices to family and friends who would certainly not understand her religion or her burgeoning relationship with a Muslim man. Part memoir, part philosophy, and all heart, this book is one that is truly humbling. Wilson addresses the prejudices of the West and western media, the fallout after 9/11, and the ways in which differences in culture both challenged and strengthened her love of Egypt, her husband, and her religion. — Andi Miller


CHARMED PARTICLESCharmed Particles by Chrissy Kolaya (Dzanc Books, Nov. 15)

Set in a small prairie town, Charmed Particles is the story of two families pulled in opposite directions. Abhijat is a theoretical physicist working at the town’s particle accelerator lab. His wife, Sarala, is a stay at home mother to daughter Meena. Both are trying to find their places, one in America and the other in public school. Meena’s best friend is Lily. Her father, Randolph, is a “gentleman explorer” while her mother, Rose, has made her mark in local politics. When a proposal comes forth to build a superconducting supercollider at the lab, the two families find themselves on opposite sides of a debate that threatens to fracture their small community. As a small town resident myself, the book totally hit home for me. Kolaya did a lot of research into real debates about the first supercolliders, and that research really grounds the story. But even more, this is a wonderful story of ambition and community, rooted in six well-drawn and wonderful main characters. This one is highly recommended. – Kim Ukura


CITY OF BLADESCity of Blades by Robert Jackson Bennett

The next book in Robert Jackson Bennett’s Divine Cities series, and the follow up to the immensely enjoyable City of Stairs, City of Blades takes place five years later, and tackles two very interesting aspects in a world bereft of gods: what happened to the afterlives they created, and more importantly, what happened to those souls who were in them, waiting for a paradise that would now never come? Told from the perspective of General Turyin Mulaghesh (war hero, veteran, irascible, bitter, cynical, a little mean, possibly a war criminal), who somehow can’t stop helping those around her, even when she screams to the stars that she’s done, Turyin is called back into service from her supposed retirement to investigate a mysterious, new material that will not only accelerate the course of industry in the civilized world, but may also be a key clue into the divine questions posed above. Written with Bennett’s traditional eye for deep, investigative characterization, charged, emotional prose, graceful violence, and poetic, heart-wrenching examinations of the human soul, City of Blades takes everything that’s great about City of Stairs, and doubles it. Not only is it a rip-roaring study of epic fantasy, heroism, and godhood, but Bennett also explores warfare, the idea of service, disability, belief, morality, and more. A beautiful and satisfying novel about the price of belief, and the extremes one person will go to in order to save another, City of Blades is a success, and a wonder. –Marty Cahill


DC TRIP by Sara BenincasaDC Trip by Sara Benincasa (Adaptive Books, November 3)

I’ve never been someone who thinks they’d make a good high school teacher. And after reading DC Trip, I’m double-extra sure. But I’m also double-extra thrilled to have read this book, which follows a new teacher as she takes her class on a field trip to Washington, DC. The characters are charming (the teenagers are obnoxious/mischievous/marvelous, the teacher is delightfully hapless), and Benincasa has crafted the narrative with a ton of verve and care. Ultimately, DC Trip is extraordinarily fun–silly and hilarious–while, at the same time, really thoughtful and emotionally rich. It’s quite a feat, and you should give it a try—whether you’re a wannabe high school teacher or not. — Derek Attig


DEAD SCARED by Sharon BoltonDead Scared by Sharon Bolton

Truth be told I have been in a bit of a slump with my reading lately (and really, for most of the year). Yet the 48 hours I spent with DEAD SCARED totally reversed the pattern. Bolton’s novel, the second in the Lacey Flint series, features a fierce yet haunted and emotionally vulnerable heroine going undercover to investigate a (fictional) cluster suicide phenomenon at Cambridge University. Bolton’s intricate plot is twisty and unputdownable with just a touch of romance. Written in a literary style and understated voice, DEAD SCARED and the Lacey Flint series is a good pick for fans of Gillian Flynn. — Sarah S. Davis


fans of the impossible lifeFans of the Impossible Life by Kate Scelsa

I’d call this book a mixture of The Perks of Being A Wallflower with the movie Mean Girls (especially the humor element and if characters like Damien and Janis were front-and-center). This realistic, slice-of-life novel is about the inner demons we battle, how other people react to them, and ultimately, how we choose to take their reactions. Mira and Sebby both suffer some major mental health issues, having met in a psych ward, and Jeremy is working through coming to terms with how classmates treat him as an out gay boy.

This is a diverse read with heart, humor (some of the lines are laugh-out-loud), and a dose of sadness. There’s a foster family, there’s a family with two dads, and then there’s a family that’s composed of two parents who clearly prefer one of their children to the other…at least, that’s the perspective we’re privy to.

The structure of this book is unique and it works so well for developing three distinct voices. Jeremy is in first person; Mira is in third; and Sebby is in second. It’s surprisingly easy to fall into, and I enjoyed back tracking to see how effortlessly Scelsa did this. Experimental and successful. While this won’t be a book for everyone, it’s a book that those who enjoy it will love forever and ever. — Kelly Jensen


Fates and Furies by Lauren GroffFates and Furies by  Lauren Groff

I’m a sucker for a domestic drama and any novel that promises a big “twist” and/or an interesting structure. But at first I was a little hesitant to read Fates and Furies because I had an allergic reaction to the main characters’ names. Lotto and Mathilde? Really? It just felt very…precious. But the consistent recommendations by people whose taste I trust (not to mention the reviews and award nominations) won out, and I’m glad they did! Groff’s prose is impeccable and I’m highlighting line after line as I go. Despite their flaws (and their icky names) Lotto and Mathilde develop as rich, fascinating, and very real characters whose lives you grow to care about even as they behave badly. What impressed me most about the novel was the way Groff grew the characters over decades, with just the right amount of shading to each period of their lives to draw you forward years in the space of a few pages, but not make you feel as though you missed anything. It’s a fluid, engaging story with heft and resonance, and absolutely deserving of all the praise that’s been heaped upon it. I loved it! — Sarah Knight


Zaleski and Zaleski_The FellowshipThe Fellowship: The Literary Lives of the Inklings by Philip Zaleski & Carol Zaleski

So much has been written about the two most famous Inklings–J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis–that genuinely new material is hard to come by. In addition to biographical information about some of the lesser-known Inklings, this book offers fresh insights into how the group influenced and inspired each other’s work through their meetings, correspondence, and friendship. A valuable addition to the library of Lewis and Tolkien fans. –Kate Scott


THE FOLD by Peter ClineThe Fold by Peter Cline

It’s been a long time since I listened to an audiobook that made me frequently come home from my commute, sit down on the couch in my coat, and just keep listening. This book did that to me, nearly every single day. A fold in space creates an easy way to transport people across long distances with seemingly no side effects. But then shit just goes bad. Really, really bad. For the entire last hour of the audiobook, I was white-knuckling my way to the conclusion of this science fiction thriller. Not to be missed. — Rachel Manwill


GHOST SUMMER- STORIES by Tananarive DueGhost Summer: Stories by Tananarive Due

The first three stories of this collection of horror short fiction are so good that you may yearn for an entire book set in the small hamlet of Gracetown. With ghosts as dense as the Florida humidity, they all have different kinds of stories and different kinds of scares, but I couldn’t put them down. The rest of the stories go in nearly every direction horror can, from apocalyptic survival to monsters to spirits to magic. There isn’t a weak one in the bunch, it’ll put Due on your radar as an essential horror author to watch. — Jessica Woodbury


The Girl With All the GiftsThe Girl With All The Gifts by M.R. Carey

I didn’t think I could like a zombie book after being inundated by zombie stories so I kept ignoring this recommendation on basically every site I order book-type things from, but I finally relented and I’m so so glad I did. I have never rooted for a zombie so hard in my life. The Girl with All the Gifts is a zombie apocalypse story that follows a little girl, a teacher, a scientist, and a couple of military men as they traverse a bleak and dangerous post-zombie-apocalyptic world. This is a zombie story with all the feels, a riveting pace, and Carey did an exceptional job of developing his main character, the much misunderstood and thoughtful 10-year-old, Melanie. I can’t say I’d want Melanie as my student, but I’m glad I met her in the pages of a book. –S. Zainab Williams


Harriet Wolf’s Seventh Book of Wonders by Julianna BaggottHarriet Wolf’s Seventh Book of Wonders by Julianna Baggott

As co-host of our podcast about new releases, I try to read as many books as I can before they come out, but somehow this one slipped by me. I’m so glad I managed to get to it now, because it is truly, truly wonderful! If you enjoy John Irving, this book is for you! Harriet Wolf was a world-famous author (very J.K. Rowling-ish) who penned a beloved series of six books. There is rumor that a seventh book exists, but so far, it has not turned up. Not that Harriet’s daughter, Eleanor, is searching too hard. She had a contentious relationship with her mother, and hates the Harriet Wolf Society and all their prying. But events beyond Eleanor’s control are going to bring to light Harriet’s life story, and the complicated relationships Eleanor has with her own daughters. Eccentric family + buried history + literary mystery = beautiful, compelling novel. I adored this book to bits. — Liberty Hardy


HOW TO BE DRAWN by Terrance HayesHow to be Drawn by Terrance Hayes

This collection of poems remarkably confronts historical and contemporary issues of race in the United States, while simultaneously executing a universal examination of how identity is created visually, culturally, physically and spiritually. Yet, the complexity of this feat is pulled off without being lost in translation. Hayes manages to relay a crystal clear message as he experiments with language and structure, creating a sense of urgency from start to finish. Required reading. –Aram Mrjoian



THE LIBRARY AT MOUNT CHAR by Scott HawkinsThe Library at Mount Char by Scott Hawkins

I’d heard people rave about this book but something about it felt off-putting. Maybe it was the title (which I understand now that I’ve read it but am still not crazy about). Any reservations I had were unnecessary; this is an amazing book. It feels a little like a King-Gaiman collaboration, as if King got to have his way with Gaiman’s American Gods.

There is a mysterious man who takes in orphans under strange circumstances and trains them, each in a distinct “catalogue”. One learns how to talk to animals, one learns all the languages in the world, one everything about healing (including resurrection). And then he disappears, leaving them to fend for themselves. It is wonderfully weird and brutal and fantastic. I’ve read nothing like it this year. — Johann Thorsson


LOCKE & KEY, VOL. 1- WELCOME TO LOVECRAFT Locke & Key, Vol. 1: Welcome to Lovecraft by Joe Hill, Gabriel Rodriguez

I became an instant fan of Joe Hill when I read Heart-Shaped Box so naturally I read his other novels which brought me to Locke & Key. Being that it’s my favorite read of the month you can guess it didn’t disappoint. After a tragic event the Locke family moves to Keyhouse, but we all know the past never stays in the past…Add imaginative story, horror, psychos, ghosts, the good kind of wtf, and mystery for a great read. Oh, and of course a cliffhanger so now that I’ve finished writing this I’m off to get my hands on Vol. 2–who am I kidding I’m getting the series. — Jamie Canaves


THE LONEY by Andrew Michael Hurley

The Loney by Andrew Michael Hurley

Read this and prepare to feel dread trickle down your spine like icy rainwater. The Loney is a piece of bleak coastline in England and provides the perfect backdrop for the tale of a Catholic ritual, sinister, savage dog owning locals and a young boy and his disabled brother. It’s gothic, it’s eerie and I’m more than ready to give it its “classic” badge. — Rachel Weber



the marvelsThe Marvels by Brian Selznick

The Marvels is one of those books you read and immediately want to talk to people about. For as long as possible. You want to exclaim over the art, and then discuss both the unexpected and the expected aspects of the prose. Brian Selznick has improved even upon himself in the creation of this pair of stories. The first half, a wonderful tale in sequential art of several generations of the Marvel family, is beautifully drawn–I often found myself worrying that I was going to smudge the pencil work before I once again remembered that this was a printed book. The latter, a prose story taking place starting in 1990, tells the story of the boy who discovers this family, provides just as many of the feels…actually, way more. — Jessica Pryde


A MERCY by Toni Morrison

A Mercy by Toni Morrison

Found a copy of this book in our Little Free Library which I took as a sign that I needed to read it immediately. Morrison’s gorgeous prose vividly portrays the beginnings of the slave trade in America’s late 17th century, following the lifelong consequence of an enslaved mother sacrificing her daughter in order to save her. I’m putting this back in our Little Free Library today in hopes that it will continue to get passed around; it’s a book everyone should read. — Karina Glaser



MY LIFE ON THE ROAD by Gloria Steinem

My Life on the Road by Gloria Steinem

Full disclosure? I already thought Gloria Steinem was a goddess. That position was less nuanced, though, prior to my reading of “My Life on the Road”. Through it, I got to meet Gloria when she was young: the daughter of a wanderer and a worrier, whose formative experiences direct her even now. I got to meet Gloria as she was growing toward advocacy: curious, self-sufficient, and driven. And I got to meet the Gloria who I’ve always loved again. Gloria Steinem is incredibly accomplished and still somehow humble, so a great portion of this autobiography is devoted to celebrating other women. What a beautiful way to write a feminist memoir. This book is inspiring, illuminating, and certain to thrill all fellow feminists–as well as gather some new allies along the way. — Michelle Anne Schingler


On Beauty by Zadie SmithOn Beauty by Zadie Smith

So this book is not perfect. It has a fault endemic to many literary writers, which is how their attempts to write in the vernacular of youth culture and hip hop often end up feeling dopey. You also need to have the ability to continue reading about characters who fuck up in a theatrical fashion. But this book still struck me in the heart parts in ways that took me by surprise, not least because E.M. Forster’s Howards End resonated between its lines. On Beauty follows the travails of the Belsey family as they navigate the subtle politics of their bourgie college town life, with all its requisite posturing and hypocrisies. As children of a biracial marriage between a white British intellectual and a practical African-American woman, the kids use different strategies of dealing with a privileged and liberal life where issues of race are not supposed to touch them anymore. (But of course it does.) Their parents aren’t faring any better, since infidelity has exploded their former facade of familial happiness. There are so many ways that this kind of setup can go wrong, and at times the story does threaten to spin out of its orbit. But there’s a great depth of emotion that underscores the clash of ethical, aesthetic, and moral viewpoints. I kind of admire Zadie Smith’s gumption to come out with a messy yet fiercely intelligent book like this, where you can almost feel her working through an argument with herself, her upbringing, her nonrational yet deeply held beliefs. — Kristel Autencio


PERSEPOLIS 2 by Marjane Satrapi

Persepolis 2 by Marjane Satrapi

After reading PERSEPOLIS 1 I was really looking forward to reading on and seeing what happened, and I wasn’t disappointed. This book is so sad, but also funny and hopeful and all of the things I loved about the first one. I’ll keep saying it to anyone who’ll listen/read, if you haven’t read these memoirs, get on it. — Kristina Pino





RUN FREAK RUN by Silver Saaremaeel and Kaija Rudkiewicz

Run Freak Run by Silver Saaremaeel and Kaija Rudkiewicz

One of my absolute favorite webcomics just drew down to a close, so naturally I had to read through the whole arc again (and it doesn’t hurt at all that they had just released an ebook with bonus content). The full run is still available at their website and it’s a gem; the hero is a lady badass who has to take down Queen Isabella, who is also a lady badass. It’s a whole story full of lady badasses. And I want to cosplay Priscilla someday. — Susie Rodarme



the-stolen-girlThe Stolen Girl by Renita D’Silva

I’m reading fewer prose books these days because I’m buried deep in the comics world, so I really need the books I read to be good, which is why I was so delighted with The Stolen Girl. I started reading it on a whim one early evening. That turned out to be a mistake, because I didn’t come up for air until I’d finished it in one sitting. The story follows Diya, a 13-year-old girl living in London with her mother, Vani. She doesn’t understand her mother’s need to constantly be on the move, to uproot her every time she settles into a life and begins making friends, but it all becomes clear on the day her world is torn apart: Vani is arrested and charged with kidnapping Diya as a baby. As Diya tries to make sense of what is happening as she’s taken from the only mother she knows, Vani’s history unfolds alongside her. It’s thoughtful, emotional, and will definitely keep you hooked from beginning to end. — Swapna Krishna


THE STORY OF A NEW NAME by Elena Ferrante

The Story of a New Name by Elena Ferrante (Europa Editions)

I KNOW, I KNOW, literally everyone on the entire planet is like “READ ELENA FERRANTE” and you are totally sick of it, I was also in this camp for quite some time and deeply resistant to the Neapolitan Quartet, but now that I have succumbed to its spell I am obliged to admit that literally everyone on the entire planet was actually quite correct in insisting I read these books. Supremely addictive, ferocious, deeply political, and consistently brilliant, Ferrante’s novels (really, one giant novel rather than four separate ones) use the lens of a lifelong friendship between two remarkable working-class women to explore the ways in which their lives are repeatedly constrained by misogyny and patriarchal expectations of what women’s lives should look like. Ferrante’s urgency, insight, and tightly controlled fury makes for one of the more delicious books (or set of books) I’ve read in years. — Sarah McCarry


THE TSAR OF LOVE AND TECHNO- STORIES by Anthony MarraThe Tsar of Love and Techno: Stories by Anthony Marra

I love interwoven stories. The balancing act of leaving breadcrumbs of continuity throughout several narratives turns reading into the best sort of game as each narrative has its own story. I am on my second read of this collection and am doubly satisfied with this book, especially the characters. They all have roles they are supposed to be performing for the state, and yet human imperfection (love, art, memory, hunger) keeps unraveling their tightly wound little universes. History keeps getting rewritten as a diverse group of people through soviet and present day Russia continually build up their lives from the dirt. The real art of Marra’s sentences shines through in the medium of the short story while the readability is rooted in the small moments; people creating little refuges of sanity amidst insane circumstances. — Hannah Oliver Depp


Print The Unfortunate Decisions of Dahlia Moss by Max Wirestone

I started this book in the middle of the Readathon and it might have been one of the best Readathon-based decisions I ever made. The pace is breakneck, the main characters quirky, and the story is geeky fun. Think Scott Pilgrim or The Big Bang Theory crossed with The Thin Man and you have a pretty good concept of what this book is like. I also loved Wirestone’s writing style and Dahlia’s voice throughout the entire novel. The book dragged a bit toward the end, but overall this is a delightful and unique mystery. I’ll definitely be looking for more Dahlia Moss books in the future. — Tasha Brandstatter


VALLEY FEVER by Katherine TaylorValley Fever by Katherine Taylor

Lush with quirky characters and vivid scenes, “Valley Fever” takes us into the hearts of a close-knit community, a lovably flawed family and a spirited heroine, recovering from a devastating breakup. Taylor masterfully builds a story to be savored by grounding the enormity of the Palamede family’s challenges in the steady rhythms of daily life. Her research shows in spot-on depictions of the tastes that enliven the community: The hot sweetness of end-grapes picked right from the vine. The perfect bite of prosciutto cured from almond-fed pigs. Vodka poured over table grapes by valley farmers hesitant to drink anything but California wine. In Taylor’s account, even betrayal captures the senses. It tastes like cold-poached Alaskan salmon and smells like cigars and grease. — Maya Smart


Walk on Earth a Stranger by Rae CarsonWalk On Earth a Stranger by Rae Carson

I didn’t know anything about Walk on Earth a Stranger when I grabbed a copy, except that it sounded vaguely interesting and the cover was pretty cool. What I didn’t anticipate was being more or less consumed with it for the day or so it took me to read (because I obsessively could not put it down). It’s the story of a girl who can sense the presence of gold, and because of tragic events, disguised herself as a boy and sets off across the nascent United States, toward California where the gold rush is just beginning to happen. The book is almost entirely about the long hard trail to get there. It has a bit of the True Grit by Charles Portis feel to it, and perhaps Monstrous Regiment by Terry Pratchett…but mostly, it is very much its own thing. I am so pleased it’s a trilogy, so I can get more of it. — Peter Damien


WHY NOT ME by Mindy KalingWhy Not Me by Mindy Kaling

The more I think about Mindy Kaling’s new book, the more I bow to Queen Mindy! I enjoyed Kaling’s first book, Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me?, but something wholly more subversive and kickass is going on in Why Not Me?. In her signature breezy style, Mindy gossips about about sorority life (and why it wasn’t cut out for her), celebrity fashion, body image, dating, and romance, but underneath all that chattiness is a successful, driven woman who casually name-drops Barack and Michelle Obama and dishes about winning negotiations with powerful TV executives. And it all makes sense — Mindy’s at the top of her game in 2015: the director of her own show, the star of her own brand, the mogul of her own empire, and one boss bitch. I’m a huge fan of Tina Fey, Amy Poehler, Amy Schumer, and Diablo Cody, and now my heart is growing just a little bigger to make a Mindy-shaped space. — Rachel Smalter Hall


A YEAR WITHOUT MOM by Dasha TolstikovaA Year Without Mom by Dasha Tolstikova

A beautiful, mostly grey graphic memoir cataloging the year Tolstikova’s mother moves to America while Dasha stays in Russia. The text evokes small truths about being a young girl– crushes who date girls who smoke, evolving friendships, warm and difficult relationships with parents and grandparents– but the real beauty of this book is the drawings. Pen, watercolor, and charcoal make more out of grey than you have imagined, and splashes of red and blue point to the emotion in every scene. Great for lovers of graphic novels and lonely girls who don’t want to feel so alone. — Julia Pistell