Riot Roundup: The Best Books We Read January-March 2024

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Liberty Hardy

Senior Contributing Editor

Liberty Hardy is an unrepentant velocireader, writer, bitey mad lady, and tattoo canvas. Turn-ons include books, books and books. Her favorite exclamation is “Holy cats!” Liberty reads more than should be legal, sleeps very little, frequently writes on her belly with Sharpie markers, and when she dies, she’s leaving her body to library science. Until then, she lives with her three cats, Millay, Farrokh, and Zevon, in Maine. She is also right behind you. Just kidding! She’s too busy reading. Twitter: @MissLiberty

It’s the first day of April but we’re not fooling around over here: it’s time to share the best books our Book Riot staff and contributors read last quarter! We’re not just talking about new releases: our picks include frontlist, backlist, upcoming releases, and span many genres and age ranges. We just want to know what books our people want to shout about and hope you’ll find something to shout about, too.

This time around, we have a novella of frightful fae, some buzzy summer romance titles, and a fantastical read about a town’s mythical history. You’ll also find a (completed!) high-stakes fantasy series inspired by Ancient Rome, a pocket-sized opossum book, and a big, juicy novel told in a series of one-sided phone calls.

Ready those TBRs, readers. Enjoy!

cover of The Butcher of the Forest by Premee Mohamed; illsutration of green foliage, with red candles, and a crow, a unicorn, a fox, and a rabbit, all with skulls for faces

The Butcher of the Forest by Premee Mohamed

What the author does with this book is the exact proper way to write about fairies, which is to say, the fae are terrifying and demented and never to be trusted. This creepy fantasy novella features a main character who is a woman around 40, which I deeply appreciate. She is forced into the woods where no one ever comes back out to complete a task that may be impossible. If she doesn’t complete it, her village will be razed to the ground. She has a day to complete this task, for that is all the time the woods and the creatures within will allow. I clenched my jaw the entire time I read this book, and I absolutely could not put it down. It’s certainly my favorite speculative fiction so far this year.

—Patricia Elzie-Tuttle

Come and Get It by Kiley Reid

After Such a Fun Age, Reid is back with more biting (and funny) social commentary. Agatha Paul is a professor visiting the University of Arkansas, where she offers Millie, a resident assistant, an easy but odd job. It involves eavesdropping, dorm pranks, and a little indiscretion.

—Erica Ezeifedi

Here for the Wrong Reasons by Annabel Paulsen and Lydia Wang

I have (begrudgingly) watched a few seasons of The Bachelor, and I spent the whole time wishing some of the beautiful, charming, talented women competing on the show would fall for each other instead of the exceedingly mediocre man they’re all supposed to be fighting over. I finally got my wish with Here for the Wrong Reasons. Krystin is a rodeo queen from Montana who’s never had a serious relationship and thinks a reality dating competition might actually help her find true love. Lauren is a social media influencer who’s hiding her queerness in the hopes of gaining more followers. Both of them get exactly what they want — but not how they expect. Here for the Wrong Reasons is a delightful and surprisingly moving read, and the best part? It’s co-written by girlfriends Annabel Paulsen and Lydia Wang, who met over a shared love of The Bachelor and fell in love while writing a book about it together. SO CUTE.

—Susie Dumond

Cover of The Kiss Countdown

The Kiss Countdown by Etta Easton (Berkley, April 9, 2024)

This was a delightful debut! While I naturally enjoyed the romance and seeing Amerie and Vincent fall in love, it was also refreshing to read Amerie’s journey as she adjusted to a change in her career path that she didn’t want. The way she handled it was believable as well as her highs and lows over feelings of self-worth. And the background characters were all amazing and felt authentic. When you add in that this features my own alma mater as well, it was slated to be a winner in my book and I can’t wait to re-read it. 

—PN Hinton 

A Love Song for Ricki Wilde by Tia Williams

After Seven Days in June, I was really hoping for another winner from Tia WIlliams. And she delivered! This story follows the titular Ricki, who breaks from her family business to move to Harlem and start the flower shop of her dreams. There she meets a mysterious man, and Ricki unravels him. The characters are incredibly lively, the book is suffused with a love of the Harlem Renaissance, and the storytelling is top-notch. While Seven Days in June dealt with some heavy topics, this book is downright whimsical.

—Isabelle Popp

Luigi, the Spider Who Wanted to Be a Kitten by Michelle Knudsen, illustrated by Kevin Hawkes 

Prepare to meet the most adorable spider to ever appear in a children’s book. Luigi is hiding behind the couch when a human hand reaches for him and pulls him out. The older woman calls him a kitten, and, cupped in the woman’s palms, Luigi thinks it wouldn’t be so bad to pretend to be a kitten for a bit. And Luigi loves being a kitten! He receives many pets, treats, toys, and even a tiny bed of his own to sleep right beside the woman. When party guests arrive, Luigi fears his kitten act won’t be enough to convince them. The soft, realistic illustrations in this picture book are beyond sweet. When we reached the end, my six-year-old began crying and told me, through tears, “Don’t worry, Mama, these are happy tears.” A review doesn’t get better than that!

—Margaret Kingsbury

The Moorings of Mackerel Sky book cover

The Moorings of Mackerel Sky by MZ

The Moorings of Mackerel Sky is easily my favorite book so far this year. It’s a fantasy novel set in a tiny coastal town in Maine that follows several of the residents as their stories weave and bend around Mackerel Sky’s mythical history of pirate ships and mermaid curses. Though it’s a fantasy novel, I’d call it lightly fantastical at best. At its heart, the book is more about the people of Mackerel Sky than the magic that entangles their lives, and MZ’s memorable cast of characters will quickly capture your heart. Incidents and conversations around homophobia, child death, child neglect, and drug addiction make it a heavy story at times, but the beauty of the prose and the hopefulness of the plot as it unwinds keep readers aloft on a sweet sea breeze. 

—Jessica Avery

Mister Magic by Kiersten White

I love cult books—books about real cults, books about fake cults—and Mister Magic blends mystery, religion, and television together to create a cult book unlike any I’ve read before. When Val learns she was a cast member of a cult-favorite television show that is beloved online despite leaving no evidence it ever existed, she’s both shocked and relieved. She has no memory of her childhood, so maybe reconnecting with the cast will help her uncover what happened to her all those years ago. But everyone is keeping secrets about what they want out of this reunion and what they remember. And maybe there’s a reason she’s chosen to forget. 

—Rachel Brittain

No Rules Tonight by Kim Hyun Sook, Ryan Estrada, (Penguin Workshop, October 1, 2024)

This is an excellent YA graphic novel based on stories from Sook’s own life growing up in South Korea and her participation in a banned book club in the 1980s. It’s winter break, and the students of the folk dance team are headed to their annual retreat on the mountain to unwind after another season. It’s been a long year, with lots of protests and police arrests and curfews in their area. But when Hoon, the director of the team, is arrested by the police for listening to music, the rest of the students will have to go ahead without him. They are not entirely prepared, since Hoon handled all the details of the trip. And Hyun Sook had hoped to talk to him about starting up the banned book club again, but in private, since two members of their team are in the ROTC, and she suspects the last-minute addition to their group of being a police spy. The team ends up on a mountain armed with nothing but potatoes to eat, a box of costumes, and lots of unresolved feelings, misunderstandings, and suspicions. It’s a fantastic story of young love, teen drama, and friendship, but also an important look at real examples of living without freedoms under a dictatorship and how government censorship harms kids. 

—Liberty Hardy

cover of A Nobleman’s Guide to Seducing a Scoundrel by KJ Charles

A Nobleman’s Guide to Seducing a Scoundrel by KJ Charles

Last year I chose The Secret Lives of Country Gentlemen by KJ Charles as my favorite book of the first half of the year. This time I’m picking the second half of the duology, about Rufus d’Aumesty, a soldier who has abruptly inherited an earldom—and a squabbling extended family determined to get rid of him. The only one on Rufus’s side is Luke Doomsday, his new secretary—but Luke has his own agenda, one he’s keeping to himself even as the attraction between the two men grows. Luke was a supporting character in Secret Lives who gets put through the wringer by the plot, to put it lightly, and seeing the way he wrestles to cope with and grow past his subsequent trauma in search of a happy ending was deeply satisfying.

—Jess Plummer

Oye by Melissa Mogollon (Hogarth, May 13, 2024)

I don’t know how to talk about this book without sounding like a wild-eyed fangirl pero ahí les va. Columbian American teen Luciana has been tasked with serving as caretaker to her abuela while trying to get through her senior year of high school. She’s also trying to convince Abue to evacuate the family home as Hurricane Irma barrels its way toward Miami. Then Abue receives a crushing medical diagnosis, and the already eccentric, stubborn old woman digs in her heels, refusing to leave. Through a series of phone calls to Luciana’s older sister that are so fully drawn that you feel like you’re listening in on another line, we get to know Luciana, Abue, Luciana’s mother, and other women in the family as they unpack long-buried secrets, generational trauma (oof), and all the hot goss. This debut is a warm hug, a full-body laugh, a punch to the gut, and the juiciest chisme—plus my kind of profanity. I just love it, so much.

—Vanessa Diaz

The Pairing by Casey McQuiston (St. Martin’s Griffin, August 6, 2024)

I am begging everyone I know to add this book to the very top of their summer reading list. Casey McQuiston is an undisputed giant in the romance space, and this novel bowled me over. We follow budding sommelier Theo and pastry chef Kit on the European vacation that dreams are made of: endless food, wine, and sexual indulgence. Theo and Kit are exes who haven’t spoken in years, and the way they reconnect is lovely and, at times, maddening. In addition to the spicy scenes, McQuiston’s writing about food and drink is so sumptuous and appealing that it’s impossible to read this book without getting hungry. It was a true joy to gobble up on a cold winter weekend, and I can’t wait to read it again in the summer. 

—Julia Rittenberg

cover of A Reaper at the Gates by Sabaa Tahir

A Reaper at the Gates (An Ember in the Ashes #3) by Sabaa Tahir

The best reading decision I’ve made in a while was to go back to this series since it’s now completed at four books. I had read the first book when it came out, and then by the time the second was published I’d forgotten too much (fault of my brain, not the book) and kept putting it off. So I reread the first book and have since been inhaling the books and am about to press play on the last and final book and can’t wait—in the bitter-sweet way you don’t want something amazing to end, but you want to know how it ends! If you’re struggling with being engaged by a book, pick up this series— it will hook you, and you will be in love with reading!

—Jamie Canavés

Relight My Fire by C. K. McDonnell

I love a good urban fantasy, and McDonnell’s The Stranger Times series is among my favorites. And it’s really funny. McDonnell previously was a standup comedian so he knows how to use humor as a tool in the books. The Stranger Times is a Manchester tabloid that tells stories about people secretly being vampires or werewolves. Then they learn that the world actually has powerful supernatural beings that run the show in the dark shadows. It’s fun watching the staff learn about this other side of life. The books contain occasional articles that would be published in the tabloid as well as a podcast of additional stories in this universe. This is the 2024 released book four that takes some of our fantasy stories and turns them on their head. 

—Elisa Shoenberger

When in Doubt, Play Dead by Ally Burguieres

If you could have any animal in the world as a pet (ignoring any legal or logistical barriers), what would it be? My answer was solidified after spending time working at a wildlife rehabilitation center during college: a Virginia opossum. Despite having a generally negative reputation, I stand by the opinion (well, to me, it’s fact) that they are some of the most charming and lovable creatures around. And it turns out we can learn a lot about how to live from them too! Written and illustrated by wildlife rehabber and artist Ally Burguieres, this adorable pocket-sized book is filled with wonderful illustrations, opossum facts, and words of advice and encouragement. I’m not usually the type who is able to read anything remotely in the realm of self-help or affirmation without feeling spoken down to, but the fact that the bits of wisdom in When in Doubt, Play Dead are inspired by my beloved opossums gives them a sincerity, honesty, and gentleness that simply cannot be matched.

—Patricia Thang

cover of You Should Be So Lucky by Cat Sebastian

You Should Be So Lucky by Cat Sebastian

It’s 1960 in New York City, and reporter, Mark Bailey, and baseball player, Eddie O’Leary, are having a string of no-good-very-bad-days. Mark has been doing his best in the wake of his partner’s unexpected death. When his boss/close friend asks him to write the weekly diary of a rookie whose not hit a single ball since he got called up from the minors, he reluctantly says yes. The wildly too sincere Eddie defies Mark’s expectations. In doing so, a hit piece about an obnoxious baseball player transforms into the kindest underdog story Mark’s written. Sebastian looks at how we can muster up the courage to try again. It’s the reassurance that after a bad spell, there is something that comes after.
—R. Nassor

Don’t forget to check out the best comics we read last quarter, too!