Welcome to another edition of Riot Roundup, where we ask our contributors to share the best book they read in the last quarter. We’re not just talking new books here. All books are welcome! We just want to know what books our people couldn’t put down, can’t stop talking about, and can’t wait to share with the rest of the bookish internet.
Now I know what you’re thinking: hey Book Riot, aren’t your Riot Roundups usually a quarterly affair? Why yes, yes they are. So why is this one a six-month roundup? Because we’re all just doing out best out here and sometimes a ball gets dropped. Enjoy this extra special list of reads for readers of all stripes, and happy reading!
Acne by Laura Chinn (Hachette Books, July 19, 2022)
I picked up this book because, even at the age of 41, I still grapple with bad breakouts, which drive me up a wall. But while this memoir is about a woman who dealt with self-esteem-crushing cystic acne her entire life, it’s also about so much more. Chinn grew up mixed-race in a broken home which, in and of itself, felt normal to her. But as time went on, she continued to face multiple obstacles and increasing instances of loss. Throughout it all, though, Chinn maintained her sense of humor, continuing to push forward until, by the end, she finds a sort of redemption. I so appreciated the author’s LOL-worthy sense of humor and the ways in which she never gave up on finding a fulfilling life (and clear skin).
Booth by Karen Joy Fowler
This is a miraculous work of fiction, not about the man who murdered Abraham Lincoln, but about his family. John Wilkes Booth was one of Mary and Junius Booth’s 10 children. Many people don’t know that his father was considered to be America’s greatest actor, who traveled the world performing Shakespeare. While the eccentric, volatile Junius was on the road for most of every year, his wife stayed home on their farm with the children, four of whom died when they were very young. Fowler has created an epic tale of Shakespearean proportions of a family and a country being torn apart, told through the eyes of three of the Booth children — Rosalie, Edwin, and Asia — and compiled from years of meticulous research. Even at about 600 pages long, I wish it had never ended.
Brown Girls by Daphne Palasi Andreades
This Greek chorus of a novel — written in the collective voice of brown girls living in Queens, New York — is a stunner, moving in a rhythm that pulls you deeper and deeper so that you can’t help but read it all in one frenzied gulp. Andreades spins out years in the life of a group of friends and their immigrant families, showing the vibrancy and gravity of girlhood and female friendships… and then showing what happens when brown girls grow older, as they move along all the possible paths available to them, growing up and away from their sweet beginnings.
The Cartographers by Peng Shepherd
The Cartographers is a stunning story that encompasses magic, mystery, and maps. When Nell’s famous cartographer father dies, she has a lot of mixed feelings. He had ruined her career, and personally guaranteed she would never work at any reputable cartography institution again. But when she finds a map hidden in her fathers desk (the very map that got her fired no less), Nell finds herself on a whirlwind adventure she never saw coming. The perfect blend of thriller, mystery, and fabulism, Peng Shepherd’s second novel is a masterpiece. I saw only one of the twists coming, and it was still a delight to read and be right! This book single handedly convinced me to read more in the thriller genre.
The Crossing by Manjeet Mann
This novel written in verse is a manual for hope. It tells the story of two people whose lives are intertwined in a unique and heart breaking way. Natalie has lost her mother to illness, her brother is despondent and has joined a far-right anti-immigrant political group. Her only solace is swimming, she decides to try and swim the English Channel to raise money for charity. Sammy is a refugee fleeing the horrors of Eritrea, trying to eventually reach the shores of the UK. This is a novel that will never leave you once you let it in, a truly remarkable story.
Days of Distraction by Alexandra Chang
As an AAPI reader, I’m always looking for AAPI stories to read. Sometimes I learn about an AAPI perspective that’s completely different from my own. Other times, I come away seeing myself more clearly. In the case of Days of Distraction, it was the latter. Reading this book offered the usual thrill of recognition, but it also challenged me in ways that were really uncomfortable — and really important. Much of the story made me feel seen in a positive way. Like the AAPI protagonist, I’ve found myself, more than once, becoming slowly discontented with a chosen career. Like her, I’ve felt invisible as an Asian woman in a workplace that embraces a white, boy’s-club culture. These scenes made me feel warm and comforted. I’m not the only one. But when I got to the part of the story when the character begins to harbor doubts about her relationship with her white boyfriend, I felt exposed in a much more unsettling way. Before I met my husband, I exclusively dated white men, but unlike the character, I never fully explored that particular behavior. I began questioning myself: During those years, had I been guilty of acting on an AAPI sentiment of white worship? Had I simply been a stereotype trying to climb a social ladder? I’d never thought so, but all of a sudden, I wasn’t so sure. I’m still not sure, but I’m glad I’m thinking more deeply about it. I’m constantly reckoning with what it means to live as an AAPI woman in America, and I can only grow when I’m forced to confront the hardest kinds of questions. Bravo to Alexandra Chang for writing an AAPI story that does just that.
Delilah Green Doesn’t Care by Ashley Herring Blake
Ever since I read the Brown Sisters series by Talia Hibbert, I’ve been searching for a romance that would give me that same feeling, and I found it in Delilah Green. I love that all the characters feel three dimensional: while Delilah sees her stepsister as the villain in her life, we can also see things from her perspective. Even minor characters feel like their lives continue outside of the pages. Then, of course, there’s the chemistry between the two main characters, and the obstacles between them feel realistic. I’ve loved all of Blake’s YA titles, so I’m excited to see that her adult work is just as strong. I can’t wait for the next book in the series!
Hana Khan Carries On by Uzma Jalaluddin
Enemies-to-lovers. Secret Identity. Pen pal romance. There are so many tropes in this romance, and, believe me, I am here for it. Hana Khan’s family halal restaurant is about to fail. And it doesn’t help that a young (frustratingly handsome) aspiring restaurateur Adyn decides to open a more modern Halal restaurant in the same neighborhood. But Hana is determined not to let her family’s business fail. One of the people she turns to for support is the listener of her anonymous podcast that she’s developed an intimate texting relationship with. At first, his advice helps her try to sabotage Adyn. But when an anti-Muslim hate crime occurs in their neighborhood, Hana rethinks her rivalry with Adyn. Maybe there is room for both of them to work together and each get what they need. But deep family secrets and past actions might get in the way of their growing feelings for each other.
Her Majesty’s Royal Coven by Juno Dawson
Fans of British workplace fantasy books looking for something queerer and witchier need Her Majesty’s Royal Coven immediately. These four witches are childhood friends who fought in a magical war and now have separate adult lives. Helena is HMRC’s priestess, Elle is a stay-at-home mother, and Niamh is a countryside vet. Finally, after being fed up with the sanctimonious HMRC, Leonie has founded an inclusive Coven where being a Black lesbian is unproblematic. When HMRC discovers a powerful teen, the oracles predict the end times. Now, they will have to either choose to avoid calamity or become a part of the foretold disaster. I love the messy friendship dynamics. Portraying the blindspots that the characters develop for each other is not an easy thing, especially while crafting a magically complex fantasy. In the UK, the witches’ coven and the warlocks’ cabal work secretly for the government and the place of trans women is a primary point of conflict. I need to let you know there are TERFs in the novel, so please take care as you read. However, the book has compassion for trans women and trans youth, and the characters will move the earth to protect them.
From a group of friends discovering one of them has wings growing out from their legs, to a small cube sold at a mall that can adjust the passage of time, this collection of short stories is breathtaking in its imagination. Fu artfully portrays characters as they navigate both the fantastic and the mundane. Strange, haunting, and heart wrenching, I needed to be inspired by a collection at the onset of 2022, and this book did the job and then some.
A History of Wild Places by Shea Ernshaw
This was my first book I’ve read by Shea Ernshaw, and it definitely won’t be my last. Maggie St. James was famous for writing children’s books — until she disappeared without a trace. Her parents have exhausted all resources, and their last chance is to hire Travis Wren, who they’ve heard can find missing people. And he can — with a strange talent of being able to see memories from objects people have touched. So he heads out to find her, following a clue that leads him to believe she ended up in Pastoral, a place people have only whispered about. But those inside Pastoral know all about it, and they also know Travis is digging for answers. Ernshaw’s incredible building of place is what drew me in so much to the story, as everything about Pastoral felt rich and detailed and real. And the entwining mystery of it all kept me hooked, needing to know more and not being able to stop reading until I got to the last page.
The Hurting Kind: Poems by Ada Limón
In Limón’s newest collection, she writes poems suffused with nostalgia, longing, and grief, divided up by the seasons, writing of nurturing seeds, steadfast love, grief, burial. She writes of joyful wonder and powerful grief. Of getting high and staring up at cherry trees, of earning a cat’s trust, of seeing the neighbors get a tree cut down, all tangled up in stories of emotionally manipulative relationships and family discoveries and what real love looks like. Mainly, she writes about what it’s like to be “the hurting kind” of person — a tender kind of person, sensitive to the pain she sees and the small joys she glimpses out in the world, soft, vulnerable, painfully empathetic. It’s the kind of person I am, and I saw myself so deeply in these poems. Limón’s hit it out of the park once again.
—Leah von Essen
Kaikeyi by Vaishnavi Patel
This gorgeous retelling of the Indian epic the Ramayana centers Kaikeyi, the youngest queen of King Dasharath who banished Rama, as a feminist heroine. In a piece she wrote for Tor.com about rewriting myths from active religions, Patel says, “Writing narratives that defy the patriarchy means that we must look at the unpopular women and recognize that perhaps they are unsympathetic because of misogynistic expectations — not as an unshakeable condition of their existence.” Patel follows Kaikeyi from childhood, when her distant father and king banishes her mother, to adulthood as a wife, mother, and powerful leader and spokesperson for women’s rights. Kaikeyi also has the ability to manipulate the connections she has to other people’s souls. Surrounding Kaikeyi are other nuanced, powerful women. This is a lovely retelling, with rich portrayals of characters and an immersive setting. Kaikeyi is asexual, and I loved how that was depicted in the novel. It’s one of my all-time favorite myth retellings.
The Liar’s Dictionary by Eley Williams
I adored this, with its made-up words, endearing characters, and enthralling parallel stories. In modern day London, Mallory is an intern at Swansby’s Dictionary, fighting to stay awake while perusing the dictionary’s pages for fake word entries. She’s also getting anonymous, homophobic calls at the office and, given that she isn’t really out, she isn’t sure how the caller even knows she’s gay. Mallory’s story is entwined with that of Winceworth, a bored, socially awkward Victorian era lexicographer. He also worked for Swansby’s and might even be the mischievous word fraudster. If you are a word-nerd who enjoys a playful, somewhat meandering literary read, this is the book for you.
Like a Sister by Kellye Garrett
I was a huge fan of Garrett’s previous series, so I looked forward to this one from the moment I heard about it — and it did not disappoint! The first lines are more than enough to pull you in: “I found out my sister was back in New York from Instagram. I found out she’d died from the Daily News.” Lena Scott doesn’t know how her reality-star half-sister died, but she knows it’s not from the accidental overdose the police and media have decided upon. But no one will believe her. So she decides she’s going to have to be the one to find justice for her sister, even if it puts her in danger too. The audiobook is read by the incredible Bahni Turpin, so I recommend that!
Love and Other Disasters by Anita Kelly
This steamy, spicy love story between two contestants on a cooking reality game show is an unputdownable treat. Featuring a nonbinary protagonist and a queer heroine, Love and Other Disasters breaks ground in diverse romance. As these two food lovers become, well, lovers, their romance heats up, and you’ll be begging for more.
—Sarah S. Davis
Love in the Library by Maggie Tokuda-Hall, illustrated by Yas Imamura
This picture book is so beautiful and powerful. It’s based on the story of how Maggie Tokuda-Hall’s maternal grandparents met. After the bombing of Pearl Harbor, the U.S. government forced Tama and George into the Minidoka Japanese internment camp located in Idaho. At its peak, Minidoka had 9,400 Japanese Americans imprisoned for no other reason than their race. Tama worked in the camp’s tiny library, and every day a man named George came by, arms full of books to return from the previous day, ready to chat. Eventually, Tama realized that no one could possibly read that many books, and George confessed he came to the library for her. The two fall in love, marry, and have their first child under the horrific and inhuman conditions of the internment camp. This is the only picture book I know of that takes place in a Japanese internment camp, a cruel moment in U.S. history, and an inhumane ideology that continues today in anti-Asian hate, border camps, and the mass incarceration of people of color. Tokuda-Hall tells her grandparents’ story in the back matter. This is the kind of picture book that transcends age.
The Marvellers by Dhonielle Clayton
A fantastic story in every sense, The Marvellers is a story set at a magical school (in the sky!) where every reader can feel at home. Following the story of Ella Durand, the first Conjuror to attend the Arcanum Training Institute, The Marvellers is a richly-imagined world with a compelling mystery at its heart.
Munro by Kresley Cole
The highly anticipated latest installment in Cole’s Immortals After Dark series, Munro did not disappoint. Munro has been waiting 900 years for his fated mate and will do anything to get to her, including using magic portals to travel through time. Werewolves are notoriously skeptical of magic, but Munro has to come back to it again and again in order to secure his love’s life. He will do anything to keep her safe. For readers who have followed along with IAD so far, there are cameos from Lotharie, MacRieve, and others. The twists and turns of this plot are completely unexpected and kept me turning pages as fast as I could. Plus Cole includes hints into the future pairings still to come.
Olga Dies Dreaming by Xóchitl González
I CANNOT stop talking about how much I love this incredible new book, and it’s already being adapted into a Hulu series starring Aubrey Plaza! From the outside, high society wedding planner Olga and her politician brother Prieto are doing well. But the truth is that their family is dysfunctional, and their absent, radical mother’s help is only making things worse. As the various forces in Olga’s life collide, she must reckon with her own family’s past and present. It’s the perfect blend of complex characters and compelling plot. I was hooked from page one.
A Psalm For the Wild-Built by Becky Chambers
This novella is somehow both cozy and adventurous. The book follows a nonbinary Tea Monk who is on a journey of self discovery. One day as they are venturing through the wilderness they meet a robot. This is the first human/robot interaction in years, since all the robots “woke up” and decided to go be alone in the wild. What follows is a lovely journey that asks philosophical questions about what makes us human. I finished this book in two sittings and haven’t been able to stop thinking about it since. A Psalm for the Wild-Built feels like a reassuring hug from an old friend and I can’t wait for the sequel to come out later this year.
Search by Michelle Huneven
The thing I hate about this book is that when I describe the plot to people, it sounds really boring. “Hey, do you want to read a book that’s basically just a series of long, annoying meetings?” You might think you don’t, but actually you do. This book, about a search committee trying to find a new minister/pastor for a UU church, is funny, thoughtful, surprising, and very, very aggravating — but in the best possible ways. If you peep the Goodreads reviews, you’ll see just about everyone who’s reviewed it so far mentioning that they are shocked — SHOCKED! — to give this book five stars. But they did because it is A+ delicious.
—Tracy Shapley Towley
The Sentence by Louise Erdrich
A book for our times. The story centers on Tookie who works at a bookstore in Minneapolis after her release from jail. When the store’s most annoying customer dies suddenly, Tookie finds herself haunted by the woman in the store. It also takes place in 2020 so it’s the first book that deals incredibly well with the pandemic and protests after the death of George Floyd. Tookie has to navigate these interesting times and figure out how to help the ghost move on.
Siren Queen by Nghi Vo
In the glamorous Golden Age of Hollywood, actress Luli Wei is hungry for fame. As a queer Chinese American woman, she knows she has a fraught path to stardom. But the biggest dangers lie off-screen, where ancient magic with a thirst for blood requires sacrifices of eager young starlets like Luli. As someone obsessed with this period in cinema history and the studio secrets, I absolutely adore this book! I love how Nghi Vo uses fantasy to show the nitty gritty side of the industry and the toll it takes on actors. Luli Wei is a complex, fierce protagonist who I wanted to follow for many more chapters.
Solo Dance by Li Kotomi, Translated by Arthur Reiji Morris
I was surprised about how much I liked and related to this book, and maybe the fact that the protagonist and I share a birthday — and are both immigrants — had something to do with it.
It is a book that questions several things, and it starts by questioning death (and, with it, life). But, at its core, it is also a story about the spaces in which (queer) love exists, and how it can break or make us, so often guided by circumstances outside of ourselves.
Furthermore, it is a book about immigration, and about belonging, and about found family — especially when we allow said found family to find us.
Starfish by Lisa Fipps
I read this middle grade novel straight through in one night. And I cried the entire time. Wow. This novel in verse powerfully examines the effect fatphobia can have on kids, especially when it is coming from inside the family. Ellie has a list of fat girl rules that are meant to keep bullies from noticing her and make her fat body look as small and unassuming as possible. This book is brutal. From mean nicknames and cruel pranks at school to doctors lecturing Ellie to her mom pressuring her to get bariatric surgery behind her dad’s back, my heart broke with every page. But the arc of the novel bends toward hope. And with the help of a new friend and a therapist, Ellie learns to abandon the fat girl rules and become who she really is (no changes or hiding necessary).
The Summer We Got Free by Mia Mckenzie
I loved Mia McKenzie’s latest novel, Skye Falling, so I decided it was time to go back and read her debut. Why did I wait so long? This breathtaking novel about a Black Philadelphia family in the 1950s-1980s is everything I love about fiction. The writing is gorgeous. The characters are complicated and beautifully alive. Every page reveals something new about their messy pasts, their yearnings, their strained relationships, the things that fuel them. The setting is vivid and specific. The plot unfolds masterfully; everything that happens feels both inevitable and surprising. I raged, I laughed, I wept. I am not the same. These characters and their grief and their hauntings and their big joys will live inside me forever.
The Swimmers by Julie Otsuka
A swimmer myself, I identified with Julie Otsuka’s masterful novel The Swimmers. On the shorter side, this novel nonetheless packs a punch. Otsuka seamlessly embodies the chorus of swimmers, then narrows into one of the characters’ personal lives with the precision of a brain surgeon. This is a slim, powerful novel and one to celebrate.
—Sarah S. Davis
Trust by Hernan Diaz
I am torn, because I want to tell you why this book is amazing, but I read it without knowing anything about it, so I want you to have that magical experience, too. Solution: I will tell you just a little. It starts off with the story of a wealthy financier and his wife as they head into the 20th century. Unlike everyone around them, the stock market crash actually makes them richer, which causes suspicion amongst their friends and the public. But then we find out, this story is actually the beginning of a best-selling novel that was published a century ago! And now we are reading the memoir of the man it is based on. But it’s going to change up a few more times. All of it adds up to a stunning work of fiction. I read this book and thought, “This book was written to win awards.” I don’t know if Diaz actually had that goal in mind when he wrote it (his last novel was shortlisted for the Pulitzer Prize), but I am okay with it either way, because it’s incredible. Immediately top five of the year for me.
The Weight of Blood by Tiffany D. Jackson (Katherine Tegen Books, September 6th 2022)
I’ve loved every novel that Tiffany D. Jackson has published so at this point I drop everything to read one of her books the second I can get my hands on one. She has once again delivered. I seriously finished this book wanting to stand up and clap, and do the Pretty Woman “whoop whoop.” Not only did she write a horror novel with mass appeal for thriller and mystery readers (a major part is told through a true crime podcast), but it’s a retelling of Carrie that surpasses the original. I said what I said. This is the book of the fall worth dropping everything to read. I as a non-rereader plan on listening to the audiobook come fall.
When Women Were Dragons by Kelly Barnhill
What would happen if women’s rage could allow us to dragon? What if thousands of women turned into dragons all at once? Would the world change, or would attempts at regaining “normal” mean people simply did not talk about dragons and pretended they didn’t exist? Told in the form of a memoir, archival papers from scientists studying dragons, and transcripts from the House Un-American Activities Committee, this book tells the story of the day in 1955 when more than half a million women dragoned, and what happened after that. The narrator, Alex, was a child when it happened, so the book is both a treatise on rage and an exploration of memory, and every single word of it is beautiful.
—Annika Barranti Klein
This Woven Kingdom by Tahereh Mafi
This young adult fantasy novel is a brilliant tapestry woven together with threads of dazzling Persian mythology, a beautiful romance, and a glorious display of the fiber arts. Alizeh has known how to live in the midst of high-stakes situations her entire life. As a household servant by day and a seamstress by night, even she, with all her magic, has begun to feel tired by it all. Once, she was the heir to the Jinn kingdom, but the memory of her family and her luxurious home is distant at best. Now, Alizeh must keep a low profile and stay away from society if she wants to survive. Crown prince Kamran has returned home to the capital and the king expects him to provide an heir to the thrown. He must marry fast if he wants to appease his grandfather and his people, but he cannot help but think his time is better served at the war front. It does not help that a strange servant girl caught his attention and has become a near obsession. But Alizeh is determined to stay out of the prince’s sight. If she wants her life to remain unchanged, she will have to protect it with all she has. Unsurprisingly, the book is near-impossible to put down. Mafi’s lyrical writing is simply stunning and if her words do not break your heart first, her plots surely will.
Unpregnant by Jenni Hendriks, Ted Caplan
I’m a sucker for a road trip comedy and this not only delivered that in book form, but it added enemies-to-friends! This had some really funny scenes that had me laughing out loud to the point that people asked me what I was laughing about — hazard of listening to a funny audiobook with earbuds. It starts with Veronica, the perfect high school student, and Bailey, the tough girl opposite of Veronica, teaming up to road trip to an abortion clinic for Veronica. But these two were once friends in childhood, and are now opposites, and everything you can imagine is going to stand in their way of getting to the clinic in time and making it back before anyone finds out. Hilarity ensues, while also showing the very real difficulties many people in need of an abortion face.
Under the Whispering Door by TJ Klune
After reading The House in the Cerulean Sea, I was pretty much sure that I would love anything Klune has ever written and will ever write, down to his grocery lists. I haven’t gotten that far into his catalog yet, but I was not wrong to assume I’d love Under the Whispering Door. Klune has a knack for introducing us to a mundane or unlikable character and then making them heartbreakingly multidimensional as we follow them through the story. In this case, our protagonist Wallace is such a jerk that, besides his own ghostly self, only six people attend his funeral — the priest, his ex-wife, his three partners from his law firm, and his reaper. None of the people who knew him have anything nice to say about him. Soon, the reaper leads Wallace to a tea shop that is much more than it seems, where Wallace learns that he is much more than he seems. For that matter, so is Hugo the Ferryman…who Wallace soon cares about more than he ever intended to. I laughed and cried and swooned my way through this book. It’s a beautiful story of life and death, redemption, and love.
Wahala by Nikki May
In 2022, I’m still absolute trash for any fictional friendships that are compared to Carrie, Samantha, Charlotte, and Miranda of Sex and the City. I know I should know better, but yes, this is part of the reason I was so keen to pick up Nikki May’s debut novel. Of course, Wahala is much more surprising than that. This is the story of three Anglo Nigerian friends — Ronke, Boo, and Simi — who are all in different places in their lives, but they all still share a strong bond and love for one another. Enter Isobel, a glamorous and charismatic woman who comes into these women’s lives to shake things up. At first, it seems like Isobel is bringing out the best in these three women. But what are her true motives? I became so engrossed in the stories of these women (especially Ronke), and I truly did not want this book to end.
When I Sing, Mountains Dance by Irene Solà, translated by Mara Faye Lethem
The story begins when poet farmer Domènec is struck by lightning in a small village in the Pyrenees. From there, the novel unspools: the stories of his wife and children, their struggles moving forward. But they aren’t the only narrators. Solà gives voices to the land’s crust, the black chanterelles on the peaks, a roe-buck, a dog, the ghosts of witches hung centuries ago. They all come together to give us this rich watercolor of the land and its small towns. I was caught up in it completely, reading it in one sitting. It’s beautiful and experimental and kept surprising me, over and over again, to my absolute delight.
—Leah Rachel von Essen
Woman, Eating by Claire Kohda
We don’t often come across stories of young vampires, but Women, Eating is exactly about that. Lydia is in her twenties, just out of school. She is an artist, has landed an internship, and is living independently from her mother for the first time. She is biracial, and also a vampire. While Lydia enjoys this new found freedom, she is hungry; she only eats blood, but she does not know how to find a supplier. Her mother has raised her with a religious fervour, and Lydia deals with the trauma of being told her whole life she is a sinful creature, and undeserving. It is super interesting to see a take on a vampire like this: not a creature that has lived for centuries, but someone who is young, and as lost as most of us human creatures. The narrative is great and I feel Kohda is a name we’ll hear a lot soon. The ending of the book is *chef’s kiss*