Even though we tend to save the beach books for summer and the important tomes for fall, every year some of my absolute favorites come out early. Last year two of the year’s most buzzed books, A Little Life and Girl on the Train were out in March and January, respectively. So happy us, with so much to read (and reserve!) in these chilly months.
These are listed alphabetically because you cannot make me choose. All links are to Amazon, all are affiliate links and purchasing through them helps support the blog!
The Ballad of Black Tom by Victor LaValle is one of those unusual books that is doing many, many things at one time and yet it also manages to be wildly entertaining. This is Horror, I know that’s an automatic out for some of you, but it’s also a big throwback, specifically to the writing of H. P. Lovecraft. The problem with Lovecraft is that a lot of his writing was explicitly and horribly racist. And yet he’s considered the father of modern horror fiction. LaValle, who is one of my favorite writers and I will read anything he does because he is always interesting, basically writes his own Lovecraft story, except at the heart of it is a black man who experiences the real horrors of racial injustice. It’s a real feat. And, you know, it’s also a really great supernatural horror story whether or not you love the old school style.
The Guest Room by Chris Bohjalian was the first 2016 release I read, way back in summer. Bohjalian is a pretty reliable writer who moves between pretty much any genre, he is so good at raising tension and holding it. His new book is basically a thriller that starts with a bachelor party that goes horribly wrong. You cannot stop turning the pages of this book, and I am not joking. Just read the first chapter and see if you can quit. And when you finally put it down and take a breath you realize that you just finished a unique examination of rape culture and sexual trafficking along with all the fast-paced suspense.
Juliet Takes a Breath by Gabby Rivera was a title I knew I had to pick up after following the author as an editor at Autostraddle, including some excellent OITNB recaps. And how could I not pick up a story about a newly out lesbian Latina from the Bronx who is suddenly a fish-out-of-water in hippie Portland? These days I find myself wanting something different, dammit, as I quit book after book about young white kids moving to New York City. Snooze. I want to hear something new. I want to see something different. And this fit the bill perfectly. We need more.
The Opposite of Everyone by Joshilyn Jackson is the latest entry from one of my long-time loved authors. Jackson’s books are always a mix of dark and light, funny and sad. This one is a new step and I approve of the new direction. Do not let the cutesy cover fool you. Paula is a badass lawyer… and also a mess. Not the cute kind of mess either. The blackout drunk kind. Paula is still recovering from her disastrous childhood, biracial and fatherless, raised by a white woman who named her after an Indian goddess, never staying in the same place for long, and eventually going to prison and sending Paula to be a ward of the state. Paula’s past comes back to haunt her when she gets a letter from her long-lost mother and decides to track her down. The book moves through time, from Paula’s childhood to the present, as she tries to figure out who she is and who she wants to be.
The Queen of the Night by Alexander Chee is the rare historical novel I not only pick up willingly but devour. If you’re an opera fan, like I am, this one is a must-read. Even if you’re not, there is a reason this book has been so crazy with buzz in the book world. It’s the closest readalike I’ve ever found to one of my favorite classics: The Count of Monte Cristo. It’s full of twists, betrayals, double-crosses, secrets, etc. etc. etc. It goes from the circus to the brothel to the palace to the opera house and plenty more along the way. I do not want to spoil any of it for you, but if you’re like me and usually don’t read much historical fiction, you may want to reconsider.
Up to This Pointe by Jennifer Longo is the only YA on this list, but I’m a total sucker for a ballerina book. (I know some of you are the same.) Harper is a high school ballerina who has planned out her life with her best friend Kate. When that plan goes off the rails, Harper decides to escape from everyone and head to an internship in Antarctica just like her ancestor the famous explorer who tried to reach the South Pole. A fun contemporary YA with a truly unusual setting. A light and easy read that will make you grateful that no matter how cold it is where you are, at least you’re not in Antarctica!
The V-Word: True Stories about First-Time Sex edited by Amber J. Keyser. Sometimes I read books because my friends write for them. Sometimes this goes well and other times it doesn’t. This time was one of the good ones. If every teenage girl got a copy of this book, the world would probably be a better place. (Ditto teenage boys.) The main goal of this collection of personal nonfiction is to show teenagers just how different that loss of virginity can be, how it looks for different kinds of people, and what it means for the rest of your life. There is everything from the unplanned casual fling to the serious and meticulously planned event. There is straight and gay and bi and trans. Plus there’s a great list of resources at the end, including sources of information on sex for teens and a bunch of YA books that address a variety of important issues.
What Belongs to You by Garth Greenwell is a slim debut novel by a poet that is full of lyrical prose and raw emotion. Usually when I hear that kind of description I think, meh. But this book does something I can’t quite explain. It’s so vulnerable and honest that it’s like seeing someone’s soul spilled out on paper. This book sat on my nightstand for a few months while I was stuck in a reading slump. I put it down because I knew that this novel needed the kind of attention I didn’t have yet. I waited, and while I waited I heard rave after rave about how this book is part of the new gay literary canon. And when I finally felt back to myself, I picked it up and I was happy to see that it was just as good as everyone said it was.
Black Apple by Joan Crate (March 1) In Canada, the government and the Catholic church used to remove native children from their homes to be educated and civilized. This book looks at what that means for one Blackfoot girl and the nun running the school she is taken to against her will. It starts a little slow, but if you’re one of those people who likes to read books that show you a part of history you never knew, this is a great pick.
The Passenger by Lisa Lutz (March 1) Full disclosure, I haven’t read this one yet. But it’s on my to-read list as a long-time fan of Lisa Lutz, who wrote the hilarious Spelman mystery series. I hear lots and lots of good things about this thriller following a woman trying to hide off the grid.
The Travelers by Chris Pavone (March 8) Pavone wrote the popular and satisfying thrillers The Ex-Pats and The Accident and he specializes in normal people who aren’t actually so normal. This time it’s Will Rhodes, a travel writer who is blackmailed into a life of intrigue and must hide it from his wife.
Version Control by Dexter Palmer (February 23) Sometimes I know when a book will be on my Top 10 list before the book is even over. And this is one of those books. I love this book. I love it deeply. I love it so much I am considering reading it again. It hits me in all my sweet spots. A near-future setting following an unhappily married couple. She has a truly unique job for a dating company, he runs a physics lab that’s on the verge of a big discovery. I really don’t want to tell you more so I don’t spoil it. But I will say this book makes a great companion to last year’s popular Fates & Furies with a time travel twist.