This is long overdue, so I’m not going to spend a lot of time on the intro. Spring is almost over, and I should really get to work on my Summer books post since that starts in a matter of days. But if you’re wondering what came out over the last few months that’s worth your while, here are my picks. In alphabetical order, and all links are Amazon affiliate links, so purchasing through them helps support the blog.
Death at Breakfast by Beth Gutcheon is that rare mystery that hits the Agatha Christie sweet spot. If you don’t like mysteries that are full of horrific violence, but you don’t like the cute of a cozy mystery, you probably know just what I mean. The best of these have strong characters and just enough of a puzzle to be real brain candy and a satisfying read. This is the start of a new series featuring a pair of unlikely detectives, Maggie and Hope. Maggie has just retired from her position as the headmistress of a private school and she has brought her friend Hope along for a week in New England to enjoy a cooking class and see if they are a good fit to travel together for more adventures. They stay at a cozy B&B, but there is–of course–a murder that disrupts their trip. I’m really looking forward to the rest of this series.
The Fireman by Joe Hill is another big, fat, epic story of a kickass heroine facing unspeakable horrors, kind of like his last book NOS4A2. If you like books where society falls apart, this is definitely up your alley. Harper is a school nurse whose idol is Mary Poppins and who’s pretty happy with her life. But everything turns to chaos in a matter of weeks when the Dragonscale virus hits. It tags its victims with black marks, almost like tattoos, all over their body, and the outcome is always the same: the victim spontaneously combusts and burns to death. Harper’s struggle to survive charts the course of the novel. But the threat here isn’t just the disease, but the Cremation Squads who have taken it upon themselves to kill anyone they suspect may be infected.
Girls on Fire by Robin Wasserman is squarely in my wheelhouse and it’s one of my favorites of the year. It’s similar in darkness and subject matter to Heathers, and the relationship between three girls is at its center. Hannah is the quiet one who usually stays in the background. Lacey is the hard, rebellious one with a tough home life who pulls Hannah out of her shell and takes her on as a partner in crime. Nikki is the heartless queen bee of the popular crowd with the football player boyfriend and a secret connection to Lacey. But if you come into this expecting a book that plays by the rules, you’ll be disappointed in the best way. The stakes are high, the friendships can be intense one moment and destructive the next, and no one is quite what they seem.
If I Was Your Girl by Meredith Russo is one of the big Young Adult books of the year, but there’s no reason this shouldn’t be on an adult reading list. With all the controversy these days, most people have never met a trans person, not to mention read a book about one. This book is about Amanda, a trans girl who is worried that her secret will get out at her new school after she’s finally started her new life. It’s written by a trans woman and even the cover model is a trans girl, so this is clearly a book that’s doing it right. There are flashbacks to Amanda’s earlier life and her transition, and while this can be a weakness of stories about trans characters focusing too much on transition, it’s somewhat inevitable when you’re telling the story of a teenager and it’s treated with care. In most of this book, Amanda is a real person, a normal person, and is able to live a pretty normal life. There’s a lovely romance in here, too.
Join by Steve Toutonghi is a fantastically innovative science-fiction novel set in a future where people can join consciousness to form a single being with multiple bodies. This is pretty high concept, but Toutonghi really makes you understand why someone would want it. Not just companionship and the ability to be in many places at once, but a way to avoid death as you bring in new bodies. The book follows Chance, a “join” of five “drives” that’s just brought on its fifth member only to find that this newest body is dying of cancer. Chance’s friend Leap seems to be suffering from some kind of problem and there’s also Rope who seems to break all the rules of what joins are able to do. The book shifts gears into a noir-style story as Chance tries to find out what’s happening to joins and what Rope and Leap are hiding. While this sounds like pretty hard sci-fi, the writing isn’t like that at all. It reads much more like a lyrical piece of literary fiction than your typical genre novel. This is a book that breaks a lot of rules and it’s pretty interesting to watch it happen.
The Mother by Yvvette Edwards is about Marcia, a woman whose only child, a teenage son, has been murdered by another teenage boy. The novel follows Marcia through the killer’s trial, challenging her assumptions about her own son and about the other boy and his family. The newspaper prints pictures of her son, Ryan, and the killer, Tyson, side by side, without saying which is which, and since both are black boys Marcia feels shaken after years of work to raise her child in the right way with the right kind of family. While this isn’t a mystery or a legal thriller, there are plenty of twists and a lot of courtroom scenes (lawyer approved!). But it’s rare you get a book that tackles a character’s prejudices so effectively and has a great plot.
My Best Friend’s Exorcism by Grady Hendrix is his sophomore effort after the success of his debut Horrorstör, a horror novel set in a store an awful lot like an Ikea. This book is not the first to tap into a new appreciation of 80’s nostaglia, it’s set in 1988 and big hair is everywhere, but this was the first time I’ve read one of those books and really enjoyed the way it established a sense of time and place. It is, as you probably guessed, another horror novel, but honestly the horror takes a backseat to the story of the friendship of Abby and Gretchen. They’ve been best friends since 4th grade, even though Gretchen’s family is rich and Abby’s definitely isn’t. When Gretchen starts acting strangely, at first it seems like just your average teenage mood swings and the growing pains of friendship. But Abby is sure something else is going on and she’s determined to save Gretchen from her fate. There are some gross scenes, but it’s not going to require you to sleep with the light on. Ultimately this is enough of a story about the power of female friendship that understands its teenage characters so well that I wouldn’t hesitate to give it to a teenager.
We Love You, Charlie Freeman by Kaitlyn Greenidge is a book you should not judge by its title. It is not cute. It’s a very ambitious book about race and history even if it uses a premise that seems sweet at first glance. The Freeman family, two parents and two daughters, leave their Boston home to take up residence at the Toneybee Institute in the Berkshires to be the new family for a chimp, to teach him sign language, and to see how he interacts with them. They are also pretty much the only black people around. I hesitate to tell you much more because this is a book that was truly a joy to read. It is messy and original and I never ever knew what was going to happen next. It doesn’t feel like any other book, which is a huge compliment.
If you’d like to keep up with what I’m reading, you can find me on Goodreads.