Spring Books

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.

 Spring Books Spring BooksDeath 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.

 Spring Books Spring BooksThe 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. 

 Spring Books Spring BooksGirls 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. 

 Spring Books Spring BooksIf 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.

 Spring Books Spring BooksJoin 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.

 Spring Books Spring BooksThe 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.

 Spring Books Spring BooksMy 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.

 Spring Books Spring BooksWe 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

 

 

How to Get More Book Club In Your Life

If you’re going to scroll right by this because you’re not a book club person, stop for just a second. I used to think the same thing, but I’ve found a bunch of different book clubs that work for me in a bunch of different ways. 

The Any Book Book Club

This is the invention of one of my fellow contributors at Book Riot. The Any Book Book Club frees you from the usual Book Club model. If you don’t like having to read something by a deadline, or having other people choose the book, or discussion questions, then this is the perfect book club for you. There is no assigned book, instead you just show up with a bunch of your reader friends and talk about what you’ve been reading that you love. Not only is it fun to see your bookish buds, you also get a bunch of recommendations to add to your to-read list.

read harder How to Get More Book Club In Your LifeThis is the model we follow for the Read Harder Book Groups, too. You can find them in a whole bunch of cities now with more to come. We’ve been going in Boston since September and I’ve enjoyed every single one. Bookish people are a great bunch, and I’ve made several friends through our group. Plus it’s just so chill, everyone is accepting of different tastes, and there’s lots of note taking and comparing opinions and general goodness. If you’re that person who is always talking about books, this is a great place to get it all out. 

Or you could start your own!

The Book of the Month Club

I was invited to try out Book of the Month Club last year and I really enjoyed it. The model is super simple. Each month they give you 5 selections, you pick the one that sounds best to you, and they send it to you. There’s discussions online around the books, so if you’re not much for in-person book clubs, this is a great fit. And I’ve been very impressed with the picks. They tend to be very new releases, often very buzzy, and the selection usually includes nonfiction, crime novels, women’s fiction, and literary fiction. 

I am friends with a few people who work with and judge books for Book of the Month Club. My initial subscription was complimentary. I liked it so much that I took them on as an affiliate partner, so joining through me helps support DMTM at no extra cost to you.

FB AprSelectionsGroup How to Get More Book Club In Your Life

 

You can skip any month where you don’t like the titles. You can read at your own pace, since the discussions stay up even after the month passes. Plus, you pay less than you’d pay for the book in a store. (1 month is $16.99 for a new release hardcover, and it’s as low as $11.99 if you sign up for a year.) PLUS they’re running a ridiculous sale now so you can get 3 months for half off (that’s $7.50 per book!) using code APR50. So head to Book of the Month Club quick and if you make it by April 21st you can still get one of this month’s selections. 

Meetup.com

If you don’t know many people in your area or you don’t have a local bookish crew, then meetup.com is a great place to look for local book clubs. This is how I found my favorite book club of all time, where we read mostly classics, and we had actual MEN and people of all ages. If you’re feeling particularly brave, you can start your own book club there. You do have to pay a fee to keep the listing up, but you also get to make it whatever book club you want. Cozy mysteries? Romances? Obscure fiction in translation? Go for it!

Facebook Book Clubs

Another great virtual option is to start your book club on Facebook. You can use polls to choose books so everyone gets a say, and put discussion questions in individual threads. Since most of your friends are there anyway, and you may have reader friends who aren’t local, you can all congregate there for discussions. I’ve had some great success with online book clubs, these can work on forums and message boards, too.

Office Book Clubs

Yes, I go to my book club at the office when I can. At first I was kind of skeptical, but ultimately the convenience won me over. I didn’t even have to go anywhere, I just stay a little late one evening a month. Plus our group brings snacks and treats that go with the book. And any book club with snacks is a book club I would like to be a part of. We are already all connected through office email and use the same calendars, so it makes planning really simple. 

This model works for any group you already see regularly: Church, school, neighborhood, etc. 

 

And a few tips to maximize your awesomeness once you’ve got your book club going:

  • Lean towards backlist titles (aka books that have already been released in paperback). That makes it a lot more accessible for people with a small budget or who get the book from the library and won’t have to wait in a long hold line.
  • Don’t forget to keep track of what you’re reading. Are you reading all male authors? All white authors? A diverse set of books is more appealing to a wide group and it makes for a more interesting mix. 
  • Connect with your book club on Goodreads. Once you have a feeling for who you mesh with, you can see what else they’re reading and get great book picks that way.
  • Reach out to authors! Remember when I got Lev Grossman to do a Q&A with my book club when we read The Magicians a few years ago? That was pretty cool and it really made for a more interesting discussion. Some authors will do Skype meetups with your book club, too, so check the author’s web page and Twitter.
  • Read a book with a movie or tv-show tie-in. That always generates a whole bunch of discussion about which was better. (Although you know it’s always the book.) And if there isn’t a show, maybe create your own dream cast as one of your book club questions?
  • If your club doesn’t have a dedicated genre focus, try different ones and don’t be afraid to try something new.
  • Keep up with local author visits. If an author is visiting for a new release, have your book club read one of their older titles and go to the reading and Q&A together.

I’d love to hear your best book club experiences, your best practices, and your favorite book club reads.

BeYourBestBook Club 200x300 How to Get More Book Club In Your Life

Cozy Up with Winter Books

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!

Out Now

 Cozy Up with Winter Books Cozy Up with Winter BooksThe Ballad of Black Tom Cozy Up with Winter Books 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.

 Cozy Up with Winter Books Cozy Up with Winter BooksThe Guest Room Cozy Up with Winter Books 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. 

 Cozy Up with Winter Books Cozy Up with Winter BooksJuliet Takes a Breath Cozy Up with Winter Books  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.

 Cozy Up with Winter Books Cozy Up with Winter BooksThe Opposite of Everyone Cozy Up with Winter Books 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.

 Cozy Up with Winter Books Cozy Up with Winter BooksThe Queen of the Night Cozy Up with Winter Books 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.

 Cozy Up with Winter Books Cozy Up with Winter BooksUp to This Pointe Cozy Up with Winter Books 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!

 Cozy Up with Winter Books Cozy Up with Winter BooksThe V-Word: True Stories about First-Time Sex Cozy Up with Winter Books 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.

 Cozy Up with Winter BooksWhat Belongs to You Cozy Up with Winter Books 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.

Coming Soon

 Cozy Up with Winter Books Cozy Up with Winter BooksBlack Apple Cozy Up with Winter Books 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.

 Cozy Up with Winter Books Cozy Up with Winter BooksThe Passenger Cozy Up with Winter Books 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.

 Cozy Up with Winter Books Cozy Up with Winter BooksThe Travelers Cozy Up with Winter Books 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.

 Cozy Up with Winter Books Cozy Up with Winter BooksVersion Control Cozy Up with Winter Books 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.

Best Books of 2015

It was a good year. A really solid year. I am on my way to setting a new record for # of books read in a single year, so making a Best List presented a bigger challenge than usual. In the end, my Top 5 was relatively easy. Just like last year, I knew while I was reading them that they would be here. Sometimes you just know. I actually struggled the most with the rest of the list and I still feel guilty over all the books not included. 

My Top 5 are all pretty damn heavy, I won’t lie. That’s the kind of book that tends to affect me and settle down inside my bones. Honestly, it’s not until you get out of the top 10 that you’ll find lighter offerings because I naturally gravitate towards dark and complex books. With that said, 4 of my top 20 are absolutely delightful and heartwarming and wonderful, so I’m not fully gone. Promise. There really is something here for everyone. It’s been a really good year.

Beyond breaking these down into 1-5, 6-10, and 11-20, I couldn’t do any additional ranking so please take them in Alphabetical order within their chunk. These are only 2015 releases, I’ll cover a broader look at books in a later post.

Top 5

 Best Books of 2015 A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara. It should not be a surprise to see this in my Top 5. I read it in January and immediately declared it the best book I would read this year. Maybe someday I will have the strength to re-read it and see if I can cement it on my all-time list. I’ve been a huge advocate for it, and it’s always wonderful when you see a book you tell everyone to read get the kind of success this book has had. It is not your typical giant book, it is not your typical prizewinner, it is not trying to be cerebral, this book is just feelings, lots and lots of feelings, high melodrama. If horrible things happening to people is too much for you, you may want to skip it, because it turns the dial up to 11 on the horrific and the sublime. Friendship, trauma, healing, love, it’s all there.

Between the World and Me Best Books of 2015 by Ta-Nehisi Coates. It is rare for nonfiction to show up at the top of my list, but this book is so important, so affecting, so unforgettable that it demands nothing else. Everything you’ve heard about it is true. It is not possible to over-hype this book because it delivers so thoroughly. It is wise and deep and speaks truths that we all need to hear about race in the US today.

 Best Books of 2015Fifteen Dogs Best Books of 2015 by Andre Alexis is probably the biggest underdog on this list (though it recently won a big Canadian prize, and I’m so happy for it!) though I think it has great mass appeal. The titular 15 dogs are given human consciousness, and that alone should be enough to get you hooked. This is one of those books that keeps you on the edge of your seat with a quick and fascinating plot, gets you all attached to its characters, and at the same time speaks volumes about what it means to be human. An amazing and underappreciated book that deserves your attention.

 Best Books of 2015The Fishermen Best Books of 2015 by Chigozie Obioma. After multiple Rioters talked it up, I finally picked up this book on audio. No one warned me. I wanted to listen to this book constantly but I also dreaded turning it on because I worried so much about what was going to happen next. It’s very hard to talk about it without spoiling, so I won’t add any more detail. Needless to say, this book about four brothers in Nigeria will leave you absolutely floored. We’re talking Shakespearean level drama. I cannot believe this is a debut novel. I also cannot get it out of my head.

 Best Books of 2015 Best Books of 2015The Story of the Lost Child Best Books of 2015 by Elena Ferrante. This book gets a very unfair advantage since I read it shortly after devouring the three previous books in the Neapolitan series. So it gets to ride all my accrued love for those books and for the author, who writes under a pseudonym and whose real identity is unknown. I have probably recommended these books more than any others this year and I will keep doing it. Outside of book nerd land, I don’t know that Ferrante has caught on all the way, but you really should get on board. You will not regret it. These books are absolutely amazing, and like many of the other books on this list, they’re incredibly readable, piled high with plot, and have characters that you’ll never forget. 

 

6-10

Daughters Unto Devils Best Books of 2015 by Amy Lukavics. Don’t underestimate Young Adult novels. This YA horror is one of the most frightening, creepy books I have ever read. It is scarier than most adult horror. It is a masterclass in horror. It’s basically a kind of Little House on the Prairie meets Rosemary’s Baby, with a family living on the frontier, literally getting cabin fever, possibly being haunted by demons, etc. Just read it. But maybe not at night.

 Best Books of 2015 Best Books of 2015In the Country Best Books of 2015 by Mia Alvar. A short story collection on my top 10! Will wonders never cease? I read some great story collections this year, but this one is by far my favorite. There is not a weak one in the bunch and it’s so full of emotion. Many of the stories have that classic short story moral dilemma, but there is so much complexity in each brief tale. The stories are about Filipino families, those living in the Philippines and those who have emigrated to the US or to the Middle East. These are not the kinds of stories you get to hear very often, and that’s exactly why you should read it. (Also because the writing is so good I can’t even.)

 Best Books of 2015 Best Books of 2015The Library at Mount Char Best Books of 2015 by Scott Hawkins. Another one I picked up based on Rioter buzz. I tend to be cautious about Fantasy,  but this really isn’t Fantasy as much as it is every single genre all together. This book is stuffed to the gills with mythology and surrealism and horror and everything else you can possibly think of. And yet it works. It works beautifully. There is high and low, beautiful and horrible. But there’s also cops and ghosts and reincarnation and swat teams and pretty much anything else you can think of. This book will blow your mind in the best way.

 Best Books of 2015 Best Books of 2015More Happy Than Not Best Books of 2015 by Adam Silvera. When I read this YA novel, I really liked it. But then something happened. I couldn’t shake it. It stayed in my head. It did not leave. And it remains the one that I come back to in a year where I read some incredibly strong YA. This book will give you so many feelings. Aaron is a poor brown kid in the projects. Thomas is his new friend. And as they become inseparable you start to wonder, “Is Thomas maybe…” and then I will not spoil a thing. But this is a great book dealing with identity, LGBT youth, and much, much more. 

The Whites Best Books of 2015 by Richard Price (writing as Harry Brandt). I love me some Richard Price. He’s one of the best crime writers we have, arguably the best. And this book was his attempt to write something lighter, faster, and more pulpy. It didn’t work. It became a Richard Price book, sprawling and epic, yet intimate and tight, showing crime from a variety of different angles. The parallel narratives are particularly strong, one of his best, and his best is really, really good.

 

11-20 

 Best Books of 2015 Best Books of 2015Dumplin’ Best Books of 2015by Julie Murphy. I read it in a frenzy and immediately told most of my friends who read a lot of YA to read it immediately. Dumplin’ is a contemporary YA with a lot of what you’d expect: struggles with friends, with family, with romance, with identity. What separates it is a heroine with a vibrant voice who also happens to be fat. She knows she’s fat, she knows how other people look at her, and she loves herself anyway. Being in the presence of Willowdean is a joy.

Eden West Best Books of 2015 by Pete Haumann. I’d never read Haumann before, but after this book I looked into him and wasn’t surprised to learn that he’d written one of the seminal YA novels on religion and faith. Eden  Best Books of 2015 Best Books of 2015West is also about those topics, and honestly I think it can be marketed just as easily to adult as teen audiences, I don’t really know where I’d personally categorize it. The story follows a young man growing up in a cult whose life is changed when he meets a local girl while he’s walking their borders. There are lots of cult stories. It’s kind of a thing. I read at least 3 just this year. This one had so much truth and it’s rare to find a book that can respect its character’s faith in something that is objectively terrible to an outsider.

Fates and Furies Best Books of 2015 by Lauren Groff. It’s one of the big books of the year, you’ve probably seen it and heard about it by now. It’s a book that demands discussion, and I found it incredibly intriguing and interesting. I love books that mess with your expectations and this one completely does. It’s an exercise in structure and character that is also incredibly satisfying, a rare combination. A warning: you have to give this book more time than you usually would. You’ve got to get at least halfway before you really know what you’re getting into.

 Best Books of 2015 Best Books of 2015Kitchens of the Great Midwest Best Books of 2015 by J. Ryan Stradal. I don’t read a lot of happy books, as I mentioned. Kitchens is a book that manages to be happy AND hit my dark and complex sweet spot. It’s one of those books of connected stories, a difficult task, but one Stradahl does better than anyone I can remember off hand. All his characters feel real. And reading his book reminds you how heavy our modern fiction is with city people, how rarely we depict the people who make up most of our country. It’s also great for all you foodies out there.

The Sellout Best Books of 2015 by Paul Beatty is a dark, biting satire dealing primarily with race. Even when it seems fun or jaunty, there’s always some wise darkness just around the corner. You cannot relax with this book. It does not let you get comfortable. It makes you judge characters then makes you anxious about judging them. It is some of the strongest satire I’ve seen in years and we really need more books like this in the world.

Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda Best Books of 2015 by Becky Albertalli. I often read a book not knowing the author’s name due to the formatting on electronic galleys. I was convinced this book was written by a young gay man, one who’d recently been to high school and lived through these kinds of experiences. But no, Becky Albertalli was never a teenage boy. How she creates Simon and makes him so full I don’t know, but I’d love to ask. This is straight up contemporary YA, but it’s so perfectly done that it should be a model for the genre.

 Best Books of 2015 Best Books of 2015Sorcerer to the Crown Best Books of 2015 by Zen Cho. The canon has a problem. It’s all white authors and white characters. And then you get into genre fiction and you find the legacy continuing despite the world having changed. Fantasy, science-fiction, historical fiction, it can be hard to find books by authors of color with characters of color. Luckily now you have this book, which is kind of like if Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell was a lot less brooding and had a lot less white people. So basically, it’s AWESOME. It’s also hella feminist (another problem you run into) and witty and delightful and really, why haven’t you read it yet? (I don’t even like Fantasy and I totally dug it.)

Unfinished Business Best Books of 2015 by Anne-Marie Slaughter. The only book on work-life balance I have ever liked. The only one I’ve ever read where I nodded my head and said, “Yes, yes, this is exactly it.” I hate the articles, the panels, the same discussions over and over again without anyone saying what the real problem is and what most people face every day. I just want to get rid of everyone talking about these issues and instead have us all read this book. Give it to your boss, give it to your company’s CEO, give it to the working women and men in your life. It needs to be read.

 Best Books of 2015 Best Books of 2015Welcome to Braggsville Best Books of 2015 by T. Geronimo Johnson. At first you think this book is about being that kid who never fit in in a small Southern town and going to college and finding your people. But that’s just the intro. This book has much more to say and it’s not going to beat around the bush. It’s going to give you crazy plot twists, commentary on race and media, and a distinctive voice that stays with you. Amazing stuff, perhaps the book I’ve read that most reminds me of Junot Diaz’s Oscar Wao.

 

Honorable Mentions

A God in Ruins Best Books of 2015by Kate Atkinson. A companion of sorts to Life After Life, but I liked it better. Gutsy and ambitious.

Idyll Threatsl Best Books of 2015 by Stephanie Gayle. Fantastic new mystery series about a closeted cop who moves to a small town.

Lost Canyon Best Books of 2015by Nina Revoyr. Deliverance for the modern age, this time featuring more than just white guys!

Our Souls at Night Best Books of 2015 by Kent Haruf. His last, slim novel is beautiful and still and utterly affecting.

Speak Best Books of 2015by Louisa Hall. What is intelligence and consciousness and connection? A book with a lot to think about.

 

Fall Books!

I keep procrastinating this post because I am still not done reading many of the big Fall Releases. But September is almost over and I really can’t put it off forever. They’re coming out right and left and best to have it done.

Fall is basically the season of heavy hitters in the book world, with most of the big guys coming out in September. It’s kind of like how all the big Oscar movies tend to come out in December. There are still light, fun books in Fall and there are plenty of big, literary books the rest of the year, but there’s definitely a concentration. Here’s a roundup of some of my favorites of the Fall Releases for 2015, links are to Amazon and all are affiliate links. 

Literary Fiction

These are the books I get asked about the most because they get a lot of press, a lot of attention, and the gap between the critical reception and the real-world reception can be pretty wide. I tend to take a common-sense approach to literary fiction, when possible.

 Fall Books! Fall Books!Fates and Furies seems to be getting the most buzz, if we focus on the book instead of the author. It’s not a surprise once you’ve read the book. This is a book that has a lot to say about the novel. It’s an exercise in structure. The first half of the book can even be read as satire in retrospect. Yeah, all this sounds really dull, doesn’t it? I admit, I was halfway through thinking, “Do I really want to finish this?” and I only pushed forward because I had so many friends who enjoyed it so much. I’m glad I did, turns out I enjoyed the second half like crazy. All that said, having to commit to over 200 pages before you know if you really like a book is a tall order. But if you’re looking for something that’s basically a fancy, cerebral Gone Girl, you should consider it. 

 Fall Books! If we’re talking about author buzz, then the award clearly goes to Franzen. His new novel, Purity, is interesting, a fast read, a page-turner, a domestic drama with an international lens. A book that manages to be about the East German underground, a Julian-Assange-like internet lord, and a rather dull twenty-something girl with a crazy mother who lives in a co-op in San Francisco at a dead-end job. This is Franzen, so it bounces between overly-brainy descriptions and genre-worthy plot twists. But if you’ve enjoyed either of his previous novels it’s worth a look. And I’m just going to leave it there.

 Fall Books! Fall Books!There’s a new Margaret Atwood out this month! And it is… well it’s not normal. Atwood has been doing her own thing for several years now, experimenting and mashing genres and doing whatever it is she feels like. Respect. And this book perhaps expresses that better than any of her previous ones. The Heart Goes Last is just plain weird, a book that almost feels like someone dared her to mix 5 different Cards Against Humanity cards into her plot. But it works. It’s dystopian and has plenty to say about marriage, adultery, planned community, sex, obsession, and a lot more. There are sex dolls, Elvis impersonators, prisons, roving gangs, a huge financial crisis, and plenty more. Personally, I dig novels where I have absolutely no idea what’s going to happen next. But if you don’t like it when a book colors outside the lines, this one probably won’t be right for you.

There’s a new story collection by Adam Johnson, the recent Pulitzer winner for The Orphan-Master’s Son. It’s called Fortune Smiles and the title is used ironically. It’s depressing and heavy and really interesting. He’s got particularly interesting things to say about marriage and relationships that really stuck in my brain. There’s a new novel by Salman Rushdie, Two Years Eight Months and Twenty-Eight Nights, which includes a few thousand years of history, a jinn who marries a human, and a gardener who looks down one day to find he’s floating a few inches above the ground all the time. Like many of Rushdie’s recent novels, this isn’t one you can read in a fury, but it’s constantly smart. David Mitchell has a new novella that’s set in the universe of The Bone Clocks called Slade House which I didn’t love, but then again I’ve liked The Bone Clocks less and less as time passes. And there’s a debut novel from essayist Sloane Crosley which I also didn’t love, but I fully acknowledge that this book hit several of my totally subjective personal pet peeves (books about young rich people, 20-somethings struggling to find their place in the world, people making ridiculous choices that would destroy them if they weren’t in a novel, etc.) but I know many others who enjoyed it. 

Genre Novels

Genre = mystery, romance, sci-fi, etc. All those books that get grouped in some category based on their plot. There’s a bunch of great ones so I’d hate to focus too heavily on the literary stuff.

 Fall Books! Fall Books!Sorcerer to the Crown is a fantasy novel and I am not a fantasy reader. But a fellow non-fantasy reader recommended it and I figured I’d try and holy cats, it is amazing. A kickass novel that reminded me more of J. K. Rowling’s light and agile wit than any other book I’ve read. Set in an alternate-universe 1800’s Britain where magic exists but most “magicians” are just rich dudes who use it as an excuse to make their own club. The Sorcerer Royal, whom no one cares for much, is Zacharias, a freed slave whose birth and skin color separate him from everyone around him. Then there’s Prunella, the orphaned girl whose parentage is unknown except that there’s clearly something “not British” in there, who’s been taken in by the proprietress of a girls’ magical boarding school and finds herself suddenly ousted upon reaching adulthood. Prunella and Zacharias cross paths, of course, and there’s a quest to save England from its quickly depleting supply of magic, and that’s just the beginning of this delightful book. I honestly can’t recommend it enough. 

 Fall Books! Fall Books!Getting into more of my usual stuff, my favorite thriller of the fall is Idyll Threats by Stephanie Gayle. Set about 10 years ago in a small Connecticut town, it’s about Thomas Lynch, a former NYPD cop who’s left the big city for a job as a small town sheriff after his partner dies. Oh, and he’s gay and closeted. Lynch lives a secret life on his own and then goes to work every day to a police force that eyes him with suspicion and disdain. A quick tryst one night seems uneventful, until he realizes that he was one of the last people to see a murder victim alive… and he can’t tell anyone. It’s a well-plotted book, heavy on character, and the first in a series. I am 100% on board, one of my favorite mysteries of the year.

 Fall Books! Fall Books!There’s a new Karin Slaughter novel, and if you know Slaughter you know her books aren’t for the faint of heart. She has no problems finding plots from the darkest places in people’s lives. Pretty Girls starts out pretty normal: well-off woman’s husband is murdered in a robbery gone wrong, woman finds that husband was keeping secrets. But it gets pretty heavy pretty fast. I don’t want to spoil it, so if you’re considering it but are wondering if it’s too icky for you, you can see the spoiler in my Goodreads review (you have to click to open, the rest of you are safe). It is fast fast fast, Slaughter is getting better and better, in my humble opinion, and her recent standalone novels have all been incredibly strong and worthy of the title “thriller.”

Young Adult

 Fall Books! Fall Books!Two of my favorite YA’s of the year are both September releases. First there’s Dumplin’ by Julie Murphy, which has had a pretty joyous and enthusiastic reception, and it deserves every bit of it. This is a joyous and enthusiastic book that is so full of feel-good that I’d happily put it in the hands of every teenage girl out there. Willowdean is fat. There’s no tiptoeing around it. And pretty much everything in Will’s life is going kind of crazy. She has a new secret boyfriend who won’t be seen with her in public. Her best friend, the beautiful and skinny Ellen, seems to be moving farther away from her. Her mom, who’s run the city beauty pageant since she won it decades earlier, just can’t understand how Will can be fat and happy with herself at the same time. Will is strong and full of sass, a girl who pulls her inspiration from Dolly Parton. It’s a fun read, an inspiring and funny book, one that gets you thinking about body image and just plain bodies. 

 Fall Books! Fall Books!I was kind of done with all the Sherlock knockoffs, but I picked up Lock & Mori by Heather W. Perry because this time Moriarty is a girl and I thought I’d be interested to see where the book took that. It took it to a very, very good place. Lock & Mori are teenagers in modern-day London, kids from very different backgrounds, who are drawn to each other due in large part to their shared brilliance. There is a murder, of course. But this is not a book where Sherlock gets to be the big hero. Mori is the narrator and she knows more about what happened than she’s willing to tell Lock, even when things start getting serious between the two of them. I tend not to really dig YA mystery, but this novel totally delivered. The will-they-won’t-they-will-they-stay-together of the teenage romance plus a serious mystery plus a heroine with some serious baggage = Jess is very happy.

There’s a few more YA that I’m saving for my upcoming horror post in October, so hold tight on those.

Nonfiction

Yes, I have been reading nonfiction, as hard as it is to believe.

 Fall Books! Fall Books!I am a sucker for a medical memoir, so reading Black Man in a White Coat was a no-brainer. Damon Tweedy’s book isn’t just a reflection on his life in training and practice, but a look at how different racial issues play out in medicine. A black doctor-in-training surrounded almost entirely by white trainees and doctors, attending Duke where much of the population is black and poor, Tweedy finds racism in expected and unexpected places. Then there’s issues that go beyond blatant racism, like the treatment gap between the poor blacks and the well-off whites; and the medical issues that disproportionately affect the black community (including Tweedy and his relatives). Tweedy has no agenda. He doesn’t get political. He also borrows freely from other memoirs by doctors of color (yes, including Ben Carson) to show that a problem can be systemic or isolated. It’s a book with heart but that is determined to stay scientific. If there’s someone you’d like to talk about race with but you think they’re not ready for Ta-Nehisi Coates, Tweedy’s memoir is a great, thought-provoking choice.

 Fall Books!I started reading Symphony for the City of the Dead by M. T. Anderson not actually realizing it was nonfiction. Anderson wrote several novels I love, including the Octavian Nothing books which I find positively swoon-worthy, if those books were a person I would consider marrying them. The new book is about the composer Dmitri Shostakovich and the siege of Leningrad. I won’t lie, I am not done with this book yet. I’ve been reading it for a month now. Because the siege of Leningrad is DEPRESSING, YO, and I have to take breaks from the horrors of it. I’ve read my fair share of depressing holocaust books, both fiction and nonfiction, but this book is right up there with them in terms of horrors and crimes against humanity. This is technically a nonfiction book for young adults, but honestly I can’t tell. It is easy to read, but it’s no cake walk. It will be a challenging read for a teen, but I don’t see why a teen couldn’t read it. And I see no reason why adults can’t read it. 

 Fall Books! Fall Books!I’m also in the middle of a book of essays right now: Me, My Hair, and I: Twenty-seven Women Untangle an Obsession, edited by Elizabeth Benedict. There are some truly amazing essays in here, and if you are a curly girl like me, or someone who hasn’t quite made peace with her hair yet, you need to read this book. I just finished an essay by Deborah Tannen about why mothers are always so interested in their daughters’ hair that was insanely good and everyone should read right now. (Teaser: here’s another essay she wrote about how a woman’s appearance is “marked” in a way a man’s isn’t.) A lot of the essays share a theme of accepting your hair after fighting against it and if you need to hear that, you should probably read it. But anyone will find a lot to ponder, man we all have stories about our hair, it’s fascinating to pick that apart.

There’s more I haven’t gotten to yet, Anne-Marie Slaughter’s new book, Unfinished Business, is sitting next to my bed. (Updated to add I started this last night and OMG I think this may be the best book on work-life balance ever. I’m only through Part I but I am just full of praise-hands-emoji for everything Slaughter says.) But pretty soon it’ll be time to move on to 2016 reads and 2015 reading wrap-ups and holy cow, how did we get here?

How’s your fall reading going? Any big new books on your hold list or on your bedside table?