Well Oprah ruined my summer reading post by moving one of the Big Fall books to a summer release. So I figured at least I could take advantage of it by throwing in some of the books that didn’t make my last list and the books I’ve read since then. This time let’s mix it up and move from Heavy to Light. (All links are affiliate links through Amazon, I may earn a commission on any purchases you make through them with no extra cost to you.)
The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead This is the book that threw my whole plan out of whack, but I forgive it. Colson Whitehead is on the very short list of authors where I will read literally anything they write. I would absolutely put him in my Top 5 Authors Currently Working. He’s always talented, always ambitious, but The Underground Railroad is probably going to be the book that turns him into a household name. And that is not an easy thing to do when you write a book about slavery. As I said when I recommended Homegoing, I get that it’s not always easy to just pick up a book about slavery and say, “Sure, this sounds like a great way to entertain myself.” But I believe in reading important books. (I also believe in reading fluff. But come on. Of course.) Because Whitehead is ridiculously talented, this is not a hard book to read. You just get pulled right in. And while it is obviously a runaway slave narrative, one thing you can count on with Whitehead is that he is not going to follow the normal rules of plot and structure. The praise for this book continues to roll in so you don’t really need it from me. But if you don’t pick it up now, in 6 months when it’s been on every Best List and awards shortlist, if you still haven’t gotten to it you’ll still be saying, “Oh I really need to read that,” so just do yourself a favor and read it now while we’re all having a conversation about it and you’ll be the cool person who got in early. (I’m currently listening to the audio, which is excellent, but keep in mind that sometimes it’s much harder to hear racial slurs spoken aloud than it is to read them.)
Arcade by Drew Nellins Smith. I write about Arcade knowing that most people will find out what it’s about and immediately turn around and walk away. But we’ve already done slavery and war so I think gay sex seems pretty minor in comparison. Which isn’t to say this isn’t a heavy book! Sam is in that phase of self-destructive shame spiral where you make very few good decisions. He is gay but hasn’t made peace with it and certainly hasn’t found joy and hope in it. His life is built around obsession and denial. And that is where the Arcade comes in, one of those seedy places you see on the outskirts of town (especially in Texas, where it’s set). This is not a plot book, and you probably know by now that I strongly prefer plot-heavy books. If you don’t have plot, you need to give me something really special and Arcade does that. It has an emotional core that I recognize from my own period in a self-destructive shame spiral, and Smith writes about sex with a frankness that I wish I saw more often.
The Hike by Drew Magary. I will probably end up spending a good few months recommending The Hike to a very large number of people. It’s an early August release that went almost entirely under the radar. Luckily I heard some buzz and got on board and I am so very glad I did. I love plot books and this is constant plot. And I love being surprised. I struggle with some genres because of their rules, I prefer books that break rules and The Hike definitely qualifies. I cannot even really tell you what it’s about without spoiling pretty much everything. Let’s just say it’s not in any real genre (though if I had to pick one I’d say Fantasy/Horror) and you never know what will happen next. This is a very hard thing to do and it’s an even harder thing to wrap up effectively, and yet this book has a truly solid and satisfying ending.
Roses and Rot by Kat Howard. Are you one of those people who’s been looking for a readalike for The Night Circus for about a million years? I feel like this is the closest I’ve found so far. That book was circus and magic and illusions. Roses and Rot is an artists colony and fairy tales. There’s forbidden love, family strife, spectacle, jealousy and competition, and a world where nothing is necessarily what it seems.
Security by Gina Wohlsdorf. I love horror but I recommend very little of it. It’s hard to do well, in my opinion. Security is not going to end up on my Top Horror list, but it’s different and I always enjoy when someone takes a kind of twist on the genre. This falls into the “slasher” subgenre, which is much more common in movies than books, and in many ways Security feels more like a movie. It’s strongly visual, to the extent that the book’s narrative structure is pretty much flipping from view to view to the security cameras in the fancy hotel where it’s set. Manderley Resort is about to open with a lavish party, but someone is picking off the staff one by one and in this huge building there are hundreds of rooms to hide a body (or five). Horror and thrillers struggle with good endings and this is no different, but I’m looking forward to see what Wohlsdorf does next. And a movie version would definitely be appreciated.
The Woman in Cabin 10 by Ruth Ware. This is the second novel from Ware, whose debut In a Dark, Dark Wood did pretty well last year. I like this one better, it has more of a mystery feel combined with a Girl on the Train-style unreliable narrator (chronic anxiety rather than alcoholism this time). Lo has a low-level job with a Travel magazine but lands a sweet gig writing about a super-luxury cruise. In the midst of a personal crisis, she’s glad to leave her life behind for a while to join a small number of wealthy patrons. But one night Lo is sure she sees a woman in the next cabin thrown overboard… but when she calls for help she finds out that no one is missing and the cabin was unoccupied. It’s a classic subgenre of mystery, where all the suspects are together in one place and anyone could be the killer. It’s a nice Girl on the Train readalike, more for the ramped-up thriller-style mystery lover than the procedural fan.