Questions and Answers on Go Set a Watchman

GSAW InstagramOn Tuesday, I posted on Instagram that I was starting Go Set a Watchman on audio. The comments included this one from Kristina, “I’m so nervous to read it. I can’t wait to hear what you think.”

Everyone was nervous. In the book world, the build up to GSAW’s publication day was ridiculous. I wasn’t nervous, actually. I did not fret. I paid only cursory attention. I wasn’t even going to read it. But the day it came out I was able to follow along in real time as people read and reacted and I just got too curious not to. It was the readers who got me interested, not the author or the book. So when Harper Collins said they’d send over the audiobook for review I knew I just needed to dive in and see it for myself. (Links are to Amazon & Audible, if you purchase I make a small commission.)

So here’s some of the questions out there about Go Set a Watchman and what you need to know.

Is it terrible?

No. Honestly, the first half of the book was so lovely that I couldn’t believe it hadn’t been edited and felt like it really was a worthy companion to Mockingbird. The second half is different, partly because the last third is made up almost entirely of long conversations and could definitely use some editing, and partly because the subject matter suddenly becomes very difficult and hard to read. 

Because Atticus is a racist, right? I heard about that.

Yes, that’s the short version. It’s much more complex than that. But that’s the general gist. As you can imagine, it’s a bitter pill to swallow for us and for Scout.

Oh, Scout. I love her. Is she still awesome?

Yes. Yes, she is. One of the gifts of Watchman is the chance to see Scout go to her first dance, get her first period, and glimpse other childhood flashbacks. As a grown-up she wears pants when she feels like it and lives in New York City. So yeah, she’s still awesome.

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What about Jem? And Dill? And Calpurnia? 

Too many spoilers. Can’t say.

Is it just a bunch of stuff we already know from To Kill a Mockingbird?

No, there’s some overlapping text but not nearly enough to even be noticeable.

Is it a good audiobook?

Well, since there’s difficult material it makes the audiobook difficult sometimes. As a reader, I tend to skim when I’m uncomfortable to try to get the bad things to go away. But as a listener? No such luxury.

But if you’re definitely going to read this book and you like audiobooks, it’s a good choice. Reese Witherspoon is the reader. I was highly skeptical. But she is fantastic. One of the best readers of any audiobook I’ve read this year. She just felt RIGHT. They must hire her to read To Kill a Mockingbird immediately.

I feel like you’re not really giving me that much information.

I know. I’m sorry. It’s hard because half of this book is just what you want it to be and the other half is just HARD. And it gave me a lot of very complicated feelings. And I’m not sure everyone is ready to jump into those. I have a feeling there will be a lot of book clubs that get heated over this book. Many of its characters are actively, outwardly racist but believe they are doing good. This is a real thing. These people still exist and they’re all around you. And there may be people in your book club who are convinced by their arguments that they really are good people. If your book club is usually a gentle place for chit chat and dessert, it may suddenly become very awkward or angry or who knows what. It is hard to talk about race and racism with your friends and family. I believe it should be done, but that doesn’t make it easy. 

I am torn between telling everyone that their book club should read this immediately so that we can move forward on the difficult work that is talking about race, and telling people to maybe be careful about reading it in book clubs. I know those conversations can go to bad places and lead to bad things and it’s hard enough to follow along with Jean Louise as she discovers that the people she loves are not who she thought they were, doing it in real life is much harder. Then again, if your book club read GSAW and then completely ignores race all together in your discussion, that is troubling as well.

This book gives you lots of feels, and many of them are profoundly difficult. It has been less than 24 hours since I read it and I’ve written over 2000 words about it now because I just have to do something and process it and I still don’t really know how. (No, this post is not 2,000 words long. I wrote a couple others, including this one for Book Riot.)

Usually I am all for taking a book knowing as little about it as possible. But with this book, I think you need to be ready. I knew from watching people read it that it took a hairpin turn. And I spent much of it thinking, “I don’t see how this book can make me turn against it,” only to realize later, “Oh, that’s how.” 

Over a million copies of Go Set a Watchman have sold, it’s a huge event in the book world, and yet I can’t help but think that no one will be standing around the water cooler or the playground saying, “Did you read it? Me, too! What did you think?” Instead I have a feeling we won’t be talking about it much at all because of all the hard things there are to talk about.

So that’s your info. Do with it what you will. And if you have read the book, consider the comments a safe space to get your feels out. Because I know I’m not the only one who needed to word-dump them somewhere.

All Kinds of Audiobooks

Iaffiliate links pic love audiobooks and always have. I’ve had a lot of long-distance driving in my life and audiobooks have been the only way I cope. Even when I take public transit it helps me detach from the mass of humanity and go to somewhere else in my head. I’m back to long commutes now that I’m at a new job, but I’m  not really sad because I get 45 minutes or so of uninterrupted listening time each way in the stillness and solitude of my car. It’s a beautiful thing.

I see people asking for audiobook recommendations a lot so I thought I’d share the best of my listens for the last year or so.

Where to Get Audiobooks

1. The Library. Libraries usually have a pretty fantastic selection of audiobooks, especially if you have several local libraries that can send audiobooks from one location to another if you put it on hold. This should usually be your first stop. If it’s a new release you’ll have a decent waiting period. But on the bright side, only really popular and really new releases have enough holds that the audio has a long wait. The audio almost always has less holds than the book, though there are also less copies so keep that in mind.

2. Audible. I restarted my Audible subscription last year even though money was really tight. It made me happy enough that it was a total deal. You can do 1 audiobook a month for $14.95 or 2 for $22.95, and those prices are enough of a markdown from the audiobook price that you should get a subscription even if you aren’t sure you want more than one or two. With this link you can try Audible and get two free audiobooks. The thing is, once you start an Audible subscription, it’s really easy to get more audiobooks cheap. Audible has a Daily Deal every day (I check the emails every morning) where a popular book is marked down to usually less than $5. They also run sales every few weeks where a whole bunch of audiobooks will be on sale for cheap. The selection at Audible is incredibly good, you really can’t beat it. And if you get an audiobook you don’t like, you can return it and trade it for another book. Bonus: the recently updated phone app is a huge gamechanger. It works well (if you used the phone app before, it’s SO much better) and now I listen to more books on my phone than anything else.

3. Scribd. My pals at Book Riot got me on board with Scribd. It’s also a subscription model and most people use it for access to e-books. But they also have a decent audiobook library. I started my free trial last month when I read the first of a series on Audible but was out of credits even though I immediately needed to read the second and third. Enter Scribd, who kept me from spending too much money or waiting so long that I’d go nuts. The selection is smaller, but the price is great: $8.99 a month. You get e-books, too, with a lot of new titles mixed in. On the downside, as a subscription service you don’t get to keep anything. And their app needs tweaking, the audio quality isn’t as good and I’ve had a few hiccups. Not enough hiccups to get me to stop using it, though.

Now that you’ve got sources for your audiobooks, here’s some of my favorites in a few genres.


Way back in the day when I had my first Audible subscription, I listened to Tana French’s first novel In the Woods on audio and it is still one of my favorite listening experiences. Mysteries can be hard since you have to pay close attention, but if you’ve got time on your hands any of French’s books make great listening, especially if you like long books (I do!!).

If you like it on the gritty side, go for The Whites, a book whose praises I’ve been singing all year. By Richard Price, one of my absolute favorite authors, writing as Harry Brandt (long story), the reader here is one of the best I’ve ever had. He nails both sides of the story, and he turns on the New-York-cop-talk and the New-York-criminal-talk very well. All kinds of accents and backgrounds fly through this story and it feels 100% real the whole way. It’s a long one but moves, moves, moves.

I read a lot in translation, especially crime, and a recent favorite is The Devotion of Suspect X by Keigo Higashino. Never has a modern mystery reminded me so much of Agatha Christie, which is a huge compliment. A woman murders her ex-husband and her strange neighbor helps cover it up and at first this seems like your typical will-they-get-away-with-it book as the police investigate. But it’s meticulously done and has an ending that will make you fall out of your chair. I can’t praise it enough. The reader gives the book’s often-gentle Japanese style just the right tone.

Young Adult

Will Grayson, Will Grayson is a book by two YA powerhouses (John Green and David Levithan) that goes back and forth between two narrators. It’s great for audio since you get two readers. I like to break up serious books with YA and this book was a delight. Plenty of real stakes for the two teenage boys with the exact same name at its center, but also plenty of lighthearted whimsy, including my favorite character, Tiny, the not-at-all-tiny gay best friend who writes a musical based on his own life. 

I just finished listening to More Happy Than Not by Adam Silvera, a new release. If I miss a book before it comes out and hear great things, it’s not at all unusual for me to hit up Audible and get it. The reader is not my favorite (the main character is a kid from the projects and the narrator’s voice just doesn’t hit that note) but I’m making up for it a little bit by listening to it on 1.25x speed which makes the too-long pauses not so long, another audio bonus. This book hits so many of the Contemporary YA notes, but is about a poor, brown kid instead of a well-off white kid, so if you’re tired of hearing about how tough kids in the suburbs have it, get on board. It also has an Eternal-Sunshine-esque twist of magical realism. There’s a slowly rising undercurrent of LGBT issues that go in directions you don’t expect. This is a novel that you have to really work not to spoil, so let me just say that I hit an unexpected plot twist as I pulled into the parking lot for work one day and was seriously devastated that I had to stop right then.

I don’t think Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein belongs in YA. The protagonists happen to be teenage girls, but if they were teenage boys fighting in a war that would be an adult novel. The fact that these “soldiers” are girls shouldn’t change anything, and bonus points they’re spies!! But anyway. This book is another that had two readers for the two protagonists and they were both spectacular, with the right kind of accents (one working-class British, the other Scottish) that really bring their characters to life. Having much of the novel written in letter form, also makes it perfect for reading. This is really high-adventure, one of the most thrilling and heart-pounding books I’ve read. A great pick for a group listen.

Literary Fiction

Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk was a book from a few years ago that I always meant to read and never did. This is exactly the kind of book I tend to seek out on audio and I’m so glad I read it that way because it had a spectacular reader and I think the novel was well served by being read aloud. This book is set in the early 2000’s and it’s about one day in the lives of Bravo Squad, who are briefly back in the US for a press tour that interrupts their tour in Iraq. This is a satire that captures the US in a specific place at a specific time. But the reason this book is so good (one of my favorites I’ve read this year, for sure) isn’t the satire but the big beating heart that is Billy Lynn and the bonds he feels with his family and his squad. The narrative that walks you slowly through the day building up to… you don’t know exactly what is also surprisingly suspenseful. Oh, and the reader is stellar, switching back and forth to the different and diverse voices of Bravo Squad like it’s nothing at all.

When I found out that Toni Morrison has recorded several of her audiobooks I immediately had to get one. I listened to Sula, which was a perfect choice. It’s not one of her denser books (listening to Beloved strikes me as much too hard) and it’s not too long. You will see lots of readers complain about Morrison’s voice, so you may want to try a sample. I adored it. She doesn’t read like an actor, she reads like a poet. There is something so soothing about her voice, it moves like a river that flows right through your head down to your heart. She does voices well, which surprised me, and I was very sad when the book ended. I would like her to read so many things to me. 

If you follow me on Twitter you may know that I am addicted to Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan novels. I listened to the first 3 (the 4th comes out this fall) on audio in a frenzy. These books are more than just coming of age novels or books about a difficult friendship. They’re about what it means to be a woman and a person and, well, pretty much everything. You can start with My Brilliant Friend and if you find yourself unable to stop listening to it (I like audio for these, since I can hear what the Italian names and words are supposed to sound like) you can find all 3 on Scribd and binge them just like I did. My Brilliant Friend was one of those audiobooks that made me gasp out loud on the subway. Good stuff.

Celebrity Authors

I love celebrities reading their own writing, especially if it’s a comedian who writes well. Amy Poehler’s Yes Please is my top pick in this category. Poehler plays around with her audiobook, bringing in guest readers, and going off script plenty of times. She saves all kinds of special surprises just for the listener and it’s a delight. Her book is pretty fantastic as well, it got me teary-eyed on multiple occasions, so fair warning.

If you are single and frustrated or not single and just want to live vicariously, Modern Romance by Aziz Ansari is a good pick for listening. Ansari apologizes early on that you don’t get to see any graphs (I honestly didn’t really notice or care) but it’s a great pick for audio, especially if you’re only able to listen a little bit at a time. This book is seriously fascinating, a detailed look at all the ways dating and romance have changed in the last 50 years, and if you never had to worry about texting someone you’re going out with let’s just say you lived in a simpler time and I envy you. As someone who’s out there, this book felt really accurate (skewed a little younger than me, but still accurate) and helped me feel like I really wasn’t a crazy person. It’s basically required reading if you’re back in the field for the first time in a while. And it’s a fun book full of fascinating tidbits so if you like trivia, you should really get on board.


Sometimes I get a book just because of the reader. And that was a lot of the case with Redshirts by John Scalzi. I’ve been meaning to read Scalzi for ages but seeing that this book, about the kind of low-level characters on a Star-Trek-esque starship who keep getting killed off, was read by Wil Wheaton, who was one of my first crushes playing Wesley Crusher, I was 100% in. Wheaton’s a good reader and it’s a great audiobook, especially for a crowd on a long drive. It’s fun and interesting and not too long, a crowdpleaser for sure.

For more serious sci-fi you can try The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell, another book I’d always meant to get to. This book is pretty harrowing at times and full of joy and love at others, definitely a book that covers a wide emotional spectrum. It’s also one of the few examples out there of a book about space exploration that also explores questions of humanity, morality, and religion in complex ways. Doing this book on audio helps a lot, since a lot of the book is made of dialogue between the central characters and hearing them actually have these conversations helped you feel more like you were there. 


One of my favorite books from last year, Bird Box by Josh Malerman, is one of my all-time favorite listens. Something about listening to horror makes you feel even more powerless and held-captive than you do with a physical book. You can’t skip your eyes ahead to the next paragraph to see what happens. You have to wait and feel like this is all happening too slow and it really rachets up the suspense. Listening to this book only made it more creepy and it remains one of the scariest books I have ever read. Sometimes I listened at home and would yell at the protagonist. I really wanted to do this on the subway, too, but I also didn’t want to be the crazy person on the subway yelling, “The birds, Malorie!!! The birds!!!!!”

A little bit of Stephen King backlist is a palate cleanser I go to every so often. I think I got pretty lucky with the selection of Christine. Yes, it’s the one about the car. But honestly I found it to be one of his stronger efforts from his not-so-strong years. It had a good reader who really brought the characters to life, and with a book that long you really start to get in a groove with it where it almost starts to feel like something you do every day.

I’d love to get some of your favorite audio picks in the comments. What have you listened to lately that’s been totally amazing??

Welcome to BEA

I attend blogger conferences a lot and people find that concept very confusing. They find Book Expo America, aka BEA, to be a little less confusing but still not something that makes a ton of sense. So I thought I would pass on a little bit of insight for those of you outside the book world to have an idea of just what happened to all of us last week. 

This was only my second BEA. I am by no means an expert. But at least it wasn’t the flailing confusion that I had the first time. Now I kind of get it. 

The short version is that BEA is a trade show for the book world. Publishers, authors, agents, booksellers, librarians, and reviewers all come together to see what’s happening. That kind of makes it sound very kumbaya. It’s really less singing and more lines. 

It’s kind of like Disneyland… except at the end of the line someone hands you a book and then you get in another line.

BEA takes place in the Javits Center in NYC. It’s 3 blocks long. And you feel it. Everyone talks about the books they got while they’re at BEA, then they talk about how much their feet hurt.

When you come inside, there are massive banners for books hanging from the glass ceiling.

Good morning #BEA15 looking beautiful as usual! Time to rep some awesome books! #kdpg #bookcon #bea

A photo posted by Pantheon (@pantheonbooks) on

Then you get to the floor, which looks like this:

Back at #bea2015 #Bea15 aimlessly wandering.

A photo posted by Coffee and a Book Chick (@coffeebookchick) on

Except that it just looks like that forever and ever and ever and why bother bringing a fitbit because you know you’ll walk 85 bajillion steps?

Seriously, it’s impossible to give you an idea of its size

The view from above. #bea15

A photo posted by BookEnds Literary Agency (@bookends_literary) on

This picture shows you aisles 700 to 1900 or so. And even then you can barely see 700. You definitely can’t see all the way to the end. Plus the aisles kept going in the other direction into the 3000’s. And, of course, you always need one thing on one end and then have to go back to the other end for the next thing.

So what is it that we’re all doing here? 

Some of us are taking meetings and doing business. Some of us are trying to find contacts or build relationships. And some of us are here for the books. 

You see, the publishers all have booths on the floor. Some are big, some are small. But many of them have books. And they know that there will be many people at BEA who put books into the hands of readers by reviewing or selling or lending. They want those people to see their books. So you’ll see a lot of this:

Just one of our lines for giveaways this week #books #bea15

A photo posted by Veronica Kutys (@kutysv) on

Sometimes these piles are just there for the taking. Sometimes they require a line. 

Now the nice thing is that the line usually comes with a signing at the end. So you and the author can say hi. Sometimes these books are in the publisher booths. Sometimes they are in the “autographing area.” The Autographing Area makes me feel as though I’m about to be led up a ramp and zapped.

Part 2 autograph area #BEA2015 #bea15

A photo posted by Lucy D'Andrea (@lucy_dandrea) on

The drill becomes familiar. First line.

Oh good, now I know where I am! #BEA15

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(Good lines had signs and people keeping everything in order. Props to them. Macmillan, Penguin Random House, and Simon & Schuster all seemed to do pretty well. But the Macmillan line signs, pictured above, were by far my favorite.)

Then sign.

Ernest Cline signing a copy of Armada at #BEA15

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This continues throughout the day. Some of us intersperse this with other stuff. Some devote themselves solely to books. This all requires a tote bag. I brought my favorite one with me.

As you can see, my tote already has a few books in it. I tend to go light. I like e-galleys on my Kindle and save just the good stuff for hard copies. Others don’t.

And for some people it gets kind of out of control.

Gotta admit I'm jelly they got all these #books at #BEA15 and I've got like 5 ???? #booklover #booksonbooks

A photo posted by Eunice (@guysitseunie) on

That is why the roller bags are here. So that people who cannot possibly carry all their books around have something to put them in and a way to get them back to their hotel. There are lots of them.

The sea of roller bags. #bea15

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I am not a roller bag person. I am strictly a one tote bag person. And I prefer that that tote bag not be full. 

There is also a shipping area because sometimes you have too many books for your suitcase and you have to mail them home. 

I did go home with one small roller bag which was about half full of books. So it wasn’t a small haul. Less than 20, but not by a lot. 

It is really easy to get so caught up in everything that you don’t eat. It is easier because the cafeteria in the Javits is less than stellar and there’s really no decent food for several blocks. (Pro tip: I did snag a gyro from a place in the lower level called The Agape Cafe or something? And it was a pretty great gyro piled ridiculously high with lettuce, tomato, onion, and tzatziki and I’m pretty sure it was cheaper than a hot dog and fries. Also it was really delicious. And I’m kind of sad that I finally figured out Javits Center food the last day I’ll be there.)

For two days I walked back and forth across the floor. I said hi to the handful of people I knew. I took only one selfie with an author because we weren’t in line and I mean COME ON she’s a legend.

I waited in zero celebrity lines. And there are lots. Off the top of my head I can recall Jesse Eisenberg, Nathan Lane, Julianne Moore, Mindy Kaling, Felicia Day, Gloria Steinem, Bernadette Peters, etc. And those are just the non-book celebrities. The book celebrities are ridiculous. 

The funny thing is that the book world is so wide that I didn’t recognize the vast majority of names I saw. It’s a great opportunity to dig through the listings and explore new possibilities and try new things. Almost every book I got is by an author I haven’t read before. That’s exciting. There are picture books and middle grade and young adult and nonfiction of all kinds and fiction of all kinds and cookbooks and coffee table books and literally every possible book. It’s a big world.

I was lucky to attend BEA this year as a member of Book Riot, where I’ve been a ridiculously happy member of the crew for a year now. Last time I went was back in the day of Red Letter Reads, a tiny site with tiny numbers that no one had heard of. This year people knew who we were. It was weird and kind of exhilarating. 

But it wasn’t nearly as wonderful as getting to meet many of my fellow Rioters in person. 

Good morning from the Rioters who are in NYC this week! #BEA15

A photo posted by Book Riot (@bookriot) on

Getting to hang with them was a huge highlight of BEA. I know from years of blog experience that you can become fast friends without ever meeting, and this was yet another confirmation. They are good people and my favorite.

I also got to spend a bunch of time with JoLee and her sister Paige who run the book blog Intellectual Recreation and who I have known for more years than I should admit publicly if I want to keep the belief going that I am 27. We roomed together, ate much food together, talked about curly hair together, and walked many blocks together. 

I obviously didn’t have this post all mapped out because we took zero selfies together. Bad blogger.

BEA is in many ways more work than a blogger conference, but it’s also less. I got home and went out a few minutes later (even though my feet were so sore by this point that I just started pretending they weren’t there). Blogger conferences usually take me a few days to recover from the forced extroversion. But BEA lets you be as much of a hermit as you’d like, though you’re still surrounded by people. It’s not a place where people are chatty and constantly introducing themselves, although plenty of conversations happen. It’s not a place where you’re afraid to ditch your friends and go wait in a line by yourself that no one else wants to wait in. And happily, for many of us, we have no qualms about our book choices.

I went home with this

Hey-o! #BEA2015

A photo posted by Book Riot (@bookriot) on

And I really don’t feel embarrassed or ashamed or like I can’t tell people. I’m really excited to read it. 

People walked around with high fantasy, YA, indie books, etc. Just people who love reading and that’s that. Also people who love tote bags. Because so many tote bags. 

Next year BEA will be in Chicago and I will definitely be there. It’ll be an adventure to leave the Javits, but I’m really hopeful that there will be better food and maybe, just maybe, less walking. A girl can dream.

Summer Reading Picks

affiliate links picIt’s time for summer reading lists. They’re popping up everywhere. I’m pulling from (mostly) the last couple years to find the best options for your airplane seat or beach chair. Not everyone wants the same beach read so I’m dividing these up into Light, Medium, and Heavy fare. 

First off, the sad news. You’ll have to wait until late-Summer and Fall for a bunch of great picks. Upcoming memoirs and essays from Mindy Kaling and Jenny Lawson aren’t out until August/September. Sad face. Same goes for upcoming nerd fodder in Felicia Day’s memoir (out in August) and the new novel from Ready Player One author Ernest Cline, Armada, which is out in mid-July. Get your pre-order game on accordingly. 

Summer Reading Picks 2015

Light Reads

Crazy Rich Asians is a perfect pick for this category, fluffy and indulgent, perfect for people who secretly read gossip magazines or celebrity websites but only with guilt. The sequel is out in June, China Rich Girlfriend, and author Kevin Kwan follows the same kind of formula (family clashes, relationship drama, ridiculous wealth, all with maximum melodrama and a humorous, light touch) moving the setting from Singapore to mainland China. He keeps many of the main characters, but I was relieved that I didn’t need a refresh on who was who, the book picks right up and you’ll be fine if you have only vague recollections of Nicholas, Rachel, Astrid, and the rest. Another pick on the rich and famous: The Royal We by Heather Cocks and Jessica Morgan. American girl falls for English prince, paparazzi, drama, and hilarity ensue.

Want scares? Go for The Deep by Nick Cutter. It takes the everything-plus-the-kitchen-sink approach to scares and has kind of a Stephen King-slash-Michael Crichton feel. Speaking of King, his thriller Mr. Mercedes is really, really good and makes you wonder why King went for horror when he does crime so well. (King has a new novel, Finders Keepers, coming out this summer but I haven’t read it yet.) 

Swinging 60’s London is the scene of Funny Girl, from author Nick Hornby, who’s written plenty of smart and super readable novels. Following a small town girl who becomes a famous TV comedienne, it’s good for fans of zippy dialogue and quick wit. 

If you want twisty and turny, don’t overlook YA. The genre is busting with plot-heavy novels that you can read at breakneck pace. I have a bunch of great picks here. Tiny Pretty Things is basically Mean Girls meets Center Stage. Elite ballerinas, sabotage, betrayal, all that fun stuff. Authors Sona Charaipotra and Dhonielle Clayton are great writers, so the book feels like more than a soapy romp, there are real characters and real stakes.

Want realistic teenage struggle and romance? If you’ve run out of John Green books, you should try Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda for lots of heart, great characters, excellent dialogue, and a pageturning love story. Simon hasn’t come out yet, but he’s fallen in love with a boy online whose identity he doesn’t know. When he’s threatened with blackmail, it all gets kind of crazy. One of the best high school coming-of-age novels I’ve read. For another YA with strong characters and a realistic feel, try The Distance Between Lost and Found by Kathryn Holmes (which has some religion and survivalism thrown in to boot) and Guy In Real Life (which has geeks and video games). 

If you prefer more sci-fi flavor, try The Cage by Megan Shepherd. A group of teens wake up to find themselves in an impossible place where there are empty buildings and strange black windows. It isn’t long until they realize they’re being held captive and that someone (or something) is watching. The first in a new series. Another great choice is The Leveller, set in the near-future in a world with virtual reality. Protagonist Nixy makes bank by finding kids in the virtual world and delivering them to their parents for bounty. She gets the job of her life when she’s sent to rescue the son of the billionaire developer who created the game who doesn’t want to be found. 

The Cost of All Things by Maggie Lehrman is pitched as We Were Liars meets Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind and it’s actually a pretty decent comparison. (Usually these X Meets Y pitches are sketchy at best.) It takes place in a world a lot like our own, except for the existence of hekamists (basically, witches) who can do magic but are outlawed from practicing it. So of course there’s a black market for their services, and plenty of their spells are cast on people without their knowledge. It gets really complicated and really messy, a great plot concept that’s pretty well executed.

Medium Reads

There are plenty of big books from the last year or so that you may not have caught up with yet. Now’s the perfect time.

Though it came out last summer, still building buzz and going strong is Everything I Never Told You, a family drama with a mystery feel that would be great for your book club. Author Celeste Ng mines the family-secrets-in-the-suburbs genre but subverts it by focusing on the family that doesn’t really fit in, Chinese immigrant James Lee, his white wife Marilyn, and their three children. They are much more than they appear on the surface and the book’s slow reveals are fascinating.  

For a feel-good memoir with plenty of heart, go for Yes, Please by Amy Poehler. It was one of the big books at the end of 2014 and if you didn’t catch it then you should definitely catch it now. 

Riding a very long train of buzz still leftover from Fall 2014 is Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel, which really is as good as everyone says it is. With its mix of graphic novel geekdom and high Shakespeare with apocalypse thrown in for good measure, it’s appeals to a really broad readership. Along

Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins is the big-buzz book of early 2015. If you haven’t read it yet, summer vacation is a good time to catch up. It falls in the Medium section rather than Light because it has the dark plot and unlikable characters that are kind of in vogue now with the successes of Gone Girl and The Dinner. While not as good as those two (they are pretty killer in the genre) it’s a tightly plotted book. If you don’t like books about bad people, skip it. Because the whole premise is that the main character, who is descending ever deeper into self-destructive alcoholism, has potentially witnessed a crime while on a bender. 

Now, let’s move on from what everybody’s reading to talk about what more people should be reading.

If you haven’t yet jumped on the Rainbow Rowell train, now is a great time. Landline, her most recent novel, is one of my favorites of hers. Some may put Rowell books automatically in the Light Reads category, but I don’t. She isn’t afraid to put her characters in situations where there isn’t an easy solution and they aren’t their best selves. If you’ve been married (especially with kids) chances are you’ll find a lot that’s familiar in the story of Georgie McCool and her troubled marriage. Of course it’s not all difficult and sad. Georgie is a comedy writer, she’s funny even when she’s in the midst of a crisis, and it’s fun to tag along with her. The twist of magical realism in the book works astonishingly well, allowing Georgie to have conversations with her husband… except she’s calling back in time to speak to a younger version of him. Rowell makes her characters work for happiness, she doesn’t just bestow it on them, and it’s one of the things I love about her.

If you’re looking for something fast-paced with complex subject matter try Hyacinth Girls by Lauren Frankel. Rebecca is raising Callie, the daughter of her best friend, after her mother died. When Callie is accused of bullying at school, Rebecca thinks back to her own tumultuous teenage years and is determined to prove Callie’s innocence. But after she does, Callie starts being targeted and Rebecca worries that it will all end in the same tragedies she lived through. 

For suspense-driven horror that’s more than cheap frights, be sure to read Bird Box by Josh Malerman, the single most terrifying book I’ve ever read in absolutely the best way. It really is suspense and not horror, but it’s just so expertly done and ultimately unrelenting that it starts to feel like horror. I’m not going to tell you anything about it. But I know a lot of people who have read this book and the results are almost entirely very, very enthusiastically positive.  A good matching book would be Broken Monsters by Lauren Beukes, part police-procedural, part trippy horror, set in gritty Detroit. 

Police procedural fans probably already know that Richard Price put out a new novel this year even though it’s officially “Richard Price writing as Harry Brandt.” Long story. Anyway. The Whites is, like many of Price’s novels, gritty and gut-wrenching and perfect. Price doesn’t write pulpy procedurals where the hot young FBI agent and the hot young psychiatrist consulting on the case fall in love. His books zero in on the blue collar life of cops and the lives of the criminals they chase. The Whites is all about revenge and has two parallel plot lines that come together so well that only a top caliber novelist could pull it off. You get intimately acquainted with the rhythms of detective Billy Graves’ life, but you also race through the story to solve a string of murders targeting murderers who managed to avoid prison time for their crimes. Seriously satisfying, one of my best books of the year for sure. 

For a crime novel that’s less procedural and more of an old school feel (think Agatha Christie or Sherlock Holmes) try The Devotion of Suspect X by Keigo Higashino. There’s a lot of fantastic crime fiction in Japan, but this one has a throwback style complete with an eccentric physicist who advises his detective friend on cases and a plot that’s so meticulously constructed that you have no idea how complex it is until the last page. I was in awe of this book. I listened to it and physically gasped at the end. I wanted to applaud the author. And read all his other books. (Only 2 more are currently translated into English. Let’s fix that.) Just don’t read this one on a plane. I made that mistake and when it was over all I wanted to do was talk about it or meditate on it and instead I was just stuck on a plane (which is basically the worst). 

If spy novels are more your speed, I can definitely recommend The Distance by Helen Giltrow. It’s not your normal spy novel, but it has that same kind of breakneck pace and shadowy secret figures. After reading this, I suspected it would appeal to the John Le Carre and Tom Clancy crowd so I gave it to my Mom, who gave it a very positive review. Karla “gets things done” for powerful people. But her newest job for a mysterious client is to kill a target in an experimental and impenetrable prison colony. There are layers and layers of intrigue, and a plot that left me in awe. 

Slow down a little for Eden West, a moderately paced but mesmerizing book about a teenage boy who’s been brought up in a religious commune. At first they seem unusual and mostly harmless, with antiquated social orders and a live-off-the-land heartiness. But as Jacob grows up he sees more and more that troubles him and starts to question everything he’s ever known. Especially when the world becomes much more real when he encounters a girl from the outside on one of his border patrolling trips. Author Pete Hautmann does so well with this book because he treats Jacob’s beliefs with respect and understands the struggle and compromise that comes with religion and community. 

For more of the drama that comes with community, read The Book of Unknown Americans by Cristina Henriquez, about a group of immigrants who live in the same apartment complex. They come from different countries, they have vastly different backgrounds, but they all have the same dreams and they come together for better of for worse in this book. At the center of the story is Maribel, a teenager whose parents have brought her to the US to be treated for a traumatic brain injury. Mayor, the boy across the hall, sees in her a 

Heavy Reads

While summer reads for many people mean light or fast reads, there are those of us who like something meaty and difficult to contrast with our relaxed surroundings. For you guys, I have some bigger reads. 

There are several recent releases that fit the bill. Kate Atkinson’s A God in Ruins, a companion novel to Life After Life, is out now. Either one would be a hefty summer read. The books follow 2 siblings in a large family. Ursula lives and dies and lives and dies and lives again in Life After Life, getting a little farther and doing a little better and being a little different each time. It’s an interesting conceit that lets you explore characters in significant depth while seeing them in drastically different circumstances. A God in Ruins is a more traditional novel that follows Ursula’s brother Teddy, focusing mostly on his time as a pilot in WWII, his marriage and daughter, and eventually his grandchildren. The book flashes forward and backward through Teddy’s life, saving key bits of insight to be revealed after you thought you understood everything. Atkinson is a wily writer but also a wise one. It is the kind of heavy novel that’s all about humanity and family and love and war and what it all means. 

There is also the final novel from Kent Haruf out in bookstores. Haruf writes quiet, meditative novels set in the mountain west. Our Souls at Night is the kind of book that has only a small amount of plot. It is grounded firmly in realism and exploring its characters. Addie is a widow and Louis is a widower. They are older, parents of adult children, and have known each other for many years. They forge a new relationship, something between friendship and romance, creating real intimacy and (of course) setting the neighbors talking. Much of the book is the conversations of these two, their thoughts, their dreams, their regrets. It is spare, delicate, rich with emotion, and best read in the quiet evening air. 

I know someone who took Missoula, the new nonfiction book by powerhouse Jon Krakauer, on vacation because it was the only way she would be able to get through it. There’s something to be said for taking this difficult book to a place that is soothing so it’s a little easier to deal with. Missoula follows several young women in a Montana college town. Each of these women is raped by someone who is an acquaintance or a close friend, and each of them struggles with what to do. As these crimes turn into a problem that takes over the community, Krakauer examines how we respond to rape in our society, especially the myths that abound about how victims respond to rape and the complex issues around non-stranger rape. 

If you haven’t yet tackled the big doorstop of 2013, The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt, and the big doorstop of 2015, A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara, you now have no excuses. If you love big books but can’t fit them into your busy life, use your vacation. (And preferably your e-reader because they really are heavy.)

If I had a vacation, I’d probably think about finally reading Redeployment by Phil Klay, the highly praised book of connected stories about soldiers fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan and what happens to them when they return. War books are tough for me, and I tend to put them off, if you’re in the same boat you may want to pick it up. 

So that’s the list! It should have something for pretty much everyone. I’d love to hear your suggestions for what you’re taking with you to read this summer.

Let’s Get Excited About April Books!!

I know I get excited about books EVERY month, but I can’t help it and each month is a new round of enthusiasm. It just is! I’m sure other hardcore readers get it, that every month of new releases is another wealth of treasures to enjoy. As usual, links are Amazon affiliate links that help support the blog and don’t cost you anything.

But enough already because OMG NEW TONI MORRISON!!

If you didn’t read the absolutely incredible piece on the venerable Ms. Morrison in the NYT Magazine last weekend, you must do so right now. 

But let’s talk about her new book, God Help the Child. Because it’s by someone with as much of a reputation as Toni Morrison, it’s going to be reviewed everywhere and those reviews will be all over the map. I’ll leave it to you to make up your own mind, but I will try to talk you into reading it. 

I’m one of those people who had to read Song of Solomon in school. At least, I think I did. I don’t remember ever talking about it in class, but I remember the experience of reading it so clearly. It was one of those books that changed what I realized books were capable of doing. It’s still probably my favorite of her novels. I have gone back and forth on her more recent work. But I liked her last novel, A Mercy, even if I didn’t adore it. For me, God Help the Child felt like a real Toni Morrison novel. It had that sense of timelessness even though it’s set in a specific time. It had that tinge of allegory and fable and surrealism that keeps the next step in the plot always hovering beyond your vision and leaving you unsure of what is possible and impossible. 

It explores child abuse mostly, through several lenses and a few points of view. It’s also about self-actualization, about skin color, about healing, about many things. While child abuse is at its center, it is not described in detail, so those of you who struggle with the topic don’t necessarily need any kind of trigger warning. It is about the repercussions more than the acts. 

It’s a short novel, and some will surely feel like it doesn’t do enough. I was pleased with its length. But you can make your own decision. And you should. It’s out Tuesday the 21st, so go get a copy. 


Next up: let’s get excited about Fifteen Dogs by André Alexis. 

I know what you’re thinking: why should you be excited about a book you’ve never heard of from an author whose name isn’t familiar? Yeah, so it’s not a new Toni Morrison release. But you’ve already got that. And actually I think this novel has a bit of a kinship with a Morrison book. They both share that feeling that the story is almost more fable than novel. 

It’s rare that I read a book and think, “I don’t know anyone who won’t like this.” This is one of those books. I’m probably wrong. Surely someone will not like it. But they’ll be the exception.

My efforts to explain the book may not convince you. I know that the plot had me feeling unsure of whether this was something I wanted to read. Just do it. It’s one of these books that has something meaningful to say about life and being human, and yet it also has a plot that moves at stunning speed and characters you are legitimately connected to.

It’s also about dogs. Did I mention that? There are also gods. But mostly dogs. Dogs that, through a trick of fate, suddenly get the intelligence of a human while still having the needs and instincts of a canine. I want to tell you everything about this book, it is that kind of book, where you want all your friends to read it. In fact, skip reading it. Just have your book club and all your friends read it. Then you will feel much better when it’s over and you can talk about it obsessively with everyone.

You will love it. And you will seriously consider naming your next dog Majnoun. It’s out now.


That’s an awful lot to be excited about. But there’s still more.

There’s Attica Locke’s third novel. If you don’t know her, you totally should. She writes the kind of books John Grisham wanted to write and never quite wrote and then stopped writing and started writing drivel instead. Her books are dark, full of intrigue, packed with corruption, and all that good stuff. (Locke just happens to be on the writing staff for Empire. If you need her bona fides.) Her third book, Pleasantville, goes back to the protagonist of her first novel, the excellent Black Water Rising. You don’t need to read that one first. You can read her books in any order. And you should. She’s one of my favorite thriller writers. Out Tuesday April 21st.

And there’s Heidi Julavits’ new unconventional memoir, The Folded Clock, a diary of one year in her life given in non-chronological order. I have been kind of obsessed with Julavits since I read this book and listened to two episodes of Selected Shorts reading excerpts from last year’s Women in Clothes, which she co-edited and which I am C-R-A-Z-Y crazy about and must acquire immediately. The Folded Clock does require you to try not to hate Julavits a bit, since she is writing about her life as a professional writer who lives in New York City except when she’s summering in Maine or when she’s on a trip to Italy. That kind of thing. But there are bits of this book so funny that you really wish she was your best friend and that she’d invite you to the house in Maine. Out now.

And there’s Oye What I’m Gonna Tell You, a book of short stories by Cecilia Rodriguez Milanes mostly about Cuban-American young women and the generational conflict that comes in immigrant families. Milanes hooked me pretty early, with stories that end even though you want at least 5 more pages. It’s a great collection and I loved the way each character’s journey felt so different and yet they all felt connected. Out on Tuesday the 21st. 

Okay. I think that’s enough excitement for one month.

But in May we can totally get excited again.