What I Read and Loved in January 2020

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I’m usually glad when January is over since it often feels like a slog. After the excitement of the holidays, January comes as a kind of cold and dreary buzzkill that makes me want to curl up in a blanket every second of the day. And there’s usually snow, which is gross and terrible and limits my shoe choices. The good news is that I read some great books in January and made some new discoveries that I’m excited to talk about today. Let’s get to it.

What I Read

On earth we're briefly gorgeous book cover

On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous by Ocean Vuong

Since Ocean Vuong is a poet, I knew the writing in this novel would be beautiful, and it is. It’s written as a letter from a son to his mother in which he discusses growing up, sexuality, heritage, and family. My only criticism of the book is the somewhat choppy narrative style. Just as I’d be getting into the flow of a particular story, it would end, and another would begin. Even so, this novel is definitely worth reading if you love good, realistic prose.

Good girls lie book cover

Good Girls Lie by J. T. Ellison

This thriller is set at an elite private high school for girls in a small Virginia town. When the novel opens, a student has been found dead. The novel explores who this person was and why they were killed. I’ve read one of J. T. Ellison’s books before, and my issues with that book are present here, too, in that there’s not enough character development and too many twists. Good Girls Lie is entertaining from beginning to end, but doesn’t offer much else.

Such a Fun Age by Kiley Reid

Alix is a white 30-something influencer who’s recently moved to Philadelphia with her husband and two kids. She hires a black woman named Emira as a babysitter to help care for her three-year-old daughter, Briar. When an emergency happens at Alix’s house one night, she calls Emira and begs her to pick up Briar and get her out of the house for a bit. Emira takes to the girl to a nearby high-end grocery store where she’s accused of kidnapping the child. The exchange between her and the security guard is all caught on tape. Such a Fun Age starts there and goes on to explore how Alix and Emira handle the fallout from this incident. This novel is a smart, thoughtful story about race, class, and privilege that I absolutely devoured. I imagine this book will be high on my best of 2020 list.

twenty-one truths about love book cover

Twenty-One Truths About Love by Matthew Dicks

Do you know what I love almost as much as I love books? Lists. When I heard about Twenty-One Truths About Love and learned the entire thing is structured as various lists, I was intrigued but skeptical. My skepticism abated quickly, though, as I got to know Daniel, the novel’s protagonist. He’s a struggling bookstore owner and soon to be a first-time father. His finances are getting worse every month, and he can’t bear to tell his wife. Daniel is a sympathetic, funny, well-rounded character, especially considering this book’s structure. There was one plot point that I found to be silly, but otherwise, this novel is charming and inventive.

What I Loved

TELEVISION: Next in Fashion

Netflix’s new fashion competition show is an absolute delight. The designers are insanely talented, producing beautiful clothes in less than 48 hours. And unlike a lot of other competition shows, this one is exceedingly positive, with cast members appreciating and showing kindness to one another instead of tearing each other apart to win. Prepare to want a whole new wardrobe after watching this.

Power bank

TECH: Power Bank

One of my favorite Instagram accounts is @things.i.bought.and.liked. She continually has good recommendations, including beauty, lifestyle, and home products. She recently recommended this power bank, and when I saw it, I knew it was The Thing That Would Change My Life™. And it has! Instead of keeping track of cords for my phone, Kindle, wireless headphones, Bluetooth speaker, etc., I can use this one device to charge all of them. The cables fold into the device itself, and the power bank charges through an outlet. I love that it’s self-contained and small enough to fit in any handbag. 

Maggie Rogers album cover

MUSIC: Maggie Rogers, Heard It in a Past Life

This album isn’t a new discovery, but it’s the one I’ve been listening to all month. “Back in My Body” has been on constant repeat lately, and “Light On” is another favorite.

20 of My Favorite Contemporary Writers

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Have you ever loved an author’s work so much that you’re willing to read whatever they write next? Donna Tartt could write a review for her local hardware store, and I’d read it. David Sedaris could write about his sock drawer, and I’d curl up with that book right now.

Today I want to share 20 of my favorite contemporary writers. (To make this list, I had to have read at least two of their books.) Most of these writers are names you’ll probably know since you’re reading a book blog, but maybe there will be a discovery or two. Let my fangirling commence.

Megan Abbott

What she writes: Crime fiction and suspense

Why I like her work: Her books are unputdownable, keeping me in my chair until the final twist is revealed.

Where to start: You Will Know Me

Jami Attenberg

What she writes: Domestic fiction full of dysfunctional characters

What I like her work: I love books full of flawed yet fascinating characters, and Attenberg always delivers.

Where to start: All Grown Up

Sarah Bessey

What she writes: Poetic spiritual memoirs chronicling the evolution of her faith and theology

Why I like her work: Bessey is a skilled writer who can discuss complicated theology with a gentle touch.

Where to start: Jesus Feminist: An Invitation to Revisit the Bible’s View of Women

Brené Brown

What she writes: Candid nonfiction about shame and vulnerability

Why I like her work: Few books have been life-changing for me, but Brown’s truly have been. I can’t think of any other writers doing the type of work she’s doing.

Where to start: The Gifts of Imperfection

Gillian Flynn

What she writes: Dark, twisted suspense

Why I like her work: When I read thrillers, plot is important, but good characters are my first priority. Flynn writes complex (and terribly messed up) characters so well.

Where to start: Gone Girl

Tana French

What she writes: Crime and mystery fiction

Why I like her work: Tana French is the queen of her genre. Her prose is fantastic and her character development is second to none.

Where to start: In the Woods

Roxane Gay

What she writes: Everything: cultural criticism, essays, memoir, fiction

Why I like her work: Gay is an incredibly engaging writer. She can make any topic interesting. She’s as funny as she can be heartbreaking.

Where to start: Bad Feminist

Jane Harper

What she writes: Atmospheric mysteries set in Australia

Why I like her work: I appreciate books with a strong sense of place, and that’s where Harper excels. When I read her books, I feel like I’m right there in the world she’s created.

Where to start: The Dry

Leslie Jamison

What she writes: Memoir, essays, criticism, fiction

Why I like her work: Her prose is gorgeous. She writes like a poet.

Where to start: The Recovering: Intoxication and Its Aftermath

Lisa Jewell

What she writes: Fast-paced mysteries and thrillers

Why I like her work: I like books that are suspenseful, set in England, and full of compelling characters and stories. Jewell gives me all that and more.

Where to start: Watching You

Anne Lamott

What she writes: Spiritual essays, memoir, fiction

Why I like her work: Lamott is unabashedly herself. Her work is thoughtful, joyful, and always worth reading.

Where to start: Traveling Mercies: Some Thoughts on Faith

Liane Moriarty

What she writes: Character-driven suspense and domestic fiction

Why I like her work: Moriarty’s books have a lot going on. Sometimes when books are plot-heavy, characterization is sacrificed. That’s not the case with her work, though. Her characters are as well-developed as her stories are gripping.

Where to start: Big Little Lies

Haruki Murakami

What he writes: Surrealist fiction

Why I like his work: Murakami’s fiction is unlike anything else I’ve ever read. It’s weird, wonderful, and hard to explain.

Where to start: Norwegian Wood

Celeste Ng

What she writes: Complex literary fiction that grapples with identity

Why I like her work: Ng’s novels are beautifully written, well-paced, and memorable. I find myself thinking about her characters long after I’ve finished her books.

Where to start: Everything I Never Told You

Marisha Pessl

What she writes: Twisty mysteries and suspense

Why I like her work: Pessl crafts superb, inventive stories that keep you guessing and thinking until the last page.

Where to start: Night Film

Riley Sager

What he writes: Creepy suspense

Why I like his work: Sager’s novels are the definition of page-turners. I know I can count on him to deliver a book I want to read in one sitting.

Where to start: Final Girls

David Sedaris

What he writes: Humorous essays

Why I like his work: Sedaris is hilarious. That’s all you need to know.

Where to start: Me Talk Pretty One Day

Donna Tartt

What she writes: Psychological and atmospheric literary fiction

Why I like her work: When I read Donna Tartt, I feel wholly immersed in the situations she’s created for her complex characters.

Where to start: The Secret History

Barbara Brown Taylor

What she writes: Spiritual memoir and religion

Why I like her work: Some spiritual books can come across as preachy or too sentimental. Barbara Brown Taylor writes about spirituality and religion with tenderness, care, insight, and great love for the Church.

Where to start: An Altar in the World: A Geography of Faith

Jesmyn Ward

What she writes: Memoir and devastating-yet-somehow-still-hopeful fiction

Why I like her work: I read a lot of fiction and end up forgetting many plot lines and characters, but that doesn’t happen with Ward’s books. Her stories are emotionally resonant and stick with you.

Where to start: Sing, Unburied, Sing


Who are your must-read authors? Do you share any of mine? I’d love to hear!

Book Options for the Modern Mrs. Darcy 2020 Reading Challenge

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Though I didn’t meet the reading goal I set for 2019, I did manage to complete the Modern Mrs. Darcy reading challenge. If you’re unfamiliar, Modern Mrs. Darcy is a delightful book blog by Anne Bogel, who’s also an author and host of the spectacular What Should I Read Next? podcast.

I just want Anne to be proud of me, so I’m going to attempt her 2020 reading challenge. Today I’ll share some books that I’m thinking about reading for the prompts that will hopefully inspire you to take on the challenge yourself.

But first, let’s take a look at last year’s challenge and what I read for it. For most prompts, I read several books that could count, so I’m sharing my favorite per category.

What I Read for 2019’s Challenge

  1. Book I’ve been meaning to read: Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi
  2. A book about a topic that fascinates me: Dopesick: Dealers, Doctors, and the Drug Company that Addicted America by Beth Macy
  3. A book in the backlist of a favorite author: Garlic and Sapphires by Ruth Reichl
  4. A book recommended by someone with great taste: Tenth of December by George Saunders
  5. Three books by the same author: I Found You, The Family Upstairs, and Watching You by Lisa Jewell
  6. A book you chose for the cover: My Year of Rest and Relaxation by Ottessa Moshfegh
  7. A book by an author who is new to you: Normal People by Sally Rooney
  8. A book in translation: A Nearly Normal Family by M. T. Edvardsson, translated by Rachel Wilson-Broyles
  9. A book outside your (genre) comfort zone: The Marrow Thieves by Cherie Dimaline
  10. A book published before you were born: If Beale Street Could Talk by James Baldwin

Possibilities for the 2020 Challenge

A book published the decade you were born:

Beloved book cover

I was born in 1987, and Beloved by Toni Morrison is what sounds most appealing to me from that year. Plus, it’s been sitting unread on my bookshelf for far too long.

A debut novel:

Such a Fun Age, Pizza Girl, and Creatures book covers

The debuts I’m most excited about right now are Such a Fun Age by Kiley Reid, Pizza Girl by Jean Kyoung Frazier, and Creatures by Crissy Van Meter.

A book recommended by a source you trust:

Book covers for The Dearly Beloved and The Dutch House

I’m a big fan of the Popcast podcast, and appreciate how often the hosts reference books. Co-host Knox McCoy said how much he loves The Dearly Beloved by Cara Wall. Since his literary tastes often align with mine, I’m looking forward to reading this story about faith and friendship.

I’m also eager to pick up Ann Patchett’s latest, The Dutch House, recommended by co-host Jamie Golden.

A book by a local author:

Book covers for Beautiful Ruins, The Arsonist, and Among the Dead and Dreaming

I’m lucky to live in a city with a several notable writers, such as Shann Ray, Samuel Ligon, Stephanie Oakes, Jess Walter, and Sharma Shields.

A book outside your (genre) comfort zone:

Book covers for The Two Lives of Lydia Bird and The City We Became

In 2018, I read Josie Silver’s One Day in December when I was seeking a lighthearted holiday read. I never read romance, but I enjoyed that book so much. I’m excited for her next release, The Two Lives of Lydia Bird, even though the genre isn’t my typical fare.

In a preview of books coming out in 2020, I read about N. K. Jemisin’s new release, The City We Became. It’s a fantasy novel set in New York City about residents having to defend NYC from an ancient evil. Even though I never read fantasy, this book sounds intriguing.

A book in translation:

3 Haruki Murakami book covers

I first read Japanese writer Haruki Murakami over ten years ago when I randomly picked up The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, and I’ve been a fan ever since. There are still several of his books on my shelf that I haven’t read, though, including Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage, Kafka on the Shore, and Killing Commendatore. I also want to read My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante.

A book nominated for an award in 2020:

Book covers for Death in her hands, American Dirt, and Transcendent Kingdom

It’s too soon to say for sure what books will be nominated for awards in 2020, but based on history and current buzz, I’m willing to bet the new novels from Yaa Gyasi and Ottessa Moshfegh will get nominated for something, along with American Dirt by Jeanine Cummins, her debut. (EDIT: Or maybe not.)

A re-read:

Book covers for Stoner, The Secret History, and The Remains of the Day

I hardly ever re-read books, but it’s a habit I’d like to start. I love Stoner by John Williams, The Secret History by Donna Tartt, and The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro, so those seem like good options.

A classic you didn’t read in school:

book covers for East of Eden, A Farewell to Arms, and Their Eyes Were Watching God

There are many classics I haven’t read, but three came to mind immediately for this prompt: East of Eden by John Steinbeck, A Farewell to Arms by Ernest Hemingway, and Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston. These titles have been on my to-read list for years.

Three books by the same author:

I’m looking forward to reading more from these prolific authors:

  • James Baldwin
  • Tana French
  • Rebecca Makkai
  • Ruth Ware
  • George Saunders
  • Jami Attenberg
  • Ottessa Moshfegh

Are you participating in the MMD challenge this year? If so, what are you most excited to read?

5 Books That Deserve More Love

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After taking a blogging break in July, I’m happy to be back in this space. I haven’t read nearly as much this summer as I had intended, but I’m okay with that. Relaxing through other activities has been a nice change of pace.

Falling behind on my reading got me thinking about the idea for this post, though. Something all book lovers know is that it’s impossible to keep up with all the books that are published every week. I know I’m not alone in buying books faster than I can read them or checking out way too many from the library at one time. The sad truth for all readers is that we’ll never be able to read everything we’d like. Because of that, it’s easy to miss out on great books and authors.

Today I want to highlight a few books that deserve more love. It’s not as if these books haven’t had success, but I don’t hear them talked about as much in blogs or on Instagram as I do other titles. I’d love to hear what books make your list.

I want to show you more book cover

I Want to Show You More by Jamie Quatro

I read this book of short stories back in 2013, and I’m still thinking about it. Jamie Quatro is a gifted, lyrical writer who produces stories about our deepest emotions and beliefs. Quatro gets underneath the surface of things and creates characters who are confronting darkness head-on. The stories in this collection are distinctive and potent, touching on things like marriage, death, theology, and family bonds. If you like short stories, don’t miss this collection. (Quatro’s novel, Fire Sermon, is also fantastic.)

Night film book cover

Night Film by Marisha Pessl

I’ve talked about this book on the blog before (here, here, and here), and I’ll keep talking about it until more people fall in love with Marisha Pessl. I’ve read a lot of mysteries and thrillers, but I’ve never read anything like Night Film. It’s long, but it never feels long. It’s dark, creepy, and twisted, but isn’t too grisly for my sensitive self. It’s fiction, but thanks to the inclusion of articles, screenshots, and photos, it seems like real life. I was astounded by this novel about a mysterious death when I read it, and I think you’ll feel the same.

This will be my undoing book cover

This Will Be My Undoing: Living at the Intersection of Black, Female, and Feminist in (White) America by Morgan Jerkins

Two facts about this book amaze me. One is that it’s a debut and the other is that the author is only in her twenties. This collection of essays feels like the work of someone who’s been writing for decades. Each essay is full of vulnerability and fierce precision. Jerkins is a natural storyteller who addresses hard topics but makes it look easy. Jerkins narrates the audio version of this book, and listening to her read her work made my reading experience even more powerful and authentic.

What We Lost by Sara Zarr

Young adult author Sara Zarr has received critical acclaim, yet she’s not nearly as popular as many other writers in the YA world. I’ve enjoyed all of her books, but this one is my favorite. It tells the story of Samara, a pastor’s kid whose world is falling apart. Her mom just got a DUI, her dad spends more time at church than he does at home, and a girl gets kidnapped in Samara’s town. As Samara’s family crumbles and her worldview shifts, Zarr explores her faith evolution with tenderness and honesty. That’s one of the qualities that makes her work so unique and special to me.

Dear fang with love book cover

Dear Fang, With Love by Rufi Thorpe

This charming book about a father/daughter duo on an overseas trip is just fantastic. Vera is a teen girl who recently suffered a psychotic break at a party. Her dad is just beginning to get involved in her life and decides what she needs is a change of scenery. The two head to Lithuania for the summer, the homeland of Vera’s great-grandmother. On their trip they encounter family secrets that have long been buried, proving that you can’t run from your problems. This book is a gem.


What books do you think deserve a wider audience? What are some underrated favorites? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

15 New Books I Want to Read This Summer

My summer break officially begins on Friday, and I cannot wait. People have been asking me what I plan to do over the summer, and my answer is absolutely nothing, which actually means sitting in front of a fan and reading a large stack of books.

One of my summer reading goals is to read a lot of the stuff that’s on my shelves already. I’ve owned some books for years and need to either read them or pass them on. I was excited about this plan, and then I realized how many library holds I’ve placed for books coming out over the next couple of months. Summer hasn’t even started yet, and I’m already buried in summer reading choices.

Today I want to share 15 new books that I’m excited to read this summer. My list includes mysteries, thrillers, essays, historical fiction, and some quirky novels. The first two books on my list have already been released, but the rest come out over the next few months. I know I won’t get to all of them by the time I go back to work in August, but I’m certainly going to try.

All summaries are from Goodreads.

City of Girls by Elizabeth Gilbert

In 1940, nineteen-year-old Vivian Morris has just been kicked out of Vassar College, owing to her lackluster freshman-year performance. Her affluent parents send her to Manhattan to live with her Aunt Peg, who owns a flamboyant, crumbling midtown theater called the Lily Playhouse. There Vivian is introduced to an entire cosmos of unconventional and charismatic characters, from the fun-chasing showgirls to a sexy male actor, a grand-dame actress, a lady-killer writer, and no-nonsense stage manager. But when Vivian makes a personal mistake that results in professional scandal, it turns her new world upside down in ways that it will take her years to fully understand. Ultimately, though, it leads her to a new understanding of the kind of life she craves-and the kind of freedom it takes to pursue it. It will also lead to the love of her life, a love that stands out from all the rest.

Now ninety-five years old and telling her story at last, Vivian recalls how the events of those years altered the course of her life – and the gusto and autonomy with which she approached it.

mostly dead things book cover

Mostly Dead Things by Kristen Arnett

One morning, Jessa-Lynn Morton walks into the family taxidermy shop to find that her father has committed suicide, right there on one of the metal tables. Shocked and grieving, Jessa steps up to manage the failing business, while the rest of the Morton family crumbles. Her mother starts sneaking into the shop to make aggressively lewd art with the taxidermied animals. Her brother Milo withdraws, struggling to function. And Brynn, Milo’s wife—and the only person Jessa’s ever been in love with—walks out without a word. As Jessa seeks out less-than-legal ways of generating income, her mother’s art escalates—picture a figure of her dead husband and a stuffed buffalo in an uncomfortably sexual pose—and the Mortons reach a tipping point. For the first time, Jessa has no choice but to learn who these people truly are, and ultimately how she fits alongside them.

Fake like me book cover

Fake Like Me by Barbara Bourland

Release Date: June 18

After a fire decimates her studio, including the seven billboard-size paintings for her next show, a young, no-name painter is left with an impossible task: recreate her art in three months-or ruin her fledgling career. 

Homeless and desperate, she flees to an exclusive retreat in upstate New York famous for its outrageous revelries and glamorous artists. And notorious as the place where brilliant young artist Carey Logan-one of her idols-drowned in the lake. 

But when she arrives, the retreat is a ghost of its former self. No one shares their work. No parties light up the deck. No one speaks of Carey, though her death haunts the cabins and the black lake, lurking beneath the surface like a shipwreck. As the young painter works obsessively in Carey’s former studio, uncovers strange secrets and starts to fall–hard and fast–for Carey’s mysterious boyfriend, it’s as if she’s taking her place. 

But one thought shadows her every move: What really happened to Carey Logan?

Fleishman is in trouble book cover

Fleishman Is in Trouble by Taffy Brodesser-Akner

Release date: June 18

Recently separated Toby Fleishman is suddenly, somehow–and at age forty-one, short as ever–surrounded by women who want him: women who are self-actualized, women who are smart and interesting, women who don’t mind his height, women who are eager to take him for a test drive with just the swipe of an app. Toby doesn’t mind being used in this way; it’s a welcome change from the thirteen years he spent as a married man, the thirteen years of emotional neglect and contempt he’s just endured. Anthropologically speaking, it’s like nothing he ever experienced before, particularly back in the 1990s, when he first began dating and became used to swimming in the murky waters of rejection.

But Toby’s new life–liver specialist by day, kids every other weekend, rabid somewhat anonymous sex at night–is interrupted when his ex-wife suddenly disappears. Either on a vision quest or a nervous breakdown, Toby doesn’t know–she won’t answer his texts or calls.

Is Toby’s ex just angry, like always? Is she punishing him, yet again, for not being the bread winner she was? As he desperately searches for her while juggling his job and parenting their two unraveling children, Toby is forced to reckon with the real reasons his marriage fell apart, and to ask if the story he has been telling himself all this time is true.

I like to watch book cover

I Like to Watch: Arguing My Way Through the TV Revolution
by Emily Nussbaum

Release date: June 25

From her creation of the first “Approval Matrix” in New York magazine in 2004 to her Pulitzer Prize–winning columns for The New Yorker, Emily Nussbaum has known all along that what we watch is who we are. In this collection, including two never-before-published essays, Nussbaum writes about her passion for television that began with stumbling upon “Buffy the Vampire Slayer”—a show that was so much more than it appeared—while she was a graduate student studying Victorian literature. What followed was a love affair with television, an education, and a fierce debate about whose work gets to be called “great” that led Nussbaum to a trailblazing career as a critic whose reviews said so much more about our culture than just what’s good on television. Through these pieces, she traces the evolution of female protagonists over the last decade, the complex role of sexual violence on TV, and what to do about art when the artist is revealed to be a monster. And she explores the links between the television antihero and the rise of Donald Trump.

The book is more than a collection of essays. With each piece, Nussbaum recounts her fervent search, over fifteen years, for a new kind of criticism that resists the false hierarchy that elevates one form of culture over another. It traces her own struggle to punch through stifling notions of “prestige television,” searching for a wilder and freer and more varied idea of artistic ambition—one that acknowledges many types of beauty and complexity, and that opens to more varied voices. It’s a book that celebrates television as television, even as each year warps the definition of just what that might mean.

Lock every door book cover

Lock Every Door by Riley Sager

Release date: July 2

No visitors. No nights spent away from the apartment. No disturbing the other residents, all of whom are rich or famous or both. These are the only rules for Jules Larsen’s new job as an apartment sitter at the Bartholomew, one of Manhattan’s most high-profile and mysterious buildings. Recently heartbroken and just plain broke, Jules is taken in by the splendor of her surroundings and accepts the terms, ready to leave her past life behind.

As she gets to know the residents and staff of the Bartholomew, Jules finds herself drawn to fellow apartment sitter Ingrid, who comfortingly, disturbingly reminds her of the sister she lost eight years ago. When Ingrid confides that the Bartholomew is not what it seems and the dark history hidden beneath its gleaming facade is starting to frighten her, Jules brushes it off as a harmless ghost story . . . until the next day, when Ingrid disappears.

Searching for the truth about Ingrid’s disappearance, Jules digs deeper into the Bartholomew’s dark past and into the secrets kept within its walls. Her discovery that Ingrid is not the first apartment sitter to go missing at the Bartholomew pits Jules against the clock as she races to unmask a killer, expose the building’s hidden past, and escape the Bartholomew before her temporary status becomes permanent.

Whisper network book cover

Whisper Network by Chandler Baker

Release date: July 2

Sloane, Ardie, Grace, and Rosalita are four women who have worked at Truviv, Inc., for years. The sudden death of Truviv’s CEO means their boss, Ames, will likely take over the entire company. Ames is a complicated man, a man they’ve all known for a long time, a man who’s always been surrounded by…whispers. Whispers that have always been ignored by those in charge. But the world has changed, and the women are watching Ames’s latest promotion differently. This time, they’ve decided enough is enough. 

Sloane and her colleagues set in motion a catastrophic shift within every floor and department of the Truviv offices. All four women’s lives—as women, colleagues, mothers, wives, friends, even adversaries—will change dramatically as a result.

“If only you had listened to us,” they tell us on page one, “none of this would have happened.”

The Nickel Boys book cover

The Nickel Boys by Colson Whitehead

Release date: July 16

As the Civil Rights movement begins to reach the black enclave of Frenchtown in segregated Tallahassee, Elwood Curtis takes the words of Dr. Martin Luther King to heart: He is “as good as anyone.” Abandoned by his parents, but kept on the straight and narrow by his grandmother, Elwood is about to enroll in the local black college. But for a black boy in the Jim Crow South in the early 1960s, one innocent mistake is enough to destroy the future. Elwood is sentenced to a juvenile reformatory called The Nickel Academy, whose mission statement says it provides “physical, intellectual and moral training” so the delinquent boys in their charge can become “honorable and honest men.”

In reality, The Nickel Academy is a grotesque chamber of horrors, where the sadistic staff beats and sexually abuses the students, corrupt officials and locals steal food and supplies, and any boy who resists is likely to disappear “out back.” Stunned to find himself in such a vicious environment, Elwood tries to hold on to Dr. King’s ringing assertion “Throw us in jail and we will still love you.” His friend Turner thinks Elwood is worse than naive, that the world is crooked and the only way to survive is to scheme and avoid trouble. 

The tension between Elwood’s ideals and Turner’s skepticism leads to a decision whose repercussions will echo down the decades. Formed in the crucible of the evils Jim Crow wrought, the boys’ fates will be determined by what they endured at The Nickel Academy.

Based on the real story of a reform school in Florida that operated for one hundred and eleven years and warped the lives of thousands of children, The Nickel Boys is a devastating, driven narrative.

Lady in the lake book cover

Lady in the Lake by Laura Lippman

Release date: July 23

In 1966, Baltimore is a city of secrets that everyone seems to know–everyone, that is, except Madeline “Maddie” Schwartz. Last year, she was a happy, even pampered housewife. This year, she’s bolted from her marriage of almost twenty years, determined to make good on her youthful ambitions to live a passionate, meaningful life.

Maddie wants to matter, to leave her mark on a swiftly changing world. Drawing on her own secrets, she helps Baltimore police find a murdered girl–assistance that leads to a job at the city’s afternoon newspaper, the Star. Working at the newspaper offers Maddie the opportunity to make her name, and she has found just the story to do it: a missing woman whose body was discovered in the fountain of a city park lake.

Cleo Sherwood was a young African-American woman who liked to have a good time. No one seems to know or care why she was killed except Maddie–and the dead woman herself. Maddie’s going to find the truth about Cleo’s life and death. Cleo’s ghost, privy to Maddie’s poking and prying, wants to be left alone.

Maddie’s investigation brings her into contact with people that used to be on the periphery of her life–a jewelery store clerk, a waitress, a rising star on the Baltimore Orioles, a patrol cop, a hardened female reporter, a lonely man in a movie theater. But for all her ambition and drive, Maddie often fails to see the people right in front of her. Her inability to look beyond her own needs will lead to tragedy and turmoil for all sorts of people–including the man who shares her bed, a black police officer who cares for Maddie more than she knows. 

Speaking of Summer by Kalisha Buckhanon

Release date: July 30

On a cold December evening, Autumn Spencer’s twin sister Summer walks to the roof of their shared Harlem brownstone and is never seen again—the door to the roof is locked, and no footsteps are found. Faced with authorities indifferent to another missing woman, Autumn must pursue answers on her own, all while grieving her mother’s recent death.

With her friends and neighbors, Autumn pretends to hold up through the crisis. She falls into an affair with Summer’s boyfriend to cope with the disappearance of a woman they both loved. But the loss becomes too great, the mystery too inexplicable, and Autumn starts to unravel, all the while becoming obsessed with murdered women and the men who kill them.

In Speaking of Summer, critically acclaimed author Kalisha Buckhanon has created a postmodern, fast-paced story of urban peril and victim invisibility, and the fight to discover truth at any cost.

Trick Mirror: Reflections on Self-Delusion by Jia Tolentino

Release date: August 6

Trick Mirror is an enlightening, unforgettable trip through the river of self-delusion that surges just beneath the surface of our lives. This is a book about the incentives that shape us, and about how hard it is to see ourselves clearly in a culture that revolves around the self. In each essay, Jia writes about the cultural prisms that have shaped her: the rise of the nightmare social internet; the American scammer as millennial hero; the literary heroine’s journey from brave to blank to bitter; the mandate that everything, including our bodies, should always be getting more efficient and beautiful until we die. text

The Yellow House book cover

The Yellow House by Sarah M. Broom

Release date: August 13

In 1961, Sarah M. Broom’s mother Ivory Mae bought a shotgun house in the then-promising neighborhood of New Orleans East and built her world inside of it. It was the height of the Space Race and the neighborhood was home to a major NASA plant–the postwar optimism seemed assured. Widowed, Ivory Mae remarried Sarah’s father Simon Broom; their combined family would eventually number twelve children. But after Simon died, six months after Sarah’s birth, the Yellow House would become Ivory Mae’s thirteenth and most unruly child.

A book of great ambition, Sarah M. Broom’s The Yellow Housetells a hundred years of her family and their relationship to home in a neglected area of one of America’s most mythologized cities. This is the story of a mother’s struggle against a house’s entropy, and that of a prodigal daughter who left home only to reckon with the pull that home exerts, even after the Yellow House was wiped off the map after Hurricane Katrina. The Yellow House expands the map of New Orleans to include the stories of its lesser known natives, guided deftly by one of its native daughters, to demonstrate how enduring drives of clan, pride, and familial love resist and defy erasure. Located in the gap between the “Big Easy” of tourist guides and the New Orleans in which Broom was raised, The Yellow House is a brilliant memoir of place, class, race, the seeping rot of inequality, and the internalized shame that often follows. It is a transformative, deeply moving story from an unparalleled new voice of startling clarity, authority, and power.

Coventry book cover

Coventry by Rachel Cusk

Release date: August 20

Rachel Cusk gathers a selection of her nonfiction writings that both offers new insights on the themes at the heart of her fiction and forges a startling critical voice on some of our most personal, social, and artistic questions. Coventry encompasses memoir, cultural criticism, and writing about literature, with pieces on family life, gender, and politics, and on D. H. Lawrence, Francoise Sagan, and Elena Ferrante. Named for an essay in Granta (“Every so often, for offences actual or hypothetical, my mother and father stop speaking to me. There’s a funny phrase for this phenomenon in England: it’s called being sent to Coventry”), this collection is pure Cusk and essential reading for our age: fearless, unrepentantly erudite, and dazzling to behold.

Savage Appetites: Four True Stories of Women, Crime, and Obsession by Rachel Monroe

Release date: August 20

In this illuminating exploration of women, violence, and obsession, Rachel Monroe interrogates the appeal of true crime through four narratives of fixation. In the 1940s, a bored heiress began creating dollhouse crime scenes depicting murders, suicides, and accidental deaths. Known as the “Mother of Forensic Science,” she revolutionized the field of what was then called legal medicine. In the aftermath of the Manson Family murders, a young woman moved into Sharon Tate’s guesthouse and, over the next two decades, entwined herself with the Tate family. In the mid-nineties, a landscape architect in Brooklyn fell in love with a convicted murderer, the supposed ringleader of the West Memphis Three, through an intense series of letters. After they married, she devoted her life to getting him freed from death row. And in 2015, a teenager deeply involved in the online fandom for the Columbine killers planned a mass shooting of her own.

Each woman, Monroe argues, represents and identifies with a particular archetype that provides an entryway into true crime. Through these four cases, she traces the history of American crime through the growth of forensic science, the evolving role of victims, the Satanic Panic, the rise of online detectives, and the long shadow of the Columbine shooting. In a combination of personal narrative, reportage, and a sociological examination of violence and media in the twentieth and twenty-first century, Savage Appetites scrupulously explores empathy, justice, and the persistent appeal of violence.

Red at the bone book cover

Red at the Bone by Jacqueline Woodson

Release date: September 17

Two families from different social classes are joined together by an unexpected pregnancy and the child that it produces. Moving forward and backward in time, with the power of poetry and the emotional richness of a narrative ten times its length, Jacqueline Woodson’s extraordinary new novel uncovers the role that history and community have played in the experiences, decisions, and relationships of these families, and in the life of this child. 

As the book opens in 2001, it is the evening of sixteen-year-old Melody’s birthday celebration in her grandparent’s Brooklyn brownstone. Watched lovingly by her relatives and friends, escorted by her father to the soundtrack of Prince, she wears a special, custom-made dress. But the event is not without poignancy. Sixteen years earlier, that very dress was measured and sewn for a different wearer: Melody’s mother, for her own sixteenth birthday party and a celebration which ultimately never took place. 

Unfurling the history of Melody’s parents and grandparents to show how they all arrived at this moment, Woodson considers not just their ambitions and successes but also the costs, the tolls they’ve paid for striving to overcome expectations and escape the pull of history. As it explores sexual desire and identity, ambition, gentrification, education, class and status, and the life-altering facts of parenthood, Red at the Bone most strikingly looks at the ways in which young people must so often make long-lasting decisions about their lives—even before they have begun to figure out who they are and what they want to be.


What books are on your summer reading list?

Reading Recap | May 2019

Photo by Alisa Anton on Unsplash

April was a rough month, so I only managed to read one book. I made up for it this month, though, and read eight. It feels so good to be back into my reading groove, and several of the books I finished in May are fantastic. Let’s get to them.

Normal People book cover

Normal People by Sally Rooney
Rating: 4/5

WHAT’S THIS 
BOOK ABOUT?

Connell and Marianne attend school together but are in different social circles. Connell actually has a social circle, but Marianne is the odd loner. She comes from a wealthy family, and Connell’s mother is their housekeeper. While Marianne and Connell would never speak to each other in school, they start talking when Connell comes over to pick up his mom. They quickly enter an on-again, off-again relationship which Normal People chronicles over many years.

WHAT’S GOOD (OR NOT) ABOUT THIS BOOK?

Sally Rooney writes excellent dialog; I thoroughly enjoyed Connell and Marianne’s conversations. I also appreciated Rooney’s sympathetic treatment of mental illness in this novel.

WHO SHOULD READ 
THIS BOOK?

People who enjoy character-driven literary fiction will like this book a lot.

Book Love book cover

Book Love by Debbie Tung
Rating: 3/5

WHAT’S THIS 
BOOK ABOUT?

Book Love is a graphic novel that reads like a love letter to books and reading.

WHAT’S GOOD (OR NOT) ABOUT THIS BOOK?

The illustrations are lovely, and the author’s enthusiasm for books is contagious.

WHO SHOULD READ 
THIS BOOK?

Book lovers will find a friend in Debbie Tung and will enjoy this brief, sweet book.

The New Me book cover

The New Me by Halle Butler
Rating: 4/5

WHAT’S THIS 
BOOK ABOUT?

Millie is thirty and struggling. She can’t hold down a job and has to use a temp agency. Her only friend treats her terribly. She has to rely on her parents for financial support, and her mother warns her that the end of it is coming soon. When Millie gets assigned to work in a trendy new office, she hopes to become a permanent staff member and that hope fuels her longing for reinvention.

WHAT’S GOOD (OR NOT) ABOUT THIS BOOK?

Halle Butler has written a character who isn’t exactly likeable (*gasp!*), but who I was rooting for anyway. This is a slim, quick read, but has a lot of great things to say about image, consumerism, and feeling stuck in life.

WHO SHOULD READ 
THIS BOOK?

Readers who enjoy quirky characters and satire will probably enjoy The New Me the most.

I'll be there for you book cover

I’ll Be There for You: The One about Friends by Kelsey Miller
Rating: 3/5

WHAT’S THIS 
BOOK ABOUT?

I’ll Be There for You tells the story of Friends, one of the biggest pop culture phenomenons of the ’90s and early 2000s. Kelsey Miller talks about things like what life was like for the cast members before Friends, what led to the show’s creation, and how the cast rallied together for equal pay.

WHAT’S GOOD (OR NOT) ABOUT THIS BOOK?

Whether you’re a huge fan of the show or not, this book is an interesting read that sheds light on why Friends became such a big deal. I didn’t learn much that I didn’t already know, but I wanted a light book and this book delivered.

WHO SHOULD READ 
THIS BOOK?

Fans of the show and pop culture enthusiasts will get the most out of this book.

southern lady code book cover

Southern Lady Code by Helen Ellis
Rating: 5/5

WHAT’S THIS 
BOOK ABOUT?

Southern Lady Code is a humorous essay collection about womanhood, friendship, and life in New York City when you have southern roots.

WHAT’S GOOD (OR NOT) ABOUT THIS BOOK?

I knew that Helen Ellis is hilarious because I read and enjoyed her collection of short stories, American Housewife, but Southern Lady Code exceeded all of my expectations. It’s witty, but has some sweet, heartfelt moments, too.

WHO SHOULD READ 
THIS BOOK?

Fans of David Sedaris and Nora Ephron will find a lot to love in this book.

The White Album by Joan Didion
Rating: 2/5

WHAT’S THIS 
BOOK ABOUT?

The White Album is a collection of Didion’s essays from the late 1960s and ’70s.

WHAT’S GOOD (OR NOT) ABOUT THIS BOOK?

I’ve always been interested in this time period, so I like the historical aspect of the book. I had a hard time connecting with most of these essays, though. This is the first Didion book I’ve read, so I think my expectations were too high.

WHO SHOULD READ 
THIS BOOK?

Even though I didn’t care for this book much myself, Didion is beloved by many readers who probably adore this collection.

Interior States by Meghan O’Gieblyn
Rating: 2/5

WHAT’S THIS 
BOOK ABOUT?

Interior States is an essay collection about religion and culture in the Midwest.

WHAT’S GOOD (OR NOT) ABOUT THIS BOOK?

Just like with The White Album, I think my high expectations for this book left me a bit disappointed. I love religion writing and I’m from the Midwest, so this book seemed right up my alley. While I did enjoy several of the essays, I was hoping for more depth regarding O’Gieblyn’s faith journey. While she does address it throughout the book, her reasons for leaving Christianity behind were glossed over a bit too quickly for me. It turns out I was more interested in her story than in the Midwest’s story.

WHO SHOULD READ 
THIS BOOK?

If you’re interested in religion and its cultural impact, you might really like this book.

State of the Union: A Marriage in Ten Parts by Nick Hornby
Rating: 4/5

WHAT’S THIS 
BOOK ABOUT?

Louise and Tom have just started attending marriage counseling thanks to some infidelity and lack of communication. Before they head into their weekly sessions, they meet at a pub across the street for a drink and talk about their relationship. This book includes ten of those conversations.

WHAT’S GOOD (OR NOT) ABOUT THIS BOOK?

I’ve read a lot of books by Nick Hornby, and he’s one of those authors who I know will deliver an interesting read infused with humor, even when the book is about a serious topic. That combo is precisely what I got here in his latest release. This short book is mostly just dialog, which Hornby writes exceptionally well. I could have read many more conversations between Tom and Louise.

WHO SHOULD READ 
THIS BOOK?

If you’re like me and enjoy books that give you a inside look at a complicated marriage, I think you’ll really like this.


May’s Blog Posts

5 of My Favorite School Novels

We’re halfway through May now which means the school year is finally winding down. I have about four weeks left until I’m on summer vacation from my library job. Thanks to all of the graduations, tests, and year-end checklists, I’ve thought about school a lot lately, and I’m using that as inspiration for today’s post featuring some of my favorite novels set in a school or focused on students. A couple of these books deal with suicide, so if that’s not a topic you’re comfortable reading about this would be a good post to skip. Let’s dive in!

Normal People by Sally Rooney

Connell and Marianne meet in high school. He’s popular but poor. Marianne is a social outcast, but she comes from a wealthy family full of terrible people. Though these two would never speak at school, they’re brought together when Connell shows up at Marianne’s house to pick up his mother who works as the family’s maid. They soon embark on a romantic relationship that Connell is desperate to keep secret so as not to jeopardize his social standing. Normal People follows Connell and Marianne through their high school love and explores how their bond is deepened and tested throughout college. Sally Rooney has important things to say about class and gender, and her dialog is fantastic. I’d been looking forward to this novel for months, and it didn’t disappoint.

The Most Dangerous Place on Earth book cover

The Most Dangerous Place on Earth by Lindsey Lee Johnson

During his eighth grade year, a bullied boy named Tristan kills himself after a love letter he wrote a girl is shared on Facebook. The Most Dangerous Place on Earth tells the story of the students who were involved in Tristan’s life, examines their guilt in the aftermath, and presents a harsh yet realistic look at life in high school. In addition to the students, readers meet Molly, an earnest new teacher hoping to make a significant impact on her students. The novel switches back and forth between perspectives, and I was fascinated by each one. I haven’t heard many people talk about this book, but it’s worth your time and attention, especially if you work with teens like I do.

Dare Me book cover

Dare Me by Megan Abbott

Megan Abbott’s books are adult fiction, yet she writes teenagers so well. In Dare Me, she tells the story of a high school cheerleading squad living in the aftermath of a suspicious suicide. As an investigation into the death begins, the girls form new alliances, bond with their cool new coach, and treat each other with a viciousness masked by pompoms and the perfect routine. This book is chilling and impossible to put down. Abbott is one of my favorite writers, and Dare Me is an excellent place to start if you haven’t read her work before.

The Secret History book cover

The Secret History by Donna Tartt

In the first few pages of The Secret History, readers find out that a student at an elite college has died. The rest of the novel explores why and how. Richard is the main character, and when he transfers to Hampden College, he joins a group studying Greek classics under the direction of a professor the students nearly worship. Donna Tartt explores friendship, morality, literature, and devotion with great care and nonstop drama. The Secret History is suspense fiction at its finest, and one of my favorite novels of all time.

Special Topics in Calamity Physics book cover

Special Topics in Calamity Physics by Marisha Pessl

Blue lives with her professor father and has moved a lot for his work. When she’s a senior in high school, she and her father finally settle down, and Blue falls in with an eccentric group of students and their beloved teacher. Special Topics in Calamity Physics has been compared to The Secret History because of its plot, but this book has a lighter tone, though it too involves death and mysterious circumstances. This novel is what got Marisha Pessl added to my “I’ll Read Everything They Write” list. I’ve never read anything else quite like this book. I adore it, and I think literature-lovers who appreciate quirky fiction will, too.


What are your favorite school novels? What should I read next based on these books? As always, I’d love to hear your thoughts. Thanks for reading!