Riot Headline 10 Exciting Books to Read this Summer

Riot Round-Up: The Best Books We Read in July

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Christine Ro

Staff Writer

Christine writes about books for Literary Hub, VICE, and the Ploughshares blog. She occasionally writes about other topics, because someone once told her (although it seemed implausible) that there’s life outside of books. Blog:

We asked our contributors to share the best book they read this month. We’ve got fiction, nonfiction, YA, and much, much more- there are book recommendations for everyone here! Some are old, some are new, and some aren’t even out yet. Enjoy and tell us about the highlight of your reading month in the comments.

Act Like It by Lucy Parker

This book, man. THIS BOOK. It’s a love story set in the glamorous and wacky world of London’s West End. Elaine Graham, theatre’s new sweetheart, is bribed into pretending to date Richard Troy, a man whose antics have turned his nickname from Byron to Dickhead. She gets a sizable donation for her charity, he gets a salvaged reputation. Too bad they can’t be in each other’s presence for five minutes without insults starting to flow.

I’m sure you can guess where this leads.

This is an absolute delight of a novel. With a wonderfully charming heroine, a surprisingly loveable hero (in a can-I-hit-you-upside-the-head-now-please way), and the kind of witty repartee that makes me think of smoke screens, cigarette holders and 1950s Hollywood, this book is a gift.

—Carolina Ciucci

All the Ugly and Wonderful Things by Bryn Greenwood

This story is about a young girl named Wavy, the daughter of a meth dealer and his addict wife, and her relationship with Kellan, an associate of Wavy’s father who provides her with a sense of stability and safety in the midst of her chaotic and sometimes violent home life. People seem to have one of two reactions to this book–either they are completely enthralled by it or they are utterly repulsed. Both reactions are warranted. Bryn Greenwood crafts beautiful characters and writes with a sensitivity that elicits empathy in situations where outrage and disgust might seem like the more appropriate response. Nevertheless, this book deals with a taboo and morally charged topic that will be a deal-breaker for many. If you decide to read it, I recommend going in blind and with an open heart. You may love it or hate it, but either way, you’re unlikely to forget it.

—Kate Scott

American Panda by Gloria Chao (Simon Pulse, February 6, 2018)

I try not to read books too far in advance because it means everyone else will have to wait before they too can experience the joy I’m feeling. Gloria Chao’s American Panda is about a Taiwanese-American girl named Mei who gets into college early (MIT) and has to straddle two cultures. It’s a story about the importance of traditions but also the room for evolution. I related so much to Mei’s experience as someone who came to Canada as an infant and navigating my relationship with parents as a result of it. It’s an earnest, funny and emotional story and I recommend adding it to your to-be-read list. It brought a ray of light to my July.

—Ardo Omer

Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates

You’ve probably already seen the heaps of praise given to Coates’s memoir, written for his then-15-year-old son. It’s definitely worthy of that praise. Coates writes with passion and conviction about his life as a black man and his hopes and fears for his son’s future. Throughout, he interrogates common assumptions—including his own—about race and the fight for equity. It’s a challenging a powerful book, and although I don’t think I was necessarily part of the audience he had in mind for it, I still got a lot out of it.

—Teresa Preston

Bloodchild and Other Stories by Octavia Butler

I started reading Bloodchild in June for Octavia Butler Day, in addition to her other works, and just finished it this month. The tight writing and creativity, along with the social commentary, managed to understate the realistic terrors of various situations. I admire her eye to imagine fantastic, science-based horrors that could easily come to pass.

—Priya Sridhar


Bluebird, Bluebird by Attica Locke (Mulholland Books, September 12)

This story of a black Texas Ranger torn between his professional duty and his moral obligations to his brothers and sisters of color leaves so much to unpack. It’s unusual to come across a mystery where the writing is so full and, at times, lyrical. Locke is also a writer for the television series Empire, and that ability to paint a vivid picture on difficult subjects is so apparent in Bluebird, Bluebird.

—Elizabeth Allen

Careers for Women by Joanna Scott

I am having a hard time trying to accurately describe this novel. It’s a fascinating story of friendship and careers and dreams, but it’s also an intricate, time-hopping mystery steeped in privilege and class. In 1950s NYC, Maggie Gleason is honored to have been chosen to work for Lee Jaffe, the most powerful public relations woman in the country; in the 1960s, Maggie is intrigued by Lee’s decision to hire Pauline, a former prostitute, as her receptionist; in the 1970s, Maggie is left caring for Pauline’s daughter when Pauline doesn’t return from her weekend away; in the 1980s, a fire rips through an aluminum factory. Woven into these plots and others is the inception and construction of the World Trade Center. The book goes back and forth through the decades at a dizzying pace that had me racing through it in one sitting! I will say that all the storylines may seem a bit overwhelming to follow at first, but I promise in the end you will be dazzled by what Scott has pulled off. 

—Liberty Hardy

City of Brass by S A Chakraborty (Harper Collins, November 14)

I got to know this author because she’s a fan of NYU Press’s Library of Arabic Literature series, where I do zany medieval social media. Thus I became aware of the massive research she’s done to write this premodern djinn fantasy novel. Then two, after reading the “djinnthology” The Djinn Falls in Love, I decided I needed more djinn in my life. A lot more djinn. And this book is a sensual, fully realized world full of daeva, djinn, shafit, and other wonderful beings.

Basically, if you liked Nnedi Okorafor’s Who Fears Death (and if you didn’t…!?!?!), then read this.

—Marcia Lynx Qualey

Climate of Hope: How Cities, Businesses, and Citizens Can Save the Planet by Michael Bloomberg and Carl Pope

Does it depress you that our President and his minions are climate change deniers? Read this book! It shows how citizens, corporations, and cities are the real agents of effective change. Climate of Hope focuses on solving global warming, but its real-world examples can be applied to any kind of social activism. Forget Washington — think global, act local.

—James Wallace Harris

A Conspiracy in Belgravia by Sherry Thomas (Lady Sherlock #2) (Berkley, September 5)

Charlotte Holmes is my favorite Sherlock. If you haven’t started this series yet stop what you’re doing and go read A Study in Scarlet Women because you’re life isn’t complete until you’ve read this fantastic gender-swapped Holmes: There is something brilliant about a lady Sherlock with many of the original’s quirks but applied to a woman so that it’s more a pushback to society’s treatment of women.

Charlotte is back with Mrs. Watson and there’s a rather delicate case brought to their attention involving a married woman looking to find a past lover–her true love. Scandalous! Making an already delicate situation super complicated is the fact that Charlotte knows the woman’s husband AND the true love. Packed with mysteries, ladies not here for society’s rules, improper flirting, puzzles, learning to fight, and more–I loved every moment of this book!

—Jamie Canaves

Day of the Duchess by Sarah MacLean

I’ll admit it, I’m a total Sarah MacLean fangirl. And her newest series, Scandal and Scoundrel, is just proving again and again why. This, the third book in the series, focuses on one of the Dangerous Daughters, Seraphina, the Duchess of Haven, and her rocky (to say the least) marriage to Malcolm, the Duke. Unlike many stereotypical romance novels, marriage and children is not the end goal; Sera and Malcolm are beyond the happily ever after and their story is one of pain and abandonment and real emotion and longing and love. It’s one of MacLean’s best yet, as full of feminist moxy as any other, and a fantastic addition to her catalog.

—Rachel Manwill

Devils in Daylight by Junichiro Tanizaki

For a book originally published nearly a century ago, this novella feels surprisingly modern. Based on Edgar Allan Poe’s The Gold-Bug, it tells the story of a writer with a crazy friend who thinks he’s discovered a murder plot and is determined to witness the killing for his own entertainment. It sounds gruesome–and it is, when one thinks about it–but it’s so creepy and elegantly told that it’s impossible to put the book down until the final page. While you’re reading it, you’re in it, as fixated as the characters watching a murder play out before their eyes. There’s a twist at the end that I’m still not sure how I feel about, but nevertheless I think this book does Edgar Allan Poe’s The Gold-Bug proud. Definitely recommend if you enjoy noir-style mysteries.

—Tasha Brandstatter

Dreadnought by April Daniels 

When I heard “trans lesbian superhero YA,” I knew I had to pick this one up. I was expecting an escapist romp, but in that respect, I was entirely off. This is about Danielle, a trans teenager who is closeted and has suicidal thoughts. She also lives with her extremely emotionally and verbally abusive father, and the narrative doesn’t hold back on the terrible things he says to her. This isn’t an escapist fantasy. Instead, it’s about Danielle inheriting superpowers from a dying superhero and being able to shape her body into her ideal. This is a catharsis narrative: she still has to deal with abuse and transmisogyny, but she does it armed with superhuman strength and abilities. (And I haven’t even mentioned the supervillains she has to fight on top of all that!) I’m looking forward to the sequel!

—Danika Ellis

The Fact of a Body by Alexandria Marzano-Lesnevich

I came to this book expecting an interesting, thought-provoking true crime story.  What I got was a gut punch of a true crime/memoir hybrid that was unlike anything I’d ever read before.  The book itself follows two main storylines that jump backwards and forwards in time: the story of Ricky Langley who was arrested in the early 90’s for the murder and sexual assault of a young child, and the author’s own childhood, where she recounts how she and her sister were regularly molested by their grandfather.  I don’t think it’ll come as a surprise that this book comes with ALL the trigger warnings, but I was astonished at the author’s candor in describing her experiences, as well as the compassion she brought to describing the experiences of a convicted murderer and pedophile.  It was an incredibly difficult, yet astonishing read that left me stunned after I closed the book.

—Katie McLain

Forest of a Thousand Lanterns by Julie C. Dao

Where should I start when I talk about this book? With its world-building, rich and descriptive with an undeniable tension? With its protagonist Xifeng, focused and cruel and beautiful and lethal? With its prose, careful and pulsing like heartbeats? All of these build up Julie C. Dao’s debut novel, and the start of what promises to be an amazing series. True, the beginning is slow, tendrils of Xifeng’s life spreading across each page. Her early uncertainty and fears seem to pull her back from the danger readers will recognize surrounding her. But as her fate unfolds, they will be hard-pressed to put the book down, because maybe Xifeng won’t succeed, and maybe she will. You’ll have to read it to find out, and the journey is chillingly gorgeous.

—Angel Cruz

Foxglove Summer by Ben Aaronovitch

I’ve been reading (actually, listening to the audiobooks) of this urban fantasy / detective series for a while and loving it. But this 5th book was the first 5/5 for me. It was really fun to get to see London city boy cop Peter Grant a bit out of his element in the countryside. Also, the mystery in this one was especially juicy, more straight-forward police procedural than some of the others, but with: Unicorns! Changelings! Fae! BEVERLY the river goddess!! And your run-of-the-mill child kidnapping. God, Beverly is the best. And so is Kobna Holdbrook-Smith, audiobook voice actor extraordinaire, who I am unashamedly in love with now..

—Casey Stepaniuk

Glyph by Percival Everett

I’m not intelligent enough for this book, but I appreciated it nonetheless. It’s a dizzying, bizarre, and startlingly original account of a mute baby genius who’s kidnapped by one ambitious lunatic after another. It’s also a satire of modern linguistics and critical theory. So it’s wonderfully highbrow and lowbrow all at once.

—Christine Ro


Hate to Want You by Alisha Rai

Believe everything they’ve said about this book. Lovers with extreme personal and family dysfunction, a family history out of a soap opera, side characters with just as much development (or at least as much characterization) as the protagonists, and Alisha Rai’s expert touch at both feelings and sexytimes come together to make this a book you’re not sure whether to devour or savor. It broke my heart and put it back together in the best of ways, even when I wanted to pull out my hair and that of everyone else.

—Jessica Pryde

Hyperbole and a Half by Allie Brosh

Yes, I’m fully aware that everyone but me already read this book back in 2013, when it first came out. But back in 2013, I wasn’t really reading books with a graphic component, and now I’m playing catch-up and, well, yes, I know it’s embarrassing. But this is the book I had to choose as my favorite for July, because it blew everything else out of the water. And I read some good stuff in July. For those who don’t know what in hell I’m talking about, Hyperbole and a Half is a humor memoir that grew out of Brosh’s webcomic/blog, and it tackles tough issues such as laziness, adulting, and depression. This is a description that does not do the book justice, but just know that I couldn’t stop laughing / painfully relating the length of the whole damn thing. So much so that, after I returned it to the library, I bought my own copy.

—Steph Auteri

If Beale Street Could Talk by James Baldwin

When I heard Barry Jenkins is writing and directing an adaptation of this novel, I put it on hold at the library immediately knowing I wouldn’t regret it. This book feels so vibrant and relevant, so full of love and hope and fear, I can see why Jenkins has been trying to get it made for years. I always forget how great Baldwin’s fiction is and then he reminds me.

—Jessica Woodbury


In Sunlight or in Shadow: Stories Inspired by the Paintings of Edward Hopper, edited by Lawrence Block

I’m fascinated by Edward Hopper and his penchant for painting liminal spaces – lobbies, windows, train interiors, the back hallway of a movie theater. Turns out that a murderer’s row of contributors (Stephen King, Joyce Carol Oates, Megan Abbott) shares my sense of imminent story. Many of the entries come from crime or mystery writers, so there’s a fine thread of noir that connects most of these tales.

—Megan Cavitt

Cover of Italian Folktales by Italo CalvinoItalian Folktales by Italo Calvino

I’ve been reading this folktale collection off and on for more than a year. But I finally finished it this month! And it was so worth it. It’s full of magic and weirdness and all kinds of things to delight fairytale readers. It contains 200 folktales, so I set up a system where after every print book I finished, I read 10 folktales. It worked so well that I’m going to start doing that all the time! I literally read the book to pieces. It fell apart in 4 different places. And it’s so good I’m purchasing another (hardback) copy. If you like the Grimms, you should read this. There are also some fantastic, smart heroines in many of these tales.

—Margaret Kingsbury

Jane, Unlimited by Kristin Cashore (Penguin Random House, September 2017)

This book was unlike anything I’ve ever read. Without saying too much that will give it away, Cashore has created a fantastic magical realism gem of a book, with multiple possibilities and well fleshed-out characters, in spite of the chosen form. I devoured this in two sittings (I had to sleep).

—Jaime Herndon

Jasmine Toguchi, Mochi Queen by Debbi Michiko Florence

This chapter book series reminded me of the fun, free-spirited characters of Clementine, Dory Fantasmagory by Abby Hanlon, and Cilla Lee-Jenkins, Author Extraordinaire by Susan Tan. In this first book of the series, Jasmine and her family are preparing for the new year, a time when her extended family gathers to make mochi balls. Her sister is old enough to help, but Jasmine is too young to join in… and besides, Jasmine doesn’t want to roll the mochi. She wants to pound the rice into mochi (which she has been informed is a boy’s job). This was such a sweet story about growing up and having the courage to challenge traditions.

—Karina Glaser

The Lights of Pointe-Noire: A Memoir by Alain Mabanckou, translated by Helen Stevenson

Perhaps his most personal work, for fans of Mabanckou this memoir of a visit home after a 20 year absence is key to understanding his body of  writing. It contains dozens of small details which can be connected back – animal doubles, the real-life fates of specific characters, even a reference to the Société des Ambianceurs et des Personnes Élégantes – to the fictional novels. But even if you’re new to Mabanckou you’ll still enjoy The Lights of Pointe-Noire because at it’s core it is a portrait of home, family and our relationship to both. All written in a narrative voice that alternates between playful and introspective, joy and regret.

—Tara Cheesman

Love and Trouble: A Midlife Reckoning by Claire Dederer 

Claire Dederer is a middle-aged wife and mom living with her family in the Pacific Northwest – and that is something she’s still trying to understand. Love and Trouble is sort of about sex, a little about growing up, but mostly about identity and the experience of recognizing yourself in all the people you’ve been. The essays are funny/gross/hot/sad/bitter/sweet, and I’m obsessed.

—Hannah Engler

My Heart Hemmed In by Marie NDiaye, translated by Jordan Stump

Marie NDiaye’s novels are deeply unsettling. In this one, published in France in 2007 and recently released in English by Two Lines Press, the main character Nadia begins to realize that her world has completely changed: for no reason she can understand people now despise and avoid her, the city around her feels sinister and dangerous, the streets are filled with never-ending fog, and a mysterious wound appears in her husband’s stomach. It’s a nightmare and she has no idea how to escape. NDiaye knows how to make us live that nightmare with her, but she also knows how to make us want to keep reading. This is one of the most gripping and psychologically astute novels I’ve read in awhile.

—Rebecca Hussey

My Life with Bob: Flawed Heroine Keeps Book of Books, Plot Ensues by Pamela Paul

The editor of the New York Times Book Review keeps a book listing the books she’s read since she was 16. She watches the trajectory of her life through her books and how they’ve influenced her life, from high school to college to traveling the world to getting married to having kids. Because books have a special power. They change you. They make you better and smarter and more empathetic (usually). I love this book so much. I read it slowly over a few months so I could enjoy it for as long as possible. And, of course, I bought a nice notebook for myself to start keeping my own book of books.

—Ashley Holstrom

The Nix by Nathan Hill

I’m super late for this party but so glad I showed up. I’d heard vague things about how great this book was but I was unprepared for how much it swept me right up in its arms. My paperback copy was 700+ pages, and with a book that long I just assume that there will be moments, or chapters, that start to lose my interest. It’s just the law of averages. But that did not happen in this book, which was about a million different things, but mostly about mothers and their relationships with their children, and wanting what we can’t have, and building things up in our minds, and romanticizing things we only have vague memories of and all the consequences of those things. Oh, and also the politics of the ‘60s and True Love and just a billion other things. I’m in the middle of two books that I love but I miss The Nix so much.

—Tracy Shapley

One Day We’ll All Be Dead and None of This Will Matter by Scaachi Koul

I was somewhat obsessed with the title Scaachi Koul chose for her memoir since I first heard about this book months ago. Soon after, I read a Buzzfeed piece by her which made me cry actual tears. I’ve been waiting to get my hands on her memoir since, and let out an audible scream when I heard that Penguin India was printing a paperback edition. And let me tell you, it is truly phenomenal. I read it in under 3 hours, at one stretch–something I haven’t done in a while. The writing flows effortlessly, and it’s the first memoir I’ve read with settings, characters and scenarios I could relate to this closely. Representation matters, and if you ever read this, Scaachi, I love you!

—Deepali Agarwal

The Party by Elizabeth Day (Little, Brown, 15th August)

The novel opens with Martin being questioned in a police station. We soon find out that something happened at his upper-class best friend Ben’s fortieth birthday party, and as the book goes on we follow the trajectory of the party and look back over Martin’s life, providing the context and background to help us understand the significance of the events. The writing is gorgeous, I enjoyed the scenes at Cambridge, and it has some searing commentary on the British establishment.

—Claire Handscombe

Rain Falls on Everyone by Clár Ní Chonghaile (Legend Press, July 2017)

Theo came to Dublin after escaping the Rwandan genocide as a young boy. When he gets caught up in the underground drug world of Dublin, his current horrors seem to tie in to the traumas of his past. Theo’s story is one that weaves together two very unlikely countries, with two vastly different histories. Written evocatively, the book ties together various different elements – including the Rwandan genocide, the Irish recession, and what it’s like to live as a person of colour in a white majority Dublin.

—Adiba Jaigirdar

Ramona and Her Father by Beverly Cleary

One of my projects for the summer was to reread the “Ramona” books by Beverly Cleary — and it’s been such a great, refreshing reread. Of all the books, though, the one with her father stands out to me as a favorite. The complexity of the adults in this book, the struggles they face with dad’s job challenges, and the fact that the Quimbys are a lower middle class working family struggling to make ends meet resonates today. In this particular book, we see Ramona’s father lose his job in a layoff, her mother go back to working full time, the family figuring out how to juggle transportation with a single car, and then a father who finds a job in which he’s exceptionally unhappy. It’s a book about transitions, and we see it not just in the family itself, but we’re treated to it through each member of the family. Cleary delineates Ramona, Beezus, Mom, Dad, AND Picky-picky (the cat) with such love and care. These books absolutely hold up, and with this one in particular, it feels like some of the topics are covered better here than in more contemporary reads.

—Kelly Jensen

The Reader by Traci Chee

I apparently slept on this one when it came out, but I’m glad I finally picked it up after seeing the cover reveal for the sequel, The Speaker, making the rounds. It’s about a world where reading is a lost art and literally opens up a whole world of magic and possibility. The book is brutal and beautiful and full of both betrayal and loyalty from all sides of Sefia’s relationships.

—Sarah Nicolas

A Sociedade Dos Sonhadores Involuntários by José Eduardo Agualusa (Quetzal, June 2017)

The action of the book takes place in Angola. A man seems to appear in the dreams of those who surround him, even when they are complete strangers. An artist stages and photographs her own dreams, and a neuroscientist wants to turn people’s dreams into motion-pictures. The man who ties all of these characters together is the journalist Daniel Benchimol, who dreams with people that he eventually gets acquainted with.

With a starting point on the influence that dreams have in his life and in his writing, and backed up by a real story of a revolution lead by a young group of people against the totalitarian government in Angola, Agualusa delights us once more with a beautiful narrative, an out of the ordinary tale, and characters that will visit us in dreams, way after we close the book.

(This book hasn’t got an english edition yet, although many of his books have already been translated, so it’s just a matter of time for this one.)

—Carina Pereira 

The Speechwriter: A Brief Education in Politics by Barton Swaim 

In his short memoir, Barton Swaim consider his brief time working as a writer for South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford, a deeply flawed man whose extramarital affair destroyed his career, at least for a little while (Sanford is now a Republican congressman). I appreciated Swaim’s story, especially because it isn’t a conventional tell-all political memoir, but instead a reflection on Swaim’s education as a writer. When Swaim first arrives in his position, which he fell into for extra money, not a deep-seated love for politics, he has all the eloquent style and polished prose of a highly educated, skilled author. Working for Sanford meant humbling Swaim’s ego; Swaim initially was resentful of Sanford’s hokey, folksy and unpretentious style. But eventually he learned how some of the best writing is actually the worst writing, and that sometimes ideas are best communicated not through eloquent prose, but through clear language people can relate to on all levels. This valuable lesson is one that all professional writers have to learn. Swaim’s honest, insightful, and critical look at his journey as a writer is even more fascinating than working that close to glory.

—Sarah S. Davis

Starfish by Akemi Dawn Bowman (September 2017, Simon Pulse)

Due to her half-Japanese heritage, Kiko Himura has never quite felt like she fits in. The situation isn’t helped by her narcissistic mother, who constantly makes her feel less than, and a smattering of racist comments from classmates. After her dream to attend her dream art school is shattered, Kiko starts a journey of self-acceptance and finding her true self. As an Asian American who grew up in the mostly white Midwest, this book truly touched me. I don’t know if I’ve ever connected with a character more. Ever. I was crying within the first few pages and I didn’t stop for the next 300. This book is a gem.

—Kate Krug

Thanks, Obama: My Hopey-Changey White House Years by David Litt (September 2017, Harper Collins)

Two years out of college, after working the campaign trail and catching total Obama fever, David Litt got hired as a speechwriter for the Obama White House. And what follows is documented here, in Thanks, Obama, Litt’s memoir about his time working for Obama’s administration. Litt’s writing is smart, funny, self-deprecating, and has a cool behind-the-scenes vibe to it, letting us peek into what life is really like in there. This book is full of laugh-out-loud moments and oddities of White House life, while also being tempered with things that are kind of a bummer:  Congressional gridlock, the 2016 election, Mitch McConnell. While Litt takes us on a trip down memory lane – and while that trip is hard to take these days – I had a hard time putting the book down, and I enjoyed watching Litt’s development as a writer, as a citizen, and as a twenty-something.

—Dana Staves

There Are Things More Beautiful than Beyoncé by Morgan Parker

As a Beyoncé enthusiast, I didn’t exactly know how to interpret this title. It reached out and grabbed me, demanding I read the poems inside this small but mighty volume. Thank goodness. These words were beautiful, provocative, and thought-provoking. They pushed me to examine the experience of black womanhood in America and consider my own privilege as a white woman. They also touched on experiences that seemed deeply relatable, like having everyone in a friend group feel lonely at the same time. Combining lyrical personal recollections with astute cultural criticism, reading Parker’s poems was a beautiful experience. Highly recommend!

—Alison Doherty

Trouble is a Friend of Mine by Stephanie Tromly

Zoe is new to town when she’s befriended (against her will) by Digby, a suit-wearing and mildly obnoxious guy who promptly enlists her help in his investigation into a missing local girl. This book has everything you could possibly want in an offbeat, quirky YA novel: marvelous banter, delightful sarcasm, shenanigans galore, and a whole lot of trouble. I read it in one sitting.

—Tirzah Price

The Truth of Right Now
by Kara Lee Corthron

 I read this book closer to the beginning of the month, and it has been staying with me. Two high school seniors with totally different challenges have a strong connection in New York City. This story titillates the senses and pulls on the reader’s heartstrings. Seventeen-year-old Lily is recovering from a suicide attempt and Dari, also 17, is trying to get from under his abusive and oppressive father.  This story confronts race, mental illness, bullying, and parental boundaries with realness, complexity, and empathy. Truly a dazzling debut that left me anticipating the author’s next book.

—Christina Vortia

Want by Cindy Pon

This was my first experience with the writing of Cindy Pon, and I have really been missing out. The story is set in the near future, one in which Taipei is so polluted that merely being on the street is a danger to one’s health. The ultrarich walk around in custom-made suits that protect them from the world around them, allowing them to live in their own little bubbles of purified air. It’s made the divide between the haves and have nots more clearly defined and harder to cross than ever before. A group of young adults (late teens, early 20s) are determined to make a difference. To do so, they carry off a major con with major consequences.  If you like a good heist, especially one packed with social commentary, then this is the book for you.

—Cassandra Neace

Where the Past Begins by Amy Tan (October 17, HarperLuxe)

Amy Tan’s memoir of writing, of remembering, and of many, many other things is incredible. I kept thinking, while reading it, that I wanted to write. I wanted to write and write and write like there was nothing else in the world. It’s not many author’s memoirs that feel so incredibly inspirational in a physical way, but this one did. I’m sure everyone who loves Amy Tan will love to read about her memories and the way she thinks about imagination and writing but this book will be especially valuable to writers who want or need a kick in the butt.

—Ilana Masad

The White City By Karolina Ramqvist (Grove Press)

I didn’t know exactly what I was getting into when I started reading this but I’m glad I did. It is a delicate and insightful story of a new mother who is trying to get back to her old life while still reeling from the death of her criminal boyfriend, John. The White City is a nuanced and unsparingly observed novella about motherhood and courage.  

—Rabeea Saleem