PositiveBooklistBelcourt’s writing is poetic and philosophical, and often meanders in lovely and thought-provoking ways, whether he writes of colonialism, his grandmother, or his queer/NDN identity. Clearly a student, too, he includes words of other writers, particularly Ocean Vuong and Maggie Nelson, but his voice is distinctly his own. This timely and intriguing collection would make a great read-alike for Saeed Jones’ How We Fight for Our Lives (2019).
PositiveBooklistProlific author Leavitt (Cruel Beautiful World, 2016) mines the aftermath of one couple’s tragedy in her latest novel ... Leavitt’s seamless writing easily carries readers through the compelling story. While more character development would have been welcome, this doesn’t take away from the book’s emotional wallop. Leavitt’s fans and readers of domestic drama will be thrilled.
PositiveBooklistMcCarthy unfolds the story in a delightfully suspenseful way, even while some bombshells fizzle, using the duplicitous and unreliable Rose to full effect. Readers who need a character to root for won’t find one here, but those who enjoy books about the dark side of female friendship—think Megan Abbott—will be right at home.
PositiveBooklistWhile his first book is being touted as a memoir about growing up in the Synanon cult, Jollett, frontman for the band Airborne Toxic Event, actually writes much more about his life after escaping it ... He is a very good writer able to relay details of his difficult life, even as a young child, and despite occasionally overwrought descriptions, the story remains engaging and heartbreaking. A good choice for fans of memoirs about overcoming dysfunctional childhoods like Educated...and The Glass Castle...
PositiveBooklist... heartbreaking ... what predominates is a loving portrait of Sarah, Andersen’s baby sister ... Legitimate questions are raised about Sarah’s death and the criminal elements she was cavorting with, but as noted, few are answered. The more interesting story, however, is that of Sarah and Rose; two sides of the same coin whose roles could easily have been reversed. Perfect for memoir readers who enjoyed Stephanie Wittels Wachs’ Everything is Horrible and Wonderful (2018) or Maureen Cavanagh’s If You Love Me (2018).
PositiveBooklistWasserman...asks big questions about how well we can really know another person, the nature of truth as it relates to memory, and what this all means for how we perceive ourselves. While the novel takes a while to get moving, it ultimately has some great twists and all those questions Wasserman raises make it an excellent book-discussion choice.
PositiveBooklist...a well written, evocative novel following three women grappling with their newfound identities ... While their tales are thematically linked throughout, it is not until late in the book that further connections appear—but each story line is captivating regardless ... A winner for fans of historical fiction, literary women’s fiction, and Jewish interest stories, this would also make for an interesting book discussion.
PositiveBooklist... thoughtful and compassionate ... Thompson-Hernandez never shies away from the cowboys’ trauma, and his respect for them is clear. This is an endearing tribute to them, Akbar, and the benefits of equine therapy.
PositiveBooklistJournalist and memoirist Sheff...chronicles one man’s time on death row and his use of Buddhist practices to discover hope and healing ... Sheff’s highly readable account of Masters’ experiences offers readers an inspirational story that also functions as an introduction to Buddhist principles.
PositiveBooklistMilliken’s debut is a surprisingly suspenseful coming-of-age novel starring an earnest young woman who loves horses and, maybe, girls ... While the plot is swift-moving and engaging, it is occasionally overstuffed and secondary characters could be better developed. Still, Rory is a lovely companion, and readers will enjoy following her through her trials and tribulations.
PositiveBooklist... [a] unique coming-of-age tale ... ension escalates, the novel’s tone becomes foreboding—but the ending is still a shocker. This is a little southern gothic, a little supernatural, and a little reminiscent of Wiley Cash’s suspensful A Land More Kind than Home (2012).
RaveBooklistJust like life, McFarland’s debut is big, messy, and complicated while also being a completely engrossing portrait of her characters and their hometown. She deftly weaves in issues of race and consent. Perfect for those who like books about family dysfunction, this would also make a great book discussion selection.
RaveBooklist... heart-wrenching ... The alternating narrators of Brian, Sharon, and Jess are fleshed out in all of their complexities and contradictions. This immersive, tragic book will stay with readers.
PositiveBooklist...a detailed historical account ... Reddi’s richly imagined, character-driven novel sheds light on a little-known history of Indians in the U.S. and surprisingly echoes current events. A wonderful historical saga for fans of Jane Smiley’s Some Luck.
Rachel Vorona Cote
MixedBooklistWhile seeing the relationship between Jane Eyre and Britney Spears or Miss Havisham and Madonna is fascinating, Vorona Cote’s combo of criticism, theory, and memoir gets muddled at times, and her thesis gets lost in the personal (and vice versa), while her writing runs the gamut from academic to confessional. Readers who enjoy a feminist take on pop culture, à la Bitch magazine, will be right at home.
PositiveBooklist... page-turning ... Ward’s work involves explaining complicated and ever-changing political situations, mostly in short segments, and her writing displays these skills. Readers will come away with at least a basic understanding of multiple international conflicts. This is a wonderful addition to the list of recent titles about women working in war-torn lands.
PositiveBooklistSisman gives readers a chronological romp through Peters’ continual attempts to pass himself off as a student of the church, a preacher, a teacher, and even a principal of two religious schools, all in the name of notoriety. While Peters is definitely a character, he is also a bigamist, a misogynist, and a sexual harasser (at the very least) and yet Sisman passes these off as more of his trickster ways instead of recognizing them as the predatory behaviors they are. This lack of synthesis is unfortunate, but the story of Trevor-Roper and Peters is an entertaining case of truth being stranger than fiction.
PositiveBooklist... odd and wondrous short stories ... in each case the very thing meant to help actually creates more problems. This has the effect of keeping character[s]\'s humanness at the center of each story; appearing at first to be about the double-edged sword of technology, the collection is actually about people confronting their all-too-human emotions. While occasionally uneven, at her best, South is reminiscent of George Saunders, replete with strangeness and dark humor. This intriguing collection should put South on readers’ radars and is perfect for fans of Black Mirror.
PositiveBooklistAndrews writes beautiful, unusual descriptions, and short chapters give the story a poetic sensibility. Her intertwining of time periods and mother-daughter relationships through generations is so well done that it is a real loss when she abandons it for a more straightforward telling. Andrews’ debut declares her one to watch.
RaveBooklist\"Mitchell’s straightforward style suits the stories perfectly: neither the families’ continued heartache nor the hate of those on trial need be embellished to be affecting. While the cases themselves are drawn out over many years, the reading, especially the extensive courtroom scenes, is riveting ... this is both an important Civil Rights document and a timely read in the wake of the recent rise of hate crimes.\
PositiveBooklistThe details are appalling but it is even more outrageous that Shelly gets away with it for years mostly because her daughters are terrified of her even after moving away. Olsen presents the story chronologically and in a simple, straightforward style, which works well: it is chilling enough as is.
PositiveBooklistFlea is a surprisingly good writer and writes in bursts of memories, detailing both pivotal and mundane moments in short chapters with equal parts pathos and humor. This is not an RHCP tell-all: the book ends with the band’s first-ever live performance. Rather, RHCP fans or not, readers will find a unique coming-of-age memoir that’s also an ode to books, music, and performing.
RaveBooklistFox’s clear, present-tense prose keeps readers in the action while maintaining the heft of reality, even in totally surreal situations. With loads of suspense and adrenaline, and a streaming series starring Brie Larson reportedly in the works, this insider’s view into how the CIA functions and what life is like for a covert agent will appeal to many, including readers who don’t normally stray from fiction thrillers.
PositiveBooklist... reads like poetry and is reminiscent in style of Amy Krouse Rosenthal’s Encyclopedia of an Ordinary Life (2005). The cumulative effect hits the mark, and readers are sure to be moved to tears themselves. This is a lovely meditation on life and death through the lens of tears, both those spurred by grief and those by joy.
PositiveBooklistIn this honest and engaging true-crime memoir, Betz-Hamilton revisits her small-town Indiana childhood and college years, and the identity fraud that rocked her family ... his memoir has all the suspense and twists of a thriller; even as readers begin to suspect the truth, it still shocks. This bloodless true-crime tale is highly recommended for fans of books about con artists and family secrets.
Rachel Eve Moulton
PositiveBooklistA creepy locale and a terrifying, larger-than-life villain give this debut novel its chills, while terrors of the human kind—abuse, drug addiction, self-harm—give it heft ... Horror fans looking for a beach read will find it in this plot-driven, page-turning novel—but they shouldn’t expect a tidy ending.
PositiveBooklistMcQuade uses natural imagery (especially birds and trees) and an infusion of strangeness and wonder that verges on the supernatural to connect these stories, which are also linked thematically. Piecing together these connections demands close reading—and rewards it, with details to savor. Short-story fans should be on the lookout for McQuade, whose style nestles somewhere between Elizabeth Strout’s and Helen Oyeyemi’s.
PositiveBooklistAward-winning journalist Ashline’s first book is an in-depth portrait of a cult and its downfall after the murder of one of its members ... Ashline relates the compelling story in painstaking detail, and it can be difficult to keep straight everyone involved (even with a name reference at the beginning), but readers looking for a cult origin story will find this a captivating read.
PositiveBooklistHere, [Freitas] shares how she’s inhabited two different worlds—one where she’s successful and strong, another where she feels terrified and alone—for years, and shows how debilitating and shameful the experience can be for a survivor of stalking ... Freitas is incredibly honest and doesn’t shy away from her feelings that she is in some way at fault. She rounds out her memories with details of her family and friends as well as more studious synthesis, and calls for campus reform, adding heft to an already important story.
PositiveBooklistMonroe’s writing is superb and each woman’s story is fascinating even if, as a whole, the book lacks a cohesive narrative thread. Regardless, true crime aficionados will appreciate this spin on the genre.
Daniel R. Day
PositiveBooklistDay is a natural storyteller with a distinct point of view that clearly comes through in this enjoyable memoir. He incorporates the social history of Harlem, a fascinating backdrop, and writes as compellingly about his city and its people as he does about his life.
RaveBooklistThe subtitle of Callahan’s true-crime drama is a bit misleading, as the \'hunt\' for Israel Keyes is over by page 60. But what follows is a fascinating attempt to profile a serial killer that defies categorization ... Keyes is terrifying, and his crimes horrific, but Callahan’s focus on the FBI’s attempts to learn about his other crimes makes for a truly edge-of-your-seat page-turner even without the “hunt.” A must for fans of Mindhunter (1995)—both the book and its recent Netflix adaptation—and the long-running police drama Criminal Minds.
Amanda Lee Koe
PositiveBooklistExpansive and engaging ... Koe brings her well-known protagonists to life, and manages a sprawling story with panache. This has wide appeal for historical-fiction enthusiasts, film buffs, and readers looking for a WWII novel with a twist.
De'Shawn Charles Winslow
PositiveBooklist...a fierce, memorable antiheroine ... Winslow is a natural storyteller whose writing is like a mash-up of Zora Neale Hurston and Edward Kelsey Moore, and his characters spark to life, especially Knot, who Winslow magically makes both enraging and endearing. Although at times entire years are glossed over in this short novel, its humor and heart will win over many readers.
PositiveBooklistBerman’s spot-on dialogue keeps the pages turning in a novel with little plot, making her timely second novel a good, if less-polished, read-alike for Meg Wolitzer’s The Female Persuasion (2018). It should find a large readership.
PositiveBooklistPitoniak’s dialogue-heavy prose keeps a quick pace, and her characters and the TV-news setting ring true, even as the propulsive plot begins to strain credibility. Hand this to readers who like books exploring the dark side of female friendships, à la Megan Abbott, or fans of Tara Isabella Burton’s Social Creature (2018).
RaveBooklistSavas’ quiet and emotionally rich novel is a tender portrait of a young woman exploring her identity ... In short, vignette-like chapters, Savas jumps between places and times, treating readers to Nunu’s astute inner monologues ... this novel is deceptively simple and subtly profound and will appeal to those fond of character studies and lovely writing.
PositiveBooklistWoodfox’s shocking memoir of his years in prison, mostly under solitary confinement, is a testament to the human spirit and a scathing indictment of the justice system ... Woodfox’s story reads like a prison diary and is unrelenting in its portrait of the day-to-day humiliations and racism experienced by Black prisoners ... Woodfox’s difficult story is a call to action for justice-system reform.
PositiveBooklistWilson’s truly inspiring memoir is also a handbook for creating a life of meaning ... With coauthor Witter, Wilson engagingly tells his riveting story while also exposing corrupt justice practices and the ways that society consistently works against former convicts, especially black men. Highly recommended for fans of The Sun Does Shine (2018), by Anthony Ray Hinton, as well as anyone who loves an uplifting life story.
PositiveBooklistLand’s honest writing, especially about her feelings of inadequacy, and her insights into the people whose homes she cleans are beyond engaging. Readers will understand working hard while simultaneously fearing that if one thing goes wrong, if one unplanned expense rears its ugly head, if one benefit doesn’t come through, a delicate balance could be completely upended. For readers of Barbara Ehrenreich’s Nickel and Dimed (2001), Matthew Desmond’s Evicted (2016), and Sarah Smarsh’s Heartland (2018).
MixedBooklistThe author’s hybrid of memoir and journalism works well for general readers, keeping things engaging and witty even as she misses the mark with some of her humor. A timely book for folks who wonder how we ended up in this post-truth world as well as readers of books like A Beautiful, Terrible Thing (2017) by Jen Waite.
PositiveBooklistEngrossing and moving ... Alternating among each sister’s perspective, the story unravels at a measured pace, deliciously feeding the reader surprises about the past and present throughout. This is a good choice for readers who enjoyed Caroline Leavitt’s Cruel Beautiful World (2016), Tayari Jones’ An American Marriage (2018), and other family dramas.
PositiveBooklist[Abdulali] writes in a conversational style and injects a levity that, rather than betraying the seriousness of her subject, makes it more possible to handle the necessary yet horrifying details of rape of all kinds. An important book working towards an important goal: meaningful and thoughtful discussion of a taboo subject.
MixedBooklist\"In this page-turner, a mash-up of memoir and true crime, Brottman explores a mysterious death and her own psyche ... Events unfold in real time, adding an element of suspense (that, unfortunately, feels unfulfilled with the anticlimactic conclusion). This may disappoint those seeking straightforward true crime, but those who choose books with dark subject matter, suspense, and microhistory elements will all find something to enjoy here.
PositiveBooklistCavanagh’s writing is honest and straightforward, her pace fast and tone foreboding; all this makes for a page-turner that puts readers beside her on the emotional roller coaster that dealing with a loved one’s substance abuse is. Perfect for readers anticipating the upcoming film Beautiful Boy, based on David Sheff’s bestselling 2007 memoir.
PositiveBooklistProulx’s domestic tragedy is a slow burn of a novel ... Proulx...never takes the easy road. Instead of writing either pure suspense or feel-good family drama, she maintains a low level of intensity that never feels gratuitous or unrealistic. A solid choice for fans of suspenseful, character-driven fiction.
PositiveBooklist Online\"Debut-author Patel’s 10 compact yet meaty stories feature characters—most of them first-generation Indian Americans, as the author is—trying to navigate a world full of expectations (go to college, land a prestigious job, get married, have children) only to find themselves continually thwarted ... Patel explores universal themes in unexpected ways and excels at portraying nuanced characters in even the briefest stories. Readers in search of a fresh new voice should be on the lookout for Patel.
RaveBooklistIn interconnected short stories, Holmes’ debut breathes life into a group of friends who are simultaneously trying to shake off their past and honor it ... He doesn’t shy away from difficult subject matter or from showing his characters’ flaws, which makes for some incredibly tough scenes to read, but also highlights the everyday travails of black men in America. Readers looking for timely, nuanced fiction about race and masculinity should definitely pick this up.
MixedBooklist OnlineMarkley’s debut novel is set in small-town Ohio, post 9/11, and catalogs the myriad ways that war and recession have failed a generation who have known little else. In New Canaan, a town suffering after factories shutter, readers follow four stories of twentysomethings who knew each other in high school, and the fallout of long-held secrets ... Markley...firmly plants readers in the setting even as the author jumps in time, often from paragraph to paragraph. After the leisurely paced majority of the book, the final 100 pages feel rushed, and the climax comes from seemingly nowhere, but even this does little to take away from an...tragic story.
RaveBooklist\"The author’s youthful longing for her father’s approval drives this memoir. Though Jobs’ rejections, from denying he named one of the first Apple computers after the author (he did) to telling her how stupid debate is after she wins a competition, can be difficult to read, Brennan-Jobs skillfully relays her past without judgement, staying true to her younger self. It is a testament to her fine writing and journalistic approach that her memoir never turns maudlin or gossipy. Rather than a celebrity biography, this is Brennan-Jobs’ authentic story of growing up in two very different environments, neither of which felt quite like home.\
PositiveBooklist OnlineCoulter...had a great but high-pressure job and a wonderful marriage—a generally enviable life. She had also been working her way up to a bottle of wine a night ... Once she quits, her abstention leaves an emotional void that she continually tries to fill, and also a social one ... The essays in this collection, her first book, are about finding her way in a life that once revolved around drinking. They simultaneously address love, sex, vulnerability, and being a woman in the world, in general. At turns heartrending and hilarious, Coulter is wonderfully conversational and never preachy as she tells her story of sobriety.
PositiveBooklistFreiman’s coming-of-age satire is a humorous and bawdy skewering of identity politics. Ziggy, 15, attends a prestigious Australian all-girls private school, where she struggles with having a flat chest, not being popular, and confusing sexual fantasies that often involve Nazis ... Ziggy is a wonderful character to lead the satirical charge, as she’s convincingly just trying to figure out who she is and how she belongs in the world. Her earnestness offsets the over-the-top humor. Although the novel loses some steam at the halfway point, Freiman’s assured writing carries readers through to the surprisingly heartwarming end.
MixedBooklist\"In his debut novel, Martin’s writing is clever and funny, but Peter can be a trying narrator whose waywardness and terrible choices elicit more derision than empathy. Still, this is a solid choice for those who enjoy novels of lost twentysomethings’ introspection.\
RaveBooklistA testament to Gumbiner’s fine writing, readers will easily slip into Berg’s day-to-day existence; Gumbiner relays Berg’s ambivalence, desperation, and anxiety without resorting to over-the-top scenarios or dialogue. He allows his characters and small-town setting to shine in this beautiful novel about finding one’s place, no matter how small, in the world.
PositiveBooklistEngaging and honest ... MacNicol is relatable, and the joy she finds in her life, lived on her own terms, is striking.
PositiveBooklistDebut novelist Yen’s years of working with multiple tech companies provide a real insider’s peek at the craziness of the industry while still keeping it light. This is Silicon Valley chick lit with a smart and smart-ass heroine trying to \'have it all,\' and readers of books like Elisabeth Egan’s A Window Opens (2015) and Allison Pearson’s I Don’t Know How She Does It (2002) will enjoy this modern take.
RaveBooklist Online\"Investigative reporter and Baffler contributor Pein’s first book should terrify you ... Pein dedicates a good chunk of the book to a small but vocal faction bent on government destruction and dabbling in alt-right politics and even eugenics. Even scarier, they face little resistance from the larger tech world. Like Jon Ronson, Pein combines serious journalism with humor and his own antics for an entertaining and caustic mix. If Silicon Valley and Black Mirror had a book baby, it would be Live Work Work Work Die.\
PositiveBooklistDespite the nebulous self that emerges, Hodson’s writing style betrays her in a way, offering a clear and strong point of view. Although less successful pieces can lose the narrative thread and read disjointedly, this is overall a unique collection about being an artist and a woman in a world that doesn’t always value either.
Blanche McCrary Boyd
MixedBooklistEllen is a nuanced protagonist who is by turns empathetic and enraging. Without clearly defined motivations, though, she comes off as a bit of a white savior, and, in turn, revelations tend to fall flat. Ellen’s chosen form of activism, however, is endlessly discussable, and the tortured history of Charleston makes for a compelling setting.
PositiveBooklistIn descriptive and impressive prose, Wood gives us his version of what happened and why ... Wood’s focus on his own life will distract true-crime fans, who will be disappointed with the lack of actual crime or investigation. But those who appreciate style and creativity, which Wood has in abundance, will enjoy this.
RaveBooklist OnlineBased on her award-winning short story of the same name, Kenny’s debut novel is a quiet and moving coming-of-age tale set during WWII ... Kenny artfully weaves Cielle’s story of coming to terms with the fact that though loving people won’t necessarily save them or keep them safe, those relationships are still worth it ... With a light touch, Kenny tells an impactful story of everyday lives in trying circumstances.
T. Christian Miller and Ken Armstrong
RaveBooklistThis timely, well-researched, highly readable account will appeal to readers interested in true crime and social justice issues.
RaveBooklistCulliton’s assured and clever novel reads more like that of a seasoned novelist than a debut ... Culliton tempers her generally unlikable characters with short chapters, often under three pages; omniscient third-person narration; and oddly comic—think Miranda July—writing. Readers who have wished the narration of The Royal Tenenbaums was an actual book need look no further than The Misfortune of Marion Palm.
PositiveBooklistAlthough there is very little description of actual violence, the premise alone means the squeamish (and animal lovers) should probably skip this one. Those who want a tidy ending will also be disappointed. But fans of literary page-turners, like Sunil Yapa’s Your Heart Is a Muscle the Size of a Fist (2016), won’t want to miss this.
RaveBooklist...surprising, suspenseful, and moving ... The subject matter is difficult, and the author doesn’t shy away from graphic descriptions, but readers are rewarded with a book that defies both its genres, turning into something wholly different and memorable.
RaveBooklistLockwood magically combines laugh-aloud moments with frank discussions of social issues and shows off her poet’s skills with lovely, metaphor-filled descriptions that make this memoir shine.