It’s spooky szn, but what really is spooky szn when we have been living in a real-life horror show for the past 10 months? I don’t know, but I’m the type of person who is finding comfort from reading murder mysteries and other similar thrillers in these trying times. What does that say about me? It’s unclear. Have I uttered that exact phrase before? Probably, it’s been a long year. If you, like me, seek comfort from IRL horror in more fictional horror, then these are the spooky reads you need to check out this October.
‘The Inugami Curse’ by Seishi Yokomizo
August 18, 2020
This classic murder mystery features Japan’s best-loved detective and is by one of the country’s top crime writers, so you can trust it will have you on the edge of your seat. It’s set in 1940s Japan after the head of the wealthy Inugami clan dies. As his family awaits the reading of the will, a series of strange and gruesome murders begins. Detective Kindaichi has to, obviously, figure out WTF is going on. That pursuit of the truth will uncover forbidden liaisons, hidden identities, and more.
‘Winter Counts‘ by David Heska Wabli Weiden
August 25, 2020
When the American justice system consistently fails you and your people, you become a vigilante of sorts—or at least, that’s what Virgil Wounded Horse does for the Rosebud Indian Reservation in South Dakota. But it gets personal when heroin enters into the reservation and finds its way to Virgil’s nephew. So what do you do? Infiltrate the dealers, find the supplier—I mean, find out where the drugs are coming from and make them stop. As Virgil starts to put the pieces together, he’s forced to come to terms with his own demons and grapple with his identity.
‘Don’t Ever Forget’ by Matthew Farrell
September 1, 2020
Farrell’s last novel, I Know Everything, came out in 2019, and I still think about it, that’s how much the ending shook me. So I had to include his latest, Don’t Ever Forget, on this list. Police investigator Susan Adler is called to the scene of a roadside murder of a state trooper. Dashboard cam footage leads her to a nurse, who has been missing for days along with an elderly patient. A peek inside the elderly patient’s house reveals evidence from two cold cases involving missing children. Talk about a rabbit hole. Of course, nothing is as it seems, people turn up dead, and it’s a race against the perp, who does not want to be discovered.
‘One Step Behind’ by Lauren North
September 1, 2020
And now we’ve reached the “me recommending authors I’ve recommended before” section of this article. But hey, if you know something is good, then why stray from it? Best to lean in. I first got into Lauren North with The Perfect Son, a twisty tale about a woman stuck in the hospital, racing to figure out what happened to her son, who’s gone missing on his 8th birthday. In One Step Behind, Jenna—wife, mother, doctor—is the victim of a stalker. Sh*t gets crazy when her stalker is brought into the ER and Jenna has to treat him. Hold up, do they not have procedures in place to protect against that kind of thing? In any case, Jenna is desperate to understand the man who’s been making her life hell, and when she goes through his phone, she finds some startling images that lead her down a winding road of destruction.
‘When No One Is Watching’ by Alyssa Cole
September 1, 2020
Yes, I’ve written about this before, yes I’m featuring it again! It’s been written about everywhere, so you really need to add it to your list. It follows Sydney Green, a girl who’s born and raised in a Brooklyn neighborhood that’s rapidly gentrifying. She meets her neighbor Theo, and the two become interested in the neighborhood’s history. That leads them to realize that maybe the push to “revitalize” their community might be more deadly than it seems… or have they completely lost it? Can Sydney and Theo find out the truth before they too “go to live in the suburbs”?
‘The Sundown Motel’ by Simone St. James
September 1, 2020
Author of the chilling The Broken Girls (2018) has a new thriller out in paperback this September. It takes place in the small town of Fell, a town that seems to have a problem with girls winding up dead. There was the murder of Cathy Caldwell, who was found under an overpass, and Victoria Lee, who was killed and found along a jogging trail. A similar crime brings Carly Kirk to Fell: the disappearance of her aunt Viv. Carly is determined to return to Fell, stay in the same Sun Down Motel her aunt Viv worked the night shift at, and find out what happened to her. You’ll be on the edge of your seat with this one.
‘GROWN’ by Tiffany D. Jackson
September 15, 2020
I literally still think about Jackson’s 2018 thriller Monday’s Not Coming, so I simply must add her latest to the spooky season reading list. GROWN tackles themes like abuses of power and the dark sides of the entertainment industry. In this ripped-from-the-headlines mystery, legendary R&B artist Korey Fields plucks Enchanted Jones from obscurity, promising to make her a star. Until Korey ends up dead, and Enchanted finds herself with no memory of what happened and his blood on her hands—literally. Did she kill Korey? If not, who did?
‘And Now She’s Gone’ by Rachel Howzell Hall
September 22, 2020
Grayson Sykes has been tasked with finding Isabel Lincoln, who may or may not want to be found. Is she missing, or is she just trying to start over? P.I. Sykes attempts to figure this out while tracking down Lincoln. Her search uncovers a number of secrets that become more dangerous at every turn—not to mention, Sykes has secrets of her own.
‘Dancing With The Octopus’ by Debora Harding
September 22, 2020
This is actually just true crime, so I included it for the real fans. Harding’s memoir is being compared to Tara Westover’s Educated, and it starts in 1978, when Debora Harding was abducted at knifepoint from a church parking lot at just 14 years old. Harding was then thrown into a van, assaulted, held for ransom, then left out to die during an ice storm. Miraculously, she survived and led police to her attacker. Decades later, she did something even more unbelievable: she met her attacker face-to-face in prison.
‘The Nesting’ by C.J. Cooke
September 29, 2020
I don’t even tend to like supernatural thrillers, but this one pulled me in right away. It has a little bit of everything: Norse mythology, ghosts, an element of fraud, and more that I don’t want to spoil. In it, Lexi, a young woman battling her own demons, becomes a nanny in rural Norway for a family who just experienced a devastating loss. Lexi is hiding her own secrets, as is the house she and the family are living in, and soon she’ll discover that maybe the tragic family loss wasn’t what it seemed.
‘Goodnight Beautiful‘ by Aimee Molloy
October 13, 2020
When I tell you I couldn’t predict the ending of this one, that should say something. This novel had at least three twists that caught me completely off-guard. Sure, I could be going soft, or Molloy could just be that good. Dr. Sam Statler, a hot therapist, has gone missing after a storm. But let’s rewind: we begin with Annie Potter, who isn’t super thrilled to leave her life in NYC behind to move with her husband Sam to his hometown upstate. Especially because she has nothing to do while he sees (mostly female) clients all day. Little does Sam know, every word of his sessions can be heard from a room upstairs. Just when you think you’ve got this book figured out, it will throw another curveball at you, and even the most avid thriller readers won’t predict these surprises.
‘Scavenger: A Mystery’ by Christopher Chambers
October 13, 2020
In Washington, D.C., a Black man living in a homeless camp near the Smithsonian is framed for the murder of two of his closest friends. He faces life in prison. But when he meets an ex-Homeland Security Secretary, things start turning around. Sort of. He can avoid the life sentence—if he helps the former government official find a missing woman using the network of the streets and the underground world of undocumented immigrants.
‘A Will To Kill’ by R.V. Raman
October 20, 2020
This one is a fun, suspenseful read that’s perfect for fans of Knives Out or Agatha Christie. Aging Indian patriarch Bhaskar Fernandez wants to reunite his relatives (who all low-key hate each other), so he invites them out to a remote manor that’s rumored to be haunted, and where a few people have suddenly met an untimely death. The fun part? Bhaskar knows his family wants him dead so they can inherit his fortune, so he prepares two wills—the one he uses depends on how he dies.
‘Plain Bad Heroines’ by Emily M. Danforth
October 20, 2020
This queer gothic horror comedy brings the spooky without keeping you up at night. This story-within-a-story begins in 1902 at a cursed all-female boarding school in New England, where two students, Flo and Clara, start a private club called the Plain Bad Heroine Society. They are later found mysteriously dead. Over the next five years, three more people are found dead on the property, and the school closes for good. Over 100 years later, the school ends up back in the collective consciousness when a writer publishes a book celebrating the “haunted and cursed” school. That book becomes a movie, and the actresses cast revisit the school to start filming… which is when weird things start happening.
‘Little Cruelties’ by Liz Nugent
November 10, 2020
Already a #1 bestseller in Ireland and a most-anticipated thriller by CrimeReads and Crime by the Book, Nugent’s upcoming novel is one you’ll want to pick up. It begins with a funeral: all three Drumm brothers are there, but one is in a coffin. Which brother is dead? Who is guilty? If you liked Succession, you’ll get sucked into this cautionary tale of how sinister impulses can corrupt a family.
‘Little Threats’ by Emily Schultz
November 10, 2020
Fans of Andrea Bartz’s The Lost Night and Megan Goldin’s The Night Swim will find a perfect match in Little Threats, because of the blackout-induced amnesia plotline and the meta true crime elements. You’ll see what I mean: Kennedy and Carter Wynn are two rebellious twin sisters whose lives are torn apart as teenagers when their best friend Haley is found murdered after a night of partying. With no other leads, Kennedy enters a guilty plea and spends 15 years in prison. Once she gets out, a crime show host comes around asking questions, believing Kennedy may not have committed the murder. *Oprah voice* so what is the truth?
‘The Lady Upstairs’ by Halley Sutton
November 17, 2020
As someone who has gone on too many bad dates with men, the premise of this book is a littleeee too relatable for me. It’s centered on Jo, who makes a living blackmailing the skeeviest and most powerful men in LA—think dirty cops, handsy Hollywood producers, you know the type. Jo is eager to prove herself to her enigmatic boss, known only as The Lady Upstairs. When one of Jo’s targets is murdered, Jo finds herself on a short list of suspects. To avoid prison time she has to pull off one last job—her biggest target yet.
Images: @greystorm / Unsplash
Labor Day has officially come and gone, my friends, which effectively means summer is over. I know, it’s sad—especially because I don’t think any of us accomplished a single thing we thought we would. Hot Girl Summer is but a distant memory, and F*ckgirl Fall will likely not happen either. But you know what we do get this fall? An amazing new reading list. It’s the little things.
‘Loathe At First Sight’ By Suzanne Park
(August 18, 2020)
Helen Hoang, author of Kiss Quotient, calls Suzanne Park’s rom-com “bursting with humor, heart, and great energy”. Melody Joo lands her dream job as a video game producer, but it’s not all a walk in the park. She deals with an insufferable CEO, sexist coworkers, and the hot intern who got hired because of nepotism. But things get better when a game Melody creates on a lark becomes an overnight sensation, and suddenly she’s the boss. That means Hot Intern works for her—and the more they work together, the more Melody realizes she may have been wrong to write him off so quickly. This fun, flirty novel also tackles tough themes like microaggressions, sexual harassment, and the misogyny in the gaming industry.
‘American Royals II: Majesty’ By Katharine McGee
(September 1, 2020)
If you didn’t read the first book in Katharine McGee’s series, American Royals—set in an America where we never declared independence from England—then you need to catch up. If you’ll recall, prim and proper Beatrice (who’s got a secret of her own) was thrust to the throne at the end of book one. Samantha is busy living up to her “party princess” persona…and maybe adding a party prince by her side. Nina is trying to avoid the palace—and Prince Jefferson—at all costs. And a dangerous secret threatens to undo all of Daphne’s carefully laid “marry Prince Jefferson” plans.
‘His Only Wife’ By Peace Azo Medie
(September 1, 2020)
This book is being hailed as a “Crazy Rich Asians for West Africa, with a healthy splash of feminism”. If that didn’t hook you, His Only Wife features independence, obligations to family, class divides—and a love triangle. Talk about juicy! Afi Tekple, a young seamstress, is arranged to marry Eli, the successful son of her family’s benefactor. Score. Eli’s family agrees to the marriage because they want to get him away from his mistress, and Afi and Eli marry sight unseen (*Love Is Blind voice*), meaning Eli isn’t even at the wedding. Afi moves into his luxury apartment, gets used to her fancy new lifestyle, and finally meets Eli. The problem? Eli doesn’t magically stop caring about his mistress just because he’s married. Uh-oh.
‘Jenna Takes The Fall’ By A.R. Taylor
(September 1, 2020)
This is not a spoiler, because the book opens with protagonist Jenna agreeing to position herself underneath the dead body of Vincent Hull, her insanely powerful boss who’s kind of like a Rupert Murdoch character. Why? That’s the multi-million dollar question. But this book isn’t a thriller—it follows Jenna, a naive Ohio native who moves to New York to become Hull’s assistant and quickly gets swept up by all the money, power, glitz and glamor New York’s publishing industry has to offer.
‘The Last Story Of Mina Lee’ By Nancy Jooyoun Kim
(September 1, 2020)
How well can you really ever know your family or the people you love most? That’s what Nancy Jooyoun Kim attempts to answer in her debut. Margot Lee and her mother Mina have always had a strained relationship, struggling to understand each other. At 26, Margot is surprised when her mom isn’t returning her calls—until she pays a visit and discovers her mother has suspiciously died. This sends Margot digging into the past, learning about her mother’s life as a Korean War orphan and undocumented immigrant. Told through alternating perspectives, The Last Story Of Mina Lee explores the gap between immigrants and their first-generation children, the differences between how we view our parents and how much we really know them, the difficulties of being a working-class immigrant in the U.S., and more.
‘Punching The Air’ By Ibi Zoboi And Dr. Yusef Salaam
(September 1, 2020)
From award-winning, bestselling author Ibi Zoboi and prison reform activist Yusef Salaam of the Exonerated Five comes a powerful YA novel in verse about a boy who is wrongfully incarcerated. Amal Shahid is an artist and a poet, but even at his diverse art school, he feels the effects of a biased system, where he is often seen as disruptive and unmotivated. Then, one night, an altercation in a gentrified neighborhood turns deadly, and Amal is convicted of a crime he didn’t commit and sent to prison.
‘The Unraveling of Cassidy Holmes’ By Elissa R. Sloan
(September 1, 2020)
If you liked Daisy Jones & The Six, then you’ll love Elissa R. Sloan’s debut, which is basically that—but with 90s nostalgia. Um, say no more.
JK, I’ll say a little more. The novel follows Gloss, the hottest girl group of the 90s. When Cassidy Holmes, a beloved member of the iconic group, is found dead by apparent suicide 20 years after the group’s heyday, the world is shocked. That includes her former bandmates, who examine what happened, why, and if they played a role.
‘When No One Is Watching’ By Alyssa Cole
(September 1, 2020)
A romance author who is now turning to thrillers, Alyssa Cole is the embodiment of the “get you a girl who can do both” meme. Cole’s first domestic thriller is being called Rear Window meets Get Out, and I don’t know what more you need than that description. Protagonist Sydney Green is born and raised in Brooklyn, a neighborhood she hardly recognizes anymore as a result of the gentrification. She connects with her neighbor Theo, in whom she finds an unlikely ally. The two dive deep into history, where they discover that the push to “revitalize” the community may be more deadly than either of them realized.
‘Modern Madness’ By Terri Cheney
(September 8, 2020)
You may know Terri Cheney from her heartbreaking Modern Love essay that was adapted for Amazon’s miniseries (Terri’s character was played by Anne Hathaway). In her new work of literary nonfiction, the author, former attorney, and mental health advocate presents an unflinching “owner’s manual” that details her battles with bipolar disease, revealing how it touches all aspects of her life from dating to socializing to work and more. It’s gripping, shocking, at times funny, and all-around real.
‘The Night Portrait’ By Laura Morelli
(September 8, 2020)
Ah, 1492: Columbus sailed the ocean blue, and 16-year-old Cecelia, the breathtaking daughter of a disgraced family, wins the Duke of Milan’s affections. Her grand prize? The chance to sit before Leonardo da Vinci (ever heard of him?) for a portrait. Not just any portrait—his famed Portrait of a Lady with an Ermine. The Night Portrait follows the story of da Vinci’s painting and its fictional muse, all the way through World War II Germany when Nazis attempt to seize the painting, and the Allies’ attempt to thwart them.
‘Don’t Look For Me’ By Wendy Walker
(September 15, 2020)
Molly Clarke is not a good mom—or that’s what she’s been telling herself, ever since she killed her daughter Annie in a horrible accident. Grief-stricken, Molly considers just walking away from her life. Which is precisely what everyone thinks she’s done when she mysteriously disappears the night of a horrible storm—everyone, that is, except her daughter Nicole, who’s determined to bring her mother home, even if she doesn’t want to be found.
‘FURIA’ By Yamile Saied Méndez
(September 15, 2020)
In Yamile Saied Méndez’s YA debut, the Argentinian-American writer tackles tough issues like feminism, personal growth, abuse, and more. Camila Hassan lives a double life: at home, she’s an obedient daughter, but on the fútbol field, she is La Furia, a powerhouse with real potential. She dreams of getting an athletic scholarship to a North American university, but her parents, who have no idea of her passion for the sport, would never allow it. At the same time, the guy she loved, Diego, is back in town after becoming an international fútbol star. Camila is forced to choose as her two lives threaten to collide. Although FURIA is not autobiographical, much of it is based on Méndez’s own life—except instead of playing fútbol, Méndez decided to study the sport instead.
‘Grown’ By Tiffany D. Jackson
(September 15, 2020)
Fans of Monday’s Not Coming and Allegedly, Tiffany D. Jackson is BACK with her latest YA mystery! GROWN is a ripped-from-the-headlines mystery that starts with aspiring singer Enchanted Jones waking up with no memory of the night before, and blood on her hands. Literally. Her new friend, legendary R&B star Korey Fields, is dead—and all signs point to Enchanted. Did she do it? As she reflects on Korey’s hidden dark side, Enchanted grapples with her own potential involvement in his death.
‘Legendborn’ By Tracy Deonn
(September 15, 2020)
This new fantasy series by debut author Tracy Deonn is all about Black Girl Magic—literally. It kicks off with 16-year-old Bree running away from home after her mother’s death, to a program for gifted high schoolers at UNC Chapel Hill. But her plan to escape the tragedy of her past doesn’t go so well, when she witnesses a magical attack her first night on campus. Talk about a rough start. A teenage magician (who calls himself a Merlin) tries, and fails, to wipe Bree’s memory, which causes another one to come flooding back: the night of her mother’s death, where Merlin was, too. Armed with some newfound abilities and a powerful ally, Bree resolves to find out the truth about her mother’s death.
‘The White Coat Diaries’ By Madi Sinha
(September 15, 2020)
In a time where we all think of doctors and other essential workers as superheroes, physician-turned-novelist Madi Sinha’s debut is all the more important. When, on her first day of residency, Norah Kapadia accidentally pricks herself with a needle used on a sick patient, she suddenly realizes how dangerous her profession can be to her own health. Despite pouring years (and lots of money) into studying to become a doctor, she’s almost ready to quit: in part because of the incident, and in part because of the long hours, rude patients, and pressure from her parents to be the “perfect Indian daughter”. It doesn’t help that her chief resident, Ethan, is everything Norah wishes she was. Soon, their working relationship becomes something more. But when a fatal mistake is made and Norah is asked to participate in a cover-up, she has to decide what’s more important: her relationship or her career?
‘Shine’ By Jessica Jung
(September 29, 2020)
It’s been a big year for K-pop stans, and now that’s even more true with the release of SHINE by Jessica Jung, a former member of one of the most influential K-pop girl groups of all time. And the plot is a little bit meta, which I find fun. 17-year-old Rachel Kim was recruited six years ago by DB Entertainment, one of Seoul’s biggest K-pop labels. In exchange for all her dreams coming true (and, you know, a shot at fame and fortune), she has to give up dating, train all the time, and be perfect. What could go wrong? A lot, it turns out, as the industry’s dark underbelly becomes exposed in the mainstream, and Rachel wonders if she has what it takes to really make it. Add in a love interest who is a K-pop golden boy in his own right, and you’ve got the makings of a juicy debut.
‘Ties That Tether’ By Jane Igharo
(September 29, 2020)
I don’t know about you all, but I need to get lost in a good romance this fall (since cuffing season is a long-lost memory), and Ties That Tether delivers just that, with a perspective that’s much needed in the literary world. Azere Izoduwa promised her dying father she’d preserve their Nigerian culture even after moving to Canada, which ends up being one of those “easier said than done” cases. After yet another disaster date, she meets Rafael Castellano, who is tall, handsome, and decidedly not Nigerian. Azere ends up in his hotel room, but ghosts the next morning… until a month later, when work forces them together again, and Azere has to weigh her family commitments with the possibility of ~true love~.
‘Goodnight Beautiful’ By Aimee Molloy
(October 13, 2020)
The novel starts out with Dr. Sam Statler, a hot therapist, going missing after a storm. But let’s rewind: Annie Potter isn’t super thrilled to leave behind her life in NYC to move with her husband Sam to his hometown upstate. Especially because she has nothing to do while he sees (mostly female) clients all day. Little does Sam know, every word of his sessions can be heard from a room upstairs. Just when you think you’ve got this book figured out, it will throw another curveball at you—even the most avid thriller readers won’t predict these surprises.
‘Three Little Truths’ By Eithne Shortall
(October 13, 2020)
I’m honestly down for pretty much any title that gives me Big Little Lies vibes. Three Little Truths follows three women who are looking for a fresh start on idyllic Pine Road. We have Martha, who used to the cool, calm, collected HBIC until moving her family to Dublin under mysterious circumstances. Now, she’s unraveling. Then there’s Robin, who used to be the cool girl in high school, now living with her parents and a 4-year-old son. Finally, we have Edie, who seems to have it all, except for a baby and friends in the neighborhood. When these three women find an unlikely friendship in one another, it will change all their lives and reveal some deep, dark secrets.
‘Cobble Hill’ By Cecily Von Ziegesar
(October 20, 2020)
If the name Cecily Von Ziegesar doesn’t ring a bell, I’m going to need you to tell me what it’s like being an actual child. The author of Gossip Girl (yes!) is back with a tale of four families living in—you guessed it—Cobble Hill. First, there’s Mandy, new mom and former groupie, who is so unfulfilled by motherhood that she fakes a debilitating disease to get her ex-boyfriend Stuart’s attention. Next up, we have Peaches, the school nurse who marches to the beat of her own drum, and also Stuart (same Stuart)’s crush. A few blocks over lives Roy, a well-known British novelist, whose next novel and marriage are simultaneously slipping away. And finally, Tupper, the introverted industrial designer who casually has a warehouse of prosthetic limbs, struggles to connect with his artist wife Elizabeth. Oh ,yeah, and there’s also two teenagers, a ten-year-old pyro, a drug dealer masquerading as a doctor, a lot of hidden cameras, and one figurative bomb waiting to detonate.
‘Memorial’ By Bryan Washington
(October 27, 2020)
In this work of literary fiction, National Book Award 5 Under 35 honoree Bryan Washington pens a humorous-yet-poignant portrait of family in its many less-than-functional forms. Benson and Mike are two young adults living in Houston. Benson is a Black day care teacher and Mike is a Japanese-American chef. They’ve been together for a few years, and they love each other, but they can’t help but feel like maybe it’s not enough. Everything changes when Mike finds out his estranged father is dying in Japan, and he drops everything to say goodbye—right as his mother has arrived in Texas for a visit. While Mike uncovers some life-changing family truths in Japan, his mother and Benson become de facto roommates, to some pretty hilarious ends.
‘The Flip Side’ by James Bailey
(November 10, 2020)
Male-authored rom-coms aren’t common, so I had to show this one some love. If you thought you had a crappy year, be glad you’re not Josh, the protagonist of The Flip Side, whose girlfriend turns down his marriage proposal. After this, Josh loses his job and the flat he and his ex shared. In a true “f*ck it” moment, Josh decides that, come New Year’s, he’ll make all his decisions by the flip of a coin. But when he meets the love of his life by chance and tries to track her down through multiple European cities, he realizes that not everything is as easy as a coin toss.
‘Murder in Old Bombay’ By Nev March
(November 10, 2020)
A little bit of mystery, a little bit of history, March’s based-on-a-real-crime novel has a little something for everyone. In the 1890s, two young Parsi women are murdered, leaving Captain Jim Agnihotri to play Sherlock Holmes (his idol) to solve the crime. As he travels across India investigating, he becomes ~involved~ with someone close to one of the victims. Scandalous!
‘Pretending’ By Holly Bourne
(November 17, 2020)
Holly Bourne’s North American debut novel begins: “I hate men. There, I’ve said it. I know you’re not supposed to say it. We all pretend we don’t hate them; we all tell ourselves we don’t hate them. But I’m calling it. I’m standing here on this soapbox and I’m saying it. I. Hate. Men.” and if that just isn’t the most relatable sentiment, then IDK what is. And you’ll probably relate to its main character, April: pretty, nice, fairly normal, but she just can’t get past the fifth date (more like second for me, but sure). April is frustrated, until she devises an alter ego, Gretel. Gretel is basically a Manic Pixie Dream Girl who’s also a Cool Girl: no baggage, no problems. When April becomes Gretel, she finally finds herself in control—until she meets Josh and genuinely falls for him, and isn’t sure how long she can (or should) keep pretending.
Image: Andrew Le / Unsplash
The best—if we’re being honest, maybe the only good—part of the summer of 2020 has been the books. From twisty thrillers to steamy romances, we’ve had it all. Our summer 2020 reads are hot, sweet, evocative—kind of like a really good cocktail. And since you’re likely reading any number of these with a drink in your hand anyway, I thought I’d do the work of pairing some of the biggest summer reads with the perfect drink. You’re welcome.
‘Luster’ + Death In The Afternoon
I love a Death in the Afternoon—and no, that’s not just when my coffee crash hits—because this cocktail almost begs you to drink it. It’s so glamorous, yet kind of out-there (tell me the last time you saw one of these on a cocktail menu… exactly). Not to mention, it’s delicious. I think Raven Leilani’s Luster is just as compelling. So much of this book is about that all-too-familiar striving for satisfaction, electric and desperate and wry. Luster is the perfect accompaniment to this cocktail because it hits those same dark and quixotic notes. Another irresistible point of symmetry is that this drink has only three ingredients, mirroring the open marriage at the center of this story.
- ¾ oz absinthe
- 4 oz chilled prosecco
- 1 sugar cube
Pour the absinthe into a champagne glass. Slowly add the chilled prosecco; if you do it right, your drink will turn an enchanting, iridescent green. Drop in the sugar cube and enjoy that gratifying fizz while it lasts.
‘Hysteria’ + Tequila And Habanero Sour
This book burns with sensual urgency, sort of like the burn from the habanero in this twist on a sour. Jessica Gross’ immersive and dark debut is complex and beautiful, hitting every note in that virtuosic range between desire and shame. I couldn’t resist matching Hysteria with this spicy tequila sour, a drink that encompasses an equally impressive range of flavor and fragrance.
- 4 oz blanco tequila
- 2 oz freshly squeezed lemon juice
- 1 ½ oz agave
- 2 dashes habanero hot sauce
Add the tequila, lemon juice, and agave into a shaking tin. Throw in the hot sauce and five to seven ice cubes, then shake vigorously for almost a full minute (if your arms can hold up). Fill two rocks glasses with ice and pour out the mixture through a strainer, dividing the cocktail between the glasses equally. Garnish each glass with a freshly sliced lemon wheel.
‘The Death Of Vivek Oji’ + Mezcal Aperol Gimlet
Akwaeke Emezi’s story about community and loss is the real deal. The masterfully rendered characters and shifting points of view create a poignant vision of the kaleidoscopic world surrounding Vivek. I found it nearly impossible to put this book down, which is why I had to pair it with a drink that I also find impossible to put down: this complex, bittersweet, vibrant mezcal Aperol gimlet.
- 2 oz mezcal
- ¾ oz agave nectar
- 1 ½ tsp Aperol
- ¾ oz freshly squeezed lime juice
- grapefruit zest for garnish
Combine the mezcal, agave, Aperol, and lime in a shaking tin. Add five to seven ice cubes and shake vigorously for at least 30 seconds. Strain your cocktail into a rocks glass filled with ice and garnish with a generous strip of grapefruit zest, if you have it.
‘Pizza Girl’ + Rum And Cherry Coke
Pizza Girl will take you for a ride in the very best way. Jean Kyoung Frazier so clearly, brilliantly—and almost harshly, because it’s so relatable it may feel like an attack—renders the mistakes, tragedies, and miracles of youth. I couldn’t resist going a little more literal with this one and pairing Pizza Girl with a riff on a rum and coke. This one’s hopefully a step up from what you were drinking in your high school friend’s basement while your parents thought you were studying, but it’s still a throwback to those days. (Not to mention, it goes great with pizza.)
- 2oz Flor de Cana rum
- 4 oz cherry Coke
- 1 maraschino cherry
You know this song, right? Fill a tall glass with ice and add your rum and cherry coke. Give it a little stir and add a maraschino cherry so you can practice tying the stem into a knot with your tongue when you’re finished.
‘Last Call On Decatur Street’ + Sazerac
Iris Martin Cohen’s Last Call on Decatur Street perfectly captures the blurry beauty of a long night out in one of the most bewitching cities in the world. (Ugh, remember nights out?) A Sazerac is really the only match for this dazzling ode to New Orleans, since the drink was created there in the early 19th century. The dreamy absinthe rinse along with a bold bolt of rye will bring you to the exact sort of summer night Cohen conjures in her page-turning second novel. Just maybe pace yourself with this drink, or you may find yourself having a blurry night of your own.
- 1 ½ tsp absinthe
- 2 oz rye
- 4 dashes Peychaud’s bitters
- 2 dashes Angostura bitters
- 1 ½ tsp simple syrup
Pour the absinthe into a glass along with two ice cubes; swirl the glass and coat the interior. Set aside and add rye, both bitters, simple syrup, and ice to a separate mixing glass. Stir for about a minute. Then, empty the absinthe and ice from the first cup and pour—through a strainer—the contents of the mixing glass into the rinsed glass.
‘Vanessa Yu’s Magical Paris Tea Shop’ + St. Germain
Aside from my friends and family, I probably miss traveling the most. Vanessa Yu’s Magical Paris Tea Shop is a tonic for anyone craving adventure. For a more immersive experience, fix yourself a St. Germain champagne cocktail to go along with it. This drink is as lovely, effervescent and delightful as Roselle Kim’s transportive tale of Vanessa’s voyage to Paris. Plus, it’s French AF so it will really set the scene.
- 1 oz St. Germain
- ½ oz freshly squeezed lemon juice
- 4 oz chilled sparkling wine
- lemon zest for garnish
Add the St. Germain and lemon juice in a shaking tin over ice. Shake vigorously for 30 seconds and pour into a champagne glass. If you want to get really fancy with it, chill the glass first. But if you can’t wait, don’t worry about it. Top with cold sparkling wine and garnish with a twist of lemon zest. If you don’t have a shaking tin, you can make this one right in the glass—just make sure you pour in the St. Germain and lemon juice first.
Image: Dragon Images / Shutterstock.com
Who’s been watching all the TV? With a pandemic pushing forward, there’s not much else to do on a Friday (and Saturday and Sunday) night but hit up DoorDash and turn on Netflix. However, well into August, there’s a good chance your watch lists are drying up. If you’re not-so-patiently waiting for your favorite shows to premiere and those new movies to finally drop, we’re with you. It’s a drag.
But we come bearing solutions. The wonderful world of movies and television may be on pause, but books haven’t missed a beat. The publishing industry is still pushing out new releases, and many of them are reminiscent of popular binge-worthy shows and upcoming blockbuster films. As you’re waiting around for that premiere date to finally get locked in, these books will tide you over.
For fans of Mindhunter
Season two of the suspenseful Netflix series left off as Bill’s home life was crumbling and the mystery of young Black boys turning up murdered in Atlanta was left unsolved—a scapegoat taking the fall. The green light for season three is still on hold, not just because of COVID, but also because the director is focused on other projects. Luckily, Matthew Farrell’s Don’t Ever Forget drudges up crimes of the fictional past. It all starts when a state trooper is murdered. Investigator Susan Adler traces evidence back to an elderly patient and his caretaker, which reopens two cold cases from years ago. As more people start to turn up dead, Susan and her wingman Liam have to find answers fast.
For fans of The Nightingale
Kristin Hannah recently announced her hit book Firefly Lane will be adapted into a Netflix series, but fans of the author are also anxiously waiting for The Nightingale to release. The drama set during World War II is set to feature the Fanning sisters (Dakota and Elle). With the release date postponed one year to Christmas 2021, We Came Here to Shine by Susie Orman Schnall will fill the void. It checks the historical fiction box and features two strong female characters. As two friends come together in 1930s New York, they’re determined to take the future into their own hands. Realizing that men have too much of a hand in their personal and professional happiness, they team up to make their dreams come true at all costs.
For fans of Where the Crawdads Sing
Reese Witherspoon announced plans to adapt the bestseller for the big screen, but everything from the cast to the release date is yet to be determined. As you wait for details to trickle their way into headlines and pray that production doesn’t get delayed, get into some similar reading. Fans of Crawdads will get lost in The Best Part of Us by Sally Cole-Misch. Beth treasures her summers spent at her family’s lake property in Canada lake, her brother’s paintings of the serene setting and all. Fourteen years after her family was forced out, Beth’s grandfather calls her back, and she’ll have to make tough choices. With themes of loyalty, nature, and survival in play, you may have some major Crawdad vibes.
For fans of The Undoing
The Undoing miniseries will hit HBO courtesy of David E. Kelley (Big Little Lies showrunner), but the story itself is based on Jean Hanff Korelitz’s novel You Should Have Known. As you’re waiting for the miniseries to debut, you can devour The Wife Who Knew Too Much by Michele Campbell. When Tabitha is reunited with an old love after his wife takes her own life, a woman he never loved, she becomes a convenient suspect. She finds a diary with one simple statement that changes everything: “I’m writing this to raise an alarm in the event of my untimely death… If I die unexpectedly, it was foul play, and Connor was behind it. Connor—and her.”
For fans of Gossip Girl
It’ll be at least 2021 before the confirmed Gossip Girl reboot hits HBO Max. What will the story be this time? Will Blair and Serena still be at the center? Who’s the new Chuck? Fans of the cult classic may have to wait to find out what drama will unfold, but in the meantime, author Jessica Goodman has written a story about elite prep school kids that’s giving fans a major Gossip Girl feel. Goodman’s They Wish They Were Us centers around the murder of Shaila. Despite the tragedy, her best friend tries to start fresh. She’s admitted into their school’s secret society and set for an epic senior year. Except, she can’t help but feel the wrong guy is doing time for the death of her BFF.
For fans of Daisy Jones and the Six
There’s still no official release date for the TV series adaptation of Taylor Jenkins Reid’s bestselling novel about a fictional 70s rock band. And fans may be just as eager to hear the original music as they are to binge the episodes themselves. Solo by Kwame Alexander has a similar musical charm, sucking you into the lyrical world of Blade and Rutherford—a son and his washed-up, ex-rock star father. The story takes you through their heartache, hopes, and healing while the music that consumes them colors the journey.
For fans of Dune
The long-awaited Warner Bros. remake of Dune already had its release date pushed back once, and the new release date of December 18, 2020 has fans eager for what could be the new Star Wars. While we wait for this star-studded film’s release, another star has released just the book to meet our galactic needs. The Tinderbox: Soldier of Indira by Lou Diamond Phillips (La Bamba, Prodigal Son), is an unforgettable science fiction fantasy tale about a solider forced to serve. When a battle with mortal enemies goes wrong, Everson finds himself stranded on an unfamiliar planet where everyone is out to get him. But will forbidden love with an unexpected enemy be their chance to end this war once and for all?
For fans of The Woman in the Window
This eerie movie filled with A-list names such as Amy Adams and Julianne Moore has had a bumpy road to the big screen. After being delayed once due to early audience reactions, its release was postponed again due to COVID-19 and issues finding a streaming platform. While Netflix finalizes an acquisition deal, we recommend reading Lucy Foley’s chilling thriller The Guest List to hold you over. When a glamorous wedding celebration on a remote Irish island turns dark, not everyone will leave alive. Who didn’t wish the happy couple well? And why?
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Images: Christin Hume / Unsplash; Amazon
Before this weird excuse for that season we used to call summer ends, it’s about time I publish my list of the best books to read solely for your IG aesthetic. That’s right, I’m talking about my annual Instagrammable books roundup! They say don’t judge a book by its cover, but that’s exactly what we’re doing here. But don’t worry, because the books themselves are obviously worth reading.
‘Three Perfect Liars’ by Heidi Perks
(March 12, 2020)
This book has been described as Mad Men meets Big Little Lies, which is funny because the cover is very Little Fires Everywhere. And for good reason, I think! It starts when a fire (Little Fires Everywhere) destroys the office of a prestigious ad agency (Mad Men) and three ambitious women all find themselves under the microscope, since each of them has a motive for revenge.
‘The Golden Cage’ by Camilla Läckberg
(April 2, 2020)
Truthfully, I opened this book and was already not excited: woman marries super-rich, handsome guy who is clearly abusive but she’s too blinded by his looks and status to see it, then she’s left high and dry when he leaves her for a younger model? Yawn—or so I thought. What makes The Golden Cage not cliche, and, actually, a gripping page-turner, is that protagonist Faye is incredibly smart, with a dark past of her own. She won’t go down without a fight, and not before her ex-husband’s life is ruined.
‘A Burning’ by Megha Majumdar
(June 2, 2020)
Told through three different points of view, this beautiful novel is a debut for the ages that you’ll fly through in one sitting. Themes like class, fate, corruption, and justice make this book perfect for your summer reading list as three unforgettable characters with big dreams find themselves entangled in the wake of catastrophe in contemporary India.
‘Ordinary Girls’ by Jaquira Diaz
(June 16, 2020)
Fudging the requirements of this list a bit because the paperback is what’s new this summer, but I’m still counting it. And who wants to lug a hardcover to the beach anyway? Diaz’s debut earned her the 2019 Whiting Award, as well as a whole slew of critical praise, so you know it’s good. The memoir chronicles her upbringing in housing projects of Miami and Puerto Rico. She was, by her own admission, a runaway, a high school dropout, a suicide risk, and a street fighter. She was also the queer, biracial, displaced daughter of an absent father and a mother who struggled with mental illness.
‘Sex and Vanity’ by Kevin Kwan
(June 30, 2020)
From the king who brought us Crazy Rich Asians, Kevin Kwan is back with a dazzling love triangle that’s sure to spice up your summer. It follows Lucie Churchill, who is torn between her WASP-y fiancé and George Zao, the man she adamantly denies having feelings for (so relatable). This book gives those of us stuck inside our studio apartments a look at fame, fortune, and travel, all while taking a jab at racism and snobbery.
‘One To Watch’ by Kate Stayman-London
(July 7, 2020)
If you watch The Bachelor, this book is the takedown we’ve all been waiting for, and Stayman-London is hardly subtle about it, which I love (ABC is called ABS in the book, Fleiss is Faust, need I say more?). In One To Watch, plus-size fashion blogger Bea Schumacher gets drunk one night and writes a scathing hit piece on the
Bachelor Main Squeeze franchise’s lack of diversity, which goes viral overnight. But then, ABS does a surprising thing: they ask Bea to be the next Bachelorette Main Squeeze. Fun, sexy, and full of heart, you’ll devour this book in a day.
‘The Safe Place’ by Anna Downes
(July 14, 2020)
Emily Proudman just lost her job, her acting agent, and her apartment—all in one day. Rough. To say the least, she’s desperate. But when she runs into Scott Denny, the charming and successful CEO of the company she just got fired from, he offers her a summer job at his remote French estate that seems too good to be true. Her summer starts out totally Instagrammable, filled with plenty of day-drinking by the pool with Scott’s wife Nina and their mysterious daughter Aurelia, but soon, Emily realizes that Scott and his family are hiding something. If she doesn’t stop snooping, things may turn deadly.
‘The Boys’ Club’ by Erica Katz
(August 4, 2020)
I’m not even a lawyer, but this book feels so quintessential Big New York Law that anyone who even has one friend who went to law school will probably find this relatable. Alex Vogel has always been a high achiever who played by the rules: Harvard Law School, prestigious job at the biggest law firm in NYC, longtime boyfriend. But soon she gets seduced by the money of big law and the charm of her coworkers… and suddenly she might want to take a walk on the wilder side. When an incident reveals the dark culture of the firm (you can probably guess what), Alex is thrust in the middle and forced to decide between keeping her job and friends and doing the right thing.
‘The Death of Vivek Oji’ by Akwaeke Emezi
(August 4, 2020)
When a mother in southeastern Nigeria opens her front door to find her son’s body wrapped in colorful fabric, it sends a shockwave through the family. The Death of Vivek Oji explores the electrifying story of one family’s struggle to understand their mysterious child and a heart-stopping act of violence that changes their lives forever.
‘Love After Love’ by Ingrid Persaud
(August 4, 2020)
After her abusive husband dies, Trinidadian native Betty Ramdin and her son, Solo, take in a lodger, Mr. Chetan, and the three eventually pull a Modern Family and form an unconventional bond. But one night, Solo overhears his mom spill a secret, causing him to flee all the way to NYC. Mr. Chetan continues to love and support his adopted family—until a secret of his own is revealed.
‘Luster’ by Raven Leilani
(August 4, 2020)
New Yorkers, I dare you to not find this novel relatable af. Edie is stumbling around her 20s, sharing an apartment in Bushwick, hooking up with the wrong people, working a job she doesn’t care about. But then she meets Eric, a digital archivist in an open marriage with a woman who performs autopsies for a living. (I always said the next time I’d open up to someone would be on an autopsy table…) Edie then finds herself unemployed and invited to stay in Eric’s home—though not by Eric, by his wife. And then sh*t gets compliated.
‘You Had Me at Hola’ by Alexis Daria
(August 4, 2020)
Telenovela lovers unite! For those of us who have felt empty since Jane The Virgin ended, You Had Me at Hola is the cure. After Jasmine Lin Rodriguez goes through a messy public breakup, she returns home to New York City to star in a new bilingual rom-com. Jasmine is determined to be a leading lady who doesn’t need a man, but when she gets partnered with telenovela hunk Ashton Suárez, they both end up with more than they bargained for. Will their mounting feelings for each other upend their lives?
‘A House Is A Body’ by Shruti Swamy
(August 11, 2020)
Even people who are “not short story people” (me tbh) will find themselves captivated by A House Is Not A Body, which has stories ranging from a young painter living alone in San Francisco who begins a secret romance with one of India’s biggest celebrities to an exhausted mother who watches as a California wildfire approaches her home and more.
‘The Heatwave’ by Kate Riordan
(August 18, 2020)
The cover is so gorgeous I can’t stop staring at it. And once you pick up this gripping thriller, you won’t want to put it down. Sylvie Durand has tried to forget La Reverie, her paradoxically named country home in the French countryside. Let’s just say, bad things have happened there. But when a fire calls her back to care for the property, she’s forced to confront the past she wants to put behind her. And that means confronting the memory of her first daughter, Elodie: beautiful, manipulative, reminiscent of one of the Manson girls, gone by age 14.
‘His Only Wife’ by Peace Adzo Medie
(September 1, 2020)
So this isn’t out until September, sue me. That’s what preorder is for!! So. Set in Ghana, His Only Wife is like a Crazy Rich Asians for West Africa. It follows Afi Tekple, a young seamstress, who is arranged to marry Eli, the successful son of her family’s benefactor. Score. Eli’s family agrees to the marriage because they want to get him away from his mistress, and Afi and Eli marry sight unseen (*Love Is Blind voice*), meaning Eli isn’t even at the wedding. Afi moves into his luxury apartment, gets used to her fancy new lifestyle, and finally meets Eli. The problem? Eli doesn’t magically stop caring about his mistress just because he’s married. *Pretends to be shocked*
Images: Jairph / Unsplash; Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill (3); Farrar, Straus & Giroux; Gallery Books; HarperCollins (2); Knopf Doubleday (3); Penguin (2); Random House (2); St. Martin’s
The summer solstice happened last weekend, meaning it’s officially summer (even if we all think summer begins on Memorial Day). That means we have a whole new bunch of books to get through! Guess the f*ck what, even if we can’t get drunk on rooftops, we have so much time to read. Wow, okay, I sound like a middle school librarian, but it’s true. From gripping thrillers to LGBTQ romances, from vivid historical fiction to empowering memoirs, there are so many good books coming out this summer (or that are already out). If there were ever a time when we needed an escape, it would be the middle of a goddamn pandemic. So here are some books coming out this summer that you need to read, whether on the beach (wearing a mask, six feet from others) or just in your bed.
‘The Summer Set‘ by Aimee Agresti
May 12, 2020
Attention theater kids, you’ll love this charming read that takes place at a theater camp. Once upon a time, Charlie Savoy was the hottest actress in Hollywood, destined for superstardom—until she got too caught up in the partying (you hate to see it). Ten years later, she’s forced to spend her summer volunteering at the summer theater in the Berkshires that launched her career. Even though Charlie is born to do this, it’s not smooth sailing. The artistic director of the camp is none other than her former flame aka ~the one that got away~, and when Charlie’s old rival gets brought on set, her summer threatens to turn into a tragedy real quick.
‘Happy & You Know It‘ by Laura Hankin
May 19, 2020
Have you ever said a hilarious joke that got no laughs, only to have your friend repeat it a little louder and get all the credit? I imagine that’s a small-scale version of what Claire Martin feels when she gets kicked out of her band right before they get super famous for a song she wrote. Dejected, Claire takes a gig as the playgroup musician for a group of young Manhattan moms. As she befriends the moms, she discovers these ladies have much bigger problems to worry about than which Lululemon leggings to wear that day. The perfect summer read, Happy & You Know It is basically like The Assistants but with rich moms, or like Mean Girls mixed with The Nanny Diaries.
‘The Prettiest Star‘ by Carter Sickels
May 19, 2020
It’s 1980, and 18-year-old Brian has just moved to New York City from his suffocating hometown in Ohio with hopes of a free, bright future. Soon, the AIDS epidemic ravages the city, taking the lives of his partner and many of his friends. It leaves Brian to contemplate staying in New York, where he can embrace his sexuality but is surrounded by death, or returning home to Ohio, where his family’s ignorance prevents him from being his full self. Cue the more heartbreaking songs on the RENT soundtrack.
‘Parachutes‘ by Kelly Yang
May 26, 2020
Claire is a “parachute,” a teenager from China sent to study abroad at an American high school and live with a host family. Claire’s host family includes smart and shy Dani, who’s being raised by her single mom. Though they’re going to the same school and living under the same roof, Claire and Dani couldn’t be more different. Claire is beyond wealthy, while Dani is on scholarship, working at her mom’s house cleaning business to make extra money to keep the family afloat. They spend most of the year avoiding each other, until an act of violence forces them together and they realize they’re not as different as they think.
‘Something To Talk About‘ by Meryl Wilsner
May 26, 2020
Berkley’s first queer romance book is here, and it’s about damn time. Anyone who loves celebrity gossip and is fascinated by the ins and outs of Hollywood will enjoy this tale of a high-powered Hollywood producer who falls in love with her assistant—smack dab in the middle of the #MeToo era.
‘Again Again‘ by E. Lockhart
June 2, 2020
So, We Were Liars is one of my top five favorite books, which is why I’m so excited E. Lockhart is back with another fun read that’s full of surprises. Adelaide Buchwald survives a near-fatal family catastrophe and a breakup, after which she spends a summer falling in and out of love a thousand times (me after going on one date), all while confronting her ideas about love and her own secrets.
‘A Song Below Water‘ by Bethany C. Morrow
June 2, 2020
If you like fantasy but prefer your fantastical elements to be injected into a real-world setting as opposed to a completely new world, then A Song Below Water, which is about teen mermaids who live in Portland, will be just the thing for you. Tavia is forced to keep her siren identity a secret, and what makes it even harder is that Portland doesn’t have many Black people, let alone Black people with magical powers. But she has her best friend Effie, and together they navigate crushes, family secrets, and the ins and outs of high school. That all changes, though, after a siren murder trial, and when Tavia and Effie’s favorite fashion icon reveals she’s also a siren, tensions start escalating.
‘The Guest List‘ by Lucy Foley
June 2, 2020
Want to get the thrill of watching Knives Out again? Lucy Foley’s latest page-turner is the next best thing. Very reminiscent of Agatha Christie, The Guest List takes place on an island off the coast of Ireland, where unsuspecting friends and family have gathered to celebrate a wedding. You can probably see where this is going: choppy waters, spotty cell service, and then one of the wedding guests turns up dead.
‘The Vanishing Half‘ by Brit Bennett
June 2, 2020
From the New York Times bestselling author of The Mothers comes a new novel about two twins who grew up in a small southern Black community and ran away at age 16. As adults, one twin finds herself back in the very community she tried to escape, while the other secretly passes for white, her white husband knowing nothing about her past. But you can’t run from your past forever, which will become evident when the twins’ daughters’ paths cross.
‘#VERYFAT #VERYBRAVE‘ by Nicole Byer
June 2, 2020
We’ve all heard celebrities called “#brave” for Instagramming with no makeup or filter (never mind their lip fillers and Botox injections). In this book, Byer reclaims the hashtag to detail her personal journey towards body confidence and to advise her readers on how to say f*ck you to the trolls and haters.
‘You Should See Me In A Crown‘ by Leah Johnson
June 2, 2020
Liz Lighty has never felt like she fit in at her small, rich, prom-obsessed Midwestern high school. She’s just counting down the days until she can GTFO of there. Her grand plan? To get accepted into the elite Pennington College, play in the orchestra, and become a doctor. NBD. When Liz’s crucial financial aid falls through, her plan starts to crumble—until she remembers her school’s scholarship for prom king and queen. Liz doesn’t want to open herself up to all the judgment and social media trolling that running for prom queen would bring (her school even has its own gossip app, Campbell Confidential, so you know it’s catty), but she has no choice if she wants to get into Pennington.
‘The Boyfriend Project‘ by Farrah Rochon
June 9, 2020
Think John Tucker Must Die, but with an uplifting, female-empowerment twist. In The Boyfriend Project, three women learn they’re all dating the same man. But instead of ruining his life, they band together to invest in themselves: no men and no dating for the next six months. Samiah, a software developer, is finding it particularly hard to put herself first (can relate). But just when she’s on track to finally start developing the app she’s been dreaming of bringing to life, she meets her hot new coworker who’s hard to resist. Ugh, why does it always happen that way?
‘Last Tang Standing‘ by Lauren Ho
June 9, 2020
If you loved Crazy Rich Asians then you’ll want to put Last Tang Standing in your cart immediately, because it’s like Crazy Rich Asians, but more relatable and funnier.
Living in Singapore, 34-year-old Andrea Tang is still single, which, as far as Andrea’s well-to-do family is concerned, may as well be a crime. Andrea is married to her job, though she is keenly aware of her family’s pressure. Told through diary entries, Andrea tries out dating apps, gets wasted (see, I told you it was relatable), falls in love with a rich businessman, dukes it out with a newcomer at her law firm, and navigates the laser minefield that is her family’s intricate dynamics and expectations.
‘Head Over Heels‘ by Hannah Orenstein
June 23, 2020
Head Over Heels is Orenstein’s third romance novel, and she’s really nailed the millennial romance market. Avery Abrams trained her whole life to become an Olympic gymnast, but when an injury crushes those dreams, she’s forced to reassess her life and move back to her hometown. She begins training a promising young local gymnast, and you know sparks are going to fly. But when a scandal rocks the sport, as well as Avery’s past relationships, she must reevaluate her world and her past relationships.
‘Mexican Gothic‘ by Silvia Moreno-Garcia
June 23, 2020
Set in 1950s Mexico, Mexican Gothic is “a terrifying twist on classic gothic horror” according to Kirkus Reviews. Noemí Taboada receives a letter from her cousin, begging someone to save her from some sort of mysterious peril. Noemí heads to High Place, a house in the Mexican countryside. There she meets her cousin’s scary yet handsome husband, his father, and the shy yet mysterious youngest son. Oh, and the house is probably haunted. Will Noemí be able to leave the house?
‘Party Of Two‘ by Jasmine Guillory
June 23, 2020
Fans of The Wedding Party, Jasmine Guillory is back this summer with yet another steamy romance, this one set in L.A. Lawyer Olivia Monroe flirts with Max Powell, who turns out to be a senator. Their whirlwind romance leads to them going on secret dates and trying to ditch the paparazzi, until they’re forced to go public with their relationship and Olivia faces a ton of scrutiny, which causes her to question if the relationship is really right for her.
‘Take A Hint, Dani Brown‘ by Talia Hibbert
June 23, 2020
One of Oprah Magazine’s 21 Romance Novels That Are Set to Be the Best of 2020, Take a Hint, Dani Brown is another charming romantic novel from Talia Hibbert. Danika Brown is over romance—it only brings disappointment (relatable). What she wants is a no-strings-attached, friends with benefits situation. Which is what she thinks she’s found in Zafir Ansari, the hunky security guard at her workplace. That is, until he rescues her in a fire drill gone awry, and the video of that rescue goes viral and people from all corners of the internet start shipping them. So Dani thinks, what the hell, might as well fake it for the publicity for a little while. We all know where this is going to go! Should I start fake-dating more people “for the publicity”?
‘A Woman Alone‘ by Nina Laurin
June 23, 2020
If you liked The Perfect Wife by JP Delaney, then get ready for more robots behaving badly in Nina Laurin’s newest thriller (and if that name sounds familiar, it’s because Laurin’s The Starter Wife landed on my reading list last summer). But this one is like Smart House, but deadly. After a brutal home invasion, Cecelia, her husband, and 3-year-old daughter move into a new house with a complex AI-operated security system. All is well and good, until Cecelia starts suspecting that the system has killed the occupants of the house, and she’s next.
‘Self Care‘ by Leigh Stein
June 30, 2020
Fans of Diet Starts Tomorrow will love this one! Millennials Maren Gelb and Devin Avery create Richual, a wellness app for women that’s founded on the principle that women being happy with themselves and practicing self-care are forms of resistance against the patriarchy. Devin is the perfectly toned body and face of the app, while Maren is the behind-the-scenes cynic who makes everything work. Self Care is a smart critique of the wellness industry and how toxic, fake, and white-washed it is—but it’s also a very fun read.
‘Someone Else’s Secret‘ by Julia Spiro
July 1, 2020
This one starts out as a breezy beach read, then gets real dark, real quick. Lindsey graduates from Bowdoin at the height of the recession with dreams of working in art galleries and a mountain of student debt. She ends up working as a nanny for a rich family on Martha’s Vineyard for the summer, where she befriends Georgie, the 14-year-old girl she babysits along with her 5-year-old brother.
‘Cinderella Is Dead‘ by Kalynn Bayron
July 8, 2020
Pretend we live in whatever world Cinderella takes place in. It’s 200 years after she found Prince Charming, and now teenage girls are required to appear at the Annual Ball, where the men of the kingdom select their wives. If they do not find a suitable match, the unchosen girls are never heard from again. Harsh. Enter: 16-year-old Sophia, who would much rather marry Erin, her best friend. At the ball, Sophia flees and finds herself face-to-face with Constance, the last known descendant of Cinderella. They team up to bring down the king once and for all. This fantasy-meets-queer romance-meets-patriarchy smashing novel is a fun read for everyone waiting for their fairytale ending.
‘Crooked Hallelujah‘ by Kelli Jo Ford
July 18, 2020
Taking place in 1974 in the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma, 15-year-old Justine is part of a family of tough, loyal women, presided over by her mother and grandmother after Justine’s father abandoned the family. Justine’s mother becomes heavily involved in the Holiness Church, a community Justine finds kind of terrifying and definitely restrictive. Justine tries her best to be a good daughter and devoted follower until an act of violence changes her thinking forever. As an adult with a daughter of her own, Reney, Justine tries to find stability in Texas amidst the oil bust of the 1980s—which is easier said than done.
‘10 Things I Hate About Pinky‘ by Sandhya Menon
July 21, 2020
Need a fun, flirty YA novel that takes on the “fake-dating” trope Netflix loves to push on us in all their teen movies? Look no further than NYT bestselling author Sandhya Menon’s latest release, which follows two frenemies, Pinky and Samir, who each have their quirks. After Samir loses an internship, Pinky invites him to be her fake boyfriend, offering a new internship if he accepts. He needs something to do; she needs her parents to stop coming at her over her life choices. What could go wrong? Well, aside from them bickering constantly and struggling to sell their relationship…
‘He Started It‘ by Samantha Downing
July 21, 2020
Samantha Downing’s highly anticipated novel He Started It is finally here! If you’ve read any of my book roundups in the past, then I feel like you can recite my little summary from memory, but here we go one more time. He Started It follows a family of liars and grifters who are on a road trip to disperse their grandfather’s ashes, and at the end, collect a big insurance payout. But as you can guess, when scamming runs in your blood, you can’t even trust your own family members.
‘The Woman Before Wallis‘ by Bryn Turnbull
July 21, 2020
The Woman Before Wallis is historical fiction, but stay with me! It’s so dramatic you’ll think you’re reading a tabloid, or like, watching The Crown, I guess. Picture this: the summer of 1926. Thelma Morgan, the daughter of an American diplomat, marries Viscount Duke Furness and becomes a member of the British aristocracy (sounds familiar…). Because she’s now a member of the ~elite~ she meets the handsome young Prince of Wales, with whom she starts having an affair. This is already precarious AF, and only gets more wild when Thelma’s sister, Gloria Morgan Vanderbilt, gets embroiled in a scandal of her own.
‘A Star Is Bored‘ by Byron Lane
July 28, 2020
First of all, love the title, even though it has now knocked one potential off my prospective memoir titles list. But anyway, influenced in part by the author’s time as Carrie Fisher’s beloved assistant, A Star Is Bored is about Kathi Kannon, a famous actress known for her role in a blockbuster sci-fi movie, and Charlie Besson, her new assistant. They laugh, they cry, they go on late-night shopping sprees, and they form a friendship that goes beyond that of the typical boss/assistant relationship.
‘The Wife Who Knew Too Much‘ by Michele Campbell
July 28, 2020
After A Stranger On The Beach, Michele Campbell is back with her latest thriller, The Wife Who Knew Too Much. Tabby is a waitress living a fairly modest life, but she never forgot her high school summer love, Connor. He was handsome, kind, and extremely wealthy—which was why his family hated her, and broke them up. So when he shows up back in her life, it seems like a miracle, except there’s a catch: he’s married. And not just married—married to the incredibly wealthy and powerful Nina Ford. But he of course assures Tabby they’re getting a divorce (sure, Jan), but there’s another catch: if he’s caught cheating, he gets nothing in the divorce settlement. So Tabby and Connor continue their affair in secret, until Nina winds up dead. Guess who’s the number one suspect?
‘This Is My America‘ by Kim Johnson
July 28, 2020
17-year-old Tracy Beaumont diligently writes letters every week to Innocence X, asking the organization to look into her father’s case. Her father is an innocent Black man on death row, and after seven years of begging Innocence X, Tracy’s father only has 267 days left to live. Then, things get even worse for Tracy: her brother Jamal is accused of killing a white girl. With Jamal on the run and her father on death row, it’s up to Tracy to investigate what really happened and try to save her family.
‘Today Tonight Tomorrow‘ by Rachel Lynn Solomon
July 28, 2020
Named a most-anticipated book of 2020 by Entertainment, Today Tonight Tomorrow is an instant classic rom-com. This enemies-to-lovers plot involves Rowan and Neil, two high school students who have been bitter rivals on everything: test scores, student council elections, and even gym class. When Neil is named valedictorian, Rowan’s last chance at victory is to defeat him in Howl, a senior class scavenger hunt. Of course these two decide to form an alliance, and I think you can guess where this alliance ultimately takes them.
‘Caste‘ by Isabel Wilkerson
August 4, 2020
In her latest work of nonfiction, Pulitzer prize-winning author and journalist Isabel Wilkerson demonstrates, through deeply researched stories about real people, how America has been shaped by a hidden caste system. She traces the caste systems of India, America, and Nazi Germany, exploring eight different criteria that link them all. In addition to diving deep into how this insidious system affects us every day, she offers ways America can break these divisions and try to move past them.
‘The Comeback‘ by Ella Berman
August 4, 2020
In a fiction debut that’s all too timely, The Comeback is about Grace Turner, a young actress who returns to Hollywood after retreating from the public eye. Nobody but Grace knows the reason for her disappearance from Hollywood: the manipulation and abuse from a director who controlled her life. When she’s asked to present this same director with a Lifetime Achievement Award, Grace must come back into the public eye to demand justice.
‘The Night Swim‘ by Megan Goldin
August 4, 2020
If you read Sadie and binged Serial, then The Night Swim was basically written for you. Rachel Krall started a true crime podcast that became a viral sensation and set an innocent man free. Her podcast’s success has turned her into a go-to figure for people hoping to be exonerated for crimes they didn’t commit. Now, her podcast has taken her to a small town torn apart by a rape trial: a golden boy—a swimmer destined for the Olympics—is accused of sexually assaulting the granddaughter of the police chief. But as Rachel investigates this case, she’s also getting mysterious notes sent to her by someone who claims their sister who officials say was drowned, was in fact murdered. When Rachel starts asking questions about the drowning, suddenly everyone in town clams up, and the past and present collide as she investigates both cases.
‘The Silent Wife‘ by Karin Slaughter
August 4, 2020
New York Times bestselling author Karin Slaughter is back this summer with her 20th novel, The Silent Wife. In Atlanta, a young woman is attacked and left for dead. The case goes cold until FBI investigator Will Trent gets an assignment that brings him to a prisoner who recognizes the M.O. of the attack—because he’s been falsely sitting in prison for it. Now, Trent must solve the old case in order to solve this new one.
‘Vanessa Yu’s Magical Paris Tea Shop‘ by Roselle Lim
August 4, 2020
If you enjoyed Lim’s debut, Natalie Tan’s Book of Luck and Fortune, then get ready for her follow-up, which is just as full of heart, heritage, and food. Lim’s latest tells the story of Vanessa Yu, a fortuneteller who’s been able to see people’s futures at the bottom of their teacups for as long as she can remember. Try as she might to avoid using her powers, people’s fortunes seem to find their way into Vanessa’s life to f*ck things up. When Vanessa sees death for the first time after an appointment with a matchmaker (because, oh yeah, her romance life is also nonexistent), she decides she needs to get rid of her abilities, so she jets off to Paris. There, she learns more about her gift, and comes to realize that knowing your destiny isn’t a curse, but not being able to change it is.
‘Color Me In‘ by Natasha Díaz
August 11, 2020
In this coming-of-age novel, 16-year-old Nevaeh Levitz never thought much about her biracial identity as a girl with a Black mom and Jewish dad, until her parents split up and she moves to her mom’s home in Harlem. There, she gets sh*t from family members who think she’s too privileged, pampered, and white-passing to relate to the injustices Black people face. On the other hand, her dad wants her to have a belated bat mitzvah instead of a sweet 16, which would earn her sh*t from the privileged kids at her private school. You can’t win! Neveah stays silent until a secret from her mom’s past, falling in love, and witnessing the racism her family faces firsthand forces her to find and use her voice.
‘Raybearer‘ by Jordan Ifueko
August 18, 2020
Need a good YA fantasy read? Look no further than the debut from Jordan Ifueko, which is already getting buzz from Seventeen, Buzzfeed, Entertainment Weekly, and now me, and is based on West African traditions and mythology. Protagonist Tarisai was raised in isolation by an absent mother called The Lady, but she has always longed for a family. The adventure begins when The Lady sends Tarisai to the capital of the global empire of Aritsar to compete with other children to be chosen as one of the Crown Prince’s Council of 11. If chosen, she’ll be joined with the other Council members through the Ray, a bond deeper than blood—what Tarisai has always wanted. But The Lady has other plans, and wants her to kill the Crown Prince. Will Tarisai be strong enough to stand up on her own?
‘Winter Counts‘ by David Heska Wabli Weiden
August 25, 2020
When the American justice system consistently fails you and your people, you become a vigilante of sorts—or at least, that’s what Virgil Wounded Horse does for the Rosebud Indian Reservation in South Dakota. Things get personal, though, when heroin enters into the reservation and finds its way to Virgil’s own nephew. With the help of his ex-girlfriend, he decides to find out where the drugs are coming from and how to make them stop. As Virgil starts to put the pieces together, he’s forced to come to terms with his own demons and grapple with what it means to be Native American in the 21st century.
Images: Dan Dumitriu / Unsplash; Barnes & Noble (36)
In the past few weeks, we’ve all been trying to step up when it comes to supporting the Black Lives Matter movement. From making donations to joining protests to holding our racist aunts accountable on Facebook, we’re trying to be better allies in the fight against police brutality and systemic racism. Part of being an ally means taking the time to educate ourselves and listen to Black stories and Black voices. We’ve already touched on good documentaries to watch, and since there already are many lists of anti-racism books to read out there, we’re focusing on another way you can support the Black community: by reading books from Black authors that do not have to do with race. Black people are more than their skin color, and their stories are about more than just racial injustice. Normalizing Black representation in media is another important step towards equality. After all, white people get stories all the time that don’t revolve around their whiteness (and, in fact, rarely tend to even mention it). Which is why I’ve compiled a list of great beach reads that support Black writers and voices, that you can buy from Black-owned bookstores.
‘Party of Two’ by Jasmine Guillory
Jasmine Guillory has been a powerhouse in the romance/women’s contemporary fiction genres for the last few years and I’ve been singing her praises to literally anyone who will listen. The way she writes rom-coms is *chef’s kiss* absolutely brilliant. Her books are always the perfect blend of sweet meet-cutes and hot sex—basically everything my Hinge dates are not. In her most recent novel, Party of Two, main character Olivia has just moved to LA to start up her own law firm when she meets a sexy stranger in a bar: Senator Max Powell. Olivia has zero interest in dating a politician, but when Max pursues her she can’t say no. Cut to clandestine date nights, funny disguises, and swerving to ditch the press, and Olivia somehow finds herself falling in love with the last guy she ever expected to. If you loved the Olivia Pope/Fitz political powerhouse couple trope but wished for more of the happier couple moments, then this book hits the perfect sweet spot.
‘Blitzed’ by Alexa Martin
Set in the fast-paced, glitzy world of the NFL, Alexa Martin’s Playbook series is as fun and fizzy as a glass of champagne. The author is actually the wife of a former NFL player, so she has firsthand knowledge of the games played on and off the football field, which is probably why her books are so freaking addictive. In her latest novel, we meet bar owner Brynn Larson, whose establishment has become the local drinking hot-spot for NFL players and their reality TV star wives. But just because she likes their business doesn’t mean she’s stupid enough to jump into bed with a professional athlete. Or so she thinks! Enter: Maxwell Lewis, who’s been in love with Brynn ever since he first laid eyes on her. Add in steamy sex scenes and hilarious banter and you’ve got the perfect beach accessory.
‘The Sun Is Also a Star’ by Nicola Yoon
If you’re wondering why you’ve heard of this book before, it’s because it was recently turned into a movie starring Yara Shahidi and Riverdale’s Charles Melton—but trust me, the book is just as good as the movie. Cynical, logic-driven Natasha is hours away from being deported with her family to Jamaica when she meets Daniel. Their meet-cute on the subway leads to 12 hours of the most adorable relationship I’ve ever read. And I’m even willing to suspend reality here and believe that someone could find love and not human feces on a New York subway because the book is that cute! While this book is technically a young adult novel, it touches on deep issues, like what it means to be a child of an immigrant and breaking away from parental expectations, while at the same time being a beautiful love story. If you’re looking for a good cry (when am I not?), then this will be a good read for you.
‘My Sister, The Serial Killer’ by Oyinkan Braithwaite
If your idea of a feel-good beach book involves murder and homicidal siblings, then you’re going to absolutely loooove this book. My Sister, The Serial Killer came out in 2018, but it’s not as popular as it really deserves to be, so listen to me as I shout this from the metaphorical rooftops: BUY THIS BOOK. In the novel, Korede is always cleaning up after her self-absorbed beautiful sister. And while for some that might mean picking up your sister’s bar tab or helping her clean puke stains off her shirt from the night before, for Korede it means helping her sister hide the body of the latest man she’s just murdered. Dark, twisty, and weirdly funny, this book feels like an insane mix between Dexter and Sharp Objects. I couldn’t put it down.
‘The Opposite of Always’ by Justin A. Reynolds
Another young adult must-read, The Opposite of Always is all about love, loss, and second chances. Jack meets Kate at a party, and by the time the sun rises, he knows all of her favorite movie, that they share a love of Froot Loops…and that he’s falling in love with her. Their love story was supposed to be epic, but then Kate dies. But instead of their story ending there, Jack finds himself transported back to the beginning, to the night they first met, when Kate is still alive and they’re both so in love. Jack doesn’t know if he’s losing his mind, but he’s willing to do anything to prevent Kate’s death, even if it means believing in time travel and trying to change the future. Though this book sounds heavy—and it is super emotional—it’s also ridiculously funny, with laugh-out-loud banter and a little bit of a choose-your-own-adventure twist. Part love story, part sci-fi time travel, part funny coming of age story, this book truly has it all. I dare you not to fall in love with it.
‘Ties That Tether’ by Jane Igharo
So this book actually comes out in September, but I’m alerting you now so you can go ahead and preorder it. The premise is this: 12-year-old Azere promises her dying father that she’ll marry a Nigerian man and preserve her culture, even after her family immigrates to Canada. Years later, Azere ends up at a bar hitting it off with Rafael Castellano, a man who is tall, handsome, and…white. Azere finds herself falling for Rafael, but can she really be with him without compromising her identity? This book packs a lot int0 its 320 pages, but it feels effortless. A Nigerian immigrant herself, Igharo tackles issues like immigration, cultural identity, and interracial dating in a compelling way. While a love story at heart, this book is so much more than that. It’s a must-read for your summer vacation.
‘Spin’ by Lamar Giles
Young adult thrillers aren’t typically my thing, but Spin by Lamar Giles is top-notch when it comes to teen thrills. When famous DJ ParSec is found dead, her best friend Kya and one of the DJ’s groupies, Fuse, have to put their differences aside to find out what happened. As they dig deeper, secrets are uncovered, motives are unearthed, and Kya and Fuse fall deeper and deeper into ParSec’s tangled web of a life. Kya gives off some serious Veronica Mars vibes, but the author puts a new and interesting twist on the teenage whodunit. It’s definitely worth the read!
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Have you ever said a hilarious joke that got no laughs, only to have your friend repeat it a little louder and get all the credit? I imagine that’s kind of a small version of the feeling Claire Martin has when she gets kicked out of her band right before they get super famous for a song she wrote. Laura Hankin, famous for her “Feminarchy” comedy videos, debuts her first novel, Happy and You Know It, about the treacherous places Claire must go before she withers away in self-pity: straight into the middle of a group of young Manhattan moms, as the playgroup musician for their kids. You know, the ones who make it to hot yoga like, the day after they give birth. It’s basically like The Assistants but with rich moms, or like Mean Girls mixed with The Nanny Diaries.
If you’re looking for a hilarious read, but can’t get through a book without a little suspense, Happy and You Know It is the book for you. Claire enters a world of dark secrets, and discovers that these moms have much bigger problems to worry about than which Lululemon leggings to wear that day. Hankin, who did this job in real life, tells us what it’s actually like to be a mom in this Instagram-perfect world.
Happy and You Know It made Newsweek’s “Must-Read Fiction and Nonfiction Books to Savor This Spring” and, after reading this first look, I can already see why. The book comes out in May, and you can preorder now, but if you can’t wait that long to start it, Betches was lucky enough to get an exclusive excerpt.
New Yorkers are good at turning a blind eye. They ignore the subway ranters, the men who walk with pythons twined around their shoulders, anyone who suggests meeting for dinner in Times Square.
But on one sweltering August afternoon, when the whole city was trapped in a bubble of heat, a woman came running down Madison Avenue in a full-length fur coat, demanding to be noticed. As she sprinted by, encased in a suffocating cocoon of mink, the sweaty customers at the sidewalk cafe on 94th Street couldn’t help but stare.
Maybe it was, in part, because of her smell — the staleness of the inky black pelt she wore, plus something else, something sickly-sweet and stomach-turning. Vomit. Dried bits of it crusted the woman’s mouth. Little chunks clung to her hair. She didn’t look like someone who should smell that way. She looked rich.
Maybe it was the sleek stroller she pushed in front of her. It glided along the sidewalk, the baby equivalent of a Porsche, but without a baby inside.
Or maybe it was the pack of women chasing her.
Afterwards, when the media was just starting to whip itself into a frenzy about the so-called ‘Poison Playgroup of Park Avenue,’ one witness would tell reporters that he had known the women were dangerous all along. He had sensed it from the moment he saw them—even before they tipped their heads back and started to scream.
Claire Martin didn’t want to throw herself in front of a bus, exactly. But if a bus happened to mow her down, knocking her instantly out of existence, that wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world.
If she were floating in eternal nothingness, at least she wouldn’t have to hear Vagabond’s music in every fucking bar in New York City. It happened for the fourth time not long after New Year’s Day, as she sat on a stool in some Upper West Side dive, performing her fun new ritual of Drinking To Forget. She’d managed to swallow her way within sight of that sweet, sweet tipping point — the one where all her sharp-edged self-loathing melted into something squishier and Jell-O-like — and had just caught the eye of a curly-haired guy nearby when “Idaho Eyes” came over the speakers, as jarring and rage-inducing as the clock radio blaring “I’ve Got You” in Groundhog Day.
She turned away from her new prospect, and leaned over the bar. “Hey,” she said to the bartender, who held up a finger in her direction, and continued his conversation with a middle-aged man a few stools down. Automatically, she drummed her fingers along with that catchy opening beat, before she caught herself and closed her hand into a fist. “Hey!”
“What?” the bartender asked, glaring.
She squinted at him, trying to make him come fully into focus. He was a big, scowling bear of a man, and alarmingly fuzzy around the edges. “Can we skip this song?”
“No,” he said.
Claire considered leaving, but the guy with curly hair intrigued her, and she liked Fucking To Forget almost as much as Drinking To Forget. She swallowed, then flashed the bartender what she hoped was a winning smile. “Please? I’d really appreciate it.”
Her smile had worked wonders for her in the past, bright and effective enough to be a form of currency. In the early days of touring with Vagabond, rattling around in a van for which they could barely afford the gas, the guys had joked about it, and had sent her into convenience stores to see if she could get them all free snacks for the road. But this bartender remained unmoved. He folded his hairy arms across his chest. “My bar, my playlist.”
She gritted her teeth, as the verse turned into the first chorus. A nearby couple began to dance, shout-singing along, the man looking into the woman’s face with pure love. In times like these, Claire thought that maybe God did exist, not as some benevolent being or terrifying father, but as the omniscient equivalent of a prank show host. An Ashton Kutcher kind of God. She took another large gulp of her whiskey. “Don’t be a dick, man,” she said, as the bartender turned away. “The customer’s always right, right?”
“I’m a customer, and I love this song,” said the middle aged man down at the end of the bar.
“Well, you shouldn’t,” she said, as a wave of nausea rose in her stomach. “They’re terrible.” She took a couple of shallow, panicky breaths as, over the speakers, Marcus and Marlena’s voices mingled in harmony. Dammit, they sounded good together. The middle aged man, apparently some kind of regular at this dive, made a wounded face, his shoulders slumping. The bartender noticed and pulled out his phone, holding it up right in front of Claire to show her the song playing on his Spotify. His finger hovered over the skip button. Then, he deliberately turned the volume up. The sound grew loud enough to suffocate her, to smother her. She lunged forward to grab the phone away from him.
As the bartender ejected her, none-too-gently, into the stinging January night, she realized that perhaps it was safer to drink alone in her apartment instead.
A month later, her cousin Thea called.
“How’s the wallowing going?” Thea asked, in her brisk way.
“I don’t know if it’s fair to call it wallowing,” Claire said. “That sounds so masturbatory. I think your band getting super-famous right after they kick you out is a great reason to become a shut-in.”
“Mm-hm,” Thea said.
Over the past couple years, Claire had spent so much time on the road that all she’d wanted from her home was a place without roommates, where she could immediately take off her pants and collapse into bed. What did it matter that her “kitchen” only had room for a mini fridge and a hot plate? She wasn’t exactly whipping up five-course meals for herself. Who cared that the bars on her window blocked out most of the natural light, or that she’d stuck up all her posters with tape instead of framing them? But now, from underneath her sheets, Claire cast a look around her tiny studio, at the stacks of boxes from Pizza Paradise starting to grow mold, at the piles of discarded beer cans, at the torn-up remains of a note her parents had sent her, reading: You can always come home. Jesus forgives, and so do we. “The wallowing is getting pretty gross,” she said.
“Well then, get up. I got you a job.” Even as a child in their tiny Ohio town, Thea had been the one who got shit done. She’d organized all the bored neighborhood kids into teams for kickball. She’d harangued all the grown-ups until they signed up to bring something for the church bake sale. And then, when her parents had discovered she was gay and threatened to kick her out of the house unless she agreed to go to a conversion program, Thea had wasted no time in getting a full scholarship to Harvard, and leaving on her own terms.
“A job? What is it?” Claire asked.
“Singing ‘Old MacDonald’ to the future CEOs of America. Some woman named Whitney Morgan emailed the Harvard list looking for a playgroup musician, so I sang your praises.”
Claire bit her lip. “That’s really nice of you, Thea, but that’s the kind of stuff I was doing five years ago. I don’t know if I want—”
“How much money do you have left in your bank account?” Thea asked.
“Um,” Claire said. She swung herself out of bed too quickly and, a little dizzy, reached for her computer to pull up her account balance. When she saw what her self-destructive spiral had done to her savings, her mouth went dry. Her rent was already overdue because she’d run out of stamps, and hadn’t been able to muster the energy to go out and buy more. And once she sent in that check, her bank account would be down to double digits. She cleared her throat. “What’s the address?”
“I’ll text you the details,” Thea said.
“Thanks,” Claire mumbled.
“I’m looking out for you, cuz,” Thea said, a note of tenderness creeping into her voice. “Can’t have you going back to Sacred Life Christian Fellowship. We’re the ones that got out.”
“Yeah, we are.”
“And Claire? Before you go, please take a shower,” Thea said. “I can smell you over the phone.”
Excerpted from Happy and You Know It by Laura Hankin, published by Berkley, an imprint of Penguin Publishing Group, a division of Penguin Random House, LLC. Copyright © 2020