I don’t care what the calendar says (I feel like all my book roundups start this way), it is winter. And you know what that means: a winter reading list, because it’s that time of year again where we just cozy up with a good book. Or at least, that’s what I do. In honor of that, I’ve compiled my winter reading list. Please note that this is not a comprehensive 2021 reading list, which will be coming ASAP. (In more realistic terms, probably like, January.) But for now, here are 14 books you can dive into, from spicy romance to twisty thrillers to poignant historical fiction.
‘A Princess For Christmas’ by Jenny Holiday (October 13, 2020)
I could have included this in a fall roundup, but given that Christmas is in the title, it didn’t feel right. If you already watched The Princess Switch: Switched Again and all the other Christmas movies on Netflix but still need your holiday romance fix, pick up a copy of A Princess for Christmas. It’s basically got everything you loved from Princess Switch or Princess Diaries: a fictional kingdom called Eldovia, a princess who’s in way over her head, finding love in unexpected places. Leo, a cab driver in New York City, picks up Princess Marie of Eldovia and ends up with more than he bargained for—namely, a gig driving Princess Marie around for the remainder of her NYC trip. He doesn’t expect to fall for the princess, or that he will end up in Eldovia for Christmas.
‘Every Last Secret’ by A.R. Torre (December 1, 2020)
What would you do for the “perfect” life? That’s what Cat and Neena, two neighbors in Silicon Valley, are duking it out over. Cat Winthorpe seems to have it all: a beautiful house, social standing, and William, her dreamy husband. And that’s precisely what Neena Ryder wants: Cat’s husband. Neena tries to scheme her way into William’s life; meanwhile, Cat has a secret of her own that could blow up her charmed life. While the ending may not completely take you by surprise, Every Last Secret is a fun and fast ride.
‘Heiress Apparently’ by Diana Ma (December 1, 2020)
If you, like me, are still sad you finished Last Tang Standing, Diana Ma’s latest novel serves up a similar dose of fun, relatable, hot mess fiction, with a Lizzie McGuire Movie-esque twist. Really doesn’t get more fun than that. Gemma Huang disappointed her parents by foregoing college to pursue an acting career, which is how she finds herself living in LA with three roommates, barely scraping by. Things start looking up when she takes a gig in a production of M. Butterfly in Beijing, only to realize she apparently is the doppelgänger of one of Beijing’s most notorious socialites. And there might be a reason for that…
‘How To Catch A Queen’ by Alyssa Cole (December 1, 2020)
If the name Alyssa Cole sounds familiar, good—it should! I’ve been raving about her new thriller, When No One Is Watching, and she also has a romance novel coming out. And I can’t even figure out how to do my job plus one hobby and still have a somewhat normal sleep schedule. SMH, some people can really do it all. Anyway, How To Catch a Queen is the first book in the new Runaway Royals series. Shanti Mohapi weds the king of Njaza, and with it, her dreams of becoming a queen finally come true. What she hadn’t imagined since she was a little girl? Nobody in the kingdom respects her. The King is equally perplexed, since Shanti has all the answers to solve Njaza’s problems… except nobody will listen to her.
‘This Time Next Year’ by Sophie Cousens (December 1, 2020)
If you want Love, Actually but in book form, this is basically it. It’s about Minnie Cooper, whose New Year’s birthday has always been a source of woe in her life—especially because her mother missed out on winning the cash prize for giving birth to the first baby of the year born in London, thanks to a guy named Quinn Hamilton, who was born just moments earlier. Even worse, he stole her name! When Minnie runs into Quinn at, where else, a New Year’s party, she’s surprised to find herself wanting more.
‘White Feminism’ by Koa Beck (January 5, 2021)
We didn’t stop reading antiracist books in the summer, and Koa Beck, former Editor-in-Chief of Jezebel, has a new book out that is a necessary read. Beck explores how feminism has been commodified, and how it excludes women of color, from the suffragettes to corporate feminism, and how we can fix it for future generations.
‘You Have A Match’ by Emma Lord (January 5, 2021)
Protagonist Abby signs up for a DNA test and gets more than she bargained for: she finds out she has an older sister. But not just any sister: Savannah Tully, an Instagram model. Abby’s plan to find out how tf this happened? Meet up with Savannah at summer camp and find out the truth. But there are a few problems, or else this would be a sentence and not a book: Savannah is a total narc, so getting the truth isn’t as simple as it seems. Plus, Abby’s crush works at the camp. Oh, and Abby’s parents are hiding a secret that could blow everything up.
‘Lana’s War’ by Anita Abriel (January 12, 2021)
Ok, so. I think we’ve maybe reached a point where WWII fiction is an escape again and not a harbinger of things to come? Fingers crossed it stays that way. With that said, Lana’s War is set in 1943 Paris, where Lana Antanova witnesses her husband being executed by the Gestapo—right when she was about to tell him she was pregnant. A few months later, Lana is approached to join the resistance, putting her face to face with the man who killed her husband. Taking up residence with a wealthy Swiss industrialist in a villa, Lana helps Jews escape. Obviously, the Nazis want to stop her, and Lana has to try to protect herself, everything she’s worked for, and the people she’s beginning to love.
‘The Perfect Guests’ by Emma Rous (January 12, 2021)
From the author of The Au Pair comes another suspenseful read set in a creepy Gothic manor. Raven Hall is a sprawling manor in a coastal plain in eastern England. In 1988, 14-year-old Beth Soames is taken there by her aunt to stay with the Averell family. Beth quickly becomes like one of the family, until the Averells ask her to play a twisted game, and nothing is the same after that. Cut to 2019, when Sadie Lawson, a struggling actress, shows up with a suitcase and a dossier of the role she’s meant to play: a weekend guest. Can’t be too hard, right? Right, except the house feels haunted, the party guests feel off, and the host is not what they seem.
‘Waiting For The Night Song’ by Julie Carrick Dalton (January 12, 2021)
Julie Carrick Dalton’s debut gives me serious Where The Crawdad Sings vibes. Its protagonist is forestry researcher Cadie Kessler, who’s on the verge of a breakthrough that could help prevent serious damage to the wilderness. But then she gets a message from her estranged childhood best friend, and the two have to face a dark secret that they’ve kept hidden for over 25 years. As drought, foreclosures, and wildfires spark tensions between locals and displaced migrant farm workers, Cadie has to decide how far she’ll go to protect herself and the forest she loves.
‘Your Corner Dark’ by Desmond Hall (January 19, 2021)
Hall’s debut tackles gang life in Jamaica and pushes the limits of how far a teen will go for his family. Frankie Green gets a coveted scholarship letter, which should be his ticket out. Until his father gets shot, and he finds himself joining his uncle’s gang to pay for his father’s medical bills. Is there such thing as a point of no return? And is it too late for Frankie to build the life he’s always wanted?
‘The Obsession’ by Jesse Q. Sutano (February 2, 2021)
Think of The Obsession like the YA book version of You. Instead of Joe, we have Logan. Instead of Beck, we have Delilah. Some might call Logan a stalker, but he just thinks he’s romantic. Besides, nobody likes Delilah like he does, and they’re meant to be together. All he needs is the right moment to convince her they’re meant to be. When Logan witnesses Delilah kill her abusive stepfather, she may not have much of a choice but to be with Logan.
‘Wild Rain’ by Beverly Jenkins (February 2, 2021)
A little bit of romance, a little bit of historical fiction, Wild Rain tackles women’s rights, suffrage, and Black American history in Reconstruction-Era Wyoming. Did you know Wyoming was a pioneer in women’s rights and women’s suffrage? I didn’t either, but its territorial legislature passed a law in 1869 that gave women the right to vote. So with that in mind, Spring Lee, a property-owning Black female rancher, moves to Paradise, Wyoming. She has one rule: she does not need a man. Until she meets Garrett McCray, a Washington reporter who escaped slavery. When a dark spot from Spring’s past comes back to light, her ranch, her safety, and her newfound love are all on the line.
‘First Comes Like’ by Alisha Rai (February 16, 2020)
The third book in Rai’s Modern Love series, First Comes Like is about Jia Ahmed, a 29-year-old beauty influencer who doesn’t have time for love. But when a Bollywood legend slides into her DMs… well, that only happens once in a lifetime. Meanwhile, Dev Dixit grew up as Bollywood royalty, but his world was rocked by his brother’s unexpected death, and Dev finds himself as the guardian for his teen niece. Unable to deal with the constant public scrutiny, Dev sets off for America, where, one night in Hollywood, he meets a beautiful Instagram influencer. He’s surprised that he’s intrigued by her, and all the more surprised to find out someone has been catfishing her, posing as Dev. Who tf is catfishing Jia? And is Jia and Dev’s relationship doomed from the start?
‘Honey Girl’ by Morgan Rogers (February 23, 2021)
Twentysomething Grace Porter is a straight-laced overachiever who just got her PhD. Which is why it’s totally out of character when she goes to Vegas, gets hammered, and gets married to a woman whose name she doesn’t even know. After that trip, Grace does yet another unexpected thing and goes to New York for the summer to spend time with her new wife. But you can’t run from your problems forever, and soon, Grace’s come knocking at her door.
Images: Sincerely Media / Unsplash; Bookshop
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 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)
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
2020 has been off to a rough start, to say the absolute least, but one thing we can all look forward to is a bunch of new books coming out. TG, I needed something to continue showing up at work for (I read during my commute, for those of you who didn’t get the joke). For all my fellow nerds out there, 2020 is going to be a great year for reading (my middle school librarian would be ecstatic at that sentence). From exciting debuts from first-time authors, to new books by writers you are already obsessed with, there is a ton to add to your reading list. Because I’m so nice and I know you guys hate when I only include books on a list that aren’t out yet, I have done you the favor of highlighting one late 2019 release and some that were released earlier this month. But seriously, people, that’s why they invented preorder!
Good Girls Lie by J.T. Ellison
Out December 30, 2019
I never went to boarding school because I/my parents were not fancy like that, but it is easy to imagine in this book. Good Girls Lie takes place in an elite boarding school with a checkered past—aren’t they all, though? Enter new girl, Ash Carlisle, who struggles to figure out how TF these rich girls operate. Since she DGAF, she, of course, gets tapped into one of the school’s famed secret societies, and things start spiraling out of control from there. I won’t spoil it, but I will tell you that two people wind up dead, and it’s not what you think.
One of Us Is Next by Karen M. McManus
Out January 7, 2020
The sequel to One Of Us Is Lying is here, and tbh, I recommend re-reading that before diving into this one, so you remember who all the characters are and their relation to the OGs. Because Bayview High hasn’t been through enough since fellow student Simon died and four of his peers almost got framed for his murder, a new Truth or Dare game has popped up all over the school, and the rules are simple: either do the dare, or one of your darkest truths gets revealed to the entire school. It’s not long before the dares turn deadly—meaning it’s up to the younger siblings of the original Bayview Four to figure out who’s behind this, and stop it before it’s too late.
Average Is The New Awesome by Samantha Matt
Out January 7, 2020
Are you intimidated by all those people on the Forbes 30 Under 30 list? Aren’t we all, though? Even though our parents told us we could be anything if we just put our minds to it, let’s be real, you’re probably not going to become a full-time influencer at 30 unless you go on The Bachelor. Samantha Matt gets this, and instead of writing a “just practice 10,000 hours a day” type self-help book, she, through hilarious stories and insightful advice, offers encouragement to us “average” folks and assures us that being good really is good enough.
Third Rainbow Girl: The Long Life Of A Double Murder in Appalachia by Emma Copley Eisenberg
Out January 21, 2020
On June 25, 1980 in Pocahontas County, West Virginia, two middle-class women were murdered as they were hitchhiking their way to a festival called the Rainbow Gathering (obviously, they never arrived). For 13 years, there were no arrests, although people suspected the West Virginia locals, who were cast by the media as poor, backward, and dangerous. (Hmmm where have I seen this before…?) In 1993, a local farmer was convicted of the murders, until a known serial killer came forward and confessed to the crime. That’s not a spoiler because these murders actually happened, making this a true crime book. Writer Emma Copley Eisenberg explores divisions of gender and class in America through the lens of this double homicide in Appalachia and the reactions it spawned.
The Other People by C.J. Tudor
Out January 28, 2020
Nobody believes Gabe’s daughter Izzy is still alive, except Gabe, who swears he saw her being driven away in a strange car. Four years later, he spends his days driving up and down the freeway, hoping to find her. His search for his daughter leads him to an enigmatic man who calls himself The Sandman, a secret society, and it will expose to him the dark underbelly of humanity.
Behind Every Lie by Christina McDonald
Out February 4, 2020
If you read and loved The Night Olivia Fell like I did, then you’ve probably been waiting with bated breath for Christina McDonald’s next book. Well, you can exhale now, because it’s (almost) here! Here’s the gist: Eva Hansen wakes up in the hospital after being struck by lightning (I know, stick with me) and discovers her mother has been brutally murdered. Well, guess who was found unconscious down the street from her mom’s house? Yep, Eva. Uh-oh, not a good look. The problem? Eva doesn’t remember what happened, so it’s up to her to try to piece that night together and, like, avoid going to prison for her mother’s murder. No pressure!
Yes No Maybe So by Becky Albertalli & Aisha Saeed
Out February 4, 2020
Becky Albertalli, the best-selling author of Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda (that became the movie Love, Simon) teams up with bestselling author of Amal Unbound, Aisha Saeed, in this novel about the power of love and resistance. It’s like any joke that starts “a Jew and a Muslim walk into a bar,” only both people are 17 so they wouldn’t be allowed in a bar, and that bar is volunteering for their local state senate candidate. As the polls get closer, so do the two main characters. *Wink emoji*
The Regrets by Amy Bonnaffons
Out February 4, 2020
You’ve been ghosted before, right? (If you say no, you’re lying.) Well, in this debut by Amy Bonnaffons, the protagonist gets literally ghosted… in that she has sex with a ghost. Yep, ghost sex, we’re going there. It’s 2020, why not.
Love, Unscripted by Owen Nicholls
Out February 11, 2020
It’s London 2008, on the eve of President Obama’s election. Amid the fizzy glow of hope and change and promise, Nick and Ellie meet and fall in love. Nick is a film projectionist who wants his love story to live up to his favorite movies, and he quickly casts Ellie as his leading lady—metaphorically speaking. It’s all sunshine and rainbows until one day when Ellie inexplicably moves out, and Nick is forced to reevaluate the relationship, without the rose-colored glasses.
Postscript by Cecelia Ahern
Out February 11, 2020
Sixteen years after her bestselling phenomenon PS, I Love You, Cecilia Ahern is back with the sequel (and you thought you were a procrastinator). Fast-forward to six years after Holly Kennedy has read her husband’s final letter, and she’s moved on with her life at last. That is, until her sister has the genius idea to have her start a podcast (how millennial of her) where she retells her story of reading her late husband’s letters. People start connecting with the podcast, specifically terminally ill people who want to leave their loved ones messages after they’re gone. It’s your classic “just when I think I’m out, they pull me back in”.
The Antidote for Everything by Kimmery Martin
Out February 18, 2020
In this charming novel, two doctors are forced to choose between treating all their patients and keeping their jobs. Basically, it’s set in Charleston (you can probably guess what’s coming) and the clinic at which the characters work is demanding that all their doctors stop treating trans patients. Along the way there’s love, blackmail, office politics, and a little bit of mystery too. And the main characters, Georgia and Jonah, are adorable and friendship goals. I imagine it’s a little like Grey’s Anatomy except I wouldn’t know because I never watched that show.
The Night Watchman by Louise Erdrich
Out March 3, 2020
This book is actually based on the life of Erdrich’s grandfather, who worked as—you guessed it—a night watchman and who helped fight against Native American dispossession in North Dakota, taking that fight all the way to Washington, D.C. The book takes place in 1953 on the Chippewa Turtle Mountain Reservation in North Dakota. Night watchman and Chippewa Council member Thomas Wazhashk is struggling to understand a proposed “emancipation” bill that’s making its way to the floor of Congress. Thomas doesn’t know much, but he does know that with this “emancipation” his people are likely not gonna be free—more likely, the opposite. Meanwhile, Pixie “Patrice” Paranteau (also a member of the reservation) is on a quest to find her sister who moved to Minneapolis and then disappeared.
The Mirror & The Light by Hilary Mantel
Out March 10, 2020
History buffs, you’ll love this one. The Mirror & The Light is the third book in the Thomas Cromwell trilogy, after Wolf Hall and Bring Up The Bodies. Now, let me set the scene for you: the year is 1536. Anne Boleyn was just beheaded. Cromwell goes back to his master, Henry VIII, to celebrate his victory… which proves to be short-lived, because there’s rebellion brewing at home and traitors plotting abroad. All this while Cromwell is trying to plan his own ascent to power… it’s a lot.
The Herd by Andrea Bartz
Out March 24, 2020
You know those girls who just seem to have it all? Beautiful, a million Instagram followers, started their own company? Yeah. Meet Eleanor, the founder of The Herd, an all-female co-working space (that is very similar to an IRL all-female co-working space, just saying). But it isn’t all glitter and positive affirmations. Soon after opening, The Herd is vandalized with sexist messages—and then its beloved founder, Eleanor, winds up dead. This leaves Eleanor’s equally beautiful, slightly less accomplished friends to find out what happened to her.
Wow, No Thank You by Samantha Irby
Out March 31, 2020
Okay, the title alone is enough to convince me to pick up a copy of this book of essays, because it basically describes my mood 24/7 these days. Now, don’t get scared away by the word “essays” because these are f*cking hilarious. They range in topic from bad friend dates (relatable) to being disillusioned by inspirational Instagram quotes (more relatable) to “being a cheese fry-eating slightly damp Midwest person” (still relatable somehow even though I’m from New York).
It’s Not All Downhill From Here by Terry McMillan
Out March 31, 2020
Welp, that title is the positivity I need today. #1 NYT bestselling author Terry McMillan, who wrote Waiting To Exhale, How Stella Got Her Groove Back, and more, returns with this novel that women’s fiction lovers will, well, love. In it, 68-year-old Loretha Curry is living her life—she has a thriving beauty-supply empire, a loving husband, and awesome friends. That is, until an unexpected loss turns her whole world upside down and she’s gotta get by with a little help from her friends.
God Shot by Chelsea Bieker
Out April 7, 2020
Honestly, this plot kind of reminds me of Holes, but with a Jesus-y twist. 14-year-old Lacey May and her alcoholic mother live in the town of—get this—Peaches, California, a once-thriving agricultural hub that has since gone dry. Now, it’s the site of a work camp/prison for juvenile delinquents. Just kidding!! In their desperation, the residents turn to a cult leader, Pastor Vern, who promises to bring rain by doling out secret “assignments” to the Peaches residents. But when Lacey’s mother runs away, Lacey begins to uncover just what the Pastor has been doing, and she has no choice but to set out to find her mother.
That’s Not A Thing by Jacqueline Friedland
Out April 14, 2020
Fans of Emily Giffin will love this romantic novel that’s not overtly saccharine. Protagonist Meredith Altman has it all: a loving fiancé who’s a doctor, a high-paying career as a lawyer, and she’s about to set her wedding at a new trendy Tribeca restaurant… until she meets the owner of the restaurant. It’s her ex. Not just any ex—the ex. You know, the one who f*cked up her life and made her think she’d never be the same again without him? That ex. As she spends more time with the ex, Meredith questions everything she values, and she’s going to have to choose which life she’s going to have: the one before her, or the one she used to want?
He Started It by Samantha Downing
Out April 28, 2020
From the author of My Lovely Wife, He Started It follows a family of scammers who are on a forced road trip to claim their grandfather’s inheritance. If you thought your family was crazy and dysfunctional, just wait until you get a load of these people. Every chapter brings a new secret and twist to the story, and even I couldn’t predict this one. Stay tuned for an exclusive excerpt, just for Betches readers!
Beach Read by Emily Henry
Out May 19, 2020
Yeah, I know, I’m getting a little ahead of myself here, but for good reason! Pre-order it now so you can have it in time for your first beach day. Once I started Beach Read I legit did not put it down. Romance writer January Andrews believes in the power of love (can’t relate) until a devastating family secret upends her entire worldview. Cold horny-boy literary fiction writer (you know the type) Augustus Everett is cynical and matter-of-fact. They hate each other… until they’re forced to spend the summer in adjacent beach houses, and they come up with a little bet to swap genres. I think you know what’s going to happen between these two, but it’s not supposed to be mysterious anyway.
Images: Nicole Wolf / Unsplash; Amazon (20)
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