What a year, huh? Thank god this flaming tumbleweed made of discarded trash has finally come to a close. And while I don’t think that the world just magically improved the moment the clock struck 12:01am on January 1, 2021, at least we have some things to look forward to, like all the good books that are coming out. From highly anticipated debuts to new works from fave authors, here’s what we’ll be reading in 2021.
‘Be Dazzled’ by Ryan La Sala (January 5, 2021)
This Queer YA romance is like Project Runway meets ComicCon. Raffy has a passion for fashion design and is determined to win the cosplay competition at ComicCon. He has some stiff competition, though: Luca, his ex, who broke his heart. Which would be bad enough to deal with, except the two end up partnered together for the contest. This is gonna get messy.
‘The Push’ by Ashley Audrain (January 5, 2021)
The Push just might be the book of 2021. Its TV rights have already been sold, if that tells you anything. Blythe Connor survived a traumatic upbringing, which has left her unsure if motherhood is the right path for her. When her daughter Violet is born, it only brings Blythe’s fears to the surface—especially since, from the moment Violet enters the world, bad things start happening. Blythe struggles to love and understand her daughter, who keeps pushing them away. When tragedy strikes her family, Blythe is forced to finally come to terms with who her daughter really is.
‘What Could Be Saved’ by Liese O’Halleran Schwarz (January 12, 2021)
Alternating between Bangkok, 1972 and present-day Washington, D.C., What Could Be Saved follows Laura and Bea Preston, two sisters dealing with their mother’s dementia, who are contacted by a stranger who claims to be their brother who vanished 40 years earlier. Laura flies to Thailand to meet him and ends up with a lot more questions than answers.
‘Wings of Ebony’ by J. Elle (January 26, 2021)
Elle’s debut fantasy is perfect for fans of The Hunger Games and Divergent. Rue, a Black teenager in Houston, has her entire world turned upside down when she finds out she’s half-god. And just in time, too, because evil forces are trying to take over the world. Naturally.
‘Do Better’ by Rachel Ricketts (February 2, 2021)
Need another book for your anti-racism education? Pick up a copy of Do Better, which offers mindful and practical steps to dismantle white supremacy on a personal and community level. Ricketts combines her experiences as an attorney, grief counselor, and anti-racism educator with her certifications in yoga, Reiki, and mindfulness to provide heart-centered and spirit-based practices.
‘Finlay Donovan Is Killing It’ by Elle Cosimano (February 2, 2021)
This is part fun read, part suspense. Finlay Donovan is newly divorced, barely making ends meet after her husband ran off with his secretary (so cliche). She’s behind on her book deal and dodging calls from her agent. Until one day when she meets her agent to discuss progress on her new novel, about a hit man, and a rich housewife overhears and thinks she’s actually a murderer for hire. Finlay would chalk it up to a misunderstanding and go on her way… but the money the woman’s offering might be too good to pass up.
‘Girl A’ by Abigail Dean (February 2, 2021)
Lexie is known to the world as Girl A, after escaping a horrific childhood of abuse and rescuing her siblings from her parents’ house of horrors. She’s fine with that and prefers to leave her past in the past, which is usually easy since she relocated to the other side of the world, her father died, and her mother was sentenced to life in prison. But when her mother dies and Lexie is named the executor of her will, she’s forced to return and unbury her past, which means coming to terms with the fact that she and her siblings don’t remember their childhood the same way.
‘The Kindest Lie’ by Nancy Johnson (February 2, 2021)
It’s Chicago in 2008. Barack Obama is ushering in a new wave of hope. Enter: Ruth, Ivy League graduate and Black engineer, who’s about to start a family with her smart, successful husband. There’s one problem: Ruth can’t let go of feeling like she needs to make peace with the baby she abandoned as a teenager. She returns home to start digging into the past and befriends Midnight, a white teenager. When a traumatic event brings the town’s simmering racial tensions to a boiling point, Ruth and Midnight’s friendship—and lives—get pushed to the breaking point.
‘The Project’ by Courtney Summers (February 2, 2021)
Fans of Courtney Summers and Sadie can finally breathe now that her new novel is coming out. Just like Sadie, The Project has a true crime element, though this time we’re not just dealing with a missing sister, but a sister who’s run off to join cults. The cult in question is a group called the Unity Project, which has undeniably done a lot of good in the community. Some, in fact, don’t even think it’s a cult. Lo Denham, though, is determined to uncover The Project for what it really is. When a man shows up at the magazine Lo works at claiming the Unity Project killed his son, Lo just might have the chance to prove to everyone what she’s been saying all along.
‘The Removed’ by Brandon Hobson (February 2, 2021)
Ever since Ray-Ray was killed in a police shooting 15 years ago, the Echote family hasn’t been the same. They rarely talk about Ray-Ray and each member of the family muddles along in their own silo of grief. Their annual family bonfire is the one opportunity they get to talk about his memory. As this year’s bonfire approaches, each family member finds the line between the normal and spirit worlds blurring—to bizarre ends.
‘The Gilded Ones’ by Namina Forna (February 9, 2021)
I’ve literally been waiting for this book since 2019, so yeah, it deserves a spot on the “most anticipated” list. The first book in the Deathless series, The Gilded Ones follows Deka, a 16-year-old who lives in fear of the blood ceremony that will decide whether she can become a member of her village. But the blood ceremony doesn’t go her way, and Deka knows she faces a fate worse than death. That is, until a mysterious woman presents her with the choice to leave the village to fight the emperor with an army of girls who are just like her.
‘Quiet In Her Bones’ by Nalini Singh (February 23, 2021)
When socialite Nina Rai disappeared one night, everyone assumed she’d just grown tired of her life and run away. Until 10 years later when her bones turn up in the forest surrounding her tony neighborhood. Nina’s son, Arav, is determined to find out the truth—but suddenly nobody wants to talk.
‘The Lost Apothecary’ by Sarah Penner (March 2, 2021)
The past and the present meet in Penner’s debut novel. In 18th century London, a female apothecary secretly doles out poison to women who need permanent solutions for the toxic men in their lives. She has two rules: every recipient must be carefully tracked in her logbook, and she will never do harm to another woman. In present day London, Caroline takes a solo trip to London after learning of her husband’s infidelity, and ends up discovering a vial from the apothecary.
‘Too Good To Be True’ by Carola Lovering (March 2, 2021)
I could not be more excited that the author of Tell Me Lies is back, this time with a psychological suspense. Skye Starling seems to have it all: beautiful, smart, a doting boyfriend who proposes. What she doesn’t show is that she’s battled crippling OCD since childhood. And what she doesn’t know is that her devoted fiancée is anything but. Just when you think you’ve got it figured out, Lovering will throw another curve ball at you.
‘The Jigsaw Man’ by Nadine Matheson (March 16, 2021)
Matheson is a criminal defense attorney-turned-author whose debut tackles race and sexism in the legal system. In Jigsaw Man, Detective Inspector Anjelica Henley is her unit’s sole Black female detective. She’s racing to catch an infamous serial killer and his copycat before more people turn up dead.
‘The Dictionary of Lost Words’ by Pip Williams (April 4, 2021)
Based on actual events, The Dictionary of Lost Words is set during the height of the women’s suffrage movement. As a group of male scholars puts together the first Oxford English Dictionary, one of the scholars’ daughters decides to collect the “objectionable” words they deem not suitable for the dictionary. The result is her own dictionary of lost words.
‘The Last Exiles’ by Ann Shin (April 6, 2020)
Inspired by true events, The Last Exiles is a portrait of a young couple, Jin and Suja, who fell in love in university and whose relationship is put to the test by Kim Jong-il’s regime. Suja is an aspiring journalist from a well-off family, and Jin is from a humble family in a small village. When Jin returns home to find his family starving, he makes a split-second decision that will change the course of his life forever. Suja, knowing nothing about what Jin has done, risks her family, her privilege, and her life to find him.
‘You Love Me’ by Caroline Kepnes (April 6, 2021)
The third book in the Joe Goldberg series opens with Joe leaving city life behind and moving to an island in the Pacific Northwest to be one with nature. He gets a job at the library and that’s where he meets Mary Kay, the librarian. This time, Joe tells himself he won’t obsess or impose. But this is Joe Goldberg, so we all know what’s really going to happen.
‘Dial A for Aunties’ by Jessie Q. Sutanto (April 27, 2021)
What do you get when you accidentally kill your blind date? Well, most of us would probably get arrested, but Meddelin Chan’s aunties come to the rescue to help her, um, dispose of the evidence. All would be well except the body is accidentally shipped in a cake cooler to the billionaire wedding all the ladies are working. As if pulling off the wedding of the century isn’t hard enough, now the Chans have to do it without getting discovered in the process.
‘The Woman With The Blue Star’ by Pam Jenoff (May 4, 2021)
In Krakow 1942, an unlikely friendship forms. 18-year-old Sadie Gault was living in the Krakow ghetto until the Nazis liquidated it, forcing its residents to live in the sewers. Well-to-do Eliza Stepanek wanders the streets aimlessly after her fiancé goes off to war. When she spots Sadie hiding beneath a grate in the street, she decides to help her, and the two form a friendship that faces the most difficult of tests.
‘People We Meet on Vacation’ by Emily Henry (May 11, 2021)
If you loved Emily Henry’s aptly named Beach Read, get ready for another sizzling romance that will thaw your cold heart. Poppy and Alex are total opposites and best friends. They have a tradition of taking a trip together every summer, until two years ago, when it all went to sh*t. With her life going downhill, Poppy decides to throw one final Hail Mary and convinces Alex to take another vacation with her. Is a week long enough to fix everything that went wrong with them?
‘The Hunting Wives’ by May Cobb (May 21, 2021)
ATTN anyone who loves Big Little Lies, Mean Girls, and Desperate Housewives: May Cobb’s upcoming suspense novel is for you. Sophie O’Neill moves from her big-city life in Chicago to a small town in east Texas with her husband and young son. Looking for a little more excitement, Sophie meets Margot Banks, who is a part of an elite clique known as the Hunting Wives. She immediately feels drawn toward Margot and her mysterious world full of late-night adventures and reckless partying… until she lands in the middle of a murder investigation. Suddenly this group is not so fun.
‘Malibu Rising’ by Taylor Jenkins Reid (May 25, 2021)
Author of the sensation Daisy Jones and the Six is back with a new novel about four famous siblings who throw an end-of-summer party where the roof is on fire… literally. Told over the span of one unforgettable night in August 1983, this novel has it all: love stories, secrets, sacrifices, and much more.
‘The Maidens’ by Alex Michaelides (June 1, 2021)
From the #1 NYT bestselling author of The Silent Patient comes the latest tale of suspense from Alex Michaelides. Mariana Andros knows the charismatic Greek Tragedy professor at Cambridge, Edward Fosca, is a murderer. Except he’s untouchable—he even has a secret society of female admirers called The Maidens. When another body turns up, Mariana becomes determined to expose who Andros really is, no matter the cost.
‘The Other Black Girl’ by Zakiya Dalila Harris (June 1, 2021)
When two young Black women get jobs in publishing, the resulting novel is like The Devil Wears Prada meets Get Out. 26-year-old Nella is tired of being the only Black employee at Wagner books, and when Hazel starts working next to her, it seems like a dream come true—until Hazel is promoted and Nella is left behind. Then Nella starts getting notes on her desk urging her to leave Wagner. It seems like obvious sabotage from Hazel, but as Nella starts investigating, she realizes there’s a lot more at stake than just her job.
‘Razorblade Tears’ by S.A. Cosby (July 6, 2021)
On the surface, Ike Randolph and Buddy Lee have little in common. They’re both ex-cons, and when their sons get married, they become in-laws (who struggle to accept their sons’ relationship). When their sons are murdered, Ike and Buddy must move past their differences in order to figure out what happened.
‘Mona at Sea’ by Elizabeth Gonzalez James (June 30, 2021)
Mona Mireles is a millennial perfectionist who nonetheless finds herself unemployed, living with her parents, and single at the height of the recession in 2008. This isn’t a gripping page-turner, but it’s a witty and relatable read—perfect for vacation or the beach (provided we can go there in summer 2021).
Images: @laurachouette / Unsplash
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
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
Remember back in October 2019 when Modern Love came out on Amazon Prime, and for a moment there it seemed like wholesome, pure things like romance actually existed in the world? Yeah, me either. If you watched the Amazon Prime series, you definitely remember the episode with Lexi (played by Anne Hathaway), a young woman who was struggling with bipolar disorder. That was based off the Modern Love essay by Terri Cheney, a NYT best-selling author and former attorney to the stars, whose new book MODERN MADNESS: An Owner’s Manual is out September 8.
In the middle of a pandemic that has worsened a mental health crisis in America, Cheney offers an honest, poignant work of nonfiction that discusses all the ways her battle with bipolar disease has affected her life, and offers lessons to be learned. Whether you struggle with mental health or care about and want to support someone who does, MODERN MADNESS is a necessary read. But don’t just take my word for it: Anne Hathaway, who blurbed the book, says, “Terri Cheney’s unflinching commitment to telling her own truth on her own terms moved me into a new place of compassion. Hers is an unparalleled—and deeply necessary—voice.” And now, Betches readers can get a first peek at MODERN MADNESS. Check out the excerpt below, and be sure to order your copy today.
Back when I was still a practicing lawyer, I developed a lovely bad habit of dropping out of sight and reemerging in Santa Barbara. I didn’t tell my friends or my bosses where I was going. I just disappeared into the sunset over Pacific Coast Highway, listening to Joseph Campbell’s Follow Your Bliss audiotape and scheming how I could quit my job. I was usually manic when I did this, or on the brink of becoming so.
I remember pulling into the sweeping driveway of the Biltmore Hotel one time. The pink bougainvillea that draped the entrance rustled in the ocean breeze, welcoming me. “Aaaah,” I sighed, as the valets and bellhops swarmed my car. A disturbingly handsome young man, dark-eyed and deeply tanned in a spruce white uniform, opened the car door for me. Mindful of his gaze, I extricated myself slowly, holding his hand for balance. I felt like a princess making an entrance—until I gracefully tripped, landing splat on the cobblestones. My purse flew open and all its contents went sprawling out over the drive.
The valet did his best to recover my things, even scrambling under my car to retrieve my lipstick. Despite his efforts, a few papers were lost to the wind. They were probably just related to work, I thought. Good riddance. I tried to tip him, but he refused. “Please,” I insisted, but he shook his head. “It’s my pleasure,” he said, as he ushered me into the lobby.
“You’re awfully kind,” I said, feeling that old familiar risk-taking tingle. “Can I buy you a drink when you’re free?” (I’m so practiced at asking men out for drinks when I’m manic, I could lecture on it at Vassar.)
“I’ll be off in an hour,” he said.
“Terrific! I’ll meet you in the lounge.”
I went to my room to unpack. Something was missing, but I couldn’t say what. Perfume? Check. Mascara? Check. Stilettos? Check, and check. I slipped them on with a sexier dress and some racy new lingerie. But the feeling continued to nag at me: what had I forgotten? Was it important? Would I need it? Oh well, I shrugged. Whatever it is, I can buy it in the gift shop later.
I went to the lounge, ordered myself a tequila sunrise, and settled in to wait. The bar was busy—lovers and tourists cooing over the magnificent view of the ocean. I glanced in that direction: a sunset. Pretty, but I’d seen it before. I was more interested in the view of me. I took great care to arrange myself on the stool—a little leg, a glimpse of shoulder, just indiscreet enough to be noticed.
A man at the bar came over to me. Another dashing devil, only this one had blue eyes, and was wearing a crisp white shirt with epaulets. Having dated a pilot once, I knew what those four bars meant: a captain.
“Quite a view,” he said.
“That?” I waved my hand at the panorama.
“That, among other things,” he said. He looked down at my empty glass. “Can I buy you a sunrise?” he said, and I giggled. It sounded salacious to me, but then most things do when I’m manic.
“Maybe,” I said. “What’s your name?”
“Dan,” he said. “And you are..?”
I put a finger to my lips. “Incognito,” I whispered. “So tell me, which airline are you with?”
“I fly corporate,” he said. I’ve never once dated for money, but still: visions of Lear Jets and Gulfstreams flitted before my eyes. At the slightest whim, we might be off to Acapulco or Paris or wherever for the weekend. Imagine all the art I could see, the tales I could tell, the glitz and the glamour of a jet-setting life…
“Yes, you may buy me a drink, Captain Dan.” I heard the rhythmic lilt in my voice, and for a moment, I felt uneasy—but I wasn’t sure why.
He drank Glen Livet, as all men should. I kept to tequila, but switched to shots on his dare. Probably not a wise idea: alcohol is trouble enough on its own, but it instantly kindles my mania, as if a match is being held to my brain. I downed another shot, and fire exploded inside me: oranges and violets and flamingo pinks, as if I’d swallowed the sunset instead.
I felt a hand on my shoulder and turned around: the handsome valet. The two men immediately started sizing each other up. I got in between their glares and said, “This is my old friend, um—I’m sorry, I don’t know your name.”
“David,” he said.
“Dan, meet David,” I said. Or should it be “David, meet Dan”? It was getting awfully hot in there; droplets of sweat snaked down my back, and I was suddenly flushed and confused. Why were they both wearing white uniforms? Should I be wearing one, too?
“Give me a minute to change,” David said. “Hotel policy.”
“Ooh, are we breaking a rule?” I said.
“Not yet,” he said, and he winked. I laughed, but Captain Dan didn’t seem amused.
I watched David leave, and wished I could go with him. His eyes were so dark, they looked like they were rimmed with kohl. They were the eyes of an Arabian prince. I pictured myself swathed in colorful silks, riding bareback with him across desert dunes. Pretty boys were feeding me sweet fresh dates and waving palm fronds across my body to keep me cool…
A jazz combo started playing, annoying and loud. The music inside my head was so much nicer. “It’s suffocating in here,” I said. “Let’s leave a note with the bartender so David can find us.” I scribbled two words on a cocktail napkin and handed it to Captain Dan. He looked at it quizzically. “The ocean?” he said.
“Yes, let’s go for a swim. I need to clear my head.”
“But I don’t have a bathing suit.”
“Neither do I.”
It didn’t take him long to settle our bill after that. When we stepped outside, the night had turned cool and windy. “I need to get my pashmina,” I said. “Back in a flash.” It didn’t occur to me how absurd this was—as if a small, silky shawl could keep the chill off my wet, naked body. Captain Dan leaned against a pillar and lit a cigarette. I spotted David coming up the path behind him. I wondered if I should stay and soothe the tension, but then I figured it would be so much more fun to watch the sparks fly.
I hurried to my room and grabbed my pashmina. A paper came fluttering out from its folds—a page from a legal pad. I’ll deal with it later, I thought, and was starting to put it back into my suitcase when I saw the title, in red ink and all caps: “WARNING! READ IMMEDIATELY!” Uh-oh, I thought. This can’t be fun. But I sat down on the bed, smoothed out the well-worn paper, and read:
If you suspect you’re getting manic, you probably are. You MUST obey these ten sacred rules:
- Don’t change into something sexier. Wear granny panties and flats.
- Don’t make friends with strangers. They’re strangers.
- Don’t drink anything but iced tea—Lipton’s, not Long Island.
- Don’t get naked, except to shower. Alone. And don’t shave your legs.
- Don’t try to beguile attractive men. Or attractive women. Or cops.
- Don’t pull out your credit card for any reason, except if necessary to post bail.
- Don’t call or text or email ever—except, as noted, for bail.
- Don’t cut your hair short. You aren’t Audrey Hepburn.
- Don’t quit your day job.
- Don’t follow your bliss.
My manic cheat sheet. I kept multiple copies of it with me at all times—in my glove compartment, my suitcase, my briefcase, my purse. That must have been the paper that flew away when I fell. I’m supposed to read it every day, but frankly, I forget to when I start to feel high. Or more likely, I don’t want to. But those rules had saved me countless times, from danger and improvidence and self-sabotage and worse. I carried them for a reason, and I reluctantly admitted that I ought to heed their advice.
Thinking wistfully of the two men waiting for me, I kicked off my heels and slipped off my dress, and put on the thick white terry cloth robe provided by the hotel. How perfect: my very own white uniform. Was I being rude? No, I was being safe. I locked the door and shut off the lights and pretended that I hadn’t done any real harm—or at least, not too much. Maybe—but it was also safe.
Excerpted from MODERN MADNESS: An Owner’s Manual by Terri Cheney. Copyright © 2020. Available from Hachette Books, an imprint of Hachette Book Group, Inc.
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
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!
Images: Gift Habeshaw / Unsplash; Amazon (7)