For anyone that loves Big Little Lies, Mean Girls, and Desperate Housewives, May Cobb’s upcoming suspense novel The Hunting Wives is our newest obsession, as it’s being hailed as a Desperate Housewives set in Texas. In the novel, out May 18, 2021, protagonist Sophie O’Neill moves from her big-city life in Chicago to a small town in east Texas with her husband and young son. After settling down, she realizes her life is now quiet and boring, and she looks 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. As Sophie’s involvement intensifies, she starts slipping away from her family as she finds herself in the middle of a murder investigation, and loses control over her own life.
Based in Austin, Texas, May Cobb is a novelist and freelance writer. Back in 2015, she won the Writer’s League of Texas Manuscript Contest. Her debut novel Big Woods (2018) was awarded as an Independent Publisher Book Award for Suspense/Thriller. Her writing has also been featured in Austin Monthly and the online edition of Jazz Times. The Hunting Wives comes out May 18, 2021, which I know feels like it’s a million lightyears away—but not to worry, because Betches readers can read an exclusive excerpt below. Preorder The Hunting Wives here.
(Brief setup: This takes place after Sophie’s first time skeet shooting with the Hunting Wives group and their Regina-George-esque leader, Margot, wants to keep the party going.)
Back inside, the lake house feels glaring after the darkness of the trail. Margot sinks the wine into a silver ice bucket and twists the bottle around, chilling it. Callie fetches wineglasses from the cabinet, and fills each glass to the brim.
We toast and sip, but I only take the smallest of sips so I can safely drive home. Margot tosses back half her glass and sets it on the bar.
“So…who wants to go hunting?”
“Always,” Callie says, winding a lock of coarse hair around her finger.
“I’m in!” Tina trills, rocking back and forth on her feet, her coal-black eyes squinting in a smile.
“Where?” Jill asks, demure, her face half-hidden behind her huge wineglass.
“I was thinking Rusty’s,” Margot says.
Jill sets her glass down, crosses her arms.
“Oh, please, Jilly! It’s been forever. Don’t pout. I’ll behave, I promise.” Margot goes over to Jill, puts her arm around her. There’s a perceptible shift in Jill’s demeanor, a small succumbing to Margot’s power.
I have no idea what they’re talking about, but suddenly they’re all looking at me. I take another small sip of wine, swish it around in my mouth.
“Who wants to tell her the rules?” Margot asks, her hip cocked against Jill’s, her exquisitely-shaped eyebrows hiked in a question mark.
“I will,” Callie says. This is the first time she’s addressed me directly, and there’s a trace of a sneer in her expression.
“Rules about what?” I ask, nervously giggling, clasping my wine glass.
“Oh, please,” Callie rolls her eyes. “Don’t act like you’re not bored in your marriage.”
“Maybe she’s not,” Margot says, her voice playful. “Her husband’s a hottie.”
The flush of alcohol and Margot’s hooded eyes on me make my face flame.
“I think everyone here is a little bored, except for Jill,” Callie says.
“Yeah, Jilly, what did Amazon bring you this week? Do tell.” Margot’s unwrapped herself from Jill and crosses over the bar to refresh her wine. “I want to hear all about your latest toy.”
I catch myself gawking at Jill and quickly look away before she notices.
“Ooooh, a new toy,” Callie says. “What role is Tom going to play? Will he be the police officer this time or the victim?” Callie snickers.
“You only wish you still had sex with your husband,” Jill fires back.
For some reason, Callie answers to me, “He chases me around the house, but I’m over it.”
She stretches her long legs across the length of the sofa, takes another mouthful of wine.
“So anyway, we’re all a little bored and have to let it out somehow.”
“Monogamy is so…monogamous,” Margot chimes.
The cold blast from the air conditioning has fogged up the windows, so I can’t see the lake anymore behind Callie, only the clouds of condensation frosting the glass.
My stomach registers a red-hot signal of danger; I don’t know how I feel about all this. Graham and I have never been anything but monogamous and I’m certainly not bored with him. Am I? I’m just bored, I think. But if that’s the case, why am I so drawn to Margot and why can’t I get her out of my head? If I’m honest, there’s part of me that, despite the sense of alarm that looms in the air, likes listening to them. It excites me. Makes me feel alive. Maybe the most alive I’ve felt since moving back. No, not maybe. Definitely.
“So. The rules.” Callie sits up now, rests her elbows on her knees. “There’s only two, really. We only use our first names. And, we don’t go all the way.”
I nod dumbly as if being read the instructions to a board game.
“So, you’re in,” Callie says matter-of-factly.
Again, that pinprick of danger at the back of my neck. And before I have a chance to respond, Margot fishes a set of keys off the wooden coffee table, stashes her Louis Vuitton clutch under her arm, and heads for the front door.
“I’m driving. Everyone load up,” she says and everyone rises and trails her to the entryway.
I take out my phone and check the time. 8:45. I should go home; I know I should. I certainly don’t want to get trapped all night by riding in Margot’s car. But then, I don’t want them to think I’m a scaredy-cat, either.
“I’ll follow in my own car,” I hear myself saying. My voice squeaks out of high-pitched and thin.
Margot freezes, turns around, and frowns at me.
“Early day tomorrow,” I say, casting my eyes toward the floor.
She twists back around and steps out the open door. “Suit yourself.” The others trickle out behind her. I follow.
Everyone is weaving towards Margot’s Mercedes but Tina spins around.
“I’ll ride with Sophie! In case she gets lost.”
Before Tina climbs in the Highlander, I dust a constellation of Cheerios off her seat. How Jack manages to scatter them everywhere, I’ll never understand. Tina’s perfume, powdery and floral, fills the cabin and she’s so buoyant, she seems to spring into the seat next to me.
Her husband, Bill, she tells me with a lick of pride, lifting her voice, is a home-builder. One of the biggest contractors in Mapleton. They live in a sparkling new development north of town. I’ve driven by and it’s all castle-like homes with spires and arched windows.
As we wind through the lake roads, tracking the red eyes of Margot’s taillights, I’m struck by how utterly dark it is out here and I notice, as we approach the country highway, that Margot is turning away from town, not toward it.
“So, what’s Rusty’s?” I ask.
“Oh, it’s a little honky-tonk on the outskirts of town. Margot likes to pick out-of-way spots. For obvious reasons.” She flicks down the mirror on the visor and applies a fresh coat of pink lipstick. “We don’t go much, though.”
“Hunting or to Rusty’s?”
She scrunches her curls with her fingers, studies her hair in the mirror.
“I was talking about Rusty’s specifically, but we don’t go hunting that often either. Maybe twice a month. But sometimes more. Depends on Margot’s mood,” she adds, snapping the mirror shut and darkening the interior of the car. “Margot’s appetite for men is insatiable. You’ll see.”
I instantly like and feel comfortable with her but chew my bottom lip as I ask the next question. “So, do you, you know,” I’m fumbling, can’t spit the words out.
“What? Cheat on my husband?” she asks, her voice bright and cavernous. “No. I mean, I kissed another guy once, the first time I went out with them, actually, but I hated myself for it. Bill and I are high school sweethearts. I can’t imagine being with anyone else. So, no. I’m just here to watch the train wreck.” She rubs her hands together in excitement.
The highway is empty but well-lit. Giant trees surf past us, cut by the strobe of fluorescent streetlights.
“Anyway, Margot’s in some kind of constant war with her husband, a who can one-up each other battle. Have you ever seen him?”
I shake my head no, though of course, I’ve seen him on Facebook. Just never in person. Those scorching eyes, his bronzed complexion.
“Well, he’s gorgeous. I mean, dead hot. But Jed cheated on her once in such a stupidly-typical way, with his secretary. Got caught, too, in a stupidly-typical way: sloppy texting. Margot paid the poor girl a visit to her apartment and ran her out of town. This was three years ago, but Margot does everything she can to punish him still,” she snorts, shakes her head. “She keeps him under lock and key. I’m pretty sure he hasn’t stepped out of line since, but Margot surely has.”
Tina’s fingers dance over the screen of my satellite radio. “Oooh, I love this song, mind if I turn it up?”
It’s “Brass Monkey” by the Beastie Boys and after she cranks the volume, she lowers her window and warm night air oozes through the car.
“Nights like these,” she shouts over the music, “I feel like I’m eighteen again!”
I roll my window down, too, and we both dance in our seats to the music.
As the song ends, I realize we’ve lost sight of Margot. I turn down the volume.
“Ummm, I don’t see them anymore.”
“No sweat, we’re almost there, just one last turn.”
I roll my window up, smooth my hair down, re-adjust my bra.
“So, what’s Callie’s story?”
Tina pauses for a second, seeming to consider as she fingers the silver hoop dangling from her ear. “She doesn’t like anyone who Margot might like. If you’re getting chilly vibes from her, that’s why. I think it was a full six months before she even acknowledged me. Just ignore her.”
We’re approaching a light. Tina waves for me to turn left. We head down a two-lane road.
“She’s all Single-White Female with Margot. Lives on the opposite end of the street from her, and drives the same make and model car. She wants to be her; she’s a bit obsessed with her. Her husband Trip is just a big oaf with a lot of family money. Fishes all the time. Manages the family finances. Could pass for okay-looking, though, if he dropped some weight.”
(I’ve seen him, too, on Facebook. Sort of a heavy, pasty Ben Affleck.)
I see the lights of the bar flickering in the distance. I slow the car and pull into the gravel parking lot.
“Callie and Margot went away together senior year of high school. Left Mapleton and went to that chi-chi boarding school in Dallas called Hockaday. Jill told me once that there were rumors that they were “together” while they were away. Not sure if there were ever a thing between them but Callie sure acts like it.”
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)
Need something light and fun to brighten up your week? Maybe a breezy read that could help you believe in love again? I’ve got just the thing. Emily Henry, author of 2016’s The Love That Split The World, is back with her newest novel, Beach Read, and it’s a total “title checks out” moment. I know it’s still winter, but picking up this novel will make you feel like you’re on vacation.
Beach Read is a classic story of “girl meets boy, girl hates boy, girl is pretty sure boy hates her too when in fact that’s not at all the case and they end up falling in love”. But nerds like me will love the cute literary twist, which is that both characters are writers. January, the protagonist, writes romance novels (how meta) and Gus, the guy she kinda-sorta hates, writes sad boi fiction. As I mentioned in my 2020 reading list, they make a bet to attempt to write each other’s genres, and ~things happen~ in the process.
Beach Read is Emily Henry’s adult fiction debut, and the praise is already rolling in. Sally Thorne, USA Today bestselling author if The Hating Game, called it “sparkling bright”, and Jasmine Guillory, New York Times bestselling author of The Proposal (and Betches fave The Wedding Party), raves, “I closed this book with a satisfied sigh.” Beach Read is out May 19, so you can preorder it now, but Betches readers can get an exclusive first look below.
When I jerked awake, the room was dark, and there was music blasting through it.
I stood and ambled, dazed and gin-fogged, toward the knife block in the kitchen. I hadn’t heard of a serial killer who began each murder by rousing the victim with R.E.M.’s “Everybody Hurts” but I really couldn’t rule the possibility out.
As I moved toward the kitchen, the music dimmed, and I realized it was coming from the other side of the house. From the Grump’s house.
I looked toward the glowing numbers on the stove. Twelve thirty at night, and my neighbor was blasting a song most often heard in dated dramedies wherein the protagonist walks home alone, hunched against the rain.
I stormed toward the window and thrust my upper body through it. The Grump’s windows were open too, and I could see a swath of bodies lit up in the kitchen, holding glasses and mugs and bottles, leaning lazy heads on shoulders, looping arms around necks as the whole group sang along with fervor.
It was a raging party. So apparently the Grump didn’t hate all people, just me. I cupped my mouth around my hands and yelled out the window, “EXCUSE ME!”
I tried twice more with no response then slammed the window closed and circled the first floor, snapping the others shut. When I was finished, it still sounded pretty much like R.E.M. was playing a concert on my coffee table.
And then, for a beautiful moment, the song stopped and the sounds of the party, laughter and chatter and bottles clinking, dipped to a static murmur.
And then it started again.
The same song. Even louder. Oh God. As I pulled my sweatpants back on, I contemplated the advantages of calling the police with a noise complaint. On the one hand, I might maintain plausible deniability with my neighbor. (Oh, ’twas not I who called the constable! I am but a young woman of nine and twenty, not a crotchety old spinster who loathes laughter, fun, song, and dance!) On the other, ever since I lost my dad, I’d had a harder and harder time forgiving small offenses.
I threw on my pizza-print sweatshirt and stormed out the front door, marching up the neighbor’s steps. Before I could second-guess myself, I’d reached for the doorbell.
It rang out in the same powerful baritone as a grandfather clock, cutting through the music, but the singing didn’t stop. I counted to ten, then rang it again. Inside, the voices didn’t even waver. If the partygoers heard the doorbell, they were ignoring it.
I pounded on the door for a few more seconds before accepting no one was coming, then turned to stomp home. One o’ clock, I decided. I’d give them until one before I called the cops.
The music was even louder in the house than I remembered, and in the few minutes since I’d shut the windows, the temperature had risen to a sticky swelter. With nothing better to do, I grabbed a paperback from my bag and headed for the deck, fumbling for the light switches inside the sliding door.
My fingers hit them but nothing happened. The bulbs outside were dead. Reading by phone light, at one in the morning, on the deck of my father’s second home it was! I stepped out, skin tingling from the refreshing chill of the breeze coming off the water.
The Grump’s deck was dark too, except for a lone fluorescent bulb surrounded by clumsy moths, which was why I nearly screamed when something moved in the shadows.
And by nearly screamed, I of course mean definitely screamed.
“Jesus!” The shadowy thing gasped and shot up from the chair where it had been sitting. And by shadowy thing, I of course mean man who’d been chilling in the dark until I scared the shit out of him. “What, what?” he demanded, like he expected me to announce that he was covered in scorpions.
If he had been, this would be less awkward.
“Nothing!” I said, still breathing hard from the surprise. “I didn’t see you there!”
“You didn’t see me here?” he repeated. He gave a scratchy, disbelieving laugh. “Really? You didn’t see me, on my own deck?”
Technically, I didn’t see him now either. The porch light was a few feet behind and above him, transforming him into nothing but a tallish, person-shaped silhouette with a halo ringing his dark, messy hair. At this point, it would probably be better if I managed to go the whole summer without having to make eye contact with him anyway.
“Do you also scream when cars drive past on the highway or you spot people through restaurant windows? Would you mind blacking out all our perfectly aligned windows so you don’t accidentally see me when I’m holding a knife or a razor?”
I crossed my arms viciously over my chest. Or tried to. The gin was still making me a little fuzzy and clumsy.
What I meant to say—what the old January would’ve said—was Could you possibly turn your music down a little bit? Actually, she probably would’ve just slathered herself in glitter, put on her favorite velvet loafers, and shown up at the front door with a bottle of champagne, determined to win the Grump over.
But so far, this was the third worst day of my life, and that January was probably buried wherever they put the old Taylor Swift, so what I actually said was “Could you turn off your sad-boy angsting soundtrack?”
The silhouette laughed and leaned against his deck railing, his beer bottle dangling from one hand. “Does it look like I’m the one running the playlist?”
“No, it looks like you’re the one sitting in the dark alone at his own party,” I said, “but when I rang the doorbell to ask your frat brothers to turn down the volume, they couldn’t hear me over the Jell-O wrestling, so I’m asking you.”
He studied me through the dark for a minute—or at least, I assumed that was what he was doing, since neither of us could actually see the other.
Finally, he said, “Look, no one will be more thrilled than me when this night ends and everyone gets out of my house, but it is a Saturday night. In summer, on a street full of vacation homes. Unless this neighborhood got airlifted to the little town from Footloose, it doesn’t seem crazy to play music this late. And maybe—just maybe—the brand-new neighbor who stood on her deck screaming foot job so loud birds scattered could afford to be lenient if one miserable party goes later than she’d like.”
Now it was my turn to stare at the dark blob.
God, he was right. He was a grump, but so was I. Karyn and Sharyn’s vitamin-powder pyramid-scheme parties went later than this, and those were on weeknights, usually when Jacques had a shift at the ER the next morning. Sometimes I’d even attended those parties, and now I couldn’t even handle Saturday-night group karaoke?
And worst of all, before I could figure out what to say, the Grump’s house went miraculously silent. Through his illuminated back doors, I could see the crowd breaking up, hugging, saying goodbyes, setting down cups, and putting on jackets.
I’d argued with this guy for nothing, and now I’d have to live next to him for months. If I needed sugar, I was going to be shit out of luck.
I wanted to apologize for the sad-man angst comment, or at least for these goddamn pants. These days, my reactions always felt outsized, and there was no easy way to explain them when strangers had the bad fortune of witnessing them.
Sorry, I imagined myself saying, I didn’t mean to transform into a crotchety grandmother. It’s just my dad died and then I found out he had a mistress and a second house and that my mom knew but never told me and she still won’t talk to me about any of it, and when I finally came apart, my boyfriend decided he didn’t love me anymore, and my career has stalled, and my best friend lives too far away, and PS this is the aforementioned Sex House, and I used to like parties but lately I don’t like anything, so please forgive my behavior and have a lovely evening. Thank you and good night.
Instead, that knife-twisting pain hit my gut, and tears stung the back of my nose, and my voice squeaked pathetically as I said to no one in particular, “I’m so tired.”
Even silhouetted as he was, I could tell he went rigid. I’d learned it wasn’t uncommon for people to do that when they intuited a woman was on the verge of emotional collapse. In the last few weeks of our relationship, Jacques was like one of those snakes that can sense an earthquake, going taut whenever my emotions rose, then deciding we needed something from the bodega and rushing out the door.
My neighbor didn’t say anything, but he didn’t rush away either. He just stood there awkwardly, staring at me through the pitch-dark. We faced off for easily five seconds, waiting to see what would happen first: me bursting into tears or him running away.
And then the music started blaring again, a Carly Rae Jepsen banger that, under different circumstances, I loved, and the Grump startled.
He glanced back through the sliding doors, then to me again. He cleared his throat. “I’ll kick them out,” he said stiffly, then turned and went inside, a unanimous cheer of “EVERETT!” rising from the crowd in the kitchen at the sight of him.
They sounded ready to hoist him up into a keg stand, but I could see him leaning over to shout to a blonde girl, and a moment later, the music fell silent for good.
Well. Next time I needed to make an impression, I might be better off with a plate of LSD cookies.
Excerpted from Beach Read by Emily Henry, published by Berkley, an imprint of Penguin Publishing Group, a division of Penguin Random House, LLC. Copyright © 2020