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
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.”
I’ve read a lot of thrillers, and let me tell you, after a certain point it feels like if you’ve read one, you’ve read them all. Often times, I feel like, for whatever reason, every single author writing a mystery in the same year uses the same twist (the narrator suffered from amnesia all along, two sisters switch places). It’s like, do they all meet at a convention beforehand and discuss the twist of the year? That said, it’s rare that a thriller surprises me. Yeah, I’m that person who knows who the perp is within 15 minutes of a Law & Order: SVU episode. So when I picked up Don’t Look For Me, the buzzy new suspenseful novel by Wendy Walker out September 15, I wasn’t expecting much. But let me say that I was taken aback by at least one of the curveballs in the novel, and I definitely didn’t predict who did it. (Hey, you can’t win ’em all.)
Wendy Walker is the bestselling author of All is Not Forgotten, Emma In the Night, and The Night Before, with rights sold in 23 foreign languages as well as options in film and television. In her latest thriller, Don’t Look For Me, a mom with a past that’s been weighing on her is trapped in a storm in a small town, when she considers running away from it all. Then, she goes missing. The police are convinced she ran away, but her daughter is not so sure, and is determined to find the truth at any cost. Betches readers can get an exclusive first look at the first chapter of Don’t Look For Me, and be sure to pre-order it before its release on September 15.
The sky grows dark as I drive.
I tell myself to concentrate, to focus on the two narrow lanes of smooth, black asphalt and the double yellow lines that divide them.
The road feels like a tunnel, carved between walls of brown cornfields which flank the road on both sides and go on as far as the eye can see.
Darkness now hovers above and below, and from side to side. It’s everywhere.
I hear the woman on the radio talk of the storm, but she is muted by thoughts that will not relent as the events of this terrible day unravel in my mind.
This stretch of Route 7 passes through an endless chain of small New England towns—not the quaint villages farther south, but the old industrial hubs that have been left to decay.
Neglected farmland, dilapidated houses, abandoned factories—they stand like tombstones. I wonder where people live. Where they buy groceries. Where they work and go out to dinner. Why they don’t leave.
The unease causes my shoulders to rise and my back to straighten. It’s the same every time I pass through. These towns will haunt me well into the night.
There’s a gas station up ahead. The Gas n’ Go. It sits at the intersection of Route 7 and an eerie road that leads to the heart of one of these towns. I have never been down that road, and I don’t ever intend to. Still, this seems to be the spot where outsiders find themselves in need of gas as they journey from southern Connecticut into western Massachusetts. There must be half a dozen boarding schools and small colleges which are accessed from Route 7. Sometimes I recognize cars, even faces, when I have to stop.
And I will have to stop today. The gas light has been on for miles now.
After the Gas n’ Go, it’s two hours to my home at the southern end of the state. I have already passed the green welcome sign. Welcome to Connecticut.
It will be just after nine. My husband, John, will likely be out. At the gym. At work. Having drinks with a friend. My daughter, Nicole, will also be out somewhere. Anywhere that’s not near me. She just turned twenty-one so she has options now. Options that keep me up at night, watching the clock. Listening for the door.
The dogs will bark and jump on my coat. They’ll only want food. They save their affection for my husband. He was the one who brought them home after Annie died, so they’ve been his dogs more than mine.
The house will smell like Fantastik and lavender dryer sheets because it’s Thursday, and on Thursday the cleaners come. I wonder if they’ll remember to clear the ashes from the fireplace in our bedroom. It’s late October and cold enough for a fire. John likes to sit in bed with the fire burning while he watches television. He had one going last night. He was asleep by the time I made it up the stairs, though now I remember that the fire had a fresh log. Conclusions are quick to follow and one hand now covers my gaping mouth.
Am I too sensitive? Am I just being too me, too Molly? I hear these thoughts with John’s voice. Stop being so Molly. He has come to use my name as an adjective that allows him to dismiss me. But, no—I’m not wrong about the log on the fire. He was pretending to be asleep.
The day unravels and I can’t stop my thoughts.
My son, Evan, attends one of the boarding schools off this road. He was recruited as a freshman to play football. He’s a junior now, and a starting lineman this season. I make this trip every other Thursday to watch his home games. The season is half over and they are leading the ranks. They may win the entire league this year.
The drive is four hours each way. John tells me I’m crazy to make the trip twice a month. He tells me Evan doesn’t care. Nicole has harsher words for me. She tells me Evan doesn’t want me there. That I embarrass him by going. That he’s not a little boy anymore and he doesn’t need his mommy watching him play.
He has changed. She’s right about that. He knows the power he has on the field. I hadn’t seen it before today. It was in his stance, his walk. It was in his eyes.
And it was in his cruelty. I wonder when that began. If it’s new. Or only new that I can see it.
I waited for him outside the field house where the team enters the locker room. I picture him now, as the day plays out again, slowly, painfully.
How he walked with his friends, the enormous bag hanging over his shoulder, high-tops unlaced, baseball hat turned backward, and a mischievous smile that probably had something to do with talk about a girl.
In that moment, before his eyes caught sight of me and his face changed, I felt my heart fill with pride.
These thoughts come, and like the log on the fire, they don’t go. My boy, my sweet Evan, the easy middle child, walking like he owned the world. A smile pulled clear across my face as I waited for his eyes to turn and see me at the door.
And they did turn. And they did see.
And then they widened and looked away. He grew closer, and still, they did not return to me. He positioned himself between two of his friends and passed through the door, leaving me in awe of his dismissiveness.
It is just now, one hundred and eleven miles later, that I feel the bite of it.
My vision blurs. I wipe away tears. Christ, I hear John. Stop being so Molly! He’s a teenager.
But the thought won’t leave, this image of his back turned as he walked into the building.
I look up at the dark clouds stirring in the sky and see the sign for the Gas n’ Go sitting atop a giant pole. The storm is a hurricane. I am driving right into its path.
John said this was another reason I shouldn’t make the trip today. The school could cancel the game if the storm got too close, and even if they didn’t, I would surely run into it on the way home.
The storm, Evan not caring.
And Annie. He stopped short of saying it, but the words lingered between us.
Today is the anniversary of her death. Five years ago, on this day, we lost our youngest child. She was nine years old.
No. I will not think of Annie. I will not go backward. I will go forward.
Put one foot in front of the other.
I learned this in grief counseling. I used to be a middle school science teacher, where the focus is on learning to analyze problems by breaking them down into pieces and forming hypotheses—so I studied the grief this way. Objectively. Clinically. We are not wired to witness the death of a child. To endure it. To survive it. But like every other human defect, we have used science to outsmart our own biology. We can take a brain that is shredded ear to ear and we can put it back together with mantras like this one. Mantras that have been tested in clinical trials. Vetted in peer articles and TED Talks and now appear in self-help books.
You just put one foot in front of the other, Molly. Every day, just one more step.
Had I not had other children to care for, I would not have been able to take these steps. I would have died. Let myself die. Found a way to die. The pain was not survivable. And yet I survived.
But the day continues to unravel, back now, to the morning.
Nicole was just coming in from one of her nights. I don’t know where she slept. Her skin has gone pale, her hair long and unruly. She’s become lean from running. She runs for miles and miles. She runs until she is numb, head to toe. Inside and out. Then she sleeps all day. Stays out all night. She is a lean, fierce, unruly warrior. And yet the pain still gets inside her.
Where have you been all night? I asked. The usual exchange followed, about how this was none of my business … but it was my business because she’s living in my house and what about her GED class and trying to dig herself out of this hole … but it’s my fault she’s in the hole; she’s in the hole because of Annie and her grief and because not everyone can just get over it … but when is she going to stop using her sister’s death as an excuse for getting expelled from her private school senior year, never going back?
She shrugged, looked me straight in the eye. When did she become like this? This soldier, ready to fight off anyone who comes too close?
What about you? When are you going back to work? she asked.
She likes to remind me that I, too, stopped living—breathing, yes, but not really living.
I had no response to my daughter this morning. I had no response to my son this afternoon.
I didn’t even see Evan after the game. I waited by the door but he must have gone out a different way. I almost marched straight to his dorm to tell him what I thought of his behavior. To do what a mother does when she knows she’s right and when her child needs to learn a lesson.
The sign for the Gas n’ Go grows closer, the clouds darker as these thoughts come. I didn’t find him. I didn’t do what I now think a mother should have done. A good mother.
Suddenly, I know why.
The car slows. I step on the gas, but it doesn’t respond.
I am not a good mother.
I can’t hold them back now, the thoughts of my dead child. Annie. Not that they ever really leave me. They are always lurking, hiding, wearing disguises so I don’t see them as they sneak up.
I steer to the shoulder. The wheel is stiff. The car is dead. When it stops, I try the ignition, but it won’t turn over.
I see the message on the dashboard. I have run out of gas.
How long has the light been on? I have been preoccupied by this day. By these thoughts. John was right. I should not have made this trip. Not today.
I look down Route 7 and see the entrance for the station. It can’t be more than thirty feet. The wind whips hard, rocking the car. I can see the rain coming on an army of clouds. A blanket closing over the sky. I can’t tell how far away they are. How much time I have.
Thoughts exploding. Heart pounding. What have I done?
Now comes the thought about the fire last night. We have four fireplaces in our house, all of them wood burning. I have been making fires and stoking fires since we moved there twelve years ago. I know what a log looks like when it’s just been placed on top of the flames.
I have no umbrella, just a flimsy jacket. I put it on anyway. I reach for my purse and tuck it inside. It’s only thirty feet.
I open the door, get out, close it behind me. And I run, clutching the purse. I run into the wind which is more powerful than I imagined.
I run and think about that log which had just been put there—last night—on the fire. John wasn’t asleep. John was pretending to be asleep so he wouldn’t have to see me, even just long enough to say good night.
It’s not the first time.
Flashes of the fight with Nicole break free as my body pushes through the wind. We fight every day now.
Open your eyes!
The fight had been so fast and furious, I had not processed each word. But I do now.
They are open. I see you clear as day, Nicole.
Not to me. To your own husband!
I can’t see what’s right in front of me. He never comes home for dinner. He pretends to be asleep when I come into our bedroom.
My husband doesn’t love me anymore. My husband loves someone else.
This thought feels old, like a jagged stone I’ve been carrying in my coat pocket, trying to rub it smooth. But no matter how much I dig my fingers in, the edges never soften.
And then, the words I had not heard before, but had felt many times. Still, hearing them from my own daughter twisted the knife.
I hate you!
Tears fall as I run.
Annie. Wispy blond hair resting on delicate shoulders. Big, round eyes and long lashes. I can still feel her in my arms. Her life just beginning. Annie.
And now I know why the thoughts have all come. They have been leading me to this one, last thought. This naked admission.
I am not a good mother because I did not drive four hours to watch my son play football so that he would feel loved. I drove four hours so that I could feel loved.
The log in that fireplace. My daughter’s words. I hate you.
Evan was all that was left. I had to see his face, see him thriving, so I could validate my life.
Gasps of breath. The wind is strong and the air cold. My lungs are on fire.
Maybe Evan knew. Maybe he could sense it seeping from my skin. The need I wanted him to fill which must have felt like poison. A mother shouldn’t need things from her child.
I caused Nicole’s demise. She is certain of it and it now feels real, though disorienting. I went to my son under false pretenses, caused him pain. Caused him to lash out with cruelty. My husband pretends to sleep so he won’t have to look at me.
Yes, I think as the grief spins violently in my head. I am a bad mother. This is an objective fact. There’s no way around it.
I let a child die.
I am at the entrance to the Gas n’ Go. I look up and see there are no cars. No lights on inside the store. Orange cones stand in front of the pumps.
The rain comes suddenly. The blanket covering the sky is now a broken dam. It’s dark but I can still see the writing on a cardboard sign. Closed for storm!
I stop and let the rain wash over me as I stare at these words.
Evan, Nicole, John. I am a burden to them now because they don’t love me. Because they can’t love me.
It’s been five years to this very day that they stopped.
Five years since Annie died.
Five years since she ran into the road.
Five years since I struck her with my car. Since I killed her.
Tears, rain, wind. I walk a few paces to the intersection, to the road, Hastings Pass, that leads to the town. There is nothing but pavement and dirt riding over hills, and the dead cornstalks in fields that go on and on. Not another car in sight.
The hurricane is a category four. That’s what they said on the radio. I remember the voices now. I remember the name of this town. Hastings. I have driven into the eye of the storm. I hear the mantra in my head. Don’t give up. I feel the weight of my guilt like a rock I hold above my head. How I fight to keep it from falling. I think now that maybe it’s time. Maybe I can just let it fall.
Maybe I can just walk away.
These words bring a sudden, jarring euphoria.
Walk away. Just walk away.
The road with the brown cornfields, darkened by the angry storm, is now a thing of beauty. An oasis. An escape. My legs begin to move, pulling my body. My mind is in a trance. Sedated by these words and the promises they offer.
You can leave all of this behind.
You can start again.
You can put down the rock, the burden you carry.
I walk along this road until I am part of the storm. Numb to the wet. Numb to the cold. Numb to the truth about the promises. And for the first time since I killed my child, I am at peace.
Please let me go. Let me walk away. I feel the words in my head like a prayer.
Please, they whisper. Don’t look for me.
I don’t know how long I walk, or how far, when I see light coming from behind. I turn to find headlights moving slowly toward me. They’re high and bright. It’s a truck of some kind. Tall but also long. And in spite of the trance I am in and the peace it has brought, I feel both of my arms rise above my head and wave wildly, the purse still clutched in one hand.
The truck pulls in front of me and comes to a stop.
I walk closer until I am inches beside the passenger window. There are two figures inside.
I make a shield with my hand, just above my eyes to keep the rain from my face. I lean in closer and see the window come down a few inches.
“The storm’s coming, you know—you shouldn’t be out here.” It’s a man’s voice. Friendly. But also urgent. “Do you want a ride to town?”
Another voice calls from the truck. The window comes down a few more inches.
The voice of a little girl. The face of an angel.
“Well? Do you or don’t you?” she asks.
I stare at her, at her blond hair and bright eyes, and beyond her to the man.
I stare at her, this young girl, and, God help me, for a split second I see my dead child.
And then I see this road for what it truly is. A mirage. An illusion. And the words that caused my legs to carry me away from my life—liars. Their promises nothing more than cheap deceptions.
The guilt will never leave me. I will never leave my family.
“Yes,” I say.
The passenger window of the truck closes and the girl disappears. But now I hear the click of the locks opening. I reach for the handle of the door to the second row, desperate to be out of the storm. Desperate to get back to my family. To forget what I have almost done. This storm might have killed me. The wind and the cold. Then the guilt would be theirs to carry. John, Nicole, Evan. How could I be that selfish after everything I’ve already done to them? I will never think of it again.
I climb inside, close the door. Relief fighting with despair.
And before I can clear the rain from my eyes and see what’s really before me, I hear the click again. The doors locking.
Copyright © 2020 by Wendy Walker
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)
At a certain point, you start to feel like if you’ve read one thriller, you’ve read them all. The characters bleed together, even the most “shocking” of twists can be seen from 200 pages away, and if you have to read one more word in the first person narrative, you’ll scream. I know because I’ve thought this many a time. Even the titles of every thriller are the same. The ____ Girl. The _____ Wife. Are we as a society just out of new ideas? Fortunately, no. I’ve rounded up the best thrillers I’ve read this year with an ending you actually won’t see coming. And I promise, no spoilers. Stock up just in time for Halloween, because these reads will seriously haunt you.
‘The Starter Wife’ by Nina Lauren
I know, I know The ____ Wife. I was suspicious myself because the title is so overdone, but let me tell you, this is nothing like the Debra Messing USA original series of the same name. It’s kind of like Gone Girl but not (you’ll see why once you read it). But, even though the ending of this book was one I’ve read before, the ride was not predictable. This one’s about Claire, who marries hot English professor Byron. Claire is seemingly happy with her husband, but finds reminders of his late first wife, Colleen, everywhere. When she suddenly gets a call from Colleen, she tries to find out what exactly happened and how deeply implicated her husband is.
‘I Know Everything’ by Matthew Farrell
I Know Everything was seriously haunting, and even though the twist itself has been done before, I promise you haven’t seen it done in this way. Also, there were so many twists that even if you predicted one of them, there’s no way you figured out every single one. When a rich woman dies in a car accident, it seems like an open-and-shut case for Detective Susan Adler. But then details start emerging about the accident, and the woman’s husband, who stands to gain everything from her death—and suddenly, things aren’t so simple. I can pretty much guarantee you that you won’t solve the murder before Detective Adler. Warning, though: do not finish this book at night, or else you will not be able to sleep.
‘A Stranger on the Beach’ by Michele Campbell
In this tale of alternating perspectives, you’ll be constantly questioning who’s telling the truth and who’s an unreliable narrator. In this novel, rich Caroline hooks up with blue-collar Aidan after finding out her husband is lying to her, and possibly having an affair. To Caroline, her affair with Aidan is just physical, an escape from her marital problems. But Aidan falls hard and fast—and doesn’t want to let go, either. How hard will he hold on?
‘The Perfect Wife’ by JP Delaney
So I read on the back that this was about A.I. and I was like “ugh, pass,” but then I gave it a try and was really pleasantly surprised. The book opens with Abby Cullen-Scott waking up in the hospital—only to quickly learn that she’s not actually Abby Cullen-Scott, but a robot made in her likeness to replace the real Abby Cullen-Scott, who died in a mysterious accident. Or did she? A.I. Abby has to race against the clock to find out what happened to Human Abby before the same thing maybe happens to her.
‘The Runaway’ by Hollie Overton
If you want a thriller that feels more grounded in reality than others, pick up The Runaway by Hollie Overton. Taking place in LA, it toggles between the POV of Ash, a formerly homeless foster teen, and Becca, her soon-to-be-adoptive mother who also works as a psychiatrist for the LAPD. All seems to be going well until Ash up and disappears, and it’s up to Becca to find her, with or without the LAPD’s approval or help. What at first seems to be a normal expression of teenage angst quickly reveals the dark underbelly of life on the streets.
‘Tell Me Everything’ by Cambria Brockman
Protagonist/narrator Malin starts college at an elite private school, and finds herself friends with a pretty diverse group of kids who all seem fun, but they all have their secrets. At the end of the book, someone will wind up dead. Throughout the book, you’ll discover what everyone in this group that seems to have it all is hiding. There are so many surprises in Tell Me Everything that I’m pretty sure it’s mathematically impossible for anyone to get them all.
‘The Perfect Son’ by Lauren North
Following her husband’s tragic death, Tess Clarke wakes up in the hospital after her son Jamie’s 8th birthday. She knows he’s gone missing, but nobody believes her. Nobody is there for Tess except her best friend Shelly, who suspiciously became a huge part of her life right after her husband’s death. Alternating between the past and the days leading up to Jamie’s fateful 8th birthday, Lauren North takes the reader on a race against the clock.
‘Lost You’ by Haylen Beck
Libby has wanted a baby for as long as she can remember. Her dreams finally come true when Ethan arrives, even though it’s at the expense of her marriage. A hardworking and dedicated mother, Libby never gives herself a break. But when her friends convince her she deserves a vacation, she thinks “why not?” and books a trip with Ethan to a resort. The first few days of the trip go great, until the end of the third day, when Ethan is kidnapped. Libby’s worst fear has officially come to life. But she can’t find Ethan without confronting her past and risking losing him forever.
‘The Swallows’ by Lisa Lutz
This isn’t a thriller in the traditional sense, but there is mystery and intrigue and by the end of the novel, someone ends up dead. Also, Lisa Lutz is one of my favorite writers and wrote one of my favorite thrillers, The Passenger, so I’m going to show her some love here regardless. Anyway. The Swallows takes place at a New England prep school that has a secret underground subculture fueled by misogyny. Sound familiar? But the girls at the school are getting tired of this system. When a new teacher comes, she gives the women hope that they can finally end this gross culture once and for all. But where there’s a boy’s club, there are generations of men who have benefited from a system of misogyny, and they don’t want to give that up without a fight. And boy, is there a fight—and, like I said, someone winds up dead.
‘Take It Back’ by Kia Abdullah
Take It Back is more of a legal thriller than a true thriller with, like, murder, but there’s plenty of suspense and mystery nonetheless. In this classic tale of she-said-they-said, the victim is a teenage girl with facial deformities, and the accused are four good Muslim boys from hardworking immigrant families. The quest for justice becomes the trial of the decade. As the accuser’s story unravels, readers are left trying to figure out what the truth is.
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