Jo's October 2023 pick
Out There Screaming is one of the best anthologies I’ve read in years. Each story will leave you breathless. The collection spans a wide breadth of black horror from slavery to reconstruction to the prison industrial complex. A particularly striking story from Tananarive Due follows freedom riders stranded in the deep south facing both supernatural and all too human terrors. Tochi Onyebuchi’s story of white boys grappling with losing a modicum of power has stuck with me for weeks. Out There Screaming is a genre defining collection essential for any horror reader.
Jo's July 2023 pick (1 of 2)
Lillian-Yvonne Bertram’s latest poetry collection will hit you in the way only the best poetry can. Sharp and inventive, this short book cuts to the quick. It is one of the finest poetry collections I’ve read in years.
Jo's July 2023 pick (2 of 2)
There is no better person to guide readers through this sapphic vampire classic than Carmen Maria Machado. Machado’s annotations are a literary masterwork in their own right, adding layers to complexity and unreliability to a well-loved text. For those who have yet to encounter Carmilla you are in for an atmospheric gothic novella full of queer longing and blood-sucking monsters. Predating Dracula by 25 years this book is a must read for vampire lovers and fans of queer literature alike.
Jo's June 2023 pick
The Shadow Cabinet returns readers to Hebden Bridge and the complicated politics of Her Majesty’s Royal Coven. Ciara, newly returned to consciousness, finds herself in the midst of a tumultuous power scrabble as the Coven grapple with what to do after the loss of their previous leader. With this book Juno Dawson adds nuance and layers to familiar characters proving that the lines between good and evil are never as clear as they might seem.
This is a fantastic entry into what is quickly becoming one of my favorite fantasy series.
Jo's June 2023 pick
There are few things I love as much as a good pirate story. Deep as the Sky, Red as the Sea is both a fantastic pirate story and a contemplative exploration of gender and trauma.
Inspired by the real life of legendary pirate queen, Shek Yeung, Rita Chang-Eppig’s novel follows a young woman as she carves out a life for herself in 19th century China. From her early life on the floating brothels known as flower boats, to her role as the wife of a powerful pirate - Shek Yeung has to navigate life as a woman and a mother in a world where she is given limited options and where every choice she makes could have deadly consequences. Written in beautiful prose, this debut introduces an exciting new voice in historical fiction. I look forward to seeing more from Rita Chang-Eppig.
Listen to Jo and Ryan's interview with Rita Chang-Eppig here or wherever you get your podcasts: https://www.gibsonsbookstore.com/episode-107-rita-chang-eppig-interview
Jo's May 2023 pick (1 of 2)
Raw Dog is the horny socialist hot dog book you didn't know you needed.
If that alone doesn't immediately sell you on this book, I'm not sure I can help you.
Jo's May 2023 pick (2 of 2)
Sharp and incisive, Yellowface is a masterful commentary on racism and white privilege in the publishing industry. Told in first person, R.F. Kuang introduces readers to an unreliable narrator par excellence, June Hayward.
The night June’s friend, acclaimed novelist Athena Liu, chokes to death in front of her she slipped Athena’s latest manuscript in her bag. She just wants to read it, and maybe do some light edits, perhaps even publish it under both their names. But as she finishes her edits she wonders if this is really fair? June rewrote most of it and Athena’s not here to contest it so maybe she’ll just send it to her editor as her own work. And so what if she publishes it under a name that implies she is Chinese, like her protagonists. It’s not lying, Song is her middle name. It’s not her fault if people make assumptions based on her pen name and her ambiguous author photo. But then a mysterious twitter account appears telling the world that June stole the manuscript that made her a New York Times Bestseller and she has to scramble to cover up her wrongdoing.
This book reads like the best twitter drama while simultaneously breaking down the complexities behind the discourse so many of us can’t help but get sucked into. Satire of the highest quality, I expect Yellowface to be one of the best books of the year.
Jo's January 2023 pick
An ode to sapphic literature, After Sappho is constructed of richly layered vignettes following the lives of a variety of turn of the century feminists.
Exposing a palimpsest of queer literature, Selby Wynn Schwartz explores the influence of Sappho on some of the great sapphic writers of the early 20th century, from Virginia Woolf to Radclyffe Hall to Collette.
This book is a celebration of sapphic love and life and a clear, bold statement of the fact that we have always been here.
Jo's November 2022 pick (1 of 2)
Freya Marske has done it again. A Restless Truth is a sexy magical romp perfect for every queer who went through a Titanic phase. This is a worthy follow up to A Marvellous Light that will leave readers desperate for the final book of the trilogy.
Jo's November 2022 pick (2 of 2)
When Mara and four other people signed up for a survival reality show in hopes to make some much needed cash, they weren’t expecting to be forced into a months-long struggle to escape the northern woods. Filming for “Civilizations” is going well, the survivors have built a shelter and have a reliable source of fish, until one day their camera crew doesn’t show up. Slowly the cast realizes that they have been left alone to fend for themselves in an undisclosed location.
Blaire Braverman draws on her own experience as an outdoor adventurer and contestant on the show “Naked and Afraid” to highlight not just the hardships but also the small joys and human kindnesses often overlooked in survival stories.
A rare one-sitting read full of layered characters I quickly fell in love with, this book caught me and kept me invested until the end. Perfect for outdoors people and inside kids alike.
Jo's October 2022 pick
It Came from the Closet is packed full of insightful analysis of a genre so many queer folks find themselves drawn to, the horror movie. Included in these pages is some of the best cultural criticism I've ever read (Carmen Maria Machado's essay on Jennifer's Body fundamentally changed the way I think about queerness in film and television).
These essays explore the trauma and the power of seeing yourself portrayed as a monster.
Whether meditating on masculine intimacy in Jaws or exploring the queerness of so many of films greatest monsters, It Came from the Closet will reshape the way you think about horror and queerness.
Jo’s September 2022 pick
After almost two decades out of print Bowie’s Moonage Daydream is back in a beautiful new edition celebrating the 50th anniversary of Ziggy Stardust. Part photobook, part biography of the world’s greatest alien rockstar, Moonage Daydream gives unique insight into David Bowie and his most famous character. Brimming with photos by the incomparable Mick Rock this book is a treasure, perfect for any glam rock fan.
Jo's August 2022 pick (3 of 3)
The Honeys is a sundrenched horror story, perfect for fans of Heathers and Jennifer’s Body.
After their twin sister’s tragic death Mars decides to return to the summer camp she loved in hopes of better understanding her and her mysterious friends, a group of girls known as the Honeys. Upon arriving at Aspen Mars starts to have disturbing visions that may or may not be real. As they search for answers to what happened to their sister Mars gets closer to the Honeys and starts to uncover the dangerous secrets that lurk in the shadows of the camp.
Ryan La Sala crafts a dark and twisty mystery that will keep readers captivated until the last page.
Sam and Jo's joint August 2022 pick
“Being born on the same planet as the Beatles is one of the ten best things that’s ever happened to me.”
Sam would argue that it is in the top five best things that’s ever happened to her, and Jo doesn’t disagree. Between the two of us we’ve read a lot of books about the Beatles, like A LOT, and there is no one who writes as beautifully about the Beatles as Rob Sheffield. After fifty years, it’s hard to imagine that there is anything meaningful left to say about the band who has captivated our collective consciousness for so long, but Sheffield provides unique insights on the Fab Four, their music, and their lasting power. He is a true devotee who knows his lore well and understands the enduring importance of our Lord and savior Ringo Starr.
This book is not a biography but a meditation to the world’s favorite band and why we love them. We may disagree with Sheffield on certain points (the sheer audacity to claim “It’s Only Love” is John’s worst song when “Revolution 9” exists) but there is no one who writes more thoughtfully and intelligently about our four favorite northern lads.
And in the end, there is one thing we can all agree on: the love we have for the Beatles and their music will last much longer than the road that stretches out ahead.
Jo's August 2022 pick (1 of 3)
This book utterly consumed me. I listened to the audiobook in two days, and I didn’t want it to end. Sunyi Dean creates a vivid world of people who consume books to survive. The Book Eaters’ society is steeped in harsh traditions meant to protect the six families remaining in Britain. One of the greatest threats to the rigid hierarchy are children who have a craving for something much more sinister than the written word: the human mind.
When Devon gives birth to a mind eater she does not see a monster but a child she will do anything to protect. Her attempts to shield her family from the sinister world they were born into sends her on a journey across Britain to find the producers of a drug that has the ability to save her son from a life of mind eating.
The Book Eaters is a thoughtful look at motherhood, family, and what we will do for love. It asks the question; how do you survive when your fairytale life turns out to be a nightmare?
Jo's July 2022 pick
Just Like Home grabs you from the first page and doesn't let go until the last moment. After years away Vera returns to the home where her father had committed a series of gruesome crimes. Confronted with her dying mother and a hostile small town, Vera has to grapple with her past and the crimes that haunt her family. What's worse is she swears there is something moving under her bed.
Jo's June 2022 pick (1 of 2)
If you live in the U.S. and want to support reproductive justice you need to have this book on your shelf. Robin Marty is the Director of Operations for the West Alabama Women's Center, she writes a thoughtful and intelligent guide to a difficult subject. This is an essential reference book for navigating abortion in a Post-Roe World. The chapters vary from advice for getting involved in the fight for reproductive justice to practical guides for self-managed abortion. Everyone needs this book, now more than ever.
Jo's June 2022 pick (2 of 2)
This book is everything I needed as a closeted queer kid in Catholic school who was obsessed with John Green books.
Chloe's academic rival Shara Wheeler has disappeared mere weeks before graduation. All she left behind was a cryptic note and the memory of the taste of her mint lip gloss. Chloe teams up with Shara's boyfriend and the boy next door to find her before commencement. As they follow the clues Shara has left for them Chloe and her friends learn more about themselves, their classmates, and their conservative small town.
A mystery brimming with queer joy I Kissed Shara Wheeler was a joy to read from start to finish.
Jo's May 2022 pick, 1 of 2
A magical apocalypse perfect for fans of Good Omens and the Spice Girls. Her Majesty's Royal Coven is a deeply felt exploration of the potentially disastrous impacts of bigotry that still manages to be both joyful and funny. A group of five childhood friends are at the center of this story and their complex relationships with each other and other members of the magical community may have a crucial impact on whether or not these are in fact the end of days.
Jo's May 2022 pick, 2 of 2
I have adored everything Nghi Vo has written and Siren Queen is no exception. Luli Wei knows she is destined to be a star but she also knows that Hollywood is a dangerous place for a young Chinese American girl. Before signing a studio contract she has one demand, “No maids, no funny talking, no fainting flowers.” So she is cast as the villain. But Luli is far from the only monster lurking in the brutal world of a pre-code Hollywood steeped in magic.
Full of magic and violence, Siren Queen revels in the power of becoming the monster the world thinks you are.
Jo's April 2022 pick, 1 of 2
Unbelievably, Douglass Stuart’s sophomore novel may be better than his Booker Award Winning debut Shuggie Bain. Shot through with tenderness and brutality, Young Mungo masterfully tells the story of a 15 year-old queer boy coming of age and falling in love amidst the sectarian violence of Glasgow in the 1980s. This is destined to be one of the best books of the year.
CW: sexual assault, pedophilia, violence
Jo's April 2022 pick, 2 of 2
A masterful retelling of Arthurian legend, Spear will draw readers into an enchanting world they won't want to leave.
Peretur grows up in an isolated cave with her mother but dreams of a far-off lake. Determined to become a companion to Artos, Peretur ventures out to prove herself worthy of a place in legendary Caer Leon.
Short and exquisitely drawn I savored every word of this boldly queer medieval tale.
Jo's March 2022 pick
I finished Devil House and just sat staring into the middle distance wondering what the hell I just read. All I could say for sure was that I loved it, whatever it was. In its most basic terms John Darnielle’s third novel is about a true crime writer who moves into a house that was location of a duo of brutal Satanic Panic murders in the 1980s. In truth it is far more complicated. Devil House interrogates notions of truth, the genre of true crime, and the narratives we tell ourselves about the complex nature of humans. It is messy and confusing and absolutely brilliant.
Jo's January 2022 pick, 1 of 2
All of You Every Single One is a deeply felt queer history that is both familiar and completely unique. When Julia and Eve arrive in Vienna in 1911, having left Julia’s unhappy marriage and their hometown behind, both find themselves adrift in a new city with not ties or connections. They move into a bustling apartment building in Vienna’s Jewish quarter and start to build a life and a family for themselves. They live happily until one day a friend’s well meaning plot rips their lives apart. They spend the next twenty years trying to rebuild their community and family in an increasingly dangerous and violent Europe.
A beautiful book about queerness, family, and trauma. Hitchman writes characters so fully human they are certain to stay with you long after you set down the book.
Jo's January 2022 pick, 2 of 2
All Hazel Sinnett wants is to study surgery. She is fascinated by the medical developments being made around her in 1817 Edinburgh. After sneaking into anatomy lectures dressed as a man Hazel’s ruse is discovered and she is forced out of the class that will finally teach her everything she needs to know to become a surgeon. The lecturer makes her a deal, she can sit for the physician’s exam at the end of the semester but she will have to learn the necessary skills on her own.
What is an aspiring surgeon to do without any bodies to study? Lucky for Hazel she happens to meet one of Old Town’s many “resurrection men” (body snatchers) and together they come up with a plan that might just work for both of them.
This fast-paced gothic romp full of mystery and romance is perfect for long winter’s nights. Dana Schwartz brings a delightfully dark and rich world
to life in a story that will satisfy all my fellow creepy souls.
Jo's December 2021 pick
Last Night at the Telegraph Club is a gorgeous queer claiming of history.
Set in San Francisco's Chinatown during the 1950s Malinda Lo draws a compelling portrait of queer life in the pre-Stonewall era. Lily Hu is a Chinese American girl living during the height of the Red-Scare, a time of heightened paranoia and prejudice against her community. Lily is determined to become a computer at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory and help get astronauts to the moon but she begins to feel the pull of another desire when she and one of her classmates go to see a male impersonator at the Telegraph Club.
A well-written reminder that the queer community has a rich history full of joy along with the pain.
Jo's November 2021 pick, 1 of 2
This book is brimming with everything I love: well-researched historical fiction, adorable queers, a murder mystery, and fantastic magic.
Set in Edwardian England, A Marvellous Light follows Robin Blyth and Edwin Courcey as they unravel a centuries-old mystery at the heart of British magical society.
The magic of this book is homegrown and utterly unique. It’s hard not to fall for a theory of magic based on cat’s cradle spell casting.
But the true brilliance of this book is the characters, Robin and Edwin are well-drawn as individuals but together they are extraordinary. Freya Marske finds the right balance of sweet and sexy that will leave you wishing for more time in this world.
Jo's November 2021 pick, 2 of 2
Recipe for Midsummer’s Mayhem
- 1 middle school baking whiz
- 3 dramatic older siblings
- 1 food critic father
- 2 magical culinary mishaps
- 1 epic baking competition
- A sprinkle of fairy dust
Whisk ingredients together in a large mixing bowl, scoop dough onto baking sheet, and bake for 15 minutes at 350°
This recipe makes one magical summer adventure.
Mimi often feels overshadowed by her three accomplished older siblings, this summer she wants to prove that she is talented in her own right. She’s in luck when the new bakery in town announces a kid’s baking competition giving her an opportunity to show off her culinary skills. As the competition heats up Mimi’s family is struck by odd mishaps and strange behavior. Could this all be somehow related to Mimi’s baking and if so does she have the skills to remedy it in time for the midsummer festival?
Jo's October 2021 pick
I have waited ten years for this book, and it was well worth the wait.
Anyone who has read Aristotle and Dante Discover The Secrets of the Universe knows the way that these characters and Benjamin Alire Sáenz’s lyrical prose can bury themselves in your heart.
Aristotle and Dante Dive Into The Waters of the World picks up right where the first book left off, following Ari and Dante as they navigate the perils of first love as well as the realities of being queer in 1980s America.
Through Aristotle and Dante Sáenz creates a map of the world on which queer kids can boldly write their names, knowing that they have every right to claim it as their own.
Jo's September 2021 pick, 1 of 2
Lauren Groff builds a defiant female space within the cloistered world of a medieval nunnery.
When Marie is forced from the glittering English Court to a drab rural abbey she is determined to return to court and her beloved Eleanor of Aquitaine. When her plan to win back the favor of the queen goes unnoticed she turns her focus onto revitalizing the abbey. As she gains power she starts to make the abbey into her own separate world, determined to protect the women in her care at all costs.
Jo's September 2021 pick, 2 of 2
Three women, or two women and an alien presenting as a woman, are at the heart of Ryka Aoki's brilliant and big-hearted novel.
Katrina, a young trans-girl who runs away from home with nothing more than a bag full of clothes and her beloved violin.
Shizuoka Satomi, a legendary violin teacher known as the queen of hell because while her students all burn brightly they all seem to succumb to mysterious and fiery ends.
And Lan Tran, an alien who has fled the galactic empire with her family in order to run the best donut shop in the San Gabriel Valley.
Come for the Faustian deals and flirting over Alaska sized donuts, stay for a queer found family that will bury themselves deep in your heart
Jo's August 2021 pick, 1 of 2
Sharp and darkly funny, All’s Well blends themes from Shakespeare into an acerbic commentary on women’s pain. In the midst of trying to save her production of All’s Well The Ends Well from a mutinous cast bent on putting on Macbeth, Miranda is approached by three men offering to help her with her chronic pain. Readers will find themselves unable to put this book down as they are caught up in Miranda’s vertiginous spiral of self indulgence and paranoia.
Jo's August 2021 pick, 2 of 2
This is the first of this year's Booker Longlist that I've read and Maggie Shipstead has set a very high bar for the rest of the list.
Great Circle tells the story of Marion Graves, a pioneering female aviator who disappeared while attempting to circumnavigate the globe longitudinally in 1950. Marion's story is interwoven with that of Hadley Baxter, an actress cast to play Marion in an Oscar-bait biopic.
From fiery beginning aboard a sinking ship to mysterious end Marion's story is one of defiance and persistence against a world determined to ground her. Meanwhile Hadley comes to terms with the fact that no matter how much you dig, the mysteries of other people's lives are not always meant to be solved.
Jo's July 2021 pick
There a few things I live more than queer historical fantasy and She Who Became The Sun is a brilliant addition to the genre.
I went in expecting it to be more fantasy and less history but was really pleased to discover that there is a lot of real Chinese history in these pages.
Set in 14th century China, this book follows the story of a girl who takes on the identity of her dead brother, Zhu Chongba, in hopes of fulfilling his great destiny. Gorgeously queer and incredibly sharp Zhu maneuvers herself into history.
The first in a duology She Who Became The Sun left me desperate for the next entry in Zhu’s story.
Jo's June 2021 pick, 1 of 2
An absolutely stunning take on one of American Literature's best loved books. Nghi Vo weaves magic into the world of Gatsby with an ease and confidence that makes it feel natural, almost inevitable. Vo adapts Fitzgerald's lush imagery in a way that both pays homage to the original while being wholly unique.
Jordan Baker's outsider's perspective explores the depth's and complexities of race and sexuality that have always been on the periphery of discussions about The Great Gatsby.
A retelling of the highest class The Chosen and the Beautiful will keep readers spellbound from it's first line till the very end.
Jo's June 2021 pick, 2 of 2
Reading Filthy Animals is a cathartic and deeply humanizing experience unlike anything I’ve encountered before. Brandon Taylor has an incredible talent for taking the pain, fear, and sadness of life and laying them bare on a page. Taylor pulls at the deep anxieties in each of us and in doing so reminds the reader of their place in a greater story.
Jo's May 2021 pick
The Sackler name has been a low level hum throughout the last century of American life. A hum that many of us may not have even been aware we were hearing. If, like me, you enjoy art museums you have probably spent considerable amounts of time in galleries that bear their name around the world.
It was not until recently that many of us registered the Sackler's presence in all our lives as their role in the opioid epidemic became evident in the past couple of years. Even with the increase in news articles about their influence it has been hard to understand exactly who these people are and where they came from.
With Empire of Pain Patrick Radden Keefe, author of the phenomenal Say Nothing, illuminates the history of a family that has wreaked unimaginable havoc on American life. From Valium to Oxyconton the Sackler family has had undue influence over how and when Americans take and are prescribed medication for decades. Well researched and rife with details not often covered in new stories this book is essential for anyone trying to understand not just the opioid epidemic but the larger context of the pharma industry in this country.
Jo's January 2021 pick
I struggle to find adequate words to describe the brilliance and the beauty of The Prophets. I’ll start by saying this may be the best book I have ever read and that is not a title I bestow lightly. Robert Jones Jr’s lyrical prose lays bare the reality of slavery, the horrors but also the brief moments of grace that enslaved people carved out for themselves.
While tender in its intimacy The Prophets is also a sprawling history of black queerness. The ancestral voices woven throughout the novel highlight the truth of the societies that white supremacy tried to destroy and stand as a reminder of their connection to the present.
With this book Robert Jones Jr has taken his place among the great American novelists. This is a gorgeous and necessary reckoning with America history that will stay with you for years.
Jo's October 2020 pick, 1 of 2
How Much of These Hills Is Gold is a gorgeous debut that defies categorization. Set in the hills of California in the last days of the gold rush it tells the story of Sam and Lucy and their hard scrabble search for a home for their father’s bones.
Every time you feel you understand what this book is C Pam Zhang shifts the story in ways that make you rethink everything you read before.
Underpinning it all are questions about the meaning of home, of belonging, of family.
This is a deeply precious book that I so look forward to revisiting.
Jo's October 2020 pick, 2 of 2
This dark and atmospheric debut is a perfect October read.
Sensitive Paul is drawn to his charismatic classmate Julian immediately. Over the course of their freshman year of college the two begin an obsessive and darkly codependent relationship, with disastrous results.
Micah Nemerever conveys the intensity of Paul and Julian's relationship with claustrophobic immediacy. Their downward spiral is so compellingly drawn that their Leopold and Loeb-esque plot feels natural and inevitable.
This taut and frantic thriller will have you absorbed in its world until the final page. Nemerever is an exciting new voice in queer literature and I can't wait to see what he does next.
Jo's September 2020 pick
As a queer person named after Jo March my review may be a little biased but this was perfect.
I have needed a canonically queer Jo my entire life and Kathleen Gros delivered that beautifully.
Beyond that premise this is just a very well done adaptation. Gros manages to fit the theme of personal growth, explored in the original story through Bunyan’s The Pilgrim’s Progess, into this story without coming off as overly sanctimonious. And each of the March girls as well as Laurie and Marmee were pitch perfect.
Couching this story of growth and self-acceptance within a familiar context will make it’s message more accessible and comfortable for kids going through the process of coming out. I think this book could have really helped me at 13 understand why tomboyish Jo felt so familiar when I first read Little Women.
Jo's September 2020 pick, 1 of 2
Punching The Air is a heartbreaking and powerful novel in verse written in part by Yusef Salaam of the exonerated five. While the book is about a wrongly convicted teenager it does not mirror Salaam’s story exactly. Yet it is clear Salaam’s experiences in the juvenile incarceration system inform the book and lend a depth of feeling to the poetry.
The audiobook is only four hours long but it is deeply impactful. The book forces the reader to confront the injustices of the prison industrial complex and the humanity of those within it.
A must read (or listen) for adults and teenagers.
Jo's August 2020 pick, 1 of 2
A bit more conventional than their first book, Freshwater, Akwaeke Emezi’s second novel for adults is a grief-stricken portrayal of family and of queer identity in Nigeria.
As the name suggest, The Death of Vivek Oji, focuses on the life and death of Vivek Oji, a favorite son to parents who struggle to understand him. His life is explored through the grief and recollections of his friends and family; mainly his cousin, Osita, and mother, Kavita.
The mystery of Vivek’s death pulls readers in but it is the well-drawn characters that make this novel special. We get very little directly from Vivek but their joy and sadness are woven throughout the book. Emezi once again shows their skill at conveying fractured queer identity through narrative structure.
Jo's August 2020 pick, 2 of 2Betty is a haunting portrait of familial devotion and devastation. The novel’s heroine, based on the author’s mother, recounts her childhood and teen years growing up in rural Southern Ohio as she grapples with the harsh realities of womanhood and racism in 1960s Appalachia.Grounding this story is Betty’s love for her two sisters and her father, as well as her complicated relationship with her damaged and, at times, dangerous mother. Throughout the novel, Betty is the witness to shocking acts of violence and abuse against those she loves. She carries these stories with her in her mind and her stories, yet by the end of the book, she finds a way to give a voice to those in her life who were robbed of their chances to be heard.Betty is a compelling and heart-wrenching read that will stay in my heart for years.
Jo's June 2020 pick
Polly, Annie, Elizabeth, Catherine, and Mary-Jane. We all have heard of them but few of us know their names. In The Five Hallie Rubenhold does the essential work of returning to the victims of Jack the Ripper their humanity. The dehumanization of victims and the mythologization of killers stretches far beyond the crime of Jack the Ripper and in this book Rubenhold shows us all a path towards rectifying this injustice.
This is required reading for anyone even passably interested in true crime.
In each section Rubenhold dives deep into the lives of each woman highlighting their individuality while also illustrating how they were all victims of Victorian era sexism and classism. Part history, part biography; The Five paints a vivid picture of a specific time and place through the lives of those deemed most disposable by society.
Jo's May 2020 pick
Verse has always had a unique ability to capture the trials of teenage life and no one is so adept at utilizing this power as Elizabeth Acevedo. Clap When You Land contains all the raw emotionality I have come to expect from Acevedo. Her use of alternating poems to tell the stories of two very different girls is poignant and masterful. With this book Acevedo has solidified her place amongst the most important YA writers today.
Jo's April 2020 pick, 1 of 2
In her brilliant debut novel, Megan Campisi navigates the complicated relationship between women and food in Christianity, all while maintaining a compelling early modern mystery.
After narrator May is brutally branded a sin eater, condemning her to likely damnation, she must find a way to make herself seen and heard in a world that has quite literally made her unseen and unheard.
May’s struggle to claim her space in this twisted alternate version of the Elizabethan court propels this novel into deep explorations of femininity and original sin that are utterly original and timely.
Likely available, but must be ordered by email/phone
Jo's April 2020 pick, 2 of 2
Katy Simpson Smith probes the multi-layered depths of Rome through the centuries in this arresting piece of historical fiction.
Set in 2015, 1559, 896-897, and 165; the novel takes the longue durée approach to a city that has fascinated humanity for well over two millennia. Smith artfully weaves together the stories of four Romans through her exploration of belief, love, betrayal, and the human body; pulling it all together with a literal hook.
Perhaps the most striking and affecting element of this novel is the bracketed comments left throughout the book by a Miltonian Satan. Smith’s approach to the fallen angel; and particularly his relationship with god; is bright, fresh, and heartbreaking.
The Everlasting is a phenomenal achievement of literary historical fiction.
Jo's March 2020 pick, 1 of 2
With The Mirror & The Light Hillary Mantel has completed one of the best series of historical fiction in recent memory. She is an expert in showing, not telling her research. Each sentence is infused with meticulous details of the period that never feels forced.
In this final book, Mantel’s portrait of Cromwell reaches new heights. She impeccably renders a man both haunted and haunting, a devious statesman and a vulnerable human.
There are two chapters, in particular, that stand out in this novel, one about halfway through and one at the end that are so stunningly well crafted they leave the reader breathless.
If you are intimidated by their series size or scope trust me it is well worth the time it takes.
Jo's March 2020 pick, 2 of 2
The Glass Hotel is a haunting portrayal of greed and its many ripple effects. As the world faces another major recession, The Glass Hotel portrays the 2008 recession in a bleak and affecting light. Through a large cast of characters spread out across decades, Mandel follows a Ponzi scheme reminiscent of the Bernie Madoff scandal. She skillfully communicates the deep and lasting impact one person's greed and lies can have on everyone around them. Mandel's style is impeccable and her characters are compelling and complex.
This timely tale of greed and the concept of truth will resonate with readers in this time of uncertainty.
Jo's February 2020 pick, 1 of 2
Kiran Millwood Hargrave’s adult debut is a startlingly intimate portrayal of the horrific Norwegian witch trials of the 1620s.
When the arctic village of Vardø is hit by a sudden storm that kills most of the community’s men, the women pull together in order to survive. Three years later the tensions between the women that have been simmering since the storm are brought to a boiling point with the arrival of a Scottish witchfinder.
Hargrave draws raw and deeply human portraits of the women fighting for their lives in a world hostile towards independent women. This brilliant novel masterfully navigates not just the gender politics of the witch trials but issues of sexuality and the deep-seated racism of witchcraft accusations.
It is only February, but I anticipate this being one of the best books of the year.
Jo's February 2020 pick, 2 of 2
In this complexly structured espionage tale Arthur Phillips examines restoration England and Scotland through the lens of an outsider. Mahmoud Ezzedine finds himself exiled in, “a far-off, sunless, primitive, sodden, heathen kingdom at the far cliffside edge of the civilized earth,” when he is left in London after a diplomatic trip for the Ottoman Sultan. Ezzedine is then pulled into the most compelling drama of the time, the question of succession after the death of Elizabeth I.
Perhaps the most masterful element of this novel is Phillip’s ability to simultaneously acknowledge the absurdity of reformation politics while maintaining the immediacy of the stakes for those involved.
If, like me, you are eagerly anticipating the release of Hilary Mantel’s The Mirror and the Light this well-paced, engaging novel will help tide you over until next month.