Here we are. Somehow already through the summer. And I’ve just finished tallying up this year’s reads so far.
In the last five months, I read 33(ish) books, including an unpublished manuscript from the prolific Jessica Lewis (you can’t read that one yet, but I strongly encourage you to get her debut: Bad Witch Burning!). That brings this year’s total read count to 54, counting books in Portuguese written for children eight and up and several unpublished manuscripts in various states of completion.
So, which of those 33 books should you grab for yourself? Here were the books I enjoyed most:
(Please note that links below are affiliate links, which means if you click through and purchase something, I get a small commission at no extra cost to you.)
(Books marked with an * were written by a writer from a marginalized group. By supporting these authors, you’re telling publishers we want more books from underrepresented authors. Yet another win-win situation.)
Why I liked it: I LOVE a book that makes me think. And some of Julia’s thoughts on gender were things I’ve never considered before. I finally understood some things I’d been struggling to get and I changed my mind on one thing I’d always been a bit uncomfortable with. Whether Julia changes your mind too or not, it’s a worthwhile thinky book to listen to on audio or read and then discuss or just sit with.
Description: Julia Serano shares her experiences and insights—both pre- and post-transition—to reveal the ways in which fear, suspicion, and dismissiveness toward femininity shape our societal attitudes toward trans women, as well as gender and sexuality as a whole.
Serano’s well-honed arguments and pioneering advocacy stem from her ability to bridge the gap between the often-disparate biological and social perspectives on gender. In this provocative manifesto, she exposes how deep-rooted the cultural belief is that femininity is frivolous, weak, and passive.
In addition to debunking popular misconceptions about being transgender, Serano makes the case that today’s feminists and transgender activists must work to embrace and empower femininity—in all of its wondrous forms.
Why I liked it: If you know me, you know I love history. And I especially love history that isn’t told through the same lens it has always been told through. So this historical exploration of gender nonconformity, non-binary, and trans identities hit a sweet spot for me. I have a feeling I’ll be listening to it again because there was so much great information here that I’d never heard before.
Description:Before We Were Trans illuminates the stories of people across the globe, from antiquity to the present, whose experiences of gender have defied binary categories. Blending historical analysis with sharp cultural criticism, trans historian and activist Kit Heyam offers a new, radically inclusive trans history, chronicling expressions of trans experience that are often overlooked, like gender-nonconforming fashion and wartime stage performance. Before We Were Trans transports us from Renaissance Venice to seventeenth-century Angola, from Edo Japan to early America, and looks to the past to uncover new horizons for possible trans futures.
Why I liked it: After the brilliance of her previous book, The Last Flight, I knew Julie Clarke was going to become an auto-buy author for me – and this book confirmed it. I love a good thriller and I was hooked from page one on this one.
Description: Two women. Many aliases.
Meg Williams. Maggie Littleton. Melody Wilde. Different names for the same person, depending on the town, depending on the job. She’s a con artist who erases herself to become whoever you need her to be—a college student. A life coach. A real estate agent. Nothing about her is real. She slides alongside you and tells you exactly what you need to hear, and by the time she’s done, you’ve likely lost everything.
Kat Roberts has been waiting 10 years for the woman who upended her life to return. And now that she has, Kat is determined to be the one to expose her. But as the two women grow closer, Kat’s long-held assumptions begin to crumble, leaving Kat to wonder who Meg’s true target is.
Why I liked it: A gender-bent YA Three Musketeers? The moment I saw this book announced a couple years ago, I’m pretty sure I screamed with joy. This plot was tailor-made for my interests. And it delivers! I was rooting for Tania from page one. A great pick for adventurous teens in your life.
Description:Tania de Batz is most herself with a sword in her hand. Everyone in town thinks her near-constant dizziness makes her weak, nothing but “a sick girl.” But Tania wants to be strong, independent, a fencer like her father—a former Musketeer and her greatest champion.
Then Papa is brutally, mysteriously murdered. His dying wish? For Tania to attend finishing school.
But L’Académie des Mariées, Tania realizes, is no finishing school. t’s a secret training ground for new Musketeers: women who are socialites on the surface but strap daggers under their skirts, seduce men into giving up dangerous secrets, and protect France from downfall. And they don’t shy away from a sword fight.
With her newfound sisters at her side, Tania feels that she has a purpose, that she belongs. But then she meets Étienne, her target in uncovering a potential assassination plot. He’s kind and charming, and he might have information about what really happened to her father. Torn between duty and dizzying emotion, Tania will have to decide where her loyalties lie … or risk losing everything she’s ever wanted.
Why I liked it: Sea monsters! Fierce girls! A near-impossible race to win if she wants to save her family! Anyone who loves fantasy adventure is going to eat this one up. Plus, best cover of the year.
Description: Sixteen-year-old Koral and her brother, Emrik, risk their lives to capture the monstrous maristags that live in the black seas around their island. They have to, or else their family will starve.
In an oceanic world swarming with vicious beasts, the ruling elite have indentured her family to provide the maristags for the Glory Race, a deadly chariot tournament reserved for the upper class. The winner receives gold and glory. The losers—if they’re lucky—survive.
When Koral fails to capture a maristag for this year’s race, her family can’t afford medicine for her chronically ill little sister. Koral’s only choice is to do what no one has ever dared: cheat her way into the Glory Race. But Koral must race against contenders who have trained their whole lives and have no intention of letting a low-caste girl steal their glory. And when riots break out, Koral has to do more than win the race. She’ll have to stop the whole island from burning.
Why I liked it: If you are a fan of fast-paced dystopian sci-fi, here’s your next favorite read (you’re welcome). It’s got a Fifth Element vibe but without the weird male gaze. Plus the heroine has a computer in her head…and it just might kill her.
Description: Eighteen-year-old Sil Sarrah is determined to die a legend. But with only twelve months left before the supercomputer grafted to her brain kills her, Sil’s time is quickly running out.
In the ten years she’s been rescuing field agents for the Syntex corporation—by commandeering their minds from afar and leading them to safety—Sil hasn’t lost a single life. And she’s not about to start now.
But when a critical mission goes south, Sil is forced to flee the very company she once called home.
Desperate to prove she’s no traitor, Sil infiltrates the Analog Army, an activist faction working to bring Syntex down. Her plan: to win back her employer’s trust by destroying the group from within. Instead, she and the Army’s reckless leader, Ryder, uncover a horrifying truth that threatens to undo all the good she’s ever done.
With her tech rapidly degrading and her new ally keeping dangerous secrets of his own, Sil must find a way to stop Syntex in order to save her friends, her reputation—and maybe even herself.
Why I liked it: What if some of the world population simply didn’t ever need to sleep? That’s the question this book is built on. It’s an exploration of capitalism, a murder mystery, a journey through grief, and a deeply satisfying classic sci-fi novel.
Description: A mysterious pandemic causes a quarter of the world to permanently lose the ability to sleep—without any apparent health implications. The outbreak creates a new class of people who are both feared and ostracized, most of whom optimize their extra hours to earn more money.
Journalist Jamie Vega is Sleepless: he can’t sleep, nor does he need to. When his boss dies on the eve of a controversial corporate takeover, Jamie doesn’t buy the too-convenient explanation of suicide, and launches an investigation of his own. But everything goes awry when Jamie discovers that he was the last person who saw Simon alive. Not only do the police suspect him, Jamie himself has no memory of that night. Alarmingly, his memory loss may have to do with how he became Sleepless: not naturally, like other Sleepless people, but through a risky and illegal biohacking process.
As Jamie delves deeper into Simon’s final days, he tangles with extremist organizations and powerful corporate interests, all while confronting past traumas and unforeseen consequences of his medical experimentation. But Jamie soon faces the most dangerous decision of all as he uncovers a terrifying truth about Sleeplessness that imperils him—and all of humanity.
Why I liked it: Whew! If you liked The Glass Castle and Educated, you’ll probably also enjoy this witty, irreverent, heartbreaking memoir of a child actress. I wasn’t familiar with her work, but by the end I was deeply invested in her journey. Exceptional writing. Great humor. Strong emotional core.
Description:Jennette McCurdy was six years old when she had her first acting audition. Her mother’s dream was for her only daughter to become a star, and Jennette would do anything to make her mother happy. So she went along with what Mom called “calorie restriction,” eating little and weighing herself five times a day. She endured extensive at-home makeovers while Mom chided, “Your eyelashes are invisible, okay? You think Dakota Fanning doesn’t tint hers?” She was even showered by Mom until age sixteen while sharing her diaries, email, and all her income.
In I’m Glad My Mom Died, Jennette recounts all this in unflinching detail—just as she chronicles what happens when the dream finally comes true. Cast in a new Nickelodeon series called iCarly, she is thrust into fame. Though Mom is ecstatic, emailing fan club moderators and getting on a first-name basis with the paparazzi (“Hi Gale!”), Jennette is riddled with anxiety, shame, and self-loathing, which manifest into eating disorders, addiction, and a series of unhealthy relationships. These issues only get worse when, soon after taking the lead in the iCarly spinoff Sam & Cat alongside Ariana Grande, her mother dies of cancer. Finally, after discovering therapy and quitting acting, Jennette embarks on recovery and decides for the first time in her life what she really wants.
Why I liked it: I’m always so happy to find a well-written thriller to listen to – and this one didn’t disappoint. I’m especially a sucker for disappearance plots or creepy places where multiple people have gone missing (all of which, this delivers on).
Description:Ten years ago, Abigail Lovett fell into a job she loves, managing The Passage Inn, a cozy, upscale resort nestled in the North Carolina mountain town of Cutter’s Pass. Cutter’s Pass is best known for its outdoor offerings—rafting and hiking, with access to the Appalachian trail by way of a gorgeous waterfall—and its mysterious history. As the book begins, the string of unsolved disappearances that has haunted the town is once again thrust into the spotlight when journalist Landon West, who was staying at the inn to investigate the story of the vanishing trail, then disappears himself.
Abby has sometimes felt like an outsider within the community, but she’s come to view Cutter’s Pass as her home. When Landon’s brother Trey shows up looking for answers, Abby can’t help but feel the town closing ranks. And she’s still on the outside. When she finds incriminating evidence that may bring them closer to the truth, Abby soon discovers how little she knows about her coworkers, neighbors, and even those closest to her.
Why I liked it: Okay, firstly, you should know that this book comes with alllll the trigger warnings. Do not read unless you are in the right headspace. It’s the story of a cult survivor (multiple cults, tbh) and while her story is told extremely well, it’s also does not shy away from the abuse and harm of the story.
So, proceed with caution.
While I struggled at times with the heartbreaking subject matter, I’m glad I read this book and glad it exists.
Description: In the vein of Educated and The Glass Castle, Daniella Mestyanek Young’s Uncultured is more than a memoir about an exceptional upbringing, but about a woman who, no matter the lack of tools given to her, is determined to overcome.
Behind the tall, foreboding gates of a commune in Brazil, Daniella Mestyanek Young was raised in the religious cult The Children of God, also known as The Family, as the daughter of high-ranking members. Her great-grandmother donated land for one of The Family’s first communes in Texas. Her mother, at thirteen, was forced to marry the leader and served as his secretary for many years. Beholden to The Family’s strict rules, Daniella suffers physical, emotional, and sexual abuse—masked as godly discipline and divine love—and is forbidden from getting a traditional education.
At fifteen years old, fed up with The Family and determined to build a better and freer life for herself, Daniella escapes to Texas. There, she bravely enrolls herself in high school and excels, later graduating as valedictorian of her college class, then electing to join the military to begin a career as an intelligence officer, where she believes she will finally belong.
But she soon learns that her new world—surrounded by men on the sands of Afghanistan—looks remarkably similar to the one she desperately tried to leave behind.
Told in a beautiful, propulsive voice and with clear-eyed honesty, Uncultured explores the dangers unleashed when harmful group mentality goes unrecognized, and is emblematic of the many ways women have to contort themselves to survive.
Why I liked it: I know I’m among good company when I say that I love a good cult book. So when I saw this book on the language of fanaticism, it jumped right to the top of my to-read list. I particularly enjoyed how she broke down the cultish language and habits of groups that we sometimes don’t think of as cults (MLM schemes, fitness gurus). A worthwhile read if you are also obsessed with cult shit.
Description: What makes “cults” so intriguing and frightening? What makes them powerful? The reason why so many of us binge Manson documentaries by the dozen and fall down rabbit holes researching suburban moms gone QAnon is because we’re looking for a satisfying explanation for what causes people to join – and more importantly, stay in – extreme groups. We secretly want to know: could it happen to me? Amanda Montell’s argument is that, on some level, it already has….
Our culture tends to provide pretty flimsy answers to questions of cult influence, mostly having to do with vague talk of “brainwashing”. But the true answer has nothing to do with freaky mind-control wizardry or Kool-Aid. In Cultish, Montell argues that the key to manufacturing intense ideology, community, and us/them attitudes all comes down to language. In both positive ways and shadowy ones, cultish language is something we hear – and are influenced by – every single day.
Description: Because Internet is for anyone who’s ever puzzled over how to punctuate a text message or wondered where memes come from. It’s the perfect book for understanding how the internet is changing the English language, why that’s a good thing, and what our online interactions reveal about who we are…
Internet linguist Gretchen McCulloch explores the deep forces that shape human language and influence the way we communicate with one another. She explains how your first social internet experience influences whether you prefer “LOL” or “lol,” why ~sparkly tildes~ succeeded where centuries of proposals for irony punctuation had failed, what emoji have in common with physical gestures, and how the artfully disarrayed language of animal memes like lolcats and doggo made them more likely to spread.
Why I liked it: A fun, rompy, voicey, ridiculous read. If you are looking for some escapism, this is it. The basic premise: What if a thriller writer was talking about their job and someone mistook them for an assassin? This book was extremely silly in a fun way.
Description:FINLAY DONOVAN IS KILLING IT…except, she’s really not. The new book she promised her literary agent isn’t written, her ex-husband fired the nanny without telling her, and this morning she had to send her four-year-old to school with hair duct-taped to her head.
When Finlay’s overheard discussing the plot of her new novel with her agent over lunch, she’s mistaken for a contract killer and inadvertently accepts an offer to dispose of a problem husband in order to make ends meet…and she soon discovers that crime in real life is a lot more difficult than its fictional counterpart.
Now, to you: What have you been reading?