A love of reading can stem from many sources. While many people discover a passion for the written word through the accessibility of comics or reading screenplays of their favorite movies, books have existed throughout time as a form of discovery, research, escapism, or unfettered entertainment. Unfortunately, with age comes more obligations, and less time to sit down for hours and read a 300-page novel. Some may also find themselves deterred by the vast amount of options available in the humongous world of novels. Don’t be swayed by the formidable array of titles filling up the shelves at Barnes & Noble. Each month, this column will feature five of the best titles I’ve read from a variety of genres over the past four weeks. You’ll be able to identify the genre that most interests you, read a short blurb of my personal thoughts, and will hopefully discover your next favorite book to read through this curated list! These books are available through bookstores, Amazon, Kindle, or most local libraries. Let’s crash into this expansive literary universe.
1. Firekeeper’s Daughter by Angeline Boulley
Genre: Young Adult Thriller
Page Count: 496 pages
(CW: Murder, death, drug use, abuse)
Set in the early 2000s, this book covers themes like tribalism, science, identity, government/police dynamics with Native American individuals, and the calamitous effects of drug trafficking. The central protagonist is eighteen-year-old, unenrolled tribal member Daunis Fontaine because of her “outsider” birth. Firekeeper’s Daughter is marketed as a YA book, but the heavy-hitting plot about meth use, violence toward Native American women, death, and tribal enrollment are mature topics most people don’t hear about in the news.
Science-obsessed Daunis grapples with grief and belonging. The death of both her father outside the tribe, the suspicious “drug overdose” of her uncle, and the impending death of her hospitalized grandmother have further fractured her family. Several plots weave together, forming a crucial story about a mixed-race Ojibwe woman trying to fit in, and her ties to the drug-related deaths on her reservation. This novel is a vital learning experience about modern Native American struggles in the U.S. The murder-mystery element of the story will keep anyone invested. Readers will observe how meth use and trafficking affects not just the individuals involved, but entire communities. It’s human, touching, and an essential read that will keep you turning the pages.
2. The Echo Wife by Sarah Gailey
Genre: Science Fiction; Mystery/Thriller
Page Count: 253
(CW: Domestic violence/abuse, murder, death, ethical considerations)
If you’re looking for a shorter mystery read that dips its toes in the science fiction vein, The Echo Wife is a bingeable novel. Granted, the science-based explanations about the cloning process aren’t entirely accurate, but readers will find themselves lost in the dramatic narrative about a woman and… her clone? Evelyn Caldwell is a renowned scientist for her award-winning research that produced a human clone. The clones were grown in tanks and perfected to act as body doubles, primarily for political figures, etc., then to be discarded after a few months of use. Think of a much more complicated cloning process like Scott Calvin in The Santa Clause 2 without all the authoritarian dictatorship aftermath.
This book is hard to summarize without giving away spoilers. I would recommend thriller fans to dive into the story headfirst without looking up any other details. The Echo Wife digs deep into the relationship between Evelyn and her abusive ex-husband, childhood trauma, a genetically cloned replica who has lived well past the three-month clone lifespan, and female agency. Autonomy and ethics intermix in scintillating fashion. There’s also body horror that might give you nightmares.
3. Robin by Dave Itzkoff
Genre: Nonfiction Biography
Page Count: 527
(CW: Suicide, death, depression, mental health)
Robin Williams, comedian, actor, and beloved entertainer, died of apparent suicide in 2014. Much controversy and speculation arose as a result of his misdiagnosed illness, his uninhibited work ethic, and the division of his assets between his family and final wife. Despite his tragic endings and struggle with mental health, Robin Williams lived a life bursting with empathy, love, and a drive to succeed. New York Times reporter Dave Itzkoff outlines Robin’s life in vivid detail with hundreds of credible sources, quotes, and interview material to support his words. There are a few documentaries about Robin Williams, but none of them go as in-depth about the comedian as this 500+ page definitive biographical book. If you want to learn about Robin’s expansive career, Robin investigates the outward — and internal — undulations Robin experienced in his life.
This novel is both a sensitive but unflinching book that will challenge your preconceived notions about Robin. Another content warning: The final chapters describing Robin’s suicide and funeral are especially heartbreaking. If the page count scares you, I would also recommend listening to the Robin audiobook. The narrator is flawless and performs splendid impressions of Robin Williams and others in the comedy industry.
4. Ring Shout by P. Djèlí Clark
Genre: Dark Fantasy / Historical Fiction Novella
Page Count: 192
(CW: Language, Ku Klux Klan plot, horror, death, violence)
Novellas are marvelous for novel readers who simply don’t have the time to read a long book or for less acclimated readers. Ring Shout is a recent novella that will provide you with a swift, immersive punch to the gut. In a provocative supernatural plot twist, a group of young friends during Prohibition-era Georgia hunt and kill members of the Second Ku Klux Klan (KKK). Thomas Dixon and sorcerer D.W. Griffith use the infamous The Birth of a Nation book and a conjuring spell to spark another Klan movement and summon supernatural demons. Magic sword-bearer Maryse Boudreaux is determined to eradicate both the human disguised monsters of the Second Klan and the revitalized racism permeating the nation.
This book is an exhilarating adventure that provides a honed scope of perspective about real systemic racism in U.S. history. Additionally, reading about strong, female, Black protagonists brutally slaying and banishing white-hood-wearing demons back to Hell will kindle feelings of triumph! Poignant political allusions, badass women, and KKK monsters run rampant in this fast-paced novella.
5. Rule of Wolves by Leigh Bardugo
Genre: Young Adult Fantasy
Page Count: 608
(CW: Death, war, murder, discussions of abuse/grooming)
SPOILER WARNING: If you haven’t read any other books in Leigh Bardugo’s Grishaverse universe, stop reading now! Go to Ashley Durante’s lovely Grishaverse guide here, and come back later. That being said, you can read this book after King of Scars if you seriously don’t feel like reading the other six tie-in predecessors.
Rule of Wolves is the conclusion to Nikolai’s story in the King of Scars Duology. The upcoming Shadow and Bone Netflix series will most likely introduce new people to the literary side of the wide-reaching Grishaverse. Realistically, Rule of Wolves should absolutely be the last book on your Leigh Bardugo reading list. Nevertheless, I’m including this book here mainly due to its open-ended conclusion. Slight spoilers for King of Scars ahead.
Jumping off the previous book, King of Scars, King Nikolai Lantsov of Ravka faces war with Fjerda, the returned Darkling, and the task of assembling allies. His general, Zoya Nazyalensky must cope with the power brewing inside her, as well as her romantic feelings toward Nikolai. Meanwhile, Nina Zenik maintains a physical facade while mining information for Ravka inside the Fjerdan capitol.
You might be wondering how you can “crash into” this novel. Firstly, this latest chapter in the Grishaverse series ties together characters and plot lines from the original Shadow and Bone trilogy, and the Six of Crows duology. Thus, fans will definitely want to read this book for its character cameos. Secondly, if King of Scars readers were unsure whether to continue with the duology, I can assure you that this finale book is worth reading. Thirdly, fans of Shadow and Bone craving more Nikolai need to pick up this duology. Finally, (avoiding spoilers) due to the ending, Rule of Wolves proves a necessary read before the inevitable continuation of unannounced Grishaverse books. Yes, there are extreme implications that Leigh Bardugo is far from abandoning the Grishaverse. Read this book.
Next month, I will return with more novel recommendations curated from the gigantic book stratosphere. I plan on making these lists as diverse in genre as possible so anyone can and will find a book to read that appeals to them. Enjoy reading this month!