Happy birthday, America! We’re celebrating with lounging by the pool, barbecues, and fireworks. Even with the extra festivities, we’ve always got a good book tucked into our bags. Here’s what we’ve been diving into.
This time around my picks are all urban fantasy. Urban fantasy gets a bad rap. Possibly because the genre houses so many sexy werewolf romance books. But I managed to find some without hunky werewolves. (Sorry.) Each of these novels are so different but they all knock the world-building out of the park.
The Ghost Bride by Yangsze Choo
Li Lan is the only daughter of a bankrupt house. Her prospects are low when she is approached by a wealthy and respected suitor, Lim Tian Ching. It would be a good match, but there are some problems. Tian Ching is a spoiled brat, she’s hot for his cousin, and he’s dead. To shake this haunting and seize control of her life again, Li Lan must leave her body and travel to the land of the dead on a dangerous adventure that will change her forever.
Recommended for people who like Spirited Away, bureaucratic afterlives, and ghost stories.
The Everything Box by Richard Kadrey
What an unexpected delight! I ran into this book while searching for available reads at the library and decided to take a chance. The Everything Box stars Coop, a thief who specializes in magical and bizarre heists. After a brief stint in prison, he’s hired to steal a box. And then steal it again. And then again. Everyone wants the box — to some it’s a horn to summon their dark lord, to others it’s full of luck, and to one lost angel it’s the kill switch for humanity. Hi-jinx ensue.
Recommended for fans of Good Omens, Ocean’s Eleven, and laughter.
Spoonbenders by Daryl Gregory
The Amazing Telemachus Family toured the country showing off their incredible psychic powers for a year until a disastrous TV show tanked their prospects. Years later the matriarch, Maureen aka Grandma Mo aka The Most Powerful Psychic in the World, is long gone and her remaining family is fractured. Her grandson, Matty, just learned to throw himself from his body and might have accessed magic, the very same magic that Maureen once had, that can bring them all back together again.
Recommended for nerds who are into The Sopranos, Cold War spies, and dysfunctional families.
This month, I’ve been reading a bunch of different things (like always). Again, I always like to have a mix of fiction and nonfiction going at the same time. My most anticipated read is Anthony Bourdain’s Kitchen Confidential. Bourdain passed last year around this time, and I miss watching him on TV — like, a lot, but I’ll get into that in a minute.
Kitchen Confidential by Anthony Bourdain
Like I said above, I’m a huge Bourdain fan. However, I mainly know him from TV. Kitchen Confidential is the book that put him on the pop culture map, and it’s interesting coming to it so late because he says things in the book about how celebrities chefs will probably never give him the time of day after the book is published. For example, he makes a comment about how Eric Ripert would never invite him down to Le Bernardin. If you’re a fan of his TV show, you know instantly that the two became fast friends and balanced each other well on screen. The book’s an interesting look into NYC kitchens and the culture that fills them. If you’re looking to get more Bourdain in your life and haven’t read this book yet, I highly recommend it.
Severance by Ling Ma
Severance, in short, is a book about Millennial-ness. We feel trapped by jobs that are essentially meaningless — yet we go there every day and do our best for some reason. We want art and all we get are ashes. This book is not going to make you feel good — quite the opposite. It follows the story of a woman who continues working her job in NYC as the world around her slowly succumbs to a mysterious disease called Shen Fever. It’s post-apocalyptic, but not too focused on the sci-fi underpinnings of what that means. It’s more of a character study into modern thinking about work, art, relationships, and trappings of each.
What If? by Randall Munroe
My second non-fiction book is What If? by xkcd creator Randall Munroe. This is absolutely my type of non-fiction. I devour random facts, and I love digging into questions. I haven’t started reading this yet, but I’m very excited to get going. If you’ve been reading any of these What We’re Reading posts in the past, you’ll know that I’ve dug into subjects like cremation (Smoke Gets in Your Eyes), libraries (The Library Book), gastronomy (Gulp), and many other random things. This book promises to back a ton of that content into one place.
Lately, I’ve made an effort to up my reading game, not just because Josh and Andie are leaving me is the dust, but because it’s too damn hot out for me to keep running the way I have been. (Soon as I get the Nike deal, I’ll hit the pavement on the super swampy days.) But, I’ve also missed reading voraciously for pleasure, so I’ve taken a page from the QE books, and I’m making the effort to get back to it.
The Silmarillion by J.R.R. Tolkien
That’s right. I’m not playing.
Sure, it’s well over three-hundred pages about the origins of a totally made-up time and place, but if you’re expecting thrilling action and crafted characters, you’ll be let down. That said, The Silmarillion reads like a theological textbook, rich in mysticism and the language of lore. After all, the point of its publication was to provide the origins of the world of Middle Earth and the cast of characters who inhabit it. Linguistically, it’s gorgeous, but it’s one of the dryer reads I’ve embarked on since college. Bring some strong coffee and a sandwich before diving in.
Black Panther and the Crew: We Are the Streets by Ta-Nehisi Coates and Yona Harvey
I’ve been waiting for this collected edition to hit my local library since 2017. One of my favorite poets, Pittsburgh’s own Yona Harvey is the first black woman to ever write Storm for Marvel comics, and for Harvey’s Storm to take the spotlight with Black Panther, Misty Knight, Luke Cage, and Manifold is monumental. We Are the Streets is equal parts social and cultural criticism, superhero action, and razor-sharp cleverness. Black Panther and the Crew does more than simply feature black heroes. It inspires readers to examine their own communities, amplify their contributions, and take action toward a better, stronger tomorrow.
The Miniature Wife by Manuel Gonzales
This is a collection that’s been following me around for some time, like a song you keep hearing throughout the day. I finally caved and picked it up, and I’m excited I did so. Gonzales has a remarkable talent for rendering the impossibly absurd in such a way that fully suspends disbelief, ensconcing readers in the fantastical, then blindsiding them with starting, precision poignancy. You’ll never see the turns coming, but you’ll be powerless to look away. This is the collection you didn’t know you needed.
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