Lady Tan’s Circle of Women by Lisa See
According to Confucius, “an educated woman is a worthless woman,” but Tan Yunxian—born into an elite family, yet haunted by death, separations, and loneliness—is being raised by her grandparents to be of use. Her grandmother is one of only a handful of female doctors in China, and she teaches Yunxian the pillars of Chinese medicine, the Four Examinations—looking, listening, touching, and asking—something a man can never do with a female patient.
From a young age, Yunxian learns about women’s illnesses, many of which relate to childbearing, alongside a young midwife-in-training, Meiling. The two girls find fast friendship and a mutual purpose—despite the prohibition that a doctor should never touch blood while a midwife comes in frequent contact with it—and they vow to be forever friends, sharing in each other’s joys and struggles. No mud, no lotus, they tell themselves: from adversity beauty can bloom.
But when Yunxian is sent into an arranged marriage, her mother-in-law forbids her from seeing Meiling and from helping the women and girls in the household. Yunxian is to act like a proper wife—embroider bound-foot slippers, pluck instruments, recite poetry, give birth to sons, and stay forever within the walls of the family compound, the Garden of Fragrant Delights.
All the Sinners Bleed by S.A. Cosby
After years of working as an FBI agent, Titus Crown returns home to Charon County, land of moonshine and cornbread, fist fights and honeysuckle. Seeing his hometown struggling with a bigoted police force inspires him to run for sheriff. He wins, and becomes the first Black sheriff in the history of the county.
Then a year to the day after his election, a young Black man is fatally shot by Titus’s deputies.
Titus pledges to follow the truth wherever it leads. But no one expected he would unearth a serial killer who has been hiding in plain sight, haunting the dirt lanes and woodland clearings of Charon.
Now, Titus must pull off the impossible: stay true to his instincts, prevent outright panic, and investigate a shocking crime in a small town where everyone knows everyone yet secrets flourish. All while also breaking up backroads bar fights and being forced to protect racist Confederate pride marchers.
The Wind Knows My Name by Isabel Allende
Vienna, 1938. Samuel Adler is five years old when his father disappears during Kristallnacht—the night his family loses everything. As her child’s safety becomes ever harder to guarantee, Samuel’s mother secures a spot for him on a Kindertransport train out of Nazi-occupied Austria to England. He boards alone, carrying nothing but a change of clothes and his violin.
Arizona, 2019. Eight decades later, Anita Díaz and her mother board another train, fleeing looming danger in El Salvador and seeking refuge in the United States. But their arrival coincides with the new family separation policy, and seven-year-old Anita finds herself alone at a camp in Nogales. She escapes her tenuous reality through her trips to Azabahar, a magical world of the imagination. Meanwhile, Selena Durán, a young social worker, enlists the help of a successful lawyer in hopes of tracking down Anita’s mother.
And Then He Sang a Lullaby by Ani Kayode Somtochukwu
August is a God-fearing track star who leaves Enugu City to attend university and escape his overbearing sisters. He carries the weight of their lofty expectations, the shame of facing himself, and the haunting memory of a mother he never knew. It’s his first semester and pressures aside, August is making friends and doing well in his classes. He even almost has a girlfriend. There’s only one problem: he can’t stop thinking about Segun, an openly gay student who works at a local cybercafé. Segun carries his own burdens and has been wounded in too many ways. When he meets August, their connection is undeniable, but Segun is reluctant to open himself up to August. He wants to love and be loved by a man who is comfortable in his own skin, who will see and hold and love Segun, exactly as he is.
Despite their differences, August and Segun forge a tender intimacy that defies the violence around them. But there is only so long Segun can stand being loved behind closed doors, while August lives a life beyond the world they’ve created together. And when a new, sweeping anti-gay law is passed, August and Segun must find a way for their love to survive in a Nigeria that was always determined to eradicate them.
Countries of Origin by Javier Fuentes
It is 2007, in New York where Demetrio, 24, is a celebrated pastry chef at the French restaurant, Le Bourrelet. It will be his seventh year as their pâtissier and the chef-owner, stern, but paternal feels he should move on. When Demetrio is offered a position as Head of Pastries at a Michelin-starred restaurant, he wants nothing more than to accept it. Undocumented, he is missing one crucial thing: papers. Terrified he will be found out, he makes the difficult decision of voluntary departure to permanently return to his homeland which he has not seen since he was a small child. This will mean leaving the only family he knows, his beloved uncle Chus, who brought him up and who he still lives with. On his flight to Madrid, he sits next to the handsome, playful and sensitive Jacobo, a student at NYU going home to his aristocratic, fascist family and there is an instant, unacknowledged electricity between them.
In dimly lit bars in Madrid and on pebbled beaches by the sea far outside the city, Demetrio and Jacobo’s subtle but intense relationship unfolds. Demetrio is tortured by a fear of true intimacy, and anxiety about their class difference. Both are struggling with their identities and sexuality and they avoid their true feelings and deep passion until a family tragedy sets them on a collision course back into one another’s lives.
Crow Mary by Kathleen Grissom
In 1872, sixteen-year-old Goes First, a Crow Native woman, marries Abe Farwell, a white fur trader. He gives her the name Mary, and they set off on the long trip to his trading post in the Cypress Hills of Saskatchewan, Canada. Along the way, she finds a fast friend in a Métis named Jeannie; makes a lifelong enemy in a wolfer named Stiller; and despite learning a dark secret of Farwell’s past, falls in love with her husband.
The winter trading season passes peacefully. Then, on the eve of their return to Montana, a group of drunken whiskey traders slaughters forty Nakota—despite Farwell’s efforts to stop them. Mary, hiding from the hail of bullets, sees the murderers, including Stiller, take five Nakota women back to their fort. She begs Farwell to save them, and when he refuses, Mary takes two guns, creeps into the fort, and saves the women from certain death. Thus, she sets off a whirlwind of colliding cultures that brings out the worst and best in the cast of unforgettable characters and pushes the love between Farwell and Crow Mary to the breaking point.
Everything’s Fine by Cecilia Rabess
When Jess lands a job as an analyst at Goldman Sachs, she’s less than thrilled to learn she’ll be on the same team as Josh, her preppy, white, conservative sparring partner from college. Josh loves playing the devil’s advocate and is just…the worst.
But when Jess finds herself the sole Black woman on the floor, overlooked and underestimated, it’s Josh who shows up for her in surprising—if imperfect—ways. Before long, an unlikely friendship—one tinged with undeniable chemistry—forms between the two. A friendship that gradually, and then suddenly, turns into an electrifying romance that shocks them both.
Despite their differences, the force of their attraction propels the relationship forwards, and Jess begins to question whether it’s more important to be happy than right. But then it’s 2016, and the cultural and political landscape shifts underneath them. And Jess, who is just beginning to discover who she is and who she has the right to be, is forced to ask herself what she’s willing to compromise for love and whether, in fact, everything’s fine.
Girls and Their Horses by Eliza Jane Brazier
When the nouveau riche Parker family moves to an exclusive community in the heart of Southern California, they believe it’s their chance at a fresh start. Heather Parker is determined to give her daughters the life she never had—starting with horses.
She signs them up for riding lessons at Rancho Santa Fe Equestrian, where horses are a lifestyle. Heather becomes a “Barn Mom,” part of a group of wealthy women who hang at the stables, drink wine, and prepare their daughters for competition.
It’s not long before the Parker family is fully enmeshed in the horse world—from mean girl cliques to barn romances and dark secrets. With the end of summer horse show fast approaching, the pressure is on, and these mothers will stop at nothing to give their daughters everything they deserve.
Killingly by Katharine Beutner
Massachusetts, 1897: Bertha Mellish, “the most peculiar, quiet, reserved girl” at Mount Holyoke College, is missing.
As a search team dredges the pond where Bertha might have drowned, her panicked father and sister arrive desperate to find some clue to her fate or state of mind. Bertha’s best friend, Agnes, a scholarly loner studying medicine, might know the truth, but she is being unhelpfully tightlipped, inciting the suspicions of Bertha’s family, her classmates, and the private investigator hired by the Mellish family doctor. As secrets from Agnes’s and Bertha’s lives come to light, so do the competing agendas driving each person who is searching for Bertha.
Where did Bertha go? Who would want to hurt her? And could she still be alive?
Maeve Fly by C.J. Leede
By day, Maeve Fly works at the happiest place in the world as every child’s favorite ice princess. By the neon night glow of the Sunset Strip, Maeve haunts the dive bars with a drink in one hand and a book in the other, imitating her misanthropic literary heroes.
But when Gideon Green – her best friend’s brother – moves to town, he awakens something dangerous within her, and the world she knows suddenly shifts beneath her feet.
Untethered, Maeve ditches her discontented act and tries on a new persona. A bolder, bloodier one, inspired by the pages of American Psycho. Step aside Patrick Bateman, it’s Maeve’s turn with the knife.
My Murder by Katie Williams
Lou is a happily married mother of an adorable toddler. She’s also the victim of a local serial killer. Recently brought back to life and returned to her grieving family by a government project, she is grateful for this second chance. But as the new Lou re-adapts to her old routines, and as she bonds with other female victims, she realizes that disturbing questions remain about what exactly preceded her death and how much she can really trust those around her.
Now it’s not enough to care for her child, love her husband, and work the job she’s always enjoyed—she must also figure out the circumstances of her death. Darkly comic, tautly paced, and full of surprises, My Murder is a devour-in-one-sitting, clever twist on the classic thriller.
Pageboy: A Memoir by Elliot Page
“Can I kiss you?” It was two months before the world premiere of Juno, and Elliot Page was in his first ever queer bar. The hot summer air hung heavy around him as he looked at her. And then it happened. In front of everyone. A previously unfathomable experience. Here he was on the precipice of discovering himself as a queer person, as a trans person. Getting closer to his desires, his dreams, himself, without the repression he’d carried for so long. But for Elliot, two steps forward had always come with one step back.
With Juno’s massive success, Elliot became one of the world’s most beloved actors. His dreams were coming true, but the pressure to perform suffocated him. He was forced to play the part of the glossy young starlet, a role that made his skin crawl, on and off set. The career that had been an escape out of his reality and into a world of imagination was suddenly a nightmare.
As he navigated criticism and abuse from some of the most powerful people in Hollywood, a past that snapped at his heels, and a society dead set on forcing him into a binary, Elliot often stayed silent, unsure of what to do. Until enough was enough.
Open Throat by Henry Hoke
A queer and dangerously hungry mountain lion lives in the drought-devastated land under the Hollywood sign. Lonely and fascinated by humanity’s foibles, the lion spends their days protecting the welfare of a nearby homeless encampment, observing obnoxious hikers complain about their trauma, and, in quiet moments, grappling with the complexities of their gender identity, memories of a vicious father, and the indignities of sentience. “I have so much language in my brain,” our lion says, “and nowhere to put it.”
When a man-made fire engulfs the encampment, the lion is forced from the hills down into the city the hikers call “ellay.” As the lion confronts a carousel of temptations and threats, they take us on a tour that spans the cruel inequalities of Los Angeles and the toll of climate grief, while scrambling to avoid earthquakes, floods, and the noise of their own conflicted psyche. But even when salvation finally seems within reach, they are forced to face down the ultimate question: Do they want to eat a person, or become one?
Relentless Melt by Jeremy P. Bushnell
The year is 1909, and Artie Quick—an ambitious, unorthodox and inquisitive young Bostonian—wants to learn about crime. By day she holds down a job as a salesgirl in women’s accessories at Filene’s; by night she disguises herself as a man to pursue studies in Criminal Investigation at the YMCA’s Evening Institute for Younger Men.
Eager to put theory into practice, Artie sets out in search of something to investigate. She’s joined by her pal Theodore, an upper-crust young bachelor whose interest in Boston’s occult counterculture has drawn him into the study of magic. Together, their journey into mystery begins on Boston Common—where the tramps and the groundskeepers swap rumors about unearthly screams and other unsettling anomalies—but soon Artie and Theodore uncover a series of violent abductions that take them on an adventure from the highest corridors of power to the depths of an abandoned mass transit tunnel, its excavation suspiciously never completed.
The Elissas by Samantha Leach
Bustle editor Samantha Leach and her childhood best friend, Elissa, met as infants in the suburbs of Providence, Rhode Island, where they attended nursery, elementary school, and temple together. As seventh graders, they would steal drinks from bar mitzvahs and have boys over in Samantha’s basement—innocent, early acts of rebellion. But after one of their shared acts, Samantha was given a disciplinary warning by their private school while Elissa was dismissed altogether, and later sent away. Samantha did not know then, but Elissa had just become one of the fifty-thousand-plus kids per year who enter the Troubled Teen Industry: a network of unregulated programs meant to reform wealthy, wayward youth.
Less than a year after graduation from Ponca Pines Academy, Elissa died at eighteen years old. In Samantha’s grief, she fixated on Elissa’s last years at the therapeutic boarding school, eager to understand why their paths diverged. As she spoke to mutual friends and scoured social media pages, Samantha learned of Alyssa and Alissa, Elissa’s closest friends at the school who shared both her name and penchant for partying, where drugs and alcohol became their norm. The matching Save Our Souls tattoo all three girls also had further fueled Samantha’s fixation, as she watched their lives play out online. Four years after Elissa’s death, Alyssa died, then Alissa at twenty-six.
In The Elissas, Samantha endeavors to understand why they ultimately met a shared, tragic fate that she was spared, in turn, offering a chilling account of the secret lives of young suburban women.
The Gay Best Friend by Nicolas DiDomizio
Domenic Marino has become an expert at code-switching between the hypermasculine and ultrafeminine worlds of his two soon-to-be-wed best friends. But this summer―reeling from his own failed engagement and tasked with attending their bachelor and bachelorette parties―he’s anxious over having to play both sides.
The pressure is on. The bride wants Dom to keep things clean. The groom wants Dom to “let loose” with the guys. And Dom just wants to get out of this whole mess with his friendships intact.
But once the rowdy groomsmen show up at the beach house―including a surprise visit from the groom’s old frat brother, handsome and charming PGA star Bucky Graham―chaos (and unexpected romance) quickly ensues.
The Memory of Animals by Claire Fuller
In the face of a pandemic, an unprepared world scrambles to escape the mysterious disease causing sensory damage, nerve loss, and, in most cases, death. Neffy, a disgraced and desperately indebted twenty-seven-year-old marine biologist, registers for an experimental vaccine trial in London―perhaps humanity’s last hope for a cure. Though isolated from the chaos outside, she and the other volunteers―Rachel, Leon, Yahiko, and Piper―cannot hide from the mistakes that led them there.
As London descends into chaos outside the hospital windows, Neffy befriends Leon, who before the pandemic had been working on a controversial technology that allows users to revisit their memories. She withdraws into projections of her past―a childhood bisected by divorce, a recent love affair, her obsessive research with octopuses and the one mistake that ended her career. The lines between past, present, and future begin to blur, and Neffy is left with defining questions: Who can she trust? Why can’t she forgive herself? How should she live, if she survives?
The Questions that Matter Most: Reading, Writing, and the Exercise of Freedom by Jane Smiley
Long acclaimed as one of America’s preeminent novelists, Jane Smiley is also an unparalleled observer of the craft of writing. In The Questions That Matter Most this Pulitzer Prize-winning writer offers steady and penetrating essays on some of the aesthetic and cultural issues that mark any serious engagement with reading and writing. Beginning with a personal introduction tracing Smiley’s migration from Iowa to California, the author reflects on her findings in the varied literature of the Golden State, whose writers have for decades litigated the West’s contested legacies of racism, class conflict, and sexual politics through their pens.
As she considers the ambiguity of character and the weight of history, her essays provide new entry points into literature, and we lucky readers can see how Smiley draws inspiration from across the literary spectrum to invigorate her own writing. With enthusiasm and meticulous attention, Smiley dives beneath surface-level interpretations to examine the works of Marguerite de Navarre, Charles Dickens, Anthony Trollope, Harriet Beecher Stowe, Louisa May Alcott, Mark Twain, Willa Cather, Franz Kafka, Halldór Laxness, and Jessica Mitford. Throughout, Smiley seeks to think harder and, in her words, with “more clarity and nuance” about the questions that matter most.
Translation State by Ann Leckie
Qven was created to be a Presger translator. The pride of their Clade, they always had a clear path before them: learn human ways, and eventually, make a match and serve as an intermediary between the dangerous alien Presger and the human worlds. The realization that they might want something else isn’t “optimal behavior”. I’s the type of behavior that results in elimination.
But Qven rebels. And in doing so, their path collides with those of two others. Enae, a reluctant diplomat whose dead grandmaman has left hir an impossible task as an inheritance: hunting down a fugitive who has been missing for over 200 years. And Reet, an adopted mechanic who is increasingly desperate to learn about his genetic roots—or anything that might explain why he operates so differently from those around him.
As a Conclave of the various species approaches—and the long-standing treaty between the humans and the Presger is on the line—the decisions of all three will have ripple effects across the stars.