The September Girls
342pp. Harper Teen.
So like imagine that there was someone genius enough to mash up a wicked smart fairytale reboot, a poignant and wry commentary on the perils of compulsory heteronormativity, a totally baller love story, and a running series of increasingly hilarious Little Mermaid jokes into what is basically the greatest beach read ever except OH SNAP you don't have to imagine because that person is Bennett Madison and HE DID IT. There you go. I loved this book straight up through until the very end, and then the last few pages blew me straight out of the water (DO YOU SEE WHAT I DID THERE) and I went straight from love to just plain awe. Funny and sweet and sad and lovely and all the good things you could ask for in a book; the only bad thing about The September Girls is that it ends.
I have been a fan of Susan Choi since I read her utterly stunning American Woman, and My Education is a book from a writer at the pinnacle of her game. I live-texted half this book to my bestie as I read it--seriously, there are sentences in here so fantastic I wanted to tattoo them on my person. A little bit love story, a little bit coming-of-age story, a little bit meditation on the amazing, hilarious, and gut-wrenching mess human beings make out of our dealings with one another, and a whole lot of perfect. Also, special bonus, one of the hottest sex scenes ever written in the history of sex scenes. AND a delicious twist of an ending that you will totally never see coming (well, I didn't, anyway) and yet is the most exact right ending imaginable. Why are you listening to me babble, just go read it.
Claire DeWitt and the Bohemian Highway
288pp. Houghton Mifflin.
If you have not yet read Sara Gran's first installment in the Claire DeWitt series, Claire DeWitt and the City of the Dead, then I am very thrilled for you, because the delights that await you are in fact unparalleled. Like its predecessor, genre-upending Claire DeWitt and the Bohemian Highway is lethally smart and wildly funny, but it is also, by the end, a totally gorgeous heartbreak of a book that left me unabashedly bawling my head off on the Q train. If you are a person anything like me you will see rather more of yourself than might be entirely comfortable in cranky, misanthropic, and wounded Claire, but you do not need to find Sara Gran's magnificently unpredictable heroine eminently relatable in order to appreciate the stunning brilliance of this book. Hard to believe such a thing is possible, but it's even better than the first one.
375pp. Katherine Tegen.
If you have so much as looked at Hilary Smith's hilarious and much-beloved blog, it will come as no surprise to you that her first novel is as lovely and sharp and brilliant a book as a person could wish for. The story of a young aspiring concert pianist whose quiet summer housesitting for her parents is suddenly derailed into a perilous search for the truth about what happened to her dead sister, Wild Awake is a rich and compelling journey through grief, loss, madness, illness, music, and, ultimately, love. Smith is a hugely talented and huge-hearted writer, and Wild Awake is a magnificent debut.
Hour of the Rat
371pp. Soho Crime.
I am a great big fan of Lisa Brackmann, who has a rare knack for turning out smartly-crafted and addictive thrillers that are as politically astute as they are fun to read, and her latest (starring the irrepressible and routinely unlucky Ellie McEnroe of Rock Paper Tiger) is no exception. Ellie is, no surprise, in trouble again: an old Army buddy enlists her to track down his missing brother in China, a job that turns out to have some serious complications. Fans of Ellie will be pleased to see her judgment remains dubious, her heart remains true, and her ability to get herself into as much hot water as possible at any given moment remains unerring.
And some new and upcoming books I am excited about: brilliant essayist Kiese Laymon's much-acclaimed first novel Long Division; Katie Coyle's prize-winning YA debut Vivian Versus the Apocalypse (you can, and should, because they are excellent, read the first few pages online here); and Kari Luna's first novel, The Theory of Everything.