The Fright Stuff

02/03 The Fright Stuff – Curses

I don’t lend out books or pens because they almost never get returned, and nothing makes me want someone to go ahead and go die worse than not returning a book or a pen. (Another new pet peeve of mine is when I eavesdrop on strangers’ conversations and they are insufferably boring.)

Anyway, it turns out I’m not the only one who is super protective of their books–especially when they have all my notes and work in the margins. In medieval times, they protected their library books the old fashioned way, with curses.

But say you’re not a person who’s super territorial about books. There are other curses for you, from love potions to maybe just immortal life. By the way, you’re in The Fright Stuff, Book Riot’s newsletter on the latest and greatest in horror. I’m Mary Kay McBrayer, and I’ll be your Virgil through this realm of hell, the curse. To paraphrase the Stephen Sommers’ iteration of The Mummy, death shall come on swift wings to whomsoever reads from these books.

Earworm: “St. James Infirmary” by Louis Armstrong.

Fresh Hells (FKA new releases):

the necronomnomnom by mike slater horror cookbooks the fright stuffThe Necronomnomnom by Mike Slater and Thomas Roache

This beautiful cookbook features recipes all inspired by the eldritch horrors of H.P. Lovecraft. Even the title is modified from his legendary, cursed book of the dead, The Necronomicon. The foreword to this tome states that “if cooking is science, then eldritch cooking is alchemy, prayer, and sacrifice.” The book itself is gorgeously illustrated with images of the recipes/spells come to fruition, and scribblings of those driven mad by the curses gone awry decorate the margins in a way delightful to anyone familiar with H.P. Lovecraft’s work–this book is PERFECT for you if you’re a big fan of his, and you like to cook.

The King in Yellow by Robert Chambers, edited by John Edgar Browning

Speaking of Lovecraft, The King in Yellow is said to have been a major influence on his work. Essentially, this collection of stories is one of the prototypes for an entire genre of weird fiction, and the “cursed” aspect of it comes mostly from the story entitled “The Yellow Mark.” I’ll let you determine whether seeing it actually marks you forever. Also, this collection has been noted as bridging the transition from Gothic literature into the horror of the twentieth century, which is a pretty epic feat.

the only good indiansThe Only Good Indians by Stephen Graham Jones

This master of horror is at it again, and what an AWESOME title, right? Like, way to completely set up a horror novel that is also a deep social commentary about the mistreatment of indigenous people. The narrative follows four American Indian men after an ordeal in their childhood places them as a target for a vengeful entity. This novel is available for pre-order–and you know you’re going to buy it anyway, so go ahead on and help this author’s publisher know that WE DEMAND THIS LEVEL OF LITERATURE.

what should be wildWhat Should be Wild by Julia Fine

This coming of age fairy tale novel features a girl who can kill or resurrect with a simple touch. When her father goes missing, she has to leave the world that has been constructed for her safety to find him–what she learns in the process features the family curse that gave her this double-edged gift.


Cryptkeepers (FKA as horrors from the backlist):

The Book of Speculation by Erica Swyler

This novel follows a family of cursed circus performers–for some reason, all the women in Simon’s life are great at holding their breath (like, circus-mermaid-level great), but generations of women have died by drowning, and always on July 24. Simon worries that his sister, who reads from a deck of never-smudged tarot for a traveling circus, is next in line.


one hundred years of solitudeOne Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel García Márquez

My tried-and-trusty classic book about a family curse! If you haven’t yet picked up this iconic work, you absolutely have to. The master of magical realism, Gabo, writes about a family who endures a curse as a result of the patriarch’s murder. I’m definitely oversimplifying it, but that’s because you’re going to love it so, so much that I don’t want to spoil it for you. PLUS, there’s talk of Netflix adapting it for the screen soon.

in love and trouble alice walker book cover“The Revenge of Hannah Kemhuff” from In Love and Trouble by Alice Walker

This was one of my favorite texts to teach in my ENGL 1102 class because of its ambiguity. After being slighted in a rations line during the Great Depression, Hannah Kemhuff’s life falls apart. She visits a root worker to seek retribution on the woman who denied her, in the form of a curse. Y’all are going to love this one–that is, if you, like me, are a sucker for a vigilante beat-down.

Madeleine is Sleeping by Sarah Shun-lien Bynum

In this novel, the lovely Madeleine is horribly punished for a sexual encounter with a man in a French provincial village, and for reasons unknown, she falls into a prolonged sleep. In it, she dreams of the circus fantastical, the magical, and tries to distinguish between her waking and dreaming life.



If you really love your S.O., you will buy them one of these edible hearts that are modeled after actual hearts and hand-painted to look STUPID realistic.

The mummified bodies of seven ancient Egyptian women from the time of Ramesses II were found to have tattoos.

Learn about Casa Figueroa, or “the cursed house” in Taxco, Mexico, named for all the horrors that happened in its walls.

Or if you’re headed to Bali, learn about this ghost palace that’s full of ghosts, curses, and corruption.

Shirley, a biopic of the inimitable author, Shirley Jackson starring the also-inimitable actress, Elisabeth Moss debuted at Sundance, and it’s seeking U.S. distribution.

Louis Vuitton’s new look book is based on sci-fi and horror novel covers!

It’s time for me to GTFO, but I sure hope you enjoyed this list of cursed books. If you end up chased by a vengeful entity and you need backup, you can contact me through Twitter or Instagram… but also you can just follow me and we can share great horrors with one another. Until next week…

Your Virgil,


Mary Kay

Today In Books

Dave Matthews Writes Children’s Books: Today In Books

Dave Matthews Writes Children’s Books

Singer-songwriter Dave Matthews has written a middle grade fantasy novel with children’s author Clete Barrett Smith: If We Were Giants. “’Having spent my childhood exploring the forests of Virginia and time as an adult with the San people of South Africa, I really respect a life balanced with nature,’ Matthews said in a statement. ‘I’m thrilled to be working with Clete and Disney Publishing to tell a story that focuses on the importance of the environment.’”

Free Poetry Reading!

On February 22nd, at Emory University’s Schwartz Center for the Performing Arts, Nikki Giovanni will be giving a free poetry reading. Tickets won’t be sold so, if you want to attend, get there early because it’ll be limited. Can’t make it? Hate crowds? You can read her wonderful book, A Good Cry: What We Learn From Tears and Laughter, all by yourself. And she has a TEDx Talk!

Trailer Time!

The HBO miniseries adaptation of Philip Roth’s 2004 alternate American history novel, The Plot Against America, has a trailer! Coming in March, it stars Zoe Kazan, Morgan Spector, Winona Ryder, and John Turturro.

The Kids Are All Right

Winners of the American Library Association’s Youth Media Awards!

Hello, friends!

Wow, I was so excited to see the ALA Youth Media Awards announced this morning. So many of my favorites – most of them discussed in this newsletter or on the Book Riot Kidlit These Days podcast – were among the chosen books! The whole list is here, but here are my some of my favorites…

New Kid by Jerry Craft, Newbery Medal, Coretta Scott King Author Award

Oh, how I loved this book so much! It’s about a middle schooler starting at a private school for the first time. It’s so funny and does a great job at depicting the transition from a diverse, neighborhood public school to an expensive, mostly white private school. Craft deals with the topic with humor and honesty, and I am so thrilled this won the Newbery Medal. (It’s the first time in history that a graphic novel has won the Newbery Medal!)

Other Words from Home by Jasmine Warga, Newbery Honor

This lovely novel-in-verse tells the story of a young girl who leaves her home in Syria for America. She travels with her mom and leaves her dad and brother behind, and the transition is anything but easy. She has to adjust to a new culture, new language, and new school, all while worrying about her family back home. Along the way, she meets new friends and discovers new passions. I loved this book!

Genesis Begins Again by Alicia D. Williams, Newbery Honor

I’ve talked about this book a lot, and I interviewed Alicia for the Book Riot kid lit podcast. You can listen to it here! This story is about a young girl who is struggling to fit in at the various middle schools she attends. Her family experiences constant housing insecurity with her father being in and out of work.


The Undefeated by Kwame Alexander, illustrated by Kadir Nelson (Newbery Honor, Caldecott Medal, Coretta Scott King Illustrator Award

How has Kadir Nelson not won a Caldecott before? His paintings are so rich in detail and beauty. You probably remember me raving about the new covers he did for Mildred D. Taylor’s Logan series. This book is so gorgeous and inspiring and thoughtful and compelling.

¡Vamos! Let’s Go to the Market by Raul the Third, Belpré Illustrator Honor

This book is so detailed and beautiful, with gorgeous spreads that draw the eye. Readers are introduced to both English and Spanish words as they follow Little Lobo and his dog Bernabe as they deliver supplies to a variety of vendors, selling everything from sweets to sombreros, portraits to piñatas, carved masks to comic books!

Planting Stories: The Life of Librarian and Storyteller Pura Belpré by Anika Aldamuy Denise, illustrated by Paola Escobar, Belpré Author Honor

I loved this book since it came out over a year ago, and I was thrilled to see it recognized by the Belpré committee. This story follows the life of librarian Pura Belpré and her fantastic passion for books and her career as a librarian at the New York Public Library. A must read!

Stargazing by Jen Wang, Asian/Pacific American Award for Literature

Oh, I was hoping that this book would get an award! I interviewed Jen for the Book Riot kidlit podcast, and you can listen to it here. This story follows Christine, a young girl who gets a new neighbor, Moon. Moon is everything Christine isn’t. She’s confident, impulsive, artistic . . . and though they both grew up in the same Chinese-American suburb, Moon is somehow unlike anyone Christine has ever known. But after Moon moves in next door, these unlikely friends are soon best friends, sharing their favorite music videos and painting their toenails when Christine’s strict parents aren’t around.

I loved so many of the winning books (that photo is of all the books I pulled from my bookshelves as the winners were being called out) but don’t have the time to talk them all up here! Was there a book on the list you were really excited about? Let me know! Find me on Twitter at @KarinaYanGlaser, on Instagram at @KarinaIsReadingAndWriting, or email me at

Until next time!

*If this e-mail was forwarded to you, follow this link to subscribe to “The Kids Are All Right” newsletter and other fabulous Book Riot newsletters for your own customized e-mail delivery. Thank you!*

Riot Rundown


What's Up in YA

“OK CAMPERS, Rise and Shine”: It’s Groundhog Day in YA!

Hey YA Fans!

I’m obsessed with the movie Groundhog Day. Part of this is because I live in the town where Groundhog Day was filmed, and we put out all of the stops for celebrating February 2 (and the days before and after, too). The premise is creative and enduring: what if you lived the same day over and over again? Would you change things? How would those changes change you?

This is at the heart of these excellent YA books that riff on the premise of Groundhog Day. Every time a YA book has that as a comparison or in its description, I’m sold.

Although I have gulped down many of these, I haven’t gotten to them all yet, so these descriptions are borrowed from the publisher. I’ve starred the ones I have read and endorse. Note this list is very white — I’d love to see way more time loop YA books from authors of color, a la the Reynolds book on this list.

Let’s do the time loop again!

*Before I Fall by Lauren Oliver

For popular high school senior Samantha Kingston, February 12—”Cupid Day”—should be one big party, a day of valentines and roses and the privileges that come with being at the top of the social pyramid. And it is … until she dies in a terrible accident that night.

However, she still wakes up the next morning. In fact, Sam lives the last day of her life seven times, until she realizes that by making even the slightest changes, she may hold more power than she ever imagined.

The Loop by Shandy Lawson

Ben and Maggie have met, fallen in love, and died together countless times. Over the course of two pivotal days—both the best and worst of their lives—they struggle again and again to resist the pull of fate and the force of time itself. With each failure, they return to the beginning of their end, a wild road trip that brings them to the scene of their own murders and into the hands of the man destined to kill them.

As time circles back on itself, events become more deeply ingrained, more inescapable for the two kids trapped inside the loop. The closer they come to breaking out, the tighter fate’s clutches seem to grip them. They devise a desperate plan to break free and survive the days ahead, but what if Ben and Maggie’s only shot at not dying is surviving apart?

Neverworld Wake by Marisha Pessl

Once upon a time, back at Darrow-Harker School, Beatrice Hartley and her five best friends were the cool kids, the beautiful ones. Then the shocking death of Jim – their creative genius and Beatrice’s boyfriend – changed everything.

One year after graduation, Beatrice is returning to Wincroft – the seaside estate where they spent so many nights sharing secrets, crushes, plans to change the world – hoping she’ll get to the bottom of the dark questions gnawing at her about Jim’s death.

But as the night plays out in a haze of stilted jokes and unfathomable silence, Beatrice senses she’s never going to know what really happened.

Then a mysterious man knocks on the door. Blithely, he announces the impossible: time for them has become stuck, snagged on a splinter that can only be removed if the former friends make the harshest of decisions.

Now Beatrice has one last shot at answers… and at life.

And so begins the Neverworld Wake.

The Night of Your Life by Lydia Sharp

JJ is having the worst prom ever… over and over again.

All year, JJ’s been looking forward to going to prom with his best friend, Lucy. It will be their last hurrah before graduation—a perfect night for all their friends to relax, have fun together, and celebrate making it through high school.

But nothing goes according to plan. When a near-car crash derails JJ before he even gets to prom and Lucy can’t figure out what happened to him, things spiral out of control. The best night of their lives quickly turns into the worst.

That is… until JJ wakes up the next day only to find that it’s prom night all over again.

At first, JJ thinks he’s lucky to have unlimited chances at perfecting the night of his life. But each day ends badly for him and Lucy, no matter what he does. Can he find a way to get the perfect prom he’s always wanted and move forward into the rest of his life?

*The Opposite of Always by Justin A. Reynolds

Jack Ellison King. King of Almost.

He almost made valedictorian.

He almost made varsity.

He almost got the girl . . .

When Jack and Kate meet at a party, bonding until sunrise over their mutual love of Froot Loops and their favorite flicks, Jack knows he’s falling—hard. Soon she’s meeting his best friends, Jillian and Franny, and Kate wins them over as easily as she did Jack. Jack’s curse of almost is finally over.

But this love story is . . . complicated. It is an almost happily ever after. Because Kate dies. And their story should end there. Yet Kate’s death sends Jack back to the beginning, the moment they first meet, and Kate’s there again. Beautiful, radiant Kate. Healthy, happy, and charming as ever. Jack isn’t sure if he’s losing his mind. Still, if he has a chance to prevent Kate’s death, he’ll take it. Even if that means believing in time travel. However, Jack will learn that his actions are not without consequences. And when one choice turns deadly for someone else close to him, he has to figure out what he’s willing to do—and let go—to save the people he loves.

Pretty in Punxsutawney by Laurie Boyle Crompton

Andie is the type of girl who always comes up with the perfect thing to say…after it’s too late to say it. She’s addicted to romance movies—okay, all movies—but has yet to experience her first kiss. After a move to Punxsutawney, PA, for her senior year, she gets caught in an endless loop of her first day at her new school, reliving those 24 hours again and again.

Convinced the curse will be broken when she meets her true love, Andie embarks on a mission: infiltrating the various cliques to find the one boy who can break the spell. What she discovers along the way is that people who seem completely different can often share the very same hopes, dreams, and hang-ups. And that even a day that has been lived over and over can be filled with unexpected connections and plenty of happy endings.

A Week of Mondays by Jessica Brody

Sixteen-year-old Ellison Sparks is having a serious case of the Mondays. She gets a ticket for running a red light, she manages to take the world’s worst school picture, she bombs softball try-outs and her class election speech (note to self: never trust a cheerleader when she swears there are no nuts in her bake-sale banana bread), and to top it all off, Tristan, her gorgeous rocker boyfriend suddenly dumps her. For no good reason!

As far as Mondays go, it doesn’t get much worse than this. And Ellie is positive that if she could just do it all over again, she would get it right. So when she wakes up the next morning to find she’s reliving the exact same day, she knows what she has to do: stop her boyfriend from breaking up with her. But it seems no matter how many do-overs she gets or how hard Ellie tries to repair her relationship, Tristan always seems bent set on ending it. Will Ellie ever figure out how to fix this broken day? Or will she be stuck in this nightmare of a Monday forever?

Here’s to an early spring, whether or not the groundhog agrees.

Thanks for hanging out, and we’ll see you later this week!

— Kelly Jensen, @heykellyjensen on Instagram and editor of (Don’t) Call Me Crazy and Here We Are.

**Psst — you can now also preorder my upcoming August release, Body Talk: 37 Voices Explore Our Radical Anatomy!

Check Your Shelf

AMERICAN DIRT’s Canceled Book Tour, Plus All the Book Awards You Could Ever Want

Welcome to Check Your Shelf! This is your guide to help librarians like you up your game when it comes to doing your job (& rocking it).

The Chicago area’s been without sunshine for over a week now, and I’m starting to feel like I’ve been living in a cave full of fluorescent lighting for the last several months. My kingdom for some Vitamin D!

Anyway, on with the newsletter. Here’s hoping that February will be just a touch less dreary than January.

Libraries & Librarians

News Updates

Cool Library Updates

Worth Reading

Book Adaptations in the News

Books & Authors in the News

American Dirt

Yeah, there’s enough news with American Dirt that I’m giving it its own subsection.

Numbers & Trends

Award News

Pop Cultured

Bookish Curiosities & Miscellaneous

Found on Book Riot

Catch you later, library friends!

Katie McLain Horner, @kt_librarylady on Twitter.

Swords and Spaceships

Swords and Spaceships for January 31: Mexicanx SFF

Happy… is it already Friday? Really? Are we sailing out literary ship through a time warp or something? What is time, even? Yes, it’s Alex, and I’m discombobulated, but there’s at least some news and some books!

Let’s celebrate the first month of 2020 with Genevieve Valentine’s first Red Carpet Rundown for the year, which is the Golden Globes. (If you like reading that, check out her meltdown over camp for the 2019 Met Gala. Also, she writes books, like Dream Houses.)

News and Views

This interview with author Andrzej Sapkowski (author of The Witcher) is amazing and basically I have never before felt so spiritually connected to another human being.

A really great interview with Tochi Onyebuchi about Riot Baby.

P. Djeli Clark has announced a new book: Ring Shout. I am in awe of the cover.

Jeannette Ng wrote another awesome essay! On Identity, Performing Marginalisations and the Limitations of OwnVoices; or “Why I can’t just repeat my uncle’s favourite joke about eating dogs” (reminder: Jeannette’s book you should check out is Under the Pendulum Sun.)

C.L. Polk wrote a fictional history of the bicycles we see in Witchmark.

Kylo Ren returns to Undercover Boss.

Build-a-Bear has a Porg! A PORG!

On Book Riot

Quiz: Which Psy-Changeling Race Do You Belong To?

Free Association Friday: Mexicanx SFF

For no reason in particular (Y I K E S), let’s shine a spotlight on the work of Mexicanx science fiction and fantasy writers! The work ranges from the sublimely beautiful to the hilariously pulpy. But to start, there are a few short story writers to start you off:

Now, onto the books!

gods of jade and shadowGods of Jade and Shadow by Silvia Morena-Garcia – A young woman in the jazz age dreams of escaping a life of domestic drudgery until she accidentally frees the Mayan god of death, who wants her help getting his throne back from his greedy brother. If she fails, that will mean her own death. If she succeeds, all of her dreams will come true.

Lords of the Earth by David Bowles – When the stratovolcano Popocatepetl erupts, something much worse than a deadly pyroclastic flow come out of it: a massive, reptilian monster. The kaiju soon starts attacking Mexico City and more volcanoes start threatening to erupt–and disgorge who knows what other monsters. It’s up to a disabled physicist and an indigenous anthropologist to first get over their long-held personal feud and then find the blend of science and myth that will save Mexico.

Loba by Verónica Murguía Lores – “El rey Lobo gobierna con mano de hierro en Moriana, un país que basa su prosperidad en la esclavitud y la guerra. Angustiado por una maldición según la cual jamás podrá tener un hijo varón, Lobo desatiende a sus dos hijas, en especial a Soledad, la primogénita, que no logra el cariño de su padre por más que lo intenta entrenándose en cacerías y combates simulados. Cuando la noticia de una amenaza terrible -un dragón- llega a la corte, Soledad acepta la responsabilidad de partir a los confines del reino para ver cuánto hay de verdad en los rumores. Esa búsqueda la llevará a conocer la amistad, el amor, la magia y, en última instancia, la esencia de sí misma.”

High Aztech by Ernest Hogan – Tenochtitlán, formerly known as Mexico City, is a smoggy wonder of stainless steel pyramids. Poet Xolotl runs for his life through the metropolis, pursued by a cult he ticked off with a scathing comic book, mobsters, terrorists and… garbage collectors? But his problems are far worse than his lampooning pen writing checks the rest of him can’t cash. He’s carrying a technological virus capable of downloading religious beliefs into the human brain, and everyone would love to get their hands on it, no matter how much of his blood ends up spilled in the process.

The Nymphos of Rocky Flats by Mario Acevedo – “Felix Gomez went to Iraq a soldier. He came back a vampire.” In a novel full of shear, pulpy, urban fantasy detective goodness–with very little sex involved, despite the title–Felix Gomez storms the scene. A strict “vegetarian” vampire, he uses his supernatural powers (hampered by his diet) to investigate the strange happenings at the nuclear weapons facility of Rocky Flats.

Spirits of the Ordinary: A Tale of Casas Grandes by Kathleen Alcala – The Carabajal family has many secrets: their Jewish faith, the alchemy practiced by the family patriarch, the clairvoyant talents of the otherwise silent matriarch. Momentus events are coming to their lives, centered on the ancient cliff dwellings of Cases Grandes.

See you, space pirates. You can find all of the books recommended in this newsletter on a handy Goodreads shelf. If you’d like to know more about my secret plans to dominate the seas and skies, you can catch me over at my personal site.

Today In Books

AMERICAN DIRT Publisher’s Statement: Today In Books

American Dirt Publisher’s Statement

The publishers of American Dirt, the not #ownvoices novel about Mexican immigrants that has been criticized by the Latinx community, have put out a statement regarding their publication, advertising, and book tour changes. While it starts by sounding like an apology for missteps they made, it ends by pulling out the dog-whistle where Latinx are portrayed as threatening people. It seems like, once again, the people Cummins claims to write for are on the receiving end of harmful misrepresentation; meanwhile, she’s portrayed as the victim.

The Pale Horse Trailer!

Agatha Christie’s The Pale Horse has gotten the Amazon Studios adaptation treatment and now we have a trailer! The two-episode limited series will stream on March 13th and stars Rufus Sewell as Mark Easterbrook, a dude who learns his name was on a list found on a dead woman. Oh, and did I mention a group of witches are the murder suspects?!

More Exciting Adaptation News!

Disney+’s Stargirl’s producers, The Gotham Group, have optioned the upcoming YA novel The Black Kids by Christina Hammonds Reed. Allison Davis will adapt the “coming-of-age story of a wealthy African-American teenager whose family gets caught in the vortex of the 1992 Los Angeles riots” with Wanuri Kahiu directing.

True Story

15 More Go-To Fun and Fascinating Nonfiction Reads

Hello hello, nonfiction friends! As promised, I’m here with something a little special for my last edition of True Story – an update of the very first edition I wrote back in January 2017. For the inaugural issue of the newsletter, I shared 15 of my go-to fun and fascinating nonfiction reads, a collection of some of the nonfiction I recommended most often to other readers.

Given how much I’ve read since then, I thought it would be fun to close my time as editor with an updated list – 15 more of my go-to fun and fascinating nonfiction reads. Let’s dive in!

bad blood by john carreyrou cover imageBad Blood by John Carreyrou – This book has become one of my go-to nonfiction recommendations, especially for people who are not avid readers but want something really page-turning. In the book, Carreyrou chronicles the rise and fall of Theranos and the company’s enigmatic founder, Elizabeth Holmes. The level of deception and willful ignorance at play through the whole scandal is astounding – you can’t help but keep reading to watch the whole house of cards fall apart.

Killers of the Flower Moon by David Grann – This is one of my top recommendations for people who don’t think they want to read nonfiction. This true story of the murder of multiple members of the Osage Nation in Oklahoma and the founding for the FBI reads like a thriller, which makes it great for readers who gobble up mysteries by Vince Flynn or James Patterson. Several members of my family (who are not nonfiction readers) have loved it.


all you can ever knowAll You Can Ever Know by Nicole Chung – As a child, Nicole Chung was put up for adoption by her Korean parents, then raised by a white family in a small Oregon town. When she was pregnant with her first child, Chung launched a search for her birth parents to understand whether the story she’d been told about her adoption was true. I’m not sure if I’d call this memoir fun, exactly, but it is a beautifully written meditation on family, race, and community. If I were more of a re-reader, I am sure that I’d pick it up again.

Educated by Tara Westover – I don’t think I’m surprising anyone by telling you that this memoir is amazing. Westover is the daughter of Morman survivalists in rural Idaho, and experienced a childhood full of violence and misogyny. Despite not regularly attending high school, Westover manages to get into college, a move that estranges her from her family and sets her on a path to question everything she thought she knew. I just cannot tell you how good this memoir is, please go pick it up!


Maybe You Should Talk to Someone by Lori Gottlieb – I’m fascinated by books that explore careers that I’ll never really get to experience. In this case, it’s therapy and how therapists work to help their patients move through difficult experiences and personal development. Gottlieb also writes about her own experience going to therapy, and her experience working with patients, in a way that’s open, vulnerable, and moving. This book made me think and gave me a lot of feelings, a potent combination.

I'll Be Gone In The Dark cover imageI’ll Be Gone in the Dark by Michelle McNamara – For years, McNamara was part of an online community of true crime enthusiasts trying to uncover the identity of the Golden State Killer. In this book, published posthumously, she tells the story of the GSK and the hunt to bring him to justice. What makes this book better than most true crime books is the way McNamara always keeps her eyes focused on the victims and their stories – there’s nothing that feels exploitative about it in the way that many true crime books can feel. This might be the best true crime book I’ve read in the last five years, and that’s really saying something.

The Power of Meaning by Emily Esfahani Smith – I have read a lot of books about finding meaning in life, and this is one of my favorites. Rather than pursuing happiness, Esfahani Smith looks at how cultivation connection, working with purpose, telling stories, and seeking mystery can bring depth and joy to our lives. She gets at these ideas through an array of approaches like psychology, sociology, philosophy, neuroscience, and more, in a way that feels comprehensive and empathetic. I really liked this one.

Portage by Sue Leaf – This book is probably the biggest oddball on this list. I picked it up on an impulse while on a trip up North, devoured it in just a few days, and then spent months talking about how I wanted to take up canoeing to anyone who would listen. Leaf writes about her family’s experiences as canoeists, beginning with early trips to the Boundary Waters with her husband and ending with local river excursions with her grown children and their families. It’s a fascinating book about nature, wild places, relationships, and lessons we can learn when we let ourselves explore somewhere new.

Dark Money by Jane Mayer – In the last three years, there have been SO MANY books about politics and political life, but this one is probably one of the best. Mayer, a journalist for the New Yorker, takes a deep dive into “the hidden history of the billionaires behind the rise of the Radical Right,” to show how money has absolutely corrupted our entire political system. This book made me angry and sad and fired up – not exactly fun, but absolutely vital.


hidden figuresHidden Figures by Margot Lee Shetterly – I am so jazzed about the number of books coming out that explore the previously unacknowledged role that women (especially women of color) have played in some of the major events and achievements of the last 200 years. This book, one of the first, looks at the female mathematicians who served as “human computers” at NASA and helped win the Space Race. This book is such a good read (and much more nuanced than the movie, although I loved that too).

From the Corner of the Oval by Beck Dorey-Stein – The last three years have also resulted in a lot of books about life in the Obama administration, which I have read as a way to soothe my soul and remind myself that politics can be rational and aimed towards the greater good. In this memoir, Dorey-Stein writes about her time as a stenographer, coming into the Obama administration as an outsider and eventually finding her place there. It’s also a coming of age story about finding purpose and making terrible romantic choices, which I thought was really funny. I remember seeing this one described as “Bridget Jones goes to the White House,” which sounds like a dig but is exactly correct and why I liked it so much.

The Class by Heather Won Tesario – In this book, Won Tesario spends the year inside an innovative high school science class, one without curriculum, tests, textbooks or lectures. Led by a former corporate scientist, the students in this class spend the year working on projects to compete on the high school science fair circuit, regularly bringing back top prizes to their school and themselves. The students in this book are bright, funny, brilliant, and also completely teenagers, which makes them really fun to read about. If you don’t mind going back to high school, this book is a total treat.

Notes from a Young Black Chef by Kwame Onwuachi and Joshua David Stein – Food memoirs for the win! In this book, Kwame Onwuachi writes about how he went from being a kid in the Bronx to a celebrated chef in Washington D.C. His path took him all over, from New York to Nigeria to the Gulf of Mexico and beyond. I loved how honest he was about his choices (both good and bad), and appreciated hearing about his perspective and experiences as a Black man in a largely white industry. I’ve recommended this one many times.

Catch and Kill cover imageCatch and Kill by Ronan Farrow – I read a couple of books about Harvey Weinstein and the #MeToo movement, but this one is arguably a little more fun. In it, Farrow chronicles his experiences trying to break this major story, including the nefarious ways that rich and powerful men found ways to obstruct, intimidate, and embarrass victims and those who tried to tell their story. Farrow narrates the audiobook where he does some truly amazing accents – it’s ridiculous.


My Own Devices by Dessa – Dessa is a Minneapolis-based singer, songwriter, and writer who seems to be able to do it all. In this memoir, she “stitches together” stories about love, science, language, and life on the road. She has a background as both a technical writer and a rapper, which means she can write some absolutely gorgeous sentences. But she’s also curious and funny and lovesick and full of the kinds of random facts you expect someone who loves the things she loves to know. I really loved this one.

And that, my friends, brings me to the end of my time writing this newsletter. Thank you, thank you, thank you for inviting me to your inbox twice a week, it’s truly been an honor. You can continue to find me on Twitter and Instagram as @kimthedork and co-hosting the For Real podcast here at Book Riot. Happy reading! – Kim

Read This Book

Read This Book: Sorcery of Thorns

Welcome to Read This Book, a weekly newsletter where I recommend one book that I think you absolutely must read. The books will vary across genre and age category to include new releases, backlist titles, and classics. If you’re ready to explode your TBR, buckle up!

This week’s pick is a YA fantasy: Sorcery of Thorns by Margaret Rogerson!

“You belonged in the library, as much as any book.”

Elisabeth Scrivener, orphan, is an apprentice in one of the kingdom’s Great Libraries. She aspires to be like her hero, the Director of the Great Library of Summershall, and has grown up believing that sorcery and those who practice it are evil. It is a source of pride for Elisabeth that librarians collect and keep dangerous, sentient grimoires locked in vaults to protect innocent people…until the night a dangerous grimoire escapes, killing the Director and implicating Elisabeth in the crime. In order to clear her name, she must ally herself with a notorious sorcerer Thorn…and save the world along the way.

This is a book-lover’s fantasy. Who wouldn’t want to grow up in magical library where knowledge is prized, magic is safeguarded, and librarians wield swords? From the very beginning, you can feel the love of books radiating through the chapters, evoking that giddy feeling of exploring a new library or walking into a well-stocked bookstore. Elisabeth is a plucky, almost gullible protagonist at the beginning of the novel, but she wises up quickly and deepens into an interesting, complex character who works to confront the misguided information she was fed as a child. Her character growth is satisfying, especially when it involves a slow-burn romance with a sarcastic but secretly soft-at-heart love interest and befriending his slippery (but charming!) demon servant. But don’t worry, the romance takes a backseat to Rogerson’s quick-moving plot that reveals a conspiracy unfolding in a rich and fascinating world.

What’s so great about this book is that we have a heroine who is unabashedly bookish, intellectually curious, and has enough self-awareness to admit when she is wrong, but she doesn’t let injustice grind her down. This is an excellent pick for anyone who enjoys a genuinely fun fantasy in the vein of classics by Robin McKinley and Diana Wynne Jones, but with an updated, modern feel. And bonus—it’s a standalone, so there’s no need to commit to a long series arc! I highly recommend it for fantasy lovers and fantasy dabblers alike.

Happy reading!


Find me on Book Riot, the Insiders Read Harder podcast, and Twitter.