Riot Roundup: The Best Books We Read April-June 2024

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Book Riot Managing Editor Vanessa Diaz is a writer and former bookseller from San Diego, CA whose Spanish is even faster than her English. When not reading or writing, she enjoys dreaming up travel itineraries and drinking entirely too much tea. She is a regular co-host on the All the Books podcast who especially loves mysteries, gothic lit, mythology/folklore, and all things witchy. Vanessa can be found on Instagram at @BuenosDiazSD or taking pictures of pretty trees in Portland, OR, where she now resides.

Hello, Riot readers! With another three months in the rearview mirror, it’s time for Riot Roundup, where we share the best books our Book Riot staff and contributors read over the last quarter. We’re not just talking new books here: Riot Roundup includes frontlist, backlist, upcoming releases, and spans many genres and age ranges. We just want to know what books our people read and loved, period. Spoiler: we read some really good stuff.

This time around we have some stellar nonfiction: beautiful musings on food, a heartbreaking and hopeful memoir, reflections on magical realism, and more. Our fiction picks include deliciously disturbing literary horror; an achingly gorgeous and epic queer love story; a dead and undead duo solving a mystery; and some witchy cozy fantasy. Several of our favorite titles this quarter happen to be by poets writing essays and prose, and of course, romantasy makes an appearance. All in all, it was a great few months for books. We hope it has been for you too.

cover of Bite by Bite: Nourishments and Jamborees Aimee Nezhukumatathil

Bite by Bite: Nourishments and Jamborees by Aimee Nezhukumatathil

These short essays and musings on food by poet Aimee Nezhukumatathil nourish the mind and soul. From the simple summer joy of watermelon to cherished family memories of lumpia, each essay is wonderfully immersive, evoking the flavors and scents of Nezhukumatathil’s life. It’s a delicious reminder of how what we eat shapes our lives and our memories. In addition to the exquisite writing, Bite by Bite has gorgeous illustrations by Fumi Nakamura that make it a must-have book.

—Susie Dumond

cover of Divine Rivals by Rebecca Rosscover of Divine Rivals by Rebecca Ross

Divine Rivals by Rebecca Ross

In a world where the gods are at war, two young journalists competing for the same position find there is a magical link between their typewriters. Iris believes she is sending letters first to her soldier brother and then to an unknown stranger, but really they are going to her work rival, Roman. Roman knows he’s exchanging letters with her, but doesn’t know how to tell her without risking them stopping. The letters are a break from the buttoned-up world of family expectations and achievements that make up the rest of his life. I gave myself Kindle Unlimited as a pregnancy gift to myself, and this is by far the best book I’ve read off of that service. It is a romance fantasy (are we all using the term “romantasy” now?) that is pretty light on both romance and fantasy. But the writing and worldbuilding make the book (and its sequel, Ruthless Vows) impossible to put down.

—Alison Doherty

Cover of Growing Up under a Red Flag by Ying Chang Compestine & Xinmei LiuCover of Growing Up under a Red Flag by Ying Chang Compestine & Xinmei Liu

Growing Up under a Red Flag by Ying Chang Compestine & Xinmei Liu

This is the only picture book that I’m aware of that takes place during the Chinese Cultural Revolution. Based on the author’s childhood, it’s a stunning and searing nonfiction picture book. It opens with a very young Ying Chang Compestine at the table with her parents, both doctors, reading fairy tales in English. Then Mao outlaws any books in a foreign language, and the family is forced to burn their books. A member of the Red Guard comes to live with them, and Compestine’s father is arrested. What follows is a harrowing period where she and her mother struggle to eat enough and survive, and she does reunite with her father. Compestine deftly handles the dark and complicated subject matter, and Liu’s realistic illustrations are phenomenal. This is an excellent introduction to this important period in history.

—Margaret Kingsbury

cover of Help Wanted by Adelle Waldmancover of Help Wanted by Adelle Waldman

Help Wanted by Adelle Waldman

After loving Adelle Waldman’s debut, The Love Affairs of Nathaniel P, and being lucky enough to take a creative writing course with her about a decade ago, I was excited to see she had a new book out. Help Wanted did not disappoint. Following a team of warehouse workers as they plot against a manager and vie for promotions, it’s a biting indictment of American capitalism told with empathy and the author’s trademark insight into what makes people tick. If you like the TV show Superstore, you’ll love this.

—Claire Handscombe

cover of How to Live Free in a Dangerous World: A Decolonial Memoir by Shayla Lawsoncover of How to Live Free in a Dangerous World: A Decolonial Memoir by Shayla Lawson

How to Live Free in a Dangerous World: A Decolonial Memoir by Shayla Lawson

I truly believe that poets write some of the best memoirs. The essays in this book range from harrowing to heartbreaking to hopeful and each one is deeply eye-opening. Many of the essays are also explorations of being Black in whichever particular city and country they are in during that story. From Zimbabwe to Italy, the Netherlands to Japan, France to Egypt, and beyond, Lawson has a way of making every place and every feeling palpable to readers. They also write about becoming disabled over time, about love and community, about loss, and about learning and unlearning, especially around gender as a construct and their own identity.

—Patricia Elzie-Tuttle

The Honey Witch book coverThe Honey Witch book cover

The Honey Witch by Sydney J. Shields

As far as cozy fantasy goes, The Honey Witch is now joining my absolute favorites of the genre. Marigold knows that taking on the role of honey witch from her beloved grandmother means never getting to experience love. It’s the curse all honey witches must bear. So when the insufferable Lottie shows up at her cottage, refusing to believe in magic and infuriatingly beautiful, Marigold doesn’t know what to think. As their attraction grows more and more undeniable, they must confront the danger—and undeniability—of their love.

—Rachel Brittain

magical realism book covermagical realism book cover

Magical/Realism: Essays on Music, Memory, Fantasy, and Borders by Vanessa Angélica Villarreal

Nonfiction continues to deliver on exceptional books that I have to get both on audio (beautifully narrated by the author) and in print because every other sentence needs to be highlighted. Poets writing essays are also another sweet spot recently, because it makes sense that they’d beautifully criticize the world we live in. Villarreal blew me away with these essays filled with vulnerability, frustration, criticism, curiosity, and a keen eye of the world she grew up in by seamlessly blending memoir and critical essays. My brain has never thought to compare Selena and Kurt Cobain, yet here I was, all in my nostalgic feelings viewing a major part of my growing up through a completely different lens thanks to Villarreal’s beautiful brain. Run to this book and also gift it to everyone you know.

—Jamie Canavés

cover of Malas by Marcela Fuentes. Cover art shows a women's partially obscured face with a cascade of flowers coming down her foreheadcover of Malas by Marcela Fuentes. Cover art shows a women's partially obscured face with a cascade of flowers coming down her forehead

Malas by Marcela Fuentes

In the 1950s, young wife and mother Pilar has just moved to the border town of La Cienega, Texas when she’s cursed by an old woman claiming that Pilar stole her husband. Decades later in 1994, 14-year-old Lulu is begrudgingly preparing for the quinceañera she doesn’t want when her beloved grandmother dies. Pilar is the glamorous stranger who crashes the funeral and soon forms an unlikely kinship with Lulu, a bond that will force Pilar to confront her painful past and Lulu to embrace the uncertainty of her future. This is a love letter to Tejano culture that takes readers from dusty rodeos to family gatherings to a Selena concert, and asks readers to consider why we label women as wicked.

I’d also like to very emphatically cosign Magical/Realism and thank the universe for all this fantastic Latine lit!

cover of Martyr! by Kaveh Akbarcover of Martyr! by Kaveh Akbar

Martyr! By Kaveh Akbar

I was excited to read this because Kaveh Akbar is just as brilliant a poet as he is a novelist. Martyr! is one of the best books I’ve ever read. Cyrus Shams, his friend Zee, Cyrus’ parents, and his uncle each get their own distinct point-of-view chapters and feel so real. Cyrus also provides excerpts of his own work in progress, The Book of Martyrs. The idea of a meaningful death is deeply personal to Cyrus, an Iranian American writer whose mom’s plane was shot down by the US government. Martyr! directly challenges popular literary opinions, such as the idea that dream sequences don’t belong in literary fiction or that performance art is uniquely “pretentious.” I already can’t wait to reread this book and notice the character, plot, and structure details I missed.

—Grace Lapointe

cover of A New Lease on Death by Olivia Blackecover of A New Lease on Death by Olivia Blacke

A New Lease on Death by Olivia Blacke (Minotaur Books, 10/29/2024)

Ruby Young and Cordelia Graves are the definition of unconventional roommates; Ruby is alive and Cordelia is dead. Cordelia was never one to share her space and Ruby…managed to kill all of Cordelia’s plants. But when Cordelia finds the dead body of her neighbor outside of the building, Cordelia feels she needs to find justice for the man and needs Ruby to help her out.

Ruby is just trying to get her life together, like finding a job and building a new life in Boston. Can these two seemingly unlikely partners get to the bottom of their neighbor’s murder? I loved watching Cordelia and Ruby figure out how to work together as well as figuring out how the spirit world works for Cordelia. It’s definitely not a cozy mystery but like Olivia Blacke’s other books, it’s very funny and poignant. I am so excited for folks to read this book and cannot wait for more books in the series.

—Elisa Shoenberger

cover of Old Soul by Susan Barkercover of Old Soul by Susan Barker

Old Soul by Susan Barker (G.P. Putnam’s Sons, January 28, 2025)

As a big fan of Susan Barker’s last novel, The Incarnations, I had been eagerly awaiting her next book, and I was VERY excited when Old Soul was announced. I literally squealed out loud when I got it a couple weeks ago, because it’s my most anticipated book of 2025. And now that I have read it, I am mad! Mad that I’ve already read it and mad that I can’t read it again for the first time, because it’s my new obsession. It’s delicious, disturbing WTF-ery. I don’t want to tell you too much about it, because this really is a singular reading experience you need to have for yourself. So I’ll just tell you that 1) it’s incendiary literary horror, 2) it starts when two strangers discover their lives have both been affected by the death of a loved one who was involved with the same mysterious woman, and 3) OMG IT’S SO GOOD I CAN’T EVEN HANDLE IT. This is my idea of a perfect novel, one that is so compelling and criminally well-written that you can’t put it down, and also weird and fucked up in a way that feels like it’s ruining your life, but in the best way. I can’t stop thinking about it, especially the ending. I think I’ll go read it again right now.

—Liberty Hardy

Cover of Parachute Kids by TangCover of Parachute Kids by Tang

Parachute Kids by Betty C. Tang

This is a middle grade graphic novel about three Taiwanese kiddos who end up living undocumented in America without their mother and father. They have to adapt not only to a new country and culture but also to living under the radar. While there are some stressful moments, these are balanced by funny observations about their new lives and everyday kindness from the people around them. While this shows some of the stress on the kids, it’s a light treatment of it. The youngest Feng Li gains some insight into her classmate’s perspective as an Asian-American who still has to endure teasing while Feng Li’s older siblings go through their own growing pains with teen friends and responsibilities. Looking forward to more from Betty Tang!

—Summer Loomis

cover of The Queen by Nick Cuttercover of The Queen by Nick Cutter

The Queen by Nick Cutter (Gallery Books, October 29, 2024)

I was in a reading slump when I opened up the egalley for Nick Cutter’s forthcoming horror, but I was also optimistic: I’d loved his 2014 novel The Troop, and this latest promised the same levels of gory body horror, plus a focus on one of my greatest fears: wasps. (“Why did it have to be wasps???” was the thought that ran through my head, in the voice of Indiana Jones, of course.) In this fast-paced read that takes place over the course of one day, Margaret receives a text from her best friend, who’s been missing for over a month. As she follows the series of clues left on her phone, a terrible secret is slowly revealed, changing everything she thought she knew about their friendship.

—Steph Auteri

song of achilles coversong of achilles cover

The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller

I know, I’m way behind the times on this one. I loved Miller’s Circe but had been saving Song of Achilles for years because, like any good book nerd, I had decided I wanted to read the Iliad first. This year, inspired by Miller’s excellent writing on her experience with Long Covid, I committed to finally do just that. And gosh, everything you all said about it is true. This queer, gorgeous, well-researched retelling of the story of Patroclus and Achilles is emotional and perfectly done. It was impossible to put down. It was at once huge and astoundingly narrowed, the story of two men in love, in the midst of one of the greatest epics of all time.

—Leah Rachel von Essen

Cover of The Stars Too FondlyCover of The Stars Too Fondly

The Stars Too Fondly by Emily Hamilton

Hamilton’s sapphic space romance debut reveals what happens when following your dreams with your chosen family means confronting the disturbing realities of deep space. Cleo and her friends are queer twentysomething PhDs at the height of their respective fields finally pursuing their scheme to uncover what happened to the hundreds of people who disappeared 20 years ago at the Providence spaceship’s launch. But, when they sneak onboard, the dark matter engine starts on its own. Now they are stuck in space with an AI holographic replica of the ship’s old captain, Billie, who can’t remember what happened to her or her crew. If any of them want to survive the flight as things on board become progressively stranger, they will have to uncover what really happened all those years ago. Plus, Cleo has to try not to fall in love with the adorable hologram while they are at it.

—R. Nassor

For even more of our favorite recent reads, here’s our January-March 2024 Riot Roundup. Don’t forget to check out our roundup of the best comics and graphic novels we read this quarter, too!

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