1. Hard Choices, by Hillary Clinton: I am a sucker for a good Secretary of State book. To my mind, it’s the most interesting post in government, and while I’m not terribly interested in domestic politics, I love learning about foreign policy. I enjoyed this 800-page monster (confession: I started it in July), but wish that Clinton had waited a little longer to write it. She’s clearly gearing up for another presidential run, and while it was interesting reading about her time as SOS, everything about this book felt a bit… careful. I’ll be very interested to read the unedited version someday, when she’s free to really speak her mind.
See Also: Madame Secretary, by Madeline Albright
2. Devil in the Grove, by Gilbert King: It is no secret that To Kill a Mockingbird is my number one, will never be topped, favorite book of all time, ever, forever, the end. A discriminating reader might find several similarities between the case of Tom Robinson and that of the Groveland Boys—four black men convicted of raping a white woman on evidence that could at best be called negligible. Atticus in this case is Thurgood Marshall, the first black Supreme Court Justice who is better known for his arguments in Brown v. the Board of Education. Reading this book will make you really, really angry, but it’s the good kind of angry—the how-could-we-let-this-happen kind of angry that every person in a responsible society should feel every now and then. It’s not a pleasure read, but it’s an important one, and I very highly recommend it.
See Also: To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee
3. The Family Fang, by Kevin Wilson: Annie and Buster Fang—also known as Child A and Child B—spent their youth as less-than-willing participants in their parents’ anarchic pieces of performance art. A series of poor choices sends both Annie and Buster—now adults—home to live with their parents, who disappear shortly afterwards under mysterious circumstances. The Fang children must determine whether their parents are truly in danger or just acting out their latest performance piece—and whether or not A and B are willing to play along.
See Also: Running With Scissors, by Augusten Burroughs
4. The Last Anniversary, by Laine Moriarty: Sophie inherits the home of her ex-boyfriend’s great aunt, located on a small island inhabited only by his relatives. The island is also home to the great Baby Monroe mystery, which has always captivated Sophie’s imagination. As she settles in to her new surroundings, Sophie discovers that, while Baby Monroe may be the island’s most famous mystery, it’s certainly not the only one.
See Also: The Good Girl, by Mary Kubica
5. A Matter of Death and Life, by Andrey Kurkov: Contract killings abound in Kiev, and so when Toyla decides to end his bleak life, it makes sense to hire a professional. Once his mood improves, he finds himself in need of a killer to bump off his would-be murderer. Meanwhile, the clock ticks. This book (novella, really) is every bit as bizarre as it sounds, but it’s fun to read a good, old-fashioned Russian satire. Still, it’s shakier than Kurkov’s other works, and if you’re looking for something really off-beat, try the outstanding Death and the Penguin.
See Also: The Trial, by Franz Kafka
6. Dare Me: by Megan Abbott: A formerly lax high school cheerleading squad is whipped into shape by the arrival of a charismatic new coach, but some of the girls seem to be a little too devoted. Under her leadership, the squad becomes more and more insular, while at the same time pitting the girls against each other. When an unexpected death shocks the community, the strength of the girls’ bond will be tested in uncomfortable ways.
See Also: Lord of the Flies, by William Golding
7. One Year Off, by David Elliot Cohen: This is the non-fiction account of a Marin County family who quit their jobs, sold their home, and spent thirteen months traveling the globe with three young children. When I first read it ten years ago, I was fresh off my semester abroad and thought, yes. This is how it’s done. I will not lead a life of quiet desperation. I have to say though, this time through, it was just wall-to-wall indignation. What do you mean, you pulled your children out of school for a year? What do you mean, you had them sleeping in tents beside wild animals on safari? What do you mean, you brought them to Phnom Penh during a violent transfer of power because you couldn’t be bothered to read a newspaper first? The Cohen children are all alive and well, and probably quite enriched for their experiences abroad, but if you have any semblance of an anxiety disorder, this book is perhaps not for you.
See Also: I Married Adventure, by Osa Johnson.
And my favorite book from the past month:
8. The Chaperone, by Laura Moriarty: Louise Brooks, one of the world’s first true movie stars, traveled at the age of sixteen from her native Kansas to New York City to join a dance troupe. That is where fact and fiction meet. In this historical novel, prim and proper Cora Carlisle is assigned to accompany Louise as her chaperone. Cora appears to have a perfect life—wealthy, happily married to a successful lawyer, two grown sons—and so her decision to travel to New York is a curious one. The book is worthwhile for the descriptions of 1920’s New York alone, but Cora’s mysterious and complicated motivations are what put it over the top for me. By the way, to my knowledge, Laura and Laine Moriarty are not related.
See Also: The Rules of Civility, by Amor Towles