Books are her best friend and cats her lifelong obsession. She's an Arizona native but considers herself half New Yorker after living in the Big Apple for 10 years. Michelle primarily reads literary fiction and nonfiction (memoirs, essays) and books delving deep into pop culture phenomenons (i.e., The Bachelor) and our cultural consciousness. Books that changed her life include I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter by Erika Sanchez, Motherhood by Sheila Heti, On Beauty by Zadie Smith, Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi and There There by Tommy Orange. But she's also a sucker for a good romance and will always recommend anything written by Sarah MacLean, Jasmine Guillory and any story involving Tartan and the Highlands. She loves the Outlander series the way most people love Harry Potter.
Rabbits for Food by Binnie Kirshenbaum is witty and caustic, revelatory and tragic. The novel is told somewhat in reverse, starting with the main character Bunny, describing life in a psych ward. What ensues is the story of what happened before and an explanation of why she's been committed. Interspersed are bits from her creative writing class at the hospital that are illuminating. Rabbits for Food is whip smart and has plenty of bite. You can't help but laugh at Bunny's dark humor about her situation. But underneath the humor is a great sorrow. Kirshenbaum writes with candor, insight and empathy about the everyday and what's locked in the mind of someone with a mental illness. Bunny reads like a fictional Carrie Fisher - keenly aware of the darkness that looms large in her mind, with an acid tongue but full of heart and undeniably brilliant.
Desert Sketches is a collection of never before published essays by the esteemed writer Ellen Meloy. The collection is organized by the seasons and although most were written in the 90s, the themes and issues addressed are still pertinent today: animal rights, conservation, gun control and of course politics. But more importantly she writes of desert living - a place where "comfort is found in your own insignificance." Her prose is smart, mighty and cuts like a knife. She's the Nora Ephron of nature-writers. This was my first introduction to her work, but after reading this I've started reading her entire oeuvre. Whether you're a longtime fan or discovering her for the first time like myself, I implore you to read this slim but witty and gritty book. You won't regret it!
City of Girls by Elizabeth Gilbert is absolutely transcendent! It's a fun, sensual and a sensory story about 1940s showgirls in New York during the war. When 19-year-old Vivian is sent to live with her Aunt Peg in Manhattan, she becomes ensconced in her aunt's business, the Lily Playhouse. There she becomes close friends with Celia Ray, one of the showgirls, and a heady romp through 40s theater life and female desire ensues. Toss aside your previous notions of what an Elizabeth Gilbert book is supposed to be and pick up this book. City of Girls is full of verve, sex and vitality. It's a book not to be missed!
Candice Carty-Williams's debut novel Queenie is being dubbed the "black Bridget Jones." But this book isn't just about a woman fumbling her way towards romantic entanglement. The prose is witty and smart and the narrative is so strong while exploring the female body, the black experience and female friendships. Queenie is a mix of HBO's Insecure and Americanah, in other words, read this book!
“Sometimes stories are the best we can hope for. They help us to simply get by...” Craig Davidson writes in the first chapter of Saturday Night Ghost Club. I was smitten immediately and devoured this novel in one sitting. Set in 1980s Niagara Falls, Jake Baker sneaks around town with his friends Dove and Billy Yellowbird and his eccentric Uncle Calvin who takes them to haunted sites and reveals the dark secrets lying beneath the dilapidated town. However the stories told and the secrets revealed are those of the human heart more than they are monsters lurking inside abandoned lots and buildings. It’s a coming-of-age story, a love story, a ghost story and a mystery. Saturday Night Ghost Club is thoughtful, thrilling and positively brilliant!
With every book Colson Whitehead proves his ever-growing genius. He's a master of the written word and truly one of the greatest living American novelists of our time. I didn't think it possible for him to write something better than Underground Railroad, but he most certainly has. Nickel Boys grabbed me at page one. I was gutted. Ellwood and Turner are characters that will stay with me forever. It's a mystery and thriller. It's a treatise on race and social injustice. And it's a literary masterpiece all rolled into one. This should be mandatory reading in every classroom and across curriculum.
Karl Marlantes' follow-up to Matterhorn does not disappoint. Deep River follows the lives of a family of Finnish immigrants who come to America in the late 1800s and tells the stories of their friends and family, from the beginning of the great American labor movements through the World Wars. Don't be deterred by it's door-stopping 800 pages. Deep River is a page-turner. It's stunning, timely and all-consuming. The prose is exquisite. The characters are fierce and robust. And more than anything else, the novel is a history lesson and a warning, as it's portrait of 1900s America is not that different from the America of today. Deep River is a revelation.
Ocean Vuong's debut novel is as stunning and beautiful as his poetry collections. Written as a love letter to his mother, Little Dog, the narrator, documents his mother's journey from Vietnam during the war to their immigration to America and the trauma that comes afterwards: the adjustment of life in a new country, life with a parent shattered by war, and Little Dog's own becoming as a gay Vietnamese-American man. This is not a novel for the faint of heart: it is delicate, and it is raw and dark and full of terrors. But my god is it gorgeous. I was left in awe and in gratitude after reading this book. On Earth We're Briefly Gorgeous has my heart.
If you've read anything by Ta-Nehisi Coates or Roxanne Gay, then read this book. Kiese Laymon tells his story of growing up an overweight, gay black man from the South. Honest and provocative, Heavy will bring you to your knees and make the hairs on your neck stand up. He writes in detail of his abusive upbringing, the complicated love he has for his mother and his country. But he is also able to look at those memories of pain and humiliation, joy and shame and intellectualize and dissect them to reflect on the state of America, society and blackness. Heavy is a powerful read that should not be missed.
Eerie and atmospheric, Karen Thompson Walker's follow-up to The Age of Miracles does not disappoint. The Dreamers investigates the strange "deaths" in a college town of people who succumb to an inexplicable fatigue, fall asleep and become locked in life-altering dreams never to wake. The first half of the book looks at the lives lost and the epidemic itself. But it's the second half of the novel that really turns the story on it's head when Walker looks at the dreams themselves. It's mystical, hypnotic and thought-provoking and reminded me of Don DeLillo's White Noise and Emily Mandel's Station Eleven. Read this mesmerizing book!
Bryan Washington's debut marks a stunning and remarkable new voice in literature. LOT tells the collected and intertwining stories of residents in a gentrifying neighborhood in Houston - in particular, stories of brown boys and black boys learning to navigate the world, learning about who they are, where they are from, and discovering who they might become. The stories are tender and bittersweet and provide a raw look at a community in the midst of change. For fans of Friday Black, Heads of the Colored People, We the Animals, and The Incendiaries.
Jasmine Guillory's The Proposal is the perfect modern romance. When Nikole Paterson agrees to attend a baseball game with her handsome actor boyfriend, she doesn't expect for him to propose to her in front of millions of people. But she won't be pressured into marriage and rejects his proposal and escapes the media attention with the help of Carlos Ibarra. What ensues is not your stereotypical romance: instead what Guillory's written is a fun story with a feminist edge. Guillory herself said, "My idea of a hero is [...] a man who cares about what a woman has to say, who listens to her, who pays attention to her needs and wants.” Read this book and swoon.
Smart, funny and very sweet, Helen Hoang's The Kiss Quotient is the perfect read. Stella Luna is a mathematician who also happens to be on the spectrum. She decides she is going to mathematically figure out how to date. So she hires escort Michael Larsen to help her test her equation for dating. What ensues is a growing friendship where each learns how to love and respect themselves for who they are. Witty and engrossing, The Kiss Quotient is for fans of Gail Honeyman's Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine, Rainbow Rowell's Attachments or Jenny Han's To All the Boys I've Loved Before.
If you like HBO's Insecure or Ballers, read this book.
Lost Children Archive is timely and revolutionary. It's engrossing, thrilling, horrifying and deeply moving. Valeria Luiselli documents a life-changing roadtrip from New York to Arizona for a mother and father and their two children - all of whom remain nameless. The father is on a quest to document the sounds of the last truly free moments of the Apaches before they are captured by the "white eyes." While the mother is obsessed with documenting the lives of the migrant children held in detention camps, most notably two little girls whose mother she knows and who crossed the border, were detained and then disappeared without a trace. When I read Tommy Orange's There There I felt like an explosion went off in my heart. Luiselli doesn't do that. Instead, when you reach the final devastating pages you realize you were shot in the gut long before you started the last few chapters and you've been slowly bleeding out. This book is a masterpiece and Luiselli one of the most brilliant writers of our time.
Josh and Hazel's Guide to Not Dating is the absolute perfect romance! When former college acquaintances Josh and Hazel meet at a party, a friendship ensues that—you guessed it—turns into love, but only after a series of hilarious and humiliating double blind dates they take together. Hazel is the romantic heroine I've been waiting for: she's fearless and strong and uncompromising of who she is: messy, loud, eccentric and opinionated. If you're a fan of Rainbow Rowell's Landline or Attachments, then read this book! It'll give you all the feels.
Friday Black is one of the one beautiful collection of stories I've read in quite some time. Every word, every story gave me goosebumps. The stories made my stomach turn and kept me up at night. They are absolutely brutal and stark yet filled with such love and even hope. Friday Black is a wonder, and it makes you re-evaluate everything you think you know about race, Blackness and the American experience.
When I started this book, I knew it would break my heart. The story tells of two sisters—Chula and Cassandra—and their new maid, Petrona, set in 90’s Colombia during the guerilla wars and Pablo Escobar’s reign. This is a story not just about physical warfare, but also race and class and the internal wars we fight every day between right and wrong. It also begs the question: how does one survive amidst such division, corruption and turmoil? More importantly, it’s a story of two girls—Chula and Petrona—and their powerful friendship that threatens them both. This book opened my eyes to a different story of Colombia and its people than the one reported in the news. The novel sucks you in from page one to its stunning conclusion. Contreras’ prose is powerful, elegant and lyrical. You’ll hold your breath and your heart will pound: it’s just that good.
Are you in control of your social media accounts or do they control you? This is the underlying question of Jaron Lanier's small but thought-provoking book. Lanier isn't telling us we have to delete our accounts but rather asks us to reexamine how we use them and how our use impacts the way we act, think and treat others. The main premise being "How can you remain autonomous in a world where you are under constant surveillance and are constantly prodded by algorithms...?" I deleted my Facebook account awhile ago but after reading this book I deleted my Twitter as well. It feels good to live with less algorithms in my life.
Sheila Heti's Motherhood is a powerful reflection on motherhood as well as an investigation of what it means to be a mother. The narrative structure is unconventional but works as one woman struggles to define herself and asks the question haunting many women: do I want to be a mother? What ensues is a dynamic internal dialogue that celebrates those who are mothers, those who want to be mothers, those who have motherhood thrust upon them as well as those who never want to be one. This is a cleverly crafted novel every woman should read.
Maid was a very personal read for me. Like Stephanie Land, my mother was a maid, a single mother surviving on government assistance, trying to improve our lives. The accuracy with which she spoke of those experiences brought me to my knees: "I was moving into a place with rules that suggested I was an addict, dirty, or just so messed up [...] Being poor,...seemed a lot like probation—the crime being a lack of means to survive." Land's prose is so vivid, I felt like I was reliving my childhood. They say you never know what someone else's life is like until you've walked a mile in their shoes. Read this book and you'll step into the shoes of those surviving in the shadows—the poor and invisible workers living as outliers in society. It will change you.
Bold and utterly breathtaking, A Place for Us tells the story of a Muslim Indian-American family as they come together for their eldest daughter's wedding. What comes next is a beautiful, intimate and expansive story about family, identity, faith and culture. This story has everything from familial love and betrayal to reconciling one's personal beliefs with those held by their parents to what it means to be American and Muslim. Whatever your beliefs or cultural background may be, this is a story for everyone because at its heart it is a story about family: the ties that bind us together, how they break apart and what it means to come home. It is an American epic for our time.
Gun Love is an unforgettable love story of a daughter for her mother, a mother in love with her dreams and a town in love with firearms. Margot and her daughter Pearl live in their '94 Mercury outside of a trailer park in the middle-of-nowhere Florida. Despite their homelessness, they've created close bonds with their neighbors. But those bonds are tested when a shocking series of events unfold. Told from the viewpoint of 14-year-old Pearl, Clement shows the many sides to gun-ownership: those hunting for sport, those just trying to protect their families and those with nefarious intent. But it is also a story of family—the ones we are born into and the ones we create. Tenderhearted, haunting and lyrical, I read Gun Love in one day; and I wish I could go back and read it again for the first time.
This is a timeless tale of family bonds—how they are broken, how we try to repair the mistakes of the past and the lengths we will go to protect our loved ones. Told against the backdrop of the old west, we meet Jessilyn, a young mestiza, who is left to manage her family's failing cattle farm after her brother runs away and her father dies. Determined to reunite her small family and save their land, she masquerades as a man and goes on a heartbreaking journey to find her brother and bring him home. My heart was pounding with every word. Jessilyn is a heroine for our times: young, spirited, and full of grit. You'll be rooting for her to the bitter end. If you love True Grit's Mattie Ross, then I implore you to meet Larison's Jessilyn Harney.
The Third Hotel is an eerie and heartbreaking dissection of marriage and loss. When Clare arrives in Havana for the New Latin American Cinema festival, she is still coming to terms with the loss of her husband. On the second day, she sees her husband standing outside a museum. But he is supposed to be dead. What happens next is a mystifying series of events that blur the line between fiction and fantasy and cause Clare to reevaluate her marriage, her husband and herself. The Third Hotel is a beautifully strange and poetic mediation on grief and love. In many ways this novel reminded me of the great Joan Didion quote, "We tell ourselves stories in order to live." Read this book. You won't regret it.
Madeline Miller, best known for Song of Achilles, gives salience to one of the most underrated mythical figures, Circe. Previously characterized as merely a seductress and sorceress, Miller weaves classical mythology with her own narrative giving Circe what other male authors never did: strength and agency. This book is thrilling, fascinating—it's a page-turner. And you don't have to know anything about Greek mythology to love this book. It's a beautiful collaboration of classic Greek tales and Miller's sharp narrative prose.
A powerful debut novel told from three distinct perspectives: the first chronicles the unexpected romance between a young, aspiring editor and a famous, much older writer; the second is the story of Amar, an Iraqi-American detained at Heathrow while en route to see his brother in Kurdistan; and the third deftly binds all the characters together. The stories oscillate between funny and sad but most importantly, are deeply humane. Without a doubt this slim novel packs a punch - the tight prose and singular narrative structure draws you in and raises questions of how power and privilege impact love and war and the insidious ways it effects our everyday.
Set in 1980's New York, The House of Impossible Beauties tells the story of the house Angel and Hector built—specifically for the Latinx LGBTQ community who simply want to be loved and accepted for who they are. This story will break your heart and teach you the many ways to love and live. In a time when we need more diverse books, authors, readers and booksellers, this book is vital. As the narrator notes, "All Angel wanted was someone to look up to. When she turned on her television, or went to the movies, or flipped the pages of a magazine, she never saw anyone that looked like who she was, who she had been, or who she wanted to be." As voices outside of the "norm" are threatened and silenced, the publication of this book is more important than ever before.
Eleanor Oliphant is not completely fine. But the secrets she carries are buried so deep, she cannot change her rigid lifestyle. Through a chance encounter with an elderly gentleman do we see Eleanor begin to blossom and let go of the past that haunts her. Beautifully written this is an underrated novel about the power of kindness—an attribute we all could use a little more of in our world today.
Beautiful, harrowing, heartbreaking and mind-blowing, Homegoing should be required reading for everyone. This is one of the most important works on the complexity of blackness and the repercussions of slavery across generations and continents. This book gave me goosebumps. It tore my heart in two, made me cry and filled me with love. This is not a light-hearted read but it is a necessary one.
Proehl tells the story of Val, a former sci-fi TV actress, and her precocious 9-year-old son Alex as they travel from New York to LA to reunite with Alex's estranged father and Val's former co-star. As they visit comic-com shows along the way, Alex encounters a cast of superheroes, comic-book writers, illustrators, and superfans who highlight the cost of fame, the power and magic of storytelling, and slowly reveal the tragedy that caused Val to leave LA and Alex's father in the first place. Smart, heart-warming and insightful this is an affectionate tale of a mother and her son.