Cover Chronicles: 10 Books That Are Beautiful Inside and Out

May 21 2021
Share Cover Chronicles: 10 Books That Are Beautiful Inside and Out

I’m here to deliver an important PSA: you should judge a book by its cover, and you’ll be glad you did! The best book covers serve as an extension of the story itself, and convey its themes through intentional design. An additional bonus: stunning covers can help beat reading slumps, as they practically demand to be picked up and read. Featuring bright colors, clever designs, and beautiful artistry, here are 10 books you’ll be glad you judged by their covers.

The Cave Dwellers
by Christina McDowell

I never knew it was possible to want the cover of a book to be re-created as wallpaper, but if someone made wallpaper patterned with the cover of THE CAVE DWELLERS, I would be the first person to buy it. From a quick glance, the cover appears to have a charming toile, but on closer inspection, motifs signifying the book’s themes such as cigarettes, the US Capitol rotunda, champagne, and a handful of money reveal themselves. This is a cover that lets me know immediately what this book is going to be about: power, privilege, high society, and things that are not what they seem.

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The Cave Dwellers
Christina McDowell

A compulsively readable novel in the vein of The Bonfire of the Vanities—by way of The Nest—about what Washington, DC’s high society members do away from the Capitol building and behind the closed doors of their stately homes.

They are the families considered worthy of a listing in the exclusive Green Book—a discriminative diary created by the niece of Edith Roosevelt’s social secretary. Their aristocratic bloodlines are woven into the very fabric of Washington—generation after generation. Their old money and manner lurk through the cobblestone streets of Georgetown, Kalorama, and Capitol Hill. They only socialize within their inner circle, turning a blind eye to those who come and go on the political merry-go-round. These parents and their children live in gilded existences of power and privilege.

But what they have failed to understand is that the world is changing. And when the family of one of their own is held hostage and brutally murdered, everything about their legacy is called into question.

They’re called The Cave Dwellers.

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The Signal Flame
by Andrew Krivak

THE SIGNAL FLAME is a book I would keep on my coffee table, as its cover combines two of my favorite natural features: fall foliage and a starry night sky. I love how the vibrancy of the red leaves mirrors the title, as it looks like the trees are ablaze, and the sky’s clearness reminds me of looking up at the night sky in my home of rural Connecticut. This beautiful cover showcasing the wonders of nature is a perfect match for Andrew Krivak’s immersive writing and emphasis on atmosphere and world building.

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The Signal Flame
Andrew Krivak

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Yolk
by Mary H. K. Choi

Mary H.K. Choi is known for striking covers that prominently feature her books’ characters, and the cover of YOLK may be the most memorable yet. Not all books can pull off a bright yellow cover, but YOLK does so with ease. The two girls falling through space on the front and back covers perfectly convey the book’s themes of falling through the chaos of life and surviving it all with your sister. Perhaps YOLK’s most memorable feature is not the cover, but the pages’ edges, which feature sprayed on hands that connect the girls. I actually yelled out loud when I saw this detail, and proceeded to take a video of the cover and the sprayed edges and post it on my Instagram story.

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Yolk
Mary H. K. Choi

From New York Times bestselling author Mary H.K. Choi comes a funny and emotional story about two estranged sisters and how far they’ll go to save one of their lives—even if it means swapping identities.

Jayne and June Baek are nothing alike. June’s three years older, a classic first-born, know-it-all narc with a problematic finance job and an equally soulless apartment (according to Jayne). Jayne is an emotionally stunted, self-obsessed basket case who lives in squalor, has egregious taste in men, and needs to get to class and stop wasting Mom and Dad’s money (if you ask June). Once thick as thieves, these sisters who moved from Seoul to San Antonio to New York together now don’t want anything to do with each other.

That is, until June gets cancer. And Jayne becomes the only one who can help her.

Flung together by circumstance, housing woes, and family secrets, will the sisters learn more about each other than they’re willing to confront? And what if while helping June, Jayne has to confront the fact that maybe she’s sick, too?

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Infinite Country
by Patricia Engel

The book blog I’ve Read This said that, while she is rarely swayed by book covers, she felt compelled to pick up INFINITE COUNTRY, and I totally understand why! The cover is a perfect marriage of intentional design and beautiful aesthetic. Gradient rainbow verticals grace the cover with pencil renderings of a condor, a serpent, and a jaguar, three animals that are pivotal to the Andean myths that underpin the story.

Watch as Patrica Engel tells the story behind this gorgeous book cover.

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Infinite Country
Patricia Engel

“Remarkable...this is as much an all-American story as it is a global one.” —Booklist (starred review)

For readers of Valeria Luiselli and Edwidge Danticat, an urgent and lyrical novel about a Colombian family fractured by deportation, offering an intimate perspective on an experience that so many have endured—and are enduring right now.

Talia is being held at a correctional facility for adolescent girls in the forested mountains of Colombia after committing an impulsive act of violence that may or may not have been warranted. She urgently needs to get out and get back home to Bogotá, where her father and a plane ticket to the United States are waiting for her. If she misses her flight, she might also miss her chance to finally be reunited with her family in the north.

How this family came to occupy two different countries, two different worlds, comes into focus like twists of a kaleidoscope. We see Talia’s parents, Mauro and Elena, fall in love in a market stall as teenagers against a backdrop of civil war and social unrest. We see them leave Bogotá with their firstborn, Karina, in pursuit of safety and opportunity in the United States on a temporary visa, and we see the births of two more children, Nando and Talia, on American soil. We witness the decisions and indecisions that lead to Mauro’s deportation and the family’s splintering—the costs they’ve all been living with ever since.

Award-winning, internationally acclaimed author Patricia Engel, herself a dual citizen and the daughter of Colombian immigrants, gives voice to all five family members as they navigate the particulars of their respective circumstances. And all the while, the metronome ticks: Will Talia make it to Bogotá in time? And if she does, can she bring herself to trade the solid facts of her father and life in Colombia for the distant vision of her mother and siblings in America?

Rich with Bogotá urban life, steeped in Andean myth, and tense with the daily reality of the undocumented in America, Infinite Country is the story of two countries and one mixed-status family—for whom every triumph is stitched with regret, and every dream pursued bears the weight of a dream deferred.

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Red Island House
by Andrea Lee

The cover of RED ISLAND HOUSE perfectly conveys the book’s lush setting of Madagascar with an abundance of foliage under a starry night sky. The book’s protagonist, a Black American professor named Shay, stands squarely in the middle, her red dress tying together the cover as it matches the red veins in the foliage’s green leaves. Perhaps the most brilliant element of this design is the black snake that wraps around Shay, signifying the main character’s ensnarement in the conflict between the culture of her family and that of Madagascar’s natives.

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Red Island House
Andrea Lee

From National Book Award–nominated writer Andrea Lee comes a gorgeously evocative epic about love, clashing cultures, and identity, set in the tropical African island nation of Madagascar.

“People do mysterious things when they think they’ve found paradise,” reflects Shay, the heroine of Red Island House. When Shay, a Black American professor who’s always had an adventurous streak, marries Senna, an Italian businessman, she doesn’t imagine that her life’s greatest adventure will carry her far beyond their home in Milan to an idyllic stretch of beach in Madagascar, where Senna builds a flamboyant vacation villa. Before she knows it, Shay has become the somewhat reluctant mistress of a sprawling household, caught between her privileged American upbringing and her connection to the continent of her ancestors.

At first, she’s content to be an observer of the passionate affairs and fierce rivalries around her, but over twenty tumultuous years of marriage, as she and Senna raise children and establish their own rituals at the house, Shay finds herself drawn ever deeper into a place where a blend of magic, sexual intrigue, and transgression forms a modern-day parable of colonial conquest. Soon the collision of cultures comes right to Shay’s door, forcing her to make a life-altering decision that will change her and Senna’s lives forever.

A captivating, powerful, and profoundly moving novel about marriage and loyalty, identity and freedom, Red Island House showcases an extraordinary literary voice and an extravagantly lush, enchanted world.

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The Other Black Girl
by Zakiya Dalila Harris

The artist behind this stunning cover is Temi Coker (you can find him on Instagram @temi.coker), with the cover art based on his original work My Black is Beautiful. In Temi’s words, this piece “depicts an African American woman in her vibrancy, boldness, strength, and beauty.” Gracing the cover along with Temi’s brilliant artwork is the bold color scheme: a dark blue background pairs with the woman’s red-and-yellow earring in the shape of a fist and a comb that serve as the i in Girl. This use of primary colors shows an exquisite attention to detail.

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The Other Black Girl
Zakiya Dalila Harris

“Riveting, fearless, and vividly original. This is an exciting debut.” —Emily St. John Mandel, New York Times bestselling author of The Glass Hotel

Get Out meets The Devil Wears Prada in this electric debut about the tension that unfurls when two young Black women meet against the starkly white backdrop of New York City book publishing.

Twenty-six-year-old editorial assistant Nella Rogers is tired of being the only Black employee at Wagner Books. Fed up with the isolation and microaggressions, she’s thrilled when Harlem-born and bred Hazel starts working in the cubicle beside hers. They’ve only just started comparing natural hair care regimens, though, when a string of uncomfortable events elevates Hazel to Office Darling, and Nella is left in the dust.

Then the notes begin to appear on Nella’s desk: LEAVE WAGNER. NOW.

It’s hard to believe Hazel is behind these hostile messages. But as Nella starts to spiral and obsess over the sinister forces at play, she soon realizes that there’s a lot more at stake than just her career.

A whip-smart and dynamic thriller and sly social commentary that is perfect for anyone who has ever felt manipulated, threatened, or overlooked in the workplace, The Other Black Girl will keep you on the edge of your seat until the very last twist.

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The Mission House
by Carys Davies

Carys Davies is no stranger to unique covers, with her debut novel WEST sporting highly original cover art. Her second novel, THE MISSION HOUSE, displays the same ingenuity, utilizing details of the story to create an intriguing cover. With its warm orange tones and a silhouette of a man composed of a hat, a vest, and pictures of trees (not to mention the stamp on the shoulder that says “A Novel”), the cover seems to evoke the idealistic view of travel that the book’s main character, Hilary Byrd, holds. However, in this twenty-first century take on E. M. Forster’s A PASSAGE TO INDIA, readers see the consequences that unfold as Byrd fails to grasp the complexities of his new homeland.

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The Mission House
Carys Davies

From the multiple award-winning author of West and The Redemption of Galen Pike, a captivating and propulsive novel following an Englishman seeking refuge in a remote hill town in India who finds himself caught in the crossfire of local tensions and violence.

Fleeing his demons and the dark undercurrents of contemporary life in the UK, Hilary Byrd takes refuge in a former British hill station in South India. Charmed by the foreignness of his new surroundings and by the familiarity of everything the British have left behind, he finds solace in life’s simple pleasures, travelling by rickshaw around the small town with his driver Jamshed and staying in a mission house beside the local presbytery where the Padre and his adoptive daughter Priscilla have taken Hilary under their wing.

The Padre is concerned for Priscilla’s future, and as Hilary’s friendship with the young woman grows, he begins to wonder whether his purpose lies in this new relationship. But religious tensions are brewing and the mission house may not be the safe haven it seems.

The Mission House boldly and imaginatively explores post-colonial ideas in a world fractured between faith and non-belief, young and old, imperial past and nationalistic present. Tenderly subversive and meticulously crafted, it is a deeply human story of the wonders and terrors of connection in a modern world.

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The Startup Wife
by Tahmima Anam

How could someone walk by this book and not pick it up? This cover art proves that the philosophy “more is more” is correct. The multitude of colors bursting in lightning bolts from the woman in the middle immediately draw your eye in, and the echo font makes it seem like the title is literally bouncing across the cover. This book’s innovative and fresh takes around startup culture, feminism, religion, and technology essentially require it to have a bright and graphic cover, and this cover art delivers!

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The Startup Wife
Tahmima Anam

“Tahmima Anam deftly uses humor to explore both start-up culture and the institution of marriage in an utterly charming and genuinely thoughtful way.” —Rumaan Alam, author of Leave the World Behind

Newlyweds Asha and Cyrus build an app that replaces religious rituals and soon find themselves running one of the most popular social media platforms in the world.

Meet Asha Ray.

Brilliant coder and possessor of a Pi tattoo, Asha is poised to revolutionize artificial intelligence when she is reunited with her high school crush, Cyrus Jones.

Cyrus inspires Asha to write a new algorithm. Before she knows it, she’s abandoned her PhD program, they’ve exchanged vows, and gone to work at an exclusive tech incubator called Utopia.

The platform creates a sensation, with millions of users seeking personalized rituals every day. Will Cyrus and Asha’s marriage survive the pressures of sudden fame, or will she become overshadowed by the man everyone is calling the new messiah?

In this gripping, blistering novel, award-winning author Tahmima Anam takes on faith and the future with a gimlet eye and a deft touch. Come for the radical vision of human connection, stay for the wickedly funny feminist look at startup culture and modern partnership. Can technology—with all its limits and possibilities—disrupt love?

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The Atmospherians
by Alex McElroy

This cover fooled me so much when I saw it, as it perfectly emulates Instagram’s layout. Every detail was taken into consideration—the underscore in the title, the camera and paper plane in the top corners, and the picturesque sunset photo that encapsulates Instagram’s too-good-to-be-true sheen. The cover takes an unsettling turn with the water droplets (or are they tears?), a perfect detail for a dystopian novel about a disgraced social media influencer and her attempt to resurrect her career.

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The Atmospherians
Alex McElroy

A “dazzling” (Bryan Washington, author of Lot) and brilliantly satirical debut novel for fans of Women Talking and Red Clocks about two best friends—a disgraced influencer and a struggling actor—who form The Atmosphere, a cult designed to reform problematic men.

Sasha Marcus was once the epitome of contemporary success: an internet sensation, social media darling, and a creator of a high profile wellness brand for women. But a confrontation with an abusive troll has taken a horrifying turn, and now she’s at rock bottom: canceled and doxxed online, fired from her waitress job and fortressed in her apartment while men’s rights protestors rage outside. All that once glittered now condemns.

Sasha confides in her oldest childhood friend, Dyson—a failed actor with a history of body issues—who hatches a plan for Sasha to restore her reputation by becoming the face of his new business venture, The Atmosphere: a rehabilitation community for men. Based in an abandoned summer camp and billed as a workshop for job training, it is actually a rigorous program designed to rid men of their toxic masculinity and heal them physically, emotionally, and socially. Sasha has little choice but to accept. But what horrors await her as the resident female leader of a crew of washed up, desperate men? And what exactly does Dyson want?

Explosive and wickedly funny, this “Fight Club for the millennial generation” (Mat Johnson, author of Pym) peers straight into the dark heart of wellness and woke-ness, self-mythology and self-awareness, by asking what happens when we become addicted to the performance of ourselves.

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Against the Loveless World
by Susan Abulhawa

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention what originally struck me about this cover: the colors! Shards composed of orange, pink, and purple are interspersed with a starry pink and blue sky. Although the cover of AGAINST THE LOVELESS WORLD is gorgeous and perfectly Instagrammable, in my mind it also captures the book’s spirit. While protagonist Nahr has been shattered by life, time and time again, she is also filled with tremendous hope and refuses to become a victim.

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Against the Loveless World
Susan Abulhawa

2020 Palestine Book Awards Winner
2021 Aspen Words Literary Prize Finalist

“Susan Abulhawa possesses the heart of a warrior; she looks into the darkest crevices of lives, conflicts, horrendous injustices, and dares to shine light that can illuminate hidden worlds for us.” —Alice Walker, Pulitzer Prize–winning author

In this “beautiful...urgent” novel (The New York Times), Nahr, a young Palestinian woman, fights for a better life for her family as she travels as a refugee throughout the Middle East.

As Nahr sits, locked away in solitary confinement, she spends her days reflecting on the dramatic events that landed her in prison in a country she barely knows. Born in Kuwait in the 70s to Palestinian refugees, she dreamed of falling in love with the perfect man, raising children, and possibly opening her own beauty salon. Instead, the man she thinks she loves jilts her after a brief marriage, her family teeters on the brink of poverty, she’s forced to prostitute herself, and the US invasion of Iraq makes her a refugee, as her parents had been. After trekking through another temporary home in Jordan, she lands in Palestine, where she finally makes a home, falls in love, and her destiny unfolds under Israeli occupation. Nahr’s subversive humor and moral ambiguity will resonate with fans of My Sister, The Serial Killer, and her dark, contemporary struggle places her as the perfect sister to Carmen Maria Machado’s Her Body and Other Parties.

Written with Susan Abulhawa’s distinctive “richly detailed, beautiful, and resonant” (Publishers Weekly) prose, this powerful novel presents a searing, darkly funny, and wholly unique portrait of a Palestinian woman who refuses to be a victim.

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Photo credit: Scribner Books

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