Maybe it’s a sign of the times, maybe it’s my social media addiction, but whenever I’m looking for a new book to wholly consume my every waking thought, I always check what my favorite book nerds are positing about online. Finding these influences and their opinions isn’t hard; there are so many platforms that give avid readers an easy place to share their shelves. Goodreads, Book Twitter, Bookstagram, BookTube and Booktok—all great places to find book recommendations from readers around the world. But with so much out there in so many different genres, it can be hard to figure out which reads are the true gems. Here are eight books sure to capture your imagination that are also the talk of the virtual town. Check out my TikTok for even more recs!
Affairs of the heart are not for everyone, but a little friends-with-benefits with some spicy drama on the side? Please and thank you. UGLY LOVE follows Tate, newly moved in with her brother for a fresh start in life, and Miles, an airline pilot who winds up drunk at Tate’s new place. The two can’t deny their chemistry, but neither is looking for a romantic commitment, so they promise to keep it casual. And when it all inevitably falls apart, their chemistry threatens to blow up their entire lives. There’s a reason people can’t help but talk this one up; the interplay between our leads and their complex relationship is intensely alluring and keeps you guessing whether they’ll get the ending they’re looking for.
#1 New York Times bestselling author Colleen Hoover’s heart-wrenching love story proves that attraction at first sight can be messy.
When Tate Collins meets airline pilot Miles Archer, she doesn't think it's love at first sight. They wouldn’t even go so far as to consider themselves friends. The only thing Tate and Miles have in common is an undeniable mutual attraction. Once their desires are out in the open, they realize they have the perfect set-up. He doesn’t want love, she doesn’t have time for love, so that just leaves the sex. Their arrangement could be surprisingly seamless, as long as Tate can stick to the only two rules Miles has for her.
Never ask about the past.
Don’t expect a future.
They think they can handle it, but realize almost immediately they can’t handle it at all.
Hearts get infiltrated.
Promises get broken.
Rules get shattered.
Love gets ugly.
“These violent delights have violent ends” as the Bard wrote in his much-adapted tale of two star-crossed lovers. Chloe Gong’s take on the story, THESE VIOLENT DELIGHTS, pulls the action away from 14th Century Verona to 1920s Shanghai, where two rival gangs fight for control of the city. Juliette Cai is set to take her place as head of the Scarlet Gang, fighting against the White Flowers, led by Roma Montagov, a man with whom she has a grim past. And the animosity would have continued if it weren’t for the fact that people on both sides begin to lose their minds and claw their throats out. Rich in imagery and dark secrets, this tale of lovers to rivals to lovers again has captured the imaginations of readers across the Web. And Chloe Gong’s excellent TikTok skills are helping her quickly rise the ranks of BookTok stardom.
An Instant New York Times Bestseller!
A BuzzFeed Best Young Adult Book of 2020
Perfect for fans of The Last Magician and Serpent & Dove, this heart-stopping debut is an imaginative Romeo and Juliet retelling set in 1920s Shanghai, with rival gangs and a monster in the depths of the Huangpu River.
The year is 1926, and Shanghai hums to the tune of debauchery.
A blood feud between two gangs runs the streets red, leaving the city helpless in the grip of chaos. At the heart of it all is eighteen-year-old Juliette Cai, a former flapper who has returned to assume her role as the proud heir of the Scarlet Gang—a network of criminals far above the law. Their only rivals in power are the White Flowers, who have fought the Scarlets for generations. And behind every move is their heir, Roma Montagov, Juliette’s first love…and first betrayal.
But when gangsters on both sides show signs of instability culminating in clawing their own throats out, the people start to whisper. Of a contagion, a madness. Of a monster in the shadows. As the deaths stack up, Juliette and Roma must set their guns—and grudges—aside and work together, for if they can’t stop this mayhem, then there will be no city left for either to rule.
Badass female lead? Check. Rock and roll? Check. Dealing with complex racial and feminist issues that resonate with what’s happening in the world today? Big check. It’s no wonder THE FINAL REVIVAL OF OPAL & NEV tops so many bookish influencers’ lists. Opal is a proud Black woman in 1970s Detroit looking to get her music out into the world, something she gets the chance to do when she crosses paths with British singer-songwriter Neville Charles. Decades later, after the band has broken up, journalist Sunny interviews Opal to get the story of her rise and fall as an oral history, but Sunny is a lot closer to the story than she initially appears, adding yet more layers to their rock-and-roll story.
A kaleidoscopic fictional oral history of the beloved rock ’n’ roll duo who shot to fame in 1970s New York, and the dark, fraught secret that lies at the peak of their stardom.
Opal is a fiercely independent young woman pushing against the grain in her style and attitude, Afro-punk before that term existed. Coming of age in Detroit, she can’t imagine settling for a 9-to-5 job—despite her unusual looks, Opal believes she can be a star. So when the aspiring British singer/songwriter Neville Charles discovers her at a bar’s amateur night, she takes him up on his offer to make rock music together for the fledgling Rivington Records.
In early seventies New York City, just as she’s finding her niche as part of a flamboyant and funky creative scene, a rival band signed to her label brandishes a Confederate flag at a promotional concert. Opal’s bold protest and the violence that ensues set off a chain of events that will not only change the lives of those she loves, but also be a deadly reminder that repercussions are always harsher for women, especially black women, who dare to speak their truth.
Decades later, as Opal considers a 2016 reunion with Nev, music journalist S. Sunny Shelton seizes the chance to curate an oral history about her idols. Sunny thought she knew most of the stories leading up to the cult duo’s most politicized chapter. But as her interviews dig deeper, a nasty new allegation from an unexpected source threatens to blow up everything.
Provocative and chilling, The Final Revival of Opal & Nev features a backup chorus of unforgettable voices, a heroine the likes of which we’ve not seen in storytelling, and a daring structure, and introduces a bold new voice in contemporary fiction.
You know what The Iliad was missing all this time? The deeply moving romance of the great hero Achilles and his companion, Patroclus. If you haven't read Madeline Miller's other Greek mythology–inspired hit CIRCE, you probably aren't ready for the beautiful and heart-wrenching rollercoaster that is SONG OF ACHILLES. Patroclus meets the golden-haired prince Achilles early in their childhood after being exiled from his kingdom. As they grow up together, they train for the war Achilles is destined to die in and fall in love. Once the pair heads to Troy, however, the tragedy kicks in, leaving both Patroclus and Achilles at the mercy of a cruel fate, and leaves all the readers sobbing.
“I’ve always thought that a good book should be either the entry point inward, to learn about yourself, or a door outward, to open you up to new worlds. With THE SONG OF ACHILLES, Madeline Miller gave me both.”
On Pheby Delores Brown’s eighteenth birthday, she hopes to get her freedom, allowing her to finally leave the plantation she grew up on, and be with Essex Henry, another slave who is looking to escape. Those dreams are horrifyingly shattered when Pheby is betrayed and sold to a notorious jail owner, and things only get harder from there. Pheby’s story is inspired by the life story of Mary Lumpkin, the slave of the infamous slave trader Robert Lumpkin, adding new layers of horror to the ordeals Pheby faces. Dealing with colorism, racism, and the atrocities of slavery, YELLOW WIFE is a gripping and difficult read that is not to be missed.
“A fully immersive, intricately crafted story inspired by the pages of history. In Pheby, Sadeqa Johnson has created a woman whose struggle to survive and to protect the ones she loves will have readers turning the pages as fast as their fingers can fly. Simply enthralling.” —Lisa Wingate, #1 New York Times bestselling author of Before We Were Yours
Called "wholly engrossing" by New York Times bestselling author Kathleen Grissom, this harrowing story follows an enslaved woman forced to barter love and freedom while living in the most infamous slave jail in Virginia.
Born on a plantation in Charles City, Virginia, Pheby Delores Brown has lived a relatively sheltered life. Shielded by her mother’s position as the estate’s medicine woman and cherished by the Master’s sister, she is set apart from the others on the plantation, belonging to neither world.
She’d been promised freedom on her eighteenth birthday, but instead of the idyllic life she imagined with her true love, Essex Henry, Pheby is forced to leave the only home she has ever known. She unexpectedly finds herself thrust into the bowels of slavery at the infamous Devil’s Half Acre, a jail in Richmond, Virginia, where the enslaved are broken, tortured, and sold every day. There, Pheby is exposed not just to her Jailer’s cruelty but also to his contradictions. To survive, Pheby will have to outwit him, and she soon faces the ultimate sacrifice.
It is a truth universally acknowledged that everyone loves a good heist. And indeed, that's what we get in one of the most talked-about books online, SIX OF CROWS. Part of Leigh Bardugo’s popular Grishaverse, the novel follows the crew brought together by Kaz Brekker, a criminal mastermind looking to cash in on the biggest job of his career . . . provided his team can keep from killing each other first. The book is set in a fantastical universe where some, called Grisha, are born with extraordinary powers, be it perfect aim or the ability to change a person’s feelings. The witty banter and chemistry among the heist collective is what brings readers back for more. Well, that and watching their adventures on Netflix’s new show Shadow and Bone.
For thirteen-year-old Frank Drum, the summer of 1961 is a dark one, filled with murder, suicides, and secrets, and that’s just to start. ORDINARY GRACE manages to defy definition, building a complex tale that sees the narrator shifting and growing with each twist, his unreliable perspective shifting as the reality of these incomprehensible tragedies set in. William Kent Krueger weaves in themes of faith, mercy, trauma, and hope, crafting a delicate balancing act that is ultimately uplifting, even with such a dark premise. This coming-of-age story meets small-town murder mystery is a novel that will stick with you long after you’ve put it back on the shelf.
When tragedy unexpectedly comes to call on his family, thirteen-year-old Frank Drum finds himself thrust into a world of secrets, adultery, and betrayal. Set in 1961, Ordinary Grace is the story of what a shocking murder does to a boy standing at the door of adulthood and the fabric of a small Minnesota town.
V. E. Schwab is known for hits that explore the fantastical and human kinds of darkness, but THE INVISIBLE LIFE OF ADDIE LARUE dives into both. Addie LaRue thought her life was over when she was engaged to be married in her provincial town in 18th Century France. To escape, she strikes a deal with a mysterious entity that allows her to experience everything the world has to offer. The catch? No one remembers who she is once they stop looking directly at her. Skip to the present day, and Addie's seen it all, she thinks, until she meets a man who recognizes her. A look into human desires and the power of one's will to survive, this book ensnared readers across the Web with its intimate plot and relatable characters.
Photo credit: istock / Natalia Shabasheva