Let’s be real: we all have some expectations when we pick up a new book. It’s a sense of readerly preservation in a way—no book lover wants to experience the pure torture of an unfortunately timed reading experience. Thus, appealing to your highly evolved book sensitivities, we’re advising on the books that swept us away far more than we anticipated, in the hope that you’re more adequately prepared. To help you avoid potentially cancelling plans or all-nighters (or to give you a good excuse for one), here are eleven books we unexpectedly found ourselves binge-reading.
Juliet’s Pick #1: RIPE by Sarah Rose Etter absolutely floored me. It's a gut punch, heartrending yet often unexpectedly hilarious exploration of the frenetic Silicon Valley life through the eyes of Cassie, a character so real, I felt her struggles deep in my bones. Her ever-present black hole companion—yes, you heard that right—resonated so powerfully with me. Once you start reading this cutting satire, which encapsulates the bizarre, often harrowing paradoxes of our modern world, believe me, you won't be able to stop. Prepare to binge-read, laugh, and maybe even cry.
From an award-winning writer whose work Roxane Gay calls “utterly unique and remarkable” comes a surreal novel about a woman in Silicon Valley who must decide how much she’s willing to give up for success—for fans of My Year of Rest and Relaxation and Her Body and Other Parties.
A year into her dream job at a cutthroat Silicon Valley start-up, Cassie finds herself trapped in a corporate nightmare. Between the long hours, toxic bosses, and unethical projects, she also struggles to reconcile the glittering promise of a city where obscene wealth lives alongside abject poverty and suffering. Ivy League grads complain about the snack selection from a conference room with a view of houseless people bathing in the bay. Start-up burnouts leap into the paths of commuter trains, and men literally set themselves on fire in the streets.
Though isolated, Cassie is never alone. From her earliest memory, a miniature black hole has been her constant companion. It feeds on her depression and anxiety, growing or shrinking in relation to her distress. The black hole watches, but it also waits. Its relentless pull draws Cassie ever closer as the world around her unravels.
When her CEO’s demands cross an illegal threshold and she ends up unexpectedly pregnant, Cassie must decide whether the tempting fruits of Silicon Valley are really worth it. Sharp but vulnerable, funny yet unsettling, Ripe portrays one millennial woman’s journey through our late-capitalist hellscape and offers a brilliantly incisive look at the absurdities of modern life.
Juliet’s Pick #2: A remarkable blend of heartache, humor, mystery, and hope, REMARKABLY BRIGHT CREATURES is a tale of an unexpected friendship between a grieving widow, Tova Sullivan, who works nights at the aquarium, and a perceptive octopus, Marcellus. Van Pelt's deft storytelling skill brought to life the rich emotions in every interaction, tugging at my heartstrings, and keeping me on edge. It's a read that reaches into your soul and compels you to turn page after page, unable to stop until you've absorbed every last word of this stunning narrative.
Sharon’s Pick #1: I picked this book up earlier this year on a whim during a reading slump, and I absolutely ATE it up! I had a feeling I was going to enjoy the book going in, but I was not expecting to fly through it so fast. Unmoored after her fiancé disengages her, thirty-year-old Ruth returns home to her parents. What starts as a visit for the holidays becomes a year-long stay when Ruth quits her job after she realizes her father has Alzheimer’s. Quirky and moving, GOODBYE, VITAMIN is a tender look at how to chart a new path forward. For Ruth that means both coming to terms with who her father was and who he has become.
Sharon’s Pick #2: I have TikTok to thank for this bingeable read! After coming across this video on my TikTok feed, I was immediately inspired to pull the novel off my shelf and begin reading it. Little did I know how much I was going to fly through the pages. In 1970s Brooklyn, we follow August as she comes of age in Bushwick, alongside her three best friends: Sylvia, Angela, and Gigi. The neighborhood’s energy and the bond between the four girls is palpable as they navigate childhood with mothers absent or dead. Weaving between then and now (twenty years later), the story explores family and how hauntingly pivotal experiences from the past affect the present. Jacqueline Woodson’s writing is mesmerizing, making it all the more difficult to put the book down.
Emily’s Pick #1: I wasn’t exactly surprised to be swept away by this book—I go into any psychological thriller well-prepared with a full day of no plans, but I wasn’t quite expecting that my love for the main character would be what propelled me through this one. Sally Diamond is different from others. She keeps to herself and has trouble relating to people. And for most of her life (she’s in her early-forties now) she’s been happy to live an isolated life with her adoptive father, a psychiatrist. But then, when her dad dies from an illness—and Sally takes his oft-repeated joke literally and throws his body out with the trash—it starts a spiraling chain of events. A police investigation ensues, and a media frenzy, and that leads the world (and Sally herself) to find out about her tragic and traumatic past. A past that Sally doesn’t remember, and which her adoptive parents kept hidden from her and the world to protect her. Now that everyone knows, she encounters odd strangers, mysterious packages, a new therapist, and far too much attention from people who had always previously avoided her in town. I loved seeing how Sally wonderfully (and peculiarly) handled every new situation—and it kept me turning the pages long into the night.
The internationally bestselling author of the “dark, captivating psychological thriller” (People) Lying in Wait returns with a wickedly dark, twisted, and brilliantly observed new novel about an enigmatic woman confronting her unknown past.
Reclusive Sally Diamond causes outrage by trying to incinerate her dead father. Now she’s the center of attention, not only from the hungry media and police detectives, but also a sinister voice from a past she does not remember. As she begins to discover the horrors of her early childhood, Sally steps into the world for the first time, making new friends, big decisions, and learning that people don’t always mean what they say.
But who is the man observing Sally from the other side of the world, and why does he call her Mary? And why does her new neighbor seem to be obsessed with her? Sally’s trust issues are about to be severely challenged…
Kerry’s Pick #1: This oral history of the 9/11 terrorist attacks is an on-the-ground, minute-by-minute recounting of that tragic day. Everyone from survivors, first responders, widows and widowers, to politicians, witnesses, and family members gives in-depth chronicles. I read the tellings in an effort to clarify my own fragmented memories of that day, and I found myself unable to put the book down. Admittedly, this is a difficult read, but it’s a necessary one, which will stay with you long after you turn the final page.
Now with a new afterword, Garrett M. Graff’s instant New York Times bestseller The Only Plane in the Sky, the comprehensive oral history of September 11, 2001 called “history as its most immediate and moving” (Jon Meacham) and “remarkable…a priceless civic gift” (The Wall Street Journal).
Hailed as “remarkable…incredibly evocative and compelling” (The Washington Post) and “oral history at its finest” (Pittsburgh Post-Gazette), Garrett M. Graff’s The Only Plane in the Sky is the most vivid and human portrait of the September 11 attacks yet, comprised of never-before-published transcripts, recently declassified documents, and original interviews and stories from nearly five hundred government officials, first responders, witnesses, survivors, friends, and family members. Here is a vivid, profound, and searing portrait of humanity on a day that changed the course of history, and all of our lives.
Kerry’s Pick #2: Everyone knows what happened to Julius Caesar on March 15, in 44 BC, so how could a book about one of the most famous assassinations in history be so suspenseful? It helps to have a great author who can bring ancient Rome—and the men and women involved with Caesar’s death—to vivid life. Compelling, thrilling, and unputdownable, this is the ultimate read on a sensational event.
Heather’s Pick: It’s not a thriller, and yet Mhairi McFarlane’s lively JUST LAST NIGHT kept me guessing—and flipping the pages—until the very end. At surface level, this multilayered novel is about a woman named Eve who’s been pining for one of her best friends, Ed, for years, when a tragic event forces her to reevaluate her life and choices. As you dig in, you realize the story is also about grief, the complexities of friendship, and knowing (or coming to learn) your own worth. I thought I knew where Eve’s story was going before I even started it, but I was wrong, and that captivated me.
Emily’s Pick #2: This retelling of EMMA by Jane Austen is set in modern-day Manhattan on the Upper East Side. Emma Woodhouse is now an FIT graduate attempting to get a job at the Met. And George Knightley, instead of being her brother-in-law, is the boy next door who she grew up with—and is suddenly all grown up (as is she). This romance did such a great job of hitting all the story beats I love in EMMA, with a contemporary twist on them. It also gets into Knightley’s POV, which is a really fun addition. If you need help reaching your reading goals this summer, I highly recommend picking up this sparkling reimagining of a classic and excitedly anticipating what’s to come.
In this witty and romantic debut novel, Jane Austen’s Emma meets the misadventures of Manhattan’s modern dating scene as two lifelong friends discover that, in the search for love, you sometimes don’t have to look any further than your own backyard.
Beautiful, clever, and rich, Emma Woodhouse has lived twenty-three years in her tight-knit Upper East Side neighborhood with very little to distress or vex her…that is, until her budding matchmaking hobby results in her sister’s marriage—and subsequent move downtown. Now, with her sister gone and all her friends traveling abroad, Emma must start her final year of grad school grappling with an entirely new emotion: boredom. So when she meets Nadine, a wide-eyed Ohio transplant with a heart of gold and drugstore blonde highlights to match, Emma not only sees a potential new friend but a new project. If only her overbearing neighbor George Knightley would get out of her way.
Handsome, smart, and successful, the only thing that frustrates Knightley more than a corked whiskey is his childhood friend, Emma. Whether it’s her shopping sprees between classes or her revolving door of ill-conceived hobbies, he is only too happy to lecture her on all the finer points of adulthood she’s so hell-bent on ignoring. But despite his gripes—and much to his own chagrin—Knightley can’t help but notice that the girl next door is a woman now…one who he suddenly can’t get out of his head.
As Emma’s best laid plans collide with everyone from hipster baristas to meddling family members to flaky playboy millionaires, these two friends slowly realize their need to always be right has been usurped by a new need entirely, and it’s not long before they discover that even the most familiar stories still have some surprises.
Sara’s Pick: When I picked up UNDER THE WHISPERING DOOR, I did not expect to be sitting there, 24 hours later, holding the book, grinning from ear to ear as I turned the last page. I didn't realize it was, in part, a love story, and the slow development of the relationship was an absolute treat to discover. I was also blown away by the author's ability to get to the heart of grief and loss, and through it, what makes the human experience so beautiful. The book follows Wallace, a singularly miserable human being who dies rather suddenly. He is taken in by Hugo, a man who is in charge of helping souls cross over into the afterlife. But Wallace is as obstinate in death as he was in life, which means Hugo and his little family, made up of a young Reaper, his deceased grandfather, and ghostly dog Apollo, have their work cut out for them. Honestly, I never wanted to leave the Charon's Crossing teashop, full of ghosts, treats, and teas, which is always a sign of a great book!
Zakiya's Pick: I fell in love with Luna in CHEF’S KISS so I was so glad she got her own love story in CHEF’S CHOICE. CHEF’S KISS was amazing, but in this sequel I absolutely loved the conversations that occurred between Luna and her love interest Jean-Pierre, both of whom are trans. For me, it was certainly educational, but above all else it was a romance that had epic level swoon-worthy moments. I couldn’t put this one down!
A fake dating arrangement turns to real love in this deliciously delightful queer rom-com from the author of the sweetly satisfying Chef’s Kiss.
When Luna O’Shea is unceremoniously fired from her frustrating office job, she tries to count her blessings: she’s a proud trans woman who has plenty of friends, a wonderful roommate, and a good life in New York City. But blessings don’t pay the bills.
Enter Jean-Pierre, a laissez-faire trans man and the heir to a huge culinary empire—which he’ll only inherit if he can jump through all the hoops his celebrity chef grandfather has placed in his path. First hoop: he needs a girlfriend, a role that Luna is happy to play…for the right price. She’s got rent to pay, after all! Second hoop: they both need to learn how to cook a series of elaborate, world-renowned family recipes to prove that Jean-Pierre is a worthy heir. Admittedly, Luna doesn’t even know how to crack an egg, but she’s not going to let that—or any pesky feelings for Jean-Pierre—stop her.
Another swoon-worthy and heartwarming queer love story from a charming new voice in romance.
Photo credit: iStock / struvictory