Are you partaking in a specific fun reading challenge from PopSugar or StoryGraph this year? Or do you have your own personal one you’re setting for yourself? In our latest staff picks roundup, we’re holding ourselves accountable by writing down the goals we’re determined to reach and the books that go along with them!
Sara’s Goal #1: Read a Horror Book by a BIPOC Author
As a horror-lit superfan, this category of the reading challenge was the hardest for me to fill because of the many, many excellent options. But ultimately, for 2024, my choice is THE REFORMATORY by Tananarive Due. Set in 1950s Florida, when Jim Crow laws were still in full effect, the novel follows Robbie Stephens Jr. as he's sent away to a reformatory after defending his sister by kicking the white son of a powerful landowner. And while a "school" like the one Robbie is sent to is bad in the best of circumstances, he quickly finds that there are a lot of sinister things happening at this particular institution, which means he might not make it home alive. Balancing classic horror themes with the realities of racism, THE REFORMATORY is sure to make your reading challenge a hair-raising experience.
A gripping, page-turning novel set in Jim Crow Florida that follows Robert Stephens Jr. as he’s sent to a segregated reform school that is a chamber of terrors where he sees the horrors of racism and injustice, for the living, and the dead.
Twelve-year-old Robbie Stephens, Jr., is sentenced to six months at the Gracetown School for Boys, a reformatory, for kicking the son of the largest landowner in town in defense of his older sister, Gloria. So begins Robbie’s journey further into the terrors of the Jim Crow South and the very real horror of the school they call The Reformatory.
Robbie has a talent for seeing ghosts, or haints. But what was once a comfort to him after the loss of his mother has become a window to the truth of what happens at the reformatory. Boys forced to work to remediate their so-called crimes have gone missing, but the haints Robbie sees hint at worse things. Through his friends Redbone and Blue, Robbie is learning not just the rules but how to survive. Meanwhile, Gloria is rallying every family member and connection in Florida to find a way to get Robbie out before it’s too late.
The Reformatory is a haunting work of historical fiction written as only American Book Award–winning author Tananarive Due could, by piecing together the life of the relative her family never spoke of and bringing his tragedy and those of so many others at the infamous Dozier School for Boys to the light in this riveting novel.
Sara’s Goal #2: Read a Novel with at Least 3 POVS
Who doesn’t sometimes dream of living in Paris, drinking espresso and munching on a buttery croissant as you take in one of Europe’s most beautiful and historic cities? Maybe someone who’s living in the apartment their brother might’ve gone missing in? When Jess makes her way over to Paris looking for a fresh start and a little help from her half-brother Ben, she only manages to find the first part of her quest. The other residents of the building are an odd collection of people, none of whom seem keen to help her figure out what happened to her sibling, but each with their own voice and their own secrets to keep as Jess stumbles through the plot. And as with all of Lucy Foley’s thrillers, the twist is bound to shock and awe. THE PARIS APARTMENT is perfect for the Francophile who loves a little more noir in their stories of the City of Light.
Sara’s Goal #3: Read a Book Set in a Travel Destination on My Bucket List
Ever since I was a kid, I have wanted to go to Japan, and so for my reading challenge this year, I was looking for a novel that would give me a good feel for the kind of bar culture Tokyo has. What I found instead was STRANGE WEATHER IN TOKYO, an incredibly touching and nuanced May-December romance between a young woman and her former high school teacher. Tsukiko is a working woman who loves spending time at her local bar, drinking and eat in solitude, and also thinking about how she needs to settle down. One night, she reconnects with her former teacher, who she calls “sensei,” and through ongoing long nights at the bar, good conversations, and slow revelations, the two begin to have feelings for each other. A beautiful take on modern loneliness and the power of connection, this story will take you on a journey (just maybe not the one you were expecting).
Juliet’s Goal #1: Read a Book Coming to the Big Screen in 2024
There’s nothing I love more than a good book vs. movie debate, and I have a feeling that the IT ENDS WITH US discourse is going to be especially heated—so I need to be in on the conversation! If you somehow haven’t heard of the TikTok juggernaut, this novel follows Lily Bloom, a florist whose life takes an unexpected turn when she meets Ryle Kincaid, a charming neurosurgeon with a no-dating rule. Despite their instant connection, Ryle's aversion to relationships and Lily's haunting memories of her first love, Atlas, complicate their budding romance. As deeper truths emerge, Lily finds herself confronted with difficult choices, forcing her to navigate the fine line between love and self-protection.
In this “brave and heartbreaking novel that digs its claws into you and doesn’t let go, long after you’ve finished it” (Anna Todd, New York Times bestselling author) from the #1 New York Times bestselling author of All Your Perfects, a workaholic with a too-good-to-be-true romance can’t stop thinking about her first love.
Lily hasn’t always had it easy, but that’s never stopped her from working hard for the life she wants. She’s come a long way from the small town where she grew up—she graduated from college, moved to Boston, and started her own business. And when she feels a spark with a gorgeous neurosurgeon named Ryle Kincaid, everything in Lily’s life seems too good to be true.
Ryle is assertive, stubborn, maybe even a little arrogant. He’s also sensitive, brilliant, and has a total soft spot for Lily. And the way he looks in scrubs certainly doesn’t hurt. Lily can’t get him out of her head. But Ryle’s complete aversion to relationships is disturbing. Even as Lily finds herself becoming the exception to his “no dating” rule, she can’t help but wonder what made him that way in the first place.
As questions about her new relationship overwhelm her, so do thoughts of Atlas Corrigan—her first love and a link to the past she left behind. He was her kindred spirit, her protector. When Atlas suddenly reappears, everything Lily has built with Ryle is threatened.
An honest, evocative, and tender novel, It Ends with Us is “a glorious and touching read, a forever keeper. The kind of book that gets handed down” (USA TODAY).
Juliet’s Goal #2: Read Every Pulitzer Finalist
I don’t think I’ve ever read a Pulitzer Prize winner that I didn’t rate 4–5 stars, so this year I’m going all in on the Pulitzer—and first up on my list is TRUST by Hernan Diaz. This novel intricately explores the multifaceted nature of truth and perception through the world of high finance in early 20th-century New York. The story revolves around Benjamin Rask, a notoriously reclusive and incredibly wealthy investor, and his wife, Helen, whose narrative and intentions are shrouded in mystery. As the book unfolds, it reveals the layers of their lives and the secrets they hold through a series of mediums—a novel within a novel, memoir fragments, and diary entries—challenging the reader to piece together the reality behind a facade of wealth and power.
Juliet’s Goal #3: Read Obama’s Favorite Books of 2023
HOW TO SAY BABYLON has been on my list since it came out in October, and there’s no way I’m going through 2024 without absolutely devouring it. Based on her personal experience growing up in Jamaica and migrating to the United States, Safiya Sinclair explores themes of dislocation, the diaspora, and the enduring impacts of colonialism. In lyrical prose and through poignant reflections, the author navigates finding her own voice and her search for belonging. I cannot wait for this memoir to challenge and inspire me.
With echoes of Educated and Born a Crime, How to Say Babylon is the stunning story of the author’s struggle to break free of her rigid Rastafarian upbringing, ruled by her father’s strict patriarchal views and repressive control of her childhood, to find her own voice as a woman and poet.
Throughout her childhood, Safiya Sinclair’s father, a volatile reggae musician and militant adherent to a strict sect of Rastafari, became obsessed with her purity, in particular, with the threat of what Rastas call Babylon, the immoral and corrupting influences of the Western world outside their home. He worried that womanhood would make Safiya and her sisters morally weak and impure, and believed a woman’s highest virtue was her obedience.
In an effort to keep Babylon outside the gate, he forbade almost everything. In place of pants, the women in her family were made to wear long skirts and dresses to cover their arms and legs, head wraps to cover their hair, no make-up, no jewelry, no opinions, no friends. Safiya’s mother, while loyal to her father, nonetheless gave Safiya and her siblings the gift of books, including poetry, to which Safiya latched on for dear life. And as Safiya watched her mother struggle voicelessly for years under housework and the rigidity of her father’s beliefs, she increasingly used her education as a sharp tool with which to find her voice and break free. Inevitably, with her rebellion comes clashes with her father, whose rage and paranoia explodes in increasing violence. As Safiya’s voice grows, lyrically and poetically, a collision course is set between them.
How to Say Babylon is Sinclair’s reckoning with the culture that initially nourished but ultimately sought to silence her; it is her reckoning with patriarchy and tradition, and the legacy of colonialism in Jamaica. Rich in lyricism and language only a poet could evoke, How to Say Babylon is both a universal story of a woman finding her own power and a unique glimpse into a rarefied world we may know how to name, Rastafari, but one we know little about.
Emily’s Goal #1: Find My New Favorite Book
I was recently looking back through the books I’ve read over the past few years and was shocked to realize that I haven’t added a new book to my top-five-favorite-books-of-all-time shelf in YEARS. With that, I’m determined to add a new favorite, and I have high hopes for THE LINCOLN HIGHWAY. I loved Amor Towles’s A GENTLEMAN IN MOSCOW so much because I could sense the care he took in crafting a good story, with characters you could root for, and I trust he’ll pull off an excellent adventure no matter where it takes place. In THE LINCOLN HIGHWAY, Towles brings together a similarly dynamic cast of characters in a road trip across 1950s America, in their search for a place to call home.
Emily’s Goal #2: Read a Classic with an Anniversary in 2024
It’s been a few years since I’ve read a Stephen King book, but I think 2024 is the year for me to hungrily consume one of his most iconic—CARRIE—especially since its 50th anniversary is this year! I’ve heard certain scenes from this memorable King novel mentioned in so many books, movies, and other pop culture moments my whole life, so I’m excited to finally dive into the story of a misfit teen rebelling against school bullies and her terrible mother through her emerging telekinetic powers.
Carrie White may be picked on by her classmates, but she has a gift. She can move things with her mind. Doors lock. Candles fall. This is her power and her problem. Then, an act of kindness, as spontaneous as the vicious taunts of her classmates, offers Carrie a chance to be a normal...until an unexpected cruelty turns her gift into a weapon of horror and destruction that no one will ever forget.
Emily Goal #3: Read My Friends’ and Family’s Favorite Books
I’m petitioning to have one of the major love languages be “reading books that loved ones like,” because if I do that for you, it’s a surefire sign of love. Even if it doesn’t end up being one of my favorites too, I’ve found that the act of so doing is so appreciated by the recommender. As a bonus, it also gives you insight into what sort of books your loved ones enjoy, so that when it comes time to recommend books to them, you’re even more set up for success. Of course I’ve read my mother’s ultimate favorite, JANE EYRE, but another cherished book of hers I’ve had on my to-read list is CLAN OF THE CAVE BEAR by Jean M. Auel. When a disastrous earthquake leaves five-year-old Ayla orphaned, she wanders upon the Clan, a group of Neanderthals, who care for her as one of their own—though not all are happy with an “Other” joining them.
Sharon’s Goal #1: Read Books I Own
Like most bookworms, my primary book sources fall into one of two categories: checked out from the library and bought from the bookstore. In 2024, I want to make a concerted effort to read more books that I already own, especially books that have been sitting on my shelves for quite some time.
I named DEATH VALLEY by Melissa Broder as one of my most anticipated reads in 2023, and while I did not end up picking it up last year, I am especially determined to get to it this year, because now it has been sitting on top of a bookshelf in my office for the past couple of months. The book follows a woman who is grieving, as both her father and her husband have taken ill. When she checks into a Best Western in the California desert, the receptionist recommends a nearby hike. The woman takes it, discovering an unreal cactus along the way, and what follows is a surreal yet heartfelt journey.
The most profound book yet from the visionary author of Milk Fed and The Pisces, a darkly funny novel about grief that becomes a desert survival story.
In Melissa Broder’s astounding new novel, a woman arrives alone at a Best Western seeking respite from an emptiness that plagues her. She has fled to the California high desert to escape a cloud of sorrow—for both her father in the ICU and a husband whose illness is worsening. What the motel provides, however, is not peace but a path, thanks to a receptionist who recommends a nearby hike.
Out on the sun-scorched trail, the woman encounters a towering cactus whose size and shape mean it should not exist in California. Yet the cactus is there, with a gash through its side that beckons like a familiar door. So she enters it. What awaits her inside this mystical succulent sets her on a journey at once desolate and rich, hilarious and poignant.
This is Melissa Broder at her most imaginative, most universal, and finest. This is Death Valley.
Sharon’s Goal #2: Read a Book with a Title That’s a Complete Sentence
As a personal experiment, I want to read more books with titles I absolutely love. One such book that caught my attention a few years ago, which I want to finally pick up this year, is Tiffany Midge’s BURY MY HEART AT CHUCK E. CHEESE’S. The title, a clever play on Dee Brown’s classic 1970 nonfiction work BURY MY HEART AT WOUNDED KNEE, is fitting for this collection of humor essays. In the vein of humorists such as David Sedaris and Lindy West, Tiffany Midge delivers comical commentary on politics and daily life. What makes me particularly excited for this collection is her discussions on her identity. Midge, who is a citizen of the Standing Rock Sioux tribe, brings a fresh voice to the overwhelmingly white field of comedy, and I am eager to hear her observations on stereotypes, racism, and colonialism. I would also love to read WE HAD A LITTLE REAL ESTATE PROBLEM by Kliph Nesteroff—coincidentally another book by a Native American with a title that’s a complete sentence—as a companion piece to BURY MY HEART AT CHUCK E. CHEESE’S!
Heather’s Goal: NO Reading Goal!
I live by my daily to-do lists and trusty iPhone calendar app, but reading is one of the few activities in my life that I refuse to optimize. I choose my next read based on my current mood, and every December, I’m pleasantly surprised to see how many books I’ve read in the past 12 months. Highly recommend this very simple approach! Which brings me to what I’ll be reading first in 2024, hmm . . . I can’t make any promises, of course, but it’ll very likely be Jo Segura’s debut novel, RAIDERS OF THE LOST HEART, which I picked up at the airport during my holiday travels. Besides the clear Indiana Jones influence going for it, and the rivalry of archaeologists at a dig site in Mexico, the book has a ringing endorsement from Ali Hazelwood, who has declared it “the ultimate enemies-to-lovers adventure rom-com.” Sold!
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