9780307278449The Bluest Eye
Toni Morrison
1970, Holt, Rinehart and Winston

Oh my god, The Bluest Eye. Do you know those books that, for whatever reason, you know are probably good but you pass over them time and time again without knowing why? For a while, that was my relationship with this novel. WHAT A WASTE OF TIME THAT WAS, because when I finally read it, it rocketed to the top of my Best Favorites list immediately. It’s the story of a young black girl named Pecola and her relationships with race, beauty, and identity, and it takes a hard look at the way those things can intersect. It’s so marvelously written that I almost can’t stand it. It’s got pain and beauty and the kind of descriptive writing that will make you wince and swoon and think. The Bluest Eye is full of everything, so don’t make the mistake that I did and sleep on it. —Amy Rose

tumblr_m631ikcTQN1rsbp8vo1_1280Sputnik Sweetheart
Haruki Murakami
1999, Kodansha

This book was my introduction to Haruki Murakami, who quickly became one of my favorite authors. He weaves mystery and romance through all of his novels, but Sputnik Sweetheart is especially haunting, and will leave you with many lingering questions. Told from the point of view of “K,” a young schoolteacher, the story focuses on Sumire, a chain-smoking loner and aspiring writer. K is in love with Sumire, but she doesn’t care for him. One day she meets Miu, a sophisticated businesswoman who is almost twice Sumire’s age. Sumire begins to work for Miu, and they fall in love. While the women are vacationing in Greece, Sumire suddenly disappears into thin air. And so begins K’s search for her, which will come to involve cats, letters, parallel universes, ferris wheels and more. It’s an amazing book and I’m still not sure I’ve solved all its mysteries. —Hazel

130460-pic_1In the Woods
Tana French
2007, Viking Adult

I know people who routinely fall in love with writers and then read all of their books back to back, gobbling entire careers whole. I’ve almost never done that, because I like to bounce around—fiction to nonfiction, mystery to comedy. But last fall I feel deep, deep into a Tana French groove, reading all four of the books in her Dublin Murder Squad series, each of which takes a minor character from the previous novel and makes him or her the star. I started with In the Woods, the first book in the series, but you don’t have to: each one is its own gritty, well-plotted story about cops in Dublin, Ireland. French’s writing is as clear as a bell, and her plots twist in unexpected ways. I’m counting the days until the next book is released, reportedly sometime in 2014. —Emma

And_Then_There_Were_None_jpg_232x500_q95Everything by Agatha Christie
It’s not just Tana French, though—I love all kinds of mystery novels (lately I’ve been devouring books by Kate Atkinson as well). The godmother of them all, though, is undoubtedly Agatha Christie. I started to read her stuff soon after I outgrew Christopher Pike and Lois Lowry, and lucky for me and other mystery lovers over the past 90-some years, Christie was massively prolific. Between 1920 and 1976, she wrote 66 novels and 150 short stories. Her two main detectives–the suave Hercule Poirot and the somewhat pushy old lady Miss Marple–were among my closest friends. Reading an Agatha Christie novel, whether it’s Murder on the Orient Express or And Then There Were None, is still 10 times more satisfying to me than watching an episode of Law & Order. One of my favorite Christie novels is The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, the first novel I ever read with an unreliable narrator, which I reviewed here. Reading it opened my eyes to a world of previously unimaginable ideas of what a book could do or be. Agatha was by no means perfect: her pre–World War II descriptions of Jewish characters can be hard to stomach today, and her writing is sometimes less than graceful. But if you’re looking for a good book about a murder and some excellent travel reportage from the window of a moving train, you really can’t do better. Take an entire stack with you the next time you go on vacation and astonish yourself with your speed-reading. —Emma

Dave Cullen
2009, Twelve

Last May I went to Paris, a city I had been wanting to visit my whole life. I don’t mean to be all “girl who goes abroad and comes back a ~changed person~,” BUT I LEARNED SO MUCH, Y’ALL. One of the biggest lessons among many: DO NOT BRING COLUMBINE BY DAVE CULLEN WITH YOU TO THE CITY OF YOUR DREAMS. It’s far too consumptive and unputdownable, and you will be unhappily torn between it and all the sights you have to see. I actually almost missed out on major, rare experiences because I wanted so badly just to continue reading this book. Columbine is singular and beautiful, horrible and humanizing. It is also the most insightful and dedicated piece of reporting I have ever read. The book recounts the truest possible version of the story of the murders at Columbine High School in 1999. It also reveals that almost every single narrative we previously knew from the media’s coverage of the atrocity was in some way incorrect. It is a fucking AMAZING, exhaustively researched book. By the end, my empathy had been stretched to at least two sizes bigger than before. Just trust me on this one: if Columbine made me reluctant to leave my hotel room in goddamned PARIS, it’s got to be a pretty excellent read, right? Right. —Amy Rose

63a18cc85a9d0ef507999d4ec0d3ff55Gone Girl
Gillian Flynn
2012, Crown Publishing Group

I can’t remember the last time a book chilled me the way this one did. Nick comes home one day to find his wife, Amy, is missing. He calls the police and organizes a search party, but despite his efforts he remains the prime suspect. The narrative switches between Nick’s point of view and Amy’s diary entries in the days, months, and years before her disappearance. Even when you’re right in the heads of these characters, you’re still never certain whom to believe, or what’s not being revealed. Don’t start reading it if you have anything important to do in the next 12 hours. —Anna

womaninwhiteThe Woman in White
Wilkie Collins
1859–1860, All the Year Round

There is so much about the Victorian novel that usually turns me off: Women with no agency! Martyrdom as salvation! Everyone just sitting in one room doing embroidery! Since The Woman in White is from that era, I was hesitant to give the book a chance after a friend recommended it, but I took a look and was immediately sucked into the story about a young artist, Walter, who moves to London to teach a young woman, Laura Fairlie, how to paint. On his way, he encounters a woman dressed in white, running away from…something, or someone. Immediate mystery! We will not know who she is or why she is running for a while, but the story of Walter, the Fairlie house, graveyards, ghosts, terrible spouses, badass broads, family mystery, love, revenge, and spooky uncles is absolutely worth the read. If you like curling up in a corner with a cup of tea on a cold night, this is the book for you. —Danielle

1144759_37928136_trimmedBecause They Wanted To
Mary Gaitskill
1998, Simon & Schuster

Proceed with caution when reading this book. Mary Gaitskill’s characters tend to be horrible, awful people, their awfulness revealed so slowly that you don’t fully grasp it are until you empathize with and kinda-sorta like them. Gaitskill’s sentences are beautifully set traps that pull you in with their gorgeousness and then knock you on your ass when all their darkness starts to set in. So, um, ENJOY! —Amy Rose

Uses-For-Boys-Erica-Lorraine-Scheidt-Book-CoverUses for Boys
Erica Lorraine Scheidt
2013, St. Martin’s Griffin

Anna remembers a time when her mother recounted happy, tell-me-again stories about how she’d been all alone, but then she had Anna, and everything was perfect, just the two of them. But then her mother got boyfriends and husbands and facelifts and Anna ends up mostly by herself in a big empty house. She starts to fill the void with boys, not really seeing the difference between sex and love, even though she definitely hears people whispering about her. While thrift-shopping in her suburban Oregon town, Anna meets a girl named Toy, who becomes her first friend, but who seems to have her own secrets that she keeps from Anna. Everything Anna is dealing with is very real, but the story is told in this dreamy, lyrical way that fans of Francesca Lia Block will love; and I think it will help anyone who reads it unravel some of the mysteries they carry in their hearts. —Stephanie

AWQ1_cover_finalWho Could That Be at This Hour?
Lemony Snicket
2012, Little, Brown

It’s not necessary to know the plots of the books in Lemony Snicket’s series A Series of Unfortunate Events to understand this prequel, but they do serve as a great introduction to Snicket’s hilarious and absurdly cryptic style. This is the first book in a new series, All the Wrong Questions, that chronicles the adventures of a preteen, fictionalized version of Snicket during his time spent working for a mysterious organization. If you think this book is going to answer any of the questions raised by ASOUE, you are going to drive yourself mad. There are more questions raised, more surreal locations, more bizarre characters with niche interests and ambiguous motivations, than ever before, and more things are obscured than are revealed. Just go along for the ride. —Anna

in-the-last-analysisIn the Last Analysis
Amanda Cross
1964, Avon; 2001, Fawcett

You’ll run into the occasional critic on the internet who will call this tiny paperback—or its hero, Kate Fansler, a feminist English professor/amateur sleuth—“pretentious.” They’re not totally wrong: The book’s first 20 words alone manage to squeeze in not only a reference to Sigmund Freud, but also a mention of the “freudful errors” in James Joyce’s Finnegans Wake. YIKES. But if you can stop yourself from throwing the book at the wall at that point, it can be pretty fun to read—especially if you’re into English lit. After one of Fansler’s students turns up dead during a trip to the shrink (I know, I know), literary allusions help the professor solve the case. And, as a single lady with tenure in the 1960s, a time when that was considered freakish, she’s pretty determined to solve it without the help of the cops or other meddling men. Aside from the story, which has plenty of funny/campy moments that help lighten things up, the coolest thing about this book—and the others that follow it in the Kate Fansler series—may be its author. Amanda Cross was eventually revealed to be the pen name of Carolyn Heilbrun, a feminist scholar and Columbia University English professor who had been writing mysteries in secret. —Lena Singer

my_year_of_meatsMy Year of Meats
Ruth L. Ozeki
1998, Viking Press

This is a totally engrossing novel in so many different ways. Investigative journalism! Environmental food politics! Race theory! Love stories! Every one of those things is addressed in a curious, exploratory, openminded way in this book, and it fucking rules. If you’re into epistolary narratives (stories that are told, at least in part, through letters and emails and such), as I very much am, you will especially love this probing, cross-cultural look at meat consumption. I was completely transfixed by it, and I’m not even a vegetarian or anything. —Amy Rose

Beautiful frontcover 3.09.previewBeautiful
Amy Reed
2010, Simon Pulse

Cassie starts seventh grade as the new girl, and she uses her family’s move to suburban Seattle as a chance to totally transform herself and become “beautiful”—the kind of girl who is wanted by the ninth grade skater boys and is best friends with Alex, a tough girl Cassie describes as “not even close to pretty, but…bigger than pretty.” You can see why Cassie is enthralled by Alex and her dangerous world of doing drugs and having sex under freeway overpasses, and you follow her as she spirals out of control. And at the end you finally figure out what makes these girls who they are. It’s not a beautiful story, it’s something bigger. —Stephanie ♦