We asked everyone in the office to talk about their favorite books from last month. Take a look at our favorite reads from June, and let us know in the comments which books you’ll be adding to your to-read list. From epic fantasy to prose, there’s something for everyone here!
Circe by Madeline Miller
Page count: 393
Genre: Fantasy; Mythology
Publish date: 2018
As someone who has zero knowledge of Greek and Roman mythology, I was surprised by how much I enjoyed Circe. Miller’s narrative style masterfully ties together dozens of mythological tales in a way that is both interesting and easy to follow. Circe follows the life of the titular goddess and witch of Aiaia as she learns of her powers and develops them on the island where she is exiled. Through Circe, we meet a handful of important mythological figures, from Helios, god of the sun, to Odysseus, famous Greek hero.
For all the excitement I was anticipating from this story, Circe’s life is somewhat of a Cinderella tale. The story itself is very somber, but it’s told so charmingly that I had the patience to wait for the happy moments sprinkled throughout—until Miller finally rewarded me with Circe’s final redemption. I found Circe to be a fulfilling, inspiring read.
—Kate, Marketing Coordinator
A Storm of Swords by George R. R. Martin
Page count: 973
Publish date: 2000
When the HBO series started wrapping up (for better or worse), I decided to read through the A Song of Ice and Fire series that the show Game of Thrones is based on. I had never read the books before, and they’re not always easy reading because of how thick and voluminous they are. But this third installment has been my favorite so far because it’s an impressive culmination of everything that made this franchise unique and innovative in all of its brutality, political intrigue, historical realism, and massive scope. And more so than in the show, you see in greater detail how a character’s actions have long-lasting, often unexpected, and disastrous consequences that drive the plot forward and affect the fates of other characters who inhabit this world. It’s brain candy, but it’s sweet and sour in all the right ways.
—Shane, Editorial Intern
Sleepless Nights by Elizabeth Hardwick
Page count: 128
Genre: Short Fiction
Publish date: 2001
Sleepless Nights falls into my favorite loose category of prose: the kind that sits on the border between fiction and nonfiction, that asks us to be comfortable with uncertainty over what’s factual or “made up” in service of a larger emotional truth. In this way, the book reminds me of more recent autofictional works by women like Sheila Heti’s Motherhood or Rachel Cusk’s Outline trilogy. The book’s speaker shares some biographical details with Hardwick herself—her birth in Kentucky, her life in New York as an adult, glances at a marriage after its end—but is stubbornly separate in other ways, or rather refuses to comfortably fall in line.
The book proceeds via vignettes, letters, and slips into different wells of memory and association. Hardwick meditates on age, the accumulation of characters and places in a life long lived, the capacities and limitations of factual autobiography, and the problem of memory—that is, should we grasp after it and catalog it? Let it soften and fade as it will and keep whatever stays? Toward the book’s end, her speaker seems to prefer the last option, to be known in a personal and poetic way that isn’t possible through a mere “glossary” of facts.
—Emma, Associate Editor
The Priory of the Orange Tree by Samantha Shannon
Page count: 848
Publish date: 2019
This June, I read Samantha Shannon’s epic fantasy novel The Priory of the Orange Tree. This book had everything I could want—dragons, political intrigue, badass women, queer romance, and creative worldbuilding. It follows a fascinating and varied cast of characters—a disgraced alchemist, a novice dragonrider, a magical priestess from a secret order, a stubbornly unmarried queen in need of an heir—as they unravel the mysteries of the past and the prophecies of the future in an effort to avert the dragonpocalypse. As an avid fantasy reader who is routinely disappointed by the sexism and eurocentricity of the genre, I deeply appreciated Shannon’s ability to engage with classic fantasy tropes while also treating queerness and ethnic diversity as natural parts of her world. This book has cemented a prominent place on my shelf of favorite fantasy novels, and I look forward to checking out the rest of Samantha Shannon’s library soon!
—Marissa, Editorial Intern
A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman
Page count: 337
Publish date: 2014
This month, I read A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman. The novel is about a grumpy and stubborn man who seems completely unwilling to budge from his daily routine—the neighbors know him as a curmudgeon, and it seems at first that he is exactly that. However, when a new family moves into his neighborhood, it is gradually revealed that beneath his rough exterior exists a kind and caring man living with the sadness of his recently deceased wife.
I found A Man Called Ove to be heartwarming and fun to read. It’s almost impossible not to cry while learning about Ove’s life story and the ways in which he contributes to the lives of those around him.
—Mary, Editorial Intern
Monstrous Regiment by Terry Pratchett
Page count: 496
Publish date: 2003
If you hadn’t noticed, Samantha is spreading the Discworld fever around the office. So after she finished Monstrous Regiment, it was my turn. I’ve enjoyed several of Terry Pratchett’s Discworld books over the years (Thud!, Night Watch, and Going Postal), but I hadn’t read Monstrous Regiment until now—and wow, it’s good. Really good. From a woman with a well-placed pair of socks to a vampire with a coffee addiction, this novel is exceptionally witty and effortlessly satirizes real-world issues. I can’t add much more from what Samantha wrote the other month, simply because I do want to avoid spoilers, so do yourself a favor and pick this one up!
—Wes, Project Manager
The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver
Page count: 546
Genre: Historical Fiction
Publish date: 1998
Barbara Kingsolver’s The Poisonwood Bible was particularly magical on a personal level, as it is one of the only novels that I have ever read that I physically reacted to. When the gentle foreboding of the early chapters finally culminated in its tragic climax, I was stunned by a physical paralysis caused by the unceasing bluntness of Kingsolver’s masterful prose. Ultimately, what struck me most about the novel was the nature of passion and its effortless ability to warp into self-destruction, as well as the violent delusions of memory and language that seem to intensify the more they are revisited. I highly recommend this novel to anyone but especially to anyone who enjoys narratives that consist of multiple perspectives (that are, more often than not, combative). Somewhere, in the midst of the gaps of perception that characterize every thread of the story, it all weaves together into something like truth.
My little beast, my eyes, my favorite stolen egg. Listen. To live is to be marked. To live is to change, to acquire the words of a story, and that is the only celebration we mortals really know. In perfect stillness, frankly, I’ve only found sorrow.
—Megan, Editorial Intern
Beneath the Sugar Sky by Seanan McGuire
Page count: 174
Genre: Fantasy; YA
Publish date: 2018
On a recommendation from a fellow editor, I started binge-reading Seanan McGuire’s Wayward Children series, a batch of stand-alone fantasy novellas all set in the same magical multiverse. The books center on Eleanor West’s Home for Wayward Children, a boarding school for teenagers who have traveled through doors to other worlds in which they finally feel like they belong—and come back to our hopelessly mundane reality longing to return to their true homes.
It’s hard to choose a favorite from the five that have been published so far, but the fourth book, Beneath the Sugar Sky, stands out for its diverse cast of characters, all of whom have traveled to different worlds, and for the setting of much of the action in Confection, a land where the sea is made of strawberry soda and the Queen of Cakes rules with a candy-coated iron fist. These are compulsively readable books brimming with sadness, humor, whimsy, terror, anger, beauty, and, ultimately, compassion. As McGuire writes at the end of Beneath the Sugar Sky, “There is kindness in the world, if we know how to look for it. If we never start denying it the door.”