Rachel's pick: Victor LaValle gets better and better with every new novel. A master of literary horror, he takes literal monsters and ghosts—in this case in the historical context of early 20th century Montana homesteaders—and uses them to reflect back on our contemporary society and all of its metaphorical monsters and ghosts. In the harsh and solitary landscape of Montana's expansive plains, Lone Women is a meditation on building alternative communities and families. It's also a deeply feminist tale that lambasts white and anti-trans feminisms. And if all of this grand thematic ambition makes reading LaValle sound like work, don't be fooled. None of this depth comes at the expense of a damn good read: suspenseful, terrifying, with twists I never saw coming.
Jason's pick: It wasn't just Columbus that didn't know the difference between Asia and the Americas, and this confusion persisted in many ways for at least 200 years after those of us today would think logical. Horodowich and Nagel examine various objects to explore this history. But this isn't a gotcha book written to poke fun at people that thought an illustration of a Mayan wolf was a Chinese dragon. Instead it's a scholarly examination of what we could learn about people who had no separation in their minds between the two continents—hence, Amerasia. Europeans had a world view of places they had never visited that was often based on biblical stories or Greek and Roman classics. They knew their origins were from the Garden of Eden and knew that peoples had been dispersed by the flood. They had maps of these places that they had never visited (and had never existed). And as their armchair travel theories came in stark contrast with what real explorers were finding, it was easier for them to bend new information to fit their own belief systems than to accept a new reality.
Alex's pick: Finding a community through reading and writing can completely change one’s life. Everyone sort of knows this, but here you witness it being enacted through one person’s singularly wayward youth. I feel less afraid of the future knowing that this weird book will be in print for years to come.
Ben's pick: This follow-up to The Mermaid, the Witch and the Sea is somehow more feral than the first, going deeper into the irresistible characters that help Florian & Evelyn on their journey and introducing a few more. The world in these books is a familiarly rough one: a violent empire, seething colonized masses, and hungry kids. In this fully but not overly constructed world, Tokuda-Hall crafts wonderful queer romances, the first book's being young love against all odds but in Siren the love is a long lost one, sparked back to life. The romances aren't the only queer aspect of these books, which makes them more grounded. As a member of the rabid Our Flag Means Death fanbase, every page was pirate heaven. File these under adventure fantasy that will challenge and horrify you and then give you a kiss on the forehead. Violence (while it is plentiful) is more than action in this story, but something to consider thoughtfully as revolution brews. Perfect for older teens, but any fantasy/adventure fan would be satisfied.
Eddy's pick: If you've read Friday Black (The Book Table staff's Best Book of 2018) you're excited for this. Or you should be. Nana's debut novel, about prisoners who sign up for death matches to have their sentences commuted. This book is written with all of the passion and creativity and empathy that Nana applies to his short stories, but it's an idea that deserves the time and length of a novel. If you haven't read Friday Black, go ahead and read that story collection. And then when you come back to thank me for putting you onto it, you can pick up a copy of Chain-Gang All-Stars.
Kat's pick: More than forty years after its original release in Japanese, counterculture icon Izumi Suzuki’s short story collection was translated into English for the first time in 2023. The biographical details of the author first attracted me to her material—Suzuki was not only an innovator of sci-fi literature, she also acted in “pink” sexploitation films, modeled erotic photography, and had a series of relationships with twentieth-century avant garde figures before her death by suicide at the age of 36. In the case of such a cultic, fetishized artist, there is always the risk that their work will wilt under the weight of their personality. In Hit Parade of Tears, Suzuki dodges this trap by suffusing her prose with the disaffected, punk elan that defined her life off the page. None of her characters feel at home in this, or other, worlds, and the stories’ sci-fi mechanics serve as a means to alienate them further, placing the reader in a disconcerting state that melds yearning, rage, and curiosity. Oh, and if you want to make a badass playlist of ‘70’s Japanese rock, don’t miss her story “Hey, It’s a Love Psychedelic!”.
Lynda's pick: While I read Trespasses at the very end of last year I spent the entirety of this year engaged with it, thinking about it all but daily. As I get older a book that cuts me that deeply becomes a rarer and rarer thing. Beautifully written and tragically funny, this debut novel about forbidden love, broken families, and coming of age set against the backdrop of the mundane horrors of 1970s Belfast tore at my heart and I am not sorry for the pain. My highest possible recommendation.
Nick's pick: The Pepsi-Cola Addict is the rare example of a book's backstory being just as fascinating as the book itself. June-Alison Gibbons is likely best known (with her sister) as one of England's "Silent Twins" who communicated only to one another, and were (unfairly) institutionalized as teens. Buried in this complicated history, however, is The Pepsi-Cola Addict, published (at the age of 16!) by June-Alison in 1981 and almost instantly vanishing from the industry. Thankfully, it's back in print, which is a joy for us because it's a force of dark comedy, following young Preston Wildey-King as he navigates the distortion of adolescence, from troubled loves to juvie centers, all with a fresh can of Pepsi in his hand. The Pepsi-Cola Addict is more than a simple curiosity of our bookish world—it's a hidden gem that deserves to be treated as the literary feat it is.
Patrick's pick: This debut fixes a gaze on the complex relationship between humans and wolves in a way that works to reconcile the mythological context with which we fear them against the reality we share with them. What I have the most adoration for in Berry's work is that it is, in itself, a wolf in sheep's clothing, as the true thematic core focuses on fear and how a once problematic and revered creature has played the role of cultural construct, allowing us a vessel through which to project age-old anxieties. Whether your sentiment toward the infamous beast is one of wariness, compassion, or indifference, this will equip you with an earnest appreciation for an animal whose mere presence you perhaps did not know has shaped so much of our world and our behaviors.