Looking for a new book to read? From historical fantasy set at 1830’s Oxford to celebrity memoirs, here are five recently released books for your literary consideration.
By Lance Serafica
1. Babel by R.F. Kuang
Image Source: R.F. Kuang | follow @kuangrf on Instagram
With an official title resembling that of a JSTOR academic article and footnotes in-text, R.F. Kuang’s Babel, or or the Necessity of Violence: an Arcane History of the Oxford Translators' Revolution is an academically-minded fantasy lover’s dream. Set in 1830’s Oxford, this historical fantasy novel follows orphan Robin Swift as he is spirited from his home in Canon and brought to London by a mysterious benefactor to eventually attend Oxford University. Once there, he enrolls as part of Babel, Oxford’s Royal Institute of Translation, and learns of silver-working: an arcane art that involves manifesting magic through what is lost in translation via enchanted silver bars.
When the British Empire begins efforts to encroach upon China over silver and opium, Robin knows that continuing to study translation at Babel would be a betrayal of his homeland. After receiving a message from a hidden organization called the Hermes Society dedicated to sabotaging the British imperialist effort, he finds himself forced to reckon with the contradiction at the heart of his life at Oxford: is he willing to shatter his idyllic life at Oxford in service of the revolution or stay ignorant and complacent as his research is used in service of England’s colonial efforts?
If you love fantasy, historical fiction, or dark academia novels like Donna Tartt’s The Secret History, Babel is absolutely worth the read. Fans of R.F. Kuang’s previous Poppy War trilogy will also enjoy this book: while slightly lighter in tone, it contains the same dark and unflinching exploration of difficult topics and compelling characters present in those three books.
2. I Kissed Shara Wheeler by Casey McQuiston
Image Source: Casey McQuiston | follow @casey.mcquiston on Instagram
Opening with a lyric from The Killer’s classic “Mr. Brightside,” I Kissed Shara Wheeler is a quarter John Green’s Looking for Alaska and three-quarters over-the-top queer rom-com. Set in the made-up southern town of False Beach, Alabama, this novel follows intensely motivated high school senior Chloe Green as she tracks down her greatest rival and small town sweetheart, Shara Wheeler, after Shara kisses Chloe and promptly disappears post-prom night.
But Chloe isn’t the only one Shara kissed before vanishing without a trace. There’s Smith, Shara’s sweet quarterback boyfriend and artsy Rory, who seems at home in leather jackets and is apparently nursing a schoolboy crush. The three of them are forced to team up to make sense of the cryptic paper trail Shara has left only for them: a series of hints and clues leading to her, all enclosed in signature Shara pink envelopes. In the process, Chloe discovers that perhaps there’s more to False Beach and the people around her—even Shara—than she expected.
If you love queer YA or romance, this book’s probably right up your alley. Fans of Red, White, and Royal Blue and One Last Stop will also definitely love this: not only is it written by the same author, but contains the same wit, heart, and compelling character work that readers have come to expect from McQuiston.
3. I'm Glad My Mom Died by Jennette McCurdy
Image Source: Jennette McCurdy | follow @jennettemccurdy on Instagram
If you know nothing about her besides her role as Sam Puckett on Nickelodeon’s iCarly and Sam & Cat, you probably would have never guessed that I’m Glad My Mom Died is former child actress Jennette McCurdy’s memoir.
Told in mostly chronological order, this frankly written memoir recounts McCurdy’s life story from her very first audition at six years old to the aftermath of her abusive mother’s death. She also dives deep into her time spent filming iCarly and Sam & Cat and how terrible of a place she was in while doing so. Harrowing yet remarkably candid, this memoir does not hesitate to discuss everything from the aforementioned abuse inflicted upon her by her mother to her battle with various eating disorders, alcoholism, and anxiety.
If you’re in the right headspace, I’d recommend this book for everyone but especially readers who enjoyed memoirs like Michelle Zauner’s Crying in H-Mart: both recount journeys of self-discovery while dealing with grief.
4. A Lady for a Duke by Alexis Hall
Image Source: Alexis Hall | follow @quicunquevult on Instagram
Embedded with the kind of longing that evokes the writings of Sappho and some elements of Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night, Alexis Hall’s A Lady for a Duke is your next historical romance obsession. Hall takes the tried-true story of a lady falling for a brooding duke and puts a heartwarming, LGBTQ spin on it.
After being presumed dead at the Battle of Waterloo, Viola Carroll took the opportunity to finally live as her authentic self: a woman. But, in tossing aside her former life with its wealth and titles also came with letting her closest friend, the Duke of Gracewood, Justin de Vere, believe she was dead. But when they are reunited and Viola takes it upon herself to bring a now bitter and despondent Gracewood back to his true self, she finds herself falling yet again for him—her best friend and a man she cannot have.
I highly recommend this book looking for a romance starring a transgender main protagonist, fans of Bridgerton, as well as fans of the childhood best friends to lover trope. If you’re looking for the kind of dramatic prose and yearning you can only really find in historical fiction, I’d also absolutely suggest reading this.
5. The Honeys by Ryan La Sala
Image Source: Ryan La Sala | follow @theryanlasala on Instagram
As sun-soaked as it is terrifying, Ryan La Sala’s devilishly sweet The Honeys takes a setting already as horrifying as summer camp and makes it truly bone-chilling. Told with sumptuous storytelling and decadent prose, this novel details the story of gender-fluid teen Mars as he journeys to Aspen, a prestigious and idyllic summer academy, in order to uncover more about his recently deceased twin sister Caroline who previously attended the camp.
Once there, he seeks out his sister’s old circle of friends: the Honeys, who are aptly named for the beehives they maintain behind their remote cabin. The more he talks to them, the more Mars becomes certain that they are connected to Caroline’s death. But the more time he spends in Aspen, the deeper he falls into a web of someone else’s making. Someone is toying with him, physically and mentally, and Mars has to find out who lest he share his twin sister’s fate.
I recommend this book for fans of media such as Heathers, Jawbreakers, and even Mean Girls. Also, if you enjoyed or were at least intrigued by the premise of Mona Awad’s Bunny, I think this would be the perfect pick to read next.
Did your favorite 2022 release make the list? Comment to let us know below!
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