Nobody's Magic by Destiny O. BirdsongStarring: Suzette, Maple, and Agnes -- three Black women with albinism, all on the cusp of life-altering circumstances in Shreveport, Louisiana.
What it is: Each woman narrates her own story in this collection of three novellas. Without sugarcoating the locale's historical issues about race and class (or shying away from difficult topics), overall the tone is hopeful. You'll find well-developed characters of color, whose "magic" rests in defining themselves on their own terms.
What to read next? What the Fireflies Knew by Kai Harris.
Olga Dies Dreaming by Xochitl GonzalezBackstory: Olga plans weddings for Manhattan's elite. Her older (secretly gay) brother is a US Congressman -- much to their mami's dismay, as she is still a radical activist for Puerto Rican independence. All continue to grieve their illustrious papi's death by heroin overdose.
What happens: Hurricane Maria lays waste to Puerto Rico, starkly highlighting the ongoing corruption of post-colonialism, the vulnerabilities of Olga's family, and whether or not her newfound romance can weather the storm.
What to read next? Velorio by Xavier Navarro Aquino.
Perpetual West by Mesha MarenWhat happens: Seeking an immersive experience to inform his doctoral research, Alex (Mexican by birth, adopted by American parents) and his wife Elana move to Juárez, where things quickly go sideways. Alex falls in love with a luchador -- and Elana doesn't know if he's been kidnapped or simply left her.
Read it for: a harrowing, literary depiction of gritty subject matters (drug cartel violence) and sympathetic LGBTQIA characters.
What to read next? Where We Come From by Oscar Cesares.
Jameela Green Ruins Everything by Zarqa NawazPrepare for: a farcical romp through religion, identity, fame, and...terrorism(?). Jameela Green prays to Allah to make her memoir a best seller. After her high-school nemesis foils that plan, a bereft Jameela visits a local mosque for the first time in decades.
Enter: Ibrahim, an earnest imam who suggests doing one good deed to court Allah's favor. Madcap adventures with new friends (and run-ins with Islamic radicals) ensue.
Read it for: "over-the-top satire" that "wields a sharp edge, particularly when it comes to commentary on American involvement in the Middle East" (Kirkus Reviews).
Smile and Look Pretty by Amanda PellegrinoOh no, they didn't! Four assistants to powerful men in high profile industries (think news anchors, former actors, etc.) meet weekly to lament the most humiliating task they had to do.
Oh yes, they did! It's The Devil Wears Prada plus #MeToo meets Tik Tok when they start an anonymous blog revealing their bosses' awful antics. Of course it goes viral, prompting more women in "glamour industries" to speak up.
What to read next? The Whisper Network by Chandler Baker.
The Cherry Robbers by Sarai WalkerStarring: artist Sylvia Wren, born Iris Chapel, one of six sisters who inherited a cursed fortune built on her father's firearms empire. Iris flees and reinvents herself. But the past has a way of catching up.
Read it for: a gothic tale that "shimmers, titillating with a heady concoction of terror and desire, frothy with fever-pitched emotions, and dark with smothering melancholy and macabre spectres" (Publishers Weekly).
What to read next? Mexican Gothic by Silvia Moreno-Garcia.
Keep It Short (Short Stories)
The Trouble with Happiness by Tove DitlevsenFrom Copenhagen, with angst: Available in English only recently, this Danish writer's short fiction had gained wide acclaim by the time of her 1976 suicide. Her vignettes of everyday life -- its petty domestic cruelties and the tender hopefulness of connecting with one another -- still ring true.
Read it for: thinly veiled, biographical fiction that questions gender roles, class differences, and the particular challenges of being a female artist.
Want a longer read? Try Claire Messud's novel The Woman Upstairs or The Almost Moon by Alice Sebold.
Life Without Children by Roddy DoyleCOVID cabin fever fuels these darkly humorous short stories. You're separated from family during lockdown -- are you sad or exhilarated (and then what do you do)? You're trapped with your spouse -- is it a love-fest or the end of everything? Will you ever take off your mask -- or just create new ones?
Reviewers say: Masterful dialogue "whether strained, deceptive, or free-flowing... makes these stories shimmer" (Publishers Weekly).
For a longer read try Gary Schteyngart's Lake Success or City of Dis by David Butler.
Thank You, Mr. Nixon by Gish JenNixon's 1972 visit to China ushered in a new era of US-Chinese relations. Inspired by that event, this short story collection invites readers to question whether merging cultures is ever truly possible (or desirable, or necessary).
Why you'll love it: "Jen's crisp prose, wonderful eye for detail, and wry humor make [these stories] a joy to read, and there is wisdom here, too -- we're all exiles from something" (Kirkus Reviews).
Want a longer read? Try Susie Yang's White Ivy.
Blank Pages by Bernard MacLavertyFrom Ireland, with love: Counted among Ireland's greatest living writers, Bernard MacLaverty deftly explores resilience, creativity, love, and faith in this "fine collection by a true craftsman, thematically rich and deeply humane" (Kirkus Reviews).
Read it for: understated meditations on mortality, with characters and settings that range from an artist's studio in early 20th-century Vienna to a present-day, middle-aged couple facing a ferry ride across rough water.
For a longer read: try The Ninth Hour by Alice McDermott or Colm Tóibin's The Magician.
Contact your librarian for more great books!