The Snail's Readers Circle, our team of volunteer reviewers, is working for you — reading, reviewing, and telling you all about their favorites. Think of these as our "staff picks," books specially selected by all kinds of readers. Click on each title to read the full review. We'll be glad to deliver these highly rated books to you!
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Maggie Smith shares with readers an intimate reflection as she goes through a personal heartbreak, or rather a thousand tiny heartbreaks over the course of her thirteen-year relationship. Not only centered around love and loss, her memoir looks at the complex issues of modern womanhood and patriarchy. Though I have not personally experienced the pain she details in her memoir, I felt as if I have because of the power of her words. You will find someone you know in her story and it will help you understand their pain a little better. Maggie Smith has the ability to take those human feelings and emotions we all have, but sometimes lack the words to describe, and present them through a beautiful metaphor that can make you feel so seen and understood. Maggie does not stay in the pain, she evolves, changes, makes herself new, and always finds a way to make life beautiful.
—Abby Lindemann, Snail Readers Circle
Yellowface is a vicious, spiraling reckoning: there's going to be a lot of critical think pieces about appropriation, creative vampirism, racism in the publishing industry, and white female victimhood, and I'm eager to read them, but what I'd like to highlight here is something far less complex: *what* a thriller this was. One of the best awful, nasty narrators since Gillian Flynn's Gone Girl, and well in the vein of Nabokov's Lolita. So many thrillers these days try to go for the unreliable-yet-compelling psycho, and so few have actually pulled it off. June Hayward, aka Juniper Song, is right up there with Amy Dunne and Humbert Humbert: she's a lying, cheating, charismatic, self-justifying white woman who is desperate to bring us, the reader, onto her side. Yellowface is exhilarating. — Whitney, Snail Readers Circle
Meet Lillian Waters, a country music star at the end of her career, who is embarking on a nationwide farewell tour on the heels of a career-ending diagnosis. The Farewell Tour toggles between Lillian on her 1980 farewell tour, and the years of her childhood and young adulthood that led up to her eventual hard-earned success in country music. Lillian is rough-around-the-edges and has grit, stopping at nothing to make a name for herself in a man's industry. I enjoyed the complexity of "Lil's" character, and the story of her journey alongside other recognizable country stars. — Allison Hendrix, Snail Readers Circle
Living to be 109 years young, Charlie White was one to live life to its fullest. I was amazed at his tenacity and the abundance of adventure he experienced both personally and professionally. I wish I had known him. Charlie White didn't believe you could be too old for anything, and I hope some of his spirit can live on in me. I can picture him saying, "Life is an adventure -- live it!" Biography readers will enjoy this one. — Kirsten Wilson, Snail Readers Circle
I love a good psychological thriller, but I’m not as keen on unreliable narrators, so I wasn’t sure what to expect. I mean, it lays it all out there in the title: none of this is true. So, although I thought I had it all figured out pretty early on, this book really kept me guessing – and second-guessing myself! The title instilled enough doubt in everything going on that I wasn’t sure which characters to trust, whose side of the story was true, and who was manipulating whom. I was dying to find out what really happened, and at the same time, I felt as if I was watching a horror movie while peeking through my fingers. I think Lisa Jewell does a great job with the dark subject matter to create a suspenseful story that you can’t help but get swept up into. — Mica, Snail Readers Circle
Shakespeare's most famous female characters, most having died some sort of violent death on or offstage, gather in a liminal space called "the traproom" that unites them after their final exit. The youngest four — Juliet, Ophelia, Cordelia, and Lavinia — break with the traditional isolation and silence of the space, finding conversations with each other and the courage to tell, or retell, their stories. This was an engaging audiobook (I listened on Libro.fm), with different voice actors for each character, which kept them distinct. Note that general knowledge of the plotlines and themes of Romeo and Juliet, Hamlet, King Lear, and Titus Andronicus is assumed, as the girls never fully recount their own violent ends or their place in the larger plays they come from. Enter the Body is an engaging telling and retelling, as female characters explore the thematic similarities of their stories — silencing, difficult familial relationships, falling in love — and meditate on who tells stories, who listens, and why it matters even if their endings stay the same. — Melanie, Snail Readers Circle
A History of Burning tells the story of Indians in east Africa, from Gujarat to Keyna, and from Idi Amin's Uganda, and beyond. This novel manages to tell a deeply personal story, the story of Pirbhai's family and his descendants, and a global one, the story of how British colonialism has affected (and scarred) the world. — Elizabeth, Snail Readers Circle
We Are Too Many is a memoir of the end (and beginning) of a marriage. Told hilariously over three parts, Hannah Pittard invites readers to follow her through ten years of time-jumped remembered conversations. Her story is written with a refreshing amount of honesty as she leads the reader through her discovery that her husband and best friend have had sex, along with what came before and after. Unfinchingly honest and hilarious, Pittard seamlessly blends fact with fiction to make an unforgettable memoir. I finished this in one afternoon. I could not put it down — nor did I want to. A gem for anyone who loves memoir, language play, a book that reads like a documentary, or a delightful and entertaining read. — Deva, Snail Readers Circle
I knew I had to pick this one up as soon as I heard that Sally Hepworth had written a new book. If you’re a fan of this genre, The Soulmate won’t disappoint. With clever twists and reveals, this one kept me on my toes and I devoured the entire book in a weekend. The novel is narrated by two women, Pippa and Amanda, whose marriages seem complicated in very different ways, but the women themselves have a couple key things in common: each wife is very much in love with her husband and, just as importantly, each wife is determined to uncover her husband’s secrets. You as the reader are along for the ride as the women individually try to piece together for themselves the full story of the four characters and how their lives intertwine. The tragic love stories add an extra layer to the mystery, and every time I thought I had everything figured out, there was yet another twist. I found the whole thing to be entertaining without being too terribly over the top, and the short chapters make it easy to keep turning pages to find out what happens next.
—Mica Anderson, Snail Readers Circle
The Double Life of Benson Yu is a clever novel about art, childhood trauma, and survival. Comic book artist Benson Yu found commercial success with his Iggy Samurai series, but a letter from someone from his past prompts him to start a new project. This project, an autobiographical graphic novel about growing up in 1980’s Chinatown, forces him to revisit his pre-teen self (and vice versa). Different versions of characters from his past seem to coexist as Benson writes and rewrites his past to try to deal with traumatic experiences. —Elizabeth Hardin, Snail Readers Circle
THE NIGHT TRAVELERS is exactly what historical fiction is all about. The sections are divided brilliantly, the research is impeccable (hello, bibliography!), and it is beautifully written. Following four generations of women from the rise of Hitler to the fall of the Berlin Wall, it's an incredible tale of family, motherhood, and sacrifice. Yet Armando Lucas Correa showcases these hard choices with tact and respect. If you like World War II historical fiction, definitely put this one on your list! — Kirsten Wilson, Snail Readers Circle
I tried to give this book less than 5 stars, because I tend to be pretty stingy with them. However, I just keep smiling every time I think about it. The characters are so lovable, and I particularly appreciated the kindness, gentleness, and thoughtfulness of Jacob. He is such a genuinely loving character without any cheesiness. Jimenez writes the two main characters perfectly, and the book handled some heavy topics with a great balance of humor and sincerity. The love story was perfect, but I found the families, coworkers, and friends to also be quite lovable and wonderful additions to the storyline. If you think you're tired of romances about fake dating, I urge you to still give this one a try. I felt it was a fun, fresh take and a joy from start to finish!
— Jess, Snail Readers Circle
The Malevolent Seven is a meanly funny send-up of grimdark fantasy tales, with still enough teeth to probably qualify as "grimdark" in its own right. With a chatty, self-deprecating antihero at the heart of things and a raggedy band of misfit magic-users who have been tasked to kill a bunch of do-gooders, this book is for anyone who enjoys POV from the bad guys in an irreverent, light-hearted-until-suddenly-it's-tragic tone. It took a while to get going — the first 30% was all setup and we hadn't even met five of the seven — but once the plot took off, it was a lot of fun. For fantasy fans who want some humor with their axe-cleaving and spell-blasting. —Whitney, Snail Readers Circle
I loved this coming-of-age novel because of the strong female protagonist who, even through profound sadness and loss, is as resilient as the trees on her family's beloved peach orchard. For anyone who enjoys books that elaborate on the natural world, and novels with great character development. — Allison, Snail Readers Circle
Stalking Shakespeare: A Memoir of Madness, Murder, and My Search for the Poet Beneath the Paint (Hardcover)
Everyone knows someone like author Lee Durkee—someone who gets so wrapped up in a subject that it's all they can think about, and their passion for said subject is alternately endearingly interesting or purely annoying. Luckily Stalking Shakespeare is mostly interesting as it tackles the question: What does Shakespeare look like? We all think we have a pretty good idea—we have so many portraits of him—but the truth, according to Durkee, is that we *don't* know; the portraits and engravings of Shakespeare have all been updated, tinkered with, and flat-out falsely recorded as the Bard. Durkee's obsession may have nearly wrecked his life, but it's fascinating nonetheless, and anyone who enjoys a good literary mystery will enjoy this nonfiction book ... as long as they're fine with not really learning the truth at the end of the book. —Whitney Sheppard, Snail Readers Circle
How to Say Babylon is a fascinating and heartbreaking look at Safyia Sinclair's childhood in Jamaica as the eldest daughter of a strict Rasta-man. I learned so much about a life experience drastically different than my own. Incredibly gifted in poetry, Sinclair is given several once-in-a-lifetime chances that change the trajectory of her life forever. Her resiliency and bravery pour out of the pages as we watch her blossom into a free version of herself. For readers who like true stories of people overcoming their circumstances. — Kirsten, Snail Readers Circle
Note: rape, verbal/physical/spiritual abuse
Pomegranate is a raw, beautiful story of reintegration and a mother trying to do and be better for her kids. Oscillating between present-day Ranita and her past self, this story paints a real, painful picture of a woman caught in a cycle of drug use and eventual prison time, and her daily fight for sobriety and wellness when she returns to her family. — Sarah Catherine, Snail Readers Circle
One of my favorite books is Yellow Wife by Sadeqa Johnson, so when I found out the author was releasing a new book, I had to read it! The House of Eve does not disappoint. It is a captivating, powerful story of the strength and resilience of women and the sacrifices they make for themselves and their families. Even though the setting is the 1950s, it has relevance to the present day since Ruby and Eleanor are pushed to make tough decisions in order to have a family, advance their careers, and follow their dreams. It also spotlights the shame and ridicule some young women experience as they are coming-of-age and exploring their sexuality. Even more importantly it shines a light on the heartbreaking ideologies society has put on women who become pregnant and are unwed not just during the past but also present day as well. What I love about Sadeqa Johnson's books is that she is a passionate researcher and takes tough topics and shines a light on them. She also effortless intertwines the joy and love that can be found from family and community.
— Nicole Granville, Snail Readers Circle
I read this book in two compulsive sittings! If you liked Knives Out and you re-read Agatha Christie mysteries, this is for you. A unique narrator who blends the golden age of mystery with some modern black comedy. The Cunningham family reunites at a remote Australian ski lodge retreat after the narrator's brother has just been released from prison—for murder. But he's not the only killer in the family, and what appears to be the accidental death of a stranger is probably (definitely) tied to one of the family members. And they're all suspects, because they've all killed someone. While the overarching plot may seem familiar to Christie die-hard fans, it's the little mini-mysteries of which-family-member-killed-who—and their subtle connections—that made me read this one so quickly. This book has an engaging narrator and a fantastic structure even though you know upfront who-done-it: EVERYONE! —Melanie Berry, Snail Readers Circle
Big Swiss is original and quirky! It follows a transcriptionist, Greta, who works for a local sex therapist as she falls in love with one of his clients whom she code-names Big Swiss. First Greta finds herself falling in love with Big Swiss’s voice and her unique perspective towards her traumatic past as she listens and transcribes her sessions. Then the story takes a turn when Big Swiss saves Greta’s dog at the dog park and thus they develop a real-life, in-person relationship. Greta gives a false name, false identity, and pretends like she knows nothing of Big Swiss’s life which you can imagine proves to be difficult and sticky. It was a fun, one-of-a-kind read, although it includes some heavy themes like mental illness, infidelity and romantic obsession. HBO has announced a TV series inspired by it, so I am very excited to watch that too! — Abigail, Snail Readers Circle
A surprising experiment in rhetorical speech practice for an insomniac, The Guest Lecture threads the needle between philosophical reflection on economics and a personal experience of family life, career disappointment, and more. I was surprised by how much I enjoyed and connected with protagonist, Abby. Martin Baker makes the philosophical side uniquely personal and accessible through this novel.
—Sarah Catherine Richardson, Snail Readers Circle
Old Flame had me hooked from its unique opening paragraph all the way to the end. This book is a love letter to womanhood and her many roles – mother, daughter, partner, friend, and her many choices – Should I quit my job to pursue a passion? Would I make a good mother? Should I just move to Greece and start over? Old Flame details the love, exhaustion, heartbreak, and worry every woman feels. It explores the complexity, joys, thrills, and contradictions of contemporary womanhood set in our patriarchal, capitalist society.
—Abby Lindemann, Snail Readers Circle
There's a reason the publisher reps are raving about this book: it is a one-of-a-kind gem. I enjoyed getting to know Stella through the eyes of author Michael Frank, who made it a priority to spend his Saturdays with her. Stella Levi is more than a Holocaust survivor. She's a storyteller who reveals so much about life, love, family, community, and courage through the tales she shares with him. I know everyone will be as deeply drawn into this book as I was.
—Lady, Snail owner
Katherine Center has written another perfect comfort read, filled with hope and humor and a happy ending. After a sudden medical emergency leaves Sadie unable to recognize the faces of anyone (including herself), her life has quite literally disappeared. Add to that she's just received a rare opportunity in her chosen profession as a portrait artist. Portrait art and face blindness are an obviously unfortunate pairing. Sadie is forced to confront her past and take hold of the present to determine what holds importance in her life. Katherine Center takes us on a journey from deep grief to overwhelming joy and love. Her stories always leave me feeling as if hope and happy endings are available for us all. P.S. I fully believe they actually are! — Jess, Snail Readers Circle
This isn't necessarily a recent release, but it is a recent discovery! When overcome by a debilitating and mysterious illness, Bailey is bedridden while trying to patiently wait for answers. When a friend brings her a snail - thinking she might enjoy it - Bailey is at first puzzled by the gesture, before slowly becoming captivated by the snail. The details are delightfully charming - the snail eats little square hole punches in loose papers and postcards until Bailey gets it more appropriate food - and the gently-paced, short chapters are perfect for a detailed but not dense read. Part memoir and part biology, Bailey lavishes attention on an object of interest and lifeline to the outside world.
—Melanie Berry, Snail Readers Circle
This is a bold, powerful novel about family secrets, injustices, love, loss, and found family. It is rich in history, and the author does a fantastic job with creating the two characters with distinctive depth. This is a story that will stay with me for some time.
— Nicole, Snail Readers Circle
I was such a fan of She Who Became the Sun, the first book in this military fantasy duology. I spent a solid week afterward gutted: a searing conversation about gender, identity, fate, and violence in a fantastical 14th century China, it rocked my world with its complex, intriguing characters and thrillingly told battles. Zhu Chongba became one of my favorite antiheroes of all time. Where would she inevitably fall? In He Who Drowned, we return to the middle of the action: several players are eyeing the position of Great Khan for their own, Zhu being one of them. What delights me most about this series is how Parker-Chan makes you feel for these characters. I hated each and every one of them in turn — they're selfish, greedy, cruel, and petty — but nonetheless I mourned with them. I burned with them. I wanted them each to succeed despite the cruelties of the world closing in. Mind the trigger warnings for this one - it's bleak. But it's also one of the best books I read all year, and possibly the last five years. — Whitney, Snail Readers Circle
This is a warm invitation to read more Japanese literature! Looking for a soft place to land after a quarter-life crisis, Takako moves into the room above her uncle's secondhand bookshop in Tokyo's famous bookstore neighborhood. Throughout the next year, she falls in love with literature, meets interesting characters, reconnects with her uncle, and begins to venture out into life again. This brief but lovely book has a wonderful atmospheric calm and beautiful descriptions. The short, episodic chapters are perfect for reading either back-to-back, or a few pages at a time. Like Takako, this book interested me in Japanese literature more widely. — Melanie, Snail Readers Circle