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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Metaphors abound as Emily Habeck uniquely explores our human desire to hold on to the people we love, even when we know that may be impossible. Shark Heart is a tragic yet hopeful story set in a world where it’s known that humans can develop diseases that transform them into animals over time. Lewis is one such human, and he receives his diagnosis just after marrying the love of his life. Shark Heart explores the ripple effect of his, and others', diagnoses and transformations through a multigenerational story of motherhood, marriage, love, and grief. —Jess Depew, Snail Readers Circle
Expiration Dates explores how finding love is not a one-size-fits-all script. Love is, at its core, loving yourself first and spreading that love to someone else. This book will remind you to let go of preconceived ideas, trust yourself, and not let fear of the unknown drive your decisions. You're going to like this novel for its romance, emotional devastation, and tender moments. — Nicole, Snail Readers Circle
The Hunter is the companion book to The Searcher and, as such, must be read as the sequel. Following retired cop Cal Hooper as he navigates small town life in Ireland, The Hunter takes the frayed plot threads from The Searcher and weaves them into a rich, frightening examination of trauma and revenge. This book is perfect for chilly nights, hot tea, and roaring fireplaces, with French's trademark attention to character and place on perfect display. — Whitney, Snail Readers Circle
There's little I enjoy more than a Simone St. James thriller — well-told, character-driven mysteries that tow the line between campfire ghost stories and normal-person-solving-crime procedurals. Murder Road tells the story of a newly married couple who pick up an injured hitchhiker who dies on the way to the hospital. Local police are itching to peg the crime on them, but April (the wife) has a bad feeling there's more to meet the eye on the haunted road that keeps racking up a death toll. But how well does she know her husband? How well does she know herself? Murder Road is quickly paced and utterly engaging; I was instantly invested in April's story as her honeymoon was derailed by murder and belligerent local police. The supernatural element was done lightly, and the 1990s setting was pitch-perfect. — Whitney, 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
The Fruit of the Dead is a rewritten take on Hades abducting Persephone to the Underworld. In this version, Hades is a pharmaceutical billionaire and Persephone is a floundering camp counselor barely turned 18. Her demanding, unhinged mother drops everything to find her, but this book asks the questions: What is consent? How much personal agency can a vulnerable person have against a powerful figure? I very much enjoyed this dark tale, finishing it in twenty-four hours. — Whitney, Snail Readers Circle
Ismael (Izzy) Reyes, former Pitbull impersonator, is struggling to create an identity for himself in Miami. Izzy emigrated from Cuba as a child, and interspersed with Izzy’s story is the story of another immigrant—an unwilling one, Lolita, the Miami Seaquarium’s beloved orca, who was kidnapped as a young whale from the much colder waters of the north Pacific. This novel, often funny and sometimes heartbreaking, is soaked in Miami: its climate, its culture, and its people. I was especially fascinated by the hidden gas station tapas restaurant (which exists!) and Crucet’s vibrant descriptions of Cuban-American wedding traditions and venues. — Elizabeth, Snail Readers Circle
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
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
A spectacular tale that covers the depths of a relationship and the withdrawal from Afghanistan. With realistic and well-developed characters, a storyline that keeps you hooked, and the hope that the next time will be the one that sticks this book is a must-read. Izzy and Nate become real on the page and all I wanted was for them to find happiness. — Jenn, Snail Readers Circle
What if you could travel back in time to meet and fall in love with your favorite author? Alice Hoffman gives us the answer in a true ode to the power of books to bring light during even the darkest of times. When Mia is trapped and lost while under the power of an oppressive cult, it is the library and a very special book that gives her the strength and knowledge she needs to break free and save herself. The Invisible Hour is a beautiful fairy tale-like story about books, motherhood, chosen/found family, inner strength, and love. I loved it!
—Jess Depew, 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
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
One thing that has always impressed me about Moreno-Garcia is how easily she jumps into new genres with every work. I'm pleased to say that Silver Nitrate wound up being one of my favorites, a heady thriller with spooky elements and well-researched historic Hollywood conspiracies. "Silver Nitrate" stars two appealing characters: Monserrat, tough and terse, an independent woman who keeps people at a distance, and Tristan, a selfish, warm-hearted voice actor trying to work his way back into fame's good graces. Their "will they or won't they" was funny, interesting, and put to the test as they got embroiled in a frightening story of cults and the occult. Silver Nitrate suffers a little from exposition dump - there's a lot of it - and some bits I admit to skimming when it seemed like it was nothing but page after page of Old Hollywood backstory. It might have been trimmed, but ultimately, the rest of the book was so charming that it didn't really affect my overall enjoyment. Eerie, nostalgic, and good fun. — Whitney, 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
Awad enjoys fever dream hallucinations and otherworldly visuals and exchanges. Those are all here, but what is new and wonderful is the complex, sweet, damaging relationship between Belle and her mother. Mirabelle is in her thirties and obsessed with preserving herself with skincare. Half-Egyptian, she envies the standard beauty of her white mother, who has recently died under strange circumstances. Belle gets embroiled in her mother's secrets while fixing up her mother's old house - and any more will ruin the reveals. You're kept guessing as to what kind of woman Belle's mother was — toxic? abusive? neglectful? Trying her best under unfair circumstances? And the resolution of this grotesque tale shocked me with its tenderness. Make no mistake: this book belongs on the horror shelf. But it has a real, beautiful beating heart inside of it. — Whitney Sheppard, Snail Readers Circle
Nguyen's thought-provoking memoir examines how her refugee experiences shaped her life: her habits, relationships, and identity. Nguyen's mother was left behind when the rest of her family emigrated from Vietnam, and they didn't meet again until she was 19. Nguyen's attempts to understand, build — or is it make amends? — the relationship with her mother are central to the story. As she struggles with her identity as a refugee, a mother, and an American, she shares experiences that made her feel "apart" and also tells of mother figures who took the place of her absent "Boston Mother." I appreciated her feelings of wanting to be apparent: yes, to be a mother, but also to be seen. — Amy, Snail Readers Circle
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
What do you get when you take 1 house, add a group of feisty senior citizens, throw in a murder weapon, and sprinkle in several mysterious deaths? The setting for Leonie Swann's new novel. I haven't read anything like this before. Agnes Sharp and the residents of Sunset Hall want to do things their way. Live and Die on their terms. When a neighbor is murdered, it seems like the perfect solution to their dead roommate predicament but when more of their community starts winding up dead, the residents of Sunset Hall realize they've got to take matters into their own hands. The writing was great, a little snappy just like Agnes and her house mates. It was a quick read and kept me engaged the entire time. Definitely worth a read if you like books about quick witted, murder solving senior citizens!
—Candice Kirk, Snail Readers Circle
In a small, claustrophobic midwestern town, Tornado Day means the beginning of a plague of sentient tornadoes and the introduction of the tornado killer—a teenage boy with the power to protect the town. Bride of the Tornado’s narrator is a high school sophomore, so we get to experience this terrifying phenomenon through the perspective of a midwestern teenager: seeing the tornado killer as just a teenage boy, viewing the ominous town leaders’ plots as high school parties, sleepovers, and part-time jobs. We always feel like there’s a lot we don’t know, which keeps the tension and dread at tantalizingly high levels. I loved the narrator, a 1980s teen who rides her bike around town listening to her Walkman and carrying a cat in her basket. While the town is suffering the plague of horrifying tornadoes, she’s still trying to plan a trip out of town to see a concert, considering getting a part-time job, and navigating the social landscape of a small town high school.
—Elisabeth Hardin, Snail Readers Circle