The Vanishing Half
No one in rural Mallard, Louisiana, expected to see the Vignes twins, Desiree and Stella, after they ran away together in 1954. And yet in 1968, Desiree returns to her southern Black community, and though untwinned, she comes with a child in tow. Jude, 8 years old, grows up hearing the gossip about her mother having “married dark,” and when she’s old enough, she too flees Mallard, with the help of a track scholarship to UCLA. In LA, she comes across an unexpected vision: her mother’s spitting image, passing, it appears, as a white woman.
Honey and Venom
Last month on May 20, many around the globe marked World Bee Day. Honey bees are some of the most important pollinators worldwide, so even if you’re not a fan of their sting, you’ve got to admit that they have more than honey to share with us. Andrew Coté is a fourth-generation beekeeper (or “beek,” if you’re in on the lingo) and works to maintain the apiaries you never knew were spread along the rooftops of New York City’s skyline. He shares insights from his work over the four seasons of a year, from stinging to sweet.
The Lost Diary of Venice
Book restorer Rose Newlin’s challenge of a lifetime arrives one rainy day in the form of William Lomazzo, a dashing (and married) painter bearing a 16th-century book in need of some TLC. Rose soon discovers that the pages are palimpsests—underneath the heady art criticism on the surface lie earlier words that were deliberately scratched out. These belonged to none other than Giovanni Paolo Lomazzo, an Italian painter and art theory writer from the 16th century; as Rose begins uncovering Gio’s diary, she learns that he was involved in a steamy, dangerous affair.
Always the Last to Know
Barb and John have been married for half a century, and things haven’t been great for a while now. Barb’s considering leaving him—but when John has a stroke, she feels she can’t, even after discovering things were worse between them than she knew. When their daughters rush home to visit John in the hospital, they come with their own secrets: Juliet, a married mom of two, keeps ducking into closets to have panic attacks, and Sadie, a struggling artist in NYC, needs to face a long-lost love and her own regrets. Will this family pull through?
Bridget isn’t like the other girls in her Connecticut Catholic boarding school in the mid-1950s. With an Egyptian mother and a perpetually ill sister, Bridget is an outsider. When Isabella—beautiful, wealthy, pale—arrives at the school, Bridget befriends her, and the two remain close, even though Isabelle becomes popular while Bridget remains on the outskirts. When the friends are accepted into the same exchange program in Italy, Bridget is thrilled. Finally, she and Isabella can have an adventure together, just the two of them. Yet Isabella may not be the beloved friend Bridget thinks she is.
I Was Told It Would Get Easier
Jessica is a hardworking LA-based lawyer and the single mother of teenager Emily. When the time comes for Emily to start thinking about applying to college, Jessica decides to go all out with E3, or Excelsior Educational Excursions, an all-inclusive tour of prestigious East Coast schools that’s used by many professional parents who can afford it. But Emily isn’t sure she wants to go to college at all, or that she could get in if she did. As mother and daughter tour ivy-covered campuses, they try to get to know each other again.
Party of Two
Olivia Monroe is ready to open her own law firm and has recently moved to LA for that very purpose. One evening, she meets a wonderful man at a bar, only to discover that he’s Max Powell, a junior senator on the rise. That’s just fine, though—really!—because Olivia really doesn’t need a boyfriend. She needs to focus on building the firm, and boyfriends tend to be a distraction, let alone politicians in the spotlight. But when Max sends a chocolate cake to her office, Olivia’s resolve melts. They can keep it all a secret, can’t they?
Noemí Taboada is a carefree 22-year-old in mid-20th-century Mexico City—who spends most nights dancing and socializing with friends and suitors alike—when she receives a disturbing letter from her cousin Catalina. Recently married to Englishman Virgil Doyle, Catalina begs Noemí to come to High Place, her husband’s mansion, and save her from its clutches. When Noemí arrives at High Place, bloody visions begin haunting her, and the Doyle patriarch seems fascinated by her, even as he does nothing to quell his racist ideas about Mexican women. Noemí, however, is strong enough to brave this house and its men.
Home Before Dark
Maggie Holt has long resented the starring role that a very young version of herself played in her father’s breakout success as a writer. She may not remember what happened, but she doesn’t believe her father’s account of Baneberry Hall in his infamous book, because everything he described—the three terrifying weeks Maggie and her parents lived there when she was small; the ghosts, poltergeists, and supernatural activities—are impossible. When her father dies and Maggie inherits the Hall, she decides to restore and sell it, only to discover her father’s stories may have held more truth than fiction after all.
Last Tang Standing
Andrea’s mother is mourning the fact that her own daughter is about to be the last Tang spinster of her generation in their extensive Malaysian-Chinese family. Does Andrea care? Not so much. At 33, she doesn’t need a man. She has a successful law career, a beautiful condo, and wonderful friends who still know how to have fun and drink and dance the night away. When she meets the most eligible bachelor in Singapore—wealthy, older—and he begins wooing her, she lets him. Her family would be thrilled! So why can’t she stop thinking about the man they’d never want her to marry?
Maren Gelb and Devin Avery founded Richual, a social network for women and wellness, with a passion for global social justice (on Maren’s end) and love of self care (on Devin’s). Whether or not you’re up on the latest think pieces and social media dunks, the reality is that when you mix corporate concerns with feminist ideals, things begin to get tricky, to say the least. When Maren gets in hot water for being anti-woman on Twitter (anti–one particular high-powered woman, really, but no one cares), Devin needs Maren to fix the PR disaster quickly. Neither knows that what’s coming next is worse.
Many of us take the modern bicycle for granted, thinking of it as a means for convenient, cheap, eco-friendly transportation, as a weekend leisure and exercise activity, or maybe as nothing more than the thing all those fit men ride in the Tour de France. But the bicycle has a fascinating history as a tool in women’s liberation efforts in the late 19th century, and in empowering women today in many parts of the world. Hannah Ross shares these and sheds light on the continued sexism in the sport of cycling (there’s no women’s Tour de France, for instance!).
The Lies That Bind
Cecily is having a rough night. It’s 2 a.m., she’s drinking alone, she’s homesick, and she’s about to call her ex-boyfriend. But a guy next to her says “don’t,” so she doesn’t. This is Grant, the man she will fall for over the coming short months, which is a terrible idea—they both know this—because he’s preparing to move overseas soon. When September 11, 2001, arrives and Cecily can’t find Grant, she fears the worst, and then she sees him on a missing poster. Someone else is looking for him, but who? Cecily uses her journalistic skills to make sense of the chaos.
The Sober Lush
Amanda Eyre Ward
In a time when magazines are writing about quarantine cocktails and social media feeds are full of people drinking as early in the day as they can get away with, it might be tough out there for folks who don’t drink and don’t want to, regardless of the reasons behind that. Written by two women who weren’t ready to put away life’s indulgences when they got sober, this book offers a multitude of alternative, sensual, alcohol-free experiences of fun and decadence. Plus, if you’ve ever wondered how to get through a sober first date? They’ve got you.
The Margot Affair
Margot Louve has grown up with her mother, Anouk, a successful stage actress in Paris, and her father, Bertrand, who comes in and out of her life. Anouk and Margot are Bertrand’s secret second family—he’s the French Minister of Culture, and as such, needs to keep his professional and political life clean as a whistle. When 17-year-old Margot sees him one day in public with his wife, she begins to grow frustrated with the separation and secretiveness, and decides to take matters into her own hands. She finds a journalist to confess to and begins cultivating her own secrets.
See No Stranger
On September 15, 2001, Balbir Singh Sodhi was murdered in what is considered the first of many hate crimes perpetuated against Muslim and Sikh people in the United States following the 9/11 attacks. Valarie Kaur, raised by Sikh parents who were friends of Sodhi’s, was enraged by his death and set out to document the violence that kept coming. Over the years since then, Kaur has remained an activist and become a civil rights lawyer; she’s also ever steadier in the belief that love is not only possible but absolutely vital in any fight for social justice.
When Susan Burton was 13, her parents got divorced, and she and her sister moved to Colorado with her mother. This rupture was when she began to cycle through her eating disorder pattern: terms of anorexia and times of binge-eating. But the adult Burton is able to see clearly that this was only a spark point, and that there were other, older, nearly inherited considerations at stake as well, from her mother’s alcoholism and hatred of her body to her grandmother’s desire to weigh herself on her deathbed. Through self-imposed feast and famine, Burton shares her attempts at regaining control.
Jean Kyoung Frazier
Jane is pregnant. Jane delivers pizza for a living. Jane’s father is dead. Jane is 18. Let’s be honest: Jane has no freaking clue what she’s doing. Home feels awful, even with a mom and boyfriend who love her. Pizza delivery gets her out of the house, into her car, and onto the doorsteps of other people’s lives, which is a relief of sorts. One night, she gets to be a hero: a mom named Jenny needs a pizza that’s not on any menu, so Jane improvises and brings it over, unaware that meeting Jenny will change everything, maybe forever.
What if the choice of whether or not to have children was taken away from you? What if you never knew there could be a choice in the matter at all? In Calla’s world, puberty means a meeting with the machine that gives tickets. White—rare—for those deemed fit to be mothers. Blue—like the one Calla gets—for those whose labor will involve other kinds of work. When Calla, now a chemist in the city, takes out her IUD alone (excruciating; don’t try this at home) and becomes pregnant, she has to run and find others like her, who’ve made their own choices.
A train goes up in flames, and soon, so does Jivan’s life. Jivan, a Muslim girl living in the nearby neighborhood of Kolabagan—considered a slum—did what many a youth does when frustrated and angry with the violence around them: she posted something negative about her government on social media. That’s enough for local officials to toss her in jail as a suspect in the terrorist attack on the train. As Jivan tries to prove her innocence—she has an alibi that her friend Lovely could testify to—others are counting on Jivan’s trial going poorly for their own power grab.
Friends and Strangers
J. Courtney Sullivan
Elisabeth is fiercely homesick for New York City, where she’s spent much of her professional life as a journalist, but she and her husband have relocated upstate, and that’s that. Not that she’s adjusting well to any of it: motherhood, small town life, being away from her Brooklyn friends. When Elisabeth hires Sam to babysit her son, Gil, she starts to feel a bit better and begins to feel a kinship with Sam, who attends the women’s college and is an aspiring artist. But when both women start sticking their noses where they don’t belong, things go south, and fast.
It’s June, dear friends, which means the days are the longest they’re going to be on this hemisphere—more daylight for reading some of the wonderful books we’re eager to share with you this month! From bittersweet coming-of-age stories and family sagas full of secrets (like Jean Kyoung Frazier’s Pizza Girl and Brit Bennett’s The Vanishing Half) to suspenseful adventures featuring badass women (like Home Before Dark by Riley Sager), there’s so much to choose from and not a moment to lose.
Featured image by Kevon Nicholas