Your TBR pile is towering, and you don’t know what to read next. Who do you turn to? Your fellow readers, of course! When the Bookish team is looking for new books to pick up, we browse BookishFirst—a platform where readers can earn points by leaving reviews of upcoming books and use those points to win free books. Here, the Bookish editors have selected the top book reviews of July releases from BookishFirst readers. Check out what real readers had to say about these buzzy new titles (including their star ratings), and then visit BookishFirst for an excerpt from each book!
Psst: If you want the chance to win books and be featured here, sign up at BookishFirst.com!
Wilder Girls by Rory Power
The literary ya feminist speculative horror book you’ve been waiting for! — 5 stars, haley
“With lyrical, vivid prose, Rory Power describes the girls of Raxter Academy, who have been quarantined on an island since infected with the mysterious Tox.
This story manages to be a page-turning survival thriller, while also digging into the complexities of being a teenage girl, and lingering on the intimacies of female friendships and romance. It describes emotional pain as vividly as the gruesome body horror of the Tox.
Perhaps most impressive of all, this book shows restraint. It explores these themes with nuance and without every being too on-the-nose or direct. The ending is satisfying without tying every plot element up with a neat bow. Most of all, it respects the intelligence of its readers.
Wilder Girls is my favorite debut novel of 2019.”
Midnight at the Blackbird Cafe by Heather Webber
What will your legacy be? — 5 stars, lh171
“Anna Kate arrives in her tiny hometown of Wicklow, Alabama for the first time since she was a child. She is there to lay her beloved grandmother, Zee, to rest. Anna Kate has to run her grandma’s Blackbird Café and then sell it before she can begin medical school in the fall. At her grandmother’s knee Anna Kate learned to make the famous pies for the café. It was rumored that if you ate a piece of the pie, your deceased relatives would send you messages at night. No one could or wanted to explain it, but most everyone in town believed it. Anna Kate is determined to leave, but every day she falls more in love with the town and its residents. What will happen if she leaves now?
From the very first scene, the characters jump off the pages into the reader’s heart. Anna Kate is torn between her feelings and a promise she made to her dying mother. She has to choose between what her heart says is right and her responsibility. But with each passing day, she begins to see more clearly what and who the results of her decision will affect. What will her legacy be?
Heather Webber (who also writes as Heather Blake) is a prolific writer of over 25 novels. I have read and enjoyed several of her cozy mysteries. Midnight at the Blackbird Café has an element of mystery about Anna Kate’s parents, but it is an absolutely fabulous work of women’s fiction. I could not put it down and now that I’ve finished it, I keep thinking of the town that has something special for the residents as well as the readers. Midnight at the Blackbird Café needs to be on your summer reading list.”
This Is How You Lose the Time War by Amal El-Mohtar and Max Gladstone
Captivating and stunning — 5 stars, postcardsforariel
“This was so complex and beautifully written. I’ve never read anything like it. It was a unique mix of science fiction and something else entirely, and it was beautifully woven into a story throughout the threads of time.
This is How You Lose the Time War is about two time-traveling agents who work on opposite factions, but who also write letters back and forth. We meet two characters (whose names we don’t know but who are referred to as Blue and Red) who, over the course of the war, fall in love with each other through their words and letters. They are on opposite sides of the war and they risk everything to be together. Red and Blue are the best agents in their opposing factions. Despite their secret communications, they are deeply loyal to their cause until they must defy it all to be together. It wasn’t a book about good or bad, but rather finding yourself and discovering what’s worth fighting for.
This is How You Lose the Time War was lyrical and beautifully written. It was art. It’s a work of fiction that makes you fall in love with words. It was poetic and made me question my own writing. It was musical.
I will say that this book might not be for everyone. I can see someone calling it boring or not understanding it. I can see someone complaining that it’s too lyrical and metaphorical to fully capture the battle sequences or whether Red and Blue are truly human. So it’s definitely not for everyone, but if you love romance, sci-fi, and intricately woven stories with lyrical writing, this is your book.
Overall, I’ve never read anything like this. It was romantic and beautiful and poetic. That’s the best way I can describe this novella. I loved the concept of subtle changes throughout history that will ripple through time. It was a unique story of resistance, despair, and heartbreak, and love—always love.”
The Book Charmer by Karen Hawkins
Sweet as Southern tea infused with magic — 5 stars, lh171
“Dove Pond, North Carolina is a dying town. Businesses have moved out, taking many of the residents with them. Sarah, a member of one of the founding families, is desperate to save her town. When she finds out a new family is moving into a house on her block, she is absolutely certain that Grace, one of the newcomers, is going to be Dove Pond’s salvation.
Sarah and her sisters are known for their ability to see, hear, and feel things other people cannot. As the librarian in town, Sarah hears books. They quietly let her know who in town needs to read them. Not everyone believes her, but even after arguing that they don’t want or need the book, they always end up reading and benefiting from the knowledge or help they receive. Grace will be no exception.
Grace has moved to the town because her beloved foster mother, Mama G, is in the early stages of Alzheimer’s and her doctor felt going back to the town she grew up in would help slow down the progression of the disease. Giving up a great-paying job, she packs up Mama G and her niece Daisy and moves into a rental home in the tiny town. Grace is determined to stay one year, and then go back to her old life. Working for the mayor, Grace is expected to be in charge of a huge festival that the cash-strapped Dove Pond does not have the resources to pull off. Can she actually save a town she doesn’t plan to stay in longer than a year?
The Book Charmer is tale as sweet as Southern tea and infused with a sprinkling of magic. This is a beautiful work of women’s fiction that brought tears to my eyes more than once. I am delighted to find out it is the second one in the series, and can’t wait to read the first novel as well as anxiously anticipate the next one in the series.”
Light from Distant Stars by Shawn Smucker
I liked it a lot! — 5 stars, msestheryoo
“Cohen wrestles with his childhood memories as he stands by his father’s hospital bed. He begins to wonder if his father’s approaching death is his own fault.
Author Shawn Smucker offers readers insight into the relationship between a father and son. It is not a relationship that is without its pitfalls, but one that each person must negotiate. Raw at times and loving at other times, Light from Distant Stars is not always an easy read, but it is one that will leave you changed.
I had to chew on this for a few days. The book was surprising in parts, dark in some, and full of light in others. It brings up memories and issues in my own life that I’m not sure I want to deal with yet!
There is a blurring in this book between memories, reality, and imagination that leaves me wanting to read more. I’m not ready for these characters’ stories to be over, so I hope the author carries their adventures to another book!”
Dragonslayer by Duncan M. Hamilton
A purely fun fantasy adventure — 4 stars, bookfreakout
“If you’re looking for a book that’s just plain fun, then Dragonslayer is definitely right for you!
Gill is the fantasy embodiment of dad-bod Spiderman from Into the Spiderverse—he’s been out of the game for a while after life struck him with personal tragedy and professional disgrace, but a newly awoken dragon isn’t waiting around for him to get back in shape. The Prince Bishop, his former rival, isn’t exactly keen that Gill, the last surviving member of a once-legendary brotherhood of dragonslayers, is quite possibly Mirabaya’s best chance at surviving the beast’s inferno. The mutual disdain between the duo leads to many moments of dry wit and a pervasive undercurrent of humor.
For his part, Gill devotes a highly entertaining amount of thought to spending as much of the Prince Bishop’s money as possible. If he’s going to be called back into action and possibly flambéed, he’s going to eat a lot of good food and stay in some swanky inns before that happens. Add in Solène, whose possesses a potent amount of untested, untrained magic, and things are poised unleash chaos.
Dragonslayer also adds in a unique twist I haven’t seen before: A few chapters are delivered from the point of view of the dragon itself. We are led to develop a touch of sympathy for the beast, woken after many years asleep to find everything he’s ever known destroyed by mankind. However, it’s not so much sympathy that we don’t still side with Gill on his quest to stop the dragon’s unchecked revenge against innocents.”
Please note that some reviews have been edited and condensed for clarity.