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 reviews of March 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!
Beautiful Bad by Annie Ward
A true page-turner — 5 stars, jmkolin
“Opening with a desperate call to 911, Beautiful Bad will have you on the edge of your seat as the responder enters the house to find a pool of blood. Taking a step back, Annie Ward introduces Maddie, a former travel writer living in Kansas with her husband and son. Badly scarred in an accident on a camping trip, she turns to writing therapy with a psychologist to help control her fears and anxiety.
Maddie’s story begins in 2001. Living in Bulgaria, she frequently travels to Macedonia to visit her best friend Joanna who is employed by a relief agency. On one of her visits she meets Ian, who is serving with the British army on a protection detail. As they grow closer on subsequent visits, Joanna grows more distant and hostile until the friendship ends. When Maddie’s time in Bulgaria ends she returns to work in America, but her thoughts are still with Ian. Ian eventually quits the military and starts a security company with his brother.
Ian’s job has taken him to hot spots around the world. He suffers from PTSD, drinks, and has had episodes of violence in his past, but he loves Maddie and swears he will change. The birth of his son Charlie brings some changes to Ian, but spending months at a time away from his family, often in hostile situations, sours their relationship shortly after his return.
It is this toxic relationship that leads to the call for help. Ward builds tension by alternating Maddie and Ian’s story with ‘The Day of the Killing’ and its aftermath. While the book was a true page-turner, Ward’s conclusion will leave you stunned.”
The Bird King by G. Willow Wilson
One of my favorites this year! — 5 stars, thorne2083
“G. Willow Wilson writes one of the most awe-inspiring, diverse and complex historic fantasy novels of the year. Meshing the Spanish Inquisition with the fantastical elements of jinn, demons, and other unexplained creatures seamlessly with love, friendship, and will to live, this book is calculatingly executed. The story follows Fatima, a concubine to the sultan of Granada, and her friend, Hassan, an enigmatic mapmaker with magical qualities. As they live within the palace walls, the Spanish are conquering all lands surrounding them and they know soon they’ll have to renounce their Muslim faith or be killed. They will surely be conquered easily since food is scarce, weakening their army. When the Spaniards come under the guise of the white flag, they infiltrate the palace with their greatest weapon, Luz. Luz is not as she seems yet Fatima is seduced by her sweet words and kinship enough to let her meet Hassan. Once Luz meets Hassan and sees his magical gifts, she believes he is of demonic ability and should be put to death. This starts the voyage of Fatima and Hassan to escape the Spanish Inquisition. The journey is harrowing and readers will ride a rollercoaster of emotional twists and turns. You’ll grasp the profound love and friendship between Fatima and Hassan as well as understand the complexities of Vikram and Gwennec.
The author writes exceptionally well and you’ll find the tone reflective of the time period and the mood, and as a result, you’ll see the world through the eyes of the characters quite clearly. G. Willow Wilson’s efforts towards character building are also exceptional. Fatima follows a trajectory of finding her own strength, but readers will see her lose her way quite often and learn from her failures and triumphs. Vikram is characterized perfectly and might actually be one of my favorite characters in the book. He was witty, dependable, and brave. Gwennec was also done quite well. The author easily outlines his folly and his retribution for readers and he becomes one of the most loved characters as well. Hassan, while characterized as a gay, magical, and infinitely caring individual was slightly too love-hungry for me. I feel that LGBTQ+ readers may have a problem with him falling for every man in the book or coming across as not seeking love but only affection or desire. I do believe the author did not intentionally characterize Hassan this way based on his sexuality, but the perception could be damaging.
Overall, this book has given me a great amount of entertainment and fantasy. While some scenes were difficult to imagine, I could still feel their emotional pull.. This book is perfect for readers of any genre as it holds the core tenets of most great novels. Highly recommended!”
Queenie by Candice Carty-Williams
An incredibly honest, raw, and heartbreaking read that I couldn’t put down — 5 stars, thereadingchemist
“Queenie is a brilliantly written novel that is witty, honest, raw, heartbreaking, political, and hopeful. Queenie endures so much throughout this book, but she doesn’t let any of it break her spirit.
When Queenie’s long-term boyfriend Tom decides that they need a ‘break,’ Queenie decides to fill that void by engaging in lots of unsafe sex with people she barely knows. It is emphasized in the book that she has always chosen white partners (the reason behind this is revealed later). The partners she chooses embrace exploit her ‘exotic’ black girl features, but are quick to dismiss her for any sort of relationship potential. (This hit me in the heart like a dagger. This is EXACTLY what I experienced in college.) This creates a vicious cycle for Queenie’s love life, which turn into utter chaos.
Queenie is a journalist for one of the most prominent newspapers in the UK (The Daily Mail), but her boss only allows her to write cookie-cutter pieces. Queenie is passionate about the increased protests surrounding the police brutality of black men and the Black Lives Matter movement in the United States, and she desperately wants to highlight this topic. However, she is silenced by her boss and peers whenever she approaches the subject, which makes her internal struggle at work even worse.
This book also broaches the taboo of discussing mental health issues within the black community. Whenever Queenie tries to confide in her grandmother and voice her potential need for therapy, her grandmother is completely dismissive. This definitely adds to Queenie’s downward trajectory.
I don’t want to give too much of the plot away because I really do think that this is one of those books where you have to experience those emotions for yourself. I read Queenie as if Queenie was myself. I felt her pain to the depths of my soul. This book will be one of those that I recommend to people not just because it’s eye-opening and thought-provoking but because it also describes so many pieces of me that I have never been able to put into words.”
Read an excerpt of Queenie or leave your own review on BookishFirst.
The Last Voyage of Poe Blythe by Ally Condie
An emotional look at grief, redefining ourselves, and letting ourselves be vulnerable — 5 stars, utopia state of mind
“The Last Voyage of Poe Blythe is about grief. It’s about the depths to which you fall in its maelstrom. But it’s also about Poe’s quest to redefine herself. Is Poe a ghost? A murderer? A victim? What I adored about The Last Voyage of Poe Blythe was how multifaceted it was.
This book explores how Poe struggles with her grief and loss, how Poe must navigate the rhetoric and narrative of the Outpost, and Poe’s difficulty accepting people and relationships back into her life. Every aspect builds to a crescendo throughout the book, making it hard to put down.
Poe is itching for revenge. Robbed of the light in her sky, like a precious star blinking out of existence, Poe’s grief fuels her inventive spirit. But what Condie does not shy away from is the knowledge that grief can twist us into something else. And what we have to ask ourselves is: Who is Poe Blythe? Is she a legend? A myth? A ghost?”
Read an excerpt of The Last Voyage of Poe Blythe or leave your own review on BookishFirst.
Redemption Point by Candice Fox
Atmospheric and haunting — 4 stars, crofteereader
“This is not my first Candice Fox book. Just like in her Archer & Bennett series, she brings a depth of feeling and moral grayness to her characters despite situations that should feel run-of-the-mill to any thriller or crime reader. Ted is a character who harbors a lot of anger and feelings of injustice, which permeate every part of his character from dialogue to internal thoughts to actions. Fox paints every situation with an admirable attention to detail that wars with every thriller fan’s desire to race to the end; her writing makes you want to slow down and drink in the details. She also finds ways to bring modernity to a familiar story: By introducing modern media (like a podcast) into the story, we’re given something equal parts unique and completely understandable. I can’t wait to pick up the third book!”
Almost Home by Valerie Fraser Luesse
Best feel good book of the year! — 5 stars, marjoh13
“I began this book anticipating a tried-and-true formula but I was pleasantly surprised by how much I became attached to each of the characters in the story. The author, Valerie Fraser Luesse, has made the characters of Si and Dolly just leap off the page. You fall in love with the history of their home that they are desperate to save, as well as with each of their boarders. Their lives intertwine and as they each battle their own demons, they find hope, love, and solace in each other. While much of the plot is predictable insofar as the eventual outcome, the author nevertheless provides enough surprises as well as an underlying mysterious disappearance from decades ago. This is a satisfying and uplifting story from start to end.”
Chronicles of a Radical Hag by Lorna Landvik
Lovely — 5 stars, angie0184
“How to describe this lovely story? Briefly, a beloved opinion columnist at a small town Minnesota newspaper has had a stroke. She’s in a coma, probably one from which she’ll never recover, and in the meantime, the editor of the paper has decided to reprint choice columns spanning her five-decade career, and some choice responses to her columns. One of those responses earned her the name she took in stride with the good humor she displayed throughout her entire life: radical hag, because of her liberal leanings in her musings. The editor’s teenage son spends many afternoons at the paper helping sort through the many articles, picking and choosing which ones should make the paper, and we get to read about everything from Haze’s (the radical hag herself) brief three-year marriage which ended when her husband died of a massive heart attack, her stance on abortion, all the way up to modern-day politics. One of my favorite quotes from the book is ‘By bringing us into their own world, they bring us into the whole world,’ and I think that’s the mark of a truly good columnist. She managed to relate whatever her subject was about, first to her own little corner of the world before expanding into a seemingly huge subject.
This book is extraordinary. It covers so many different people’s lives but it shows how Haze, a truly radical hag, brought so many people together through her decades-long writing career. Landvik has managed to truly bring this character off the page and make her larger than life, to the point where she seems more than just a fictional character. From heartbreak to adolescent awakening with a few delicious recipes thrown in, this book is a wonderland of written emotions. It’s one of my favorite stories so far in 2019 and I’m sure it’s going to stick with me for a good long while.”
Read an excerpt of Chronicles of a Radical Hag or leave your own review on BookishFirst.
Please note that some reviews have been edited and condensed for clarity.