Looking for a good book? Look no further! Try these favorites and must-reads submitted by Motif writers — Maddie Jarvis, Trevor May, Kelly Lynn Currier, Victoria Lankford, Mike Ryan, Zeibeth Martinez, and Bobby Forand.
A Little Life, by Hanya Yanagihara
Though it is typically best practice to save the best item in a list for last, I had to start with this one since it’s been on my mind since I finished it. I read A Little Life at the start of this year, and it’s genuinely one of the most impactful books I’ve read in my lifetime. Hanya Yanagihara paints a picture of four people who have lasting friendships with one another. Each character has their own layers of personality and experience, and these experiences are told beautifully and thoroughly to create intricate character dynamics. The author takes readers on a life’s journey with these characters. One character in particular has had a horrific journey that slowly unravels throughout the book. Yanagihara writes A Little Life with such attention to detail that you honestly feel like you’re experiencing life through the characters in the book, and I believe that’s a special and unique effect that authors are not always able to achieve. I’ve recommended this book so many times since I’ve read it, I don’t think I’ll ever stop recommending it.
Three Women, by Lisa Taddeo
I would say that Three Women is one of the more intriguing books I’ve read recently. Lisa Taddeo took on the task of traveling the country to follow the sex lives of three women. Though the topics of women’s sex lives and liberating us from the taboos surrounding the discussion is common in this day and age, Taddeo does it in a way that seems to honor these women’s experiences. She spent eight years working on this book – most of it in search of the women she would write about. Once she decided whom she was going to write about, she fully committed her life to these women; she spent months with each person, and even lived near them to be a part of their lives. After I finished reading this book, I did some research about it, and I came across an article from The Guardian by Hadley Freeman. She worded the feeling of the book nicely: “Taddeo’s immersion in her subjects’ lives is apparent in the amount of detail in the book, giving her lyrical reportage the depth of fiction.” Instead of reading a book that’s a regurgitation of these women’s experiences, you’re reading a book that’s honoring what they all have been through, and humanizing each woman’s life. It’s been roped into the #MeToo discussion a few times, but I feel like it has more depth than that. It’s not simply a book adding to the discussion of #MeToo; it’s a book showcasing how women are treated in regard to sexuality, especially in contrast to how men are treated. – MJ
Scar Tissue, by Anthony Kiedis
I read Scar Tissue a few months ago when I was on a friends trip in Florida, and it was one of those books that I had a hard time putting down – even on vacation. I would wake up and go sit by the pool not to tan, but to read my book. In fact, I intentionally left this book in Florida. My friends and I came across one of those little free libraries people set up on the sidewalk, so when I finished Scar Tissue I put it there for someone else to enjoy. For a RHCP (Red Hot Chilli Peppers) fan, I knew surprisingly little about the band members. I pretty much only knew of Flea, but just because his name was Flea and he was talented, I didn’t know much about him as a person. I knew even less about Anthony Kiedis. So, when I saw his autobiography on one of the featured tables at Barnes & Noble, I couldn’t resist picking it up. It turned out that picking up this book was a great decision. Not only did I learn loads about Anthony Kiedis, but I learned a lot about how his life was negatively impacted by excessive drug use – both of his own, and usage by those around him. Kiedis writes his journey both as a person and as a Chili Pepper in great detail, and tells his life story in a way that illustrates a redemption arc that I found to be satisfying. It’s always relieving to hear of someone struggling with addiction and being able to pull themselves out of it. Even if you aren’t the biggest RHCP fan, I definitely recommend this book on the basis of it being a great story of the ups and downs of life, with some famous figures thrown in the mix. – MJ
What Does This Button Do? by Bruce Dickinson
What do a licensed commercial airline pilot, an aviation entrepreneur, a world-class fencer, a craft brewer, a radio personality, and the lead singer of one of the biggest heavy metal acts of all time (Iron Maiden) have in common? They are all the same person, Bruce Dickinson.
What Does This Button Do? is the autobiography of this renaissance man. Employing dry, British wit, Dickinson starts at the beginning, from his humble childhood in post-WWII Britain, to his schooling and early music, then recalls the rise of Iron Maiden and his departure from the band. He details a concert he performed in a war zone, and describes his eventual reunion with Maiden and his own battle with cancer.
Dickinson also writes about his passions outside of music such as aviation, fencing, and brewing beer. Even if you know nothing about Iron Maiden or you’re not a fan, this book is worth a read. Iron Maiden has always been one for theater in their presentation and this book is no different. Dickinson cites specific songs in his book that you can listen to and immerse yourself in while reading. The book includes two sets of photographs taken from behind the scenes, on stage, and from personal documents.
I really couldn’t put this one down. The book is pretty cheap second hand (a quick Google search shows used copies for well under $10). If you prefer audiobooks, Dickinson also narrates his autobiography, which has been widely praised.
Fucking History: 52 Lessons You Should Have Learned in School
F*cking History 111: Lessons You should Have Learned in School
by The Captain, aka Kyle Creek
If I had been taught the way The Captain (aka Kyle Creek) writes about history, I would not only have remembered what I learned in school, I would have gotten much higher grades. I took this book with me on a beach vacation and a retired 88-year-old history teacher asked me to read her a story from it; I gladly obliged. Shortly into reading, I had a crowd of intent listeners. I felt like a school teacher at story time, except I was reading to a group of adults.
Both books have short, 1 ½-2 page historical stories that touch upon life and lessons we can all benefit from. The Captain writes in such a way that you can hear his voice, which I relate to and appreciate. He often uses the word “fuck,” as well as other four-letter words that aren’t written in an offensive manner. I chose the story “Meowless and Browless” for my impromptu story time. It is about Egyptians, their love for cats, and how they mourn their passing. Many of my captivated listeners went on to buy this book. If you want a book to make you laugh and teach you something interesting about history in a nonconventional way, this is the book for you. To quote Kyle Creek, “History allows you to learn from those before you. Who knows, in 100 years, people might study your life to avoid making the same mistakes.”
Fucking History is the OG version and F*cking History is a newer version. Both are available for purchase on Amazon. – KLC
Revenant, By Peter Larrivee
If you like light horror fiction that conjures the adventures of Indiana Jones, a spooky Lara Croft or a ghost-ridden Philip Marlowe, local author Peter Larrivee has some arcane gifts for you. Drawing from the lore of long-ago local horror icon HP Lovecraft, but adding a very modern sensibility and style, these short, fast-moving novels are great quick reads, creepy enough to give you the willies without losing sleep.
Larrivee recently published Icon, an end-of-world prophecy / ancient gods romp. Legend: Haunted, his heroine-trapped-in-a-super-creepy-deserted-(but not quite)-town novella, is also a serious page-turner. My personal favorite from his oeuvre is Revenant, maybe because the hero is a journalist, but also because it is lovingly set in Providence and couldn’t properly take place anywhere else. The city and characters are well crafted and, with a hero who develops the ability to see the deceased, the PVD-darkness vibes stretching across many eras are lovingly brought to life. The momentum of these stories will carry you along effortlessly – perfect yarns to accompany those rolling ocean waves. – MR
Fixer, by Gene Doucette
From the hundreds of books by local authors I’ve indulged in over the years, Gene Doucette’s novels have always stood out to me. Fast-paced and absolutely addictive, they include strong character development as well as action and pithy dialogue. Doucette is prolific, and has several series that cross over in limited ways. I’d recommend his Fixer and Fixer Redux as great ways into his universe. In all his work, only a small suspension of disbelief is usually needed – there’s often a central premise like immortality or time-travel to wrap your head around, but then the internal logic is steadfast and the settings are very detailed real-world, mostly New England.
The Fixer lives in Boston and knows the city like the back of his hand. He also lives slightly in the future on a regular basis, able to see things a few seconds or a few minutes before they happen. The character of Corrigan Bain, Fixer, is as eccentric as his name and is justifiably concerned that his gift may have driven him mad. Or will drive him there. Or did, just now. His sense of humor, at times borrowed from an eighties action movie, keeps things crisp and unmaudlin, making him one of the most enjoyable dark eccentrics you’re likely to read about.
The first novel features a modern-day interaction between Bain’s abilities and a grad student experiment at MIT, alternating with a flash-back story as chilling as anything Steven King dreams up. The sequel sees our retired fixer pulled back into the saving business by a series of bombs that seem to be placed deliberately in situations he cannot foresee – a game of cat-and-mouse with someone else who has an unusual relationship with the future.
Both are very difficult to put down, careening from internal crisis to external crisis and back again in a way that inspires the “just two more pages” effect. I’ve gotten most of my relatives addicted to them, and it’s a wonder to me no one’s tried to make an action movie out of these yet (hint, hint, Hollywood!).
Great beach reads if you don’t mind leaving the beach a little late because you were finishing a chapter.
A Court of Thorns and Roses, by Sarah J. Maas
ACOTAR – my new love language. Maas introduced me to my first fantasy read since the main Harry Potter series ended, and now I can happily say I am a fan of the Fae. Before I recommend this book to our readers, I have to issue a warning – this will be the beginning of your newest obsession, and a 17-book sort-of connected multiverse with more titles already under contract. And yes, I did read almost 3,000 pages of this series in less than three weeks. Don’t look at me like that. I was on that like a seagull on a fresh, unattended bag of french fries. Nineteen-year-old Feyre Archeron has to hunt to survive, and keep her motherless, fallen-from-riches family alive. When she chooses the wrong dinner, she gets handed an ultimatum that seems lose-lose: either get ripped apart or submit your life to the Fae on the other side of the wall – the land of no return for humans like Feyre. So basically, die now or die slowly. The obvious choice of any budding heroine is to try to “beat the system,” and Feyre is no exception. She travels across the barrier and is met with the wildly unexpected. A quick few hundred pages later, you’re in love with multiple main-ish characters and at least a couple of main characters. The action part of this fantasy really starts driving the storyline and John Lennon starts singing “All You Need Is Love” on repeat in your head. Maas does a phenomenal job at world-building, at a tasteful and digestible pace, even for the newest fantasy reader like myself in this Goodreads Choice Awards and New York Times Best Seller. This book also comes in graphic audio, which is super cool and very well cast, in my humble, slightly-spicy, book-loving opinion. Bonus: It has been optioned by Hulu for a series adaptation! – VL
Adversary, by Brian Shovelton
Brian Shovelton has spent years making a name for himself as a musician. Though he has always written, it wasn’t until recently that he started publishing his work. Adversary, his third release and first novel, was recently published by Legitimate Business Press.
“Adversary is the story of Daniel Jameson,” Shovelton describes. “He is an alcoholic and frustrated musician who has always had strange dreams. As an adult, odd things would begin to happen to him. He finds out he comes from a celestial bloodline and the fate of all existence is determined by his actions.”
Shovelton always had a knack for writing, using it as a way to get the “bad stuff inside of me out,” when he was a teenager. Writing became an important tool during his 20s when he went through a dark period of addiction and homelessness.
“I turned to writing as a way to validate myself and express the hopelessness I felt at that point,” Shovelton says.
Shovelton had pieces of poetry published in small underground newspapers. He released two books in 2022, Out With the Bath Water in January and We All Sing to Our Demons in Different Keys in July. The first is a collection of essays, poems and short stories, while the latter compiles memoirist stories based on his life.
“It’s actually constant,” Shovelton says of his writing process. “I carry around a small notebook everywhere. I jot down random ideas or snatches of conversation I overhear. When I need a new idea or lyric, I have stuff to fall back on. I spend a lot of time listening to just the sound of life in general. It all goes into my word soup.”
Adversary was inspired by unusual dreams and experiences that Shovelton would have when he was younger. Eventually, he felt like the story was writing itself and he was in the passenger seat. He didn’t know where the characters would go next. Seeing the messes that they got themselves into was his favorite part of writing the novel.
“I feel like I sort of take dictation from something outside me if that makes sense,” Shovelton says. “I just have to pay attention.”
Though both are creative forms, Shovelton says that being a musician is different in many ways. The two mediums each offer paths to get a message across, music being more immediate and visceral.
“Being a writer is more of hoping someone relates to the thoughts in my mind. It takes longer to get a response, but both are something I couldn’t live without,” he says of the differences.
Shovelton notes that there are similarities on the business side – that being a musician prepared him to get his writing published.
“It made me more prepared because I can smell bullshit a mile away now,” he says. “It also gave me the confidence to stick to my guns when it comes to making decisions. After all my years in the music business, I’m able to see things more clearly.”
Shovelton plans to stay busy with writing and music. Adversary has received a positive response and he’s working on obtaining an agent to take his writing to a larger audience and give him more opportunities. He is about to start recording his new solo album and plays many live shows.
“The last few years have been a weird ride,” he says. “I’m going to try my best to make things even weirder in the future.” – BF
It Happened One Summer, by Tessa Bailey
Small town romance with a grumpy-sunshine, enemies-to-lovers main couple? Yes, please! Meet Piper, your typical trust fund party girl – picture Alexis from Schitt’s Creek. Meet Brendan, the exact opposite – obviously. At a quick 385 pages, and the first in a duet, Tessa Bailey casts a line and reels you in with finesse, all while you forget to reapply sunscreen and turn the color of a freshly-steamed lobster. Piper’s world comes crashing down around her because of – what else – a boy, and the aforementioned trust fund gets ripped away like a boogie board at Second Beach.
Piper and her sister Hannah, get sent away from the “Hollywood Hottie” lifestyle and dropped in the middle of a coastal town with a thing for fishing – and fishermen, to bring their dad’s old bar back to life. I guess you could call Piper a fish out of water. Widowed crab boat captain and local bar regular, Brendan, doesn’t believe the sisters can handle the task set out before them, and Piper is determined to prove him and everyone wrong.
This unlikely pair, of course, jumps right into the emotional deep end within fifteen minutes of knowing each other. At the very beginning of the book, you get to know Piper from an outsider’s perspective, and I promise, you will hate her. That being said, you will also grow to love her that much more throughout this clichè-in-the-best-way romcom.
The spice in this book will have you blushing like a schoolgirl and looking around to see who’s watching you, all while telling yourself “just one more chapter.” – VL
Good Vibes, Good Life, by Vex King
I’ve been going through a phase recently where I’ve been super into reading these self-improvement-esque books that have the usual motivational messages: Be You! Be Amazing! Stop Being Hard on Yourself! While these books and messages have the best intentions in the world, they very rarely (in my opinion) actually seem to help. I’ve read lots of self-help books that are just so unrelatable to my own life, and I’ve noticed how un-self-helpful they really can be. However, Good Vibes, Good Life is the first self-help book I’ve read in a while that actually clicked with my brain and spirit. Vex King centers a lot of his messaging around the concept of humans being vibrational beings, and each action people take holds a certain vibration. Thus, to have higher vibrations, you have to take certain steps and think within certain mentalities. So, it’s a self-help book that teaches you how to take little steps to raise your vibrations, and all of these little steps add up to some huge vibrational increases. Also, it has fun little graphics and poems! If you’re looking for tangible ways to bring your energy up and improve your mental health, definitely give this book a try. – MJ
Human Blues, by Elisa Albert
I’m going to start this recommendation off with some brutal honesty: when I read this book, I really didn’t have much love for it. In fact, I rated it a whopping 2.5 stars in a TikTok I made about my January 2023 reads. I primarily was not a fan of how long the chapters were, how awkward the chapter breaks were, and the scattered writing style, which made it a bit difficult for my busy brain to easily pick up and down. However, the more I sat on this book, the more it grew on me. Human Blues is a story about a young female musician who is struggling with her fertility journey. Elisa Albert takes a deep dive into the world of assisted reproductive technology, and illustrates her protagonist, Aviva’s, desire to have a baby clashing with these technologies, and vice versa. The more I sat on Human Blues, the more I appreciated the complexity of the story, and how I probably just wasn’t appreciating it because it’s not something I’ve experienced – but it’s so important in today’s world. Plus, the more I thought about what I didn’t like about the story, I realized how realistic and true those flaws are to life. Life’s chapters are not laid out simply and easily, and our lives are not written seamlessly – everyone’s a little scattered (right?).*
*Or, this was just an out-of-pocket interpretation, and the writing style really just wasn’t for me. If for no other reason, definitely check this book out for Albert’s portrayal of how individuals often struggle with trying to have children even when they desperately want them. – MJ
Kitchen Confidential, by Anthony Bourdain
I know what you’re probably thinking this, and yes, I am late to the Anthony Bourdain party. When I heard about his passing in 2018, I remember seeing the internet’s extremely emotional reaction. I had recognized his name, face, and involvement in the culinary world, but I was quite young when he was at a peak in his fame (spoiler alert: I was a baby), so I never truly understood how important of a figure he was. However, now that I’m an adult who loves cooking and I have worked my way up the ladder in the restaurant industry, I’ve become a lot more familiar with his likeness, and was moved enough to read Kitchen Confidential. I think there’s a strong sense of community among folks that work in restaurants, especially if they’ve done it for a really long time. There’s a universal language, habits that are shared, cultures that are present, stereotypical individuals that pass through. Restaurant workers recognize restaurant workers, and the community is strengthened by this recognition.
Reading Bourdain’s book was enjoyable in a way that restaurant people will really appreciate. I read his struggles and experiences, and I’ve seen them in people I’ve spent years with. His love for food I see in others as well as in myself. There’s a palpable appreciation for the ‘culinary underbelly,’ as he calls it. Even for people who haven’t worked in a restaurant, the book is a super fun, refreshing way to learn about restaurant life and culinary education. Plus, it’s a great way to learn why he didn’t order fish on Mondays. – MJ
Mexican Gothic, by Sylvia Moreno-Garcia
Picture this: the waves crashing, the sun steaming while you’re wrapped up in a tropical horror. Sylvia Moreno-Garcia’s Mexican Gothic paints a Lovecraftian scene for readers to be engrossed in all while enjoying the comfort of Mexico’s tropical climate. The main character Noemi is both hateable and entirely sympathizable, giving callbacks to characters like Jennifer Checkof Jennifer’s Body or Scream queen Sydney Prescott. She is a woman thriving in a world designed to objectify her.
Moreno-Garcia uses this constant turmoil as the backbone to some of the more chilling scenes in this piece. This final girl is not only fighting for herself, she is fighting for her family and for the space she exists in, but her success (and it’s easy to demonize her for this) is heavily rooted in being a cynical manipulator. This psychological warfare gives callbacks to the Yellow Wallpaper, as the horror roots itself in Moreno-Garcia’s descriptive language. The psychological aspects of this thriller go as far as to debase the underlying romance of the thriller, making us question just how much of this is love or Stockholm syndrome? Unfortunately I can’t speak to this story without addressing its most common criticism: it is a Mexican version of a story you have read before. I would disagree as Moreno-Garcia cleverly uses the staple cliches of the Horror genre as literary devices to further the discussion of eugenics, autonomy, and colonialism that our main character directly discusses at times. This book is beachside horror at its peak. – ZM
Don’t forget some well-established local scribes who are constantly producing solid material:
Storyteller (and former editor) Mark Binder has recently relseased The Bed Time Story Book for the kids.
Dr. Michael Fine, RI’s former director of the Health Department and fiction writer, has a number of tomes on how to overhaul the health care system, most recently On Medicine as Colonialism, but also offers Rhode Island Stories, a lighter take with heartfelt short stories and profiles. And performance artist Eli Nixon has a beach read about the beach, called Bloodtide. Dedicated to horseshoe crabs and their lenghty secret history, it’s more of an activity book than a straight read, but can be a great summer diversion, especially for the little ones