AWM Staff Picks June 2023

AWM Staff Picks: June 2023

Reading Recommendations from the staff of the American Writers Museum.

We can’t recommend these books highly enough! Check back every month for more reading recommendations, from classics that we reread over and over to new favorites. If you’re looking for your next book, you came to the right place.

Our June staff picks are also available on, which benefits independent bookstores. We also strongly encourage you to support your local bookstore by visiting them in person or ordering online through them directly.

The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes by Suzanne Collins book cover

The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes by Suzanne Collins

From the publisher: “It is the morning of the reaping that will kick off the tenth annual Hunger Games. In the Capitol, eighteen-year-old Coriolanus Snow is preparing for his one shot at glory as a mentor in the Games. The once-mighty house of Snow has fallen on hard times, its fate hanging on the slender chance that Coriolanus will be able to outcharm, outwit, and outmaneuver his fellow students to mentor the winning tribute. The odds are against him. He’s been given the humiliating assignment of mentoring the female tribute from District 12, the lowest of the low. Their fates are now completely intertwined—every choice Coriolanus makes could lead to favor or failure, triumph or ruin. Inside the arena, it will be a fight to the death. Outside the arena, Coriolanus starts to feel for his doomed tribute…and must weigh his need to follow the rules against his desire to survive no matter what it takes.”

—Matt, Social Media Coordinator

Boyslut by Zachary Zane book cover

Boyslut: A Memoir and Manifesto by Zachary Zane

From the publisher: “Boyslut is a series of personal and tantalizing essays that articulate how our society still shames people for the sex that they have and the sexualities that they inhabit. Through the lens of his bisexuality and much self-described sluttiness, Zane breaks down exactly how this sexual shame negatively impacts the sex and relationships in our lives, and through personal experience, shares how we can unlearn the harmful, entrenched messages that society imparts to us…Boyslut is reassuring and often painfully funny—but is most potently a testimony that we can all learn to live healthier lives unburdened by stigma.

We had the pleasure of hosting Zane on June 6, 2023 at the American Writers Museum to read and discuss Boyslut, followed by a book signing. You can watch the program here, or listen to it on the AWM Author Talks podcast.

—Nate, Digital Content Associate

The Diamond Eye by Kate Quinn book cover

The Diamond Eye by Kate Quinn

From the publisher: “Given a rifle and sent to join the fight, Mila Pavlichenko must forge herself from studious girl to deadly sniper—a lethal hunter of Nazis known as Lady Death. When news of her 300th kill makes her a national heroine, Mila is sent to America on a goodwill tour. Still reeling from war wounds and devastated by loss, Mila finds herself isolated and lonely in the glittering world of Washington, D.C.—until an unexpected friendship with First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt and an even more unexpected connection with a silent fellow sniper offer the possibility of happiness. But when an old enemy from Mila’s past joins forces with a deadly new foe lurking in the shadows, Lady Death finds herself battling her own demons and enemy bullets in the deadliest duel of her life. Based on a true story.”

—Christopher, Director of Operations

The Great Believers by Rebecca Makkai book cover

The Great Believers by Rebecca Makkai

From the publisher: “In 1985, Yale Tishman, the development director for an art gallery in Chicago, is about to pull off an amazing coup, bringing in an extraordinary collection of 1920s paintings as a gift to the gallery. Yet as his career begins to flourish, the carnage of the AIDS epidemic grows around him. One by one, his friends are dying and after his friend Nico’s funeral, the virus circles closer and closer to Yale himself. Soon the only person he has left is Fiona, Nico’s little sister. Thirty years later, Fiona is in Paris tracking down her estranged daughter who disappeared into a cult. While staying with an old friend, a famous photographer who documented the Chicago crisis, she finds herself finally grappling with the devastating ways AIDS affected her life and her relationship with her daughter. The two intertwining stories take us through the heartbreak of the eighties and the chaos of the modern world, as both Yale and Fiona struggle to find goodness in the midst of disaster.”

—Nate, Digital Content Associate

Jack Absolute Flies Again by Richard Bean and Oliver Chris book cover

Jack Absolute Flies Again by Richard Bean and Oliver Chris

From the publisher: “July 1940. After an aerial dog fight, Pilot Officer Jack Absolute flies home to win the heart of his old flame, Lydia Languish. Back on British soil, Jack’s advances soon turn to anarchy when the young heiress demands to be loved on her own, very particular, terms. Richard Brinsley Sheridan’s classic comedy of manners, The Rivals, is given an uproarious Battle of Britain update by Richard Bean and Oliver Chris. In 2011, Richard Bean became the first playwright to win the Evening Standard Award for Best Play for two plays, The Heretic and One Man, Two Guvnors. This edition was published to coincide with the world premiere at the National Theatre, London, in July 2022.”

—Matt, Social Media Coordinator

Lady Tan's Circle of Women by Lisa See book cover

Lady Tan’s Circle of Women by Lisa See

From the publisher: “Tan Yunxian’s grandmother is one of only a handful of female doctors in China, and she teaches Yunxian the pillars of Chinese medicine, the Four Examinations—looking, listening, touching, and asking—something a man can never do with a female patient. But when Yunxian is sent into an arranged marriage, her mother-in-law forbids her from helping the women and girls in the household. How might a woman like Yunxian break free of these traditions, go on to treat women and girls from every level of society, and lead a life of such importance that many of her remedies are still used five centuries later? Lady Tan’s Circle of Women is a captivating story of women helping other women. It is also a triumphant reimagining of the life of a woman who was remarkable in the Ming dynasty and would be considered remarkable today.”

We had the please of hosting See on June 12 at the American Writers Museum to discuss Lady Tan’s Circle of Women, followed by a book signing.

—Nate, Digital Content Associate

Little Thieves by Margaret Owen book cover

Little Thieves by Margaret Owen

From the publisher: “Vanja Schmidt, the adopted goddaughter of Death and Fortune, was Princess Gisele’s dutiful servant up until a year ago. That was when Vanja’s otherworldly mothers demanded a terrible price for their care, and Vanja decided to steal her future back by stealing Gisele’s life for herself…Now, Vanja leads a lonely but lucrative double life as princess and jewel thief, charming nobility while emptying their coffers to fund her great escape. Then, one heist away from freedom, Vanja crosses the wrong god and is cursed to an untimely end: turning into jewels, stone by stone, for her greed. Vanja has just two weeks to figure out how to break her curse and make her getaway. And with a feral guardian half-god, Gisele’s sinister fiancé, and an overeager junior detective on Vanja’s tail, she’ll have to pull the biggest grift yet to save her own life.”

—Allison, Program Director

Monsters: A Fan's Dilemma by Claire Dederer book cover

Monsters: A Fan’s Dilemma by Claire Dederer

From the publisher: “A timely, passionate, provocative, blisteringly smart interrogation of how we make and experience art in the age of cancel culture, and of the link between genius and monstrosity. Can we love the work of controversial classic and contemporary artists but dislike the artist? Dederer explores the audience’s relationship with artists from Michael Jackson to Virginia Woolf, asking: How do we balance our undeniable sense of moral outrage with our equally undeniable love of the work? Is male monstrosity the same as female monstrosity? And if an artist is also a mother, does one identity inexorably, and fatally, interrupt the other? In a more troubling vein, she wonders if an artist needs to be a monster in order to create something great. Does genius deserve special dispensation? Does art have a mandate to depict the darker elements of the psyche? And what happens if the artist stares too long into the abyss?”

—Cristina, Guest Services & Operations Supervisor

My Sister, the Serial Killer by Oyinkan Braithwaite book cover

My Sister, the Serial Killer by Oyinkan Braithwaite

From the publisher: “Korede’s sister Ayoola is many things: the favorite child, the beautiful one, possibly sociopathic. And now Ayoola’s third boyfriend in a row is dead, stabbed through the heart with Ayoola’s knife. Korede’s practicality is the sisters’ saving grace. She knows the best solutions for cleaning blood (bleach, bleach, and more bleach), the best way to move a body (wrap it in sheets like a mummy), and she keeps Ayoola from posting pictures to Instagram when she should be mourning her ‘missing’ boyfriend. Not that she gets any credit .Korede has long been in love with a kind, handsome doctor at the hospital where she works. She dreams of the day when he will realize that she’s exactly what he needs. But when he asks Korede for Ayoola’s phone number, she must reckon with what her sister has become and how far she’s willing to go to protect her.”

—Nate, Digital Content Associate

My Stupid Life by Mitch Clem

My Stupid Life by Mitch Clem

From the publisher: “Portrait of the artist as a punk in his twenties— a dirtbag, a pervert, a wreck. A geek, obsessed with comics and music. You’ll laugh, you’ll cringe. You’ll wish you couldn’t relate. You’ll crank the volume all the way up and annoy the neighbors. This is a compendium of Mitch Clem’s 2006-2013 run of hilarious, cult-adored autobiographical comics. It collects the complete archives of My Stupid Life, its predecessor, San Antonio Rock City, and more.

—Cassidy, Guest Services/Operations Assistant

Number One Chinese Restaurant by Lillian Li book cover

Number One Chinese Restaurant by Lillian Li

From the publisher: “An exuberant and wise multigenerational debut novel about the complicated lives and loves of people working in everyone’s favorite Chinese restaurant…Owner Jimmy Han hopes to leave his late father’s homespun establishment for a fancier one. Jimmy’s older brother, Johnny, and Johnny’s daughter, Annie, ache to return to a time before a father’s absence and a teenager’s silence pushed them apart. Nan and Ah-Jack, longtime Duck House employees, are tempted to turn their thirty-year friendship into something else, even as Nan’s son, Pat, struggles to stay out of trouble. And when Pat and Annie, caught in a mix of youthful lust and boredom, find themselves in a dangerous game that implicates them in the Duck House tragedy, their families must decide how much they are willing to sacrifice to help their children. Number One Chinese Restaurant is generous in spirit, unaffected in its intelligence, multi-voiced, poignant, and darkly funny.”

—Nate, Digital Content Associate

Scorched Grace: A Sister Holiday Mystery by Margot Douaihy book cover

Scorched Grace: A Sister Holiday Mystery by Margot Douaihy

From the publisher: “Sister Holiday, a chain-smoking, heavily tattooed, queer nun, puts her amateur sleuthing skills to the test in this debut crime novel. When Saint Sebastian’s School becomes the target of a shocking arson spree, the Sisters of the Sublime Blood and their surrounding New Orleans community are thrust into chaos. Patience is a virtue, but punk rocker turned nun Sister Holiday isn’t satisfied to just wait around for officials to return her home and sanctuary to its former peace, instead deciding to unveil the mysterious attacker herself. Her investigation leads her down a twisty path of suspicion and secrets, turning her against colleagues, students, and even fellow Sisters along the way. And to piece together the clues of this high-stakes mystery, she must at last reckon with the sins of her own past.”

—Sam, Storyteller

Those Who Saw the Sun edited by Jaha Nailah Avery book cover

Those Who Saw the Sun: African American Oral Histories from the Jim Crow South edited by Jaha Nailah Avery

From the publisher: “A collection of oral histories told by Black people who grew up in the South during the time of Jim Crow…One of the most important things a culture can do is preserve history, truthfully. In Those Who Saw the Sun we have the special experience of hearing this history as it was experienced by those who were really there. The opportunity to read their stories, their similarities and differences, where they agree and disagree, and where they overcame obstacles and found joy—feels truly like a gift.”

We are excited to host Avery on June 19 at the American Writers Museum as part of our Juneteenth celebrations. Register for this free in-person program here.

—Nate, Digital Content Associate

Tress of the Emerald Sea: A Cosmere Novel by Brandon Sanderson book cover

Tress of the Emerald Sea: A Cosmere Novel by Brandon Sanderson

When Brandon Sanderson announced his four secret projects on Kickstarter in 2022, let’s just say my interest was piqued. I love Sanderson, and he definitely did not disappoint me with Secret Project #1: Tress of the Emerald Sea. Now available to the world, Tress is part fairy tale, part adventure story, part Sanderson likes to play with narrative styles. It follows Tress, a girl who loves cups and lives on a small island in the ocean, as she embarks on an epic adventure to save her true love. It is a delightful and easy read that made me excited to keep going. I particularly love that Tress is a woman who does not need to give up her feminine side or her practicality to be an engaging protagonist. I’d recommend this to anyone who likes things like The Princess Bride or The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.

—Ari, Assistant Director, Operations & Exhibits

Tripmaster Monkey: His Fake Book by Maxine Hong Kingston

Tripmaster Monkey: His Fake Book by Maxine Hong Kingston

From the Library of America: “Kingston’s third book, Tripmaster Monkey: His Fake Book (1989), is the wildly inventive story of Wittman Ah Sing, a Berkeley graduate student whose experience of the San Francisco Beat scene transforms his understanding of his own Chinese heritage.”

—Christopher, Director of Operations

You Need to Chill by Juno Dawson book cover

You Need to Chill! by Juno Dawson, illustrated by Laura Hughes

From the publisher: “A delightfully endearing debut picture book by bestselling author and activist Juno Dawson in which a sister proves to be an LGBTQ ally when answering everyone’s questions about where her brother Bill has gone. When Bill can’t be found at school one day, the imaginations of the other children run wild. Is he on vacation? Is he lost in the park? Has he been eaten by a shark? It’s up to Bill’s sister to explain that everyone needs to chill. Juno Dawson’s debut LGBTQ children’s book is a witty and fun-filled rhyming story about family, identity, and acceptance. Bold, joyful, and warm-hearted, this inclusive children’s book’s message shines through on every page.

We are excited to host Dawson on June 22 at the American Writers Museum to discuss You Need to Chill!, followed by a book signing. Get tickets for the in-person program here, or register for the livestream link here.

—Nate, Digital Content Associate

Visit our Reading Recommendations page for more book lists.

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