1.Helium by Rudy Francisco
Rudy Francisco is a moving spoken word poet who even appeared on The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon. According to his website, "Rudy Francisco is an amalgamation of social critique, introspection, honesty and humor. He uses personal narratives to discuss the politics of race, class, gender and religion while simultaneously pinpointing and reinforcing the interconnected nature of human existence."
Sometimes, poems by spoken word poets are amazing to listen to, but their poems fall flat when simply reading them. That is not the case with Helium. Francisco's poems are impactful whether you're listening to them or just reading them. If you would like to hear some of his poems before buying the book, I recommend watching his Youtube videos. Start with his poem, "Rifle" which you can find here.
2.Death By Discount by Mary Vermillion
If you want to lose yourself in a murder mystery, Death by Discount is the one for you. Mary Vermillion, a Professor of English at Mount Mercy University, started working on the series as a way to take a break from her academic writing. The main character, Mara Gilgannon, discovers her aunt has been murdered in as a result of a possible hate crime. Mara then takes it upon herself to discover who did it.
This book has great LGBTQ+ representation and an interesting sub-narrative of what happens to small towns when huge corporations like Walmart move in. You can find an in-depth review of the book on The Mark's website here and an interview with Vermillion here.
3.Beach Read by Emily Henry
This romance novel was released in mid-March of this 2020. The novel follows January Andrews, a bestselling romance writer, as she moves into her father's old beach house. She spends the summer living next to Augustus Everett, an acclaimed author of literary fiction. The only problem is, they're both in a bit of a writing slump. So, they dare each other to write the other's genre. Augustus will spend the summer writing a fluffy romance and January will write the next great American novel.
This novel pulls you in from the very beginning (and the steamier bits will probably get you to stick around). It's the perfect book to help you escape from real life.
4.We the Interwoven: An Anthology of Bicultural Iowa
This is a series produced by the Bicultural Iowa Writers' Fellowship. The first two volumes have been released, with a third on the way. The series spotlights writers who tell their stories of being immigrants in the United States. The stories are full of trial and hardship, but also joy and human triumph. One amazing feature of the collections is that the stories are published in English and the writer's native language.
The Iowa Writers' House, which oversees the Bicultural Iowa Writers' Fellowship, has experienced some hardship in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic. Andrea Wilson, Founder and Executive Director of the Iowa Writers' House addressed the issue in a statement on the Writers' House's website. She wrote, "...the impact of COVID-19 has been great...After five wonderful years at our historic house on Davenport Street, the organization will be leaving the space and taking a break to assess our mission and consider our best options for the future." Consider ordering their books to help the fellowship continue. If you have interest in reading the series, take a look at the store here.
5.The City We Became by N.K. Jemisin
This fantasy series will draw you in and keep you entertained for hours. The City We Became basically follows the premise that each city is "born" at one time or another. When cities are born, a human is normally chosen as an "avatar" that helps guide the city and protect it from harm as it matures. In this story, New York City has chosen six avatars. Five of the characters represent each of New York City's boroughs: Manhattan, the Bronx, Staten Island, Brooklyn, and Queens. The remaining avatar represents New York City as a whole.
When New York City is attacked by the dreaded "Woman in White," the avatars must all come together and fight her attempts to force New York City into a "stillbirth." Guided by the last city to be born, São Paulo, can they defeat her and help New York City thrive? Written by a three-time Hugo Award winner, you won't want to pass this book up. You can read a full review of The City We Became on The Mark's website here.
6. Circe by Madeline Miller
This story is full of Greek mythology, but you don't have to be a mythology whiz to read it. Circe is the child of Helios, god of the sun and the strongest of all the Titans. However, Circe is not powerful like her father or beautiful like her mother. Rejected by her family, she looks to humans for companionship. She then discovers she has the power of witchcraft, and, after Zeus feels threatened by her, he banishes her to a deserted island.
As she lives on the island, she encounters many different mythological figures, like the Minotaur, Daedalus and Icarus, and even Odysseus. This novel offers rounded characters, suspense, love, and loss. It is one to put on your "to be read" list for sure.