1. Man V. Nature by Diane Cook
I couldn't pry myself away from Man V. Nature, the short story collection by Diane Cook, in which she creates a series of slightly off-kilter realities and the unremarkable characters who inhabit them — the miserly neighbor in a post-flood dystopia, the 11-year-old boys who have been declared "not-needed", the young women whose house is swarmed after a span of good luck. It's about all of the ways we define survival, from emotional perseverance to the actual physical strength needed, say, to outrun an unnamed monster. The stories are grim, violent, and darkly funny, but never so far removed from our most human urges to seem TOTALLY implausible. —Arianna Rebolini
2. A Brief History of Seven Killings by Marlon James
A Brief History of Seven Killings is a stunning achievement from Jamaican author Marlon James. It is an epic that pulls together myriad voices and stories to narrate a history of violence in Kingston, Jamaica, and how that violence spreads and seeps outward across communities, throughout decades, and past national boundaries.
Beginning with the attempted assassination of Bob Marley in 1976, A Brief History of Seven Killings takes us through two decades and a multitude of lives. We hear tales told by ghosts, magazine writers, gang members, nurses, and more--characters who feel real and three-dimensional, fascinating us as they disturb us. The book thrills on a visceral level, full of plot, excitement, and (often dark) humor, while never letting us forget how its stories are driven by power and its corruption, violence and its consequences.
A Brief History of Seven Killings is an ambitious, destabilizing, and awesome — as in both purely rad and genuinely awe-inspiring. Read it now. —Isaac Fitzgerald
3. Beyond the Pale Motel by Francesca Lia Block
I've been reading Francesca Lia Block's works since I was a kid (maybe you've heard of her Weetzie Bat series, which stands as work of iconic '90s literature). She's known for crafting dark YA, but her latest novel, Beyond the Pale Motel, is definitely for grown-ups only. Set in the trendy Silver Lake and Echo Park neighborhoods of L.A., the story follows Catt, a sober hairdresser whose husband suddenly leaves her. Meanwhile, a murderer is terrorizing Hollywood. Catt's life begins to spiral — a spiral that includes some incredibly steamy, X-rated sex scenes — and she becomes convinced that the killer is hunting her best friend. Reading this erotic thriller is like floating in and out of an intensely sexy and terrifying dream. That is to say, a dream that is super entertaining. —Leonora Epstein
4. Yes Please by Amy Poehler
We're lucky to learn from the joy and wisdom of Amy Poehler in her book Yes Please. Poehler's writing is just as bubbly and determined as she is, and Yes Please is chock-full of super useful pieces of life advice, as well as detailed insights into Poehler's life and career. With photos, quotes, and worksheets throughout, it'll keep you thinking and laughing the entire time. (Resist the temptation to compare this book to Tina Fey's or Mindy Kaling's or Lena Dunham's, because they're each wonderfully unique women who bring something special to your bookshelves.) Clear your schedule, then pick up a copy today. Just like a Parks and Rec marathon, you won't want it to end! —Sami Main
5. Ugly Girls by Lindsay Hunter
Ugly Girls is far and away one of my favorite books of 2014. It tells the story of Baby Girl and Perry, two young women trying to define themselves as well as their friendship against the backdrop of suburban poverty. Lindsay Hunter's incredible mastery of language and storytelling is on full display in this debut novel, which also interweaves the voices of an alcoholic mother, a prison guard, and a threatening internet stalker. Ugly Girls is gritty and realistic, beautiful and deranged. The more Baby Girl and Perry spiral out of control, the closer the reader is drawn into this devastating tale of America. —Isaac Fitzgerald