17 fiction books that feature fresh starts and new beginnings

17 fiction books that feature fresh starts and new beginnings

I love new beginnings. A blank page, a new project, a fresh season. Emily Dickinson said it best: “I dwell in possibility.”

I’ve read countless nonfiction books that push me from possibility into action. But this year, instead of poring over self-help guidebooks, I’m turning to fiction for inspiration.

This month in the Modern Mrs. Darcy book club community, we’re reading The Late Bloomers’ Club by Louise Miller. It’s a small town tale about two sisters who unexpectedly inherit a house, land, and a whole bunch of problems. Louise Miller knows how to write a charming, hilarious, and inspiring “fresh start,” and I can’t wait to talk with her on January 28th at 12 pm EST. Book club members have already started sharing their questions in our forums, and I’m excited to hear Louise Miller’s answers.

In our winter book club classes, we’re creating our own fresh starts by learning how to cultivate a reading life you love. Last week, we talked about “taking the temperature of your reading life.” That class is available for members to watch anytime. Tomorrow January 14th at 7pm EST, I’ll walk you through setting your reading intentions and finding out what YOU want from your reading life. We’d love to see you there. Join the MMD book club community for access to these events and our entire catalog of past author chats and classes.

Inspired by our current book club selection, I’m sharing a list of fiction books that feature fresh starts, new beginnings, and second chances. Most of these books fall on the lighter side, though some deal with heavier themes. The main characters find themselves on the brink of big changes or at the entrance of new life phases.

If you’re feeling the need for a vicarious fresh start, I hope you find your next great read (or a few exciting library holds) on this list today.

17 fictional fresh starts

The Storied Life of A. J. Fikry

The Storied Life of A. J. Fikry

Author:
This is the story of an endearingly cranky bookseller and how his life changed when an unexpected package showed up at his bookshop. For devoted readers, this book is a wonderful reminder of the power of books, and how they can bring people together. But be warned: this book can explode your to-be-read list. At the beginning of each chapter, the narrator recommends a book—or sometimes, a short story—to his daughter, describing what it’s about and why she’ll enjoy it. (He’s a bookseller: he can’t help himself.) A book for book lovers and an engrossing story about second chances. More info →
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Garden Spells

Garden Spells

Combine a fresh start in a small town with a little romance and magic, and you have a page-turner. Like all the women in her family, Claire Waverly possesses a unique magic: she uses edible flowers to prepare foods that affect the eater in "curious ways." Years ago, Claire's sister fled town—and her Waverly gift—but she discovers her own sort of magic when she returns. What to say about this book? The romance is cheesy, the magic is impossible, but put them together and it sings. A few love scenes are a little racy (ahem). If you're not down with supernatural food or a magical apple tree, skip this one—but you should know how many readers call this "a wonderful surprise." More info →
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The Blue Castle

The Blue Castle

Author:
This lesser-known L.M. Montgomery novel is, in my opinion, an underrated classic. Valancy Stirling is a certified spinster; she's 29, unmarried, and living with her overbearing family. She finds her escape in books, dreaming of The Blue Castle, a setting in one of her favorite novels by John Foster. Valancy struggles to speak her mind, until some shocking news causes her to reevaluate everything. She stands up to her family, goes after her dreams, and truly blossoms. Her romantic journey, coupled with gorgeous descriptions of the Canadian setting, make this the perfect classic to encourage your own fresh start. More info →
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Their Eyes Were Watching God

Their Eyes Were Watching God

This classic is full of fresh starts as Janie Crawford experiences love and loss in 1920s Florida. Known as Hurston's best work, this story about expectations, marriage, and unexpected love is richly atmospheric. A classic for a reason, with a main character you'll never forget. In fact, echoes of Janie Crawford can be seen in contemporary literature, like Salvage the Bones by Jesmyn Ward. I highly recommend listening to the audiobook version, narrated by Ruby Dee, to fully experience Hurston's talent for writing dialect. More info →
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The Late Bloomers’ Club

The Late Bloomers’ Club

Author:
Our January pick for the MMD Book Club. Pastry chef and author Miller takes her readers to Guthrie, Vermont in her feel-good novel about following your dreams … after finally figuring out what it is you actually want. Nora Huckleberry (that name!) has lived in the same small town all her life, where she raised her baby sister and ran the family diner alongside her dad. When Peggy the cake maker unexpectedly dies, Nora and her sister inherit a house, land, and a host of complications——including the handsome man who wants to buy Peggy's property to build a big-box store. Everyone in town has an opinion about what Nora should do. If you like the sound of two headstrong sisters, small town vibes, and plenty of food, this may be your perfect novel. More info →
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The Lager Queen of Minnesota

The Lager Queen of Minnesota

Author:
I loved this book on audio. (I listened and walked six miles just so I could get to the end!) The story follows several generations of a Minnesota family as they establish themselves in the brewing industry—and fall to pieces in the process. A novel of family, Midwestern values, hard work, fate and the secrets of making a world-class beer. Despite the family feud and plenty of tense moments, the tone is relentlessly hopeful, and the story hugely readable. A heads up: Kitchens of the Great Midwest is our MMD book club pick for February. More info →
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The Great Alone

The Great Alone

Author:
A riveting coming-of-age story featuring a fabulous setting, amazing female leads, and ultimate redemption. It’s 1974, and Leni Allbright’s father Ernt, a former Vietnam POW, suffers from terrifying PTSD. The family moves to Alaska in search of a fresh start, but they're utterly unprepared for the harsh reality that greets them. As winter draws near and darkness closes in, Ernt’s mental health deteriorates, with disastrous consequences for the family and community. Yet Leni will survive—and maybe even thrive. More info →
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Writers & Lovers

Writers & Lovers

Author:
I recommended this to Sarah Bessey in WSIRN episode 211. This much-anticipated follow-up to King’s award-winning 2014 novel Euphoria follows Casey Peabody, who is mourning the sudden death of her mother plus a messy break-up in 1997 Massachusetts. Lost without direction, 31-year-old Casey waits tables to make ends meet while she works on her novel in a tiny, dingy rented room. While her friends have given up on their artistic ambitions in favor of stability and the next phase of life, Casey still harbors creative dreams and firmly grasps her youth. When she finds herself in the middle of a love triangle, it becomes all the more difficult to balance her art with "real life," and she just might reach her breaking point. This book was slow to hook me, but once I was in, I was IN. It also has one of the most satisfying endings I've read in ages. In fact, the "new beginnings" appear at the end of this book rather than being the catalyst for the story. I just finished a re-read (on audio this time, narrated by Stacey Glemboski) a few days ago, and loved it so much, again. More info →
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Evvie Drake Starts Over

Evvie Drake Starts Over

Author:
Our MMD flight pick for January, by Pop Culture Happy Hour host Linda Holmes. A grieving widow and a disgraced Major League pitcher start over after each suffers their own kind of tragedy. Because Evvie needs the income a boarder would bring, and Dean needs a refuge, a mutual friend connects the two. Evvie's husband dies in a car accident, but the truth surrounding his death is painful for reasons her small town community can never know. Dean's career took a nosedive when he inexplicably developed "the yips"—he's unable to pitch for reasons that might be all in his head, but nobody can figure it out. Out of mutual kindness and witty banter, a friendship develops, and then something more … but starting over as a grown-up is complicated. A warm, witty, and satisfying read. More info →
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The Bromance Book Club

The Bromance Book Club

Author:
This second chance love story is so much fun—and it gave me a new appreciation for the romance genre. Baseball star Gavin Scott is successful on the field, but at home? He's struggling to make his marriage work. Desperate for help, he turns to his best friends, who—unbeknownst to him—have a secret romance book club in which they read and discuss romance novels. The guys give him a historical romance to read, Courting the Countess, and tell him to use it as a guide to win his wife back. Through big gestures and fumbling attempts at vulnerability, Gavin learns how to love his partner better. Heads up for a couple of open door scenes. More info →
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Natalie Tan’s Book of Luck and Fortune

Natalie Tan’s Book of Luck and Fortune

Author:
Natalie Tan returns home to San Francisco after her estranged mother's death and finds a changed city and the unexpected inheritance of her grandmother's restaurant. When the neighborhood seer tells her she must cook three recipes from her grandmother's cookbook for her struggling neighbors in order for the restaurant to succeed, she couldn't be less interested. After all, her neighbors didn't help her deal with her mother. Or did they? This lush novel shows how we can find community and support in unexpected places. And it's guaranteed to make you hungry! More info →
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Party of Two

Party of Two

Olivia Monroe (who you may remember as Alexa’s sister in The Wedding Date) is back in L.A., freshly arrived from NYC to finally start an all-female law firm with an old friend. She hasn't even had a chance to find a place to live when she meets a cute guy in the hotel bar and enjoys lively banter about her favorite subject: dessert. It's not until Olivia turns on the tv later that she realizes there’s a reason he looked so familiar: Max is the hot-shot new California senator who is everything Olivia is not: wealthy, privileged, and a total workaholic. This relationship could never work. But when he begins wooing Olivia by sending her baked goods, she decides she'll see where it goes. Fast and fun (and open door). More info →
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The Switch

The Switch

Author:
In a plot reminiscent of The Holiday, a grandmother and granddaughter switch flats to shake up their stalled lives. Though Leena is twenty-something and Eileen 79, they have one thing in common: their lives have lost their luster, and their love lives are depressing. And so Leena proposes a two-month change of scenery for each. The lonely Eileen will take over Leena’s London flat so she can enjoy the city’s bustle and meet eligible bachelors, and workaholic Leena will enjoy a needed break in Eileen’s Yorkshire cottage, doing her chores and taking Eileen’s turn in the neighborhood watch group. This sweet, lighthearted tale makes for a joyful escape. More info →
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Sweet Sorrow

Sweet Sorrow

Author:
I was utterly absorbed by this wistful novel about first love, coming of age, and Shakespeare, from the author of One Day. 16-year-old Charlie Lewis doesn’t have much to look forward to. He’s struggling in school, his family’s fallen apart, he’s caring for his depressed father, and he can’t see beyond what seems like an endless summer. But then one day he’s out for a bike ride and literally stumbles into a beautiful girl and a local theater production of Romeo and Juliet. When Charlie asks the girl to coffee she gives him an ultimatum: he has to join the production. Charlie doesn’t see himself as “one of those theater kids,” but he can’t say no to Fran—and this decision changes his whole world. Perceptive, bittersweet, and stirring. More info →
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How to Catch a Queen

How to Catch a Queen

Author:
I thoroughly enjoyed this slow-burning, sexy, and socially engaged series opener, with cameos from some Reluctant Royals characters, featuring a whip-smart queen and a shy but sexy king. When Shanti Mohapi marries the king of Njaza, he tells her that they're to be married in name only, with no relationship and practically no contact with each other. But when he realizes that he needs to make changes to the fabric of his country, Shanti is the best advisor and partner he could ask for. As they work together to create new beginnings for Njaza, they can't help but fall in love. Cole has a well-deserved reputation for writing intelligent, inclusive novels, and also for writing open door romance, so heads up for several such scenes. More info →
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Bear Necessity

Bear Necessity

Single father Danny was just fired from his construction job. In addition to struggling to pay his rent, he can't seem to connect with his son Will, who's been silent ever since his mother died a year ago. In a move of desperation, Danny spends his last few bucks on a panda costume to become a park performer. When he chases off some bullies in the park who were taunting his son, Will opens up to him—not knowing that it's his dad in the bear costume. Wanting to comfort his son, Danny continues the charade. Charming side characters round out this story of grief, love, and connection. I enjoyed listening to the audio version, narrated by Rupert Holliday-Evans.  More info →
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I Wish You All the Best

I Wish You All the Best

Author:
Ben De Becker just came out as nonbinary, and their parents kicked them out, forcing them to move in with their estranged sister Hannah and her husband. In the midst of trauma and heartbreak, Ben starts at a new school determined to keep a low profile and to not make any new friends. But when Nathan Allan turns his charisma and charm towards Ben, they start to build a sweet friendship, which might even lead to something more. With the help of Hannah, a therapist, and chance at happiness, Ben begins to heal. This book is ultimately hopeful, but mind your triggers. More info →
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Do you have a “fresh start” title to add to this list? Tell us in the comments section!

P.S. Restart your life with these 12 nonfiction titles or 15 books for new routines and fresh starts. Find more fresh starts in this list of 12 feel-good fiction books you can read in an afternoon.

17 fiction books that feature fresh starts and new beginnings

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60 comments | Comment

60 comments

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  1. Lisa Soukup says:

    The Blue Castle is one of my favorite books! I’m not sure I’ve ever run into anyone else who has read it. 🙂 I have enjoyed many books on this list.

  2. Rebecca says:

    A lot of wonderful titles on this list. Beth O’Leary is a new favorite author, and The Switch is excellent in audio. I’d also suggest An Available Man by Hilma Wolitzer–a lovely and poignant novel about becoming single later in life.

  3. Mary says:

    So many great books would fall into the fresh start category when you start to think about it. The first one that came to my mind was Hattie Big Sky by Kirby Larson. It is one of my favorites.

  4. Patricia Harrison says:

    I read Garden Secrets when an advance copy arrived at our library. It has continued to be in my list of most favourite books ever. I spoke to Sarah Addison Allen at that year’s BookExpo that year. I could visualize the book as a TV series. She did say that the TV had been purchased – I’m still waiting! In the meantime I’ve reread the book many times.

    • Colleen Bonilla says:

      @Diane-I too loved The Storied Life of AJ Fikry! Such a great book about books! So many great selections offered here…it’s hard to choose which one I’ll read next. But since Evvie Drake Starts Over is this month’s flight pick, I think I’ll go with that. I’m also looking forward to reading Writers and Lovers. Oh yes…and Blue Castle. AAAAGGGHHH!! (smiley face)

  5. Laura Freeman says:

    Other new beginnings books that straddle middle grade and young adult genres: Walk Two Moons by Sharon Creech and Things Not Seen by Andrew Clements

  6. Aimee says:

    I’ve read a number of these and loved them! One of my favorite storylines the last few years have been older people who find a fresh start. Some examples: Major Pettigrew Takes a Stand; Lillian Boxfish Takes a Walk; The Switch; The Brilliant Life of Eudora Honeysett; The Authenticity Project (not all of the characters are older); and I’m sure I’m missing some other great ones!

  7. Angela says:

    This is a great list–I particularly love the theme. I’ve read a few, but there are definitely a few I’d like to tackle. I’ll take all the inspiration I can get right now!

  8. Melanie Holles says:

    I just read The Heiress: The Revelations of Anne deBourgh by Molly Greeley and counted it as a book about do-overs or fresh starts for the Pop Sugar 2021 Reading Challenge.

  9. Maria Ontiveros says:

    An Olive Grove at the Edge of the World by Jared Gulian is a memoir about two big city American men who move to New Zealand to start an olive farm. I picked it for my Reading Challenge category- a book set in a place I want to visit but haven’t been.

  10. Allison Wolfe says:

    More books to add to my TBR list! Thanks for telling us about these.
    Two more fresh start titles – The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Frye by Rachel Joyce and The Dog Stars by Peter Heller.
    In the first, Harold is retired, bored with his wife and life. He gets news of an old coworker who is dying so he sets out across the countryside to see her before she dies. His journey becomes so much more than he ever expected.
    Even though The Dog Stars is set in a future post-apocalyptic world, a lonely man living in an abandoned airport hangar believes there are other survivors out there. He goes in search of them. One can always depend on Peter Heller for a great story!

    • Aimee says:

      Ohhh, I absolutely love that book and the sequel, The War I Finally Won! My daughter read the first in 5th grade and I devoured it after her. They’re also about new starts for Susan!

  11. Tiffany G says:

    I listened to “Their Eyes Were Watching God” read by Ruby Dee recently, after reading the book many moons ago and I fell in love with it all over again! It’s such a sweet love story and portrayal of a powerful woman in such a troubling time in history.

  12. I could not agree more about The Blue Castle by L.M. Montgomery. I loved that story. You know, a while back I listened to a WSIRN episode and someone mentioned her diaries, so I borrowed the huge volume of her diaries from the library and it is still to this day one of my favorite reads. It took a whole summer to get through it lol, but I loved peeking into her life, her joys, her disappointments, her battle with depression. It was inspiring to say the least.

  13. Christina says:

    The first books that come to mind are Charles Martin books -specifically Unwritten, A Life Intercepted, and When Crickets Cry.

    All feature a bit of romance and a man who ends up trying again and healing after some form of heartbreak, with the help of the woman who captures their hearts.

  14. Ann says:

    I love this blog!!!!! I requested The Late Bloomers from my local library.

    And I have heard so many good things about The Blue Castle, I feel I must read it.

    I really enjoy seeing what others are reading & hearing various opinions.

    I was reading The Most Fun We Ever Had, but it was due back at the library, so I turned it in before finishing. I couldn’t get the title straight of the names of the daughters. May go back to it.

    The Orchard & Perestroika in Paris on beside me on my bed as I type. I’ll read the first chapters & decide which to dive into.
    I always have so many TBRs.

    My goal this year is 50 books.

  15. Nanette Stearns says:

    I just finished Someone Else’s Love Story by Joshilyn Jackson. I love her books and am planning to finish her backlist this year. She has such a beautiful way with healing damaged characters. I recommend it for JJ fans, and really anyone else.

  16. CarolS says:

    My favorite new beginnings book (and one of my fave books ever) is Miss Buncle’s Book by D.E. Stevenson. Nothing unusual had happened in Barbara’s life until she wrote a thinly-disquised book about the happenings in her English village.
    Also, as always, thank you for the heads up on the open door scenes and the trigger warnings

  17. Jennifer Geisinger says:

    Not fiction, but I love the cookbook Alaska from Scratch by Maya Wilson. Amazing photography and a backstory of how she ended up in Alaska from San Diego, and her life with her wife and three kids. Lots of starting over from a life with an alcoholic mother, and finding a new space for herself in Alaska.

  18. Gina says:

    I loved both of Louise Millers books. I can’t wait for the next one!! I also loved all of Sarah Addison Allen’s books and Evvie Drake starts over. This is a great list. I’m definitely checking out some of these others!

  19. Stephanie says:

    I just got The Bromance Book Club from the library but will be returning it straightaway. There were so many uses of the words sh*t and a** in the first four pages, I just couldn’t enjoy it. (Granted he’s drunk as the story opens, but still. 😉

  20. IP says:

    Hmmm… I was particularly intrigued by the list theme and your suggestions are usually right on, sometimes the books are not to my liking but it is more of an opinion than on the sophistication of the writing or level of the authors. But this was the first time I was disappointed, I put the whole list on my to-be-read pile and found the Bromance and a Perfect Pair were available at my library. The predictable dime store romance surprised me, I kept reading thinking the depth of the book would come but just couldn’t finish. No issue about it, I just stopped reading the books, but it did make me realize how good you really are in your book recommendations that after years and years+ of taking book recommendations from you that I loved and wouldn’t have discovered without you, this was the first time I didn’t care for them. That’s quite a talent, thank you.

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