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.)
- by Kate Quinn
From the publisher: "1940. As England prepares to fight the Nazis, three very different women answer the call to mysterious country estate Bletchley Park, where the best minds in Britain train to break German military codes. Vivacious debutante Osla is the girl who has everything—beauty, wealth, and the dashing Prince Philip of Greece sending her roses—but she burns to prove herself as more than a society girl, and puts her fluent German to use as a translator of decoded enemy secrets. Imperious self-made Mab, product of east-end London poverty, works the legendary codebreaking machines as she conceals old wounds and looks for a socially advantageous husband. Both Osla and Mab are quick to see the potential in local village spinster Beth, whose shyness conceals a brilliant facility with puzzles, and soon Beth spreads her wings as one of the Park’s few female cryptanalysts. But war, loss, and the impossible pressure of secrecy will tear the three apart."
- by Louise Penny
In the idyllic small town of Three Pines, Quebec, where people don’t even lock their doors, a beloved local woman is found in the woods with an arrow shot through her heart. The locals believe it must be a hunting accident, but the police inspector senses something is off. The story is constructed as a classic whodunit but it feels like anything but, with its deliberate pacing, dry wit, and lyrical writing. A stunningly good first novel. Still Life is the first in a series that keeps getting better. Great on audio.
Indie rockstar Michelle Zauner delivers a heartfelt, poetic memoir about losing her mother and searching for her identity. “Ever since my mother died, I cry in H Mart.” So begins Zauner’s poignant story. After her mother received a grim cancer diagnosis, Zauner realized her mother’s death would also mean losing her only tie to her Korean heritage, so she sought to shore up stories while she still has time. Whether she writes about the intricacies of preparing traditional Korean dishes or a hurtful misunderstanding, she explores moments from her tumultuous mother-daughter relationship with tenderness and love, often returning to the idea that our experiences of home, family and culture are viscerally rooted in what we taste, see and hear. An honest, lyrical, and life-affirming memoir about grief, growing up, and making amends.
I waited far too long to read Kindred by Octavia Butler, and I was riveted from the first page. Time travel meets slave narrative in this modern science fiction classic. When Dana, a modern Black woman from 1976, gets transported to the antebellum south in order to save one of her white ancestors, she preserves her own history. But it doesn’t end there. As she keeps getting pulled back to the past, her trips grow more and more dangerous, and Dana must figure out how to survive in a reality far more terrifying than the history books ever suggested. If you still need a push to read Kindred, listen to Volume II Episode III of One Great Book.
Full of twists, turns, and biting social commentary, this highly original (and highly discussable) debut novel will leave you with your jaw on the floor. Editorial assistant Nella Rogers is thrilled when Wagner Books hires another Black woman. Finally, she won’t be the sole Black voice at the publisher, she won’t endure microaggressions alone, and maybe she’ll even make some progress on her stalled-out racial diversity efforts. But new hire Hazel doesn’t turn out to be the ally and friend she expected. Meanwhile, threatening notes begin to appear on Nella’s desk, saying LEAVE WAGNER NOW. The atmosphere grows ever creepier as Nella tries to befriend Hazel, while surreptitiously investigating her past. The ending left me gobsmacked: I was desperate to discuss it with a fellow reader asap.
- by Amy Stewart
Stewart is best known for her science writing: she's written six nonfiction books with unusual takes on the natural world. (See: The Drunken Botanist.) This book is a departure for her, and a successful one: readers buzzed about it all fall and it hit many best-of-2015 round-ups. This novel is based on the true story of Constance Kopp, one of the first female sheriffs in America. I tend to shy away from biographical fiction because the narrators often ring false to me, but I loved the way Stewart brought her leading lady's story to life.
A powerfully layered YA debut that adroitly balances a thrilling crime plot, a fake relationship, and a thoughtful exploration of identity and belonging. 18-year-old hockey star Daunis dreams of leaving her small community on Michigan’s Upper Peninsula and making a fresh start in college. But after she witnesses a terrible crime, Daunis is persuaded to go undercover to nail the dealers whose deadly new drugs are ravaging her Anishinaabe community. While seeking justice for her best friend, Daunis also grapples with burgeoning feelings for her handsome hockey player crush and navigates often-tense relationships within her own family. (While sensitively handled, triggers abound, including murder, suicide, sexual assault, and racism.) Native American narrator Isabella Star LeBlanc’s brilliant performance captures the pulse-pounding first-person narrative drive and the new-to-me Ojibwe phrases and practices in this brilliant YA debut. Narrated by Isabella Star LeBlanc.
- by Min Jin Lee
In this sweeping domestic drama, Lee tracks four generations of a 20th-century Korean family back to the time when Japan annexed the country in 1910, affecting the fates of all. Lee portrays the struggles of one struggling Korean family against the backdrop of cultural and political unrest, as they endure fierce discrimination at the ends of the Japanese. A compelling portrait of a little-explored period of history.
- by Laura Dave
A devoted husband disappears without a trace in this breakneck domestic thriller. Hannah and Owen have been happily married for a year. She finds meaning in her job crafting bespoke furniture for high-end clients; he works at a tech start-up that builds privacy software. The only real sore spot between them is her fragile relationship with his sixteen-year-old daughter Bailey. Then one afternoon, Hannah receives a hastily scrawled note from her husband with just two words on it: “protect her.” Why must she protect Bailey—and from whom? She can’t ask Owen; he’s gone—and Hannah is determined to find out why. This is a new direction for previous SRG author Laura Dave; I think it’s her best work yet.
I was a little skeptical when I first picked this up: I mean, a tell-all “documentary” about a fictional 1970s band? It took Taylor Jenkins Reid about three pages to win me over, with her fast-moving storyline and characters so convincing I had to google again to make sure the band wasn’t really real. The plot revolves around Billy Dunne, the tortured, talented lead singer for the Six, and Daisy Jones, the beautiful, soulful girl with a troubled past who catapults the Six to fame when she begins singing—and writing—their songs. Daisy and Billy’s chemistry is electric, and fans can’t get enough of it. We know from the beginning that the story is about why the band broke up, and the reasons are both expected and hold a big surprise, unfurled in an engrossing story of sex, drugs, and rock ’n’ roll.
- by Andy Weir
A middle school science teacher races to save the world in The Martian author’s new sci-fi adventure. When Ryland Grace wakes up from a coma on a spaceship millions of miles from Earth, his crewmates are dead and he can’t remember his own name. He knows he was working on the Petrova problem: the sun is dying, and if he can’t figure out how to revive it, a new ice age will end life as we know it. But all is not yet lost— by relying on his own wits and a new friend, he might yet save us all. VERY science-y, often funny, surprisingly poignant. MGM already snatched up the film rights with Ryan Gosling to star.
- by Brit Bennett
Finally, a follow-up to Bennett’s smashing debut The Mothers—and it’s worth the wait. Identical twins Desiree and Stella grew up in a town so small it doesn’t appear on maps. They’re closer than close, so Desiree is shocked when Stella vanishes one night after deciding to sacrifice her past—and her relationship with her family—in order to marry a white man, who doesn’t know she’s black. Desiree never expects to see her sister again. The twins grow up, make lives for themselves, and raise daughters—and it’s those daughters who bring the sisters together again. It’s a reunion Stella both longs for and fears, because she can’t reveal the truth without admitting her whole life is a lie. Bennett expertly weaves themes of family, race, identity, and belonging into one juicy, unputdownable novel spanning five turbulent decades.
- by Nella Larsen
From the publisher: "Soon to be a major motion picture starring Tessa Thompson, Ruth Negga and Alexander Skarsgård. Irene Redfield, married to a successful physician, enjoys a comfortable life in Harlem, New York. Reluctantly, she renews her friendship with old school friend, Clare Kendry. Clare, who like Irene is light skinned, 'passes' as white and is married to a racist white man who has no idea about Clare's racial heritage. Even though Irene knows that reigniting her friendship with Clare will lead to trouble, she can't resist allowing Irene into her world. Irene in turn wants to rekindle her bonds with the African American community of her youth. As tensions mount between friends and between couples, this taut and mesmerizing narrative spins towards an unexpected end."
Pride and Prejudice should be read in the spring; Emma in the summer. But Persuasion is for fall. This the last novel Austen completed before her death, and it’s darker and more serious in tone than her earlier works. With its themes of love, regret, and fidelity, this is my favorite Austen novel—at least some of the time. But always in autumn.
- by Jenny Han
From the publisher: "Some summers are just destined to be pretty. Belly measures her life in summers. Everything good, everything magical happens between the months of June and August. Winters are simply a time to count the weeks until the next summer, a place away from the beach house, away from Susannah, and most importantly, away from Jeremiah and Conrad. They are the boys that Belly has known since her very first summer—they have been her brother figures, her crushes, and everything in between. But one summer, one wonderful and terrible summer, the more everything changes, the more it all ends up just the way it should have been all along."
In her sweeping new novel, Maggie O’Farrell takes a few historically known facts about Shakespeare’s wife and family and, from this spare skeleton, builds out a lush, vivid world. You should know this book is devastating, and I consumed the better part of a box of Kleenex while reading it. Yet with its captivating central character and evocative storytelling, I didn’t want to leave Shakespeare’s world—or put down O’Farrell’s writing. The story centers on Agnes, Shakespeare’s wife, who is torn apart by grief when their son Hamnet dies at age 11. Soon after, Shakespeare writes Hamlet—and O’Farrell convincingly posits that the two events are closely tied. In her distinctive style, O’FarrellI takes you to the heart of what really matters in life, making you feel such a deep sense of loss for Hamnet that you won’t look at your own life the same way.
Some stories in this collection are quick five page reads, and others are closer to 40 pages—all of them make you feel like you're right there in the main character's life. These stories are about love, sex, relationships, work, mistakes and successes. Each story explores the unique predicament of one character, but they flow seamlessly from one woman's life to another, thanks to Philyaw's evocative prose and rich detail. I read my favorite story “How to Make Love to a Physicist” twice through because I loved it so much. Janina Edwards narrates this fabulous collection.