15 Fresh starts in fiction
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 Switch

The Switch

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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The Blue Castle

The Blue Castle

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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Sweet Sorrow

Sweet Sorrow

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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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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How to Catch a Queen

How to Catch a Queen

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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The Late Bloomers’ Club

The Late Bloomers’ Club

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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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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The Great Alone

The Great Alone

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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I Wish You All the Best

I Wish You All the Best

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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Evvie Drake Starts Over

Evvie Drake Starts Over

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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Natalie Tan’s Book of Luck and Fortune

Natalie Tan’s Book of Luck and Fortune

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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The Lager Queen of Minnesota

The Lager Queen of Minnesota

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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Writers & Lovers

Writers & Lovers

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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The Bromance Book Club

The Bromance Book Club

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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The Storied Life of A. J. Fikry

The Storied Life of A. J. Fikry

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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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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