15 books featuring endearingly quirky families

When his dad spots a notice for a Spy Club meeting in their new apartment building’s laundry room, Georges decides to show up--and becomes the first spy recruit of his new friend Safer, a 12-year-old, self- trained spy. Safer teaches Georges the tricks of the trade and sets him to work tracking Mr. X. This realistic novel delicately explores the nature of truth, the power of friendship, and the importance of standing up for yourself. (9-13, 11-13)
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Madeleine L'Engle is best known for her A Wrinkle in Time quintet, but the Austin family is just as welcoming, consisting of four kids, a newly orphaned girl, two dogs, several cats, a steady stream of friends dropping in, and intelligent family dinner-table talk that veers into the ethics of meat eating, the solar system, and Einstein.
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My favorite Jane Austen novel (at least during the times when my favorite isn't Pride and Prejudice or Persuasion) centers on an unusual household of two: Emma Woodhouse, old enough to marry but independent enough to not want to (and who can avoid the shame of spinsterhood because she's "handsome, clever, and rich") and her well-meaning but exceedingly nervous father. Distinctive friends, neighbors, and love interests spin their way into the Woodhouse orbit throughout the story's course—some quirky, some endearing, some downright obnoxious, but ALL entertaining.
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Cornelia is a hopeless romantic, obsessed with the epic love stories portrayed in classic films, but floundering in her own life. Everything changes the day a Cary Grant look-alike walks through the door of the coffee shop she manages. Of course she falls for him, and strikes up an unlikely friendship with his 11-year-old daughter. You can’t help but cheer for these characters as they navigate the tricky waters of friendship, heartbreak, and love. De los Santos is a poet by training, and it shows in her prose. If you love this, good news: there’s a sequel.
Sweet, sparkly, and thoroughly Southern. Like all the women in her family, Claire Waverley 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 Waverley gift—but she discovers her own sort of magic when she returns. What to say about this book? The romance verges on twee, the magic is impossible, but put them together and it sings. 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.” Allen’s long-anticipated next novel, Other Birds, is due out August 30. Open-ish door. For fans of Emily Henry’s Book Lovers and Maria de los Santos’s Love Walked In.
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Claims to fame: this is the “original YA novel,” with one of the best narrators in English literature. We hear the story of this eccentric 1930s English family—struggling to make ends meet in a tumbledown castle—through the eyes of 17-year-old Cassandra—bright, witty, and wise beyond her years. Replete with love, magic, writer’s block, and bear costumes.
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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.
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The publisher says since this wildly successful novel was first publisher in 1955, Mame has taken her rightful place in the pantheon of Great and Important People as the world’s most beloved, madcap, devastatingly sophisticated, and glamorous aunt. She is impossible to resist, and this hilarious story of an orphaned ten-year-old boy sent to live with his aunt is as delicious a read in the twenty-first century as it was in the 1950s.
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This debut autobiographical fiction from screenwriter Rowley is at once poignant and kooky. This is the lightly fictionalized tale of the author's last 6 months with his beloved dachshund and the brain tumor ("octopus" that ended her life. This little book provided me with one of my more bizarre reading experiences, because the great similarity between Lily and my own beloved lab were uncanny (even if Harriet and I never played board games or compared the two Ryans, Gosling and Reynolds), so much so that when I described the book to my husband right after finishing it (with tears streaming down my face) we both collapsed in helpless laughter. Definitely a strange book, but a sweet and strangely powerful one for anyone who's loved a dog.
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In this debut we follow the adventures of Alice Whitley, a young and innocent 23-year-old who's given a plumb assignment by her NYC publisher: fly to California to help an unusual family of two, by serving as personal assistant to the reclusive bestselling author who's agreed to write her first book in decades. But Alice soon discovers her only role is to serve as child-wrangler to the author's exceptionally quirky 9-year-old, who's constantly getting into trouble while dressing as a 1930s movie star, complete with top hat.
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You just can’t beat a book that turns on a stolen kiss in the Italian countryside. It’s widely believed that the movie is better than the book, but that’s no excuse not to read this slim novel about the awakening of sheltered Englishwoman Lucy Honeychurch (who is definitely in the running for Most Adorable Name in Literature) at the hands of an Englishman with little regard for convention. (It's worth saying: the movie version is FANTASTIC.)
It's Christmas vacation at the smuggler's inn Greenglass House, and Milo finds himself with a mystery to unravel. While I couldn't help but wonder if the author was tipping her hat to The Phantom Tollbooth, the story reminded me of The Mysterious Benedict Society. An engaging read for kids and adults alike, and a perfect choice for cozy winter evenings.
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From Ann Patchett: "The Family Fang is a comedy, a tragedy, and a tour-de-force examination of what it means to make art and survive your family….The best single word description would be brilliant."
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Hands-down, one of the best books I've read in a year (or five). This is a story about a family that, years ago, started keeping a little secret. And, as secrets tend to do, it became bigger over time, implicating all the family members in its keeping, until it felt like the secret was keeping them. I fell completely in love with Rosie and Penn, gained insight into a situation I thought had nothing to do with me, and had complicated feelings about the resolution. This is a terrific novel about an endearingly quirky family forced to make an impossible decisions. That title? It comes from the idea that parents frequently have to make terrifyingly important decisions about their kids with not enough information even though the stakes are enormous. If this sounds good to you, do NOT read the flap copy! Just pick it up and start reading—you'll be glad you did. Publication date: January 24.
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