In recent years, thrillers with unreliable narrators have become a thriving and best-selling genre, with books like GONE GIRL and THE GIRL ON THE TRAIN making way for countless others. I love thrillers because they invite the reader to try to put together a puzzle—to solve a mystery or figure out where the plot is going before being told. And what could be more challenging than attempting to do this based on information from a narrator who may be lying or delusional?
Few things capture my imagination more than popcorn-smelling circus tents and the lights and sounds of the carnival midway. These places always seem full of mystery, romance, and oddity—and what the patrons see is only the beginning. These ten books will transport you to dark and glamorous carnivals and circuses, where nothing is as it seems.
CHARMING BILLY by Alice McDermott purports to be the life of Billy Lynch, a handsome, charming (as the title says), big-hearted man whose life was shaped by his first love. Upon returning to New York after World War II, Billy and his cousin Dennis spend the summer on Long Island renovating Dennis’s stepfather’s second home. While there, they meet a pair of Irish sisters, nannies to one of the wealthy families that summer in the palatial “cottages” of the Hamptons.
American history is anything but a stodgy affair; it’s exciting, tragic, suspenseful, and horrifying. Probably even more surprising is that it can make you laugh—if you have the right teacher, that is. And Sarah Vowell, author of the new LAFAYETTE IN THE SOMEWHAT UNITED STATES and former editor of “This American Life,” is a great teacher. Her previous book, ASSASSINATION VACATION, is the perfect example of how history, especially when it is not about the victors, is fascinating, funny, and heartbreaking.
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The story of man and dog is a story of partnership dating back almost 15,000 years, and the relationships we have with our dogs have grown into something we value and love today—they are members of our family. In literature, dog stories can be some of the most uplifting, and among the most heartbreaking, stories we tell. They are as varied and amazing as dogs themselves, capable of surprise and wonder, for in our dogs, we often see ourselves.
On a Sunday afternoon, I read the heartrending climax of Chigozie Obioma’s debut novel, THE FISHERMEN, breathlessly. When I got up, I was in a literary-induced fugue: I stumbled into my car, momentarily forgetting how to turn it on, wandered the grocery store and left empty-handed, and even abandoned the rest of the day’s plans. My brain seemed to be emptied of everything but this engrossing Cain and Abel story that stupefies and confounds with every turn of a page.
Lauren Weisberger is the bestselling author of the classic dishy novel THE DEVIL WEARS PRADA, which details the cutthroat world of fashion magazines. With her new novel, THE SINGLES GAME, hot off the presses, Off the Shelf was lucky enough to get an inside look at the eclectic mix of books displayed on Weisberger’s bookshelf.
Stories of the ordinary, and of lives thrown together by chance and coincidence, have always fascinated me, and in Ruth Rendell’s wonderful PORTOBELLO, you will find both. Her characters are linked only by a postcode, living their small, unpeopled lives in the area of London’s Portobello market, until a simple twist of fate brings them together. Then their days become as complex, and as colorful, as the market itself.
If online dating has taught me anything, it’s to grow a thicker skin, lower my expectations, and just get used to its superficial nature. After all, we’re allowing our romantic fates to be decided by one (likely Photoshopped) picture and the swipe of a finger. While I haven’t found true love there yet, I have happily found a few good books about love in the modern age. One of them is the unusual and sneakily funny novel THE UNFORTUNATE IMPORTANCE OF BEAUTY by Amanda Filipacchi.
From “Serial” to “The People v. O. J. Simpson: American Crime Story,” the true crime genre has seen a recent renaissance in pop culture. Tales of murder, mayhem, robbery, and corruption have always been compulsively readable for true crime fans. Here are expertly written true crime books where you can discover some of the darkest and oddest moments in history. Even if you’re not a true crime junkie, you’ll enjoy these compelling narratives and fascinating tales.