Do you ever have epiphanies while reading? Or those moments when you can feel your brain whirring away, processing an entirely new idea? Or how about when stories leave you breathless because they are just that remarkable? A mix of novels that surprised us, true stories that shocked us, and biographies that impressed us—these nine books completely blew our minds.
Both intimate and expansive, A HAPPY MARRIAGE follows the arc of a 30-year marriage of true partners. Revisiting each stage of Margaret and Enrique's enduring relationship with precision and candor, this acclaimed novel chronicles the imperfect ways we love—with pleasure and pride, hurt and betrayal, loyalty and dedication. It is the moving portrait of what it means to spend a lifetime together. And it made me cry. —Wendy
“Both intimate and expansive, A Happy Marriage follows the arc of a thirty-year marriage of true partners. Revisiting each stage of Margaret and Enrique’s enduring relationship with precision and candor, this acclaimed novel chronicles the imperfect ways we love—with pleasure and pride, hurt and betrayal, loyalty and dedication. It is the moving portrait of what it means to spend a lifetime together. And it made me cry.” —Wendy Sheanin
I wasn't sure what to expect when I picked up THE AFTERLIVES by Thomas Pierce. It's a novel about a haunted Mexican restaurant, a machine that connects the living with the dead, and a young man who had a heart attack at age 30 and was technically dead for a few minutes before being revived. Sounds interesting, but a little strange, right? Well, it's absolutely fantastic. Smart, thought-provoking, and superbly written, THE AFTERLIVES is a meditation on what it means to be alive and what it means to consider what happens after you're not. Brilliant, brilliant, brilliant. —Taylor
Overcoming daunting obstacles from the earliest stages of life, Robert Peace escaped the crime and poverty of Newark, New Jersey, using his profound intellect and immense resolve to earn a scholarship to Yale. In this incredible work of nonfiction, writer Jeff Hobbs bears witness to his friend and college roommate—a distressed young man in conflict with his brutal upbringing and his unsupported academic promise, one he wrestles with until his ultimate, violent end. Honest and powerful, this book will knock the wind out of you. —Chris G.
Robert Peace spent his young life on Newark’s drug-infested, crime-ridden streets. A brilliant student, he went on to graduate from Yale University before sliding into the drug trade and becoming the victim of a brutal murder at age thirty. Written by his friend and college roommate, this intimate portrait of Peace’s life encompasses America’s most enduring conflicts: race, poverty, drugs, education, friendship, family, and the collision of two irreconcilable worlds. But most all, it is the story of one brilliant young man—his violent and untimely end is heartbreaking, powerful and unforgettable.
I'll admit that when I first heard the premise of Chloe Benjamin's new novel—how would you live your life if you knew the date you would die?—I made a mental note to avoid it. Primarily because the idea of premature death terrifies me, and I am way too type A to even begin to consider going down the rabbit hole of "Would you want to know?" But after a trusted friend and reader sang its praises, I knew I had to take a look—and, wow, what I would have missed if I hadn't. THE IMMORTALISTS isn't so much about death as it is about life and the choices we make, beyond any notions of fate or destiny. The story of the four Gold siblings is heartbreaking, heartwarming, and unforgettable, and I was truly changed as a reader for having encountered them. —Julianna
Not since reading Jeannette Walls' THE GLASS CASTLE in one sitting have I been so engrossed in the story of a young woman's difficult triumph over an upbringing filled with poverty, ideological struggles, and living within the violence of isolation. This memoir tells the gripping and gorgeously written account of Tara Westover's childhood in the Idaho mountains with her fundamentalist family, and the physical and spiritual battles to claim her identity and pursue knowledge. Westover's beautifully written survival story is astounding, but the thoughtful presentation of her young mind discovering concepts of philosophy, faith, and history after a lifetime absent of any formal schooling is what turns this book from intriguing to indispensable. —Elizabeth
When I picked up this novel set inside a beehive and starring a worker bee, I didn't expect to be so completely swept up in an intense, engrossing, and deeply human tale that reads like THE HANDMAID'S TALE meets Arthurian legend meets, well, insects! Flora 717 is born into the lowliest caste in hive society; she is a sanitation bee, bound for a life of silently cleaning up after her sisters. But Flora is special. Unlike the other sanitation bees, she is large, strong, possesses the ability to speak, and, impossibly, she feels an egg growing within her. But the egg violates her society's most sacred law—only the queen may breed—and her crime is punishable by death. Driven by deep maternal love, Flora embarks on a desperate quest to save her newly hatched baby. —Sarah Jane
Everyone has those moments where you imagine the various paths your life might have taken depending on a few critical decisions—how would your family, relationships, career, or even moral compass change according to these unseen junctures? Blake Crouch explores this concept with dizzyingly superb plotting in his sci-fi thriller DARK MATTER following Jason Dessen, a mild-mannered physics professor who's been abducted and wakes up in an alternate universe—one where he never married his sweetheart, or chose family over becoming a celebrated genius whose theories make the impossible a reality. But these discoveries also open up alternatives which spiral dangerously out of control, and Jason must fight the darkest parts of himself in order to return to the family he loves. —Elizabeth
I was 11 years old when I made the startling realization that sometimes politicians lie to us. It was George Orwell's ANIMAL FARM (and a fifth-grade teacher who encouraged me to read beyond my years) that brought me to this jarring discovery. An allegorical fable about the dangers of Stalinism, it follows a group of farm animals who overthrow their human master and attempt to establish their own animal utopia. Orwell's masterpiece effortlessly demonstrates how quickly corruption and propaganda can change men into animals. —Kerry
I am not the biggest fan of nonfiction, but, wow, this book blew me away. I had no idea what I was getting into when I started, but I learned so much about what goes into the making of a video game. On top of that, it was just a fantastic book about navigating and fighting for yourself within a creative, passionate industry. Video games, at least in mainstream entertainment media, are often overlooked, but this was a fascinating insight into a multibillion-dollar industry with fantastic writing to boot. —Will