It’s hard to believe a full year has passed since I started writing the “New in Paperback” column for Off the Shelf! I hope you’ve enjoyed the updates as exciting new books were released each month. For our December list I’ve rounded up some of my favorite books that came out this year. There are some wonderful gift ideas, and—even better—some that will make for great reading as you enjoy a break this holiday season. I can’t wait to catch up with you next month when we see what 2019 has in store!
Fans of New York Times—and worldwide—bestselling author Isabel Allende (myself included!) were thrilled to see IN THE MIDST OF WINTER out in paperback earlier this year. Journeying from present-day Brooklyn to Guatemala in the recent past, to 1970s Chile and Brazil, this is a sweeping novel about three very different people brought together after a snowstorm one night. When Richard Bowmaster, a lonely professor, hits the car of Evelyn Ortega, a young undocumented immigrant, during one of the worst snowstorms Brooklyn has seen, he doesn't know it will change his life. When Evelyn comes to him for help, he asks Lucia Maraz, his fellow academic from Chile, for her advice. Over the course of the novel, these three lives intertwine in unexpected ways and bring about a timely message about the meaning of home.
I'm not a writer, but I imagine that a memoir must be one of the most difficult types of books to write. In her debut, Heather Chaplin is sharply honest as she recounts some of the most raw, painful moments of her life. In her thirties she has to face the facts: her career is stalling and her marriage is over. When she gets the courage to leave that relationship behind, she is thrust into an emotional roller coaster, dating a cast of characters in New York until she meets a magnetic man on an impulsive trip to Ireland. Just when she thinks she's fighting her way back to finding herself, a series of setbacks send her spiraling again. Chaplin's heartbreaking story is a stunning account told with dry wit in a uniquely provocative voice.
This dark, compelling novel blends the genres of historical fiction and thriller so well that I hate to categorize it as just one or the other. In the summer of 1956, there’s a killer on the loose in the small Cornish fishing village of St. Steele. Betty Broadbent has never left the town or ventured far outside the walls of Hotel Eden, where she works for her moody, unpredictable mother. When reporters swarm the town in the wake of multiple murders, Betty begins an unlikely relationship with an older reporter named Mr. Gallagher. As the killer continues to strike, they both must make an overwhelming choice that will change their lives—and the life of an innocent man—forever. Thoroughly satisfying and with emotional heft, THE UNFORGOTTEN is a gripping debut and the terrific read to squeeze in before the end of the year!
The CRAZY RICH ASIANS craze swept us this summer when the movie tie-in edition came out and the movie hit theaters. If you missed it earlier this year, add it to your list now! CRAZY RICH ASIANS is pure escapism and so much fun. The novel follows Rachel Chu, a down-to-earth woman living in New York with her boyfriend Nick when he invites her to his best friend's wedding in Singapore. In Singapore she discovers Nick has left out a few details about his family . . . and how he happens to be the country's most eligible bachelor from one of Singapore's wealthiest families. Rachel arrives not knowing there's already a target on her back. This is a delightfully decadent novel, dripping with humor, opulence, and heart.
This book will sweep you up and knock you off your feet. Beginning with the explosive first line—“I expected more of a reaction the first time I hit her”—Liz Nugent draws an unsettling, skillfully crafted story of psychological suspense. Oliver Ryan has the perfect life, but none of his neighbors, friends, or even wife know the dark secret he hides behind his polished facade. This book is the definition of a page-turner and will make any plane, train or automobile ride over the holidays fly by.
One of my favorite podcasts is How I Built This with Guy Raz. He interviews people who started companies that have become household names—like Starbucks and Wikipedia—and they discuss their personal history and how their dreams began. SHOE DOG is like an expanded version of this podcast, all about the extraordinary life of Phil Knight, founder of Nike. The swoosh is immediately recognized everywhere, and "Just Do It" is synonymous with the brand. So how did he do it? In this book, Knight recounts stories of crushing setbacks, thrilling triumphs, and the relationships that became the heart and soul of Nike. This is a fascinating and refreshingly honest story about true grit.
If you’ve been following my “New in Paperback” series here at Off the Shelf, you’ve probably figured out that I tend to prefer fiction. Well, for all you nonfiction readers out there, here’s an engrossing, fascinating read. JACKIE’S GIRL is the deeply personal account of the young woman who spent years as Jackie Kennedy’s personal assistant. Kathy McKeon relates rare and delightful memories of her time with the Kennedy family, but at its center, this book is also a moving story of a young immigrant finding her own identity in a new country.
MANHATTAN BEACH is Jennifer Egan's first historical fiction, but you wouldn't know it from reading these dazzling, propulsive pages. When Anna Kerrigan is 12 years old, she accompanies her father to visit Dexter Styles, and notices some charged mystery between the two men. Years pass, her father has disappeared, and the country is at war. Anna becomes one of the first women to work at the Brooklyn Naval Yard, where women work men’s jobs as they fight in Europe and the Pacific. When she unexpectedly meets Dexter Styles again, she begins to understand the complexity of her father's life and the reasons he might have vanished. This is a magnificent exploration of a transformative moment in America's history.
I’ve really enjoyed reading collections of short stories and essays lately. There’s something so wonderful about being able to take a full book and break it up into bite-size pieces while still having the freedom to enjoy the whole thing at once. Nate Dern’s essays are whip-smart and wickedly funny. They cover a wide swath of topics ranging from an open letter to Charles Manson to Walt Whitman teaching a spin class, to an archeologist’s journey into a suburban man cave. Though he may not be a genius, Nate Dern has still written a clever, funny collection of essays.
I’ve been a fan of Megan Miranda’s since her debut ALL THE MISSING GIRLS knocked me off my feet. THE PERFECT STRANGER is her follow-up and does not disappoint! I have been recommending this book to my sister, colleagues, and friends since it came out in hardcover last year, and I’m so excited that it’s finally available in paperback. When a journalist sets out to find a missing friend, she’s led down a rabbit hole, leaving her to wonder whether she ever knew her friend at all. This is an eerie suspense story that will keep you entertained and turning pages.
A friend recommended this book to me earlier this year and I’m so glad she did! I love a well-written historical novel, and this sounds like an entertaining and nuanced read. THE WOMEN IN THE CASTLE follows the intertwining stories of three German widows at the end of World War II as they live together in a collapsing Bavarian castle that once played host to German high society. The war has changed not only the landscape around them, but also their principles, and they each must come to terms with the repercussions of war and what it means to survive.
On the exhaustive subject of World War II, Jessica Shattuck has found a fresh perspective and an interesting viewpoint of the typical German citizen struggling against their homeland to do the right thing. This kind of bravery seems welcome and essential for today’s reader. —Stuart