Our 5th Birthday festivities continue as we take a look back at our favorite reviews of all time! Hear from some of our editorial board members and some of our favorite authors why the books below are near and dear. Take a trip down memory lane with us, won’t you?
Off the Shelf Turns 5: The Top 10 Reviews of All Time
“Sometimes books don’t live up to the hype surrounding them; this one did. As with all great writing, ANGELA’S ASHES was as much about the way McCourt told the story as about the story being told. His lyrical, lilting prose and sly humor rounded the edges of a brutal tale and made it so compelling that you actually enjoyed reading about what he’d lived through.”
Read Suzanne’s full review of ANGELA’S ASHEs.
"When I look back on my childhood I wonder how I managed to survive at all. It was, of course, a miserable childhood: the happy childhood is hardly worth your while. Worse than the ordinary miserable childhood is the miserable Irish childhood, and worse yet is the miserable Irish Catholic childhood." So begins the luminous memoir of Frank McCourt, born in Depression-era Brooklyn to recent Irish immigrants and raised in the slums of Limerick, Ireland. Frank's mother, Angela, has no money to feed the children since Frank's father, Malachy, rarely works, and when he does he drinks his wages. Yet Malachy -- exasperating, irresponsible and beguiling-- does nurture in Frank an appetite for the one thing he can provide: a story. Frank lives for his father's tales of Cuchulain, who saved Ireland, and of the Angel on the Seventh Step, who brings his mother babies. Perhaps it is story that accounts for Frank's survival. Wearing rags for diapers, begging a pig's head for Christmas dinner and gathering coal from the roadside to light a fire, Frank endures poverty, near-starvation and the casual cruelty of relatives and neighbors--yet lives to tell his tale with eloquence, exuberance and remarkable forgiveness. Angela's Ashes, imbued on every page with Frank McCourt's astounding humor and compassion, is a glorious book that bears all the marks of a classic.
“THE NEVER LIST is one of those books that makes you miss your subway stop and keeps you up all night because at the end of every chapter, you convince yourself you have time for just one more.”
—Sarah Jane Abbott
Read Sarah Jane’s full review of THE NEVER LIST.
Ten years after accepting a cab ride with grave and everlasting consequences, Sarah is still struggling to resume a normal life. When her abductor is up for parole, she decides to confront her phobias. If you love haunted but determined female protagonists, you'll love Koethi Zan's tale of a kidnap survivor unraveling the mystery of her horrifying past.
“Every once in a while, a novel comes along that reinvigorates and inspires and is a call to arms for a publicist. A novel that reminds me that I work hard for books because I love reading. I love new ideas. I love big words. I love discovering and unwrapping characters, the emotions that a wonderful work of fiction can stir in you, the conversations that a good book can inspire. A MAN CALLED OVE by Fredrik Backman is one of those novels for me—a novel that became a passion, a novel that makes the art of publishing feel meaningful.”
Read Ariele’s full review of A MAN CALLED OVE.
“If you like to laugh AND feel moved AND have your heart applaud wildly for fictional characters, you will certainly fall for the grumpy but lovable Ove (it’s pronounced “Oo-vuh,” if you were wondering).”
“WE ARE ALL COMPLETELY BESIDE OURSELVES is one of those completely absorbing books that makes the rest of the world disappear, while at the same time reminding us all too clearly of the world we come from and its occasional cruelty. The novel’s engaging narrator, Rosemary Cooke, begins ‘in the middle,’ as her scientist father used to advise; by that time, she tells us, ‘ten years had passed since I’d last seen my brother, seventeen since my sister disappeared.’”
Read Midge’s full review of WE ARE ALL COMPLETELY BESIDE OURSELVES.
“WE ARE ALL COMPLETELY BESIDE OURSELVES is one of those completely absorbing books that makes the rest of the world disappear, while at the same time reminding us all too clearly of the world we come from and its occasional cruelty.”
“GLACIERS has all the things I love about reading: an engaging story, beautiful writing, and memorable characters. Isabel’s story broke the reading slump I was in because it’s different from all the other books out there in one particular way: it’s wholly unique, a hidden gem.”
Read Nicholas’s full review of GLACIERS.
“SING, UNBURIED, SING deftly examines the ugly truths at the heart of the American story and the power—and limitations—of family bonds. Few writers possess Jesmyn Ward’s artfulness, and fewer still write about topics more relevant—justice and injustice, poverty, incarceration, racial profiling, family, drug abuse, faith, the limits and the limitlessness of love. Her incredibly skillful writing makes these topics digestible.”
Read Taylor’s full review of SING, UNBURIED, SING.
WINNER of the NATIONAL BOOK AWARD and A NEW YORK TIMES TOP 10 BEST BOOK OF THE YEAR
A finalist for the Kirkus Prize, Andrew Carnegie Medal, Aspen Words Literary Prize, and a New York Times bestseller, this majestic, stirring, and widely praised novel from two-time National Book Award winner Jesmyn Ward, the story of a family on a journey through rural Mississippi, is a “tour de force” (O, The Oprah Magazine) and a timeless work of fiction that is destined to become a classic.
Jesmyn Ward’s historic second National Book Award–winner is “perfectly poised for the moment” (The New York Times), an intimate portrait of three generations of a family and an epic tale of hope and struggle. “Ward’s writing throbs with life, grief, and love… this book is the kind that makes you ache to return to it” (Buzzfeed).
Jojo is thirteen years old and trying to understand what it means to be a man. He doesn’t lack in fathers to study, chief among them his Black grandfather, Pop. But there are other men who complicate his understanding: his absent White father, Michael, who is being released from prison; his absent White grandfather, Big Joseph, who won’t acknowledge his existence; and the memories of his dead uncle, Given, who died as a teenager.
His mother, Leonie, is an inconsistent presence in his and his toddler sister’s lives. She is an imperfect mother in constant conflict with herself and those around her. She is Black and her children’s father is White. She wants to be a better mother but can’t put her children above her own needs, especially her drug use. Simultaneously tormented and comforted by visions of her dead brother, which only come to her when she’s high, Leonie is embattled in ways that reflect the brutal reality of her circumstances.
When the children’s father is released from prison, Leonie packs her kids and a friend into her car and drives north to the heart of Mississippi and Parchman Farm, the State Penitentiary. At Parchman, there is another thirteen-year-old boy, the ghost of a dead inmate who carries all of the ugly history of the South with him in his wandering. He too has something to teach Jojo about fathers and sons, about legacies, about violence, about love.
Rich with Ward’s distinctive, lyrical language, Sing, Unburied, Sing is a majestic and unforgettable family story and “an odyssey through rural Mississippi’s past and present” (The Philadelphia Inquirer).
“Every few years, there’s one book I latch onto that I keep recommending to people, over and over. And for the last year, that book has been DESCENT by Tim Johnston. I love character-driven thrillers, and this book was geared perfectly for me. But—more than the type of book—there’s something more, something that lingers, that keeps me coming back to it.”
Read Megan’s full review of DESCENT.
The Courtland family is taking one last vacation in the Rocky Mountains before their daughter leaves for college. But when Caitlin and her younger brother, Sean, go out for an early morning run and only Sean returns, the mountains become as terrifying as they are majestic.
Read our review of DESCENT here.
“If you take the character development that J. K. Rowling is known for in her classic children’s series and mix it with the dark inner recesses of a private criminal investigator in modern-day London, you’ll get some pretty disturbing but unputdownable reads. It’s as if Rowling saved up all of those notes that she filed under maybe-too-dark-for-a-children’s-story, and turned them into an adult crime series.”
Read Stu’s full review of the Cormoran Strike series.
After Harry Potter, many wondered if J. K. Rowling would write again. Few expected her to adopt a pseudonym and successfully turn toward crime fiction. THE CUCKOO’S CALLING is the story of a struggling private investigator as he handles the case of a lifetime: the mysterious death of a supermodel.
“The power of THE LIGHT WE LOST, I think, comes from its simplicity. It’s a story that is, or could be, everyone’s. Yet what it reveals is exceptional and profound. As I was reading, I was consistently reminded of the famous John Lennon quote: ‘Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.’”
Read Carola’s full review of THE LIGHT WE LOST.
“It’s hard to talk more about I’M THINKING OF ENDING THINGS without spoiling it. But once you’ve read it, it’s impossible to talk about anything else. I keep thinking about that description of ‘philosophical thriller’ and how apt it is. The mastery of I’M THINKING OF ENDING THINGS lies within its ability to showcase the most primal and resounding terror of being human and the innermost depths of the mind. Reid brilliantly executed the innate thriller inside of the challenges of defining our identity and a true sense of self, whatever that may mean.”