Throughout our five years of reading and recommending (and repeating), one thing remains true—there are always certain books that will never leave us. We’ve been lucky to have had such encounters over the years and wanted to share them with you. We took a look back at our libraries from 2014–2018 and unearthed the books that we hold dear. Here are our favorite books from the last five years.
I read this book before I got into sales—before I started making sales calls to small but beautifully curated bookstores and met some fabulous buyers, several of whom are a little like Mr. A. J. Fikry. But still, this book touched my heart and made me swoon. It’s grump-lit before grump-lit was a thing, up-lit before up-lit was a thing, and a sweet, tender book about how the smallest of actions can have the most profound effects. This was one of those books where I had to keep reading when I got to work, and once I finished, I had to sit and come down off the cloud I was reading upon. Five years later, I still remember that feeling.
A.J. Fikry’s life is not going according to plan. Unmarried, alone, and running a bookstore on the brink of collapse, he has just discovered that one of his most prized possessions, a rare folio of poems written by Edgar Allen Poe, has been stolen. But when a mysterious package appears one morning at the store, its unexpected arrival gives him the chance to see everything anew.
I never would have expected to describe a post-apocalyptic world as beautiful, but with Emily St. John Mandel at the helm (have I mentioned I’d follow her anywhere?), a disease that decimates a majority of the population sets the stage for one of the best books I’ve ever read. Yes, the aftermath is devastating and raw, but Mandel’s insights are spot-on and at times almost too crushingly revelatory of human nature. It’s society’s attempts to rebuild and persevere, characters immersing themselves in art, words, and music, that bring the most powerful and thought-provoking scenes in a novel full of connections—both expected and unexpected.
For fans of “The Walking Dead”
While “The Walking Dead” hero Rick Grimes and his gang are keeping hope alive but losing their grip fast after a zombie apocalypse, STATION ELEVEN’s Kirsten Raymonde and her band, the Symphony, have dedicated themselves to keeping the remnants of art and humanity alive after a mysterious pandemic has ravaged civilization.
As anyone who looks at my writing for Off the Shelf will know, I am a huge Stephen King fan. I love his imaginative, chilling fiction as well as his nonfiction writing about his life and how he finds inspiration for his work. This gift of a story collection contains both. The tales here offer insightful exploration of themes like mortality, the afterlife, guilt, and the lengths we would go to correct the mistakes of the past. We meet a newspaper columnist who discovers he can kill people by writing their obituaries; we meet a man who dies of colon cancer and is forced to relive his same flawed life over and over. Each story is accompanied by an equally fascinating introduction in which King explains when he wrote the story and how it came together in his imagination.
Includes the story “Premium Harmony”—set in the fictional town of Castle Rock, Maine
The masterful #1 New York Times bestselling story collection from O. Henry Prize winner Stephen King that includes twenty-one iconic stories with accompanying autobiographical comments on when, why and how he came to write (or rewrite) each one.
For more than thirty-five years, Stephen King has dazzled readers with his genius as a writer of short fiction. In this new collection he introduces each story with a passage about its origins or his motivations for writing it.
As Entertainment Weekly said about this collection: “Bazaar of Bad Dreams is bursting with classic King terror, but what we love most are the thoughtful introductions he gives to each tale that explain what was going on in his life as he wrote it."
There are thrilling connections between stories; themes of morality, the afterlife, guilt, what we would do differently if we could see into the future or correct the mistakes of the past. In “Afterlife,” a man who died of colon cancer keeps reliving the same life, repeating his mistakes over and over again. Several stories feature characters at the end of life, revisiting their crimes and misdemeanors. Others address what happens when someone discovers that he has supernatural powers—the columnist who kills people by writing their obituaries in “Obits;” the old judge in “The Dune” who, as a boy, canoed to a deserted island and saw names written in the sand, people who then died in freak accidents. In “Morality,” King looks at how a marriage and two lives fall apart after the wife and husband enter into what seems, at first, a devil’s pact they can win.
“I made these stories especially for you,” says King. “Feel free to examine them, but please be careful. The best of them have teeth.”
-Batman and Robin Have an Altercation
-Bad Little Kid
-The Bone Church
-Herman Wouk Is Still Alive
-Under the Weather
-The Little Green God of Agony
-That Bus Is Another World
There were so many phenomenal books in 2015. A few personal favorites include A LITTLE LIFE, MY GRANDMOTHER ASKED ME TO TELL YOU SHE’S SORRY, BETWEEN THE WORLD AND ME, and INSIDE THE O’BRIENS. However, when I think of 2015 in reading, I think THE GIRL ON THE TRAIN. It created, or at least resparked, the desire for the genre of unreliable narrators. Its influence on pop culture will be felt for many years to come. Aside from that, it was just a really, really fun read! Sometimes you have to admit that an edge-of-your-seat mystery/thriller can be the best book of the year.
On her daily train ride, Rachel witnesses something shocking among the stretch of cozy suburban homes she once brazenly surveyed. She involves the police and is irrevocably entangled in the mess that unfolds. An obsessive read with captivating unreliable narration, GIRL ON THE TRAIN is a stunning Hitchcockian debut.
Mark Manson preaches to the masses the power of not giving a duck (stupid autocorrect…). With his comedic nature and obscene metaphors, he’ll have you laughing a slightly uncomfortable amount for a self-help book. The majority of people have the misconception that life’s purpose is to have all ups and no downs. Sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but that’s not going to happen. The downs are inevitable (BUT THAT’S OKAY). We need to choose the downs we’d like to battle that align with our personal values. You have to pick and choose the ducks you give out. In Mark Manson’s words, “The problem with people who hand out [d]ucks like ice cream at a […]summer camp is that they don’t have anything more [d]uck-worthy to dedicate their [d]ucks to.” We all have a limited number of ducks to give out, so pay attention to where and who you give them out to.
So technically THE FISHERMEN was published in its first format in 2015 and then came out in paperback in 2016. There’s never an opportunity to talk about this heartwrenching book that I won’t take. It’s been years since I picked up Chigozie Obioma’s Cain and Abel-esque debut and I’ve done my due diligence in recommending it to as many people as I can. But you may not know that this book was recommended to me by one of you (yes, reader, you). Managing the Off the Shelf Facebook page, I came across a comment about this novel and it is now one of my all-time favorite books. Thank you, OTS reader, for the recommendation. We’ve taught you well.
When their strict father has to travel for work, four brothers skip school and go fishing. At the ominous nearby river, they meet a dangerous local madman who persuades the oldest of the boys that he is destined to be killed by one of his siblings. THE FISHERMEN is the Cain and Abel-esque story of an unforgettable childhood in 1990s Nigeria.
I don’t know about you, but I think 2017 was an amazing year for books, particularly because one of my favorite books by one of my favorite authors came out that year. THE TEA GIRL OF HUMMINGBIRD LANE made its literary debut on March 21, 2017, just around the time Off the Shelf was turning three, and what an incredible birthday present it was. This novel portrays the story of a Chinese mother from a small, secluded village and her daughter, who has been adopted by an American couple. It so poignantly introduces you to an often ignored but very real community in modern China while providing an intimate look into the experience of a child adopted from China. When I first read it, I couldn’t put this book down, and I think I might reread it to celebrate our fifth birthday.
There are moments when we discover a new (for us) work of art that we remember forever. I doubt I’ll ever forget the first time I ever listened to N.W.A.’s album Straight Outta Compton in college. I’ve been fascinated by this complex and often problematic group ever since. Gerrick D. Kennedy’s eye-opening and comprehensive exploration of N.W.A. and gangsta rap is an unputdownable and accessible work of nonfiction. Whether or not you’re a longtime fan of rap or someone simply interested in the cultural landscape of late ’80s and early ’90s America, PARENTAL DISCRETION IS ADVISED is a stunning and remarkable book that will change the way you look at rap music.
Experience the stunning rise, fall, and legacy of N.W.A. and how they put their stamp on pop culture, black culture, and hip-hop music forever in this “incredibly vivid look at one of music’s most iconic groups” (Associated Press).
In 1986, a group was formed that would establish the foundation of gangsta rap and push the genre forward, electrifying fans with their visceral and profane lyrics that glorified the dark ways of street life and brazenly challenged the police system.
Eazy-E, Dr. Dre, Ice Cube, MC Ren, and DJ Yella caused a seismic shift in hip-hop when they decided to form N.W.A in 1986. With their hard-core image, bombastic sound, and lyrics that were equal parts poetic, lascivious, conscious, and downright in-your-face, N.W.A spoke the truth about life on the streets of Compton, California—then a hotbed of poverty, drugs, gangs, and unemployment.
Going beyond the story portrayed in the 2015 blockbuster movie Straight Outta Compton, through firsthand interviews, extensive research, and top-notch storytelling, Los Angeles Times music reporter Gerrick Kennedy transports you back in time and offers a front-row seat to N.W.A’s early days and the drama and controversy that followed the incendiary group as they rose to become multiplatinum artists.
Kennedy leaves nothing off the table in his pursuit of the full story behind the group’s most pivotal moments, such as Ice Cube’s decision to go solo after their debut studio album became a smash hit; their battle with the FBI over inflammatory lyrics; incidents of physical assault; Dr. Dre’s departure from the group to form Death Row Records with Suge Knight; their impact on the 1992 L.A. riots; Eazy-E’s battle with AIDS; and much more.
A bold, riveting, “non-stop, can’t-put-it-down ride” (Library Journal), Parental Discretion Is Advised unveils the true and astonishing history of one of the most transcendent and controversial musical groups of the 1980s and 1990s.
For two best friends who’ve agreed to keep things “strictly platonic” because they’re “just too different as people,” Josh and Hazel sure managed to do a number on my heart. That’s because it’s pretty obvious from the beginning that the pair are made for each other, even if they can’t see it yet. Indeed, much of JOSH & HAZEL’S GUIDE TO NOT DATING revolves around the hilariously bad double dates they set each other up on—dates that seem to get worse as they grow closer (hmm . . .). What took this rom-com to the next level for me, though, were the sweet, relatable characters, who truly are polar opposites: Hazel thrives in chaos while Josh craves order; she’s exuberant whereas he’s chill; I could go on. But they both know who they are, and won’t change for anyone, even each other. The best part is watching them figure out that they don’t need to.
Most men can’t handle Hazel. But her best friend Josh isn’t most men. Don’t miss New York Times bestselling author Christina Lauren’s new novel about two people who are definitely not dating…no matter how often they end up in bed together.
Hazel Camille Bradford knows she’s a lot to take—and frankly, most men aren’t up to the challenge. If her army of pets and thrill for the absurd don’t send them running, her lack of filter means she’ll say exactly the wrong thing in a delicate moment. Their loss. She’s a good soul in search of honest fun.
Josh Im has known Hazel since college, where her zany playfulness proved completely incompatible with his mellow restraint. From the first night they met—when she gracelessly threw up on his shoes—to when she sent him an unintelligible email while in a post-surgical haze, Josh has always thought of Hazel more as a spectacle than a peer. But now, ten years later, after a cheating girlfriend has turned his life upside down, going out with Hazel is a breath of fresh air.
Not that Josh and Hazel date. At least, not each other. Because setting each other up on progressively terrible double blind dates means there’s nothing between them...right?
A self-diagnosed “plot-twist junkie,” I love watching and reading as the mystery in a psychological thriller unravels. But between Iain Reid’s debut novel I’M THINKING OF ENDING THINGS and his novel FOE, Reid has managed to completely upend the psychological thriller genre, sprinkling in philosophical questions and commentary throughout both novels. In FOE, the strength (and validity?) of the marriage of the two main characters is tested when a government official comes to take the husband away for an important and experimental trip. Reid’s minimalistic writing style somehow says more than what is on the page, which makes FOE an obsessive read. When I read this, I instantly wanted a Black Mirror episode adaptation. If you love the show, psychological thrillers, and are curious about philosophical thrillers, then Read. This. Book.