Listen, we see it on our Twitter feeds, in our newspapers, on our televisions, and talk about it at the dinner table. The world is in constant turmoil. And while we wouldn’t recommend putting your head in the sand—let this list of feel-good stories be your safe space…even for just 300 or so pages. These novels are deeply human stories about family, love, self-discovery—and there’s even some magic sprinkled in.
Once in a while, I come across a rare, wonderful book that I just want to hug to my chest as soon as I’ve finished the last page. A book where the characters have become like dear friends and I feel so grateful to have been privvy to their lives for a brief while. As I finished reading THE TOWER, THE ZOO, AND THE TORTOISE, with a delighted smile on my face and tears on my cheeks, I knew it was one of those special books. […] At its heart, it’s an honest and moving meditation on loss, the different ways people grieve, and moving beyond heartbreak to open oneself up to healing and love. Pick up this book and prepare to be immersed in the whimsical setting, surrounded by lovable characters and moved by their triumphs and tribulations. Who knew a visit to a famous prison could be such a delight!
If you were raised on Sixteen Candles and Pretty in Pink, love throwback music marathons, or just started binge-watching Stranger Things, this novel’s for you. Set in small-town New Jersey in 1987, THE IMPOSSIBLE FORTRESS is a funny and sweet coming-of-age tale starring Billy Marvin, a 14-year-old boy who spends his time biking around town with his friends, watching a ton of television, and planning a top-secret mission to obtain the newest issue of Playboy magazine, featuring Vanna White as the centerfold. Then he meets Mary Zelinsky, and everything changes.
If your favorite character is Steve HarringtonIf you liked the era cameos in the Duffer Brothers’ ode to the 80s (from D&D games to Steve Harrington’s hair) you’ll love the mentions of Commodore 64s, early Springsteen & Jolt cola in the love letter to the 80s which is THE IMPOSSIBLE FORTRESS. It follows Billy Marvin and his friends as they hatch a madcap scheme which leads Billy to falsely befriend a loner girl who happens to be a computer whiz. But just as Steve seems like a jerk initially, his heartfelt feelings towards another bad-ass female character (Go Nancy!) mimics how Billy’s feelings also lead him down the right path.
An irresistible, insightful, fast-paced drama about the unexpected epiphanies that emerge in times of grief, the messy complexity of life, and the ways in which family shapes our identity, there is something universal about THE ANTIQUES. Despite being deeply flawed, I love these affectionately rendered characters. They all feel comfortably familiar and I often forget that the Westfalls are fictional and not my next-door neighbors. Perhaps that’s why I feel like I can give this book to any reader. Or maybe it’s just because this is a really good book with lots of laughs and smart social commentary about the way we live. Either way, I can’t wait to give this book to readers everywhere.
I've read this novel three times. If that's not enough to make you go out right now and purchase your own colorful fruit-covered copy, at least suggest it for your next discussion. It's a gorgeous meditation on family, responsibilities, memory, and understanding one's place in life. When it was the subject of a Girls Night In evening, everyone brought their own insights of families, aging parents, and debilitating diseases, and we bonded over beautiful lines we'd each underlined.
Jess Kidd’s imaginative, haunting, and surprisingly funny debut novel, HIMSELF, found a home in readers’ hearts worldwide. MR. FLOOD’S LAST RESORT (known as THE HOARDER outside the US) is an equally ghastly and eccentric dark comedy that fans of HIMSELF will love even more. MR. FLOOD’S LAST RESORT follows caretaker Maud Drennan, who is assigned to help the menacing Cathal Flood get his house in order. But as Maud digs deeper into the mansion, buried secrets come to light, and she searches for answers in the forgotten case of a missing schoolgirl.
Sometimes, it’s okay to judge a book by its cover. I picked up Jen Beagin’s debut novel, PRETEND I’M DEAD, because the combination of that title and the rubber-gloved hand holding a cigarette on the jacket drew me in. After reading the back cover and learning that the book involved a love interest named Mr. Disgusting, I knew I had to read it. Judging by those things, I figured I was in for a truly unique, offbeat, and probably sharply funny story. It is all of those things and so much more.
Where EIGHT HUNDRED GRAPES used wine and cultivating vineyards to illustrate developments in varied relationships, in HELLO, SUNSHINE, Dave uses social media to explore the magnitude and slippery slope of small falsehoods. The novel meditates on the ease of separating your reality from an idealized presentation, and how this separation affects yourself and those around you. In Sunshine’s extreme case, it results in returning home to her estranged sister and starting from scratch—but grounding herself in honesty rather than exercising filters, hashtags, and apps.
Britt-Marie, the “nag-bag” from MY GRANDMOTHER, is the eponymous character in this truly wonderful book. She is a woman who has been underappreciated, ignored, and scorned, and she isn’t taking it anymore. (It is worth noting that MY GRANDMOTHER isn’t a prerequisite novel for reading BRITT-MARIE. I read BRITT-MARIE first, and, if anything, it made me love MY GRANDMOTHER even more.) When her decades-long marriage ends and life as she knows it is over, Britt-Marie, now in her 60s, begins the novel doing what all newly independent adults are forced to do: she looks for a job. Unfortunately, taking care of a home doesn’t translate to the job market well. This leads her to a new life in Borg.
Backman’s latest, BRITT-MARIE WAS HERE, is an irresistible novel about finding love and second chances in the most unlikely of places. We are packing our bags to move to Sweden.
Louisa Clark has been through a lot. In ME BEFORE YOU, she got her first real job as an aide and companion to the ornery but (let's face it) extremely lovable Will Traynor. In AFTER YOU, she endured the loss of a loved one, moved out on her own, nearly died, and fell in love again. In STILL ME, Louisa takes on her biggest obstacle yet: New York City. While the challenges of life don't exactly let up, this third installment of Louisa's story is a beautiful ode to self-discovery. I relate so much to her growth as a woman: moving to a large city to find herself, learning to love again, and embracing the setbacks of life and turning them into victories.
I packed Alice Hoffman’s THE RULES OF MAGIC on a summer trip to New Orleans, thinking it might be a fun airplane read. I started reading it before takeoff and didn’t even realize that two hours had passed until we landed. I was transfixed. I took a taxi from the airport to my hotel, dropped off my luggage, and immediately found a coffee shop a few blocks away so I could finish reading. It was hot and humid, muggy and miserable outside. But in my head, it was fall—with a cool, crisp breeze and that sense of magic in the air that always permeates the atmosphere during the month of October. I was transported to a magical 1960s New York City.
It was Henry David Thoreau who said, "How vain it is to sit down to write when you have not stood up to live." Is this what fictional novelist Robert Eady had in mind in PARIS BY THE BOOK? Did he disappear to Paris while secretly working on a manuscript set there? His wife, Leah, is uncertain, but she's willing to fly her family to France using the hidden plane tickets she discovers while looking for him. There she and her daughters find a surprise career as booksellers while they search for clues and wonder about Robert's fate.