After the pandemic began and we entered into a life of quarantine, it felt like the entire world flipped on its head. Many of us have felt an overwhelming sense of confusion and sadness, and—quite frankly—an immense amount of boredom. Fortunately, we are also bookworms, so we’ve been preparing all our lives to sit at home with absolutely nothing to do but read. And read we have! As we roll into the final season of 2020, we’re remembering the books that we loved the most while pent up in our homes for the last six months.
Saimah’s Pick #1: Fans of Caroline Kepnes’s YOU won’t want to miss Robyn Harding’s THE ARRANGEMENT. Natalie is a college student living in New York City and struggling to pay the bills. She works part time as a bartender, but it’s not quite enough to make ends meet. One of her classmates suggests becoming a sugar baby (sexual favors optional) to help with her financial problems. Troubles with her roommates lead her to sign up for a website through which she meets Gabe, a handsome corporate finance attorney who is thirty years older. Gabe is charming and protective, and Natalie quickly falls for him. But what starts as a mutually beneficial arrangement turns into an obsession, and soon a body is found outside Gabe’s posh Manhattan apartment. . . .
Saimah’s Pick #2: Thursday’s husband, Seth, has two other wives. In this arrangement, the other wives never meet and don’t know anything about one another. But one day, Thursday finds a note in her husband’s pocket from one of the other wives. Curiosity gets the best of her and under false pretenses, she arranges to meet with the other woman . When Thursday uncovers some horrifying details about the man she married, she wonders about the darkness lurking behind his eyes, which she never saw before. How well do you really know the person you are married to? Tarryn Fisher weaves dark twists that may make you question every word the narrator says in this psychological suspense novel.
Sarah’s Pick: At the beginning of this novel, Edie lives in Bushwick and works in publishing. Watching her navigate the city and the confines of an office was oddly satisfying because it was a welcome reminder of my life in the outside world. Edie’s tone and world views, chapters that often felt like unexpected vignettes, and the sharp language and sensory details all served to transport me to a space both real and immediate, changing with every new crossroad and imbued with social commentary. Then Edie meets Eric, whose open marriage takes on new meaning when she unwittingly gets herself invited to his anniversary party. There she meets his wife and young daughter, and is suddenly absorbed into their lives while trying to handle the stumbling blocks in her own.
Molly’s Pick: ASK AGAIN, YES is a profound and empathetic story about two NYPD officers who are neighbors in the suburbs of New York City. Their families are tied together primarily through the friendship of their children, but a violent act with far-reaching consequences changes everything. Though the book spans many decades, the in-depth character studies cause this expansive story to feel intimate. It is a raw and unpretentious literary novel that makes you consider the strength of love and forgiveness long after the final page.
One of the most beloved novels of the year, the 2019 Tonight Show Summer Reads pick and “magnificent” (NPR) New York Times bestseller offers “profound insights about blame, forgiveness, and abiding love” (People) about two neighboring families in a suburban town, the friendship between their children, the daily intimacies of marriage, and the power of forgiveness.
Francis Gleeson and Brian Stanhope, rookie cops in the NYPD, live next door to each other outside the city. What happens behind closed doors in both houses—the loneliness of Francis’s wife, Lena, and the instability of Brian’s wife, Anne, sets the stage for the explosive events to come.
“A beautiful novel, bursting at the seams with empathy” (Elle), Ask Again, Yes is a deeply affecting and “smartly told” (Entertainment Weekly) exploration of the lifelong friendship and love that blossoms between Kate Gleeson and Peter Stanhope, born six months apart. One shocking night their loyalties are divided, and their bond will be tested again and again over the next forty years. Heartbreaking and redemptive, Ask Again, Yes is a gorgeous portrait of a relationship haunted by echoes from the past, yet marked by tenderness, generosity, and grace.
How Small Moments, Family, and Forgiveness Inspired Mary Beth Keane to Write Her Beautiful Novel, Ask Again, Yes
Holly’s Pick #1: THIS TENDER LAND was probably the best book I read in quarantine, if not this entire year. The exquisite descriptions and engrossing adventure provided the perfect literary escape from the anxieties of today’s world. After orphan Odie O’Banion finds himself in trouble with the Lincoln School’s superintendent, he and three other kids flee the cruel school that Native Americans have been forcibly sent to. Set in Minnesota in 1932, THIS TENDER LAND follows the pack of orphans as they run away from their pasts and embark on an adventure down the Mississippi River. On their journey, they meet various characters across the unique American landscape marked by the Great Depression, and in this vast adventure of solitude, they each discover who they truly are.
For fans of Before We Were Yours and Where the Crawdads Sing, “a gripping, poignant tale swathed in both mythical and mystical overtones” (Bob Drury, New York Times bestselling author) that follows four orphans on a life-changing odyssey during the Great Depression, from the New York Times bestselling author of Ordinary Grace.
1932, Minnesota—the Lincoln School is a pitiless place where hundreds of Native American children, forcibly separated from their parents, are sent to be educated. It is also home to an orphan named Odie O’Banion, a lively boy whose exploits earn him the superintendent’s wrath. Forced to flee, he and his brother Albert, their best friend Mose, and a brokenhearted little girl named Emmy steal away in a canoe, heading for the mighty Mississippi and a place to call their own.
Over the course of one unforgettable summer, these four orphans will fly into the unknown and cross paths with others who are adrift, from struggling farmers and traveling faith healers to displaced families and lost souls of all kinds. With the feel of a modern classic, This Tender Land is an enthralling, big-hearted epic that is “more than a simple journey; it is a deeply satisfying odyssey, a quest in search of self and home” (Booklist).
Holly’s Pick #2: The beginning of quarantine seemed to drag on forever as I did absolutely nothing and went absolutely nowhere. There seemed to be no better time to read MY YEAR OF REST AND RELAXATION. The protagonist of this book has a mission to embark on: an extended hibernation period with the help of a combination of drugs. Despite being thin, pretty, and a recent Columbia graduate, there is a dark hole inside her that she feels only sleep can cure. Throughout her year she is prescribed a variety of medications by a very unprofessional doctor. The narrator’s hope through it all is that when she awakens, she will feel brand-new.
Kristin’s Pick: If, like me, the only thing you really feel like doing lately is escaping into a good book, let me recommend THEN SHE WAS GONE. It’s a twisty family drama that you won’t be able to put down. Ellie Mack is the “ultimate golden girl,” the “perfect” daughter who seems to be living a charmed life—right up until she disappears without a trace. The police insist she ran away, but Ellie’s mom, Laurel, knows Ellie would never do that. But what happened to her? Was she abducted? By whom? Is she still alive? Laurel never stops questioning or searching—to the detriment of her marriage and her relationships with her other children—and the disturbing details she uncovers along the way will haunt you long after you turn the last page.
INSTANT NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER
“A riveting thriller.” —PopSugar
“Sharply written with twists and turns.” —Library Journal
“An acutely observed family drama with bone-chilling suspense.” —People
Ellie Mack was the perfect daughter. She was fifteen, the youngest of three. Beloved by her parents, friends, and teachers, and half of a teenaged golden couple. Ellie was days away from an idyllic post-exams summer vacation, with her whole life ahead of her.
And then she was gone.
Now, her mother Laurel Mack is trying to put her life back together. It’s been ten years since her daughter disappeared, seven years since her marriage ended, and only months since the last clue in Ellie’s case was unearthed. So when she meets an unexpectedly charming man in a café, no one is more surprised than Laurel at how quickly their flirtation develops into something deeper. Before she knows it, she’s meeting Floyd’s daughters—and his youngest, Poppy, takes Laurel’s breath away.
Because looking at Poppy is like looking at Ellie. And now, the unanswered questions she’s tried so hard to put to rest begin to haunt Laurel anew. Where did Ellie go? Did she really run away from home, as the police have long suspected, or was there a more sinister reason for her disappearance? Who is Floyd, really? And why does his daughter remind Laurel so viscerally of her own missing girl?
Hannah’s Pick: About four months after we started staying at home all the time, I could not pick up another book—my brain shut down every time I took anything off my to-read shelf. It was a bad rut. And then I bought MEXICAN GOTHIC. I’m not a horror fan, but I do love unexplained magical elements, creepy or otherwise, so I thought I’d give it a chance and I am so grateful I did. Not only did this get me out of my reading rut, but it was by far one of the best books I’ve read recently. In 1950s Mexico, a young socialite named Noemi travels to a mountain town to visit her cousin, who thinks the house she lives in with her controlling new husband and his strange family is trying to kill her. The house is creepy, and the more time Noemi spends there, the more terrifying her dreams about it become. This book is a big nod to the Gothic genre, social commentary and all, and is just gruesome enough that non-horror fans like me can still enjoy it.
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