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10 Books About New Beginnings for a Brighter 2021

January 6 2021
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Let’s face it: 2020 was a doozy. But with the new year here, now is the time to look ahead to a brighter, better 2021. Whether you are in the mood for a cathartic cry, a meditative glance back at what you’ve lived through, an inspiring look ahead to what comes next, or just a plain good time, these ten radiant reads will get your 2021 started right. Recommend them to a friend, read them with a loved one, or just devour them yourself; we could all use a little lift from these shining stories as we look forward to a year of new beginnings.

Britt-Marie Was Here
by Fredrik Backman

Britt-Marie can’t stand disorder. So, when her life becomes one giant disordered mess, Britt-Marie finds herself isolated and directionless in the Podunk town of Borg. While its outcast residents initially find Britt-Marie awkward and rude, they begin to change their minds when she takes on the impossible task of rejuvenating the town’s losing children’s soccer team. Both charming and moving, this story of a woman fighting to find her place in the world will have you both laughing and crying in turns.

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Britt-Marie Was Here
Fredrik Backman

The New York Times bestselling author of A Man Called Ove and My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She’s Sorry “returns with this heartwarming story about a woman rediscovering herself after a personal crisis…fans of Backman will find another winner in these pages” (Publishers Weekly).

Britt-Marie can’t stand mess. A disorganized cutlery drawer ranks high on her list of unforgivable sins. She is not one to judge others—no matter how ill-mannered, unkempt, or morally suspect they might be. It’s just that sometimes people interpret her helpful suggestions as criticisms, which is certainly not her intention.

But hidden inside the socially awkward, fussy busybody is a woman who has more imagination, bigger dreams, and a warmer heart that anyone around her realizes.

When Britt-Marie walks out on her cheating husband and has to fend for herself in the miserable backwater town of Borg—of which the kindest thing one can say is that it has a road going through it—she finds work as the caretaker of a soon-to-be demolished recreation center. The fastidious Britt-Marie soon finds herself being drawn into the daily doings of her fellow citizens, an odd assortment of miscreants, drunkards, layabouts. Most alarming of all, she’s given the impossible task of leading the supremely untalented children’s soccer team to victory. In this small town of misfits, can Britt-Marie find a place where she truly belongs?

Funny and moving, sweet and inspiring, Britt-Marie Was Here celebrates the importance of community and connection in a world that can feel isolating.

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The Midnight Library
by Matt Haig

In this whimsical, empathetic read, bestselling author Matt Haig invents a world between worlds in which there is a library. Each book holds the story of the lives people have led, as well as the lives they could have led had they made different decisions at key moments. When Nora Seed gets to browse the library and decide which story of her life she should have lived, she will come face-to-face with the central questions of existence: What makes our lives fulfilling? And what is it that inspires us to keep living?

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The Midnight Library
Matt Haig

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City of Flickering Light
by Juliette Fay

In the summer of 1921, three best friends—Irene, Millie, and Henry—head west for the thrill and glamour of Hollywood. Determined to make it in the burgeoning silent film industry, the trio is initially awed and inspired by what they find. But Hollywood isn’t all glitz; soon, their search for love and success meets with the poverty-stricken, desperate reality of the times. With their ambitions continuously stymied, the strength of their friendship is tested again and again in this heartfelt, transporting novel.

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City of Flickering Light
Juliette Fay

Juliette Fay—“one of the best authors of women’s fiction” (Library Journal)—transports us back to the Golden Age of Hollywood and the raucous Roaring Twenties, as three friends struggle to earn their places among the stars of the silent screen—perfect for fans of La La Land and Rules of Civility.

It’s July 1921, “flickers” are all the rage, and Irene Van Beck has just declared her own independence by jumping off a moving train to escape her fate in a traveling burlesque show. When her friends, fellow dancer Millie Martin and comedian Henry Weiss, leap after her, the trio finds their way to the bright lights of Hollywood with hopes of making it big in the burgeoning silent film industry.

At first glance, Hollywood in the 1920s is like no other place on earth—iridescent, scandalous, and utterly exhilarating—and the three friends yearn for a life they could only have dreamed of before. But despite the glamour and seduction of Tinseltown, success doesn’t come easy, and nothing can prepare Irene, Millie, and Henry for the poverty, temptation, and heartbreak that lie ahead. With their ambitions challenged by both the men above them and the prejudice surrounding them, their friendship is the only constant through desperate times, as each struggles to find their true calling in an uncertain world. What begins as a quest for fame and fortune soon becomes a collective search for love, acceptance, and fulfillment as they navigate the backlots and stage sets where the illusions of the silver screen are brought to life.

With her “trademark wit and grace” (Randy Susan Meyers, author of The Murderer’s Daughters), Juliette Fay crafts another radiant and fascinating historical novel as thrilling as the bygone era of Hollywood itself.

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Year of Yes
by Shonda Rhimes

In YEAR OF YES, Shonda Rhimes, the award-winning director and producer of such beloved shows as Grey’s Anatomy, Scandal, and How to Get Away With Murder, offers a generous, humorous, and inspirational peek into her life. While she has reached the level of mega-success by writing bold and audacious characters, Shonda herself is an introvert who had to embrace the challenge of the spotlight in order to speak out. This memoir traces the years of Shonda’s rise to stardom with vulnerability and insight.

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Year of Yes
Shonda Rhimes

The instant New York Times bestseller from the creator of Grey’s Anatomy and Scandal and executive producer of How to Get Away With Murder shares how saying YES changed her life. “As fun to read as Rhimes’s TV series are to watch” (Los Angeles Times).

She’s the creator and producer of some of the most groundbreaking and audacious shows on television today. Her iconic characters live boldly and speak their minds. So who would suspect that Shonda Rhimes is an introvert? That she hired a publicist so she could avoid public appearances? That she suffered panic attacks before media interviews?

With three children at home and three hit television shows, it was easy for Shonda to say she was simply too busy. But in truth, she was also afraid. And then, over Thanksgiving dinner, her sister muttered something that was both a wake up and a call to arms: You never say yes to anything. Shonda knew she had to embrace the challenge: for one year, she would say YES to everything that scared her.

This poignant, intimate, and hilarious memoir explores Shonda’s life before her Year of Yes—from her nerdy, book-loving childhood to her devotion to creating television characters who reflected the world she saw around her. The book chronicles her life after her Year of Yes had begun—when Shonda forced herself out of the house and onto the stage; when she learned to explore, empower, applaud, and love her truest self. Yes.

“Honest, raw, and revelatory” (The Washington Post), this wildly candid and compulsively readable book reveals how the mega talented Shonda Rhimes finally achieved badassery worthy of a Shondaland character. Best of all, she “can help motivate even the most determined homebody to get out and try something new” (Chicago Tribune).

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Navigate Your Stars
by Jesmyn Ward

In 2018, Jesmyn Ward, the New York Times bestselling-author of SALVAGE THE BONES and SING, UNBURIED, SING, offered an illuminating and moving commencement speech to Tulane University. Now available to people about to embark on new beginnings everywhere, Ward’s speech is both a stirring reflection on her own journey as a first-generation college student and novelist and an uplifting meditation on the importance of hard work and dedication in times of impossible hardship. Family ties and perseverance serve as the backbone of Ward’s invaluable advice for generations to come.

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Navigate Your Stars
Jesmyn Ward

A revelatory, uplifting, and gorgeously illustrated meditation on dedication, hard work, and the power of perseverance from the beloved, New York Times bestselling, and two-time National Book Award–winning Jesmyn Ward.

For Tulane University’s 2018 commencement, Jesmyn Ward delivered a stirring speech about the value of hard work and the importance of respect for oneself and others. Speaking about the challenges she and her family overcame, Ward inspired everyone in the audience with her meditation on tenacity in the face of hardship. Ward’s moving words will inspire readers as they prepare for the next chapter in their lives, whether, like Ward, they are the first in their families to graduate from college or are preceded by generations, or whether they are embarking on a different kind of journey later in life.

Beautifully illustrated in full color by Gina Triplett, this gorgeous and profound book will charm a generation of students—and their parents. Ward’s inimitable voice shines through as she shares her experience as a Southern black woman and addresses the themes of grit, adversity, and the importance of family bonds. Navigate Your Stars is a perfect gift for anyone in need of inspiration from the author of Salvage the Bones, Men We Reaped, and Sing, Unburied, Sing.

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The Light After the War
by Anita Abriel

During the Holocaust, best friends Vera and Edith make a daring escape from a train bound for Auschwitz in 1944. They spend the rest of the war in hiding on an Austrian farm, but when the war ends, they travel to Naples to make a fresh start. Vera gets a job at the United States embassy and falls in love with Captain Anton Wight, only to be tossed into uncertainty again when he disappears. Vera and Edith’s journey to find love, build careers, and overcome their traumas takes them from Naples to America and to Caracas (where Edith is intent on becoming a fashion designer) in this evocative story of friendship and survival based on the author’s mother’s life.

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The Light After the War
Anita Abriel

Inspired by an incredible true story of two Jewish friends who survived the Holocaust, this “heartfelt and memorable tale of family, love, resilience, and the triumph of human spirit” (Pam Jenoff, New York Times bestselling author) spans World War II from Budapest to Austria and the postwar years from Naples to Caracas, perfect for fans of The German Girl and We Were the Lucky Ones.

Spring 1946: Best friends Vera Frankel and Edith Ban arrive in Naples. Refugees from Hungary, they managed to escape from a train headed for Auschwitz and spent the rest of the war hiding on an Austrian farm. Now, the two young women are starting new lives abroad.

Armed with a letter of recommendation from an American officer, Vera finds work at the United States embassy where she falls in love with Captain Anton Wight. But as Vera and Edith grapple with the aftermath of the war, so too does Anton, and when he suddenly disappears, Vera is forced to change course. Their quest for a better life takes Vera and Edith from Naples to Ellis Island to Caracas as they start careers, reunite with old friends, and rebuild their lives after terrible loss.

Moving, evocative, and compelling, The Light After the War is a timely and “unforgettable story of strength, love, and survival” (Jillian Cantor, USA TODAY bestselling author).

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Let Us Dream
by Pope Francis

Throughout the COVID-19 crisis, spiritual leader Pope Francis was both dismayed by the inequality the pandemic revealed and inspired by the perseverance and unconditional love displayed by so many people. In this hopeful and pragmatic book, Francis opens up about the crises that defined his own life and offers a scathing critique of the systems of power and ideology that have led our world away from serving the marginalized and poor. Ultimately, Francis offers a practical plan for how we can rebuild a better world, from the ground up.

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Let Us Dream
Pope Francis

In this uplifting and practical book, written in collaboration with his biographer, Austen Ivereigh, the preeminent spiritual leader explains why we must—and how we can—make the world safer, fairer, and healthier for all people now.

In the COVID crisis, the beloved shepherd of over one billion Catholics saw the cruelty and inequity of our society exposed more vividly than ever before. He also saw, in the resilience, generosity, and creativity of so many people, the means to rescue our society, our economy, and our planet. In direct, powerful prose, Pope Francis urges us not to let the pain be in vain.

He begins Let Us Dream by exploring what this crisis can teach us about how to handle upheaval of any kind in our own lives and the world at large. With unprecedented candor, he reveals how three crises in his own life changed him dramatically for the better. By its very nature, he shows, crisis presents us with a choice: we make a grievous error if we try to return to some pre-crisis state. But if we have the courage to change, we can emerge from the crisis better than before.

Francis then offers a brilliant, scathing critique of the systems and ideologies that conspired to produce the current crisis, from a global economy obsessed with profit and heedless of the people and environment it harms, to politicians who foment their people’s fear and use it to increase their own power at their people’s expense. He reminds us that Christians’ first duty is to serve others, especially the poor and the marginalized, just as Jesus did.

Finally, the Pope offers an inspiring and actionable blueprint for building a better world for all humanity by putting the poor and the planet at the heart of new thinking. For this plan, he draws not only on sacred sources, but on the latest findings from renowned scientists, economists, activists, and other thinkers. Yet rather than simply offer prescriptions, he shows how ordinary people acting together despite their differences can discover unforeseen possibilities.

Along the way, he offers dozens of wise and surprising observations on the value of unconventional thinking, on why we must dramatically increase women’s leadership in the Church and throughout society, on what he learned while scouring the streets of Buenos Aires with garbage-pickers, and much more.

Let Us Dream is an epiphany, a call to arms, and a pleasure to read. It is Pope Francis at his most personal, profound and passionate. With this book and with open hearts, we can change the world.

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The Perfect Find
by Tia Williams

THE PERFECT FIND is a hysterically funny love story from bestselling author Tia Williams. Jenna Jones, a former It-girl and fashion editor, needs a comeback. Dumped by her fiancé, fired from her job, and wearing last-season Walmart clothes, Jenna is forced to beg her old rival Darcy for a job at StyleZine.com. But despite Jenna’s old fame, she feels out of her league surrounded by hipper millennial hires. And the twenty-two-year-old videographer with the killer smile doesn’t make the situation any easier, although he might make it more fun.…

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The Perfect Find
Tia Williams

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The Helpline
by Katherine Collette

Senior mathematician Germaine finds security in her analytical insurance job and her Sudoku puzzles. When she is fired, she begins answering phones at City Hall for the Senior Citizens Helpline and receives pressure from both the mayor and an influential community member (a national Sudoku champion and Germaine’s long-time hero) to squash a group of troublemaking seniors. While at first Germaine sees the logic in repressing the coup, she soon second guesses the plan when she gets to know the cantankerous but lovable people at the heart of the conflict.

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The Helpline
Katherine Collette

An eccentric woman who is great with numbers—but not so great with people—realizes it’s up to her to pull a community together in this charming, big-hearted, “fun read, full of unique characters” (Associated Press)—perfect for fans of Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine and The Rosie Project.

Germaine Johnson doesn’t need friends. She has her work and her Sudoku puzzles. Until, that is, an incident at her insurance company leaves her jobless—and it turns out that there are very few openings these days for senior mathematicians with zero people skills.

Desperate, Germaine manages to secure a position at City Hall answering calls on the Senior Citizens Helpline. But it turns out that the mayor has something else in mind for Germaine: a secret project involving the troublemakers at the senior citizens center and their feud with the neighboring golf club—which happens to be run by the dashing yet disgraced national Sudoku champion, Don Thomas.

Don and the mayor want the senior center closed down and at first, Germaine is dedicated to helping them out—it makes sense mathematically, after all. But when Germaine actually gets to know the group of elderly rebels at the senior center, they open her eyes to a life outside of boxes and numbers and for the first time ever, Germaine realizes she may have miscalculated.

Filled with a unique and (occasionally) cranky cast of characters you can’t help but love, The Helpline is “delightful feel-good fun” (Toni Jordan, author of Addition) that is bound to capture your heart.

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Things You Save in a Fire
by Katherine Center

Cassie has worked hard to become her own hero: a tough-as-nails Texan firefighter who can solve anyone else’s emergencies. But when she moves to Boston to care for her sickly, estranged mother, Cassie finds she may not be able to cope with her own emergency. The underfunded, old-school firehouse in Boston isn’t willing to accept Cassie easily and Cassie’s inconvenient attraction to a rookie threatens to disrupt the image she’s worked so hard to build. THINGS YOU SAVE IN A FIRE is an indomitable story of hard-won bravery and strength.

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Things You Save in a Fire
Katherine Center

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