January was quite the whirlwind, but at least we had books to seek solace in! Looking back at all the books we’ve talked about on Off the Shelf this month, here’s what resonated with our readers the most, from innovative narratives to harrowing historical fiction. The books in this list may include multiple genres, but they all make thought-provoking reads and incorporate impactful themes of community and identity.
The 15 Most Popular Books of January
Beloved by millions of readers, ALL THE LIGHT WE CANNOT SEE follows a blind French girl and a German boy whose paths collide in occupied France as they both try to survive the devastation of World War II. The breakout hit of 2014, this beautiful novel was a finalist for the National Book Award and won the 2015 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. If you haven’t read this one yet, it should be at the top of your spring reading list. Read more about what inspired Anthony Doerr to write his Pulitzer Prize–Winning Novel.
Winner of the Pulitzer Prize, a New York Times Book Review Top Ten Book, National Book Award finalist, more than two and a half years on the New York Times bestseller list
From the highly acclaimed, multiple award-winning Anthony Doerr, the stunningly beautiful instant New York Times bestseller about a blind French girl and a German boy whose paths collide in occupied France as both try to survive the devastation of World War II.
Marie-Laure lives in Paris near the Museum of Natural History, where her father works. When she is twelve, the Nazis occupy Paris and father and daughter flee to the walled citadel of Saint-Malo, where Marie-Laure’s reclusive great uncle lives in a tall house by the sea. With them they carry what might be the museum’s most valuable and dangerous jewel.
In a mining town in Germany, Werner Pfennig, an orphan, grows up with his younger sister, enchanted by a crude radio they find that brings them news and stories from places they have never seen or imagined. Werner becomes an expert at building and fixing these crucial new instruments and is enlisted to use his talent to track down the resistance. Deftly interweaving the lives of Marie-Laure and Werner, Doerr illuminates the ways, against all odds, people try to be good to one another.
Doerr’s “stunning sense of physical detail and gorgeous metaphors” (San Francisco Chronicle) are dazzling. Ten years in the writing, a National Book Award finalist, All the Light We Cannot See is a magnificent, deeply moving novel from a writer “whose sentences never fail to thrill” (Los Angeles Times).
Rosemary Peterson’s calm, routine lifestyle is upended when her beloved outdoor pool where she holds memories of her husband is threatened with closure by a local housing developer. Thankfully a reporter takes interest in the story and teams up with Rosemary to save the neighborhood institution. MORNINGS WITH ROSEMARY is a charming feel-good novel that captures the heart and spirit of a community across generations—an irresistible tale of love, loss, aging, and friendship.
In MARRIAGE OF OPPOSITES, Rachel grows up on the idyllic St. Thomas in the early 1800s, but dreams of a life in Paris. Rachel’s mother, on the other hand, has been a pillar of their small refugee community of Jews who escaped the Inquisition and does not approve of Rachel’s wistful longings. She marries Rachel off to an older man in hopes of saving the family business. But once this man suddenly dies, his nephew, Frédérick, arrives from France to settle the estate. A defiant, passionate love affair ensues between Rachel and this new man, sparking a scandal that affects all her family.
Wendy’s Fictional Dinner Party Guest: Rachel Pomié Petit Pizzarro
Rachel Pomié Petit Pizzarro is a woman full of fire and life. A businesswoman, a romantic, a renegade, she’s quite the nineteenth-century badass, not taking anyone else’s advice on how to live her life. I respect and admire her passion, vulnerability, and fearlessness in the face of the judgment of her insular St. Thomas community. She followed her heart, suffered for it, and lived the life she wanted—with a great love and many children, one of whom was the artist Camille Pissarro, father of Impressionism. No doubt, she would command the room.
At twenty-two, Elle Bee doesn’t believe in happy endings. She moves to London. She gets a job at Bluebird Books, a charmingly old-fashioned publisher. She makes lots of mistakes and feels like she’s learning nothing and everything at the same time. And then, out of the blue, she falls in love. Ten years on, Elle lives in New York, and her life has changed in ways she could never have predicted. But no matter how much she tries to avoid her past, it has a funny way of catching up.
A poignant, romantic, and delightful new novel about a young woman who refuses to believe happy endings are real, from internationally bestselling author Harriet Evans, who perfectly captures the complex lives of young twenty-first-century career women with an “effortlessly readable...comic style and loveable characters” (Marie Claire, UK).
At twenty-two, Eleanor Bee is sure about three things: she wants to move to London and become a literary superstar; she wants to be able to afford to buy a coffee and croissant every morning; and after seeing what divorce did to her parents—especially her mum—she doesn’t believe in happy endings.
Elle moves to London. She gets a job at Bluebird Books, a charmingly old-fashioned publisher. She falls out of bars, wears too-short skirts, makes lots of mistakes, and feels like she’s learning nothing and everything at the same time. And then, out of the blue, she falls in love, and that’s when she realizes just how much growing up she has to do.
Ten years on, Elle lives in New York, and you could say she has found success; certainly her life has changed in ways she could never have predicted. But no matter where you go and how much you try to run away, the past has a funny way of catching up with you...
Jude is a scarred young college student whose friendship with three other students helps him see the bright hope in an otherwise dark, traumatic life. Equipped with nothing but ambition and love, the friend group all move to New York, enduring successes and failures, happiness and sorrow, all while tied together in tight bond out of their compassion and faith in their troubled friend. For more on A LITTLE LIFE, check out this review!
I’m not exaggerating at all when I say I cried for 700 pages of this 832-page masterpiece. I have never loved a character more deeply than I love Jude, the main character in this ode to male friendship, who is scarred and broken from an unspeakable trauma. Reading about Jude’s ever-changing relationships with his three best friends from college was one of the best experiences I’ve had as a reader—and certainly as a crier.
An instant New York Times bestseller, this magnificent novel follows four orphans on a life-changing odyssey during the Great Depression. Over the course of a summer, they cross paths with many others: struggling farmers and traveling faith healers, displaced families, and lost souls of all kinds.
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).
This innovative novel by Bernardine Evaristo is divided into twelve chapters, each one portraying a Black British woman or nonbinary person from a different background, whether it be in age, career, social class, etc. With its poetic and creative use of grammar, GIRL, WOMAN, OTHER raises thought-provoking questions about how identity translates across the spectrum.
An unforgettable saga exploring a hidden piece of World War II history and the lengths a mother will go to protect her children—perfect for fans of LILAC GIRLS and THE ALICE NETWORK. Seven decades of secrets unravel with the arrival of a box of letters from the distant past, taking readers on a harrowing journey from Nazi-occupied Berlin, to the South of France, to modern-day New York City.
From the internationally bestselling author of The German Girl, an unforgettable, “searing” (People) saga exploring a hidden piece of World War II history and the lengths a mother will go to protect her children—perfect for fans of Lilac Girls, We Were the Lucky Ones, and The Alice Network.
Seven decades of secrets unravel with the arrival of a box of letters from the distant past, taking readers on a harrowing journey from Nazi-occupied Berlin, to the South of France, to modern-day New York City.
Berlin, 1939. The dreams that Amanda Sternberg and her husband, Julius, had for their daughters are shattered when the Nazis descend on Berlin, burning down their beloved family bookshop and sending Julius to a concentration camp. Desperate to save her children, Amanda flees toward the South of France. Along the way, a refugee ship headed for Cuba offers another chance at escape and there, at the dock, Amanda is forced to make an impossible choice that will haunt her for the rest of her life. Once in Haute-Vienne, her brief respite is interrupted by the arrival of Nazi forces, and Amanda finds herself in a labor camp where she must once again make a heroic sacrifice.
New York, 2015. Eighty-year-old Elise Duval receives a call from a woman bearing messages from a time and country that she forced herself to forget. A French Catholic who arrived in New York after World War II, Elise is shocked to discover that the letters were from her mother, written in German during the war. Her mother’s words unlock a floodgate of memories, a lifetime of loss un-grieved, and a chance—at last—for closure.
Based on true events and “breathtakingly threaded together from start to finish with the sound of a beating heart” (The New York Times Book Review), The Daughter’s Tale is an unforgettable family saga of love, survival, and redemption.
In this fresh and hilarious historical rom-com, an estranged husband and wife in Regency England feign accidents and illness in an attempt to gain attention—and maybe just win each other back in the process. A perfect read for fans of Bridgerton!
Named a Best Romance of April by Goodreads, Popsugar, Bustle, and more!
In this fresh and hilarious historical rom-com, an estranged husband and wife in Regency England feign accidents and illness in an attempt to gain attention—and maybe just win each other back in the process.
Five years ago, Lady Violet Grey and Lord James Audley met, fell in love, and got married. Four years ago, they had a fight to end all fights, and have barely spoken since.
Their once-passionate love match has been reduced to one of cold, detached politeness. But when Violet receives a letter that James has been thrown from his horse and rendered unconscious at their country estate, she races to be by his side—only to discover him alive and well at a tavern, and completely unaware of her concern. She’s outraged. He’s confused. And the distance between them has never been more apparent.
Wanting to teach her estranged husband a lesson, Violet decides to feign an illness of her own. James quickly sees through it, but he decides to play along in an ever-escalating game of manipulation, featuring actors masquerading as doctors, threats of Swiss sanitariums, faux mistresses—and a lot of flirtation between a husband and wife who might not hate each other as much as they thought. Will the two be able to overcome four years of hurt or will they continue to deny the spark between them?
With charm, wit, and heart in spades, To Have and to Hoax is a fresh and eminently entertaining romantic comedy—perfect for fans of Jasmine Guillory and Julia Quinn.
Four American Indian teens kill a pregnant deer on sacred hunting grounds, a crime for which they never pay for (but that’s not to say it has been forgotten). As adults, the spirit of the deer comes back to haunt them, taking its vengeance not just on the four of them but on their loved ones as well. Stephen Graham Jones blends dark twists with social commentary, examining how Native Americans are forced to negotiate their heritage in a society that demeans and degrades their culture and identities.
A USA TODAY BESTSELLER
A Publishers Weekly Best Book of the Year
In this latest novel from Stephen Graham Jones comes a “heartbreakingly beautiful story” (Library Journal, starred review) of revenge, cultural identity, and the cost of breaking from tradition.
Seamlessly blending classic horror and a dramatic narrative with sharp social commentary, The Only Good Indians is “a masterpiece. Intimate, devastating, brutal, terrifying, warm, and heartbreaking in the best way” (Paul Tremblay, author of A Head Full of Ghosts). This novel follows four American Indian men after a disturbing event from their youth puts them in a desperate struggle for their lives. Tracked by an entity bent on revenge, these childhood friends are helpless as the culture and traditions they left behind catch up to them in violent, vengeful ways. Labeled “one of 2020’s buzziest horror novels” (Entertainment Weekly), this is a remarkable horror story “will give you nightmares—the good kind of course” (BuzzFeed).
After years of having her work ignored, artist Harriet Burden ignites an explosive scandal in New York’s art world when she recruits three young men to present her creations as their own. Yet when the shows succeed and Burden steps forward for her triumphant reveal, she is betrayed by the third man, Rune. Many critics side with him, and Burden and Rune find themselves in a charged and dangerous game, one that ends in his bizarre death. An intricately conceived, diabolical puzzle presented as a collection of texts, THE BLAZING WORLD unfolds from multiple perspectives as Harriet’s critics, fans, family, and others offer their own conflicting opinions of where the truth lies.
Named one of the New York Times Book Review’s 100 Notable Books of the Year ** Publishers Weekly’s Best Fiction Books of 2014 ** NPR Best Books of 2014 ** Kirkus Reviews Best Literary Fiction Books of 2014 ** Washington Post Top 50 Fiction Books of 2014 ** Boston Globe’s Best Fiction of 2014 ** The Telegraph’s Best Fiction to Read 2014 ** St. Louis Post Dispatch’s Best Books of 2014 ** The Independent Fiction Books of the Year 2014 ** One of Buzzfeed’s Best Books Written by Women in 2014 ** San Francisco Chronicle’s Best of 2014 ** A Nancy Pearl Pick ** PopMatters.com’s Best of 2014 Fiction
Winner of the 2014 LA Times Book Prize for Fiction
Finalist for the 2014 Kirkus Prize
Hailed by The Washington Post as “Siri Hustvedt’s best novel yet, an electrifying work,” The Blazing World is a masterful novel about perception, prejudice, desire, and one woman’s struggle to be seen.
In a new novel called “searingly fresh... A Nabokovian cat’s cradle” on the cover of The New York Times Book Review, the internationally bestselling author tells the provocative story of artist Harriet Burden, who, after years of having her work ignored, ignites an explosive scandal in New York’s art world when she recruits three young men to present her creations as their own. Yet when the shows succeed and Burden steps forward for her triumphant reveal, she is betrayed by the third man, Rune. Many critics side with him, and Burden and Rune find themselves in a charged and dangerous game, one that ends in his bizarre death.
An intricately conceived, diabolical puzzle presented as a collection of texts, including Harriet’s journals, assembled after her death, this “glorious mashup of storytelling and scholarship” (San Francisco Chronicle) unfolds from multiple perspectives as Harriet’s critics, fans, family, and others offer their own conflicting opinions of where the truth lies. Writing in Slate, Katie Roiphe declared it “a spectacularly good read...feminism in the tradition of Simone de Beauvoir’s The Second Sex or Virginia Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own: richly complex, densely psychological, dazzlingly nuanced.”
“Astonishing, harrowing, and utterly, completely engrossing” (NPR), Hustvedt’s new novel is “Blazing indeed:...with agonizing compassion for all of wounded humanity”(Kirkus Reviews, starred review). It is a masterpiece that will be remembered for years to come.
This captivating novel is about a young woman, Eva, with a talent for forgery who helps hundreds of Jewish children flee the Nazis. Now, sixty-five years later, Eva is a librarian with the chance to help researchers crack the code to a mysterious text—but will she have the strength to revisit old memories and help reunite those lost during the war?
Inspired by an astonishing true story from World War II, a young woman with a talent for forgery helps hundreds of Jewish children flee the Nazis in this unforgettable historical novel from the international bestselling author of the “epic and heart-wrenching World War II tale” (Alyson Noel, #1 New York Times bestselling author) The Winemaker’s Wife.
Eva Traube Abrams, a semi-retired librarian in Florida, is shelving books one morning when her eyes lock on a photograph in a magazine lying open nearby. She freezes; it’s an image of a book she hasn’t seen in sixty-five years—a book she recognizes as The Book of Lost Names.
The accompanying article discusses the looting of libraries by the Nazis across Europe during World War II—an experience Eva remembers well—and the search to reunite people with the texts taken from them so long ago. The book in the photograph, an eighteenth-century religious text thought to have been taken from France in the waning days of the war, is one of the most fascinating cases. Now housed in Berlin’s Zentral- und Landesbibliothek library, it appears to contain some sort of code, but researchers don’t know where it came from—or what the code means. Only Eva holds the answer—but will she have the strength to revisit old memories and help reunite those lost during the war?
As a graduate student in 1942, Eva was forced to flee Paris after the arrest of her father, a Polish Jew. Finding refuge in a small mountain town in the Free Zone, she begins forging identity documents for Jewish children fleeing to neutral Switzerland. But erasing people comes with a price, and along with a mysterious, handsome forger named Rémy, Eva decides she must find a way to preserve the real names of the children who are too young to remember who they really are. The records they keep in The Book of Lost Names will become even more vital when the resistance cell they work for is betrayed and Rémy disappears.
An engaging and evocative novel reminiscent of The Lost Girls of Paris and The Alice Network, The Book of Lost Names is a testament to the resilience of the human spirit and the power of bravery and love in the face of evil.
Eighty-four-year-old Florence has fallen in her flat at Cherry Tree Home for the Elderly. As she waits to be rescued, she thinks about her lifelong friend Elsie and wonders if a terrible secret from their past is about to come to light. Is the charming new resident who suddenly appeared who he claims to be? Why does he look exactly like a man who died sixty years ago? And why will no one listen to her concerns?
Twelve-year-old Trevor McKinney accepts his social studies teacher’s challenge to come up with a plan to change the world. His idea is simple: Do a good deed for three people and ask them to “pay it forward” to three others in need. He envisions a vast movement of kindness and goodwill spreading beyond his small California town and across the world. The project, however, appears to falter. Trevor’s hope is achieved, just in ways he could’ve never imagined. Anyone who has ever despaired of one person’s ability to effect change will rejoice in Trevor’s courage and determination to see the good in everyone.
An immediate bestseller when first published, Pay It Forward captured hearts all over the world, became a wildly popular film, and spawned a generation of increased altruism. This anniversary edition includes a new introduction by the author. It takes an inspiring and moving tale of a young boy who believed in the power of kindness and brings it to a new generation of readers.
Twelve-year-old Trevor McKinney accepts his social studies teacher’s challenge: come up with a plan to change the world. His idea is simple: Do a good deed for three people and ask them to “pay it forward” to three others in need. He envisions a vast movement of kindness and goodwill spreading beyond his small California town and across the world. The project, however, appears to falter. Jerry, a bum who receives some allowance money from Trevor, returns to a life of dissolution. Trevor wants his pretty, hardworking mother—a woman who raised him lovingly despite struggles with alcoholism—to marry his teacher, Reuben St. Clair. Reuben is a scarred, bitter, untrusting man with a disfiguring injury from Vietnam. He seems to come alive only when in front of his class. For a time that matchmaking brings nothing but problems. Ultimately, though, unusual things start to happen. Crime rates dip across the nation, and nobody seems to know why. Then a journalist tracks down the source: an epidemic of random acts of kindness.
Anyone who has ever despaired of one person’s ability to effect change will rejoice in Trevor’s courage and determination to see the good in everyone.
What would you do if you woke as a version of your future self, next to a new man in an entirely different apartment than the one you live in now? That is exactly the premise of IN FIVE YEARS. Dannie Kohan spends one hour exactly five years in the future before reawakening in her present-day life. This is a story about self-discovery and life choices that will have you grasping the tissue box.
A NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER
A Good Morning America, FabFitFun, and Marie Claire Book Club Pick
“In Five Years is as clever as it is moving, the rare read-in-one-sitting novel you won’t forget.” —Chloe Benjamin, New York Times bestselling author of The Immortalists
Perfect for fans of Me Before You and One Day—a striking, powerful, and moving love story following an ambitious lawyer who experiences an astonishing vision that could change her life forever.
Where do you see yourself in five years?
Dannie Kohan lives her life by the numbers.
She is nothing like her lifelong best friend—the wild, whimsical, believes-in-fate Bella. Her meticulous planning seems to have paid off after she nails the most important job interview of her career and accepts her boyfriend’s marriage proposal in one fell swoop, falling asleep completely content.
But when she awakens, she’s suddenly in a different apartment, with a different ring on her finger, and beside a very different man. Dannie spends one hour exactly five years in the future before she wakes again in her own home on the brink of midnight—but it is one hour she cannot shake. In Five Years is an unforgettable love story, but it is not the one you’re expecting.
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