With the beginning of a new year come new reading goals, and if you’re looking to cross that triple-digit mark, I’m here to help. For the past few years, I’ve consistently read more than one hundred books a year, and my top tips and tricks are listed below. But before I dive in, I want to remind you that reading should, first and foremost, always be fun. While bookworms like us obsess over trying to read as many books as possible, stretching and growing in what and how we read is also part of that amazing journey. Embrace new genres, new experiences, and new formats. Read long books and short stories, give poetry and novellas a try, and reach out to friends, family, and coworkers for suggestions. And don’t forget to keep checking back for recommendations here at Off the Shelf!
Thrillers are always a sure thing for a page-turning experience and there’s a type of thriller for everyone: political, domestic, horror, you name it. Lisa Jewell—who has grown to be a household name for thriller lovers—is a great place to jump in. THEN SHE WAS GONE starts with the disappearance of Ellie Mack, a fifteen-year-old with a picture-perfect life. Ten years later, there’s still no sign of her. As her mom slowly pieces her life back together, she’s confronted by a girl who reminds her so much of Ellie that she’s not sure she can continue forward until she finds answers to the multitude of questions about Ellie’s disappearance.
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?
Motivate Yourself with a Rule
Book buying is a very different hobby than book reading, but for some of us it’s the most addictive thrill of being a bookworm: that new-book feeling. That’s why I set a rule of no book-buying until I achieve a certain reading goal. This year, I have to read two bookshelves’ worth of titles I already own before I’m allowed to buy a single new book. Talk about proper motivation to help you achieve your goals!
PERMANENT RECORD is one of my “read the books you own” books. I’ve had a copy since it was released, and I’m excited to finally read it. This story is about Pablo, a college dropout who works the graveyard shift at a Brooklyn deli, and Leanna, a social media influencer who was a child star and is now an international icon. The two meet at a Brooklyn bodega, and what happens next is something neither anticipated.
A New York Times bestseller!
“Smart and funny…warm and rewarding.” —Booklist (starred review)
“A compelling and quirky tale of love and negotiating early adulthood in New York City.” —School Library Journal
From the New York Times bestselling author of Emergency Contact, which Rainbow Rowell called “smart and funny,” comes a “captivating” (The New York Times) romance about how social media influences relationships every day.
On paper, college dropout Pablo Rind doesn’t have a whole lot going for him. His graveyard shift at a twenty-four-hour deli in Brooklyn is a struggle. Plus, he’s up to his eyeballs in credit card debt. Never mind the state of his student loans.
Pop juggernaut Leanna Smart has enough social media followers to populate whole continents. The brand is unstoppable. She graduated from child stardom to become an international icon, and her adult life is a queasy blur of private planes, step-and-repeats, aspirational hotel rooms, and strangers screaming for her just to notice them.
When Leanna and Pablo meet at 5:00 a.m. at the bodega in the dead of winter it’s absurd to think they’d be A Thing. But as they discover who they are, who they want to be, and how to defy the deafening expectations of everyone else, Lee and Pab turn to each other. Which, of course, is when things get properly complicated.
Explore Unconventional Story Structures
The vast majority of books are written the same way: paragraphs of text interspersed with dialogue. However, there are plenty of novels written in unconventional ways like in verse or in the style of an interview. These books not only tend to be faster reads, but they also engage you in a new, creative way, making the reading that much more fun and immersive. Pro tip: these books also tend to have really creative audiobook editions.
I’ll be checking out THE FINAL REVIVAL OF OPAL AND NEV for my introduction to the interview-style writing approach. In 2016, Opal is working with an interviewer to give an oral history of the iconic duo she was a part of in 1970s New York. Opal and Nev were shooting to rock ‘n’ roll fame when a rival band brandished a confederate flag at a concert. The ensuing protests and reactions illustrated that repercussions are always harsher for women, especially Black women, who dare to speak the truth.
A kaleidoscopic fictional oral history of the beloved rock ’n’ roll duo who shot to fame in 1970s New York, and the dark, fraught secret that lies at the peak of their stardom.
Opal is a fiercely independent young woman pushing against the grain in her style and attitude, Afro-punk before that term existed. Coming of age in Detroit, she can’t imagine settling for a 9-to-5 job—despite her unusual looks, Opal believes she can be a star. So when the aspiring British singer/songwriter Neville Charles discovers her at a bar’s amateur night, she takes him up on his offer to make rock music together for the fledgling Rivington Records.
In early seventies New York City, just as she’s finding her niche as part of a flamboyant and funky creative scene, a rival band signed to her label brandishes a Confederate flag at a promotional concert. Opal’s bold protest and the violence that ensues set off a chain of events that will not only change the lives of those she loves, but also be a deadly reminder that repercussions are always harsher for women, especially black women, who dare to speak their truth.
Decades later, as Opal considers a 2016 reunion with Nev, music journalist S. Sunny Shelton seizes the chance to curate an oral history about her idols. Sunny thought she knew most of the stories leading up to the cult duo’s most politicized chapter. But as her interviews dig deeper, a nasty new allegation from an unexpected source threatens to blow up everything.
Provocative and chilling, The Final Revival of Opal & Nev features a backup chorus of unforgettable voices, a heroine the likes of which we’ve not seen in storytelling, and a daring structure, and introduces a bold new voice in contemporary fiction.
List High-Priority Reads
I’m sure we all have an overwhelming to-read shelf on Goodreads that includes books we added years ago that we don’t recognize today. And that’s okay! But it’s not very conducive to finding your next read. When I go down this rabbit hole in between books, I end up with too many choices and become paralyzed, not knowing which book is the “right” one to read next. One thing that has helped me with this is StoryGraph, where you can filter TBR lists by categories like what reading mood you’re in or how fast-paced you want the story to be. But another method that helped with this TBR paralysis is keeping a separate list in my physical book journal of High-Priority Reads. A list like this will keep you out of that dreaded rut of indecision and help you fly through your reading goals.
I’ve followed Aubrey Gordon, the creator of Your Fat Friend, for years, and now she’s written a book that’s on my High-Priority Reads list this year. She’s always posting witty and so-real-it-hurts tweets and blog posts about fat justice, and I’m sure her book contains equally astute observations and calls to action. I’m most excited for her deep dives past the surface-level love-yourself body-positivity movement and into how to actually change systems, like health care, that not only discriminate against fat bodies but can also cost people their lives.
Judge a Book by its Cover
While this isn’t the way the saying goes, we all do it, so embrace it! See an interesting cover at the library? Give it a read! There’s a reason it’s calling to you, and that sense of destiny will pull you through the pages, helping you reach your goals in no time. I found some of my favorite books this way. I knew the genres and could piece together a few things based on what I’d heard about these books, but I dove right in without reading the plot description and was pleasantly surprised.
As someone who currently lives in Brooklyn and has always been enchanted by images of New York, I was intrigued by the cover of KINGS COUNTY. The minimalistic lines and color made me want to know more about the story, and the tagline “A Brooklyn love story, set to music” made me glad I’d judged this book by its cover. The book takes place all over New York City as Audrey, a minor indie rock celebrity, and Theo, a mill-town kid trying to establish himself in the publishing world, fall in love and confront secrets from Audrey’s past.
A Brooklyn love story, set to music.
“Kings County crystallizes how it feels to be young and in love in New York City.” —Stephanie Danler
“A true and continual delight...Goodwillie captures the rapturous soul of a bygone Brooklyn.” —Joshua Ferris
It’s the early 2000s and like generations of ambitious young people before her, Audrey Benton arrives in New York City on a bus from nowhere. Broke but resourceful, she soon finds a home for herself amid the burgeoning music scene in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. But the city’s freedom comes with risks, and Audrey makes compromises to survive. As she becomes a minor celebrity in indie rock circles, she finds an unlikely match in Theo Gorski, a shy but idealistic mill-town kid who’s struggling to establish himself in the still-patrician world of books. But then an old acquaintance of Audrey’s disappears under mysterious circumstances, sparking a series of escalating crises that force the couple to confront a dangerous secret from her past.
From the raucous heights of Occupy Wall Street to the comical lows of the publishing industry, from million-dollar art auctions to Bushwick drug dens, Kings County captures New York City at a moment of cultural reckoning. Grappling with the resonant issues and themes of our time—sex and violence, art and commerce, friendship and family—it is an epic coming-of-age tale about love, consequences, bravery, and fighting for one’s place in an ever-changing world.
Embrace Digital Editions
Something tells me this might be the most debated piece of advice here, but please bear with me. I love physical books, but being able to carry a digital library with me no matter where I go was a total game changer. Whether I’m sitting on the subway, stuck in a long line at Trader Joe’s, or escaping my apartment to go for a walk, I can fill the time with my current book. Audiobooks and ebooks are your friends, I promise—especially if you’re able to find audiobooks with an enchanting narrator to help you breeze right through. Check with your local library to see what digital services they have available, and also be sure to keep an eye out for Off the Shelf’s monthly post rounding up great ebook deals. This curated list is how I found out that the regency-era novel TO HAVE AND TO HOAX was on sale during the entire month of January!
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.
Set Other Reading Goals
This may seem counterproductive, but as you start to check off your reading goals, you may find yourself falling in love with a new genre or author, all while getting closer to a hundred books. A few examples of auxiliary reading goals: read a middle-grade classic you missed out on, finish a series you’ve been meaning to complete, or read outside your comfort genre. Pushing past your go-to genres and formats can open up an entire new world of reading. Embracing my new favorite genre of romance helped me breeze past my goals.
THE FATE OF THE TEARLING is my “finish a series” goal book. I loved the first book, THE QUEEN OF THE TEARLING, which is actually one of the books I read without reading the summary first. THE FATE OF THE TEARLING is the last book in this fantasy trilogy starring a strong heroine who must take over the throne after growing up in exile and is horrified by what she discovers upon returning to her kingdom. Add in some magic and a truly wild backstory, and you’ve got yourself such an intriguing read that it’s a wonder I haven’t read the third book yet. I blame it on not wanting the series to end.
Photo credit: iStock / Viorika