In Five Years book beside a planner and glasses

Book Club Picks: 7 Relatable Reads About Life Not Going According to Plan

March 18 2021
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If the past year has taught me anything, it’s that life is filled with uncertainty. While future plans and sought-after milestones provide a hint of structure to this unpredictable life, it would be naïve to believe that we can hit each step of our ideal timeline without setbacks. Life has a way of derailing us at the most unexpected times—a tough lesson to swallow, but an important one nonetheless. Fortunately, literature continues to provide a sense of comfort, reminding us that we are not alone in these unresolved journeys. This theme of dreams derailed is heavily featured in In Five Years, which I’m excited to discuss this month during Book Club Favorites’ virtual book club. In the meantime, I’ve been pondering on other books that portray a similar theme. Here are seven stories that prove to us that dreams and goals must remain flexible, because we never know what changes life is waiting to throw in our way.

In Five Years
by Rebecca Serle

Dannie Kohan has her entire life trajectory planned out. After interviewing at her dream law firm and accepting a proposal from her perfect boyfriend, she should be feeling content. But that same night, after falling asleep, she experiences a peculiar and vivid vision—she awakens in an entirely new apartment next to an entirely new man with a completely different ring sitting atop her finger. Dannie lives exactly one hour, five years in her future before reawakening next to her true fiancé. But what could this vision mean for her calculated life? And when will this mystery man come into the picture? Facing life-altering decisions and devastating heartbreak, main character Dannie starts to question if life can ever be truly planned.

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In Five Years
Rebecca Serle

An Atria Book. Atria Books has a great book for every reader.

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Britt-Marie Was Here
by Fredrik Backman

After walking out on her cheating husband and relocating herself to the dreary town of Borg, Britt-Marie is forced to fend for herself. But for a socially awkward and neurotic woman like Britt-Marie, this life change comes with its fair share of tribulations. As she navigates this new life, she is also given the impossible task of preparing the town’s children’s soccer team for a tournament. While Britt-Marie finds her place in this quirky community, this story reminds all readers that starting over may just be the best thing for us.

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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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We Are Called to Rise
by Laura McBride

Sometimes, a split-second mistake can be the catalyst to an entire life’s derailment. In Laura McBride’s WE ARE CALLED TO RISE, three lives collide in a shocking moment. Avis now faces an uncertain future after her marriage begins to unwind. Luis, a soldier, wakes up in the hospital with no sense of how he got there. And Bashkim’s family is under constant financial stress after fleeing political persecution in their homeland. These three lives are about to intersect in a haunting but heart-wrenching way that will leave readers thinking about their life trajectories long after the story ends.

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We Are Called to Rise
Laura McBride

“Your heart will break…then soar” (Redbook) when, far from the neon lights of the Vegas strip, three lives collide in a split-second mistake and a child’s fate hangs in the balance.

Avis thought her marriage had hit a temporary rut. But with a single confession in the middle of the night, her carefully constructed life comes undone. After escaping a tumultuous childhood and raising a son, she now faces a future without the security of the home and family she has spent decades building.

Luis only wants to make the grandmother who raised him proud. As a soldier, he was on his way to being the man she taught him to be until he woke up in Walter Reed Hospital with vague and troubling memories of how he got there. Now he must find a new way to live a life of honor.

Every day, young Bashkim looks forward to the quiet order of school and the kind instruction of his third grade teacher. His family relocated to Las Vegas after fleeing political persecution in their homeland. Now their ice cream truck provides just enough extra income to keep them afloat. With his family under constant stress, Bashkim opens his heart to his pen pal, a US soldier.

When these lives come together in a single, shocking moment, each character is called upon to rise. “You’ll be thinking about these characters long after you finish this haunting, heart-wrenching, and hopeful book” (Houston Chronicle).

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Once Upon a Sunset
by Tif Marcelo

Her granny’s death, her breakup with her long-term boyfriend, and her mother’s new decision to move in is certainly enough to derail Diana’s life. But after making a medical decision that hinders the hospital she works at, she is ultimately forced to go on a short sabbatical. With this newfound time on her hands, Diana gets to work on organizing her life, and she and her mother stumble across a peculiar set of letters. Her grandfather Antonio Cruz was believed to have died in World War II, but these letters to her grandmother read otherwise. Equipped with this new knowledge of her family history, Diana embarks on a once-in-a-lifetime journey to the Philippines where her identity, perception on family, and idea of love is about to change forever.

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Once Upon a Sunset
Tif Marcelo

The author of The Key to Happily Ever After—“a true gem filled with heart, laughs, and a cast of delightful characters” (Nina Bocci, USA TODAY bestselling author)—returns with a heartwarming and charming novel about a woman who travels to the Philippines to reconnect with her long-lost family…and manages to find herself along the way.

Diana Gallagher-Cary is at a tipping point. As a Washington, DC, OB/GYN at a prestigious hospital, she uses her career to distract herself from her grief over her granny’s death and her breakup from her long-term boyfriend after her free-spirited mother moves in with her. But when she makes a medical decision that disparages the hospital, she is forced to go on a short sabbatical.

Never one to wallow, Diana decides to use the break to put order in her life, when her mother, Margo, stumbles upon a box of letters from her grandfather, Antonio Cruz, to her grandmother from the 1940s. The two women always believed that Antonio died in World War II, but the letters reveal otherwise. When they learn that he lived through the war, and that they have surviving relatives in the Philippines, Diana becomes determined to connect with the family that she never knew existed, though Margo refuses to face her history. But Diana pushes on, and heads on a once-in-a-lifetime trip that challenges her identity, family history, and her idea of romantic love that could change her life forever.

Infused with Tif Marcelo’s signature “sexy, adorable, and heartfelt” (Kate Meader, USA TODAY bestselling author) voice, Once Upon a Sunset is a moving and lyrical celebration of love, family, and second chances.

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The Dirty Book Club
by Lisi Harrison

M. J. Stark has her dream job at a magazine, a sexy doctor boyfriend, and the life of her dreams in New York City. But after her boss betrays her and her boyfriend suggests they start a new life in California, she jumps at the opportunity for change. In this new land on the Pacific Coast, M.J.’s only friend is her elderly neighbor, Gloria. But when Gloria suddenly moves to Paris and leaves a mysterious invitation for a secret book club—one that reads only erotic books, M.J. embarks on a new friendship completely out of her comfort zone.

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The Dirty Book Club
Lisi Harrison

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Self-Portrait with Boy
by Rachel Lyon

After Lu Rile, a young photographer, accidentally captures an image of a boy falling to his death, she is faced with the tough decision to show the world her art. To make matters more difficult, the boy in the photograph was her neighbor’s son. Through this journey of grief that her building’s residents undergo, Lu forms an intense bond with the boy’s mother, Kate, that eventually turns into budding attraction. Set in early nineties Brooklyn, SELF-PORTRAIT WITH BOY is an unsettling story of guilt and desire as Lu is torn between advancing her career and protecting the one woman she has come to love.

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Self-Portrait with Boy
Rachel Lyon

Longlisted for the Center for Fiction First Novel Prize

“Fabulously written, this spellbinding debut novel is a real page-turner. A powerful, brilliantly imagined story” (Library Journal, starred review) about an ambitious young artist whose accidental photograph of a boy falling to his death could jumpstart her career, but devastate her most intimate friendship.

Lu Rile is a relentlessly focused young photographer struggling to make ends meet. Working three jobs, responsible for her aging father, and worrying that her crumbling loft apartment is being sold to developers, she is at a point of desperation. One day, in the background of a self-portrait, Lu accidentally captures an image of a boy falling to his death. The photograph turns out to be startlingly gorgeous, the best work of art she’s ever made. It’s an image that could change her life…if she lets it.

But the decision to show the photograph is not easy. The boy is her neighbors’ son, and the tragedy brings all the building’s residents together. It especially unites Lu with the boy’s beautiful grieving mother, Kate. As the two forge an intense bond based on sympathy, loneliness, and budding attraction, Lu feels increasingly unsettled and guilty, torn between equally fierce desires: to advance her career, and to protect a woman she has come to love.

Set in early 90s Brooklyn on the brink of gentrification, Self-Portrait with Boy is a “sparkling debut” (The New York Times Book Review) about the emotional dues that must be paid on the road to success and a powerful exploration of the complex terrain of female friendship. “The conflict is rich and thorny, raising questions about art and morality, love and betrayal, sacrifice and opportunism, and the chance moments that can define a life…It wrestles with the nature of art, but moves with the speed of a page-turner” (Los Angeles Times).

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The Last Year of the War
by Susan Meissner

Elise is a typical teenager in Iowa during 1943. She is aware about World War II but doesn’t pay much mind to it. Then, when her father is suddenly arrested on the false suspicion of being a Nazi sympathizer, her German-American family is sent to an internment camp in Texas. The only saving grace in this camp is the friendship that blossoms between her and a Japanese-American teen, Mariko Inoue. Treated as traitors to the nation, both girls are stripped of their entire identities with no concept of when their lives will return to normal, but they find belonging in each other. In this intense historical fiction book, Elise holds tight to her dream of America and makes desperate attempts to reclaim her identity in the face of prejudice and hatred.

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The Last Year of the War
Susan Meissner

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Photo credit: Simon & Schuster

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