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Masterful Storytelling: 10 Novels Worth Savoring

March 4 2021
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In the midst of flashy plotlines and eye-grabbing titles, sometimes it can be easy to forget the basics: just plain good storytelling. Full of wonder, almost unbelievable, often grand in scope, tales that are built on good storytelling take our breath away, surprise us, and linger with us long after we’ve finished reading them. These ten stories come to you straight from master storytellers with great yarns to tell. They capture that sometimes-nostalgic, special element of books that made us all fall in love with fiction in the first place. So, if you’ve been having trouble rekindling that old magic with your reads recently, pick up one of these novels that simply have it all and remember what it feels like to cozy up with a good book.

What Could Be Saved
by Liese O'Halloran Schwarz

In 2019, Laura Preston is shocked when a man claiming to be her brother, who disappeared forty years earlier while the family was living in Bangkok, requests a meeting. In 1972, Genevieve Preston and her children have moved to a big house behind a high wall in Bangkok, where her husband is stationed to work in American intelligence. But the more Genevieve tries to replicate life in America, the more the unknown world outside her walls threaten to burst in. WHAT COULD BE SAVED is an insightful family portrait and thrilling mystery all in one.

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What Could Be Saved
Liese O'Halloran Schwarz

“This brilliant portrayal of the lives of expats and their servants is also a suspenseful mystery with ever-darkening twists. For fans of A Little Life and The Goldfinch.” —People, Book of the Week

Washington, DC, 2019: Laura Preston is a reclusive artist at odds with her older sister Bea as their elegant, formidable mother slowly slides into dementia. When a stranger contacts Laura claiming to be her brother who disappeared forty years earlier when the family lived in Bangkok, Laura ignores Bea’s warnings of a scam and flies to Thailand to see if it can be true. But meeting him in person leads to more questions than answers.

Bangkok, 1972: Genevieve and Robert Preston live in a beautiful house behind a high wall, raising their three children with the help of a cadre of servants. In these exotic surroundings, Genevieve strives to create a semblance of the life they would have had at home in the US—ballet and riding classes for the children, impeccable dinner parties, a meticulously kept home. But in truth, Robert works for American intelligence, Genevieve finds herself drawn into a passionate affair with her husband’s boss, and their serene household is vulnerable to unseen dangers in a rapidly changing world and a country they don’t really understand.

Alternating between past and present as all of the secrets are revealed, What Could Be Saved is an unforgettable novel about a family shattered by loss and betrayal, and the beauty that can exist even in the midst of brokenness.

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This Tender Land
by William Kent Krueger

In this poignant contemporary classic, four orphans embark on a journey through the magnificent and mythical American landscape. It’s 1932, and the Lincoln School is an unforgiving place that takes Native American children from their families and re-educates them. Odie, whose liveliness earns him severe punishment from the staff, joins up with his brother, his best friend, and a wounded girl to escape, setting out on the Mississippi River in a canoe. While their journey will take them far on an unexpected odyssey, the true journey they face is an internal quest to recognize what truly haunts them.

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This Tender Land
William Kent Krueger

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).

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The Truth About Melody Browne
by Lisa Jewell

Lisa Jewell may be the New York Times bestselling author of gripping thrillers like THE FAMILY UPSTAIRS, but she’s also written books that lean more heavily on the emotional side than the suspenseful side, like in THE TRUTH ABOUT MELODY BROWNE, an intriguing tale of long-forgotten mysteries. Melody Browne can’t remember anything before her ninth birthday, which also marked the day of a terrible fire that destroyed her home and all her possessions. Years later, Melody has a built a life for herself and her son away from the parents she walked out on at age fifteen. But after a sudden realization about her past, Melody begins to piece together the puzzle of a life, a place, and a family she may never have remembered.

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The Truth About Melody Browne
Lisa Jewell

This “touching, insightful, and gripping story” (Sophie Kinsella, #1 New York Times bestselling author) from the instant New York Times bestselling author of Then She Was Gone follows a young woman searching for answers about her unknown past and the mysterious fire that irrevocably changed her life.

When she was a child, Melody Browne’s house burned down, destroying all her family’s possessions and her memories. Ever since this tragic event, Melody Browne has had no recollection of her life before she was rescued from the flames.

Now in her early thirties, Melody is a single mother, living in the middle of London with her teenaged son. She hasn’t seen her parents since she left home at fifteen, but Melody has no desire to reconnect until one night, while attending a hypnotist show with a date, she faints. When she comes around, she is suddenly overwhelmed with fragmented memories of her life before that fateful fire.

Slowly, she begins the arduous process of piecing together the real story of her childhood. Her journey takes her up and down the countryside, to seaside towns to the back streets of London, where she meets strangers who seem to love her like their own. But the more answers she uncovers, the more questions she is left with, and Melody can’t help but wonder if she’ll ever know the whole truth about her past.

“An absolute must-read” (Cosmopolitan, UK), The Truth About Melody Browne “will make you laugh, cry—then tell all your friends about it” (Daily Record).

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The Talisman
by Stephen King

Master storytellers Stephen King and Peter Straub team up in this unforgettable collaboration to tell the story of one boy who must risk everything to save what he loves. Twelve-year-old Jack knows something is wrong when his mother moves them from their home in Beverly Hills to New York City and then again to the Alhambra, an abandoned amusement park in New Hampshire. Soon he discovers that her life is at risk and the only way to save her is for Jack to embark on a journey through a realm of the nightmares.

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The Talisman
Stephen King

The iconic, “extraordinary” (The Washington Post) collaboration between bestselling authors Stephen King and Peter Straub—an epic thriller about a young boy’s quest to save his mother’s life.

Jack Sawyer, twelve years old, is about to begin a most fantastic journey, an exalting, terrifying quest for the mystical Talisman—the only thing that can save Jack’s dying mother. But to reach his goal, Jack must make his way not only across the breadth of the United States but also through the wondrous and menacing parallel world of the Territories.

In the Territories, Jack finds another realm, where the air is so sweet and clear a man can smell a radish being pulled from the ground a mile away—and a life can be snuffed out instantly in the continuing struggle between good and evil. Here Jack discovers “Twinners,” reflections of the people he knows on earth—most notably Queen Laura, the Twinner of Jack’s own imperiled mother. As Jack “flips” between worlds, making his way westward toward the redemptive Talisman, a sequence of heart-stopping encounters challenges him at every step.

An unforgettable epic of adventure and resounding triumph, The Talisman is one of the most influential and highly praised works of fantasy ever written.

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The Map of Salt and Stars
by Zeyn Joukhadar

In this mesmerizing, captivating debut novel, two girls must come of age under unimaginable circumstances. It’s 2011 and Nour’s family moves from America back to Syria to be with loved ones. But soon war threatens their haven, and they are forced to take a dangerous journey across the Middle East in a search of safety. In a parallel narrative, eight hundred years earlier, Rawiya, the heroine of Nour’s favorite story, disguises herself as a boy to travel with a famed mapmaker across the same route, eager to unravel the mysteries of the world.

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The Map of Salt and Stars
Zeyn Joukhadar

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The Final Revival of Opal & Nev
by Dawnie Walton

Opal is an independent aspiring musician in Detroit. When famed singer/songwriter Neville Charles meets her at an amateur night, the two agree to make cutting-edge rock music together. As the 1970s rages on, their star rises, until Opal’s bold statement at a concert starts a chain of events with catastrophic consequences. In 2016, music journalist Sunny S. Shelton pursues Opal for an interview. But the deeper she digs, the more darkness she uncovers about the beloved music world she thought she knew. Dawnie Walton’s debut is a stunning and provocative look behind the scenes of rock and roll.

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The Final Revival of Opal & Nev
Dawnie Walton

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.

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In the Shadow of the Banyan
by Vaddey Ratner

In this gorgeous coming-of-age story, Raami is seven years old when civil war breaks out in her hometown, Cambodia’s capital. While the Khmer Rouge regime commits unimaginable atrocities and attempts to install uniformity across the country, Raami holds on to the legends and poems her father shared with her during her childhood. In a world defined by genocide and oppression, Raami grows more and more determined every day to fight for her own survival and the survival of the stories of her heart.

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In the Shadow of the Banyan
Vaddey Ratner

Told from the tender perspective of a young girl who comes of age amid the Cambodian killing fields, this searing novel is also an extraordinary celebration of strength, survival, and the transcendent power of imagination.

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As Bright as Heaven
by Susan Meissner

In 1918, Pauline Bright moves to Philadelphia with her husband, determined to build a bigger and better life for her daughters. But when the Spanish flu runs rampant around the city, Pauline and her family struggle just for survival. When they decide to take in an infected infant, they don’t expect her to become the light of their lives. But in a harsh world in which every moment could be life or death, the bond between a mother and her daughter will prove the most resilient tie to life.

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As Bright as Heaven
Susan Meissner

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Peace Like a River
by Leif Enger

In this bestselling debut novel, protagonist Reuben Land doesn’t seem like a hero. Eleven years old, asthmatic, and from a small town in the Midwest, he seems like little more than a boy obsessed with cowboy stories. But when he sets out across 1960s Minnesota in search of his outlaw older brother, who’s wanted for murder, Reuben will transform into the man he’s always wanted to be. With nods to American classics, biblical tales, and fables alike, PEACE LIKE A RIVER is a full-hearted adventure tale for the young at heart.

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Peace Like a River
Leif Enger

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Infinite Country
by Patricia Engel

In this kaleidoscopic epic, one family seeks to be reunited while torn between different countries and different worlds. Teenaged Talia, held at a correctional facility after committing an impulsive act of violence, is desperate to return to her father. Years earlier, her parents fall in love in the midst of a civil war. Her siblings struggle as they come of age in America and face deportation. Patricia Engel’s critically acclaimed storytelling guides the reader through urban centers and mythical realities, moments of triumph and lingering regrets.

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Infinite Country
Patricia Engel

“Remarkable...this is as much an all-American story as it is a global one.” —Booklist (starred review)

For readers of Valeria Luiselli and Edwidge Danticat, an urgent and lyrical novel about a Colombian family fractured by deportation, offering an intimate perspective on an experience that so many have endured—and are enduring right now.

Talia is being held at a correctional facility for adolescent girls in the forested mountains of Colombia after committing an impulsive act of violence that may or may not have been warranted. She urgently needs to get out and get back home to Bogotá, where her father and a plane ticket to the United States are waiting for her. If she misses her flight, she might also miss her chance to finally be reunited with her family in the north.

How this family came to occupy two different countries, two different worlds, comes into focus like twists of a kaleidoscope. We see Talia’s parents, Mauro and Elena, fall in love in a market stall as teenagers against a backdrop of civil war and social unrest. We see them leave Bogotá with their firstborn, Karina, in pursuit of safety and opportunity in the United States on a temporary visa, and we see the births of two more children, Nando and Talia, on American soil. We witness the decisions and indecisions that lead to Mauro’s deportation and the family’s splintering—the costs they’ve all been living with ever since.

Award-winning, internationally acclaimed author Patricia Engel, herself a dual citizen and the daughter of Colombian immigrants, gives voice to all five family members as they navigate the particulars of their respective circumstances. And all the while, the metronome ticks: Will Talia make it to Bogotá in time? And if she does, can she bring herself to trade the solid facts of her father and life in Colombia for the distant vision of her mother and siblings in America?

Rich with Bogotá urban life, steeped in Andean myth, and tense with the daily reality of the undocumented in America, Infinite Country is the story of two countries and one mixed-status family—for whom every triumph is stitched with regret, and every dream pursued bears the weight of a dream deferred.

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Photo credit: iStock / GrashAlex

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