10 Novels with Charming Characters That’ll Heal Your Heart

April 21 2021
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It’s been a long winter. . . . actually, it’s been a long year. If you’re anything like me, you’re ready for something that’s going to soothe your soul and help you start looking with hope toward the future. These ten titles are sure to provide a balm for any wound with their big-hearted characters, their stories of redemption and second chances, and their generosity of spirit. Quirky and kind, insightful and empowering, these ten novels all capture characters exhausted by their pasts and eager to make and remake their own futures. Pick up one today and sink in for some rejuvenating, uplifting, and energizing reading.

Etta and Otto and Russell and James
by Emma Hooper

In this astonishing debut about longing and aging, eighty-three-year-old Etta, who has never seen the ocean, sets off on the 3,232 kilometer walk it will take to get there. Back on her rural Canadian farm, her husband Otto, who is still haunted by the trip he took across the ocean to fight a far-off war years ago, is ready to let her go. But Russell, their longtime neighbor who has long loved Etta from afar, is determined to find her, even if it means leaving his own farm in his first ever act of defiance.

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Etta and Otto and Russell and James
Emma Hooper

This “poetic, poignant” (US Weekly) debut features last great adventures, unlikely heroes, and a “sweet, disarming story of lasting love” (The New York Times Book Review).

Eighty-three-year-old Etta has never seen the ocean. So early one morning she takes a rifle, some chocolate, and her best boots and begins walking the 3,232 kilometers from rural Saskatchewan, Canada eastward to the sea. As Etta walks further toward the crashing waves, the lines among memory, illusion, and reality blur.

Otto wakes to a note left on the kitchen table. “I will try to remember to come back,” Etta writes to her husband. Otto has seen the ocean, having crossed the Atlantic years ago to fight in a far-away war. He understands. But with Etta gone, the memories come crowding in and Otto struggles to keep them at bay. Meanwhile, their neighbor Russell has spent his whole life trying to keep up with Otto and loving Etta from afar. Russell insists on finding Etta, wherever she’s gone. Leaving his own farm will be the first act of defiance in his life.

Moving from the hot and dry present of a quiet Canadian farm to a dusty, burnt past of hunger, war, and passion, from trying to remember to trying to forget, Etta and Otto and Russell and James is an astounding literary debut “of deep longing, for reinvention and self-discovery, as well as for the past and for love and for the boundless unknown” (San Francisco Chronicle). “In this haunting debut, set in a starkly beautiful landscape, Hooper delineates the stories of Etta and the men she loved (Otto and Russell) as they intertwine through youth and wartime and into old age. It’s a lovely book you’ll want to linger over” (People).

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A Pho Love Story
by Loan Le

Bao Nguyen knows he’s a good guy, but he also fears he’s somewhat forgettable. With average grades and social status, all he has going for him is his job at his parents’ pho restaurant. Meanwhile, Linh Mai is passionate about building a future for herself in the arts, but she knows her parents depend upon her help at their pho restaurant. Since these neighboring restaurants and the families are longtime rivals, Bao and Linh have always avoided each other. But when fate puts them in each other’s paths, sparks fly in this contemporary and fun star-crossed-lovers tale.

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A Pho Love Story
Loan Le

When Dimple Met Rishi meets Ugly Delicious in this funny, smart romantic comedy, in which two Vietnamese-American teens fall in love and must navigate their newfound relationship amid their families’ age-old feud about their competing, neighboring restaurants.

If Bao Nguyen had to describe himself, he’d say he was a rock. Steady and strong, but not particularly interesting. His grades are average, his social status unremarkable. He works at his parents’ pho restaurant, and even there, he is his parents’ fifth favorite employee. Not ideal.

If Linh Mai had to describe herself, she’d say she was a firecracker. Stable when unlit, but full of potential for joy and fire. She loves art and dreams pursuing a career in it. The only problem? Her parents rely on her in ways they’re not willing to admit, including working practically full-time at her family’s pho restaurant.

For years, the Mais and the Nguyens have been at odds, having owned competing, neighboring pho restaurants. Bao and Linh, who’ve avoided each other for most of their lives, both suspect that the feud stems from feelings much deeper than friendly competition.

But then a chance encounter brings Linh and Bao in the same vicinity despite their best efforts and sparks fly, leading them both to wonder what took so long for them to connect. But then, of course, they immediately remember.

Can Linh and Bao find love in the midst of feuding families and complicated histories?

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MENTIONED IN:

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The Sweetheart
by Angelina Mirabella

In this daring coming-of-age story, seventeen-year-old Leonie fears her life has met a dead end. Working as a waitress and living with her father in 1950s Philadelphia, she’s eager to take her next steps in life. Bracingly determined and eager, Leonie runs away to Florida where she begins to train at Joe Pospisil’s School for Lady Grappling. As she works her way up the ranks to become the world’s most famous female wrestler, The Sweetheart, her relationships will all be tested in her quest to be the greatest of all time.

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The Sweetheart
Angelina Mirabella

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MENTIONED IN:

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The Man in the Window
by Jon Cohen

Louis Malone never leaves his home in the small town of Waverly unless he needs to. Ever since a fire disfigured him sixteen years ago, he’s avoided his neighbors, including the lonely and unremarkable nurse Iris. At thirty-seven, Iris has given up on ever finding love. But when an accident puts Louis in Iris’s path, the two begin to forge and strong and unlikely bond. THE MAN IN THE WINDOW is an offbeat and moving love story told with warmth, humor, and whimsy.

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The Man in the Window
Jon Cohen

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MENTIONED IN:

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Close
The Comfort of Lies
by Randy Susan Meyers

In any story that shifts perspectives multiple times, it’s hard to feel drawn to each and every narrative, but Randy Susan Myers in THE COMFORT OF LIES lures in the reader every time by diving deep into the characters’ inner lives, idiosyncrasies, and complexities. Tia knew she could never have Nathan, a married man, but that didn’t stop their passionate affair. When Tia admits to Nathan that she is pregnant, he disappears. Meanwhile, Caroline doubts she is cut out to be a mother, but to please her husband she agrees to adopt a baby girl. And Juliette, who thought she had the perfect life and marriage, had been shocked to discover Nathan’s infidelity. Years after repairing their marriage, Juliette finds a note to Nathan with the photograph of a little girl, upending all three women’s worlds once more.

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The Comfort of Lies
Randy Susan Meyers

In this “sharp and biting, and sometimes wickedly funny” (The Boston Globe) bestselling novel, three very different families are threatened in the wake of an extramarital affair.

Five years ago . . .

Tia fell into obsessive love with a man she could never have. When she became pregnant, Nathan disappeared, and she gave up their baby for adoption.

Caroline reluctantly adopted a baby to please her husband. Now she’s ques­tioning whether she’s cut out for the role of wife and mother.

Juliette considered her life ideal: solid marriage, two beautiful sons, and a thriving business. Then she discovered Nathan’s affair. He promised he’d never stray again, and she trusted him.

Now . . .

When Juliette intercepts a letter to her husband that contains pictures of a child who deeply resembles him, her world crumbles once more. How could Nathan deny his daughter? What other secrets is he hiding? Desperate for the truth, Juliette goes in search of the little girl, and before long the three women are on a collision course with consequences that none of them could have predicted.

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MENTIONED IN:

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The Final Revival of Opal & Nev
by Dawnie Walton

Opal is an up-and-coming musician in Detroit with the talent and determination to make it. After famed singer/songwriter Neville Charles meets her at an amateur night, the two agree to team up and make world-changing rock music together. But one night, Opal’s bold statement at a concert starts a chain of events with catastrophic events. Decades later, in 2016, music journalist Sunny wants to interview Opal. But the deeper she digs, the more darkness she uncovers about the beloved music world she thought she knew. THE FINAL REVIVAL OF OPAL & NEV is a stunning and provocative debut.

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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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The Other Half of Augusta Hope
by Joanna Glen

A story of self-discovery in the face of tragedy, THE OTHER HALF OF AUGUSTA HOPE is a warm-hearted story about finding where you belong. As a precocious youth, Augusta Hope never felt like she truly fit in. Even as an adult, she has no interest in the small town where she lives and dreams of traveling to far-off places like Burundi, a country she declared to be her favorite at age eight. But when a horrible tragedy sends Augusta’s life into chaos, she will be tossed into the unknown sooner than she anticipated.

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The Other Half of Augusta Hope
Joanna Glen

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MENTIONED IN:

10 Novels with Charming Characters That’ll Heal Your Heart

By Alice Martin | April 21, 2021

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When We Were Vikings
by Andrew David MacDonald

In this powerful debut, perfect for fans of THE CURIOUS INCIDENT OF THE DOG IN THE NIGHT-TIME, twenty-one-year-old Zelda is about to have the predictable safety of her life put to the test. Zelda, a Viking enthusiast who is supported by her bother Gert, is shocked to discover that Gert has been taking part in shady dealings to keep them afloat. Eager to prove herself and protect him, Zelda sets off on a quest to find her own Viking strength and become the heroine of her own story.

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When We Were Vikings
Andrew David MacDonald

Indie Next Pick for February 2020
Book of the Month January 2020
LibraryReads January 2020 Pick
Bookreporter New Release Spotlight
New York Post “Best Books of the Week”
Goodreads “January’s Most Anticipated New Books”
The Saturday Evening Post “10 Books for the New Year”
PopSugar “Best Books in January”
Book Riot Best Winter New Releases

“Zelda is a marvel, a living, breathing three-dimensional character with a voice so distinctive she leaps off the page.” —The New York Times

“Heartwarming and unforgettable.” —People

For Zelda, a twenty-one-year-old Viking enthusiast who lives with her older brother, Gert, life is best lived with some basic rules:

1. A smile means “thank you for doing something small that I liked.”
2. Fist bumps and dabs = respect.
3. Strange people are not appreciated in her home.
4. Tomatoes must go in the middle of the sandwich and not get the bread wet.
5. Sometimes the most important things don’t fit on lists.

But when Zelda finds out that Gert has resorted to some questionable—and dangerous—methods to make enough money to keep them afloat, Zelda decides to launch her own quest. Her mission: to be legendary. It isn’t long before Zelda finds herself in a battle that tests the reach of her heroism, her love for her brother, and the depth of her Viking strength.

“A most welcome and wonderful debut” (Tyrell Johnson, author of The Wolves of Winter), When We Were Vikings is an uplifting debut about an unlikely heroine whose journey will leave you wanting to embark on a quest of your own, because after all...we are all legends of our own making.

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Half a World Away
by Mike Gayle

Kerry and Noah’s lives couldn’t be more different, except for the fact that both of them were adopted as young children. Kerry is a single mom who cleans the houses of the wealthy just to get by. Meanwhile, Noah seems to have the perfect life. A successful barrister, he lives in a fashionable London home with his wife and daughter. But when Kerry reaches out to Noah, the brother she lost long ago, neither of their lives will ever be the same.

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Half a World Away
Mike Gayle

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MENTIONED IN:

10 Novels with Charming Characters That’ll Heal Your Heart

By Alice Martin | April 21, 2021

Close
My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She's Sorry
by Fredrik Backman

From the author of A MAN CALLED OVE, MY GRANDMOTHER ASKED ME TO TELL YOU SHE’S SORRY is a humorous and poignant tale of friendship and grief. Seven-year-old Elsa knows that she and her seventy-seven-year-old grandmother are “different.” But Elsa also knows that her grandmother’s magnificent fairytales are part of who she is. After her grandmother’s death, Elsa finds letters her grandmother wrote, apologizing to everyone she’d wronged. With these in hand, Elsa embarks on a journey to deliver the letters, a journey that leads her to the edges of her grandmother’s fairytales and back.

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My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She's Sorry
Fredrik Backman

A charming, warmhearted novel from the author of the New York Times bestseller A Man Called Ove.

Elsa is seven years old and different. Her grandmother is seventy-seven years old and crazy—as in standing-on-the-balcony-firing-paintball-guns-at-strangers crazy. She is also Elsa’s best, and only, friend. At night Elsa takes refuge in her grandmother’s stories, in the Land-of-Almost-Awake and the Kingdom of Miamas, where everybody is different and nobody needs to be normal.

When Elsa’s grandmother dies and leaves behind a series of letters apologizing to people she has wronged, Elsa’s greatest adventure begins. Her grandmother’s instructions lead her to an apartment building full of drunks, monsters, attack dogs, and old crones but also to the truth about fairy tales and kingdoms and a grandmother like no other.

My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She’s Sorry is told with the same comic accuracy and beating heart as Fredrik Backman’s bestselling debut novel, A Man Called Ove. It is a story about life and death and one of the most important human rights: the right to be different.

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MENTIONED IN:

Authors as Magicians: 8 Books That’ll Cast a Spell on You

By Sara Roncero-Menendez | October 15, 2021

Staff Picks: 10 Classic Novels We Truly Enjoyed Reading for School

By Off the Shelf Staff | October 14, 2021

10 Immersive Series to Hunker Down with This Fall

By Alice Martin | October 13, 2021

10 Evocative Thrillers with the Power to Break Your Heart

By Sara Roncero-Menendez | October 12, 2021

10 Historical Novels Perfect for Crisp Autumn Nights

By Chris Gaudio | October 11, 2021

11 True Crime Tales of the Rich and Famous

By Kerry Fiallo | October 8, 2021

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Photo credit: iStock / -slav-

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