Judging by the most popular books at Off the Shelf this April, we all seemed to immerse ourselves in emotional books with deep, heavy themes. As we approach May, it’s not quite time for beach reads yet (unless you enjoy crying on the beach), so go ahead and squeeze in a few more dark reads perfectly suited for rainy spring days!
Let’s kick off the spring season on bucolic Maple Street as the Wilde family leaves city life for their dream life in lovely Garden City, New York. GOOD NEIGHBORS by Sarah Langan is part thriller and part suburban miasma, exploring friendships, family relationships, mob mentality, and climate change. This book will keep you furiously turning pages until the very last one. I was lucky to speak with Sarah Langan about her book and more on a recent Facebook Live interview. I hope you enjoy our chat!
“A modern-day Crucible….Beneath the surface of a suburban utopia, madness lurks.” —Liv Constantine, bestselling author of The Last Mrs. Parrish
“Sarah Langan is a phenomenal talent with a wicked sense of wry humor. Good Neighbors knocked me out. Like Shirley Jackson, Langan’s work blends a bleak streak with an underlying sense of the humane that wrung my heart.” —Victor LaValle, author of The Changeling
Celeste Ng’s enthralling dissection of suburbia meets Shirley Jackson’s creeping dread in this propulsive literary noir, when a sudden tragedy exposes the depths of deception and damage in a Long Island suburb—pitting neighbor against neighbor and putting one family in terrible danger.
Welcome to Maple Street, a picture-perfect slice of suburban Long Island, its residents bound by their children, their work, and their illusion of safety in a rapidly changing world.
Arlo Wilde, a gruff has-been rock star who’s got nothing to show for his fame but track marks, is always two steps behind the other dads. His wife, beautiful ex-pageant queen Gertie, feels socially ostracized and adrift. Spunky preteen Julie curses like a sailor and her kid brother Larry is called “Robot Boy” by the kids on the block.
Their next-door neighbor and Maple Street’s Queen Bee, Rhea Schroeder—a lonely community college professor repressing her own dark past—welcomes Gertie and family into the fold. Then, during one spritzer-fueled summer evening, the new best friends share too much, too soon.
As tensions mount, a sinkhole opens in a nearby park, and Rhea’s daughter Shelly falls inside. The search for Shelly brings a shocking accusation against the Wildes that spins out of control. Suddenly, it is one mom’s word against the other’s in a court of public opinion that can end only in blood.
A riveting and ruthless portrayal of American suburbia, Good Neighbors excavates the perils and betrayals of motherhood and friendships and the dangerous clash between social hierarchy, childhood trauma, and fear.
VERA is one of those books that’ll make you root for the protagonist as you would your own family. Disaster strikes San Francisco in 1906 when an earthquake capsizes buildings and fires rage. Fifteen-year-old Vera relies on her cunning street smarts to survive, encountering prostitutes, corrupt politicians, new allies and fierce foes, in a world that’s crumbling beneath her feet. Many key figures of the time period make an appearance, and history buff mothers will find this story atmospheric and immersive.
New York Times bestselling author Carol Edgarian delivers an astonishing feat of imagination, a grand adventure set in 1906 San Francisco—a city leveled by quake and fire—featuring an indomitable heroine coming of age in the aftermath of catastrophe and her quest for love and reinvention.
Meet Vera Johnson, the uncommonly resourceful fifteen-year-old illegitimate daughter of Rose, notorious proprietor of San Francisco’s most legendary bordello and ally to the city’s corrupt politicians. Vera has grown up straddling two worlds—the madam’s alluring sphere, replete with tickets to the opera, surly henchmen, and scant morality, and the violent, debt ridden domestic life of the family paid to raise her.
On the morning of the great quake, Vera’s worlds collide. As the shattered city burns and looters vie with the injured, orphaned, and starving, Vera and her guileless sister, Pie, are cast adrift. Vera disregards societal norms and prejudices and begins to imagine a new kind of life. She collaborates with Tan, her former rival, and forges an unlikely family of survivors. Together they navigate their way beyond disaster.
In Vera, Carol Edgarian creates a cinematic, deeply entertaining world, in which honor and fates are tested; notions of sex, class, and justice are turned upside down; and love is hard-won. A ravishing, heartbreaking, and profound affirmation of youth and tenacity, Vera’s story brings to life legendary characters—tenor Enrico Caruso, indicted mayor Eugene Schmitz and boss Abe Ruef, tabloid celebrity Alma Spreckels—as well as an unforgettable cast that includes Vera’s young lover, Bobby, protector of the city’s tribe of orphans, and three generations of a Chinese family competing and conspiring with Vera.
This richly imagined, timely tale of improbable outcomes and alliances takes hold from the first page, gifting readers with remarkable scenes of devastation, renewal, and joy. Told with unflinching candor and wit, Vera celebrates the audacious fortitude of its young heroine and marks a stunning achievement by an inventive and generous writer.
Even in virtual form, my book club’s monthly meetings have been one of the highlights of my year. They’re a chance to catch up, enjoy a glass of wine (or two), and chat about books with some of my closest friends. And I have to say, Tif Marcelo’s IN A BOOK CLUB FAR AWAY feels tailor-made to read and discuss with them. The novel welcomes us into the lives of three Army wives—Adelaide, Regina, and Sophie—who met in a book club and used to be best friends, until an abrupt falling out sent them in different directions. And yet, when Adelaide contacts Regina and Sophie out of the blue eight years later, they are unable to deny her request for help taking care of her young daughter while she undergoes emergency surgery. Is there a chance the three women can repair their friendship? Obviously, I must find out!
Read more of Our Most Anticipated Books of April
And be sure to check out 5 Dynamic Book Club Picks Recommended by Author Tif Marcelo
From the author of Once Upon a Sunset and The Key to Happily Ever After comes a heartwarming and moving novel following three Army wives—estranged friends—who must overcome their differences when one of them is desperate for help.
Regina Castro, Adelaide Wilson-Chang, and Sophie Walden used to be best friends. As Army wives at Fort East, they bonded during their book club and soon became inseparable. But when an unimaginable betrayal happened amongst the group, the friendship abruptly ended, and they haven’t spoken since.
That’s why, eight years later, Regina and Sophie are shocked when they get a call for help from Adelaide. Adelaide’s husband is stationed abroad, and without any friends or family near her new home of Alexandria, Virginia, she has no one to help take care of her young daughter when she has to undergo emergency surgery. For the sake of an innocent child, Regina and Sophie reluctantly put their differences aside to help an old friend.
As the three women reunite, they must overcome past hurts and see if there’s any future for their friendship. Featuring Tif Marcelo’s signature “enchanting prose” (Amy E. Reichert, author of The Coincidence of Coconut Cake) and the books that brought them together in the first place, In a Book Club Far Away honors the immense power of female friendship and how love can defy time, distance, and all old wounds.
In the tradition of Anita Diamant’s THE RED TENT, HENNA HOUSE is about a young woman, her family, their community and the customs that bind them. This vivid saga begins in Yemen in 1920, and weaves through an intimate family portrait with the traditions of the Yemenite Jews and the history of the Holocaust and Israel. This sensuous tale of love, loss, betrayal, forgiveness—and the dyes that adorn the skin and pierce the heart—will captivate readers until the very last page.
Rich, spirited, and sensuous, this enthralling saga of a young woman living in a little-known community of Yemenite Jews during the mid-twentieth century is a tale that will pierce the heart.
Sadeqa Johnson’s YELLOW WIFE follows Pheby Delores Brown, a slave in the mid-1800s who is promised her freedom when she turns eighteen. A series of tragic events occur and Pheby has to make some choices. How she survives these choices makes for such a page-turner, I couldn't put it down. No spoilers here, but YELLOW WIFE is, quite simply, a must-read.
“A fully immersive, intricately crafted story inspired by the pages of history. In Pheby, Sadeqa Johnson has created a woman whose struggle to survive and to protect the ones she loves will have readers turning the pages as fast as their fingers can fly. Simply enthralling.” —Lisa Wingate, #1 New York Times bestselling author of Before We Were Yours
Called "wholly engrossing" by New York Times bestselling author Kathleen Grissom, this harrowing story follows an enslaved woman forced to barter love and freedom while living in the most infamous slave jail in Virginia.
Born on a plantation in Charles City, Virginia, Pheby Delores Brown has lived a relatively sheltered life. Shielded by her mother’s position as the estate’s medicine woman and cherished by the Master’s sister, she is set apart from the others on the plantation, belonging to neither world.
She’d been promised freedom on her eighteenth birthday, but instead of the idyllic life she imagined with her true love, Essex Henry, Pheby is forced to leave the only home she has ever known. She unexpectedly finds herself thrust into the bowels of slavery at the infamous Devil’s Half Acre, a jail in Richmond, Virginia, where the enslaved are broken, tortured, and sold every day. There, Pheby is exposed not just to her Jailer’s cruelty but also to his contradictions. To survive, Pheby will have to outwit him, and she soon faces the ultimate sacrifice.
I’ve been captivated by CRISPR since I first heard about it on a microbe reading binge, a gene-editing tool likened to a pair of scissors isolating and snipping away unwanted DNA. Jennifer Doudna is a Nobel Prize winner and one of the researchers who helped discover CRISPR. It is exciting to get an entire book about someone on the front lines of this new technology that is a potential game changer both in helping heal diseases and in the type of control we may have over our bodies, and it’s sure to be fascinating and informative, while raising all sorts of moral questions. My local Pennsylvania library has an eighteen-week hold on the eBook and twenty-week hold on the audiobook. It looks like many others are just as eager to dive in as I am.
Read more of Our Library Hold Lists: 6 Books We Need Now, Please!
The bestselling author of Leonardo da Vinci and Steve Jobs returns with a gripping account of how Nobel Prize winner Jennifer Doudna and her colleagues launched a revolution that will allow us to cure diseases, fend off viruses, and have healthier babies.
When Jennifer Doudna was in sixth grade, she came home one day to find that her dad had left a paperback titled The Double Helix on her bed. She put it aside, thinking it was one of those detective tales she loved. When she read it on a rainy Saturday, she discovered she was right, in a way. As she sped through the pages, she became enthralled by the intense drama behind the competition to discover the code of life. Even though her high school counselor told her girls didn’t become scientists, she decided she would.
Driven by a passion to understand how nature works and to turn discoveries into inventions, she would help to make what the book’s author, James Watson, told her was the most important biological advance since his co-discovery of the structure of DNA. She and her collaborators turned a curiosity of nature into an invention that will transform the human race: an easy-to-use tool that can edit DNA. Known as CRISPR, it opened a brave new world of medical miracles and moral questions.
The development of CRISPR and the race to create vaccines for coronavirus will hasten our transition to the next great innovation revolution. The past half-century has been a digital age, based on the microchip, computer, and internet. Now we are entering a life-science revolution. Children who study digital coding will be joined by those who study genetic code.
Should we use our new evolution-hacking powers to make us less susceptible to viruses? What a wonderful boon that would be! And what about preventing depression? Hmmm…Should we allow parents, if they can afford it, to enhance the height or muscles or IQ of their kids?
After helping to discover CRISPR, Doudna became a leader in wrestling with these moral issues and, with her collaborator Emmanuelle Charpentier, won the Nobel Prize in 2020. Her story is a thrilling detective tale that involves the most profound wonders of nature, from the origins of life to the future of our species.
The cover alone connotes spring, and even the trees in this Irish forest get plenty of page time in Jess Kidd’s terrific debut, HIMSELF. Mahony gets a call that something may have happened to his mom when he was a kid, but is it true? Dark secrets, but also some humorous moments, wrap around this semi-supernatural mystery thriller. I can’t stop recommending this one; it’s one of my favorites.
One sweltering night in 2013, four former high school classmates converge on their hometown in northeastern Ohio. Set over the course of a single evening, OHIO toggles between the perspectives of these unforgettable characters as they unearth dark secrets, revisit old regrets and uncover—and compound—bitter betrayals. Before the evening is through, these narratives converge masterfully to reveal a mystery so dark and shocking it will take your breath away.
There’s something about books and Paris that just seem to go perfectly together. Bookworms will find a kindred spirit in Hannah Bond, who lives quietly in the British countryside giving Jane Austen tours. When her mother shows up out of the blue, she brings with her an envelope containing the deed to an apartment in Paris. At the heart of this novel is a diary from Hannah’s great-grandmother Ivy, detailing her exciting days in Paris featuring famous novelists, such as Hemingway and Fitzgerald. Hannah and her mother retrace Ivy’s adventures through the city and find themselves connecting in ways they never had before.
Read more of 8 Books About Books for Booklovers
“A luscious, layered story of inheritance, heartbreak, reinvention, and family. I adored this book.” —Kristan Higgins, New York Times bestselling author
When a deed to an apartment in Paris turns up in an old attic trunk, an estranged mother and daughter must reunite to uncover the secret life of a family matriarch—perfect for fans of The Little Paris Bookshop and The Beekeeper’s Daughter.
Hannah Bond has always been a bookworm, which is why she fled Florida—and her unstable, alcoholic mother—for a quiet life leading Jane Austen-themed tours through the British countryside. But on New Year’s Eve, everything comes crashing down when she arrives back at her London flat to find her mother, Marla, waiting for her.
Marla’s brought two things with her: a black eye from her ex-boyfriend and an envelope. Its contents? The deed to an apartment in Paris, an old key, and newspaper clippings about the death of a famous writer named Andres Armand. Hannah, wary of her mother’s motives, reluctantly agrees to accompany her to Paris, where against all odds, they discover great-grandma Ivy’s apartment frozen in 1940 and covered in dust.
Inside the apartment, Hannah and Marla discover mysterious clues about Ivy’s life—including a diary detailing evenings of drinking and dancing with Hemingway, the Fitzgeralds, and other iconic expats. Outside, they retrace her steps through the city in an attempt to understand why she went to such great lengths to hide her Paris identity from future generations.
A heartwarming and charming saga set in the City of Lights, Lost in Paris is an unforgettable celebration of family and the love between a mother and a daughter.
I think anyone that loves books has considered pursuing a career in publishing. I was definitely one of those bookworms who was looking to crack into the industry any way that I could. For women of color, breaking into the industry is made especially challenging in so many ways, and THE OTHER BLACK GIRL shines a light on and examines the discrimination that many women experience. In this novel, Nella is a twenty-six-year-old assistant who is the only Black employee at her publishing company. When another young Black colleague begins working at the company, Nella is thrilled. But before long, her new coworker Hazel becomes the office star and Nella finds herself losing a competition she didn’t know she entered. What begins as unsettling soon turns nefarious as threatening notes begin to appear on Nella’s desk. THE OTHER BLACK GIRL is The Devil Wears Prada meets Get Out for the publishing industry—an unputdownable thriller that also makes sharp observations about the business of books.
Read more of 8 Books About Books for Booklovers
“Riveting, fearless, and vividly original. This is an exciting debut.” —Emily St. John Mandel, New York Times bestselling author of The Glass Hotel
Get Out meets The Devil Wears Prada in this electric debut about the tension that unfurls when two young Black women meet against the starkly white backdrop of New York City book publishing.
Twenty-six-year-old editorial assistant Nella Rogers is tired of being the only Black employee at Wagner Books. Fed up with the isolation and microaggressions, she’s thrilled when Harlem-born and bred Hazel starts working in the cubicle beside hers. They’ve only just started comparing natural hair care regimens, though, when a string of uncomfortable events elevates Hazel to Office Darling, and Nella is left in the dust.
Then the notes begin to appear on Nella’s desk: LEAVE WAGNER. NOW.
It’s hard to believe Hazel is behind these hostile messages. But as Nella starts to spiral and obsess over the sinister forces at play, she soon realizes that there’s a lot more at stake than just her career.
A whip-smart and dynamic thriller and sly social commentary that is perfect for anyone who has ever felt manipulated, threatened, or overlooked in the workplace, The Other Black Girl will keep you on the edge of your seat until the very last twist.
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