If our first “most popular” roundup is a foretelling for the rest 2022, we’re in for a wide range of reading interests. So far this January, we’ve latched onto a blend of new and older books, from thrillers to historical fiction reads. What they all have in common, however, are powerful premises that’ll trigger a need to read.
The 10 Most Popular Books We Craved in January 2022
I’m a huge mystery/thriller and murder mystery fan, so picking up an early copy of GREENWICH PARK was a no-brainer for me—and I am so glad I did. Katherine Faulkner’s whip-smart, twisty thriller about impending motherhood, unreliable friendship, and the high price of keeping secrets is unputdownable. I don’t remember the last book before GREENWICH PARK that I read in one sitting. With reminiscences of THE GIRL ON THE TRAIN by Paula Hawkins, this will keep even the most seasoned mystery reader guessing until the last page.
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“Gripping and haunting and gorgeously suspenseful. I couldn’t put this thriller down and can’t recommend it highly enough.” —Zakiya Dalila Harris, author of The Other Black Girl
A twisty, whip-smart debut thriller, as electrifying as the #1 New York Times bestseller The Girl on the Train, about impending motherhood, unreliable friendship, and the high price of keeping secrets.
Helen’s idyllic life—handsome architect husband, gorgeous Victorian house, and cherished baby on the way (after years of trying)—begins to change the day she attends her first prenatal class and meets Rachel, an unpredictable single mother-to-be. Rachel doesn’t seem very maternal: she smokes, drinks, and professes little interest in parenthood. Still, Helen is drawn to her. Maybe Rachel just needs a friend. And to be honest, Helen’s a bit lonely herself. At least Rachel is fun to be with. She makes Helen laugh, invites her confidences, and distracts her from her fears.
But her increasingly erratic behavior is unsettling. And Helen’s not the only one who’s noticed. Her friends and family begin to suspect that her strange new friend may be linked to their shared history in unexpected ways. When Rachel threatens to expose a past crime that could destroy all of their lives, it becomes clear that there are more than a few secrets laying beneath the broad-leaved trees and warm lamplight of Greenwich Park.
Book Club Favorites’ first live event of 2022 begins with a book that everyone is talking about. THE SCHOOL FOR GOOD MOTHERS is an electrifying debut by Jessamine Chan. Frida had a “very bad day,” leading the state to question her ability to mother. Faced with the possibility of losing her toddler daughter Harriet, Frida must redeem herself. She is sent to The School for Good Mothers, a place where bad mothers learn to be good. This page-turning dystopic novel from a fresh new voice asks poignant questions about motherhood, race, and ethics. Join Book Club Favorites in reading and discussing the buzzworthy book THE SCHOOL FOR GOOD MOTHERS today at 3 pm ET. RSVP here!
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In this taut and explosive debut novel, one lapse in judgement lands a young mother in a government reform program where custody of her child hangs in the balance.
Frida Liu is struggling. She doesn’t have a career worthy of her Chinese immigrant parents’ sacrifices. She can’t persuade her husband, Gust, to give up his wellness-obsessed younger mistress. Only with Harriet, their cherubic daughter, does Frida finally attain the perfection expected of her. Harriet may be all she has, but she is just enough.
Until Frida has a very bad day.
The state has its eyes on mothers like Frida. The ones who check their phones, letting their children get injured on the playground; who let their children walk home alone. Because of one moment of poor judgment, a host of government officials will now determine if Frida is a candidate for a Big Brother-like institution that measures the success or failure of a mother’s devotion.
Faced with the possibility of losing Harriet, Frida must prove that a bad mother can be redeemed. That she can learn to be good.
A searing page-turner that is also a transgressive novel of ideas about the perils of “perfect” upper-middle class parenting; the violence enacted upon women by both the state and, at times, one another; the systems that separate families; and the boundlessness of love, The School for Good Mothers introduces, in Frida, an everywoman for the ages. Using dark wit to explore the pains and joys of the deepest ties that bind us, Chan has written a modern literary classic.
Beautifully written with a hint of mystery, Kate Morton has a gift for writing novels that are perfect to escape into. A little girl lost, a family’s secret past, a book of fairy tales, a manor on the Cornish coast, and a forgotten garden. All of this and more make THE FORGOTTEN GARDEN one unforgettable story.
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From the #1 internationally bestselling author of The House at Riverton, a novel that takes the reader on an unforgettable journey through generations and across continents as two women try to uncover their family’s secret past.A tiny girl is abandoned on a ship headed for Australia in 1913. She arrives completely alone with nothing but a small suitcase containing a few clothes and a single book—a beautiful volume of fairy tales. She is taken in by the dockmaster and his wife and raised as their own. On her twenty-fi rst birthday, they tell her the truth, and with her sense of self shattered and very little to go on, "Nell" sets out to trace her real identity. Her quest leads her to Blackhurst Manor on the Cornish coast and the secrets of the doomed Mountrachet family. But it is not until her granddaughter, Cassandra, takes up the search after Nell’s death that all the pieces of the puzzle are assembled. A spellbinding tale of mystery and self-discovery, The Forgotten Garden will take hold of your imagination and never let go.
NO LAND TO LIGHT ON contains amazing prose and is sure to leave a big emotional impact on you. It is definitely the kind of book that makes you want to call up your friends so you have someone to discuss everything with, therefore making it a perfect choice for book clubs everywhere. Hadi and Sama, a young Syrian couple living in Boston, celebrate their love and can’t wait for the birth of their son. They are determined that he will grow up safe and free and away from the hardship they faced in Syria. But when Sama is five-months pregnant, Hadi’s father passes away. Despite fleeing the civil war, Hadi must fly back to Jordan for the funeral. While Sama is waiting for Hadi at the airport, a protest breaks out. Meanwhile, Hadi has been detained at the border for questioning, and suddenly the future they dreamed of for themselves seems to crumble around them.
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Exit West meets An American Marriage in this breathtaking and evocative novel about a young Syrian couple in the throes of new love, on the cusp of their bright future…when a travel ban rips them apart on the eve of their son’s birth—from the author of the “absorbing page-turner” (People) The Girls at 17 Swann Street.
Hadi and Sama are a young Syrian couple flying high on a whirlwind love, dreaming up a life in the country that brought them together. She had come to Boston years before chasing dreams of a bigger life; he’d landed there as a sponsored refugee from a bloody civil war. Now, they are giddily awaiting the birth of their son, a boy whose native language would be freedom and belonging.
When Sama is five months pregnant, Hadi’s father dies suddenly in Jordan, the night before his visa appointment at the embassy. Hadi flies back for the funeral, promising his wife that he’ll only be gone for a few days. On the day his flight is due to arrive in Boston, Sama is waiting for him at the airport, eager to bring him back home. But as the minutes and then hours pass, she continues to wait, unaware that Hadi has been stopped at the border and detained for questioning, trapped in a timeless, nightmarish limbo.
Worlds apart, suspended between hope and disillusion as hours become days become weeks, Sama and Hadi yearn for a way back to each other, and to the life they’d dreamed up together. But does that life exist anymore, or was it only an illusion?
Achingly intimate yet poignantly universal, No Land to Light On is the story of a family caught up in forces beyond their control, fighting for the freedom and home they found in one another.
Forty-four years have passed since artist Thomas Bayber, now a famous painter, met the Kessler sisters in the summer of 1963. With all the time that has passed, he feels it’s time to unveil a provocative painting of the girls that he painted when the sisters were teens. Now, before he attempts to sell his work, Thomas must first find the sisters, who have miraculously disappeared. This gorgeously written debut novel ties three characters together, with irresistibly poetic language, to demonstrate the complexity of families and the drama of relationships.
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Personally, I think that historical fiction is always a great choice for book clubs because they give everyone a chance to research history on their own while drawing conclusions and similarities to today. However, if you’re looking to step outside of some of the typical historical fiction periods, then you’ll want to select THE LAST DANCE OF THE DEBUTANTE. In 1958, Queen Elizabeth announced that this would be the final season that debutantes were presented a court. A long-standing tradition for the wealthy elite to announce their eligibility to society, families and young women flock to the palace in hopes of gaining an invitation. Despite aspirations to go to university, Lily Nichols agrees to appease her mother and participate. Throughout the never-ending balls and parties, Lily befriends two very different women and soon uncovers a dark family secret. In this wonderful story of female friendship, Lily will have to choose either her family’s history or her future.
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The author of the “sweeping, stirring, and heartrending” (Kristin Harmel, author of The Room on Rue Amélie) The Light Over London returns with a masterful, glittering novel that whisks you to midcentury Britain as it follows three of the last debutantes to be presented to Queen Elizabeth II.
When it’s announced that 1958 will be the last year debutantes are to be presented at court, thousands of eager mothers and hopeful daughters flood the palace with letters seeking the year’s most coveted invitation: a chance for their daughters to curtsey to the young Queen Elizabeth and officially come out into society.
In an effort to appease her traditional mother, aspiring university student Lily Nichols agrees to become a debutante and do the Season, a glittering and grueling string of countless balls and cocktail parties. In doing so, she befriends two very different women: the cool and aloof Leana Hartford whose apparent perfection hides a darker side and the ambitious Katherine Norman who dreams of a career once she helps her parents find their place among the elite.
But the glorious effervescence of the Season evaporates once Lily learns a devastating secret that threatens to destroy her entire family. Faced with a dark past, she’s forced to ask herself what really matters: her family legacy or her own happiness.
With her signature “intricate, tender, and convincing” (Publishers Weekly) storytelling, Julia Kelly weaves an unforgettable tale of female friendship amid the twilight days of Britain’s grand coming out balls.
I have not read such a delightful mystery in a long time! THE MAID is full of memorable characters that make this book such a fun, cozy mystery that keeps you guessing. The main character, Molly, loves her job and takes a lot of pride in her work as a maid at the Regency Grand Hotel. After recently losing her gran, who helped to interpret a lot of the social cues Molly misses, she’s trying to make the most of her days while cleaning rooms and remembering what her gran taught her. Molly’s life takes a turn when she’s the first person to find a dead body during a regular workday and becomes the lead suspect.
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Mother and daughter Carol and Katy are best friends. In Katy’s eyes, Carol is perfect and always knows exactly what to do. But when Carol dies, Katy becomes unsure of everything—including her marriage to Eric and the life she has chosen. Before Carol’s death, Katy planned a mother-daughter trip to Italy: two weeks in Positano, going to the same places Carol visited before she was married, before she had Katy. Now Katy must go alone. Once she’s there, it doesn’t take Katy long to understand why Carol loved it so. Katy feels such a connection to Carol that when she actually sees her mother one day—not as she knew her in the last years of her life but young and vivacious—she can almost believe it. In this time spent with Carol, Katy realizes she may not be getting the mother-daughter vacation she dreamed of, but maybe she’s experiencing something better: one last chance to really know who her mother was, to see her through different eyes, to heal and say goodbye. I read this book through laughter and tears. Don’t miss this beautiful story, publishing on March 1, 2022.
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The New York Times bestselling author of the “heartwarming, heartbreaking, and hard to put down” (Laurie Frankel, New York Times bestselling author) modern classic In Five Years returns with a moving and unforgettable exploration of the powerful bond between mother and daughter set on the breathtaking Amalfi Coast.
When Katy’s mother dies, she is left reeling. Carol wasn’t just Katy’s mom, but her best friend and first phone call. She had all the answers and now, when Katy needs her the most, she is gone. To make matters worse, their planned mother-daughter trip of a lifetime looms: two weeks in Positano, the magical town Carol spent the summer right before she met Katy’s father. Katy has been waiting years for Carol to take her, and now she is faced with embarking on the adventure alone.
But as soon as she steps foot on the Amalfi Coast, Katy begins to feel her mother’s spirit. Buoyed by the stunning waters, beautiful cliffsides, delightful residents, and, of course, delectable food, Katy feels herself coming back to life.
And then Carol appears—in the flesh, healthy, sun-tanned, and thirty years old. Katy doesn’t understand what is happening, or how—all she can focus on is that she has somehow, impossibly, gotten her mother back. Over the course of one Italian summer, Katy gets to know Carol, not as her mother, but as the young woman before her. She is not exactly who Katy imagined she might be, however, and soon Katy must reconcile the mother who knew everything with the young woman who does not yet have a clue.
Rebecca Serle’s next great love story is here, and this time it’s between a mother and a daughter. With her signature “heartbreaking, redemptive, and authentic” (Jamie Ford, New York Times bestselling author) prose, Serle has crafted a transcendent novel about how we move on after loss, and how the people we love never truly leave us.
Craving an Agatha Christie–type murder mystery? Look no further than Janice Hallett’s THE APPEAL, an epistolary novel where two junior lawyers are given emails, transcripts, and texts from fifteen members of a community theater production that ended in a murder. It’s up to the lawyers (and the reader) to read between the lines of the briefing to uncover what really happened. I guarantee it’s like nothing you’ve ever read before. Are you up for the challenge?
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Perfect for fans of Ruth Ware and Lisa Jewell, this “dazzlingly clever” (The Sunday Times) murder mystery follows a community rallying around a sick child—but when escalating lies lead to a dead body, everyone is a suspect.
The Fairway Players, a local theatre group, is in the midst of rehearsals when tragedy strikes the family of director Martin Hayward and his wife Helen, the play’s star. Their young granddaughter has been diagnosed with a rare form of cancer, and with an experimental treatment costing a tremendous sum, their fellow castmates rally to raise the money to give her a chance at survival.
But not everybody is convinced of the experimental treatment’s efficacy—nor of the good intentions of those involved. As tension grows within the community, things come to a shocking head at the explosive dress rehearsal. The next day, a dead body is found, and soon, an arrest is made. In the run-up to the trial, two young lawyers sift through the material—emails, messages, letters—with a growing suspicion that a killer may be hiding in plain sight. The evidence is all there, between the lines, waiting to be uncovered.
A wholly modern take on the epistolary novel, The Appeal is a “daring…clever, and funny” (The Times) debut for fans of Richard Osman and Lucy Foley.
Marie and Simone are friends, immigrants (from France, following World War II), and now widows. They both live alone in New York, where they encourage each other to remain active and adventurous. The two attend a painting class, which introduces readers to several other characters in the novel. Through a chorus of smart voices, THE SUNKEN CATHEDRAL explores marriage, friendship, and the many facets of love. This moving, fascinating story reminds us how memory shapes our present, and how the present itself is so changed from the past.
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From the highly acclaimed, bestselling National Book Award nominee, a “funny…beautiful…audacious…masterful” (J. Courtney Sullivan, The Boston Globe) novel about the way memory haunts and shapes the present.
Marie and Simone, friends for decades, were once immigrants to the city, survivors of World War II in Europe. Now widows living alone in Chelsea, they remain robust, engaged, and adventurous, even as the vistas from their past interrupt their present. Helen is an art historian who takes a painting class with Marie and Simone. Sid Morris, their instructor, presides over a dusty studio in a tenement slated for condo conversion; he awakes the interest of both Simone and Marie. Elizabeth is Marie’s upstairs tenant, a woman convinced that others have a secret way of being, a confidence and certainty she lacks. She is increasingly unmoored—baffled by her teenage son, her husband, and the roles she is meant to play.
In a chorus of voices, Kate Walbert, a “wickedly smart, gorgeous writer” (The New York Times Book Review), explores the growing disconnect between the world of action her characters inhabit and the longings, desires, and doubts they experience. Interweaving long narrative footnotes, Walbert paints portraits of marriage, of friendship, and of love in its many facets, always limning the inner life, the place of deepest yearning and anxiety. The Sunken Cathedral is a stunningly beautiful, profoundly wise novel about the way we live now—“fascinating, moving, and significant” (Ron Charles, The Washington Post).
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