A good novel provides an opportunity to explore unfamiliar places, confront different challenges, and, perhaps most importantly, encounter new people. Because it is the characters within the pages—their personalities, their idiosyncrasies, their secrets—that make a good book so much more. And even if we, the reader, don’t know them in the opening chapters, it is the slow reveal of a character’s secrets that makes unraveling their mysteries so satisfying. The books in this list are so propulsive that they basically demand you to keep reading and reading to find out their characters’ delicious secrets.
There are few positions in our society that require the harboring of secrets more than that of White House occupants—specifically, the ones for those that get voted in. Anna Pitoniak’s political thriller, OUR AMERICAN FRIEND, follows journalist Sofie Morse as she’s about to leave her prestigious, but chaotic, position as White House correspondent. With one foot out the door, Sofie receives a mysterious invitation from First Lady Lara Caine and then an opportunity to write her official biography. Sofie knows little more than the American public does about the Russian-born and Paris raised Lara Caine . . . until the first Lady begins to open up. And what a ride it is—Sofie (and readers) learn of Lara’s past with the KGB, her current, clandestine relationship with the CIA, and so much more. For anyone looking for secrets that contribute to, and result from, political power, Pitoniak’s OUR AMERICAN FRIEND will keep you turning pages until the very last sentence.
A mysterious first lady.
The intrepid journalist writing her biography.
And the secret that could destroy them both.
Tired of covering the grating dysfunction of Washington and the increasingly outrageous antics of President Henry Caine, White House correspondent Sofie Morse quits her job and plans to leave politics behind. But when she gets a call from the office of First Lady Lara Caine, asking Sofie to come in for a private meeting with Lara, her curiosity is piqued. Sofie, like the rest of the world, knows little about Lara—only that Lara was born in Soviet Russia, raised in Paris, and worked as a model before moving to America and marrying the notoriously brash future president.
When Lara asks Sofie to write her official biography, and to finally fill in the gaps of her history, Sofie’s curiosity gets the better of her. She begins to spend more and more time in the White House, slowly developing a bond with Lara—and eventually a deep and surprising friendship with her.
Even more surprising to Sofie is the fact that Lara is entirely candid about her mysterious past. The First Lady doesn’t hesitate to speak about her beloved father’s work as an undercover KGB officer in Paris—and how he wasn’t the only person in her family working undercover during the Cold War.
As Lara’s story unfolds, Sofie can’t help but wonder why Lara is rehashing such sensitive information. Why to her? And why now? Suddenly Sofie is in the middle of a game of cat and mouse that could have explosive ramifications.
For fans of The Secrets We Kept and American Wife, Our American Friend is a propulsive Cold War-era spy thriller crossed with a fictional biography of a First Lady. Spanning from the 1970s to the present day, traveling from Moscow and Paris to Washington and New York, Anna Pitoniak’s novel is a gripping page-turner—and a devastating love story—about power and complicity and how sometimes, the fate of the world is in the hands of the people you’d never expect.
If politics really isn’t your thing, then this novel about an aging Hollywood movie icon, Evelyn Hugo, who calls upon an unlikely reporter to write her life’s story, might be the one for you. THE SEVEN HUSBANDS OF EVELYN HUGO documents the amazing rise of Evelyn Herrera, as told by the woman herself. Her lies to escape Hell’s Kitchen for Hollywood, her damning secrets, and her many husbands that she used along the way. But she is so much more than her circumstances to Monique Grant, the inexperienced writer tasked with authoring her biography, as she achieved success as a woman of color in the 1950s. Heartbreaking, beautiful, and completely mesmerizing, THE SEVEN HUSBANDS OF EVELYN HUGO is a propulsive book that you simply won’t be able to put down until you know this Hollywood icon inside and out.
Author Maisy Card’s debut novel, THESE GHOSTS ARE FAMILY, unravels one man’s shocking secret and the effects it will have on all those around him. Abel Paisley leaves his native Jamaica in the 70s for England, but upon arriving, he’s mistaken for a dock worker that was recently killed in an accident. Abel assumes the dead man’s identity—Stanford Solomon—and begins his life anew, leaving behind his wife and two children. It’s only near the end of his life that “Stanford” is ready to divulge his dark secret, as he meets his daughter while nearly on his deathbed. What transpires next is a man’s reckoning with his life’s choices and the impact they will, again, have on the family he never thought that he would reconnect with. A generational family saga filled with secrets and suspense, Maisy Card’s THESE GHOSTS ARE FAMILY captures a whole life and all its consequences.
Longlisted for the 2020 Center for Fiction First Novel Prize
A “rich, ambitious debut novel” (The New York Times Book Review) that reveals the ways in which a Jamaican family forms and fractures over generations, in the tradition of Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi.
*An Entertainment Weekly, Millions, and LitHub Most Anticipated Book of 2020 Pick and Buzz Magazine’s Top New Book of the New Decade*
Stanford Solomon’s shocking, thirty-year-old secret is about to change the lives of everyone around him. Stanford has done something no one could ever imagine. He is a man who faked his own death and stole the identity of his best friend. Stanford Solomon is actually Abel Paisley.
And now, nearing the end of his life, Stanford is about to meet his firstborn daughter, Irene Paisley, a home health aide who has unwittingly shown up for her first day of work to tend to the father she thought was dead.
These Ghosts Are Family revolves around the consequences of Abel’s decision and tells the story of the Paisley family from colonial Jamaica to present-day Harlem. There is Vera, whose widowhood forced her into the role of a single mother. There are two daughters and a granddaughter who have never known they are related. And there are others, like the houseboy who loved Vera, whose lives might have taken different courses if not for Abel Paisley’s actions.
This “rich and layered story” (Kirkus Reviews) explores the ways each character wrestles with their ghosts and struggles to forge independent identities outside of the family and their trauma. The result is a “beguiling…vividly drawn, and compelling” (BookPage, starred review) portrait of a family and individuals caught in the sweep of history, slavery, migration, and the more personal dramas of infidelity, lost love, and regret.
No stranger to suspense, Mindy Mejia, author of EVERYTHING YOU WANT ME TO BE, is back with another tale of intrigue and mystery. LEAVE NO TRACE centers around twenty-three-year-old speech therapist Maya Stark and her new patient at the Congdon Psychiatric Facility—where she was once a patient herself. Who is this new patient? None other than Lucas Blackthorn—known near and far for his disappearance in Minnesota’s Boundary Waters over ten years ago while on a trek with his father. Maya finds little success with Lucas, who is angry, aggressive, and violent, until she begins to open up about her own past and the secret that landed her in the Congdon Facility years ago. A thriller unlike any other from an exceptional author, LEAVE NO TRACE confronts readers with an engaging mystery that is slowly revealed, page after page, until its brutal conclusion.
By now you’ve likely heard of Emily St. John Mandel, whether for the National Book Award Finalist STATION ELEVEN or the recent HBO Max limited series that it inspired. But before writing her tale of a post-pandemic world and the humanity that persists, she wrote LAST NIGHT IN MONTREAL, which explores the life of Lilia, a woman haunted by her childhood–one where she was abducted and forced to change identities throughout her adolescence. When she leaves—as she always does—the latest city she’s residing and her unsuspecting boyfriend, Eli, for Montreal, she doesn’t expect any interference. But Eli is determined to track her down and flush out the secrets of her past—secrets that have come to light from a chance meeting with Michaela, the daughter of a detective that previously worked on Lilia’s childhood abduction case. An extraordinary debut from an extraordinary author, LAST NIGHT IN MONTREAL’s characters, and their pasts, will stay with you well into the future.
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