A lot of us at Off the Shelf have had a good reading streak for the past few weeks, so we wanted to share the special gems that have kept our spirits high. From delightful romances that made our hearts happy to the perfect transitions to spooky spirits, these are the reads that worked for us. We hope they work for you as well!
Staff Picks: 9 Books We’re Loving Lately
Emily’s Pick #1: I’m someone who sticks to the seasons while picking books to read, so with September officially here I’m finally diving into some moody thrillers I’ve been waiting all year to read. THE FAMILY REMAINS was at the top of my list after I read THE FAMILY UPSTAIRS—my very first Lisa Jewell—last year, and this one does NOT disappoint. With her expert weaving of multiple perspectives, Jewell once again plunges us into a mysterious family plagued by obsessions, cults, and deaths. Lucy Lamb is in the midst of reconnecting with her brother, Henry, and daughter, Libby, when she learns the location of Phin Thomsen—Libby’s birth father. Henry has developed an intense obsession with Phin (the three of them lived as teens in the same house together), and when he inevitably sets out to find Phin, we’re taken for a ride around the world to Botswana, and once again into the psyche of one of the most intriguing, eerie character I’ve read. For any Lisa Jewell newbies, this book can be read as a stand-alone!
A woman stops at nothing to find her husband’s murderer in this psychological thriller about twisted marriages, fractured families, and deadly obsessions in this standalone sequel to the “brilliantly chilling” (Ruth Ware, New York Times bestselling author) The Family Upstairs from the New York Times bestselling author Lisa Jewell.
Early one morning on the shore of the Thames, DCI Samuel Owusu is called to the scene of a gruesome discovery. When Owusu sends the evidence for examination, he learns the bones are connected to a cold case that left three people dead on the kitchen floor in a Chelsea mansion thirty years ago.
Rachel Rimmer has also received a shock—news that her husband, Michael, has been found dead in the cellar of his house in France. All signs point to an intruder, and the French police need her to come urgently to answer questions about Michael and his past that she very much doesn’t want to answer.
After fleeing London thirty years ago in the wake of a horrific tragedy, Lucy Lamb is finally coming home. While she settles in with her children and is just about to purchase their first-ever house, her brother takes off to find the boy from their shared past whose memory haunts their present.
As they all race to discover answers to these convoluted mysteries, they will come to find that they’re connected in ways they could have never imagined.
In this masterful standalone sequel to her haunting New York Times bestseller, The Family Upstairs, Lisa Jewell proves she is writing at the height of her powers with another jaw-dropping, intricate, and affecting novel about the lengths we will go to protect the ones we love and uncover the truth.
Emily’s Pick #2: I prefer to read paperbacks over hardcovers, so sometimes, when I’ve heard rave reviews about a certain page-turner, I’ll wait until the paperback release to finally pick up a copy. If I’m going to be spending the whole day reading, it’s essential that I have a light book in my hands. Just in time, A HISTORY OF WILD PLACES came out in paperback this August, and I immediately dove in. It takes place inside Pastoral, a commune in Northern California, and weaves multiple mysteries into one thrilling ride. We have one plot of a private investigator who goes missing himself while searching for a missing person as his path takes him to Pastoral. Then, we have another plot from the perspectives of key players stuck in Pastoral, exploring its true horrors involving a psychopathic leader, a fatal disease, and medical emergencies. Sprinkled within are clues about what might’ve happened to the missing people. This is the perfect read for a rainy fall day!
In this “riveting, atmospheric thriller that messes with your mind in the best way” (Laini Taylor, New York Times bestselling author), three residents of a secluded, seemingly peaceful commune investigate the disappearances of two outsiders.
Travis Wren has an unusual talent for locating missing people. Often hired by families as a last resort, he takes on the case of Maggie St. James—a well-known author of dark, macabre children’s books—and is soon led to a place many believed to be only a legend.
Called Pastoral, this reclusive community was founded in the 1970s by like-minded people searching for a simpler way of life. By all accounts, the commune shouldn’t exist anymore and soon after Travis stumbles upon it…he disappears. Just like Maggie St. James.
Years later, Theo, a lifelong member of Pastoral, discovers Travis’s abandoned truck beyond the border of the community. No one is allowed in or out, not when there’s a risk of bringing a disease—rot—into Pastoral. Unraveling the mystery of what happened reveals secrets that Theo, his wife, Calla, and her sister, Bee, keep from one another. Secrets that prove their perfect, isolated world isn’t as safe as they believed—and that darkness takes many forms.
“As spine-chilling as it is beautifully crafted” (Ruth Emmie Lang, author of Beasts of Extraordinary Circumstance), A History of Wild Places is a story about fairy tales, our fear of the dark, and losing yourself within the wilderness of your mind.
Lauren’s Pick: I devoured KISS & TELL: STAND-UP & STORIES ABOUT LOVE, SEX, ETC. in just one weekend. As a fan of The CW’s Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, when I saw that Rachel Bloom was cohost to this original comedy audiobook, I knew I had to download it. And it did not disappoint! SNL alum Jay Pharoah cohosts with Bloom as comedians including Atsuko Okatsuka, Morgan Jay, the Sklar Brothers, Zach Noe Towers, and more talk about modern love through a range of performances including everything from stand-up and storytelling to original songs and impressions. At just under four hours, it’s the perfect pick-me-up listen when you need a good laugh.
Kiss & Tell: Stand Up & Stories About Love, Sex, Etc. is a breakthrough audiobook that combines the brashness of stand-up comedy, the intimacy of oral storytelling and the energy of a live audience to portray a compelling and hilarious take on modern relationships. Coproduced with Kevin Hart’s Hartbeat and hosted by Emmy Award–winning actress Rachel Bloom and Saturday Night Live alum Jay Pharoah, Kiss & Tell presents an incredible lineup of the funniest comedians unavailable in any other format or on any other platform.
Telling a uniquely collaborative, extensive, and universal love story through a variety of diverse lenses, covering everything from first dates and first dances to cheating, break ups, and everything in between, Kiss & Tell features performances ranging from stand-up and storytelling to original songs, impressions, and more.
Organized along the timeline familiar to anyone who has been in a relationship—tracing the journey from pre-date jitters through settled domesticity—the assorted (and occasionally sordid) tales presented in Kiss & Tell bring the universal challenges and rewards of romantic relationships to hilarious life. Listeners will hear themselves in these talented performers’ fresh takes on these recognizable milestones: crushes crushed, proms attended and virginities lost, couples counseling, parenthood, and blending families.
Along the way, these performers share memories from surprising turns in their own journeys, including the challenges of bringing a sex toy through airport security, and coming to the realization of how threesomes are like horror movies. You’ll hear dispatches from the frontlines of today, men and women, straight and gay, pursuing romance while confronting the realities of dating in your thirties or discovering the truth about Tinder. And you’ll hear love in action as several couples perform together, including newlyweds remembering the vacation that defined their relationship, and longtime partners sharing the microphone to give each other the chance to have their say.
Hosts Rachel Bloom (Crazy Ex-Girlfriend) and Jay Pharoah (Saturday Night Live) share hilarious stories of their own while introducing a roster of performers assembled exclusively for this recording, including:
The Sklar Brothers
Zach Noe Towers
Sara’s Pick: I am here to readily admit I do not typically read romance—it's never been a genre I've gravitated to, as I prefer the spooky to the sappy (or even spicy). So when I say I couldn't put down HUSBAND MATERIAL, you know it's got something special. A sequel to BOYFRIEND MATERIAL, the book follows Luc and Oliver, two men who went from faking dating to a real relationship, surrounded by weddings and deciding if they're looking to get hitched. Author Alexis Hall has written two realistic, flawed, and endearing characters, on top of a fabulous supporting cast. But what I adore above else is the dialogue in this book, with endlessly witty banter and moments of pure poetry. If you're looking for something to distract and delight, I couldn't recommend this book any more highly!
Heather’s Pick #1: You may not guess it from the title, but THE DEAD ROMANTICS is a romance, and a delightful one at that. Ashley Poston’s first adult novel mashes up tropes and vibes from supernatural tales like CASPER and JUST LIKE HEAVEN, with a dash of the morbid humor and family drama from SIX FEET UNDER for good measure. The story revolves around successful ghostwriter Florence Day, whose life is turned upside down in a matter of hours. First, she has a rocky meeting with her annoyingly handsome new editor, Benji “Ben” Andor, and then she gets a heartbreaking phone call that sends her home to her family’s funeral parlor after years away. That’s when things get really weird, because she realizes she’s being haunted, and not just by any ghost but…by Ben?! All of this is to say, THE DEAD ROMANTICS is for every paranormal romance fan, but especially for the ’90s kids who grew up swooning to Devon Sawa whispering “Can I keep you?”
Heather’s Pick #2: I’ve followed Nicole Chung on Twitter since her days as managing editor of The Toast, so I have no idea why it took me so long to start her memoir, ALL YOU CAN EVER KNOW. Once I picked it up, though, I couldn’t put it down. Chung writes beautifully and movingly about what it was like to grow up as a transracial adoptee born to a Korean couple but raised by two white parents in an overwhelmingly white (and often casually racist) community in Oregon. When she becomes pregnant with her own child in her 20s, the author sets out to meet her birth family, eventually forging a life-changing relationship with one of her biological sisters, Cindy. No matter what your own childhood was like, the book’s universal themes of searching for identity and what it means to be a family will resonate.
Sharon’s Pick #1: I finished SEVERANCE back in May, and it is one of those rare books that I think about every single day. What resonated with me most was Ling Ma’s brilliant, multifaceted exploration of routine and ritual. Candace Chen, the book’s protagonist, finds comfort in her job as a production manager for a publisher of Bibles after the death of her parents. A virus known as Shen Fever causes victims to continuously repeat actions until their death. Virus survivors band together and pray before conducting raids on the homes of the infected. At once a coming-of-age novel, an apocalypse story, and a takedown of late-stage capitalism, SEVERANCE is essential reading.
Sharon’s Pick #2: THE NOVELIST is my current read, and it is one of the most original slice-of-life explorations I have ever read. Set over the course of a single morning, the book follows our unnamed narrator as he struggles to make progress writing his autobiographical novel. All the while, his morning rituals, such as making yerba mate tea and scrolling through Twitter, prompt extensive anecdotal and philosophical tangents. Humorous yet thought-provoking, THE NOVELIST exceptionally explores the pitfalls of attempting to complete goals while outside distractions (i.e.: social media) lurk.
Sharon’s Pick #3: One genre I have particularly loved reading this year has been translated fiction. Every time I have picked up a work of translated fiction this year, I have been floored by the sheer talent and ingenuity of both the author and the translator. The latest addition to my list of translated reads is THE LONESOME BODYBUILDER, a short story collection from Japanese author Yukiko Motoya and translated by Asa Yoneda. Whimsical and reflective, the stories in this collection blend the ordinary with the surreal, as boys, saleswomen, and newlyweds confront situations bordering on the supernatural in their daily lives. My personal favorite in the collection is the titular story, where a housewife seeking personal fulfillment as well as the attention of her workaholic husband takes up bodybuilding.
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