Kristin Harmel’s 10 Favorite Books from the Past 10 Years

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Kristin Harmel is the New York Times bestselling author of more than a dozen novels including The Book of Lost Names and The Sweetness of Forgetting. She is published in more than thirty languages and is the cofounder and cohost of the popular web series, Friends & Fiction. She lives in Orlando, Florida.

This year marks the tenth anniversary of the publication of my first World War II novel, The Sweetness of Forgetting, which tells the tale of a bakery owner in modern-day Cape Cod who goes on a search to uncover her grandmother’s secret past in 1940s Paris. I’m thrilled that my longtime publisher, Gallery Books, is releasing a tenth-anniversary edition of the book with a new cover, some updates to the text, three new original recipes, and a brand-new author’s note.

Gearing up for the book’s release got me thinking about some of my favorite novels from the past decade. You may know that I co-host a weekly web show called Friends & Fiction with fellow New York Times bestselling authors Mary Kay Andrews, Kristy Woodson Harvey, and Patti Callahan Henry. Since we were all intimately involved in the writing of one another’s 2021 books, Mary Kay’s The Newcomer, Kristy’s Under the Southern Sky, and Patti’s Surviving Savannah will forever hold a very special place in my heart. Here are ten more novels that moved me, changed me, and inspired me to be a better writer (and in some cases, a better person!) over the past ten years.

Life After Life
by Kate Atkinson

The books that stay with me are often the ones that cleverly execute concepts that feel utterly original. In this exquisite novel, we meet Ursula Todd, who lives dozens of lives. In one, she dies without a breath. In another, she has a chance to kill Hitler. It has been nearly a decade since I’ve read this incredibly inventive, gorgeously written novel, and it still haunts me. 

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Life After Life
Kate Atkinson

During a snowstorm in 1910, a baby is born. She dies before she can draw her first breath. During a snowstorm in 1910, the same baby is born and lives. What if there were an infinite number of chances to live your life? Would you be able to save the world from its own destiny? What power can one woman exert over the fate of civilization as she lives through the turbulent events of the twentieth century again and again?

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All the Light We Cannot See
by Anthony Doerr

This beautiful novel, soon to be a Netflix limited series, pushed the limits of what was possible in a World War II novel. A transportive tale of a blind French girl whose life collides with that of a German boy in occupied France, set to the backdrop of the sea-swept walled citadel of Saint-Malo, it won the Pulitzer Prize.

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All the Light We Cannot See
Anthony Doerr

Winner of the Pulitzer Prize, a New York Times Book Review Top Ten Book, National Book Award finalist, more than two and a half years on the New York Times bestseller list

From the highly acclaimed, multiple award-winning Anthony Doerr, the stunningly beautiful instant New York Times bestseller about a blind French girl and a German boy whose paths collide in occupied France as both try to survive the devastation of World War II.

Marie-Laure lives in Paris near the Museum of Natural History, where her father works. When she is twelve, the Nazis occupy Paris and father and daughter flee to the walled citadel of Saint-Malo, where Marie-Laure’s reclusive great uncle lives in a tall house by the sea. With them they carry what might be the museum’s most valuable and dangerous jewel.

In a mining town in Germany, Werner Pfennig, an orphan, grows up with his younger sister, enchanted by a crude radio they find that brings them news and stories from places they have never seen or imagined. Werner becomes an expert at building and fixing these crucial new instruments and is enlisted to use his talent to track down the resistance. Deftly interweaving the lives of Marie-Laure and Werner, Doerr illuminates the ways, against all odds, people try to be good to one another.

Doerr’s “stunning sense of physical detail and gorgeous metaphors” (San Francisco Chronicle) are dazzling. Ten years in the writing, a National Book Award finalist, All the Light We Cannot See is a magnificent, deeply moving novel from a writer “whose sentences never fail to thrill” (Los Angeles Times).

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The Nightingale
by Kristin Hannah

Coming soon as a major motion picture, starring real-life sisters Elle and Dakota Fanning, this World War II novel gave birth to a standalone genre. After this groundbreaking book, set in occupied France, the market for novels about the Second World War exploded, changing the literary landscape forever. A heartbreaking story of sisters, resistance, and duty, it has been reviewed nearly a million times on Goodreads.

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The Nightingale
Kristin Hannah

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An American Marriage
by Tayari Jones

An Oprah’s Book Club pick, this searing novel was hailed by President Barack Obama as “a moving portrayal of the effects of a wrongful conviction on a young African-American couple.” It’s the heartbreaking story of a marriage, and at the same time, of society itself. It will sweep you away as it forces you to look at what’s broken in the world.

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An American Marriage
Tayari Jones

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Anxious People
by Fredrik Backman

I am in awe of writers like Backman, who can spin a fast-paced story that makes you laugh out loud and then hits you in the gut with a wallop of emotion. Backman’s talents are on full display in this charming story of a bank robbery gone awry and the eight anxious strangers who find themselves in the world’s strangest hostage situation. It’s as perfect as a book can be.

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Anxious People
Fredrik Backman

An instant #1 New York Times bestseller, the new novel from the author of A Man Called Ove is a “quirky, big-hearted novel….Wry, wise and often laugh-out-loud funny, it’s a wholly original story that delivers pure pleasure” (People).

Looking at real estate isn’t usually a life-or-death situation, but an apartment open house becomes just that when a failed bank robber bursts in and takes a group of strangers hostage. The captives include a recently retired couple who relentlessly hunt down fixer-uppers to avoid the painful truth that they can’t fix their own marriage. There’s a wealthy bank director who has been too busy to care about anyone else and a young couple who are about to have their first child but can’t seem to agree on anything. Add to the mix an eighty-seven-year-old woman who has lived long enough not to be afraid of someone waving a gun in her face, a flustered but still-ready-to-make-a-deal real estate agent, and a mystery man who has locked himself in the apartment’s only bathroom, and you’ve got the worst group of hostages in the world.

Each of them carries a lifetime of grievances, hurts, secrets, and passions that are ready to boil over. None of them is entirely who they appear to be. And all of them—the bank robber included—desperately crave some sort of rescue. As the authorities and the media surround the premises, these reluctant allies will reveal surprising truths about themselves and set in motion a chain of events so unexpected that even they can hardly explain what happens next.

Proving once again that Backman is “a master of writing delightful, insightful, soulful, character-driven narratives” (USA TODAY), Anxious People “captures the messy essence of being human….It’s clever and affecting, as likely to make you laugh out loud as it is to make you cry” (The Washington Post). This “endlessly entertaining mood-booster” (Real Simple) is proof that the enduring power of friendship, forgiveness, and hope can save us—even in the most anxious of times.

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The Midnight Library
by Matt Haig

This Good Morning America book club pick was a thought-provoking journey that broke my heart and put it back together again. I’ve toyed with a similar concept—the idea of an alternate life we could be living—in my 2014 novel, THE LIFE INTENDED, so the idea of this book fascinated me. Haig executed the concept very differently than I did, and I loved every page—even more so after learning that as a young man, Haig himself almost committed suicide, which inspired a crucial element of this book.

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The Midnight Library
Matt Haig

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The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue
by V.E. Schwab

Another incredibly inventive concept, perfectly executed by a master storyteller. I was breathless through much of this stirring tale that spans centuries after a young woman makes a Faustian bargain to live forever in 1714 France. The only catch? She’ll be forgotten by everyone she meets. Schwab’s chat with us on Friends & Fiction was one of my favorite interviews we’ve done since starting the show in April 2020.

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The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue
V.E. Schwab

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The Mountains Sing
by Nguyen Phan Que Mai

Another favorite Friends & Fiction interview we did was with the Vietnamese poet Nguyễn Phan Quế Mai, whose first novel, THE MOUNTAINS SING, was written in English, her second language. On our show, she shared tear-jerking wisdom and centuries-old proverbs. In this incredible novel, she tells the multigenerational tale of the Trần family set against the backdrop of the Việt Nam War, showing us both the human cost of conflict and the hope we can find within ourselves wherever we are in the world. I loved this novel.

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The Mountains Sing
Nguyen Phan Que Mai

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The Maid
by Nita Prose

This Good Morning America book club pick was one of the most cleverly plotted novels I’ve ever read. On its surface, it’s the tale of a murder that takes place in a posh hotel with the maid being wrongly accused of the crime. But on a deeper level, it’s the tale of a woman who doesn’t quite fit into society and the surprising way a few “good eggs,” as she would say, rally around her. A most original whodunit, full of warmth and heart.

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The Maid
Nita Prose

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The Many Daughters of Afong Moy
by Jamie Ford

Jamie Ford’s 2009 novel HOTEL ON THE CORNER OF BITTER AND SWEET was one of the books my incredible agent, Holly Root, suggested I read as I revised THE SWEETNESS OF FORGETTING back in 2010 and 2011. It remains one of my favorite World War II novels, and Jamie—whose kindness as a human being shines through on every page of his books—remains one of my favorite authors. In this book, his latest, which was a Read With Jenna Today Show book club pick, he explores a concept that fascinates me and which I touch on in many of my books: generational trauma. As hopeful and wise as Ford himself, this is a book that will change the way you think about your life.

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The Many Daughters of Afong Moy
Jamie Ford

The New York Times bestselling author of the “mesmerizing and evocative” (Sara Gruen, author of Water for Elephants) Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet returns with a powerful exploration of the love that binds one family across the generations.

Dorothy Moy breaks her own heart for a living.

As Washington’s former poet laureate, that’s how she describes channeling her dissociative episodes and mental health struggles into her art. But when her five-year-old daughter exhibits similar behavior and begins remembering things from the lives of their ancestors, Dorothy believes the past has truly come to haunt her. Fearing that her child is predestined to endure the same debilitating depression that has marked her own life, Dorothy seeks radical help.

Through an experimental treatment designed to mitigate inherited trauma, Dorothy intimately connects with past generations of women in her family: Faye Moy, a nurse in China serving with the Flying Tigers; Zoe Moy, a student in England at a famous school with no rules; Lai King Moy, a girl quarantined in San Francisco during a plague epidemic; Greta Moy, a tech executive with a unique dating app; and Afong Moy, the first Chinese woman to set foot in America.

As painful recollections affect her present life, Dorothy discovers that trauma isn’t the only thing she’s inherited. A stranger is searching for her in each time period. A stranger who’s loved her through all of her genetic memories. Dorothy endeavors to break the cycle of pain and abandonment, to finally find peace for her daughter, and gain the love that has long been waiting, knowing she may pay the ultimate price.

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The Sweetness of Forgetting
by Kristin Harmel

THE SWEETNESS OF FORGETTING is available now!

The classic that made Kristin Harmel a superstar follows a woman who must travel from Cape Cod to Paris to uncover a family secret for her dying grandmother that could change everything. Updated with a new author’s note and recipes for this 10th anniversary edition!

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The Sweetness of Forgetting
Kristin Harmel

The “beautifully complex” (Woman’s Day) classic that made Kristin Harmel a superstar follows a woman who must travel from Cape Cod to Paris to uncover a family secret for her dying grandmother that could change everything. Updated with a new author’s note and recipes for this 10th anniversary edition!

At thirty-six, Hope McKenna-Smith is no stranger to bad news. She lost her mother to cancer, her husband left her, and her bank account is nearly depleted. Her own dreams of becoming a lawyer long gone, she’s running a failing family bakery on Cape Cod and raising a troubled preteen.

Now, Hope’s beloved French-born grandmother Mamie is drifting away in a haze of Alzheimer’s. But in a rare moment of clarity, Mamie realizes that unless she tells Hope about the past, the secrets she has held on to for so many years will soon be lost forever. Tantalizingly, she reveals mysterious snippets of a tragic history in WWII Paris. Armed with a scrawled list of names, Hope heads to France to uncover a seventy-year-old mystery.

What follows is “an immersive and evocative tale of generations struggling to survive” (Publishers Weekly) as Hope pieces together her grandmother’s past bit by bit. Uncovering horrific tales of the Holocaust, she realizes the astonishing will of her grandmother to endure in a world gone mad. And to reunite two lovers torn apart by terror, all she’ll need is a dash of courage, and the belief that God exists everywhere, even in cake.

“Kristin Harmel is a powerful and dazzling voice in historical fiction.” —Patti Callahan, New York Times bestselling author of Surviving Savannah

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Photo credit: iStock / Ekaterina Morozova

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