With the winners announced for this year’s Goodreads Choice Awards, we’ve rounded up our favorites out of the finalists. From best memoirs to fantasies, and everything in between, these are the books that were double vetted—voted on note only by the Goodreads community, but also selected by us as our favorites on Off the Shelf throughout the year.
Best Mystery Finalist
Who doesn’t love a good thrill from the queen of dark mysteries herself? In Ruth Ware’s latest book, we follow Hannah Jones, a soon-to-be mother who gets an unexpected call from a journalist. Back in Hannah’s university days, her friend April was murdered, and their porter was charged for the crime and locked away. But new evidence comes to light that the porter may have been innocent, and that the killer could have been one of April’s friends, including Hannah herself and her husband, Will. A dark academia murder mystery, THE IT GIRL will have you wondering just how well you know your closest friends.
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The #1 New York Times bestselling author of the “claustrophobic spine-tingler” (People) One by One returns with an unputdownable mystery following a woman on the search for answers a decade after her friend’s murder.
April Clarke-Cliveden was the first person Hannah Jones met at Oxford.
Vivacious, bright, occasionally vicious, and the ultimate It girl, she quickly pulled Hannah into her dazzling orbit. Together, they developed a group of devoted and inseparable friends—Will, Hugh, Ryan, and Emily—during their first term. By the end of the second, April was dead.
Now, a decade later, Hannah and Will are expecting their first child, and the man convicted of killing April, former Oxford porter John Neville, has died in prison. Relieved to have finally put the past behind her, Hannah’s world is rocked when a young journalist comes knocking and presents new evidence that Neville may have been innocent. As Hannah reconnects with old friends and delves deeper into the mystery of April’s death, she realizes that the friends she thought she knew all have something to hide…including a murder.
“The Agatha Christie of our generation” (David Baldacci, #1 New York Times bestselling author) proves once again that she is “as ingenious and indefatigable as the Queen of Crime” (The Washington Post) with this propulsive murder mystery that will keep you on the edge of your seat.
Best Fiction Finalist
“The final installment of Fredrik Backman’s Beartown trilogy meets my every hope. Memorable characters fill the pages, while the careful foreshadowing propels to a devastating tragedy. Be prepared to feel emotionally wrung-out as Scandinavian small-town hockey life reflects all the big existential themes—birth, death, love, war, and peace.” —Beth Shapiro, Skylark Bookshop
The long-awaited conclusion to the beloved New York Times bestselling and “engrossing” (People) Beartown series—which inspired an HBO series of the same name—follows the small hockey town’s residents as they grapple with change, pain, hope, and redemption.
It starts with a storm, a death, and two funerals on the same day.
One person’s life is being celebrated by all of Beartown.
One person’s life is being forgotten.
Maya Andersson and Benji Ovich, two young people who left in search of a life far from the forest town, come home and joyfully reunite with their closest childhood friends. They can see how much Beartown has changed. There is a sense of optimism and purpose in the town, embodied in the impressive new ice rink that has been built down by the lake.
Two years have passed since the events that no one wants to think about. Everyone has tried to move on, but there’s something about this place that prevents it. The destruction caused by a ferocious late-summer storm reignites the old rivalry between Beartown and the neighboring town of Hed, a rivalry which has always been fought through their ice hockey teams. Maya’s parents, Peter and Kira, are caught up in an investigation of the hockey club’s murky finances, and Amat—once the star of the Beartown team—has lost his way after an injury and a failed attempt to get drafted into the NHL. Simmering tensions between the two towns turn into acts of intimidation and then violence. All the while, a fourteen-year-old boy grows increasingly alienated from this hockey-obsessed community and is determined to take revenge on the people he holds responsible for his beloved sister’s death. He has a pistol and a plan that will leave Beartown with a loss that is almost more that it can stand.
As it beautifully captures all the complexities of daily life and explores questions of friendship, loyalty, loss, and identity, this emotion-packed novel asks us to reconsider what it means to win, what it means to lose, and what it means to forgive.
This sweet story drew me in right from the first sentence. Tova Sullivan, a seventy-year-old woman, works the night shift at the Sowell Bay Aquarium. Using her own concoction of vinegar with a hint of lemon, not the nasty green stuff that still sits in the supply closet, Tova makes her way through the aquarium mopping the floors, wiping down the glass, and emptying trash bins. At the end of each evening as she passes the tanks of those who call the aquarium home, she whispers good evening to the blue gills, crabs, and lastly, her favorite, the giant Pacific octopus named Marcellus. Tova and Marcellus form a bond because Marcellus comes from the sea, the great, beautiful, and terrible sea; the same one that Tova believes stole her only son, Eric, from her. If only she knew what happened to him? If only Marcellus could tell her what he knows. Or can he? Come and spend some time in this lovely, gentle, charming story.
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Best Fiction Finalist
When a devastating worldwide crisis strands Diana in the Galapagos Islands, she finds herself examining her relationships, her choices, and herself—and wondering if, when she goes home, she will have evolved into someone completely different. Crafting a pandemic novel is a huge undertaking, given what we’ve all experienced in the last two years, but there is no novelist I trust more. As MY SISTER’S KEEPER left me bawling over that twist, NINETEEN MINUTES kept me up all night, and SALEM FALLS made me question everything I thought I knew, Jodi Picoult wormed her way to the top of my favorite authors list. Taylor Jenkins Reid called Picoult “the master of wading through the darkness to find the light” and, as a fan, I wholeheartedly agree, and cannot wait to read WISH YOU WERE HERE this November.
Master storyteller Stephen King returns with a spellbinding adventure in which a boy and his dog must confront the forces of good and evil. To get space from his alcoholic father, teenager Charlie begins doing odd jobs for his reclusive neighbor Howard, whose dog has stolen Charlie’s heart. But when Howard dies suddenly and leaves Charlie a message about the locked shed in his backyard, Charlie uncovers a truth that Howard has kept secret for years: a portal to a parallel world where everyone’s fate will be decided once and for all.
Legendary storyteller Stephen King goes into the deepest well of his imagination in this spellbinding novel about a seventeen-year-old boy who inherits the keys to a parallel world where good and evil are at war, and the stakes could not be higher—for that world or ours.
Charlie Reade looks like a regular high school kid, great at baseball and football, a decent student. But he carries a heavy load. His mom was killed in a hit-and-run accident when he was ten, and grief drove his dad to drink. Charlie learned how to take care of himself—and his dad. When Charlie is seventeen, he meets a dog named Radar and her aging master, Howard Bowditch, a recluse in a big house at the top of a big hill, with a locked shed in the backyard. Sometimes strange sounds emerge from it.
Charlie starts doing jobs for Mr. Bowditch and loses his heart to Radar. Then, when Bowditch dies, he leaves Charlie a cassette tape telling a story no one would believe. What Bowditch knows, and has kept secret all his long life, is that inside the shed is a portal to another world.
King’s storytelling in Fairy Tale soars. This is a magnificent and terrifying tale in which good is pitted against overwhelming evil, and a heroic boy—and his dog—must lead the battle.
Early in the Pandemic, King asked himself: “What could you write that would make you happy?”
“As if my imagination had been waiting for the question to be asked, I saw a vast deserted city—deserted but alive. I saw the empty streets, the haunted buildings, a gargoyle head lying overturned in the street. I saw smashed statues (of what I didn’t know, but I eventually found out). I saw a huge, sprawling palace with glass towers so high their tips pierced the clouds. Those images released the story I wanted to tell.”
I don’t normally consider myself a fan or horror novels, but I devoured Jennifer McMahon’s new novel, THE CHILDREN ON THE HILL, because it dives deep into themes that are close to my heart: the deep, lifelong connection between siblings; the difficult task of facing one’s own demons; the tragic fallout of too much ambition; the danger of playing God. Beyond the terror that McMahon mines to such extraordinary effect in her novels is the human element that makes her work so compelling, and that will launch THE CHILDREN ON THE HILL onto the list of must-read fiction.
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From the New York Times bestselling author of The Drowning Kind comes a genre-defying new novel, inspired by Mary Shelley’s masterpiece Frankenstein, that brilliantly explores the eerie mysteries of childhood and the evils perpetrated by the monsters among us.
1978: At her renowned treatment center in picturesque Vermont, the brilliant psychiatrist, Dr. Helen Hildreth, is acclaimed for her compassionate work with the mentally ill. But when she’s home with her cherished grandchildren, Vi and Eric, she’s just Gran—teaching them how to take care of their pets, preparing them home-cooked meals, providing them with care and attention and love.
Then one day Gran brings home a child to stay with the family. Iris—silent, hollow-eyed, skittish, and feral—does not behave like a normal girl.
Still, Violet is thrilled to have a new playmate. She and Eric invite Iris to join their Monster Club, where they catalogue all kinds of monsters and dream up ways to defeat them. Before long, Iris begins to come out of her shell. She and Vi and Eric do everything together: ride their bicycles, go to the drive-in, meet at their clubhouse in secret to hunt monsters. Because, as Vi explains, monsters are everywhere.
2019: Lizzy Shelley, the host of the popular podcast Monsters Among Us, is traveling to Vermont, where a young girl has been abducted, and a monster sighting has the town in an uproar. She’s determined to hunt it down, because Lizzy knows better than anyone that monsters are real—and one of them is her very own sister.
A haunting, vividly suspenseful page-turner from the “literary descendant of Shirley Jackson” (Chris Bohjalian, author of The Flight Attendant), The Children on the Hill takes us on a breathless journey to face the primal fears that lurk within us all.
Best Fiction Finalist
Serial killings are all the rage, be they on TV, in film, or on podcasts. But NOTES ON AN EXECUTION manages to stand out from the tried-and-true narrative arcs of the serial killer genre by presenting both the killer’s perspective and those of the people around him. Ansel Packer is set to be executed in 12 hours for the brutal killings of a dozen women, but he’s not sorry—he’s just seeking to be understood. Three women—his mother, his wife’s twin sister, and the detective who is tormented by him and ultimately catches him—relay their pieces of his life story as a means of doing that. And if that weren’t all creepy enough, Danya Kukafka presents Ansel’s sections addressed to “you,” bringing the story, and this very disturbing character, all the closer to home.
Historical Fiction Finalist
I admire author Maggie O’Farrell’s ability to fictionalize a little-known historical figure—and imagine what events occurred in her life. I also appreciate how she always gets at the heart of her main character with compassion and curiosity. Her latest, THE MARRIAGE PORTRAIT, is set in 16th-century Florence, a city that I’ll read about in any time period or genre. At the start of the story, Lucrezia de’Medici is in a vulnerable spot and believes she’s going to be murdered by her husband, the Duke of Ferrara. Then the story jumps back to show how Lucrezia grew up in the royal Medici household, and how, though a rebellious spirit, she was forced into the marriage. The suspense of the two narratives builds as we watch the duke grow in villainy, and Lucrezia in her vulnerability, all the while knowing the final scene they will find themselves in.
Best Fiction Finalist
In Celeste Ng’s latest work, OUR MISSING HEARTS, language becomes a rallying cry in a dystopian future in which Asian Americans are distrusted by the government. The book’s protagonist, Bird Gardner, is twelve, living with his former linguist father who works at a local university library. If Bird knows one thing, it is not to ask about his mother, a Chinese American poet who disappeared almost three years ago. But when a letter arrives for Bird, he knows it's from his mother, Margaret, and with help from his sole friend, Sadie, he learns that she is the author of a poem protesting a law to “preserve American tradition.” Sadie, having been relocated from her own Asian parents, provides Bird the context to understand his mother’s decision to leave. But it seems she is looking to reconnect with Bird as her letter includes a cryptic drawing that launches him on a quest to find her. A story about the power of written art, Celeste Ng’s new work solidifies her place among the greatest writers of our generation and provides an eerie warning for an unjust future.
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I’m a big fan of IT ENDS WITH US—along with the entirety of BookTok, it seems—so I can’t wait for this book from the perspectives of both Lily and Atlas, picking up right after the emotional epilogue of the first book. Lily has had some time to reorient her life after separating from Ryle, and they’ve figured out a workable coparenting routine—which is why Atlas and Lily are finally able to go on a date (AHH!!). But, of course, with the volatile Ryle still in the picture, there’s bound to be conflict. I just hope that Atlas and Lily get to have the beautiful love they both deserve. October can’t come soon enough!
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Before It Ends with Us, it started with Atlas. Colleen Hoover tells fan favorite Atlas’s side of the story and shares what comes next in this long-anticipated sequel to the “glorious and touching” (USA TODAY) #1 New York Times bestseller It Ends with Us.
Historical Fiction Finalist
You can inherit many things, but choosing who you become is another story. This is a hard lesson to learn for Byron and Benny, estranged brothers who have just lost their mother, Eleanor, but were left a confusing inheritance: a black cake, made from a family recipe with a long history, and an eight-hour voice recording detailing her tumultuous life story, which includes hints of yet-to-be-revealed mysteries and the shocking secret of a long-lost baby. The two brothers must work together to repair their own relationship so they can piece together Eleanor’s true history and honor her final requests. Though BLACK CAKE tackles a multitude of heavy issues—resentment, cultural diaspora, abandonment, and racism—it doesn’t feel overwhelming. Instead, it leaves you wanting more of the story and its thoughtful introspection.
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Science Fiction Finalist
I firmly believe there are few writers out there who marry wit, comedic timing, and nerdy insight better than John Scalzi. And those elements combine to make THE KAIJU PRESERVATION SOCIETY a smart, funny, and moving love letter to the giant-monster subgenre. Jamie Gray is working a dead-end job as a food delivery person when they meet up with Tom, an old acquaintance who ends up connecting Jamie to the titular organization, which has figured out a way to open temporary portals to an alternate Earth where giant monsters roam free. Simple, right? Things quickly escalate and Jamie finds himself at the center of what could be a world-destroying event. This book is like taking a dip in a cool pool: it’s refreshing, relaxing, and something I looked forward to reading after many a long day!
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Best Fiction Winner
When I initially picked up this book, I was told it was a different type of love story, but what I wasn’t prepared for was how captivating it would be. TOMORROW, AND TOMORROW, AND TOMORROW by Gabrielle Zevin takes a deep dive at the desire to connect with the people around you, the desire to love and be loved. Through the story of Sam Masur and Sadie Green, which spans over thirty years, the book tackles ideas about friendship and love without overlooking the complex feelings of isolation and loneliness. Sam and Sadie’s story is a vivid and brilliant book that pulls you in and won’t let go.
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Former child star of iCarly and Sam & Cat Jeannette McCurdy offers an unflinchingly honest look into her relationship with her controlling mother. Jennette’s mother’s greatest desire was to see her daughter be an actress, which is why she started sending her on auditions at age six, put her on “calorie restriction” diets, and required limitless access to her diaries, emails, and texts. When her mother dies of cancer after she takes on her role in Sam & Cat, Jeanette embarks on a journey to shed the layers of manipulation and uncover who her mother truly was and discover what it really is she herself wants.
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A heartbreaking and hilarious memoir by iCarly and Sam & Cat star Jennette McCurdy about her struggles as a former child actor—including eating disorders, addiction, and a complicated relationship with her overbearing mother—and how she retook control of her life.
Jennette McCurdy was six years old when she had her first acting audition. Her mother’s dream was for her only daughter to become a star, and Jennette would do anything to make her mother happy. So she went along with what Mom called “calorie restriction,” eating little and weighing herself five times a day. She endured extensive at-home makeovers while Mom chided, “Your eyelashes are invisible, okay? You think Dakota Fanning doesn’t tint hers?” She was even showered by Mom until age sixteen while sharing her diaries, email, and all her income.
In I’m Glad My Mom Died, Jennette recounts all this in unflinching detail—just as she chronicles what happens when the dream finally comes true. Cast in a new Nickelodeon series called iCarly, she is thrust into fame. Though Mom is ecstatic, emailing fan club moderators and getting on a first-name basis with the paparazzi (“Hi Gale!”), Jennette is riddled with anxiety, shame, and self-loathing, which manifest into eating disorders, addiction, and a series of unhealthy relationships. These issues only get worse when, soon after taking the lead in the iCarly spinoff Sam & Cat alongside Ariana Grande, her mother dies of cancer. Finally, after discovering therapy and quitting acting, Jennette embarks on recovery and decides for the first time in her life what she really wants.
Told with refreshing candor and dark humor, I’m Glad My Mom Died is an inspiring story of resilience, independence, and the joy of shampooing your own hair.
YA Fantasy Finalist
A fake marriage between a pair of ill-matched spies trying to unravel a deadly conspiracy in 1930s Shanghai? Yes, please! You’ll get this and more in superstar author Chloe Gong’s FOUL LADY FORTUNE, the start to a new duology, set in the same world as her bestselling These Violent Delights duology. If you like fake dating, an enemies-to-lovers plot, the return of fan-favorite characters, spy missions, secrets, and/or redemption arcs, this is the historical fiction for you—and me!
From the #1 New York Times bestselling author of These Violent Delights and Our Violent Ends comes the first book in a captivating new duology following an ill-matched pair of spies posing as a married couple to investigate a series of brutal murders in 1930s Shanghai.
It’s 1931 in Shanghai, and the stage is set for a new decade of intrigue.
Four years ago, Rosalind Lang was brought back from the brink of death, but the strange experiment that saved her also stopped her from sleeping and aging—and allows her to heal from any wound. In short, Rosalind cannot die. Now, desperate for redemption for her traitorous past, she uses her abilities as an assassin for her country.
Code name: Fortune.
But when the Japanese Imperial Army begins its invasion march, Rosalind’s mission pivots. A series of murders is causing unrest in Shanghai, and the Japanese are under suspicion. Rosalind’s new orders are to infiltrate foreign society and identify the culprits behind the terror plot before more of her people are killed.
To reduce suspicion, however, she must pose as the wife of another Nationalist spy, Orion Hong, and though Rosalind finds Orion’s cavalier attitude and playboy demeanor infuriating, she is willing to work with him for the greater good. But Orion has an agenda of his own, and Rosalind has secrets that she wants to keep buried. As they both attempt to unravel the conspiracy, the two spies soon find that there are deeper and more horrifying layers to this mystery than they ever imagined.
YA Fantasy Finalist
LEGENDBORN remains one of the best books I have ever read. Tracy Deonn crafts a world with her words that leaps off the page and buries itself in your soul. All Bree wanted was to discover the truth behind her mother’s death, but instead she discovered the truth about herself—she is a Medium, a Bloodcrafter, and a Scion. In BLOODMARKED, the sequel, Bree’s story continues as she and her friends attempt to save Nick and shine a light on the war the Regents seem intent on hiding. I am so excited to see if and how Bree learns to control her powers and how the struggle between root and aether affects her ability to save herself and her friends. Will she and Sel, the mage sworn to protect Nick, get even closer in Nick’s absence? I need answers!!
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The powerful sequel to the instant New York Times bestselling and award-winning Legendborn—perfect for fans of Cassandra Clare and Margaret Rogerson!
The shadows have risen, and the line is law.
All Bree wanted was to uncover the truth behind her mother’s death. So she infiltrated the Legendborn Order, a secret society descended from King Arthur’s knights—only to discover her own ancestral power. Now, Bree has become someone new:
A Medium. A Bloodcrafter. A Scion.
But the ancient war between demons and the Order is rising to a deadly peak. And Nick, the Legendborn boy Bree fell in love with, has been kidnapped.
Bree wants to fight, but the Regents who rule the Order won’t let her. To them, she is an unknown girl with unheard-of power, and as the living anchor for the spell that preserves the Legendborn cycle, she must be protected.
When the Regents reveal they will do whatever it takes to hide the war, Bree and her friends must go on the run to rescue Nick themselves. But enemies are everywhere, Bree’s powers are unpredictable and dangerous, and she can’t escape her growing attraction to Selwyn, the mage sworn to protect Nick until death.
If Bree has any hope of saving herself and the people she loves, she must learn to control her powers from the ancestors who wielded them first—without losing herself in the process.
Photo credit: iStock / Jun