Since our December lists included both our most popular books of this year and our most anticipated books of next year, we have to say the most popular books of December are a bit all over the place—just how we like it. This roundup is the perfect way to end the year, with reflections of this past year preparing us for an even better year coming up.
Although I first discovered Jeannette Walls through her marvelous and best-selling memoir, THE GLASS CASTLE, I always admired that her prose read like a riveting work of fiction. So, as a devoted fan of her writing, I was naturally over the moon to hear about her upcoming novel. HANG THE MOON tells the story of Sallie Kincaid, the daughter of the “Duke” Kincaid—a volatile man with the biggest personality in town. After Sallie’s mother dies during an argument with Duke, Sallie has little memory left to hold on to as she grows up. By the time Sallie is eight years old, her father has already remarried and fathered a son, and Sallie is eventually estranged from them. Nine years later, Sallie returns to her hometown to confront the secrets of her past and the scandals that shed a dark shadow on her family—as well as to take her place as a bootlegger in her own right. Set during the Prohibition era in Virginia, I’m anticipating that this novel will be a literary hit.
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From Jeannette Walls, the #1 New York Times bestselling author of The Glass Castle, comes a riveting new novel about an indomitable young woman in Virginia during Prohibition.
Most folk thought Sallie Kincaid was a nobody who’d amount to nothing. Sallie had other plans.
Sallie Kincaid is the daughter of the biggest man in a small town, the charismatic Duke Kincaid. Born at the turn of the 20th century into a life of comfort and privilege, Sallie remembers little about her mother who died in a violent argument with the Duke. By the time she is just eight years old, the Duke has remarried and had a son, Eddie. While Sallie is her father’s daughter, sharp-witted and resourceful, Eddie is his mother’s son, timid and cerebral. When Sallie tries to teach young Eddie to be more like their father, her daredevil coaching leads to an accident, and Sallie is cast out.
Nine years later, she returns, determined to reclaim her place in the family. That’s a lot more complicated than Sallie expected, and she enters a world of conflict and lawlessness. Sallie confronts the secrets and scandals that hide in the shadows of the Big House, navigates the factions in the family and town, and finally comes into her own as a bold, sometimes reckless bootlegger.
You will fall in love with Sallie Kincaid, a feisty and fearless, terrified and damaged young woman who refuses to be corralled.
Even after closing the final chapter of YELLOW WIFE by Sadeqa Johnson, I find myself continually revisiting Pheby Delores Brown’s story in my mind. The intensity of emotions displayed throughout the pages of this historical fiction book caught my heart right from its opening pages. Growing up on a plantation as the daughter of the estate’s medicine woman, Pheby inherited a sense of confidence and self-worth that had been stripped from the other working slaves. Pheby learned to read, mastered the piano, and—most important—was promised freedom on her eighteenth birthday. But after the plantation master and Pheby’s mother were caught in an accident, Pheby’s entire life was derailed. Her fate was ultimately left to Master Jacob’s cruel wife, Missus Delphina, who was more than ready to rid the plantation of her husband’s favored slave. In the pit of Pheby’s heartache, Missus Delphina sent her away to the most infamous slave jail in Virginia, Devil’s Half Acre.
Called “wholly engrossing” by New York Times bestselling author Kathleen Grissom, this “fully immersive” (Lisa Wingate, #1 bestselling author of Before We Were Yours) story follows an enslaved woman forced to barter love and freedom while living in the most infamous slave jail in Virginia.
Born on a plantation in Charles City, Virginia, Pheby Delores Brown has lived a relatively sheltered life. Shielded by her mother’s position as the estate’s medicine woman and cherished by the Master’s sister, she is set apart from the others on the plantation, belonging to neither world.
She’d been promised freedom on her eighteenth birthday, but instead of the idyllic life she imagined with her true love, Essex Henry, Pheby is forced to leave the only home she has ever known. She unexpectedly finds herself thrust into the bowels of slavery at the infamous Devil’s Half Acre, a jail in Richmond, Virginia, where the enslaved are broken, tortured, and sold every day. There, Pheby is exposed not just to her Jailer’s cruelty but also to his contradictions. To survive, Pheby will have to outwit him, and she soon faces the ultimate sacrifice.
The past often has much to teach us, and museums are a good place to learn it. But as every seasoned thriller reader knows, museums can also be home to dark secrets. When Ann Stilwell gets assigned to work at the Cloisters, the medieval art branch of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City, she’s more than a little bummed. After all, she was hoping to work on the main collections as a curatorial associate. The researchers in the Cloisters are a bit strange, with wild theories about fortune telling and divination, theories she dismisses until she finds a fifteenth-century deck of tarot cards that seems to predict the future. Twists and turns abound as Ann must discover who she can trust and what other secrets this gothic building might be hiding in its depths.
The Secret History meets Ninth House in this sinister, atmospheric novel following a circle of researchers as they uncover a mysterious deck of tarot cards and shocking secrets in New York’s famed Met Cloisters.
When Ann Stilwell arrives in New York City, she expects to spend her summer working as a curatorial associate at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Instead, she finds herself assigned to The Cloisters, a gothic museum and garden renowned for its medieval art collection and its group of enigmatic researchers studying the history of divination.
Desperate to escape her painful past, Ann is happy to indulge the researchers’ more outlandish theories about the history of fortune telling. But what begins as academic curiosity quickly turns into obsession when Ann discovers a hidden 15th-century deck of tarot cards that might hold the key to predicting the future. When the dangerous game of power, seduction, and ambition at The Cloisters turns deadly, Ann becomes locked in a race for answers as the line between the arcane and the modern blurs.
A haunting and magical blend of genres, The Cloisters is a gripping debut that will keep you on the edge of your seat.
“It’s been a long time since I’ve felt so moved by a novel that I’ve cried the kind of tears that give you a stuffy nose and a bit of a headache. But it was so worth it, feeling like I lived alongside Matthew Quick’s Lucas Goodgame and his friends in WE ARE THE LIGHT. Quick is the author of THE SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK, and has again shown his incredible insights into humanity in this emotional story. There is a tragedy at the Majestic Theater, one that nearly breaks those who have survived it. But Quick turns the tragedy into a full and total love story that encompasses a man, a boy, and their entire community. Healing, powerful, almost spiritual...and definitely a must read.” —Beth Mynhier, Lake Forest Book Store
From Matthew Quick, the New York Times bestselling author of The Silver Linings Playbook—made into the Academy Award–winning movie starring Jennifer Lawrence and Bradley Cooper—comes a poignant and hopeful novel about a widower who takes in a grieving teenager and inspires a magical revival in their small town.
Lucas Goodgame lives in Majestic, Pennsylvania, a quaint suburb that has been torn apart by a recent tragedy. Everyone in Majestic sees Lucas as a hero—everyone, that is, except Lucas himself. Insisting that his deceased wife, Darcy, visits him every night in the form of an angel, Lucas spends his time writing letters to his former Jungian analyst, Karl. It is only when Eli, an eighteen-year-old young man whom the community has ostracized, begins camping out in Lucas’s backyard that an unlikely alliance takes shape and the two embark on a journey to heal their neighbors and, most importantly, themselves.
From Matthew Quick, whose work has been described by the Boston Herald as “like going to your favorite restaurant. You just know it is going to be good,” We Are the Light is an unforgettable novel about the quicksand of grief and the daily miracle of love. The humorous, soul-baring story of Lucas Goodgame offers an antidote to toxic masculinity and celebrates the healing power of art. In this tale that will stay with you long after the final page is turned, Quick reminds us that life is full of guardian angels.
When you think of suspense, one place your mind might go to is mental hospitals, where horror stories often take place. Nettleton State Village for Feebleminded Women of Childbearing Age is the setting for this book, where Mary Engle goes to work as a secretary. But what she finds is an old friend and a terrible secret that will put everything she knew about her world into question. At its heart, this novel is a dark exploration of eugenics, and of the lengths people will go to in order to see their goals and philosophies brought to life. But the most thrilling aspect of THE FOUNDLING is that it is based on a true story, told by author Ann Leary’s grandmother!
From the New York Times bestselling author of The Good House, the story of two friends, raised in the same orphanage, whose loyalty is put to the ultimate test when they meet years later at a controversial institution—one as an employee; the other, an inmate.
It’s 1927 and eighteen-year-old Mary Engle is hired to work as a secretary at a remote but scenic institution for mentally disabled women called the Nettleton State Village for Feebleminded Women of Childbearing Age. She’s immediately in awe of her employer—brilliant, genteel Dr. Agnes Vogel.
Dr. Vogel had been the only woman in her class in medical school. As a young psychiatrist she was an outspoken crusader for women’s suffrage. Now, at age forty, Dr. Vogel runs one of the largest and most self-sufficient public asylums for women in the country. Mary deeply admires how dedicated the doctor is to the poor and vulnerable women under her care.
Soon after she’s hired, Mary learns that a girl from her childhood orphanage is one of the inmates. Mary remembers Lillian as a beautiful free spirit with a sometimes-tempestuous side. Could she be mentally disabled? When Lillian begs Mary to help her escape, alleging the asylum is not what it seems, Mary is faced with a terrible choice. Should she trust her troubled friend with whom she shares a dark childhood secret? Mary’s decision triggers a hair-raising sequence of events with life-altering consequences for all.
Inspired by a true story about the author’s grandmother, The Foundling offers a rare look at a shocking chapter of American history. This gripping page-turner will have readers on the edge of their seats right up to the stunning last page…asking themselves, “Did this really happen here?”
As a huge fan of historical dramas, including those of Kristin Harmel, this was a must-read for me! Set in 1939, Paris, the story begins with a pair of young women—one, Juliette, a mother of two sons with a third child on the way, and the other, named Elise, pregnant with her first child. Soon after becoming fast friends, while bonding in a bookstore that Juliette’s family owns, Elise becomes a target of the German occupation and makes the hasty decision to leave her daughter with Juliette and her family, which now includes a daughter, the same age as Elise’s. A year later, with the war winding down, Elise returns to find the world she left behind destroyed by a bomb, and Juliette and both of their daughters have disappeared. The only thing Elise concretely has is confirmation from a neighbor that her friend and one of the girls got out alive.
Now, against all odds, she’s on a mission to find out what happened to her child. THE PARIS DAUGHTER will take you on a heartrending journey of friendship, tragic loss, and finding your way back to the people you love. Don’t miss out on what I believe is Kristin Harmel’s best book yet!
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From the bestselling author of the “heart-stopping tale of survival and heroism” (People) The Book of Lost Names comes a gripping historical novel about two mothers who must make unthinkable choices in the face of the Nazi occupation.
Paris, 1939: Young mothers Elise and Juliette become fast friends the day they meet in the beautiful Bois de Boulogne. Though there is a shadow of war creeping across Europe, neither woman suspects that their lives are about to irrevocably change.
When Elise becomes a target of the German occupation, she entrusts Juliette with the most precious thing in her life—her young daughter, playmate to Juliette’s own little girl. But nowhere is safe in war, not even a quiet little bookshop like Juliette’s Librairie des Rêves, and, when a bomb falls on their neighborhood, Juliette’s world is destroyed along with it.
More than a year later, with the war finally ending, Elise returns to reunite with her daughter, only to find her friend’s bookstore reduced to rubble. Surviving neighbors tell her that Juliette and a little girl survived. But which little girl—and what happened in the bookstore’s final moments? Juliette has seemingly vanished without a trace, taking all the answers with her. Elise’s desperate quest to find out what happened to her daughter ultimately leads her to New York—and to Juliette—one final, fateful time.
An “exquisite and gut-wrenching novel” (Lisa Barr, New York Times bestselling author) you won’t soon forget, The Paris Daughter is also a sweeping celebration of resilience, motherhood, and love.
Ka Hancock’s powerful novel DANCING ON BROKEN GLASS is a story about a marriage that illustrates the enduring power of love. Lucy Houston and Mickey Chandler each carry a big load on their shoulders; she has a long family history of cancer, and he struggles with bipolar disorder. So when they fall in love, they know they have a lot to overcome. In an honest and messy way, the book follows along as these two fight for their love despite being faced with multiple tragedies. It left me an emotional puddle and I wish I could experience it again for the first time.
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A powerfully written novel offering an intimate look at a beautiful marriage and how bipolar disorder and cancer affect it, Dancing on Broken Glass by Ka Hancock perfectly illustrates the enduring power of love.
Lucy Houston and Mickey Chandler probably shouldn’t have fallen in love, let alone gotten married. They’re both plagued with faulty genes—he has bipolar disorder, and she has a ravaging family history of breast cancer. But when their paths cross on the night of Lucy’s twenty-first birthday, sparks fly, and there’s no denying their chemistry.
Cautious every step of the way, they are determined to make their relationship work—and they put it all in writing. Mickey promises to take his medication. Lucy promises not to blame him for what is beyond his control. He promises honesty. She promises patience. Like any marriage, they have good days and bad days—and some very bad days. In dealing with their unique challenges, they make the heartbreaking decision not to have children. But when Lucy shows up for a routine physical just shy of their eleventh anniversary, she gets an impossible surprise that changes everything. Everything. Suddenly, all their rules are thrown out the window, and the two of them must redefine what love really is.
An unvarnished portrait of a marriage that is both ordinary and extraordinary, Dancing on Broken Glass takes readers on an unforgettable journey of the heart.
Perfect for fans of OUTLANDER and GIRL WITH A PEARL EARRING, this novel follows accomplished neurosurgeon Beatrice Trovato, who travels to Siena on a whim as an attempt to process and resolve her grief after the death of her brother. One day, she stumbles across a fourteenth-century diary, written by an artist named Gabriele Accorsi and finds a picture of a woman’s face that looks nearly identical to her own. Suddenly, Beatrice is transported back to Siena in 1347, where she meets Gabriele himself, and falls in love not only with him, but with life in the past as well. Reading this novel is more than just entertaining; it’s an experience. As Beatrice walks the city, so do you. As she eats and smells and learns about figures of the past and present, so do you.
This powerful novel finds Mary in the ancient Greek town of Ephesus in the years following her son’s death. Here she lives quietly and contemplatively, but under the supervision of her two intrusive keepers: men who constantly ask her to recount her son’s final years for the purpose of inscribing them in Gospel form. As these men attempt to elucidate the last days of Christ’s life through interrogation, Mary recounts her side of the world’s most famous narrative. Tóibín captures the most honest expression of Mary seen in fiction. His lyrical writing style and emotional prose sheds new light on the most unique mother–son relationship in history. From start to finish, the novel paints a raw, convincing portrait of Mary’s true humanity, culminating in the novel’s breathtaking scene of Christ’s crucifixion. It is a bold, daring approach to depict Mary for the modern age, and one that succeeds on many levels. Simply put, THE TESTAMENT OF MARY is one not to miss.
Shortlisted for the 2013 Man Booker Prize and adapted into a Tony-nominated play, Tóibín’s provocative, haunting, and indelible portrait of Mary presents her as a solitary older woman seeking to understand the events that become the narrative of the New Testament and the foundation of Christianity. This woman whom we know from centuries of paintings and scripture as the docile, loving, silent, long-suffering, obedient, worshipful mother of Christ becomes a tragic heroine with the relentless eloquence of Electra or Medea or Antigone. Tóibín’s tour de force of imagination and language is a portrait so vivid and convincing that your image of Mary will be forever transformed. Audiobook fans won’t want to miss Meryl Streep’s reading of this stunning work.
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.
The author often takes it upon themselves to lead the reader through the story, trying to highlight themes and clues to the solution of the mystery. Janice Hallett took a different approach for THE APPEAL, making it all the more fascinating. During a production of the play All My Sons, one of the actors is murdered. But rather than following a character as they investigate the crime, the book presents emails, letters, documents, and more, letting the reader puzzle it out and hunt for clues. Part whodunnit, part epistolary novel, if you’re the kind of thriller fan who tries to figure out the ending along with the characters, then this is the book for you!
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“[W]itty, original…a delight.” —The New York Times
Perfect for fans of Ruth Ware and Lisa Jewell, this international bestseller and “dazzlingly clever” (The Sunday Times, London) 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 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 the killer may be hiding in plain sight. The evidence is all there, between the lines, waiting to be uncovered.
A wholly modern and gripping take on the epistolary novel, The Appeal is a “daring…clever, and funny” (The Times, London) debut for fans of Richard Osman and Lucy Foley.
Hannah and Anna, two 12-year-old narrators living in different countries 75 years apart, are both lost. Each is unaware the other exists, though they are connected by a family history scarred by loss. Hannah’s narration focuses on her family’s attempts to flee Germany and her life as a refugee over decades. Anna, born and raised in present-day New York, has never known her father and cares for a mother who has been severely depressed since he died. Anna gives a voice to the present, and we learn details about her connection with Hannah and what happened to her father. It’s revealed that Hannah is Anna’s great-aunt—her deceased father’s only living relative. Anna knows nothing about her father or his family history, and through Anna’s story, the secrets of Hannah’s past begin to unravel. As Anna learns, so does the reader; the aha moments and slow reveals make this story an incredible and emotional one, and I am not embarrassed to admit I cried more than once.
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