Everybody loves a good reading list. So, how about a reading list of reading lists, approved by fellow readers? For the most meta bookish roundup you’ll ever find, here are the book lists (and books) that have topped the charts on Off the Shelf this season.
Meet your next read-in-one-sitting thriller! This suspenseful debut by Julia Bartz had me hooked from the first page. THE WRITING RETREAT is about a famous author who invites five up-and-coming female novelists to her home in the Adirondacks for a month-long writing competition. The retreat is fierce, but there is a whole lot more at stake than just winning. The gothic atmospheric setting and complicated characters are icing on the cake for this cold winter hair-raiser. That’s all I’ll say about the plot . . . to make this psychological read all the more intriguing.
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The Plot meets Please Join Us in this psychological suspense debut about a young author at an exclusive writer’s retreat that descends into a nightmare.
Alex has all but given up on her dreams of becoming a published author when she receives a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity: attend an exclusive, month-long writing retreat at the estate of feminist horror writer Roza Vallo. Even the knowledge that Wren, her former best friend and current rival, is attending doesn’t dampen her excitement.
But when the attendees arrive, Roza drops a bombshell—they must all complete an entire novel from scratch during the next month, and the author of the best one will receive a life-changing seven-figure publishing deal. Determined to win this seemingly impossible contest, Alex buckles down and tries to ignore the strange happenings at the estate, including Roza’s erratic behavior, Wren’s cruel mind games, and the alleged haunting of the mansion itself. But when one of the writers vanishes during a snowstorm, Alex realizes that something very sinister is afoot. With the clock running out, she’s desperate to discover the truth and save herself.
A claustrophobic and propulsive thriller exploring the dark side of female friendships and fame, The Writing Retreat is the unputdownable debut novel from a compelling new talent.
I am a sucker for second-chance stories, so this novel was an immediate favorite. In Liverpool, in 1935, Viv Byrne’s life has just been turned upside down. A good Catholic girl, she’s always followed the status quo—until a fling with a Jewish man named Joshua Levinson leaves her unexpectedly pregnant and stuck with her severely disapproving family. Five years later, Viv has made the agonizing decision to evacuate her young daughter to the countryside in the hopes of escaping World War II, and Joshua is serving in the Royal Air Force. Soon, Viv discovers that the estate their daughter resided in did not escape the war, and now her little girl is nowhere to be found. All seems lost, until years later Viv stumbles upon a clue that leads her to believe she might be able to reunite with her daughter after all, but only with Joshua’s help. Julia Kelly’s THE LOST ENGLISH GIRL will take you on a journey of long-kept secrets, heart-wrenching moments, and what it takes to piece a family back together. Trust me, you won’t want to miss out!
The acclaimed author of the “sweeping and beautifully written novel” (Woman’s World) The Light Over London weaves an epic saga of love, motherhood, and betrayal set against World War II.
Liverpool, 1935: Raised in a strict Catholic family, Viv Byrne knows what’s expected of her: marry a Catholic man from her working-class neighborhood and have his children. However, when she finds herself pregnant after a fling with Joshua Levinson, a Jewish man with dreams of becoming a famous Jazz musician, Viv knows that a swift wedding is the only answer. Her only solace is that marrying Joshua will mean escaping her strict mother’s scrutiny. But when Joshua makes a life-changing choice on their wedding day, Viv is forced once again into the arms of her disapproving family.
Five years later and on the eve of World War II, Viv is faced with the impossible choice to evacuate her young daughter, Maggie, to the countryside estate of the affluent Thompson family. In New York City, Joshua gives up his failing musical career to serve in the Royal Air Force, fight for his country, and try to piece together his feelings about the family, wife, and daughter he left behind at nineteen. However, tragedy strikes when Viv learns that the countryside safe haven she sent her daughter to wasn’t immune from the horrors of war. It is only years later, with Joshua’s help, that Viv learns the secrets of their shared past and what it will take to put a family back together again.
Telling the harrowing story of England’s many evacuated children, bestselling author Julia Kelly’s The Lost English Girl explores how one simple choice can change the course of a life, and what we are willing to forgive to find a way back to the ones we love and thought lost.
“In SMALL THINGS LIKE THESE, Claire Keegan creates scenes with astonishing clarity and lucidity. This is the story of what happened in Ireland, told with sympathy and emotional accuracy. From winter skies to the tiniest tick of speech to the baking of a Christmas cake, Claire Keegan makes her moments real—and then she makes them matter.” —Colm Tóibín
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Author Brandon Massey has earned his reputation for page-turning thrillers that will have you guessing until the very end—and THE QUIET ONES is one of his most bizarre. Mallory’s mother was murdered by an ex-boyfriend twenty-five years ago, throwing her and her sister into the separate foster homes. Luckily, Mallory was taken in by loving parents and found a successful career as an investigative journalist. She never gave up on finding her sister. So, when she finally makes a connection on a genealogy site, she doesn’t hesitate to make her way to rural Georgia. But what she finds in the backwoods is the creepy old Southern mansion Sanctuary run by a man known only as “Father.” This might be her most important investigative story yet, as Mallory looks for the truth about her last biological family member.
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"Having lived in an apartment just above the current location of the American Library in Paris, I've always felt connected to the institution and wondered about its story, so I'm grateful to Janet Skeslien Charles for penning such a vivid, enjoyable, based-on-a-true-story tale. In THE PARIS LIBRARY, the beloved library, its staff, and its subscribers come to life and remind us of both the horrors of World War II and the vital role books play in keeping us afloat in difficult times. Well-researched, stirring, and rich with detail, THE PARIS LIBRARY is an ode to the importance of libraries, books, and the human connections we find within both." —Kristin Harmel
An instant New York Times, Washington Post, and USA TODAY bestseller—based on the true story of the heroic librarians at the American Library in Paris during World War II—The Paris Library is a moving and unforgettable “ode to the importance of libraries, books, and the human connections we find within both” (Kristin Harmel, New York Times bestselling author).
Paris, 1939: Young and ambitious Odile Souchet seems to have the perfect life with her handsome police officer beau and a dream job at the American Library in Paris. When the Nazis march into the city, Odile stands to lose everything she holds dear, including her beloved library. Together with her fellow librarians, Odile joins the Resistance with the best weapons she has: books. But when the war finally ends, instead of freedom, Odile tastes the bitter sting of unspeakable betrayal.
Montana, 1983: Lily is a lonely teenager looking for adventure in small-town Montana. Her interest is piqued by her solitary, elderly neighbor. As Lily uncovers more about her neighbor’s mysterious past, she finds that they share a love of language, the same longings, and the same intense jealousy, never suspecting that a dark secret from the past connects them.
“A love letter to Paris, the power of books, and the beauty of intergenerational friendship” (Booklist), The Paris Library shows that extraordinary heroism can sometimes be found in the quietest places.
When Cara meets and falls in love with funny and charming Brendan, she believes he is part of an experimental unit for the U.S. Special Forces. How else can she explain the secret she’s seen with her own eyes: he can breathe underwater. But after giving birth to their son Micah, Brendan has mood swings that make her question everything. One day, Brendan disappears, taking Micah with him. Years later, now married to a different man, Cara can’t stop believing that her son is out there somewhere . . . along with the truth about her first love.
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“Moving and immersive...truly compelling.” —Marjan Kamali, nationally bestselling author of The Stationery Shop
What happens when the man you love most in the world—who may be lying about everything—unexpectedly disappears and takes your small child with him? Emma Fedor’s riveting and powerful debut explores the fierceness of first love and how far one woman will go to learn the painful truth about her family.
When Cara and Brendan first meet, she’s fresh out of college, recovering from the recent death of her mother, and spending time on Martha’s Vineyard while trying to figure out her next steps. She’s swept away by Brendan’s humor and charm, and intoxicated by his thrilling, dangerous secret: he can breathe underwater. Able to stay beneath the waves for longer than should be possible, Brendan reveals that he is part of a secret experimental unit of the US Special Forces. And Cara, struck by the power of his conviction, by his unstoppable charisma, and by the evidence before her, believes him.
Their summer romance turns serious. Then Cara gets pregnant. When their son, Micah, is born, she’s sure their happy ending is underway. Still, she’s thrown by Brendan’s dramatic moods, his unexplained disappearances, and the weight of his secrets. Cara is determined to stay strong for her young family, to heal Brendan’s psychic wounds, to keep him safe. Until he and baby Micah vanish, leaving her desolate and alone and questioning everything she once thought was true.
Five years later, Cara is still struggling to move forward, married to another man and trying to rebuild her life, when a local fisherman announces he’s spotted two people—one of them a small child—treading water in Nantucket Sound, far from any vessels and miles from shore. The news rekindles Cara’s never-abandoned hope that her little boy may still be alive. As she fights to untangle delusion from reality, and revisits a past she’s worked hard to reconcile, Cara is determined to learn the truth about her lost love and finally find her son.
Feel the heat with this murder mystery set in Nigerian high society, coming out this summer. The “Nigerwives” exist in a gilded cage, a glamorous yet stifling world from which escape is a double-edged sword. Claudine’s niece was one of them, until she disappeared under ominous circumstances. We follow the straight-talking Londoner’s quest to dig beneath the glittering facade of lies in this fresh, pacy, edge-of-your-seat thriller.
This twisty and electrifying debut novel about a young woman who goes missing in Lagos, Nigeria, and her estranged auntie who will stop at nothing to find the truth is perfect for fans of My Sister, the Serial Killer and The Last Thing He Told Me.
Nicole Oruwari has the perfect life: a handsome husband, a palatial house in the heart of glittering Lagos, Nigeria, and a glamorous group of friends. She left gloomy London and a dark family past behind for sunny, moneyed Lagos, becoming part of the Nigerwives—a community of foreign women married to wealthy Nigerian men.
But when Nicole disappears without a trace after a boat trip, the cracks in her so-called perfect life start to show. As the investigation turns up nothing but dead ends, her Auntie Claudine decides to take matters into her own hands. Armed with only a cell phone and a plane ticket to Nigeria, she digs into her niece’s life and uncovers a hidden side filled with dark secrets, isolation, and even violence. But the more she discovers about her niece, the more Claudine’s own buried history threatens to come to light.
An inventively told and keenly observant thriller where nothing is as it seems, The Nigerwife is a razor-sharp look at the bonds of family, the echoing consequences of secrets, and whether we can ever truly outrun our past.
British author and public historian Alison Weir’s THE LAST WHITE ROSE explores the life of Henry VIII’s mother, Elizabeth of York, the first queen of the Tudor dynasty. And, boy, it doesn’t disappoint. The eldest daughter of King Edward IV, Elizabeth is the family favorite, living a happy life until tragedy strikes. When her father suddenly dies, her uncle, Richard III, springs into action to profit from his death, mainly by taking control of the throne. But that’s not all he desires, as he seeks to make Elizabeth his bride. Thankfully, Henry Tudor challenges Richard’s position, defeating him in battle and ascending to power himself. A dramatic life captured in incredible detail, THE LAST WHITE ROSE depicts every nuance of Elizabeth of York en route to her mothering the son who would go on to become Henry VIII. Engaging throughout, Alison Weir’s historical fiction work is the ultimate example of how an expert in the field can turn a well-known period and personality into an engrossing novel.
“This is possibly the most amazing self-emancipation story in American history. I am amazed that I had never come across it before and that it is not widely known. I hope this book will change that fact. The story Ilyon Woo tells is dramatic and suspenseful. It speeds along like a locomotive. The two key characters, Ellen and William, are impossible not to admire for their ingenuity and courage. This book has to become a classic in the literature of slavery.” —Bob B., VP, Executive Editor, on Master Slave Husband Wife
The remarkable true story of Ellen and William Craft, who escaped slavery through daring, determination, and disguise, with Ellen passing as a wealthy, disabled White man and William posing as “his” slave.
In 1848, a year of international democratic revolt, a young, enslaved couple, Ellen and William Craft, achieved one of the boldest feats of self-emancipation in American history. Posing as master and slave, while sustained by their love as husband and wife, they made their escape together across more than 1,000 miles, riding out in the open on steamboats, carriages, and trains that took them from bondage in Georgia to the free states of the North.
Along the way, they dodged slave traders, military officers, and even friends of their enslavers, who might have revealed their true identities. The tale of their adventure soon made them celebrities, and generated headlines around the country. Americans could not get enough of this charismatic young couple, who traveled another 1,000 miles criss-crossing New England, drawing thunderous applause as they spoke alongside some of the greatest abolitionist luminaries of the day—among them Frederick Douglass and William Wells Brown.
But even then, they were not out of danger. With the passage of an infamous new Fugitive Slave Act in 1850, all Americans became accountable for returning refugees like the Crafts to slavery. Then yet another adventure began, as slave hunters came up from Georgia, forcing the Crafts to flee once again—this time from the United States, their lives and thousands more on the line and the stakes never higher.
With three epic journeys compressed into one monumental bid for freedom, Master Slave Husband Wife is an American love story—one that would challenge the nation’s core precepts of life, liberty, and justice for all—one that challenges us even now.
At first, Evie Jones, newspaper reporter, has a professional interest in pursuing the topic of famous cases of murdered local girls. At the same time she becomes obsessed with pursuing the case of the rape and murder of her childhood best friend, so that the alleged killer, who is named but uncaught, is brought to justice. But as Evie involves their childhood friend David in her investigations, upsetting truths come to light, and it is now Evie who’s in danger of being the killer’s next victim. Sure to raise any reader’s pulse, THE DEVIL YOU KNOW is perfect for any true crime–obsessed readers who’ve always wanted to crack a case.
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“Gripping!” —Margaret Atwood via Twitter (@MargaretAtwood)
In the vein of Gillian Flynn’s Sharp Objects and A.S.A. Harrison’s The Silent Wife, The Devil You Know is a thrilling debut about a rookie reporter, whose memories of the murder of her childhood best friend bring danger—and a stalker—right to her doorstep.
The year is 1993. Rookie crime beat reporter Evie Jones is haunted by the unsolved murder of her best friend Lianne Gagnon who was killed in 1982, back when both girls were eleven. The suspected killer, a repeat offender named Robert Cameron, was never arrested, leaving Lianne’s case cold.
Now twenty-one and living alone for the first time, Evie is obsessively drawn to finding out what really happened to Lianne. She leans on another childhood friend, David Patton, for help—but every clue they uncover seems to lead to an unimaginable conclusion. As she gets closer and closer to the truth, Evie becomes convinced that the killer is still at large—and that he’s coming back for her.
From critically acclaimed author Elisabeth de Mariaffi comes an “exceptional book…full of surprises” (Suspense Magazine) about secrets long buried and obsession that cannot be controlled.
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