There are often too many great books to read immediately when they come out. And, of course, it’s nice to be spoiled for literary riches, but this means that some excellent stories sometimes fall through the cracks. But never fear! The stellar novels I’ve rounded up here are ones that deserve all the same glory and attention as a new release. So, whether you’re looking for some literary inspiration, book bragging rights for reading a cult classic, or just checking to see if your favorite hidden gem made it on the list, here are ten great reads that deserve more attention.
Sometimes life takes you in unexpected directions. For example, Max Costa was just a simple con man working as a ballroom dancer on a cruise ship when a fateful encounter with the beautiful Mecha—and her eccentric and slightly disturbed composer husband—turns Max into a fugitive. Max and Mecha meet up again and again as the years go on and the world turns, but their passion remains. WHAT WE BECOME is a lush work that is sure to capture your imagination with its gorgeous descriptions and sparkling dialogue.
Mothers-in-law get a bad reputation but, for some, it’s absolutely justified. Meridia’s mother-in-law, Eva, is probably one of the worst there is, especially because she commands a swarm of bees that she frequently sics on Meridia whenever she’s in a bad mood. But this kind of abuse is nothing new to Meridia, who spent her childhood neglected by her parents, only finding company in the ghosts that haunted her house. An epic of supernatural proportions, OF BEES AND MIST blends horror, magical realism, and human drama into one unforgettable book.
Erick Setiawan's richly atmospheric debut is a beautiful, engrossing fable of three generations of women in two families; their destructive jealousies, their loves and losses, their sacrifices and deeply rooted deceptions, and their triumphs.
Of Bees and Mist is a fable of one woman's determination to overcome the haunting magic that is created by the people she loves and the oppressive secrets behind their broken lives. Raised in a sepulchral house where ghosts dwell in mirrors, Meridia spends her childhood feeling neglected and invisible. Every evening her father vanishes inside a blue mist without so much as an explanation, and her mother spends her days beheading cauliflowers in the kitchen. At sixteen, desperate to escape, Meridia marries a tenderhearted young man. Little does she suspect that his family is harboring secrets of their own. There is a grave hidden in the garden. There are two sisters groomed from birth to despise each other. And there is Eva, the formidable matriarch whose grievances swarm the air like an army of bees—the wickedest mother-in-law imaginable.
Erick Setiawan takes Meridia on a tumultuous ride of hope and heartbreak as she struggles to keep her young family together and discovers long-kept secrets about her own past as well as the shocking truths about her husband's family.
Jonas Anderson is a writer and teacher, who is not exactly anyone’s top hire, given that he encourages his students to do weird things like attend a stranger’s funeral. But when he moves to Malmö, he finds a fresh start, which he’s trying hard not to waste. Thankfully, his position teaching Swedish and English to newly arrived refugees seems to be doing him a world of good. What SUCH GOOD WORK excels at is taking a purely selfish character and slowly helping him bloom into a force for good. Heartwarming and occasionally hilarious, this book is sure to make you wish you’d picked it up years ago.
From Johannes Lichtman comes a wisely comic debut novel about a teacher whose efforts to stay sober land him in Sweden, but the refugee crisis forces a very different kind of reckoning.
You don’t have to be perfect to do good...
Jonas Anderson wants a fresh start.
He’s made plenty of bad decisions in his life, and at age twenty-eight he’s been fired from yet another teaching position after assigning homework like, Attend a stranger’s funeral and write about it. But, he’s sure a move to Sweden, the country of his mother’s birth, will be just the thing to kick-start a new and improved—and newly sober—Jonas.
When he arrives in Malmo in 2015, the city is struggling with the influx of tens of thousands of Middle Eastern refugees. Driven by an existential need to “do good,” Jonas begins volunteering with an organization that teaches Swedish to young migrants. The connections he makes there, and one student in particular, might send him down the right path toward fulfillment—if he could just get out of his own way.
“Such Good Work is, indeed, a bit Jonas-like: it’s wary of affectation or grandstanding; it works small, as if from a sense of modesty, a reluctance to presume; it cuts sincerity with the driest of humor” (The New Yorker). In his debut, Lichtman, “a remarkable thinker and social satirist” (The New York Times Book Review), spins a darkly comic story, brought to life with wry observations and searing questions about our modern world, and told with equal measures of grace and wit.
Man versus nature stories range from the heartwarming to the absolutely terrifying. Somehow, THE WHICH WAY TREE manages to be a little of both. When Samantha’s homesteading family is attacked by a panther, she is left scarred, orphaned, and in charge of her half-brother, Benjamin. But Samantha’s not content to let the past be past. She takes Benjamin along with her to hunt the beast down, determined to get revenge for her mother alongside two other hunters on the chase. But if that wasn’t enough, the predators have become the prey of an unhinged Confederate soldier. You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, you’ll never want to go camping again.
Never was there a tale of more woe than that of Juliet and her Romeo. Well, except maybe the poor overworked nurse who was trying to keep everything together while two teenagers got themselves and others killed over their feelings. JULIET’S NURSE provides some backstory to one of Shakespeare’s oft forgotten minor characters, Juliet Capulet’s wet nurse. Following the nurse’s first days with the baby Juliet, we learn of the dark secrets hiding behind those Veronan walls, and the maternal love between a young girl and her caretaker. You know the tragedy is coming, but it won’t keep your heart from breaking.
This sumptuous tragicomedy of Juliet Cappelletti’s wet-nurse, a mother still in mourning from the death of her own infant, explores bonds of love perhaps more all-encompassing than that of the doomed young lovers from the Shakespeare classic that inspired it.
The history of slavery in the United States is so important to fully understand and explore. CITIZENS CREEK tells not only the story of a slave sold into the Creek tribe, but of the ramifications of systemic oppression through the eyes of that slave’s progeny. Cow Tom is sold to a Creek chief for his amazing talent with languages, his ability to help translate and mitigate tricky deals and negotiations. But as the Civil War ends and the Indian Removal Act forces tribes out of their home, Tom’s life becomes increasingly uncertain. The second half of the book follows Tom’s granddaughter Rose, who is empowered by her grandfather’s legacy and spirit to fight for justice and equality in an oppressive and hostile world. A deep dive into a crucial but underdiscussed part of history, this both definitely deserves a second look.
The New York Times bestselling author of the Oprah Book Club Pick Cane River brings us the evocative story of a once-enslaved man who buys his freedom after serving as a translator during the American Indian Wars, and his granddaughter, who sustains his legacy of courage.
Cow Tom, born into slavery in Alabama in 1810 and sold to a Creek Indian chief before his tenth birthday, possessed an extraordinary gift: the ability to master languages. As the new country developed westward, and Indians, settlers, and blacks came into constant contact, Cow Tom became a key translator for his Creek master and was hired out to US military generals. His talent earned him money—but would it also grant him freedom? And what would become of him and his family in the aftermath of the Civil War and the Indian Removal westward?
Cow Tom’s legacy lives on—especially in the courageous spirit of his granddaughter Rose. She rises to leadership of the family as they struggle against political and societal hostility intent on keeping blacks and Indians oppressed. But through it all, her grandfather’s indelible mark of courage inspires her—in mind, in spirit, and in a family legacy that never dies.
Written in two parts portraying the parallel lives of Cow Tom and Rose, Citizens Creek is a beautifully rendered novel that takes the reader deep into a little known chapter of American history. It is a breathtaking tale of identity, community, family—and above all, the power of an individual’s will to make a difference.
What’s better than a murder mystery? A murder mystery spanning centuries! When Libby Snow begins an archaeological dig on the dunes of Ullaness in Scotland, she wasn’t expecting to find an unknown and long-dead body. Further investigation seems to point to the tale of a young woman at the center of a conflict between two brothers, a story that has been passed down through Libby’s family for generations. But just because the corpse is cold does not mean this case doesn’t contain some piping hot gossip and family secrets. WOMEN OF THE DUNES is a historical suspense novel sure to have you digging through your own familial archives for more than just grandma’s favorite recipes.
If you’re someone who loves cult shows (and I’m right there with you), then you’re going to enjoy CLOVER BLUE. The titular character doesn’t remember a lot about his life before the commune. Not his real name, birthday, or birth parents, but he’s happy spending time with his best friend Harmony and listening to their leader, Goji. But when a new member of the family comes in and stirs things up, Clover Blue thinks it might be time to figure out the answers on his own, rather than looking for someone else to supply them. A fascinating take on the idea of family, loyalty, and trust from a child’s perspective, you’ll have a hard time putting this one down once you start.
For a closeted Syrian American trans man, losing his mother to a fire was the first tragic step on a journey full of miracles. After finding the tattered journal of the Syrian American artist Laila Z, who loved studying birds, he is finally able to come up with a name that fits him: Nadir. But Laila’s words aren’t the only things that impact Nadir’s life—it turns out that both she and Nadir’s mother saw a rare bird right before they died. A story of identity, survival, sacrifice and love, THE THIRTY NAMES OF NIGHT is an intensely beautiful book that deserves a home on your bookshelf.
Winner of the Lambda Literary Award for Transgender Fiction
Winner of the ALA Stonewall Book Award—Barbara Gittings Literature Award
Named Best Book of the Year by Bustle
Named Most Anticipated Book of the Year by The Millions, Electric Literature, and HuffPost
From the award-winning author of The Map of Salt and Stars, a new novel about three generations of Syrian Americans haunted by a mysterious species of bird and the truths they carry close to their hearts—a “vivid exploration of loss, art, queer and trans communities, and the persistence of history. Often tender, always engrossing, The Thirty Names of Night is a feat” (R.O. Kwon, author of The Incendiaries).
Five years after a suspicious fire killed his ornithologist mother, a closeted Syrian American trans boy sheds his birth name and searches for a new one. As his grandmother’s sole caretaker, he spends his days cooped up in their apartment, avoiding his neighborhood masjid, his estranged sister, and even his best friend (who also happens to be his longtime crush). The only time he feels truly free is when he slips out at night to paint murals on buildings in the once-thriving Manhattan neighborhood known as Little Syria, but he’s been struggling ever since his mother’s ghost began visiting him each evening.
One night, he enters the abandoned community house and finds the tattered journal of a Syrian American artist named Laila Z, who dedicated her career to painting birds. She mysteriously disappeared more than sixty years before, but her journal contains proof that both his mother and Laila Z encountered the same rare bird before their deaths. In fact, Laila Z’s past is intimately tied to his mother’s in ways he never could have expected. Even more surprising, Laila Z’s story reveals the histories of queer and transgender people within his own community that he never knew. Realizing that he isn’t and has never been alone, he has the courage to claim a new name: Nadir, an Arabic name meaning rare.
As unprecedented numbers of birds are mysteriously drawn to the New York City skies, Nadir enlists the help of his family and friends to unravel what happened to Laila Z and the rare bird his mother died trying to save. Following his mother’s ghost, he uncovers the silences kept in the name of survival by his own community, his own family, and within himself, and discovers the family that was there all along.
Featuring Zeyn Joukhadar’s signature “folkloric, lyrical, and emotionally intense...gorgeous and alive” (Kirkus Reviews, starred review) storytelling, The Thirty Names of Night is a “stunning…vivid, visceral, and urgent” (Booklist, starred review) exploration of loss, memory, migration, and identity.
For so many, the hope is to create a better life, a better world, for the next generation. For the women of A CLOUD IN THE SHAPE OF A GIRL, the world seems to fight against them at every turn. Following three generations of women, each of them struggle under the weight of the patriarchy, society’s expectations, and the shifting tides of the world. But as different as Evelyn, Laura, and Grace are from each other, they all share a tenacity to push through and find out who they really are. A study of what really constitutes family ties and the little sacrifices we make to get through the day, this novel will have you reaching for the tissues.
From National Book Award finalist and the New York Times bestselling author of The Year We Left Home comes a “powerful, beautifully crafted” (People) family saga about three generations of women who struggle to find freedom and happiness in their small Midwestern college town.
A Cloud in the Shape of a Girl is a poignant novel about three generations of the Wise family—Evelyn, Laura, and Grace—as they hunt for contentment amid chaos of their own making.
We see these women and their trials, small and large: social slights and heartbreaks; marital disappointments and infidelities; familial dysfunction; mortality. Spanning from World War II to the present, Thompson reveals a matrilineal love story that is so perfectly grounded in our time—a story of three women regressing, stalling, and yes, evolving, over decades. One of the burning questions she asks is: by serving her family, is a woman destined to repeat the mistakes of previous generations, or can she transcend the expectations of a place, and a time? Can she truly be free?
Evelyn, Laura, and Grace are the glue that binds their family together. Tethered to their small Midwestern town—by choice or chance—Jean Thompson seamlessly weaves together the stories of the Wise women with humanity and elegance, through their heartbreaks, setbacks, triumphs, and tragedies. “Thompson’s new novel draws the reader in with character and plot…but what ultimately holds the reader enthralled is…her ability to capture the nuance of individual moments, thoughts, and reactions. No one writing today is better at this…[an] extraordinary novel” (Washington Independent Review of Books).
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