Dear reader, we know you’ve already got your summer suitcases and beach bags filled to the brim with books, so we really did try to keep this most anticipated books of summer 2023 list to a reasonable number. But it was a bit of an impossible task, to be honest. We’re hoping you don’t mind and rather wind up thanking us after coming to the decision that two suitcases full of books isn’t unmanageable after all. Happy bookcation season!
Our 25 Most Anticipated Books of Summer 2023
Heather’s Pick #1: As a big fan of Mary Beth Keane’s moving, thought-provoking novel ASK AGAIN, YES, I’ve been eagerly awaiting her next work. THE HALF MOON is about a couple, Malcolm and Jess, who are grappling with disillusionment and dashed hopes in both their personal and professional lives. Owning a bar isn’t turning out the way Malcolm expected, while Jess fears she may never become a mother like she’d always planned. When their small town is shut down by a fierce blizzard and a bar patron goes missing, Malcolm and Jess can no longer run from their problems but must instead face them together. Everyone wonders “Is this how my life was supposed to go?” and there’s something infinitely comforting about exploring those moments of doubt through fiction as beautifully written as Keane’s.
From the bestselling author of Ask Again, Yes, a masterful novel about a couple in a small town who must navigate the complexities of marriage, family, and longing.
Malcolm Gephardt, handsome and gregarious longtime bartender at the Half Moon, has always dreamed of owning a bar. When his boss finally retires, Malcolm stretches to buy the place. He sees unquantifiable magic and potential in the Half Moon and hopes to transform it into a bigger success, but struggles to stay afloat.
His smart and confident wife, Jess, has devoted herself to her law career. After years of trying for a baby, she is facing the idea that motherhood may not be in the cards for her. Like Malcolm, she feels her youth beginning to slip away and wonders how to reshape her future.
Award-winning author Mary Beth Keane’s new novel takes place over the course of one week when Malcolm learns shocking news about Jess, a patron of the bar goes missing, and a blizzard hits the town of Gillam, trapping everyone in place. With a deft eye and generous spirit, Keane explores the disappointments and unexpected consolations of midlife, the many forms forgiveness can take, the complicated intimacy of small-town living, and what it means to be a family.
Heather’s Pick #2: Daydreaming about lounging on a beach chair with a floppy hat, cool drink, and page-turning novel? Same here, which is how I know THE NIGERWIFE by Vanessa Walters is just the book to complete that summer picture. In this adrenaline-spiking thriller, an aunt’s search for her missing niece exposes a trove of family secrets. Nicole Oruwari seemed to have it all the day she disappeared. As the foreign wife of a wealthy man in Lagos, Nigeria, she lived in the lap of luxury, with very few worries—or so her Auntie Claudine assumed. But when no one can account for Nicole’s whereabouts following a boat trip, Claudine flies from London to Lagos to investigate for herself. Every clue she discovers alarms her more. What happened to Nicole, and why?
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.
Bianca’s Pick: While reading EVEN IF EVERYTHING ENDS, I was immersed into a personal catastrophe. I felt so connected to each character that I often thought of them when I put the book down. Although climate change is the theme in the backdrop of this novel, it is very much a complex human story that begs us to ponder how we will respond when the world ends. I use “when” intentionally here, as the current state of our planet is not in safe hands. It is no secret that the earth is suffering due to human activity. Even when the climate crisis escalates beyond our worst nightmares and people become refugees, the world keeps turning and life carries on as usual: teenaged love stories, marital collapses, identity crises, and revolts against hopeless parents continue to play out. Readers will find themselves in at least one of the main characters in this novel. They will not be able to help but ask themselves: What will I be doing with myself, for myself and those I love, even if everything ends?
Life goes on in the face of a climate crisis in this astonishing and unforgettable debut novel that follows four characters as they struggle to survive in a burning world.
Even when the climate crisis escalates beyond our worst nightmares and people become refugees, the world keeps turning and life carries on as usual: teenaged love stories, marital collapses, identity crises, and revolts against hopeless parents continue to play out.
Didrik is a forty-year-old media consultant whose misguided efforts to become the family hero render him a pathetic vision of masculine incompetence. Melissa is an influencer with a suitcase full of lost dreams after denying climate change for years. André is the nineteen-year-old loser son of an international sports star who uses the erupting violence around him to orchestrate his own personal vengeance on his negligent father. And Vilja is Didrik’s teenaged daughter who steps into a leadership role in the face of adult ineptitude.
“Simultaneously nerve-wracking, astute, and consumedly entertaining” (Sydsvenskan, Sweden) and through these four related stories, Even If Everything Ends eloquently illustrates a picture of a very near future that is at once extraordinary and entirely realistic.
Katya’s Pick #1: Adrienne Brodeur’s LITTLE MONSTERS is an absolutely irresistible read. I adore this book for its blend of gorgeous nature writing, food writing, and, of course, its brilliant portrayal of sibling and family dynamics and the secrets embedded deep within all relationships. This smart, nuanced novel truly has something for everyone. In lush, luxurious Cape Cod, the Gardners—a picture-perfect family full of successful artists and scientists, feminists and chauvinists, socialites and politicians—are struggling to stay together (it doesn’t help that it’s 2016 and Trump is running for president). Adam, his children, Ken and Abby, and neighbor Steph all have secrets connecting them—and threatening to tear them apart. Rife with beautifully construed, yet complex sibling dynamics (in case you didn’t get enough of those from Prince Harry’s SPARE) and an abundance of hilarious and tear-jerking scenes, this book delivers everything a good novel should.
From the author of the bestselling memoir Wild Games comes a riveting novel about Cape Cod, complicated families, and long-buried secrets—for fans of the New York Times bestsellers The Paper Palace and Ask Again, Yes.
Ken and Abby Gardner lost their mother when they were small and they have been haunted by her absence ever since. Their father, Adam, a brilliant oceanographer, raised them mostly on his own in his remote home on Cape Cod, where the attachment between Ken and Abby deepened into something complicated—and as adults their relationship is strained. Now, years later, the siblings’ lives are still deeply entwined. Ken is a successful businessman with political ambitions and a picture-perfect family and Abby is a talented visual artist who depends on her brother’s goodwill, in part because he owns the studio where she lives and works.
As the novel opens, Adam is approaching his seventieth birthday, staring down his mortality and fading relevance. He has always managed his bipolar disorder with medication, but he’s determined to make one last scientific breakthrough and so he has secretly stopped taking his pills, which he knows will infuriate his children. Meanwhile, Abby and Ken are both harboring secrets of their own, and there is a new person on the periphery of the family—Steph, who doesn’t make her connection known. As Adam grows more attuned to the frequencies of the deep sea and less so to the people around him, Ken and Abby each plan the elaborate gifts they will present to their father on his birthday, jostling for primacy in this small family unit.
Set in the fraught summer of 2016, and drawing on the biblical tale of Cain and Abel, Little Monsters is an absorbing, sharply observed family story by a writer who knows Cape Cod inside and out—its Edenic lushness and its snakes.
Katya’s Pick #2: When I tell you that I found myself absolutely enchanted by Emily Habeck’s writing from the very beginning of her debut novel, I’m not hyperbolizing. The wonderfully strange story dances on the page amidst large, telling portions of white space—some pages only feature a stoic paragraph, while others are written in the form of a play. The way the form of this novel fluctuates and mutates over time complements the story that it’s telling: Lewis, a newly married theater teacher, has just been told that, over the next year, he will gradually transform into a great white shark. Lewis and his wife, Wren, are met with difficult choices, making SHARK HEART a unique, endearing meditation on connection, grief, and adaptability.
A gorgeous debut novel of marriage, motherhood, metamorphosis, and letting go, this intergenerational love story begins with newlyweds Wren and her husband, Lewis—a man who, over the course of nine months, transforms into a great white shark.
For Lewis and Wren, their first year of marriage is also their last. A few weeks after their wedding, Lewis receives a rare diagnosis. He will retain most of his consciousness, memories, and intellect, but his physical body will gradually turn into a great white shark. As Lewis develops the features and impulses of one of the most predatory creatures in the ocean, his complicated artist’s heart struggles to make peace with his unfulfilled dreams.
At first, Wren internally resists her husband’s fate. Is there a way for them to be together after Lewis changes? Then, a glimpse of Lewis’s developing carnivorous nature activates long-repressed memories for Wren, whose story vacillates between her childhood living on a houseboat in Oklahoma, her time with a college ex-girlfriend, and her unusual friendship with a woman pregnant with twin birds. Woven throughout this bold novel is the story of Wren’s mother, Angela, who becomes pregnant with Wren at fifteen in an abusive relationship amidst her parents’ crumbling marriage. In the present, all of Wren’s grief eventually collides, and she is forced to make an impossible choice.
A sweeping love story that is at once lyrical and funny, airy and visceral, Shark Heart is an unforgettable, gorgeous novel about life’s perennial questions, the fragility of memories, finding joy amidst grief, and creating a meaningful life. This daring debut marks the arrival of a wildly talented new writer abounding with originality, humor, and heart.
Danielle’s Pick #1: EVERYTHING’S FINE is a complex, messy, and deeply real first novel about falling in love and falling apart in a divided America. Author Cecilia Rabess offers a fresh take on a coming-of-age story—told from the perspective of Jess, a young Black woman on a journey of self-discovery as she navigates life postcollege and all the ups and downs it has to offer. It’s not a book that pretends to have all the answers but one that asks important questions about class, race, and who we have the right to be.
“Extraordinarily brave...plain funny as hell, too.” —Zakiya Dalila Harris, New York Times bestselling author of The Other Black Girl
“A subtle, ironic, wise, state-of-the-nation novel, sharp enough to draw blood, hidden inside a moving, intimate, sincere and very real love story--or vice versa.” —Nick Hornby
When Jess lands a job as an analyst at Goldman Sachs, she’s less than thrilled to learn she’ll be on the same team as Josh, her preppy, white, conservative sparring partner from college. Josh loves playing the devil’s advocate and is just…the worst.
But when Jess finds herself the sole Black woman on the floor, overlooked and underestimated, it’s Josh who shows up for her in surprising—if imperfect—ways. Before long, an unlikely friendship—one tinged with undeniable chemistry—forms between the two. A friendship that gradually, and then suddenly, turns into an electrifying romance that shocks them both.
Despite their differences, the force of their attraction propels the relationship forwards, and Jess begins to question whether it’s more important to be happy than right. But then it’s 2016, and the cultural and political landscape shifts underneath them. And Jess, who is just beginning to discover who she is and who she has the right to be, is forced to ask herself what she’s willing to compromise for love and whether, in fact, everything’s fine.
A stunning debut that introduces Cecilia Rabess as a blazing new talent, Everything’s Fine is a painfully funny, poignant, heartfelt novel that doesn’t just ask will they, but…should they?
Danielle’s Pick #2: If you’ve been looking for a novel like Sex and the City but updated for the era of smartphones and an app for everything, this is the book for you! Tired of the work they do for free as wives and mothers being taken for granted, Lauren, Madeline, and Sophie hatch a plan to launch a “Wife App” and monetize the mental load (and maybe stick it to their exes in the process). The app quickly becomes one of the fastest growing start-ups in NYC, but then life, lovers, and ex-husbands start to intervene, with consequences bigger than any of the women anticipated. A hilarious roller-coaster ride and a celebration of female friendship, THE WIFE APP is the perfect addition to any beach bag this summer.
Because every wife deserves a happy ending.
Three best friends decide they’re finally done with their ex-husbands taking their work as wives and moms for granted. They’re ready to monetize the mental load, stick it to their exes, and have a wild ride in the process.
Lauren, mother of twins, wakes up one morning to her Wife Alarm Bells sounding. She sleuths on her husband’s phone and stumbles on a dirty secret that explodes her marriage. Madeline has it all—a penthouse apartment, a perfect daughter, and no-strings-attached romps with handsome men. When she learns that she might lose her child to her ex in England, it stirs up a decades-old personal tragedy. Sophie, with too much FOMO and never enough money, obsesses over her ex-husband’s Family 2.0—all while keeping her true desires hidden, even from herself.
It starts as a joke during a tipsy night out, as Lauren, Madeline, and Sophie rail against everything wives do for free. Let’s build an app that monetizes the mental load. And maybe get revenge on our exes in the process? Soon, the Wife App is born, and before long, it’s the fastest growing start-up in New York City. But then life intervenes. Love intervenes. Ex-husbands intervene. And the consequences are bigger than anything Lauren, Madeline, or Sophie could have expected. Carolyn Mackler marks her debut into adult fiction with a hilarious rollercoaster ride of revenge and redemption that is at once a send-up of modern marriage and a celebration of female friendship and love in all forms.
Jordyn’s Pick: This debut novel set years after the climate disaster hit its peak shows a version of humanity that finally came together to save the planet and rebuild what was lost. For fans of STATION ELEVEN and HOW HIGH WE GO IN THE DARK, we see a society that has been through dark times and is working toward hope. THE GREAT TRANSITION is about Emi, a 15-year-old girl who has only known this post-disaster version of the world and is intensely curious about what her parents did to contribute to this new reality. Meanwhile, her mother has gone missing, and a group of individuals has started holding people accountable for the damage they did to the climate in the past, with opinions that sound concerningly close to her mother’s. Told through Emi’s perspective while she looks for her mother, and from her father’s perspective of volunteering to rebuild and fix the planet before Emi was born, THE GREAT TRANSITION is a truly unforgettable dystopian coming-of-age story and a call to action to look at what type of future we might be hurtling toward.
For fans of Station Eleven and The Ministry for the Future, this richly imaginative, immersive, and “profound” (Alice Elliott Dark, author of Fellowship Point) novel is the electrifying story of a family in crisis that unfolds against the backdrop of our near future.
Emi Vargas, whose parents helped save the world, is tired of being told how lucky she is to have been born after the climate crisis. But following the public assassination of a dozen climate criminals, Emi’s mother, Kristina, disappears as a possible suspect, and Emi’s illusions of utopia are shattered. A determined Emi and her father, Larch, journey from their home in Nuuk, Greenland to New York City, now a lightly populated storm-surge outpost built from the ruins of the former metropolis. But they aren’t the only ones looking for Kristina.
Thirty years earlier, Larch first came to New York with a team of volunteers to save the city from rising waters and torrential storms. Kristina was on the frontlines of a different battle, fighting massive wildfires that ravaged the western United States. They became part of a movement that changed the world—The Great Transition—forging a new society and finding each other in process.
Alternating between Emi’s desperate search for her mother and a meticulously rendered, heart-stopping account of her parents’ experiences during The Great Transition, this novel beautifully shows how our actions today determine our fate tomorrow. A triumphant debut, The Great Transition is a breathtaking rendering of our near future, told through the story of one family trying to protect each other and the place we all call home.
Sabrina’s Pick #1: Alice Hoffman’s THE INVISIBLE HOUR illustrates the power of books to captivate us, embed us into alternate universes, and help us transcend even the most difficult challenges. Ivy is born into a life of isolation after her mother sees a restrictive commune as the only path to survival for both her and her unborn child. The commune’s tyrannical leader, who is also Ivy’s adopted father, deems books evil, but Ivy is naturally drawn to the written word and finds a way to consume all the reading material she can possibly sneak past his watchful eye. She specifically finds solace in the words of Nathaniel Hawthorne, creating a powerful connection that could make or break both. Ivy is the perfect example of a heroine, born into a life of oppression, who yet finds a way to liberate herself and embrace true independence while surmounting endless challenges. Her story underlines how libraries serve as sanctuaries and inspiration for the disenfranchised and how we can all be transformed and enchanted through literature.
From the beloved New York Times bestselling author of The Marriage of Opposites and the Practical Magic series comes an enchanting novel about love, heartbreak, self-discovery, and the enduring magic of books.
One brilliant June day when Mia Jacob can no longer see a way to survive, the power of words saves her. The Scarlet Letter was written almost two hundred years earlier, but it seems to tell the story of Mia’s mother, Ivy, and their life inside the Community—an oppressive cult in western Massachusetts where contact with the outside world is forbidden, and books are considered evil. But how could this be? How could Nathaniel Hawthorne have so perfectly captured the pain and loss that Mia carries inside her?
Through a journey of heartbreak, love, and time, Mia must abandon the rules she was raised with at the Community. As she does, she realizes that reading can transport you to other worlds or bring them to you, and that readers and writers affect one another in mysterious ways. She learns that time is more fluid than she can imagine, and that love is stronger than any chains that bind you.
As a girl Mia fell in love with a book. Now as a young woman she falls in love with a brilliant writer as she makes her way back in time. But what if Nathaniel Hawthorne never wrote The Scarlet Letter? And what if Mia Jacob never found it on the day she planned to die?
Nathaniel Hawthorne wrote: “A single dream is more powerful than a thousand realities.”
This is the story of one woman’s dream. For a little while it came true.
Sabrina’s Pick #2: NINETEEN CLAWS AND A BLACK BIRD by Agustina Bazterrica is a collection of short stories that creep under your skin and tease out those most disturbing fantasies, the ones we keep locked away from humanity for fear of being locked away ourselves. Bazterrica’s dark humor peels back layers of the psyche in brief pulses that offer just enough time to question our own capacity for violence and delusion before indulging in the next depraved narrative. From tales of narrowly escaping a murder-suicide to wallowing in filth during impending demise to a stealthy alien invasion, this collection is wickedly delightful and a must-read for any thrill seeker.
A collection of nineteen dark, wildly imaginative short stories from the author of the award-winning TikTok sensation Tender Is the Flesh.
From celebrated author Agustina Bazterrica, this collection of nineteen brutal, darkly funny short stories takes into our deepest fears and through our most disturbing fantasies. Through stories about violence, alienation, and dystopia, Bazterrica’s vision of the human experience emerges in complex, unexpected ways—often unsettling, sometimes thrilling, and always profound. In “Roberto,” a girl claims to have a rabbit between her legs. A woman’s neighbor jumps to his death in “A Light, Swift, and Monstrous Sound,” and in “Candy Pink,” a woman fails to contend with a difficult breakup in five easy steps.
Written in Bazterrica’s signature clever, vivid style, these stories question love, friendship, family relationships, and unspeakable desires.
Laura’s Pick: As much as I love Shakespeare, I love Chloe Gong’s retellings of his plays in her young adult fantasy novels even more. IMMORTAL LONGINGS—her debut adult epic fantasy—is inspired by Shakespeare’s Antony and Cleopatra. Set in the kingdom of Talin and its capital twin cities, San-Er, an annual competition is taking place and the stakes are high—unimaginable riches … or death. Princess Calla Tuoleimi plans to attend, but only in order to finish the job she started years ago when she massacred her parents and the entire palace of Er. If she wins the competition, she’ll get her chance to kill the very last monarch—her uncle. Another competitor, Anton Makusa, intends to fight to save his childhood love with his prize winnings. Calla and Anton form an unexpected alliance—and perhaps even romance—along with some help from the king’s adopted son, August. But with separate goals, the alliance can’t last forever, and Calla must decide what is most important to her before the competition is over.
#1 New York Times bestselling YA author Chloe Gong’s adult epic fantasy debut, inspired by Shakespeare’s Antony and Cleopatra, is a fiery collision of power plays, spilled blood, and romance amidst a set of deadly games.
Every year, thousands in the kingdom of Talin will flock to its capital twin cities, San-Er, where the palace hosts a set of games. For those confident enough in their ability to jump between bodies, competitors across San-Er fight to the death to win unimaginable riches.
Princess Calla Tuoleimi lurks in hiding. Five years ago, a massacre killed her parents and left the palace of Er empty…and she was the one who did it. Before King Kasa’s forces in San can catch her, she plans to finish the job and bring down the monarchy. Her reclusive uncle always greets the victor of the games, so if she wins, she gets her opportunity at last to kill him.
Enter Anton Makusa, an exiled aristocrat. His childhood love has lain in a coma since they were both ousted from the palace, and he’s deep in debt trying to keep her alive. Thankfully, he’s one of the best jumpers in the kingdom, flitting from body to body at will. His last chance at saving her is entering the games and winning.
Calla finds both an unexpected alliance with Anton and help from King Kasa’s adopted son, August, who wants to mend Talin’s ills. But the three of them have very different goals, even as Calla and Anton’s partnership spirals into something all-consuming. Before the games close, Calla must decide what she’s playing for—her lover or her kingdom.
Katya’s Pick #3: In SUNSHINE NAILS, Phil and Debbie Tran, refugees from Vietnam to Canada, run Sunshine Nails, a nail salon that is suddenly competing with a new salon, a shimmering, trendy spot within a (very instagrammable) chain. As Phil and Debbie get older and their newly single and unemployed daughter, Jessica, moves home, this is exactly what they don’t need. Fortunately, they are not willing to go down without fighting tooth and nail. Phil, Debbie, Jessica, Jessica’s brother, Dustin, and their Vietnamese cousin, Thuy, must decide to what lengths they will go (individually and as a family) so that Sunshine Nails can thrive once again. In addition to their communal struggles against gentrification, they each have their own battles to fight in order to be seen and valued for who they are. This entertaining, compulsively readable novel is a perfect beach read, complete with juicy drama, an important message about gentrification, and so, so much heart.
“Mai Nguyen has proven herself to be a real standout.” —Taylor Jenkins Reid, New York Times bestselling author
A tender, humorous, and page-turning debut about a Vietnamese Canadian family in Toronto who will do whatever it takes to protect their no-frills nail salon after a new high end salon opens up—even if it tears the family apart. Perfect for readers of Olga Dies Dreaming and The Fortunes of Jaded Women.
Vietnamese refugees Debbie and Phil Tran have built a comfortable life for themselves in Toronto with their family nail salon. But when an ultra-glam chain salon opens across the street, their world is rocked.
Complicating matters further, their landlord has jacked up the rent and it seems only a matter of time before they lose their business and everything they’ve built. They enlist the help of their daughter, Jessica, who has just returned home after a messy breakup and a messier firing. Together with their son, Dustin, and niece, Thuy, they devise some good old-fashioned sabotage. Relationships are put to the test as the line between right and wrong gets blurred. Debbie and Phil must choose: do they keep their family intact or fight for their salon?
Sunshine Nails is a light-hearted, urgent fable of gentrification with a cast of memorable and complex characters who showcase the diversity of immigrant experiences and community resilience.
Katya’s Pick #4: When Iris Prince, a second-generation Mexican American, along with her daughter, Mel, moves into a new house in a glorified suburb, the strangest thing happens: a wall appears between her front yard and the sidewalk. At first, the wall isn’t a problem so much as a surprise, but as it grows and morphs at a rapid pace, things become more terrifying. As if that weren’t overwhelming enough, a startup has recently issued special wristbands that everyone must wear if they want to do, well, anything. The catch is: you only get a wristband if you and your parents were born in the United States. Unfortunately, while Mel is able to get a band, this means Iris is excluded. Now Iris must determine what she is willing to do to stay relevant. This thrilling, dystopian page-turner brings to light with great creativity the harm of both microaggressions and macroaggressions against people of color. It also draws on an uncomfortable divide in our nation. MY NAME IS IRIS is a quintessential dystopian meditation on identity and belonging for our age.
Brando Skyhorse, the PEN/Hemingway Award–winning author of The Madonnas of Echo Park, returns with a riveting literary dystopian novel set in a near-future America where mandatory identification wristbands make second-generation immigrants into second-class citizens—a powerful family saga for readers of Mohsin Hamid’s Exit West and Rumaan Alam’s Leave the World Behind.
Iris Prince is starting over. After years of drifting apart, she and her husband are going through a surprisingly drama-free divorce. She's moved to a new house in a new neighborhood, and has plans for gardening, coffee clubs, and spending more time with her nine-year-old daughter Melanie. It feels like her life is finally exactly what she wants it to be.
Then, one beautiful morning, she looks outside her kitchen window—and sees that a wall has appeared in her front yard overnight. Where did it come from? What does it mean? And why does it seem to keep growing?
Meanwhile, a Silicon Valley startup has launched a high-tech wrist wearable called "the Band." Pitched as a convenient, eco-friendly tool to help track local utilities and replace driver's licenses and IDs, the Band is available only to those who can prove parental citizenship. Suddenly, Iris, a proud second-generation Mexican-American, is now of "unverifiable origin," unable to prove who she is, or where she, and her undocumented loved ones, belong. Amid a climate of fear and hate-fueled violence, Iris must confront how far she'll go to protect what matters to her most.
My Name Is Iris is an all-too-possible story about family, intolerance, and hope, offering a brilliant and timely look at one woman’s journey to discover who she can’t—and can—be.
Sharon’s Pick #1: A genre that I discovered last year that has quickly become one of my favorites is the workplace novel. From a novel told entirely through Slack messages, to an incisive send-up on late-stage capitalism, I have found comfort and hilarity through reading books that center around the office.
The next installation in this genre that I’m eagerly anticipating is RIPE by Sarah Rose Etter. Through its premise alone, I know this book is going to be a standout: readers follow Cassie, a millennial woman struggling one year into her job at a cutthroat Silicon Valley start-up. However isolated she may feel, she is never truly alone, as she is constantly accompanied by a miniature black hole. When the demands of her work become illegal and she accidentally becomes pregnant, Cassie must decide if the fruits of her labor are truly worth it.
From an award-winning writer whose work Roxane Gay calls “utterly unique and remarkable” comes a surreal novel about a woman in Silicon Valley who must decide how much she’s willing to give up for success—for fans of My Year of Rest and Relaxation and Her Body and Other Parties.
A year into her dream job at a cutthroat Silicon Valley start-up, Cassie finds herself trapped in a corporate nightmare. Between the long hours, toxic bosses, and unethical projects, she also struggles to reconcile the glittering promise of a city where obscene wealth lives alongside abject poverty and suffering. Ivy League grads complain about the snack selection from a conference room with a view of houseless people bathing in the bay. Start-up burnouts leap into the paths of commuter trains, and men literally set themselves on fire in the streets.
Though isolated, Cassie is never alone. From her earliest memory, a miniature black hole has been her constant companion. It feeds on her depression and anxiety, growing or shrinking in relation to her distress. The black hole watches, but it also waits. Its relentless pull draws Cassie ever closer as the world around her unravels.
When her CEO’s demands cross an illegal threshold and she ends up unexpectedly pregnant, Cassie must decide whether the tempting fruits of Silicon Valley are really worth it. Sharp but vulnerable, funny yet unsettling, Ripe portrays one millennial woman’s journey through our late-capitalist hellscape and offers a brilliantly incisive look at the absurdities of modern life.
Sharon’s Pick #2: Caleb Azumah Nelson’s debut novel, OPEN WATER, is a favorite of the books I have read this year. The lyricism contained within its pages, as well as Nelson’s brilliance in crafting a believable, heart-rending story, makes it hard to believe that OPEN WATER was his debut. Luckily for me, SMALL WORLDS, Nelson’s sophomore novel, is publishing in July of this year, and you best believe I have already preordered my copy. SMALL WORLDS explores in-depth themes that were written about brilliantly in OPEN WATER: music, family, identity, and the promise that summertime brings. Set over the course of three summers, we follow Stephen, a first-generation Londoner born to Ghanaian immigrant parents. When Stephen pursues his love of music instead of following a more traditional path, he must deal with the ramifications of this decision as well as find a space where he can feel truly free.
Mel’s Pick: CLOSER BY SEA is the debut novel from Perry Chafe, whom you may know as a writer and producer for hit shows like Son of a Critch and Republic of Doyle. I can't say enough good things about this novel and about Perry himself, who is such a gem of an author. CLOSER BY SEA is set in the 90s on an isolated island in the Canadian East Coast and follows twelve-year-old Pierce Jacobs and his friends, who are on a mission to find Anna, a young teen who has gone missing in their local community. This book is for fans of films like The Goonies and Stand by Me and for readers of Ray Bradbury and Stephen King. It’s a coming-of-age, suspenseful mystery that is perfect for book clubs and buddy reads. I can’t recommend it enough!
From the writer and producer of the hit TV shows Republic of Doyle and Son of a Critch, a poignant coming-of-age debut novel about the mysterious disappearance of a young girl and the fragility of childhood bonds, set against the backdrop of a small island community adapting to an ever-changing landscape.
In 1991, on a small, isolated island off the coast of Newfoundland, twelve-year-old Pierce Jacobs struggles to come to terms with the death of his father. It’s been three years since his dad, a fisherman, disappeared in the cold, unforgiving Atlantic, his body never recovered. Pierce is determined to save enough money to fix his father’s old boat and take it out to sea. But life on the island is quiet and hard. The local fishing industry is on the brink of collapse, threatening to take an ages-old way of life with it. The community is hit even harder when a young teen named Anna Tessier goes missing.
With the help of his three friends, Pierce sets out to find Anna, with whom he shared an unusual but special bond. They soon cross paths with Solomon Vickers, a mysterious, hermetic fisherman who may have something to do with the missing girl. Their search brings them into contact with unrelenting bullies, magnificent sea creatures, fierce storms, and glacial giants. But most of all, it brings them closer to the brutal reality of both the natural and the modern world.
Part coming-of-age story, part literary mystery, and part suspense thriller, Closer by Sea is a page-turning, poignant, and powerful novel about family, friendship, and community set at a pivotal time in modern Newfoundland history. It is an homage to a people and a place, and above all it captures that delicate and tender moment when the wonder of childhood innocence gives way to the harsh awakening of adult experience.
Molly’s Pick: Whether it’s Serial, Inventing Anna, or Snapped, we’ve all been enraptured by true crime at some point over the past decade. The genre has had a huge resurgence and Lisa Jewell’s newest thriller, NONE OF THIS IS TRUE, takes on this phenomenon. Popular true crime podcaster Alix Summer is out celebrating her birthday when she meets her birthday twin, an unassuming woman named Josie Fair. Josie claims she’d be a compelling subject for Alix’s podcast and quickly intertwines herself into Alix’s life. It isn’t until Josie disappears without a trace that Alix realizes her life is in danger, and that she has become the subject of her podcast rather than Josie. It’s up to her to solve the mystery before it becomes a tragedy. I know I’m going to read this in one night and not just because I’ll be too scared to sleep.
From the #1 New York Times bestselling author known for her “superb pacing, twisted characters, and captivating prose” (BuzzFeed), Lisa Jewell returns with a scintillating new psychological thriller about a woman who finds herself the subject of her own popular true crime podcast.
Celebrating her forty-fifth birthday at her local pub, popular podcaster Alix Summer crosses paths with an unassuming woman called Josie Fair. Josie, it turns out, is also celebrating her forty-fifth birthday. They are, in fact, birthday twins.
A few days later, Alix and Josie bump into each other again, this time outside Alix’s children’s school. Josie has been listening to Alix’s podcasts and thinks she might be an interesting subject for her series. She is, she tells Alix, on the cusp of great changes in her life.
Josie’s life appears to be strange and complicated, and although Alix finds her unsettling, she can’t quite resist the temptation to keep making the podcast. Slowly she starts to realize that Josie has been hiding some very dark secrets, and before she knows it, Josie has inveigled her way into Alix’s life—and into her home.
But, as quickly as she arrived, Josie disappears. Only then does Alix discover that Josie has left a terrible and terrifying legacy in her wake, and that Alix has become the subject of her own true crime podcast, with her life and her family’s lives under mortal threat.
Who is Josie Fair? And what has she done?
Elizabeth’s Pick: This book compiles the life story and deep wisdom of Charlie White, who was born in 1905, before the invention of radios, airplanes, and antibiotics. When he died in 2014, he had watched the world go through revolutionary transformations. Through personal tragedies and global chaos, Charlie was able to survive and thrive, guided by philosophies that have helped humans build resilience for thousands of years. Through 109 years of Charlie’s adventures, from the bandstands of the Jazz Age to the gangster wars of the Depression, David Von Drehle shows readers the secrets to a long and happy life. I’ll never forget Charlie White, and I’m sure you won’t either!
One of our nation’s most prominent writers finds the truth about how to live a long and happy life in the centenarian next door.
When a veteran Washington journalist moved to Kansas, he met a new neighbor who was more than a century old. Little did he know that he was beginning a long friendship—and a profound lesson in the meaning of life. Charlie White was no ordinary neighbor. Born before radio, Charlie lived long enough to use a smartphone. When a shocking tragedy interrupted his idyllic boyhood, Charlie mastered survival strategies that reflect thousands of years of human wisdom. Thus armored, Charlie’s sense of adventure carried him on an epic journey across the continent, and later found him swinging across bandstands of the Jazz Age, racing aboard ambulances through Depression-era gangster wars, improvising techniques for early open-heart surgery, and cruising the Amazon as a guest of Peru’s president.
David Von Drehle came to understand that Charlie’s resilience and willingness to grow made this remarkable neighbor a master in the art of thriving through times of dramatic change. As a gift to his children, he set out to tell Charlie’s secrets. The Book of Charlie is a gospel of grit—the inspiring story of one man’s journey through a century of upheaval. The history that unfolds through Charlie’s story reminds you that the United States has always been a divided nation, a questing nation, an inventive nation—a nation of Charlies in the rollercoaster pursuit of a good and meaningful life.
Emily’s Pick #1: I’ve shockingly never read Lisa See before, and in my desire to add a couple more high-quality historical fiction books to my TBR, I’ve decided that Lisa See’s newest release is a great place to start. Based partially on stories about the first female physicians from 15th-century China, LADY TAN’S CIRCLE OF WOMEN takes us back to the Ming Dynasty where a young Tan Yunxian grows up under the caring, upper class tutelage of her grandmother, who shares her knowledge about Chinese medicine. Over the years, Tan befriends a poor apprenticing midwife, and together they practice medicine focused on pregnancy and childbirth, as well as solve medical emergencies and mysteries despite the many restrictions that society places on them. When Tan is forced into an arranged marriage, it breaks her away from a circle of female friendships and into a confined space as a wife where she feels doomed to spend the rest of her days. The fact that Yunxian’s medical achievements are still used today is inspiring, and I’m sure I’ll depart on a Wikipedia spiral to learn all about 15th-century Chinese medicine once I finish reading this book.
The latest historical novel from New York Times bestselling author Lisa See, inspired by the true story of a woman physician from 15th-century China—perfect for fans of See’s classic Snowflower and the Secret Fan and The Island of Sea Women.
According to Confucius, “an educated woman is a worthless woman,” but Tan Yunxian—born into an elite family, yet haunted by death, separations, and loneliness—is being raised by her grandparents to be of use. Her grandmother is one of only a handful of female doctors in China, and she teaches Yunxian the pillars of Chinese medicine, the Four Examinations—looking, listening, touching, and asking—something a man can never do with a female patient.
From a young age, Yunxian learns about women’s illnesses, many of which relate to childbearing, alongside a young midwife-in-training, Meiling. The two girls find fast friendship and a mutual purpose—despite the prohibition that a doctor should never touch blood while a midwife comes in frequent contact with it—and they vow to be forever friends, sharing in each other’s joys and struggles. No mud, no lotus, they tell themselves: from adversity beauty can bloom.
But when Yunxian is sent into an arranged marriage, her mother-in-law forbids her from seeing Meiling and from helping the women and girls in the household. Yunxian is to act like a proper wife—embroider bound-foot slippers, pluck instruments, recite poetry, give birth to sons, and stay forever within the walls of the family compound, the Garden of Fragrant Delights.
How might a woman like Yunxian break free of these traditions, go on to treat women and girls from every level of society, and lead a life of such importance that many of her remedies are still used five centuries later? How might the power of friendship support or complicate these efforts? Lady Tan’s Circle of Women is a captivating story of women helping other women. It is also a triumphant reimagining of the life of a woman who was remarkable in the Ming dynasty and would be considered remarkable today.
Emily’s Pick #2: In a previous Off the Shelf post I mentioned that STRANGE SALLY DIAMOND is a book I’ve been excited to read, ever since I saw that popular Goodreads reviewer Emily May wrote a rave review of it, saying, “I’d be very surprised if this doesn’t end up being one of the most popular books of 2023.” Say no more Emily May! If that doesn’t convince you to pick it up, the premise certainly will. Still recovering from a cruel traumatic past, Sally Diamond is a recluse, refusing to emerge from her Irish hovel, a la Eleanor Oliphant. But when a stranger begins to leave curious messages outside her home, she finally works up the courage. As Sally journeys outward to uncover the messages, the world reveals itself in all its beauty and darkness—she finds friends and enemies, learns how to trust, and uncovers secrets of her past and the strangers that are quickly adding up and entering her life.
The internationally bestselling author of the “dark, captivating psychological thriller” (People) Lying in Wait returns with a wickedly dark, twisted, and brilliantly observed new novel about an enigmatic woman confronting her unknown past.
Reclusive Sally Diamond causes outrage by trying to incinerate her dead father. Now she’s the center of attention, not only from the hungry media and police detectives, but also a sinister voice from a past she does not remember. As she begins to discover the horrors of her early childhood, Sally steps into the world for the first time, making new friends, big decisions, and learning that people don’t always mean what they say.
But who is the man observing Sally from the other side of the world, and why does he call her Mary? And why does her new neighbor seem to be obsessed with her? Sally’s trust issues are about to be severely challenged…
Emily’s Pick #3: I was one of the many readers consumed over the “Who Is the Bad Art Friend” long-form story from the New York Times. So, I was thrilled to hear about THE MYTHMAKERS, which sounds like a twist on that story, but with similar themes: toxic friendships, the writing and creative process, and a complicated mess of character motivations that’ll have readers debating who’s right and wrong. Magazine journalist Salala Cannon’s career may be declining, but when she reads an excerpt from a famous author’s story that sounds remarkably like her own life story, inspiration strikes, and she decides to put her journalism skills to use. Abandoning her actual job, she sets out to meet this man who seems to be obsessed with her and get her hands on the full manuscript, but the journey is filled with surprises.
From an acclaimed senior editor at Vanity Fair comes an intoxicating debut novel about a young journalist who discovers a short story that’s inexplicably about her life—leading to an entanglement with the author’s widow, daughter, and former best friend.
Sal Cannon’s life is in shambles. Her relationship is crumbling, and her career in journalism hits a low point after it’s revealed that her profile of a playwright is full of inaccuracies. She’s close to rock-bottom when she reads a short story by Martin Keller: a much older author she met at a literary event years ago. Much to her shock, the story is about her and the moment they met. When Sal learns the story is excerpted from his unpublished novel, she reaches out to the story’s editor—only to learn that Martin is deceased. Desperate to leave her crumbling life behind and to read the manuscript from which the story was excerpted, Sal decides to find Martin’s widow, Moira.
Moira has made it clear that she doesn’t want to be contacted. But soon Sal is on a bus to Upstate New York, where she slowly but surely inserts herself into Moira’s life. Or is it the other way around? As Sal sifts through Martin’s papers and learns more about Moira, the question of muse and artist arises—again and again. Even more so when Martin’s daughter’s story emerges. Who owns a story? And who is the one left to tell it?
The Mythmakers is a nesting doll of a book that grapples with perspective and memory, as well as the battles between creative ambition and love. It’s a story about the trials and tribulations of finding out who you are, at any stage in your life, and how inspiration might find you in the strangest of places.
Mackenzie’s Pick #1: If you’re a fan of the Bourne movie franchise, or Mr. and Mrs. Smith, you must read Ruth Ware’s next thriller ZERO DAYS! Our main character Jack (short for Jacinta) is a low-key professional spy who is forced to go on the run after being framed for a vicious crime. The reader follows her on a nail-biting, gut-wrenching quest through London as she searches for clues to prove she’s innocent. ZERO DAYS will delight both this masterful author’s longtime fans and appeal to new readers.
The New York Times bestselling “new Agatha Christie” (Air Mail) Ruth Ware returns with this adrenaline-fueled thriller that combines Mr. and Mrs. Smith with The Fugitive about a woman in a race against time to clear her name and find her husband’s murderer.
Hired by companies to break into buildings and hack security systems, Jack and her husband, Gabe, are the best penetration specialists in the business. But after a routine assignment goes horribly wrong, Jack arrives home to find her husband dead. To add to her horror, the police are closing in on their suspect—her.
Suddenly on the run and quickly running out of options, Jack must decide who she can trust as she circles closer to the real killer in this unputdownable and heart-pounding mystery from an author whose “propulsive prose keeps readers on the hook and refuses to let anyone off until all has been revealed” (Shelf Awareness).
Mackenzie’s Pick #2: The mind of a teenage girl can be a scary and complicated place, but being inside Sarah Taylor’s mind is next level. A sophomore at an all-girls boarding school and recently diagnosed with bipolar disorder, Sarah immediately becomes the target of the school bully, Greta Stanhope. Luckily Sarah and her roommate get along well enough, and Sarah focuses on her schoolwork and the hot RA down the hall to get her through the semester. But as Greta’s sinister pranks get increasingly more malicious, and Sarah struggles to control her mental health, a terrible crime occurs, and then Sarah can’t remember where she was that night. What comes next will leave readers on the edge of their seats! If you watched Pretty Little Liars—or read the book and its sequels—you’ll love this one.
Heathers meets The Secret History in this thrilling coming-of-age novel set in a boarding school where the secrets are devastating—and deadly.
When Sarah Taylor arrives at the exclusive St. Ambrose School, she’s carrying more baggage than just what fits in her suitcase. She knows she’s not like the other girls—if the shabby, all-black, non-designer clothes don’t give that away, the bottle of lithium hidden in her desk drawer sure does.
St. Ambrose’s queen bee, Greta Stanhope, picks Sarah as a target from day one and the most popular, powerful, horrible girl at school is relentless in making sure Sarah knows what the pecking order is. Thankfully, Sarah makes an ally out of her roommate Ellen “Strots” Strotsberry, a cigarette-huffing, devil-may-care athlete who takes no bullshit. Also down the hall is Nick Hollis, the devastatingly handsome RA, and the object of more than one St. Ambrose student’s fantasies. Between Strots and Nick, Sarah hopes she can make it through the semester, dealing with not only her schoolwork and a recent bipolar diagnosis, but Greta’s increasingly malicious pranks.
Sarah is determined not to give Greta the satisfaction of breaking her. But when scandal unfolds, and someone ends up dead, her world threatens to unravel in ways she could never have imagined. The St. Ambrose School for Girls is a dangerous, delicious, twisty coming-of-age tale that will stay with you long after you turn the last page.
Emily’s Pick #4: Since I devoured THE SOULMATE EQUATION last year and thought that it was one of Christina Lauren’s best yet, I can’t wait for their next book, which stars one of my favorite side characters from that novel—and which early reviews are saying is a top-notch CLo hit! Fizzy is the romance writer who is always a source of witty commentary and wise advice when it comes to dating, but when it comes to her own personal life there are secrets under the surface. She’s felt the spark of lust, but not that fairy-tale love she always includes in her books. When she meets Connor Prince, reluctant creator of a new dating reality TV show, he says she’s the perfect potential contestant. But what if the match is Connor himself? Ahhhh—as a huge fan of The Bachelor, I’m giving my first impression rose to THE TRUE LOVE EXPERIMENT.
Camila's Pick: You don't need to share in Harold Rogers's split upbringing to resonate with the palpable longing that transcends the pages of TROPICÁLIA—the feeling happens gratuitously. I myself am a displaced Brazilian well-versed in dealing with saudade, the Portuguese word for the mix of melancholy and nostalgia that comes from missing something acutely, I can say with authority that this debut gets at the very heart of the immigrant experience, and the difficult-to-define, tumultuous business of being Brazilian. A tender exploration of identity and belonging, TROPICÁLIA reckons with the long-unwanted return of a member of the Cunha family, a death on the sands of Copacabana Beach, and the age-old question: Can we ever truly repair the damage we do to those we love?
In the heady days before a New Year’s Eve party on the bustling sands of Brazil’s Copacabana Beach, a family reckons with a matriarch’s long-awaited return, causing old secrets to come to light in this infectiously vibrant debut that explores the heartbreak and hope of what it means to be from two homes, two peoples, and two worlds.
Daniel Cunha has a lot on his mind.
He got dumped by his pregnant girlfriend, his grandfather just dropped dead, and on the anniversary of the raid that doomed his drug-dealing aunt and uncle, his mother makes her unwanted return, years after she fled to marry another American fool like his father.
Misfortune, however, is a Cunha family affair, and no generation is spared. Not Daniel’s grandfather João—poor João—born to a prostitute and forced to raise his siblings while still a child himself. Not João’s wife, Marta, branded as a bruxa, reviled by her mother, and dragged from her Ilha paradise by her scheming daughter, Maria. And certainly not Maria, so envious of her younger sister’s beauty and benevolence that she took her vicious revenge and fled to the States, abandoning her children: Daniel and Lucia, both tainted now by their half-Americanness and their mother’s greedy absence.
There’s poison in the Cunha blood. They are a family cursed, condemned to the pain of deprivation, betrayal, violence, and, worst of all, love. But now Maria has returned to grieve her father and finally make peace with Daniel and Lucia, or so she says. As New Year’s Eve nears, the Cunha family hurtles toward an irrevocable breaking point: a fire, a knife, and a death on the sands of Copacabana Beach.
Amid the cacophony of Rio’s tumult—rampant poverty, political unrest, the ever-present threat of violence—a fierce chorus of voices rises above the din to ask whether we can ever truly repair the damage we do to those we love.
Photo credit: iStock / MaleWitch