A magical escape into Dungeons & Dragons, the stream of consciousness narrative of a seven-year-old boy, unexpected tales of survival, a college that gives you a degree in murder . . . That’s just a taste of these wonderful premises that’ll hook you from the very beginning. These ten unique novels launch their readers off into their imaginations with wholly unique ideas that I truly can’t stop thinking about. If you are looking for something new, whether it’s funny, romantic, heartbreaking, historical, or maybe a little strange, these are the books for you.
The mental load has become a recent buzzword among many wives who find themselves having to care for more of the household and child-rearing responsibilities than their partners while still trying to maintain their careers, identities, and relationships. Combine that concept with three strong female characters, a little bit of romance, and an app that most people probably wish existed, and you’ve got yourself a memorable contemporary story! Lauren, who gave up her promising tech career to care for her twins, discovers a secret on her husband’s phone that destroys their marriage. Meanwhile, Madeline loves being an unattached single mother—that is, until her ex begins enticing their daughter to move in with him across the world in London. And then there’s Sophie, who can’t stop obsessing over her ex-husband and his new perfect family, even if that’s not what she wants anymore. It started as a joke over drinks between friends, but what if there really was an app that let you monetize the mental load and pay someone else to take care of some of the tasks that plague everyday moms? On the heels of her recent divorce and surrounded by her divorcée friends, Lauren teams up with Madeline and Sophie to make this dream a reality. It’s finally a chance to take control from the men who ruined their lives—but they never expected the consequences. A wonderfully fun story of redemption, romance, family, and friendship.
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.
THE ABDUCTION OF SMITH AND SMITH is an intense historical fiction story set just after the Civil War. Jupiter Smith, a former slave and Union soldier, returns to the Georgia plantation as a free man looking for his wife. Instead, he finds his former master alone and plagued by madness. He kills the man more out of pity than anything else and travels to San Francisco in hopes of finding his family. Unbeknownst to him, the Colonel’s son and Confederate soldier, Archer Smith, arrives just after him to find his father murdered. Archer sets out after Jupiter, determined to avenge his father’s death. But when the two finally cross paths again, Jupiter is making a name for himself with a nefarious crowd and Archer has developed an opium addiction. The gang that Jupiter works for is after Archer. Jupiter attempts to save Archer but fails, and they both wind up on a ship headed toward danger. Will Jupiter and Archer work together, or will they be victims of the sea and their past? A complex story of slavery and freedom, family and betrayal, mixed with high-seas action and wonderful characters. You will not be able to forget THE ABDUCTION OF SMITH AND SMITH.
In this “splendid tale of high-seas adventure” (Marcus J. Guillory, author of Red Now and Laters), two enemies become the unlikeliest of allies as they fight to save their own lives aboard a hell ship headed into the dangerous unknown.
The Civil War is over, though for Jupiter Smith, a former slave and Union soldier, many battles still lie ahead. He returns to the plantation he worked on before the war in search of his woman, but instead finds his old master gone mad, haunting the ruins like a ghost. Out of pity for the now mentally ill colonel, Jupiter strangles him and heads west to seek a new life in San Francisco.
When the colonel’s son, Confederate soldier Archer Smith, arrives home and finds his father murdered, he vows revenge upon Jupiter for all he has lost—following his former slave to the far reaches of the continent.
But things take a new turn as Archer’s desire for retribution is overwhelmed by his dependency on opium, and he ends up the target of a gang of “crimpers”…the very gang that Jupiter works for in San Francisco. When Jupiter fails in an attempt to save Archer, they both end up shanghaied aboard a ship headed on a dangerous mission and ruled by a merciless captain. Will the two Smiths work together to stay alive and return home, or will they become victims of the sea, the crew, and their mad captain?
Ellie O’Neill has crafted a fantastical and unforgettable story. Kate McDaid is an Irish copywriter secretly hoping to jump-start her career and her love life when she receives some strange information on her twenty-sixth birthday. Kate is the sole beneficiary of her many times over great-aunt of the same name. The previous Kate McDaid was a self-proclaimed witch who died over a hundred years ago. The will comes with very specific instructions. If Kate wants to receive her inheritance, she must publish a series of seven poems called “The Seven Steps,” one each week. Intrigued, Kate agrees and publishes the first Step, a seemingly absurd plea to the long-forgotten Irish fairies. Kate’s world is suddenly turned upside down. Is there magic out there? Are the fairies sending messages back? With each Step, her notoriety grows and things get stranger and stranger. Will she be able to follow through on her promise, and what will happen if she can’t? RELUCTANTLY CHARMED is delightful and bewitching! A clever and magical adventure of self-discovery, family, and legacy. Although this book came out a few years ago, it just so happens that I’m writing this list right before my own twenty-sixth birthday, not that I’m expecting fairies or anything like that . . . but perhaps there’s just a little magic in the coincidence.
In the spirit of Cecelia Ahearn and Regina McBride, a lighthearted and relatable debut novel about an advertising copywriter who upends her ordinary life and captures the attention of the world after publishing a seven-part treatise on the existence of fairies.
Kate McDaid thought that going to the reading of her great-great-aunt’s will would be just another non-event in her ordinary life. A junior copywriter at an advertising agency in Dublin, she was used to spending her days wrangling clients, over-indulging in chocolatey products, and whiling away nights at the pub with her best friends, using her trusty bicycle to get around town. Instead, Kate finds out that the will and her aunt (also known as the Red Witch of Knocknamee) dictates that Kate must publish a series of strange poems called “The Seven Steps” under her own name in order to inherit the rest of her aunt’s estate.
And those poems? They’re a mysterious treatise on the importance and existence of fairies…
Kate decides to publish the Steps on a friend’s website, thinking that the low traffic on the site would let her posts go unnoticed. She never could have imagined that in a matter of days, she would find herself a local celebrity with her own group of devotees and the target of a mysterious and glamorous newspaper reporter. Even Dublin’s rock-and-roll sweetheart—and Kate’s onetime fling—writes a song inspired by the Steps.
While the Steps strike a chord across Ireland and the world, Kate takes the message to heart. But as the tone of each Step moves from free-spirited to sinister, Kate must decide if she will go through with publishing all seven Steps—or protect humankind from an ancient evil.
Infused with just enough magic and everyday familiarity that anyone can relate to, this fantastic debut is a page-turner with the perfect mix of humor and mystery.
Where to begin with a mind like Harold’s created by comedic genius Steven Wright? Thoughts are like birds. Or thoughts are brought in by the birds. Has the hearse driver for your funeral been born yet? Hilarious, unexpected, totally different, and absolutely original. Harold looks like an average 1960s seven-year-old boy, but inside his mind is a series of complex runaway thoughts. He likes movies and baseball and spending time with his grandfather. He has a crush on a girl and travels to the moon in his head. He also has a lot of questions about life and the world around him. Follow Harold’s inner thoughts and imagination through a boring school day for a completely unforgettable journey. I know I’m still thinking about Harold and all his thoughts alongside my own.
A uniquely humorous and deeply profound novel from a legendary stand-up comedian that follows the thoughts of a 1960s third grader during a single day at school.
Steven Wright is one of the most significant and influential stand-up comedians in history. Rolling Stone ranked him fifteenth on their “50 Best Stand-ups of All Time” list, while the New York Times has written of his enduring legacy: “If you made a family tree of modern stand-up, he would top one of the few major and expanding branches. The children of Mr. Wright pack the comedy scene today.” Now comes his first novel, which is sure to be unlike anything you’ve ever read.
From the outside, Harold is an average seven-year-old third grader growing up in the 1960s. Bored by school. Crushing on a girl. Likes movies and baseball—especially the hometown Boston Red Sox. Enjoys spending time with his grandfather. But inside Harold’s mind, things are a lot more complex and unusual. His thoughts come to him as birds flying through a small rectangle in the middle of his brain. He visits an outdoor cafe on the moon and is invited aboard a spaceship by famed astronomer Carl Sagan. He envisions his own funeral procession and wonders if the driver of the hearse has even been born yet.
Harold documents the meandering, surreal, often hilarious, and always thought-provoking stream-of-consciousness ruminations of the title character during a single day in class. Saturated with the witticisms and profundities for which Wright’s groundbreaking stand-up has long been venerated, this novel will change the way you perceive your daily existence. To quote one of its many memorable lines: “Everything doesn’t have to make sense. Just look at the world and your life.”
I recently read MURDER YOUR EMPLOYER, and it was an absolute delight! Holmes has crafted a unique plot with some fantastic dark humor that will now have a permanent place in my brain. The wordplay alone had me hooked. What if there was a college that taught you how to commit murder? In order to be accepted, you’ll need to prove you have an ethical reason for killing someone. But get that out of the way, and you might find yourself walking the grounds of the McMasters Conservatory for the Applied Arts. You’ll be educated in the homicidal arts, practicing on your classmates, and preparing for your mandatory thesis. If you fail to complete your final project, you forfeit your own life. MURDER YOUR EMPLOYER follows three students preparing to murder their employers with varying degrees of success as a series of case studies for future students. I honestly haven’t stopped thinking about this book since I finished it.
From the diabolical imagination of Edgar Award–winning novelist, playwright, and story-songwriter Rupert Holmes comes a devilish thriller with a killer concept: The McMasters Conservatory for the Applied Arts, a luxurious, clandestine college dedicated to the fine art of murder where earnest students study how best to “delete” their most deserving victim.
Who hasn’t wondered for a split second what the world would be like if a person who is the object of your affliction ceased to exist? But then you’ve probably never heard of The McMasters Conservatory, dedicated to the consummate execution of the homicidal arts. To gain admission, a student must have an ethical reason for erasing someone who deeply deserves a fate no worse (nor better) than death. The campus of this “Poison Ivy League” college—its location unknown to even those who study there—is where you might find yourself the practice target of a classmate…and where one’s mandatory graduation thesis is getting away with the perfect murder of someone whose death will make the world a much better place to live.
Prepare for an education you’ll never forget. A delightful mix of witty wordplay, breathtaking twists and genuine intrigue, Murder Your Employer will gain you admission into a wholly original world, cocooned within the most entertaining book about well-intentioned would-be murderers you’ll ever read.
Rupert Holmes’s much celebrated career ranges from chart-topping story songs with surprising twists—“Escape (The Pina Colada Song)”—to Tony Award–winning whodunit musicals—The Mystery of Edwin Drood—Edgar Award–winning comedy-thrillers—Accomplice—and the Nero Wolfe Best American Mystery Novel nominated Where the Truth Lies, made into an Atom Egoyan motion picture starring Colin Firth and Kevin Bacon. Called “an American treasure” (Los Angeles Times), “a true Renaissance man” by Newsweek, “a comic genius” (Kirkus Reviews) and simply “a genius” (The Times, London), Rupert Holmes brings his wickedly clever storytelling talents to this outrageous and darkly comic mystery set in a secret, idyllic campus where students learn how to “do in others as you would have others do you in.”
More often than not, books and imagination offer a wonderful escape from reality. Some books are just as comforting as a warm and cozy blanket, some have helped me through hard times, and others I just happened to read at a time when I really needed that story in my life. Now with that, I must admit that THE BOOK OF LOST THINGS is not a warm and cozy blanket, and despite the age of the protagonist, it is also not a young adult story. But it is a book for all those who find themselves lost in stories, for those who want a terrifying and exciting adventure. This is a dark fantasy that deals with grief and the loss of innocence. Twelve-year-old David surrounds himself with stories to cope with the death of his mother as his life is changed forever. Soon the books on his shelves begin to whisper and David finds himself in a twisted and horrifying fairy tale, forced to face his fears.
High in his attic bedroom, twelve-year-old David mourns the death of his mother. He is angry and alone, with only the books on his shelf for company. But those books have begun to whisper to him in the darkness, and as he takes refuge in his imagination, he finds that reality and fantasy have begun to meld. While his family falls apart around him, David is violently propelled into a land that is a strange reflection of his own world, populated by heroes and monsters, and ruled over by a faded king who keeps his secrets in a mysterious book... The Book of Lost Things.
A science fiction literary romance told throughout time and space is memorable enough for me. Mix that with the beautiful poetic prose and this story just will not let me go! The world is dying and the Time War rages on and on. Each side makes minor tweaks to the timeline in a desperate attempt to secure victory for their team. And thus the story unfolds when Red discovers a note from an opposing agent, Blue. And despite their orders and their allegiances, a correspondence begins. One hails from a technological utopia while the other is dedicated to a lush and organic future. They have nothing in common, except for their skills and their loneliness in the war. Soon their battlefield taunts turn into something much more dangerous, especially since they are both still dead set on securing a victory. A science fiction story like no other, this novella is full of love, friendship, betrayal, and history.
“[An] exquisitely crafted tale...Part epistolary romance, part mind-blowing science fiction adventure, this dazzling story unfolds bit by bit, revealing layers of meaning as it plays with cause and effect, wildly imaginative technologies, and increasingly intricate wordplay...This short novel warrants multiple readings to fully unlock its complexities.” —Publishers Weekly (starred review).
From award-winning authors Amal El-Mohtar and Max Gladstone comes an enthralling, romantic novel spanning time and space about two time-traveling rivals who fall in love and must change the past to ensure their future.
Among the ashes of a dying world, an agent of the Commandment finds a letter. It reads: Burn before reading.
Thus begins an unlikely correspondence between two rival agents hellbent on securing the best possible future for their warring factions. Now, what began as a taunt, a battlefield boast, becomes something more. Something epic. Something romantic. Something that could change the past and the future.
Except the discovery of their bond would mean the death of each of them. There’s still a war going on, after all. And someone has to win. That’s how war works, right?
Cowritten by two beloved and award-winning sci-fi writers, This Is How You Lose the Time War is an epic love story spanning time and space.
SHARK HEART comes out in August, and I cannot wait for everyone to start talking about this debut. To call this a love story is both true and deeply lacking in summing it up, and of course, I think that’s just one of the points of SHARK HEART. It is so many things—a love story, a grief story, a story about change and choices and memories that might shift how you see the world. With beautiful prose and a perfect touch of humor, this magical realism novel will force you to feel the gamut of human emotions. A few weeks after their wedding, Wren and Lewis begin noticing strange symptoms and Lewis receives a rare diagnosis. In nine months, Lewis’s mind and consciousness might be the same, but his body will fully transform into that of a great white shark. Lewis and Wren each handle the news differently. Lewis’s gentle heart attempts to come to terms with reality while Wren desperately searches for a way to keep their relationship alive. That is, until Lewis’s new predatory nature is revealed, and Wren must confront her traumatic past to determine her future. I don’t think I’ve ever read a story like SHARK HEART, but I’ll also never forget it.
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.
Accidental enemies, accidental families, anger and friendship, and everything in between, SWEET SPOT is a charming delight. Lauren and her family just moved into a gorgeous ’70s brownstone in Greenwich Village. But things are off to a bad start when Lauren realizes she’s already made an enemy out of her neighbor Melinda after unknowingly instigating her divorce. Now Melinda’s husband has a new lover and a baby on the way. Lauren’s connection to Felicity, the young celebrity business owner that Melinda’s husband runs off with, makes her an instant target for Melinda’s rage, along with Felicity’s shop in SoHo. During one of Melinda’s tantrums, Olivia, a young woman working in the shop and trying to deal with her own issues, ends up losing her cool. The entire inglorious thing ends up on social media and Olivia loses her job. And then things go from bad to completely different when Melinda’s ex-husband follows Felicity halfway around the world and leaves the baby in Greenwich Village. For the sake of this baby, the women will have to set aside their differences and their anger to find the parents and earn the happy endings they crave. I love found family stories, and with such an intense beginning with all their differences, it was such a fun read to see everything come together. Amy Poeppel really did find a “sweet spot” here.
Amy Poeppel brings her signature “big-hearted, charming” (The Washington Post) style to this wise and joyful novel that celebrates love, hate, and all of the glorious absurdity in between.
In the heart of Greenwich Village, three women form an accidental sorority when a baby—belonging to exactly none of them—lands on their collective doorstep.
Lauren and her family—lucky bastards—have been granted the use of a spectacular brownstone, teeming with history and dizzyingly unattractive 70s wallpaper. Adding to the home’s bohemian, grungy splendor is the bar occupying the basement, a (mostly) beloved dive called The Sweet Spot. Within days of moving in, Lauren discovers that she has already made an enemy in the neighborhood by inadvertently sparking the divorce of a couple she has never actually met.
Melinda’s husband of thirty years has dumped her for a young celebrity entrepreneur named Felicity, and, to Melinda’s horror, the lovebirds are soon to become parents. In her incandescent rage, Melinda wreaks havoc wherever she can, including in Felicity’s Soho boutique, where she has a fit of epic proportions, which happens to be caught on film.
Olivia—the industrious twenty-something behind the counter, who has big dreams and bigger debt—gets caught in the crossfire. In an effort to diffuse Melinda’s temper, Olivia has a tantrum of her own and gets unceremoniously canned, thanks to TikTok.
When Melinda’s ex follows his lover across the country, leaving their squalling baby behind, the three women rise to the occasion in order to forgive, to forget, to Ferberize, and to track down the wayward parents. But can their little village find a way toward the happily ever afters they all desire? Welcome to The Sweet Spot.
A coming-of-age story with a Dungeons & Dragons element mixed with a historical fiction element that has a news-like quality comes together in a new way. At its core, it is a story about survival and imagination that lingers in the mind. Jun-su is a very bright eleven-year-old-boy. He is also very obedient and knows that he must be perfect for his family and his nation. That is, until he finds a copy of the Dungeon Master’s Guide accidentally left by a foreign visitor in a hotel room. Suddenly his world expands and new ideas intrude. With the help of one of his English-speaking teachers, Jun-su learns the rules of the game and finds himself plunging into fictional adventures to escape the harsh reality of his upbringing in North Korea. Jun-su finds himself on a magical voyage of his country through D&D in a society that does not value empathy and imagination.
Written “with intelligence, compassion, and an occasional quiet lyricism” (Krys Lee, The Guardian), this mesmerizing novel is about a North Korean boy whose life is irrevocably changed when he stumbles across a mysterious Western book—a guide to Dungeons & Dragons—from the acclaimed author of the “sublime” (The New York Times) Far North.
Ten-year-old Jun-su is a bright and obedient boy whose only desire is to be a credit to his family, his nation, and most importantly, his Dear Leader. However, when he discovers a copy of The Dungeon Master’s Guide, left behind in a hotel room by a rare foreign visitor, a new and colorful world opens up to him.
With the help of an English-speaking teacher, Jun-su deciphers the rules of the famous role-playing game and his imaginary adventures sweep him away from the harsh reality of a famine-stricken North Korea. Over time, the game leads Jun-su on a spellbinding and unexpected journey through the hidden layers of his country, toward precocious success, glory, love, betrayal, prison, a spell at the pinnacle of the North Korean elite, and an extraordinary kind of redemption.
An “expert, engrossing” (Kirkus Reviews, starred review), and uplifting novel, The Sorcerer of Pyongyang is a love story and a tale of survival against the odds. Inspired by the testimony of North Korean refugees and drawing on the author’s personal experience of North Korea, it explores the power of empathy and imagination in a society where they are dangerous liabilities.
Photo credit: iStock / Canetti