It’s that time again! A new month means a new curated list of our readers’ favorite books. We saw a lot of variety amongst the popular August titles, but one thing’s for sure—you all love a good recommendation. From bookseller picks to Kathleen Grissom’s favorites, these books and recommendations resonated the most with your fellow readers this month.
Dayna’s Pick: No one immediately grounds you in a sense of place like William Kent Krueger. The proof is in all his books, from THIS TENDER LAND and ORDINARY GRACE to his latest, THE RIVER WE REMEMBER, in which I could feel the wind on my face and hear the comforting din of the local diner. A memorable cast of characters propels this novel forward, and as the central mystery is unveiled, I found myself racing toward the finish. This was a perfect “oh, just one more chapter!” read. THE RIVER WE REMEMBER is alluring, tense, and very moving. Set in small-town Minnesota in 1958, a powerful local figure is found murdered, and Sheriff Brody Dern, a decorated war hero, is tasked with investigating. As the town is struck by the news, long-buried questions, grievances, and emotions bubble to the surface for everyone. The themes beautifully presented by Krueger will linger long after you’ve finished.
Read more of Our 26 Most Anticipated Books of Fall
In 1958, a small Minnesota town is rocked by the murder of its most powerful citizen, pouring fresh fuel on old grievances in this dazzling standalone novel from the New York Times bestselling author of the “expansive, atmospheric American saga” (Entertainment Weekly) This Tender Land.
On Memorial Day, as the people of Jewel, Minnesota gather to remember and honor the sacrifice of so many sons in the wars of the past, the half-clothed body of wealthy landowner Jimmy Quinn is found floating in the Alabaster River, dead from a shotgun blast. Investigation of the murder falls to Sheriff Brody Dern, a highly decorated war hero who still carries the physical and emotional scars from his military service. Even before Dern has the results of the autopsy, vicious rumors begin to circulate that the killer must be Noah Bluestone, a Native American WWII veteran who has recently returned to Jewel with a Japanese wife. As suspicions and accusations mount and the town teeters on the edge of more violence, Dern struggles not only to find the truth of Quinn’s murder but also put to rest the demons from his own past.
Caught up in the torrent of anger that sweeps through Jewel are a war widow and her adolescent son, the intrepid publisher of the local newspaper, an aging deputy, and a crusading female lawyer, all of whom struggle with their own tragic histories and harbor secrets that Quinn’s death threatens to expose.
Both a complex, spellbinding mystery and a masterful portrait of midcentury American life from an author of novels “as big-hearted as they come” (Parade), The River We Remember is an unflinching look at the wounds left by the wars we fight abroad and at home, a moving exploration of the ways in which we seek to heal, and a testament to the enduring power of the stories we tell about the places we call home.
As a crime fiction author, Paige Lancaster is familiar with writing about mysteries, but that doesn’t mean she wants to be a detective herself. Unfortunately, when she moves back to her hometown with her young daughter and has a run-in with the most popular and put-together mother of the elementary school—Ainsley Anderson, a woman who is also now married to Paige’s high school boyfriend—Paige finds herself at the top of the suspect list when Ainsley is found dead at the annual parents’ party. Good thing Paige is familiar with how to go about solving a mystery because sleuthing her way through this situation and all the other suspicious suburban moms is the only option she has to clear her name. But when Paige starts digging deeper into this whodunit puzzle, it becomes abundantly clear that Ainsley’s secrets are not the only skeletons in the closet!
In this “fast-paced, juicy read full of flirtation, danger, and lies” (Kristin Harmel, New York Times bestselling author), a single mom goes undercover to investigate a host of disturbing secrets held by the leaders of a local suburban parent-school association, including embezzlement, bribery, adultery, and murder—by the bestselling author of Wish You Were Gone.
Paige Lancaster, single mom and prodigal daughter, has returned to the East Coast from her prestigious, well-paid job in Los Angeles, writing for the smartest detective series on television. Something terrible happened to her back in Hollywood. Okay, two terrible things, one featuring a misplaced tire iron—and now she’s broke, homeless, and living with her widowed mother and eight-year-old daughter, Izzy, in her Connecticut hometown.
Paige needs to buckle down and find a new writing gig but first, she meets the movers and shakers of Izzy’s school’s Parent Booster Association, run by the intimidatingly gorgeous Ainsley Anderson, who just happens to be married to Paige’s old high school flame, John.
Then she shows up at the annual Parents and Pinot fundraiser, held at Ainsley and John’s dazzling mansion, where she’s caught in a compromising position with John, accidentally destroys the guest bathroom, overhears an incriminating conversation, and discovers that her purse has gone missing. And later that night, Ainsley turns up dead at the bottom of her own driveway.
Did she fall? Or was she pushed?
Paige may have only written about detectives, but she is convinced she can handle a little undercover sleuthing. After all, it’ll give her an excuse to spend more time with John. Still, she can’t help but wonder: could he be capable of murder? Or could one of the PBA members have planned a dastardly crime to reach the top? But the most important question of all: will Paige ever get her life back on track?
“The world is about to be on fire with the publication of THE HOUSE IS ON FIRE. This is a propulsive, pulse-pounding read—one that grabbed hold of me and didn’t let me go until the very last page. It is the kind of book you finish with a sigh, and hope against hope there is a sequel coming.” —Kathleen Grissom
Read more of 7 Breathtaking Books Kathleen Grissom Recommends
The author of Florence Adler Swims Forever returns with a masterful work of historical fiction about an incendiary tragedy that shocked a young nation and tore apart a community in a single night—told from the perspectives of four people whose actions during the inferno changed the course of history.
Richmond, Virginia 1811. It’s the height of the winter social season, the General Assembly is in session, and many of Virginia’s gentleman planters, along with their wives and children, have made the long and arduous journey to the capital in hopes of whiling away the darkest days of the year. At the city’s only theater, the Charleston-based Placide & Green Company puts on two plays a night to meet the demand of a populace that’s done looking for enlightenment at the front of a church.
On the night after Christmas, the theater is packed with more than six hundred holiday revelers. In the third-floor boxes, sits newly-widowed Sally Henry Campbell, who is glad for any opportunity to relive the happy times she shared with her husband. One floor away, in the colored gallery, Cecily Patterson doesn’t give a whit about the play but is grateful for a four-hour reprieve from a life that has recently gone from bad to worse. Backstage, young stagehand Jack Gibson hopes that, if he can impress the theater’s managers, he’ll be offered a permanent job with the company. And on the other side of town, blacksmith Gilbert Hunt dreams of one day being able to bring his wife to the theater, but he’ll have to buy her freedom first.
When the theater goes up in flames in the middle of the performance, Sally, Cecily, Jack, and Gilbert make a series of split-second decisions that will not only affect their own lives but those of countless others. And in the days following the fire, as news of the disaster spreads across the United States, the paths of these four people will become forever intertwined.
Based on the true story of Richmond’s theater fire, The House Is on Fire offers proof that sometimes, in the midst of great tragedy, we are offered our most precious—and fleeting—chances at redemption.
“Childhood friendships forged at summer camp play out in this wonderful story of growing up, staying friends, and being there for each other when life gets complicated! I loved the characters—especially Daphne, Lanier, Mary, and June. I loved that they kept trying to work through challenges, to figure out what they really wanted in their lives. A refreshing summer read!” —Cathy Graham, Copperfish Books
Four women come together to save the summer camp that changed their lives and rediscover themselves in the process in this moving new novel from the New York Times bestselling author of The Wedding Veil and the Peachtree Bluff series.
Nearly thirty years ago, in the wake of a personal tragedy, June Moore bought Camp Holly Springs and turned it into a thriving summer haven for girls. But now, June is in danger of losing the place she has sacrificed everything for, and begins to realize how much she has used the camp to avoid facing difficulties in her life.
June’s niece, Daphne, met her two best friends, Lanier and Mary Stuart, during a fateful summer at camp. They’ve all helped each other through hard things, from heartbreak and loss to substance abuse and unplanned pregnancy, and the three are inseparable even in their thirties. But when attorney Daphne is confronted with a relationship from her past—and a confidential issue at work becomes personal—she is faced with an impossible choice.
Lanier, meanwhile, is struggling with tough decisions of her own. After a run-in with an old flame, she is torn between the commitment she made to her fiancé and the one she made to her first love. And when a big secret comes to light, she finds herself at odds with her best friend…and risks losing the person she loves most.
But in spite of their personal problems, nothing is more important to these songbirds than Camp Holly Springs. When the women learn their childhood oasis is in danger of closing, they band together to save it, sending them on a journey that promises to open the next chapters in their lives.
From an author whose “writing coats your soul with heart” (E! Online), The Summer of Songbirds is a lyrical and unforgettable celebration of female friendship, summertime freedom, and enduring sisterhood—and a love letter to the places and people that make us who we are.
Emily’s Pick #1: I wasn’t exactly surprised to be swept away by this book—I go into any psychological thriller well-prepared with a full day of no plans, but I wasn’t quite expecting that my love for the main character would be what propelled me through this one. Sally Diamond is different from others. She keeps to herself and has trouble relating to people. And for most of her life (she’s in her early-forties now) she’s been happy to live an isolated life with her adoptive father, a psychiatrist. But then, when her dad dies from an illness—and Sally takes his oft-repeated joke literally and throws his body out with the trash—it starts a spiraling chain of events. A police investigation ensues, and a media frenzy, and that leads the world (and Sally herself) to find out about her tragic and traumatic past. A past that Sally doesn’t remember, and which her adoptive parents kept hidden from her and the world to protect her. Now that everyone knows, she encounters odd strangers, mysterious packages, a new therapist, and far too much attention from people who had always previously avoided her in town. I loved seeing how Sally wonderfully (and peculiarly) handled every new situation—and it kept me turning the pages long into the night.
Read more of Staff Picks: 11 Books We Unexpectedly Binge-Read
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…
“Hoffman is such a passionate storyteller. Her language sweeps you away and gets straight to the heart of things. This story is a beautiful blend of prominent contemporary issues (from body autonomy to book banning) while also finding magic in the world. This is a story of struggling to find power in your life, and of longing for the world to be different than it is so that people can find true freedom. It’s about the love of mothers and daughters, of books and literature, and love as a creative force. The balance of these elements is grounding as well as uplifting. This novel invites us to feel deeply, to empathize, and to look for the threads that bind us together. I also very much appreciate her depiction of Nathaniel Hawthorne as a man who was a genius, and also struggled. A man who suffered, loved, and felt deeply, all while keeping the narrative open enough that his character is not a fixed point but can hold multitudes. He’s such a beloved and fascinating historical figure, and her depiction of him is not about defining him, but holding space for him.” —Meghan Bousquet, Titcomb’s Bookshop
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.
“I would wholeheartedly recommend CROW MARY to all readers of historical fiction. The author has done intensive research and created an unforgettable story using the facts available about Crow Mary’s life. It brought to light a whole era of history in 1872 Montana when Crow Mary married a white fur trader and was incredibly brave as she moved away from her people and forged a life with her husband. She rescues five Nakoda women who were being attacked by drunken traders. The book was endorsed by Crow Mary’s great granddaughter and other students of the time. The characters are so well developed that they will remain with you for years to come. Another outstanding novel from Kathleen Grissom.” —Sarajane Giddings, Blue Door Books
The New York Times bestselling author of the “touching” (The Boston Globe) book club classics The Kitchen House and the “emotionally rewarding” (Booklist) Glory Over Everything returns with a sweeping saga inspired by the true story of Crow Mary—an indigenous woman torn between two worlds in 19th-century North America.
In 1872, sixteen-year-old Goes First, a Crow Native woman, marries Abe Farwell, a white fur trader. He gives her the name Mary, and they set off on the long trip to his trading post in the Cypress Hills of Saskatchewan, Canada. Along the way, she finds a fast friend in a Métis named Jeannie; makes a lifelong enemy in a wolfer named Stiller; and despite learning a dark secret of Farwell’s past, falls in love with her husband.
The winter trading season passes peacefully. Then, on the eve of their return to Montana, a group of drunken whiskey traders slaughters forty Nakota—despite Farwell’s efforts to stop them. Mary, hiding from the hail of bullets, sees the murderers, including Stiller, take five Nakota women back to their fort. She begs Farwell to save them, and when he refuses, Mary takes two guns, creeps into the fort, and saves the women from certain death. Thus, she sets off a whirlwind of colliding cultures that brings out the worst and best in the cast of unforgettable characters and pushes the love between Farwell and Crow Mary to the breaking point.
From an author with a “stirring and uplifting” (David R. Gillham, New York Times bestselling author) voice, Crow Mary sweeps across decades and the landscape of the upper West and Canada, showcasing the beauty of the natural world, while at the same time probing the intimacies of a marriage and one woman’s heart.
"THE UNDERGROUND RIVER is both a dear love story and a page-turning adventure about the Underground Railroad—and an unwilling participant. An extraordinary cast of memorable characters gives this book irresistible appeal while the setting on the watery boundary between North and South places them in dangerous and morally ambiguous territory. A captivating, thoughtful, and unforgettable read." —Kathleen Grissom
Read more of 7 Breathtaking Books Kathleen Grissom Recommends
Set aboard a nineteenth century riverboat theater, this New York Times Notable book is the “captivating, thoughtful, and unforgettable” (Kathleen Grissom, author of The Kitchen House) story of a charmingly frank and naive seamstress who is blackmailed into saving runaways on the Underground Railroad, jeopardizing her freedom, her livelihood, and a new love.
It’s 1838, and May Bedloe works as a seamstress for her cousin, the famous actress Comfort Vertue—until their steamboat sinks on the Ohio River. Though they both survive, both must find new employment. Comfort is hired to give lectures by noted abolitionist, Flora Howard, and May finds work on a small flatboat, Hugo and Helena’s Floating Theatre, as it cruises the border between the northern states and the southern slave-holding states.
May becomes indispensable to Hugo and his troupe, and all goes well until she sees her cousin again. Comfort and Mrs. Howard are also traveling down the Ohio River, speaking out against slavery at the many riverside towns. May owes Mrs. Howard a debt she cannot repay, and Mrs. Howard uses the opportunity to enlist May in her network of shadowy characters who help ferry slaves across the river to freedom. Lying has never come easy to May, but now she is compelled to break the law, deceive all her newfound friends, and deflect the rising suspicions of a slave catcher.
As May’s secrets become more tangled, the Floating Theatre readies for its biggest performance yet. May’s predicament could mean doom for her friends on board, including her beloved Hugo, unless she can figure out a way to entrap those who know her best. “Twain has his ‘Life on the Mississippi’. Conway’s life on the Ohio makes you see the place, through May’s eyes, in all its muddy glory” (New York Times Book Review).
Zoe Whittaker is living a charmed life. She is the beautiful young wife to handsome, charming Wall Street tycoon Henry Whittaker. She is a member of Manhattan’s social elite. She is on the board of one of the city’s most prestigious philanthropic organizations. She has a perfect Tribeca penthouse in the city and a gorgeous lake house in the country. The finest wine, the most up-to-date fashion, and the most luxurious vacations are all at her fingertips. What no one knows is that five years ago, Zoe’s life was in danger. Back then, Zoe wasn’t Zoe at all. Now her secrets are coming back to haunt her.
“The Vanishing Year is a stunner. A perfectly compulsive read that's impossible to put down.” –Mary Kubica
“A chilling, powerful tale of nerve-shattering suspense.” –Heather Gudenkauf
Nominated for "Best Mystery & Thriller" by Goodreads Choice Awards 2016
Zoe Whittaker is living a charmed life. She is the beautiful young wife to handsome, charming Wall Street tycoon Henry Whittaker. She is a member of Manhattan’s social elite. She is on the board of one of the city’s most prestigious philanthropic organizations. She has a perfect Tribeca penthouse in the city and a gorgeous lake house in the country. The finest wine, the most up-to-date fashion, and the most luxurious vacations are all at her fingertips.
What no one knows is that five years ago, Zoe’s life was in danger. Back then, Zoe wasn’t Zoe at all. Now her secrets are coming back to haunt her.
As the past and present collide, Zoe must decide who she can trust before she—whoever she is—vanishes completely.
A “dark, twisty, edge-of-your-seat suspense” (Karen Robards), The Vanishing Year combines the classic sophistication of Ruth Rendell and A.S.A. Harrison with the thoroughly modern flair of Jessica Knoll. Told from the point-of-view of a heroine who is as relatable as she is enigmatic, The Vanishing Year is an unforgettable new novel by a rising star of the genre.
Juliet says: Remember the thrill of running away with Claudia and Jamie to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in E.L. Konigsburg's unforgettable children's classic? That same magic comes alive in the pages of THE CLOISTERS, where our protagonist, Ann, steps into a world rich with medieval charm nestled within modern New York City. Both narratives invite us into the mystique of art, from an enigmatic statue to a mysterious Tarot deck, weaving tales of personal discovery, unanticipated problems, and secrets begging to be unveiled. Revisit the nostalgia of clandestine adventures and yearnings for purpose and belonging in this curated pairing—an ode to the timeless allure of art, mystery, and the relentless pursuit of the extraordinary.
A Today Show #ReadWithJenna Book Club Pick
This instant New York Times bestseller that is “captivating in every sense of the word” (Sarah Pearse, New York Times bestselling author) follows a group of researchers uncovering a mysterious deck of tarot cards and shocking secrets in New York’s famed Met Cloisters.
When Ann Stilwell arrives in New York City, she expects to spend her summer working as a curatorial associate at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Instead, she finds herself assigned to The Cloisters, a gothic museum and garden renowned for its medieval art collection and its group of enigmatic researchers studying the history of divination.
Desperate to escape her painful past, Ann is happy to indulge the researchers’ more outlandish theories about the history of fortune telling. But what begins as academic curiosity quickly turns into obsession when she discovers a hidden 15th-century deck of tarot cards that might hold the key to predicting the future. When the dangerous game of power, seduction, and ambition at The Cloisters turns deadly, Ann becomes locked in a race for answers as the line between the arcane and the modern blurs.
A haunting and magical blend of genres, The Cloisters is a “masterwork of literary suspense that surges to an otherworldly conclusion” (Mark Prins, author of The Latinist).
Photo credit: iStock / alexkich