Off the Shelf’s most popular books of September are just about what you might expect from a burgeoning fall reading list: cozy plots perfect for curling up with on cloudy day, fast-paced thrillers to get you through winter, and atmospheric historical novels that’ll enhance the fall aesthetic even more. Fortify your TBR pile with the books that have resonated the most with your fellow readers this month.
Elizabeth Berg’s NEVER CHANGE is the perfect example of a book that’ll hook you from the beginning and deliver a heart-wrenching ride. Myra Lipinsky is a visiting nurse and a self-described spinster. At age fifty-one all she has are her relationships with an eccentric collection of patients. Loneliness is nothing new for Myra, though, as she has always been considered the “ugly duckling” from a very young age—which makes her newest patient that much more interesting. Chip Reardon was a former high school classmate of Myra’s. In fact, he was the classmate—the most popular guy at school. But now, with end-stage brain cancer, he’s seeking any kind of companionship and finds it, unexpectedly, with Myra. As Chip nears the end, he and Myra form a close bond and reflect on their lives of isolation while embracing this latter period of connection. Powerful and unforgettable, NEVER CHANGE will leave you breathless as it has with countless readers since its publication.
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In this classic New York Times bestselling novel, “one of the most dramatic and beautiful books of her career” (Midwest Book Review), the author of The Confession Club has written a compassionate and unforgettable celebration of the redemptive power of second chances and love over death.
Myra Lipinsky is living a quiet life as a middle-aged, self-described spinster. She had been a lonely child, and now she is an equally lonely adult though she takes great pride in her career as a visiting nurse. Her patients are her only true emotional attachments, but when they are well, they move on.
When she gets a call about a new assignment, she is shocked to discover that the patient is Chip Reardon, a former high school classmate of Myra’s. He had been the most popular and adored boy in school, but now he is suffering from an incurable brain tumor and plans to die at home. With their roles starkly reversed, Myra and Chip discover that it is often through facing death that we can truly begin to live.
“Lehane has written two books—one, an insightful examination of the search for identity and belonging, and two, a thriller that constantly leaves you guessing—and then smashed them together into one terrific read.” –Gillian Flynn
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Alix and Josie couldn’t be more different, except for the fact that they were born on the same day in the same hospital and happen to be celebrating their 45th birthday in the same bar. Alix is a popular podcaster, while Josie’s life has been far from perfect. When the two run into each other again, Josie offers herself up as the subject for Alix’s next podcast. While she’s initially hesitant, Alix welcomes Josie onto the show and into her home. Alix is unnerved by Josie and her past but continues with the podcast anyway until she realizes how enmeshed Josie is in her life. Just when she starts to think this may have been a mistake, Josie disappears. As Alix uncovers more about Josie’s life and her terrible secrets, she finds that she’s become the story in her true crime podcast. NONE OF THIS IS TRUE is Jewell at her best, with a riveting and fast-paced psychological thriller.
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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?
During a picnic at her family’s farm in the English countryside, sixteen-year-old Laurel Nicolson witnesses a shocking crime, a crime that challenges everything she knows about her adored mother, Dorothy. Now, fifty years later, Laurel and her sisters are meeting at the farm to celebrate Dorothy’s ninetieth birthday. Realizing that this is her last chance to discover the truth about that long-ago day, Laurel searches for answers that can only be found in Dorothy’s past. Clue by clue, she traces a secret history of three strangers from vastly different worlds thrown together in war-torn London—Dorothy, Vivien, and Jimmy—whose lives are forever after entwined. A gripping story of deception and passion, THE SECRET KEEPER will keep you enthralled to the last page.
Sixteen-year-old Laurel Nicolson witnessed a shocking crime that challenged everything she knows about her adored mother. Now reunited on their mother’s ninetieth birthday, Laurel and her sisters search for clues to illuminate the truth about that long-ago day. It is a mesmerizing novel of family secrets, murder, and enduring love.
Dayna’s Pick: No one immediately grounds you in a sense of place like William Kent Krueger, 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. 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.
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.
If you’re waiting for your library copy of LESSONS IN CHEMISTRY by Bonnie Garmus to come in, you’re probably in the mood for something empowering. Perhaps you’re specifically interested in a period piece set in the mid-1900s that features strong, plucky female characters who you can’t help but root for. Look no further than DEAR MRS. BIRD by AJ Pearce, which tells the story of Emmeline Lake, an effervescent young woman navigating the challenges of wartime London with her best friend, Bunty. With hopes of becoming a Lady War Correspondent, Emmy eagerly takes a job at a women’s magazine, only to find herself answering advice letters under the stern watch of Henrietta Bird. Despite Mrs. Bird’s insistence on dismissing any letters from women writing of “unpleasantness,” Emmy secretly responds to readers who reach out with their wartime troubles. This beautifully crafted story captures the courage, upheaval, and resilience of the home front, blending humor with poignant, heart-wrenching moments. A delightful mix of warmth, wit, and wisdom, this book is a treasure that left me wanting more (and is the first book in the equally wonderful Emmy Lake Chronicles). I highly recommend it for those seeking an uplifting story that resonates with resilience and hope in challenging times.
In this charming and uplifting memoir, Italian book publicist turned bookstore owner Alba Donati describes how her small hillside bookstore became a beloved community center and literary destination. Donati’s plan to open a bookstore in her hometown of Lucignana, a Tuscan village of fewer than two hundred people, seemed like a long shot. But soon the cottage inspired family members, community volunteers, and booklovers worldwide to flock to Donati’s store for one of her fail-safe book recommendations. Perfect for fans of UNDER THE TUSCAN SUN, this memoir is a love letter to books and their readers.
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Under the Tuscan Sun meets Diary of a Bookseller in this charming memoir by an Italian poet recounting her experience opening a bookshop in a village in Tuscany.
Alba Donati was used to her hectic life working as a book publicist in Italy—a life that made her happy and allowed her to meet prominent international authors—but she was ready to make a change. One day she decided to return to Lucignana, the small village in the Tuscan hills where she was born. There she opened a tiny but enchanting bookshop in a lovely little cottage on a hill, surrounded by gardens filled with roses and peonies.
With fewer than 200 year-round residents, Alba’s shop seemed unlikely to succeed, but it soon sparked the enthusiasm of book lovers both nearby and across Italy. After surviving a fire and pandemic restrictions, the “Bookshop on the Hill” soon became a refuge and destination for an ever-growing community. The locals took pride in the bookshop—from Alba’s centenarian mother to her childhood friends and the many volunteers who help in the day-to-day running of the shop. And in short time it has become a literary destination, with many devoted readers coming from afar to browse, enjoy a cup of tea, and find comfort in the knowledge that Alba will find the perfect read for them.
Alba’s lifelong love of literature shines on every page of this unique and uplifting book. Formatted as diary entries with delightful lists of the books sold at the shop each day, this inspirational story celebrates reading as well as book lovers and booksellers, the unsung heroes of the literary world.
This book is all about Holly Gibney. First introduced in MR. MERCEDES as a walk-on character, she quickly stole the hearts of fans and Mr. King alike. So now, she’s getting her own story, searching for the truth behind the disappearance of Bonnie Dahl. Holly can’t sit still, even though her partner has Covid and her mother just died. So when Penny Dahl calls and asks for help locating her missing daughter, Holly almost says no. But there is something in Penny’s voice that she can’t ignore, and soon Holly finds herself up against a truly dangerous couple all on her own. Two professors, Rodney and Emily Harris, live just down the road from where Bonnie disappeared. They seem to be a picture-perfect couple devoted to each other and their academics. However, there is an evil secret in their basement that may or may not have something to do with Bonnie and it will take all of Holly’s smarts and courage to reveal the truth. HOLLY is a wonderful new thriller with an exceptional character that will become a new favorite for any thriller fan!
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Holly Gibney, one of Stephen King’s most compelling and ingeniously resourceful characters, returns in this thrilling novel to solve the gruesome truth behind multiple disappearances in a midwestern town.
“Sometimes the universe throws you a rope.” —BILL HODGES
Stephen King’s Holly marks the triumphant return of beloved King character Holly Gibney. Readers have witnessed Holly’s gradual transformation from a shy (but also brave and ethical) recluse in Mr. Mercedes to Bill Hodges’s partner in Finders Keepers to a full-fledged, smart, and occasionally tough private detective in The Outsider. In King’s new novel, Holly is on her own, and up against a pair of unimaginably depraved and brilliantly disguised adversaries.
When Penny Dahl calls the Finders Keepers detective agency hoping for help locating her missing daughter, Holly is reluctant to accept the case. Her partner, Pete, has Covid. Her (very complicated) mother has just died. And Holly is meant to be on leave. But something in Penny Dahl’s desperate voice makes it impossible for Holly to turn her down.
Mere blocks from where Bonnie Dahl disappeared live Professors Rodney and Emily Harris. They are the picture of bourgeois respectability: married octogenarians, devoted to each other, and semi-retired lifelong academics. But they are harboring an unholy secret in the basement of their well-kept, book-lined home, one that may be related to Bonnie’s disappearance. And it will prove nearly impossible to discover what they are up to: they are savvy, they are patient, and they are ruthless.
Holly must summon all her formidable talents to outthink and outmaneuver the shockingly twisted professors in this chilling new masterwork from Stephen King.
“I could never let Holly Gibney go. She was supposed to be a walk-on character in Mr. Mercedes and she just kind of stole the book and stole my heart. Holly is all her.” —STEPHEN KING
“Attention, please: T. J. Newman has written the perfect thriller! Such a cool, high-concept idea: commercial airline pilot forced to make the ultimate life-or-death choice. Newman’s background in the air grounds the story in reality, while her writing amps up the suspense to unbearable levels. Terrific and terrifying, a true page-turner. A must-read for summer vacation—but my advice is, don't start this book until you’ve gotten off the plane.” –Gillian Flynn
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#1 NATIONAL BESTSELLER * NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER
“T. J. Newman has written the perfect thriller! A must-read.” —Gillian Flynn
“Stunning and relentless. This is Jaws at 35,000 feet.” —Don Winslow
“Falling is the best kind of thriller…Nonstop, totally authentic suspense.” —James Patterson
“Amazing...Intense suspense, shocks, and scares...Chilling.” —Lee Child
You just boarded a flight to New York.
There are one hundred and forty-three other passengers onboard.
What you don’t know is that thirty minutes before the flight your pilot’s family was kidnapped.
For his family to live, everyone on your plane must die.
The only way the family will survive is if the pilot follows his orders and crashes the plane.
Enjoy the flight.
“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
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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.
Photo credit: iStock / CherriesJD