The most popular books of October are in and let’s just say that this list isn’t for the faint of heart. This month’s literary lineup leads us into dimly lit streets, haunted pasts, and daunting mysteries, cultivating the kind of suspense that keeps you reading under a blanket, with one eye over your shoulder. Read on to discover last month’s top tales…
WHAT WE KEPT TO OURSELVES is a powerful family story, as well as the intriguing mystery that pulled me back into the world of literary fiction. It follows the Kim family, alternating between timelines and character POVs. The first timeline takes place in 1999, where it’s been a year since the disappearance of their mother, Sunny Kim. John Kim, Sunny’s husband and Anastasia and Ronald’s father, feels stressed over his strained relationships with his children and anxious over Y2K—which will surely be the end of the world as they know it. The stress only worsens when the body of a man is discovered in their backyard with a letter to Sunny. The second timeline begins in 1977, following Sunny as she leaves Korea for Los Angeles, becomes a mother, and makes an unexpected friendship that spans decades. Switching between timelines, the story of Sunny’s disappearance is slowly unraveled, and the family soon discovers secrets about their mother that could threaten their very lives.
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The New York Times bestselling author of the Reese’s Book Club pick The Last Story of Mina Lee returns with a timely and surprising new novel about a family’s search for answers following the disappearance of their mother.
1999: The Kim family is struggling to move on after their mother, Sunny, vanished a year ago. Sixty-one-year-old John Kim feels more isolated from his grown children, Anastasia and Ronald, than ever before. But one evening, their fragile lives are further upended when John finds the body of a stranger in the backyard, carrying a letter to Sunny, leaving the family with more questions than ever about the stranger’s history and possible connections to their mother.
1977: Sunny is pregnant and has just moved to Los Angeles from Korea with her aloof and often-absent husband. America is not turning out the way she had dreamed it to be, and the loneliness and isolation are broken only by a fateful encounter at a bus stop. The unexpected connection spans the decades and echoes into the family’s lives in the present as they uncover devastating secrets that put not only everything they thought they knew about their mother but their very lives at risk.
Both a riveting page-turner and moving family story, What We Kept to Ourselves masterfully explores the consequences of secrets between parents and children, husbands and wives. It is the story of one unforgettable family’s search for home when all seems lost, and a powerful meditation on identity, migration, and what it means to dream in America.
Gisèle Duchant guards a secret that could cost her life. She hides resistance fighters in tunnels under her family's chateau in Nazi-occupied Normandy while hosting German soldiers above, and shelters a Jewish friend’s baby, posing it as hers, risking everything. When the German officers begin to suspect her deception, an unlikely hero rescues both her and the child. In the present day, Chloe Sauver, Gisèle’s granddaughter, visits the chateau after a broken engagement. A filmmaker, Riley, approaches Chloe to explore her family's history and uncover stories of Jews in Hitler’s army. Chloe, unaware of her family's past and the chateau’s secrets, joins Riley in investigating the tunnels beneath, but nothing can prepare her for the shock of what she and Riley discover…
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A courageous young noblewoman risks her life to hide French resistance fighters; seventy years later, her granddaughter visits the family’s abandoned chateau and uncovers shocking secrets from the past.
Gisèle Duchant guards a secret that could cost her life. Tunnels snake through the hill under her family’s medieval chateau in Normandy. Now, with Hitler’s army bearing down, her brother and several friends are hiding in the tunnels, resisting the German occupation of France.
But when German soldiers take over the family’s château, Gisèle is forced to host them as well—while harboring the resistance fighters right below their feet. Taking in a Jewish friend’s baby, she convinces the Nazis that it is her child, ultimately risking everything for the future of the child. When the German officers begin to suspect her deception, an unlikely hero rescues both her and the child.
A present day story weaves through the past one as Chloe Sauver, Gisèle’s granddaughter, arrives in Normandy. After calling off her engagement with a political candidate, Chloe pays a visit to the chateau to escape publicity and work with a documentary filmmaker, Riley, who has uncovered a fascinating story about Jews serving in Hitler’s army. Riley wants to research Chloe’s family history and the lives that were saved in the tunnels under their house in Normandy. Chloe is floored—her family isn’t Jewish, for one thing, and she doesn’t know anything about tunnels or the history of the house. But as she begins to explore the dark and winding passageways beneath the chateau, nothing can prepare her for the shock of what she and Riley discover…
With emotion and intrigue, Melanie Dobson brings World War II France to life in this beautiful novel about war, family, sacrifice, and the secrets of the past.
THE CUTTING SEASON is set at the fictitious Louisiana Belle Vie plantation, where the antebellum mansion has been turned into a tourist attraction. Caren Gray, a Black woman and manager of the historic plantation, ensures that everything runs smoothly, from the whitewashed reenactments of the plantation’s dark past to maintaining the beautiful grounds. But Belle Vie isn’t just a job for Caren—it’s where she grew up, and it’s where one of her ancestors worked as a slave. So when the body of a migrant worker from the neighboring sugarcane operation is found on Belle Vie property, Caren is determined to find the truth—even when the secrets she discovers about the planation lead her down a dangerous path. Atmospheric and resonant, THE CUTTING SEASON serves as a reminder for the importance of uncovering the past in order to understand the present.
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Imagine sunset in a desert town, a car pulling into the parking lot of a Best Western hotel, a woman behind the wheel. As she sits and looks out at what lies beyond the hotel, she sees nothing but dust, sand, and rocks. Emptiness is out there, but emptiness is also here inside the car with her. She has convinced herself that she is in this town to figure out the “desert section” of her next novel. But the truth is, all she can think about is her father. He is in the ICU of a hospital after having been in a car accident, drifting in and out of consciousness, and, at any moment, he might slip away. Her thoughts, too, are with her husband, who suffers from a mysterious illness. Over the next week, what she experiences in the desert—the sand, the air, the sun as it beats down on her, the stars as they shine above—will begin to change her, and just might help her find a way to turn her emptiness and grief into a sense of peace.
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The most profound book yet from the visionary author of Milk Fed and The Pisces, a darkly funny novel about grief that becomes a desert survival story.
In Melissa Broder’s astounding new novel, a woman arrives alone at a Best Western seeking respite from an emptiness that plagues her. She has fled to the California high desert to escape a cloud of sorrow—for both her father in the ICU and a husband whose illness is worsening. What the motel provides, however, is not peace but a path, thanks to a receptionist who recommends a nearby hike.
Out on the sun-scorched trail, the woman encounters a towering cactus whose size and shape mean it should not exist in California. Yet the cactus is there, with a gash through its side that beckons like a familiar door. So she enters it. What awaits her inside this mystical succulent sets her on a journey at once desolate and rich, hilarious and poignant.
This is Melissa Broder at her most imaginative, most universal, and finest. This is Death Valley.
It’s Memorial Day 1958 in Jewel, Minnesota, when Jimmy Quinn’s body is found floating in the river with a gunshot wound. Sheriff Brody Dern, a highly decorated war hero, takes on the investigation. It’s not long before vicious rumors spread around the small town, painting Noah Bluestone, a Native American World War II veteran, as the killer. As the town is torn apart by anger, it becomes apparent that everyone had a reason to kill Jimmy Quinn, and everyone is harboring secrets. Weaving together the stories of several characters—including a war widow and her son, a journalist, a former sheriff, and a lawyer—THE RIVER WE REMEMBER is a beautiful and compelling story of longing, secrets, and learning how to heal from the wounds of the past.
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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.
They say you can never go home again, which in the case of the main characters of OHIO is very true. Over the course of one night, each of these four characters find themselves drawn back to their small hometown where secrets lurk in every home and the more people try to forget, the more the bad memories stick around. From a mysterious package taped to a car to a fateful dinner date to uncovering the mystery of a missing first love, this book unravels in many unexpected ways. You’ll be glued to every page.
In LET US DESCEND, Jesmyn Ward takes us on a profound journey through the agonizing heart of American slavery, masterfully weaving a narrative that is as haunting as it is exquisite. Through the eyes of Annis, we traverse terrains of pain, endurance, and indomitable spirit, and with each step, Ward’s lyrical prose embeds us deeper into the very soul of the American South. This story is a tapestry of generations, where memories of mothers and grandmothers come alive, and where the relentless human quest for dignity and hope shines brilliantly against a backdrop of cruelty. The spiritual connections, the bonds of womanhood, and the poetic parallels to Dante’s Inferno all contribute to a narrative that feels larger than life. LET US DESCEND stands as a testament to the eternal resilience of the human spirit, reminding us of the stories that echo through time and demanding a rightful place in the annals of classic literature. Ward’s latest work is not just a book, it’s a legacy—one that future generations will no doubt treasure, drawing strength and inspiration from its pages.
From Jesmyn Ward—the two-time National Book Award winner, youngest winner of the Library of Congress Prize for Fiction, and MacArthur Fellow—comes a haunting masterpiece, sure to be an instant classic, about an enslaved girl in the years before the Civil War.
“‘Let us descend,’ the poet now began, ‘and enter this blind world.’” —Inferno, Dante Alighieri
Let Us Descend is a reimagining of American slavery, as beautifully rendered as it is heart-wrenching. Searching, harrowing, replete with transcendent love, the novel is a journey from the rice fields of the Carolinas to the slave markets of New Orleans and into the fearsome heart of a Louisiana sugar plantation.
Annis, sold south by the white enslaver who fathered her, is the reader’s guide through this hellscape. As she struggles through the miles-long march, Annis turns inward, seeking comfort from memories of her mother and stories of her African warrior grandmother. Throughout, she opens herself to a world beyond this world, one teeming with spirits: of earth and water, of myth and history; spirits who nurture and give, and those who manipulate and take. While Ward leads readers through the descent, this, her fourth novel, is ultimately a story of rebirth and reclamation.
From one of the most singularly brilliant and beloved writers of her generation, this miracle of a novel inscribes Black American grief and joy into the very land—the rich but unforgiving forests, swamps, and rivers of the American South. Let Us Descend is Jesmyn Ward’s most magnificent novel yet, a masterwork for the ages.
You’ve probably surmised, by this point, that I like intensity in books—vulnerability, catharsis, darkness (that makes the light more visible). But I promise you, I love a fun ride of a story as much as anyone else! Bring on the witty dialogue and romance, sparks and all. EVERYTHING IS FINE is sort of brilliant in that it dips into both of these realms. The subject material is critical, featuring dialogues with political and societal structures of today, and the characters and plot are absolutely delicious. Jess, the protagonist, is a bright, sassy young woman starting her career at Goldman Sachs who is determined to establish a glittering reputation for herself as a young Black woman working in finance. Rabess’s storytelling is energetic; it’s impossible not to feel all the feelings as Jess navigates the corporate world and a budding, complicated romance with Josh, a privileged young white colleague. It’s hard to ride the line between raising important conversations about race and rank while creating characters and scenarios that illicit giggles, swoons, and smiles. Needless to say, Cecilia Rabess knocked it out of the park.
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“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?
Only thirty days after Alice Lee turned eighteen and moved to New York City in search for a new beginning, she is found dead—another nameless NYC Jane Doe. Her story continues, however, and becomes intertwined with the life of Ruby Jones. Thirty-six years old and lonely, Ruby travels to NYC from Australia to reinvent herself. But her plans change when she discovers Alice’s body. Haunted by Jane Doe’s story, she begins searching for answers to the woman’s identity and what led to her brutal murder—and hopefully bring about some closure. Alice’s spirit narrates throughout as she clings to Ruby, hoping this stranger will help find her identity so she can finally let go. Beautiful and heartbreaking, BEFORE YOU KNEW MY NAME is a moving story about vulnerability, loneliness, and the reality of what it means to be a woman in this world.
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Winner of Crime Debut and Readers’ Choice Awards—Sisters in Crime
“A brave and timely novel.” —Clare Mackintosh, internationally bestselling author of Hostage
This is not just another novel about a dead girl. Two women—one alive, one dead—are brought together in the dark underbelly of New York City to solve a tragic murder.
When she arrived in New York on her eighteenth birthday carrying nothing but $600 cash and a stolen camera, Alice Lee was looking for a fresh start. Now, just one month later, she is the city’s latest Jane Doe. She may be dead but that doesn’t mean her story is over.
Meanwhile, Ruby Jones is also trying to reinvent herself. After travelling halfway around the world, she’s lonelier than ever in the Big Apple. Until she stumbles upon a woman’s body by the Hudson River, and suddenly finds herself unbreakably tied to the unknown dead woman.
Alice is sure Ruby is the key to solving the mystery of her short life and tragic death. Ruby just wants to forget what she saw…but she can’t seem to stop thinking about the young woman she found. If she keeps looking, can she give this unidentified Jane Doe the ending and closure she deserves?
A “heartbreaking, beautiful, and hugely important novel” (Rosie Walsh, New York Times bestselling author), Before You Knew My Name doesn’t just wonder whodunnit—it also asks who was she? And what did she leave behind?
After his younger sister disappeared from his side at the Hawthorne Museum of Natural History when he was young, paleontologist Simon Nealy never wanted to return to his hometown or the museum. But when the aunt who raised him dies, Dr. Nealy accepts a job at the Hawthorne to face his past. When he begins work at the museum, however, he’s haunted by strange sounds, bloody footprints, and horrifying shadows. As he begins reading his predecessor’s notes, he realizes he and his family might be part of a horrifying history that is unfolding again.
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A haunted paleontologist returns to the museum where his sister was abducted years earlier and is faced with a terrifying and murderous spirit in this chilling novel.
Curator of paleontology Dr. Simon Nealy never expected to return to his Pennsylvania hometown, let alone the Hawthorne Museum of Natural History. He was just a boy when his six-year-old sister, Morgan, was abducted from the museum under his watch, and the guilt has haunted Simon ever since. After a recent breakup and the death of the aunt who raised him, Simon feels drawn back to the place where Morgan vanished, in search of the bones they never found.
But from the moment he arrives, things aren’t what he expected. The Hawthorne is a crumbling ruin, still closed amid the ongoing pandemic, and plummeting toward financial catastrophe. Worse, Simon begins seeing and hearing things he can’t explain. Strange animal sounds. Bloody footprints that no living creature could have left. A prehistoric killer looming in the shadows of the museum. Terrified he’s losing his grasp on reality, Simon turns to the handwritten research diaries of his predecessor and uncovers a blood-soaked mystery 150 million years in the making that could be the answer to everything.
Photo credit: iStock / Anastasiia Stiahailo