Need fresh material for your bedside table, or perhaps a practical gift or book group pick? We’re back with a list of buzz-worthy books, with help from the pros, in categories that span a variety of age groups and interests.
In our last Favorite Things, Summer Book Edition, I introduced a new local bookstore called Pocket Books. Stepping into the neighborhood shop is a delight; it’s small and cozy yet the book selection is vast.
I especially appreciate that I can ask one of the owners – Jess, Julie, or Austin – for a suggestion and they graciously deliver, with consideration of my preferred genre and a succinct yet enthusiastic synopsis that makes me want to bury my head in the book immediately.
I’ve done the same when needing a gift. A recent request provides a good example: “I’m buying for a man who likes mysteries and historical fiction but I have no idea what he’s read recently.”
I walked out with The Enigma of Room 622, a mystery novel by Jöel Dicker, which Austin described as a meticulously crafted whodunit that had been recently translated from French, leaving little chance my friend had read it.
He said the book was fabulous. I mentioned it to my mom, who bought it, read it, and wholeheartedly concurred. She gave to it me to read, but my son took it to California before I got to it. He loved it too.
I finally got my hands on a copy (would you believe, from the person I gifted it to?), and as I type, I’m reaching a pivotal moment. Such is the excitement a good book can create!
All this to say, I am most grateful that Jess, Julie, and Austin stepped in once again with their current list of page turners. You’ll appreciate the descriptive snippets about the various books, which are sure to move certain titles to the top of your must-read list.
Because the holidays are approaching and books make great gifts, we included categories for kids, teens, and young adults, as well as several genres for adults.
As a bonus, the women included a sneak peak into the brand new books they predict will be smash hits in the new year, as well as which books are waiting in the wings on their bedside tables.
This is one of the most beautiful and most devastating books I’ve ever read, and trust me, the bar is high. A Heart That Works is Rob Delaney’s exploration of the brief, beautiful life of his son Henry, who died of a brain tumor at just two years of age. Delaney is a comedian who pulls absolutely no punches in his description of grief, of the rage he felt toward the healthcare industry and toward cancer itself, and of the blinding and beautiful love he continues to feel for his son. This memoir is profound and painful and so incredibly beautiful!
As far as we’re concerned, this is the coffee table book of the season. Who doesn’t love Dolly?! Behind the Seams is an absolutely massive celebration of Dolly’s iconic fashion sense, with 450+ photos and tons of behind-the-scenes stories. We guarantee there’s someone on your holiday shopping list who would absolutely drool over this beautiful book!
Foodies have been waiting for Sohla’s debut cookbook ever since falling in love with her on Bon Appetit’s videos, and Start Here does not disappoint! With a foreword by queen Samin Nosrat, the book explains the hows and whys of cooking, offering a masterclass for at-home chefs of all skill levels. We love that the book is broken down into technique-themed chapters that will help you not only perfect the yummy included recipes but understand the fundamentals of how to make every dish a winner.
Ooh, we loved this book! Starling House is firing on all cylinders, blurring Southern Gothic with a light horror/dark fantasy vibe and protagonists who had me shrieking and crying and clutching my heart for hundreds of pages. Opal is a dreamboat of a heroine, all hard edges and poor decisions and soft heart, and sadsack Arthur is exactly the sort of noble idiot you can’t help but to love. There’s simply so much to love in this book, as it delivers a pitch-perfect hardscrabble-girl-makes-good plot, a puzzle box of a haunted house that somehow grows more haunted and more charming as the book goes on, and a sinister overarching threat of corporate baddies, regular baddies, paranormal baddies, and the overall baddie-ness of heteropatriarchal capitalism. This book immediately graduated to our ‘reread’ stack!
Calling all Bachelor(ette) fans! This swoony book about Fizzy, a romance writer who agrees to star in her own reality dating show, helmed by documentary filmmaker Connor, is all sparkles and fireworks, sure to please any romantic in your life. Fizzy and Connor’s chemistry is undeniable, and Fizzy is a heroine you cannot help but to love. She’s funny, charming, self-deprecating, smart as hell, and confident in her own greatness, and the book will make any reader regret that they can’t also watch her star in a reality dating show! The insider baseball is catnip for romance aficionados, as The True Love Experiment is somehow a book that incorporates a dozen standard-fare romance tropes and completely upends typical genre conventions at the same time! Christina Lauren proves yet again that they are leading the pack when it comes to smart, funny, spicy contemporary romance!
This stunner of a debut novel was our second selection for Pocket Picks, our monthly subscription service celebrating early career authors, and it remains one of our favorites. Between Two Moons takes place over the holy month of Ramadan in the Arab-American enclave of Bay Ridge, Brooklyn, following twin sisters Amira and Lina as they navigate the tricky summer between high school and adulthood–a summer thrown into chaos when their older brother is unexpectedly released from prison. This novel is tender, lyrical, and profoundly intimate–it’s a truly moving portrait of what it means to live and to dare to thrive under the ever-present threat of Islamophobia in America.
Jesmyn Ward does not miss — there’s a reason why her books are instant classics. She writes with an unmistakable voice and an eye for setting and tone that transports the reader wherever she’d like us. In Let Us Descend, we are sent alongside Annis as she travels through the hells of chattel slavery; with an overheard lesson on Dante ringing in her ears, Annis descends through cruelty, violence, and indignity, moving from the Carolinas through to New Orleans. She’s also visited by Aza, an ancestor and spiritual guide who offers wisdom and strength but whose trustworthiness is called into question as Annis struggles to climb her way back out of hell. This is a beautiful, difficult, brutal novel that demands to be read.
We couldn’t write a holiday book list without including a holiday romance! This was our Romance Book Club pick for November and a book that charmed us entirely. It’s got everything you want in a holiday love story: a massive snowstorm that strands a group of strangers-turned-friends, meddling family members, a magical small town where a superstar is filming a movie, forced proximity in a cozy inn, true love confessions, and so many hijinks. What a charmer!
I love Angeline Boulley’s writing, and this sequel to Firekeeper’s Daughter is no exception. She does such a gorgeous job of illuminating the real and disastrous treatment of indigenous communities by the U.S. government and police, and she does so in a story so captivating and with such well-developed characters that it swept me away. It’s heavy and devastating but also so eminently readable–I don’t know how she does it! A truly vital read for anyone who enjoys a mystery predicated in the horrors of our reality, for anyone who wants to root for a bunch of teens that are really doing their best, for anyone who is ready to look at the ways in which adults fail the next generations and what the youngs manage to do to try to build the world they want to live in. Strongly recommend!
I fell hard for this book, which is fiery and tender and exciting and atmospheric and everything I want when I feel like escaping into a novel. Blood Debts takes place in an alternate version of New Orleans ruled by magical families, and our protagonists are the twin heirs to aThe family drama, the layered cultural complexity and expansive world-building, the beautiful description of first love, the agony of grief, the pulse of revenge–just an absolute banger of a book. I am already desperate to get my hands on the next one!!!
Jacqueline Woodson is an auto-buy author for us – everything she writes, for adults and kids and everyone in between, is so beautiful and so poignant and cannot be missed. Remember Us takes place during the summer before Sage enters seventh grade, when so many houses burn down in her Bushwick neighborhood that it gets nicknamed ‘The Matchbox.’ Ultimately, this is a novel about growing up and the pain of leaving behind the things and people you can’t imagine living without. A challenging book for readers of any age!
We are huge fans of Zhao’s YA debut, Iron Widow, which is one of the most exciting sci-fi books we’ve read in ages, so we’re certain that Zachary Ying will absolutely deliver for the middle grade reader on your list. The novel features Zack, a kid whose single mom was too busy making ends meet to teach him much about his Chinese heritage and whose schools hyperfocused on Western history and mythology. So, needless to say, Zack is totally unprepared to learn that he’s destined to be the vessel for the spirit of the First Emperor of China as he attempts to complete an important otherworldly mission. And he’s really unprepared when the First Emperor makes a mistake and possesses Zack’s AR gaming headset instead of his body…and then Zack’s mom gets taken by demons. Now the clock is ticking, and Zack needs to learn fast in order to save his mom & the entire world!
I don’t know about you, but I grow a little tired of traditional holiday kids books–it’s nice to have something a bit more generally winter-y to continue reading long after Hanukkah and Christmas end. We loved the first The Littlest Yak book, which is all about a tiny yak who desperately wants to do big things but learns to celebrate her own unique talents and to grow at her own pace. In this installment, Gertie the littlest yak is getting ready to become a big sister and is excited to share all her favorite things, but she’s also worried that Mummy might not have enough room in her heart for Gertie and the new yakling. The illustrations aare absolutely adorable, and you’ll love reading Gertie’s story over and over again as she learns that there’s always room for more love–and for more yaks!
Children’s nonfiction is absolutely stunning these days – this picture book is marketed to elementary school children but equally belongs on any adult’s coffee table! Birdwatching is a very hot post-lockdown hobby, and you’ll love leafing through this book to learn all about the birds of the world. A book like this deserves to be on display!
Ok, we can’t be contained to just one list, so we’re also spilling the tea on what we think the hottest books this holiday season will be:
The runaway winner in most exclusive, most in demand, most anticipated titles is definitely Rebecca Yarros’ Iron Flame, the sequel to her wildly popular Fourth Wing – both of which have special editions out right now. (As of this writing, Pocket Books has some Iron Flames left on the shelves, but they’re flying fast!) This series is a massive hit with fantasy lovers of all ages as well as people dipping their toes into the genre for the first time. It has everything: dragons, an enemies-to-lovers plotline, a chronically ill / ferociously stubborn main character, intense political drama, magical school vibes, and did we mention dragons?!
Honestly, it’s a fantastic season for fantasy sequels: the follow-up to last year’s bonkers popular YA fantasy, Lightlark, just hit the shelves and is definitely on your teen’s list. Nightbane is even better than its predecessor, dare we say, with a tighter focus on the characters (including a very spicy love triangle) and a sharper plot. Plus, author Alex Aster signed a very lucrative movie deal for the first book, so you can bet that you’ll only hear more about Lightlark as time goes on. Indie bestseller Legends & Lattes also got a sequel this month: Travis Baldree’s Bookshops & Bonedust is the newest addition to the growing canon of ‘cozy fantasy,’ which features all the magic of traditional fantasy with a slower pace, lower stakes, and an emphasis on all things warm and fuzzy: quiet bookshops, warm mugs of coffee, freshly baked scones, etc. These are the book equivalent of a big hug, with a Dungeons & Dragons twist. (Yup: if you didn’t already know, D&D is having a huge resurgence!)
We have our suspicions that the brand new, beautifully illustrated edition of Merlin Sheldrake’s ever-popular Entangled Life will find its way into many present stacks this year. Mushrooms are having a moment, and Sheldrake’s exploration of the hidden world of fungi is as informative as it is gorgeous! We also suspect that Keegan-Michael Key (of Key & Peele)’s fantastic new The History of Sketch Comedy: A Journey Through the Art and Craft of Humor will be super giftable. Key is absolutely hilarious and super smart–this book straddles the line between readable nonfiction and art book, and comedy fans everywhere will love reading through it!
Finally, because we love nothing more than telling people about the books we’re absolutely loving, each member of Team PB is chiming in to let you know the one book from 2023 they don’t want you to miss & the 2023 release that they’re still hoping to read before the year is over:
Jessica can’t believe that Etaf Rum’s incredible Evil Eye hasn’t gotten more hype this year. The novel gives a clear-eyed depiction of intergenerational trauma, drawing a line from the main character Yara’s grandparents’ experiences in Palestine in 1948, to her parents’ inherited anger & fear (and its effect on all of their relationships), to the complex PTSD that she and her siblings have had to learn to deal with as adults. We follow Yara as she encounters therapy for the first time & as she tries out healing practices like journaling and naming emotions. Jess read this book in one sitting and hasn’t stopped talking about it since! She’s hoping to read The Heaven and Earth Grocery Store by James McBride before the end of the year, which is getting rave reviews as an eminently compassionate and inventive novel. The New York TImes Book Review called it “a murder mystery locked inside the Great American Novel,” and if that doesn’t pique your interest, we don’t know what will!
Julie just finished Eleanor Catton’s Birnam Wood and literally cannot stop thinking about it. This literary thriller has been on our radar since its release in March, and Julie’s love for it is making us kick ourselves that we didn’t get to it sooner! The titular group of Birnam Wood is a secretive, unregulated, philanthropic-slash-criminal guerrilla eco-collective that works to plant crops and take back the land from private interests. When they set their sights on a large abandoned farm that an enigmatic billionaire also wants to snag for himself, the radicals find themselves in bed with the enemy… Thrills and twists and turns and an unbelievably absorbing plot ensue! Julie has Penance by Eliza Clark on her bedside table and cannot wait to dig in. She was a big fan of Clark’s cult hit Boy Parts and is sure that Penance will be just as chilling and provocative. Here, Clark explores the horrific murder of a sixteen-year-old girl by three other schoolgirls on the Yorkshire coast, offering a nuanced look at the media and our obsession with true crime.
Austin is telling everyone to read The Square of Sevens by Laura Shepherd Robinson, a jewel box of a historical epic perfect for anyone looking to get swept away by an intricate and immersive novel. The book follows Red, a young girl in 1730s Cornwall who travels with her fortune-teller father until his untimely death, at which point she’s thrust into a new world of secrets and splendor as she tries to connect with her long-dead mother’s high-society family. This is the twistiest, turniest book with an INCREDIBLE payoff, and it’s a must-read in Austin’s book. She’s determined to read The Late Americans by Brandon Taylor before the year ends, partly because Julie loved it and partly because she fervently believes that Taylor is one of America’s greatest living writers. Bold stance, but she’s sticking with it! Taylor’s debut Real Life is an unforgettable piece of literary fiction, and The Late Americans is just as intimate, poignant, and undeniably gorgeous. The summary on the back of the book is irresistible: “In the shared and private spaces of Iowa City, a loose circle of lovers and friends encounter, confront, and provoke one another in a volatile year of self-discovery. […] As each [member] prepares for an uncertain future, the group heads to a cabin to bid goodbye to their former lives–a moment of reckoning that leaves each of the irrevocably altered.” I cannot overstate how much this is absolute catnip to me, especially when I know that Taylor’s prose will be exquisite on every level!