Everyone knows that all you need for the perfect fall moment is four things: a cup of tea, an open window, a biiiig soft blanket, and a really good book. We rounded up our favorite novels hitting shelves this season to help you complete the picture. Read on.
“Absolution” by Alice McDermott
In this brilliant new novel, Alice McDermott brings her quietly powerful style to 1963 Saigon. It follows Tricia, the docile new wife of a lawyer who’s working for U.S. Navy intelligence. When she’s drawn into the orbit of the fearless and assertive Charlene, another Navy wife, Tricia hesitantly joins her charitable efforts aimed at the Vietnamese people. Charlene is a mother of three, while Tricia is just beginning her journey to motherhood, and that dichotomy makes their relationship all the more rich to observe. “Absolution” is an absorbing read, filled with clear-eyed renderings of what it means to be a mother and a woman seeking agency in the world.
“Land of Milk and Honey” by C Pam Zhang
In a dystopian future in which an encompassing smog has killed off most of Earth’s plants and animals, a young chef is offered a job at a mysterious research institution on a remote Italian mountaintop. There, she is to cook for a wealthy cohort who had the resources to escape the worst of the environmental devastation. The position is too alluring to pass up — particularly because the community houses some of the forgotten world’s finest ingredients. In prose that mirrors the sensual pleasures of a fine meal, Zhang explores questions of privilege, pleasure, and survival.
“Death Valley” by Melissa Broder
The protagonist of “Death Valley” is running away from a web of tragedies. At home, her father is in the ICU and her husband’s chronic illness is ever-present. So she drives, alone, to a Best Western in the California desert, planning to clear her head. Instead, she’s pointed to a hiking trail by one of the hotel’s receptionists. When she returns to the trail again the next day, she ends up on a hero’s journey that alters her understanding of life, and death, and all that goes with it. This is a profound look at caregiving and grief, but it also manages to be a very funny, quick, and engaging read. Don’t miss it.
“Bright Young Women” by Jessica Knoll
She’s baaack (one of our favorite authors, that is). And better than ever. The killings of Ted Bundy get a new look in this nuanced, smart take on a true crime novel. First we first meet Pamela, a Florida State University student who witnesses the attack of her sorority sisters in 1978. Her narrative is interspersed with the story of Ruth, an earlier victim of the same killer, and Ruth’s friend Tina. Expect a page-turner with plenty of plot twists, minus the exploitative lens that’s so common in this genre.
“Let Us Descend” by Jesmyn Ward
Two-time National Book Award winner Jesmyn Ward returns with her fourth novel, a haunting, imaginative portrait of an enslaved young woman in the years before the Civil War. Here, we follow Annis — who was sold by her father, a white landowner — as she marches south from the Carolinas to a New Orleans slave market and ultimately to a sugar plantation in Louisiana. Throughout her journey, she taps into the survival skills passed down to her from her mother; the stories of her African warrior ancestors; and the spirit world for guidance and relief. Poetic, mystical, and utterly harrowing, this is a must-read.
“People Collide” by Isle McElroy
Body switch stories tend to be purely goofy — think “Freaky Friday” and “The Hot Chick” — but this book would like to correct the record. In it, married couple Elizabeth and Eli are living abroad in Bulgaria when Eli one day finds himself in his wife’s body. The twist? His wife (who is, we presume, in Eli’s body) is nowhere to be found. So Eli sets out to find his estranged spouse — and, on the journey, experiences gender, sexuality, and his marriage in a very new light.
“The Leftover Woman” by Jean Kwok
Jasmine Yang flees rural China for New York City in search of the daughter her abusive husband forced her to give up for adoption at birth. Meanwhile, Rebecca Whitney, a publishing executive, juggles a high-powered career and a shady husband — and parenting her adopted daughter, who is biologically Jasmine’s. These two parallel narratives intersect in Kwok’s latest, which has the heart and heft of literary fiction and the couldn’t-put-this-down-even-if-tried engine of a thriller.
“The Mystery Guest” by Nita Prose
In the second installment in “The Maid” series, Molly Gray is back to solve another mystery at The Regency Grand Hotel. This time, famous writer (and figure from Molly’s past) J.D. Grimthorpe drops dead at a press conference just as he’s about to make a huge announcement about his career. Chapters alternate between Molly’s childhood and present day as she tries to piece together what Grimthorpe was supposed to announce and why he was murdered. Part mystery, part coming-of-age story, this is a great option if you want to read something this fall, but don’t know where to start. And PSA: Even if you haven’t read the first book, you can easily pick this one up.
“Murder and Mamon” by Mia P. Manansala
Lila Macpagal has been busy running her bakery-turned-cafe-turned-plant shop (aka our dream job). But when her three endearing aunts, known to be gossips, deal with vandalism and a murder at the opening of their brand new laundromat, Lila steps in to help them out. This is the fourth and latest release in the “Arsenic and Adobo” series, and whether you’re a seasoned mystery reader or you’re new to the genre, we think you’ll love it.
“Jonathan Abernathy You Are Kind” by Molly McGhee
“Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind” meets “Doctor Faustus”meets “Severance” (yes, both the novel by Ling Ma and the unrelated Apple TV+ series that bears the same name) in this impressive debut. Here, we find the titular character downtrodden, directionless, and drowning in debt when a government agency gives him an unusual job offer: He’s to enter into middle-class workers’ dreams and remove anything that might hinder their productivity. In return, he’ll receive a middling wage, a bit of loan forgiveness, and an increasingly slippery grip on morality (and his own reality). This’ll become the quirkiest, most thought-provoking workplace comedy in your collection.
“The List” by Yomi Adegoke
In October of 2017, a spreadsheet made the rounds through New York’s media scene. It was called the “Sh*tty Media Men List,” and it sparked questions about the limits and nuances of the #MeToo movement. In this book, that event is fictionalized, this time in the UK. It opens with Ola, a feminist journalist, and her fiancé Michael, a prominent podcaster, sharing a drunken, deeply in love night out. The next morning, a “List” drops, and Michael’s name is on it. Over the rest of the novel, Ola and Michael grapple with the fallout — and, with the countdown to their wedding marching on, try to identify what the List means for their not just their relationship, but also their careers.
“Confessions of a Forty-Something F**k Up” by Alexandra Potter
“Bridget Jones’s Diary” meets “Olive” meets “Everything I Know About Love” in this bestselling novel that spawned a TV show (“Not Dead Yet”, one of our faves). When Nell breaks off her engagement and moves home to London to start over, she finds that all of her friends are now married with kids. In quippy diary-esque entries, she shares her life (she lands a job writing obituaries and meets a spritely 80-year-old widow, Crickett, who becomes a close confidante), her self-discovery, and her message that they key to happiness is finding joy in your relationship with yourself. Love.
“The Book of Ayn” by Lexi Freiman
Fans of Ottessa Moshfegh and Alexandra Kleeman, assemble. This follows Anna, a writer who’s effectively canceled after her satire about the opioid crisis earns scathing reviews in The New York Times. In her misery, Anna finds a kindred spirit in Ayn Rand — whose first book, she learns, was panned by the same publication — and commits herself to the writer-philosopher’s theory of rational selfishness. Thus begins Anna’s wild romp from New York to Hollywood — where she earns viral fame — to a commune on the Greek island of Lesbos, where she ultimately attempts to achieve ego death. And don’t worry — you definitely don’t need to be familiar with (let alone understand) Randian philosophy to enjoy this one.
“Courting Samira” by Amal Awad
Meet Samira. She comes from a moderately traditional Muslim family, and she’s sick of arranged first dates in the company of her parents. It doesn’t help that she’s an editorial assistant at a bridal magazine, where she’s surrounded by all things love and wedding bells. When she meets dreamy Menem at a work retreat, outside of her typical dating arrangements, she’s curious enough to turn the world that she knows upside down. This is a charming, relatable story about growing up and trying to figure out what you want.
“Recipe for Second Chances” by Ali Rosen
Confession: The second chance romance trope is one of our favorites. Sprinkle in some delicious food writing and a backdrop of the Italian countryside, and you’ve got this feel-good debut. Stella and Samuel had a fast-paced romance 10 years ago, but she ended it for the sake of swearing off anything serious. Fast-forward to now, and they’re both attending a mutual friend’s wedding in Italy. Somehow, circumstances seem to keep pushing them together. If you couldn’t get enough of “One Italian Summer,” buy this one. It’s a vacation between two covers.
“Day” by Michael Cunningham
In what the writer Susan Choi called “one of, if not the, best novels about the pandemic that I’ve encountered,” Michael Cunningham creates an elegant and affecting portrait of one family, structured in three parts. Each act centers on a single day over three consecutive years: April 5, 2019; April 5, 2020; and April 5, 2021. He brings this cast of characters to life with his trademark compassion and nuanced insight — and manages to capture the pandemic in a narrative that’ll actually fill you with hope, not dread.
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