Ahh, winter…the days are shorter, the air is colder, and the crackling of the fireplace sounds eerily like cracking open a new book. And there's no better time to do so than 4pm on a Saturday afternoon when the sun has already gone down. But even better than starting any old book, our list below will keep your whole book club buzzing till the logs in your fireplace are snuffed out.
From memoirs to to short stories to literary fiction, this is a list you don't want to miss out on.
Dead in Long Beach, California
Full of sharp wit and desolate commentary, Venita Blackburn's debut novel Dead in Long Beach, California follows Coral and her journey of grief. She's the first one to find her brother Jay's dead body following his suicide. He left no note, nor anything explanatory—just his lackluster home and a phone with a few numbers on it. So naturally, Coal takes the phone…and begins responding to texts as her dead brother.
It only takes Coral (the successful but now terribly depressed author of a hit Dystopian novel, Wildfire) one week to lose her marbles. Overcome with grief, she risks her sanity and her relationship with her niece to continue posing as her brother. But Coral's lies begin to catch up with her, and the closer they get, the more real the alien world of Wildfire becomes; and it dangerously pushes long buried traumas, memories, and secrets to the surface.
The English Teacher
Running from a painful secret she left behind, English teacher Vida Avery landed on the doorstep of the prestigious Fayer Academy, alone and pregnant, 15 years ago. Living on the campus on the New England coast, she worked to build a life for herself and her son, Peter, and eventually became a beloved teacher at Fayer. But when she becomes spontaneously engaged to earnest widow Jon Belou, everything starts to fall apart.
As Peter begins to bond with the members of his new family, Vida withdraws to the solace of the books she teaches. She's going to have to face the deep-rooted pain and the secrets she left behind if she wants a chance at happiness and the life she deserves.
Mozart in the Jungle
Mozart in the Jungle is a compelling, eye-opening memoir about what you really have to be made of to make it in the concrete jungle that is the New York classical music scene. Blair Tindall provides a fresh perspective on the harsh realities of an over-glamorized world: underpaid gigs without retirement plans or healthcare, trading sexual favors for the underpaid jobs in question, and drug use; not to mention how these conditions effect their lives outside of the music scene, such as the hazardous places these musicians are forced to live in.
As heartbreaking as the reality is, this is the first true, behind-the-scenes look at what really goes on backstage and in the orchestra pit.
This is a book that was boldly written in that it features uncomfortable realism, and though it revolves around the story of schoolchildren, it is really written to be more of a social commentary.
Heaven weighs the morals of human relationships through the story of two friends: a young boy with a lazy eye, and a young girl who comes to school appearing dirty and poor, for which both are bullied brutally and relentlessly. It's is a striking, multi-layered example of the pay-offs of solidarity in the face of adversity.
A novel from Scandinavian noir master Henning Mankell, Italian Shoes follows the story of Fredrick Welin, a once-successful surgeon who now lives so remotely on a tiny island that his only companions are the memories that haunt him. The island is surrounded by ice in the long winter months, which matches the icy detachment Welin feels inside. Every morning he cuts a hole into the ice and lowers himself into it to remind himself that he's alive.
Then an unexpected visitor arrives to disrupt his frigid existence, catapulting Welin into a journey of serious self reflection. His voyage into his own soul makes for an intense and meditative read.
A memoir from Lisa Brennan-Jobs—Steve Jobs' daughter—depicts a complicated father-daughter relationship. Lisa describes how her father wasn't very present during her childhood, but did eventually take an interest in her when she became an older adolescent, introducing her to a more luxurious lifestyle filled with mansions, private schools, and expensive vacations.
We get a sincere, behind-the-scenes look into Lisa's life with her father when she moved in with him during her high school years. Full of witty commentary, Small Fry paints a very realistic picture of a girl who simply wanted her father's attention, even if it was critical and unpredictable. Part family portrait and part love letter to the seventies and eighties Silicon Valley, Lisa's story is an unforgettable guide through living simultaneously in two vastly different worlds.
So Brave, Young, and Handsome
This novel presents a strong Old Western feel and redemption theme in the most authentic way possible. In 1915 Minnesota, Monte Becket, husband, father, failed writer, and failed farmer, has lost his sense of purpose. But then he befriends outlaw Glendon Hale, who is heading west for absolution from the wife he abandoned twenty years ago. Hale could use the company, and Becket could use the adventure, so the two team up and set forth together.
Leaving his family behind to embark on this quest, Becket helps Hale flee the relentless former Pinkerton Detective who's been trailing Hale for years. The depth of Becket's loyalty and morals, as well as the strength of his resolve are tested as this adventure pushes him further into the life of an outlaw—a life he may never get redemption from. But that's a risk he's willing to take in order to understand what it's all worth.
This is a heavy novel that explains the AIDS epidemic across multiple decades, from the 1980's to 2021 in New York City, through the eyes of a young couple and their adopted son. Milly and Jared are a privileged young couple who fell in love and moved into the Christodora, an apartment building in Manhattan's East Village, owned by Jared's father. They have a Puerto Rican neighbor, Hector, who was once a dedicated AIDS activist but is now a lonely meth addict, and he becomes intertwined in Milly and Jared's lives in unexpected ways.
Meanwhile, Mateo, their adopted son, is growing up, and learning everything that New York City has to offer…the good, the bad, and the ugly. The world continues to change and transform around this family, from the riots of the 80's to the hipsters of the 2000's to the greed of the 2020's, all the while recounting the serious heartbreak that stems from the AIDS epidemic, drug abuse, and the ever-changing state of the city that never seems to slow down.
A collection of short stories, this book features fiction, nonfiction, and poetry, all intertwined to illustrate the Haitian diaspora experience.
Roxanne Gay uses unforgettably vivid prose to tell stories about an American couple preparing to leave Haiti for America; a woman's usage of a voodoo love potion on a childhood classmate; a mother's experience with taking a foreign soldier as a boarder, and then taking him into her bed; a recount of a woman conceiving her daughter on the bank of a river whilst fleeing a horrific massacre; the story of that woman's daughter, who eventually moves to America for a new beginning, but who is relentlessly haunted by the mysterious scent of blood; and other powerful, moving literature in Gay's 15 short stories.
Jasmine is a powerful coming-of-age story about an Indian girl and her immigration to America. Her journey across India and America runs parallel to her journey of self-discovery and journey from girlhood to womanhood.
We see her go from Jyoti in a small village in Punjab, to Jasmine in Jalandhar, to Jase in Manhattan, to Jane in Iowa, and learn how her shifting landscape necessitates a shift of self. Bharati Mukherjee uses every angle to explain exactly what it takes to become an American.