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12 Excellent Reads for Your Book Club

A deeply original book that will have readers laughing at, angry with, and feeling compassion for a determined hero who...

AN ORCHESTRA OF MINORITIES

A modern love story that examines what a person might do for love—and whether fate can render those efforts moot.

In his follow-up to The Fishermen (2015), which was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize, Obioma has written a romance with a Nigerian ethos, reinvigorating age-old questions of love and destiny. When Chinonso Solomon Olisa, a lonely poultry farmer, intervenes in the suicide attempt of Ndali, a young woman, his quiet life is disrupted and the two begin an intense and complicated affair of nearly mythic proportions. The story of their relationship is told by Chinonso’s chi, or his life force, who has come to testify before the almighty creator on his host’s behalf because Chinonso may have killed a woman. The book operates on both physical and spiritual levels, presenting thought-provoking and sage observations about the nature of loneliness (“the violent dog that barks interminably through the long night of grief”) and jealousy (“the spirit that stands at the threshold of love and madness”), among other things. Indeed, though the love story that moors the book is dramatic and lends itself to comparisons with similarly epic romances such as The Odyssey—a point not lost on Chinonso’s chi—the book tells a distinctly Nigerian story that considers the gambits people are willing to make in an effort to rise above their lot.

A deeply original book that will have readers laughing at, angry with, and feeling compassion for a determined hero who endeavors to create his own destiny.

Pub Date: Jan. 8, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-316-41239-1

Page Count: 464

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: Nov. 26, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2018

A riveting multilevel thriller of race, sex, and mob violence that throbs with menace as it hums with wit.

THE PARAGON HOTEL

A young white woman named Alice James flees Prohibition-era Harlem by rail with an oozing bullet wound and a satchel containing $50,000 in cash.

She makes it cross-country to Portland, Oregon, where Max, a kindly, strapping black Pullman porter and World War I veteran, whisks her away to the novel’s eponymous hotel, populated mostly with African-Americans besieged by threats from the local Ku Klux Klan. You needn’t be an aficionado of crime melodrama or period romance for those two sentences to have you at “Hello,” and Faye (Jane Steele, 2016, etc.) more than delivers on this auspicious premise with a ravishing novel that rings with nervy elegance and simmers with gnawing tension. The myriad elements of Faye’s saga are carried along by the jaunty, attentive voice of Alice, who came by her nickname “Nobody” as a young girl growing up on the crime-infested Upper West Side of Manhattan, where she acquired the ability to hide in plain sight among the neighborhood’s mobsters, leg-breakers, and bootleggers. She calls upon this chameleonlike talent as she embeds herself among her newfound protectors, some of whom are wary of her presence. But Alice has at least one Paragon resident solidly in her corner: the stunning Blossom Fontaine, a dauntingly sophisticated cabaret singer whose own past is as enigmatic and checkered as Alice’s. Blossom, Max, and the rest of the hotel’s residents dote on a precocious, inquisitive mixed-race child named Davy Lee who vanishes from their sight one afternoon at an amusement park. As the Klan begins to show signs of renewed aggression toward Portland’s black citizenry and corrupt cops start throwing their weight around the hotel, Alice is compelled to deploy her street-wise skills with greater urgency to help find Davy Lee. In doing so, she also unravels secrets within secrets that carry deadly and transformative implications for her and for everybody around her. This historical novel, which carries strong reverberations of present-day social and cultural upheavals, contains a message from a century ago that’s useful to our own time: “We need to do better at solving things.”

A riveting multilevel thriller of race, sex, and mob violence that throbs with menace as it hums with wit.

Pub Date: Jan. 8, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-7352-1075-2

Page Count: 432

Publisher: Putnam

Review Posted Online: Oct. 2, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2018

A charming imagining of the historical gunner girls.

THE LIGHT OVER LONDON

When antiques dealer Cara Hargraves discovers a biscuit tin holding a locket, a photograph, and a diary dating back to World War II, she becomes determined to discover the identity of the smiling young woman in uniform.

Kelly (The Allure of Attraction, 2018, etc.) deftly balances intrigue with mystery and historical detail in her latest novel. As the chapters alternate between the present day and the war era, Cara unpacks mementos conjuring up the life of Louise Keene, a young woman chafing at the confines of Haybourne, her Cornish village. While her mother and Mrs. Moss may be convinced she’ll marry Gary Moss someday—just as soon as the war ends and he returns home to run his father’s small law firm—Louise herself has other plans. So when her beautiful, outgoing cousin, Kate, invites her to a dance, Louise pushes aside a self-deprecating glance in the mirror and musters up her courage. There, she meets the dashing Flight Lt. Paul Bolton, a man who captures her heart. Their whirlwind romance is thrown a curveball when Paul is suddenly deployed, and Louise sets off on an adventure, following him out of Haybourne. Eager to put herself and her mathematical skills to work, Louise enlists, joining the women’s branch of the British army as a gunner girl, a member of an anti-aircraft unit that calculates the locations of enemy planes. Her correspondence with Paul becomes increasingly passionate, and they quickly marry during a rare leave. But a string of unanswered letters is only the first clue that Paul has secrets that will utterly upend Louise’s life. Meanwhile, in the present, as recently divorced and romantically gun-shy Cara chases down the clues in the tin, she meets Liam McGown, her new, rather charmingly disheveled neighbor. A reader of medieval history, Liam chivalrously helps Cara on her quest, and love may be around the corner for the sleuths, too.

A charming imagining of the historical gunner girls.

Pub Date: Jan. 8, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-5011-9641-6

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Gallery Books/Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: Oct. 15, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2018

This impressive first novel combines beautifully crafted language and a steamy Southern noir plot to fine effect.

SUGAR RUN

In Maren’s darkly engrossing debut novel, two women yearning for freedom fall in love, but the secrets of the past and betrayals in the present threaten to crush them.

Jodi McCarty and Miranda Matheson have one thing in common from the get-go: They both made lousy choices in love as teenagers. Jodi paid for hers with an 18-year prison sentence, which ends as the novel begins. Miranda, still in her 20s, has just fled her unhappy marriage to a washed-up country music star. The two women meet in a bar in a tiny Georgia town, and Jodi is immediately smitten with pretty, charismatic Miranda. For her part, Miranda recognizes someone who can help her—and whom she can manipulate. She needs help spiriting her three young sons away from her husband, while Jodi needs Miranda’s car to rescue the brother of her lost first love from an abusive home (although that brother is much changed from the kid she remembers). Soon the whole bunch of them are heading for an isolated West Virginia farm that Jodi inherited from her grandmother, the one place in the world she feels at home. Maren draws them, and the reader, into a world of shifting allegiances, small-town bigotry, draining poverty, pervasive substance abuse, and secrets as destructive as the blasts used in fracking on the property down the road from the farm. The author skillfully handles a dual plot, alternating chapters set in the near-present and 20 years before. The novel’s noir tone and taut suspense are enriched by Maren’s often lovely prose, especially in descriptions of the natural world, and sharp observations, like this one of Jodi’s first love: “There is a velocity to her that pulls you close. Her life lived like the coil before the strike.”

This impressive first novel combines beautifully crafted language and a steamy Southern noir plot to fine effect.

Pub Date: Jan. 8, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-61620-621-5

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Algonquin

Review Posted Online: Oct. 2, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2018

What is the nature of an epidemic? What is the nature of consciousness? What mix of loyalty and love binds individuals...

THE DREAMERS

Walker, who set her first novel, The Age of Miracles (2012), in a dystopian near future, returns to the present with this science-fiction fairy tale about a mysterious epidemic putting inhabitants of a California community to sleep.

The first victim in Santa Lora is a freshman at the local college discovered in her dorm room breathing but unwakeable. Soon more students are falling asleep, as are the medical personnel caring for them. On the 14th day, when there are 22 sleepers, the local hospital goes into quarantine when researchers conclude the culprit is an airborne virus. Too late. A combination of events including Halloween trick-or-treating and the escape of students from their quarantine spreads the virus. By the 18th day, the number of sleepers requiring round the clock care balloons to 500. The entire town is sealed off, but the number of those infected keeps growing. Within the spellbindingly measured narrative of the public health crisis are woven emotionally charged individual stories. A freshman’s first sexual experience results in pregnancy the night before she’s stricken; the chronicle of the growing life within her counterbalances the evolution of the epidemic. Two other freshmen become volunteers and unlikely lovers. An already paranoid college janitor recognizes the danger of contagion before everyone else; when he nevertheless is infected, his preteen daughters fend for themselves. Their neighbors cope with a fragile marriage while caring for their newborn infant, who may have been exposed to the virus through donated breast milk. A dementia patient seems to regain his consciousness just when others are losing theirs. Political refugees from Egypt see their lives torn apart yet again. The biggest surprise may come when Walker shifts focus to show the dreams and life within individual sleepers’ minds.

What is the nature of an epidemic? What is the nature of consciousness? What mix of loyalty and love binds individuals together? These are a few of the questions Walker raises in her provocative, hypnotic tale.

Pub Date: Jan. 15, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-8129-9416-2

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: Sept. 18, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 2018

As with nearly all of Lewis’ books, this one succeeds on so many levels, including as a well-written primer on how the...

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THE FIFTH RISK

Lewis (The Undoing Project: A Friendship that Changed Our Minds, 2016, etc.) turns timely political reporting he published in Vanity Fair into a book about federal government bureaucracies during the first year of the Donald Trump presidency.

At first, the author’s curiosity about the relationship between individual citizens and massive federal agencies supported by taxpayer dollars did not lead him to believe the book would become a searing indictment of Trump. However, Lewis wisely allowed the evidence to dictate the narrative, resulting in a book-length indictment of Trump’s disastrous administration. The leading charge of the indictment is what Lewis terms “willful ignorance.” Neither Trump nor his appointees to head government agencies have demonstrated even the slightest curiosity about how those agencies actually function. After Trump’s election in November 2016, nobody from his soon-to-be-inaugurated administration visited federal agencies despite thorough preparation within those agencies to assist in a traditionally nonpartisan transition. Lewis primarily focuses on the Energy Department, the Agriculture Department, and the Commerce Department. To provide context, he contrasts the competent transition teams assembled after the previous elections of George W. Bush and Barack Obama. Displaying his usual meticulous research and fluid prose, the author makes the federal bureaucracy come alive by focusing on a few individuals within each agency with fascinating—and sometimes heartwarming—backstories. In addition, Lewis explains why each of those individuals is important to the citizenry due to their sometimes-arcane but always crucial roles within the government. Throughout the book, unforgettable tidbits emerge, such as the disclosure by a Forbes magazine compiler of the world’s wealthiest individuals list that only three tycoons have intentionally misled the list’s compilers—one of the three is Trump, and another is Wilbur Ross, appointed by Trump as Commerce Secretary.

As with nearly all of Lewis’ books, this one succeeds on so many levels, including as a well-written primer on how the government serves citizens in underappreciated ways.

Pub Date: Oct. 2, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-324-00264-2

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Norton

Review Posted Online: Oct. 2, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2018

Deftly plotted and well written, a gentle meditation on the healing power of art—and its limitations.

THE WEIGHT OF A PIANO

Two people nursing childhood wounds meet via a piano and take a journey toward closure across Death Valley.

Cander (Whisper Hollow, 2015, etc.) grabs the reader in her opening pages: a bravura, thickly detailed account of the creation of a Blüthner piano from wood culled in the forests of Romania, then lovingly aged and shaped in a factory in Leipzig. Blüthner No. 66,825 comes to Katya, a gifted Soviet musician who reluctantly immigrates to California with her husband, Mikhail, who promises that her beloved piano will soon follow. Somehow, decades later in 2012, it has wound up in the possession of Clara, an auto mechanic in Bakersfield who impulsively puts it up for sale after she and the piano are kicked out by her live-in boyfriend, frustrated by her inability to commit. How these stories connect doesn’t become apparent until long after Clara reneges on her sale to photographer Greg Zeldin, realizing she can’t give up the only connection to her parents, who died in a fire when she was 12. Cander expertly parcels out her revelations: Alert readers will likely figure out that Greg is Katya’s son before he admits it on route to Death Valley, but the final plot twist is a satisfying surprise. Clues are carefully planted, however, as Cander builds parallel narratives in alternating chapters. Clara warily joins forces with Greg, allowing him to lease the piano and following him to Death Valley, where he takes a series of photos of the piano perched in locations he once visited with his mother. Flashbacks chronicle Katya’s increasing misery in the U.S., mitigated only temporarily—and ultimately disastrously—when her piano belatedly arrives. As the narratives converge, Greg convinces himself and almost convinces Clara that the piano shows they were meant to be together. Her realization that it’s not so simple prompts an odd but beautiful finale that leads from inside the piano’s consciousness to the summit of Dante’s Peak.

Deftly plotted and well written, a gentle meditation on the healing power of art—and its limitations.

Pub Date: Jan. 22, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-525-65467-4

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: Oct. 2, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2018

An important memoir that should be required reading for anyone who has never struggled with poverty.

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MAID

HARD WORK, LOW PAY, AND A MOTHER'S WILL TO SURVIVE

First-time author Land chronicles her years among the working poor as a single mother with only a high school diploma trying to earn a living as a minimum-wage housecleaner.

The author did not grow up in poverty, but her struggles slowly evolved after her parents divorced, remarried, and essentially abandoned her; after she gave birth to a daughter fathered by a man who never stopped being abusive; and after her employment prospects narrowed to dirty jobs with absurdly low hourly pay. The relentlessly depressing, quotidian narrative maintains its power due to Land’s insights into working as an invisible maid inside wealthy homes; her self-awareness as a loving but inadequate mother to her infant; and her struggles to survive domestic violence. For readers who believe individuals living below the poverty line are lazy and/or intellectually challenged, this memoir is a stark, necessary corrective. Purposefully or otherwise, the narrative also offers a powerful argument for increasing government benefits for the working poor during an era when most benefits are being slashed. Though the benefits received by Land and her daughter after mountains of paperwork never led to financial stability, they did ameliorate near starvation. The author is especially detailed and insightful on the matter of government-issued food stamps. Some of the most memorable scenes recount the shaming Land received when using the food stamps to purchase groceries. Throughout, Land has been sustained by her fierce love for her daughter and her dreams of becoming a professional writer and escaping northwest Washington state by settling in the seemingly desirable city of Missoula, Montana. She had never visited Missoula, but she imagined it as paradise. Near the end of the book, Land finally has enough money and time to visit Missoula, and soon after the visit, the depression lifts.

An important memoir that should be required reading for anyone who has never struggled with poverty.

Pub Date: Jan. 22, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-316-50511-6

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Hachette

Review Posted Online: Oct. 15, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2018

In intimate, knowing ways, Goodwin crafts history as aspiration—or at least inspiration—for readers; let’s hope a hefty...

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LEADERSHIP

IN TURBULENT TIMES

With impeccable timing, the acclaimed historian focuses on the ways four presidents navigated the country through wrenching clashes and crises.

Pulitzer Prize winner Goodwin (The Bully Pulpit: Theodore Roosevelt, William Howard Taft, and the Golden Age of Journalism, 2013, etc.) profiles Abraham Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt, Franklin Roosevelt, and Lyndon Johnson, all of whom she’s written about previously. Lincoln’s “unmatched work ethic, rhetorical abilities, equable nature, and elevated ambition” steered him to the moment in 1862 when he gathered his Cabinet for the first draft of the Emancipation Proclamation. That document, writes the author, is “remarkable for its flat precision,” revealing Lincoln’s wisdom in reining in rhetorical flourishes “to reach across factions” and avoid moral condemnation of slaveholding states. Goodwin admires Theodore Roosevelt for his ability to change himself from a “nervous, unhealthy, fragile child” to a leader who, through the force of his personality and adept use of the press, protected working-class Americans from vast wealth inequality. Franklin Roosevelt’s amiable confidence and ability to lead by example pushed the country through the Great Depression, while Johnson’s mastery of legislative strategy eventually compelled many national politicians to see that civil rights were long overdue. The most remarkable aspects of this book are the astute psychological portraits of these leaders: comprehensive, human, and engaging, clearly the results of long study. In the final chapters, Goodwin uses short signposts, snippets of advice, to guide readers. For example, in the section about Johnson’s seemingly insurmountable passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, she writes, “make a dramatic start” and “establish the most effective order of battle,” and then follows that line with several paragraphs about why Johnson fought to pass a tax cut before attempting the more momentous civil rights bill. These demarcations clarify the labyrinthine political and cultural issues the presidents confronted.

In intimate, knowing ways, Goodwin crafts history as aspiration—or at least inspiration—for readers; let’s hope a hefty portion of those readers have titles that begin with Sen. or Rep.

Pub Date: Sept. 18, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-4767-9592-8

Page Count: 464

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: Aug. 6, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2018

A modern gothic suspense novel done right.

THE AU PAIR

An unfamiliar photo causes a British woman to question her identity and investigate long-hidden family secrets in this debut thriller.

With her father recently having died in an unfortunate accident the day before her birthday, Seraphine Mayes is spending her compassionate leave going through his belongings at Summerbourne, the large Norfolk estate where she was raised. In his things, she finds a photograph she’s never seen before: It shows her mother, father, and older brother, Edwin, with her mother holding a newborn baby. What’s strange, however, is that Seraphine is a twin and there’s no telling whether the baby is her or her brother, Danny. Also, mere hours after the twins’ birth, their mother committed suicide by throwing herself off a cliff near the house. Why had she never seen this photograph, what did it reveal about her past, and who took it? As Seraphine delves deeper into the mysteries of her family, she finds more deaths, coverups, and mysterious disappearances than one ancestry should contain. At the center of all of this is one figure she’s never heard of: Laura, Edwin’s au pair the summer she and Danny were born. If she can just find her, maybe she’ll discover the secret of her birth. Rous’ debut novel is a whirlwind, twisting and turning with new revelations every few pages. Pinging between Seraphine’s search in the present and Laura’s experiences in the past, the reader is never entirely sure of what they know, as each chapter brings new information that may change previous certainties. The ambiance of Summerbourne and the family that inhabits it, from the folly to the gardens to the old gardener who speaks of fairies, adds that gothic touch to what might otherwise have been a generic family-mystery thriller.

A modern gothic suspense novel done right.

Pub Date: Jan. 8, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-440-00045-7

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Berkley

Review Posted Online: Oct. 2, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2018

THE ONE YOU FIGHT FOR

From the Ones Who Got Away series , Vol. 3

A school shooting survivor, Dr. Taryn Landry has devoted her life to preventing teen violence, but just as she’s launching a promising new program, unexpected obstacles arise, and a sexy trainer she’s working with harbors secrets that might derail everything she’s worked for.

After a disastrous first date, Taryn finds herself at open mic night at a bar. She sings her heart out and finds herself revisiting teenage dreams only to have an anxiety attack at the end, landing in the arms of Lucas, a sexy stranger who helps her out then disappears. Both disappointed and relieved, she reminds herself that she doesn’t have time to hang out in bars or meet sexy but mysterious men for coffee, because she has to focus on her research and the program she’s presenting to the local school board, designed to target potentially harmful teens and get them the support they need before they turn violent. However, her resolve falters when her best friend guilt trips her into starting an exercise plan and she discovers her trainer is none other than the sexy good Samaritan. The two share an explosive attraction, though he rebuffs her advances until he finally admits that he’s actually Shaw Miller, the brother of one of the shooters who attacked her school. Entering into a secretive affair, they both realize it can’t last, but that doesn’t keep them from growing more intense even as Taryn’s career is threatened. Loren continues her breathtaking The Ones Who Got Away series with another Long Acre shooting survivor who finds love with a problematic partner and who must rediscover who she is as she fights for her happiness. Taryn risks her livelihood and the good will of her family when she falls for Shaw, but in exploring their relationship, Loren deftly and elegantly explores guilt and forgiveness as Taryn learns to truly open her heart to Shaw and his love.

Extraordinary.

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-4926-5146-8

Page Count: 416

Publisher: Sourcebooks Casablanca

Review Posted Online: Dec. 11, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2019

An utterly enjoyable account of Victoria’s familial relationships.

QUEEN VICTORIA

TWENTY-FOUR DAYS THAT CHANGED HER LIFE

The Chief Curator of Historic Royal Palaces in England shares her unique access to the quotidian history of English royals to treat us to another delightful story from the inside.

Worsley (Jane Austen at Home, 2017, etc.) is helped in this instance by Victoria’s penchant for saving outfits she wore at important milestones, right down to the shoes, and the author provides significant insight into her attitude to the throne. At first, she was a headstrong young woman trying to break away from the influence of her mother and John Conroy. Her father’s friend and servant, Conroy devised a system that he and Victoria’s mother used to control all aspects of her life. It was a system designed to ensure their power when she ascended the throne, whether as regents or advisers. Luckily, Victoria was sufficiently headstrong to reject them both. As queen, she relied on Lord Melbourne, a father figure, for advice, and she exhibited her strong emotional intelligence. After her marriage to Albert, she fell under his orderly, dispassionate intellect; luckily, she retained the empathy that made her beloved. Still, he often infantilized her, downplaying her abilities. As a mother, Victoria came up short, as Worsley amply shows. She didn’t enjoy her children except that they made Albert happy. She was tyrannical and never nursed them, since that would have made her feel “like a cow or a dog.” Albert’s influence was reflected in her thinking that women were inferior to men and therefore had no right to vote. She held him up as the unattainable perfection that none of her children would ever attain. Her grief at Albert’s death and interminable mourning are legendary, but it also made her realize that no one could have mastery over her. John Brown caused no end of consternation, but it was he who brought her back to the people. She made few public appearances, but photographs and two books she wrote about Albert took the place of her presence.

An utterly enjoyable account of Victoria’s familial relationships.

Pub Date: Jan. 8, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-250-20142-3

Page Count: 432

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Oct. 22, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2018

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