This month’s top pick in mystery, Gustaf Skördeman’s debut novel, Geiger, has a beginning you’ll never forget: A woman shoots her husband of 50 years after hearing the titular word on a mysterious phone call.
This month’s top pick in mystery, Gustaf Skördeman’s debut novel, Geiger, has a beginning you’ll never forget: A woman shoots her husband of 50 years after hearing the titular word on a mysterious phone call.

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After years of growing his increasingly passionate fanbase with independent and digital-first novels, Alexis Hall achieved mainstream popularity—and hit the bestseller list—in 2020 with the witty London-set rom-com, Boyfriend Material. The equally successful Rosaline Palmer Takes the Cake followed a year later, and now the British author is conquering historical romance with A Lady for a Duke.

Being presumed dead after fighting in the Battle of Waterloo gave Viola Carroll the chance to live as the woman she has always been, but it came at the cost of her best friend. Two years later, Justin de Vere, the Duke of Gracewood, is still devastated by Viola’s supposed death and has become a recluse. Viola travels to his estate to try and help him, even though doing so could destroy the new life she’s built. We talked to Hall about the thorny questions that come with writing about queer characters in a historical setting and why he’s such a prolific author. (A Lady for a Duke is his second release in 2022, with two more to come!)

It’s been a busy few years! Do you ever sleep?
Well, I don’t sleep much, and I have no social life. I kind of joke about this, but it’s genuinely not sustainable for me. Basically, because the market changed quite a lot and quite quickly in terms of how receptive people are to queer romance, this is sort of the first time in my career that these kinds of opportunities have been possible for me. So I did what any reasonably neurotic person would have done and said yes to everything. Which does mean my life is temporarily on hold. I’m hoping to get to a more sensible pace in a year or two.

Are you a fastidious organizer when it comes to drafting or is it a more chaotic process?
This feels like a nonanswer but sort of both? The answer I usually give to the plotter versus pantser question is that it fails to take into account that pretty much all books go through multiple drafts and you need to use different techniques at different parts of the process. Like, I’ll usually have an outline for the first draft, but then the first draft is itself kind of the outline for the second draft. And there have been books that have looked, in their final form, quite similar to how they looked when they started, but there are others that are almost unrecognizable. So I guess I’m organized when I need to be organized and chaotic when I need to be chaotic. To be fair, I’m sometimes also chaotic when I need to be organized.

“It was important to me . . . that neither the text nor really anyone in the text should meaningfully question that Viola is a woman.”

A Lady for a Duke takes place after the 1815 Battle of Waterloo, which Viola fought in and after which she was presumed dead. Why did you choose to make Waterloo the pivotal turning point in her life?
Firstly, and most simply, Waterloo is a big, iconic, central feature of the Regency, and I wanted to engage with it in a meaningful way. It was kind of one of the most devastating military conflicts that Europe had ever seen, so that feels . . . significant? Otherwise, it would be like setting a book in 1916 and never mentioning the First World War.

The other reason is a bit more narratively focused. It was important to me from very early on in the conception of the book that neither the text nor really anyone in the text should meaningfully question that Viola is a woman because, frankly, I don’t think anyone benefits from fiction legitimizing that particular “debate.” And so that meant I needed Viola to have transitioned and to be comfortable in her identity from the moment she arrived on page. In that context, Waterloo gives depth to the life she lived and the choices she made in the past, while providing a source of conflict between her and Gracewood that’s not related to her gender identity.

Viola’s first interactions with Justin are some of the most emotionally fraught moments in the entire book. How did you ensure the poignancy of these moments without slowing down the pace?
I always feel bad about these crafty kinds of questions because I feel like people are expecting a more insightful answer than I actually have. I mean, the short answer is “I don’t know, and I suspect some readers will think I didn’t.”

But I think some of it, partially, is just trusting my audience. One of the hardest (and most freeing) things about writing genre romance is that people recognize that the emotions are the plot. I mean, you can have other plots as well, but it’s not like you’re ever going to get a romance reader saying, “Nothing happened in this book except some people got together, where are the explosions?”

Read our starred review of ‘A Lady for a Duke.’

How is writing about queer love in the Regency era different from writing a contemporary queer romance?
In some respects, it isn’t. The philosophy I tend to take about writing in a historical setting is to keep clear sight of the fact that I’m still a modern writer writing a modern book for a modern audience. And how far I’ll steer into that will vary quite a lot. For example, my other Regency series is unabashedly, absurdly modern in pretty much all of its sensibilities, and some readers don’t like that, and that’s fine. But I don’t think there’s anything intrinsically wrong with writing historical fiction like A Knight’s Tale instead of The Lion in Winter.

That said, I think there are some decisions you have to make consciously that, in contemporary fiction, you’re allowed to make unconsciously. Readers often have quite specific expectations about how being LGBTQ should be presented in a historical setting, and those aren’t always expectations I’m going to agree with or play into.

I think one of the more subtle questions it’s important to address in writing a queer love story in a historical environment is whether you are going to use modern perceptions of identity or, as best you can, historical perceptions of identity. On the one hand, it is correct to say that relationships and experiences that we would today attach specific labels to have always existed. But, on the other hand, neither those labels nor the often quite complex set of assumptions that go with those labels would have made sense to people in a historical setting.

My general take comes back to what I said about keeping in mind that I’m writing for a modern audience. It’s ultimately more important to me that my queer stories resonate with modern queer readers than it is for them to portray what I think a person at the time might actually have perceived their identity to be. Not least because that’s unknowable.

“One of the hardest (and most freeing) things about writing genre romance is that people recognize that the emotions are the plot.”

A Lady for a Duke

Both the cover model for Viola and the audiobook narrator of A Lady for a Duke are trans women. Why was it important to you to involve trans women in the process of bringing this book to life? And how did you feel the first time you saw its gorgeous cover?
Who can represent whom and in what media is a complex question that doesn’t necessarily have clear generalizable answers. For example, I’m not sure I could readily articulate why I felt it was important to have a trans woman narrating Viola (or why I tend to feel that it’s important to have POC voice actors narrating books with POC protagonists) but haven’t felt so strongly about having voice actors who match the identities of my gay or bisexual characters. I’m also deeply aware that this isn’t a topic that I have authority to pontificate on, and in many ways I am just kind of guided by instinct. For what it’s worth, I do have another book (The Affair of the Mysterious Letter) in which the trans male narrator was portrayed by a cis man in the audiobook because, at the time, I couldn’t find a British trans man to do it. Ultimately I think that was an acceptable second best, and the voice actor did a great job, but I think I’d have felt bad if I could have had a trans voice actor for A Lady for a Duke but gave the job to a cis person anyway.

One of the things I wanted to do with A Lady for a Duke (and I’m far from the first person to do it) is to contribute to the normalization of trans people within romance in general and historical romance in particular. And perhaps I’m wrong, but I hope having Violet looking gorgeous as Viola on the cover and Kay Eluvian doing a fantastic job narrating the audiobook helps to communicate that trans people belong here as much as cis people do.

And yes, the cover is perfect and I love it.

Tell us about the research you did for this book. What did you learn that surprised you?

The first thing I’d say is that it’s worth remembering that the Regency is an incredibly tiny bit of history both spatially and temporally. Like, not only did it cover just nine years of actual time (1811–1820), but if we’re talking about the specific community that people are usually talking about when they’re talking about the Regency, we’re talking about the 10,000 richest people in England. And, in fact, if you narrow it down to the subset of people that historical romance tends to focus on (which is to say, dukes and people who directly interacted with dukes), you’re getting into the low hundreds.

On top of that, there’s the broader issue that I’ve loosely touched on already, which is that the language we use to describe LGBTQ identities and experiences in the present day only really applies to the present day. So, for example, we do know a certain amount about molly houses, which were brothels/social clubs in the late 18th century (which, honestly, were kind of fading out by the Regency) where men would go to have sex with each other, sometimes cross-dress and sometimes do sham weddings and even sham births. But none of that can necessarily be assumed to map onto any specific identity as we understand it today.

“I don’t think there’s anything intrinsically wrong with writing historical fiction like A Knight’s Tale instead of The Lion in Winter.”

Similarly, there have always been people who have lived as a gender that is not the gender they were assigned at birth (although, obviously, the only ones we know about are the ones who were outed, either during their lives or post-mortem), but we can’t necessarily know how those individuals understood their identities. It gets particularly complex when you’re talking about people who were assigned female at birth and lived as men. Hannah Snell, for example, dressed as a man to fight in a war but afterward told her own story in a way that very strongly framed her as a woman who had dressed as a man to fight in a war. But there are also people like Dr. James Barry who lived as men during their lifetimes and made it very clear that they wanted to be thought of, known and remembered as men after their deaths.

An ongoing problem with queer history in general and trans history in particular is you can’t prove how a person really thought about themselves, and mainstream culture tends to demand a very high burden of proof. Dr. James Barry is a really good example. Here we have a man who lived as a man, explicitly stated he was a man and wanted to be remembered as a man, but most of his biographies present him as a woman who cross-dressed to access privileged male spheres. And while I’m not a historian, as a human being my personal feeling is that if someone says they’re a man, you should, like, believe them.

What was the most challenging aspect of writing A Lady for a Duke?
In any romance book, you need an emotional nadir of some kind, because otherwise the journey toward the happily ever after can feel like it lacks stakes or tension. This usually happens at 70% into the story, but that didn’t feel right for this book.

I knew the main source of conflict was going to be what happened at Waterloo, but the idea of having that hanging over the book, the characters and the reader for 200 to 300 pages was just super grim. Viola and Gracewood also have a lot to work through both personally and socially, and I didn’t think I’d be able to squoosh that into the last third of the book. All of which meant that I actually hit the emotional nadir at about (spoiler) 30% or 40%. And because of that change in structure, it took some finessing to make sure the rest of the book still felt like it had something to say and the characters had somewhere to go.

What have you been reading lately?
I recently read a phenomenal contemporary rom-com called The Romantic Agenda by Claire Kann. It’s kind of a riff on My Best Friend’s Wedding, but it centralizes two asexual characters who are navigating their complicated relationship with each other while falling in love with other people. The heroine, Joy, is an absolute joy. And I think it’s just one of the most romantic books I’ve ever read.

I also loved The Stand-In by Lily Chu, another contemporary rom-com. This one has a zany “Oh, you look exactly like a famous film star” premise, but it’s actually incredibly grounded and tender, exploring the importance of all kinds of relationships, not just romantic ones.

Oh, and Siren Queen by Nghi Vo is breathtakingly good. It’s a magical, dark fairy-tale take on pre-code Hollywood about a queer Asian American film star who makes a name for herself playing monsters, since she won’t faint, do an accent or take a maid role. It’s incredibly intense but, at its heart, exquisitely kind. One of those books you feel genuinely humbled to have read.

We spoke with Alexis Hall, master of the contemporary rom-com, about what it was like to take on the Regency era in A Lady for a Duke.

The pull of shared history is incredibly strong, as demonstrated in this trio of new sister-centric thrillers. There’s strangeness and estrangement, intertwining and unraveling, joy and terror as these sets of siblings revisit the past in hopes of forging a better, less frightening future. 

Blood Will Tell

In Blood Will Tell, a tense new thriller by Heather Chavez (No Bad Deed), a quick trip to the gas station kicks off a chain of increasingly frightening events that thoroughly upend Frankie Barrera’s life.

The single mom and middle school math teacher has no idea why other customers are glaring at her as she pays for her gas. She figures it’s due to mistaken identity or perhaps just a case of the grumpies. Then a text alert brings everything into sharp, shocking focus: Her pickup truck was included in an Amber Alert. Her first reaction? Utter confusion. Her second? Curiosity about whether Izzy, her impulsive and unpredictable younger sister, had anything to do with it. 

Frankie soon realizes Izzy was indeed involved, but figuring out how and why will require upsetting trips back into long-suppressed memories of a chaotic night five years earlier when a scared, drunk Izzy had called Frankie for help because she had been in a terrible car crash and wasn’t sure what had happened. Chavez does an excellent job of conveying both the disorienting haziness of a painful past and the push-pull of the sisters’ desire, and reluctance, to face the truth. 

Criminals circle and legal issues loom as the sins of the past collide with those of the present. Time is running out, and Frankie and Izzy must decide: Can they end their codependence while solving the mysteries of that fateful night once and for all? Through its unflinching focus on the unhealthiness of entrenched familial roles, Blood Will Tell shines a light on the ways loyalty can become more damaging than nurturing, more misguided than wise.

I’ll Be You

If you had to guess which identical twin and former child TV star would be the one to disappear at the beginning of bestselling author Janelle Brown’s I’ll Be You, you probably wouldn’t pick Elli.

She and her twin, Sam, have had a painfully tumultuous relationship for many years. Sam’s struggles with addiction made it impossible for them to maintain the closeness they reveled in as children, and their former-manager mother’s insistence on reminding them of their so-called good twin/bad twin personalities (that would be Elli and Sam, respectively) has never been helpful either. 

But even when things were at their worst, Elli was always there, ready to help or listen. She wouldn’t just check herself into a spa for an indefinite amount of time, leaving everyone, including her recently adopted toddler daughter, behind . . . right? Despite her mother’s refusal to acknowledge that harm might’ve come to Elli, Sam decides to follow her instincts and investigate her estranged sister’s life in hopes of bringing her back home. 

After all, Sam thinks, “Who else had ever studied her as closely as I had? Who had ever seen me the way that she did?” But as Sam pores over Elli’s files and tries to talk to her prickly new friends, a distressing pattern emerges, and she realizes the Ojai spa Elli is visiting might not be a place for relaxation but something more sinister, even cult-like. Even worse, the Elli with whom she had swapped places many times has now become an enigma. Elli might not even want to be found.

Readers will enjoy the on-tenterhooks feeling of I’ll Be You as Sam tries to simultaneously maintain her sobriety, fend off her mother’s barbs and track down the elusive Elli. Brown’s depiction of addiction and the toll it takes on Sam, Elli and their family is empathetic and affecting, as are the sisters’ attempts to establish individual identities while keeping a close connection—an eternal struggle for all of us, certainly, but especially challenging when the singular intimacy of twinhood is involved. 

The Children on the Hill

What if intimacy that once was a balm for trauma transformed into something twisted, perhaps even deadly? Jennifer McMahon explores this painful possibility in The Children on the Hill, her follow-up to 2021’s bestselling The Drowning Kind. Deliciously gothic details and eerie vibes set the stage for a supremely creepy, often incredibly sad tale inspired by Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein.

In 1978, Violet “Vi” Hildreth and her brother, Eric, enjoy an idyllic childhood on the grounds of Vermont’s Hillside Inn, a psychiatric hospital presided over by their beloved Gran, the renowned psychiatrist Dr. Helen Hildreth. The kids have created a monster club, even collaborating on The Book of Monsters, which is all about the beings they believe are lurking in the darkness. 

When Gran brings an orphaned patient named Iris to stay with them, Iris and Vi form an intense bond. Vi resolves to help the traumatized Iris figure out where she came from, even if (especially if) subterfuge and sneaking around are involved.

In a parallel storyline set in 2019, returning to Vermont is the last thing Lizzy Shelley wants to do. She’s a popular author and podcast host who travels the country in pursuit of scary creatures. She believes that monsters are real, and that her long-lost sister is one. 

McMahon’s teasingly gradual reveal of the event Lizzy is referring to provides copious thrills as bizarre goings-on unspool, bit by bit. (And yes, a secret basement laboratory is involved.) The alternating timelines converge in shudder-inducing ways that invite readers to ponder these questions from The Book of Monsters: “Don’t we all have a little monster hiding inside us? A little darkness we don’t want people to see?” 

Through its innovative take on Shelley’s tragic and memorable classic, The Children on the Hill offers an absorbing contemplation of a sisterhood forged in shared pain, in longing to feel less alone even under the most monstrous of circumstances.

Family secrets and sins cast a long shadow in these thrillers, which center on the relationship between sisters.

“I must go down to the seas again,” begins English poet John Masefield’s “Sea-Fever.” This trio of picture books is the perfect remedy for such an ailment. They capture the wonderful ways that beach days offer respite from our routines as we cool down, splash around and play.

★ Little Houses

Little Houses is a quietly marvelous book about a girl’s day at the beach with her grandparents. Frequent collaborators (and husband-and-wife team) Kevin Henkes and Laura Dronzek have created an ode to curiosity that urges readers to open their minds and wonder at the world.

The young narrator of Little Houses loves to visit her grandparents at a little yellow cottage “so close to the water you can hear the waves.” As they comb the beach, the girl’s grandmother reminds her to collect only empty shells, because some might be “little houses.” This prompts the girl to ponder what sorts of creatures might have lived in the shells she sees. She even muses about the possibility that vacant shells might harbor the ghosts of their previous inhabitants.

Then the girl overhears her grandmother say “ . . . things we cannot see” above the din of the waves, and what follows is a deft and strikingly realistic narrative move by Henkes. The girl imagines what her grandmother might have been talking about and starts to describe “all the things that might be under the water,” from “fish as big as cars” to “lost toys, lost coins, lots of lost things that were cried over.”

Dronzek gives form and shape to the girl’s speculations in a brightly colored full-spread scene. An enormous dark blue fish with friendly eyes swims in cerulean waters surrounded by marine life—jellyfish, an octopus, a sea turtle and more. Young readers will love spotting the many items scattered along the ocean floor, including a chain of pearls, a toy sailboat and a white toy kitten that will be familiar to longtime Henkes fans.

Every page of Little Houses reminds readers of the infinite ways that oceans, animals, plants and people are connected.

A Day for Sandcastles

As Little Houses looks out at the big world, A Day for Sandcastles keeps a tight focus on three children who spend a day in the sand. In this wordless picture book, the children work diligently together to build the sandcastle of their dreams. As the author-illustrator duo also did in Over the Shop, JonArno Lawson creates a detailed narrative that Qin Leng’s ink and watercolor artwork brings to life.

The journey starts with a bus ride out of the city, and spot illustrations show each character’s excitement as they step off the bus and catch their first glimpses of the sandy beach and ocean water that await. While always present, the two adults who accompany the children remain largely on the sidelines and allow the children to create their own fun.

Leng nimbly alternates between smaller, narrowly framed views of the children’s construction efforts and larger panels, pages and double-page spreads that depict wider scenes of the beach. These views convey the changing position of the sun throughout the day and the rising tide, which is a constant threat to the children’s castle. Leng’s images give this beach day rhythm as readers experience everything from the wrenching agony of a destructive wave to the uniquely attentive pleasure of using a twig to carve tiny windows into sandy towers.

A Day for Sandcastles is a delightful story about perseverance and the joy of seeing a work in progress to completion. It’s lovely to see the children cooperate as they defend their castle from a windblown hat, a wayward toddler and more, but there are plenty of successes too, as shown by Leng through the children’s facial expressions and energetic movements.

The journey home—packing up beach chairs and umbrellas, trudging up a grassy dune, yawning and boarding (or being carried onto) the bus and, finally, gazing out at waters that glimmer against a blazing sunset as the bus drives back to the city—neatly concludes this summer story. A Day for Sandcastles will leave readers longing for a beach trip of their own.

Hot Dog

A lively, lovable city-dwelling dachshund is the star of Doug Salati’s joyful author-illustrator debut, Hot Dog.

With spare text, the book opens as its canine protagonist overheats while out for a walk on a summer day in a crowded city. Eventually, the poor pup lies down in the middle of the street and refuses to go any farther. Fortunately, the dog’s human companion knows just the remedy.

Salati’s illustrations are full of whimsy and soul. He is a master of detail in these bustling city scenes, capturing everything from the displays of eyeglasses in an optician’s shop to construction workers so hard at work that readers will practically hear their jackhammers. These pages radiate heat via shades of orange and yellow, and a particularly effective illustration shows the sun blazing down on our furry hero right before the dog melts down.

What makes Hot Dog so memorable and fun are all the interactions between the pup and his person, a tall, determined redhead who wears round blue glasses, a turquoise fanny pack and a floppy yellow hat. It’s heartwarming when she kneels down in the crosswalk, ignoring the cacophony of honking cars to gaze into her exhausted dog’s eyes, one hand under her pup’s chin, the other grasping a paw. She immediately hails a taxi, which drops the pair off at a subway station.

After a quick train ride, the woman and her four-legged friend board a ferry. The sweltering glow lifts and Salati’s palette fills with sky blues, verdant greens and clean, creamy sands. Readers will feel relief from the heat as the sea breezes billow, providing “a welcome whiff of someplace new.” A series of playful action scenes show the dog relishing every moment on the shore. The pup chases waves and seagulls, rolls around and digs in the sand and collects rocks for his owner. Splendid touches of humor pop up, such as a large rock that turns out to be a seal and a dachshund silhouette that the woman creates out of stones, shells, driftwood and seaweed.

Canine and human return home on a crowded subway to a beautiful summer night in their neighborhood. The day’s heat has faded and a fresh wind blows as families relax around a plaza with a big fountain. Back in their apartment (a clever visual homage to Vincent van Gogh’s well-known painting of his bedroom), Salati offers the perfect summation: “What a day for a dog!”

Hot Dog captures a much-needed summer excursion that readers will enjoy taking again and again.

This trio of picture books capture the wonderful ways that beach days offer respite from our routines as we cool down, splash around and play.

Surprise: We’re nearly halfway through 2022! Time flies when your nose is stuck in a great book. Here are the 22 books that are most likely to have made BookPage readers forget the calendar this year.

Olga Dies Dreaming by Xochitl Gonzalez book cover

22. Olga Dies Dreaming by Xochitl Gonzalez

In Xochitl Gonzalez’s vibrant and raw debut novel, Olga Dies Dreaming, love and family drama crash into politics.

21. Daughter of the Moon Goddess by Sue Lynn Tan

Sue Lynn Tan’s debut novel is an all-consuming fantasy that is breathtaking both for its beauty and its suspense.

20. Honor by Thrity Umrigar

Thrity Umrigar’s novel offers a well-rounded portrait of India, a place that can be “cosmopolitan, sophisticated, but also resolutely out of step with the world.”

19. Nine Lives by Peter Swanson

Peter Swanson’s latest mystery novel is an unpredictable roller coaster that boasts a compelling cast of characters.

18. The Swimmers by Julie Otsuka

Funny, moving and composed of sentences that read like small poems, The Swimmers is a remarkable novel from an unparalleled writer.

17. In Love by Amy Bloom

Amy Bloom is known for examining the dynamics of intimacy in her fiction, but she has never gotten closer to the flame than in this memoir of her marriage.

16. Cornbread & Poppy by Matthew Cordell

Caldecott Medalist Matthew Cordell’s first early reader, the tale of two mice who embark on an expedition up Holler Mountain, will leave young readers hungry for more.

15. The Night Shift by Alex Finlay

Fans of Grady Hendrix and Riley Sager will tear into this sophomore-slump-defying thriller from the author of Every Last Fear.

14. The Paris Bookseller by Kerri Maher

With its insider’s view of the literary expat world of 1920s Paris, The Paris Bookseller will appeal to fans of Paula McClain’s The Paris Wife.

13. Under Lock & Skeleton Key by Gigi Pandian

The enchanting first book in Gigi Pandian’s Secret Staircase mystery series flawlessly balances magic, misdirection and murder.

12. Scoundrel by Sarah Weinman

Scoundrel is the electric story of a killer who managed to fool everyone around him, as told by a superb crime writer.

11. The Appeal by Janice Hallett

The Appeal is a cleverly constructed, meticulously detailed, often hilarious epistolary novel of suspense.

10. A Deadly Bone to Pick by Peggy Rothschild

Mystery fans and dog lovers alike will enjoy A Deadly Bone to Pick, the first in a new cozy mystery series featuring former police officer-turned-dog trainer Molly Madison.

9. Sea of Tranquility by Emily St. John Mandel

The interlocking plot of Emily St. John Mandel’s sixth novel resolves beautifully, making for a humane and moving time-travel story.

8. The Atlas Six by Olivie Blake

Olivie Blake marries an extremely pulpy plot with smart and nimble writing in her debut fantasy novel, The Atlas Six.

7. Black Cake by Charmaine Wilkerson

Black Cake marks the launch of a writer to watch, one who masterfully plumbs the unexpected depths of the human heart.

6. One Italian Summer by Rebecca Serle

For readers open to moral complexities, One Italian Summer is a thoughtful, fun escape, blending contemplations of love and loss with a touch of adventure.

5. Overdue by Amanda Oliver

Former librarian Amanda Oliver quickly learned that her job was as much about performing the work of a social worker—without any training—as it was about books.

4. The Magnolia Palace by Fiona Davis

Bestselling author Fiona Davis builds upon the secrets of the Frick Collection in a delightful blend of emotion and adventure.

3. Small World by Jonathan Evison

In Small World, Jonathan Evison underscores a sense of a shared America, that we are all in this nation-building adventure together. That’s a destiny worth manifesting.

2. The Diamond Eye by Kate Quinn

Kate Quinn’s track record for delivering captivating historical fiction continues with the remarkable story of the infamous Russian sniper known as Lady Death.

1. Booth by Karen Joy Fowler

Karen Joy Fowler’s Booth is a triumph in its fascinating rendering of a legendary American family.

This list was compiled based on analytics from between Jan. 1 and May 1, 2022.

Discover the titles that BookPage readers have most enjoyed so far this year.

All three of these gorgeous and talented authors have played pivotal roles in movies that are meaningful to fans worldwide. Their Tinseltown lives are glamorous, to be sure, but their heartfelt life stories reveal a darker side to fame, where inspirational journeys and cautionary tales collide.

★ Out of the Corner

Jacket for Out of the Corner by Jennifer Grey

Jennifer Grey knows that her life has been charmed from the beginning. As a child, her famous parents took her to holiday parties with the likes of Stephen Sondheim, Patti LuPone and Leonard Bernstein. But although she breathed in rarefied air, Grey felt lonely and lacking. The rising star of her father, Joel Grey, meant the family moved numerous times, and so many instances of starting over, with her parents largely absent, took a heavy toll.

In Out of the Corner: A Memoir, Grey writes, “I’d been so consumed by feeling abandoned that I hadn’t seen the ways I had abandoned myself.” In the decades before she reached that perspective, the actress searched—for affection, connection, approval—even as she achieved great fame.

Grey became America’s sweetheart in 1987, thanks to her indelible work as Baby Houseman in Dirty Dancing, but as she reveals with raw and moving candor, her sunny smile at the premiere belied her physical and emotional suffering. Just before the film’s debut, she and then-boyfriend Matthew Broderick were in a head-on car crash in which two people died. Even before that, her relationship with Broderick had turned toxic, and she’d had other unhealthy relationships earlier in her life. “My first drug of choice was romantic fantasy,” she writes. Other drugs followed, amplifying behavioral patterns from which she’s worked to recover—efforts she recounts with empathy for her former self and encouragement for those with similar struggles.

Grey also addresses what she calls “Schnozageddon”—when a revision rhinoplasty famously and irrevocably altered her face and professional identity—with bravery and clarity. And when she writes about dance, her prose sings with gratitude for the lifelong pursuit that’s taken her marvelous places, from Dirty Dancing to “Dancing With the Stars.” Time and again, Grey reveals herself to be tenacious and dedicated to the show going on—a fitting metaphor for a singular life, which she shares with wit, warmth and wisdom.

★ We Were Dreamers

Jacket for We Were Dreamers by Simu Liu

Simu Liu’s fans are enchanted by his previous work as a stock photo model. They loved him in the Canadian sitcom “Kim’s Convenience.” And they rejoiced when he landed the lead in Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings. He shares these stories and more in his engaging, uplifting memoir, We Were Dreamers: An Immigrant Superhero Origin Story.

Liu has had an incredible journey so far, but as with any origin story, it hasn’t been without painful obstacles. We Were Dreamers begins with his 1989 birth in Harbin, China, where he lived with his loving grandparents for four years. Then his parents, engineers who had moved abroad after he was born, brought Liu to Canada to join them. After so many years of pursuing a better life, they were not interested in Liu’s dreams for his own life, and they emotionally and physically abused him when he couldn’t achieve their definition of perfection.

As a young adult, getting laid off from an accounting job for which he was spectacularly ill suited brought shame but also opportunity, as Liu finally felt free to try out performing gigs, from acting to stunts to playing Spider-Man at kids’ parties. He recounts his step-by-step approach, providing a helpful blueprint for other aspiring artists who lack a supportive family or industry connections. For him, this plan worked marvelously: He obtained life-changing work as an actor in the U.S. and became an advocate for Asian representation in media in the process.

As an adult, Liu forged a truce with his parents, and he writes that “families today could learn from us and steer themselves from the same mistakes.” A compelling case for pursuing an authentic life, We Were Dreamers provides fascinating insight into a newly minted Marvel superhero who wants readers to take to the skies along with him.

★ Mean Baby

Jacket for Mean Baby by Selma Blair

Since birth, Selma Blair has struggled to unstick the labels others applied to her. As an infant, she had a sneer on her tiny face that caused neighbors and family to call her a “mean baby.” As she grew older, her mother said she wasn’t enough—pretty enough, thin enough, good enough, talented enough . . . the list goes on. And yet, as Blair writes in her painfully lovely Mean Baby: A Memoir of Growing Up, “I lived for her approval.”

Although that approval was ever elusive, Blair loved her mother. However, she had learned from her mother that if she showed she was in pain, it would only be met with laughter. So even as Blair began to experience strange sensations in her limbs, facial pain and other ailments that lasted for decades, she told herself she was fine. Fans already know where this is going: In 2018, Blair was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. As she writes with a poignant mixture of grief and relief, “There is great power in words. In an answer. In a diagnosis. To make sense of a plot you could hardly keep up with any longer.”

Blair writes about what fans may not know, too, such as her alcohol addiction that began at age 7 and surged and receded over the years. Blair also shares many thrilling Hollywood encounters, vividly conveying the profound feeling of disorientation that was her constant companion even as she starred in movies like Cruel Intentions, Legally Blonde and Hellboy; modeled for high-end fashion magazines; and developed friendships with the likes of Sarah Michelle Gellar, Karl Lagerfeld and Carrie Fisher.

Blair drew from her journals, her favorite books and her love of writing to craft this memoir, which is an elegiac contemplation of her life through the lens of a chronic illness that only recently made her past clear. For those seeking a similar sense of enlightenment, reading Mean Baby is a worthy and affecting undertaking.

Memoirs by Jennifer Grey, Simu Liu and Selma Blair reveal that even out-of-this-world stars have down-to-earth problems.

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