Julie Hale

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The orphan son of Chinese immigrants, Ming Tsu is brought up to be an assassin by a California bandit in Tom Lin’s one-of-a-kind Western, The Thousand Crimes of Ming Tsu. Ming hopes for a better future after he elopes with Ada, the daughter of a railroad mogul. But when Ada is abducted and Ming is forced to go to work for the Central Pacific Railroad, he’s determined to seek retribution. Supernatural elements blend seamlessly with the epic plot, which makes room to note the prejudices of the 19th century. 

Richard Wagamese’s Indian Horse looks at the life of an orphaned Ojibway boy in 1960s Ontario, Canada. Saul Indian Horse attends a bleak Catholic boarding school. A professional sports career becomes a possibility for Saul after he joins an Ojibway hockey team, yet he faces prejudice and hostility due to his heritage. As he comes of age, he must also come to terms with his past—and prepare for an uncertain future. Wagamese draws upon Ojibway language and lore as he traces Saul’s remarkable personal journey, and the result is a starkly beautiful neo-Western novel.

Set in the American West during the gold rush, C Pam Zhang’s How Much of These Hills Is Gold tells the epic story of a Chinese American family. When their father, a hardworking miner, dies, orphans Sam and Lucy decide to give him a traditional Chinese burial. After being forced to leave their home, they embark on a quest to find the right place to lay their father to rest, traveling through harsh terrain with his corpse carried on horseback. Zhang plumbs myths about the American West as she dissects themes of nature, home and immigration in this rewarding book club pick.

Anna North reimagines the traditional Western with Outlawed. In an alternate 1890s, happily married Ada finds that she’s unable to bear children. Afraid that she’ll be charged with witchcraft—a typical occurrence for childless women—Ada flees her home and eventually joins the Hole in the Wall Gang. A collective of female and nonbinary fugitives, the gang hopes to establish a town where marginalized people can flourish. Ada’s adventures with the gun-toting band make for great reading, with gender, community and identity being but a few of the novel’s rich discussion topics.

These innovative takes on the Western breathe new life into the genre and will spark enthralling group discussions.
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Following a breakup with his fiancée, “CBS Sunday Morning” correspondent Conor Knighton sought distraction in travel. He spent a year touring the nation’s 63 national parks, and in Leave Only Footprints: My Acadia-to-Zion Journey Through Every National Park, he provides a funny, fascinating account of his trip. Knighton, who started his trek at Acadia National Park in Maine, shares hilarious anecdotes from the road and provides insights into the history of the park system. Reading groups will enjoy digging into themes of nature, conservation and the allure of travel.

In The Ride of Her Life: The True Story of a Woman, Her Horse, and Their Last-Chance Journey Across America, Elizabeth Letts chronicles the extraordinary travels of Annie Wilkins. In 1954, Wilkins learned that she had only a few years to live. Determined to see the Pacific Ocean, a lifelong dream of hers, the 63-year-old set out on her horse, Tarzan, riding from Maine to California and attracting national attention along the way. Letts brings Wilkins’ adventures to vivid life in this unforgettable book.

Mark Adams’ Tip of the Iceberg: My 3,000-Mile Journey Around Wild Alaska, the Last Great American Frontier is a spirited tribute to one of America’s most idiosyncratic states. Inspired by Edward H. Harriman’s famous 1899 exploration of the Alaskan coastline, Adams (Turn Right at Machu Picchu) traveled the same route as Harriman and his crew. He documents the ways in which Alaska has changed in the intervening years and crosses paths with an array of colorful characters, providing astute observations about environmentalism, Alaskan history and the oil industry in the process.

Kate Harris was a Rhodes scholar studying at Oxford and MIT when she set out to travel the Silk Road by bike, an excursion she recounts in Lands of Lost Borders: A Journey on the Silk Road. Harris, who had long dreamed of exploration, was accompanied by her best friend, Mel. Together, they cycled their way into Turkey, India, Nepal and China, traveling for nearly a year. Harris mixes history, geography, travel writing and personal reflection to create a richly detailed narrative that’s a testament to the transformative power of travel.

These true stories of national park-hopping and continent-traversing will inspire reading groups.
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In Love in Color: Mythical Tales From Around the World, Retold, British Nigerian author Bolu Babalola re-envisions traditional love stories from West Africa, the Middle East and Greece with a focus on empowered female characters. In “Nefertiti,” Babalola casts the famed Egyptian ruler as a defender of women, while in “Osun,” she draws upon a Yoruba folktale to tell the story of a love triangle. Babalola displays wonderful range throughout this inventive collection, and reading groups will enjoy discussing topics like the nature of desire and traditional notions of love and romance.

Yoon Choi explores the Korean American experience and the complexities of human connection in her beautifully crafted story collection, Skinship. “First Language” is the story of Sae-ri, who struggles to make her arranged marriage a success while dealing with a difficult son. In “The Art of Losing,” Mo-sae grapples with old age and the effects of Alzheimer’s disease. In every piece, Choi investigates what it means to be an immigrant, writing with compassion and wisdom throughout this uniquely assured debut.

In A Swim in a Pond in the Rain: In Which Four Russians Give a Master Class on Writing, Reading, and Life, George Saunders digs into seven classic stories—all included in the book—by Leo Tolstoy, Anton Chekhov and other greats, integrating insights from his graduate course on Russian literature along the way. As he unpacks the meaning of each story, Saunders examines the mechanics of narrative and considers what makes a work of fiction succeed. His discerning study of the short story form will appeal to readers and writers alike.

The stories in The Office of Historical Corrections, Danielle Evans’ powerful second collection, explore racial dynamics, isolation and the difficulty of connection in contemporary culture through deeply human character moments. “Alcatraz” is a poignant depiction of a family devastated by the wrongful conviction of a relative. In “Boys Go to Jupiter,” Claire, a white college student, faces fallout when she’s photographed in a Confederate flag bikini and the picture is shared online. Again and again in these stories, Evans lays bare the loneliness and displacement that so often define modern existence, setting up book clubs for meaningful conversations surrounding identity and loss.

Ready for some deep conversations? These collections offer fresh perspectives on relationships, race and the human condition.
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In an introductory note to her mischievous new work of fiction, Helping Howard, Sally Schloss writes, “This is a novel in which the main character, Howard, helps The Author write a book, and The Author in turn helps Howard understand his marriage.”

That’s the distilled storyline of Schloss’ multilayered work, a book that’s at once a funny, fizzy rom-com; a tense, discomfiting family drama; and an act of full-on narrative experimentation. Helping Howard is a novel about novel-writing that explores the strange partnership that can arise between author and character over the course of composition.

Throughout the book, Schloss’ avatar, the Author, banters with her lead creation, Howard, about plot options, the introduction of new characters and other decisions that go into the building of a book, and their often comic, surprisingly poignant exchanges (italicized in the narrative) lay bare the creative process. A 53-year-old drummer from Brooklyn, Howard is, for the most part, handsome and appealing: “Women liked him. For awhile.” (“Why for awhile? What’s wrong with me?” Howard asks The Author. “That’s for me to know and you to find out,” she replies.) Howard’s younger wife, T.J.—a lesbian who, in the midst of their marriage, seeks out other lovers—works as a professional photographer. Caught in the middle of this uncomfortable arrangement is the couple’s distant teenage daughter, Sinclair.

As she chronicles the stages of Howard’s marriage, Schloss skillfully shifts points of view, writing from the perspectives of T.J. and Sinclair. She supplies well-developed backstories for the main protagonists and in richly realized domestic episodes captures the intimacies and estrangements, ruptures and reconciliations that can make or break a marriage.

The dialogue between Howard and the Author complements the book’s larger storyline without feeling heavy-handed or precious. The result is a deeply human exploration of how decisions and desires can impact a life. With Helping Howard, Schloss has crafted a novel of narrative daring and creative risk. Thanks to her many gifts as a writer, the risk pays off.

Helping Howard is at once a funny, fizzy rom-com; a tense, discomfiting family drama; and an act of full-on narrative experimentation.
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Real Phonies and Genuine Fakes

★ Real Phonies and Genuine Fakes

To read Nicky Beer’s third collection, Real Phonies and Genuine Fakes, is to experience poetry as pageantry. In Beer’s hands, the poetic form is a staging place for spectacle, replete with provocative imagery and a brash cast of characters, including celebrities, magicians and eccentrics. “Drag Day at Dollywood” features “two dozen Dollys in matching bowling jackets, / Gutter Queens sprawled across their backs in lilac script.” Beneath their similar facades, the Dollys have distinct identities, which Beer hints at with expert economy. 

Across the collection, Beer teases out concepts of truth and self-perception. In “Dear Bruce Wayne,” the Joker—“a one-man parade / in a loud costume”—displays his genuine nature, while Batman keeps his virtuous essence under wraps: “don’t you crave, / sometimes, to be a little / tacky?” the narrator asks him. “Doesn’t the all-black / bore after a while?” Beer displays an impressive range, from full-bodied narrative poems to an innovative sequence called “The Stereoscopic Man.” Her formal shape-shifting and penchant for performance make this a magnetic collection.

Content Warning Everything

Content Warning: Everything

Content Warning: Everything, the first poetry collection from award-winning, bestselling novelist and memoirist Akwaeke Emezi, doesn’t feel like a debut. Emezi (The Death of Vivek Oji) shifts effortlessly into the mode of poet, exploring spirituality and loss in ways that feel fertile and new. 

Emezi favors flowing lines unfettered by punctuation, an approach that underscores the urgent, impassioned spirit of a poem like “Disclosure”: “when i first came out i called myself bi a queer tangle of free-form dreads my mother said i was sick and in a dark place.” A desire for release from the constraints of tradition and familial expectations animates many of the poems. As Emezi writes in “Sanctuary,” “the safest place in the world is a book / is a shifting land on top of a tree / so high up that a belt can’t reach.”

From searing inquisitions of the nature of guilt and sin to radical reimaginings of biblical figures, Emezi operates with the ease of a seasoned poet throughout this visionary book.

Time Is a Mother

Time Is a Mother

“I’m on the cliff of myself & these aren’t wings, they’re futures,” Ocean Vuong writes in his second poetry collection, Time Is a Mother. The line is one of the book’s several references to reaching an edge and then jumping or launching, with all the courage required by such an act and the possibilities that await. Born in Vietnam and brought up in the U.S., Vuong (On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous) writes with keen precision about laying claim to his own authentic life. Identity is a prominent theme in poems like “Not Even”: “I used to be a fag now I’m a checkbox. / The pen tip jabbed in my back, I feel the mark of progress.”

In extended prose pieces and short works of free verse, Vuong remembers his late mother, chronicles the search for connection and reveals a gradual emergence into true selfhood—a sort of rebirth: “Then it came to me, my life. & I remembered my life / the way an ax handle, mid-swing, remembers the tree. / & I was free.”

Earthborn

★ Earthborn

Earthborn, the 14th book of poetry from Pulitzer Prize-winning author Carl Dennis, is a rich exploration of our relationship to nature in a time of environmental instability. Dennis addresses global warming in “Winter Gift”: “Now it seems right to ask / If winter, though barely begun, is spent, / So hesitant it appears, so frail.” In “One Thing Is Needful,” he enjoins us to act: “it’s time to invest / In the myth of a long-lost Eden.”

Religion and mortality are recurring themes, as in “Questions for Lazarus”: “I know you may not be at liberty / To offer specifics,” Dennis writes, “but can you say something / In general about how dying has altered / Your view of life?” Dennis’ poems unfold at a relaxed pace, through long lines, considered and meditative, that accommodate a fullness of thought. As he examines both our lesser drives and finer desires as custodians of the planet, he holds out hope that we can be better humans, and the sentiment makes Earthborn a uniquely comforting volume. 

Bless the Daughter Raised by a Voice in Her Head

Bless the Daughter Raised by a Voice in Her Head

In Somali British author Warsan Shire’s first full-length collection, Bless the Daughter Raised by a Voice in Her Head, she brings personal history to bear in poems that focus on the plight of refugees and the realities of being a woman in an oppressive, patriarchal society. “Mother says there are locked rooms inside all women,” she writes in “Bless This House.” “Sometimes, the men—they come with keys, / and sometimes, the men—they come with hammers.” 

Shire writes about female genital mutilation—a common practice in Somalia—in “The Abubakr Girls Are Different,” a poem that balances beauty and brutality: “After the procedure, the girls learn how to walk again, mermaids / with new legs.” The poem “Bless Grace Jones” casts the singer—“Monarch of the last word, / darling of the dark, arched brow”—as a symbol of strength, a figure to be emulated: “from you, we are learning / to put ourselves first.” Indelible imagery and notes of defiance make Shire’s book a triumphant reclamation of female identity.

National Poetry Month is a time for highlighting poetry as a platform for honoring everyday experiences and giving voice to our deepest, most vulnerable selves. For all readers who celebrate, we recommend the wide-ranging collections below, which offer poetic explorations of nature, identity and our need for connection.
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With Tom Stoppard: A Life, British biographer and literary critic Hermione Lee delivers a captivating portrait of one of the world’s most beloved playwrights. Stoppard (Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead, Arcadia) was born in Czechoslovakia in 1937. He and his mother fled the Nazis during World War II and eventually put down roots in England. He worked as a journalist before going on to write the plays, radio shows and screenplays for which he has won numerous awards and worldwide acclaim. Lee explores Stoppard’s works while tracking his remarkable life, diving deep into subjects like artistic reinvention and the creative process.

Actor Leslie Jordan takes stock of his TV career (“Will and Grace,” “American Horror Story”), acclaimed stage work and unexpected Instagram success in How Y’all Doing: Misadventures and Mischief From a Life Well Lived. A Tennessee native, the 66-year-old Jordan writes with Southern flair and plenty of humor, sharing family stories and fabulous anecdotes involving Dolly Parton and other stars. He also writes about serious matters, like the AIDS crisis and his struggles to make sense of his homosexuality. Questions related to the nature of celebrity and social media will inspire spirited reading group dialogue.

Actress and singer Rachel Bloom, who created the musical comedy TV show “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend,” reflects on what it’s like to be an outsider in I Want to Be Where the Normal People Are: Essays and Other Stuff. Recalling awkward middle-school years when she was bullied, sharing journal entries and opening up about her mental health, Bloom explores her enduring quest to feel “normal.” She’s modest and forthright in this funny, deeply personal collection. Book clubs can dig into a wide range of discussion topics, including individuality, conformity and the challenges of self-acceptance.

In My Broken Language: A Memoir, Quiara Alegría Hudes, an award-winning playwright and co-writer of the musical In the Heights, shares memories of her upbringing in a West Philadelphia barrio during the 1980s and ’90s. The daughter of a Jewish father and a Puerto Rican mother whose marriage fell apart, Hudes looks back on life with her family, her Ivy League education and her entry into the world of writing and theater. The art of storytelling and the importance of communication are among the many rich themes in this moving memoir.

Take your book club to Broadway with these show-stopping nonfiction books, all of which explore life in the limelight.
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Séamas O’Reilly’s debut book, Did Ye Hear Mammy Died?, is a tender, comic chronicle of the author’s upbringing as one of 11 children raised by their widower father in Derry, Northern Ireland. O’Reilly, a regular contributor to the Observer who has a knack for crafting uproarious anecdotes, is attuned to the extraordinary—and somewhat absurd—nature of his childhood. He takes a jovial approach in the narrative, and the result is a rousing tale of family fellowship.

The book opens in 1991, right after the death of O’Reilly’s mother, Sheila (Mammy), from breast cancer. O’Reilly, who was 5, struggled to make sense of the loss and the events that followed, including Mammy’s well-attended wake. When a family friend told him that Sheila was a flower picked by God to be in his garden, O’Reilly observes, “It was nice to think that Mammy was so well-liked by God, since she was a massive fan. She went to all his gigs—Mass, prayer groups, marriage guidance meetings . . .”

After Mammy’s death, O’Reilly’s father, Joe, an engineer, was left to care for his 11 children. A devoted dad, Joe possessed seemingly bottomless reserves of patience and good nature, which allowed him to bring up a happy brood against all odds. (O’Reilly points out a particularly challenging juncture when six of his sisters were teenagers at the same time.) The O’Reilly children shared bedrooms and books, divvied up household duties (not always equitably) and traveled with Joe in a minibus dubbed the “O’Reillymobile.”

The author describes his parents as “comically, parodically, Catholic,” and religion is a constant undercurrent in the book. As O’Reilly came of age, the violent sectarian conflict in Northern Ireland known as the Troubles was waning, but he still found himself reckoning with its long-term effects. One lasting repercussion: the sense of gallows humor that’s pervasive among the Northern Irish.

Indeed, finding comedy in tragedy seems to be an operative instinct for the author. Stylistically, O’Reilly is an unabashed maximalist, packing his sentences with adverbs and consistently minting fresh figures of speech. Throughout the book, as he sifts through memories of his boisterous upbringing, he never fails to find cause for joy or a good joke. As a result, Did Ye Hear Mammy Died?—title aside—feels bracingly alive.

Did Ye Hear Mammy Died? is a tender, uproarious chronicle of Séamas O’Reilly’s upbringing in Northern Ireland. Despite the title, it feels bracingly alive.
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Set in England during World War II, Jennifer Ryan’s The Kitchen Front follows four very different women as they compete in a cooking contest sponsored by “The Kitchen Front,” a BBC radio program. The winner will earn a slot as the first ever female co-host of the show. The contestants include war widow Audrey; her sister, Gwendoline, the wife of a wealthy older man; kitchen maid Nell; and Zelda, a skilled chef. Ryan’s excellent use of historical detail and gifts for character and plot development will draw readers in, and after they finish this heartwarming novel, they’ll be able to discuss engaging topics such as female agency and women’s roles during wartime.

Focusing on life at the fictional Beijing Duck House in Rockville, Maryland, Lillian Li’s Number One Chinese Restaurant is a sly, compassionate portrayal of the culinary world. Owner Jimmy Han, whose father made the Duck House a success, is making plans to move on to a flashier restaurant. The novel’s intricate plot involves members of Jimmy’s extended family, as well as a wide range of Duck House staff. Love affairs, back-of-house drama and a restaurant fire all figure into the entertaining proceedings, and questions concerning community, identity and class will inspire great reading group dialogue.

Donia Bijan’s The Last Days of Café Leila tells the story of Noor, who goes home to Iran after spending many years in America. In Tehran, her father, Zod, runs the family business, Café Leila. The return compels Noor to come to terms with her troubled marriage and reassess her life. At the heart of the novel lies Café Leila and the comfort it provides through food and camaraderie. Bijan’s nuanced depiction of modern-day Iran offers abundant subjects for book club discussion, including family ties, immigration and Iranian history.

In The Secret French Recipes of Sophie Valroux by Samantha Vérant, talented chef Sophie Valroux works hard in hopes of one day heading up a world-class restaurant. But when her culinary career falls apart and her beloved grandmother in France has a stroke, Sophie is forced to reevaluate her life, her values and her love for cooking. Brimming with delicious recipes, Vérant’s novel is a compelling tribute to food and family. Themes of female independence, foodie culture and the nature of the restaurant business make this a sensational selection for book groups.

Reading groups will savor these delectable food-themed novels.
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Foreverland

Heather Havrilesky delivers a funny, forthright chronicle of modern wifehood in Foreverland: On the Divine Tedium of Marriage. As she recounts in the book, Havrilesky met and married her professor-husband, Bill, while in her mid-30s, and 15 years of marriage have disabused her of any fairy-tale notions about the institution. “A divine catastrophe” is how she now views the union. “Having someone by your side every minute of your life sounds so romantic before he’s actually there, making noises, emitting smells, undoing what you’ve just done,” she writes.

In Foreverland, Havrilesky considers the ups and downs of married life, writing with candor about its undeviating dullness and surprising upsides, about trading the high fire of early passion for the slow burn of long-term love. Havrilesky, a journalist whose beloved “Ask Polly” advice column now appears on Substack, has a gift for highlighting moments of comedy and absurdity in the midst of major life milestones. With Bill, she starts a family, buys a house in the Los Angeles suburbs and endures the COVID-19 lockdown, learning along the way to savor the mixed blessings of marriage. “It’s the hardest thing to do, sometimes: just to stand still and be loved,” she writes. Whether single or spoken for, readers are sure to fall for Havrilesky’s charming memoir.

From Hollywood With Love

Scott Meslow’s From Hollywood With Love: The Rise and Fall (and Rise Again) of the Romantic Comedy pays tribute to a seemingly imperishable cinematic category. The romantic comedy is something of a hybrid, a mashup of moods and emotions that hold forth the promise of a happy ending. In his delightful homage to the genre, Meslow notes that a romantic comedy’s “goal is to make you laugh at least as much as the goal is to make you cry.” Through an insightful survey of modern rom-com classics, Meslow explores the durability of the form, which peaked in popularity during the 1990s and early 2000s. Along the way, he looks at the careers of some of the category’s standout stars, including Meg Ryan, Hugh Grant, Jennifer Lopez and Will Smith.

Meslow writes with sparkle and wit, and in recounting three decades of rom-com history, he brings fresh perspectives to old favorites like When Harry Met Sally, Four Weddings and a Funeral and Waiting to Exhale. Meslow also takes stock of the genre’s recent resurgence, with a new generation of movies cropping up on Netflix and other streaming platforms. As From Hollywood With Love proves, our love for the romantic comedy is here to stay.

If you aren’t exactly feeling the love this Valentine’s Day, check out Florence Williams’ ‘Heartbreak.’

Black Love Matters

For the anthology Black Love Matters: Real Talk on Romance, Being Seen, and Happily Ever Afters, editor Jessica P. Pryde enlisted a stellar lineup of essayists to share their perspectives on Black love and the ways it’s portrayed in popular media. Pryde is a librarian, contributing editor at Book Riot and die-hard romance fan who has long been aware of the lack of romantic narratives featuring Black protagonists and blissful endings. As she notes in the book’s introduction, more than 90% of the titles produced by mainstream publishers in the romance category don’t focus on Black people’s experiences.

In “Finding Queer Black Women in Romance. Finding Bits and Pieces of Me,” novelist Nicole M. Jackson writes about looking for relatable figures in the romance genre. Author Piper Huguley explores the expectations and stereotypes surrounding Black leading men in her essay “In Search of the Black Historical Hottie Hero.” Other authors, scholars and critics who contributed to the anthology include Julie Moody-Freeman, Da’Shaun L. Harrison, Allie Parker and Carole V. Bell (who’s also a BookPage contributor). From astute cultural critiques to introspective first-person essays, these 14 pieces form a revealing mosaic that will fundamentally change how readers engage with love stories.

Conversations on Love

Love is the one thing most of us say we can’t do without, yet putting it into action—whether as a sibling, spouse or friend—can be one of life’s greatest tests. Journalist Natasha Lunn helps readers make sense of this important emotion in Conversations on Love: Lovers, Strangers, Parents, Friends, Endings, Beginnings. An offshoot of her popular Conversations on Love email newsletter, Lunn’s book features candid Q&As with authors and experts who provide guidance on the subject of love, including suggestions about how to find it, cultivate it and keep it alive.

Lunn’s roster of interviewees includes writer Roxane Gay, psychotherapist Susie Orbach and author Juno Dawson. While her book tackles topics that will resonate with committed couples, such as dealing with infidelity and working to maintain passion while raising kids, Conversations on Love also covers issues outside the realm of romance, such as sibling dynamics, self-love, identity and strategies for coping with the loss of a loved one. “Just as we change, our challenges in love change too,” Lunn writes. Her book is a thoughtful guide to meeting those challenges—and getting more love out of life.

If you’re searching for clarity regarding the elusive emotion of love (and who isn’t?), start with these four perceptive nonfiction books.
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In The Doctors Blackwell: How Two Pioneering Sisters Brought Medicine to Women and Women to Medicine, Janice P. Nimura tracks the history-making careers of Elizabeth and Emily Blackwell. As women in the male-dominated medical field during the 1800s, the sisters faced enormous obstacles, yet Elizabeth became the first woman to earn a medical degree in the United States and Emily developed into an exceptional physician. Nimura’s well-researched narrative offers a wide range of subjects for conversation, including the history of American medicine and the complications and pitfalls of first-wave feminism.

In her moving memoir, Lab Girl, paleobiologist Hope Jahren shares the story of her remarkable career in science while musing on the wonders of the natural world. From the challenges she faced as a female researcher to the labs she established and her experiences with bipolar disorder, Jahren provides a beautifully written account of her life and work. Her book is a terrific pick for reading groups in search of a substantial yet entertaining memoir, offering ample opportunities to discuss gender, family and mental illness.

Thriller and true crime fans alike will savor Sue Black’s All That Remains: A Renowned Forensic Scientist on Death, Mortality, and Solving Crimes. Black, a celebrated forensic anthropologist, delivers a fascinating chronicle of her unusual profession, mixing memoir with firsthand accounts of crime scene procedures and life in the laboratory. A native of Scotland, she approaches sensitive topics such as death and the human body with compassion, good sense and a sly sprinkling of humor.

Liza Mundy’s Code Girls: The Untold Story of the American Women Code Breakers of World War II illuminates a little-known facet of American history. As Mundy recounts in the book, women from across the country were trained to be code breakers for the U.S. Army and Navy during World War II. Working in secret, they made an invaluable contribution to the war effort. Mundy blends in-depth research with interviews with former “code girls” to create an enthralling narrative that disrupts historical stereotypes surrounding women’s contributions in wartime.

These books on extraordinary women who have made strides in the STEM fields are equal parts informative and inspiring.
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Focusing on emotional intelligence and self-awareness, these titles offer insight for managing emotions, handling stress and boosting communication skills. Here’s to a transformative new year!

Readers looking to cultivate a more peaceful mindset will find helpful strategies in Julie Smith’s Why Has Nobody Told Me This Before? Smith is a clinical psychologist, educator and writer who has been featured on CNN and the BBC. After gaining a robust social media following with her content about mental health, Smith decided to write a book so that she could delve deeper into some of the issues she often addresses with her patients in therapy.

In her warm, welcoming book, Smith focuses on weighty topics that we all contend with, such as stress, grief, fear and self-doubt, and provides suggestions for how to work through these feelings. She also encourages readers to find out what motivates them so they can use it to implement important life changes. Throughout, she takes a proactive approach, offering methods for dissolving anxiety, using stress for positive ends and managing low moods. She includes writing prompts and easy-to-do exercises to help readers explore how they respond to criticism, how they can confront anxious thoughts and more.

Why Has Nobody Told Me This Before? is briskly written and seasoned with compassionate insights. “When we understand a little about how our minds work and we have some guideposts on how to deal with our emotions in a healthy way,” Smith writes, “we can not only build resilience, but we can thrive and, over time, find a sense of growth.” Readers who are eager to achieve emotional balance and make a fresh start in 2022 will find the direction they need in Smith’s empowering book.

Popular science writer Catherine Price offers more ideas about how to start this year off on the right foot.

In Emotional: How Feelings Shape Our Thinking, Leonard Mlodinow considers the seemingly diametrical relationship between emotion and logic and shows that these two facets of human nature are not as opposed as we might imagine. A theoretical physicist and mathematician, Mlodinow has previously co-written two books with Stephen Hawking. So what can a physicist tell us about emotional intelligence? Taking a science-supported approach, Mlodinow examines the nature and usefulness of our everyday feelings. He demonstrates that, when it comes to important processes such as goal-setting and decision-making, our emotions play as key a role as our ability to think critically.

“We know that emotion is as important as reason in guiding our thoughts and decisions, though it operates in a different manner,” Mlodinow writes. Over the course of the book, he explores the way emotions work by looking at how they arise in the brain and inform our thought processes. He also investigates the history and development of human feelings, including how they’ve been regarded by different cultures in the past. Mlodinow shares a wealth of practical advice and guidance on how to monitor, and even embrace, emotions in ways that can lead to self-improvement. The book includes questionnaires that allow readers to determine their own emotional profiles, as well.

Synthesizing hard research, lively personal anecdotes and input from psychologists and neuroscientists, Mlodinow tackles complex topics in a reader-friendly fashion to create a narrative that’s wonderfully accessible. Understanding our emotions is a critical step in the journey toward personal growth, and Mlodinow’s remarkable book will put readers on the right track.

If you’ve resolved to get in touch with your feelings in 2022, then we have the books for you.
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Set in 1893 London, Paraic O’Donnell’s The House on Vesper Sands follows an appealing cast of characters as they try to unravel a mystery involving missing working-class women and a menacing group called the Spiriters. Inspector Cutter of Scotland Yard takes on the case, and his investigative efforts are shared by journalist Octavia Hillingdon, who’s on the hunt for a good story, and university student Gideon Bliss, who’s romantically linked to one of the missing girls. Readers will enjoy losing themselves in O’Donnell’s atmospheric adventure, which explores themes of feminism, class and Victorian mores.

Clare Beams’ The Illness Lesson takes place in 1800s Massachusetts, where Samuel Hood and his daughter, Caroline, open a progressive girls’ school after his dream of establishing a utopian community fails to bear fruit. Trouble brews when Eliza, a smart, inquisitive student, starts experiencing seizures and episodes of mania. After Caroline and other students experience similar symptoms, Samuel enlists the help of a doctor who proposes an unusual treatment. Beams’ ominous historical thriller is rich in period detail and brimming with tension, and its questions concerning gender and female agency will inspire great reading group discussions. 

A Black teacher encounters ghosts both spiritual and emotional on a visit to her hometown in LaTanya McQueen’s When the Reckoning Comes. Mira is in town for her best friend’s wedding, which is taking place at the Woodsman, a renovated tobacco plantation that’s supposedly haunted by the ghosts of the enslaved people who were forced to work there. Mira hopes to see her old friend, Jesse, who was arrested for murder years ago. But events take a terrifying twist, and Mira is forced to come to terms with the past. Reading groups will savor McQueen’s well-crafted suspense and enjoy digging into topics like historical accountability and the weight of memory.

The House of Whispers by Laura Purcell tells the story of a 19th-century maid named Hester who goes to work for Louise Pinecroft, a mute older woman who owns Morvoren House, a lonely estate in Cornwall. Staff members at the house harbor strange beliefs related to fairies, superstitions that are somehow connected to Louise’s late father, a physician whose questionable work with patients took place in caves thought to be haunted. Beyond its eerie aura and propulsive plot, The House of Whispers boasts many rich talking points, such as Purcell’s use of Cornish legends and her ability to create—and sustain—a mood of omnipresent foreboding.

These atmospheric thrillers—quintessentially gothic, decidedly unsettling—are perfect winter book club picks.
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For the bibliophile on your shopping list, we’ve rounded up the year’s best books about books.

The Madman’s Library

The Madman’s Library: The Strangest Books, Manuscripts and Other Literary Curiosities From History by Edward Brooke-Hitching is a must-have for any bibliomaniac. Over the course of this splendidly illustrated volume, Brooke-Hitching reviews the history of the book, investigating a variety of forms and a wide range of media but always emphasizing the extraordinary. 

Along with a number of wonderful one-offs (a book composed of Kraft American cheese slices), there are giant books (the 6-foot-tall Klencke Atlas) and tiny books (a biography of Thomas Jefferson that literally fits inside a nutshell), books that are sinister (a volume with a cabinet of poisons concealed inside) and books that are sublime (the medieval Stowe Missal with its ornate reliquary case). Astonishing from start to finish, The Madman’s Library stands as a testament to the abiding power and adaptability of the book.

Unearthing the Secret Garden

Marta McDowell looks at the life of a treasured author in Unearthing the Secret Garden: The Plants and Places That Inspired Frances Hodgson Burnett. Born in 1849, British novelist Burnett published more than 50 novels, including The Secret Garden. McDowell delivers an intriguing account of Burnett’s botanical and literary pursuits and the ways in which they were intertwined. She highlights Burnett’s enduring love of plants, tours the gardens the author maintained in Europe and America and even dedicates an entire chapter to the plants that appear in The Secret Garden.

McDowell, who teaches horticulture at the New York Botanical Garden, has also written about how plants influenced the work of Emily Dickinson, Laura Ingalls Wilder and Beatrix Potter. Filled with marvelous illustrations and historical photographs, her new book is a stirring exploration of the natural world and its impact on a literary favorite.

The Annotated Arabian Nights

The Annotated Arabian Nights: Tales From 1001 Nights, edited by scholar and author Paulo Lemos Horta, provides new perspectives on a beloved classic. Rooted in the ancient literary traditions of Persia and India, the collection of folktales known as The Arabian Nights features familiar figures such as Ali Baba, Sinbad, Aladdin and Shahrazad, the female narrator who spins the stories.

This new volume offers a fresh translation of the stories by Yasmine Seale, along with stunning illustrations and informative notes and analysis. The tales, Horta says, deliver “the most pleasurable sensation a reader can encounter—that feeling of being nestled in the lap of a story, fully removed from the surrounding world and concerned only with a need to know what happens next.” This lavish edition of an essential title is perfect for devotees of the tales and an ideal introduction for first-time readers.

We Are the Baby-Sitters Club

We Are the Baby-Sitters Club: Essays and Artwork From Grown-Up Readers is a delightful tribute to author Ann M. Martin and the much-loved Baby-Sitters Club series she introduced in 1986. Propelled by memorable characters, primarily tween club members Kristy, Stacey, Claudia and Mary Anne, who run a babysitting service, the series tackles delicate family matters like adoption and divorce, as well as broader topics such as race, class and gender.

In We Are the Baby-Sitters Club, Kelly Blewett, Kristen Arnett, Myriam Gurba and other notable contributors take stock of the popular books and their lasting appeal. With essays focusing on friendship, culture, identity and—yes—the babysitting business, this anthology showcases the multifaceted impact of the series. Nifty illustrations and comic strips lend extra charm to the proceedings. Edited by authors Marisa Crawford and Megan Milks, the volume is a first-rate celebration of the BSC.

Bibliophile

It’s almost impossible to peruse Jane Mount’s colorful sketches of book jackets and book stacks without being possessed by the impulse to dive into a new novel or compile a reading list. For her new book, Bibliophile: Diverse Spines, Mount teamed up with author Jamise Harper to create a thoughtful guide to the work of marginalized writers that can help readers bring diversity to their personal libraries.

With picks for lovers of historical fiction, short stories, poetry, mystery and more, Bibliophile: Diverse Spines brims with inspired reading recommendations. The book also spotlights literary icons (Toni Morrison, Sandra Cisneros, Ralph Ellison) and treasured illustrators (Bryan Collier, Luisa Uribe, Kadir Nelson). Standout bookstores from across the country and people who are making a difference in the publishing industry are also recognized. With Mount’s fabulous illustrations adding dazzle to every chapter, Bibliophile: Diverse Spines will gladden the heart of any book lover.

The Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows

The universe of words is steadily expanding thanks to author John Koenig. In The Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows, Koenig catalogs newly minted terms for hard-to-articulate emotional states: conditions of the heart or mind that seem to defy definition. Ledsome, for instance, is his term for feeling lonely in a crowd, while povism means the frustration of being stuck inside your own head.

Drawing upon verbal scraps from the past and oddments from different languages, Koenig created all of the words in this dictionary. He started this etymological project in 2009 as a website and has since given TED talks and launched a YouTube channel based on his work. “It’s a calming thing, to learn there’s a word for something you’ve felt all your life but didn’t know was shared by anyone else,” he writes in Obscure Sorrows. Koenig’s remarkable volume is the perfect purchase for the logophile in your life.

Find more 2021 gift recommendations from BookPage.

Stumped on what to buy for the reader who’s read everything? We’ve got six picks for the book-obsessed.

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