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All Graphic Novels Coverage

The range of comic book storytelling is vast, and this selection of 2021’s best graphic novels, memoirs and histories runs the gamut in terms of artistic style and narrative approach, yet all of them have two things in common: a mastery of the form and a unique sense of expression.

Bubble

The stakes of the gig economy have never been higher than in Bubble, a graphic novel by Jordan Morris and Sarah Morgan with illustrations from Tony Cliff and colors by Natalie Riess. Adapted from the scripted podcast of the same name, Bubble is set in a world where corporate-funded cities have sprung up as domes of safety, walling off humanity from a monster-ridden wilderness known as the Brush. Morgan was born in the Brush, and though she’s grown accustomed to life in the bubble, she’s retained a few of her more useful Brush skills, including the ability to kill pesky mutated imps. Naturally, her employers have just the thing to help her monetize that ability.

Bubble crackles with wit and biting commentary on piecing together a living one app at a time. Cliff's art enriches the whole wild affair, lending a grounding sense of reality to the reading experience despite the fantastical setting. He’s as adept at depicting action-packed scenes as he is at homing in on a character’s eyes at a key moment of personal discovery. There’s tremendous glee to be found in Bubble, but also tremendous heart.

Ballad for Sophie

A young woman talks her way into the mansion of one of the world’s most reclusive musicians and convinces him to give her an interview. That’s the premise from which Ballad for Sophie springs, and with a sense of adversarial yet whimsical tension, we are propelled into a world of bittersweet wonders, tragedy and music.

Written by jazz composer Filipe Melo, illustrated by Juan Cavia and translated from the original Spanish by Gabriela Soares, Ballad for Sophie unfolds as the aging pianist tells his story. We meet a lifelong rival, a lost love, a tormented mother, a devilish piano teacher and more, their rich narrative tapestry unfolding against backdrops that range from World War II to the luxury of 1960s Paris. 

Through it all, Melo’s characters are either constantly growing or constantly resisting growth, while Cavia’s art sweeps across the page with lithe figures and elegant depictions of bygone eras. When the story dips into the past, his art grows slightly more magical, turning piano teachers into great horned creatures and piano recitals into dramatically lit clashes of titans.

Emotionally dense, texturally rich and humming with humanity, Ballad for Sophie is a moving portrait of the ways in which art can both save and doom us.

Interior image from Ballad for Sophie
From Ballad for Sophie. Used with permission from Top Shelf.

Lore Olympus

Some elements of Greek mythology are simply timeless. In Lore Olympus: Volume One, Rachel Smythe reminds us of this using her acclaimed artistic magic. This is the first volume of her webcomic “Lore Olympus,” and it’s striking to see her work collected in such a lavish tome after its celebrated web release.

As Smythe unveils her retelling of the Hades and Persephone myth, her gorgeous art elevates each scene. She uses precise color and shading to bathe the Greek gods in neon hues of purple and blue, like they're perpetually in some mythic nightclub. Readers will revel in how seamlessly Smythe has adapted this classic story, and in no time at all, they’ll find themselves utterly lost in her beautifully dark, often startlingly timely world of sex, lies and immortality. 

The Middle Ages

You’ve probably heard that the Middle Ages wasn’t really the period of darkness and ignorance that popular culture has made it out to be, but you’ve never seen that truth demonstrated quite like in The Middle Ages: A Graphic History. Medieval historian Eleanor Janega and illustrator Neil Max Emmanuel set out to reveal how this period took shape and why it became so consequential, and they never miss in that mission. 

Rather than attempting a strictly linear dissection of centuries of human history, The Middle Ages unfolds almost as an illustrated textbook, with sections devoted to everything from the fall of Rome to the rise of Charlemagne to the growth of major European cities. Janega’s prose is precise, informative, digestible and witty. Emmanuel’s simple but effective black-and-white art carries that same wit through to the visuals, alternating between modern compositions and homages to medieval aesthetics, with amusing revisions to the Bayeux Tapestry and clever representations of church schisms.

It all adds up to an utterly essential volume for history buffs, whether they’re diving into the medieval period for the first time or just brushing up on a few things. 

★ Run

The follow-up to Congressman John Lewis’ monumental, award-winning March series, Run: Book One kicks off a new graphic trilogy that further establishes Lewis as a fundamental, undeniable force in the mid-1960s American civil rights movement.

Lewis completed work on the script for Run before his death in 2020, and illustrator L. Fury joins writer Andrew Aydin and illustrator Nate Powell (both of whom collaborated on the March trilogy) in carefully layering Lewis’ recollections with vivid depictions of celebrations and violence, hope and heartbreak, despair and determination. The story picks up after the 1965 passage of the Voting Rights Act, as Lewis encountered new roadblocks and hurdles in the wake of that legislative victory. Through dramatic composition and movement, Powell and Fury’s illustrations capture the same energy as the March trilogy, while also conveying Lewis’ maturation as he grows out of his student organizing era and enters the realm of American statesmanship.

Run is another indispensable chronicle of the life and work of one of 20th-century America’s most exceptional figures, but it’s also a mission statement for the work yet to come.

Interior image from Run: Book One
From Run: Book One. Used with permission from Abrams ComicArts.

★ Seek You

It might sound like a cliche to say that a book delving into America’s loneliness epidemic will make you feel more connected to the world around you, but that’s exactly what writer and illustrator Kristen Radtke achieves in this ambitious book. 

Part memoir, part sociological study and part cultural history, Seek You: A Journey Through American Loneliness digs deep into the many ways that loneliness affects our daily lives. Through incisive, often disarmingly confessional writing, Radtke gets to the core of what loneliness is and what it does to our bodies and minds, exploring everything from its neurological roots to the impact of the sitcom studio audience laugh track. 

Throughout Seek You, we are guided by Radtke’s beautifully muted art. Some pages are powerful in their simplicity, such as a wide view of a massive apartment complex with a single lit window, while others are effective in their complexity, such as a spread showing a lone figure amid a fog of words describing their most alienating experiences. 

Seek You is a captivating combination of raw emotional exploration and thoughtful, sophisticated imagination.

The Waiting

A chance encounter with a dog on a city street pulls a character back through decades of memories and serves as the launching point for a stirring graphic novel by author-illustrator Keum Suk Gendry-Kim.

Translated from the Korean by Janet Hong, The Waiting explores a very particular kind of loss on the Korean peninsula. In bold, fluid black-and-white imagery, Gendry-Kim tells a story inspired by her own mother, who lived under Japanese occupation in Korea before World War II, then was forced to migrate during the Korean War and the permanent division of Korea along the 38th parallel. Many Koreans fled their homes amid the fighting, causing a surge of family separations that led to lifetimes of waiting and hoping. 

Though The Waiting is set amid some of the most consequential events of the 20th century, Gendry-Kim never makes the book’s scope wider than it needs to be. The Waiting is better for it, succeeding as a deeply intimate portrayal of one woman’s struggle to not only survive but also keep some measure of hope and determination alive. It’s also about the broader goal of an entire culture to somehow come back together after war, through individual efforts and massive group reunions. 

In depicting a people’s efforts to find each other, The Waiting is one of the most moving graphic novels of the year.

★ Wake

Writer and activist Rebecca Hall and illustrator Hugo Martínez present a powerful meditation on hidden history that transforms into a haunting, necessary statement on exactly why that history has been hidden, and how much of it still lives with us.

In Wake: The Hidden History of Women-Led Slave Revolts, Hall, whose grandparents were enslaved, recounts her process of researching several 18th-century revolts that were led by enslaved women. Though some of the book’s most affecting sequences re-create these revolts, much of Wake is a memoir of Hall’s search for the brave, rebellious women who led them, the punishments they suffered and what, if anything, they managed to leave behind. In the process of constructing their stories, Hall tells much of her own, laying bare how the echoes of enslavement inform our political world as well as her own daily interactions.

Hall’s prose is stunning, and Martínez’s art takes it to another level, delivering expressive representations of the history Hall carries with her and of the reminders of slavery’s cruelty that are etched into the landscapes we walk now. His artwork bleeds past and present together, depicting the city streets around Hall as shadowy memorials of the slave markets that once stood there. When he projects the images of enslaved men and women onto the facades of skyscrapers, he transforms these feats of architecture into monuments to atrocities.

Wake is as poetic as it is powerful. Readers who adored the March trilogy and the graphic novel adaptation of Octavia E. Butler’s Kindred will find it to be an essential addition to their shelves.

A sampling of the year’s best graphics and comics includes a neon-bright retelling of a Greek myth and the continued memoirs of a civil rights legend.

In Nidhi Chanani’s enchanting Jukebox, a girl travels back in time but connects with the present.

Shaheen discovers the titular machine as she searches for her music-obsessed father, who has gone missing after they had an argument. She has enlisted her cousin, Tannaz, to help her find him, when the pair stumble upon the jukebox in the attic of her father’s favorite record shop and strange things start happening. With the spin of a record, the jukebox takes them on a magical mystery tour, transporting them to the pivotal places and moments in history that reflect the records it plays. They find themselves amid protest marches, epic concerts and more, all fueled by the legendary music of Nina Simone, James Brown, Marvin Gaye and more. Tannaz enjoys the ride, but Shaheen keeps her eyes peeled for her father and the chance to make things right between them.

Author-illustrator Chanani cleverly employs time travel in this middle grade graphic novel, using it to explore themes of family and friendship in what is ultimately a coming-of-age narrative. Her depictions of the power of music to connect us with history are touching.

Chanani’s illustrations are one of the best things about this book. In addition to graphic novels and picture books, Chanani has been a featured artist with Disney Parks, and her playful, colorful style is well suited to the story she tells here. Her characters have exaggeratedly large and expressive eyes, which lend themselves well to portraying emotions. And as you would expect in a book with music at its core, every page is infused with motion and action.

Although the mystery of the jukebox is eventually revealed, it’s clear that Shaheen’s journey is only just beginning. After all, as Stevie Wonder said, “Music, at its essence, is what gives us memories.”

In Nidhi Chanani’s enchanting Jukebox, a girl travels back in time but connects with the present.

In his breakout graphic novel, New Yorker cartoonist Will McPhail charts a millennial’s ungainly journey toward emotional connection.

With generous wit and mostly black-and-white drawings, In follows Nick, an artist trapped in a cycle of hollow conversations and extra-milky lattes. As the book opens, Nick goes to a bar alone because if he were sad—which he isn’t—that is what a sad man would do. His feelings are just out of reach, as if on the tip of his tongue. Real human interactions likewise feel imminent but elusive, unlockable only with the right words.

When Nick does succeed in making a connection, these moments of emotional disorientation erupt with color. Splashes of crumbling landscapes, towering edifices and bizarrely cute flesh-eating monsters illuminate the pages like fever dreams. Here, the narrative power of images speaks for itself.

In has echoes of the 2012 black-and-white film A Coffee in Berlin and Ben Lerner’s many disaffected “lost boys of privilege.” That In is semiautobiographical lends both tenderness and a self-implicating edge to McPhail’s lampooning of the “woke millennial hipster.” The watering holes Nick frequents (albeit with scorn) have whimsical names like Gentrificchiato and Your Friends Have Kids Bar, and are “managed/haunted by a collection of Timothees Chalamet.” McPhail suggests a playful dichotomy in which you are either a person who posts up in coffee shops or are emotionally well. If you’re feeling attacked, or if you’re Timothée Chalamet, please read on.

The characters in In are absolutely delightful. The moment Nick stops berating himself for his inadequacies, the baton for that task is snatched up by his mother, sister, neighbors, 4-year-old nephew and romantic interest, Wren, who is an especially well-developed character. She is an oncologist and, like Nick, a normcore clothing devotee who enjoys drawing unmentionables in Nick’s Moleskine notebook. 

When Wren becomes unexpectedly entangled in Nick’s family life, he is confronted once again with an opportunity to be in—that is, to be vulnerable. And when small talk becomes real talk, the world suddenly seems all that much brighter.

Small talk becomes real talk in Will McPhail's graphic novel, and the world suddenly seems all that much brighter.

Our national conversation about anti-Black racism made 2020 a pivotal year—painful for many, cathartic for others, memorable to all. Now a new year brings new opportunities to listen to Black voices and stories. Pick up one of these titles to deepen your knowledge of our country’s past, and join the chorus of voices advocating for a better future.

Ida B. the Queen

Ida B. Wells gets the royal treatment in Ida B. the Queen: The Extraordinary Life and Legacy of Ida B. Wells, written by Michelle Duster, Wells’ great-granddaughter.

From the 1890s through the early 20th century, Wells was a pioneering activist and journalist who fought racism by publicizing heinous acts of violence toward Black Americans during the Jim Crow era. Crafted with empathy for and intimate knowledge of this American icon, the book recounts Wells’ many groundbreaking achievements, which caused the FBI to dub her a “dangerous negro agitator” in her time. Unlike in a typical biography, however, Duster integrates her own perspective of her great-grandmother into this narrative, inspecting her family’s legacy along the way. Duster also outlines the cultural impact Wells had on her contemporaries, such as W.E.B. Du Bois, and draws a throughline from Wells’ defiant voice at the turn of the 20th century to the struggle for Black lives today.

In addition to its compelling content, this book is also drop-dead gorgeous. Vibrant illustrations of Wells and other important history makers, such as Josephine St. Pierre Ruffin, Malcolm X and Bree Newsome, add even more color to their colorful lives. Wells was righteously indignant and wise beyond her era, and Duster translates her drive to today’s racial discourse with insight and grace.

★ Four Hundred Souls

If you’re looking for a single work that spans the entirety of the Black experience in America, pick up a copy of Four Hundred Souls: A Community History of African America, 1619–2019, edited by Ibram X. Kendi and Keisha N. Blain. This comprehensive meditation on Black history in the United States features 90 noteworthy Black authors and poets ruminating on the last 400 years—beginning with the date of the first recorded arrival of enslaved people from Africa on these shores.

Each author reflects on five years in America, focusing on a different “person, place, thing, idea, or event”—such as Phillis Wheatley, Oregon, cotton, queer sexuality and the war on drugs. At the end of each 40-year section, a poet captures that historical period in verse. With contributions from huge names in the community of Black thought leaders, such as Nikole Hannah-Jones, Isabel Wilkerson, Angela Davis and Jamelle Bouie, just to name a few, the scope of the writing is immense and powerful, the content both celebratory and harrowing.

You may feel drawn to this book because of its heavy-hitting roster of big names, but look forward to widening your familiarity with more up-and-coming writers, too. With so many authors and topics represented in these pages, you’re sure to gain new insight about every tumultuous period in our nation’s history.


ALSO IN BOOKPAGE: Four Hundred Souls is the year’s most astounding full-cast audiobook production. Go behind the scenes with Kendi, Blain and the producers.


Julian Bond’s Time to Teach

One valuable yet often overlooked leader in the fight for Black equality is finally getting his due in Julian Bond’s Time to Teach: A History of the Southern Civil Rights Movement. The late author’s lectures from his prolific teaching career, assembled here for the first time, are full of firsthand lessons from his direct involvement in the civil rights movement.

As one of the founding members of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), Bond participated in myriad sit-ins and protests in the Southern United States and even worked directly with Martin Luther King Jr. Later he became an elected member of both the Georgia House of Representatives and the Georgia Senate and then began teaching at institutions such as Harvard, the University of Virginia and American University. As a lifelong activist, Bond not only protested for Black civil rights but was also an early advocate for LGBTQ rights and rights for disabled people, long before any legislation, courts or popular thought addressed these needs.

Reflecting his storied life of activism, Bond’s lectures offer a road map of the history of the United States and white supremacy, covering the formation of the NAACP, the treatment of Black soldiers through World War II, the landmark Brown v. Board of Education case and other milestones. Along the way, he meticulously details the daily efforts to build and expand the Southern civil rights movement throughout the 20th century, highlighting the contributions of many underrecognized individuals.

During his life, Bond wanted to educate the world about the history of the Black experience, as well as about the nuts and bolts of starting and maintaining a protest movement. With this posthumous collection, and with the help of the editors who assembled it, he can finally share his teachings with the broad audience he deserves.

★ A Shot in the Moonlight

Imagine being woken up in the middle of the night by a mob outside your house, calling your name, accusing you of crimes that you didn’t commit. Then imagine that they start throwing explosives and firing guns at your house, at your family. You defend yourself and your home as best you can, and one of the assailants dies from the intervening fight. Suddenly you find yourself, a Black man, a formerly enslaved person, fleeing through 1890s Kentucky, trying to stay out of the hands of lynch mobs. With the Ku Klux Klan and newspapers calling for your execution, you’re forced to put your life in the hands of a lawyer who fought to uphold slavery.

This complicated tale is masterfully told in Ben Montgomery’s A Shot in the Moonlight: How a Freed Slave and a Confederate Soldier Fought for Justice in the Jim Crow South. Montgomery, the Tampa Bay Times journalist who covered the Dozier School for Boys (which would later inspire Colson Whitehead’s novel The Nickel Boys), guides us through the events that took place on the night of January 21, 1897, at the home of George Dining.

A Shot in the Moonlight reads like a riveting thriller, with multiple moving pieces and conflicting perspectives, but historical artifacts such as newspaper excerpts and first-person accounts also give it journalistic depth. Set during an era when being Black and accused of a crime was almost a guaranteed death sentence, this gripping history offers hope through the actions of an unlikely cast of characters who sought to save a man from a cruel and vindictive fate.

Soul City

If you’re looking for something lower octane that still offers an intriguing exploration of what could have been, take a trip to Soul City: Race, Equality, and the Lost Dream of an American Utopia. Author Thomas Healy tells the story of Soul City, North Carolina, an intentional community founded in the 1970s by the Black lawyer Floyd McKissick, aimed at helping Black people achieve the American dream. While not an exclusively Black community, Soul City was intended to be a place for Black people to grow, prosper economically and exercise their hard-won civil rights outside of segregated cities.

Envisioning a city whose main streets were named after the likes of Nat Turner, John Brown and Dred Scott, McKissick lobbied for help from the federal government to pursue his municipal dream, and surprisingly, the Nixon administration eventually granted him the seed money. However, despite years of effort, the town is now little more than a blip on the historical radar. And by some dark irony, Soul City’s largest industry today is the operation of a for-profit prison. 

So what happened? Was Soul City doomed from the beginning, like so many ambitious utopian experiments? As Healy shows, it’s not that simple. Soul City’s bumpy background is littered with statewide backlash, legislative resistance and financial undercutting, which prevented the project from flourishing. This chronicle of what went wrong, and who wanted it to go wrong, outlines both missteps by the city’s planners as well as outside obstacles that contributed to the experiment’s failure. Even so, McKissick’s shining vision for Soul City will inspire readers to dream of what kinds of communities we could create next.

The Black Panther Party

For education that’s easy on the eyes, snag The Black Panther Party: A Graphic Novel History by David F. Walker (The Life of Frederick Douglass). Beautifully illustrated by Marcus Kwame Anderson and supremely informative, this graphic novel offers a digestible history of the Black Power movement and the Black Panther Party, correcting many negative assumptions about them while still addressing their flaws.

The book especially excels in illuminating the motives of the party’s founders, Bobby Seale and Huey P. Newton. Their original aims were to improve community security, defy the tactics of racist police departments, provide free community breakfast and offer support to underserved youth. However, the party’s faulty decision-making, along with efforts by police institutions and the FBI to sabotage the party every step of the way, led to its ultimate unraveling.

A breeze to read and a feast for the eyes (and mind), this book is perfect for every burgeoning revolutionary.

A new year brings new opportunities to listen to Black voices and stories. Pick up one of these titles to deepen your knowledge of our country’s past, and join the chorus of voices advocating for a better future.

Author Colleen AF Venable and illustrator Stephanie Yue, who previously collaborated on the Guinea Pig Pet Shop Private Eye series, reunite for Katie the Catsitter. This empathetic and exciting superhero series opener is sure to be adored by readers who can’t get enough adventure stories, mysterious goings-on, coming-of-age tales or cats. Many, many, many cats.

The story opens as Katie is lamenting the start of the most boring summer ever, because her BFF Bethany is headed to a pricey sleep-away camp. Then inspiration strikes. Katie hangs a poster in her apartment building hallway advertising odd-job services to her neighbors, in hopes of earning enough money to join Bethany for a week.

After killing plants she was hired to water and dropping groceries she was hired to carry up the stairs, Katie begins to feel desperate. Even worse, Bethany is sending fewer postcards than usual. Could their friendship be waning? Katie is shocked out of her glumness when her mysterious neighbor Ms. Lang makes an offer that seems almost too good to be true: Might Katie want to catsit for $30 an hour?

Katie’s thrilled, but she soon realizes the gig entails dealing with a lot more than hairball hurking and furniture scratching. Although her 217 (yes, 217) charges are definitely cute and cuddly, they’re also wild and wily, with decidedly un-feline talents ranging from computer hacking to coordinated thievery to costume design. And, Katie muses, isn’t it strange that every time the friendly and kind Ms. Lang needs her to catsit, the supervillain Mousetress wreaks havoc on the city?

Yue’s warm and hilarious artwork winningly captures the furry whirlwind that is Ms. Lang’s apartment, as well as the emotions that cross Katie’s face as she contemplates losing a friend and making new ones, not to mention her own growing self-confidence. Yue’s renderings of settings ranging from sharp-edged city skylines to a wacky wax museum to a dramatic night-cloaked forest are downright clever, too.

Katie the Catsitter takes readers to all these places and more. Venable’s twisty plot swoops gleefully around Manhattan, touching on everything from animal activism to evolving relationships to a secret rescue mission, and combining to tell the story of one of the least boring summers ever—while dropping tantalizing hints at thrilling seasons to come. The book’s charming back matter includes a delightful illustrated list of all 217 extraordinary cats. Meow!

Author Colleen AF Venable and illustrator Stephanie Yue, who previously collaborated on the Guinea Pig Pet Shop Private Eye series, reunite for Katie the Catsitter. This empathetic and exciting superhero series opener is sure to be adored by readers who can’t get enough adventure stories, mysterious goings-on, coming-of-age tales or cats. Many, many, many cats.

January may be a time for resolutions, but it’s also a time for celebrating all we accomplished the year before. We’re treating ourselves to these books as we begin the new year with hope.

Everyone’s a Aliebn When Ur a Aliebn Too

How can something so cute be so devastating? In this comic book, Jonny (Jomny) Sun takes a goofy premise—a cute alien is sent to Earth to document human activity—and milks it for every drop of philosophical and existential wisdom. It’s sweet, silly, sentimental, but also frightening. At first, I was hesitant to choose this book for this month’s theme, but the more I thought about it, the more I realized that its waves of emotion are a treat. It’s an indulgence and a wonder to step outside of your brain—all three pounds of tissue and synapses—and see the world through the eyes of a kind alien. And it feels good, life-affirming and joyous to know that I’m not the only one who’s so pensive about this life thing. This book is a friend—a friend who challenges you, but they do it because they love you.

—Eric, Editorial Intern


The Best of Me

I’ve read everything David Sedaris has ever written. I own every book he’s ever published. So perhaps some will call it “indulgent” or “difficult to justify” when I nonetheless buy his latest collection, The Best of Me, since it’s a compilation of previously published works. But here’s the thing—this isn’t just another retrospective volume of an author’s most popular works, selected on the basis of their fame. Instead, Sedaris chose each piece himself, based on a metric only he could know, and I’m curious to see which wild cards he included. I know, for example, that “Santaland Diaries,” which first launched him to fame on “This American Life” in 1992, is excluded. But that essay from Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim where he drowns a mouse in a bucket? It’s there. Surprise, delight, confusion, nausea—I’m eager for whatever reactions this book will incite.

—Christy, Associate Editor


Braiding Sweetgrass

It’s been six years since Robin Wall Kimmerer’s luminous collection of nature essays was first published, and I’ve given away every copy I’ve ever owned. That’s fitting: Braiding Sweetgrass endows its reader with the recognition that the world has offered us endless gifts, leading us first to gratitude and then to minidewak, the giving of our own gifts as thanks and recompense in a “covenant of reciprocity.” Kimmerer’s book inspires courage to fight for the Earth amid climate urgency, reveals new ways of knowing and seeing while protecting Indigenous wisdom and fosters a community that actively seeks to heal humanity’s relationship with the world. I’ll keep giving away copies of this book, but this special edition, reissued with letterpress-printed illustrations to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the fabulous indie press Milkweed Editions, will be a gift I give myself.

—Cat, Deputy Editor


Catherine the Great

Do I need more biographical tomes of powerful, take-no-prisoners women on my shelves? Yes. Yes, I do. There is nothing that relaxes me more than sinking into an enormous book full of royal scandals and opulent palaces— bonus points if someone gets poisoned via byzantine plot. I read Robert K. Massie’s superb biography of Catherine the Great earlier this year, and I have been peppering my poor boyfriend with anecdotes about her ever since. For example: When Catherine fell ill early on in her engagement to Peter, the future emperor of Russia, she would pretend to be unconscious in order to eavesdrop on the people gathered around her sickbed. Massie loves Catherine even more than I do. He explores her glamorous court and magnetic personality with flair and precision in this absolute masterpiece of a biography.

—Savanna, Associate Editor


The Duke and I

I’m still pretty new to the wide and wonderful world of Romancelandia, though most of the books I read for pleasure in 2020 were romance novels. I bounced happily back and forth between contemporary and historical settings, from Helen Hoang’s The Kiss Quotient to Evie Dunmore’s Bringing Down the Duke. The only thing I love more than a happy ending is a new series I can dive in to and get lost in for volume after volume, and a friend who knows this about me recommended Julia Quinn’s Bridgerton books more than a year ago. Now that Shonda Rhimes is adapting the sprawling series for Netflix, I want to make sure I’ve read at least the first few books before I watch the first season of the show, which drops on December 25, so I’m planning to pick up The Duke and I and let it sweep me off my feet and into the new year.

—Stephanie, Associate Editor

January may be a time for resolutions, but it’s also a time for celebrating all we accomplished the year before. We’re treating ourselves to these books as we begin the new year with hope.

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