Jenna Bush Hager October Pick – ‘Leave the World Behind’

Jenna Bush Hager has selected Leave the World Behind by Rumaan Alam as the October pick for her #ReadWithJenna book club.

Curious what Leave the World Behind is about? Check out the following description provided by the publisher.

A magnetic novel about two families, strangers to each other, who are forced together on a long weekend gone terribly wrong.

Amanda and Clay head out to a remote corner of Long Island expecting a vacation: a quiet reprieve from life in New York City, quality time with their teenage son and daughter, and a taste of the good life in the luxurious home they’ve rented for the week. But a late-night knock on the door breaks the spell. Ruth and G. H. are an older couple—it’s their house, and they’ve arrived in a panic. They bring the news that a sudden blackout has swept the city. But in this rural area—with the TV and internet now down, and no cell phone service—it’s hard to know what to believe.

Should Amanda and Clay trust this couple—and vice versa? What happened back in New York? Is the vacation home, isolated from civilization, a truly safe place for their families? And are they safe from one other?

Suspenseful and provocative, Rumaan Alam’s third novel is keenly attuned to the complexities of parenthood, race, and class. Leave the World Behind explores how our closest bonds are reshaped—and unexpected new ones are forged—in moments of crisis.

Want to make sure that Jenna’s picks are automatically put on hold for you? Be sure to join our Best Sellers Club.

Mexican Gothic by Silvia Moreno-Garcia

“The world might indeed be a cursed circle; the snake swallowed its tail and there could be no end, only an eternal ruination and endless devouring.”

If you are looking for an uncanny and spine-chilling read for Halloween, you won’t want to miss Mexican Gothic by Silvia Moreno-Garcia. Set in Mexico in the 1950s, young socialite Noemi Taboada is asked to visit her cousin, Catalina, in the country upon her father receiving an unusual and seemingly delusional letter from her. In it, she claims her newlywed husband and the mansion they live in are trying to poison her, among other ramblings Noemi and her father can’t make much sense of. While Noemi isn’t keen on leaving her life in Mexico City, she embarks to the countryside for an undetermined length of time to attend to her cousin’s well-being, half-expecting to bring her back to Mexico City to see a psychiatrist.

It doesn’t take long upon arriving, however, for Noemi to experience the unnatural, isolating, and menacing ambiance of this mansion, also known as High Place. Along with Catalina and her husband, Virgil, the manor is home to Virgil’s ancient father, aunt, cousin, and a handful of servants. In addition to the family living with no electricity and in complete silence most of the time, which is very unnerving for the loquacious and lively Noemi, she is also made very uncomfortable when introduced to Virgil’s father, a man completely enamored by the notion of eugenics.

In addition to the dismal demeanor of the house’s occupants, the decrepit house itself is a character of its own. It is truly the epitome of a Gothic setting from beginning to end, complete with the dark and derelict interior, the haunted neighboring cemetery, and the insane, enigmatic descriptions of the house coming to life. Within the grasp of the house, Noemi begins to have horrific dreams of the house as a living organism and of inhumane events occurring within its walls, and she soon realizes her cousin has been subjected to something far worse than she could have ever imagined.

For me, this Gothic tale was Jane Eyre meeting “The Yellow Wallpaper,” which then met Stephen King. I have always been a fan of Gothic literature, and this was a fresh, chilling, and creepy story I didn’t want to put down. While I didn’t initially relate with the protagonist and the story had a bit of a slow start, I found the suspense, plot, and imagery to be completely worth the small wait. I will make a disclaimer that it does have some pretty morbid descriptions and imagery at parts (hence, Stephen King’s shout out), but if you want something to leave you haunted and squeamish, even with the lights on, you will definitely enjoy this novel!

This book is also available in the following formats:

Overdrive eAudiobook

Overdrive eBook

October Biography Pick – We’re Better Than This

The October biography pick for the Best Sellers Club is We’re Better Than This by Elijah Cummings with Jim Dale.

For more information about what We’re Better Than This is about, check out the following description provided by the publisher.

A memoir by the late Congressman details how his experiences as a sharecroppers’ son in volatile South Baltimore shaped his life in activism, explaining how government oversight can become a positive part of a just American collective.

Join our Best Sellers Club  and automatically have selected titles put on hold for you. Want the hottest new release from your favorite author? Want to stay current with a celebrity book club? Love nonfiction? We’ve got that too! Choose any author, celebrity pick, and/or nonfiction pick and have us put the latest title on hold for you automatically. Select as many as you want!

The Pull of the Stars by Emma Donoghue

“We all live in an unwalled city, that was it. I saw lines scored across the map of Ireland; carved all over the globe. Train tracks, roads, shipping channels, a web of human traffic that connected all nations into one great suffering body.”

I have to admit, I took a risk reading The Pull of the Stars by Emma Donoghue due to its extremely timely and grisly content but, that being said, I am extremely glad I read this novel and am excited to share it with you.

This historical fiction novel is set in Dublin, Ireland, and takes place during the most lethal wave of the 1918 Flu Pandemic and WWI. The story primarily revolves around Nurse Julia Powers, who works as a midwife and cares for expecting mothers who have contracted the virus. Not unlike conditions we have witnessed during the COVID-19 pandemic, hospitals were described as being completely overrun with patients, severely understaffed, and lacking necessary medical supplies. With that being said, there were also some very different hardships people experienced over a century ago, so this is a very enlightening and humbling glimpse into the experiences of a past pandemic. Taking place over the span of three days, you will experience a whirlwind of emotions as you follow Julia through her incredible work at the hospital and meet several unforgettable women who will haunt you long after you finish the story.

Overall, I found this book to be extremely intense, but definitely worth the read. Not only does this subject hit close to home as we are living through a pandemic ourselves, but the fact that Julia spends most of her time working in the maternity ward lends itself to several passages with explicit descriptions of medical procedures (albeit they are noted as being extremely accurate for the time according to the notes at the end of the book). While I definitely found myself feeling squeamish at times, I was truly in awe and astounded by the seemingly impossible work Julia did for her patients during such a trying time.

This story is also brimming with character development, as you get a chance to intimately meet several women in the confines of the maternity/fever ward and learn their stories over the course of three days. You will definitely find yourself on an emotional rollercoaster, experiencing sorrow and sympathy, hope and love, shock and awe, life and death, and everything in between. I was extremely inspired and humbled by the strength and resilience of humanity in this novel, and this is what ultimately made it well worth the read while living in the midst of COVID-19.

I also found myself extremely interested in the setting and time period of this story itself, as I didn’t know too much about either the 1918 pandemic or the history of Ireland during this period of history before reading. In fact, I was drawn in so much that I immediately found a documentary and podcast to listen to after finishing the book.

All in all, I found this novel to be worth its intensity and, while it may not be the best time to read this particular book for some, it may be relatable and inspirational to others as we live through a pandemic in our own time.

This book is also available in the following formats:

OverDrive eAudiobook

OverDrive eBook

The Remix: YA Retellings of Classic Novels

Chances are you’ve seen lists of “books everyone must read” or “books to read before you die”, or something similar. And it’s also pretty likely that you’ve tried to read some of these “essential” or “classic” books, only to find them dense and difficult. Books written in the 19th or 20th centuries often have a very different writing style than modern works, which makes it more challenging to get hooked and keep reading. My secret? I do my best to read the original, and then read a fantastic YA retelling. There are a lot of YA authors taking these iconic stories and making them accessible to modern readers so they get the story’s proper emotional effect. Here are two examples of what I mean.

Moby-Dick by Herman Melville is undoubtedly a classic. It has been referenced in plays, movies, and TV shows for years due to its universal themes of obsession, revenge, and their destructive effects. However, this book is also a classic example of a wordy 19th century writing style, and in my opinion Melville tells you way more about the technical aspects of whaling than you need to know. The point of this book for me is in Ahab’s obsession and its deadly effects for innocent bystanders like Ishmael and the rest of the crew. If you agree with me (or just don’t have time to wade through some five hundred pages) another way to experience this story is And the Ocean Was Our Sky by Patrick Ness. It retells the Moby-Dick story from the whale’s perspective: a pod of whales led by Captain Alexandra goes to war with the human Toby Wick, with devastating consequences for all concerned. It maintains the gravitas and the action of the original, but it makes some really effective changes. Among other things, it has beautiful illustrations and the perspective change really highlights the complicated ethical questions hinted at in the original. And it’s shorter, by a lot. Not an action-adventure reader? Not to worry, I have a romantic example too.

Jane Eyre is, to be fair, one of my favorite books even in its original form. The ordinary but strong-willed protagonist who determines her own fate and goes after what she wants is inspiring to me, and the writing style isn’t nearly as bad as it could be. However, for me the book spends the middle section of the book slogging through a fairly irrelevant subplot before returning to the main story, and I have some ethical concerns about Mr. Rochester – this is the main character’s fairly pushy love interest, who (spoiler alert) locks his mentally ill wife in the attic of his house and tries to marry the main character anyway. For these reasons I was delighted to discover Brightly Burning by Alexa Donne. It retells the Jane Eyre story with a few improvements – setting the action on a futuristic spaceship, keeping the story’s pace moving, and tweaking a few things to make the love interest less problematic.

These are just two examples of a great trend in YA literature – translating iconic historical works into modern terms so the story and its significance isn’t lost on present and future generations. There are plenty more I could highlight, including remixes of Shakespeare, Sherlock Holmes, and lots of fairy tales. Don’t get me wrong, I love the new stories being written just as well, but there’s something special about rediscovering great stories (and their lessons) so many years later. More than that, I like looking at what gets changed, because it shows me how the world and its systems change over time to be more ethical, inclusive – or just more interesting!

Reese Witherspoon October pick – His Only Wife

Reese Witherspoon has selected His Only Wife by Peace Adzo Medie for the Reese’s Book Club x Hello Sunshine October pick.

Check out the following description provided by the publisher for more information about this book:

An intelligent and funny debut about a relatable, indomitable heroine: a young seamstress in Ghana who agrees to an arranged marriage, only to realize that some compromises are too extreme to accept, illuminating what it means to be a woman in a rapidly changing world.

If you want to make sure that you don’t miss any celebrity book club picks, join our Best Sellers Club and have them automatically put on hold for you.

One of Us is Lying by Karen McManus

As you might know by now, the things I love in books include: murder mysteries, retellings of iconic works, and ensemble casts. Recently I discovered that One of Us Is Lying by Karen McManus ticks all three of those boxes! It’s a twist on the iconic movie The Breakfast Club, featuring a compelling murder mystery, and it features a dynamic and well-rounded set of characters. I devoured this book in a  a day or two, because it’s very compelling reading and I had to know whodunit.

The brain is Bronwyn: driven and Ivy League bound. The athlete is Cooper: a baseball player already being scouted by teams and colleges alike. The princess is Addy: the popular girl with the perfect boyfriend. The criminal is Nate: the drug dealer with a broken home and a bad reputation. These four find themselves in detention with Simon, who runs their school’s notorious gossip app and loves spilling everybody’s secrets. But before their punishment is over, Simon is dead and they’re facing a lot of tough questions. Their lives, and their secrets, will never be the same again.

One of my favorite things about this book was the character development. Rather than sticking to their typecast roles, these characters grow, change, and discover new things about themselves through the course of their ordeal. Nobody is quite who they appear to be, in both good and chilling ways throughout the story. It reminded me strongly of the new Jumanji movies in that a dangerous situation is brightened by unexpected friendships made along the way.

Even better – there’s a sequel! One Of Us Is Next is available now, and to my delight it doesn’t immediately put the same characters in danger, derailing all their personal growth and happy endings. Instead, secondary characters from the first novel (including Bronwyn’s hacker younger sister) step into center stage in the second, taking on a whole new mystery and a whole new set of secrets. If you like hopeful mysteries, teen books, great characters, or can’t get enough of The Breakfast Club, I recommend this author’s work whole-heartedly.

October Cookbook pick – The Well Plated Cookbook

Our October cookbook pick for the Best Sellers Club is The Well Plated Cookbook by Erin Clarke.

Want to know more about what The Well Plated Cookbook? Check out the following description provided by the publisher.

Known for her incredibly approachable, slimmed-down, and outrageously delicious recipes, Erin Clarke is the creator of the smash-hit food blog in the healthy-eating blogosphere, Well Plated by Erin. Clarke’s site welcomes more than 3 million visitors a month, and with good reason: Her recipes are fast, budget-friendly, and clever; she never includes an ingredient you can’t find in a regular supermarket or that isn’t essential to a dish’s success, and she hacks her recipes for maximum nutrition by using the “stealthy healthy” ingredient swaps she’s mastered so that you don’t lose an ounce of flavor. In this essential cookbook for everyday cooking, Clarke shares more than 130 brand-new rapid-fire recipes, along with secrets to lightening up classic comfortfavorites inspired by her midwestern roots, and clever recipe hacks that will enable you to put a healthy meal on the table any night of the week. Many of the recipes feature a single ingredient used in multiple, ingenious ways, such as Sweet Potato Boats 5 Ways. The recipes are affordable and keep practicality top-of-mind. She’s eliminated odd leftover “orphan” ingredients and included Market Swaps so you can adjust the ingredients based on the season or what you have on hand. To help you make the mostof your cooking, she’s even included tips to store and reheat leftovers, as well as clever ideas to turn them into an entirely new dish. From One-Pot Creamy Sundried Tomato Orzo to Sheet Pan Tandoori Chicken, all of the meals are ready to make when you need them, and so indulgent you won’t detect the healthy ingredients. As Clarke always hears from her readers, “My family doesn’t like healthy food, but they LOVED this!” This is your homey guide to a healthier kitchen.

Join our Best Sellers Club  and automatically have selected titles put on hold for you. Want the hottest new release from your favorite author? Want to stay current with a celebrity book club? Love nonfiction? We’ve got that too! Choose any author, celebrity pick, and/or nonfiction pick and have us put the latest title on hold for you automatically. Select as many as you want!

Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents by Isabel Wilkerson

A caste system is an artificial construction, a fixed and embedded ranking of human value that sets the presumed supremacy of one group against the presumed inferiority of other groups on the basis of ancestry and often immutable traits, traits that would be neutral in the abstract but are ascribed life-and-death meaning in a hierarchy favoring the dominant caste whose forebears designed it. A caste system uses rigid, often arbitrary boundaries to keep the ranked groupings apart, distinct from one another and in their assigned places.”

In the bestselling book Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents Isabel Wilkerson, Pulitzer-Prize winning author of the title The Warmth of Other Suns, draws parallels between the often-unspoken caste system in the United States with those of India and Nazi Germany to elucidate the innate, systemic racism that is intentionally rooted and entwined in the history and core foundations of our country. This work combines deep, immersive research and moving narratives, such as Wilkerson’s own experiences, to express and relate how this invisible hierarchy affects the opportunities, safety, and day-to-day life of black Americans today.

Wilkerson first shines a light on current events, painting a disturbing picture. She describes the escalating racial tensions in America as “pathogens” or “toxins” that were never completely eradicated with the end of slavery or the implementation of civil rights legislation, but were rather buried beneath the surface in the “permafrost” until certain circumstances brought them back to the surface. She then considers the arbitrary construction of human divisions across America, as well as in India and Nazi Germany, before exploring eight distinct pillars of caste she believes are the foundations of the caste system in the United States.

After elaborating upon these powerful pillars, ranging from topics of divine will and endogamy to dehumanization and stigma, Wilkerson discusses the “tentacles” and consequences of the caste system lingering in the lives of black Americans today. One of the most telling parts of this book for me was learning about the many forms of backlash that transpired after President Barack Obama’s election and re-election, as many claimed the accomplishment of a black man in the Oval Office was a sign that racism was “dead.” This could not be further from the truth.

Lastly, Wilkerson calls for an awakening and the need for action in order to combat the dangerous, debilitating, and ever-present caste system preserving and prolonging systemic racism in the United States and has a strong response to those who dismiss racism based on the reasoning that it isn’t “their fault,” or the fault of their ancestors:

We are the heirs to whatever is right or wrong with it. We did not erect the uneven pillars or joists, but they are ours to deal with now. And any further deterioration is, in fact, on our hands.”

Overall, this title is extraordinarily written as Wilkerson writes in a compelling, thoughtful, and revealing way about this subject, and if you are looking for a raw, honest, and thought-provoking title to learn more about the origins of systemic racism in America, I would wholeheartedly recommend picking up this book.

This book is also available in the following formats:

OverDrive eAudiobook

OverDrive eBook

By Popular Demand: Scary Recommendations for All Ages

Autumn is a great time of year to read scary stories – so long as you’re safely curled up in a blanket with a hot drink, with lots of lights on. Lately I’ve helped several patrons find their next spooky read, so I wanted to take this opportunity to give my best scary book recommendations for all ages.

These books are roughly sorted in descending order by the age group they were written for, but depending on your mood and the level of frights you want, any of these might do, regardless of your age!

After Stephen King, of course, The Devil All The Time by Donald Ray Pollock is a great choice to start with, not least because it was recently made into a film starring Tom Holland and streaming on Netflix. It focuses on a town full of corrupt and sinister characters, including a disturbed veteran, a husband and wife serial killer team, a false preacher, and Arvin, an orphaned young man caught in the middle.

 

A recent release worth trying for some chills is Sisters by Daisy Johnson. This haunting tale depicts two sisters who are very close — too close. They have recently relocated to an isolated house after a sinister event in their hometown. In their new life, as dread and unease rises in the house and in their relationship, the sisters’ darker impulses push them to the brink, and nothing will ever be the same.

 

If you’re looking for something more speculative, Deathless Divide by Justina Ireland might be the historical zombie novel for you. The sequel to 2018’s Dread Nation, it follows two young women traveling west in an 1880s America plagued by the restless dead. Jane and Katherine are looking for a safe haven, but find only more conspiracy, danger, and lies – not to mention the undead.

 

Another recent release worth trying – if you like scary clowns – is Clown In A Cornfield by Adam Cesare. Quinn and her father moved to a small, boring town to get a fresh start. But the town is struggling after the loss of their factory and its income, and has now divided into a conflict of adults vs. kids. This battle might destroy the town, so the town mascot (a creepy clown, of course) decides to eliminate the problem by getting rid of the troublesome kids for good.

 

After Neil Gaiman (of course), I’d recommend readers of middle-grade novels check out Thirteens by Kate Alice Marshall. It’s a recent publication, and it has echoes of both Stranger Things and Coraline. Eleanor, haunted by her mother’s disappearance in a fire, moves to too-perfect Eden Eld, where 3 children disappear every 13 years. This year, it’s her turn. It’s up to Eleanor and her two new friends to solve the mystery and save themselves before it’s too late.

 

This Town Is Not All Right is another middle grade read worth checking out. It evokes Stephen King, especially in the setting: it’s set in a  Maine fishing village, the very region Stephen King has made iconic in his books.  Twins Beacon and Everleigh, newly arrived with their father, can’t help feeling there’s something off about the town – even before Everleigh is recruited into the mysterious group The Gold Stars. Beacon must then find the chilling truth or risk losing his sister forever.

 

Finally, a personal favorite of mine: The Gates by John Connolly is a great spooky book for all ages, packed with humor, science, and (of course) terrifying evil. Three days before Halloween, precocious Samuel Johnson and his dog stumble onto his neighbors calling forth the devil in a flirtation with the underworld gone wrong. Now, the gates of hell could open, and only one eccentric little boy can stop it. This is a hilarious and thoughtful read, packed with action and some pretty complex ideas.

Other great authors of scary books include Dean Koontz, Jo Nesbo, Ruth Ware, Victoria Schwab, Leigh Bardugo, Ransom Riggs, Patrick Ness, Tamsyn Muir, Mary Downing Hahn, R.L. Stine, and K.R. Alexander.