The House of the Spirits by Isabel Allende

“Just as when we come into the world, when we die we are afraid of the unknown. But the fear is something from within us that has nothing to do with reality. Dying is like being born: just a change”
― Isabel Allende, The House of the Spirits

Isabel Allende was born in Peru to Chilean parents and became an American citizen in 1993. Her first book, The House of the Spirits, was published in 1982. This book began as a letter to her dying grandfather. Since then she has sold more than 77 million books that have been translated into more than forty-two languages. Allende is an accomplished writer who devotes much time to human rights causes. She has also received fifteen honorary doctorates as well as more than 60 awards in over 15 countries, including the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2014. Allende has been on my radar for many years, but I had never read any of her books. After talking to another librarian, I decided to read The House of the Spirits. I’ll admit it took me some time to get involved in the story, but listening to the audiobook definitely helped (it’s over 19 hours though)! Let’s talk about this sweeping family generational novel.

Spanning four generations, The House of the Spirits weaves a story of triumphs and tragedies and all the small moments in-between. The patriarch of the family, Esteban, is a very proud man. His volatile attitude sets his tennants and family on edge. Over his entire life, Estaban’s political ambitions defined his actions and behaviors. His ambitions and explosive behavior are only softened by his deep love of his wife Clara. Clara is a delicate woman with a mysterious connection to the spirit world. Living in a world of her own, Clara floats through life, managing the family, their friends, and the two properties they rotate between.

Clara and Estaban have three children: one girl and two boys. Their eldest daughter Blanca proves to be a headache to her father when she starts a forbidden love affair with a man she has known since she was a small child. Estaban is vehemently against their relationship, threatening her lover with bodily harm. The result of their union is his granddaughter Alba. He adores her. She is a beautiful child, who proves to be just as strong-willed as her grandfather. Alba’s beliefs vary greatly from her elder family members. As she grows older, Alba begins to explore revolutionary ideas, which she introduces to her family in the hope that their beliefs will change.

This novel covers multiple individuals in the Trueba family, even venturing back to Esteban and Clara’s parents and various other family members. This is a sweeping generational family saga full of eccentric characters. In addition to learning about the family members, readers learn about the area’s history, politics, and the forces of nature behind the actions of others.

This book is also available in the following format:

“The point was not to die, since death came anyway, but to survive, which would be a miracle.”
― Isabel Allende, The House of the Spirits

January’s Simply Held Fiction Picks

We have rebranded our Best Sellers Club to now be called Simply Held! Have you joined Simply Held? If not, you’re missing out! Four times a year, we choose fiction titles for Simply Held members to read from multiple categories: Graphic Novel, Diverse Debuts, Rainbow Reads, Overcoming Adversity, Historical Fiction, Out of this World, Stranger Things, International Fiction, Young Adult Fiction, and Juvenile Fiction.

Below you will find information provided by the publishers and authors on the titles we have picked for January.

Diverse Debuts:

Diverse Debuts: Debut fiction novel by a BIPOC author.

Calling for a Blanket Dance by Oscar Hokeah

A moving and deeply engaging debut novel about a young Native American man finding strength in his familial identity, from a stellar new voice in fiction.

Oscar Hokeah’s electric debut takes us into the life of Ever Geimausaddle, whose family—part Mexican, part Native American—is determined to hold onto their community despite obstacles everywhere they turn. Ever’s father is injured at the hands of corrupt police on the border when he goes to visit family in Mexico, while his mother struggles both to keep her job and care for her husband. And young Ever is lost and angry at all that he doesn’t understand, at this world that seems to undermine his sense of safety. Ever’s relatives all have ideas about who he is and who he should be. His Cherokee grandmother, knowing the importance of proximity, urges the family to move across Oklahoma to be near her, while his grandfather, watching their traditions slip away, tries to reunite Ever with his heritage through traditional gourd dances. Through it all, every relative wants the same: to remind Ever of the rich and supportive communities that surround him, there to hold him tight, and for Ever to learn to take the strength given to him to save not only himself but also the next generation.

How will this young man visualize a place for himself when the world hasn’t made room for him to start with? Honest, heartbreaking, and ultimately uplifting, Calling for a Blanket Dance is the story of how Ever Geimausaddle finds his way home.

This book is also available in the following format:

Graphic Novel:

Graphic Novel: Fiction novel for adults of any subgenre with diverse characters depicted by color illustrations, sketches, and photographs.

Who Will Make the Pancakes: Five Stories by Megan Kelso

A suite of five brilliant comics stories united by themes of motherhood, family, and love.
Who Will Make the Pancakes collects five deeply social stories by the acclaimed cartoonist Megan Kelso, exploring the connective tissue that binds us together despite our individual, interior experience. These stories, created over the past 15 years — roughly contemporaneously with the author’s own journey as a mother— wrestle with the concept of motherhood and the way the experience informs and impacts concepts of identity, racism, class, love, and even abuse. The book opens with “Watergate Sue,” originally serialized in The New York Times Magazine over six months in 2007. Spanning two generations of mothers/daughters, Eve’s obsession with Richard Nixon’s Watergate scandal throughout 1973 heightens her self-doubt about whether she wants to raise more children (resonantly mirroring the anxiety many of us had while doom scrolling our way through the Trump administration). Some 30 years later, her daughter, Sue, is now grown and beginning her own family and attempting to reconcile her mother’s experience with her own.

“Cats in Service” is a contemporary fable about how a death in the family leads a young couple to adopt several cats who have been expertly trained to tend to their every need. “The Egg Room” profiles middle-aged Florence, caught between dreams of how her life might have unfolded and the shrunken reality. “The Golden Lasso” turns the focus to adolescence, using rock climbing as a set piece for a story about innocence lost, while “Korin Voss” chronicles a few months in the life of a single mother in the late 1940s.

Taken collectively, Who Will Make the Pancakes showcases Kelso’s unique voice in graphic fiction (one more in tune with writers such as Alice Munro, Sarah Waters, or Ann Patchett than most graphic novelists) and a stylistic command that tailors her approachable and warm cartooning style for each story’s needs.

Historical Fiction:

Historical Fiction: Historical fiction novel written by a BIPOC author with BIPOC main character(s).

Peach Blossom Spring by Melissa Fu

“Within every misfortune there is a blessing and within every blessing, the seeds of misfortune, and so it goes, until the end of time.”

It is 1938 in China and, as a young wife, Meilin’s future is bright. But with the Japanese army approaching, Meilin and her four year old son, Renshu, are forced to flee their home. Relying on little but their wits and a beautifully illustrated hand scroll, filled with ancient fables that offer solace and wisdom, they must travel through a ravaged country, seeking refuge.

Years later, Renshu has settled in America as Henry Dao. Though his daughter is desperate to understand her heritage, he refuses to talk about his childhood. How can he keep his family safe in this new land when the weight of his history threatens to drag them down? Yet how can Lily learn who she is if she can never know her family’s story?

Spanning continents and generations, Peach Blossom Spring is a bold and moving look at the history of modern China, told through the story of one family. It’s about the power of our past, the hope for a better future, and the haunting question: What would it mean to finally be home?

This book is also available in the following format:

International Fiction:

International Fiction: Fiction novel originally written in another language with BIPOC main character(s).

Tomb of Sand by Geetanjali Shree, translated by Daisy Rockwell

In northern India, an eighty-year-old woman slips into a deep depression after the death of her husband, and then resurfaces to gain a new lease on life. Her determination to fly in the face of convention – including striking up a friendship with a transgender person – confuses her bohemian daughter, who is used to thinking of herself as the more ‘modern’ of the two.

To her family’s consternation, Ma insists on travelling to Pakistan, simultaneously confronting the unresolved trauma of her teenage experiences of Partition, and re-evaluating what it means to be a mother, a daughter, a woman, a feminist.

Rather than respond to tragedy with seriousness, Geetanjali Shree’s playful tone and exuberant wordplay results in a book that is engaging, funny, and utterly original, at the same time as being an urgent and timely protest against the destructive impact of borders and boundaries, whether between religions, countries, or genders.

Juvenile Fiction:

Juvenile Fiction: Fiction chapter book with diversity, equity, or inclusion subject matter written for children 7-11

Operation Sisterhood by Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovich

Fans of the Netflix reboot of The Babysitters Club will delight as four new sisters band together in the heart of New York City. Discover this jubilant novel about the difficulties of change, the loyalty of sisters, and the love of family from a prolific award-winning author.

Bo and her mom always had their own rhythm. But ever since they moved to Harlem, Bo’s world has fallen out of sync. She and Mum are now living with Mum’s boyfriend Bill, his daughter Sunday, the twins, Lili and Lee, the twins’ parents…along with a dog, two cats, a bearded dragon, a turtle, and chickens. All in one brownstone! With so many people squished together, Bo isn’t so sure there is room for her.

Set against the bursting energy of a New York City summer, award-winning author Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovich delivers a joyful novel about a new family that hits all the right notes!

Out of this World:

Out of this World: Science fiction novel written by a BIPOC author with BIPOC main character(s).

Son of the Storm by Suyi Davies Okungbowa

In the ancient city of Bassa, Danso is a clever scholar on the cusp of achieving greatness—only he doesn’t want it. Instead, he prefers to chase forbidden stories about what lies outside the city walls. The Bassai elite claim there is nothing of interest. The city’s immigrants are sworn to secrecy.

But when Danso stumbles across a warrior wielding magic that shouldn’t exist, he’s put on a collision course with Bassa’s darkest secrets. Drawn into the city’s hidden history, he sets out on a journey beyond its borders. And the chaos left in the wake of his discovery threatens to destroy the empire.

Overcoming Adversity:

Overcoming Adversity: Fiction novel with diversity, equity, or inclusion subject matter written for people 14 and older.

Unbroken: 13 Stories Starring Disabled Teens edited by Marieke Nijkamp

A YA fiction anthology showcasing stories in various genres, featuring disabled characters, and written by disabled creators. Contributors range from established NYT bestsellers to exciting debuts.

This anthology explores disability in fictional tales told from the viewpoint of disabled characters, written by disabled creators. With stories in various genres about first loves, friendship, war, travel, and more, Unbroken will offer today’s teen readers a glimpse into the lives of disabled people in the past, present, and future.

The contributing authors are awardwinners, bestsellers, and newcomers including Kody Keplinger, Kristine Wyllys, Francisco X. Stork, William Alexander, Corinne Duyvis, Marieke Nijkamp, Dhonielle Clayton, Heidi Heilig, Katherine Locke, Karuna Riazi, Kayla Whaley, Keah Brown, and Fox Benwell. Each author identifies as disabled along a physical, mental, or neurodiverse axis—and their characters reflect this diversity.

Rainbow Reads:

Rainbow reads: Fiction novel with LGBTQ+ main character(s).

Other Names for Love by Taymour Soomro

A charged, hypnotic debut novel about a boy’s life-changing summer in rural Pakistan: a story of fathers, sons, and the consequences of desire.

At age sixteen, Fahad hopes to spend the summer with his mother in London. His father, Rafik, has other plans: hauling his son to Abad, the family’s feudal estate in upcountry, Pakistan. Rafik wants to toughen up his sensitive boy, to teach him about power, duty, family—to make him a man. He enlists Ali, a local teenager, in this project, hoping his presence will prove instructive.

Instead, over the course of one hot, indolent season, attraction blooms between the two boys, and Fahad finds himself seduced by the wildness of the land and its inhabitants: the people, who revere and revile his father in turn; cousin Mousey, who lives alone with a man he calls his manager; and most of all, Ali, who threatens to unearth all that is hidden.

Decades later, Fahad is living abroad when he receives a call from his mother summoning him home. His return will force him to face the past. Taymour Soomro’s Other Names for Love is a tale of masculinity, inheritance, and desire set against the backdrop of a country’s troubled history, told with uncommon urgency and beauty.

Stranger Things:

Stranger Things: Horror novel written by a BIPOC author with BIPOC main character(s).

The Daughter of Doctor Moreau by Silvia Moreno-Garcia

Carlota Moreau: A young woman growing up on a distant and luxuriant estate, safe from the conflict and strife of the Yucatán peninsula. The only daughter of a researcher who is either a genius or a madman.

Montgomery Laughton: A melancholic overseer with a tragic past and a propensity for alcohol. An outcast who assists Dr. Moreau with his experiments, which are financed by the Lizaldes, owners of magnificent haciendas and plentiful coffers.

The hybrids: The fruits of the doctor’s labor, destined to blindly obey their creator and remain in the shadows. A motley group of part human, part animal monstrosities.

All of them live in a perfectly balanced and static world, which is jolted by the abrupt arrival of Eduardo Lizalde, the charming and careless son of Dr. Moreau’s patron, who will unwittingly begin a dangerous chain reaction.

For Moreau keeps secrets, Carlota has questions, and, in the sweltering heat of the jungle, passions may ignite.

The Daughter of Doctor Moreau is both a dazzling historical novel and a daring science fiction journey.

This book is also available in the following format:

Young Adult Fiction:

Young Adult Fiction: Fiction chapter book with diversity, equity, or inclusion subject matter written for children 14 and older.

Bitter by Akwaeke Emezi

From National Book Award finalist Akwaeke Emezi comes a companion novel to the critically acclaimed PET that explores both the importance and cost of social revolution–and how youth lead the way.

After a childhood in foster care, Bitter is thrilled to have been chosen to attend Eucalyptus, a special school where she can focus on her painting surrounded by other creative teens. But outside this haven, the streets are filled with protests against the deep injustices that grip the city of Lucille.

Bitter’s instinct is to stay safe within the walls of Eucalyptus . . . but her friends aren’t willing to settle for a world that’s so far away from what they deserve. Pulled between old friendships, her artistic passion, and a new romance, Bitter isn’t sure where she belongs—in the studio or in the streets. And if she does find a way to help the revolution while being true to who she is, she must also ask: at what cost?

This timely and riveting novel—a companion to the National Book Award finalist Pet—explores the power of youth, protest, and art.

Join Simply Held to have the newest Fiction picks automatically put on hold for you every quarter.

Winners of the 2022 Goodreads Choice Awards

The winners of the 2022 Goodreads Choice Awards have been announced! We’ve gathered up the winners and listed them below. We would love to hear your thoughts on the winners in the comments! Summaries of the books have been provided by the publishers and authors.

Best Fiction: Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow by Gabrielle Zevin

On a bitter-cold day, in the December of his junior year at Harvard, Sam Masur exits a subway car and sees, amid the hordes of people waiting on the platform, Sadie Green. He calls her name. For a moment, she pretends she hasn’t heard him, but then, she turns, and a game begins: a legendary collaboration that will launch them to stardom. These friends, intimates since childhood, borrow money, beg favors, and, before even graduating college, they have created their first blockbuster, Ichigo. Overnight, the world is theirs. Not even twenty-five years old, Sam and Sadie are brilliant, successful, and rich, but these qualities won’t protect them from their own creative ambitions or the betrayals of their hearts.

Spanning thirty years, from Cambridge, Massachusetts, to Venice Beach, California, and lands in between and far beyond, Gabrielle Zevin’s Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow is a dazzling and intricately imagined novel that examines the multifarious nature of identity, disability, failure, the redemptive possibilities in play, and above all, our need to connect: to be loved and to love. Yes, it is a love story, but it is not one you have read before.

This title is also available in the following formats:

Best Mystery & Thriller: The Maid by Nita Prose

Molly Gray is not like everyone else. She struggles with social skills and misreads the intentions of others. Her gran used to interpret the world for her, codifying it into simple rules that Molly could live by.

Since Gran died a few months ago, twenty-five-year-old Molly has been navigating life’s complexities all by herself. No matter—she throws herself with gusto into her work as a hotel maid. Her unique character, along with her obsessive love of cleaning and proper etiquette, make her an ideal fit for the job. She delights in donning her crisp uniform each morning, stocking her cart with miniature soaps and bottles, and returning guest rooms at the Regency Grand Hotel to a state of perfection.

But Molly’s orderly life is upended the day she enters the suite of the infamous and wealthy Charles Black, only to find it in a state of disarray and Mr. Black himself dead in his bed. Before she knows what’s happening, Molly’s unusual demeanor has the police targeting her as their lead suspect. She quickly finds herself caught in a web of deception, one she has no idea how to untangle. Fortunately for Molly, friends she never knew she had unite with her in a search for clues to what really happened to Mr. Black—but will they be able to find the real killer before it’s too late?

A Clue-like, locked-room mystery and a heartwarming journey of the spirit, The Maid explores what it means to be the same as everyone else and yet entirely different—and reveals that all mysteries can be solved through connection to the human heart.

This title is also available in the following formats:

Best Historical Fiction: Carrie Soto is Back by Taylor Jenkins Reid

Carrie Soto is fierce, and her determination to win at any cost has not made her popular. But by the time she retires from tennis, she is the best player the world has ever seen. She has shattered every record and claimed twenty Grand Slam titles. And if you ask Carrie, she is entitled to every one. She sacrificed nearly everything to become the best, with her father, Javier, as her coach. A former champion himself, Javier has trained her since the age of two.

But six years after her retirement, Carrie finds herself sitting in the stands of the 1994 US Open, watching her record be taken from her by a brutal, stunning player named Nicki Chan.

At thirty-seven years old, Carrie makes the monumental decision to come out of retirement and be coached by her father for one last year in an attempt to reclaim her record. Even if the sports media says that they never liked “the Battle-Axe” anyway. Even if her body doesn’t move as fast as it did. And even if it means swallowing her pride to train with a man she once almost opened her heart to: Bowe Huntley. Like her, he has something to prove before he gives up the game forever.

In spite of it all, Carrie Soto is back, for one epic final season. In this riveting and unforgettable novel, Taylor Jenkins Reid tells her most vulnerable, emotional story yet.

This title is also available in the following formats:

Best Fantasy: House of Sky and Breath by Sarah J. Maas

Sarah J. Maas’s sexy, groundbreaking CRESCENT CITY series continues with the second installment.

Bryce Quinlan and Hunt Athalar are trying to get back to normal-they may have saved Crescent City, but with so much upheaval in their lives lately, they mostly want a chance to relax. Slow down. Figure out what the future holds.

The Asteri have kept their word so far, leaving Bryce and Hunt alone. But with the rebels chipping away at the Asteri’s power, the threat the rulers pose is growing. As Bryce, Hunt, and their friends get pulled into the rebels’ plans, the choice becomes clear: stay silent while others are oppressed, or fight for what’s right. And they’ve never been very good at staying silent.

In this sexy, action-packed sequel to the #1 bestseller House of Earth and Blood, Sarah J. Maas weaves a captivating story of a world about to explode-and the people who will do anything to save it.

This title is also available in the following format:

Best Romance: Book Lovers by Emily Henry

One summer. Two rivals. A plot twist they didn’t see coming…

Nora Stephens’ life is books—she’s read them all—and she is not that type of heroine. Not the plucky one, not the laidback dream girl, and especially not the sweetheart. In fact, the only people Nora is a heroine for are her clients, for whom she lands enormous deals as a cutthroat literary agent, and her beloved little sister Libby.

Which is why she agrees to go to Sunshine Falls, North Carolina for the month of August when Libby begs her for a sisters’ trip away—with visions of a small town transformation for Nora, who she’s convinced needs to become the heroine in her own story. But instead of picnics in meadows, or run-ins with a handsome country doctor or bulging-forearmed bartender, Nora keeps bumping into Charlie Lastra, a bookish brooding editor from back in the city. It would be a meet-cute if not for the fact that they’ve met many times and it’s never been cute.

If Nora knows she’s not an ideal heroine, Charlie knows he’s nobody’s hero, but as they are thrown together again and again—in a series of coincidences no editor worth their salt would allow—what they discover might just unravel the carefully crafted stories they’ve written about themselves.

This title is also available in the following formats:

Best Science Fiction: Sea of Tranquility by Emily St. John Mandel

Edwin St. Andrew is eighteen years old when he crosses the Atlantic by steamship, exiled from polite society following an ill-conceived diatribe at a dinner party. He enters the forest, spellbound by the beauty of the Canadian wilderness, and suddenly hears the notes of a violin echoing in an airship terminal—an experience that shocks him to his core.

Two centuries later a famous writer named Olive Llewellyn is on a book tour. She’s traveling all over Earth, but her home is the second moon colony, a place of white stone, spired towers, and artificial beauty. Within the text of Olive’s best-selling pandemic novel lies a strange passage: a man plays his violin for change in the echoing corridor of an airship terminal as the trees of a forest rise around him.

When Gaspery-Jacques Roberts, a detective in the black-skied Night City, is hired to investigate an anomaly in the North American wilderness, he uncovers a series of lives upended: The exiled son of an earl driven to madness, a writer trapped far from home as a pandemic ravages Earth, and a childhood friend from the Night City who, like Gaspery himself, has glimpsed the chance to do something extraordinary that will disrupt the timeline of the universe.

A virtuoso performance that is as human and tender as it is intellectually playful, Sea of Tranquility is a novel of time travel and metaphysics that precisely captures the reality of our current moment.

This title is also available in the following formats:

Best Horror: Hidden Pictures by Jason Rekulak

Mallory Quinn is fresh out of rehab when she takes a job as a babysitter for Ted and Caroline Maxwell. She is to look after their five-year-old son, Teddy.

Mallory immediately loves it. She has her own living space, goes out for nightly runs, and has the stability she craves. And she sincerely bonds with Teddy, a sweet, shy boy who is never without his sketchbook and pencil. His drawings are the usual fare: trees, rabbits, balloons. But one day, he draws something different: a man in a forest, dragging a woman’s lifeless body.

Then, Teddy’s artwork becomes increasingly sinister, and his stick figures quickly evolve into lifelike sketches well beyond the ability of any five-year-old. Mallory begins to wonder if these are glimpses of a long-unsolved murder, perhaps relayed by a supernatural force.

Knowing just how crazy it all sounds, Mallory nevertheless sets out to decipher the images and save Teddy before it’s too late.

This title is also available in the following formats:

Best Humor: The Office BFFs by Jenna Fischer and Angela Kinsey

An intimate, behind-the-scenes, richly illustrated celebration of beloved The Office co-stars Jenna Fischer & Angela Kinsey’s friendship, & an insiders’ view of Pam Beesly, Angela Martin, & the unforgettable iconic TV show. Featuring Jenna and Angela’s many personal photos.

Receptionist Pam Beesly and accountant Angela Martin had very little in common when they toiled together at Scranton’s Dunder Mifflin Paper Company. But, in reality, the two bonded in their very first days on set and, over the nine seasons of the series’ run, built a friendship that transcended the show and continues to this day. Sharing everything from what it was like in the early days as the show struggled to gain traction, to walking their first red carpet—plus exclusive stories on the making of milestone episodes and how their lives changed when they became moms — The Office BFFs is full of the same warm and friendly tone Jenna and Angela have brought to their Office Ladies podcast.

This title is also available in the following format:

Best Nonfiction: Atlas of the Heart by Brené Brown

In Atlas of the Heart, Brown takes us on a journey through eighty-seven of the emotions and experiences that define what it means to be human. As she maps the necessary skills and an actionable framework for meaningful connection, she gives us the language and tools to access a universe of new choices and second chances—a universe where we can share and steward the stories of our bravest and most heartbreaking moments with one another in a way that builds connection.

Over the past two decades, Brown’s extensive research into the experiences that make us who we are has shaped the cultural conversation and helped define what it means to be courageous with our lives. Atlas of the Heart draws on this research, as well as on Brown’s singular skills as a storyteller, to show us how accurately naming an experience doesn’t give the experience more power—it gives us the power of understanding, meaning, and choice.

Brown shares, “I want this book to be an atlas for all of us, because I believe that, with an adventurous heart and the right maps, we can travel anywhere and never fear losing ourselves.”

This title is also available in the following formats:

Best Memoir & Autobiography: I’m Glad My Mom Died by Jennette McCurdy

A heartbreaking and hilarious memoir by iCarly and Sam & Cat star Jennette McCurdy about her struggles as a former child actor—including eating disorders, addiction, and a complicated relationship with her overbearing mother—and how she retook control of her life.

Jennette McCurdy was six years old when she had her first acting audition. Her mother’s dream was for her only daughter to become a star, and Jennette would do anything to make her mother happy. So she went along with what Mom called “calorie restriction,” eating little and weighing herself five times a day. She endured extensive at-home makeovers while Mom chided, “Your eyelashes are invisible, okay? You think Dakota Fanning doesn’t tint hers?” She was even showered by Mom until age sixteen while sharing her diaries, email, and all her income.

In I’m Glad My Mom Died, Jennette recounts all this in unflinching detail—just as she chronicles what happens when the dream finally comes true. Cast in a new Nickelodeon series called iCarly, she is thrust into fame. Though Mom is ecstatic, emailing fan club moderators and getting on a first-name basis with the paparazzi (“Hi Gale!”), Jennette is riddled with anxiety, shame, and self-loathing, which manifest into eating disorders, addiction, and a series of unhealthy relationships. These issues only get worse when, soon after taking the lead in the iCarly spinoff Sam & Cat alongside Ariana Grande, her mother dies of cancer. Finally, after discovering therapy and quitting acting, Jennette embarks on recovery and decides for the first time in her life what she really wants.

Told with refreshing candor and dark humor, I’m Glad My Mom Died is an inspiring story of resilience, independence, and the joy of shampooing your own hair.

This title is also available in the following formats:

Best History & Biography: Bad Guys by Huw Lemmey and Ben Miller

We all remember Oscar Wilde, but who speaks for Bosie? What about those ‘bad gays’ whose unexemplary lives reveal more than we might expect? Many popular histories seek to establish homosexual heroes, pioneers, and martyrs but, as Huw Lemmey and Ben Miller argue, the past is filled with queer people whose sexualities and dastardly deeds have been overlooked despite their being informative and instructive.

Based on the hugely popular podcast series of the same name, Bad Gays asks what we can learn about LGBTQ+ history, sexuality and identity through its villains, failures, and baddies. With characters such as the Emperor Hadrian, anthropologist Margaret Mead and notorious gangster Ronnie Kray, the authors tell the story of how the figure of the white gay man was born, and how he failed. They examine a cast of kings, fascist thugs, artists and debauched bon viveurs. Imperial-era figures Lawrence of Arabia and Roger Casement get a look-in, as do FBI boss J. Edgar Hoover, lawyer Roy Cohn, and architect Philip Johnson.

Together these amazing life stories expand and challenge mainstream assumptions about sexual identity: showing that homosexuality itself was an idea that emerged in the nineteenth century, one central to major historical events.

Bad Gays is a passionate argument for rethinking gay politics beyond questions of identity, compelling readers to search for solidarity across boundaries.

Best Graphic Novels & Comics: Heartstopper by Alice Oseman

Charlie and Nick are at the same school, but they’ve never met … until one day when they’re made to sit together. They quickly become friends, and soon Charlie is falling hard for Nick, even though he doesn’t think he has a chance.

But love works in surprising ways, and Nick is more interested in Charlie than either of them realised.

By Alice Oseman, winner of the YA Book Prize, Heartstopper is about love, friendship, loyalty and mental illness. It encompasses all the small stories of Nick and Charlie’s lives that together make up something larger, which speaks to all of us.

Best Poetry: Call Us What We Carry by Amanda Gorman

The breakout poetry collection by #1 New York Times bestselling author and presidential inaugural poet Amanda Gorman

Formerly titled The Hill We Climb and Other Poems, the luminous poetry collection by #1 New York Times bestselling author and presidential inaugural poet Amanda Gorman captures a shipwrecked moment in time and transforms it into a lyric of hope and healing. In Call Us What We Carry, Gorman explores history, language, identity, and erasure through an imaginative and intimate collage. Harnessing the collective grief of a global pandemic, this beautifully designed volume features poems in many inventive styles and structures and shines a light on a moment of reckoning. Call Us What We Carry reveals that Gorman has become our messenger from the past, our voice for the future.

This book is also available in the following formats:

Best Debut: Lessons in Chemistry by Bonnie Garmus

Chemist Elizabeth Zott is not your average woman. In fact, Elizabeth Zott would be the first to point out that there is no such thing as an average woman. But it’s the early 1960s and her all-male team at Hastings Research Institute takes a very unscientific view of equality. Except for one: Calvin Evans; the lonely, brilliant, Nobel–prize nominated grudge-holder who falls in love with—of all things—her mind. True chemistry results.

But like science, life is unpredictable. Which is why a few years later Elizabeth Zott finds herself not only a single mother, but the reluctant star of America’s most beloved cooking show Supper at Six. Elizabeth’s unusual approach to cooking (“combine one tablespoon acetic acid with a pinch of sodium chloride”) proves revolutionary. But as her following grows, not everyone is happy. Because as it turns out, Elizabeth Zott isn’t just teaching women to cook. She’s daring them to change the status quo.

Laugh-out-loud funny, shrewdly observant, and studded with a dazzling cast of supporting characters, Lessons in Chemistry is as original and vibrant as its protagonist.

This title is also available in the following formats:

Best Young Adult Fiction: The Final Gambit by Jennifer Lynn Barnes

Avery’s fortune, life, and loves are on the line in the game that everyone will be talking about.

To inherit billions, all Avery Kylie Grambs has to do is survive a few more weeks living in Hawthorne House. The paparazzi are dogging her every step. Financial pressures are building. Danger is a fact of life. And the only thing getting Avery through it all is the Hawthorne brothers. Her life is intertwined with theirs. She knows their secrets and they know her.

But as the clock ticks down to the moment when Avery will become the richest teenager on the planet, trouble arrives in the form of a visitor who needs her help—and whose presence in Hawthorne House could change everything. It soon becomes clear that there is one last puzzle to solve, and Avery and the Hawthorne brothers are drawn into a dangerous game against an unknown and powerful player.

Secrets upon secrets. Riddles upon riddles. In this game, there are hearts and lives at stake—and there is nothing more Hawthorne than winning.

This title is also available in the following formats:

Best Young Adult Fantasy: Gallant by V.E. Schwab

Olivia Prior has grown up in Merilance School for Girls, and all she has of her past is her mother’s journal—which seems to unravel into madness. Then, a letter invites Olivia to come home to Gallant. Yet when Olivia arrives, no one is expecting her. But Olivia is not about to leave the first place that feels like home; it doesn’t matter if her cousin Matthew is hostile, or if she sees half-formed ghouls haunting the hallways.

Olivia knows that Gallant is hiding secrets, and she is determined to uncover them. When she crosses a ruined wall at just the right moment, Olivia finds herself in a place that is Gallant—but not. The manor is crumbling, the ghouls are solid, and a mysterious figure rules over all. Now Olivia sees what has unraveled generations of her family, and where her father may have come from.

Olivia has always wanted to belong somewhere, but will she take her place as a Prior, protecting our world against the Master of the House? Or will she take her place beside him?

New York Times–bestselling author V. E. Schwab crafts a vivid and lush novel that grapples with the demons that are often locked behind closed doors. An eerie, stand-alone saga about life, death, and the young woman beckoned by both. Readers of Neil Gaiman, Holly Black, Melissa Albert, and Garth Nix will quickly lose themselves in this novel with crossover appeal for all ages.

This title is also available in the following formats:

Best Middle Grade & Children’s: I Am Quiet by Andie Powers and Betsy Petersen

Emile is not shy—he is quiet.

Emile may seem timid and shy on the outside, but on the inside he is bustling with imagination. While grownups and even other kids may see Emile as the shy kid who doesn’t raise his hand in class, we know that Emile is actually a high-seas adventurer, a daring explorer, and a friend to wild beasts.

This story honors and encourages the beauty of knowing ourselves for exactly who we are. Emile’s world shows us that the mind of a quiet child can be as rich, expansive, and bold as that of any other (more extroverted) child.

This Tender Land by William Kent Krueger

In the summer of 1932, on the banks of Minnesota’s Gilead River, Odie O’Banion is an orphan confined to the Lincoln Indian Training School, a pitiless place where his lively nature earns him the superintendent’s wrath. Forced to flee after committing a terrible crime, he and his brother, Albert, their best friend, Mose, and a brokenhearted little girl named Emmy steal away in a canoe, heading for the mighty Mississippi and a place to call their own in This Tender Land by William Kent Krueger.

Over the course of one summer, these four orphans journey into the unknown and cross paths with others who are adrift, from struggling farmers and traveling faith healers to displaced families and lost souls of all kinds. Through perseverance, courage and luck, the four make their way to St Louis where Odie and Albert believe their aunt lives. What the four of them experience along their journey shapes and changes them in profound ways, as well as providing us with a glimpse of Depression era America.

The cruelty and oppression that the children faced at the Indian school is heartbreaking although the true depth of the corruption is revealed in bits and pieces. The narrow escapes and unexpected lucky breaks make this an exciting and absorbing book, all overlaid with the tension of whether Odie and Albert will be able to find their aunt.

If you are taking part in the Online Reading Challenge this year, this book is a good choice for our November theme of issues facing contemporary Native Americans.

October’s Simply Held Fiction Picks

We have rebranded our Best Sellers Club to now be called Simply Held! Have you joined Simply Held? If not, you’re missing out! Four times a year, we choose fiction titles for Simply Held members to read from multiple categories: Graphic Novel, Diverse Debuts, Rainbow Reads, Overcoming Adversity, Historical Fiction, Out of this World, Stranger Things, International Fiction, Young Adult Fiction, and Juvenile Fiction.

Diverse Debuts: Debut fiction novel by a BIPOC author.

Graphic Novel: Fiction novel for adults of any subgenre with diverse characters depicted by color illustrations, sketches, and photographs.

Historical Fiction: Historical fiction novel written by a BIPOC author with BIPOC main character(s).

International Fiction: Fiction novel originally written in another language with BIPOC main character(s).

Juvenile Fiction: Fiction chapter book with diversity, equity, or inclusion subject matter written for children 7-11

Out of this World: Science fiction novel written by a BIPOC author with BIPOC main character(s).

Overcoming Adversity: Fiction novel with diversity, equity, or inclusion subject matter written for adults.

Rainbow reads: Fiction novel with LGBTQ+ main character(s).

Stranger Things: Horror novel written by a BIPOC author with BIPOC main character(s).

Young Adult Fiction: Fiction chapter book with diversity, equity, or inclusion subject matter written for children 14 and older.

Below you will find information provided by the publishers on the titles we have picked for October.

Graphic Novel:

Graphic Novel: Fiction novel for adults of any subgenre with diverse characters depicted by color illustrations, sketches, and photographs.

Crema by Johnnie Christmas and Dante Luiz with Ryan Ferrier & Alta Hrafney

#1 New York Times Bestselling cartoonist Johnnie Christmas and Prism Award Nominee Dante Luiz bring you a haunted tale of love, ghosts, and coffee beans.

Esme, a barista, feels invisible, like a ghost… also, when Esme drinks too much coffee she actually sees ghosts. Yara, the elegant heir to a coffee plantation, is always seen, but only has eyes for Esme. Their world is turned upside down when the strange ghost of an old-world nobleman begs Esme to take his letter from New York City to a haunted coffee farm in Brazil, to reunite him with his lost love of a century ago. Bringing sinister tidings of unrequited love.

Collects the ComiXology original digital graphic novel Crema in print for the first time.

Diverse Debuts:

Diverse Debuts: Debut fiction novel by a BIPOC author.

What the Fireflies Knew by Kai Harris

In the vein of Jesmyn Ward’s Salvage the Bones and Sue Monk Kidd’s The Secret Life of Bees, a coming-of-age novel told by almost-eleven-year-old Kenyatta Bernice (KB), as she and her sister try to make sense of their new life with their estranged grandfather in the wake of their father’s death and their mother’s disappearance.

An ode to Black girlhood and adolescence as seen through KB’s eyes, What the Fireflies Knew follows KB after her father dies of an overdose and the debts incurred from his addiction cause the loss of the family home in Detroit. Soon thereafter, KB and her teenage sister, Nia, are sent by their overwhelmed mother to live with their estranged grandfather in Lansing, Michigan. Over the course of a single sweltering summer, KB attempts to navigate a world that has turned upside down.

Her father has been labeled a fiend. Her mother’s smile no longer reaches her eyes. Her sister, once her best friend, now feels like a stranger. Her grandfather is grumpy and silent. The white kids who live across the street are friendly, but only sometimes. And they’re all keeping secrets. As KB vacillates between resentment, abandonment, and loneliness, she is forced to carve out a different identity for herself and find her own voice.

A dazzling and moving novel about family, identity, and race, What the Fireflies Knew poignantly reveals that heartbreaking but necessary component of growing up—the realization that loved ones can be flawed and that the perfect family we all dream of looks different up close.

This book is also available in the following formats:

Rainbow Reads:

Rainbow reads: Fiction novel with LGBTQ+ main character(s).

All the Things We Don’t Talk About by Amy Feltman

A “big-hearted, lively, and expansive portrait of a family” that follows a neurodivergent father, his nonbinary teenager, and the sudden, catastrophic reappearance of the woman who abandoned them (Claire Lombardo, New York Times bestselling author).

Morgan Flowers just wants to hide. Raised by their neurodivergent father, Morgan has grown up haunted by the absence of their mysterious mother Zoe, especially now, as they navigate their gender identity and the turmoil of first love. Their father Julian has raised Morgan with care, but he can’t quite fill the gap left by the dazzling and destructive Zoe, who fled to Europe on Morgan’s first birthday. And when Zoe is dumped by her girlfriend Brigid, she suddenly comes crashing back into Morgan and Julian’s lives, poised to disrupt the fragile peace they have so carefully cultivated.

Through it all, Julian and Brigid have become unlikely pen-pals and friends, united by the knowledge of what it’s like to love and lose Zoe; they both know that she hasn’t changed. Despite the red flags, Morgan is swiftly drawn into Zoe’s glittering orbit and into a series of harmful missteps, and Brigid may be the only link that can pull them back from the edge. A story of betrayal and trauma alongside queer love and resilience, ALL THE THINGS WE DON’T TALK ABOUT is a celebration of and a reckoning with the power and unintentional pain of a thoroughly modern family.

Overcoming Adversity:

Overcoming Adversity: Fiction novel with diversity, equity, or inclusion subject matter written for adults.

The Sign for Home by Blair Fell

When Arlo Dilly learns the girl he thought was lost forever might still be out there, he takes it as a sign and embarks on a life-changing journey to find his great love—and his freedom.

Arlo Dilly is young, handsome, and eager to meet the right girl. He also happens to be DeafBlind, a Jehovah’s Witness, and under the strict guardianship of his controlling uncle. His chances of finding someone to love seem slim to none.

And yet, it happened once before: many years ago, at a boarding school for the Deaf, Arlo met the love of his life—a mysterious girl with onyx eyes and beautifully expressive hands which told him the most amazing stories. But tragedy struck, and their love was lost forever.

Or so Arlo thought.

After years trying to heal his broken heart, Arlo is assigned a college writing assignment which unlocks buried memories of his past. Soon he wonders if the hearing people he was supposed to trust have been lying to him all along, and if his lost love might be found again.

No longer willing to accept what others tell him, Arlo convinces a small band of misfit friends to set off on a journey to learn the truth. After all, who better to bring on this quest than his gay interpreter and wildly inappropriate Belgian best friend? Despite the many forces working against him, Arlo will stop at nothing to find the girl who got away and experience all of life’s joyful possibilities.

Historical Fiction:

Historical Fiction: Historical fiction novel written by a BIPOC author with BIPOC main character(s).

After the Hurricane by Leah Franqui

Reminiscent of Gabriela Garcia’s Of Women and Salt, Leah Franqui brings us an engrossing, deeply personal novel with a mystery at its heart as a daughter returns to Puerto Rico to search for her troubled father, who has gone missing after Hurricane Maria.

From the outside, Elena Vega’s life appears to be an easy one: the only child of two professional parents, private school, NYU. But her twenties are aimless and lacking in connection. Something has always been amiss in her life: her father, the brilliant but deeply troubled Santiago Vega.

Born in rural Puerto Rico, Santiago arrived in New York as a small child. His harsh, mercurial father returned to the island, leaving Santiago to be raised by his mentally ill mother and his formidable grandmother. An outstanding student, he followed scholarships to Stanford, then Yale Law, marrying Elena’s mother along the way. Santiago is the shining star of his migrant family—the one who made it out and struck it rich. But he is a haunted man, plagued by trauma, bipolar disorder, and alcoholism. He’s lost contact with Elena over the years and returned to San Juan to wrestle his demons alone.

Then Hurricane Maria strikes, and Santiago vanishes. Desperate to know what happened to the father she once adored, Elena returns to Puerto Rico, a place she loved as a child but hasn’t seen in years. There she must unravel the truth about who her father is, crisscrossing the storm-swept island and reaching deep into his family tree to find relatives she’s never met, each of whom seems to possess a clue about Santiago’s fate.

A compelling mystery unfolds, as Elena is reunited with family, and with a place she loved and lost—the island of Puerto Rico, which is itself a character in this book. It’s a story of connection, migration, striving, love, and loss, illuminated by humor and affection, written by a novelist at the height of her gifts.

Out of this World:

Out of this World: Science fiction novel written by a BIPOC author with BIPOC main character(s).

How High We Go in the Dark by Sequoia Nagamatsu

For fans of Cloud Atlas and Station Eleven, a spellbinding and profoundly prescient debut that follows a cast of intricately linked characters over hundreds of years as humanity struggles to rebuild itself in the aftermath of a climate plague—a daring and deeply heartfelt work of mind-bending imagination from a singular new voice.

In 2030, a grieving archeologist arrives in the Arctic Circle to continue the work of his recently deceased daughter at the Batagaika Crater, where researchers are studying long-buried secrets now revealed in melting permafrost, including the perfectly preserved remains of a girl who appears to have died of an ancient virus.

Once unleashed, the Arctic plague will reshape life on Earth for generations to come, quickly traversing the globe, forcing humanity to devise a myriad of moving and inventive ways to embrace possibility in the face of tragedy. In a theme park designed for terminally ill children, a cynical employee falls in love with a mother desperate to hold on to her infected son. A heartbroken scientist searching for a cure finds a second chance at fatherhood when one of his test subjects—a pig—develops the capacity for human speech. A widowed painter and her teenaged granddaughter embark on a cosmic quest to locate a new home planet.

From funerary skyscrapers to hotels for the dead to interstellar starships, Sequoia Nagamatsu takes readers on a wildly original and compassionate journey, spanning continents, centuries, and even celestial bodies to tell a story about the resilience of the human spirit, our infinite capacity to dream, and the connective threads that tie us all together in the universe.

This book is also available in the following format:

Stranger Things:

Stranger Things: Horror novel written by a BIPOC author with BIPOC main character(s).

The Hacienda by Isabel Cañas

Mexican Gothic meets Rebecca in this debut supernatural suspense novel, set in the aftermath of the Mexican War of Independence, about a remote house, a sinister haunting, and the woman pulled into their clutches…

During the overthrow of the Mexican government, Beatriz’s father was executed and her home destroyed. When handsome Don Rodolfo Solórzano proposes, Beatriz ignores the rumors surrounding his first wife’s sudden demise, choosing instead to seize the security that his estate in the countryside provides. She will have her own home again, no matter the cost.

But Hacienda San Isidro is not the sanctuary she imagined.

When Rodolfo returns to work in the capital, visions and voices invade Beatriz’s sleep. The weight of invisible eyes follows her every move. Rodolfo’s sister, Juana, scoffs at Beatriz’s fears—but why does she refuse to enter the house at night? Why does the cook burn copal incense at the edge of the kitchen and mark the doorway with strange symbols? What really happened to the first Doña Solórzano?

Beatriz only knows two things for certain: Something is wrong with the hacienda. And no one there will save her.

Desperate for help, she clings to the young priest, Padre Andrés, as an ally. No ordinary priest, Andrés will have to rely on his skills as a witch to fight off the malevolent presence haunting the hacienda and protect the woman for whom he feels a powerful, forbidden attraction. But even he might not be enough to battle the darkness.

Far from a refuge, San Isidro may be Beatriz’s doom.

This book is also available in the following formats:

International Fiction:

International Fiction: Fiction novel originally written in another language with BIPOC main character(s).

Portrait of an Unknown Lady by María Gainza; translated from the Spanish by Thomas Bunstead

New York Times Notable author María Gainza, who dazzled critics with Optic Nerve, returns with the captivating story of an auction house employee on the trail of an enigmatic master forger

In the Buenos Aires art world, a master forger has achieved legendary status. Rumored to be a woman, she specializes in canvases by the painter Mariette Lydis, a portraitist of Argentinean high society. But who is this absurdly gifted creator of counterfeits? What motivates her? And what is her link to the community of artists who congregate, night after night, in a strange establishment called the Hotel Melancólico?

On the trail of this mysterious forger is our narrator, an art critic and auction house employee through whose hands counterfeit works have passed. As she begins to take on the role of art-world detective, adopting her own methods of deception and manipulation, she warns us “not to proceed in expectation of names, numbers or dates . . . My techniques are those of the impressionist.”

Driven by obsession and full of subtle surprise, Portrait of an Unknown Lady is a highly seductive and enveloping meditation on what we mean by “authenticity” in art, and a captivating exploration of the gap between what is lived and what is told.

Young Adult Fiction:

Young Adult Fiction: Fiction chapter book with diversity, equity, or inclusion subject matter written for children 14 and older.

Firekeeper’s Daughter by Angeline Boulley

With four starred reviews, Angeline Boulley’s debut novel, Firekeeper’s Daughter, is a groundbreaking YA thriller about a Native teen who must root out the corruption in her community, perfect for readers of Angie Thomas and Tommy Orange.

Eighteen-year-old Daunis Fontaine has never quite fit in, both in her hometown and on the nearby Ojibwe reservation. She dreams of a fresh start at college, but when family tragedy strikes, Daunis puts her future on hold to look after her fragile mother. The only bright spot is meeting Jamie, the charming new recruit on her brother Levi’s hockey team.

Yet even as Daunis falls for Jamie, she senses the dashing hockey star is hiding something. Everything comes to light when Daunis witnesses a shocking murder, thrusting her into an FBI investigation of a lethal new drug.

Reluctantly, Daunis agrees to go undercover, drawing on her knowledge of chemistry and Ojibwe traditional medicine to track down the source. But the search for truth is more complicated than Daunis imagined, exposing secrets and old scars. At the same time, she grows concerned with an investigation that seems more focused on punishing the offenders than protecting the victims.

Now, as the deceptions—and deaths—keep growing, Daunis must learn what it means to be a strong Anishinaabe kwe (Ojibwe woman) and how far she’ll go for her community, even if it tears apart the only world she’s ever known.

This book is also available in the following formats:

Juvenile Fiction:

Juvenile Fiction: Fiction chapter book with diversity, equity, or inclusion subject matter written for children 7-11

A Duet for Home by Karina Yan Glaser

From the New York Times bestselling creator of the Vanderbeekers series comes a triumphant tale of friendship, healing, and the power of believing in ourselves told from the perspective of biracial sixth-graders June and Tyrell, two children living in a homeless shelter. As their friendship grows over a shared love of classical music, June and Tyrell confront a new housing policy that puts homeless families in danger.

It’s June’s first day at Huey House, and as if losing her home weren’t enough, she also can’t bring her cherished viola inside. Before the accident last year, her dad saved tip money for a year to buy her viola, and she’s not about to give it up now.

Tyrell has been at Huey House for three years and gives June a glimpse of the good things about living there: friendship, hot meals, and a classical musician next door.

Can he and June work together to oppose the government, or will families be forced out of Huey House before they are ready?

Join Simply Held to have the newest Fiction picks automatically put on hold for you every quarter.

Historical Mystery Reads: The Lady Sherlock Series by Sherry Thomas

Sherry Thomas is a USA Today bestselling author who has a wide catalog of published works ranging from romance to fantasy to mystery to even a wuxia-inspired duology. Thomas also won the Romance Writers of America’s prestigious RITA award twice. Sherry Thomas had previously been known to me through her romance novels, but this past year, I discovered her Lady Sherlock series, which leans towards historical mystery, but has some elements of romance. Let’s get into the first book!

(But first: author photo courtesy of Jennifer Sparks Harriman at Sparks Studio)

A Study in Scarlet Women is the first book in the Lady Sherlock Series by Sherry Thomas. It’s a delightful upside-down take on Sherlock Holmes that I found riveting from the start. As of right now, there are six published works in this series, but we’re going to focus on the first one below:

Charlotte Holmes has never felt comfortable in society, let alone in her own family. Ladies are expected to be demure, but she has an incredibly inquisitive mind and speaks the truth even when it’s uncomfortable for others. While she has curbed her habits to make herself more attractive to others, there are certain parts of her life that frankly Charlotte doesn’t understand why others would be interested in. As a result, Charlotte makes one particular decision that turns her into a social pariah and that also dampens her family’s social standing as well. She soon finds herself trying to ferret out a living in London, a task that is much more difficult than Charlotte ever dreamed.

When Charlotte learns of three unexpected deaths within the city, her interest is piqued. When both her sister and her father fall under suspicion of murder, Charlotte is desperate. It isn’t fair that her family’s name be even more destroyed. She knows neither of her family members could have committed murder. Charlotte decides to use her intellect to find the real murderer (or murderers). Since Charlotte is a woman however, certain avenues of inquiry are of limits. She begins her investigation under an assumed name – throwing doubt onto the police’s investigation and challenging society’s expectations even if it’s hidden at first. Solving the case falls to Charlotte, as even the police are looking to the ever-remarkable Holmes for help and clues.

This book is available in the following formats:

The Lady Sherlock Series

    1. A Study in Scarlet Women (2016)
    2. A Conspiracy in Belgravia (2017)
    3. The Hollow of Fear (2018)
    4. The Art of Theft (2019)
    5. Murder on Cold Street (2020)
    6. Miss Moriarty, I Presume? (2021)

Jane Steele by Lyndsay Faye

If you know me you know I love a good retelling, and that I fanatically loved Lyndsay Faye’s retelling of Hamlet. Recently I picked up her 2016 Jane Steele, a tongue-in-cheek retelling of Jane Eyre, in which rather than bearing up stoically under adversity, Jane turns to murder to escape her various oppressors. Once again Faye perfectly captures the spirit of the original while adding certain improvements – with both style and modern sensibilities.

Jane Steele has decided to write her memoir, after reading an interesting book called Jane Eyre. However, while she admires Jane E, Jane S has taken a rather different approach to her own life of suffering. It all started with her uncomfortably attentive cousin Edwin, after Jane’s beloved mother dies. In the spirit of honesty, Jane admits: “Reader, I murdered him.” Through her various trials – a cruel boarding school, her time in London – Jane often resorts to this problem-solving method, until one day she discovers that someone has bought her childhood home. Curious, she makes her way there, and is surprised by her feelings for new owner Charles Thoringfield. But can someone as admittedly wicked as Jane really get her happy ending?

I was impressed at how well this book echoed Jane Eyre‘s narrative style, while also feeling like an original story. Jane manages to be simultaneously sympathetic, relatable, and unique in her unflinching homicidal instincts. The murders themselves become a sort of feminist commentary – at the time this book (and the original) are set, the options for women to succeed are few, and the opportunities for them to suffer are boundless, and so from the beginning Jane’s victims are archetypes for those who oppress women: Jane’s cousin is a sexual predator as well as a demanding relative, the school’s headmaster shames and torments the girls in the name of religion, a later victim abuses his wife, and so on. This allows the reader to feel righteous glee as through murder Jane rejects and destroys these individuals’ harmful and/or misogynist messages.

To balance out the gore and social justice, Jane has her share of tenderness, love, and friendship from her mother, school friends, and others along the way – in most cases Jane only takes drastic measures in self-defense or to protect those she loves. There’s also a good amount of intrigue, mystery, hijinks, and romance, and of course, to lighten things up, the whole thing is shot through with frankness and humor. I think the story works particularly well because it follows the general structure of the original Jane, but puts even more focus on Jane Steele as an individual with power in her own hands doing her best to protect herself and her loved ones from many very real dangers.

For an excellent retelling and feminist romp in the spirit of An Elderly Lady Is Up To No Good, don’t miss the vibrant and violent Jane Steele.

The Personal Librarian by Marie Benedict and Victoria Christopher Murray

Marie Benedict is a master writer of historical fiction. She is one of my favorites as she writes historical novels that focus on women. (Marie Benedict is actually a pseudonym used by Heather Terrell.) A list of her novels can be found below at the end of this review.

Her latest published novel, written with Victoria Christopher Murray, is The Personal Librarian. This novel tells the story of Belle da Costa Greene, JP Morgan’s personal librarian. Belle grew to be an incredibly important and powerful woman in New York City, despite the fact that she was hiding a  secret that had the power to destroy her life and the lives of people in her family.

In her twenties, Belle was hired by J. Pierpont Morgan to curate his massive collection of rare manuscripts, books, and artwork. He had recently built the Pierpont Morgan Library and needed someone to organize its works. Belle and JP Morgan worked together for years to create a library that would hold up to his legacy. She traveled the world and became known for her impeccable taste, as well as her shrewd and unique ways to negotiate for works that both Morgan and Belle wanted to add to their world-class collection.

Belle had a major secret though. She is actually Belle Marion Greener, the daughter of Richard Greener, who was the first Black graduate of Harvard and was a well-known advocate for equality. Belle instead passes as white, by saying that she has Portuguese heritage. She doesn’t have Portuguese heritage though, as Belle is African American. Her mother’s decision to have her family pass as white tore her marriage apart, wreaking havoc on the small semblance of normalcy that they had created for their family.

The Personal Librarian tells the story of Belle, a woman well known for her intellect and style, but whose secret led her to carefully craft the white identity that let her have the lifestyle she desired. She spent her life walking a tightrope that could have snapped at any moment. Belle’s legacy lives on in this novel created by Benedict and Murray.

This book is also available in the following formats:

Marie Benedict’s other novels are listed below as well as who they are about:

  • The Other Einstein – Mileva Maric, Albert Einstein’s first wife, a woman who was a physicist
  • Carnegie’s Maid – Clara Kelley, lady’s maid in Andrew Carnegie’s household
  • The Only Woman in the Room  – Hedy Lamarr: inventor, screen star, and scientist
  • Lady Clementine – Clementine Churchill, Winston Churchill’s wife
  • The Mystery of Mrs. Christie  – Agatha Christie’s mysterious eleven day disappearance in 1926
  • Her Hidden Genius – to be published in January 2022, which tells the story of British scientist Rosalind Franklin who discovered the structure of DNA. Her research was used without her permission by Crick & Watson to win the Nobel Prize.

Miss Benson’s Beetle by Rachel Joyce

To be honest, I’m not a big reader of historical fiction. Reading Miss Benson’s Beetle by Rachel Joyce, which is set in 1950, was a departure for me, but I was open to it after having read her previous – and in my opinion, profound – book The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry. I was pleased to find the story of Miss Benson an entertaining voyage into friendship, scientific inquiry, grief, post-war trauma, and how far we go to follow our dreams.

Our heroine is Margery Benson, who in 1914 at ten years old fell in love with beetles to help her deal with a personal loss, and became particularly fascinated by the golden beetle of New Caledonia, whose existence has never been proven. However, somewhere along the way she lost hold of her dreams, until she finds herself 46 years old, standing in front of a classroom teaching cookery, confiscating a note that turns out to be a less than flattering caricature of herself. Forced to face the difference between the life she wanted and the life she has, Miss Benson takes a leap of faith and embarks on a self-funded expedition to New Caledonia, determined to find the golden beetle once and for all. But she can’t do it alone. She’ll need an assistant. Enter the perky, flashy, enigmatic, blond-dyed, pink-hat-wearing, deeply unsuitable Enid Pretty, a woman with her own dreams to chase, and who will completely upend Margery Benson’s sense of the world, and herself.

I remain in awe of writers like Joyce who can weave together humor with grief and hardship with friendship to give you an engaging and meaningful tapestry of everyday life. I found this book funny and heartfelt, covering tough topics but not so heavily as to be depressing or off-putting. Also, like in her earlier Harold Fry, Joyce does a good job creating a journey for her characters that is both physical and emotional, and which leaves them forever changed.

This book is recommended for those who like books about female friendship, international travel, and the empowerment of women throughout history.

The Librarian of Saint-Malo by Mario Escobar

Mario Escobar’s latest novel The Librarian of Saint-Malo tells the story of a French librarian’s stand against the German occupation as they descend upon the small coastal village of Saint-Malo. While World War II novels are plentiful, the timeline covered as well as the perspectives shown during this particular title were refreshing and set this novel apart.

Jocelyn is determined. Having just married her high school sweetheart Antoine in August 1939, Jocelyn wishes to begin their married life in bliss. But soon after they are married, Antoine is drafted to fight against Germany, leaving Jocelyn behind in the village of Saint-Malo to manage the tiny library there. World War II brings destruction to their doors, while Jocelyn works to bring comfort and encouragement to those residents who can escape to the library to check out books.

Wanting to do more, Jocelyn begins writing secret letters to a famous author who lives in Paris. Having someone smuggle those letters to him is a great risk, but Jocelyn is desperate that her story, as well as that of Saint-Malo, lives on in the face of the war’s destruction. When France falls and Nazis start to occupy Saint-Malo, Jocelyn wants to do more. With the city now a fortress, the devastation only worsens.

Across the country, Nazis begin to destroy libraries. Armed with lists of unsuitable books, Nazis burn books and even steal the priceless and more rare books. Jocelyn refuses to let her library be destroyed, so despite the risk to herself, she manages to hide the books the Nazis seek to destroy. While terror reigns around her, Jocelyn waits for news from Antoine, who is now a prisoner in a German camp.

The more Jocelyn writes, the more readers see that all she wants is to protect people and her beloved books. This novel tells the story of those who were willing to sacrifice anything to save the people they loved, as well as the true history of their lives.