Between the website launch and my run-in with the massive-beyond-all-reason Hamilton biography (targeting early 2024 completion at this point), I’ve slowed down on fiction this past month.
Most of this list came from September and October, although even just putting together this roundup has me eager to curl up with a novel tonight.
There’s a couple of thrillers, a heartwarming mystery that features an octopus as a secondary narrator, and a novel about two video game designers that I still think about to this day.
Check my list of the best books I read this fall:
“It seems to be a hallmark of the human species: abysmal communication skills. Not that any other species are much better, mind you, but even a herring can tell which way the school it belongs to is turning and follow accordingly. Why can humans not use their millions of words to simply tell one another what they desire?”
Tova Sullivan, an endearing busy-body and widow, works the nightshift at the local aquarium in a small coastal town in Washington. The setting alone makes this book worth reading–it is a MOOD. Tova befriends Marcellus, a giant octopus who resides in the aquarium. (Stay with me). Marcellus is a bit of an escape artist and wanders the grounds at night. One night, Marcellus makes a discovery about Tova’s son who went missing a few decades ago when he was 18 years old. Marcellus works to reveal what he knows to Tova, who is preoccupied with making arrangements for what she believes will be the remainder of her lonely years. This book sounds totally strange, and it is, but somehow the author pulls it off. It’s heartwarming and mysterious and funny and unique. I can’t recommend it enough.
“Grief is a shape-shifter, it defies logic, sneaking up on you when you least expect it and leaving you empty-handed and hollow when you go searching for it.”
Matthew and Marissa Bishop are a seemingly perfect couple living in the bougie part of DC (one of my favorite settings, for some reason). After a major betrayal, the couple begins to see a therapist named Avery Chambers. Avery Chambers isn’t a normal therapist, though; in fact, she lost her license the previous year for her unconventional tactics. Avery decides to take on the couple but realizes quickly that either one or both of them are hiding something. The point of view switches back and forth between Avery and Marissa which was fascinating and made the book feel like it was going a mile a minute. I had NO idea how this was going to end because there were so many moving parts. But I have to say it–to borrow a phrase from The Popcast–“stuck the landing.”
This is a great thriller because, in my opinion, it wasn’t very dark. I couldn’t put it down, but it didn’t keep me up at night. Like with any thriller, there are scary/suspenseful moments. But this one does a great job at staying out of the realm of *disturbing*. One thing I’ll say, though, is that I would like to see thriller authors move past the crutch of infidelity as a plot point. This book in particular had enough going on that it didn’t bother me as much. But it seems that cheating has become overly prevalent in these types of books. It’s getting a bit tired? Anyway, don’t mind me, just an armchair expert over here, as usual.
“Girls are given the weight of the world, but nowhere to put it down.”
This story is about Eva Mercy and Shane Hall, bestselling authors who run in the same circles of the New York literary scene. What most of their circle doesn’t realize is that Eva and Shane already know each other, having spent an intense and emotionally-charged week together when they were teenagers. Eva and Shane’s chemistry is undeniable. But their past traumas and baggage stand firmly in the way of a future together. I, for one, can be a real sucker for a well-written romance about complex characters.
A few things to note: this is very steamy, so don’t go recommending it to your mom and mentioning my name. Or, do, I guess? Secondly, there are probably many trigger warnings associated with this book. But I would like to specifically mention the self-harm content which was difficult for me to get through. Otherwise, it’s a great book.
“They had the rare kind of friendship that allowed for a great deal of privacy within it. One of the reasons they had become such good friends originally was because she had not insisted he tell his sad stories to satisfy her own curiosity. The least he could do was return the favor.”
This story is about two brilliant game designers, Sam Masur and Sadie Green. Sam and Sadie grow up playing video games together and eventually end up codesigning a bestselling game called Ichigo.
I know what you’re thinking: a book about video games?? Trust me, there is no one less inclined to the gaming scene than I am, but this book is incredible. It’s about love and friendship and grief (and, yes, video games). I found myself desperately obsessed with the characters by the time it ended. In a way, it reminded me of Daisy Jones & The Six–a sort of “will they/won’t they” dynamic between two people who have creative chemistry–so if you enjoyed that book, I’d give this one a try. This book is special; it’s well-written, thoughtful, and beautifully detail-oriented. I have no doubt that this will make my 2022 favorites list.
“She has always had a secret liking for this part of the embroidery, the ‘wrong’ side, congested with knots, striations of silk and twists of thread. How much more interesting it is, with its frank display of the labour needed to attain the perfection of the finished piece.”
This story is based on real events and takes place in Renaissance Italy. Lucrezia de’Medici, a daughter of the duke in Florence, is married off to a duke from Ferrara when she is just 15 years old. Lucrezia is the “black sheep” of her family and wasn’t even the duke’s first choice; he was betrothed to Lucrezia’s older sister Maria who succumbed to an infection just after their engagement. Against her will and better judgment, Lucrezia is married and shipped off to begin her new life as a wife and duchess in Ferrara.
Although Lucrezia was reported to have died just a year into her marriage from putrid fever, rumors have circulated ever since that she was murdered by her new husband. This book’s reimagining of the events is told solely from Lucrezia’s point of view, and every page is absolutely scintillating. Maggie O’Farrell could write about someone making lunch and make it sound like a murder scene. The ending is absolutely insane.
“If you ask me, everyone is a little too interested in their children’s happiness. Ask anyone what they wish for their kids and they’ll all say they want them to be happy. Happy! Not empathetic contributing members of society. Not humble, wise and tolerant. And not strong in the face of adversity or grateful in the face of misfortune. I, on the other hand, have always wanted hardship for my kids. Real, honest hardship.”
Lucy Goodwin has a complicated–if not tumultuous–relationship with her mother-in-law, Diana. When Lucy first marries Ollie (Diana’s son) and enters the family, she is desperate for Diana’s love and approval. Having lost her own mother at an early age, Lucy is devastated when Diana seems intent on keeping her at an arm’s distance. One day, ten years into Lucy and Ollie’s marriage, Diana is found dead in her home. Diana’s death is initially ruled a suicide. But as details begin to emerge, the family realizes something much more sinister has happened. The story is told from alternating points of view, switching off chapters between Lucy and Diana.
This was definitely on the “tamer” side of thrillers which, frankly, I rather enjoyed. It reminded me of Liane Moriarty’s books–based in Australia, tons of family drama, witty characters. So if you loved “Big Little Lies” or “The Husband’s Secret,” I recommend checking this one out.
See more book recommendations here.