Holiday lit guide: Best fiction picks

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"A Gentleman in Moscow" by Amor Towles

"A Gentleman in Moscow" is a delightful novel. It is witty, humorous and gentle. The book opens in 1922 with the sentencing of Count Alexander Ilyich Rostov to lifetime house arrest in Moscow's grand old Hotel Metropol. His crime? Authoring a poem that is viewed by the authorities as critical of the state.

The count makes the most of his new life, observing carefully as the world comes to the Metropol. Against this background, we are treated to snippets of Russian history as committees meet to discuss important topics and celebrate new achievements.

The Metropol's staff are beautifully realized. The escapades of the count and his comrades are at once amusing and thought provoking. This is a novel to treasure.

— Phil Lewis, Bennington Bookshop

"Someone We Know" by Shari Lapena

Riveting read by The New York Times bestselling author of The Couple Next Door. When Olivia Sharpe finds out that her son has broken into houses on their street to snoop in neighbor's computers, she is very upset. Then a neighbor is found murdered in the same week and everyone is a suspect, including her own husband as well as the husband of the victim. Fast-paced with lots of twists and turns and an ending I didn't see coming.

— Lisa, Bartleby's Books

"Ohio" by Stephen Markley

A novel about the plight of young people in Middle America as they make their way through the upheavals in the first part of this century. Markley explores the limits of friendship, the bonds that bind enemies, and all the blurred lines in between. He brings insight to our familiar American experiences in this gripping read.

— Ana, Bartleby's Books

"The Giver of Stars" by Jojo Moyes

In the late 1930s, Eleanor Roosevelt founded the Packhorse Librarians. In "The Giver of Stars," women rode on horseback and mule through the mountains and coal country of Kentucky, delivering books to families. Jojo Moyes imagines women who are trapped by class, poverty, race, isolation, marriage, liberated by adventure, sisterhood, literacy and their own agency. "The Giver of Stars" is a reminder of the beauty of historic fiction.

— Leslie Sullivan Sachs, Everyone's Books

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"The Innocents" by Michael Crummy

A brother and sister are left to fend for themselves on the rugged shoreline of northern Newfoundland after the deaths of their baby sister, mother, and father. The knowledge the two children have of how to survive in this unforgiving terrain has been imparted in meager portions by their parents. Their only regular contact with the outside world is the annual arrival of a ship, ironically called The Hope, which provides them with enough supplies to barely survive another brutal winter in return for their catch of fish. The author's prose is as stark and vibrant as the landscape in which this remarkable story of determination and endurance is set. This is easily one of the year's best novels.

— Alden Graves, Northshire Bookstore

"The Nickel Boys" by Colson Whitehead

Elwood, a black boy from Tallahassee, Florida, is on the precipice of joining the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s. When an innocent mistake lands him in the state juvenile reformatory, Nickel Academy, he and the other children are subject to the "retrainings" of the sadistic staff. Based on the horrific true accounts of the survivors of a 100-year-old reformatory in Florida. Whitehead's writing is brutal, honest, and is on par with our most loved American authors.

— Maria, Bartleby's Books

"The Overstory" by Richard Powers

This winner of the Pulitzer Prize is a huge topic of discussion, as the author created a novel comprised of multiple stories with trees in focus. Some of the stories intersect and others stand alone, but the vitality and importance of trees in our world is the major theme throughout.

— Nancy Braus, Everyone's Books

"Women Talking" by Miriam Toews

"Women Talking" follows eight Mennonite women as they deliberate a seemingly impossible decision. They could stay at the isolated Mennonite colony where they have built their lives, but risk continued sexual violence from the men who raped them and their children; or leave the colony in pursuit of safety and justice but lose their loved ones. Based on real events that occurred in Bolivia between 2005 and 2009, the novel is a fictional response that imagines the conversations that might have gone into the women's decision to stay or go. "Women Talking" is the recorded minutes of these imagined conversations. Within their conversations, the women offer a searing indictment of the system of patriarchy which has for so long marginalized them, while at the same time attempting to reconcile their belief in forgiveness, a tenant of their Mennonite faith. The product is a story of devastating truth, that challenges its reader to consider the bounds of forgiveness and the cost of justice in an unjust situation. I cannot recommend this book enough.

— Tucker, Bartleby's Books

"When All Is Said" by Anne Griffin

A beautifully written book, "When All Is Said" is the story of one Irishman sitting in a bar, toasting to the five most important people in his life. Although the book takes place in one night, it is a lifetime that is revealed. With that, the reader becomes more and more enamored with 84-year-old Maurice Hannigan. He has stayed with me long after the book ended. This thoughtful, poignant and tender book is a treasure.

— Betty, Bartleby's Books


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