Even though the official start of autumn is still several weeks away, you can get a jump on your fall book club reading by taking a look at the new releases below. From historical fiction to family sagas to gripping thrillers, we’ve compiled a list of must-read fall book club selections. Release dates and publishers’ descriptions are included below.
The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead
Cora is a slave on a cotton plantation in Georgia. Life is hell for all the slaves, but especially bad for Cora; an outcast even among her fellow Africans, she is coming into womanhood — where even greater pain awaits. When Caesar, a recent arrival from Virginia, tells her about the Underground Railroad, they decide to take a terrifying risk and escape. Matters do not go as planned — Cora kills a young white boy who tries to capture her. Though they manage to find a station and head north, they are being hunted.
In Whitehead’s ingenious conception, the Underground Railroad is no mere metaphor — engineers and conductors operate a secret network of tracks and tunnels beneath the Southern soil. Cora and Caesar’s first stop is South Carolina, in a city that initially seems like a haven. But the city’s placid surface masks an insidious scheme designed for its black denizens. And even worse: Ridgeway, the relentless slave catcher, is close on their heels. Forced to flee again, Cora embarks on a harrowing flight, state by state, seeking true freedom.
Like the protagonist of Gulliver’s Travels, Cora encounters different worlds at each stage of her journey — hers is an odyssey through time as well as space. As Whitehead brilliantly recreates the unique terrors for black people in the pre–Civil War era, his narrative seamlessly weaves the saga of America from the brutal importation of Africans to the unfulfilled promises of the present day. The Underground Railroad is at once a kinetic adventure tale of one woman’s ferocious will to escape the horrors of bondage and a shattering, powerful meditation on the history we all share.
Leave Me by Gayle Forman
Every woman who has ever fantasized about driving past her exit on the highway instead of going home to make dinner, and every woman who has ever dreamed of boarding a train to a place where no one needs constant attention — meet Maribeth Klein. A harried working mother who’s so busy taking care of her husband and twins, she doesn’t even realize she’s had a heart attack.
Surprised to discover that her recuperation seems to be an imposition on those who rely on her, Maribeth does the unthinkable: She packs a bag and leaves. But, as is often the case, once we get where we’re going we see our lives from a different perspective. Far from the demands of family and career and with the help of liberating new friendships, Maribeth is able to own up to secrets she has been keeping from herself and those she loves.
With bighearted characters — husbands, wives, friends, and lovers — who stumble and trip, grow and forgive, Leave Me is about facing the fears we’re all running from. Gayle Forman is a dazzling observer of human nature. She has written an irresistible novel that confronts the ambivalence of modern motherhood head on and asks, what happens when a grown woman runs away from home?
Mischling by Affinity Konar
Pearl is in charge of: the sad, the good, the past.
Stasha must care for: the funny, the future, the bad.
It’s 1944 when the twin sisters arrive at Auschwitz with their mother and grandfather. In their benighted new world, Pearl and Stasha Zagorski take refuge in their identical natures, comforting themselves with the private language and shared games of their childhood.
As part of the experimental population of twins known as Mengele’s Zoo, the girls experience privileges and horrors unknown to others, and they find themselves changed, stripped of the personalities they once shared, their identities altered by the burdens of guilt and pain.
That winter, at a concert orchestrated by Mengele, Pearl disappears. Stasha grieves for her twin, but clings to the possibility that Pearl remains alive. When the camp is liberated by the Red Army, she and her companion Feliks — a boy bent on vengeance for his own lost twin — travel through Poland’s devastation. Undeterred by injury, starvation, or the chaos around them, motivated by equal parts danger and hope, they encounter hostile villagers, Jewish resistance fighters, and fellow refugees, their quest enabled by the notion that Mengele may be captured and brought to justice within the ruins of the Warsaw Zoo. As the young survivors discover what has become of the world, they must try to imagine a future within it.
A superbly crafted story, told in a voice as exquisite as it is boundlessly original, Mischling defies every expectation, traversing one of the darkest moments in human history to show us the way toward ethereal beauty, moral reckoning, and soaring hope.
Release Date: Out now
Here I Am by Jonathan Safran Foer
In the book of Genesis, when God calls out, “Abraham!” before ordering him to sacrifice his son, Isaac, Abraham responds, “Here I am.” Later, when Isaac calls out, “My father!” before asking him why there is no animal to slaughter, Abraham responds, “Here I am.”
How do we fulfill our conflicting duties as father, husband, and son; wife and mother; child and adult? Jew and American? How can we claim our own identities when our lives are linked so closely to others’? These are the questions at the heart of Jonathan Safran Foer’s first novel in 11 years — a work of extraordinary scope and heartbreaking intimacy.
Unfolding over four tumultuous weeks in present-day Washington, D.C., Here I Am is the story of a fracturing family in a moment of crisis. As Jacob and Julia Bloch and their three sons are forced to confront the distances between the lives they think they want and the lives they are living, a catastrophic earthquake sets in motion a quickly escalating conflict in the Middle East. At stake is the meaning of home — and the fundamental question of how much aliveness one can bear.
Showcasing the same high-energy inventiveness, hilarious irreverence, and emotional urgency that readers loved in his earlier work, Here I Am is Foer’s most searching, hard-hitting, and grandly entertaining novel yet. It not only confirms Foer’s stature as a dazzling literary talent but reveals a novelist who has fully come into his own as one of our most important writers.
The Fortunes by Peter Ho Davies
Sly, funny, intelligent, and artfully structured, The Fortunes recasts American history through the lives of Chinese Americans and reimagines the multigenerational novel through the fractures of immigrant family experience.
Inhabiting four lives — a railroad baron’s valet who unwittingly ignites an explosion in Chinese labor, Hollywood’s first Chinese movie star, a hate-crime victim whose death mobilizes Asian Americans, and a biracial writer visiting China for an adoption–this novel captures and capsizes over a century of our history, showing that even as family bonds are denied and broken, a community can survive — as much through love as blood.
Building fact into fiction, spinning fiction around fact, Davies uses each of these stories — three inspired by real historical characters — to examine the process of becoming not only Chinese American, but American.
Letters from Paris by Juliet Blackwell
After surviving the accident that took her mother’s life, Claire Broussard has worked hard to escape her small Louisiana hometown. But these days she feels something is lacking. Abruptly leaving her lucrative job in Chicago, Claire returns home to care for her ailing grandmother. There, she unearths a beautiful piece of artwork that her great-grandfather sent home from Paris after World War II.
At her grandmother’s urging, Claire travels to Paris to track down the century-old mask-making atelier where the object, known only as “L’Inconnue” — or The Unknown Woman — was created. Under the watchful eye of a surly mask-maker, Claire discovers a cache of letters that offers insight into the life of the Belle Epoque woman immortalized in the work of art. As Claire explores the unknown woman’s tragic fate, she begins to unravel deeply buried secrets in her own life.
Commonwealth by Ann Patchett
The acclaimed, bestselling author — winner of the PEN/Faulkner Award and the Orange Prize — tells the enthralling story of how an unexpected romantic encounter irrevocably changes two families’ lives.
One Sunday afternoon in Southern California, Bert Cousins shows up at Franny Keating’s christening party uninvited. Before evening falls, he has kissed Franny’s mother, Beverly — thus setting in motion the dissolution of their marriages and the joining of two families.
Spanning five decades, Commonwealth explores how this chance encounter reverberates through the lives of the four parents and six children involved. Spending summers together in Virginia, the Keating and Cousins children forge a lasting bond that is based on a shared disillusionment with their parents and the strange and genuine affection that grows up between them.
When, in her 20s, Franny begins an affair with the legendary author Leon Posen and tells him about her family, the story of her siblings is no longer hers to control. Their childhood becomes the basis for his wildly successful book, ultimately forcing them to come to terms with their losses, their guilt, and the deeply loyal connection they feel for one another.
Told with equal measures of humor and heartbreak, Commonwealth is a meditation on inspiration, interpretation, and the ownership of stories. It is a brilliant and tender tale of the far-reaching ties of love and responsibility that bind us together.
Shelter in Place by Alexander Maksik
Set in the Pacific Northwest in the jittery, jacked-up early 1990s, Shelter in Place, by one of America’s most thrillingly defiant contemporary authors, is a stylish literary novel about the hereditary nature of mental illness, the fleeting intensity of youth, the obligations of family, and the dramatic consequences of love.
Joseph March, a 21-year-old working class kid from Seattle, is on top of the world. He has just graduated college and his future beckons, unencumbered, limitless, magnificent. Joe’s life implodes when he starts to suffer the symptoms of bipolar disorder, and, not long after, his mother kills a man she’s never met with a hammer.
Joe moves to White Pine, Washington, where his mother is serving time and his father has set up house. He is followed by Tess Wolff, a fiercely independent woman with whom he has fallen in love. The lives of Joe, Tess, and Joe’s father fall into the slow rhythm of daily prison visits followed by beer and pizza at a local bar. Meanwhile, Anne-Marie March, Joe’s mother, is gradually becoming a local heroine — many see her crime as a furious, exasperated act of righteous rebellion. Tess, too, has fallen under her spell. Spurred on by Anne-Marie’s example, Tess enlists Joe in a secret, violent plan that will forever change their lives.
Maksik sings of modern America’s battered soul and of the lacerating emotions that make us human. Magnetic and masterfully told, Shelter in Place is about the things in life we are willing to die for, and those we’re willing to kill for.
Nutshell by Ian McEwan
Trudy has betrayed her husband, John. She’s still in the marital home — a dilapidated, priceless London townhouse — but John’s not there. Instead, she’s with his brother, the profoundly banal Claude, and the two of them have a plan. But there is a witness to their plot: the inquisitive, nine-month-old resident of Trudy’s womb.
Told from a perspective unlike any other, Nutshell is a classic tale of murder and deceit from one of the world’s master storytellers.
Release Date: September 13
Fates and Traitors by Jennifer Chiaverini
The world would not look upon his like again. John Wilkes Booth — driven son of an acclaimed British stage actor and a Covent Garden flower girl, whose misguided quest to avenge the vanquished Confederacy led him to commit one of the most notorious acts in the annals of America — has been the subject of scholarship, speculation, and even obsession.
Though in his plot to assassinate President Abraham Lincoln Booth did not act alone — “I am determined to be a villain,” he tragically prophesized on the occasion of his acclaimed 1862 New York City debut in the role of Richard III — he is often portrayed as a shadowy figure, devoid of human connection. Yet four women were integral in the life of this unquiet American: Mary Ann, the mother he revered above all but country; his sister and confidante, Asia; Lucy Lambert Hale, the senator’s daughter who loved him; and the Confederate widow Mary Surratt, to whom he entrusted the secrets of his vengeful wrath.
In Fates and Traitors, New York Times bestselling author Jennifer Chiaverini renders for the first time as fiction the compelling interplay between these pivotal actors — some willing, others unwitting — who made an indelible mark on the history of our nation.
Release Date: September 13
The Wonder by Emma Donoghue
Tourists flock to the cabin of 11-year-old Anna O’Donnell, who believes herself to be living off manna from heaven, and a journalist is sent to cover the sensation. Lib Wright, a veteran of Florence Nightingale’s Crimean campaign, is hired to keep watch over the girl.
Written with all the propulsive tension that made Room a huge bestseller, The Wonder works beautifully on many levels — a tale of two strangers who transform each other’s lives, a powerful psychological thriller, and a story of love pitted against evil.
Release Date: September 20
The Bookshop on the Corner by Jenny Colgan
Nina Redmond is a literary matchmaker. Pairing a reader with that perfect book is her passion… and also her job. Or at least it was. Until yesterday, she was a librarian in the hectic city. But now the job she loved is no more.
Determined to make a new life for herself, Nina moves to a sleepy village many miles away. There she buys a van and transforms it into a bookmobile — a mobile bookshop that she drives from neighborhood to neighborhood, changing one life after another with the power of storytelling.
From helping her grumpy landlord deliver a lamb, to sharing picnics with a charming train conductor who serenades her with poetry, Nina discovers there’s plenty of adventure, magic, and soul in a place that’s beginning to feel like home… a place where she just might be able to write her own happy ending.
Release Date: September 20
The Kept Woman by Karin Slaughter
Husbands and wives. Mothers and daughters. The past and the future.
Secrets bind them. And secrets can destroy them.
The author of Pretty Girls returns with an electrifying, emotionally complex thriller that plunges its fascinating protagonist into the darkest depths of a mystery that just might destroy him.
With the discovery of a murder at an abandoned construction site, Will Trent of the Georgia Bureau of Investigation is brought in on a case that becomes much more dangerous when the dead man is identified as an ex-cop.
Studying the body, Sara Linton — the GBI’s newest medical examiner and Will’s lover — realizes that the extensive blood loss didn’t belong to the corpse. Sure enough, bloody footprints leading away from the scene indicate there is another victim — a woman — who has vanished… and who will die soon if she isn’t found.
Will is already compromised, because the site belongs to the city’s most popular citizen: a wealthy, powerful, and politically connected athlete protected by the world’s most expensive lawyers — a man who’s already gotten away with rape, despite Will’s exhaustive efforts to put him away.
But the worst is yet to come. Evidence soon links Will’s troubled past to the case… and the consequences will tear through his life with the force of a tornado, wreaking havoc for Will and everyone around him, including his colleagues, family, friends — and even the suspects he pursues.
Relentlessly suspenseful and furiously paced, peopled with conflicted, fallible characters who leap from the page, The Kept Woman is a seamless blend of twisty police procedural and ingenious psychological thriller — a searing, unforgettable novel of love, loss, and redemption.
Release Date: September 20
Today Will Be Different by Maria Semple
Eleanor knows she’s a mess. But today, she will tackle the little things. She will shower and get dressed. She will have her poetry and yoga lessons after dropping off her son, Timby. She won’t swear. She will initiate sex with her husband, Joe. But before she can put her modest plan into action-life happens. Today, it turns out, is the day Timby has decided to fake sick to weasel his way into his mother’s company. It’s also the day Joe has chosen to tell his office — but not Eleanor — that he’s on vacation. Just when it seems like things can’t go more awry, an encounter with a former colleague produces a graphic memoir whose dramatic tale threatens to reveal a buried family secret.
Today Will Be Different is a hilarious, heart-filled story about reinvention, sisterhood, and how sometimes it takes facing up to our former selves to truly begin living.
Release Date: October 4
Nicotine by Nell Zink
The “wonderfully talented” (Dwight Garner, New York Times) author of Mislaid returns with a fierce and audaciously funny novel of families — both the ones we’re born into and the ones we create — a story of obsession, idealism, and ownership, centered around a young woman who inherits her bohemian late father’s childhood home.
Recent business school graduate Penny Baker has rebelled against her family her whole life — by being the conventional one. Her mother, Amalia, was a member of a South American tribe called the Kogi; her much older father, Norm, long ago attained cult-like deity status among a certain cohort of aging hippies while operating a psychedelic “healing center.” And she’s never felt particularly close to her much older half-brothers from Norm’s previous marriage — one wickedly charming and obscenely rich (but mostly just wicked), one a photographer on a distant tropical island.
But all that changes when her father dies, and Penny inherits his childhood home in New Jersey. She goes to investigate the property and finds it not overgrown and abandoned, but rather occupied by a group of friendly anarchist squatters whom she finds unexpectedly charming, and who have renamed the property “Nicotine.” The Nicotine residents (united in defense of smokers’ rights) possess the type of passion and fervor Penny feels she’s desperately lacking, and the other squatter houses in the neighborhood provide a sense of community she has never felt before. She soon moves into a nearby residence, becoming enmeshed in the political fervor and commitment of her fellow squatters.
As the Baker family’s lives begin to converge around the fate of the house now called Nicotine, Penny grows ever bolder and more desperate to protect it — and its residents — until a fateful night when a reckless confrontation between her old family and her new one changes everything.
Nell Zink exquisitely captures the clash between Baby-Boomer idealism and Millennial pragmatism, between the have-nots and want-mores, in a riotous yet tender novel that brilliantly encapsulates our time.
Release Date: October 4
The Wangs vs. the World by Jade Chang
Charles Wang is mad at America. A brash, lovable immigrant businessman who built a cosmetics empire and made a fortune, he’s just been ruined by the financial crisis. Now all Charles wants is to get his kids safely stowed away so that he can go to China and attempt to reclaim his family’s ancestral lands — and his pride.
Charles pulls Andrew, his aspiring comedian son, and Grace, his style-obsessed daughter, out of schools he can no longer afford. Together with their stepmother, Barbra, they embark on a cross-country road trip from their foreclosed Bel-Air home to the upstate New York hideout of the eldest daughter, disgraced art world it-girl Saina. But with his son waylaid by a temptress in New Orleans, his wife ready to defect for a set of 1,000-thread-count sheets, and an epic smash-up in North Carolina, Charles may have to choose between the old world and the new, between keeping his family intact and finally fulfilling his dream of starting anew in China.
Outrageously funny and full of charm, The Wangs vs. the World is an entirely fresh look at what it means to belong in America — and how going from glorious riches to (still name-brand) rags brings one family together in a way money never could.
Release Date: October 4
The Tresspasser by Tana French
Being on the Murder squad is nothing like Detective Antoinette Conway dreamed it would be. Her partner, Stephen Moran, is the only person who seems glad she’s there. The rest of her working life is a stream of thankless cases, vicious pranks, and harassment. Antoinette is savagely tough, but she’s getting close to the breaking point.
Their new case looks like yet another by-the-numbers lovers’ quarrel gone bad. Aislinn Murray is blond, pretty, groomed to a shine, and dead in her catalogue-perfect living room, next to a table set for a romantic dinner. There’s nothing unusual about her — except that Antoinette’s seen her somewhere before.
And that her death won’t stay in its neat by-numbers box. Other detectives are trying to push Antoinette and Steve into arresting Aislinn’s boyfriend, fast. There’s a shadowy figure at the end of Antoinette’s road. Aislinn’s friend is hinting that she knew Aislinn was in danger. And everything they find out about Aislinn takes her further from the glossy, passive doll she seemed to be.
Antoinette knows the harassment has turned her paranoid, but she can’t tell just how far gone she is. Is this case another step in the campaign to force her off the squad, or are there darker currents flowing beneath its polished surface?
Release Date: October 4
Hag-Seed by Margaret Atwood
William Shakespeare’s The Tempest retold as Hag-Seed.
Felix is at the top of his game as Artistic Director of the Makeshiweg Theatre Festival. His productions have amazed and confounded. Now he’s staging a Tempest like no other: not only will it boost his reputation, it will heal emotional wounds.
Or that was the plan. Instead, after an act of unforeseen treachery, Felix is living in exile in a backwoods hovel, haunted by memories of his beloved lost daughter, Miranda. And also brewing revenge.
After 12 years, revenge finally arrives in the shape of a theatre course at a nearby prison. Here, Felix and his inmate actors will put on his Tempest and snare the traitors who destroyed him. It’s magic! But will it remake Felix as his enemies fall?
Margaret Atwood’s novel take on Shakespeare’s play of enchantment, retribution, and second chances leads us on an interactive, illusion-ridden journey filled with new surprises and wonders of its own.
Release Date: October 11
Small Great Things by Jodi Picoult
Ruth Jefferson is a labor and delivery nurse at a Connecticut hospital with more than 20 years’ experience. During her shift, Ruth begins a routine checkup on a newborn, only to be told a few minutes later that she’s been reassigned to another patient. The parents are white supremacists and don’t want Ruth, who is African American, to touch their child. The hospital complies with their request, but the next day, the baby goes into cardiac distress while Ruth is alone in the nursery. Does she obey orders or does she intervene?
Ruth hesitates before performing CPR and, as a result, is charged with a serious crime. Kennedy McQuarrie, a white public defender, takes her case but gives unexpected advice: Kennedy insists that mentioning race in the courtroom is not a winning strategy. Conflicted by Kennedy’s counsel, Ruth tries to keep life as normal as possible for her family — especially her teenage son — as the case becomes a media sensation. As the trial moves forward, Ruth and Kennedy must gain each other’s trust, and come to see that what they’ve been taught their whole lives about others — and themselves — might be wrong.
With incredible empathy, intelligence, and candor, Jodi Picoult tackles race, privilege, prejudice, justice, and compassion — and doesn’t offer easy answers. Small Great Things is a remarkable achievement from a writer at the top of her game.
Release Date: October 11
The Mothers by Brit Bennett
Set within a contemporary black community in Southern California, Brit Bennett’s mesmerizing first novel is an emotionally perceptive story about community, love, and ambition. It begins with a secret.
“All good secrets have a taste before you tell them, and if we’d taken a moment to swish this one around our mouths, we might have noticed the sourness of an unripe secret, plucked too soon, stolen and passed around before its season.”
It is the last season of high school life for Nadia Turner, a rebellious, grief-stricken, 17-year-old beauty. Mourning her own mother’s recent suicide, she takes up with the local pastor’s son. Luke Sheppard is 21, a former football star whose injury has reduced him to waiting tables at a diner. They are young; it’s not serious. But the pregnancy that results from this teen romance — and the subsequent cover-up — will have an impact that goes far beyond their youth. As Nadia hides her secret from everyone, including Aubrey, her God-fearing best friend, the years move quickly. Soon, Nadia, Luke, and Aubrey are full-fledged adults and still living in debt to the choices they made that one seaside summer, caught in a love triangle they must carefully maneuver, and dogged by the constant, nagging question: What if they had chosen differently? The possibilities of the road not taken are a relentless haunt.
In entrancing, lyrical prose, The Mothers asks whether a “what if” can be more powerful than an experience itself. If, as time passes, we must always live in servitude to the decisions of our younger selves, to the communities that have parented us, and to the decisions we make that shape our lives forever.
Release Date: October 11
Faithful by Alice Hoffman
Growing up on Long Island, Shelby Richmond is an ordinary girl until one night an extraordinary tragedy changes her fate. Her best friend’s future is destroyed in an accident, while Shelby walks away with the burden of guilt.
What happens when a life is turned inside out? When love is something so distant it may as well be a star in the sky? Faithful is the story of a survivor, filled with emotion — from dark suffering to true happiness — a moving portrait of a young woman finding her way in the modern world. A fan of Chinese food, dogs, bookstores, and men she should stay away from, Shelby has to fight her way back to her own future. In New York City she finds a circle of lost and found souls — including an angel who’s been watching over her ever since that fateful icy night.
Here is a character you will fall in love with, so believable and real and endearing, that she captures both the ache of loneliness and the joy of finding yourself at last. For anyone who’s ever been a hurt teenager, for every mother of a daughter who has lost her way, Faithful is a roadmap.
Alice Hoffman’s “trademark alchemy” (USA TODAY) and her ability to write about the “delicate balance between the everyday world and the extraordinary” (WBUR) make this an unforgettable story. With beautifully crafted prose, Alice Hoffman spins hope from heartbreak in this profoundly moving novel.
Release Date: November 1
Swing Time by Zadie Smith
Two brown girls dream of being dancers — but only one, Tracey, has talent. The other has ideas: about rhythm and time, about black bodies and black music, what constitutes a tribe, or makes a person truly free. It’s a close but complicated childhood friendship that ends abruptly in their early 20s, never to be revisited, but never quite forgotten, either…
Dazzlingly energetic and deeply human, Swing Time is a story about friendship and music and stubborn roots, about how we are shaped by these things and how we can survive them. Moving from North-West London to West Africa, it is an exuberant dance to the music of time.
Release Date: November 15
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