From top left: SCRIBNER, Grove Press, Penguin Books, Knopf, Little, Brown, Random House, Harper, Riverhead, Random House, Simon & Schuster
Some of these books — most of them big best sellers — may be lingering on your to-read list, but you haven't taken the plunge while they've remained in their pricey hardcover format. Good news: Now they're out in paperback. That means they're less expensive and more portable, while offering the same absorbing plots, entertaining life stories or, in the case of Why We Sleep, useful science.
Madeline Miller's audaciously entertaining, best-selling novel — included on scads of Best of 2019 lists — deserves the many accolades it's received. It's a reimagining of the famous Greek myth, but this Circe is no longer the traditional enemy of Odysseus, whose war-weary crew she turned into pigs as they approached her island. Instead, she's a very human, likable woman, who's managed to overcome her lowly status as a down-trodden nymph to become a spectacularly powerful, sensitive witch, grappling with the loneliness of her own immortality. Though grounded in ancient myths and lore, Circe is a ravishingly modern story of female empowerment.
Save Me the Plums: My Gourmet Memoir
It's hard not to love a delicious gossipy memoir about food -— especially when it's from Ruth Reichl, the best-selling former editor of Gourmet magazine and James Beard award-winning food writer. In Save Me the Plums, she offers in one paperback package a banquet of great stories about the many ways recipes and food have shaped her identity, including the turkey chili she delivered to 9/11 workers and her publishing of David Foster Wallace's thoughtful commentary about the ethics of boiling lobsters alive. It's an absolutely delicious and nourishing read; if you enjoy it, consider picking up her also-wonderful 1988 memoir Tender at the Bone: Growing Up at the Table.
The New Girl
Daniel Silva's a master at weaving plots packed with international intrigue, and his latest, out last summer, is based on real-life events. When the young daughter of Khalid, the controversial prince of Saudi Arabia, is kidnapped, he desperately turns to the only man who can rescue her: master spy and chief of Israeli intelligence Gabriel Allon (well-known to Silva fans). Can they find the girl and save the throne of Saudi Arabia even as the powder keg that is the Middle East blows up around them? It's another whip-smart, fast-paced, twisty thriller from the author of The Other Woman (2018) and will get you in the mood for Silva's next near-guaranteed best seller, The Order, coming out July 14.
Daisy Jones & The Six
Taylor Jenkins Reid
Told as a you-are-there oral history, Reid's best-selling 2019 novel set during the rock-'n'-rolling 1970s is about Daisy Jones, who hit the clubs — and the drugs — in Los Angeles at age 14 and went on to become a singer-songwriter in a hot band, the Six. She falls for the leader, Billy Dunne, who's torn between his love for Daisy and his deeper emotions for his wife, whose life he nearly ruined with his own drug use. The story, chronicling the rise and fall of a legend, is as catchy as a top 10 hit.
Solitary: Unbroken by Four Decades in Solitary Confinement
A story of hope and resilience, this memoir by Albert Woodfox (now in his 70s) is about his wrongful conviction in the 1960s and how he spent the following 40 years trying to survive in a shockingly brutal prison system, much of the time in solitary confinement. He endured countless cruelties, and severe bouts of claustrophobia, through the years, yet somehow found a strength and resolve to fight the system — an effort that finally led to his release in 2016. It's unforgettable and inspiring, justly nominated for the National Book Award in Nonfiction last year.
Another finalist for a National Book Award, Phillips’ gripping narrative is about two sisters who vanish from a lonely beach along eastern Russia's Kamchatka Peninsula. But, most fascinatingly, these girls are not really the point of the story. Instead, the novel delves into the year after the disappearance, peeling back the outer lives of the neighbors to show how they're affected by the lurking mystery surrounding the apparent crime. Phillips is especially good at illuminating the peculiar difficulties and details of life in this remote, chilly area of the world, while making the characters’ emotions feel universal.
Little Fires Everywhere
Now's the time to read this huge best seller (still, though it was first published in 2017), which has been made into a Hulu series starring Reese Witherspoon. Set in the 1990s, it's an absorbing story about race and class in an upscale Cleveland suburb. The focus is on Mia Warren, a transient artist who does housecleaning for journalist Elena Richardson to pay the bills, and Mia's teenage daughter, Pearl. All seems well — Pearl and the Richardson kids grow close — until Mia befriends a Chinese immigrant who lost her baby to a well-to-do couple. Mia and Elena find themselves on opposing sides of a heartrending debate, and sparks fly.
Why We Sleep: Unlocking the Power of Sleep and Dreams
Neuroscientist and sleep expert Matthew Walker's groundbreaking book may well keep you awake reading as you learn how to sleep better. It's no joke: Lack of sleep can lead to hallucinations and car crashes and wreak havoc with our immune system, Walker notes, while too much can impact our ability to learn and to cope. He explores how our sleep patterns evolve with age, the effects of caffeine and sleep medications, and how dreams can help us solve problems and boost creativity. While this best seller has been out in paperback for a while (since 2018), it may be especially helpful in these anxious-making times.
City of Girls
Known for her megahit memoir, Eat Pray Love (2006), Elizabeth Gilbert had another winner last year with this novel featuring Vivian, a 19-year-old kicked out of Vassar who arrives in New York City in the 1940s to live with her flamboyant theater-owning aunt. Soon frequenting the famous clubs of the era, she drinks, dances and scoots into the willing arms of numerous men, living it up even as the war nears. But when she meets gossip columnist Walter Winchell, he embroils her in a scandal, and her carefree life suddenly turns dark. At times as bubbly and delicious as a glass of champagne, this is also a moving story of a young woman coming into her own on the eve of World War II.
The Trial of Lizzie Borden
True-crime junkies will love this exploration of one of the most notorious murder cases in American history. Released last March, it dissects the notorious case of 32-year-old Lizzie Borden, who in 1892 was accused of brutally killing her parents in their home in Fall River, Massachusetts. Borden eventually was acquitted, but Cara Robertson, a lawyer and former U.S. Supreme Court clerk who's said she spent 16 years researching this book, argues that the wild tabloid treatment of the case and lasting infamy has affected how some high-profile murder trials and true-crime cases are covered to this day. The story is a page-turner that paints a revealing picture of the era and its deep-seated class divisions (the Bordens were quite wealthy) — even if the answer to “did she or didn't she?” remains unknowable.