Julie Hale

Set in 1893 London, Paraic O’Donnell’s The House on Vesper Sands follows an appealing cast of characters as they try to unravel a mystery involving missing working-class women and a menacing group called the Spiriters. Inspector Cutter of Scotland Yard takes on the case, and his investigative efforts are shared by journalist Octavia Hillingdon, who’s on the hunt for a good story, and university student Gideon Bliss, who’s romantically linked to one of the missing girls. Readers will enjoy losing themselves in O’Donnell’s atmospheric adventure, which explores themes of feminism, class and Victorian mores.

Clare Beams’ The Illness Lesson takes place in 1800s Massachusetts, where Samuel Hood and his daughter, Caroline, open a progressive girls’ school after his dream of establishing a utopian community fails to bear fruit. Trouble brews when Eliza, a smart, inquisitive student, starts experiencing seizures and episodes of mania. After Caroline and other students experience similar symptoms, Samuel enlists the help of a doctor who proposes an unusual treatment. Beams’ ominous historical thriller is rich in period detail and brimming with tension, and its questions concerning gender and female agency will inspire great reading group discussions. 

A Black teacher encounters ghosts both spiritual and emotional on a visit to her hometown in LaTanya McQueen’s When the Reckoning Comes. Mira is in town for her best friend’s wedding, which is taking place at the Woodsman, a renovated tobacco plantation that’s supposedly haunted by the ghosts of the enslaved people who were forced to work there. Mira hopes to see her old friend, Jesse, who was arrested for murder years ago. But events take a terrifying twist, and Mira is forced to come to terms with the past. Reading groups will savor McQueen’s well-crafted suspense and enjoy digging into topics like historical accountability and the weight of memory.

The House of Whispers by Laura Purcell tells the story of a 19th-century maid named Hester who goes to work for Louise Pinecroft, a mute older woman who owns Morvoren House, a lonely estate in Cornwall. Staff members at the house harbor strange beliefs related to fairies, superstitions that are somehow connected to Louise’s late father, a physician whose questionable work with patients took place in caves thought to be haunted. Beyond its eerie aura and propulsive plot, The House of Whispers boasts many rich talking points, such as Purcell’s use of Cornish legends and her ability to create—and sustain—a mood of omnipresent foreboding.

These atmospheric thrillers—quintessentially gothic, decidedly unsettling—are perfect winter book club picks.

Focusing on emotional intelligence and self-awareness, these titles offer insight for managing emotions, handling stress and boosting communication skills. Here’s to a transformative new year!

Readers looking to cultivate a more peaceful mindset will find helpful strategies in Julie Smith’s Why Has Nobody Told Me This Before? Smith is a clinical psychologist, educator and writer who has been featured on CNN and the BBC. After gaining a robust social media following with her content about mental health, Smith decided to write a book so that she could delve deeper into some of the issues she often addresses with her patients in therapy.

In her warm, welcoming book, Smith focuses on weighty topics that we all contend with, such as stress, grief, fear and self-doubt, and provides suggestions for how to work through these feelings. She also encourages readers to find out what motivates them so they can use it to implement important life changes. Throughout, she takes a proactive approach, offering methods for dissolving anxiety, using stress for positive ends and managing low moods. She includes writing prompts and easy-to-do exercises to help readers explore how they respond to criticism, how they can confront anxious thoughts and more.

Why Has Nobody Told Me This Before? is briskly written and seasoned with compassionate insights. “When we understand a little about how our minds work and we have some guideposts on how to deal with our emotions in a healthy way,” Smith writes, “we can not only build resilience, but we can thrive and, over time, find a sense of growth.” Readers who are eager to achieve emotional balance and make a fresh start in 2022 will find the direction they need in Smith’s empowering book.

Popular science writer Catherine Price offers more ideas about how to start this year off on the right foot.

In Emotional: How Feelings Shape Our Thinking, Leonard Mlodinow considers the seemingly diametrical relationship between emotion and logic and shows that these two facets of human nature are not as opposed as we might imagine. A theoretical physicist and mathematician, Mlodinow has previously co-written two books with Stephen Hawking. So what can a physicist tell us about emotional intelligence? Taking a science-supported approach, Mlodinow examines the nature and usefulness of our everyday feelings. He demonstrates that, when it comes to important processes such as goal-setting and decision-making, our emotions play as key a role as our ability to think critically.

“We know that emotion is as important as reason in guiding our thoughts and decisions, though it operates in a different manner,” Mlodinow writes. Over the course of the book, he explores the way emotions work by looking at how they arise in the brain and inform our thought processes. He also investigates the history and development of human feelings, including how they’ve been regarded by different cultures in the past. Mlodinow shares a wealth of practical advice and guidance on how to monitor, and even embrace, emotions in ways that can lead to self-improvement. The book includes questionnaires that allow readers to determine their own emotional profiles, as well.

Synthesizing hard research, lively personal anecdotes and input from psychologists and neuroscientists, Mlodinow tackles complex topics in a reader-friendly fashion to create a narrative that’s wonderfully accessible. Understanding our emotions is a critical step in the journey toward personal growth, and Mlodinow’s remarkable book will put readers on the right track.

If you’ve resolved to get in touch with your feelings in 2022, then we have the books for you.

Spanning 30 years, Mantel Pieces: Royal Bodies and Other Writing From the London Review of Books delivers a wonderful sampling of Wolf Hall author Hilary Mantel’s nonfiction work, which includes essays, reviews and autobiographical writings. In these erudite yet accessible pieces, Mantel tackles a variety of topics, from Anne Boleyn’s sister-in-law and other figures of Tudor history, to pop singer Madonna, to England’s current royal family. Mantel’s commanding intelligence and inimitable style are on full display throughout. Her examinations of history, female identity and popular culture make this collection an excellent book club pick.

Zadie Smith reflects on an unprecedented time in America in Intimations, a collection of six essays focusing on the year 2020. Despite its brevity, this powerful book gives book clubs plenty to talk about. In sharply observed, compassionate prose, Smith examines politics, the murder of George Floyd and its repercussions, the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and life under lockdown. Themes of isolation, social justice, family and the writing process will provide points of connection for all types of readers as Smith draws on personal experience to create essays that are moving and resonant.

In The End of the End of the Earth, Jonathan Franzen explores environmental concerns and reflects on writers past and present. Franzen, who is a passionate birder, visits locales across the globe to indulge his passion, and his travels supply wonderful material for some of the book’s central pieces. There are also essays on authors Edith Wharton and William T. Vollmann, which offer new perspectives on both authors. Written with humility, humor and visionary insight, Franzen’s wide-ranging collection is certain to generate rewarding dialogue among book club members.

The Source of Self-Regard: Selected Essays, Speeches, and Meditations brings together key nonfiction writings by Toni Morrison (1931–2019). Covering four decades, the volume collects more than 40 pieces including Morrison’s eulogy for James Baldwin, her Nobel Prize lecture on the importance of language, commencement speeches and works of political analysis and literary criticism. Morrison’s impassioned views on race, feminism and American society ensure that this book will stand the test of time. Reading groups will find no shortage of rich discussion material here.

Four beloved authors turn to the essay form in these incisive collections.

For the bibliophile on your shopping list, we’ve rounded up the year’s best books about books.

The Madman’s Library

The Madman’s Library: The Strangest Books, Manuscripts and Other Literary Curiosities From History by Edward Brooke-Hitching is a must-have for any bibliomaniac. Over the course of this splendidly illustrated volume, Brooke-Hitching reviews the history of the book, investigating a variety of forms and a wide range of media but always emphasizing the extraordinary. 

Along with a number of wonderful one-offs (a book composed of Kraft American cheese slices), there are giant books (the 6-foot-tall Klencke Atlas) and tiny books (a biography of Thomas Jefferson that literally fits inside a nutshell), books that are sinister (a volume with a cabinet of poisons concealed inside) and books that are sublime (the medieval Stowe Missal with its ornate reliquary case). Astonishing from start to finish, The Madman’s Library stands as a testament to the abiding power and adaptability of the book.

Unearthing the Secret Garden

Marta McDowell looks at the life of a treasured author in Unearthing the Secret Garden: The Plants and Places That Inspired Frances Hodgson Burnett. Born in 1849, British novelist Burnett published more than 50 novels, including The Secret Garden. McDowell delivers an intriguing account of Burnett’s botanical and literary pursuits and the ways in which they were intertwined. She highlights Burnett’s enduring love of plants, tours the gardens the author maintained in Europe and America and even dedicates an entire chapter to the plants that appear in The Secret Garden.

McDowell, who teaches horticulture at the New York Botanical Garden, has also written about how plants influenced the work of Emily Dickinson, Laura Ingalls Wilder and Beatrix Potter. Filled with marvelous illustrations and historical photographs, her new book is a stirring exploration of the natural world and its impact on a literary favorite.

The Annotated Arabian Nights

The Annotated Arabian Nights: Tales From 1001 Nights, edited by scholar and author Paulo Lemos Horta, provides new perspectives on a beloved classic. Rooted in the ancient literary traditions of Persia and India, the collection of folktales known as The Arabian Nights features familiar figures such as Ali Baba, Sinbad, Aladdin and Shahrazad, the female narrator who spins the stories.

This new volume offers a fresh translation of the stories by Yasmine Seale, along with stunning illustrations and informative notes and analysis. The tales, Horta says, deliver “the most pleasurable sensation a reader can encounter—that feeling of being nestled in the lap of a story, fully removed from the surrounding world and concerned only with a need to know what happens next.” This lavish edition of an essential title is perfect for devotees of the tales and an ideal introduction for first-time readers.

We Are the Baby-Sitters Club

We Are the Baby-Sitters Club: Essays and Artwork From Grown-Up Readers is a delightful tribute to author Ann M. Martin and the much-loved Baby-Sitters Club series she introduced in 1986. Propelled by memorable characters, primarily tween club members Kristy, Stacey, Claudia and Mary Anne, who run a babysitting service, the series tackles delicate family matters like adoption and divorce, as well as broader topics such as race, class and gender.

In We Are the Baby-Sitters Club, Kelly Blewett, Kristen Arnett, Myriam Gurba and other notable contributors take stock of the popular books and their lasting appeal. With essays focusing on friendship, culture, identity and—yes—the babysitting business, this anthology showcases the multifaceted impact of the series. Nifty illustrations and comic strips lend extra charm to the proceedings. Edited by authors Marisa Crawford and Megan Milks, the volume is a first-rate celebration of the BSC.

Bibliophile

It’s almost impossible to peruse Jane Mount’s colorful sketches of book jackets and book stacks without being possessed by the impulse to dive into a new novel or compile a reading list. For her new book, Bibliophile: Diverse Spines, Mount teamed up with author Jamise Harper to create a thoughtful guide to the work of marginalized writers that can help readers bring diversity to their personal libraries.

With picks for lovers of historical fiction, short stories, poetry, mystery and more, Bibliophile: Diverse Spines brims with inspired reading recommendations. The book also spotlights literary icons (Toni Morrison, Sandra Cisneros, Ralph Ellison) and treasured illustrators (Bryan Collier, Luisa Uribe, Kadir Nelson). Standout bookstores from across the country and people who are making a difference in the publishing industry are also recognized. With Mount’s fabulous illustrations adding dazzle to every chapter, Bibliophile: Diverse Spines will gladden the heart of any book lover.

The Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows

The universe of words is steadily expanding thanks to author John Koenig. In The Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows, Koenig catalogs newly minted terms for hard-to-articulate emotional states: conditions of the heart or mind that seem to defy definition. Ledsome, for instance, is his term for feeling lonely in a crowd, while povism means the frustration of being stuck inside your own head.

Drawing upon verbal scraps from the past and oddments from different languages, Koenig created all of the words in this dictionary. He started this etymological project in 2009 as a website and has since given TED talks and launched a YouTube channel based on his work. “It’s a calming thing, to learn there’s a word for something you’ve felt all your life but didn’t know was shared by anyone else,” he writes in Obscure Sorrows. Koenig’s remarkable volume is the perfect purchase for the logophile in your life.

Find more 2021 gift recommendations from BookPage.

Stumped on what to buy for the reader who’s read everything? We’ve got six picks for the book-obsessed.

Each of these picture books explores the most complex emotion of all: love. They’re the perfect gift for a young child or a new or expecting parent, exquisite keepsakes for families to cherish and pass on as the years go by.

★ What Is Love?

Author Mac Barnett spins a remarkable story from a simple question in What Is Love?. When a boy asks his grandmother what love is, she suggests that he venture into the world to find an answer for himself, so the lad leaves home on an unusual quest. Along the way, he encounters a wide range of characters, each of whom offers a different perspective on the meaning of the emotion. 

For the carpenter, love is a house that “wobbles and creaks.” The structure may be unsteady, the carpenter says, “But in the end, the thing stands.” For the actor, love is applause from an adoring audience. “At that moment,” the actor tells the boy, “you know: You exist. You are seen.” Yet these and other responses fail to satisfy the boy. Not until he returns home, having reached adulthood, is he able to identify for himself the meaning of love.

Barnett’s story is profound and accessible, a tale infused with a sense of adventure and a timeless quality. Carson Ellis’ illustrations add color and energy to the proceedings. Thanks to her fanciful, detailed depictions, each character the boy encounters has a distinct personality. This journey will inspire readers to consider the book’s central question and come up with answers of their own.

Bigger Than a Bumblebee

In Joseph Kuefler’s delightful Bigger Than a Bumblebee, a mother introduces her child to the wonders of the world, but none of them compare to the miracle of the love they share. In beautifully poetic text, the mother explains to her “darling” that they are both smaller and larger than their animal friends—smaller than the brown bear and the giraffe, but bigger than the mouse and the porcupine. In the end, though, what matters most is love, an emotion that cannot be measured: “Love is me and you,” she says. “Our love is small, but it is big, too.”

Kuefler’s splendid illustrations portray an array of natural phenomena, from faraway stars in the night sky, to a stream teeming with toads and fireflies, to a patch of desert populated by birds and a solitary long-eared jack rabbit. Young readers will be captivated by the dynamic spreads and the creatures, great and small, that Kuefler includes. A moving celebration of the majesty of nature and the bond between parent and child, Bigger Than a Bumblebee powerfully delivers a heartfelt message: Love is limitless and unquantifiable, a force that knows no boundaries. 

★ My Love for You Is Always

In the warm, wonderful My Love for You Is Always, a young boy quizzes his mother about the nature of love. “Does it have a taste or a smell?” he wonders as he helps her in the kitchen. As she puts together a traditional Chinese feast for their family, his mother takes inspiration from the dishes they’re cooking to answer his questions. Author Gillian Sze’s text is full of sensory imagery. Love, the boy’s mother tells him, “tastes sweeter than the red dates I put in your soup. My love is that savored first bite of spun sugar.” When the boy asks, “Does it make a sound?” his mother replies, “Sometimes it’s crisp like winter radish. Other times it’s quiet like simmering broth.”

Michelle Lee’s colored pencil and gouache illustrations are sweet and soft. Through images of swirling fish, delicate cranes and a fabulous crimson dragon, she brings a touch of magic to Sze’s tale. The ritual of the family meal—sharing food that’s been prepared with care and intention—adds a unique layer to the story and underscores the sense of abundance and comfort that love can provide. My Love for You Is Always closes on a cozy note and an image of mother, son and other relatives gathered together for dinner. From start to finish, it’s a charming and delicious tale.

l’ll Meet You in Your Dreams 

Jessica Young and Rafael López pay tribute to the connections between parents and children in their lovely, lyrical book, l’ll Meet You in Your Dreams. It’s narrated by a parent who offers an inspiring message about the power of familial love to encourage youngsters to make discoveries about the world, pursue their passions and achieve independence.

Young’s rhyming text contains refreshing imagery and makes allusions to the natural world—a mouse and a mole snuggling in an underground den, and a hawk and an eagle soaring over the earth—to highlight the many facets of love, showing how it can nurture, protect and inspire. Her brief, uplifting stanzas add to the story’s appeal. “As you grow, I’ll be with you, / for every step, your whole life through,” the narrator says. “And where the future gleams . . . / I’ll meet you in your dreams.” 

López’s out-of-this-world illustrations reflect the buoyant spirit of Young’s text. They follow two different parents and their children in whimsical scenes that capture the marvels of wildlife and  the passage of time. A joyful examination of parental love and its ability to provide a solid foundation for children—a starting point from which anything is possible—I’ll Meet You in Your Dreams is a precious title that’s sure to become a family favorite.

Find more 2021 gift recommendations from BookPage.

These beautiful picture books, perfect for gifting, offer moving depictions of love in all its forms.

Some poets have the power to illuminate and articulate the most secluded parts of a reader’s heart and mind. In these new books, three renowned poets offer compassion and fresh perspectives on the human experience.

Such Color

Such Color: New and Selected Poems provides a welcome overview of the career of former U.S. Poet Laureate Tracy K. Smith. The cumulative effects of history and identity are central to much of the work in this magisterial book. In poems such as “A Hunger So Honed,” Smith probes human motivation and the nature of desire: “perhaps we live best / In the spaces between loves, / That unconscious roving, / The heart its own rough animal.” 

Smith also explores Blackness as a communal experience, one that connects her with past generations and those to come. In “Photo of Sugarcane Plantation Workers, Jamaica, 1891,” she sees herself in the figures captured on camera: “I would be standing there, too. / Standing, then made to leap up / into the air. Made to curl / and heave and cringe. . . .” These are poems of possibility, as Smith considers the past while looking for a way forward.

Goldenrod

Communication in all its varying modes is a recurring theme, from social media posts and handwritten notes to the unexpected autocorrections of text messages. “In the Grand Scheme of Things” explores the limits of language: “We say the naked eye / as if the eye could be clothed. . . . We say that’s not how / the world works as if the world works.” Throughout this wise, lucid collection, Smith captures the wonder and bewilderment that come with being human. She’s excellent company for readers in need of connection.

In Maggie Smith’s wonderfully companionable collection of poems, Goldenrod, she takes on timeless topics such as nature, history, family and memory. In “Ohio Cento,” she writes, “What we know of ourselves / gets compressed, layered. Remembering / is an anniversary; every minute a commemoration / of being.” 

Poet Warrior

In her beautifully executed memoir Poet Warrior, Joy Harjo recalls her upbringing as a member of the Muscogee tribe in Oklahoma and reflects upon her development as a writer. Harjo, who is serving her third term as U.S. Poet Laureate, grew up with an abusive stepfather and a creative, hardworking mother. She learned early on that literature could provide solace and escape, and she takes stock of her poetic influences in the book, counting Audre Lorde and N. Scott Momaday as key figures in her development.

Harjo mixes poetry and prose, history and memory, Native lore and family stories to create a collagelike account of her experiences. “As I near the last doorway of my present life, I am trying to understand the restless path on which I have traveled,” she writes. Fans of nonfiction and poetry alike will savor this sublime memoir.

Find more 2021 gift recommendations from BookPage.

Three renowned poets offer compassion and fresh perspectives on the human experience.

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