With a difficult year ending, and the forthcoming year holding the promise of better, happier, healthier times, what better balm than a list of wonderful books and enthralling stories. We scanned several lists and have compiled one with varied, engaging themes from bestselling as well as new authors. We would love for you to add to this list. The more it grows, the more exciting and pleasurable the experience. Happy Reading!
- The Last Queen by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni
Daughter of the royal kennel keeper, the beautiful Jindan Kaur was Maharaja Ranjit Singh’s youngest and last queen. She became regent when her son Dalip unexpectedly inherited the throne. Sharp-eyed, stubborn, passionate, Jindan fought hard to keep the British from annexing Punjab, stepped out of the zenana and conducted state business in public. The British robbed the rebel queen of everything she had, including her son. An exquisite love story of a king and a commoner, and a powerful parable of the bond between mother and child, this unforgettable novel brings alive one of the most fearless women of the nineteenth century.
Read More About Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni‘s The Forest of Enchantments.
- Whereabouts by Jhumpa Lahiri
The first novel in nearly a decade by the Pulitzer Prize-winning author is set in an unnamed city much like Rome. The story’s first-person narrator is a single woman in her mid-40s whose solitude infuses everything about her. Exuberance and dread, attachment and estrangement: in this novel, Jhumpa Lahiri stretches her themes to the limit. The woman at the centre wavers between stasis and movement, between the need to belong and the refusal to form lasting ties. But as one season gives way to the next, transformation awaits. One day at the sea, both overwhelmed and replenished by the sun’s vital heat, her perspective will change. Lahiri wrote the novel in Italian and translated it into English herself.
- Club You to Death by Anuja Chauhan
When a hunky personal trainer is found asphyxiated to death at the posh Delhi Turf Club, it is first thought to be a grisly freak accident. It comes to light that his protein shake had been laced with a lethal dose of popular party drug Pinko Hathni. Crime Branch veteran ACP Bhavani Singh is appointed to investigate the case, and he finds able deputies in a pair of young ex-lovers, Akash ‘Kashi’ Dogra and Bambi Todi. Together, the trio sets out to solve a crime that seems simple enough on the surface, but turns out to have deep roots.
This is Anuja Chauhan said at SheThePeople’s Women Writers Fest:
- Love in Seven Easy Steps by Gayathri Prabhu
From the award-winning memoirist and novelist Gayathri Prabhu arrives a novella in prose poetry that celebrates the ways in which love charms, defies and lingers in us. It’s an inviting and intimate love story written in myriad tones–wistful, playful, melancholic, sensuous. This is an experience of love by two people who live by different shores. They meet in her land, Goa, then drift apart, only to meet again after ten years. Composed at the haunting and delicate intersections of prose and poetry, this love story will charm, defy and linger in readers as all love stories must.
- Transcendent Kingdom by Yaa Gyasi
As a child Gifty would ask her parents about their journey from Ghana to Alabama, seeking escape in myths of heroism and romance. When her father and brother succumb to the hard reality of immigrant life in the American South, the life Gifty dreamed of slips away. Later, she turns to science to understand the opioid addiction that destroyed her brother’s life. From her mother, Gifty soon learns that the roots of their tangled traumas reach way farther. As she traces her family’s story through continents and generations, she goes deep into the dark heart of modern America.
- Second Place by Rachel Cusk
A dispirited woman persuades a famous male artist to visit her coastal home, seeking to understand herself through the prism of his gaze. His provocative presence provides the frame for a study of female fate and male privilege, of the geometries of human relationships, and of the struggle to live morally in the intersecting spaces of our internal and external worlds. With its examination of the possibility that art can both save and destroy us, Rachel Cusk’s Second Place is deeply affirming of the human soul, while grappling with its darkest demons.
- A Red-Necked Green Bird, Ambai (C S Lakshmi ) (translated from Tamil by GJV Prasad)
CS Lakshmi, better known by her pseudonym, Ambai wrote her first serious work of fiction in Tamil. It was a novel called AndhiMaalai (Twilight) which came out in 1966 and received the “Kalaimagal Narayanaswamy Aiyar” Prize. In 2006, her novel In a Forest, A Deer (translated to English by Lakshmi Holmström) won the Vodafone Crossword Book award in the Indian fiction category. The acclaimed author has also been an independent researcher in the field of women’s studies for over thirty years, publishing her research and other works in newspapers and magazines. This is a collection of short-stories by her.
- The Reading List by Sara Nisha Adams
An unforgettable debut about how a chance encounter with a list of library books helps forge an unlikely friendship between two very different people in a London suburb. Widower Mukesh lives a quiet life after losing his beloved wife. Aleisha is a bright but anxious teenager working at the local library, when she discovers a list of never-heard-of novels on a crumpled-up piece of paper in the back of To Kill a Mockingbird. She impulsively decides to read every book on the list. When Mukesh arrives at the library, desperate to forge a connection with his bookworm granddaughter, Aleisha passes along the reading list. Slowly, the shared books create a connection between two lonely souls, as fiction helps them escape their grief and everyday troubles and find joy again.
- Civil Lines by Radhika Swarup
It’s summer 2017 and Siya Sharma travels to Delhi to check up on her sister Maya, who has withdrawn from life after their mother’s death. The two come across a box of Ma’s papers and discover a letter. Their aunt reveals that Ma set up a magazine that ran into funding problems. Siya and Maya find an angel investor in Raja Singh who knew Ma when she was alive. It emerges that Singh offered Ma funding before sexually assaulting her. Civil Lines is both a family saga and an ode to the struggles women face in the workplace. It also echoes the MeToo movements. Poignant and ultimately uplifting, it is a touching hymn to empowerment, hope and persistence.
- A Slow Fire Burning by Paula Hawkins
When a young man is found gruesomely murdered in a London houseboat, it triggers questions about three women in particular, mostly unknown to one another, with separate connections to the victim. Three women who are—for different reasons—simmering with resentment. Who are, whether they know it or not, burning to right the wrongs done to them. When it comes to revenge, even good people might be capable of terrible deeds. How far might any one of them go to find peace? How long can secrets smoulder before they explode into flame?
- The Marvellous Mirza Girls by Sheba Karim
To cure her post-senior year slump, Noreen decides to follow her mom on a gap year trip to New Delhi. She soon meets kind, handsome Kabir, who introduces her to the wonders of this magical, complicated place. With the help of Kabir—plus Bollywood celebrities, fourteenth-century ruins, karaoke parties, and Sufi saints—Noreen discovers new meanings for home. But when a family scandal erupts, Noreen and Kabir must face complex questions in their own relationship: What does it mean to truly stand by someone—and what are the boundaries of love? Gilmore Girls meets vibrant New Delhi in this thoughtful and hilarious new novel.
- Gold Diggers by Sajena Sathian
Spanning two continents, two coasts, and four epochs, Gold Diggers expertly balances social satire and magical realism in a classic striver story that skewers the model minority narrative, asking what a community must do to achieve the American dream. In razor sharp and deeply funny prose, Sathian perfectly captures what it is to grow up as a member of a family, of a diaspora, and of the American meritocracy. This blockbuster novel both entertains and levels a critique of what Americans of colour must do to make their way.
- How Beautiful We Were by Imbolo Mbue
The novel takes readers inside an African village whose very existence is being threatened by the machinations of an American oil company. In the fictional African village of Kosawa, the unwelcomed presence of an American oil company in the 1980s has unforeseen and irreparable consequences. Imbolo Mbue explores the intersection of greed and colonialism, and the young woman who finds herself in the middle of it all. Wide in scope Mbue’s new work promises to be just as moving. It’s a David and Goliath story for our times, a riveting tale of how people coming together to make change can topple even the fiercest, best-financed foe.
- The Parted Earth by Anjali Enjeti
The story begins in August 1947. Sixteen-year-old Deepa navigates the changing politics of her home, finding solace in messages of intricate origami from her secret boyfriend Amir. Soon Amir flees with his family to Pakistan and a tragedy forces Deepa to leave the subcontinent forever. The story also begins sixty years later in Atlanta. Deepa’s granddaughter Shan begins the search for her estranged grandmother. As she pieces together her family history shattered by the Partition, Shan discovers how little she actually knows about the women in her family. Above all, it is a novel about families weathering the lasting violence of separation, and how it can often takes a lifetime to find unity and peace.
- Blue-skinned Gods by Sj Sindu
In Tamil Nadu, India, a boy is born with blue skin. His father sets up an ashram, and the family makes a living off of the pilgrims who seek the child’s blessings and miracles, believing young Kalki to be the tenth incarnation of the Hindu god Vishnu. Kalki is confronted with three trials in his tenth year—tests of his power that will prove his divine status and, his father tells him, spread his fame worldwide. Over the next decade, his relationship to everyone threatens to fall apart. A personal tale of youthful searching, the novel is an unwaveringly honest and heartbreaking tale.
- The City of Good Death by Priyanka Champaneri
Banaras, Varanasi, Kashi: India’s holy city where pilgrims come for a good death, to be released from the cycle of reincarnation. As the dutiful manager of a death hostel in Kashi, Pramesh assists families bound for the funeral pyres. He lives contentedly till one day a man with an uncanny resemblance to him is pulled from the river. Called “twins” in their childhood village, he and his cousin Sagar are inseparable until Pramesh leaves to see the outside world and Sagar stays to tend the land. Told in lush, vivid detail this is a debut novel of family and love, memory and ritual, and the ways in which we honour the living and the dead.
- White Ivy by Susie Yang
Ivy Lin, a Chinese immigrant growing up in a low-income complex outside Boston, is desperate to assimilate with her American peers. To try and fit in, she begins shoplifting – a deft talent picked up from her grandmother, Meifeng – and develops a taste for wealth along the way. After reconnecting with the affluent golden boy of her childhood years later, she thinks it’s fate. Yet a ghost from her past threatens to topple the almost-perfect life she’s worked so hard to build.
- The Gilded Ones by Namina Forna
Sixteen-year-old Deka lives in fear and anticipation of the blood ceremony that will determine whether she will become a member of her village. Deka prays for red blood but on the day of the ceremony, her blood runs gold, the colour of impurity. As she prepares herself for a consequence worse than death, a mysterious woman comes to her with a choice: stay in the village and submit to her fate, or leave to fight for the emperor in an army of girls called alaki. As Deka journeys to the capital to train for the biggest battle of her life, she discovers that nothing and no one are quite what they seem to be–not even Deka herself.
- The Push by Ashley Audrain
Blythe Connor is determined that she will be the comforting mother to her new baby Violet that she herself never had. But she becomes convinced that her daughter doesn’t behave like most children do. Her husband, Fox, says she’s imagining things. The more Fox dismisses her fears, the more Blythe begins to question her own sanity. When their son Sam is born, Blythe has the blissful connection she’d always imagined with her child. Even Violet seems to love her little brother. But life as they know it is changed in an instant. The Push is an utterly immersive novel that will challenge everything you think you know about motherhood.
- The Four Winds by Kristin Hannah
The Four Winds is set among the population squeezed by the twin forces of the Great Depression and the Dust Bowl. Millions are out of work and drought has broken the Great Plains. In this uncertain and dangerous time, Elsa Martinelli—like so many of her neighbours —must make an agonizing choice: fight for the land she loves or go west, to California, in search of a better life. The Four Winds is an indelible portrait of America and the American Dream, as seen through the eyes of one indomitable woman who will discover the best in herself in the worst of times.
- Luster by Raven Leilani
Edie is just trying to survive. She’s messing up in her dead-end admin job, is sleeping with all the wrong men, and has failed at the only thing that meant anything to her, painting. No one seems to care. And then she meets Eric, a white, middle-aged archivist with a suburban family, including a wife who has sort-of-agreed to an open marriage and an adopted black daughter. As if navigating the constantly shifting landscape of sexual and racial politics as a young black woman wasn’t already hard enough, with nowhere else left to go, Edie finds herself falling head-first into Eric’s home and family.
- Girl A by Abigail Dean
This gripping first novel by a former London bookseller who currently works as a lawyer is at first a novel of psychological suspense—and escape. Protagonist Lexi, known to the public as Girl A, has fled her parents’ “House of Horrors,” and also managed to free her four siblings. After their mother dies in prison, the orphaned clan returns to the home they left behind, where they work to come to terms with the devastation of their childhood. For fans of Emma Donoghue and Gillian Flynn.
- Caul Baby by Morgan Jerkins
Recently named one of Forbes’s 30 Under 30, Jerkins, a bestselling nonfiction writer, applies her scrupulous prose and storytelling prowess to the realm of historical fiction in her debut novel, which centres on a mother and daughter yearning for (re)connection and the powerful family who’s responsible for keeping them apart.
- Of Women and Salt by Gabriela Garcia
This much-buzzed-about debut novel has endorsements by writers such as Roxane Gay. It’s a meditation on motherhood, displacement, and cultural identity as protagonist Jeanette journeys to Cuba to reckon with her family’s legacy. From a 19th-century Cuban cigar factory to a detention centre in Mexico, this stunningly accomplished first novel is both epic and intimate.
- Peaces by Helen Oyeyemi
A gay couple embarked on a fantastical Orient Express, a mongoose with attitude, a mysterious woman disposed to prophetic pronouncements: welcome back to the magical, maddening milieu of Oyeyemi’s singular fiction, in which trapdoors spring open and revelations emerge like Russian nesting dolls.
- While Justice Sleeps by Stacey Abrams
This book has the author drawing on her experience in politics and law. Its protagonist, Avery, comes into her own as she pieces together the conundrum of what her boss—a controversial Justice who’s fallen into a coma—had been investigating, and where it will lead her. She becomes his power of attorney and legal guardian, and as the title suggests, discovers what exactly happens while justice sleeps. As Keene steps into her boss’s shoes, she finds herself in the middle of a controversial merger, a political conspiracy and more, working with the clues he left behind.
- The Children’s Blizzard by Melanie Benjamin
The novel takes an unflinching look at the difficulties of life for homesteaders in the 19th century. It is inspired by a weather event so ferocious, it killed between 250 and 500 people in a single weekend. During the blizzard, school-keepers—who were often children themselves—had to look out for their packed classrooms. The decisions that sisters Raina and Gerda Olsen have to make that day will haunt them for years to come.
- Quiet in Her Bones by Nalini Singh
In this gripping thriller set in New Zealand, bestselling author Nalini Singh takes you into the twisted world of an exclusive cul-de-sac located on the edge of a sprawling forest. When socialite Nina Rai disappeared without a trace, everyone wrote it off as another trophy wife tired of her wealthy husband. But now her bones have turned up in the shadowed green of the forest that surrounds her elite neighbourhood. The rich live here, along with those whose job it is to make their lives easier. And somebody knows what happened to Nina one rainy night ten years ago. Her son Aarav heard a chilling scream that night, and he’s determined to uncover the ugly truth that lives beneath the moneyed elegance.
Picture credit: Pixels.com
Archana Pai Kulkarni is the Books Editor at SheThePeople.TV. The views expressed are the author’s own.