It’s hard to find the perfect book to fit your mood and mindset, so we’ve taken the guesswork out by recommending our favourite reads. Photo: Ed Feingersh/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images
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The Books We Love
When you're searching for your next great read, make sure you check our list first / BY Nathalie Atkinson
To take the guesswork out of your next selection, here are the books Zoomer editors and writers have read, loved and given their stamp of approval.
Obsessive Book Buyers: Zoomer editors have carefully curated our book coverage to ensure you find the perfect read. We may earn a commission on books you buy by clicking on the cover image.
Home base: Cincinnati, Ohio
Author’s take: “It’s about a disillusioned romance author and a literary fiction writer who make a deal to swap genres for the summer.”
Favourite line: “Mom’s first diagnosis taught me that love was an escape rope, but it was her second diagnosis that taught me love could be a life vest when you were drowning.”
Review: I’m a sucker for any summer book with a pool or beach on the cover and Beach Read explains why. It’s meta, in that it plays out satisfying romantic tropes even as the characters discuss and dissect them. Their meet-cute and subsequent misunderstandings, for example, are straight out of Pride and Prejudice — only it’s between an esteemed Franzen-esque literary fiction writer named Gus and January, a bestselling writer of so-called chick lit. (Naturally, they embody the tension between high-brow and genre novels.)
Revelations about her parents’ idyllic marriage after her father’s unexpected death undermine everything January held true — including the unwavering belief in happily-ever-after that has fuelled her career. So, newly single and cash-strapped, she retreats to the Michigan holiday town where her father secretly kept a cottage (and secret life) to work through writer’s block while the clock ticks on her next novel deadline. Her self-deprecating inner monologue may be peppered with glib pop-culture references, but that’s balanced by a poignant second plot about how much you can ever know your parents.
Gus and January’s banter — about everything from the best venue for a good first-date montage to sexism in the literary canon — gets all the beats right, and the way Henry teases out the chemistry between the pair is seriously sexy, even when they’re arguing about how female writers are considered lesser-than and get relegated to ‘the second shelf’ for writing about relationships and the interior lives of women. (Paging Alice Munro!) Smart, funny, and moving — as irresistible as watching your favourite 1990s rom-com for the nth time. — Nathalie Atkinson
>The Girl From Widow Hills
Home base: North Carolina
Author’s Take: “One of the themes I’m very interested in is whether you can ever become somebody new or if the past ultimately catches up with you.”
Favourite Line: “The case made all of us, and then it unmade us.”
Review: Arden Maynor has been running from her past ever since she made national headlines as a living miracle. When she was six, Arden was sleepwalking in a torrential downpour when she was swept into a system of underground pipes in the small town of Widow Hills, Ky. As the search continued into its third day, a passerby named Sean Coleman found her clinging to a grate, and the whole town rejoiced. Her mother wrote a book, and they eventually moved from the town to escape the media attention that was renewed as each anniversary passed.
The book opens as Arden — who has changed her name to Olivia Meyer and works at a hospital as a health-care manager — receives a box of her estranged mother’s meagre belongings in the mail after discovering she had died seven months earlier of a drug overdose, and the body has just been identified. A dark chapter of her life is closed for good — or so Arden thinks until she starts sleepwalking again and stumbles over a body in the yard of her rural home in the middle of the night. It is none other than Coleman, the man who rescued her 20 years before.
Miranda’s masterful psychological thriller is full of twists and turns, and what seem like red herrings all swim in one direction to a chilling climax. That’s the reason The Girl from Widow Hills is on the bestseller lists and why the author’s previous book, The Last House Guest, was an instant bestseller, too. Creepy, menacing and fast-paced, Miranda keeps the reader guessing "Whodunit?" — Kim Honey
Home base: London
Author’s take: “It's kind of a road trip novel. It's kind of a pregnancy novel. It's full of old hotels, strange doctors, uncanny landscapes and longing.”
Favourite line: “The white-ticket women would never accept me. It was lonely to feel like that, a true loneliness. I wanted someone to be happy for me. There was not one person who would be.”
Review: What if women can’t have it all? In this strange unnamed state, the minute girls get their periods, they are dressed in their finest and driven to a government lottery station, where they draw either a white ticket — which consigns them to life as a mother — or a blue ticket, like Calla, which means they get a career. "Blue ticket: I was not motherly," Calla thinks. "It had been judged that it wasn't for me by someone who knew better than I did."
As with any blue-or-white decision, there is a grey area. And therein lies the twisted tale about a sinister patriarchal society and its subjugation of a woman’s free will and self-determination.
Calla gets an IUD, a bottle of water, a sandwich and a compass; in a bizarre initiation ritual, she is told to set out alone, on foot, for "anywhere but here."
Once she gets to a city, she decides on a career as a chemist in a lab. Like all blue tickets, she is monitored at weekly appointments by Dr. A, who probes every inch of her body and every crevice of her mind.
There’s lots of hard partying and sexual liaisons, some with a violent bent, but the men Calla meets eventually pair off with white tickets and settle down to raise children. And when those men venture out with the baby in prams, strangers bow and scrape like they gave birth themselves and proffer money and gifts.
When Calla ditches the IUD and gets pregnant, Dr. A gives her two choices: have an abortion or run. She decides to head for the border, where the neighbouring country doesn’t care if you have children and a career. A wild road trip ensues that has much to say about motherhood and the deep divide between haves and have-nots. It is both heart-warming and heart-rending, with a surprise twist at the end that will haunt you for days. — Kim Honey
Home base: Atlanta
Stephen King’s take: “A brilliant blending of crime, mystery and American history.”
Favourite line: “They criminalized your body first and expected your mind to follow.”
Review: Unabashedly racist cops, media bias, racial inequities, police brutality — Midnight Atlanta is a historical mystery novel. (Really.) The third instalment in Mullen’s acclaimed Darktown series follows Atlanta’s segregated police force through changing times. It’s now 1956, and a young Black man is on trial, accused of the rape of a white woman. The Black daily newspaper’s editor-in-chief runs a controversial editorial exposing the truth and is shot dead. Now Smith, a Black combat veteran and ex-cop-turned-reporter, is investigating how it’s all tangled up in the segregationist politics of a new housing development that will raze the city’s historically Black neighbourhood.
Although Mullen’s fictional newspaper milieu and characters are invented, the urgency of real events throbs in the background and becomes integral to the story. Tensions are rising in the community due to the ongoing bus boycott in nearby Montgomery, where young Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. is agitating for change. Look magazine has just published the now-infamous confession of the white men acquitted of the brutal murder of innocent Black teenager Emmett Till. In the midst of this tumult, the murderers’ brazen admission shocks some and emboldens others. What became a defining moment of post-war American history gives Mullen the opportunity to explore white news bias, the relationship between police and media and the role of the Black press during the Civil Rights movement up close and personally. Smith’s frenemy Joe McInnis, for example, is the lone white sergeant in the Black precinct. And as he navigates the tricky racial politics of the Jim Crow South, he’s a character study in the evolution and shortcomings of white ally-ship. It’s a historical mystery novel, but Midnight Atlanta is also about what’s happening this very minute. — Nathalie Atkinson
Home base: Southeastern Virginia
Lee Child’s take: “Sensationally good—new, fresh, real, authentic, twisty, with characters and dilemmas that will break your heart.”
Favourite line: “The bass from the sound system in a nearby Chevelle was hitting him in his chest so hard, it felt like someone was performing CPR on him.”
Review: The buzz book of the season opens with a breathless drag race between classic muscle cars. Mechanic Beauregard (Bug) Montage, a former getaway-car driver, is hustling for some cash using the unassuming but souped-up Duster inherited from his criminal father, who’s long gone. That’s not all his daddy left him. Bug likewise lives to be behind the wheel. He also loves his family. And while he’s worked hard to move on from a life of crime, he also loves the adrenaline rush. While struggling to keep his precarious but legit garage business, let alone pay for one kid’s dental work and another’s college tuition, he’s barely treading water until an old associate comes along with an easy pay day on a foolproof job. (Famous last words.)
Although the car chase sequences had me reaching for my seat belt, the diamond heist is almost the least of it. That’s not where the novel’s interest lies – at the complicated crossroads of crime and survival. This Southern noir is set in 2012, under a Black president but in a rural Black America where Confederate flags still proudly wave. Cosby calls the area a blacktop wasteland haunted by the phantoms of the past, and the ghosts he explores are many: love, abandonment, racism and the legacy of intergenerational poverty. It’s an intense, thrilling and often violent read and almost unrelentingly grim. But it throbs with hard truths about the impossible choices made for a better life. — Nathalie Atkinson