The Best 14 Reads From the 2020 Quarantine Book Club
Social distancing? No problem! Dive into a virtual community of book lovers with these hot picks from the Quarantine Book Club.
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What to read now
When Texas author and librarian Pamela Skjolsvik realized how many book events would be canceled after the nationwide shelter-in-place orders, she sprang into action. “As an author with a debut novel coming out in November, I was keenly aware of the devastation and sadness so many debut novelists were experiencing as they had to cancel their launch events and book tours due to the Coronavirus Pandemic,” she says. “I reached out to fellow members of a Facebook group of 2020 debut novelists, and these authors agreed to engage with the book club if their titles were selected.”
Skjolsvik founded the 2020 Quarantine Book Club on March 15. So far, the club has attracted more than 900 members across the United States. The 14 books she recommended for RD.com readers have release dates spanning from January to June. “They are books by, or about, women facing monumental challenges, which is kind of like all of us right now,” she says.
The Mountains Sing
Skjolsvik says she chose The Mountains Sing by Nguyễn Phan Quế Mai because it was released on March 17, just three days after the 2020 Quarantine Book Club was formed. Skjolsvik explains, “The fact that it was a compelling multi-generational story of women and had a beautiful book club kit at the ready, made it an easy choice for the first pick.” The whisks readers away to 20th-century Vietnam and into the lives of the Tran family. Quế Mai, who is the author of eight books, was born in Vietnam during the tumultuous Vietnam War. This is a beautiful, complex story for lovers of historical fiction and nonfiction alike. After devouring this story, check out one of these other great books with unforgettable female friendships.
The Lost Book of Adana Moreau
Skjolsvik also recommends The Lost Book of Adana Moreau by Michael Zapata. Skjolsvik explains, “Written by the lone male writer among all the selections in our book club, our members voted to read Mr. Zapata’s book as our second official selection. The book focuses on a female science fiction writer and the lives her lost manuscript unites in post-Katrina New Orleans.” Goodreads.com reviewer Robert describes The Lost Book of Adana Moreau as “a time jumping literary mystery with wonderfully written characters and even a pirate or two.” This selection is perfect for fans of literary fiction, poetry, and time travel sagas. Don’t miss these 10 books with fierce female heroines.
The Yellow Bird Sings
“I became emotional just reading the blurb for [Jennifer Rosner’s The Yellow Bird Sings] on Amazon,” Skjolsvik says. This is Rosner’s debut novel after a successful memoir and poetry book launches. It’s the story of a mother and daughter hiding from the Nazis in Poland in 1941. The daughter, a musical prodigy, must stay silent despite the chaos around her and melodies burning to break free in Poland, as World War II rages, a mother. Released on March 3, the book will help you escape the drudgery of solitude in your own home—and remember past beacons of hope during troubling times. These are 18 of the best short books you’ll ever read.
Wildland, a novel by Rebecca Hodge, explores the fears and personal demons we must overcome in the face of death. Perfect for fans of Jodi Picoult, Kristin Hannah, and Anita Shreve, the novel follows protagonist Kat Jamison, recently re-diagnosed with breast cancer, as she decides whether she has the will to fight back yet again. Kathryn Craft, author of The Far End of Happy, wrote, “Hodge’s band of characters pop off the page—adults, children, and dogs alike.”
Lee Matalone’s Home Making is, of course, appropriate for this time of social distancing and sequestering ourselves alone or with our families. “Since we’re all stuck at home right now, this selection seems like, well, right at home,” says Skjolsvik. The book itself weaves together three stories of individuals who must make a home and family for themselves: Cybil, a successful doctor with a turbulent past; Chloe, Cybil’s daughter, who suddenly finds herself single and childless in an empty Virginia house; and Beau, Chloe’s close friend, who is struggling to make sense of his sexual identity and the romance he’s found online. Through these stories, Matalone asks questions about identity, family, and what ultimately makes a home.
No Bad Deed
Heather Chavez’s No Bad Deed will sweep you away from your living room and into a world fraught with twisty terror and chilling crime. It’s the action-packed thriller of the Quarantine Book Club. Skjolsvik says she was immediately drawn to the book and its brave protagonist, a woman ever on the brink of danger after her attempt to stop a crime turns personal and menacing. Her quest for her missing husband will have readers breathlessly turning pages into the night—with the lights on! Don’t miss more of these best thrillers you should put on your reading list today.
Mimi Lee Gets a Clue
There is no better time than a quarantine to embrace the cozy mystery genre. Jennifer J. Chow-March’s Mimi Lee Gets a Clue, which debuted on March 10, tells the story of Mimi Lee, a Los Angeles-based pet groomer who ends up on the suspect list for the murder of a local breeder. Fans have been delighted by Marshmallow, the tale’s chatty feline, and Josh, the main character’s smart, handsome neighbor. Skjolsvik says, “This quick, fun read will make you want to snuggle up under a blanket and stay home! Plus, there’s a cat talking! What’s not to love?”
How I Made a Huge Mess of My Life (or Couples Therapy with a Dead Man)
Billie Best’s memoir, How I Made a Huge Mess of My Life (or Couples Therapy with a Dead Man), is about more than one writer’s midlife crisis. It is about how to pick up the pieces after realizing the man you married—who has since died—was not exactly who you thought he was. Skjolsvik wholeheartedly recommends “this self-published title from blogger Billie Best (say that three times fast!),” which “addresses the death of her husband and the challenge and blessings of being an older woman in contemporary society.” Nonfiction fans should stock their e-readers with more of these 17 memoirs everyone should read.
Daughters of Smoke and Fire
Ava Homa’s first English novel, Daughters of Smoke and Fire, will debut on May 12. Set in Iran, the novel unpacks the story of Leila, a Kurdish filmmaker, and her brother, an activist caught in the crossfire of political conflict. The story will resonate with fans of Kamila Shamsie’s Home Fire, Khaled Hosseini’s The Kite Runner and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Half of a Yellow Sun. For other good reads full of complex stories and international intrigue, fill your virtual shopping cart with more of these bestselling books from the last decade.
The Engineer’s Wife
Escape the confines of home and head to the Brooklyn Bridge on April 7 with Tracy Enerson’s debut historical fiction novel, The Engineer’s Wife will debut the historical fiction story. Based on the true story of Emily Warren Roebling, wife of civil engineer Walsh Roebling, who dreamed the iconic bridge into existence, the story will take you from the Manhattan elite to suffragette rallies. Like several other Quarantine Book Club selections, this book reminds us all that it’s possible to do great things from home, to bloom where you’re planted. For more Big Apple gems for your future travels, check out these NYC hidden gems that belong on any itinerary.
You and Me and Us
You and Me and Us is Alison Hammer’s first novel, but it’s certainly not her first foray into writing. The founder of the Every Damn Day Writers club, Hammer has delivered a delicate love story that encompasses the glittering promise of first love alongside the deep, aching love of a domestic partnership shattered by terminal illness. Ultimately, You and Me and Us is about the lasting love between mothers and daughters as they navigate their own romances. This one is perfect for readers who usually reach for books by Jojo Moyes and Marisa de los Santos. This, along with these other unexpected Mother’s Day gift ideas, would make the perfect thoughtful present for your mother—or mother figures in your life—this year.
The Big Finish
What do you get when you cross a stodgy old nursing home resident with a daring young woman on the run? A hilarious, unlikely friendship that teaches both parties it’s never too late to make changes for love. Brooke Fossey’s debut, The Big Finish, will be on sale April 14. Skjolsvik is excited about the possibility of supporting a fellow author who is also a friend. Skjolsvik says, “I’ve known Brooke for 10 years from our participation in the DFW Writers Workshop. In her charming debut, Ms. Fossey ‘delivers an unflinching look at growing old, living large and loving big.'”
Home Baked: My Mom, Marijuana and the Stoning of San Francisco
Another memoir that proves sometimes the truth is stranger than fiction, Home Baked: My Mom, Marijuana and the Stoning of San Francisco by Alia Volz will fittingly debut on April 20. (Read about how 420 came to represent marijuana.) Skjolsvik notes that she was particularly drawn to this book as “a nonfiction writer at heart.” The heartwarming, sharply witty book details the author’s life as the daughter of an underground baker who mixed up thousands of brownies infused with medical marijuana for AIDS patients in mid-80s San Francisco. It’s a touching story of eccentric families and the unusual bonds that bring people together.
Kate Milliken’s Kept Animals will debut on April 21. Skjolsvik’s final recommendation will debut on April 21. She hopes the Quarantine Book Club members will enjoy this dark, haunting tale of three teenage girls changed forever after a car accident. Set in southern California ranch country, the story spans 20 years, complicated alliances, festering guilt, and a wildfire that sparked it all. The novel has been praised already for its complex, moving plot. It’s also one of Oprahmag.com’s “31 LGBTQ Books That’ll Change the Literary Landscape in 2020.” For books featuring parts of the country, find your favorite iconic book set in every state.
Death Becomes Us
Though Skjolsvik hasn’t added her own memoir, Death Becomes Us, to the 2020 Quarantine Book Club list of recommendations, it is available as an audiobook, ebook, or paperback. Skjolsvik has written, “After an accidental call to a funeral home during my mid-life crisis trip to grad school, I reluctantly embarked on a journey to explore professions that dealt with death in order to come to terms with my own mortality.” During two years of book research, she spoke to embalmers, counselors, EMTs, and even a death row inmate. The resulting nonfiction is a quirky, surprisingly lighthearted journey through the ways Americans think about death.