Our picks for the best books of October
The latest from the best-selling author of Little Fires Everywhere, Barbara Kingsolver returns with a modern-day retelling of a Dickens’ classic, Fredrik Backman’s Beartown trilogy takes a bow, and much more.
It’s an embarrassment of literary riches this October. Check out these and the rest of the Best Books of the Month.
I couldn’t wait to get my hands on Our Missing Hearts, Celeste Ng’s latest novel following her megahit Little Fires Everywhere. After devouring Hearts in two days, I can tell you it’s even better than Fires. At the center of the story is a family separated by a nationalistic movement that feels chilling in how it might just happen today. A mom mysteriously disappears—and her young son learns why on a courageous quest to find her, aided by everyday heroes in unexpected places. The prose sings as the pieces click. This thought-provoking story serves as a warning, a dystopian fairy tale, and a suspenseful thriller with moments of hope that buoyed me as I read. It’s fiction as revolution. You’ll question everything after you finish the last page—and for days after. This isn’t just one of my favorite books of October, it’s one of my favorite books of the year. —Lindsay Powers, Amazon Editor An irresistible story of family and the lengths people go—and don’t go—for the ones they love. Dani Shapiro (Inheritance, Devotion, Hourglass) is a master at mining the small—and big—moments that make up a life. In Signal Fires, three teenagers get into a car accident, and only two survive, which forever changes their lives and those of their family. Moving backward and forward in time, Shapiro peels back the decades offering the secrets, memories, fissures, joys of connection, and need for independence that shape siblings, parents, and neighbors. There is something deeply familiar about these characters who wrestle with both the mundane pains of life and the extraordinary. It’s an effortlessly immersive read, and I loved every moment. —Al Woodworth, Amazon Editor
Debut novelist Ray Nayler has written one of the most masterful science fiction novels to come along in some time. This near-future thriller takes place mostly on an archipelago off the coast of Vietnam, where a species of octopus appears to be developing culture. A multinational tech company has purchased and sealed off the islands for further study, and Dr. Ha Nguyen is there to research the creatures. There are others on the team, including Evrim, who is the first humanoid artificial intelligence to have been created, and indeed every character in this novel adds substantially to the story. I’ll be honest: I felt like this book broke my brain several times. It’s just so profound and well written. Ultimately, it’s a study of culture, language, consciousness, and the nature of intelligence, as well as a rumination on ambition and how we treat the world. It’s lyrical and thoughtful, and I'll immediately pick up the next Ray Nayler novel as soon as it’s available. —Chris Schluep, Amazon Editor
History is often presented as a series of iconic moments. We know Rosa Parks refused to move from her seat in 1955; the March on Washington took place in 1963; Bloody Sunday took place on Selma’s Edmund Pettus Bridge in 1965. These are essential events in our history, but just as important—and more difficult to convey—are the seemingly limitless ways that the Jim Crow legal system allowed everyday white people to intimidate and literally murder everyday Black people as a way to maintain the status quo. These methods were more common and effective than the more publicized events recorded by history. They cast racism and racial violence as casual and routine—and they were seldom noticed for very long, if at all. Margaret A. Burnham shines a light on that forgotten history with case after case, telling the stories of everyday people and building an argument for reparations. By Hands Now Known is uniquely illuminating, and it will open people’s minds to the truth. —Chris Schluep, Amazon Editor
Kingsolver takes a literary classic and makes it her own, peering into the dark corners not of Dickensian England, but of present day in the neglected hollers of Virginia’s Appalachian Mountains. Damon Fields, nicknamed Demon Copperhead, came into the world already behind the eight ball of life, and before long he’s in foster care placements that resemble work camps more than loving homes. Throughout this coming-of-age novel, the rug is constantly pulled out from under him but Demon has reserves of Olympian endurance that somehow, like the man in the arena, enables him to get back up again and again. His knees get dusty—he faces hunger, cruelty, loss, and is swept up in the tidal wave of OxyContin that overtakes his tiny county—but he never loses his love for the place that claims him as its own. Kingsolver’s writing is arresting and illuminating; in baring Demon’s soul on the page she gives voice and visibility to a place and its people where beauty and desperation live side by side. —Seira Wilson, Amazon Editor
Early reviews on The Other Side of Night agree, almost unanimously, that the best way to go into this novel is not knowing much. Which makes reviewing it a little tricky. It can’t hurt to know, though, that the opening chapter introduces us to a disgraced police officer named Harriet Kealty. When Harri reads the words, “Help me, he’s trying to kill me,” in the margins of a used book, she can’t help but follow up, even though she’s off the force. And her unauthorized investigation will lead her to cross paths with her ex-boyfriend Ben Elmys once more, many months after he ghosted her. Only now, he’s a foster dad to a boy named Elliot Asha, and she suspects he may well be a murderer. An intriguing mystery develops until…well, read it and let’s talk. Our guess is that there will be many, many readers wanting to talk about this dizzily inventive, genre-melting haymaker of a thriller. —Vannessa Cronin, Amazon Editor
The Escape Artist opens with one of the most riveting chapters you will read any time soon. Two young men are attempting to escape from Auschwitz as Nazi soldiers search for them, and come narrowly close to finding them. Rudolph Vrba was a brilliant young man who became one of only four people to escape Auschwitz. But that is just the beginning of the story. He set back for his native Slovakia; then he set out to warn the world of the atrocities he had witnessed. The author Jonathan Freedland deserves mention here, because he takes a fascinating story about an important if forgotten man in history—and he keeps the story from becoming one dimensional. Vrba was indeed a hero, but much of his effort to warn the world fell on deaf ears. And Vrba was himself a man of contradictions. I enjoyed this book immensely. And I was moved by it. I would not be surprised if it becomes a best seller. —Chris Schluep, Amazon Editor
If you are looking for a book that will give you all the feels, look no further, Mad Honey is an emotional, empathy-filled novel that will also provide more knowledge of bees than you ever thought you needed. The novel isn’t just about bees, this story has teen love at its core, but also contains a heavy dose of parental love, sacrifice, and the sanctity of secrets. The quote: “There is no set of rules that dictates what you owe someone you love. What parts of your past should be disclosed?”, contains the novel’s foundational question. This novel started with co-author Jennifer Finney Boylan dreaming about writing a book with co-author Jodi Picoult. Boylan wrote about the dream on Twitter—Picoult responded LET’S DO IT!—Mad Honey was born. Fans of Picoult will see her signature writing elements, weaved through the novel. There is an important story here—Mad Honey will delight readers who like to learn about new and different experiences while being taking on a journey. —Kami Tei, Amazon Editorial Contributor
One of the casualties of modern times is our waning attention spans. Getting lost in a novel, even though it’s such an exquisite pleasure, is something many of us now struggle with, which is why I was daunted by the prospect of picking up the 688 page conclusion to Fredrik Backman’s Beartown trilogy. I mean, soon the CliffsNotes version will be streamable anyway, right? But The Winners is one of those books that will expand your attention span, and your empathy. For those of you who have not read Beartown or Us Against You, fear not. The Winners can be read as a standalone. Nor do you need to be a hockey fan, although it continues the story of the bitter rivalry between two hockey-obsessed towns. But this is merely a backdrop for what Backman does best: mine the emotional complexities of parenthood, marriage, friendships, and the sucker punches in life that can lay us flat, or make us more resilient. With The Winners, Fredrik Backman has added another winner to his beloved oeuvre. —Erin Kodicek, Amazon Editor
Inspired by Ghanian history, Kwame Alexander’s exceptional novel in verse flows as easily as the water running through his young protagonist’s dreams. Eleven-year-old Kofi Offin lives in a small village in West Africa, soaking up the ancestor stories his grandfather shares, playing games of Oware, going to school, swimming in the river that is like his second home, and waiting for the ceremony that will usher him into manhood. Immersed in family, school, and the excitement of a first crush, Kofi’s world turns upside down when a terrible accident turns a festive occasion into one filled with sorrow and anger—and that’s just a glimpse of what’s to come. The Door to No Return is a master work of storytelling, a novel that moves you with joy, fear, sadness, hope, and love for the brave, resilient boy at its heart. —Seira Wilson, Amazon Editor
The way we judge smarts and success is all wrong—and the fallout is holding people, and our country, back from greatness, Temple Grandin argues in her fascinating new book. Grandin posits that people can be sorted into two buckets: verbal thinkers (words, written and spoken) and visual thinkers (images). Standardized tests and one-size-fits-all educations weed out people who fall into the latter category, shutting out the ideas of millions of bright thinkers who could solve society’s most pressing problems. (Many people we consider geniuses, like Michelangelo and Thomas Edison, were visual thinkers—and Grandin wonders if they would have accomplished so much today.) Grandin also sprinkles in plenty of fun facts (you’ll never look at Ikea furniture the same way again), a quiz to determine what kind of thinker you are, a case for abolishing algebra, and an illuminating explanation of the brain, the all-powerful organ we know so little about. I’d like to give a copy of this book to every parent, teacher, and anyone who has ever struggled in school. —Lindsay Powers, Amazon Editor
Startlingly candid and revealing, Paul Newman’s memoir does not burnish his legacy so much as pierce the sixty years of movie-god mythology that wrapped itself around him. Swimming against the tide of Hollywood brand-building and image-buffing, his story—culled from hundreds of hours of transcripts—draws on insights from friends, family, and co-workers, and none of them is more brutally honest than Newman himself. The actor, race car driver, and philanthropist sifts through the good, the bad, and the ugly of a long life, from his pained relationship with his parents, to his prickly, complicated relationship with the fame and adulation that came his way. And he describes his wonder at a marriage which began as an extramarital affair, was nearly capsized by his heavy drinking, but ended up sustaining him. If the eyes are the window to the soul, Newman’s piercing blue eyes signaled boundless good fortune. This disarmingly revelatory memoir is an intimate introduction to the legend we only thought we knew. —Vannessa Cronin, Amazon Editor