February’s Best New Fiction

This month’s best books are all about love: love of siblings, love of spouses, love of work, love of children (both biological and adopted) and even love of oneself. Whether you’re a rom-com fanatic or prefer family sagas that span decades, these books will take you on emotional journeys you won’t soon forget.

We Must Be Brave, by Frances Liardet
Ellen Parr never wanted children. At least, that’s the story she tells herself, and to an extent, it’s true; her beloved, older husband is incapable of it, and she’s made peace with that fact. That is, until 5-year-old Pamela enters her life. It’s 1940 and Pamela’s been abandoned on a bus of evacuees that shows up in Southhampton. The bond between the surrogate mother and daughter is swiftly established but no less strong for it. Three years later, Pamela is returned to a biological family member, and Ellen is left behind, devastated. In the decades that pass, she leans on her husband, neighbors, and, eventually, a boarding school student who reminds her of the child she lost. This looks to be an extraordinarily moving and realistic historical.

More Than Words, by Jill Santopolo
In her second novel for adults (she also writes for children and young adults), Santopolo builds on the international success of The Light We Lost with a story about a woman whose sense of self is thrown into chaos. When Nina Gregory, a political speechwriter and hotel heiress, learns some hard truths about her late father, whom she idolized and adored, she is forced to view those closest to her in a new light. Her staid, childhood best friend-turned-fiancé, Tim, represents her father’s wishes for her, but her boss, New York mayoral candidate Rafael, is the one who ignites her passions. With her perceptions of the past shattered, how will she decide where her future, and her ambitions, truly lie?

Finding Dorothy, by Elizabeth Letts
Based on the real life of Maude Gage Baum, L. Frank Baum’s wife, Dorothy takes place in dual timelines: in 1938 during the filming of the Wizard of Oz; and in the later half of the 1800s as Maude comes of age as a suffragette’s daughter and grows up to become a married mother of four. Long widowed by the time MGM begins filming her husband’s book, Maude is determined to get on set and make sure L. Frank’s vision is properly reflected. She doesn’t expect to feel so protective of the movie’s teenage star, Judy Garland, who clearly needs an advocate and champion in her life. Letts’ previous books have been non-fiction, and her experience in that milieu help make this a heartfelt and detailed historical that’s perfect for film buffs and book clubs.

I Owe You One, by Sophie Kinsella
The Shopaholic books will always have a place in my heart, but Kinsella’s rom-com standalones have been knocking it out of the park lately. In the last two years alone we’ve been gifted with My Not-So Perfect Life and Surprise Me, and now there’s I Owe You One, which depicts the slow-burn relationship of selfless, responsible Fixie and investment manager Sebastian. After a meet-cute involving the near-death experience of a laptop, Sebastian writes Fixie an IOU, which she uses to secure her slacker boyfriend, Ryan, a job. Now she owes Sebastian a favor, and soon, the IOUs stack up in both directions in ways neither could have anticipated, making Fixie wonder if her penchant for helping others may be holding her back from pursuing the life she wants.

The Girls at 17 Swann Street, by Yara Zgheib
According to Anna Roux, former dancer and current supermarket cashier, her “real occupation” is anorexia. At twenty-six years old, having moved from Paris to St. Louis in support of her husband Matthias, to whom she’s been married for three years, Anna is a ghost of her former self. Dangerously underweight, depressed, and exhausted (she sleeps about three hours per night, and exercises relentlessly), Anna honestly doesn’t think she has a problem. Her admittance to 17 Swann Street, a residential treatment center, is the beginning of her journey back to health. As she gets to know her fellow patients and reflects on her life, she slowly gains insight into her condition. A poetic, deeply felt, and authentic debut.

The Last Romantics, by Tara Conklin
In the year 2079, elderly Fiona Skinner, an accomplished poet, thinks back to the 1980s, and the breakdown of her family life following her father’s death. The youngest of four siblings, Fiona and her two sisters and one brother (ranging in age from 4 to 11) were forced to raise one another for two years until their widowed mother crawled out from her debilitating depression. As an adult, Fiona filled her life with scandalous blog posts and a career at a nonprofit climate change organization, but her lasting legacy turns out to be the poem that made her famous, chronicling the story of her sisters and their concern for their brother Joe, who seems to have become the most damaged among them. A family saga that’s perfect for fans of Chloe Benjamin’s The Immortalists.

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