10/23/2014 10:46 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

10 Books Everyone Is Talking About This Fall


Autumn is the season of plenty -- especially if you love to read. Here are highlights from this year's bountiful harvest of uncommonly strong offerings.

2014-10-22-elena.jpeg Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay
By Elena Ferrante

Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay is the third volume in Elena Ferrante's deliciously addictive Neapolitan series. In an expansive yet intimate feat of storytelling, the three novels narrate the intriguing tale of a pair of women whose lifelong relationship is their touchstone and their burden. We meet Lila and Elena in the first book, My Brilliant Friend, as young girls living in a treacherous working-class neighborhood in Naples in the 1950s. Lila is dazzling—a stunning beauty, self-confident, volatile, at once seductive and dangerous. She shines at school, and the conviction in her small hands when she hurls rocks at bullying boys is unmatched. Elena, who lacks Lila's fearlessness, crouches in her friend's shadow. Both girls come from a long line of women held down by poverty and violent men and dream of escaping that fate.

Only Elena succeeds. In the second installment, The Story of a New Name, she starts to forge her own identity, receiving recognition for her writing and meeting her husband-to-be, a brilliant student from a worldly family. Lila, who has stayed behind, finds herself working as a common laborer.

But in this third book the fulcrum shifts. Elena begins to feel wobbly and undefined and questions her own notion of success. She is tortured by the idea that Lila is more real, more worthy than she is. Yet she feels that she can never be fully herself until she is freed of the need for her friend's approval. She imagines Lila's resentment of her achievements, even though Lila encouraged her to leave Naples for both of them.These novels are thrilling in the way they probe how a childhood attachment can live on to shape, twist, and threaten to destroy us, even as our paths and personalities diverge. There is no escape. As Elena prepares to break from the life she's known, Lila is there to warn, or haunt, her: "You're a fool."
— Sonali Deraniyagala

2014-10-22-david.jpg The Bone Clocks
By David Mitchell

Sprawling yet disciplined, drunk on life but ever cognizant of its brevity and preciousness, this time-traveling, culture-crossing, genre-bending marvel of a novel by the highly regarded author of Cloud Atlas utterly beguiles.
— Leigh Haber

2014-10-22-joyce.jpg Lovely, Dark, Deep
By Joyce Carol Oates

A master cartographer of inner landscapes, the prolific Oates returns with a virtuosic collection that moves fluently across a range of characters, settings, and moods. In these 13 stories, she opts for a looser, more expressionistic palette as she gazes grimly, gorgeously, into the crucible of mortality.
— Hamilton Cain

2014-10-22-ian.jpg The Children Act
By Ian McEwan

Fiona Maye, a High Court judge in London, has built an impressive career on the bench, but a controversial case involving an adolescent Jehovah's Witness—on top of her husband's yearning for an open marriage—shakes all her convictions in this tightly coiled novel. Acclaimed for such sumptuous canvases as Atonement and Saturday, McEwan here crafts a taut morality tale in crystalline sentences.
— Hamilton Cain

2014-10-22-margaret.jpg Stone Mattress
By Margaret Atwood

In her latest work, Atwood turns her protean talents to an examination of the frailties of the human heart. These exuberantly told tales are a tour de force of wit, style and discernment, blending elements of fantasy and horror: A 60-something woman on an Arctic cruise encounters the man who raped her as a teenager; an ailing narcissistic poet is harassed by the lovers he's mistreated. As one character notes, "Things have a habit of coming full circle: a bad habit."
— Hamilton Cain

2014-10-22-jeff.jpg The Short and Tragic Life of Robert Peace
By Jeff Hobbs

Despite growing up in crime-ridden Newark, New Jersey, with a devoted but overworked mom and his father in prison for murder, Robert Peace managed to graduate from Yale. Which makes his brutal, drug- related murder all the more heartbreaking.
— Sarah Meyer

2014-10-22-sheila.jpeg I Called Him Necktie

By Milena Michiko Flašar

In Flašar's deeply original short novel, two melancholy outcasts find solace in each other, conspiring to transcend their troubles and emerge stronger. But will that be enough?
— Sarah Meyer

2014-10-22-paul.jpg Mr. Bones
By Paul Theroux

A father revolts against the constraints of his life by creating a minstrel-show character who torments his family. a divorced man suffers a breakdown when raccoons infest his property. Beneath the deceptive elegance of these stories, land mines lurk, and Theroux detonates them with gusto.
— Hamilton Cain

2014-10-22-richard.jpeg The Prince of Los Cocuyos
By Richard Blanco

In this vibrant memoir, Obama-inaugural poet Richard Blanco tenderly, exhilaratingly chronicles his Miami childhood amid a colorful, if suffocating, family of Cuban exiles, as well as his quest to find his artistic voice and the courage to accept himself as a gay man. And then there is that jaunt to Winn-Dixie with his abuela....
— Leigh Haber

2014-10-22-gail.jpeg Daring: My Passages

By Gail Sheehy

Trailblazer Sheehy's memoir spans some 70 years, from her childhood to her modest beginnings working at JCPenney to her rise to the highest rungs of journalism. She broke ground reporting on maternity clinics, prostitution and feminism and helped millions navigate life's seasons with her landmark work, Passages. Here, she looks back on her remarkable life with unflinching candor.
— Sarah Meyer

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