10 Smart, Bestselling Books to Read Right Now
The Family Chao
Buckle up for a big cast of quirky small-town characters, but especially three brothers, their parents, and a murder in the family restaurant in Wisconsin. I love the Midwestern setting, and how Lan Samantha Chang—who is director of the renowned Iowa Writers Workshop at the University of Iowa—delivers a Dostoevsky-ian family drama told through multiple generations of Chinese American and immigrant perspectives.
Read It: The Family Chao, $17
When Women Were Dragons
YA author (and Minneapolis resident) Kelly Barnhill's first adult novel became a huge hit this year. Told through the voice of a young girl, it's an alternate-reality history hooked on "The Mass Dragoning of 1955," where thousands of wives, mothers, sisters and daughters spontaneously turn into dragons and leave their lives. The dragon metaphor at the center of this book is so satisfying and full of hope for a brighter, more equitable future for women.
Read It: When Women Were Dragons, $28
Atlas of the Heart
You need to flip through this book to grasp the level of artistry that went into each page. It's so much more than a psychology book. Unique illustrations—combined with Brene Brown's singular research on the language we need to better connect with others and ourselves—demand a special place in your home library.
Read It: Atlas of the Heart, $27
The House in the Cerulean Sea
If you long for the days of getting lost in big fantasy novels as a kid, this one by TJ Klune is for you. Stuffed with mysteries and magic and children with special powers, it's a love story that will leave you smiling.
Read It: The House in the Cerulean Sea, $28
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Required reading. This generous memoir by University of Iowa writing professor Melissa Febos blends in interviews, pop culture and mythology. These are the kind of truth-telling essays that have the power to shift your thinking around what it means and what it meant to grow up in a female body.
Read It: Girlhood, $17
When No One is Watching
Just when you think you know where this thriller is going, Alyssa Cole adds three more twists! Sexy, funny, thrilling and you'll learn something about just how unsettling gentrification can be.
Read It: When No One is Watching, $17
The Body Keeps the Score
Based on over 30 years of research, this fascinating book by Bessel Van der Kolk—a doctor who directs The Trauma Center in Brookline, Massachusetts—is a compassionate and groundbreaking call to reconsider how we understand and treat trauma.
Read It: The Body Keeps the Score, $17
The Fastest Way to Fall
Denise Williams, a writer who lives in Des Moines, is a pro at empowering romances with strong themes of self-love and healing. This one is full of body positive messages, as the two main characters fall for each other while on assignment for work. (Think accidentally falling for your personal trainer.) Delightful.
Read It: The Fastest Way to Fall, $16
Crying in H Mart
A gorgeous honest memoir full of mouthwatering descriptions of food. Michelle Zauner reflects on the lovely and infuriating relationship she had with her Korean mother growing up, while she becomes a primary caretaker for her in her death. The lead singer of Japanese Breakfast, Zauner proves she's a moving, deft writer as well.
Read It: Crying in H Mart, $27
Mothers, sit up: This postpartum romp by Iowa City writer Rachel Yoder will make you feel oh-so-seen. An artist steps away from her career to stay at home with her young son and slowly becomes convinced she's turning into a dog by night, even as she grapples with mom-life by day. Surreal, funny and viscerally delicious.
Read It: Nightbitch, $16
Learn more about Abigail Paxton, owner of Storyhouse Bookpub in Des Moines.