Even hardworking news journalists by day need a break from reality in their off hours. In our newsroom at NPR, there are some omnivorous fiction readers. We have fans of romance, historical fiction, sci-fi, fantasy, horror, and more. We asked our colleagues what they've enjoyed reading most this year — and here are the titles they shared. (And, OK, yes, we read plenty of nonfiction, too, because NPR gonna NPR. You can see that list here. )

Realistic Fiction

All Fours: A Novel by Miranda July
All Fours is a coming-of-age novel for perimenopause. The story follows an unnamed narrator as she begins a cross-country road trip away from her husband and child, but she pulls over to stay in a motel 30 minutes from her house instead. This “trip” still changes her life — through an infatuation with a younger guy who works at a car rental place, she begins a new intimacy with herself, too. I’ve read all of Miranda July’s books, and she’s always doing weird and imaginative things with her characters. This story has all of July’s usual eccentricity, but it also brims with the excitement and fear and possibility that comes with entering the unknown of life’s latter half, especially for women. It felt singularly fresh, and perfectly enjoyable. Liam McBain, associate producer, It's Been a Minute

American Spirits by Russell Banks
The three stories in this collection are set in a fictional town, but seem so familiar: a local guy who got in a dangerous beef with an out-of-towner that bought up his family’s property and then refused to let him hunt on it; a family that adopts several children then purposely crashes their van off the highway; grandparents who are scammed by people claiming to have kidnapped their grandson. The late Russell Banks’ final writings are a masterful exploration of these kinds of tales, looking at the motivations of ordinary people in a world that’s become increasingly polarized and deeply troubled. — Melissa Gray, senior producer, Weekend Edition

Behind You Is the Sea by Susan Muaddi Darraj
If you want to know the challenges that Palestinian Americans face in the U.S., you must read this book. It follows several families in Baltimore as they wrestle with poverty, religion, living in between two cultures and their pursuit of the American Dream. There is Marcus, a cop who stands up for his Arab sister who is dating a Black man; Samira, who is shamed for being a childless divorcee (despite that she is a successful lawyer); Layla, a high school student who pushes back against the drama club's production of Aladdin, which she says perpetuates racist stereotypes about Arabs. How their lives intersect will leave you at the edge of your seat. Malaka Gharib, digital editor, Life Kit

Come & Get It by Kiley Reid
Told through multiple perspectives, I could not put this snappy page-turner down even though I had no idea where it was going until its jaw-dropping crescendo. Set at the University of Arkansas, this story follows several college students and a writing professor over the course of a year, largely through the lens of their relationship with money — how it motivates them, how it gets them into and (for some) out of situations — as well as race, sexuality, power and social status. As a southerner and the graduate of a southern university, I found myself nodding along excitedly to Reid’s apt depictions of contemporary southern culture. — Beck Harlan, visuals editor, Life Kit

Dead in Long Beach, California: A Novel by Venita Blackburn
A woman named Coral finds the body of her brother after his suicide, but she doesn't tell anyone right away. Instead, she begins to inhabit his life through his phone, as if she can keep him alive by answering his texts. But what makes the book even odder, even more ambitious, is that it is narrated in the detached voices of automated beings from the future who are all that's left after humanity has wiped itself out. This combination of almost unbearable intimacy and arm's-length anthropology has an explanation of sorts. But more importantly, it serves both to add considerable humor to the text (what would a robot think of human frailty, after all?) and to render Coral's situation more confusing, more disorienting. It's a sad story, but it's also a ride, and that's a tough combination. Linda Holmes, host, Pop Culture Happy Hour

The Djinn Waits a Hundred Years: A Novel by Shubnum Khan
The djinn of the title — I pictured a depressed Grinch — haunts this comforting dose of tropes: A girl with a deceased mom moves into an old, possibly magic house with an inaccessible area. Blocked-off rooms being irresistible to teenage main characters, Sana Malek digs her way in, uncovering a tragic family secret or two. The twists and revelations that follow aren't exactly jaw-dropping, but are emotionally wrenching enough to clear out the old tear ducts without leaving a grief hangover. Holly J. Morris, digital trainer

The Extinction of Irena Rey by Jennifer Croft
This is book has so many layers! Let’s start with the premise. Eight translators meet up at the home of a famous Polish novelist to translate her latest work — which is apparently so brilliant it could change the world! — into their respective home languages. But their beloved author goes missing, setting off their search for her in the nearby Białowieża forest — filled with so many layers of wilderness! The narrator is the Spanish translator, but we’re reading the story in English — it’s been translated by the English translator. Those two don’t get along. More layers! If you like language, literature — and fungi — this wild ride of a very esoteric mystery is for you. Elissa Nadworny, correspondent

Great Expectations by Vinson Cunningham
Vinson Cunningham worked on the 2008 Obama campaign, so it's no surprise that this coming-of-age story follows a young man working on a thinly (very thinly) veiled version of that very undertaking. It would be easy to make a story like this either a cynical and cutting takedown of politics or a starry-eyed and idealistic discovery of meaning. It's neither. It presents this campaign as a formative stage in the life of a young person who sees what goes into the successful gathering of power, ugly and impressive as it can be. Full of sharp observations about our precarious system of government, it's also insightful about race and wealth and the relationship between the two. Linda Holmes, host, Pop Culture Happy Hour

Greta & Valdin by Rebecca K. Reilly The loving family at the heart of this very funny and moving novel about a brother and sister is so complex that I drew a diagram — no fooling — halfway through, the better to solidify in my mind ideas like, "Valdin recently broke up with his older boyfriend, who is also his uncle's husband's brother." But despite the messy structure of things, every bond in the book is written to be precious and specific. Greta & Valdin is the rare story to live up to its fearless promotional copy, which calls it a cross between Schitt's Creek and Normal People. Perhaps that sounds impossible; that's what makes it so good. Linda Holmes, host, Pop Culture Happy Hour

Headshot: A Novel by Rita Bullwinkel
Headshot is a real one-two punch of a novel. Eight teenage girl boxers have come to Bob’s Boxing Palace in Reno, Nevada, for the 12th annual Women’s 18 & Under Daughters of America Cup. As each fight plays out in the ring — sometimes brutally, ferociously — Rita Bullwinkel brings to life the internal monologues of the girls. They recite the digits of pi, think about their pasts, their futures, their dreams of being the best in the world — and also of making their opponents chomp on a mouthful of pennies until their teeth break. Bullwinkel’s dynamic writing — moving back and forth in time, in and out of the boxing gym — and short, punchy sentences are a perfect mirror of the girls’ jabs in the ring. It’s a knockout. Samantha Balaban, producer, Weekend Edition

Henry Henry by Allen Bratton
Hal is a profane mess, kind of like Shakespeare’s Prince Hal, on whom he’s based: The 20-something is careening through life fueled by drugs, booze, cigarettes, and loveless sex. He both flaunts and loathes his class status, his family’s fortune, and his future as Duke of Lancaster, along with a flat-out-refusal to live up to his father’s expectations. Hal is so wholly unsympathetic that if not for the brilliant writing, you might just give up before discovering the shocking violation at the root of his self-destruction. How can he finally become his own person? This isn’t an easy read. It’s at times dark and highly upsetting, but the author makes you stick with it in hopes of seeing Hal finally grow up. — Melissa Gray, senior producer, Weekend Edition

Same As It Ever Was by Claire Lombardo
This is one of those beautifully written, keenly observed novels where not that much happens — other than, you know, life itself — but also so much happens. Julia Ames is experiencing a midlife plateau when an announcement from her son sets her reeling, and reflecting on all the relationships — past and present, familial, intergenerational, romantic — that have shaped her life including: Mark, her near-perfect husband; Anita, her near-imperfect mother; and Helen, the older woman who saves Julia in the early days of motherhood. Though the dynamic between Julia and her “spiky” teenage daughter is my personal favorite, Claire Lombardo has written a whole cast of characters so detailed, so specifically themselves, that you almost feel you could reach out and touch them. Samantha Balaban, producer, Weekend Edition

Victim: A Novel by Andrew Boryga
Lying is kind of funny. The stress of someone jumping through increasingly wild hoops to avoid getting caught in a lie is hilarious. Victim is about Javi, a writer from a marginalized community, who fudges his way into the kinds of rooms where people say “marginalized” and “community” a lot. The book is a charming critique of the publishing industry and its surface-level attempts at righting societal ills (which, kind of bold for a debut author), while also staying empathetic towards the well-meaning individuals who give Javi a shot. — Andrew Limbong, correspondent, Culture Desk, and host, NPR's Book of the Day

Romance & Relationships

Annie LeBlanc Is Not Dead Yet by Molly Morris
What happens when your former best friend comes back from the dead, but only for 30 days? That’s what Wilson needs to figure out when her friend Annie is brought back as part of a local custom in her small California town. To complicate things more, their friend, Ryan apparently hates them both. Wilson is determined to fix things before Annie returns to — well, being dead. This is a beautifully poetic YA work about female friendships, with a touch of magical realism and laugh out loud humor. The dynamic between the trio is filled with teenage angst, love and forgiveness. It considers a common dilemma: How do you accept change when it means giving up what you love? Hafsa Fathima, production assistant, Pop Culture Happy Hour

Birding with Benefits by Sarah T. Dubb
This sweet, fake-relationship romance follows the recently divorced empty-nester Celeste as she navigates life as a single woman, once again. This time around, she’s saying yes to life and shaking things up. She didn’t expect the shaking to bring in the sensitive, gentle giant that is John. Or his deep love of birds. Come for the romance but, beware, you might find yourself falling in love with John’s quiet, colorful world of birding yourself!Christina Cala, senior producer, Code Switch

Girl Abroad by Elle Kennedy
Girl Abroad starts with Abbey Bly, 19 years old, ready to step away from her adoring, yet overprotective, father when she is given the chance to study abroad in London. There’s just one hitch: Abbey believes she'll be living with girls there — but arrives to find out all her flatmates are boys. She decides to step into her new-found independence (and hide this fact from her father). Elle Kennedy has written an enjoyable coming-of-age story filled with humor, drama, romance, and a found family. Readers will enjoy the way Kennedy deviates from her usual steamy-angst-centric stories for one with deeper emphasis on self growth, relationship dynamics and figuring out not only who you are, but what you want. — Valentina Rodríguez Sánchez, audio engineer

How to End a Love Story by Yulin Kuang
If a '90s rom-com grew up and went to therapy, this sparkling book would be the result. After penning a popular YA book series, Helen Zhang gets a seat in the writers' room where it’s being adapted into a TV show. Unfortunately, Grant Shepard, is also one of the writers in that room. Grant was the charming homecoming king at their high school whereas Helen was awkward and introverted. He's also the reason Helen's sister is dead — kind of. It’s been years since the accident, but the writers' room reopens old wounds and forces Helen and Grant to be vulnerable with each other. Even as Helen wrestles with their past, the two begin a present-day romance that is sexy and tender. This book is a raised glass to second chances and late bloomers. Lauren Migaki, senior producer, Education

Say You'll Be Mine: A Novel by Naina Kumar
It's a familiar South Asian story: Two people finally relent to their parents' wishes of meeting a potential marriage partner. But Say You'll Be Mine is so much more than that. Meghna is in love with her best friend, who is engaged to someone else. Karthik is an engineer who doesn't really want to get married. But as the two discover, a fake engagement between them may be the answer to their problems. Naina Kumar writes a funny, heartwarming tale, filled with sizzling chemistry. It's hard to not root for them from page one, as they slowly fall in love. It's an incredible book that tackles the merits and shortcomings of culture, finding an identity and of course, true love. Hafsa Fathima, production assistant, Pop Culture Happy Hour

Sex, Lies and Sensibility by Nikki Payne
Set in the heart of vacationland, Nora Dash and Ennis “Bear” Freeman are both fighting uphill battles. After her dad dies, Nora inherits some serious family drama — and a rundown cottage in Maine. Now, Nora and her sister have just months to turn the place into a successful resort. Meanwhile, Bear’s struggling with his own business of guiding visitors through his native Abenaki land. The tours take him through Nora’s backyard and the two team up. Their chemistry is off the charts as they spend hours working and finding stress relief in long runs through the Maine woods. But both are keeping secrets, and have let shame work its way through their lives like an invasive species. The two have to figure out how to move forward once those secrets spill out. Lauren Migaki, senior producer, Education

Historical Fiction

Cahokia Jazz: A Novel by Francis Spufford
It's 1922 and, in this alternate-history detective story, Cahokia isn't a UNESCO World Heritage Site in Illinois. It's a thriving Indigenous-owned and operated city and state with a strong Catholic presence, plus Klansmen, bootleggers and other undesirables. If you try to skim, you'll get lost in the how-deep-does-this-go corruption, careful world-building and sprawling cast. The naive main character, jazz-playing police detective Joe Barrow, shoves his way through exposition, fight scenes, maybe-occult doings, local royalty and personal angst, all backgrounded by a Roaring Twenties aesthetic portrayed in loving detail. Maps and excerpts from (made-up) primary sources will guide you through — if you pay attention. If you're me, you'll take notes. Holly J. Morris, digital trainer

Clear: A Novel by Carys Davies
It’s the 1840s, the last and most brutal years of The Clearances, when Scottish landowners began replacing unprofitable tenants with sheep. Based on that real history, Clear is a novel about a minister, John, who has been dispatched to clear a remote island of its last remaining inhabitant, Ivar. Except just after he arrives, John slips and falls off a cliff. Ivar finds John, nurses him back to health, and invites him into his life; Ivar begins to teach John the many words that all mean some variation of “rough seas” in Norn (a real language), and the pair learn to communicate roughly, but with an unexpected depth. What follows is perhaps the most tender, beautiful story about the connection between two people and what they must overcome to find each other — in every sense of the word. Samantha Balaban, producer, Weekend Edition

Enlightenment by Sarah Perry
You know that feeling — when you are fascinated by someone all the more because you don’t fully understand them? That’s how I feel in English author Sarah Perry’s “presence.” Enlightenment is a tale of two friends, different generations but hailing from the same small Essex town and even smaller congregation. There’s a mystery involving a woman astronomer — but mainly there’s empathy for the complexities of people’s identities and belief systems, a sense of home, and loads of gorgeous writing. — Shannon Rhoades, senior editor, Weekend Edition

The Fox Wife: A Novel by Yangsze Choo
There’s a little bit of mystery and mysticism on every page of this book. Set in China in the early 1900s, the books centers around two characters in separate, but connecting narratives. A fox masquerading as a young woman that’s set out to avenge her daughter’s death and a detective with an affinity for foxes who is working a murder case. It’s clever and observant, with twists and turns and just the perfect amount of folklore to keep you asking: What is real and what is imagined? Elissa Nadworny, correspondent

Hard by a Great Forest by Leo Vardiashvili
Hard by a Great Forest has all the ingredients of a dark and twisty fairy tale: A mysterious disappearance, a post-war city teeming with danger, a scavenger hunt, riddles, a road trip, escaped zoo animals, an orphan, and a title echoing the first line of Hansel and Gretel. It’s loosely based on author Leo Vardiashvili’s life — he lived through Georgia’s civil war and immigrated to the UK as a refugee in the mid '90s. It’s two decades later in the novel when Saba’s father is pulled back to their homeland in search of something — before promptly disappearing. His last message to his son: Do not follow me. But Saba (of course) follows his breadcrumb trail of clues and, along the way, is forced to confront the question: Can you ever really go home again? Samantha Balaban, producer, Weekend Edition

James: A Novel by Percival Everett
The jokes in James range from chin scratchers to knee slappers to gut busters. Although I’m not sure Percival Everett would even classify them as “jokes.” In his re-imagining of the Huckleberry Finn story, Everett mines language, history and irony to showcase brutal truths about America. And yes, it’s often funny. But, like the original source material, things can quickly turn deadly serious depending on how the river flows. The novel is thrilling, hilarious, heartbreaking, and a strong argument for Everett as one of the best doing it right now. — Andrew Limbong, correspondent, Culture Desk, and host, NPR's Book of the Day

Memory Piece: A Novel by Lisa Ko
This is a coming of age story about three friends growing up in and around New York City in the 1990s. Their friendship evolves over the decades as they experiment with, and push the boundaries of, art, performance and technology. I loved that the book makes art feel real and weird and kind of gross — not glamorous and sugarcoated. Elissa Nadworny, correspondent

Swift River by Essie Chambers
After her beloved father mysteriously disappears, Diamond and her mom find themselves living hand to mouth in a faded New England mill town where Diamond is the lone Black resident. Why did a previous generation of Black families abandon it? This propulsive and poetic first novel, by an accomplished documentary film producer, grounds a tender coming-of-age narrative in a history of migration, marginalization and imagination. Threaded through every step of Diamond’s journey is her deadpan wit; of one ramshackle dwelling, she observes, “the whole house looks like it’s having a cigarette.” And she reflects, when a heartbreaking legal issue is finally resolved, “That was the thing about a racist town. It got to decide when it would be kind.” Neda Ulaby, correspondent, Culture Desk

Table for Two: Fictions by Amor Towles
The first half of this jaunty short-story collection takes place in New York. Among the memorable characters are a Russian immigrant whose chief role in life is to stand in lines; a young antiquarian bookstore employee who gets more than he bargains for in his desire for life experience; and a seemingly straight-laced family man with a big Wall Street job, whose secret pastime, once discovered, upends his and his loved ones’ lives. The second half, devoted entirely to the novella “Eve in Hollywood,” is set in Los Angeles during Tinseltown’s Golden Age. The pithy, film noir-ish thriller picks up where the author’s 2011 novel Rules of Civility left off — with the plucky, scar-faced adventuress, Evelyn Ross, deftly saving the honor of a host of Hollywood starlets. Chloe Veltman, correspondent, Culture Desk

 The Women

The Women / St. Martin's Press

The Women by Kristin Hannah
"You’re only going to be a nurse until you get married,” her mother said. But Frankie McGrath had other ideas, ones that would lead her away from her wealthy family’s conservative outlook on how daughters should behave. Kristin Hannah’s The Women follows young Frankie’s transformation, when after working as a nurse in California and tending to a wounded soldier, and missing her soldier brother, she joins the Army as a nurse. That takes her from a comfortable life of known expectations, to one of the chaos and danger of war, new career opportunities and love. Tangled love. When Frankie returns home, she finds her country still protesting the war, and those who served. The Women shines a light on a then little-known aspect of the war: the women who also served in Vietnam, as nurses. Jeanine Herbst, news anchor

You Dreamed of Empires: A Novel by Álvaro Enrigue, translated by Natasha Wimmer
This salty and dark historical fantasia feistily explodes well-worn textbook narratives about the meeting of the Spanish conquistador Hernán Cortés and his captains with the Aztec emperor Moctezuma and his entourage in Tenoxtitlan — now Mexico City — in 1519. Álvaro Enrigue’s depiction of the stressed out, clumsy Cortés and the drugged out, mercurial Moctezuma sets these near-mythical figures into earthy relief. But it’s mostly the intrigues and machinations of these leaders’ canny consorts — the Aztec princess Atotoxtli and the conquistadors’ translator Malinalli — that power the plot. Natasha Wimmer’s English translation sharply delivers the novel’s poetic and witty qualities while at the same time reveling in its core theme: the fundamental untranslatability of human experience. Chloe Veltman, correspondent, Culture Desk

Mysteries & Thrillers

Nightwatching by Tracy Sierra
Nightwatching begins with a scene straight out of a nightmare: A woman is at home with two sleeping children when she hears the footsteps of an intruder on the stairs. The story that follows is by turns suspenseful, uncomfortable and enraging. Tracy Sierra skillfully uses the home invasion to explore the terrifying responsibility of motherhood and to expose the pure horror of being a woman in a society that does not always choose to believe women. Julie Rogers, historian and curator, NPR Research, Archives & Data strategy

The Hunter by Tana French
Set in the hills of Western Ireland, this novel picks up the story of characters introduced in 2020’s The Searcher — retired American detective Cal Hooper and Trey, a teen girl he’s taken under his wing. As French revisits the seemingly bucolic landscape where trouble roils just under the surface, her writing continues to shift from mystery to meditation. While there’s still a knot of questions about crimes — including both fraud and murder — to be untangled, this novel is ultimately about belonging; the ways in which families do, and don’t, owe each other debts; the communities we resist, alienate, or become a welcome part of. Morally shaded and complex, it will leave you thinking about who’s right — and what’s wrong — long after you turn the last page. — Tayla Burney, director, Network Programming & Production

Sci Fi, Fantasy, Speculative Fiction & Horror

Cuckoo by Gretchen Felker-Martin
Cuckoo is an ingeniously scary novel about a group of kids sent to a conversion camp in the '90s. There’s the terror of the socially accepted abuse the kids face (both at the camp and at home) because they are queer, but there’s yet another horrifying entity preying on them, and trying to make them — different. Felker-Martin’s sharp novel takes on the particular vulnerability of queer kids and the body-snatching that is conversion therapy, and she does it with equal measures of tenderness and grotesquery. As harrowing and disgusting as it is, I also found it quite insightful and beautiful — and for that reason, Cuckoo is a great work of horror. Liam McBain, associate producer, It's Been a Minute

The Familiar by Leigh Bardugo

It is the Spanish Golden Age, and kitchen maid Luzia has secrets to hide: her skill at magic and her Jewish heritage. When her employer discovers her spells, Luzia is entered into a tournament to find King Philip, who hopes to increase his military standing, a champion. She is trained by the strange creature Santángel, an immortal with a mysterious past. This is a gorgeously lush, vividly written book that shines with its strong cast of characters. Luzia is a hero you’ll find yourself rooting for right from the start, and the magic system in this world is a breath of fresh air. Once again, Leigh Bardugo proves she never misses the mark when it comes to intricately building fantastical worlds — leaving you thinking about them long after the last page is turned. Hafsa Fathima, production assistant, Pop Culture Happy Hour

The Husbands: A Novel by Holly Gramazio
Lauren leaves her London flat for a bachelorette party one night only to discover a husband at home awaiting her return. Not only was she not married when she left for the night, she doesn’t recognize this man. Slowly she works out that he’s not a threat — and that all evidence on her phone, in conversations with friends and neighbors, and in their apartments points to him being fully integrated into her life. And there he is until he goes into the attic and a different husband emerges, slightly — or drastically — altering Lauren’s life. The pattern continues as Lauren searches for metaphysical clues to what’s going on and wrestles with how to know, if she can ever know, which life is right for her. A rare combination of the truly hilarious and profound. — Tayla Burney, director, Network Programming & Production

The Ministry of Time: A Novel by Kaliane Bradley
You’d think a novel about the bureaucracy of a time-travel government agency might be kinda, boring? But from the moment you meet the book’s enigmatic protagonist — as she starts a new job in the UK’s top secret new time travel agency — to the introduction of the dashing Graham Gore, an 1847 arctic explorer plucked through time, you'll be hooked. Come for the romance, stay for the unraveling of a mystery, the nuanced, genre-bending treatises on race and identity, and the long-lingering ideas on colonialism, empires and the mutability of history. Christina Cala, senior producer, Code Switch

A Short Walk Through a Wide World: A Novel by Douglas Westerbeke
It's the year 1885, in Paris, when 9-year-old Aubry Tourvel encounters a mysterious, wooden, puzzle ball: It may be a blessing or a curse, but it most definitely changes her life. Now she needs to keep moving forever; too long in any one town and she will bleed to death. So her life is all travel and adventure, and through her we wonder at the richness of the globe’s markets, towns, forests and deserts. Over many decades, she meets all types of kind and curious people — as well as cruel and uncaring ones. Sometimes Aubry enjoys quick communion with strangers. Other times, she is surrounded but desperately lonely. This is a ravishing, deeply human book that’s in love with the world, with people, with the new — and yet is infused with a deep, futile longing for home.Jennifer Vanasco, editor and reporter, Culture Desk