Book Bites: End-of-Year Releases You Don't Want to Miss

Don't ask us quite how, but the end of the year is right around the corner. We're usually turning our attention towards holiday shopping and gift wrapping this time of December, but we couldn't resist sharing one last roundup of great new releases we think you'll love. We have some late-breaking favorites here that we know are going to stick with us well into 2024 — from beautiful literary fiction to history and mystery to the best piece of Florida-set narrative nonfiction this side of The Orchid Thief. Read on!

Ages 12 & Up

Didn't See That Coming by Jesse Q. Sutanto

Kiki's parents transfer her to an elite school in hopes of teaching her respect and discipline. Kiki, who is not afraid to speak her mind, finds herself having trouble transitioning as she becomes a victim of bullying. When nobody seems to listen, Kiki resorts to ranting to her online gaming friend, Sourdawg. What she didn't expect was to discover that he attends the same school. While she is eager to find the face behind the screen, she is also worried because she has been playing as a guy to avoid any harassment from the male players. Read along to discover how Kiki handles her tricky situation! 
— Ayah

Read if you love a fun, adorkable romance.
Pass if you hate when you don't see things coming.
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Ages 14 & Up

Check and Mate by Ali Hazelwood

Mallory vows to never play chess again as she blames it for the downfall of her family. Despite her skills, she continues to turn down her best friend's plea to compete in one last charity tournament until she finally gives in. What she didn't expect was winning against the current world champion, Nolan. Despite his loss, Nolan finds himself hoping to see her again. The shocking results quickly open many doors for Mallory, and, despite her initial rejections, she finds herself entering the chess world once again. Will Mallory be able to hide her secrets from her family? A lovely YA romance debut, highly recommended!
— Ayah

Read if you're looking for a clever slow burn.
Pass if your chess led to the downfall of your family.
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Only She Came Back by Margot Harrison

Kiri Dunsmore walks out of the desert with blood on her sweatshirt. Where is her overbearing hateful "boyfriend YouTuber"? An acquaintance back in her hometown has a true crime podcast (don't they all?) Many twists and turns in this unreliable narrator story of death, starvation, and the need to show all your dirty laundry in public.
— Valerie

Read because this book is absolutely addictive.
Pass if you are easily spooked.
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Adult Fiction

Absolution by Alice McDermott

This is the story of two American women living in Saigon in 1963: Patricia, the young wife of an oil engineer on loan to US Navy Intelligence, and Charlene, a corporate wife and mother of three. Their days are filled with luncheons, cocktail parties, dinner parties and thank you notes. With most needs met by a houseful of servants, they are attractive helpmates, used to support and further the careers of their husbands. Patricia accepts this without challenge, but Charlene is determined to do more, to try and ease the wretched poverty and suffering of the Vietnamese people she sees with the limited resources available to her. She enlists Patricia to help with the cause, often venturing into dangerous situations.
— Jean

Read because this is an instant classic and a powerful read.
Pass if you've already read too many great books this year.
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Meet the Benedettos by Katie Cotugno

In Los Angeles, a family of five grown sisters that are mostly known for being known live with their mom and dad, the once famous Meatball King. Directionless, spoiled, and intertwined... (like the Kardashians), the Benedetto sisters are trying to make something happen ever since their reality show was canceled. Their chaotic household sits in a foundering neighborhood with rambling, crumbling homes. Life gets interesting when superstar Charlie Bingley and his good friend Will Darcy move nearby. Two of the sisters become entangled with the newcomers which ramps up the drama in their lives. A nod to Pride and Prejudice, where misconceptions and possible romance flourish. A fresh, entertaining read!
— Liz

Read because you've always wanted to see what a Pride and Prejudice-Kardashian mash-up would be like.
Pass if you're planning on watching an episode of The Kardashians first to prepare.
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Beginner's Luck by Kate Clayborn

Kit Averin has always been the sensible one. When a windfall comes her way, she buys a fixer-upper in town but keeps her job at the university because she likes everything just so. One day, corporate recruiter Ben knocks on the door of her lab and there's definitely chemistry between them. It’s the first book in one of my favorite series and I’m so glad it’s being released in paperback!
— Cathy

Read if you love characters you want to root for
Pass if you're now day-dreaming about what you'd do if you won the lottery.
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The Mystery Guest by Nita Prose

It has been years since the Regency Grand Hotel had a murder on their hands. Things change when mystery author J.D. Grimthorpe drops dead during a hotel event. Molly, who was wrongly accused of the first murder, hides her past with the author and uses her ability to read others to discover the truth. Recommended!
— Ayah

Read because it is a delight to stick with Molly throughout her story.
Pass if you still need to read about Molly's first adventure in The Maid.
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Day by Michael Cunningham

With the precision of a miniaturist painter, Cunningham follows a New York City family over a three year period, focusing on three days: April 5th of 2019, 2020, and 2021. Though this time period corresponds with the years of Covid, the pandemic is never mentioned, but its impact is felt throughout. Isabel, a photo editor, and her husband Dan, a former singer-songwriter, live with their precocious children, Nathan and Violet, and Isabel's school teacher brother Robbie, who is getting over a romantic breakup. Isabel and Dan's floundering marriage and its effect on their children is described in poignant detail as the family members cope with changes in their lives and relationships from one year to the next. Beautifully written, both heart-breaking and hopeful, this is Cunningham at his best. Recommended.
— Alice

Read because booksellers across the country loved this book enough to add it to the November Indie Next List (us included).
Pass if you want to miss out on one of the most memorable novels of the year.
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The Frozen River by Ariel Lawhon

Set in Hallowell, Maine in 1789, the story follows midwife Martha Ballard. A local woman has accused two men of raping her and brought charges against them, when one of the men is found frozen in the river.  The story follows Martha through the investigation and trial, as she deals with the harsh reality of being a woman during that period of time and attempts to get to the truth of what happened.  Based on the true story of Martha Ballard, a midwife who delivered over one thousand babies, kept a daily diary for 27 years and preserved a snapshot of medical history that should have been lost forever.  Every character in the book is real, although the events around them were altered to condense the timeline and for narrative clarity.  An excellent and gripping read.
— Aerie

Read because this is the definition of perfect historical fiction.
Pass if you'd like to learn more about the real Martha Ballard before diving in.
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Prophet Song by Paul Lynch

A gripping, dystopian look at a near-future Ireland. Eilish, her husband Larry, and their four children live in Dublin, where a new secret police force is taking root, questioning citizens' loyalty to the country and cracking down on dissent as a new authoritarian regime emerges. As Larry is taken for questioning at the beginning of the book, Eilish is left to hold her family together and attempt to make sense of the new world they live in. Less a look at how the society collapses and the atrocities that happen, and more a look at the increased sacrifices Eilish and her family must make and how to decide when home is no longer home and how much loss can one family take before leaving is the only option. Short-listed for the Booker Prize and an important read.
— Aerie

Read if you're looking for a book to make you sit down and think.
Pass if you want to save this for your next book club suggestion.
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The Snow Hare by Paula Lichtarowicz

Lena remembers her life as she is nearing death. A very sad story of an intelligent young woman who wanted to be a doctor, but succumbs to a marriage that will hopefully provide some security. With the Russian occupation, all security is lost as she struggles to survive and hold onto hope.
— Sandra

Read if you're looking for an everything-else-in-the-world-melts-away kind of reading experience.
Pass if you get jealous of expert storytellers.
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Adult Nonfiction

Gator Country by Rebecca Renner

Blending investigative journalism, conservation writing, and personal recollections of the author’s life in the Everglades, Gator Country is an engrossing this-could-only-happen-in-Florida yarn. The book’s main thread follows the astonishing true story of an undercover wildlife agent who broke up a sophisticated alligator-poaching ring. Layered throughout that tense narrative, Renner weaves in a compassionate exploration of changing conservation practices, regional folklore around poachers and lawmen, and the murky morals that arise when poaching, conservation, and law enforcement intertwine. Come for the glow-in-the-dark gators, stay for the thought-provoking questions about environmentalism, land stewardship, and the desperate choices people must make in order to survive.
— Noah

Read because this is a page-turner in the vein of The Orchid Thief.
Pass if you're currently being chased by a gator. Zig-zags!
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