This year we have seen some amazing fiction hit the shelves. From books that tell the unusual story of an elderly man who upon the death of his wife and finding an unusual charm bracelet among her things, decides to set out on a worldwide quest to discover the truth about the woman he spent a lifetime with (The Curious Charms of Arthur Pepper), to the singular relationship between a man and an eight year old girl whose existence is surrounded by the violent world of drug rings and abuse (All the Ugly and Wonderful Things). For many reasons 2016 has us wishing for either a do-over, or the anticipation to see it already gone. One thing we can’t deny though is that this year has been a glorious one for fiction. But also for book covers.
Yes, no one really thinks about the book covers. The painstaking work carried out by designers to figure out the perfect cover for each book. Of course we don’t want to judge a book solely by its cover, but the truth of the matter is that quite often, we’re attracted to a book and gravitate towards it in the bookstore not necessarily because we know its good, but because we’re its beautiful or unusual cover catches our eye. The absolutely greatest thing though, is when a book not only has a magnificent cover, but it also turns out to be a mind-blowing read. It’s similar to finding out that the person we’re attracted to is not just physically good-looking, but they’re also blessed with intelligence, a beseeching personality, and pays extraordinary attention to details.
So drum-roll please. The following are the top best and most beautiful book covers of this year’s fiction, that also happen to be some of the best books of the year. So consider yourself lucky, because with these reads you have found yourself a perfect match.
Cruel Beautiful World (Cover by: Kimberly Glyder, Algonquin Books) by Caroline Leavitt will astonish you, and it’s not just Leavitt’s hypnotic prose or her talent for maneuvering multiple points of view, while keeping all of them equally enthralling; this story grasps you firmly by the hand and doesn’t let go until the very last page, leaving the reader with sparks of hope but also a great sadness. When sixteen-year-old Lucy disappears on the last day of school with a much older man, she leaves her sister Charlotte with a lot of unanswered questions. The cover leaves no doubt to Lucy’s innocence and angelic beauty, but it’s also an open door for an enticing puzzle: who was Lucy really?
Beatriz Williams’s novels are always graced with astounding covers, but A Certain Age (Cover by: Mumtaz Mustafa, Harper Collins) is the best one yet. The story of a society woman, Theresa Marshall and her much younger lover during Prohibition-era Manhattan is framed perfectly by the backdrop of a New York landmark and a woman who despite her fashionable dress and astounding beauty, seems to be yearning for something she can’t have. Williams is one of the best writers of historical fiction, and does the unforgettable era of the Jazz Age a world of justice with this novel.
The cover of Anton Disclafani’s The After Party (Cover by: Jaya Miceli, Penguin Random House) is not just gorgeous, but it speaks volumes of a woman who is not only beautiful but is also completely aware of her own sexuality and not at all afraid to show it. While Disclafani’s novel is not entirely historical fiction, it’s an amazingly accurate depiction of 1950s Houston along with the socialites and debutantes that graced the society pages of local papers. Joan Fortier and her best friend Cece Buchanan are both raised within the protection and distinction of money and family name. But when Joan rebels from what society expects of her, Cece is torn between fierce loyalty and love for her friend or for once, having to live her own life away from Joan.
If we could frame this cover and have it displayed as a central art piece in our living room, we would. The cerulean blue of Stephanie Gangi’s The Next (Cover by: Olga Grlic, St. Martin’s Press) is not only jaw-dropping but completely appropriate considering the novel’s central topic because Joanna DeAngelis, the main character is dying painfully, and not just from the cancer eating away at her. Joanna is also ridden with a maimed heart, destroyed when her younger lover left her for another woman while she was battling her life-threatening illness. Joanna does eventually die, but she’s frustratingly unable to move on to the next stage, whichever that may be; instead, she’s stuck here on Earth as a restless spirit, watching the people in her life continue without her. But soon Joanna begins to see the advantage of going about undetected, weightless and disembodied. She gleefully and rather wickedly decides to give her ex-lover Ned a much overdue dose of payback.
A beautiful young girl fragmented into several mismatched pieces is the best description for Eimear McBride’s The Lesser Bohemians (Cover by: Oliver Munday. Jacket Art: (Botanical illustration) Malcolm Park/Getty Images; (portrait of girl) Stuart Brill/Millennium Images Ltd. Penguin Random House.) Eighteen-year-old Eily moves from a small Irish town to London with dreams of becoming an actress. But as young as Eily is, she has plenty of demons which she constantly carries with her in a history of unfulfilling and troubled relationships. But one night in a bar she meets Stephen, a man in his forties and also an actor who’s had a very troubled life of his own. As Eily and Stephen begin to fall in love, they suddenly realize that their turbulent past may not allow them to have a future.
The beautiful thing about this cover is not just the vintage photograph in sepia, but also the visible innocence of the young girl whose eyes we can’t really see. This is Birdie, one of the central characters in Rae Meadows’s I Will Send Rain, (Cover by: David Shoemaker, Henry Holt.) which takes place during the Dust Bowl in Oklahoma. Despite her youth, Birdie wants nothing more than to leave the rural town where she’s lived all her live and go in search of bigger and better things. But one impulsive act will alter her whole existence and eventually that of those around her.
The other members of Birdie’s family are dealing with their own complications; Annie, Birdie’s mother, is restless when she realizes she is attracted to a man who isn’t her husband that also desires her in return. Samuel, Birdie’s father is convinced that God appears in his dreams, instructing him to make an arc for an impending flood. As he strains to do what he thinks is God’s will, Samuel is blind to how his unquestionable faith is breaking his family, specially his marriage to Annie; Fred, Birdie’s younger brother who is perpetually plagued with a breathing disorder due to the dust, one day sees something which will weigh heavily on his heart and make him question what he thought he knew about his family.
The woman on the cover isn’t enthralling just because of the bright green clothing. What makes Tracy Barone’s Happy Family (Cover by: Lauren Harms, cover painting by M. Wehmer; Hachette Book Group, Inc.) a gorgeous cover is not only the hand-painted texture but also the woman’s head thrown back in..what? Despair, hopelessness, sadness, exhaustion, pleasure? The boldness and vulnerability of Barone’s protagonist Cheri Matzner, who has more baggage than an airline carrier, is represented to the hilt in the book’s cover.
Look at the image placed above what seems to be a railing: two people standing next to each other, not really together but not completely apart either. Now look at the image below; the same couple, whose previous placement (she on the left, he on the right) is now inverted, are kissing tentatively surrounded by the same yellow-hued cloud as the more distant couple. If you think the book is about different lives, then you’re right. In The Versions of Us (Cover by: Michaela Sullivan, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt) by Laura Barnett, Jim and Eva accidentally meet in 1958 Cambridge. This is the story of that meeting, or rather three different versions of it. In what first seems a typical “boy meets girl” plot, Barnett cleverly spins this around by weaving it together with the eternal question: “What if?”
There you have them. The final list for the best book covers that have graced the shelves this year. But these books also tell captivating stories that render them unforgettable, telling of heartbreak, broken marriages which are mended again, unexpected love, betrayal, friendship, parallel lives, fractured families, sisters, revenge,and love and death. These books are most certainly not just a pretty face.
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