We’ve all caught Mom snooping through our things as teenagers. But if by the off chance you noticed a book or two missing from your shelves, then you’ve got a reader on your hands. (And the best mom ever, really).
Nothing says “I love you, Mom” like gifting her with what could be her next favorite book. So I’ve hand-picked 20 books with every mom in mind that would make for great Mother’s Day presents.
(And if she’s a regular reader, keep on scrolling for an exclusive offer from Book of the Month!)
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1. Big Little Lies, Liane Moriarty
Why this book: I own an actual, physical copy of this book, though I’ve yet to read Big Little Lies myself. However, after watching the series this year, I can only imagine the book being just as addictive and enthralling as its small screen remake. This book is perfect for any mom who loves a good mystery, or stories about complex and hilariously charming women…who may or may not double as deviants. (She’ll have to read to find out!)
About the book: A murder…A tragic accident…Or just parents behaving badly? What’s indisputable is that someone is dead.
Madeline is a force to be reckoned with. She’s funny, biting, and passionate; she remembers everything and forgives no one. Celeste is the kind of beautiful woman who makes the world stop and stare but she is paying a price for the illusion of perfection. New to town, single mom Jane is so young that another mother mistakes her for a nanny. She comes with a mysterious past and a sadness beyond her years. These three women are at different crossroads, but they will all wind up in the same shocking place.
2. Year of Yes: How to Dance It Out, Stand In the Sun and Be Your Own Person, Shonda Rhimes
Why this book: My mom loves Scandal and How to Get Away with Murder, so I figured to get her this book for Mother’s Day last year as Rhimes is the show creator of both of her favorite shows. Year of Yes has a very gentle and heart-warming undertone to it. In her book, Rhimes encourages women and mothers alike to be their best selves, take risks and slow down and breathe in those little necessary moments in life. This is a great companion read for any mommy on the go.
About the book: With three hit shows on television and three children at home, the uber-talented Shonda Rhimes had lots of good reasons to say NO when an unexpected invitation arrived. Hollywood party? No. Speaking engagement? No. Media appearances? No.
And there was the side-benefit of saying No for an introvert like Shonda: nothing new to fear.
Then Shonda’s sister laid down a challenge: just for one year, try to say YES to the unexpected invitations that come your way. Shonda reluctantly agreed―and the result was nothing short of transformative. In Year of Yes, Shonda Rhimes chronicles the powerful impact saying yes had on every aspect of her life―and how we can all change our lives with one little word. Yes.
3. Gone Girl, Gillian Flynn
Why this book: If your mom is a thrill-seeker, then trust me when I tell you she will LOVE Gone Girl! This page-turner is so good that it almost kept me from graduating college (insert smirk here): I stood up every night, and in between classes (and sometimes in class) just to page through Amy Dunne’s master murder plot for weeks on end. Although I must warn you, you may want to stay on mom’s good side before, during and after she’s read it.
About the book: On a warm summer morning in North Carthage, Missouri, it is Nick and Amy Dunne’s fifth wedding anniversary. Presents are being wrapped and reservations are being made when Nick’s clever and beautiful wife disappears. Husband-of-the-Year Nick isn’t doing himself any favors with cringe-worthy daydreams about the slope and shape of his wife’s head, but passages from Amy’s diary reveal the alpha-girl perfectionist could have put anyone dangerously on edge. Under mounting pressure from the police and the media—as well as Amy’s fiercely doting parents—the town golden boy parades an endless series of lies, deceits, and inappropriate behavior. Nick is oddly evasive, and he’s definitely bitter—but is he really a killer?
4. Quicksand, Malin Persson Giolito
Why this book: If your mom loves Law & Order: SVU as much as I do, then Giolito’s Quicksand might be right up her alley. After a school shooting, Maja is accused of the onslaught and eventually convicted of slaying her boyfriend and best friend. I don’t know about you, but this sounds like a good murder mystery for Mother’s Day to me!
About the book: A mass shooting has taken place at a prep school in Stockholm’s wealthiest suburb. Eighteen-year-old Maja Norberg is charged for her involvement in the massacre that left her boyfriend and her best friend dead. She has spent nine months in jail awaiting trial. Now the time has come for her to enter the courtroom. How did Maja—popular, privileged, and a top student—become a cold-blooded killer in the eyes of the public? What did Maja do? Or is it what she failed to do that brought her here?
5. Tiny Beautiful Things: Advice on Love and Life from Dear Sugar, Cheryl Strayed
Why this book: Strayed’s writing can resonate with anybody. This woman has it all: undeniable wisdom and wit, and an affable sense of humor that just won’t quit. I read Tiny Beautiful Things earlier this year, and what I thought would be just another leisure read manifested into something unsuspectingly therapeutic. Mom will love the entries in this delightful book. Among the topics addressed include failed marriages to jilted lovers to unimaginable regret; Strayed’s organic realness will find its way into her soul one way or another.
About the book: Life can be hard: your lover cheats on you; you lose a family member; you can’t pay the bills—and it can be great: you’ve had the hottest sex of your life; you get that plum job; you muster the courage to write your novel. Sugar—the once-anonymous online columnist at The Rumpus, now revealed as Cheryl Strayed, author of the bestselling memoir Wild—is the person thousands turn to for advice.
6. Salvage the Bones, Jesmyn Ward
Why this book: August, 2005: In the days preceding the torrent that would be Hurricane Katrina, 15-year-old Esch, unexpectedly pregnant and awfully relatable in the way of unrequited love, her widowed intoxicated father and three brothers—Skeetah, Randall, and Junior—salvage what they can to survive the storm stalking the denizens of Bois Sauvage, Mississippi. As someone who just recently closed the final pages of Ward’s National Book Award-winning novel, believe me when I say Ward’s writing does no wrong in Salvage the Bones.
Electrified with poetry and rebounding deftness, this book will keep Mom biting at the nails all the way through.
About the book: A hurricane is building over the Gulf of Mexico, threatening the coastal town of Bois Sauvage, Mississippi, and Esch’s father is growing concerned. A hard drinker, largely absent, he doesn’t show concern for much else. Esch and her three brothers are stocking food, but there isn’t much to save. Lately, Esch can’t keep down what food she gets; she’s fourteen and pregnant. Her brother Skeetah is sneaking scraps for his prized pitbull’s new litter, dying one by one in the dirt. Meanwhile, brothers Randall and Junior try to stake their claim in a family long on child’s play and short on parenting.
7. Never Let Me Go, Kazuo Ishiguro
Why this book: If Mom is a sucker for romance with a teary-eyed twist, gift her Ishiguro’s most harrowing tale, Never Let Me Go about a love triangle gone awry in this dystopian classic. Three friends, also lovers, are capsized by an unspeakable reality as they learn their existence is more experimental than anything else.
About the book: As children, Kathy, Ruth, and Tommy were students at Hailsham, an exclusive boarding school secluded in the English countryside. It was a place of mercurial cliques and mysterious rules where teachers were constantly reminding their charges of how special they were. Now, years later, Kathy is a young woman. Ruth and Tommy have reentered her life, and for the first time she is beginning to look back at their shared past and understand just what it is that makes them special—and how that gift will shape the rest of their time together.
8. The Death of Bees, Lisa O’Donnell
Why this book: If she loves stories about friendship and sisterhood, get her O’Donnell’s evocative novel The Death of Bees. Despite being admittedly indifferent to books about family, there’s something special about Izzy and Gene’s having to navigate the real world after the sudden and inexplicable death of their parents that really kept me interested. There’s also the inclusion of a powerful and endearing LGBT character who moves the plot in such a humane way that it nearly brought me to tears. (Okay, it did bring me to tears.)
About the book: Today is Christmas Eve. Today is my birthday. Today I am fifteen. Today I buried my parents in the backyard. Neither of them were beloved.
Marnie and her little sister Nelly are on their own now. Only they know what happened to their parents, Izzy and Gene, and they aren’t telling. While life in Glasgow’s Hazlehurst housing estate isn’t grand, they do have each other. Besides, it’s only one year until Marnie will be considered an adult and can legally take care of them both.
As the new year comes and goes, Lennie, the old man next door, realizes that his young neighbors are alone and need his help. Or does he need theirs? But he’s not the only one who suspects something isn’t right. Soon, the sisters’ friends, their other neighbors, the authorities, and even Gene’s nosy drug dealer begin to ask questions. As one lie leads to another, dark secrets about the girls’ family surface, creating complications that threaten to tear them apart.
9. Tell the Wolves I’m Home, Carol Rifka Brunt
Why this book: Here’s another family tale to bring on the waterworks. While I’ve yet to touch the book myself, I’ve heard nothing but great things about June’s painful awakening. Brunt gives excellent purview on how the AIDS epidemic plagued and claimed the lives of many men in the LGBTQ community, but also sheds light on the importance of love, in all its variations, that any mom will enjoy.
About the book: 1987. There’s only one person who has ever truly understood fourteen-year-old June Elbus, and that’s her uncle, the renowned painter Finn Weiss. Shy at school and distant from her older sister, June can only be herself in Finn’s company; he is her godfather, confidant, and best friend. So when he dies, far too young, of a mysterious illness her mother can barely speak about, June’s world is turned upside down. But Finn’s death brings a surprise acquaintance into June’s life—someone who will help her to heal, and to question what she thinks she knows about Finn, her family, and even her own heart.
At Finn’s funeral, June notices a strange man lingering just beyond the crowd. A few days later, she receives a package in the mail. Inside is a beautiful teapot she recognizes from Finn’s apartment, and a note from Toby, the stranger, asking for an opportunity to meet. As the two begin to spend time together, June realizes she’s not the only one who misses Finn, and if she can bring herself to trust this unexpected friend, he just might be the one she needs the most.
10. Still Alice, Lisa Genova
Why this book: Everyone ages. But the fear of losing your memory earlier than you imagined is a scary thought for anyone. Unfortunately, this is the case for Alice Howard. These are the conditions she, as well as those who love her, must surmount in Genova’s beautiful portrait of the strength of a family. This book is as enlightening as it is heartbreaking, but overall, it’s a necessary reflection of how the little things in life should never be taken for granted.
About the book: Alice Howland is proud of the life she worked so hard to build. At fifty years old, she’s a cognitive psychology professor at Harvard and a world-renowned expert in linguistics with a successful husband and three grown children. When she becomes increasingly disoriented and forgetful, a tragic diagnosis changes her life—and her relationship with her family and the world—forever.
11. One Day We’ll All Be Dead and None of This Will Matter, Scaachi Koul
Why this book: Koul is pretty fucking hilarious in her debut essay collection, ODWABDANOTWM. Mom will find it hard to resist the feels and the laughter after reading through stories about the author’s most embarrassing reflections on unrequited love to fears of flying to the immigrant experience. Also, would highly recommend if mom is a fan of The Office.
About the book: Scaachi deploys her razor-sharp humor to share her fears, outrages and mortifying experiences as an outsider growing up in Canada. Her subjects range from shaving her knuckles in grade school, to a shopping trip gone horribly awry, to dealing with internet trolls, to feeling out of place at an Indian wedding (as an Indian woman), to parsing the trajectory of fears and anxieties that pressed upon her immigrant parents and bled down a generation. Alongside these personal stories are pointed observations about life as a woman of color, where every aspect of her appearance is open for critique, derision or outright scorn. Where strict gender rules bind in both Western and Indian cultures, forcing her to confront questions about gender dynamics, racial tensions, ethnic stereotypes and her father’s creeping mortality—all as she tries to find her feet in the world.
12. Another Brooklyn, Jacqueline Woodson
Why this book: I cried a few times while reading Another Brooklyn and I nearly read it in one sitting had it not been for required rest. (Ha!) Nonetheless, Woodson’s book is a magnificent depiction of urban upbringing as a black girl in Brooklyn, New York, but also an amazing portrayal of how frayed friendships in our childhood shape us into the people we’ve become. Take my word for it: Mom will love this transformative tale.
About the book: Running into a long-ago friend sets memories from the 1970s in motion for August, transporting her to a time and a place where friendship was everything—until it wasn’t. For August and her girls, sharing confidences as they ambled through neighborhood streets, Brooklyn was a place where they believed that they were beautiful, talented, brilliant—a part of a future that belonged to them.
But beneath the hopeful veneer, there was another Brooklyn, a dangerous place where grown men reached for innocent girls in dark hallways, where ghosts haunted the night, where mothers disappeared. A world where madness was just a sunset away and fathers found hope in religion.
13. The Power, Naomi Alderman
Why this book: If Mom loves dystopian fiction with a likeness to The Handmaid’s Tale, give her Alderman’s The Power. She may find herself nose-deep into this book due to its shocking contrasts that aren’t too far off from the latter. Also, girls in this book are able to channel electrity to their advantage, which only makes this book that more exciting of a read!
About the book: In The Power, the world is a recognizable place: there’s a rich Nigerian kid who lurks around the family pool; a foster girl whose religious parents hide their true nature; a local American politician; a tough London girl from a tricky family. But something vital has changed, causing their lives to converge with devastating effect. Teenage girls now have immense physical power – they can cause agonizing pain and even death. And, with this small twist of nature, the world changes utterly.
14. Homegoing, Yaa Gyasi
Why this book: Homegoing is a masterful debut about two half-sisters, Effia and Esi, one sold into slavery and the other to a British slaver, whose stories are told through their respective generations. Even if Mom doesn’t like historical fiction, I can attest that Gyasi’s chronicling slavery and all its untold narratives will keep her eyes glued to these pages.
About the book: Two half sisters, Effia and Esi, are born into different villages in eighteenth-century Ghana. Effia is married off to an Englishman and lives in comfort in the palatial rooms of Cape Coast Castle. Unbeknownst to Effia, her sister, Esi, is imprisoned beneath her in the castle’s dungeons, sold with thousands of others into the Gold Coast’s booming slave trade, and shipped off to America, where her children and grandchildren will be raised in slavery. One thread of Homegoing follows Effia’s descendants through centuries of warfare in Ghana, as the Fante and Asante nations wrestle with the slave trade and British colonization. The other thread follows Esi and her children into America. From the plantations of the South to the Civil War and the Great Migration, from the coal mines of Pratt City, Alabama, to the jazz clubs and dope houses of twentieth-century Harlem, right up through the present day, Homegoing makes history visceral, and captures, with singular and stunning immediacy, how the memory of captivity came to be inscribed in the soul of a nation.
15. A Walk to Remember, Nicholas Sparks
Why this book: Sparks is a no-brainer on this list. Though most people would recognize the kingpin of romance fiction for his most profitable work, The Notebook, I would argue that A Walk to Remember was just as appealing. In short, it’s about a boy named Landon who falls in love with a quiet girl named Jamie, unbeknownst that she is terminally ill. Another tear-jerker, yes, but a damn good one if your mom loves romances.
About the book: Every April, when the wind blows from the sea and mingles with the scent of lilacs, Landon Carter remembers his last year at Beaufort High. It was 1958, and Landon had already dated a girl or two. He even swore that he had once been in love. Certainly, the last person in town he thought he’d fall for was Jamie Sullivan, the daughter of the town’s Baptist minister.
A quiet girl who always carried a Bible with her schoolbooks, Jamie seemed content living in a world apart from the other teens. She took care of her widowed father, rescued hurt animals, and helped out at the local orphanage. No boy had ever asked her out. Landon would never have dreamed of it.
Then a twist of fate made Jamie his partner for the homecoming dance, and Landon Carter’s life would never be the same. Being with Jamie would show him the depths of the human heart and lead him to a decision so stunning it would send him irrevocably on the road to manhood…
16. Single, Carefree, Mellow, Katherine Heiny
Why this book: Love affairs are not justified in this awesome short story collection, but the experiences leading up to them certainly is. I loved reading each and every one of Heiny’s heroines in this book, and it’s a very human portrait of how flawed we are as lovers, as friends, as people. Nonetheless, it’s only a matter of time before Mom falls in love with the array of complex women pulsing between these pages.
About the book: Maya is in love with both her boyfriend and her boss. Sadie’s lover calls her as he drives to meet his wife at marriage counseling. Gwen pines for her roommate, a man who will hold her hand but then tells her that her palm is sweaty. And Sasha agrees to have a drink with her married lover’s wife and then immediately regrets it. These are the women of Single, Carefree, Mellow, and in these eleven sublime stories they are grappling with unwelcome houseguests, disastrous birthday parties, needy but loyal friends, and all manner of love, secrets, and betrayal.
17. The Girls, Emma Cline
Why this book: If she likes true crime, get her Cline’s acclaimed debut novel that shook the summer last year. In The Girls, Evie Boyd remembers her strange fixation with a cult of girls, but one in particular: Suzanne, all black-haired and wide-eyed. A recollection with an alarming likeness to Charles Manson’s family of females, don’t be surprised if she finishes this book in one sitting.
About the book: Northern California, during the violent end of the 1960s. At the start of summer, a lonely and thoughtful teenager, Evie Boyd, sees a group of girls in the park, and is immediately caught by their freedom, their careless dress, their dangerous aura of abandon. Soon, Evie is in thrall to Suzanne, a mesmerizing older girl, and is drawn into the circle of a soon-to-be infamous cult and the man who is its charismatic leader. Hidden in the hills, their sprawling ranch is eerie and run down, but to Evie, it is exotic, thrilling, charged—a place where she feels desperate to be accepted. As she spends more time away from her mother and the rhythms of her daily life, and as her obsession with Suzanne intensifies, Evie does not realize she is coming closer and closer to unthinkable violence, and to that moment in a girl’s life when everything can go horribly wrong.
18. Everything I Never Told You, Celeste Ng
Why this book: Everything begins and ends with Lydia, who turns up dead and afloat in a nearby lake. When her parents, Marilyn and James, come to realize the sudden and mysterious fate of their daughter, a flood of secrets rush in to threaten their union. Woefully engaging and difficult to put down, Ng’s debut novel carries a mystery with it that will stick with Mom forever.
About the book: So begins this exquisite novel about a Chinese American family living in 1970s small-town Ohio. Lydia is the favorite child of Marilyn and James Lee, and her parents are determined that she will fulfill the dreams they were unable to pursue. But when Lydia’s body is found in the local lake, the delicate balancing act that has been keeping the Lee family together is destroyed, tumbling them into chaos.
19. The Rainbow Comes and Goes: A Mother and Son On Life, Love, and Loss, Anderson Cooper and Gloria Vanderbilt
Why this book: The intimate e-mails Cooper exchanges with his mother, the legendary Gloria Vanderbilt, are heartfelt, humble and beautiful. This book is the perfect gift to give if you’re a real Momma’s Boy. So endearing and so vulnerable are the pages within The Rainbow Comes and Goes that it reads so much like an epic poem. Written just for her.
About the book: Though Anderson Cooper has always considered himself close to his mother, his intensely busy career as a journalist for CNN and CBS affords him little time to spend with her. After she suffers a brief but serious illness at the age of ninety-one, they resolve to change their relationship by beginning a year-long conversation unlike any they had ever had before. The result is a correspondence of surprising honesty and depth in which they discuss their lives, the things that matter to them, and what they still want to learn about each other.
Both a son’s love letter to his mother and an unconventional mom’s life lessons for her grown son, The Rainbow Comes and Goes offers a rare window into their close relationship and fascinating life stories, including their tragedies and triumphs. In these often humorous and moving exchanges, they share their most private thoughts and the hard-earned truths they’ve learned along the way. In their words their distinctive personalities shine through—Anderson’s journalistic outlook on the world is a sharp contrast to his mother’s idealism and unwavering optimism.
20. The Underground Railroad, Colson Whitehead
Why this book: In the same vein as Homegoing and Salvage the Bones, Whitehead’s heralded Pulitzer Prize-winning novel that reimagines the Underground Railroad as an actual slave’s transport north, where freedom awaits them. But in the midst of this excruciating journey lies an active pursuit for our protagonist, Cora, and her accomplices. Mom won’t be able to pull away from this gripping tale, and why would she?
About the book: Cora is a slave on a cotton plantation in Georgia. Life is hellish for all the slaves but especially bad for Cora; an outcast even among her fellow Africans, she is coming into womanhood – where even greater pain awaits. When Caesar, a recent arrival from Virginia, tells her about the Underground Railroad, they decide to take a terrifying risk and escape. Matters do not go as planned and, though they manage to find a station and head north, they are being hunted.
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