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NPR staff recommend the fiction books we love

AYESHA RASCOE, HOST:

If you are so inclined or reclined, any time is a good time to get lost in a book. NPR's Books We Love is a great resource for some solid reading, as recommended by our staff and contributors. Here are just a few novel ideas for you, starting with senior producer Lauren Migaki and her review of "A Merry Little Meet Cute" by Julie Murphy and Sierra Simone.

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LAUREN MIGAKI, BYLINE: Welcome to Christmas Notch, Vt., the gingerbread-scented backdrop for the Hope Channel's wholesome holiday movies. When adult film star Bee Hobbes, aka Bianca Von Honey, is accidentally cast in this year's movie, she knows she's got to keep her adult film career under wraps and get used to performing with her clothes on. Meanwhile, Bee's co-star, Nolan Shaw, is hoping to use the Lifetime-esque movie to rehab his own bad boy image. He's just got to keep his - (clearing throat) - candy cane in his pants. This holiday romance is naughty and nice and everything in between.

JASON DEROSE, BYLINE: Hello, I'm Jason DeRose, western bureau chief for NPR News. I'm recommending the young adult novel "The Complicated Calculus (And Cows) Of Carl Paulsen" by the writer Gary Eldon Peter. Carl's calculus of self-discovery is multivariable - infatuation, awkward first sex, joy, guilt, reprisal. He meets a boy at the start of high school who inspires him to act. The object of Carl's affection isn't as innocent as he lets on, which breaks Carl's heart open to the world in ways he didn't expect. The novel also breaks readers' hearts open to the lives of two high school kids navigating the complexities of loves and losses. Carl's father is a struggling dairy farmer - that's where the cows come in. He is a surprisingly gentle and generous man, softened by his own grief and uncertainties. I don't usually read YA fiction, but I love this novel because it doesn't offer solutions, only examples of living through loss and disappointment. That might be why adults read YA lit, to learn the lessons we wish we'd learned in adolescence.

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MELISSA GRAY, BYLINE: My pick put me through the ringer. I'm Melissa Gray, senior producer with Weekend Edition. And the book I'm recommending is "The Devil Takes You Home" by Gabino Iglesias. It's the story about one man's descent into hell, with violence so relentless I kept grabbing my bookmark to take a break. But I also kept coming back, unable to resist his crisp, propulsive writing. The narrator quits his honest job to become a hitman. His wife has left him after their young daughter's death. Mario is empty inside, or so he thinks, so deep is his disaffection and grief. Mario thinks he'll get a new start teaming up with two other men to hijack a drug cartel's cash shipment before it gets to Mexico. Instead, he gets a dark odyssey made even darker, and not necessarily by the beatdowns, shootings, not even that long, terrifying tunnel under the border, but by his own growing realization that he's not as morally bankrupt as he thinks he is.

ANDREW LIMBONG, BYLINE: Hey. My name is Andrew Limbong. I'm a reporter for NPR's culture desk and host of our Book Of The Day podcast. A book I loved this year was Ottessa Moshfegh's "Lapvona." OK, OK, this might be a spicy pick because there was lots of discourse around it when it first came out. But it's about this poor peasant boy named Marek in the fictional medieval town of Lapvona, and he finds himself adopted into, like, the royal family. It is vividly graphic. Moshfegh is out here writing some of the grossest stuff about, like, bodies and parts. But it's also, I think, a deeply thoughtful meditation on religion and class.

(SOUNDBITE OF JON BRION'S "STRANGE BATH")

RASCOE: You heard about "Lapvona," "The Devil Takes You Home," "The Complicated Calculus (And Cows) Of Carl Paulsen" and "A Merry Little Meet Cute." For more reading ideas, tune in next week or scroll on over to our Books We Love list at npr.org/bestbooks.

(SOUNDBITE OF JON BRION'S "STRANGE BATH") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Andrew Limbong is a reporter for NPR's Arts Desk, where he does pieces on anything remotely related to arts or culture, from streamers looking for mental health on Twitch to Britney Spears' fight over her conservatorship. He's also covered the near collapse of the live music industry during the coronavirus pandemic. He's the host of NPR's Book of the Day podcast and a frequent host on Life Kit.
Lauren Migaki is a senior producer with NPR's education desk. She helps tell stories about teacher strikes, college access and a new high school for young men in Washington D.C. She also produces and hosts NPR's podcast about the Student Podcast Challenge.
Jason DeRose is the Western Bureau Chief for NPR News, based at NPR West in Culver City. He edits news coverage from Member station reporters and freelancers in California, Washington, Oregon, Nevada, Alaska and Hawaii. DeRose also edits coverage of religion and LGBTQ issues for the National Desk.
Melissa Gray is a senior producer for All Things Considered.
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