Fiction

Novelists are willing to explore the challenges and dilemmas of aging to create a wide array of interesting, mature protagonists and the issues they face at midlife and beyond. Our choices in contemporary fiction feature complex characters and encompass themes that are timeless and ageless, which can provide insight about the people we know or suggest what lies ahead for our future selves.

  • Mrs. Quinn’s Rise to Fame Posted in: Arts, Families, Fiction, Midlife Crossings

    By Olivia Ford – Pamela Dorman Books, 2024

    Jenny Quinn is a 77-year-old, happily married, childless woman who feels a sense of incompleteness in her life. She craves a legacy and a chance to step outside her comfort zone. She secretly applies to be a contestant on the hit baking show “Britain Bakes” and is delighted to be chosen for the show, which throws her into the world of competitive baking and reality TV, forcing her to confront her painfully relatable anxieties and consuming self-doubt. Confessing to her husband that she misled him while her application was processing, she feels all the more in love because of his wholehearted support. This should make her feel good, but instead it reminds her of a decades-old secret that could destroy her marriage. 

    What makes this coming-of-(older)-age novel truly special is Jenny’s journey. She discovers new passions, learns the importance of embracing new people and experiences and bakes her way into the hearts of readers. If the heartwarming story and the mouthwatering descriptions of baked goods aren’t enough to entice you, all the recipes are included.

  • Nosy Neighbors Posted in: Arts, Fiction, Friendships

    By Freya Sampson – Berkley, 2024

    The now-shabby Shelley House—a six-flat, historic dwelling outside of London—has seen better days but has survived for 133 years. Pink-haired, 25-year-old Kat Bennett is the newest tenant to call it home—while illegally subletting from Joseph Chambers in Flat 1. Cantankerous Dorothy Darling lives in Flat 2. At 77, she is the self-appointed watchdog who writes down everything that happens at Shelley House, notes all the needed repairs and inserts herself into everyone’s business. She and Kat are sworn enemies. As a matter of fact, for someone so involved in everyone’s lives, Dorothy doesn’t seem to like anyone very much. The other tenants are widower Omar and his daughter, Ayesha; a nameless tenant who blasts music and hosts late-night parties; Tomas and his pit bull, Princess; and Gloria, who continues to date unsuitable men. When the building’s owner announces his plans to evict everyone so he can build a new apartment complex on the site, can this group put their differences aside to save Shelley House? 

  • The Dinner Lady Detectives Posted in: Arts, Fiction, Mysteries and Thrillers

    By Hannah Hendy – Canelo, 2022

    Do you enjoy a cozy mystery? In this first book in a series, we meet Margery and Clementine, two women in their 60s who are dinner ladies (or lunch ladies) at the local school in the small, neighborly (read: gossipy) town of Dewstow. When Caroline, the cafeteria manager, is found dead in the freezer, Margery and Clementine are determined to solve the case, even though the (incompetent, lazy) police are convinced it was an accident.

    The women are a mismatched pair, but they make a good team. Margery is a former police officer, sharp as a tack, while Clementine, a former office worker, is a more laid-back and eccentric character, often a sourpuss. All of the school employees are suspects—was it the millennial who practices alternative medicine or the coworker arrested for shoplifting a hunk of cheese? With only their intuition and a single earring to go on, the dinner ladies go down several rabbit holes, often at their own peril, before they solve the murder.

    The Dinner Lady Detectives is a charming series. We love the resourcefulness of the women, who are always relatable. The novel is full of humor, suspense and heart, leaving us guessing until the end and looking forward to the next installment.

  • The Night of Many Endings Posted in: Arts, Curmudgeons and Other Eccentric Characters, Fiction, Midlife Crossings

    By Melissa Payne – Lake Union Publishing, 2021

    Bibliophiles everywhere may dream of being snowed in at a library, but that’s not true in the small town of Silver Ridge, CO, where kind-hearted librarian Nora has allowed, even encouraged, the unhoused and unfortunate to spend time in the building. 

    Marlene works part time at the library; she’s older, bitter and widowed. She’s there when a snowstorm traps her, along with Nora and three others. Marlene has strong feelings about overly kind people, drug addicts, homeless people, and the younger generation—and here she is, stuck with sweet Nora, troubled teen Jasmine, homeless drug addict Lewis and security guard Vlado. 

    Marlene feels she sacrificed throughout her life without question, forfeiting a promising future out of a sense of duty to her parents. Now, after marrying in later life and losing her great love, she finds herself in the cold, dark library realizing how little she knows of her co-workers and neighbors. Despite being convinced she’s too old to change, she hears her late husband, Charlie’s, voice telling her to give people a chance, reminding her to be kind. By the time the snow clears, Marlene has a different outlook on life.

  • And Then There’s Margaret: The Perfect Laugh Out Loud Dramedy  Posted in: Arts, Fiction, Humor, Midlife Crossings

    By Carolyn Clarke — Black Rose Writing, 2022

    When we meet Allie Montgomery, she’s suffering a midlife crisis: her kids are older, her daughter may drop out of college, her husband is always working and she’s lost her passion for teaching. She’s signing up for a gym membership when she learns that her beloved father-in-law has died. George was her sounding board and confidante. He leaves behind his septuagenarian wife, Margaret, whom Allie finds self-absorbed, selfish, manipulative and controlling. When Margaret moves in “temporarily,” she criticizes everything Allie does, making it abundantly clear that, as far as she’s concerned, Allie is not good enough for her husband, Hank.

    Margaret turns Allie’s life upside down: rearranges furniture, commandeers the kitchen and even secretly funds the college daughter’s bad decisions. At wit’s end, Allie has an encounter with Margaret that changes how they interact and Allie sees her path more clearly: she needs to let go of her anger toward Margaret and claim her dreams. Will Margaret support her or thwart her? While Margaret’s behavior is dreadful, and Allie doesn’t set boundaries, there are times when both women are relatable, for better or worse. A family tale that makes us laugh and think about our own relationships.

  • The Last List of Mabel Beaumont Posted in: Arts, Fiction, Friendships, Widows and Widowers, Women’s Lives

    By Laura Pearson – Boldwood Books, 2023

    Mabel Beaumont is an 86-year-old widow who has just lost her husband of 62 years. Arthur was a good man, who loved Mabel unconditionally. And though his wife was not affectionate, their marriage was one of mutual respect. Arthur habitually made lists for everything from shopping to love notes and died with an unfinished list: Find D. Mabel knows he means for her to find her long-lost, best friend, Dot. Mabel starts a list of her own. Soon, and very much out of character, Mabel makes friends of all ages, all of whom appear to have problems Mabel can solve (with a bit of meddling), and thus her list grows. Things rarely go as she hopes, but the women all offer their different skills to help reconnect Mabel and Dot. This relatable novel is told in Mabel’s voice, capturing the emotions, wisdom and regrets of an older woman dealing with loneliness, vulnerability and feelings of invisibility. She must get beyond what’s been holding her back all her life and live with joy, as she’s learned from her new friends. And now, nothing will get in her way. Put this one on your list.

  • The Librarianist Posted in: Arts, Fiction, Friendships

    By Patrick deWitt – Ecco, 2023

    Bob Comet is a retired librarian and lifelong introvert. We meet Bob in his 70s, living a solitary life in Portland, Oregon. He is divorced and has no close friends or family. His only real passion is books and he spends his days reading, rereading and organizing his vast collection.

    When Bob encounters a confused older woman, lost in a market, he helps her find her way home, a senior center. Inspired by the sense of community at the center, he begins volunteering there. Through his interactions with the residents, Bob starts to heal from his past and find a new sense of purpose in his life. He also learns the importance of friendship, community and the power of stories.

    This is a hopeful story about the power of books to connect us with others and to help us find meaning in our lives.

     

  • The Mostly True Story of Tanner and Louise Posted in: Arts, Fiction, Friendships

    By Colleen Oakley – Berkeley, 2023

    This heartwarming, funny novel tells the intergenerational tale of Tanner Quimby, a 21-year-old, adrift, college dropout struggling to find her place in the world, and 84-year-old Louise Wilt, recently incapacitated after a fall and hiding a secret past. Tanner’s parents ask her to move out at the same time Louise’s adult children realize their mother can’t manage alone. Tanner is hired as Louise’s caretaker, a position neither woman is happy about. Tanner is intelligent, funny and kind but struggles for self-esteem. Louise is a wise, compassionate woman with a snarky streak and criminal history. As they get to know each other—and try to outrun law enforcement in an interstate adventure—they learn they have more in common than they thought. They both regret their pasts and feel the need to tie up some loose ends. Theirs is a story about friendship, forgiveness and second chances, and it will stay with you long after you close the book.

  • The One Hundred Years of Lenni and Margot Posted in: Arts, Fiction, Friendships, Mortality

    By Marianne Cronin – Harper 2021

    Lenni and Margot are two terminally ill women who meet in a hospital art therapy class. Lenni is 17 with osteosarcoma, while Margot is 83 with leukemia. Both alone in the world, they realize that together they’ve lived 100 years. They make a pact to paint a series of portraits representing pivotal moments from their lives. These paintings become a way for them to reflect on their pasts, to come to terms with their mortality and to create a lasting legacy. Their story is told in alternating chapters from Lenni’s and Margot’s perspectives. Lenni is full of quirky observations and a gallows sense of humor. Margot’s chapters are more reflective as she shares her memories of a long and eventful life. The novel is packed with wisdom and compassion, reflecting the preciousness of life and the enduring human spirit. The end comes too soon.

     

  • Old Babes in the Wood Posted in: Arts, Fiction, Short Story Collections

    By Margaret Atwood — Doubleday, 2023

    This is a short story collection by the renowned Canadian author and ardent feminist Margaret Atwood—you are likely familiar with her speculative fiction novel, The Handmaid’s Tale (1985). These new stories portray a world of unique characters, strange places and unusual situations, often set in the future. But while some may be set in a dystopia, these tales contain relevant themes: cancel culture, state control over women’s bodies, and pandemics, to name a few. 

    “The Age of Lead” tells the tale of a young woman named Iris, who is struggling to come to terms with her father’s death. The story is a moving and powerful exploration of grief, loss and the search for meaning. “My Evil Mother” is a dark, funny story about a young woman discovering that her mother is a witch. “The Sea King” is a beautifully written yarn about a woman who falls in love with a sea creature.

    Older women narrate; some are widows and one is terminally ill. They explore memory, loss and commitment to family over time. Old Babes in the Wood is a masterful showcase of Atwood’s brilliant writing and storytelling abilities. It’s a must-read for any fan of the author or anyone who enjoys thought-provoking and imaginative fiction.

     

  • The Vibrant Years Posted in: Arts, Families, Fiction

    By Sonali Dev—Mindy’s Book Studio, 2022

    This is a tale of three generations of unfulfilled women trying to discover their best selves and earn the respect they deserve. Bindu Desai has come into a million-dollar inheritance, one that threatens to expose a secret past. Nevertheless, the 65-year-old splurges on a fabulous condo and begins stirring up all sorts of mischief with several bachelors and the homeowners association. Bindu is close with her daughter-in-law, Aly, an underappreciated news anchor, who, at age 47, is competing for jobs with younger colleagues. Aly’s daughter, Cullie, is desperately trying to stay in the IT game when she pitches a half-baked idea of a dating app. When she pulls Bindu and Aly into her research, the results are pure comedy. Told by alternating narrators, this novel is life-affirming and fun. You’ll root for each woman to find what she so desires.

     

  • Killers of a Certain Age Posted in: Arts, Fiction, Mysteries and Thrillers

    By Deanna Raybourn – Berkley, 2022

    Touted as “Golden Girls meet James Bond,” this thriller opens with four women in their 60s celebrating retirement from The Museum, where they’ve worked for 40 years. Only, The Museum is a euphemism for a covert agency of elite, hired assassins, ridding the world of despicable war criminals, former Nazis, child traffickers and the like. It’s not a job that offers a retirement package, something the ladies—code name, the Sphinxes—realize when they become aware that former coworkers are trying to kill them. 

    Billie, Mary Alice, Helen and Natalie are exceedingly wise women who know too much, and The Museum leadership wants company secrets to die with these assassins. Naturally, the Sphinxes are not about to put down their weapons and go quietly into the night.

    The story does an excellent job of showing how older women can be invisible, underestimated and often disrespected in the workplace. Having only each other and their experience to rely on, Billie, Mary Alice, Helen, and Natalie are about to show The Museum that they’ve messed with the wrong retirees. 

     

  • We Spread Posted in: Arts, Fiction, Mysteries and Thrillers

    By Iain Reid – Gallery/Scout Press, 2022

    Penny is an uninspired artist who has lived in the same apartment for decades. It’s full of her memories and collections. One day, to her surprise, she is moved to a long term care facility by her building manager after she suffers a few “incidents” attributed to her advanced years. She resists the idea that she and her late, longtime partner decided together to move there if one of them passed before the other. The facility is a private dwelling converted to accommodate six older residents in a family-like setting. At first, it is comforting, down to the chairs, bed and bedding, and the atmosphere inspires Penny to work. But she begins to sense that all is not right here: Can she trust the staff? Is she being drugged? As she begins to lose her grip on reality—why can’t she go outside or bathe alone?—Penny is left to wonder if what she is experiencing is just the result of aging or something far more nefarious. Her internal dialogue makes her so relatable. Who among us hasn’t been afraid that we’re losing our mind? Playing on our fears about death and dying, dementia and loss of control, the care home itself becomes villainous in its mystery. This is a psychological thriller that will pull you in.

  • Remarkably Bright Creatures Posted in: Arts, Curmudgeons and Other Eccentric Characters, Families, Fiction

    By Shelby Van Pelt — Ecco, 2022

    Tova is a widow in her 70s, coping with the mysterious loss of her teen son, Erik. To distract herself from her losses, Tova takes a job as a cleaner in the local aquarium, where she communes with the creatures housed there. She becomes particularly fond of Marcellus, an aging, giant Pacific octopus, rescued and rehabilitated there. She knows he escapes and visits the other tanks, sometimes for a social call and other times for a snack. Tova keeps his secrets; Marcellus is grateful. When 30-year-old Cameron arrives, looking for the father he never knew, he takes a part-time job at the aquarium, where Tova makes him into a passable employee. While Cam settles into what feels like home for the first time, the intelligent and erudite Marcellus pieces together what happened to Tova’s son. Can the old octopus give Tova the peace she seeks before he dies? Narrated by both Marcellus and Tova, this charming story will have you longing for a trip to the nearest aquarium. 

  • Everything Must Go Posted in: Arts, Families, Fiction

    By Camille Pagán Lake Union Publishing, 2022

    Laine Francis is a professional organizer who, since childhood, has wanted to put things in order. When Laine’s own life becomes her next organizing challenge, she faces it head-on. She returns to her family home in Brooklyn from Michigan. The timing is right; she feels she can no longer stay with the baby-averse husband adored by her family; she just bade farewell to her beloved dog. Both of Laine’s sisters confide that they’ve become concerned that their mother, Sally, is slipping into dementia. Sally’s been seen going to the store in a negligee, frequently forgetting significant things, making excuses and denying her decline. The sisters confront the possibility of losing their mother to Alzheimer’s and the immense, complex care that she’ll need going forward. It’s these heartfelt conversations that make the Francis sisters endearing. They are credible characters: kind, loving and afraid for their mother’s future. Sally enjoys having Laine nearby; this closeness brings significant unburdening between mother and daughter. Sally tells Laine the truth about her marriage, and Laine realizes she had made an incorrect assumption that she held against her mother for decades. Knowing the truth allows Laine to see her mother in a positive light. When Sally finally accepts that she’ll need help, it’s another successful outcome for our organizer.

  • The Old Woman with the Knife: A Novel Posted in: Arts, Curmudgeons and Other Eccentric Characters, Fiction, Mortality, Mysteries and Thrillers, Women’s Lives

    By Gu Byeong-mo — Hanover Square Press, 2022

    It seems ageism in the workplace is rampant, even for contract killers like Horn Claw. At 65, Horn Claw knows she’s not as spry as she once was, but she still gets the job done, even as her co-workers dismiss or even bully her. Born in a small town in South Korea, then abandoned by her birth family, who couldn’t afford another child to raise, Horn Claw has little opportunity to earn a legal income, and she struggles to survive in a society that is cruel to the poor and female. When we meet her, she calls herself a “disease control specialist,” but the vermin she eliminates aren’t rats but unlucky humans, dispatched with a poison-tipped knife. She has lost a hand due to the job but keeps working; she has no friends or social life. Her work is all she knows. With her advancing years, she’s slowing down, is less accurate and is softening. An uncharacteristic sentimental act is a mistake that could prove fatal to this assassin. Will she prevail? We hope so. Gu Byeong-mo is an award-winning, South Korean author. Old Woman with the Knife is her first novel translated into English.

     

  • Oh William!: A Novel Posted in: Arts, Families, Fiction, Midlife Crossings

    By Elizabeth Strout—Random House, 2021 

    Elizabeth Strout is a favorite of ours. We loved Olive Kitteridge (2008) and My Name is Lucy Barton (2016); now we rejoin Lucy in Oh William!. Newly widowed and a successful writer in her 60s, Lucy has retained an amicable relationship with her first husband, the father of her two daughters. She accepts him now, warts and all, and the warts are not insignificant. But despite Lucy’s investigative nature, she’s yet to fully understand what makes WIlliam tick. The story develops from a newlyweds’ love through Lucy and WIlliam’s divorce over his serial philandering, to Lucy’s satisfying marriage to her second husband, while WIlliam is married and divorced twice more. Yet it’s Lucy whom William asks to join him on a road trip to Maine to investigate his vague ancestry. On the road together, both feeling vulnerable and alone, they have a chance to understand each other on new levels. Their journey is the heart of the novel—a story of regret, reflection, revelation of some surprising family secrets and, ultimately, the way love matures over time.

  • The Reading List Posted in: Arts, Families, Fiction, Friendships

    By Sara Nisha Adams–WIlliam Morrow, 2021

    Aleisha is a disaffected 17-year-old, whose life consists of caring for her mentally ill mother and working at a small library, even though she’s never been much of a reader herself. When she happens upon a scrap of paper listing book titles, “just in case you need it,” she decides to work her way through the suggestions. Weighed down by her own issues, Aleisha is rude to a library patron, Mukesh Patel, a lonely widower living in a London suburb, simply going through the motions of daily life. A dressing down by her supervisor propels Aleisha to apologize to Mukesh and make a recommendation from this secret list. The books’ magic sparks a friendship. Mukesh shares his concerns about his granddaughter Priya’s solitary life, so Aleisha suggests ways for the two to bond, including sharing the book list. But when tragedy strikes Aleisha’s family, she pulls away from the Patels and from reading altogether. Can Mukesh use the life lessons gleaned in the shared pages to bring Aleisha back from despair? The Reading List is a true, book-lover’s book. 

  • Good Eggs: A Novel Posted in: Arts, Families, Fiction

    By Rebecca Hardiman—Atria Books, 2021

    Reading Good Eggs felt like listening to an Irish auntie spin a story: a bit of blarney, with the facts sometimes lost in the details. Since her husband died, 83-year-old Millie Gogarty has been living alone. She relies heavily on her unemployed son, Kevin, who is adjusting to being a stay-at-home dad to his four active children, one a real handful. A phone call from the local police interrupts Kevin’s rare escape to the pub; could it be his rebellious teen, AIdeen? No, Millie’s been caught shoplifting—again. Millie’s release is contingent on her accepting the help of a part-time caregiver, something she’s fought tooth and nail. The story takes unexpected, often hilarious turns as these characters hope for second chances. Millie is a spunky piece of work, for certain, but she’s smart, strong-willed and cunning. This is a feel-good story to curl up with. You’ll end up rooting for the whole Gogarty family.

  • An Elderly Lady Must Not Be Crossed Posted in: Arts, Curmudgeons and Other Eccentric Characters, Fiction, Humor, Mysteries and Thrillers

    By Helene Tursten – Soho Crime, 2021 

    Add Swedish crime novelist Helene Tursten to your list of go-to Scandinavian authors alongside Fredrik Backman and Jonas Jonasson, both of whom have written books recommended in our reviews. The eponymous elderly lady is our old friend Maud, whom we met in An Elderly Lady Is Up to No Good (2018). Maud’s simple desire is to live her life her way, in peace. Surely, at 88, she’s earned that. Yet Maud, known to resolve disputes by eliminating her adversaries, is followed by misfortune—and the body count around her continues to rise. One simply should not cross Maud, nor underestimate her, nor make assumptions based on her advanced years. Is she really hard of hearing and confused, or is it part of an act to evade the police? That walking stick? It may seem to aid her mobility, but she uses it to bash anyone who gets in her way, which they continually do, at their peril. In this book, Maud is avoiding the police as she heads off on a luxury vacation to South Africa. Her vigilante spirit is revived when she witnesses the assault of a young girl in an alley. Her actions play out in six connected, comical vignettes that expose Maud as a serial killer with a diabolical mind, who will leave you asking yourself if it’s so wrong to root for the bad guy.