Categories
Book Recommendations Libraries List

Happy Valentine’s Day!

Some holiday reading . . .

50 States of Love

“From sea to shining sea, here’s a tour of unforgettable fiction that explores matters of the heart.”

125 Books We Love

As the New York Public Library celebrates its 125th anniversary, “125 Books We Love honors all the books from the past 125 years that made us fall in love with reading.”

Happy reading!

Categories
Book Recommendations List

The Best of 2019: The Top 10 Book Lists of the Year

I swore that I was through with “Best Books of 2019” lists. But then the folks at Off the Shelf hit me with this post:

The Best of 2019: The Top 10 Book Lists of the Year

Ah, the thematic book list. Nothing makes up leap for a new read like discovering a gem hidden in a historical fiction round-up or psychological thrillers listicle. This year, we even explored new sub-genres like domestic thrillers, historical fantasy and mystery, dysfunctional family dramedies, and even books Stephen King has blurbed. Here are just 10 of our favorite book lists we ran on Off the Shelf this year.

If you love lists as much as I do, here you’ll find links to the following lists:

  • 14 Books You Wish You Could Read for the First Time Again 
  • A Cozy Winter Getaway: 9 Perfect Novels You Need to Bring
  • Stephen King Recommends: 14 Books He Wants You to Read
  • 7 Domestic Thrillers to Binge-Read Right Now
  • 11 Books That Are Guaranteed Page-Turners
  • 9 International Thrillers to Sink Your Teeth Into
  • 12 Historical Novels to Transport You to Uncommon Eras
  • The Mister Rogers TBR: 10 Books You’d Find in the Neighborhood Today
  • 9 Beautiful Novels That Will Inspire You to Be a Better Person
  • 8 Books We Can’t Stop Thinking About
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And Ron Charles, who writes about books for The Washington Post, examined 11 trends that changed the way we read this decade recently.

And editors at The Amazon Book Review list a few books “that we will be moving back to the top of that TBR pile” in The books that (almost) got away in 2019.

© 2019 by Mary Daniels Brown

Categories
Book Recommendations List Personal

The Best Books I Read in 2019

Because I read more books this year than I had in any recent year, paring down my list of the year’s favorites was much harder than usual. I always try to reduce the list of 10 best and 5 honorable mentions, but this year I couldn’t decide which should be the final title to get moved from best to honorable mention. I therefore present 11 best and 4 honorable mentions, although the differences between the two groups are indeed very slight.

As always, these are the best books I read this year, regardless of when they were published. They’re listed alphabetically by author’s last name.

Best

Crouch, Blake. Recursion: A Novel

Franklin, Ruth. Shirley Jackson: A Rather Haunted Life

Harper, Jane. The Lost Man

Kim, Angie. Miracle Creek

Lippman, Laura. Lady in the Lake

Michaelides, Alex. The Silent Patient

Obama, Michelle. Becoming

Quinn, Kate. The Alice Network

Reid, Taylor Jenkins. Daisy Jones & The Six

Turton, Stuart. The 7 1/2 Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle

Whitehead, Colson. The Underground Railroad

Honorable Mention

Berney, Lou. November Road

Dugoni, Robert. My Sister’s Grave

Kushner, Rachel. The Mars Room

McTiernan, Dervla. The Ruin


You can find links to lists of the best books I read each year from 1996 to 2019 on the Year’s Best Books page.

© 2019 by Mary Daniels Brown

Categories
Book Recommendations List Year's Best

More Best Books of 2019 Lists

Best Books of 2019

I put this Goodreads list at the very top of this entry because it’s “the only major book awards decided by readers.” Check out the winners in a whole bunch of categories.

The Ultimate Best Books of 2019 List

And here’s the list made up from other lists. Literary Hub editor Emily Temple collected every “best books of the year” lists she could find, “tallied up their recommendations, and figured out which books were most often included.”

What writers are reading: The Irish Times books of the year 2019

The 10 Best Books of 2019

From The New York Times: “The editors of The Times Book Review choose the best fiction and nonfiction titles this year.”

Best Books 2019

This is the portal for entering Library Journal’s lists of best books in the following categories:

  • crime fiction  
  • horror  
  • literary fiction  
  • pop fiction  
  • romance  
  • science fiction/fantasy  
  • short stories  
  • world literature  
  • arts  
  • biography & memoir  
  • cooking & food  
  • poetry  
  • religion & spirituality  
  • science & technology  
  • social sciences  
  • wellness  
  • graphic novels 

AudioFile’s Best Audiobooks of 2019

The year’s best audiobooks in all the major categories.

The best books of 2019 – picked by the year’s best writers

From The Guardian comes this list: “the winners and runners-up of this year’s most coveted literary awards pick their three favourite titles of 2019.”

The Best Books of 2019

From Katy Waldman, staff writer at The New Yorker

The Best Books of 2019

Book Riot’s choices from all the genres

The Best Books We Read in 2019

The staff of Bookish list the best books they read in 2019.

NPR’s Book Concierge

The portal for entry into NPR’s book recommendations from 2019 all the way back through 2013.

The Best Books of 2019

From GQ

The 10 Best Books of 2019

“According to Slate’s books editor.” At the bottom of this list is a link to “the best books of 2019 according to Slate’s book critic.”

The Best Books of 2019

From Molly Young, Vulture literary critic

Our 50 Favorite Books of the Year

“Highlights From a Year in Reading by the Literary Hub Staff”

Our Favorite Nonfiction Books of 2019

From The New Yorker

55 of the Best Queer Books of 2019

A list of “gorgeous graphic memoirs, epic fantasy tales, twisty thrillers, swoony romances, exceptional essay collections, and more!”

The 44 Best-Selling Books of 2019 That You Don’t Want to Miss

An exhortation from Good Housekeeping: “Crack open one of these best-sellers to find out what everyone’s talking about.”

Best Books of 2019: Young Adult

A list from BookPage

The Best Books of 2019 (So Far)

From Thrillist. There are 39 books on this list, a lot of which are translations from writers outside of the U.S.

The Best Science Books of 2019

Recommendations from Barbara Kiser, Books & Arts Editor at Nature. This page also includes, along the right side, links to many other “best books” in science-related areas.

Books of the Year 2019

Australian Book Review has compiled this list from suggestions by their critics and writers.

The Best of 2019

Amazon’s audiobook giant Audible offers a top-ten list, plus additional lists in a whole bunch of categories such as fiction, memoir, mysteries & thrillers, true crime, young adult, and kids’ audiobooks.

THE BEST BOOK COVERS OF 2019

From Book Riot

The Best Cookbooks of 2019

From The New Yorker

THE BEST CRIME NOVELS OF 2019

From the folks at CrimeReads, who explain they are “starting here with our choices for best novels from the big “crime” umbrella of crime, mystery, and thrillers. We’ll be back soon with our selections for the best new International Crime Fiction, True Crime, Noir, Psychological Thrillers, Espionage Fiction, and more.”

THE BEST EPIGRAPHS OF 2019

Those short quotations you often find at the front of books are called epigraphs. Here Ashley Holstrom lists her favorites for the year. “Sometimes the epigraphs are related to content or tone, or just something pretty the writer wants to share along with their work.”

Reflecting on the memoirs of 2019 and the elasticity of the genre

From the Chicago Tribune. Not exactly a “best of” list, but interesting nevertheless.

The New York Public Library’s Most Checked-Out Books of the Year

Electric Lit’s 15 Best Novels of 2019

Compiled by the staff and contributors of Electric Literature

Electric Lit’s 15 Best Nonfiction Books of 2019

“Staff and contributors recommend memoirs, essays, and reported work”

Best books of 2019: What Ronan Farrow, Susan Orlean and more writers we love couldn’t put down

From the Los Angeles Times

The best books of 2019 for people who love travel

Editors’ Picks: Notable Books of 2019

A list of both fiction and nonfiction, from Cal Flyn, deputy editor at Five Books

The 10 Best Book Reviews of 2019

From Literary Hub

Rabih Alameddine: The Oddest Books I Read This Year

“The Author of The Angel of History Alternative to theEndless ‘Best of’ Lists”

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Best Books of the Decade

26 Books From the Last Decade that More People Should Read

From Literary Hub: “Our Favorite Writers Recommend Some Underappreciated Gems.”

10 Sci-Fi and Fantasy Must-Reads From the 2010s

From fiction writer and editor Leah Schnelbach, for Literary Hub

The Best Psychological Thrillers of the Decade, Ranked

Analysis by BookBub of 17 thrillers

20 of the Best Book Club Books of the Decade

“In this list, we’re showcasing two of the best books from each year — all titles that book clubs loved.” From BookBub

Here are EW’s top 10 nonfiction books of the decade

From Entertainment Weekly. At the bottom you’ll find links to the top 10 fiction books of the decade, the best fantasy of the decade, and the best book series of the decade.

The 10 Best Literary TV Adaptations of the Decade

From Emily Temple of Literary Hub: “we didn’t base our decisions on fidelity to, or creativity of departure from, the original text. We just wanted to pick the best television experiences.”

The 10 Best Literary Film Adaptations of the Decade

Also from Literary Hub

How reading has changed in the 2010s

From the BBC: “Erica Wagner picks the most important book trends of the past decade.”

The 10 Best Debut Novels of the Decade

A list by For Reading Addicts

The Decade in Young Adult Fiction

From Laura Miller at Slate

100 Books That Defined the Decade

From Emily Temple for Literary Hub: “This is a list of books that, whether bad or good, were in one way or another defining for the last decade in American culture.”

The Best Memoirs of the Decade (2010-2019)

A list by For Reading Addicts

The Best Memoirs of the Decade

BookBub’s list

Best of the Decade: What Books Will We Still Be Reading in 10 Years?

“And You Thought Best of the Year Lists Were Intense?”

Emily Temple of Literary Hub: “I proposed a staff poll, of sorts: I asked each of my colleagues in the Literary Hub office to make a list of the ten books from the last ten years that they thought we’d still be reading—for good or ill—ten years from now, circa 2030.”


© 2019 by Mary Daniels Brown

Categories
Life Stories in Literature List Literature & Psychology Memoir Personal Reading

10 Reading Regrets of 2019

Yesterday I came across the article Readers’ Regrets: The Books We Wish We Read in 2019. It prompted me to take a look at my own shelves for the books I regret not having read in 2019. Here are 10 of them, listed in no particular order.

(Links that describe the book are to either Goodreads, Amazon, or the book’s publisher.)

Normal People by Sally Rooney

cover: Normal People

The description of the author’s “brilliant psychological acuity” drew me so quickly to this book that I bought a hardcover copy soon after its publication. 

Alas, that book still stands on my shelf, expectantly.


Maybe You Should Talk to Someone: A Therapist, Her Therapist, and Our Lives Revealed by Lori Gottlieb

cover: Maybe You Should Talk to Someone

Although I’m not—nor have I ever wanted to be—a therapist, I’m interested in psychology. I even went back to school at age 57 and got a Ph.D. in general psychology. I bought a copy of this book because it promises to scratch two of my itches: (1) a look at psychology that can inform my study of literature (fiction), and (2) an effort to read more nonfiction. The book still has a prominent place on my nonfiction TBR shelf.


In the Dream House: A Memoir by Carmen Maria Machado

cover: In the Dream House

This book was published only recently (November 5, 2019), so I don’t have a copy and don’t feel too guilty about not having read it yet. Although my first literary love is fiction, my second-favorite type of book to read is memoir (nonfiction). (My focus of study in my Ph.D. program was life stories.) This story of Carmen Maria Machado’s experiences in “an abusive same-sex relationship” has gotten consistently good reviews, so I hope to read it soon.


Circe by Madeline Miller

cover: Circe

As a college classics major, I was immediately drawn to this novel featuring a figure from classical Greek mythology. I ordered a copy from Book of the Month Club when this title was chosen as BOTM book of the year for 2018. It still sits on my BOTM shelf along with a few others as yet unread.


The Fifth Season (The Broken Earth #1) by N.K. Jemisin

cover: The Fifth Season

This book, originally published in 2015, recently drew my attention when I decided that I should at least try to read and appreciate some fantasy. For the record, I have read and loved Lord of the Rings twice and all of the Harry Potter books. This novel consistently appears on lists of good fantasy, so I’ll start here. I put it on the Christmas book wishlist that my daughter, who LOVES fantasy, requested, so it my show up at my house soon. 


On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous by Ocean Vuong

cover: On Earth We're Briefly Gorgeous

This book hits two of my sweet spots: it’s a novel about life stories:

On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous is a letter from a son to a mother who cannot read. Written when the speaker, Little Dog, is in his late twenties, the letter unearths a family’s history that began before he was born — a history whose epicenter is rooted in Vietnam — and serves as a doorway into parts of his life his mother has never known, all of it leading to an unforgettable revelation. At once a witness to the fraught yet undeniable love between a single mother and her son, it is also a brutally honest exploration of race, class, and masculinity. Asking questions central to our American moment, immersed as we are in addiction, violence, and trauma, but undergirded by compassion and tenderness, On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous is as much about the power of telling one’s own story as it is about the obliterating silence of not being heard.

This book is also on just about everybody’s list of the best books of 2019, which makes it call my name even more loudly.


All This Could Be Yours by Jami Attenberg

cover: All This Could Be Yours

All This Could Be Yours is a timely, piercing exploration of what it means to be caught in the web of a toxic man who abused his power; it shows how those webs can tangle a family for generations and what it takes to—maybe, hopefully—break free.

A dysfunctional family with hidden secrets: how could I resist? I recently bought the Kindle edition when it was on sale.


Ask Again, Yes by Mary Beth Keane

cover: Ask Again, Yes

This is another title that comes up on almost all the best books of 2019 lists:

Ask Again, Yes is a deeply affecting exploration of the lifelong friendship and love that blossoms between Kate Gleeson and Peter Stanhope, born six months apart. One shocking night their loyalties are divided, and their bond will be tested again and again over the next 40 years. Luminous, heartbreaking, and redemptive, Ask Again, Yes reveals the way childhood memories change when viewed from the distance of adulthood—villains lose their menace and those who appeared innocent seem less so. Kate and Peter’s love story, while haunted by echoes from the past, is marked by tenderness, generosity, and grace.


The Need by Helen Phillips

cover: The Need

This promises to be a psychological thriller that deals in suspense and features family secrets along with an examination of the meaning of motherhood: “The Need is a glorious celebration of the bizarre and beautiful nature of our everyday lives.”


 Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead by Olga Tokarczuk

cover: Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead

I had this novel, translated from Polish, on my radar even before it received the Nobel Prize in Literature. 

A deeply satisfying thriller cum fairy tale, Drive Your Plow over the Bones of the Dead is a provocative exploration of the murky borderland between sanity and madness, justice and tradition, autonomy and fate. Whom do we deem sane? it asks. Who is worthy of a voice?

I bought a hardcover copy soon after the English translation was published in August 2019, and it still has a place of honor right at the end of my TBR shelf.


© 2019 by Mary Daniels Brown

Categories
Book Recommendations List Reading

Books You Can Read in One Day or Less

You’ve still got almost a month to hammer away at your reading goal for 2019. Here’s a list of short works (around 200 or fewer pages) that I’ve collected. And below my list you’ll find a list of other lists.

Good luck. Read on!

As I Lay Dying by William Faulkner

Can You Ever Forgive Me? by Lee Israel

The Deal of a Lifetime by Fredrik Backman

The Mezzanine by Nicholson Baker 

Ghost Wall by Sarah Moss

Sweet Days of Discipline by Fleur Jaeggy

An Untouched House by Willem Frederick Hermans

The Hole by José Revueltas

The Dry Heart by Natalia Ginzburg

A Week at the Airport by Alain De Botton

I Am Sovereign by Nicola Barker 

The Grownup by Gillian Flynn

The Crying of Lot 49 by Thomas Pynchon

Sweet Days of Discipline by Fleur Jaeggy, translated by Tim Parks

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Hit Your End of Year Reading Goal with These Fast Reads

14 Feel-Good Books to Read in a Weekend

Lamenting that her reading time is often confined to weekends, Lorraine Berry here offers a list of books that can be finished over a weekend, which “means a book that clocks in with fewer than 300 pages — and sometimes, even fewer than 200.” An added bonus is the wide variety of titles here.

50 MUST-READ SHORT BOOKS UNDER 250 PAGES

This list includes fiction and nonfiction.

50 MUST-READ SHORT BOOKS IN TRANSLATION

This list will help me tick off two categories on my reading plan for this year: (1) total number of books read and (2) translated works. Pierce Alquist says she has included here books of “less than ~200 pages.”

11 Short Novels from Around the World that You Can Read in One Sitting

A Very Short List of Very Short Novels with Very Short Commentary

From writer Alice McDermott

7 SHORT BOOKS TO READ AT THE END OF THE YEAR TO FULFILL YOUR GOODREADS GOAL

“If you are looking for quick reads under 300 pages to help increase the number of books you’ve read this year, here is a list of short books to read to fulfill your Goodreads goal.”

The 5 Best Audiobooks Under 5 Hours

10 New Books You Can Read in One Sitting

These books all clock in at “around 300 pages or less.”

7 SHORT READS THAT YOU CAN FINISH IN ONE SITTING

32 Short (and New) Books to Help You Crush Your 2019 Reading Challenge

Goodreads suggests both fiction and nonfiction books of fewer than 300 pages.

12 Addictive Reads You Can Finish in a Single Flight

From Danielle Bucco for Off the Shelf comes this list of “books that you can absolutely finish in one flight!”

25 (MORE) CRIME BOOKS YOU CAN FINISH IN AN AFTERNOON

Because who doesn’t want to read more crime books?

© 2019 by Mary Daniels Brown

Categories
Book Recommendations List

Let the Best of 2019 Lists Begin!

A few of these lists began appearing in early November, but I refuse to start my year-end summaries that early. I haven’t put my Christmas decorations up yet, either.

Our Fiction Editor Shares Some Favorites From the Best Books of 2019

From the fiction editor of Kirkus

The Best Books of 2019

Amazon’s portal to its choices in the following categories:

  • literature and fiction 
  • mystery, thriller, and suspense  
  • romance  
  • cooking, food, and wine  
  • children’s books

Best Books: 2019

This is the portal to Publishers Weekly’s many lists of the year’s best.

Reader’s Picks: Favorite Books of 2019

From publishing conglomerate Penguin Random House comes this list of readers’ choices in categories such as romance, historical fiction, and memoir.

Best Books of 2019

From The Washington Post. At the bottom of the page you’ll find links to the Post’s list of best books in the following categories: thrillers & mysteries, romance, science fiction & fantasy, children’s books, poetry, nonfiction, audiobooks, graphic novels, memoirs, and story collections.

Best Books of 2019

From the New York Public Library

THE BEST BOOKS OF 2019

“In our efforts to increase and diffuse knowledge, we highly recommend these 45 titles released this year,” declare the editors and writers of Smithsonian Magazine. Their subject matter includes “science, history, art, world cultures, travel and innovation.”

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Because 2019 is the final year of the decade, there’s also an emphasis on “best books of the decade” among the lists.

The 20 Best Novels of the Decade

From Literary Hub

THE 10 BEST CRIME NOVELS OF THE LAST DECADE

From CrimeReads

The Breakthrough Books of the Decade

Editors at BookBub present one book from each year, 2010-2019, “that resonates deeply — the book that caused a sensation, revolutionized a genre, established a cultural touchstone, or launched itself into the zeitgeist.”

THE RISING STARS OF CRIME FICTION IN THE 2010S

From CrimeReads comes this “celebration of the best new crime and mystery writers of the decade.”

The 10 Best Translated Novels of the Decade

From Literary Hub

The Best Books of the 2010s Nudged the World in a New, Better Direction

Esquire’s choices, both fiction and nonfiction

© 2019 by Mary Daniels Brown

Categories
Fiction List

5 Domestic Thrillers: Terror at Home

Related Post:

The characters in “you can’t go home again” novels discover that going back home can often be a mistake because the secrets, lies, and betrayals they had hoped to leave behind are still there waiting to suck them back in. 

The characters in domestic thrillers often share backgrounds similar to their counterparts in “you can’t go home again” novels. But instead of venturing back home, they have tried to construct a fortress in a different home to protect their families by shutting out past events. 

But even characters who don’t have significant pasts to hide discover that, no matter how hard they try, they can’t always protect those they love from trouble, because sometimes trouble enters the seeming stability of home through the front door (or the back door, or a window. . .).

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Never Have I Ever by Joshilyn Jackson

Jackson, Joshilyn. Never Have I Ever  
Harper Audio, 2019  
Narrated by Joshilyn Jackson  
ISBN 9780062933546

Recommended

cover: Never Have I Ever

This is the novel that prompted me to make this list. It’s the story of Amy Whey, who has built the perfect life: a loving husband, a burbling baby boy, a young teenage stepdaughter with whom she shares a loving relationship, a best friend named Charlotte, and a close-knit neighborhood social network. 

Then one night, just as the monthly book group gathering is about to start, Amy’s doorbell rings. A sultry, fashionably dressed woman offers wine and asks to join the book group. She’s just moved into the empty house on the cul-de-sac, she explains. Her name is Angelica Roux: “Just call me Roux.”

Roux makes sure all the wine glasses stay full and engages the group in “never have I ever,” a party game that involves the spilling of secrets. Everyone else sees the drunken game as harmless fun—except for Amy. She realizes that Roux’s questions are aimed at her. When the two women are alone together, Roux warns that if Amy doesn’t give her what she wants, Roux will make her pay. 

Who exactly is this woman, and what soes she know? More importan, what’s her endgame?

When Roux’s teenage son, driving a red sports car, begins to hit on Amy’s stepdaughter, Amy comes to rue the day she opened her front door to this intruder. For, Amy realizes, Roux’s threats apply not only to herself, but also to those she loves—her family, her friends, the entire life she’s built for herself. The only way to protect it all is to beat Roux at her own dangerous game of digging up past secrets and answering threats with even bigger counter-threats.

© 2019 by Mary Daniels Brown


The Wife by Alafair Burke

Burke, Alafair. The Wife   
HarperAudio, 2018  
Narrated by Xe Sands

Recommended

cover: The Wife

Angela met Jason Powell while catering a party in East Hampton. She assumed their romance would be just a summer fling, like most other affairs between locals and the wealthy summer visitors. But the relationship blossomed, and they were married a year later.

The marriage to Jason, a well-known economics professor at NYU, allowed Angela a new start. She and her son moved to Manhattan, and the three of them built a happy life together. But six years later, Jason’s best-selling book brings them media attention. When a college intern accuses Jason of inappropriate behavior, another woman, Kerry Lynch, steps up with her own allegation. Jason insists he’s innocent, and Angela believes him. But when Kerry Lynch disappears, Angela must rethink her position. 

But this is not just a case of a woman having to decide whether to stand by her man, because Angela has her own reasons for needing to avoid the spotlight. The strength of this novel lies in the way Angela weighs her moral options as her situation changes.

© 2019 by Mary Daniels Brown


Every Last Lie by Mary Kubica

Kubica, Mary. Every Last Lie  
Harlequin Audio, © 2017

cover: Every Last Lie

Clara Solberg, holding her four-day-old infant in her arms when she answers the door bell, can’t believe what the police are telling her: her husband, Nick, has been killed in a car crash, though their four-year-old daughter, who was in the back seat, is unhurt.

As Clara faces the first few days of a life without Nick, paranoia threatens to overwhelm her. She can’t believe the investigators’ conclusion that Nick simply took a dangerous curve too fast. Another car must have been chasing Nick. Who? And why? There must be some explanation for what happened. Random accidents don’t simply happen and shatter one’s world, do they?

© 2019 by Mary Daniels Brown


The Woman in the Window by A.J. Finn

Finn, A.J. The Woman in the Window  
HarperCollins Audio, 2018  
Narrated by Ann Marie Lee  
ISBN 9780062678430

cover: The Woman in the Window

Anna Fox is a child psychologist recovering from a personal trauma. She drinks heavily and suffers from agoraphobia so crippling that she can’t even step outside her front door. One day she looks out her window and sees a confrontation taking place in the window across the courtyard. When the teenaged boy who lives in that house visits her to bring a gift, she begins to sympathize with him.

So she begins to monitor what goes on inside the house across the way. As long as she stays inside her own house, nothing can harm her. Right?

© 2019 by Mary Daniels Brown


Then She Was Gone by Lisa Jewell

Jewell, Lisa. Then She Was Gone  
Dreamscape Media, 2018  
Narrated by Helen Duff  
ISBN 9781520098289

Every book I’ve written has been about family, in one form or another. . . . family forms the skeleton of every story I want to tell. And the backbone of every family is, as we all know, the mother.

Lisa Jewell
cover: Then She Was Gone

In this novel Lisa Jewell puts her own spin on the standard missing child trope. Laurel Mack is trying to put her life back together 10 years after the disappearance of her 15-year-old daughter, Ellie. In those 10 years Laurel and her husband have divorced and Laurel has grown distant from her other daughter.

What Jewell does so well is flesh out the characters so that readers become engaged in their lives. Jewell is also adept at creating plot points that go beyond the standard bare-bones formulas to produce surprising but credible events. It’s impossible to say much more about this novel without spoiling it, so sit back and appreciate how Lisa Jewell pulls off this domestic thriller. 

© 2019 by Mary Daniels Brown

Categories
Awards & Prizes Fiction List

5 “You Can’t Go Home Again” Novels

Feature image by Hermann Schmider from Pixabay
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Recently my husband and I traveled back to our neighboring hometowns for a family funeral. We’d been back for visits periodically, of course, but we haven’t lived there for 50 years. 

Each time we visit, I feel a distinct sense of dislocation. The adage “you can’t go home again” is true for two reasons:

  1. Your hometown is not the same place as it once was.  
  2. You are no longer the same person you used to be.

Most “you can’t go home again” novels I can think of involve small towns. I grew up in a small town in New England. With only one elementary school in the town, I knew all the kids in the same grade with me, and I knew just about everybody, and all their siblings, in the entire school as well. Our parents all knew each other, and many of us had grandparents who knew each other. Some of the roads in the town were named after prominent multi-generational resident families, such as Lyons Road. Janie Lyons was a couple of years younger than me, and her mother and my mother had gone to school together.

All of this intergenerational overlapping within the same limited geographical boundaries makes privacy nearly impossible. Anybody who had a deep, dark secret in their past that they wanted to keep hidden would have to leave such a small town and start a new life somewhere else. This is probably why the protagonists of “you can’t go home again” novels come predominantly from small towns rather than from big cities. And it’s also probably why most such novels have at their heart some damning action or traumatic event from the past.

Here are five “you can’t go home again” novels that illustrate the Big Three of mystery/thriller tropes: secrets, lies, and betrayals.

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All the Missing Girls by Megan Miranda

cover: All the Missing Girls

In this prototypical “you can’t go home again” novel, Nicolette Farrell returns to the home town she left 10 years ago to help care for her aging father who exhibits early signs of dementia. Now engaged and working in a city, she returns to the place where everyone knew her as Nic and remembers that she, her brother, and her hometown boyfriend were involved in the unexplained disappearance of her best friend back then. 

Soon after Nic returns, another girl vanishes under similar circumstances, and suddenly Nic and those around her are once again under suspicion. To understand what is happening now, Nic begins to try to understand what happened to her friend all those years ago. But does she really want to know the answers to all the questions that her previously unexamined memories turn up?

The Dry by Jane Harper

cover: The Dry

In Harper’s stunning debut novel, federal investigator Aaron Falk travels from Melbourne back to the small Australian farming community where he grew up to attend the funeral of his childhood best friend, Luke Hadler, and Luke’s wife and six-year-old son. The Hadlers were shot in their home, with only infant Charlotte left alive. The working theory is that Luke, under significant financial pressure, killed his wife and son before turning the gun on himself. 

But Aaron doesn’t believe Luke would have killed either his family or himself. Back in their teenage years, Aaron and Luke came under suspicion for murder, but the case was never solved. Now Aaron begins investigating the Hadlers’ murders, wondering if this case could be related to that earlier one. What he learns solves both cases and explains why Aaron’s father moved his teenage son to Melbourne, a lifestyle change that young Aaron hated and resented.

 Sharp Objects  by Gillian Flynn

cover: Sharp Objects

Before Gillian Flynn wrote Gone Girl, she wrote Sharp Objects, the story of troubled reporter Camille Preaker. Camille has just returned from a stay at a psychiatric hospital to her job at a city newspaper when two young girls are murdered in her small, rural home town. When her editor tells her to go visit her family and report on the crime, Camille tries to get out of the assignment, which will reunite her with the domineering, narcissistic mother who never loved her and the much younger half-sister whom Camille barely knows.

But keeping her job depends on her compliance, so Camille goes back to the poisonous environment she’s been trying all her life to escape. The assignment forces her to experience some of her childhood pain all over again but also suggests she may begin to find a pathway toward healing.

The Lying Game by Ruth Ware

cover: The Lying Game

This novel (my least favorite of Ruth Ware’s novels so far) illustrates a variation on “you can’t go home again” novels: the return not necessarily to home, but to a place where a significant childhood action or event occurred. The crucial location here is Salten, a girls’ boarding school in a small English village near the cliffs of the English Channel. Four girls—all misfits for various reasons—meet here as teenagers and form an exclusive clique. They alienate everyone else by their constant lying game, unending attempts to pass off outlandish claims as true. The main rule of the lying game is that they are never to lie to each other.

Seventeen years later three of these women, now in their 30s, receive a text message from the fourth, Kate: “I need you.” The three women, all living near London, drop their professional and family lives to run back to Salten, no questions asked, to help Kate. The novel then proceeds in two separate strands, one the present time and the other in the past, the year the girls spent at school together. Kate is still living in the home she shared with her father, the school’s art instructor, during that year, and much of the backstory focuses on how much idyllic time the four girls spent together in that house, a kind of surrogate home for the other three with unstable family lives, before their antisocial behavior got them all expelled.

As the complex mystery unfolds, the changed situations of the adult characters strain relationships formed around such a tenuous bond so long ago. As the women come to understand how both their schoolmates and the village residents viewed them back then, they discover that they truly can’t go home again.

The Chalk Man by C.J. Tudor

cover: The Chalk Man

This novel illustrates another variation on the “you can’t go home again” formula: Sometimes you can’t go home again even if you never left in the first place. 

In 1986, 12-year-old Eddie and his friends rode bikes around their English village. To stave off boredom they developed their own secret code, chalk stick figures they used to send messages to each other that no one else could understand. This was great fun—until a mysterious chalk man message appeared and lead them to a dead body.

Thirty years later, Ed still lives in the same village. When he and a friend each receive a letter in the mail containing a chalk figure, they think it must be a prank. But when another death occurs, Ed realizes that to save himself, he’ll have to figure out what happened in the village all those years ago.


© 2019 by Mary Daniels Brown

Categories
Book Recommendations List

Lots and Lots of Reading Recommendations

Naturally, I read a lot of literature-related articles every day. In the last few days I have come across a number of reading lists suggesting the best books for various reading tastes. 

There’s probably something here for you.

30 HAUNTED HOUSE BOOKS THAT WILL GIVE YOU THE CREEPS

“in haunted house books the monsters are inside, with you, violating that sense of security.”

Sure, I’d read The Turn of the Screw by Henry James and The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson. But this list contains 28 more examples.

14 Technothrillers to Keep You Up Past Your Bedtime

Like the preceding list, this one contains a few I’ve read (Dark Matter by Blake Crouch and Neuromancer by William Gibson), but there are also a lot I haven’t read.

10 BOOKS LIKE STRANGER THINGS TO FEED YOUR NEED

Here are some suggestions if you’ve finished watching season 3 of the Netflix series Stranger Things and are waiting impatiently for the arrival of season 4. 

The Books *You* Need to Read This Summer

The editorial team at Read it Forward provide a list of the best fiction and nonfiction books for your reading pleasure this summer. They boldly proclaim, “we know something on this list will appeal to everyone.”

JUMPSTART YOUR ROMANCE READING WITH A COMPLETED SERIES

I don’t read romance at all, but if you do, the folks at Book Riot have you covered with this list.

The 5 Best Books for Your Beach Bag

There are some big-name authors on this short list.

50 MUST-READS FROM IOWA CITY: A CITY OF LITERATURE

Only two cities in the U.S. have earned the UNESCO City of Literature designation, and one of them is Iowa City. (The other is Seattle.) To earn this designation, a city must have “a diverse publishing industry, exceptional educational programming and literary events, spaces which preserve and promote literature, and media outlets that supports readers and reading.”

One thing that contributed to Iowa City’s designation is the University of Iowa Writers Workshop, a famous writing workshop that has produced many well known authors. All 50 entries on this list were written by writers who spent time in Iowa City, including Raymond Carver, T.C. Boyle, and Alexander Chee.

How Many Of The “Top 100 Books Of All Time” Have You Actually Read?

OCLC, the Online Computer Library Center, has shared a list of the Top 100 novels of all time found in libraries around the world. How many have you read?

I come in at 72 (although some I read so long ago that I don’t remember much about them).

25 GREAT NONFICTION ESSAYS YOU CAN READ ONLINE FOR FREE

Here, finally, is something especially for lovers of nonfiction. The “you can read online for free” part is particularly appealing. Authors represented here include James Baldwin, Joan Didion, and Roxane Gay. 

© 2019 by Mary Daniels Brown