What Books Have Given You a “Book Hangover”?

2020 Discussion Challenge

Thanks to these two bloggers for sponsoring the 2020 Blog Discussion Challenge:

You can join the discussion challenge at any time during 2020 by clicking on either link above.

Recently I came across the article “The Psychology of a Book Hangover” by Clare Barnett, who describes a book hangover this way:

A “book hangover” is the slangy shortcut for the feeling when a reader finishes a book—usually fiction—and they can’t stop thinking about the fictional world that has run out of pages. The story is over, but the reader misses the characters or the atmosphere of the novel. Personally, I know the hangover is bad when I have trouble even looking at another book. What passing delights can a new novel hold for me when I only want more of the story I just finished?

Here are five novels that left me in that state.

A Simple Plan by Scott Smith

Cover: A Simple Plan

This was Scott Smith’s first novel, and it’s a true gem. Three friends find a small airplane crashed in an out-of-the-way spot. The wreck contains a dead pilot and a bag containing $4,000,000. What should they do? I’m not giving anything away here because this all happens right at the beginning: They decide to keep the money. And somehow, right from that instant, I knew exactly how the story would play out. 

Reading the rest of the book was like coming upon a massive crash on the highway: Seeing it was painful, but I couldn’t look away. The story proceeds inexorably to its logical conclusion. Afterwards, I couldn’t stop thinking about the fates of those characters and wondering if, in the same situation, I would have been strong enough—and honest enough—to walk away empty-handed from that plane crash.

Empire Falls by Richard Russo

Cover: Empire Falls

There’s a lot to remember about this novel: the economic decline, the dominance of social class and wealth, the small-town milieu with its generations-old entanglements. 

But the most memorable aspect is the relationship between single father Miles Roby and his teenage daughter, Tick. Here’s a father whose first priority in life is to love, provide for, and protect his child.

Miracle Creek by Angie Kim

Cover: Miracle Creek

We humans tend to think in dichotomies:

  • good vs. evil
  • us vs. them
  • love vs. hate
  • you’re either with me or you’re against me

But Angie Kim’s novel demonstrates, over and over, that the world we live in is almost never that simple. Life is complicated and complex, and there’s always yet another factor to consider to get the full picture of something. I found it difficult to stop thinking about such issues after I finished reading this amazing novel.

Blue Diary by Alice Hoffman

Cover: Blue Diary

What happens if you discover that your whole life, your seemingly idyllic existence, is based on a lie? How do you pick up the pieces, take care of the people you love, and move on?

The Last Flight by Julie Clark

Cover: The Last Flight

I’ve saved this one for last because it raises a lot of the same issues as the previous four. Two women, both maneuvered by men into untenable circumstances, try the best they can within those circumstances to find a way out. I’ve thought a lot about both of these women since recently finishing this novel, especially about the one who . . . . You’ll have to read the book to figure out which one, but, believe me, the experience is well worth the effort.

How about you?

What novels have given you a book hangover?

© 2020 by Mary Daniels Brown


Daphne du Maurier Reading Week

Announcement: Daphne du Maurier Reading Week May 11-17, 2020

It’s Daphne du Maurier Reading Week, hosted by HeavenAli over on her blog.

Since I’d been wanting to read more works by Daphne du Maurier anyway—and had even bought the books—I knew I wanted to participate in this when I saw the announcement on her blog.

I have to admit that my planning didn’t work out correctly (I blame the glitch on COVID-19). Here I am on Tuesday of Daphne du Maurier Reading Week, and I’m still finishing up a long book that I started late last week. Therefore, I may have to extend my reading and writing for #DDMreadingweek into next week, but I do intend to participate, though belatedly.

These are the books I intend to read:

vase of roses with 3 books by Daphne du Maurier: The Scapegoat, The House on the Strand, The Birds and Other Stories
  • The Scapegoat
  • The Birds and Other Stories
  • The House on the Strand

Thanks to HeavenAli for hosting this event.

And now, I must get back to finishing that other book . . .

© 2020 by Mary Daniels Brown

Literature & Psychology Review Uncategorized

“An Anonymous Girl” by Green Hendricks & Sarah Pekkanen

Hendricks, Greer & Sarah Pekkanen. An Anonymous Girl
St. Martin’s Press, 2018
ISBN 978-1-250-13373-1


Jessica Farris, age 28, works as a freelance make-up specialist, lugging her product cases all over Manhattan and barely earning enough to get by. On a typical Friday night Jessica overhears Taylor, one of her college-student clients, tell her roommate that she won’t be getting up early enough the next morning to participate in the psychological survey she’s signed up for. “It pays $500,” Taylor casually says.

With a couple of distractions Jessica manages to see the appointment information on Taylor’s phone and decides to take Taylor’s place the next morning. After all, she needs the money.

When Jessica shows up at the appointed place and time the next morning, a young man greets her and explains that he’s the research assistant for Dr. Shields, a psychiatrist who’s conducting a morality and ethics research project. He directs Jessica to a seat in a classroom where an open laptop awaits. 

Jessica is surprised to find out that she’s the only person scheduled for that time slot. She’d be more surprised if she knew that Dr. Shields was watching her complete the questionnaire through the computer’s camera. Some of the questions make Jessica squirm in her seat just a bit.

“It can be frightening to become acquainted with parts of yourself that you don’t like to admit exist.” (p. 15)

Dr. Lydia Shields

While watching Jessica from the next room, Dr. Shields recognizes something she needs in the young woman, even though she knows this woman isn’t the scheduled Taylor. Watching Dr. Shields watch Jessica, the reader suspects the psychiatrist’s observation applies to herself as much as to her research subject.

“You are staring at the therapist. The carefully constructed facade is working. It is all you see. It’s all you will ever see.” (p. 61)

Dr. Lydia Shields

But the reader sees everything.

This novel is unusual in its use of two first-person narrators. Jessica and Dr. Shields speak in alternating chapters, and the reader soon has no trouble recognizing which one is speaking. Jessica’s narrations are conversational and straightforward, while Dr. Shields’s use of passive verbs (e.g., “the door is opened to you,” “your coat is hung up,” “a gift is offered”) peg her as a researcher and academician. Dr. Shields at first uses this type of language only sparingly, but she uses it progressively more frequently as the novel develops.

“Sometimes a therapist who coaxes out all of your secrets is holding the biggest one in the room.” (p. 99)

Dr. Lydia Shields

As Dr. Shields asks her to perform more actions as part of the ethics research project, Jessica becomes suspicious. She continues to do as asked, though, because Dr. Shields pays her handsomely and Jessica needs the money to help her family pay for her handicapped younger sister’s special needs.

When Dr. Shields introduces Jessica to her husband, Thomas Cooper, also a psychotherapist, Jessica realizes there’s more to this psychological experiment than she originally thought.

“At least I’ve finally learned something concrete: Neither of them can be trusted.” (p. 233)

Jessica Farris

By now Jessica knows she’s in way deeper than she ever imagined possible. Will she be able to figure out what exactly is going on and how to protect herself?

It would be easy to read this novel as simply an engaging thriller, but, as suspenseful as it is, it also examines serious underlying moral issues of human existence: truth, responsibility, loyalty, betrayal, trust, love. How these moral questions play out will determine if anyone emerges unscathed from this psychological experiment.

© 2020 by Mary Daniels Brown


Books I Read in January

Watership Down by Richard Adams

Cover: Watership Down

Adams, Richard. Watership Down
© 1972
rpt. Avon, 1975
ISBN 0-38000293-0

If you liked The Lord of the Rings, you’ll probably like this book. Replace Hobbits with rabbits, and you’ve got an archtypical heroic quest.

Forced by the encroachment of people into their warren of Sandleford in England, a small band of rabbits set out in search of a new place to settle. The band includes many of the standard characters of heroic literature: a leader, a seer of visions, a strong hero, a fast messenger, experienced elders, and inexperienced but eager youngsters. During their journey they learn to depend on each other and to appreciate and make use of each member’s unique qualities.

Because seriously attacking my Classics Club list  is a big part of my reading plan for 2019,  , I’m starting the year with this book from the list. I included Watership Down on my list because my daughter enjoyed reading it when she was in about fourth grade and because many of her contemporaries also love it.

November Road by Lou Berney

cover: November Road by Lou Berney

Berney, Lou. November Road
William Morrow, 2018
ISBN 978-0-06-266384-9


Frank Guidry likes his life: the fancy clothes, the many girls, and all the respect he receives as a mid-level functionary of the most powerful crime boss in New Orleans. He’s as stunned as anyone when President Kennedy is assassinated. Then, when a couple of his associates turn up dead, Frank remembers that he had delivered a get-away car to Dallas a few days before the killing. Frank suddenly realizes that the person behind the assassination is tying up loose ends—and that he himself is also a loose end. Without even stopping off at home, he hits the road to try and outwit and outrun the hit man he’s pretty sure will soon be coming after him.

Meanwhile, in tiny Woodrow, Oklahoma, Charlotte Roy decides she’s finally had it with her drunk of a husband. She packs her two daughters, ages 8 and 9, and the epileptic family dog into the car and heads west. Ostensibly, Charlotte intends to visit a long-lost aunt in Los Angeles, but what she’s really after is more life opportunities for herself and her girls. She manages to keep smiling and encouraging the children, even when their car breaks down in a torrential rain storm.

As Frank Guidry drives past the disabled car and the woman with two kids in the backseat, he realizes that traveling as a man with a family might help him throw his pursuer, who’d be looking for a man traveling alone, off the scent. What he isn’t prepared for is what happens after he manages to hook up with Charlotte and her daughters.

Every character in this novel is well and completely drawn, even the two children. It’s these characters that give such force to this novel about taking chances, making decisions, and taking responsibility for the consequences of those decisions.

The Mars Room by Rachel Kushner

cover: The Mars Room by Rachel Kushner

Kushner, Rachel. The Mars Room
Scribner, 2018
ISBN 978-1-4767-5655-4


As the novel opens, we meet Romy Leslie Hall, inmate W314159, a prisoner on her way to begin serving her sentence of two consecutive life sentences plus six years at Stanville Women’s Correctional Facility in northern California. 

Romy was born into the world of poverty, sexual abuse, drug addiction, and lack of opportunities of San Francisco’s Tenderloin district. She grew up on the streets and in the back of buses. She has spent much of her life “hustling my income as a lap dancer at the Mars Room on Market Street.” 

Two years ago, when she was 27, a customer in his mid 50s—Kurt Kennedy, whom she calls Creep Kennedy—began stalking her. Unable to get help in dealing with Kennedy, she finally fled to Los Angeles with her 5-year-old son to start over. But when she found Kennedy on the front porch one night when she came home from work, she knew she’d have to take care of the problem herself.

The novel focuses on the impersonal, uncaring world of the justice system and the prison system that swallows up people like Romy. A sense of detachment pervades the action, even Romy’s descriptions of her own life—a life that has taught her that she has no options, no alternatives, no opportunities for anything different. 

The disjointed nature of the narrative reflects Romy’s life. Parts of the novel unfold in the manner of what, in nonfiction, is called a braided essay: short sections separated by dividing lines, each section providing a small chunk of information. It’s up to the reader to put all the pieces together, to assemble a mosaic of imagistic truth about society’s invisible people like Romy.

In [Rachel] Kushner’s view, the value of fiction is its ability to wrap reality in a “mythical envelope,” a shroud of meaning-making that can produce stories that are truer than truth.

Dana Goodyear, “Rachel Kushner’s Immersive Fiction”

I recommend this novel for its gritty telling of social truth, though I admit it won’t be right for everybody.

No Exit by Taylor Adams

Adams, Taylor. No Exit
William Morrow, 2019
ISBN 978-0-06-287565-5

As she’s rushing to Utah to see her dying mother, Darby Thorne gets caught in a blizzard in the mountains of Colorado. When the highway becomes impassable, she pulls into a rest stop to wait out the storm and finds four other people already inside the building. When she goes outside to try to find a cell signal, she discovers a little girl locked in a cage inside a van in the parking lot. Who is holding the girl prisoner? And how can Darby get both the girl and herself out alive?

This story is an example of the country-house mystery (the form perfected by Agatha Christie), which is itself a variant of the locked-room mystery. Another name for this type of story is the closed-circle mystery because the situation is set up so that no new characters can arrive and none of the assembled characters can leave; the guilty party must therefore be one of these characters.

“The story must show you everything you need to solve the central question upfront,” says Taylor Adams. “A single setting, a few characters, a handful of props, all established early, so you feel the author is playing fair. No new locations, scene changes, or unreliable narrators. Instead of zooming out and broadening in scale and action, as many stories do, a locked-room mystery zooms in and reveals new intricacies of what has already been introduced.”

Taylor Adams, quoted in “Move Over, Lady Psychopaths: The Locked-Room Mystery Is Back”

Taylor Adams understands the challenges of writing a closed-circle mystery, but he doesn’t quite overcome those challenges in this book. I have two problems with the story.

First, Darby decides she must determine which of the people inside the rest stop is the villain holding the girl captive. She finally decides to confide in one of those strangers, an action that produces all kinds of consequences. However, instead of taking such a chance, all she had to do was wait. It’s reasonable to conclude that whoever is holding the girl wants her alive; otherwise the girl would already be dead. In order to keep the girl alive in the blizzard, the captor would have to go outside periodically to run the vehicle for a while to keep the girl from freezing to death. All Darby had to do was wait to see who finds some excuse to go out and start the van. Then she’d know who she was up against and could ask the others for help.

Second, the heroic physical action Darby performs not once, but twice would require an Olympic-level gymnast.

For both of these reasons, No Exit doesn’t work for me.

Transcription by Kate Atkinson

Atkinson, Kate. Transcription
Little, Brown, 2018
ISBN 978-0-316-17663-7


They say our entire life flashes in front of our eyes in just a few seconds when we face a life-threatening situation. In Kate Atkinson’s latest novel, Transcription, that’s exactly what happens to the lead character, Juliet Armstrong.

The novel opens, in 1981, with the 60-year-old Juliet attended to by paramedics after she’s hit by a car. After that short introductory section, we see Juliet’s life unfold before our eyes as the narrative retreats into the 1940s, when Juliet worked for MI 5 during the war, and 1950s, when she worked at the BBC after the war.

Raised by a single mother, 17-year-old Juliet was devastated by the death of her mother. She attends a second-rate secretarial school and, soon after graduating at age 18, interviews for a job with the Security Service.

She fingered the strand of [her mother’s] pearls at her neck. Inside each pearl there was a little piece of grit. That was the true self of the pearl, wasn’t it? The beauty of the pearl was just the poor oyster trying to protect itself. From the grit. From the truth. (p. 20)

She gets the job and is soon recruited by MI 5 to participate in a special intelligence operation by transcribing interviews between one of their agents and British Fascist sympathizers. Gradually she gets drawn more deeply into the world of British espionage.

With her characteristic wit and humor (sometimes a bit too much of both), Atkinson creates a character we become invested in while simultaneously holding at arm’s length. Juliet’s life work frames her search for identity, for “the true self,” a search that the reader shares with her.

Give Me Your Hand by Megan Abbott

Abbott, Megan. Give Me Your Hand
text ©2018
Hachette Audio, 2018
Narrated by Chloe Cannon

I hate it when people begin book reviews with “I liked [or didn’t like] this book,” so please forgive me, but I didn’t like this book. I REALLY didn’t like it.

Two women who knew one another for a while during high school come head-to-head about 10 years later when they compete for assignment to the study team of their mentor, a famous woman scientist whose example had inspired them to pursue careers in science. Back in high school girl A had told girl B a terrible secret. Horrified, girl B had broken off their friendship and assumed she’d never have to deal with girl A again. Their unexpected reunion sparks much resentment and breast-beating soul searching in girl B.

The scientific study in question concerns premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD). The novel soon develops into a full-blown melodrama, with blood becoming a heavy-handed, overall symbol for just about every bad thing that happens. (And of course you know that bad things must happen.) Characterization is flat and just as stereotypical as the association between women and blood would suggest. The men who also work at the lab suffer from the same fate of flat characterization, first as men and secondly as geeks or nerds jealous of any rewards women might garner. The book ends with a blatant suggestion that psychopathy is related to parenting, particularly with mothers raising daughters.

I usually try to emphasize what works for me over what doesn’t work in a novel, but in this novel I find no redeeming features. Megan Abbott receives a lot of general praise, so I hope her next novel will be better than this one.

© 2019 by Mary Daniels Brown


Mental Health Book Recommendations From Those Who Struggle

Source: Mental Health Book Recommendations From Those Who Struggle

Here’s a great list of books that can help us better understand mental health issues and the people who face them.

Fiction How Fiction Works Reading Uncategorized Writing

5 Irresistible Introductions in Fiction

Tips for Writers and Readers

Last night I dreamed I went to Manderley again.

Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier

Read that sentence, one of the most famous first sentences in literature, aloud. Notice its cadence. The rhythm lulls you toward sleepiness—appropriate for a dream. And the rest of the book hinges on that final word, again. “Why again?” we wonder. “What happened during the other time or times at Manderley?” “Is Manderley only a dream now, and, if so, why?”

A good introduction piques readers’ interest and compels them to keep reading.

Charles Dickens was a master of grand openings:

A Tale of Two Cities:

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us …

David Copperfield:

Whether I shall turn out to be the hero of my own life, or whether that station will be held by anybody else, these pages must show. To begin my life with the beginning of my life, I record that I was born (as I have been informed and believe) on a Friday, at twelve o’clock at night.

A Christmas Carol:

Marley was dead, to begin with. There is no doubt whatever about that.

Most readers say that they evaluate whether to read a book by looking at the first sentence. Writers have maybe five seconds to capture potential readers’ attention. If the opening sentence doesn’t somehow do that, readers will put that book back on the shelf and pick up another one.

Good introductions grab readers immediately by involving them in the story. Effective introductions make readers ask questions and keep turning the pages to find out the answers. There is no formula for an irresistible introduction, but readers know one when they encounter it.

Here are five more examples of introductions that grabbed me and refused to let me go.

Emma by Jane Austen

Emma Woodhouse, handsome, clever, and rich, with a comfortable home and happy disposition, seemed to unite some of the best blessings of existence; and had lived nearly twenty-one years in the world with very little to distress or vex her.

Like the opening of Rebecca, the soothing poetic meter of the first part of this introduction draws readers in and underscores the harmony of Emma Woodhouse’s life. However, the second part suggests that changes are coming. I need to keep reading to see what will happen to distress or vex Emma.

The Brass Verdict by Michael Connelly

Everybody lies.

Cops lie. Lawyers lie. Witnesses lie. The victims lie.

A trial is a contest of lies. And everybody in the courtroom knows this.

In my heart I know that even the most honest person will lie under certain circumstances. But this opening turns upside down my expectation that justice involves a trial in which witnesses vow to tell “the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.” I must see how how everyone in this case is going to lie and how a trial in which everybody lies will turn out.

Mind Prey by John Sandford

The storm blew up late in the afternoon, tight, gray clouds hustling over the lake like dirty, balled-up sweat socks spilling from a basket.

Here weather imagery sets the mood: threatening weather suggests ominous happenings coming up. And when the conditions smell like “dirty, balled-up sweat socks,” I know that nothing good can possibly happen.

Behind the Scenes at the Museum by Kate Atkinson

I EXIST! I am conceived to the chimes of midnight on the clock on the mantelpiece in the room across the hall.

A first-person narrator who observes her own conception can only take me to dizzying places. I want to continue reading to see what else she has in store for me.

The Book of Ruth by Jane Hamilton

What it begins with, I know finally, is the kernel of meanness in people’s hearts. I don’t know exactly how or why it gets inside us; that’s one of the mysteries I haven’t solved yet.

Not only do I want to learn about “the kernel of meanness in people’s hearts,” but I want to hear the story of how the narrator discovers this truth that he or she finally knows. Maybe what I learn here will teach me about human nature, or “exactly how or why [the kernel of meanness] gets inside us.”

© 2017 by Mary Daniels Brown


My Recent Browsing History

Here are some of the recent articles that have caught my eye.

Is the human brain hardwired to appreciate poetry?
George Saunders: what writers really do when they write

Literature can enthuse medicine, and medicine can inspire literature. They are complementary treatments for being human.

The Stubborn Optimist

Following the persevering example of the writer and activist Grace Paley


A new book is the first to bring clinical expertise to the poet’s case. What does it reveal about his work?

Did Jane Austen die of arsenic poisoning? Maybe. Maybe not.

Books, Movies & TV to Look for in 2017

Now that we’ve finished up with lists of the best books of 2016, it’s time to start thinking about the best books to read in 2017.

Spring 2017 Announcements: All Our Coverage

Publishers Weekly has us covered with a look at the following categories of books:

  • Art, Architecture, & Photography
  • Business & Economics
  • Comics & Graphic Novels
  • Cooking & Food
  • Essays & Literary Criticism
  • History
  • Lifestyle
  • Literary Fiction
  • Memoirs & Biographies
  • Mysteries & Thrillers
  • Poetry
  • Politics & Current Events
  • Romance & Erotica
  • Science
  • SF, Fantasy, & Horror
2017’s Most Anticipated Movie Adaptations

The movie industry has obliged our curiosity and anticipation with a schedule heavy on book- and fact-based stories that run from animated family films to thrillers and comedies, sequels and continuations, comic books and biopics, war films and romance. There are two gigantic Stephen King adaptations on the docket, and sci-fi/fantasy fans with a literary bent have three eagerly awaited films coming this year.

5 Nonfiction Books We’re Excited to Read in 2017

If you’re into current affairs, true crime, science, or history, we think you’ll love these soon-to-be-released books.

What You’ll Be Reading in 2017

John Williams of The New York Times point out some books, both fiction and nonfiction, he’s looking forward to in 2017.

Which Books Are Coming to TV in 2017?

Ian McShane & Neil Gaiman, Amy Adams & Gillian Flynn, Elizabeth Moss & Margaret Atwood —TV is about to have a very literary year.

25 of the Most Exciting Book Releases for 2017

Vulture has the news for you on upcoming book releases.

Most Anticipated: The Great 2017 Book Preview

From The Millions:

Books from no fewer than four Millions staffers? It’s a feast. We hope the following list of 80-something upcoming books peps you up for the (first half of the) new year. You’ll notice that we’ve re-combined our fiction and nonfiction lists, emphasizing fiction as in the past.

The 25 Most Anticipated Books by Women for 2017

From Elle:

Phew, 2016. We can’t remember ever being so happy to see a year end, even as the next brings only uncertainty. There is one thing we know for sure, though: Misogyny has had far too big a public platform, in these past few months especially. So we’re kicking off the new year with a preview of extraordinary books by women, with an eye to how women live, imagine, and think across the globe. Now, more than ever, we need compelling fiction to widen the bounds of our empathy and imaginations, and strong women’s voices to guide us.


© 2017 by Mary Daniels Brown

Book Recommendations List Uncategorized

Even More Best Books of 2016 Lists

Adam Woog’s 10 best mysteries of 2016

Seattle Times book reviewer Adam Woog lists his favorites in one of my favorite literary genres.

PW’s Top Authors Pick Their Favorite Books of 2016

A short list compiled by Publishers Weekly.

2016 By the Books: A Month-by-Month Reader’s Guide

This list takes a bit of an unusual approach to analyzing the books of 2016:

For help understanding what the heck happened in 2016, and how Trump stands to inherit it all, check out these 12 books paired with each month’s major news.

10 Overlooked Books of 2016: From The Red Car to Future Sex

It was a profound year for the written word and yet many incredible books remain unsung. Here are ten books from 2016 that deserve your time and attention.

The Best Children’s Books of 2016

Maria Popova chooses her favorite picture books of the year.

These are the top 100 books of the year, according to Google

The year’s top “books and graphic novels … ranked based on their popularity in the Google Play store.” This method of evaluation means that not all the books listed here were published in 2016.

Customer Favorites: 2016’s Top-Selling New Releases

From Amazon: “List counts only first editions published in 2016 and includes paid units in print and Kindle.”

The mother list is broken down into several categories:

  • Top 20 Overall Customer Favorites for 2016
  • Top 20 Customer Favorites in Kids & Young Adult
  • Top 20 Most Wished For Books of 2016
  • Top 20 Most Gifted Books of 2016


© 2016 by Mary Daniels Brown

Book Recommendations Television Uncategorized

For Your Halloween Entertainment

Here are a couple of articles full of suggestions from The Seattle Times:

  1. What’s on your Halloween reading list?
  2. What to watch on TV this Halloween weekend