Keeping Up With The Penguins

Reviews For The Would-Be Booklover

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15 Books That Will Make You Feel Like You’re On Vacation

A change is as good as a holiday, and sometimes a book is too. When a real-world holiday isn’t possible, you can turn to these fictional worlds to take you away. Here are fifteen books that will make you feel like you’re on vacation.

15 Books That Will Make You Feel Like You're On Vacation - Book List - Keeping Up With The Penguins
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Beach Read by Emily Henry

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The title is apt, and Beach Read is definitely fit-for-purpose. Emily Henry is a modern queen of books that will make you feel like you’re on vacation, and this is the shining jewel in her crown. Plus, it’s a good one for booklovers, as the two main players are authors. One is a romance writer who no longer believes in love, the other a writer of literary fiction who finds himself stuck in a rut. They find themselves holidaying in neighbouring beach houses and challenge each other to write themselves out of their respective blocks. It’s a rom-com, so you can probably guess what happens next…

Call Me By Your Name by Andre Aciman

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If you want a book that will take you back to the heady summer vacations of your youth, you can pick up Call Me By Your Name. It’s a story of young (and not-so-young, yikes) love, the obsessive kind that threatens to suffocate you and everyone in your company. In a cliffside mansion on the Italian Riviera, 17-year-old Elio Perlman meets 24-year-old visiting scholar Oliver and quickly falls head-over-heels. The story is told in retrospect, with grown-up Elio recalling the events of that fateful summer, and it’s a deeply evocative tale. Read my full review of Call Me By Your Name here.

Calypso by David Sedaris

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As per the blurb, Calypso is “beach reading for people who detest beaches”. When David Sedaris buys a beach house on the Carolina coast (that he names the Sea Section, naturally), he’s envisaging long sun-soaked vacations with his loved ones and relaxing holiday pastimes. Of course, reality doesn’t even come close to his hopes and dreams. Not many non-fiction books will make you feel like you’re on vacation, but this one does – vacation with your hilarious, snarky cousin who can’t help but comment on everything that irks them. Read my full review of Calypso here.

Less by Andrew Sean Greer

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If you suffer from any social anxieties, Less is going to be one of the best books you can read to make you feel like you’re on vacation. Arthur Less is a middle-age mid-career author, already struggling to keep it together when he receives an invitation to his ex’s wedding to a more age-appropriate suitor. In desperation, he accepts a series of invitations to half-baked literary events around the world, and sets off on a working holiday that’s both humbling and rejuvenating. This Pulitzer Prize-winning novel will take you around the world, and make you fall just a little bit in love with Arthur Less. Read my full review of Less here.

Wild by Cheryl Strayed

Wild - Cheryl Strayed - book laid on wooden table - Keeping Up With The Penguins

Not all holidays are fun, frolic-on-the-beach types of getaways. You might find yourself, like Cheryl Strayed, desperate to escape your ‘real’ life and grasping at the only opportunity to do so. Wild is more of a pilgrimage than a vacation, really – an account of her grueling solo trek along the Pacific Crest Trail. Her thousand-mile journey (literally!) takes her from the Mojave Desert through California and Oregon to Washington State, and along the way she finds the clarity she’s been seeking since the death of her mother in her early 20s. Read my full review of Wild here.

The Concierge by Abby Corson

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If you’re a traveller who loves a sneak-peek behind-the-scenes, you’ll love The Concierge. The main characters in this murder mystery aren’t on vacation themselves, but they’re the workers who make our vacations (real and fictional) possible. Hector Harrow has worked at Cavengreen Hotel for his entire adult life. He’s the hotel concierge, which means he sees everything and says nothing… until now. He’s finally ready to spill the beans about what happened the night of the murder. Read my full review of The Concierge here.

Reputation by Lex Croucher

Reputation - Lex Croucher - Keeping Up With The Penguins

Were you ever sent away to stay with relatives over the holidays as a kid? Did you find yourself bored out of your brains, desperate for friends and entertainment? Then you’ll definitely relate to Georgiana, the main character of Regency-era rom-com Reputation. Her parents have deposited her with her well-meaning but stuffy aunt and uncle, and they’ve just about driven her all the way around the bend when she meets the enigmatic and charming Frances Campbell. Suddenly, she’s thrust into a world of high-society debauchery, and she couldn’t be more thrilled… until she learns that all that high living comes at a high price.

The One-Hundred-Year Old Man Who Climbed Out The Window And Disappeared by Jonas Jonasson

The One Hundred Year Old Man Who Climbed Out The Window And Disappeared - Jonas Jonasson - Book Laid on Wooden Table - Keeping Up With The Penguins

Allan Karlsson really needs a holiday – and, at a hundred years old, surely he’s earned it. Rather than face a depressing excuse for a birthday party in his retirement home, he seizes the day and jumps out the window. So begins an epic adventure, a ’round-the-world romp that conveniently aligns with Allan’s larger-than-life backstory. The One-Hundred-Year Old Man Who Climbed Out The Window And Disappeared is not only delightful to read, it’s a wonderful reminder that there’s no age limit on adventures. Read my full review of The One-Hundred-Year Old Man Who Climbed Out The Window And Disappeared here.

Did You See Melody? by Sophie Hannah

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Imagine this: you’re over-worked, stressed to the breaking point, and you finally manage a blessed escape to a five-star resort. Sounds like heaven, right? Well, it would be, except that you accidentally stumble into the wrong room and see someone, the most famous murder victim in the country, alive and well. Did You See Melody? is a book that will make you feel like you’re on vacation, but the kind of vacation where things go about as wrong as they can possibly go. You’ll be relieved to be home again by the time you’re done.

Into The Wild by Jon Krakauer

Into The Wild - Jon Krakauer - Keeping Up With The Penguins

At first, it’s a bit hard to feel sorry for Christopher Johnson McCandless. He was born into privilege, and had the kind of savings account that most of us can only dream about. How, then, did he end up a decomposing body, undiscovered for four months in the Alaskan wilderness? He left behind just a few notes in a journal to tell us. Jon Krakauer became obsessed with the mystery of McCandless’s life and death, and thus he wrote Into The Wild. It’s an unsentimental but passionate account of what it really means to go off the map, and the impact on those who are left behind.

The Catch by Amy Lea

The Catch - Amy Lea - Keeping Up With The Penguins

When a floundering fashion influencer discovers that her all-expenses-paid vacation at a Canadian resort isn’t booked for the week she arrived, she has no choice but to take up residence at the only AirBNB available in a small fishing village nearby. Of course, this being a vacation rom-com, there she meets a gruff and grumpy proprietor who will become her fake fiance just days later. Soon enough, the sparks that fly between them become real, but can this romance last all the way home? The Catch is the perfect combination of swoony and spicy, a romantic comedy that will let you escape without insulting your intelligence. Read my full review of The Catch here.

The Other Side Of Beautiful by Kim Lock

The Other Side Of Beautiful - Kim Lock - Keeping Up With The Penguins

A road-trip vacation sounds delightful to most of us, but to Mercy Blain, the protagonist of The Other Side Of Beautiful, it’s a panic-inducing prospect. Mercy hasn’t been outside her own home in two years, but she has no other choice when it burns to the ground. Relegated to living out of the back of a cult classic campervan, she and her trusty sausage dog sidekick hit the road, driving the length of Australia from south to north. This is a surprising, heartwarming, and insightful story about an odyssey undertaken by the most unlikely adventurers. Read my full review of The Other Side Of Beautiful here.

The Nancys by R.W.R. McDonald

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The Nancys will awaken the nostalgia and tickle the funny-bone of anyone who read Nancy Drew mysteries over school holidays as a kid. When Tippy Chan’s mother wins a two-week cruise holiday, her non-traditional family expands to include her Uncle Pike (who bears a startling resemblance to Santa Claus) and his fabulous boyfriend, Devon, fresh off the plane from Sydney. Together, they form a group dedicated to solving the mystery of a local school teacher’s murder (and they do makeovers, on the side). Only they can stop the killer before Tippy’s mother returns and real life starts again.

Nine Perfect Strangers by Liane Moriarty

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Tranquillum House is one of those retreats that offers everything you need: escape, relaxation, mindfulness, and a little pampering. Nine people gather at the remote retreat, each in search of their own solution to life’s problems. But is Tranquillum House really offering answers? Or is there a nefarious scheme afoot? Nine Perfect Strangers affirms the old maxim that, when it comes to vacations and getaways, if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. No one writes a domestic thriller like Liane Moriarty, and this is her at the top of her game.

The Woman In Cabin 10 by Ruth Ware

The Woman In Cabin 10 - Ruth Ware - Keeping Up With The Penguins

Lo Blacklock, a travel journalist, has just been given the plummest of assignments: writing a review of a week-long luxury cruise. She boards the Aurora ready to relax on the still waters of the North Sea, and everything is as picturesque as the press release promised. Only, as the cruise sails on, things start to turn: first the weather, then Lo’s own mind. She’s sure she saw a woman thrown overboard, but all of the passengers are accounted for. Why does nobody believe her? What really happened? The Woman In Cabin 10 will have the hairs on the back of your neck standing on end, and you’ll definitely think twice before you book your next cruise vacation.

35 Amazing Debut Novels

Not a week goes by without a publisher promising a “stunning” or “sparkling” debut novel, or a “singular new voice” – but a debut is a tricky thing to get right. Authors-to-be often slave over their first book for years, before it ever makes it into the hands of an editor or a reader, and yet it’s still near impossible to sound like a practiced and masterful writer your first time out. That said, there are many debut novels that have shown us hints of the greatness to come from the pens of authors who have gone on to have illustrious and lauded careers (or are expected to imminently). Here are 35 amazing debut novels that actually stand up to the press-release hype.

35 Amazing Debut Novels - Book List - Keeping Up With The Penguins
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Conversations With Friends by Sally Rooney

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Blurb: “Written with gemlike precision and marked by a sly sense of humor, Conversations with Friends is wonderfully alive to the pleasures and dangers of youth, and the messy edges of female friendship.”

Review: “In this searing, insightful debut, Rooney offers an unapologetic perspective on the vagaries of relationships… a treatise on married life, the impact of infidelity, the ramifications of one’s actions, and how the person one chooses to be with can impact one’s individuality. Throughout, Rooney’s descriptive eye lends beauty and veracity to this complex and vivid story.” – Publishers Weekly

Read my full review of Conversations With Friends here.

The Heart Is A Lonely Hunter by Carson McCullers

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Blurb: “Wonderfully attuned to the spiritual isolation that underlies the human condition, and with a deft sense for racial tensions in the South, McCullers spins a haunting, unforgettable story that gives voice to the rejected, the forgotten, and the mistreated—and, through Mick, gives voice to the quiet, intensely personal search for beauty.”

Review:The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter is a miracle of compassion, pity, and irony. Form and matter are perfectly blended in the novel.” – Virginia Quarterly Review

Read my full review of The Heart Is A Lonely Hunter here.

Such A Fun Age by Kiley Reid

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Blurb: “A striking and surprising debut novel from an exhilarating new voice, Such a Fun Age is a page-turning and big-hearted story about race and privilege, set around a young black babysitter, her well-intentioned employer, and a surprising connection that threatens to undo them both.”

Review: “All great novelists are great listeners, and Such a Fun Age marks the debut of an extraordinarily gifted one.” – Slate

Read my full review of Such A Fun Age here.

Frankenstein by Mary Shelley

Frankenstein - Mary Shelley - Book Laid on Wooden Table - Keeping Up With The Penguins

Blurb:Frankenstein presents an unworldly outcast who turns to violence only when he is rejected and deprived of affection. Yet his creator, Dr. Victor Frankenstein, must pay the price for his scientific arrogance, his desire to play God, usurp the female role and ‘give birth’ to another living being. In scenes of nightmarish power, monster and maker meet in the shadow of Mont Blanc and chase across frozen Arctic wastes.”

Review: “In a story that’s reflected so much of the last two hundred years, and centers so much on choices, storytelling, and the potential for change, it only makes sense that Frankenstein reflects changes within its own creator.” – NPR

Read my full review of Frankenstein here.

Luster by Raven Leilani

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Blurb: “Irresistibly unruly and strikingly beautiful, razor-sharp and slyly comic, sexually charged and utterly absorbing, Raven Leilani’s Luster is a portrait of a young woman trying to make sense of her life—her hunger, her anger—in a tumultuous era.”

Review: “A darkly funny, hilariously moving debut from a stunning new voice.” – Brit Bennett

Read my full review of Luster here.

Green Dot by Madeleine Gray

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Blurb: “With its daringly specific and intimate voice, Green Dot is a darkly hilarious and deeply felt examination of the joys and indignities of coming into adulthood against the pitfalls of the twenty-first century and the winding, tortuous, and often very funny journey we take in deciding who we are and who we want to be.”

Review: “A heartfelt debut about the joys and disasters of young adulthood.” – People

Read my full review of Green Dot here.

When We Were Vikings by Andrew David MacDonald

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Blurb:When We Were Vikings is an uplifting debut about an unlikely heroine whose journey will leave you wanting to embark on a quest of your own, because after all…we are all legends of our own making.”

Review: “In this engaging debut novel, MacDonald skillfully balances drama and violence with humor, highlighting how an unorthodox family unit is still a family.” – Kirkus Reviews

Read my full review of When We Were Vikings here.

Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng

Everything I Never Told You - Celeste Ng - Keeping Up With The Penguins

Blurb: “A profoundly moving story of family, secrets, and longing, Everything I Never Told You is both a gripping page-turner and a sensitive family portrait, uncovering the ways in which mothers and daughters, fathers and sons, and husbands and wives struggle, all their lives, to understand one another.”

Review: “A powerhouse of a debut novel, a literary mystery crafted out of shimmering prose and precise, painful observation about racial barriers, the burden of familial expectations, and the basic human thirst for belonging.” – Huffington Post

Read my full review of Everything I Never Told You here.

Jonathan Strange And Mr Norrell by Susanna Clarke

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Blurb: “Susanna Clarke’s brilliant first novel is an utterly compelling epic tale of nineteenth-century England and the two magicians who, first as teacher and pupil and then as rivals, emerge to change its history.”

Review: “What kind of magic can make an 800-page novel seem too short? Whatever it is, debut author Susanna Clarke is possessed by it.” – USA Today

Read my full review of Jonathan Strange And Mr Norrell here.

Fleishman Is In Trouble by Taffy Brodesser-Akner

Fleishman Is In Trouble - Taffy Brodesser-Akner - Keeping Up With The Penguins

Blurb: “A searing, utterly unvarnished debut, Fleishman Is in Trouble is an insightful, unsettling, often hilarious exploration of a culture trying to navigate the fault lines of an institution that has proven to be worthy of our great wariness and our great hope.”

Review: “In her witty and well-observed debut, Taffy Brodesser-Akner updates the miserable-matrimony novel, dropping it squarely in our times.” – The New York Times Book Review

Read my full review of Fleishman Is In Trouble here.

The Martian by Andy Weir

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Blurb: “Six days ago, astronaut Mark Watney became one of the first people to walk on Mars. Now, he’s sure he’ll be the first person to die there… But Mark isn’t ready to give up yet. Drawing on his ingenuity, his engineering skills—and a relentless, dogged refusal to quit—he steadfastly confronts one seemingly insurmountable obstacle after the next. Will his resourcefulness be enough to overcome the impossible odds against him?”

Review:Weir combines the heart-stopping with the humorous in this brilliant debut novel.” – Library Journal

Read my full review of The Martian here.

Red, White & Royal Blue by Casey McQuiston

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Blurb: “Can love save the world after all? Where do we find the courage, and the power, to be the people we are meant to be? And how can we learn to let our true colors shine through? Casey McQuiston’s Red, White & Royal Blue proves: true love isn’t always diplomatic.”

Review: “With a diverse cast of characters, quick-witted dialog, and a complicated relationship between to young people with the eyes of the world watching their every move, McQuiston’s debut is an irresistible, hopeful, and sexy romantic comedy that considers real questions about personal and public responsibility.” – Library Journal

Read my full review of Red, White & Royal Blue here.

My Sister, The Serial Killer by Oyinkan Braithwaite

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Blurb: “Korede has long been in love with a kind, handsome doctor at the hospital where she works. She dreams of the day when he will realize that she’s exactly what he needs. But when he asks Korede for Ayoola’s phone number, she must reckon with what her sister has become and how far she’s willing to go to protect her.”

Review: “This riveting, brutally hilarious, ultra-dark novel is an explosive debut by Oyinkan Braithwaite, and heralds an exciting new literary voice.” – NYLON

Read my full review of My Sister, The Serial Killer here.

The Secret History by Donna Tartt

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Blurb: “Under the influence of a charismatic classics professor, a group of clever, eccentric misfits at a New England college discover a way of thought and life a world away from their banal contemporaries. But their search for the transcendent leads them down a dangerous path, beyond human constructs of morality.”

Review:Tartt’s voice is unlike that of any of her contemporaries. Her beautiful language, intricate plotting, fascinating characters, and intellectual energy make her debut by far the most interesting work yet from her generation.” – The Boston Globe

Read my full review of The Secret History here.

The Virgin Suicides by Jeffrey Eugenides

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Blurb:The Virgin Suicides is a modern classic, a lyrical and timeless tale of sex and suicide that transforms and mythologizes suburban middle-American life.”

Review: “A piercing first novel… lyrical and portentous.” – The New York Times

Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman

Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine - Gail Honeyman - Book Laid on Wooden Table - Keeping Up With The Penguins

Blurb:Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine is the smart, warm, and uplifting story of an out-of-the-ordinary heroine whose deadpan weirdness and unconscious wit make for an irresistible journey as she realizes the only way to survive is to open your heart. “

Review: “Debut author Honeyman expertly captures a woman whose inner pain is excruciating and whose face and heart are scarred, but who still holds the capacity to love and be loved.” – Publishers Weekly

Read my full review of Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine here.

Sharp Objects by Gillian Flynn

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Blurb: “Fresh from a brief stay at a psych hospital, reporter Camille Preaker faces a troubling assignment: she must return to her tiny hometown to cover the murders of two preteen girls. For years, Camille has hardly spoken to her neurotic, hypochondriac mother or to the half-sister she barely knows: a beautiful thirteen-year-old with an eerie grip on the town. Now, installed in her old bedroom in her family’s Victorian mansion, Camille finds herself identifying with the young victims—a bit too strongly.”

Review: “[A] breathtaking debut…Written with multiple twists and turns, Sharp Objects is a work of psychological prowess and page-turning thrills.” – Richmond Times

Read my full review of Sharp Objects here.

To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee

To Kill A Mockingbird - Harper Lee - Book laid on a wooden table - Keeping Up With The Penguins

Blurb: “A gripping, heart-wrenching, and wholly remarkable tale of coming-of-age in a South poisoned by virulent prejudice, To Kill A Mockingbird views a world of great beauty and savage inequities through the eyes of a young girl, as her father—a crusading local lawyer—risks everything to defend a black man unjustly accused of a terrible crime.”

Review: “A first novel of such rare excellence that it will no doubt make a great many readers slow down to relish more fully its simple distinction.” – Chicago Tribune

Read my full review of To Kill A Mockingbird here.

Her Body And Other Parties by Carmen Maria Machado

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Blurb: “In Her Body and Other Parties, Carmen Maria Machado blithely demolishes the arbitrary borders between psychological realism and science fiction, comedy and horror, fantasy and fabulism.”

Review: “The best surrealist fiction resides somewhere between the eerie and the actual, and that’s exactly where Carmen Maria Machado feels most at home… A stunning debut.” – Los Angeles Magazine

Read my full review of Her Body And Other Parties here.

A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman

A Man Called Ove - Fredrik Backman - Book Laid on Wooden Table - Keeping Up With The Penguins

Blurb:Fredrik Backman’s beloved first novel about the angry old man next door is a thoughtful exploration of the profound impact one life has on countless others.”

Review: “A charming debut…You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, you’ll feel new sympathy for the curmudgeons in your life. You’ll also want to move to Scandinavia, where everything’s cuter.” – People

Read my full review of A Man Called Ove here.

The Girls by Emma Cline

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Blurb: “At the start of summer, a lonely and thoughtful teenager, Evie Boyd, sees a group of girls in the park, and is immediately caught by their freedom, their careless dress, their dangerous aura of abandon. Soon, Evie is in thrall to Suzanne, a mesmerizing older girl, and is drawn into the circle of a soon-to-be infamous cult and the man who is its charismatic leader.”

Review: “For a story that traffics in the lurid notoriety of the Manson murders, The Girls is an extraordinary act of restraint. With the maturity of a writer twice her age, Cline has written a wise novel that’s never showy: a quiet, seething confession of yearning and terror.” – The Washington Post

Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë

Jane Eyre - Charlotte Bronte - book laid on a wooden table - Keeping Up With The Penguins

Blurb: “A novel of intense power and intrigue, Jane Eyre has dazzled generations of readers with its depiction of a woman’s quest for freedom. Having grown up an orphan in the home of her cruel aunt and at a harsh charity school, Jane Eyre becomes an independent and spirited survivor-qualities that serve her well as governess at Thornfield Hall. But when she finds love with her sardonic employer, Rochester, the discovery of his terrible secret forces her to make a choice.”

Review: “At the end we are steeped through and through with the genius, the vehemence, the indignation of Charlotte Brontë.” – Virginia Woolf

Read my full review of Jane Eyre here.

The Reading List by Sara Nisha Adams

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Blurb: “An unforgettable and heartwarming debut about how a chance encounter with a list of library books helps forge an unlikely friendship between two very different people in a London suburb.”

Review: “This moving debut demonstrates the power of novels to provide comfort in the face of devastating loss and loneliness, with relatable characters and a heartwarming tone throughout.” – Booklist

The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath

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Blurb:The Bell Jar chronicles the crack-up of Esther Greenwood: young, brilliant, beautiful, and enormously talented, but slowly going under—maybe for the last time. Sylvia Plath masterfully draws the reader into Esther’s breakdown with such intensity that Esther’s neurosis becomes completely understandable and even rational, as probable and accessible an experience as going to the movies.”

Review: “As clear and readable as it is witty and disturbing.” – The New York Times

Read my full review of The Bell Jar here.

See What I Have Done by Sarah Schmidt

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Blurb: “In this riveting debut novel, See What I Have Done, Sarah Schmidt recasts one of the most fascinating murder cases of all time into an intimate story of a volatile household and a family devoid of love.”

Review: “An outstanding debut novel about love, death, and the lifelong repercussions of unresolved grief.” – Observer

Pizza Girl by Jean Kyoung Frazier

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Blurb: “As one woman looks toward motherhood and the other toward middle age, the relationship between the two begins to blur in strange, complicated, and ultimately heartbreaking ways.”

Review: “Sharp and surprising, Pizza Girl shows us how obsession can fill the empty spaces in a young woman’s life. Jean Kyoung Frazier will make you laugh with one sentence and break your heart with the next. A delicious debut.” – Julia Phillips

Read my full review of Pizza Girl here.

Elizabeth Is Missing by Emma Healey

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Blurb: “In this darkly riveting debut novel—a sophisticated psychological mystery that is also an heartbreakingly honest meditation on memory, identity, and aging—an elderly woman descending into dementia embarks on a desperate quest to find the best friend she believes has disappeared, and her search for the truth will go back decades and have shattering consequences.”

Review:Elizabeth is Missing will stir and shake you: an investigation into a seventy-year-old crime, through the eyes of the most likeably unreliable of narrators. But the real mystery at its compassionate core is the fragmentation of the human mind.” – Emma Donoghue

The One-Hundred-Year Old Man Who Climbed Out The Window And Disappeared by Jonas Jonasson

The One Hundred Year Old Man Who Climbed Out The Window And Disappeared - Jonas Jonasson - Book Laid on Wooden Table - Keeping Up With The Penguins

Blurb: “It would be the adventure of a lifetime for anyone else, but Allan has a larger-than-life backstory: Not only has he witnessed some of the most important events of the twentieth century, but he has actually played a key role in them. Starting out in munitions as a boy, he somehow finds himself involved in many of the key explosions of the twentieth century and travels the world, sharing meals and more with everyone from Stalin, Churchill, and Truman to Mao, Franco, and de Gaulle. Quirky and utterly unique, The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared has charmed readers across the world.”

Review: “A mordantly funny and loopily freewheeling debut novel about ageing disgracefully.” – The Sunday Times

Read my full review of The One-Hundred-Year Old Man Who Climbed Out The Window And Disappeared here.

Detransition, Baby by Torrey Peters

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Blurb: “This provocative debut is about what happens at the emotional, messy, vulnerable corners of womanhood that platitudes and good intentions can’t reach. Torrey Peters brilliantly and fearlessly navigates the most dangerous taboos around gender, sex, and relationships, gifting us a thrillingly original, witty, and deeply moving novel.”

Review: “If I had the ability to momentarily wipe my memory, I’d use it to reread Detransition, Baby for the first time.” – Vogue

Sense And Sensibility by Jane Austen

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Blurb: “Marianne Dashwood wears her heart on her sleeve, and when she falls in love with the dashing but unsuitable John Willoughby she ignores her sister Elinor’s warning that her impulsive behaviour leaves her open to gossip and innuendo. Meanwhile Elinor, always sensitive to social convention, is struggling to conceal her own romantic disappointment, even from those closest to her. Through their parallel experience of love – and its threatened loss – the sisters learn that sense must mix with sensibility if they are to find personal happiness in a society where status and money govern the rules of love.”

Review: “As nearly flawless as any fiction could be.” – Eudora Welty

Read my full review of Sense And Sensibility here.

Gentlemen Prefer Blondes by Anita Loos

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Blurb:Gentlemen Prefer Blondes is a landmark satirical novel by Anita Loos. In it we follow the diary entries of Lorelei Lee a blond flapper from Little Rock complete with spelling and grammar errors. What follows is a delightful romp as we discover that Lorelei is anything but a dumb blonde. Her observations on life are witty, humorous, cutting, and outrageous.”

Review: “The great American novel.” – Edith Wharton

Read my full review of Gentlemen Prefer Blondes here.

Horrorstor by Grady Hendrix

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Blurb: “Something strange is happening at the Orsk furniture superstore in Cleveland, Ohio. Every morning, employees arrive to find broken Kjerring bookshelves, shattered Glans water goblets, and smashed Liripip wardrobes. Sales are down, security cameras reveal nothing, and store managers are panicking. To unravel the mystery, three employees volunteer to work a nine-hour dusk-till-dawn shift. In the dead of the night, they’ll patrol the empty showroom floor, investigate strange sights and sounds, and encounter horrors that defy the imagination.”

Review:Horrorstör delivers a crisp terror-tale…[and] Hendrix strikes a nice balance between comedy and horror.” – The Washington Post

Read my full review of Horrorstor here.

Well Met by Jen DeLuca

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Blurb: “The faire is Simon’s family legacy and from the start he makes clear he doesn’t have time for Emily’s lighthearted approach to life, her oddball Shakespeare conspiracy theories, or her endless suggestions for new acts to shake things up. Yet on the faire grounds he becomes a different person, flirting freely with Emily when she’s in her revealing wench’s costume. But is this attraction real, or just part of the characters they’re portraying?”

Review:Well Met will especially appeal to readers who like bookstores, Renaissance fair shenanigans and nerdy English teachers wearing vests. DeLuca will have readers laughing all the way to the turkey leg vendor.” – Shelf Awareness

Read my full review of Well Met here.

The Kiss Quotient by Helen Hoang

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Blurb: “A heartwarming and refreshing debut novel that proves one thing: there’s not enough data in the world to predict what will make your heart tick.”

Review: “Helen Hoang’s The Kiss Quotient is an absolute delight—charming, sexy, and centered on a protagonist you love rooting for.” – Buzzfeed

Read my full review of The Kiss Quotient here.

The Animals In That Country by Laura Jean McKay

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Blurb: “Bold, exhilarating, and wholly original, The Animals in That Country asks what would happen, for better or worse, if we finally understood what animals were saying.”

Review: “We’ve all wished we could talk to animals, but McKay teaches us that we really should be careful what we wish for. By turns bizarre and profound, this is a striking debut.” – Hill Of Content

Read my full review of The Animals In That Country here.

10 Books To Read When You Feel Lonely

There are few worse feelings in life than loneliness. In fact, it’s epidemic, and linked to poor mental and physical health. Luckily, for bookworms, we have shelves full of books that can help alleviate that feeling – a temporary salve at least. Here are ten books to read when you feel lonely.

10 Books To Read When You Feel Lonely - Book List - Keeping Up With The Penguins
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Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman

Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine - Gail Honeyman - Book Laid on Wooden Table - Keeping Up With The Penguins

Eleanor Oliphant has basically made loneliness her whole personality – not that she’d describe herself as lonely. She’s ‘completely fine’, as the title suggests, with her work and her pizza and vodka nights and her weekly conversations with Mummy. Over the course of Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine, though, she discovers that true human connection is not impossible, and there are people who can see beyond her eccentricities. This is one of the books to read when you feel lonely because, if an odd duck like Eleanor can overcome it, so can you. Read my full review of Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine here.

The Thursday Murder Club by Richard Osman

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The Thursday Murder Club is a books to read when you feel lonely two-fer: it’s got a group of friends that will warm your heart and make you laugh, and a murder mystery that will keep you intrigued and distracted. Elizabeth, Joyce, Ibrahim and Ron enjoy investigating unsolved murders as a hobby, but when one occurs right underneath their noses in their retirement village, their skills are put to the test. They’re an unlikely gang of armchair detectives, but they’ve got a few tricks up their sleeves. Plus, there’s a few sequels that come after this one, and books are one of the few healthy binges that can help you deal with loneliness.

Everything I Know About Love by Dolly Alderton

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One of the most accessible solutions to loneliness is a good chat with a good friend. If one of those isn’t forthcoming, the next best thing is reading a memoir like Everything I Know About Love. Dolly Alderton is disarmingly frank, a bit of a mess but a loveable one, and reading her memoir is like listening to a friend tell you a bunch of stories about her life over a glass of wine (or five). She’s even got a couple of recipes to give you, along with some advice for navigating early adulthood and cautionary tales.

The Martian by Andy Weir

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You think you’re lonely? Try being the only person on an entire planet! That’s Mark Watney’s situation in The Martian, a book about an astronaut accidentally abandoned by his team on the red planet. He has plenty of problems to contend with – figuring out how to survive, generating enough food and breathable air for himself on a planet that supplies neither, until the next spaceship arrives in a few years’ time – but he remains optimistic, no matter how insurmountable the obstacles. This is one of those books to read when you feel lonely because Watney’s enthusiasm is simply infectious, and his great sense of humour about his dire circumstances is sure to make you feel better about your own. Read my full review of The Martian here.

The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion

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Loneliness is a problem for Don Tillman, and like all the problems in his life – grocery shopping, workplace politics, schoolyard bullies – he’s sure it should be approached logically and scientifically. That’s why he creates The Wife Project, a questionnaire designed to filter out candidates and find his most compatible partner for life. What could possibly go wrong? The Rosie Project is a book about looking for love and companionship in all the wrong places, but somehow finding it anyway. Read my full review of The Rosie Project here.

The Reading List by Sara Nisha Adams

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For many lonely bookworms, the library is a place of solace. Whether you’re a patron – like widower Mukesh looking for a way to connect with his granddaughter – or an employee – like bright but anxious teenager Aleshia – it’s a place to find connection and comfort. In The Reading List, these lonely souls form an unlikely friendship over a list of book recommendations Aleshia discovers in one of the returns. This is a story about finding joy through the common interest of books, and we can all use a little of that, lonely or not.

The Helpline by Katherine Collette

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The Helpline is a book about Germaine. Germaine is in her late thirties, she’s very good with numbers, she loves Soduku (more than most people), and she makes a point of seeing her mother as little as possible. In fact, she avoids most people. She’d rather be analysing spreadsheet data than engaging in pointless conversation. But now that she’s lost her job as a senior mathematician, she’s forced to find alternate employment answering phones for the local senior citizen helpline. It forces her to connect with other people, for the first time in a long time, and she discovers it’s not quite as bad as she remembers. Read my full review of The Helpline here.

My Best Friend’s Exorcism by Grady Hendrix

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Counteract your loneliness with a heaping serve of nostalgia, and a side of… demonic possession? My Best Friend’s Exorcism will take you back to the heady days of adolescent friendship, when your friends are your world, and you’ll do anything to protect them. Of course, it’s a Grady Hendrix horror-comedy novel, so things also get a little freaky, but that’s a nice distraction from the real-world horrors that exacerbate our feelings of isolation. Read my full review of My Best Friend’s Exorcism here.

The One-Hundred-Year Old Man Who Climbed Out The Window And Disappeared by Jonas Jonasson

The One Hundred Year Old Man Who Climbed Out The Window And Disappeared - Jonas Jonasson - Book Laid on Wooden Table - Keeping Up With The Penguins

When you live to be a hundred, you see a lot of friends come and go, and you inevitably experience some periods of loneliness. Allan Karlsson doesn’t let it get him down, though. There’s always vodka! In The One-Hundred-Year Old Man Who Climbed Out The Window And Disappeared, he (you guessed it!) climbs out the window of his retirement home and goes on an adventure, one that takes him around the world and elicits some very strange memories from his century of living life to the fullest. This is one of the best books to read when you feel lonely because not only is it great fun, but it reminds you that it’s never too late and your life isn’t over until its over. Read my full review of The One-Hundred-Year Old Man Who Climbed Out The Window And Disappeared here.

The Other Side Of Beautiful by Kim Lock

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If you’re feeling really lonely, it might seem strange that I’m recommending a book about someone who chooses to be alone most of the time – but give it a chance. The Other Side Of Beautiful is a really moving book about overcoming your fears to find connection and happiness. A woman who lives with severe anxiety and agoraphobia is forced out into the world by a house fire, and finds herself driving the length of Australia in a run-down van with her sausage dog, Wasabi, for company. It might sound bleak, but it’s one of the most heartwarming books to read when you feel lonely – promise! Read my full review of The Other Side Of Beautiful here.

13 Well Plotted Mysteries

Have you ever thought about how hard it must be to plot a mystery novel? The author has to know who did it, why they did it, how they did it – and they’ve got to figure out how to tell the reader all of that, without going too fast or too slow, and keeping them entertained all the while. It’s no mean feat, and it’s all the more impressive when an author does it particularly well. Here are thirteen well plotted mysteries that will keep you intrigued all the way through to perfectly crafted solutions.

13 Well Plotted Mysteries - Book List - Keeping Up With The Penguins
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The Cry by Helen Fitzgerald

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I happened to watch The Cry as a television mini-series before I read the book, but let me tell you: it’s one of the most well plotted mysteries you’ll experience, no matter the format. The central mystery revolves around a missing child, an infant who disappears from under his parents nose. The media flocks to the scene, the parents make tearful appeals – but all is not as it seems. There’s a reveal at the mid-point of this one that will knock your socks off, and you’ll barely have a chance to pull them on before they’re knocked off once more. Read my full review of The Cry here.

Kill Your Husbands by Jack Heath

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Jack Heath is a remarkably prolific writer, with over forty titles to his name across multiple genres, so he’s got a well-practiced hand when it comes to writing well plotted mysteries. Kill Your Husbands is a sharp and funny mystery-thriller about a couple’s weekend gone wrong – like, really wrong. Three couples rent an isolated house on a mountaintop, and decide to spice things up with some partner-swapping. It’s all fun and games until one of the husbands turns up dead, and then another, and then one of the wives goes missing. Read my full review of Kill Your Husbands here.

Remember Me by Charity Norman

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Are some secrets best left buried? That’s the question at the heart of Remember Me, a wonderfully suspenseful novel about a young woman who went missing twenty-five years ago, and the clues to her fate coming from an unlikely source. Through the mists of her father’s failing memory, Emily gets glimpses of the past, and what might have happened to Leah Patara. But does she really want to know? It’s a family drama wrapped around a crime mystery, and it will keep you hooked to the very last page. Read my full review of Remember Me here.

Apples Never Fall by Liane Moriarty

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You might know Liane Moriarty best for Big Little Lies, the best-selling novel turned HBO series starring Nicole Kidman and Reese Witherspoon, but if you’re after well plotted mysteries, it’s well worth exploring further into her catalogue. Apples Never Fall is perfectly paced and totally readable, with town gossip and parallel timelines that keep you guessing. There’s a cast of characters bound together, but each harbouring their own secrets – secrets a nosy detective is determined to uncover. If you’re a fan of town gossip and barely-founded assumptions, this is the mystery novel for you. Read my full review of Apples Never Fall here.

56 Days by Catherine Ryan Howard

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Is it too soon for a COVID-19 murder mystery? Not when it’s as well plotted as this one! 56 Days is Catherine Ryan Howard’s latest high-concept crime thriller, set in Dublin in the early days of the city’s first lock-down. The main characters are a couple who barely know each other, forced into the pressure cooker situation of living with each other during the pandemic, so the reader gets two (or more?) very different perspectives on the same events. It’s well written, well paced, with tantalising clues and a couple of truly excellent fake-out twists. Read my full review of 56 Days here.

The Likeness by Tana French

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Tana French has been called the reining queen of Irish crime, with good reason: her Dublin Murder Squad series is wall-to-wall well plotted mysteries. The Likeness is my favourite, the one with a premise so bonkers that I simply had to read it. Detective Cassie Maddox is trying to find her balance after a major trauma on a previous case when a murder victim shows up who looks identical to her. That’s weird, but it gets weirder when they learn that the victim was living under an alias that Maddox once used while undercover. None of the victim’s friends know that she’s dead, so Maddox’s boss has her pose as the dead girl, pretending to recover from her injuries in the hopes of luring the murderer out of the woodwork. It’s insane, but will it work? Read my full review of The Likeness here.

I Saw A Man by Owen Sheers

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I Saw A Man isn’t a thriller, but it’s every bit as tense and gripping. It’s a literary mystery, one that penetrates far more deeply than your standard paint-by-numbers airport novel. Owen Sheers uses two terrible tragedies to interrogate the psychology of trauma, the capriciousness of chance, the weight of grief, and the morality of complicit silence, all the while keeping the reader glued to the page by the mysterious moral dilemma that changes the life of every character. Read my full review of I Saw A Man here.

Big Lies In A Small Town by Diane Chamberlain

Big Lies In A Small Town - Diane Chamberlain - Book on Wooden Table - Keeping Up With The Penguins

Regular readers of Keeping Up With The Penguins might be sick of me recommending Big Lies In A Small Town, but I can’t help it! It’s one of the most well plotted mysteries I’ve read, all the better for the fact that I simply wasn’t expecting it at all based on the cover and blurb. The story centers around a Depression-era mural: the woman commissioned to paint it (who disappeared under mysterious circumstances), and the woman charged with restoring it for installation, nearly eight decades later. Will she uncover the truth with the layers of paint and grime? Read my full review of Big Lies In A Small Town here.

Fleishman Is In Trouble by Taffy Brodesser-Akner

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You probably won’t find Fleishman Is In Trouble shelved with the mysteries at your local independent bookstore, but that doesn’t mean it’s not one of the most well plotted mysteries of recent years. It looks like your stock-standard New York divorce novel, with a privileged couple – he’s a doctor, she’s a talent agent/manager – sniping at each other and using their kids like battering rams in the dissolution of their marriage. But by the end of the first chapter, you’ll realise that this is something very different. Read my full review of Fleishman Is In Trouble here.

The Plot by Jean Hanff Korelitz

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It’s so meta: one of the most well plotted mystery is a book about a well plotted mystery. How about that? The Plot is “a psychologically suspenseful novel about a story too good not to steal, and the writer who steals it”. A creative writing student sadly dies tragically young, and his professor decides to take the plot he planned to use for his debut novel. Who would notice, who would care? It turns out someone does, and they care a lot. Enough to put the author’s life at risk, not to mention his career and reputation. Read my full review of The Plot here.

The Woman In The Library by Sulari Gentill

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The Woman In The Library is an underrated gem, a well plotted metafictional mystery that will keep you turning pages way past your bed time. Hannah Tigone is a crime writer, working on a novel that begins in the Boston Library. Four strangers get to talking after a woman’s scream in the next room breaks the silence. Later, they discover that the woman who screamed was murdered – could one of them be the killer? Chapter-by-chapter, Hannah forwards this work-in-progress to her writer friend Leo, but slowly his responses reveal he might not be the trusty correspondent he seems. Read my full review of The Woman In The Library here.

Sharp Objects by Gillian Flynn

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With just a few well plotted mysteries, Gillian Flynn has changed the game. She reached mainstream popular appeal with her best-seller Gone Girl, but her debut novel Sharp Objects is the one with the truly masterful plot. The follows Camille, a journalist for a small Chicago newspaper, as she’s drawn back to her hometown to report on the abduction and murder of two young girls. At first, she doesn’t seem particularly unusual – sure, she’s a bit of a drinker, and she clearly has some unresolved issues with her family, but who doesn’t? Soon, you’ll realise how dark she really is, and why those issues with her mother and her hometown might never be untangled. Read my full review of Sharp Objects here.

And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie

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Of course, it’s not a list of well plotted mysteries without an Agatha Christie novel. And, even though it’s kind of an obvious choice, we really can’t go past And Then There Were None. It’s a Christie classic, a locked-room mystery with a ticking clock, featuring ten strangers trapped on an isolated island. All were brought there under similar false pretenses, and all of them are destined to die. But who would draw them there? Why are they being killed off, one by one? How can the murderer operate undetected? Christie will tell you when she’s good and ready, but you’ll realise that the clues there all along. Read my full review of And Then There Were None here.

10 Fiction Books About Prison

For someone who’s never been to prison, it can be hard to imagine what it feels like. Like with any experience, though, one of the most accessible ways to build empathy and understanding is to read fiction about it. These ten fiction books about prison offer their own unique insights into the psychological realities of incarceration, across geographies and decades.

10 Fiction Books About Prison - Book List - Keeping Up With The Penguins
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Alias Grace by Margaret Atwood

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Alias Grace begins in 1851, when the narrator, Grace, is 24 years old. She has already been imprisoned for eight years, and being a rather well-behaved prisoner, her days are spent as a domestic servant in the Governor’s home. Margaret Atwood uses this as the foundation to tell a fictionalised version of the life and crimes of the real Grace Marks, a servant who (along with her boyfriend) were tried and convicted of the 1843 murders of the householder Thomas Kinnear and his housekeeper (slash secret lover) Nancy Montgomery. Atwood, of course, does a fantastic job of capturing the emotional swings of such a life, peppered with details of the practical realities. Read my full review of Alias Grace here.

In The Penal Colony by Franz Kafka

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Perhaps it’s cheating to include a short story in a list of fiction books about prison, but in true Kafka fashion, In The Penal Colony is so wonderfully complex that you’ll probably spend longer digesting it than you would a standard 300-page novel. The story is set, as the title suggests, in an otherwise-unnamed penal colony, where condemned prisoners are subjected to punishment by an elaborate torture device. The machine is programmed to carve their crimes into their skin, slowly executing them over the course of hours. It’s brutal, yes, but it’s narrated with a detachment that will grip you as much as it disturbs you.

The Stranger by Albert Camus

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Albert Camus knocked it out of the park with his very first published novella, The Stranger (sometimes published as The Outsider). At first, it barely seems to be a fiction book about prison; rather, it’s about an ordinary man with flattened affect after the death of his mother who murders a man on an Algiers beach in extraordinary circumstances. However, as you read through, you’ll experience both the crime and its consequences, including his incarceration and descent into madness. Camus said his story explores “the nakedness of man faced with the absurd”, which is a pretty good summary.

Eileen by Ottessa Moshfegh

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Most of these fiction books about prison focus on the experience of the incarcerated. Eileen offers something different: the perspective of someone who works in the prison. The titular character is a secretary who is not herself imprisoned, and yet spends her days among the guards and the “quotidian horrors” of the facility. They’re no worse than the horrors she faces in her squalid home with her alcoholic father. What’s more, she is technically a criminal herself, just one who has escaped the clutches of the ‘justice’ system. This story reveals what a fine line separates the guards from the guarded.

The Mars Room by Rachel Kushner

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It’s rare for fiction books about prison to shoot straight to the top of best-seller lists, even more so for them to achieve widespread critical acclaim at the same time, but that’s what happened for The Mars Room. This is a story about “a life gone off the rails in contemporary America”. It begins with a woman at the start of two consecutive life sentences in Stanville Women’s Correctional Facility. She’s all too aware that the world continues to turn outside without her, but she’s thrust into a whole new world inside, with thousands of women who will seize upon anything that makes it easier to survive. It’s an unsentimental view of the experience of incarceration, and thus a very insightful one.

An American Marriage by Tayari Jones

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An American Marriage is a fiction book about prison, but it’s also a lived reality for thousands of Americans (59% of incarcerated people in the U.S. are Black or Hispanic). Roy and Celestial, in Tayari Jones’s story, are a young and upwardly-mobile Black couple whose lives are derailed when Roy is accused and convicted of sexual assault. He is imprisoned, and she must forge her own path forward, knowing that time has stopped for him inside. They communicate via letters, and the reader gets to see the tides of their relationship ebb and flow as they grow into entirely different people than the young newlyweds they once were. Read my full review of An American Marriage here.

Horrorstor by Grady Hendrix

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Here’s one of the more lighthearted fiction books about prison (though it will still scare the pants off most readers, especially those not particularly well-versed in horror). Horrorstor is set in a haunted furniture superstore, where employees must spend the night to trace the source of acts of vandalism that have plagued the retailer. They discover that the superstore was built on the grounds of a notorious former prison, and the inmates who died there aren’t done haunting the place just because it’s got a new name. It’s not for the faint of heart, but it’s still great fun. Read my full review of Horrorstor here.

The Speechwriter by Martin McKenzie-Murray

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After the past few years, you’d be forgiven for thinking political satire is dead. The Speechwriter proves it isn’t so. It’s one of the fiction books about prison that is criminally underrated, and definitely deserves to be read more widely. The story is styled as the prison memoir of Toby, former speechwriter to the Prime Minister of Australia and current inmate of Sunshine correctional facility. It is edited (with frequent footnote asides) from his murderous cellmate Garry. Together, they weave a tale so extraordinary you can’t help but believe it. This is dark humour at its finest. Read my full review of The Speechwriter here.

The Nickel Boys by Colson Whitehead

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The operators of the facility in The Nickel Boys would probably balk at it being called a prison – they call it as a “reform school”, but let’s be real. It’s a place where troubled boys are sent by order of a judge, they can’t leave and they’re treated horribly. This is a really dark book, one that’s all the more horrifying for knowing that it’s based on the real-life Dozier School where “students” were subjected to extensive abuse and cruelty. The only upside of Whitehead’s fictional version is that there is a reckoning, and former “students” of the Nickel Academy come together to expose the administrators and seek justice. Read my full review of The Nickel Boys here.

Little Dorrit by Charles Dickens

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The more things change, the more they stay the same. Little Dorrit might be over 150 years old, and yet it still reflects the capriciousness of fate and the societal forces that might conspire to send someone to prison. Dickens drew upon his own experience, the shame and fear he felt about his father’s time in debtor’s prison, and wrote a story much darker than many of his earlier works but also, perhaps, more pertinent. This story doesn’t just explore the practical realities of imprisonment in the 19th century, but the psychological ramifications for both the imprisoned and their community that are timeless.

Bonus: This doesn’t really ‘count’ among fiction books about prison per se, but I couldn’t put together this list without at least mentioning it. The Fancies by Kim Lock is a great book about post-incarceration life, returning to the community after a period in prison, and the self-perpetuating cycle of engagement with the criminal justice system. Read my full review of The Fancies here.

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