Keeping Up With The Penguins

Reviews For The Would-Be Booklover

13 Guaranteed Slump-Buster Books

If you’ve got a lot of bookish friends, you’ve probably heard at least one or two of them complain about being in a “reading slump” at some point. I have a pretty good reading rhythm, and I’m not sure I’ve ever had to use that terminology myself, but I can certainly relate to the feeling of being not in the mood: no books calling to you, nothing that draws you in… Surely we’ve all felt a bit of that of late, with the state of the world. I know I did, but To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before was just the ticket and I’ve got a good strong bench of slump-buster books. I can guarantee you these will get you back on that book-lovin’ horse!

13 Guaranteed Slump-Buster Books - Keeping Up With The Penguins
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Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty

Big Little Lies - Liane Moriarty - Book Laid On Wooden Table - Keeping Up With The Penguins

Liane Moriarty is the reigning queen of woman-centred domestic thrillers, and Big Little Lies got her the crown. I turned to it after I finished Ulysses – I was exhausted, and in the mood for a page-turner, and boy did it deliver! This is Moriarty in her prime: three women, all dealing with their own struggles, merging and converging with a dramatic climax that ends in bloodshed. All of Moriarty’s books are compelling and satisfying, but Big Little Lies particularly so. Read my full review of Big Little Lies here.

The Martian by Andy Weir

The Martian - Andy Weir - book laid on wooden table - Keeping Up With The Penguins

A man stranded alone on Mars, years away from assistance with only a month’s worth of supplies, hardly sounds like a hilarious premise for a novel… and yet The Martian made me laugh harder than any book had in ages. It’s thrilling and compelling enough to draw you in, but Weir deftly steers clear of anything too dark or depressing. The narrator, Mark Watney, is determined to survive and his good attitude is infectious. In addition to cheering you up, this one might even teach you a thing or two about science – imagine that! Read my full review of The Martian here.

The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes by Arthur Conan Doyle

The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes - Arthur Conan Doyle - Keeping Up With The Penguins

If you’re in the mood for snack-sized stories, instead of a heavy pot-roast story, The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes is the book for you. Doyle is a masterclass in economical writing; not a word is wasted, and he manages to say a lot in just a few pages. What’s more, the stories are just as interesting and clever as you’d hope for the world’s most famous fictional detective – but they stop short of being horrifying or terrifying, the way most contemporary detective thrillers are. Read my full review of The Adventures Of Sherlock Holmes 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

Ah, I never tire of recommending this book! The One-Hundred-Year Old Man Who Climbed Out The Window And Disappeared is one of the most delightful books I’ve ever had the pleasure to read. It’s basically a European Forrest Gump, but less trite, a sprinkle more snarky, and guaranteed to make you chuckle. Plus, who can’t relate to wanting to jump out the window and go on an adventure? This amazing Swedish novel (translated into English by Rod Bradbury) will bust your slump for sure. Read my full review of The One-Hundred-Year Old Man Who Climbed Out The Window And Disappeared here.

Crazy Rich Asians by Kevin Kwan

Crazy Rich Asians - Kevin Kwan - Book Laid on Wooden Table - Keeping Up With The Penguins

If reality TV shows about eligible bachelors and glamorous ladies are dragging your attention away from reading, Crazy Rich Asians is just the thing to bring you back. Kevin Kwan is the king of the guilty indulgence. This book is glitzy, it’s silly, it’s funny, it’s touching, and it’s just far enough over-the-top (without toppling over). Even better, if it leaves you wanting more, there are two sequels to sustain you, and a movie adaptation that will knock your socks off. My full review of Crazy Rich Asians is coming soon!

Everywhere I Look by Helen Garner

Everywhere I Look - Helen Garner - Keeping Up With The Penguins

I’m sure if I ever met Helen Garner, she would describe me in some delightfully searing way: an inner-city young woman who worships the ground she walks on is surely the type of cliche she detests. Still, it’s a cliche for a reason. All of her books are worth reading, of course, but if it’s slump-buster books you’re after, you can’t go past her essay collection Everywhere I Look. Most of the essays have been previously published elsewhere, but there’s something especially wonderful about having them all back-to-back on paper. She applies her keen insight and acerbic wit to topics as varied as making a house a home, true crime, heroes, grandchildren, and Russell Crowe movies.

Less by Andrew Sean Greer

Less - Andrew Sean Greer - Book Laid on Wooden Table - Keeping Up With The Penguins

Greer said that he began writing Less as a “very serious” novel, but he soon figured out that the only way to write about the miseries of an ageing, gay writer (as an ageing, gay writer) was to make it funny. It’s an unparalleled stroke of genius that makes for a compelling, heart-warming read. I can’t over-state it: I really dig this determinedly self-deprecating approach. It lets Greer parody all the priviliged-white-American-abroad tropes, to my great delight. Less will knock your reading slump for six! Read my full review of Less here.

Stay Sexy And Don’t Get Murdered by Karen Kilgariff and Georgia Hardstark

Stay Sexy and Don't Get Murdered - Karen Kilgariff and Georgia Hardstark - Book on Wooden Table - Keeping Up With The Penguins

Calling all Murderinos! (Though I doubt there are any who aren’t already familiar with Stay Sexy And Don’t Get Murdered…) Listening to the My Favorite Murder podcast is guaranteed to perk you up, and same goes for the joint memoir of hosts Karen Kilgariff and Georgia Hardstark. In their trademark transparent and radically straight-forward style, they present this life-story-slash-guide-to-life. They are frank, disarming, and under no pretensions. Just what you need to bust out of a reading slump! Read my full review of Stay Sexy And Don’t Get Murdered here.

Bridget Jones’s Diary by Helen Fielding


Have you ever wanted to read your best friend’s diary? C’mon, you know you have! That’s why Bridget Jones’s Diary is one of my sure-fire slump-buster books. Sure, at times, it’s farcical and ridiculous, but it’s also hilarious and charming and iconic and (surprisingly) wise. Scoff if you must, but this is actually the cleverest adaptation of Pride And Prejudice I’ve encountered to date, examining the ways that sex and power operate in our (relatively) contemporary society in a way that is engaging, exciting, and incredibly relatable.

The Manic Pixie Dream Boy Improvement Project by Lenore Appelhans

The Manic Pixie Dream Boy Improvement Project - Book Laid on Wooden Table - Keeping Up With The Penguins

I suppose The Manic Pixie Dream Boy Improvement Project is technically a young-adult novel, but I would really resent it being pigeon-holed: this literary send-up would be a wonderful read for book lovers of all ages. It is guaranteed to delight, entertain, and provoke indiscriminately. It’s a love story, a mystery, and obviously includes lots and lots of wacky adventures – in fact, it has all of these elements in spades. The humour was wry, and even for all the zaniness, the central message was still one that I can get behind. Read my full review of The Manic Pixie Dream Boy Improvement Project here.

Such A Fun Age by Kiley Reid

Such A Fun Age - Kiley Reid - Keeping Up With The Penguins

Such A Fun Age is the debut novel from American author Kiley Reid. It might look like a sweet summer read, but underneath lurks a serious critique of race, class, and good intentions. It’s a searing social commentary disguised as a book for the beach, a truly brilliant marketing ploy that guarantees this book will get into the hands of those who need to read it most. If you’re starting out on your journey of learning about racial injustice but you’re feeling exhausted and struggling to take it all in, this is the book to bust your slump!

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

Look, I’m not too proud to admit it: I took one look at Big Lies In A Small Town and thought it was going to be yet another potboiler domestic thriller. What I got instead was something so compelling, and so deftly written, I’ve since recommended it to just about everyone I know. 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. The themes Chamberlain explores – race, privilege, and opportunity – are timely and timeless. This is one of the slump-buster books you must pick up when you want a page-turner with substance!

Me Talk Pretty One Day by David Sedaris

Me Talk Pretty One Day - David Sedaris - Keeping Up With The Penguins

It takes a very particular writing talent to tease without cruelty, to make you roll your eyes with a smile on your face and love in your heart – and that’s exactly what David Sedaris has. The best example is his collection of memoir essays, Me Talk Pretty One Day. If you’re feeling a little bit snarky, if you’re in the mood to poke a little fun, if you want to literally laugh out loud, this is the best pick of the slump-buster books for you. Plus, if you’re having trouble focusing on the page, the audiobook is incredible, read by Sedaris himself. My only caution: don’t read it in a public place. People will be very concerned about your random outbursts of mirth! Read my full review of Me Talk Pretty One Day here.

Which books have busted YOU out of a slump? Let me know in the comments below!


  1. “The Book Thief”;
    “Daisy Jones and the Six”; and
    “To Kill a Mockingbird” (believe it or not) immediately come to mind.

  2. I have a sense that I have read the Sherlock Holmes one having been a bit of a teenage fan from memory. (That tells you how long ago it was). However I think a re-acquaintance may well be worth the time…

    • ShereeKUWTP

      July 29, 2020 at 9:30 PM

      Yes, Phil! It’s the perfect time for it, too. They stories are so gripping, but still short and not too taxing. Enjoy!

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