Keeping Up With The Penguins

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Best Books of 2022

Can you believe we made it through another year? Thankfully, 2022 went down a little smoother than the years prior. As always, I’m amazed – looking back – at how many brilliant books I had the opportunity to read this year. Check out the best books of 2022 (back-list AND new release).

Best Books of 2022 - Book List - Keeping Up With The Penguins
You’ll be the best READER of 2022 if you use an affiliate link on this page to make a purchase – I’ll earn a small commission.

Legitimate Sexpectations by Katrina Marson

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I considered myself fairly open-minded and well-informed about sex education prior to reading Legitimate Sexpectations – even though I received little more than the standard “how to use a pad” and “how the sperm penetrates the egg” at school, as far as I can recall. And yet, Marson opened my eyes, again and again, as to how the system as it stands is failing kids (and adults). Most importantly, she doesn’t just identify the problems; Marson outlines potential solutions. I want to thrust Legitimate Sexpectations into the hands of every politician, parent, and school principal. It’s one of the best nonfiction books of 2022, one that has the power to affect real change. Read my full review of Legitimate Sexpectations here.

56 Days by Catherine Ryan Howard

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Is it too soon for a COVID-19 murder mystery? Catherine Ryan Howard surely hopes not. 56 Days is her latest high-concept crime thriller, set in Dublin in the early days of the city’s first lock-down. It’s a well written, well paced, with tantalising clues and a couple of truly excellent fake-out twists. The couple at the heart of the story barely know each other when they’re forced into the pressure cooker pandemic situation, so the reader gets two (or more?) very different perspectives on the same events. I thoroughly enjoyed 56 Days – so my verdict is that it’s not too soon for a COVID-19 novel, as long as it’s a good one. Read my full review of 56 Days here.

Here Be Leviathans by Chris Flynn

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I loved, loved, loved Chris Flynn’s last book, Mammoth – it was one of the best books I read in 2020. So, when I saw he had a new book coming out, I sat up straight and said “yes, please!” in my polite voice. Here Be Leviathans is a collection of nine short stories, narrated by animals, places, objects, and even the (very) odd human. A grizzly bear on the run, a plane seat in a terrifying crash, a genetically modified platypus with the power of speech – each and every one, bizarre and brilliant. Flynn really pushes the boundaries of what we can expect from perspective and it takes a special, rare writing talent to pull it off. Read my full review of Here Be Leviathans here.

Rogues by Patrick Radden Keefe

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If you loved Say Nothing and Empire Of Pain (like I did), you’ll be overjoyed (as I was) to get your hands on a copy of Rogues, a collection of Patrick Radden Keefe’s most celebrated articles from The New Yorker and one of the best books of 2022. These delightfully detailed investigative pieces focus on his favourite subjects: “crime and corruption, secrets and lies, the permeable membrane separating licit and illicit worlds, the bonds of family, the power of denial”. Honestly, I could talk about each and every one of these stories for hours. They’re all masterfully crafted, perfectly balanced, and totally gripping. Read my full review of Rogues here.

The Importance Of Being Earnest by Oscar Wilde

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The farcical premise and witty dialogue have made The Importance Of Being Earnest Wilde’s most enduringly popular play. I can attest to the fact that it’s a lot more fun than The Picture Of Dorian Gray, to boot. Wilde’s wit and insight shines at full strength throughout, and he gently pokes at the social mores and conventions of the time while still maintaining a timeless quality. It’s still beloved by critics, readers, and theatre-goers alike, and I’m happy to join them in singing its praises. It’s a quick read, remarkably clever, and delightfully ridiculous. Read my full review of The Importance Of Being Earnest here.

A Tale For The Time Being by Ruth Ozeki

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Very few blurbs have grabbed me like that of Ruth Ozeki’s A Tale For The Time Being. It’s a brilliant premise: a writer finds a diary, locked inside a Hello Kitty lunchbox, washed up on the beach in remote coastal Canada. She suspects it to be debris from the 2011 Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami. She reads the diary, and finds herself increasingly obsessed with the life and inner world of 16-year-old Nao, the diary’s keeper. I mean… isn’t that fascinating?! I was very pleased to discover that the contents of Ozeki’s novel – one of the best books I read in 2022 – totally lived up to the high, high expectations that blurb set. Read my full review of A Tale For The Time Being here.

Weather Girl by Rachel Lynn Solomon

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I inhaled Weather Girl in one sitting. The plot is just the right level of ridiculous for a rom-com, the characters are well-developed and well-intentioned, and it has plenty of snort-laughs to offer. Best of all, though, were the steamy and – this is key – realistic sex scenes! Honestly, I wanted to high-five Solomon through the page. For once, rom-com characters experience the actual awkwardness and anxiety of intimacy with someone new, without it ruining the vibe. I gave this one five stars for that alone, one of the best books of 2022 for sure. Read my full review of Weather Girl here.

Sadvertising by Ennis Ćehić

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Every so often, a short story collection comes along that changes the game completely. In 2017, it was Carmen Maria Machado’s Her Body And Other Parties. I’m pretty confident that Ennis Ćehić’s Sadvertising is next. It’s a collection of short, sharp stories about modern life, technology, and marketing, and one of the best books of 2022. The stories are drenched in black humour, existential dread, and late-capitalist yearning. Some of them are seriously short – as in, 1-2 pages – so they’re quick to read, but deeply resonant. It struck me as I read through the collection that it would be an especially great read for fans of Black Mirror and the Gruen Transfer. Read my full review of Sadvertising here.

Alias Grace by Margaret Atwood

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Alias Grace is a fascinating and compelling work of historical fiction, one that tells us just as much about Canadian society and gender roles and the field of psychiatry at the time as it does the crimes of Grace Marks. I also loved the sneaky Gothic elements, which felt very true to form for a story of this nature. This book both satisfied my Murderino curiosity and met high literary standards – no mean feat, as it would have been easy to make this story schlocky and scandalous. Atwood has expressed some troubling views of late, but damn if this wasn’t one of the best books I read in 2022. Read my full review of Alias Grace here.

Booth by Karen Joy Fowler

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Karen Joy Fowler wrote one of my favourite and most-often-recommended books, so I did an excited “squeeee!” when I saw she had a new one coming out. Booth is superbly readable. The pages flow by even when nothing particularly thrilling is happening. Fowler paints intimate portraits of each family member, and the narration includes deft wink-nods to the reader and the future. I was most impressed by the way Fowler kept the day-to-day family drama in the foreground – it struck me as very realistic. My hat goes off to her once again – she’s written an incredible, timely, and provocative novel, one of the best books of 2022. Read my full review of Booth here.

The Immortal Life Of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot

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Of all the great books I read this year, The Immortal Life Of Henrietta Lacks was the first one that came to mind when I sat down to write my list of the best books of 2022. To call it a ‘biography’ feels reductive, as it’s so much more than dates and the facts of a life. It’s a masterpiece of journalistic non-fiction, written by a first-time writer no less. It’s a study of bioethics, a masterclass in accessible science writing, and a testament to the human consequences of scientific discovery. And it’s compelling as heck, to boot! Read my full review of The Immortal Life Of Henrietta Lacks here.

Horrorstor by Grady Hendrix

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Setting aside any regards for its contents, Horrorstor is one of the best books of 2022 for design, alone. Look at it! It’s formatted to look like an IKEA catalogue, complete with an order form for a copyright page and product descriptions for chapter headers. It’s honestly one of the most beautiful tomes I’ve ever had the privilege of placing on my shelves. The concept is brilliant, too: haunted IKEA. Doesn’t that just send shivers down your spine? But it’s not all schlocky spooks and jump-scares. This story has hidden depths. Hendrix mines the mind-fuck of consumerism and late-stage capitalism to fuel your nightmares. Read my full review of Horrorstor here.

The Strangers by Katherena Vermette

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Despite the (very) heavy subject matter and Vermette’s talent for stark realism, The Strangers is surprisingly readable. The pages fly by! It really exceeded my expectations, and I’m still mulling over it, months later. It’s “a searing exploration of race, class, inherited trauma, and matrilineal bonds that – despite everything – refuse to be broken”. Katherena Vermette is a Red River Métis (Michif) writer, from the heart of Métis nation (Canada), and her heritage permeates this incredible First Nations novel – one of the best books of 2022. Read my full review of The Strangers here.

Calypso by David Sedaris

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David Sedaris is a must-read auto-buy author for me now, but I’m forcing myself to take it slow. I make myself read only one book of his at a time, instead of gobbling them all down at once. I started with Me Talk Pretty One Day, then last year Dress Your Family In Corduroy And Denim, and now in 2022 Calypso – a collection of autobiographical essays that (once again) was one of my best reads of the year. Even though the content of this one is a bit darker in parts, he still writes with the humour and panache that makes him unique. It’s impossible not to be impressed by his mastery of the form, the way in which he can punch in any direction and still manage to remain thoroughly likeable and hilarious. Read my full review of Calypso here.

Odd Hours by Ania Bas

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There’s been no shortage of quirky protagonists in recent years, but Gosia in Odd Hours is a different breed. She’s like the Polish love-child of an Ottessa Moshfegh character and a Fredrik Backman character, with a little of a Gail Honeyman character thrown in. The dark, wry humour keeps the story entertaining, rather than wearisome, but it’s far from a light-hearted rom-com. It lives up to the blurb’s promise of “a razor-sharp social comedy about human connection”. The plot builds to an unconventionally happy ending that will delight odd ducks everywhere. Read my full review of Odd Hours here.

Life Ceremony by Sayaka Murata

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As with Convenience Store Woman and Earthlings before, Life Ceremony was translated into English from the original Japanese by Ginny Tapley Takemori – and, once again, she’s done a fantastic job. It’s a collection of “weird, out of this world” short stories that mix “taboo-breaking horror with feminist revenge fables”. Exactly as you’d expect from Murata if you’ve read her work before, it’s full of the joyfully strange aspects of human nature and surreal conceits that will blow your mind. The stories vary in length and complexity, but they’re all fascinating in equal measure. Read my full review of Life Ceremony here.

The Cry by Helen Fitzgerald

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I was truly blown away by the TV series The Cry when I caught it by chance on the ABC a few years ago. I didn’t actually realise it was adapted from a book until I came across a copy! Even though the ending was ‘spoiled’ for me, I was still keen to read it – and it was still completely gripping. The Cry is a dark, psychological thriller with a gripping moral dilemma, perfect for anyone who enjoys a story about good people doing bad things. And if, like me, you’ve already seen the show, trust me when I say that it’s still worth a read – it’s one of the best books I read in 2022! Read my full review of The Cry here.

Demon Copperhead by Barbara Kingsolver

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One of my most recent reads is also one of the best books of 2022 (in my humble opinion). Demon Copperhead is surely destined to become a contemporary classic, an essential component of the burgeoning canon of books about the generation of lost boys in 21st century America. Kingsolver crafts a compelling adaptation of Charles Dickens’s classic novel, David Copperfield, transporting the story – complete with abusive parents, neglect, poverty, disease, and loss – to the Southern Appalachian mountains of Virginia. Even Kingsolver’s Uriah Heep character is every bit as creepy as the original, if you can believe it! Read my full review of Demon Copperhead here.

13 Classic Books That Weren’t Well Received

It’s easy to forget that some iconic books – classics that we were forced to read in high-school, that SparkNotes makes memes about now – weren’t always held up as the pinnacle of literature. Many of the “most loved” books today were woefully underappreciated in their own time. Some of them were downright derided. Here are thirteen classic books that weren’t well received… at first.

If you buy one of these classic books through an affiliate link, I’ll receive a small commission, very gratefully!

Brave New World by Aldous Huxley

Brave New World - Aldous Huxley - book laid on a wooden table - Keeping Up With The Penguins

Brave New World – Aldous Huxley’s now-classic dystopia, complete with sex, drugs, and “feelies” – got some positive press upon its release in 1932. Philosopher Bertrand Russell praised it, saying that Huxley “has shown his usually masterly skill” and Dame Rebecca West called it Huxley’s “most accomplished novel”. But he faced some heavy criticism, too. Fellow sci-fi author H.G. Wells railed against Huxley for “betraying the future as a concept”. A review published in The Guardian was particularly savage: “the title which he gave to one of his earlier books, These Barren Leaves, is applicable to very much that he has written…. This book fails both as a satire and romance…. It is easier to exploit the possibilities of mental death than to meet the demands of creative life.” Read my full review of Brave New World here.

The Adventures Of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain

The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn - Mark Twain - Book Laid on Wooden Table - Keeping Up With The Penguins

It might surprise you to know that The Adventures Of Huckleberry Finn was almost as controversial when it was first released in 1885 as it is today. As recently as 2016, the classic American novel was removed from one Virginia public school district, on the basis that it includes inappropriate language and racial slurs. 130 years prior, the Concord Public Library committee held a very similar view: “the veriest trash… rough, coarse, and inelegant, dealing with a series of experiences not elevating, the whole book being more suited to the slums than to intelligent, respectable people,”. They, too, chose to ban the book. Upon hearing that news, Twain is reported to have said “This will sell us another twenty-five thousand copies for sure!”. Read my full review of The Adventures Of Huckleberry Finn here.

Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë

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The Brontës famously published their works using androgynous pseudonyms (Emily going by “Ellis Bell”), but that didn’t stop reviewers going to town on her only published novel, Wuthering Heights. Graham’s Lady Magazine wrote at the time: “How a human being could have attempted such a book as the present without committing suicide before he had finished a dozen chapters, is a mystery. It is a compound of vulgar depravity and unnatural horrors,”. The Examiner said “as a whole, it is wild, confused, disjointed, and improbable; and the people who make up the drama, which is tragic enough in its consequences, are savages”. Emily, being notoriously shy and reluctant to publish at all, probably didn’t read her own press – good thing, too, if those reviews are anything to go by. Read my full review of Wuthering Heights here.

Gone With The Wind by Margaret Mitchell


Even though Gone With The Wind was wildly popular with readers immediately upon release (it was the best-selling fiction book two years running, in 1936 and 1937), critics didn’t share their enthusiasm. Reviewer for The New York Times, Ralph Thompson, said “I happen to feel that the book would have been infinitely better had it been edited down to say, 500 pages… Very nearly every reader will agree, no doubt, that a more disciplined and less prodigal piece of work would have more nearly done justice to the subject-matter.” That’s a sick burn all on its own, but critics rightly also zeroed in on Mitchell’s deeply problematic and revisionist depictions of slavery, the Civil War, and the Reconstruction. Those (very justified) criticisms have only amplified over time.

The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald

The Great Gatsby - F Scott Fitzgerald - book laid on wooden table - Keeping Up With The Penguins

I have been very vocal about my own dislike of The Great Gatsby, and I am pleased to report that many early readers and reviewers agreed with me. The novel – now considered one of the classic books of the Jazz Age – was considered a fall from form for Fitzgerald, “an inconsequential performance by a once-promising author who had grown bored and cynical”, and reviewers were “quite convinced after reading The Great Gatsby that Mr. Fitzgerald is not one of the great American writers of today”. The plot was also called “improbable”, and its style “painfully forced”. Fitzgerald was apparently so bummed out by these reviews that he signed off a telegram to his publisher: “Yours in great depression”. Read my full review of The Great Gatsby here.

Moby Dick by Herman Melville

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One of the (many) funny things about Herman Melville’s Moby Dick is the contrast in its reception on different continents. In the U.K., where newspapers had a huge staff of experienced reviewers and literary critics, they called it “a phenomenal literary work, a philosophical, metaphysical, and poetic romance”, and “one of the cleverest, wittiest, and most amusing of modern books”. Meanwhile, in the New World (U.S.), where experienced critics were few and far between, baffled journalists trying to wade through Melville’s mountain of prose declared it “not worth the money asked for it, either as a literary work or as a mass of printed paper” and “a crazy sort of affair”. Of course, there are exceptions on both sides of the pond, but doesn’t that just prove the rule? Read my full review of Moby Dick here.

Ulysses by James Joyce

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Look, examples abound that prove Ulysses should be on any list of classic books that weren’t well received. Even today, respected as a load-bearing pillar in the modernist canon, most readers and reviewers regard it with confusion more so than admiration or anything else. Some of my favourite Ulysses slams include Virginia Woolf writing in her diary that it was: “an illiterate, underbred book it seems to me: the book of a self-taught working man, and we all know how distressing they are, how egotistic, insistent, raw, striking, and ultimately nauseating,”. See also The Sporting Times, who wrote that it was “written by a perverted lunatic who has made a speciality of the literature of the latrine,”. Read my full review of Ulysses here.

Catch-22 by Joseph Heller

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Joseph Heller threw a decades-long tantrum when Catch-22 wasn’t received as well as he thought it should have been. Even though The New York Times initially called it “a dazzling performance that will outrage nearly as many readers as it delights,”, a second review in the same paper said “[it is] repetitive and monotonous. Or one can say that it is too short because none of its many interesting characters and actions is given enough play to become a controlling interest,”. Despite Heller’s big hopes, it didn’t win a single award, not even the much coveted Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, and Heller remained bitter about it until the day he died. Read my full review of Catch-22 here.

The Catcher In The Rye by J.D. Salinger

The Catcher in the Rye - JD Salinger - book laid on wooden table - Keeping Up With The Penguins

Angry teenagers forced to read The Catcher In The Rye in English Lit classes would be thrilled to know how poorly it was received upon its release in 1951. It was called everything from “disappointing”, to “a near miss”, to “wholly repellent”, to “peculiarly offensive”. Most reviewers seemed to take particular issue with the divisive protagonist-narrator, Holden Caulfield, whose adolescent angst was declared “wearisome” by the New Republic. Older wowsers didn’t like that he was running around getting drunk and trying to get it on with sex workers, either – a position that certain school board members still hold today, it would seem. Read my full review of The Catcher In The Rye here.

The Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka

Kafka was the very definition of “underappreciated in his own time”, and he knew it, too. His diaries and letters are full of laments about his work and his general malaise, self-deprecation taken to the extreme. Today, The Metamorphosis is his best-known work and widely regarded as one of the most brilliant allegories ever written – but it was barely read when it was first published in 1915, and even Kafka himself didn’t like it in retrospect. He wrote that he “[was] reading The Metamorphosis at home and find[ing] it bad,”, that he felt a “great antipathy” towards it and its “unreadable ending”. The bulk of Kafka’s other work wasn’t published until after his death, and it certainly wasn’t widely read or beloved until many years later.

The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood

The Handmaid's Tale - Margaret Atwood - Book Laid on Wooden Table - Keeping Up With The Penguins

Long before it was a HBO series, or the symbol of white feminist resistance against the Trump administration, The Handmaid’s Tale was a 1986 novel met with a reaction that could be best summed up as: “meh”. The New York Times said it “lacks imagination” (which is true, technically, given that Atwood has said time and again that everything she included in the book has happened or is happening somewhere in the world). It was also called, by various other outlets, “short on characterisation,” “thinly textured,” and (my personal favourite) “paranoid poppycock”. Read my full review of The Handmaid’s Tale here.

The Grapes Of Wrath by John Steinbeck

The Grapes Of Wrath - John Steinbeck - Book Laid on Wooden Table - Keeping Up With The Penguins

The Grapes Of Wrath was basically America’s first big Hate Read. In 1939, everyone was reading it and everyone had something to say about it. Steinbeck was attacked from both ends of the political spectrum, believe it or not: both accused him of being a communist, and publishing a book of propaganda. The Associated Farmers of California were particularly vocal in their displeasure, calling Steinbeck’s depiction of the treatment of migrating farm workers as a “pack of lies”. Steinbeck was also revealed to have ripped off the research work of comparatively-unknown writer Sanora Bobb, but that didn’t seem as important to anyone as the fact that he was “trying to make a political point” (that it… sucks to be poor?). Read my full review of The Grapes Of Wrath here.

Lord Of The Flies by William Golding

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The criticism of Lord Of The Flies began before it even hit the bookstore shelves. More than 20 publishers passed on Golding’s nightmare-fuel story about shipwrecked children turning to savages (I can’t imagine why). One called it “rubbish and dull, pointless,”. Even when he finally found a publisher willing to take a punt on it, they sold only a few thousand copies before it went out of print. The New Yorker called it “completely unpleasant”. How it went from the bargain bin to a Nobel Prize winner assigned reading in every English-speaking classroom around the world is beyond me. Read my full review of Lord Of The Flies here.

100 Years Of Good Reads

I came across something fun on Goodreads the other day. They’ve put together a list of “the most popular books published over the past 100 years, as determined by Goodreads members’ digital shelves”. What a great use of the data they’ve collected from us obsessive book loggers!

100 Years Of Good Reads - Book List - Keeping Up With The Penguins
(There are some affiliate links on this page, just FYI – I’ll earn a small commission if you buy your next good read!)

It’s actually pretty fascinating: There are plenty of old-school masterpieces, of course, and a good supply of those books most likely to be found in required school curricula. But you’ll also find gonzo journalism, children’s classics, international literature, Arabic poetry, existentialist dread, and even graphic novels.

Goodreads (100 Years of Popular Books on Goodreads)

Just for fun, I thought I’d go through the list and add a little commentary for you. (Okay, and I also wanted to tally up how many of them I’d already read – sue me!)

1922: Ulysses by James Joyce

I don’t want to be that girl, but I promise you: Ulysses is not the crisis situation you’re imagining! Read my full review of Ulysses here.

1923: The Prophet by Khalil Gibran

1924: We by Yevgeny Zamyatin

1925: The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald

UGH! Why? Why? Why? If I never have to see The Great Gatsby on a best-of book list ever again, I’ll die happy. Read my full review of The Great Gatsby here.

1926: The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway

A soldier gets his dick blown off, and remains such a misogynist that he never figures out how to go down on the lady he loves. The Sun Also Rises? More like The Lady Also Deserves To Finish. Read my full review of The Sun Also Rises here.

1927: To The Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf

1928: The Well Of Loneliness by Radclyffe Hall

1929: Passing by Nella Larsen

1930: As I Lay Dying by William Faulkner

A truly pleasant surprise! As I Lay Dying is short, weird, and an excellent example of why men can write from a woman’s perspective (occasionally). Read my full review of As I Lay Dying here.

1931: The Joy Of Cooking by Irma S. Rombauer

1932: Brave New World by Aldous Huxley

Sex, drugs, and feelies? The “dystopian” future that Huxley imagines in Brave New World doesn’t sound so bad, really. Read my full review of Brave New World here.

1933: In Praise Of Shadows by Jun’ichiro Tanizaki

1934: Murder On The Orient Express by Agatha Christie

1935: Gaudy Night by Dorothy L. Sayers

1936: Absalom, Absalom! by William Faulkner

1937: Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston

Their Eyes Were Watching God is rich and wonderful and devastating – and Tea Cake is my ride-or-die classic book boyfriend. Read my full review of Their Eyes Were Watching God here.

1938: Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier

Did you know that Rebecca has never been out of print? Never, not once, in the nearly-hundred years it’s been a good read? It’s gothic, it’s spooky, it’s fun, and it’s more than deserving. Read my full review of Rebecca here.

1939: The Grapes Of Wrath by John Steinbeck

When I finished The Grapes Of Wrath, I was angry. Angry that no one had ever told me – warned me! – how damn good it is. I’m still angry! Read my full review of The Grapes Of Wrath here.

1940: Native Son by Richard Wright

1941: The Library Of Babel by Jorge Luis Borges

1942: The Stranger by Albert Camus

1943: The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

The Little Prince works precisely because doesn’t get bogged down in making things “realistic” for the grown-ups. “Grown-ups never understand anything by themselves,” de Saint-Exupéry writes on page 6, “and it is exhausting for children always and forever to be giving explanations.” Bring tissues. Read my full review of The Little Prince here.

1944: Ficciones by Jorge Luis Borges

1945: The Glass Menagerie by Tennessee Williams

1946: The Member Of The Wedding by Carson McCullers

1947: No Exit by Jean Paul-Sartre

1948: I Capture The Castle by Dodie Smith

1949: 1984 by George Orwell

1950: The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis

1951: Foundation by Isaac Asimov

1952: Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison

1953: Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury

Did you know that books don’t actually burn at 451 degrees Fahrenheit? Ray Bradbury asked an expert for help naming his novel, but they misunderstood the question. Paper auto-ignites at that temperature, but burns much, much lower. That fun fact is honestly more interesting to me than Fahrenheit 451 was. Read my full review of Fahrenheit 451 here.

1954: The Fellowship Of The Ring by J.R.R. Tolkien

1955: Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov

1956: Giovanni’s Room by James Baldwin

1957: Doctor Zhivago by Boris Pasternak

1958: Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe

1959: The Haunting Of Hill House by Shirley Jackson

1960: To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee

Yes, I know, it’s problematic. White saviours are bad, and Atticus Finch is the whitest-saviouriest of them all. But To Kill A Mockingbird is still such a good read! And Harper Lee’s only (true) novel! Read my full review of To Kill A Mockingbird here.

1961: Catch-22 by Joseph Heller

Catch-22 is funny… for the first hundred pages or so. Beyond that, you’re just reading the same joke over and over again. It’s good to know where the idiom came from, though! Read my full review of Catch-22 here.

1962: Silent Spring by Rachel Carson

1963: The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath

It’s infuriating how good The Bell Jar is. Like, seriously, I wanted to throw it down on the floor and just give up. So good. And the Faber editions are so pretty! Read my full review of The Bell Jar here.

1964: Charlie And The Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl

1965: Dune by Frank Herbert

1966: Rosencrantz And Guildenstern Are Dead by Tom Stoppard

1967: One Hundred Years Of Solitude by Gabriel García Márquez

One Hundred Years Of Solitude has a cracker of an opening line – the famous one about Colonel Buendía facing the firing squad. Beyond that, I didn’t love-love-love it, but I didn’t hate-hate-hate it, either. Read my full review of One Hundred Years Of Solitude here.

1968: Slouching Towards Bethlehem by Joan Didion

1969: I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou

I think critic Opal Moor put it well: “Though easily read, [I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings] is no ‘easy read’.” It’s confronting, it’s brilliant, and it’s an enduring classic for a reason. Read my full review of I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings here.

1970: The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison

Morrison has said that she wrote The Bluest Eye because she was “interested in talking about black girlhood”. It seems sadly inevitable that a book on that subject would end up a foundational text about the impact of Euro-centric beauty standards and internalised loathing. Read my full review of The Bluest Eye here.

1971: Fear And Loathing In Las Vegas by Hunter S. Thompson

1972: Ways Of Seeing by John Berger

1973: The Princess Bride by William Goldman

1974: Carrie by Stephen King

I’ve got this one on a to-read shelf, that I might get to… some day… probably…

1975: Salem’s Lot by Stephen King

1976: The Woman Warrior by Maxine Hong Kingston

1977: Song Of Solomon by Toni Morrison

1978: The Westing Game by Ellen Raskin

1979: Kindred by Octavia E. Butler

1980: The Name Of The Rose by Umberto Eco

1981: Midnight’s Children by Salman Rushdie

1982: The Color Purple by Alice Walker

The Color Purple is still – to this day – being challenged, banned, and removed from high school reading lists. Common reasons for scrapping it from reading lists include the explicit sexual content, language, violence, and lesbianism (the horror! eye roll). Read my full review of The Color Purple here.

1983: The Queen’s Gambit by Walter Tevis

1984: The House On Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros

1985: The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood

Even though it might feel like “The Handmaid’s Tale is coming true!” with everything going on at the moment, the truth is that Atwood didn’t use a single thing that hasn’t already happened, or isn’t already happening, to create the dystopian world of Gilead. Just a heads up! Read my full review of The Handmaid’s Tale here.

1986: Howl’s Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones

1987: Watchmen by Alan Moore

1988: The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho

The Alchemist is a beautiful fable, a wonderful read… for hippies. Read my full review of The Alchemist here.

1989: The Pillars Of The Earth by Ken Follett

1990: Good Omens by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett

1991: Outlander by Diana Gabaldon

Time travel to 18th century Scotland, marriage of convenience with a Scot in a kilt… but make it horny! It’s not a great work of literature, but Outlander does exactly what it says on the tin. Read my full review of Outlander here.

1992: The Secret History by Donna Tartt

1993: The Virgin Suicides by Jeffrey Eugenides

1994: The Wind Up Bird Chronicles by Haruki Murakami

1995: The Golden Compass by Philip Pullman

1996: A Game Of Thrones by George R.R. Martin

A Game Of Thrones might never have made it onto a list like this, if not for the HBO adaptation that had the whole world glued to their screens for eight seasons. But here we are! Read my full review of A Game Of Thrones here.

1997: Guns, Germs And Steel by Jared Diamond

1998: The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver

1999: Girl With A Pearl Earring by Tracy Chevalier

2000: House Of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielwski

2001: The Shadow Of The Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafón

2002: Coraline by Neil Gaiman

2003: The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri

2004: Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell

2005: Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro

I reckon this one is destined to become a classic. It’s clever, and it’s creepy as heck. Well deserving of its place on this Goodreads list! Read my full review of Never Let Me Go here.

2006: The Road by Cormac McCarthy

2007: The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

Look, if you’re in the mid- to upper-end of the Young Adult bracket and you’re just starting to understand the significance of WWII, The Book Thief is a brilliant, life-changing read. For the rest of us… well, it’s a good reminder that literacy is important. Read my full review of The Book Thief here.

2008: The Guernsey Literary And Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer

2009: Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel

2010: The Immortal Life Of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot

To call The Immortal Life Of Henrietta Lacks a “biography” is reductive. It’s so much more than the dates and facts of a life. It’s a study of bioethics, a masterclass in accessible science writing, and a testament to the human consequences of scientific discovery. And it’s compelling as heck! Read my full review of The Immortal Life Of Henrietta Lacks here.

2011: The Song Of Achilles by Madeline Miller

2012: Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn

If you haven’t read Gone Girl yet, monks could use the rock you’ve been living under as an off-the-grid retreat. You need to hop to it, if for no other reason than it’s miraculous it hasn’t been spoiled for you yet. Read my full review of Gone Girl here.

2013: The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt

2014: Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng

It wasn’t quite the blockbuster success that Little Fires Everywhere was, but Everything I Never Told You is still a masterful, gripping domestic drama, fully deserving of its place on any list of good reads. Read my full review of Everything I Never Told You here.

2015: Between The World And Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates

2016: When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi

2017: The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas

It’s incredible how timely The Hate U Give was at the time of its release – and it’s incredibly sad that it’s still so timely, even more so, years later. Read my full review of The Hate U Give here.

2018: Educated by Tara Westover

When it comes to writing memoirs, you’ve either got to have talent for storytelling or a life so fascinating that talent (or lack thereof) doesn’t matter. Luckily, Tara Westover has both. Even in the hands of a real bore, Educated would be a fascinating read. Read my full review of Educated here.

2019: Red, White & Royal Blue by Casey McQuiston

Red, White & Royal Blue, unbelievably, lives up to the hype. Of course, it’s targeted at younger readers, but I can vouch for the fact that it resonates for young-at-heart readers, too. I’d especially recommend it for fans of The West Wing and anyone who needs a bit of starry-eyed optimism. Read my full review of Red, White & Royal Blue here.

2020: The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett

Through this multi-generational family saga, Brit Bennett plays out the domino effect of reductive labels. The Vanishing Half is a must-read for your book club; there’s a lot to unpack here. Read my full review of The Vanishing Half here.

2021: Malibu Rising by Taylor Jenkins Reid

Alright, I’ve read 33 of these so far, and reviewed most of them, too! Not bad! How about you? Drop your total in the comments! And thank you Goodreads for putting together this list – nice to see you using your powers for good.

15 Books About Big Secrets

Nothing gets my heart in my throat like a big secret in a book. As soon as you’ve got one character trying to keep something from all the rest of them, I’m hooked. If they bring someone else in on the secret, forget about it! (After all, as the saying goes, two can keep a secret if…) Even though I know that the big secrets are (almost) always revealed by the book’s climax, my eyes are still wide open and I’m wondering how the heck they’ll get away with it. Here’s a list of books about big secrets that will keep you turning pages past your bedtime!

15 Books About Big Secrets - Book List - Keeping Up With The Penguins
It’s no secret: if you use an affiliate link on this page to make a purchase, I’ll earn a small commission!

Flowers In The Attic by VC Andrews

Flowers In The Attic - VC Andrews - Keeping Up With The Penguins

As far as books about big secrets go, they don’t come much bigger than this. In Flowers In The Attic, the matriarch of the Dollanganger family is keeping a few big secrets, not the least of which is the four children hiding in the attic. After the death of their father, she’s forced to return to her own family home, and try to mend fences with her estranged family. The thing is, she knows that her father won’t approve of her children. The logical solution (ahem!) is to hide them in the attic of the house for a day or two… or a month or two… or a year or two? That definitely couldn’t have any disastrous consequences, right? Read my full review of Flowers In The Attic here.

The Husband’s Secret by Liane Moriarty

The Husband's Secret - Liane Moriarty - Book Laid on Wooden Table - Keeping Up With The Penguins

The title says it all, really: in The Husband’s Secret, the main character’s husband has a secret. And it’s a BIG one. Her first clue is a sealed letter she finds, with a mysterious note on the envelope: “For my wife, only to be opened in the event of my death”. I don’t know about you, but there is no way I could resist the temptation to open that tantalising Pandora’s Box. Lucky, for fans of thriller books about big secrets, Moriarty’s protagonist can’t resist either. The contents of the envelope are about to turn her whole world upside-down. Read my full review of The Husband’s Secret here.

Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng

Little Fires Everywhere - Celeste Ng - Book Laid on Wooden Table - Keeping Up With The Penguins

In Little Fires Everywhere, it feels like everyone’s keeping big secrets. The “placid, progressive suburb” of Shaker Heights, Ohio, looks perfect from the outside. Elena Richardson, the matriarch of a quintessential nuclear family, magnanimously rents out her investment property to struggling artist and single mother, Mia. Little does Elena realise that the arrival of Mia and her daughter, Pearl, is about to blow both families’ secrets wide open. Why are Mia and Pearl always on the move? How do the Richardson children really feel about their picture-perfect lives? All will be revealed, naturally! Read my full review of Little Fires Everywhere here.

Adèle by Leïla Slimani

Adele - Leila Slimani - Keeping Up With The Penguins

On the face of it, the big secret at the heart of Adèle sounds delicious and fun. Adèle is a closet sex addict. Even though she’s “happily married”, she spends her nights – and, let’s be honest, some of her days – trawling the Parisian arrondissements looking for lovers. It only takes a few pages to realise, though, that Adèle’s secret is far from a fun one. Her pursuit of intimacy is destructive, threatening to destroy her otherwise-perfect life at every turn. This is one of the most twisted books about big secrets that don’t involve murder or bloodshed, which only makes it far more sinister. Read my full review of Adèle here.

We Were Liars by E. Lockhart

We Were Liars - E Lockhart - Book Laid Flat on Wooden Table - Keeping Up With The Penguins

The seemingly-perfect Sinclair family are keeping one hell of a secret in We Were Liars. They have all the trappings of considerable wealth (summer holidays on a private island, anyone?), but ironically none of them actually earn enough to support themselves. The wealth, and the power it supposedly affords them, is an illusion. The teen generation sees through it all, and they’re angling to lead the revolution… until one of them, Candace, is found seriously injured and floating in the ocean. She has no memory of what happened to her to have her end up that way, and no one will tell her. The hint is in the book’s title… Read my full review of We Were Liars here.

The Cry by Helen Fitzgerald

The Cry - Helen Fitzgerald - Keeping Up With The Penguins

It’s hard to imagine that the family of a missing child could keep any secrets. Between the police interrogating their every move and motive, and the media combing over every hint and clue as to the child’s whereabouts, no stone remains unturned. But Alistair and Joanna have managed it, by the skin of their teeth. They’re hiding a whopper of a secret in The Cry, about what happened to their missing nine-week-old son Noah. Books about big secrets naturally attract readers who love a good moral dilemma and ethical grey-areas – if that sounds like you, Fitzgerald’s psychological thriller is a must-read. Read my full review of The Cry here.

Remember Me by Charity Norman

Remember Me - Charity Norman - Keeping Up With The Penguins

There’s an obvious way to ratchet up the tension in books about big secrets: put them in the hands of someone who can’t be relied upon not to spill the beans. In Remember Me, the secret is at risk for the most heart-wrenching reason. Emily Kirkland’s father has dementia, and it’s rapidly progressing. As the disease captures his mind, he’s thrown back into the past, and Emily worries that he might reveal something she doesn’t want to know. Something about Leah Patara, the young woman from her town who vanished without a trace, decades ago. Could he have had something to do with the disappearance that rocked a small New Zealand town? Read my full review of Remember Me here.

Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides

Middlesex - Jeffrey Eugenides - Keeping Up With The Penguins

The big secret at the heart of Middlesex is the very definition of ‘fuck around and find out’. Only, the Stephanides don’t ‘fuck around’ so much as ‘fuck within their own family tree’. Generations of interbreeding have given rise to Cal’s genetic 5-alpha-reductase deficiency, a congenital disorder that affects sexual development. So, the family secret becomes Cal’s secret as they navigate adolescence and adulthood as an intersex person. But don’t be fooled: this is much more than a “gender novel”. It’s a big book, in length, depth, and breadth, and yet it’s compelling and thoroughly readable. Read my full review of Middlesex here.

The Turn Of The Key by Ruth Ware

The Turn Of The Key - Ruth Ware - Book Laid on Wooden Table - Keeping Up With The Penguins

A new governess alone in a huge creepy “smart”-house with two weird kids? A cantankerous housekeeper and mysterious bumps in the night? As if books about big secrets weren’t chilling enough, Ruth Ware levels up with The Turn Of The Key. Writing to her lawyer from prison, Rowan does her best to explain the turn of events that led to one child dead, another traumatised, and herself awaiting trial for murder – but in her cell, she’s yet to uncover the biggest secret of all. Hats off to Ware for (literally!) keeping us guessing until the very last page! Read my full review of The Turn Of The Key here.

Notes On A Scandal by Zoë Heller

Notes On A Scandal - Zoe Heller - Keeping Up With The Penguins

In Notes On A Scandal, narrator Barbara Covett is in on the secret. She’s worked hard to ingratiate herself with her new BFF Sheba, the delightfully young and beautiful new pottery teacher at her comprehensive school, and she’s sure her diligence and patience will be rewarded. Sheba’s affair with an underage student is shocking, yes, but it’s also just the thing to bind the two friends together forever. Sheba’s about to discover that she’s not the only one keeping her personal proclivities under wraps… Read my full review of Notes On A Scandal here.

The Plot by Jean Hanff Korelitz

The Plot - Jean Hanff Korelitz - Keeping Up With The Penguins

In books about big secrets, often the characters fool themselves into thinking that what they’re keeping hidden can’t hurt anyone. Take The Plot, for instance: would anyone really mind that Jacob Finch Bonner stole the plot to his best-selling widely-acclaimed novel from a dead creative writing student? Evan Parker’s idea was brilliant, after all, and Jake had braced himself for the kid’s success (as his own career went down the tubes). Why should Evan’s death mean that his brilliant idea has to die with him? Only it turns out, someone knows what Jake has done, they do mind and they’re not planning on keeping quiet. Read my full review of The Plot here.

Atonement by Ian McEwan

Atonement - Ian McEwan - Keeping Up With The Penguins

Every serious booklover will recognise Atonement as one of the most iconic books about big secrets. Ian McEwan’s 2001 novel explores the devastating ramifications of one mistake, one childish lie, across the course of three adult lives. Briony Tallis, a 13-year-old girl, kicks up a big stink when she sees her sister Celia in a (ahem) passionate embrace with the housekeeper’s son, Robbie. Briony’s imagination runs away with her, painting Robbie as a sexual predator, and the stain of her accusation stays with him for life. As an adult, Briony knows that maybe she didn’t see exactly what she thought she saw, and she wrestles with whether to come forward, whether to reveal that she’s been keeping a secret that has ruined a man’s life. Read my full review of Atonement here.

Instructions For A Heatwave by Maggie O’Farrell

Instructions For A Heatwave - Maggie O'Farrell - Keeping Up With The Penguins

For fans of books about big secrets, Instructions For A Heatwave is a buy-one-get-one-free deal. Or, really, buy-one-get-a-whole-bunch-free, because everyone in the Riordan family is hiding something. Each of the Riordan siblings has their own secrets and foibles that the others know little, or nothing, about (and the matriarch, Gretta, is hiding a few things under her hat, too). There’s a failing marriage, conflicted feelings about motherhood, debilitating dyslexia, and a missing husband. Of course, it’s all going to come out into the open, and bring with it the biggest secret of all. Read my full review of Instructions For A Heatwave here.

Red, White & Royal Blue by Casey McQuiston

Red White And Royal Blue - Casey McQuiston - Keeping Up With The Penguins

Okay, so many of these books about big secrets are scary thrillers – what about fun, sexy secrets? That’s Red, White & Royal Blue: a secret enemies-to-lovers romance between America’s First Son and the Prince of Wales. Keeping a secret (especially one as delicious and exciting as a love affair) isn’t easy under the best of circumstances, but what about when you’re two of the most recognisable and scrutinised young men in the world? That’s what faces Alex and Henry, two young adults trying to figure out who they are and what they are to each other, with the weight of the world on their shoulders. Conventions of the genre dictate that they must get their Happy Ever After, but it’s hard to see how. Read my full review of Red, White & Royal Blue here.

Nothing To See Here by Kevin Wilson

Nothing To See Here - Kevin Wilson - Keeping Up With The Penguins

Madison needs help. Her twin stepkids are about to move in with her new family, under the roof of her buttoned-up politician husband. The twins are lovely, but – hold on to your hat – they have the terrifying tendency to spontaneously combust when they get excited. Seriously: the kids catch fire! Madison reaches out to her school friend, Lillian, and begs her to be their live-in caretaker, keeping them out of sight (and, y’know, not on fire). Nothing To See Here is a ridiculous, hilarious, glorious story about fierce protective love and figuring out which secrets need to be kept.

23 Fun Romantic Comedy Books

I don’t know if it’s the state of the world, or a side-effect of binge watching Bridgerton, maybe an over-correction after reading American Psycho, but lately I’ve been really into reading FUN romantic comedy books. I’m here for the tropey classics – enemies-to-lovers, fake-dating, love triangles – and the more subversive recent releases that throw the rule-book out the window. Just in case you’re in the same mood, looking for some JOY in your reading or something DELIGHTFUL to take to the beach this summer, here’s a list of fun romantic comedy books guaranteed to make you believe in a happily ever after.

23 Fun Romantic Comedy Books - Book List - Keeping Up With The Penguins
Here’s something fun: if you buy any of these books through an affiliate link on this page, I’ll earn a small commission.

Simon vs The Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli

SImon vs The Homo Sapiens Agenda - Becky Albertalli - Keeping Up With The Penguins

Very few fun romantic comedy books involve blackmail and outing, I’ll grant you, but Simon vs The Homo Sapiens Agenda is a rare exception. This delightful young adult romance follows a young semi-closeted man as he falls in love for the very first time. Simon has a pen pal for the digital age, a fellow gay teen at his Southern high-school who is scared to reveal his sexuality. They email back and forth, while Simon frantically schemes to keep a school bully from outing them both. Reading this one will take you right back to the heady days of adolescent affection and hormonal urges.

Gentlemen Prefer Blondes by Anita Loos

Gentlemen Prefer Blondes - Anita Loos - Books Laid on Wooden Table - Keeping Up With The Penguins

It’s a travesty that Gentlemen Prefer Blondes – one of the most wonderful, hilarious, and insightful romantic comedy books of the 20th century – lives under the inconceivably large shadow cast by The Great Gatsby, simply for being published in the Jazz Age. It’s premised on beautiful blonde Lorelei Lee deciding to try her hand at writing a diary, because a gentleman friend suggests that her thoughts would make for an interesting book. She flits from man to man and from party to party, picking up jewellery and dropping amazing one-liners everywhere she goes. Forget about Fitzgerald’s whining bummer of a book, and pick up this charming, glitzy romp instead. Read my full review of Gentlemen Prefer Blondes here.

Less by Andrew Sean Greer

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

Arthur Less worries that he is “the first homosexual to ever grow old”. At the beginning of Less, he finds himself suddenly single, and the recipient of a cordial invitation to his ex’s wedding (to a more age-appropriate partner). Arthur can’t RSVP “no” to the nuptials and admit defeat, but he couldn’t possibly attend either, especially with his own 50th birthday looming… so, he proceeds to accept every half-baked invitation he’s received to literary events around the world, forcing him to RSVP his regrets. This is one of those rare romantic comedy books that has achieved critical acclaim, winning the Pulitzer Prize in 2018. Read my full review of Less here.

To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before by Jenny Han

To All The Boys I've Loved Before - Jenny Han - Keeping Up With The Penguins

For the first in a series of young adult romantic comedy books, To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before has a spine-chilling premise. Lara Jean has written a letter to every boy she’s ever loved (five total), letters that were supposed to be for her eyes only… until one day, under mysterious circumstances, the letters are mailed to the boys in question. It’s every teen girl’s worst nightmare; even now, slightly (ahem!) past my teenage years, I shudder at the thought. But don’t let that put you off! It sets the stage for a thoroughly delightful read. Read my full review of To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before here.

One Day by David Nicholls

One Day - David Nicholls - Keeping Up With The Penguins

The best romantic comedy books can make you laugh AND cry. One Day is a lifelong love story, with a twist. Dexter Mayhew and Emma Morley meet on 15 July 1988 and after just one day together, they can’t stop thinking about one another. The story then offers us a snapshot of their relationship and their lives on that day, 15 July, each year for the following two decades. They fight, they laugh, they cry, they drift apart, they come back together. Nicholls waits until the very end to reveal the true significance of this one day in their lives, and it will hit you like a punch.

Pride And Prejudice by Jane Austen

Pride And Prejudice - Jane Austen - Book Laid on Wooden Table - Keeping Up With The Penguins

Pride And Prejudice is the granddaddy of fun romantic comedy books. When you’re picking books to take to the beach, or light reads to cheer you up, you probably won’t reach for this classic of English literature – but that’s a mistake. Austen’s most beloved novel has it all! Enemies-to-lovers, witty repartee, interfering families, salacious scandal… in fact, P&P is the reason that a lot of these tropes for romantic comedy books exist today. If you’re not convinced, try the audiobook rather than the paper-and-ink version. A lot of the comedy seems to resonate better when read aloud. Read my full review of Pride And Prejudice here.

Losing The Plot by Elizabeth Coleman

Losing The Plot - Elizabeth Coleman - Keeping Up With The Penguins

In a delightfully meta twist, Losing The Plot is a fun romantic comedy book about writing fun romantic comedy books. Who’d-a-thunk-it? As a child, Vanessa dreamed of writing romance novels, but somehow she wound up a 30-something dental hygienist lamenting the end of her marriage. When she finally picks up a pen to make her childhood dream come true, it quickly turns into a nightmare – a celebrity author steals her story, and she finds herself caught between two leading men in the legal battle to protect herself.

The Kiss Quotient by Helen Hoang

The Kiss Quotient - Helen Hoang - Keeping Up With The Penguins

It’s particularly awesome when fun romantic comedy books can weave in representation of groups that normally don’t appear front-and-centre in romance stories. In The Kiss Quotient, the main character is an Asian-American autistic woman. Stella loves maths and numbers, but she struggles with people and relationships. As a last-ditch effort to secure a husband (to make her mother happy), she hires a gorgeous escort as an intimacy coach of sorts, hoping that she can brush up on the skills she fears she lacks. When sparks fly between them, however, she’s forced to concede that something just doesn’t add up. Read my full review of The Kiss Quotient here.

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

If you’re looking for romantic comedy books that word nerds of all ages can enjoy, look no further than The Manic Pixie Dream Boy Improvement Project. The whole premise is a literary critique: Riley is a Manic Pixie Dream Boy, a sub-type of the Manic Pixie Dream Girl trope. He lives in TropeTown where he hangs out with all the other trope characters until they’re summoned by an author for a role in a book. Riley has been breaking the rules, though, and going off script, so he’s forced into therapy with the other defective manic pixies. The parody, of course, could not be complete without a love story, a mystery, and lots and lots of wacky adventures. Read my full review of The Manic Pixie Dream Boy Improvement Project here.

Happy Endings by Thien-Kim Lam

Happy Endings - Thien-Kim Lam - Keeping Up With The Penguins

Romantic comedy books don’t come sexier or zanier than Thien-Kim Lam’s debut, Happy Endings. In this story about second chances, Trixie Nguyen has chosen the – shall we say – non-traditional career of establishing a sex toy business, much to the chagrin of her Vietnamese parents. Her first Washington DC pop-up store is going well, until she spots her restaurateur ex. Who dumped her. On a POST-IT. Despite that rocky end, their chemistry still sizzles, and they realise that both of their businesses could benefit from teaming up. Will they be able to satisfy their hungry and horny clientele, or will the drama between them get in the way? Read my full review of Happy Endings here.

The Charm Offensive by Alison Cochrun

The Charm Offensive - Alison Cochrun - Keeping Up With The Penguins

TV dating shows are natural settings for romantic comedy books. There’s all the drama, the high stakes, the foibles, the gossip… In The Charm Offensive, tech wunderkind Charlie is desperate to rehabilitate his image after a humiliating stuff-up, so he reluctantly agrees to star in Ever After. Dev Deshpande is the most successful producer in the reality show’s history, but even he struggles to make the awkward new star work in front of the cameras. Behind the scenes, though, sparks are flying between Dev and Charlie, which spells bad news for the twenty women who have lined up to win Charlie’s heart on screen.

Bridget Jones’s Diary by Helen Fielding


If you’re after classic romantic comedy books but don’t want to be thrown ALL the way back in time, you need to pick up Bridget Jones’s Diary. It’ll give you all the warm and fuzzy late ’80s/early ’90s nostalgia, with an adorkable protagonist and two intriguing leading men to boot. It’s Helen Fielding’s take on the classic love story of Pride And Prejudice, but she gives it a contemporary flavour with some extra zing. If you’ve ever been single, and a bit of a mess, you’ll find Bridget Jones’s diary entries all too relatable.

Well Met by Jen DeLuca

Well Met - Jen DeLuca - Keeping Up With The Penguins

Emily knew that life would be different in the small town of Willow Creek, but even she couldn’t foresee being roped into volunteering at the local Renaissance Faire. Still, she’s happy enough to go with the flow. The irritating and persnickety Faire co-ordinator, Simon, is a pain in her arse… until they’re in costume on the grounds, and then it’s all flirtation and fun. Well Met is one of those fun romantic comedy books that goes strong on quirk, and the result is fabulous. Plus, it’ll help you answer the age-old question: is all really fair in love and war?

The Flatshare by Beth O’Leary

The Flat Share - Beth O'Leary - Keeping Up With The Penguins

Tiffy and Leon have never met – despite the fact that they share an apartment. It sounds weird, but it’s not really (or so they’ll have you believe). On a tight budget, they use the apartment at opposite times of day. Leon is only ever there while Tiffy’s at the office, she’s only ever there while he’s on the night shift. They start leaving one another notes – whose turn it is to put the garbage out, whether the toilet seat should be left up or down – and slowly they get to know each other better. You can see where this is going, right? The Flatshare is a romantic comedy book about an unlikely, unconventional living arrangement that turns into a love story.

One Last Stop by Casey McQuiston

One Last Stop - Casey McQuiston - Keeping Up With The Penguins

One Last Stop is, quite frankly, one of the most delightful romantic comedy books I’ve read in years – and it has a time travel element, and it’s queer! The central character, August, is new to New York City, but she’s already got the cynicism down. That is, until she meets Jane – a beautiful stranger on a train, with a bewitching smile and a leather jacket. How was August to know that Jane had come unstuck in time, from her home in the 1970s, and falling in love with her would cause all kinds of trouble? It’s a snort-laugh funny adventure that will warm even the steeliest heart. Read my full review of One Last Stop here.

Star Crossed by Minnie Darke

Star Crossed - Minnie Drake - Keeping Up With The Penguins

Are our fates written in the stars? Nick certainly thinks so, he reads his horoscope religiously. A horoscope in a magazine that Justine just happens to write for. Can she re-write the fate he’ll find in the movements of constellations? Will a few strokes of her pen change what’s written in the stars for them? Star Crossed is a “bright, brilliant, joyful love story” that charts the ripple effects of a little astrological meddling. Even the most hardened cynic looking for romantic comedy books will find themselves charmed by this story about Aquarian optimism and Sagittarian conviction.

Loving Lizzie March by Susannah Hardy

Loving Lizzie March - Susannah Hardy - Keeping Up With The Penguins

Life is not exactly going to plan for Lizzie March. She thought she’d be a fashion designer, but she’s working in a call centre. She thought her boss was Mr Right, but “dropping by” his house (which her best friend called “stalking”) landed her in hospital… where Lizzie finds out she’s pregnant. Loving Lizzie March is one of those clever and subversive romantic comedy books that shows there might be more to figuring your shit out and getting your happily ever after than just finding Prince Charming. Read my full review of Loving Lizzie March here.

Queenie by Candice Carty-Williams

Queenie - Candice Carty-Williams - Keeping Up With The Penguins

If you found yourself wishing that Bridget Jones’s Diary was a little more diverse and a little more relatable, Queenie should be your first pick of the romantic comedy books to read next. Queenie Jenkins is caught between two cultures, her Jamaican heritage and her middle-class British life, and a messy break-up with her long-term (white) boyfriend doesn’t help things. She goes looking for comfort and affirmation in all the wrong places, and finds herself asking “all of the questions today’s woman must face in a world trying to answer them for her”.

The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion

The Rosie Project - Graeme Simsion - Book Laid On Wooden Table - Keeping Up With The Penguins

Don Tillman doesn’t have a lot of luck with women – but that’s not surprising. He’s distributing a questionnaire, a list of questions designed to help him find his “perfect mate”. Yikes! Rosie ticks none of the boxes – she’s constantly late, she’s a smoker, and she has a devil-may-care attitude that Don finds baffling – but he finds himself drawn to her nonetheless. The Rosie Project is one of the best-selling romantic comedy books that inverts the much-maligned Grease storyline. In this version, it’s the man who has to loosen up and get with the program to get the girl. Read my full review of The Rosie Project here.

Weather Girl by Rachel Lynn Solomon

Weather Girl - Rachel Lynn Solomon - Keeping Up With The Penguins

Weather Girl is the latest from the new queen of romantic comedy books, Rachel Lynn Solomon. Hot off the success of The Ex Talk, she’s released this beguiling story about a TV weather reporter who will resort to desperate measures to ensure harmony in her workplace. The plot is just the right level of ridiculous for a rom-com, the characters are well-developed and well-intentioned, and it has plenty of snort-laughs to offer. And, best of all, the sex scenes are both steamy and realistic! Read my full review of Weather Girl here.

Heartburn by Nora Ephron

Heartburn - Nora Ephron - Keeping Up With The Penguins

Nora Ephron is probably best known for her classic romantic comedy films – think When Harry Met Sally, Sleepless In Seattle, You’ve Got Mail – but her romantic comedy books are just as good! In Heartburn, cookbook writer Rachel Samstat is seven months pregnant when she finds out that her husband is in love with someone else. How’s that for timing? She loudly wishes him dead to anyone who’ll listen, but secretly she’s working on plans to win him back. When the conflict gets too much, there’s always food. This is a sinfully delicious story about misadventures in love, from the pen of a master.

Crazy Rich Asians by Kevin Kwan

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

Imagine thinking you’re dating a regular-old middle-class NYU professor, who invites you to a wedding to Singapore… where you find out his family is rich. Not just flies-first-class rich, but crazy rich. Flying first class is a step down when you’re used to chartering your own private plane! That’s the premise of Crazy Rich Asians, one of the most successful and beloved romantic comedy books of the past decade. Kevin Kwan offers a rare insight into the opulent, extravagant world of the ultra-rich Chinese and Singaporean set. Read my full review of Crazy Rich Asians here.

If The Shoe Fits by Julie Murphy

If The Shoe Fits - Julie Murphy - Keeping Up With The Penguins

If you’ve always had a soft spot for fairytales, but the problematic elements bother you, then you need to check out the Meant To Be romantic comedy books. The first in the series is If The Shoe Fits, a delightfully fresh take on the classic tale of Cinderella. Proudly plus-size design graduate Cindy needs a chance to launch her dream career designing shoes – and the very first opportunity that comes her way is a spot on the dating show, Before Midnight. In the blink of the eye, she’s a viral sensation and a body positivity role-model – and she can actually see herself falling for the show’s Prince Charming. Could this career launchpad make even her non-professional dreams come true?

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