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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
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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

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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

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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

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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

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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. Read my full review of Nothing To See Here here.

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

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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

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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

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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

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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? Read my full review of Well Met here.

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

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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 realistic, Queenie should be your first pick 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”. This is one of the rare romantic comedy books that doesn’t bullshit the reader about meet-cutes and happily-ever-afters. Read my full review of Queenie here.

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? Read my full review of If The Shoe Fits here.

10 Books I Read Because I Liked The Movie

Nine times out of ten, when I watch a new movie or series, it’s an adaptation of a book I’ve read. I’m always curious to see how directors and actors translate a story to the screen. But, sometimes, it’s the other way around – I enjoy a movie or series and then realise that it’s based on a book, or that the book might be worth reading more than I thought. Here are ten books I read because I liked the movie.

10 Books I Read Because I Liked The Movie - Book List - Keeping Up With The Penguins

Bridgerton by Julie Quinn

Bridgerton - The Duke and I - Julia Quinn - Keeping Up With The Penguins

Okay, fine, I’ll cop to it: I’m a basic bitch. I binged the Bridgerton series on Netflix. Twice. And when I saw the book on sale (with the basic-bitch movie cover, no less!) for twelve bucks, I snapped it up. For those of you who have been living under a particularly large rock, this is a Regency romance series based on the series of books by Julia Quinn. The Duke And I is the first book in the series, focusing on the marital prospects of the eldest Bridgerton daughter, Daphne. The Netflix adaptation, a Shonda Rhimes masterpiece, was so good (and so horny, yewwww!), I couldn’t help but dive in to the original material. Read my full review of Bridgerton: The Duke And I here.

Thank You For Smoking by Christopher Buckley

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Thank You For Smoking (2005) is one of my favourite movies of all time. It follows Nick Naylor (Aaron Eckhart), chief spokesperson for a major tobacco lobby, as he tries to convince the world that cigarettes won’t kill you (or, if they do, at least you’ll die with liberty). The thing is, I didn’t even realise it was a book, the 1994 novel Thank You For Smoking, until I spotted a copy for $4.99 in a remainder book shop while I was waiting for a train. I was disappointed to discover that the jokes and satire fell a bit flat on the page, where they truly sparkled on the screen. Still, it wasn’t a total waste of a fiver… Read my full review of Thank You For Smoking here.

The Adventures Of Sherlock Holmes by Arthur Conan Doyle

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I didn’t read The Adventures Of Sherlock Holmes just because of the BBC adaptation starring Benedict Cumberbatch… but it certainly didn’t hurt! The contemporary adaptation for screen puts Watson and Holmes in modern-day London, where the mysteries are high-tech versions of the original 19th century stories. Ironically, given Doyle’s economy of language and his very-short-yet-highly-complex Holmes installments, the episodes of Sherlock are loooong – usually at least 90 minutes. Still, they’re so gripping, that run-time just flies by! Read my full review of The Adventures Of Sherlock Holmes here.

A Game Of Thrones by George R.R. Martin

A Game of Thrones - George R R Martin - Book Laid On Wooden Table - Keeping Up With The Penguins

For a while there, there was nothing worse than the workplace bore who chimed in on the morning-after Game Of Thrones chat, just to say that they already knew what happened because they read the books. Ugh! I wonder where they find their satisfaction now… Anyway, like most of the world, I first encountered George R.R. Martin’s epic fantasy series via the HBO adaptation. Given that I’m not typically a high fantasy reader, I think that was actually a good way to do it. The world is so vast and complex, I would’ve been completely lost without the existing visual reference points from the show. Read my full review of A Game Of Thrones here.

The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

The Hunger Games - Suzanne Collins - book laid on wooden table - Keeping Up With The Penguins

I actually really, really like the Hunger Games films. The first is obviously the best (isn’t it always?), but I’ve definitely comfort-binged them all back-to-back a couple of times. My impressions of the book, when I finally got around to reading it, were definitely coloured by the films – and, in an unexpected plot twist, I actually thought the films were better. Perhaps that’s because I’m getting old and I couldn’t stand the narration of sixteen-year-old Katniss Everdeen. The films have a subtlety that you just can’t get when the protagonist is spoon-feeding you her every supposition. Read my full review of The Hunger Games here.

Julie and Julia by Julie Powell

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I loved the movie Julie And Julia. I can’t remember how I came to watch it, but when I learned later that it was Nora Ephron’s final film before her passing, that totally tracked. The film has everything: Ephron! Meryl Streep! Stanley Tucci! A quirky protagonist with a non-romantic goal! Another quirky protagonist with an iconic accent! I actually wasn’t all that keen to read Julie Powell’s memoir, Julie And Julia, until I heard a review on the To Read List Podcast that piqued my interest. It was pretty good.. but not as good as the movie. Read my full review of Julie And Julia here.

Little Women by Louisa May Alcott

Little Women - Louisa May Alcott - Book Laid on Wooden Table - Keeping Up With The Penguins

Some people grew up with Little Women, the classic Louisa May Alcott “moral book for girls” about four sisters who fight their way out of poverty and patriarchal oppression to find their own paths in live. I grew up with the 1994 film version, starring Winona Ryder as Jo, Christian Bale as Laurie, Susan Sarandon as Marmee, and a very young Kirsten Dunst as Amy (my favourite… at the time). I know Greta Gerwig’s 2019 version gets all the love, but my heart belongs to my childhood favourite. It was very faithful to the book, to my pleasant surprise when I finally got around to reading it as an adult. Read my full review of Little Women here.

The Other Boleyn Girl by Philippa Gregory

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I suppose, technically, I only watched The Other Boleyn Girl because I so loved the Horrible Histories books about the Tudors when I was a kid. Does that make this a book I read because I loved the movie because I loved a book? Whatever the case, in my humble opinion, the film adaptation of Philippa Gregory’s historical romance is horribly underrated. The book? Not so much. The story was far more fun when I could watch Eric Bana throw his weight around, as Scarlett Johansson and Natalie Portman competed viciously for his attentions. Read my full review of The Other Boleyn Girl here.

The Perks Of Being A Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky

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The journey to reading The Perks Of Being A Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky was a long one, for me. See, in my memory, I’d actually mixed up the film adaptation (starring Logan Lerman, Emma Watson, and Ezra Miller) with the movie It’s Kind Of A Funny Story (starring Keir Gilchrist and Emma Roberts). In my defence, they’re both about kooky depressed kids who come-of-age while battling mental illness and social/family problems way beyond their ken. Still, it worked out well – I actually quite enjoyed the book, even though it wasn’t what I was expecting! Read my full review of The Perks Of Being A Wallflower here.

The Cry by Helen Fitzgerald

The Cry - Helen Fitzgerald - Keeping Up With The Penguins

I don’t even remember how I ended up watching The Cry miniseries – I guess I saw a lot of ads for it in between news bulletins on the ABC? It was one of my best television-watching experiences in years (not that that’s saying much), and when I learned (literally years later!) that it was based on a book, The Cry by Helen Fitzgerald, I knew I had to read it. Of course, I already know the “shock twist” ending, but it’s such a brilliant story that I couldn’t resist the opportunity to experience it all over again anyway. Plus, knowing the ending gives me the chance to sniff out all the clues that Fitzgerald dropped along the way! Read my full review of The Cry here.

10 Books I Predict Will Be 5-Star Reads

Obviously, whenever we booklovers pick up a book – any book – we hope against hope that it’s going to be a 5-star read. We cross our fingers every time that we’re embarking on a journey with our new favourite book. Otherwise, we’d surely give up! But some seem more likely, more promising than others. Sometimes, you just get The Vibe – from the cover, the blurb, the author’s previous books, whatever – that it’s going to be a 5-star read. Taking my inspiration from beachesandbooks, I’ve put together this list of books I predict will be 5-star reads. (I’m hoping to get to most, if not all(!), of them by the end of the year – so keep checking back in to see how I go!)

10 Books I Predict Will Be 5-Star Reads - Book List - Keeping Up With The Penguins
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Say Nothing by Patrick Radden Keefe

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I loved, loved, loved Patrick Radden Keefe’s Empire Of Pain – an investigation into the Sackler family, the dynasty behind Oxycontin (one of the deadliest prescription drugs ever developed). I’m also a little (ahem!) obsessed with the Netflix show Derry Girls, about life on the border during The Troubles in Ireland, and true crime books and podcasts. Say Nothing is the dovetail of all of these passions: Patrick Radden Keefe’s first book, an “incendiary modern history of the bloody sectarian conflict in Northern Ireland” told through the story of the abduction and murder of Jean McConville. I’m confident Radden Keefe can make it back-to-back 5-star reads!

Verdict: Close! I give this one a strong 4/5 stars. Read my full review of Say Nothing here.

Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng

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I’ll admit I was a bit late to the party with Little Fires Everywhere, but when I got there… hoo, boy! I partied hard! I was so impressed with the relationships that Celeste Ng wove and represented so deftly, the completely believable dynamics she created, the compelling story she crafted. I couldn’t press “Buy Now” on her backlist novel, Everything I Never Told You, fast enough! It promises to be another 5-star read. In suburban Ohio in the 1970s, a Chinese American family has lost their favourite daughter. Lydia is dead, but they don’t know it yet, and their perfectly calibrated world is about to collapse into chaos.

Verdict: Close again! 4/5 stars. Read my full review of Everything I Never Told You here.

Red, White & Royal Blue by Casey McQuiston

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I’m not a gushy person. Most romances make me roll my eyes, rather than putting little hearts in them. I had no reason to suspect that #bookstagram darling Red, White and Royal Blue would be any different. I didn’t even bother reading the blurb! Then, the wonderful team at Macmillan were kind enough to send me a copy of Casey McQuiston’s follow-up, One Last Stop, for review. It bowled me over, Keeper Upperers: here was a romance that was queer, quirky, fun, and not too saccharine. I got around to checking out the blurb on her break-out novel, and found it promised more of the same! I’m so sure it’s going to be a thoroughly delightful 5-star read, I’m saving it for a special occasion.

Verdict: This one came SO CLOSE! But it suffered from having such a high bar set by McQuiston’s other novel I’d read. 4/5 stars. Read my full review of Red, White & Royal Blue here.

Willful Creatures by Aimee Bender

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I have been desperate to read Willful Creatures ever since I first heard it reviewed on The To Read List Podcast. I had a devil of a time trying to track down a copy; eventually, I ordered it print-on-demand (as a little treat to myself in spicy-cough isolation). I’m sure it’s going to be worth the wait! It’s a short story collection with a hearty dose of magical realism. According to the blurb, “[t]his is a place where a boy with keys for fingers is a hero, a woman’s children are potatoes, and a little boy with an iron for a head is born to a family of pumpkin heads. With her singular mix of surrealism, musical prose, and keenly felt emotion, Bender once again proves herself to be a masterful chronicler of the human condition.”

Verdict: Ooft, this one was a real nail-biter. I ummed and ahhhed for ages, but ultimately decided to go with four stars. But even as I say that, I might change my mind! Read my full review of Willful Creatures here.

We Keep The Dead Close by Becky Cooper

We Keep The Dead Close - Becky Cooper - Keeping Up With The Penguins

I’m a long-time bone-deep true crime junkie, so of course We Keep The Dead Close piqued my interest. It’s “a tour de force of investigative reporting” from a former research assistant, paralegal, and Harvard student who heard about a decades-old cold case and couldn’t let it go. In 1969, when so much else was happening, Harvard was undertaking an ambitious merger with its sister school to become co-educational, and one of its students was found in her apartment, murdered. When Cooper first heard the story, in the mid-2000s, the rumour went that Jane Britton, an ambitious 23-year-old graduate student, had been murdered by her professor for threatening to reveal their affair, but – as Cooper soon discovers – that’s not even a half-truth. It’s a real-life dark academia story, Keeper Upperers, and it’s sure to be a 5-star read!

Verdict: This one was really tough, in the sense that I went back and forth on whether to give it four or five stars. In the end, I settled on four, if only to preserve the integrity of my hallowed 5-star rating, but damn – it’s still a real good read! Check out my full review of We Keep The Dead Close here.

Happy Endings by Thien-Kim Lam

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The premise of Happy Endings was enough to convince me it’s going to be a 5-star read: “Trixie Nguyen is determined to make her sex toy business a success, proving to her traditional Vietnamese parents that she can succeed in a nontraditional career. She’s made a fresh start in Washington DC, and her first pop-up event is going well—until she runs into the ex who dumped her. With a Post-it note.” Sex toys? Second chances? Unfinished business? Yes, please! All the better that it comes from a debut novelist, one who founded the Bawdy Bookworms subscription service (that pairs sexy romances with erotic toys for subscribers), no less!

Verdict: This one didn’t quite reach the pinnacle. 3/5 stars. Read my full review of Happy Endings here.

The Five by Hallie Rubenhold

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Speaking of being a true crime junkie: the genre has long had many problems, one of them being its misrepresentation of, and disrespect for, victims. When I heard that Hallie Rubenhold had written The Five to start redressing the balance for the most infamous cold case in history, I knew instantly it would be a cracking 5-star read. Everyone knows the moniker Jack The Ripper, and the outline of his crimes, but what of his victims? At most, people “know” (assume) that they were sex workers, destitute, desperate – how else could they have ended up on the end of his knife? It turns out everything we know about “the five” is wrong, and I’m really looking forward to Rubenhold telling me the truth.

Verdict: It took me a while to get to this one, but it was worth the wait! 5/5 stars. Read my full review of The Five here.

The Cry by Helen Fitzgerald

The Cry - Helen Fitzgerald - Keeping Up With The Penguins

I don’t even remember how I ended up watching The Cry miniseries – I guess I saw a lot of ads for it in between news bulletins on the ABC? It was one of my best television-watching experiences in years (not that that’s saying much), and when I learned (literally years later!) that it was based on a book, The Cry by Helen Fitzgerald, I knew I had to read it. Of course, there’s the risk that the book won’t live up to the TV adaptation (how often does that happen? ha!), and I already know the “shock twist” ending, but it’s such a brilliant story I’m sure the book will tell it just as well as the screen.

Verdict: Ding! Ding! Ding! We have a winner! 5/5 stars. Read my full review of The Cry here.

Horrorstör by Grady Hendrix

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Everything I’ve heard about Grady Hendrix and his books has served to inform my opinion that he is a genius and they’re all sure to be 5-star reads. I’m planning to start with Horrorstör, because the design is absolutely gorgeous (it’s laid out like an IKEA catalogue) and it deserves five stars for that alone. The contents sound great too, though: a haunted house story set in a furniture superstore. “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.”

Verdict: Yes, yes, a thousand times, yes! Read my full review of Horrorstor here.

Wow, No Thank You by Samantha Irby

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I’m not ashamed to admit that there are some books I pick up for the title alone: Wow, No Thank You is one of them. It’s a 5-star title that makes me giggle every time I see or hear it. It turns out, this is Samantha Irby’s third book, a collection of essays in which “[s]he goes on bad dates with new friends, spends weeks in Los Angeles taking meetings with “tv executives slash amateur astrologers” while being a “cheese fry-eating slightly damp Midwest person,” “with neck pain and no cartilage in [her] knees,” who still hides past due bills under her pillow.” That sounds relatable as all heck, and just as funny as the title!

Verdict: I think Samantha Irby and I would be BFFs, even though I gave this one 4/5 stars. Read my full review of Wow, No Thank You here.

7 Thrillers Without Dead Girls

If you read contemporary crime thrillers or horror fiction, you’ve probably noticed a problem that ranges from mildly annoying to downright disturbing: nearly every “victim” that kicks things off is a dead, dying, or missing girl. These girls are blonde, thin, white, sometimes angels, sometimes “troubled”, and they’re almost always completely interchangeable. You could write an entire thesis on the reason for this (some brilliant academics have, and even Edgar Allen Poe took a shot). Sure, sometimes thrillers subvert this trope and turn it on its head (hello, Gone Girl), but even so, it’s nice to stumble upon a thriller without a dead girl as an inciting incident. Here’s my list of seven thrillers without dead girls.

7 Thrillers Without Dead Girls - Book List - Keeping Up With The Penguins
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The Hiding Place by Jenny Quintana

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I didn’t realise how relieved I was to finally pick up a thriller without a dead girl until I read Jenny Quintana’s The Hiding Place. Also notably (blessedly!) absent: hard-boiled heavy-drinking detectives with a dark past, ticking time bombs, and ex-boyfriends with a knack for coercive control. The story centers on Marina’s search for the truth surrounding the circumstances of her birth. As an infant, she was found wrapped in a blue shawl in the doorway of 24 Harrington Gardens, in a quiet London suburb. Now, as an adult, she can’t resist the allure of one of the apartment at that address for let, and the opportunity to find out what exactly happened to her birth mother. This is a compelling page-turner without the tired tropes. Read my full review of The Hiding Place here.

Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty

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Even though the victim of the crime at the center of Big Little Lies is a mystery for most of the novel, I hope it doesn’t spoil it too much to say that, in the end, it is a pleasant surprise to discover it is not one of the three women protagonists. Liane Moriarty has worked up quite a back-list of books, most of which do not center on dead, dying, or missing girls. Granted, this one still features prominent themes of sexualised violence against women, but the crime at the heart of the novel isn’t the one you’d expect. Read my full review of Big Little Lies here.

Bonus: Moriarty’s most recent novel, Apples Never Fall, is also a cracking thriller without a dead girl. The matriarch of the family is missing, sure, but Moriarty uses her mysterious absence to point to the flawed assumptions we’re all guilty of making in such a scenario. Read my full review of Apples Never Fall here.

My Sister, The Serial Killer by Oyinkan Braithwaite

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My Sister, The Serial Killer is not a traditional thriller by any stretch, but it has a serial killer on the loose with a reluctant accomplice, so I say it counts – and all the victims are men. When Korede’s beautiful butter-wouldn’t-melt sister, Ayoola, forms a nasty habit of bumping off boyfriends who displease her, it’s Korede’s job to cover up her crimes… until Ayoola sets her sights on the man Korede has been secretly crushing on for months. It lands on the literary end of the crime thriller spectrum, but it’s one of the best thrillers without dead girls I’ve read so far, with impeccably drawn characters against a bustling Nigerian backdrop. Read my full review of My Sister, The Serial Killer here.

Under The Skin by Michel Faber

Under The Skin - Michel Faber - Keeping Up With The Penguins

For a thriller with a science-fiction bent and without dead girls, look no further than Under The Skin. In this strange, seductive story, Isserley cruises the Scottish highlands, picking up hitchhikers off the side of the winding roads. All of them are male, and she appraises them carefully, making sure they’ll be suitable for her purpose. And that purpose might be… well, you’ll have to read on to find out. Suffice to say here, Isserley is not your standard criminal, and these aren’t the kind of crimes you see splashed across the morning news headlines. This is a hypnotic and entrancing read. Read my full review of Under The Skin here.

The Cry by Helen Fitzgerald

The Cry - Helen Fitzgerald - Keeping Up With The Penguins

I first encountered The Cry via the brilliant can’t-get-it-out-of-your-head-for-days ABC/BBC television adaptation that first aired a couple of years ago. Seriously, it’s SO GOOD! How thrilled was I to discover that the story also exists in novel form, the book by Helen Fitzgerald five years prior. In this gripping, still-can’t-shake-it-off read, an infant goes missing shortly after his British parents bring him to Australia, sparking an international search and unprecedented media attention. When no trace of the child is found, the parents, Joanne and Alistair, slowly turn on one another, making for an incredibly affective and effective psychological thriller. Read my full review of The Cry here.

Misery by Stephen King

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The premise of Misery is so twisted, it could only have come from the mind of the King of Horror. He’s normally not shy about writing thrillers with dead girls, but he comes at this one from a very different angle. In it, a forty-something writer, with shelves of lowest-common-denominator best-sellers to his name, finally types The End on his literary triumph, only to find himself badly injured in a horrific car crash. “Luckily”, he is “rescued” by his “Number One Fan” – Annie Wilkes. This axe-wielding former nurse might be demonstrably insane, but she has a steady supply of painkillers, an at-home recuperation set-up, and only one demand: that the author write one more book, a very special book, just for her. Read my full review of Misery here.

The Silent Patient by Alex Michealides

The Silent Patient - Alex Michaelides - Keeping Up With The Penguins

To round out this list of thrillers without dead girls, let’s look at The Silent Patient. The “girl” (ahem-woman!-ahem) at the centre of this story is the kind of “troubled” character you’d expect to be bumped off in the first few pages, except in Michaelide’s version she’s the one wielding the weapon. Alicia Berenson seemed to have the perfect life, right up until she shot her husband five times. Why? Well, she’s not saying; she hasn’t spoken a word since she got trigger-happy. The mystery captivates the world, especially forensic psycotherapist Theo Faber. He’s determined to get Alica to talk. But will that do more harm than good?

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