Disclaimer: The links to the book listed, are Amazon affiliate links – so if you are inspired and decide to buy it, I benefit a little too. We’re sharing the love! …
Mystery & Crime
This is also sometimes called detective fiction. Simply it’s a ‘who dunnit’ narrative. Whilst these books can be fast-paced and full of twists, they can also be psychologically intriguing and offer philosophical insights into the morals of crime. But at their core, a mystery novel must feature a protagonist who is trying to solve a crime. Mystery authors often also employ a first-person narrative, to create a biased perspective and conceal the surprise of the ending.
1. Murder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie (1934)
I don’t think I could have compiled a list of mystery books and not mentioned Agatha Christie. She is arguably the mystery/detective writer. 66 of her 75 novels have been mysteries, and this one is no different. The Orient Express has stopped just after midnight, but the train is one passenger less, an American called Cyrus Hardman has been murdered. Detective Hercules Poirot must find out who did it and stop them from striking again. Whilst the plot may seem simple, Christie’s signature-styling makes this a lot of fun to read, as you unravel the clues alongside Poirot to catch the killer.
2. The Death of Lucy Kyte (Josephine Tey #5) by Nicola Upson (2014)
Bridging the gap between historical fiction, thriller, and mystery – Upson’s book is “brimming with psychological tension”. When mystery author, Josephine Tey unexpectedly inherits Red Barn Cottage in Suffolk from her estranged godmother, the will stipulates she must personally claim the house in the countryside. “But Josephine is not the only benefactor – a woman named Lucy Kyte is also in the will.” When sorting through old documents, Josephine stumbles across an infamous death on the cottage’s grounds a century before. But this old crime still seems to haunt the little rural village. Is it superstition? Is it a real threat? Or is it somehow connected to Lucy? I can’t wait to dive into this British mystery story.
3. Rules For Perfect Murders by Peter Swanson (2020)
My friend recently finished this and loved it and reading the synopsis it is easy to see why: A series of eight murders, all connected by the fact that each death bears an eerie resemblance to a murder found in a classic mystery novel. The deaths lead FBI agent, Gwen Mulvey to mystery bookshop owners, Old Devils. The bookstore owner, Malcolm Kershaw seems to have just what Gwen needs to solve his cases – with details from Agatha Christie’s, Patricia Highsmith’s and Donna Tartt’s stories.
4. The Survivors by Jane Harper (2020)
“Kieran Elliott’s life changed forever on the day a reckless mistake led to devastating consequences.The guilt that still haunts him resurfaces during a visit with his young family to the small coastal community he once called home.” Between them everyone is there, apart from his brother, Finn. When a body is discovered on the beach, the tide washes in all kinds of secrets… The Survivors is a character study centred around a murder linked to the past. It is dark, heavy and tragic, but also beautifully written and intriguing.
A genre which I think personally gets an unfair reputation. Sure, there are plenty of trashy girl-meets-boy romance novels, but there is so much more to explore in this genre. From complex female and male characters, narratives which challenge gender and sexuality ‘norms’, and even romances that incorporate fantasy and thriller aspects. It’s definitely worth giving the romance genre another chance, you might surprise yourself.
1. The Kiss Quotient by Helen Hoang (2018)
This book is incredibly sweet, steamy and provides an important, well-balanced voice to those not only with Asperger’s (which the protagonist has), but anyone who feels nervous and lost about the dating world. This is a proper romance story, but it is definitely for adults!
2. Me Before You by JoJo Moyes (2012)
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it before, this book is just FAB. Plus, once you’ve read the book, (always book first), you can watch the brilliant film with the talented Emilia Clarke and Sam Claflin. It focuses on a woman who is simply lost in life, Lou, and in an attempt to regain some meaning and purpose, decides to become a carer for a man called, Will, who is now a quadriplegic. It’s so endearing, heart-warming and you might want to get those tissues out…
3. The Hating Game by Sally Thorne (2016)
It’s the classic office romance setup, where girl, Lucy Hutton hates boy, Joshua Templeman. “Trapped in a shared office together 40 (OK, 50 or 60) hours a week, they’ve become entrenched in an addictive, ridiculous never-ending game of one-upmanship. Lucy can’t let Joshua beat her at anything—especially when a huge new promotion goes up for the taking.” But perhaps they don’t hate each other after all? This is another one high on my TBR.
4. Red, White & Royal Blue by Casey McQuiston (2019)
A political romance – in which Alex Claremont-Diaz, first son of the White House and Prince Henry, his long-time nemesis must face the consequences of photos of a confrontation being leaked to the press. The plan to fix it: stage a fake friendship. It makes us ask ourselves: can love save the world after all? And where do we find the courage, and power, to be the people we are meant to be?
It is hard to explain what a short story is other than it is short! They are brief fictional narratives that often deal with few characters in a singular event to evoke a particular mood or feeling. The beauty of the short story is you can consume it in one (or few) sittings. When done well, it is like the novel form’s ‘top hits’, merely focusing on the greatest characteristics of the novel form.
1. The Complete Short Stories by Roald Dahl (1991)
Containing 12 stories, from the notable Over to You, Someone Like you, Kiss Kiss and Switch Bitch to the unexpected, Dahl’s brilliant storytelling talent is present in all of them. Spanning a variety of genres from horror, adventure, mystery, and humour, it is the perfect book to pick up read a couple and put down. The joy of this collection is found in Dahl’s characters and the large number of stories means there is something for everyone.
2. Don’t Look Now and Other Stories by Daphne Du Maurier (1973)
A married couple, a lonely schoolmaster, a young woman, a party of British pilgrims and a scientist all receive the Du Maurier treatment in five separate short stories. Whilst each story stands alone, they are connected by their mystery and slow, creeping horror which Du Maurier does so well.
3. The Office of Historical Corrections by Danielle Evans (2020)
“Danielle Evans is widely acclaimed for her blisteringly smart voice and x-ray insights into complex human relationships.” This collection showcases Evan’s ability to critically assess race, grief, identity, and American history through her characters. The titular story tells of a black scholar from Washington DC who is drawn into “a complex historical mystery that spans generations and puts her job, her love life, and her oldest friendship at risk.”
4. What We Talk About When We Talk About Love by Raymond Carver (1981)
These stories feature around a married couple who sit around drinking gin discussing what it means to be in love, what love is and is it necessary? There are no big conclusions, or strong plot lines in these stories sometimes leaving the reader frustrated and confused. Rather they are a “slice of life” stories, that excel in their narrow focus on one topic: love.
Although science fiction and fantasy are closely related, sci-fi is determined by real or real-feeling science. They are often set in the future, in space, on a different planet, or in a different universe or dimension altogether. The Becky Chambers book on this list I have been told is a particularly great way to get into the genre if you’re new to sci-fi.
1. War of the Worlds by H.G. Wells (1898)
My friend Tom called this “the parent of sci-fi books”, and I couldn’t have put it much better myself. Tom continues and explains, “it is about these creatures which suddenly land on earth and start causing mayhem – but interestingly, when it was published radio stations started reading it live on air, and because people had little awareness of the sci-fi genre, believed it was real and actually happening!” It was first serialised in 1897 by Pearson’s magazine in the UK and Cosmopolitan magazine in the US and has inspired numerous adaptations and imitations since.
2. The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet by Becky Chambers (2014)
I read a brilliant review on GoodReads about this book, so shall just paraphrase Anna as she puts it better than I could. It is “feel-good fiction, set in a great big world.” “It is also a character-driven story with great female characters, where the aliens are strange, but so are the humans.” Oh, and the “author when I talked to her was very nice.” What’s not to like?!
3. The Martian by Andy Weir (2011)
I asked my friend Matt for his review of this book, as I have only seen the film – and this is what he says: “Disaster strikes Astronaut Mark Watney when a rogue storm leaves him stranded on the Martian surface. With limited supplies, he faces a one-man mission in the most inhospitable of environments. Equipped with only his botany powers and caustic sense of humour, Watney must attempt the impossible and survive where no person has before. Plus, Matt Damon’s arse in the film is top tier.” I mean who doesn’t love Matt Damon?!
4. Ready Player One by Ernest Cline (2011)
Now a major motion picture which was released in 2018, this book imagines the ugly reality of 2044. Teenager Wade Watts transports himself into a utopian virtual reality called OASIS, where he feels most alive. He devotes his time to studying the puzzles within the digital code, and looks back at the culture, music and games of decades gone by. But when he finds players willing to kill one another for the first clue, the ultimate code – he must race to survive, now not only in the ‘real’ world but in the new one he finds himself absorbed in. If you love video games, pop culture, the 80’s, or digital fantasy – then this one is for you.
Like horror, these books can make you feel on-edge, but the progression and gradual build-up of plot, atmosphere and tension makes these books for me, better and usually scarier. However, they also feature cliff-hangers, deception, high emotional stakes and leave the protagonist in imminent and potentially mortal danger. A good thriller is one that makes you so engrossed that you can’t put the book down until it’s all over, (and then breathe).
1. The Family Upstairs by Lisa Jewell (2019)
After her 25th birthday Libby Jones receives a letter explaining not only who her birth parents are, but also that she is the sole inheritor of their abandoned mansion in Chelsea, which is worth millions. But things start to get complicated when she begins unravelling the lives of the family and learns about their past. 25 years ago, police were called to the house, and found a crying, angelic baby and three dead bodies, all dressed in black with a hasty note attached. Once Libby starts unravelling secrets from the past, her life will never be the same again. Jewell’s writing makes you feel like you can’t look away, even when the turn of events starts to get just a little weird…
2. The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins (2015)
The film adaptation starring Emily Blunt in New York I refuse to watch. The main reason being this nail-biting, distressing story is firmly grounded in London – and the names of places, use of the train and tube make this story even more vivid and real, (for me and other British readers). It focuses on three women and their relationships from a first-person narration. But the main protagonist, Rachel catches the same commuter train every morning. She knows the route inside out, every bridge and garden it passes. She’s even started to feel like she knows the people who live in one of the houses, who she’s called ‘Jess and Jason’. To Rachel, ‘Jess and Jason’ live perfect lives, and she wishes hers could be the same. Then she sees something. It’s only a minute but it’s enough. Now everything has changed, and Rachel has a chance to become a part of the lives she’s only watched from afar. (Oh, I’m getting the shivers just thinking about this story again – it’s SO good!)
3. Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty (2014)
This book has so many layers, subplots, relationships, and intricacies, and it is part of the reason it is so good. The main premise is that someone is dead. Alongside this, on the surface, it is about four women, who are working mums, and their petty behaviour of one-manship and privilege. But under the surface, it is much darker. Moriarty tackles bullying, spousal and sexual abuse, psychological trauma and marital troubles. Ultimately all these women are deeply flawed, but they must work together to hide the lethal little lies they keep telling each other and themselves. However, now that someone is dead, perhaps these lies aren’t that little anymore.
4. The Silent Patient by Alex Michaelides (2019)
“The Silent Patient is a shocking psychological thriller of a woman’s act of violence against her husband—and of the therapist obsessed with uncovering her motive.”
Alice Berenson’s life is seemingly perfect, she is a famous painter married to an in-demand fashion photographer, Gabriel and they live in a grand, sweeping house. One evening when Gabriel returns home late Alicia shoots him five times in the face, and then leaves. Her refusal to talk and give any kind of explanation, “turns a domestic tragedy into something far grander, a mystery that captures the public imagination and casts Alicia into notoriety.” When Theo Faber, a criminal psychologist begins to investigate the mystery, the search for truth threatens to consume him entirely.