When You Want a Book You Just Can't Put Down

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When the laundry piles are threatening to avalanche and the kids are asking you for a zillion things at once and your schedule is crammed to the max with all the things that make up the life of a modern woman, sometimes you just want to get away.  And — Calgon ads notwithstanding – one of my preferred methods of escape is a good book.

And not just any good book, by the way.  I’m talking about a good novel, the kind of book with a twisty-turny plot and a heap of suspense and a splash of mystery and maybe even a spot of romance.   It’s the kind of book that is, to use a marvelous word, unputdownable.

And I have a few titles to share, if you’re into that kind of thing.

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The novels of Mary Stewart

This gal could write, and write she did, penning a great many suspense novels from the 1950s to 197os and beyond (her earlier ones are the best, if you ask me).

Think of her books as  James Bond for women:  there are exotic settings (Greece, the Middle East, the Alps), lots of  action and cliffhangers, smart heroines who can think on their feet, and romance, too (of the clean variety).   Her books are being reissued slowly but surely in fabulous new editions, and I’ve found that libraries are pretty good at carrying them, too.

If you’ve never read her books, I’d start with The Ivy Tree (the first one I ever read –it had me in its thrall for an entire weekend) or Nine Coaches Waiting or This Rough Magic And if you’ve never read her books, let me also say this: I envy you, because I wish I could discover them all over again.

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The Dead Secret by Wilkie Collins.  

Collins was a hugely popular Victorian novelist who wrote lots of classics in the mystery genre, including The Woman in White and The Moonstone (both excellent).   Last summer I re-read The Dead Secret, and loved its marvelous spine-tingliness.  Think old crumbling English estates, carriages and crinolines, assorted characters of a variety of social classes who harbor potentially earth-blowing secrets, and you’ve got Collins.   He was a master of the suspenseful scene, too, so be warned: you’ll have a hard time stopping to make dinner.

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Rebecca by Daphne DuMaurier

If you’ve never read Rebecca by Daphne DuMaurier, stop reading this blog and go get a copy.  (And line up a babysitter for the next two days.)  It’s the reigning queen of romantic suspense, and for good reason.  DuMaurier evokes a sense of place so perfectly; you really feel you’re there at this grand old coastal estate in Cornwall.  The book is also a brilliant example of perfectly-pitched first person narration.   And then there’s the wonderfully creepy Mrs. Danvers … aw, seriously, just read it now.  (And the Hitchcock movie, good as it is, simply  isn’t a substitute for the real thing.)

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The novels of Anya Seton

Anya Seton wrote a whole slew of historical novels, many of which I’ve read, and her books are marvelous at immersing you in a different time and place.

For overall impact, I’d start with her book Katherine; for Gothic suspense, go with Dragonwyck. Either way, you can count on rich historical detail and descriptions that make your current reality recede for a bit.

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Lady Audley’s Secret by Mary Elizabeth Braddon

Lady Audley’s Secret by Mary Elizabeth Braddon is one of those books that caused rather a sensation back when it was published back in 1862.  (In fact, I first heard of it as a child in the book Betsy-Tacy Go Downtown, when it is mentioned as one of those rather racy novels that Betsy and Tacy know their parents don’t want them to read.)   From a modern perspective, it’s unlikely to offend anyone, and it’s a darn good story too.  It’s very similar to Wilkie Collins, and I can’t say much more without giving away spoilers.  Fun and then some.

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The novels of Kate Morton

Kate Morton is the modern successor to all the writers above, and she’s great at spinning a compelling and mysterious plot.  If you like old English houses and books that stretch from present to past, you can’t go wrong with her. I’ve read all four of her novels, and loved The Forgotten Garden and The Secret-Keeper in particular.

So what’s your favorite unputdownable novel?

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 Copyright 2015 Ginny Kubitz Moyer

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9 Comments

  1. Great! I was just looking for good books! I have been getting more and more wary of picking up just any book; having too much crass language or graphic descriptions of bedroom activities just kills it for me. Give me a good old-fashioned murder by Agatha Christie and I’m happy. I like re-reading Jane Austen every now and then, but I also love Grisham and Baldacci. Those are some I can’t put down. I can’t even think of a favorite right now, but one I re-read every year is Skipping Christmas by Grisham; it’s just so hilarious and real. With your suggestions, I will be able to expand my horizons. Thank you!

  2. Thanks for this list! It’s been a long time since I read any Mary Stewart–might need to rediscover her work!
    Two present-day authors whose work I enjoy are Leslie Lynch and Bette Lee Crosby. Both of them are excellent storytellers.

  3. I love your recommendations! I just finished reading a book that qualifies as un-put-downable: The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield. It is a great follow up to the books mentioned here. It is cross between Rebecca, Jane Eyre and Charing Cross Road. I loved it!

    Mary Stewart has long been on my authors to read list. So I better get busy!

  4. Pingback: Weekly Book Talk with Drama on Top | CatholicMom.com

  5. I keep coming back to this to get more suggestions. I loved The Forgotten Garden, and happily went through all the Mary Stewarts in my little library. I just happened upon a gem by Susanna Kearsley, “Every Secret Thing,” that was definitely un-put-downable. Susanna Kearsley was compared to Mary Stewart and Daphne DuMaurier, so if you like those authors, I think you will like her too. I’m going to look for Rebecca next, then more by Kearsley. Then I’ll start on the other authors and suggestions here… thanks, everyone!

    • Thanks so much, Monica! I’m glad you liked Mary Stewart and The Forgotten Garden. I’ve read a few Susannah Kearsley books — I really liked “The Winter Sea” and “The Rose Garden.” She has a new one coming out next month too, I think.

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