The best books about fabulous fabulists: a list for liars and people who deal with them

Why am I passionate about this?

I first started lying as a child and was fascinated to discover that the art of deception could turn into full-time employment as either a politician or an author (I choose the one with moderately better hours and substantially worse pay). As someone who crafts elaborate lies for the purposes of entertainment, I remain fascinated by people who lie for nefarious ends, something I swear I’d never do. (Except for the time I snuck into a music festival by pretending to be one of the catering staff, earning me the dubious distinction of being one of very few people to ever appear in a Metallica moshpit wearing a waiter’s uniform.) 

I wrote...

Rumors of Her Death

By J.M. Donellan,

Book cover of Rumors of Her Death

What is my book about?

An underworld courier is forced to repay a debt by taking a surreal journey through a nine-storey mecca of hedonism known as the Orrery where he’s pursued by thugs, mercenaries, and the apparition of his allegedly deceased lover. Sophia (despite being deceased) causes increasing havoc in his life, bodies keep appearing in his bathtub, and his new neighbour Nisha may have even more secrets than he does. The walls of reality become increasingly unstable, and Nisha is convinced that Archie will find the answers he’s seeking on the Orrery’s mysterious ninth storey.

Publisher’s weekly says: “Donellan gets readers to root for an unsavory lead in this funny, off-kilter thriller. The brisk plotting is enhanced by Archie’s well-developed inner emotional life and Donellan’s wry prose.”

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of Look at Me

J.M. Donellan Why did I love this book?

In a world of aggregate and pre-release reviews, it’s easy to forget that one of the most important measures of a book's success is how much it stays with you in the years after you read it.

Look At Me has haunted me in the years since I read it. No other book has had a greater impact on the way I think about our perception of ourselves vs. the way the world perceives us, and how that can be manipulated and exploited.

Like many great books, knowing too much about the plot before you pick it up is going to lessen your experience, so I’m just going to say that it’s about people who have constructed new identities and covers themes of deception, and reinvention and let you discover it for yourself (and thank me later).

By Jennifer Egan,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Look at Me as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Reconstructive facial surgery after a car crash so alters Manhattan model Charlotte that, within the fashion world, where one's look is oneself, she is unrecognizable. Seeking a new image, Charlotte engages in an Internet experiment that may both save and damn her. As her story eerily converges with that of a plain, unhappy teenager - another Charlotte - it raises tantalizing questions about identity and reality in contemporary Western culture.

Jennifer Egan's bold, innovative novel, demonstrating her virtuosity at weaving a spellbinding, ambitious tale with language that dazzles, captures the spirit of our times and offers an unsettling glimpse of…

Book cover of The Talented Mr. Ripley

J.M. Donellan Why did I love this book?

Obviously, I couldn’t put together a list of liars without mentioning Ripley, one of literature’s most unforgettable conmen.

Having watched the superb film version years ago, I only got around to finally reading the book after picking up Greg Sestero’s Disaster Artist (another great book about a liar) wherein he talks about how Ripley’s deception mirrors that of his creative partner Tommy Wisseau. Highsmith sets the watermark for elegant, character-driven crime novels and Ripley is arguably her best work.

While some parts of it inevitably feel a little dated (it was written in 1955), Highsmith does an incredible job of persuading the reader to alternate between praying for Ripley’s success and demise, and he remains a quintessential unreliable narrator that set the scene for countless fabulists to follow.

By Patricia Highsmith,

Why should I read it?

22 authors picked The Talented Mr. Ripley as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

It's here, in the first volume of Patricia Highsmith's five-book Ripley series, that we are introduced to the suave Tom Ripley, a young striver seeking to leave behind his past as an orphan bullied for being a "sissy." Newly arrived in the heady world of Manhattan, Ripley meets a wealthy industrialist who hires him to bring his playboy son, Dickie Greenleaf, back from gallivanting in Italy. Soon Ripley's fascination with Dickie's debonair lifestyle turns obsessive as he finds himself enraged by Dickie's ambivalent affections for Marge, a charming American dilettante, and Ripley begins a deadly game. "Sinister and strangely alluring"…

Book cover of Birnam Wood

J.M. Donellan Why did I love this book?

I’ve always been confused by the longstanding misconception that thrillers can’t be thematically complex and literary novels can’t be briskly plotted page turners. Birnam Wood is one of many excellent examples of a book that accomplishes both.

Catton’s novel covers activism, climate change, class struggle, idealism vs pragmatism, and a range of other related themes all while moving at a cracking pace and unleashing a thrilling, pulse-pounding plot. Some characters are lying by omission, others for the sake of preservation, others for the sake of self-interest. The result is a deliciously deceptive story where you aren’t sure who to trust or who the villains and heroes are until well into the second act.

Birnam Wood will have you alternating between thoughtfully stroking your chin, gasping in shock, and screaming in horror.

By Eleanor Catton,

Why should I read it?

4 authors picked Birnam Wood as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?


“Birnam Wood is terrific. As a multilayered, character-driven thriller, it’s as good as it gets. Ruth Rendell would have loved it. A beautifully textured work―what a treat.” ―Stephen King

“A generational cri de coeur . . . A sophisticated page-turner . . . Birnam Wood nearly made me laugh with pleasure. The whole thing crackles . . . Greta Gerwig could film this novel, but so could Quentin Tarantino.” ―Dwight Garner, The New York Times

The Booker Prize–winning author of The Luminaries brings us Birnam Wood, a gripping thriller of high drama and…

Book cover of The Secret Life of Secrets: How Our Inner Worlds Shape Well-Being, Relationships, and Who We Are

J.M. Donellan Why did I love this book?

We all have secrets. If you read that sentence and thought “not me!” then that’s likely because you’ve repressed something so dark and dangerous that your psyche let you unleash it from the depths of your unconscious into your working memory.

This book looks at the myriad ways that holding onto secrets can affect our relationships and day-to-day lives through an engaging blend of personal, creative, and scientific perspectives.

Peppered with both fun tidbits of information (the average person has thirteen secrets), as well as complex, deeper insights into the science of secrets, I found this fascinating both as a general reader and more specifically as someone who writes characters who are burdened with secrets and have to construct a false reality around them.

By Michael Slepian,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Secret Life of Secrets as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

'If you've ever wondered why we keep secrets and what motivates us to spill them, look no further' Adam Grant, #1 New York Times bestselling author of Think Again

An eye-opening look at why we keep the secrets we keep, how to better understand and cope with them, and when (and how) we should bring them to light.

Think of a secret that you're keeping from others. It shouldn't take long. Psychologist Michael Slepian finds that, on average, we are keeping as many as thirteen secrets at any given time. His research, involving more than 50,000 participants from around the…

Book cover of Innocents and Others

J.M. Donellan Why did I love this book?

In an age of constant digital deception, it was utterly fascinating to read the story of someone who manipulates people through the simple use of a phone call.

The plot follows two filmmakers, Carrie and Meadow, the latter of whom makes a documentary about “Nicole”, a woman who seduced an array of Hollywood heavy hitters armed with nothing more than a telephone. The novel unfolds through multiple perspectives and timeframes that begin as disparate but are slowly woven together by Spiotta’s expert hand.

The plot itself is fascinating, but Spiotta’s stylistic and thematic mastery are a wonder to behold. Sidenote: Nicole is loosely based on the true story of Whitney Walton, on whom Jen Silverman also did a brilliant take in her audiobook The Miranda Obsession (performed by Rachel Brosnahan).

By Dana Spiotta,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Innocents and Others as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

'Spiotta is a wonder.' - George Saunders, author of Lincoln in the Bardo

Meadow Mori and Carrie Wexler grew up together in Los Angeles, and both became film-makers.

Meadow makes challenging documentaries; Carrie makes successful feature films with a feminist slant. The two friends have everything in common - except their views on sex, power, movie-making and morality. And yet their loyalty trumps their different approaches to film and to life.

Until, one day, a mysterious woman with a unique ability to cold-call and seduce powerful men over the phone - not through sex, but through listening - becomes the…

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Returning to Eden

By Rebecca Hartt,

Book cover of Returning to Eden

Rebecca Hartt Author Of Rising From Ashes

New book alert!

Why am I passionate about this?

Author Idealistic Storyteller Teacher Mother Seeker

Rebecca's 3 favorite reads in 2023

What is my book about?

Looking for clean romantic suspense with spiritual undertones?

Look no further than the Acts of Valor series by Rebecca Hartt. With thousands of reviews and 4.7-5.0 stars per book, this 6-book series is a must-read for readers searching for memorable, well-told stories by an award-winning author.

A dead man stands on her doorstep.

When the Navy wrote off her MIA husband as dead, Eden came to terms with being a widow. But now, her Navy SEAL husband is staring her in the face. Eden knows she should be over-the-moon, but she isn’t.

Diagnosed with PTSD and amnesia, Navy SEAL Jonah Mills has no recollection of their fractured marriage, no memory of Eden nor her fourteen-year-old daughter. Still, he feels a connection to both.

Unfit for active duty and assigned to therapy, Jonah knows he has work to do and relies on God, who sustained him during captivity, to heal his mind, body, and hopefully his family.

But as the memories lurking in his wife's haunted eyes and behind his daughter's uncertain smile begin to return to him, Jonah makes another discovery. There is treachery in the highest ranks of his Team, treachery that not only threatens him but places his new-found family in its crosshairs.

Returning to Eden

By Rebecca Hartt,

What is this book about?

Presumed Dead, Navy SEAL Returns Without Memory of His Ordeal in the Christian Romantic Suspense, Returning to Eden, by Rebecca Hartt

-- Present Day, Virginia Beach, Virginia --

A dead man stands at Eden Mills' door.

Declared MIA a year prior, the Navy wrote him off as dead. Now, Eden's husband, Navy SEAL Jonah Mills has returned after three years to disrupt her tranquility. Diagnosed with PTSD and amnesia, he has no recollection of their marriage or their fourteen-year-old step-daughter. Still, Eden accepts her obligation to nurse Jonah back to health while secretly longing to regain her freedom, despite the…

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