The best novels about charismatic, yet tragic families

Why am I passionate about this?

I spent most of my childhood running amok and creating imaginary worlds with my three siblings on a small farm in New Hampshire. Because of my large family, I’ve always loved reading about charismatic, complicated families in literature. In fact, I had to struggle to edit this list down from 15 books to five. Before I wrote my first book, I didn’t think of all the family-centric novels I read as anything more than reading. But working on Even in Paradise helped me realize that all my reading was actually research for the first fictional family I would create, the “Great Buchanans.”


I wrote...

Even in Paradise

By Chelsey Philpot,

Book cover of Even in Paradise

What is my book about?

The Great Gatsby meets Looking for Alaska in this stunning debut from Chelsey Philpot. With inspiration drawn from Evelyn Waugh’s Brideshead Revisited, this novel perfectly captures the love and heartbreak that can change us most.

When Julia Buchanan enrolls at St. Anne’s at the beginning of junior year, Charlotte Ryder already knows all about her. Most people do... or think they do. But as Charlotte is pulled into the larger-than-life new girl’s world—a world of midnight rendezvous, dazzling parties, palatial vacation homes, and fizzy champagne cocktails—she realizes that behind Julia’s self-assured smiles and toasts to the future, she is still suffering from a tragedy. A tragedy that the Buchanan family has kept hidden... until now.
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The books I picked & why

Book cover of Brideshead Revisited

Chelsey Philpot Why did I love this book?

I fell in love with Evelyn Waugh’s novel when I was studying abroad in Scotland as an undergraduate. A friend living in the dodgy flat across the way from my dodgy flat lent me his paperback copy, and I read it voraciously while wrapped in a cocoon of blankets and spare clothing in my drafty bedroom. 

At its heart, Brideshead is a novel about a great friendship, a great love, and a great family’s darkness. It follows artist Charles Ryder as he falls in love with the wealthy, aristocratic Marchmain family and their beautiful English estate in the decades in the decades before World War II.

I owe Waugh (and my Scottish friend) a great debt, because nearly 10 years after I first read it, Brideshead inspired my first book.

By Evelyn Waugh,

Why should I read it?

7 authors picked Brideshead Revisited as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

It is WW2 and Captain Charles Ryder reflects on his time at Oxford during the twenties and a world now changed. As a lonely student Charles was captivated by the outrageous and decadent Sebastian Flyte and invited to spend time at the Flyte's family home - the magnificent Brideshead. Here Charles becomes infatuated by its eccentric, aristocratic inhabitants, and in particular with Julia, Sebastian's startling and remote sister. But as his own spiritual and social distance becomes marked, Charles discovers a crueller world, where duty and desire, faith and happiness can only ever conflict.


Book cover of The Dutch House

Chelsey Philpot Why did I love this book?

I’m going to put it out there right away: I’m an unabashed admirer of Ann Patchett’s writing. So much so that I don’t just read her books, I study them. The Dutch House, a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize, is certainly worthy of study. The story centers on two siblings, Danny and Maeve, and the lavish, titular house they grew up in outside Philadelphia. Even after Danny and Maeve are forced to leave their beloved home, the Dutch House, it, and the past itself, keep a hold on them, determining the people they become.  

P.S. I was torn between writing about The Dutch House or Patchett’s other wonderful family-centered book, Commonwealth, so I’m going to cheat a little and make a recommendation within a recommendation.

By Ann Patchett,

Why should I read it?

9 authors picked The Dutch House as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Lose yourself in the story of a lifetime - the unforgettable Sunday Times bestseller 'Patchett leads us to a truth that feels like life rather than literature' Guardian Nominated for the Women's Prize 2020 A STORY OF TWO SIBLINGS, THEIR CHILDHOOD HOME, AND A PAST THAT THEY CAN'T LET GO. Like swallows, like salmon, we were the helpless captives of our migratory patterns. We pretended that what we had lost was the house, not our mother, not our father. We pretended that what we had lost had been taken from us by the person who still lived inside. In the…


Book cover of Three Junes

Chelsey Philpot Why did I love this book?

I will always be grateful to Julias Glass because once upon a time, she was gracious enough to let a journalism graduate student make her the subject of a dissertation: a profile about Glass and the tribulations of creating a sophomore novel after your debut is a ginormous success. 

Three Junes, which won the 2002 National Book Award, is that first novel. 

Glass’s story about the members of the McLeod family and the physical and emotional journeys that take its members to Greece, Scotland, and Greenwich Village is as mesmerizing as everyone says. Truly.

By Julia Glass,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

In this captivating debut novel, Julia Glass depicts the life and loves of the McLeod family during three crucial summers spanning a decade. Paul McLeod, patriarch of a Scottish family and a retired newspaper editor and proprietor, is on a package tour of Greece after the death of his wife. The story of his departure from the family home in Scotland and late gesture towards some sort of freedom gives way to his eldest son's life (Fenno). Fenno protects his heart by putting himself under emotional quarantine throughout his life as a young gay man in Manhattan. When he returns…


Book cover of Atonement

Chelsey Philpot Why did I love this book?

If you’ve only seen the movie version of Ian McEwan’s World War II drama, you’ve done yourself a great disservice. The 2007 film directed by Joe Wright was wonderful, but the 2001 novel is divine. The sweeping story begins at an estate in the English countryside where two horrific crimes take place: In the first incident, a young girl is attacked; in the second, a 13-year-old girl with great imagination and literary ambitions accuses the wrong person of the crime and thereby sets in motion a series of events that haunts her for the rest of her life. 

By Ian McEwan,

Why should I read it?

15 authors picked Atonement as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

On the hottest day of the summer of 1934, thirteen-year-old Briony Tallis sees her sister Cecilia strip off her clothes and plunge into the fountain in the garden of their country house. Watching her is Robbie Turner, her childhood friend who, like Cecilia, has recently come down from Cambridge. By the end of that day, the lives of all three will have been changed for ever. Robbie and Cecilia will have crossed a boundary they had not even imagined at its start, and will have become victims of the younger girl's imagination. Briony will have witnessed mysteries, and committed a…


Book cover of I Capture the Castle

Chelsey Philpot Why did I love this book?

“I write this sitting in the kitchen sink,” so begins Dodie Smith’s beloved classic about 17-year-old Cassandra Mortmain, an aspiring writer, and her family and their attempts to make a life in a crumbling castle in Sussex, England, despite the fact that the family has fallen into dire poverty.

I fell in love with this book as a child—though it can be read and enjoyed by all ages—because I related deeply to each strange member of the off-kilter Mortmain clan and wanted their dreams to come true with the same zeal I wanted good things to happen to those I loved in the real world.

By Dodie Smith,

Why should I read it?

8 authors picked I Capture the Castle as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it. This book is for kids age 12, 13, 14, and 15.

What is this book about?

One of BBC's 100 Novels That Shaped Our World.

A wonderfully quirky coming-of-age story, I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith, author of The Hundred and One Dalmatians is an affectionately drawn portrait of one of the funniest families in literature.

Part of the Macmillan Collector's Library; a series of stunning, clothbound, pocket sized classics with gold foiled edges and ribbon markers. These beautiful books make perfect gifts or a treat for any book lover. This edition is illustrated by Ruth Steed, and features an afterword by publisher Anna South.

The eccentric Mortmain family have been rattling around in a…


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Split Decision

By David Perlmutter,

Book cover of Split Decision

David Perlmutter Author Of The Encyclopedia of American Animated Television Shows

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Why am I passionate about this?

I am a freelance writer from Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada, specializing in media history and speculative fiction. I have been enchanted by animation since childhood and followed many series avidly through adulthood. My viewing inspired my MA thesis on the history of animation, out of which grew two books on the history and theory of animation on television, America 'Toons In: A History of Television Animation (available from McFarland and Co.) and The Encyclopedia of American Animated Television Shows (available from Rowman and Littlefield). Hopefully, others will follow.

David's book list on understanding the history of animation

What is my book about?

Jefferson Ball, the mightiest female dog in a universe of the same, is, despite her anti-heroic behavior, intent on keeping her legacy as an athlete and adventurer intact. So, when female teenage robot Jody Ryder inadvertently angers her by smashing her high school records, Jefferson is intent on proving her superiority by outmuscling the robot in a not-so-fair fight. Not wanting to seem like a coward, and eager to end her enemy's trash talking, Jody agrees.

However, they have been lured to fight each other by circumstances beyond their control. Which are intent on destroying them if they don't destroy each other in combat first...

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