The best novels about families from the mid-twentieth century

Why am I passionate about this?

I grew up in a small seaside town north of Boston. I have three siblings, and we always spent a few weeks every summer with our cousins in a rented house somewhere in New England—a new place each year. I became a bookworm at a young age, and I’ve always loved reading novels about big families that capture both the magic and the conflicts inevitable with many siblings and relatives. I was also an anglophile, and I tended to gravitate toward books written in earlier decades, particularly those of the mid 20th century. When I began writing my own novels, it seemed natural to set them in those fascinating earlier times.


I wrote...

Shorecliff

By Ursula DeYoung,

Book cover of Shorecliff

What is my book about?

Spending the summer of 1928 in a big house on the Maine coast, with his ten older cousins and a gaggle of aunts and uncles, seems like a dream come true to lonely thirteen-year-old Richard. But as he wanders through the bustling house, Richard witnesses scenes and conversations not meant for him and watches as the family he adores disintegrates into a tangle of lust, jealousy, and betrayal.

At first only an avid spectator, Richard soon finds himself drawn into the confusion, battling with his first experience of infatuation and forced to cover for his relatives’ romantic intrigues. With vibrant, nuanced characters and an immersive sense of place, Shorecliff examines the bonds of loyalty and rivalry that can both knit a family together and drive it apart.

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of The Pursuit of Love

Ursula DeYoung Why did I love this book?

Fictionalizing her large and extremely eccentric family—shabby members of the British gentry in the 1930s, lacking the wealth of earlier times—Nancy Mitford managed to create a novel that is both hilarious and poignant, with a style uniquely her own. Her characters seem almost too bizarre to be real, yet if you read about the real Mitfords, you discover that, if anything, this novel (published in 1945) softened their edges! She writes brilliantly not only about the fun and tensions among an array of strongminded siblings but also about her domineering father and, later, about the blissful madness of falling in love after an isolated childhood.

By Nancy Mitford,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

One of the funniest, sharpest novels about love and growing up ever written, Nancy Mitford's classic is now a major BBC and Prime Video series directed by Emily Mortimer and starring Lily James, Andrew Scott and Dominic West

'He was the great love of her life you know.'
'Oh, dulling,' said my mother, sadly, 'One always thinks that. Every, every time.'

Oh, the tedium of waiting to grow up! Longing for love, obsessed with weddings and sex, Linda and her sisters and cousin Fanny are on the lookout for the perfect lover.

But finding Mr Right is much harder than…


Book cover of I Capture the Castle

Ursula DeYoung Why did I love this book?

Smith wrote this novel in the late 1940s when she was traveling in America and yearning for England and you can feel her homesickness shining through the story. Cassandra Mortmain, the novel’s young narrator, tells the story of her unconventional family in a series of journals, describing their home—a run-down castle in the English countryside—their chronic lack of money, and the intriguing American neighbors who eventually upend their lives. Humor and wistfulness blend together, as Cassandra and her sister, Rose, strive to preserve their family’s bizarre way of life and, at the same time, to escape from it. Though the Mortmains live in a near-fairytale setting, readers will find much that’s familiar in their adolescent dreams and confusion.

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…


Book cover of The Parasites

Ursula DeYoung Why did I love this book?

This novel, published in 1949, is about three grown-up siblings who are still dominated by the memory of their famous parents, both accomplished performers, and their atypical early years, which they spent playing in theaters across Europe. Though the majority of the novel takes place after the parents have died, the ties of family remain paramount for the three protagonists. At times each one feels desperate to escape those ties, but their shared past exerts an irresistible pull on all three. Unusually, the novel is narrated in the first-person plural: the narrative often refers to “us,” but tells each sibling’s individual scenes in the third person. With its three intertwined threads, The Parasites vividly explores the lifelong influence of family bonds.

By Daphne du Maurier,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

FROM THE BESTSELLING AUTHOR OF REBECCA

'When people play the game: Name three or four persons whom you would choose to have with you on a desert island - they never choose the Delaneys. They don't even choose us one by one as individuals. We have earned, not always fairly we consider, the reputation of being difficult guests . . .'

Maria, Niall and Celia have grown up in the shadow of their famous parents - their father, a flamboyant singer and their mother, a talented dancer. Now pursuing their own creative dreams, all three siblings feel an undeniable bond,…


Book cover of Guard Your Daughters

Ursula DeYoung Why did I love this book?

The true identity of Diana Tutton remains uncertain. She published three idiosyncratic novels in England in the 1950s, all of which have now fallen into obscurity. Of those, Guard Your Daughters is the best: it describes a loving family dedicated to protecting the children’s mother, whose poor health has led to an insular, overly sheltered lifestyle for her many daughters. Each of the girls is distinct and vividly drawn by Tutton, who has a keen eye for the traditions, tensions, and excitement of siblings in their teenage years. Over the course of the novel, the sisters gradually forge more connections with the outside world and discover not only their own larger desires but also the hidden truth of their family life.

By Diana Tutton,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Guard Your Daughters as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Guard Your Daughters by Diana Tutton is a 1953 novel about a family of five daughters living in the country – or rather four daughters since one has recently escaped by marrying and it is Morgan, Cressida, Teresa and Thisbe who are still at home with their parents. Their mother stops her daughters going to school or making friends. But because she tends to make scenes or retire to bed, her family do all they can to avoid defying or upsetting her; yet they do so in a continually light-hearted, cheerful fashion.

Thus on one level this is a ‘fun’…


Book cover of The Fountain Overflows

Ursula DeYoung Why did I love this book?

Toward the end of her career, Rebecca West wrote an unusually autobiographical novel, retelling her Edwardian childhood with the wisdom and sadness of hindsight. The Fountain Overflows, published in 1956, describes the struggles of an artistic family with a fiercely devoted mother and an impossibly wayward father. West brilliantly describes the hard work and ambitions of gifted children, but the book is mainly memorable for its strange, semi-magical atmosphere and the sense it gives readers of revisiting a lost world—for hanging over this book is the shadow of the First World War, a cataclysm that finally arrives in the sequel, This Dark Night.

By Rebecca West,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

The lives of the talented Aubrey children have long been clouded by their father's genius for instability, but his new job in the London suburbs promises, for a time at least, reprieve from scandal and the threat of ruin. Mrs. Aubrey, a former concert pianist, struggles to keep the family afloat, but then she is something of a high-strung eccentric herself, as is all too clear to her daughter Rose, through whose loving but sometimes cruel eyes events are seen. Still, living on the edge holds the promise of the unexpected, and the Aubreys, who encounter furious poltergeists, turn up…


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Empire in the Sand

By Shane Joseph,

Book cover of Empire in the Sand

Shane Joseph Author Of Empire in the Sand

New book alert!

Why am I passionate about this?

I have been a writer for more than twenty years and have favored pursuing “truth in fiction” rather than “money in formula.” I also spent over thirty years in the corporate world and was exposed to many situations reminiscent of those described in my fiction and in these recommended books. While I support enterprise, “enlightened capitalism” is preferable to the bare-knuckle type we have today, and which seems to resurface whenever regulation weakens. I also find writing novels closer to my lived experience connects me intimately with readers who are looking for socio-political, realist literature.

Shane's book list on exposing corporate, political, and personal corruption

What is my book about?

Avery Mann, a retired pharmaceuticals executive, is in crisis.

His wife dies of cancer, his son’s marriage is on the rocks, his grandson is having a meltdown, and his good friend is a victim of the robocalls scandal that invades the Canadian federal election. Throw in a reckless fling with a former colleague, a fire that destroys his retirement property, and a rumour emerging that the drug he helped bring to market years ago may have been responsible for the death of his wife, and Avery’s life goes into freefall.

Does an octogenarian beekeeper living on Vancouver Island hold the key to Avery’s recovery, a man holding secrets that put lives in jeopardy? Avery races across the country to find out, with crooked bosses, politicians, and assassins on his tail. Joseph spins a cautionary tale of corporate and political greed that is endemic to our times.

Empire in the Sand

By Shane Joseph,

What is this book about?

Avery Mann, a retired pharmaceuticals executive, is in crisis. His wife dies of cancer, his son’s marriage is on the rocks, his grandson is having a meltdown, and his good friend is a victim of the robocalls scandal that invades the Canadian federal election.

Throw in a reckless fling with a former colleague, a fire that destroys his retirement property, and a rumour emerging that the drug he helped bring to market years ago may have been responsible for the death of his wife, and Avery’s life goes into freefall.

Does an octogenarian bee keeper living on Vancouver Island hold…


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