The best books that make you fall in love with male protagonists again

Why am I passionate about this?

As a clinical psychologist, a man, and a human being on his own journey of healing and becoming, I suppose I’m interested in stories with struggling but lovable male protagonists because I’m the struggling male protagonist in my own life story, learning how to fall in love again with myself and my story and the little boy who lives on within me. The courage my clients show in the process of facing their pain and finding something beautiful in it is inspiring to me. I hope my life reflects that courage, too. And I want to write stories that give others hope and inspiration for this kind of healing, as well.  

I wrote...

The Unhiding of Elijah Campbell

By Kelly Flanagan,

Book cover of The Unhiding of Elijah Campbell

What is my book about?

Elijah Campbell is on the verge of losing his writing career, his faith, and his marriage when a recurring childhood nightmare drives him back to his hometown, Bradford's Ferry. There, his encounters with a series of “beloved ghosts” shed light on the reason his wife left him―and the meaning of his nightmare. However, beyond the light he begins to glimpse something even more terrifying―a decision he must make…to continue hiding the secrets of his past or unhide the only thing that can save his marriage: himself. In this debut novel, clinical psychologist Kelly Flanagan (nonfiction author of Loveable and True Companions) weaves a page-turning and plot-twisting tale as a meditation upon the themes of healing, grace, faith, forgiveness, and freedom.

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of Gilead

Kelly Flanagan Why did I love this book?

The Reverend John Ames—an aged Congregationalist minister in the small, secluded town of Gilead, Iowa—is dying of heart failure, while his seven-year-old son is just entering boyhood. As Ames wrestles with generational wounds related to his father and grandfather, he wonders tenderly about the wounds he might be passing on to his own son, both due to his presence and his pending absence. Thanks to Ames, we get to see life and existence through the eyes of the wise and dying—eyes we so rarely get to see through because, by definition, they leave us before we get a chance to look. The result is a luminous view of existence, and an abiding gratitude for having been alive.

By Marilynne Robinson,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?



In 1956, towards the end of Reverend John Ames's life, he begins a letter to his young son: 'I told you last night that I might be gone sometime . . . You reached up and put your fingers on my lips and gave me that look I never in my life saw on any other face besides your mother's. It's a kind of furious pride, very passionate and stern. I'm always a little surprised to find my eyebrows unsinged after…

Book cover of Peace Like a River

Kelly Flanagan Why did I love this book?

When I was thirty-one, on a Marine base in Virginia, I had a spiritual awakening. I stepped out of my ego and saw it from the outside—this thing I’d thought was myself but was actually a persona I’d fabricated to protect myself. The experience left me no longer wanting to solve the mystery of life, but wanting to live in the mystery. Peace Like a River is the embodiment of this longing to live in the mystery of existence. Narrated by a young boy whose father’s mysterious, other-worldly powers are revealed again and again as his older brother faces and flees from murder charges, this book leaves you with the hope that the things we can’t see are even more graceful than we can imagine.

By Leif Enger,

Why should I read it?

6 authors picked Peace Like a River as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

When Israel Finch and Tommy Basca, the town bullies, break into the home of school caretaker Jeremiah Land, wielding a baseball bat and looking for trouble, they find more of it than even they expected. For seventeen-year-old Davey is sitting up in bed waiting for them with a Winchester rifle. His younger brother Reuben has seen their father perform miracles, but Jeremiah now seems as powerless to prevent Davey from being arrested for manslaughter, as he has always been to ease Reuben's daily spungy struggle to breathe. Nor does brave and brilliant nine-year-old Swede, obsessed as she is with the…

Book cover of Ordinary Grace

Kelly Flanagan Why did I love this book?

I remember as a boy weeping at the end of Where the Red Fern Grows, not because the dogs died, but because Billy Colman returned decades later to find the rusted axe from that fateful night still stuck in the tree. Great books show us time isn’t linear; it’s like an accordion folding over on itself, so a pivotal moment from our past can, in some mysterious way, always feel present. Here. Somehow on the tip of time’s tongue. It makes you ache with the fullness of your story, your life. The ending of Ordinary Grace did that to me. As I turned the final pages, I wept, my kids pounding on the locked door of the bedroom, and my own childhood pounding on the door of my heart. 

By William Kent Krueger,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?


From New York Times bestselling author William Kent Krueger, a brilliant new novel about a young man, a small town, and murder in the summer of 1961.

"That was it. That was all of it. A grace so ordinary there was no reason at all to remember it. Yet I have never across the forty years since it was spoken forgotten a single word."

New Bremen, Minnesota, 1961. The Twins were playing their…

Book cover of The World Played Chess

Kelly Flanagan Why did I love this book?

As a clinical psychologist, I’ve come to believe the boundary between childhood and adulthood is both incomprehensible, and yet essential to understand, if we are to reclaim what is most innocent and valuable within us. Drawing upon several clever literary devices, The World Played Chess is told through the eyes of a single protagonist, Vincent Bianco, a middle-aged attorney who is reflecting on his own adolescent choices, as his son is about to leave for college, and as he receives an old friend’s journal of his experiences as a nineteen-year-old boy in the Vietnam War. The story is a heartfelt meditation upon this boundary land between childhood and adulthood, and it will leave every reader reflecting on how young they were when they thought they were so old. 

By Robert Dugoni,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

"A fearless and sensitive coming-of-age story. I loved it." -Mark Sullivan, bestselling author of Beneath a Scarlet Sky and The Last Green Valley.

Bestselling author Robert Dugoni returns with an emotionally arresting follow-up to The Extraordinary Life of Sam Hell.

In 1979, Vincent Bianco has just graduated high school. His only desire: collect a little beer money and enjoy his final summer before college. So he lands a job as a laborer on a construction crew. Working alongside two Vietnam vets, one suffering from PTSD, Vincent gets the education of a lifetime. Now forty years later, with his own son…

Book cover of A Town Called Solace

Kelly Flanagan Why did I love this book?

Don’t be fooled. A Town Called Solace may open with little Clara, and Elizabeth may be the character who speaks in the first person, but neither is the primary protagonist. According to the litmus test for primary protagonist—"Which character is transformed the most?”—it’s Liam Kane. Once a lonely boy unloved by his mother, his wife is now leaving him, and he has retreated to the small town of Solace to care for the estate of a mother figure he barely remembers. Will little Clara and her lost sister and the ordinary people of this rural town be enough to coax him out of his loneliness and back into participation with his own existence? The answer is nuanced and tender and ultimately very satisfying. 

By Mary Lawson,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked A Town Called Solace as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?


Set in the frozen north of Canada in 1972, this is a novel of painful histories and the moments in life when we can change for the better.

Clara's rebellious older sister is missing. Grief-stricken and bewildered, she yearns to uncover the truth about what happened.

Liam, newly divorced and newly unemployed, moves into the house next door and within hours gets a visit from the police.

Elizabeth is thinking about a crime committed thirty years ago, one that had tragic consequences for two families. She desperately wants to make amends before she dies.…

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Thorn City

By Pamela Statz,

Book cover of Thorn City

Pamela Statz

New book alert!

What is my book about?

Dressed to kill and ready to make rent, best friends Lisa and Jamie work as “paid to party” girls at the Rose City Ripe for Disruption gala, a gathering of Portland's elite.

Their evening is derailed when Lisa stumbles across Ellen, a ruthless politician and Lisa’s estranged mother. And to make matters worse, Lisa’s boyfriend, Patrick, crashes the party to meet his new boss, Portland's food cart drug kingpin. Lisa makes a fateful choice that traps her, Jamie, and Patrick in Ellen’s web. In this gripping thriller, Lisa must reconcile a painful past and perilous present.

Thorn City

By Pamela Statz,

What is this book about?

Suspected murder, eclectic food trucks, and artisanal cocaine: just another day in Thorn City.

It’s the night of the Rose City Ripe for Disruption gala—a gathering of Portland’s elite. Dressed to kill in sparkling minidresses, best friends Lisa and Jamie attend as “paid to party” girls. They plan an evening of fake flirtations, karaoke playlists, and of course, grazing the catering.

Past and present collide when Lisa stumbles across Ellen, a ruthless politician who also happens to be Lisa’s estranged mother. Awkward . . . When Lisa was sixteen, Ellen had her kidnapped and taken to the Lost Lake Academy—a…

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