The best novels on overcoming fear and embracing change

Christina McKenna Author Of The Misremembered Man
By Christina McKenna

Who am I?

I grew up on a farm in Northern Ireland. Ulster was always an inspiration, for both my painting and my writing. My first novel, The Misremembered Man, became a bestseller worldwide, and I followed it with several more works of fiction. I attribute their success to the magic of rural Ireland, and the wonderful characters who peopled my childhood. My formative years, unhappy and fearful though they were, serve as a repository of emotion and stimulation, which I draw upon frequently in my writing. Having the courage to change and grow in difficult circumstances is a common theme. Since all my novels are character-driven, my book choices broadly reflect this strength in the authors I have chosen.

I wrote...

The Misremembered Man

By Christina McKenna,

Book cover of The Misremembered Man

What is my book about?

Jamie is undergoing what one might call a midlife crisis. He’s lonely and seeks a wife. Through a ‘lonely hearts’ ad he finds Lydia. The two, she a schoolteacher and he a farmer, at first glance appear to be in stark contrast. Yet the pair discover they have more in common than they bargained for.

Jamie’s future, however, will be greatly influenced by his past. As the story progresses, we learn more and more about his childhood and how it continues to affect his life, his hopes, and his dreams. Only time will tell whether those dreams will come true—or give way to his worst nightmares.  

Shepherd is reader supported. When you buy books, we may earn an affiliate commission.

The books I picked & why

Mrs. Palfrey at the Claremont

By Elizabeth Taylor,

Book cover of Mrs. Palfrey at the Claremont

Why did I love this book?

Elizabeth Taylor—not to be confused with the actress of the same name—has been called ‘the unsung heroine of British twentieth-century fiction.’ I wholeheartedly agree, and Mrs. Palfrey at the Claremont is Taylor at her sublime best. It’s the tale of an elderly woman, wealthy but recently widowed, who’s faced with a choice: "Do I spend my last days in a care home—or check into a grand hotel?" She opts for the latter and finds herself among a group of fascinating characters, each as eccentric as she herself. 

Insightful about the sadness and loneliness of ageing, this book did not make me feel despondent about growing older. On the contrary, it showed me that love, happiness, and a sense of adventure can be ours at any age, if we’re willing to take chances and open our hearts to others.

By Elizabeth Taylor,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Mrs. Palfrey at the Claremont as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

'Mrs Palfrey at the Claremont is, for me, her masterpiece' - Robert McCrum, Guardian, 'The Best 100 Novels'
'An author of great subtlety, great compassion and great depth' - SARAH WATERS
'Jane Austen, Elizabeth Taylor, Elizabath Bowen - soul-sisters all' ANNE TYLER

On a rainy Sunday in January, the recently widowed Mrs Palfrey arrives at the Claremont Hotel where she will spend her remaining days. Her fellow residents are magnificently eccentric and endlessly curious, living off crumbs of affection and snippets of gossip. Together, upper lips stiffened, they fight off their twin enemies: boredom and the Grim Reaper.

Then one…

Hotel Du Lac

By Anita Brookner,

Book cover of Hotel Du Lac

Why did I love this book?

Yes, another novel set largely in a hotel. This time it’s in Switzerland and overlooks Lake Geneva, spreading, in the wonderful words of Anita Brookner, "like an anaesthetic towards the invisible further shore." Edith Hope is a writer of romantic fiction. She arrives at the "stolid and dignified" Hotel du Lac in late autumn. This is not a holiday for Edith. Her friends and family have insisted she go away for a few weeks to ponder a ‘social indiscretion’. She was due to marry Geoffrey, a boring man she didn’t love, and deserted him on the day of the wedding. Her heart had gone out to David, a married man.

Brookner had an enviable gift for describing people and their peculiarities. Those whom Edith Hope meets at the hotel are largely from the aristocracy, and each and every one is eccentric in the extreme. Edith describes her fellow guests to her lover in letters that she never actually sends. I loved the old-world feel of the book.

By Anita Brookner,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Hotel Du Lac as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

BOOKER PRIZE WINNER • When romance writer Edith Hope’s life begins to resemble the plots of her own novels, she flees to Switzerland, where the quiet luxury of the Hotel du Lac promises to restore her to her senses.

But instead of peace and rest, Edith finds herself sequestered at the hotel with an assortment of love's casualties and exiles. She also attracts the attention of a worldly man determined to release her unused capacity for mischief and pleasure. Beautifully observed, witheringly funny, Hotel du Lac is Brookner at her most stylish and potently subversive.

In the novel that won…

Book cover of The Lonely Passion of Judith Hearne

Why did I love this book?

It is rare to find a male author who can write so well about a woman’s addiction to alcohol, and Brian Moore does this with such virtuosity. Judith Hearne, a middle-aged spinster, is a part-time piano teacher in Belfast. Her earnings are small and she moves from one boarding house to another.

Great is her elation when she meets James Madden, a charming businessman lately returned from New York. Judith falls for this rich man hook, line and sinker, not suspecting that her feelings aren’t being reciprocated, and that he merely wishes to involve her in a business deal. When the truth comes to light, she’s devasted and turns to alcohol—thereby reawakening an old addiction. None can help her, a parish priest included. I simply had to read this book for its stunning depiction of 1950s Belfast, its humour and pathos, and its perfect conclusion.

By Brian Moore,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked The Lonely Passion of Judith Hearne as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

One of The Guardian’s “1,000 Books to Read Before You Die”

This underrated classic of contemporary Irish literature tells the “utterly transfixing” story of a lonely, poverty-stricken spinster in 1950s Belfast (The Boston Globe)

Judith Hearne is an unmarried woman of a certain age who has come down in society. She has few skills and is full of the prejudices and pieties of her genteel Belfast upbringing. But Judith has a secret life. And she is just one heartbreak away from revealing it to the world.

Hailed by Graham Greene, Thomas Flanagan, and Harper Lee alike, The Lonely Passion of…

Sunsets Never Wait

By Jonathan Cullen,

Book cover of Sunsets Never Wait

Why did I love this book?

Tara Doherty has come to live in Connemara following the death of her husband. She’s distraught and lonely here in "the back of beyond." Until a mysterious stranger rents a little cottage close to Tara’s. James Dunford, she learns, is Irish-born but lived in the USA. He spends his days fixing up his cottage and walking the beach with a stray dog. As time goes by, Tara learns from a local villager that James is not what he seems and that his motive for renting the cottage is far from conventional. She confronts him, and their two lives intertwine in an unexpected way, in a tale told with exceptional erudition.

Highly atmospheric, engaging and perceptive, Sunsets Never Wait plunges the reader into a bleak Connemara landscape and the tortured lives of two lost souls. It’s a page-turning exploration of the weight of secrets and the courage it sometimes takes to speak the truth. Emotionally charged and deeply moving, it kept me wonderfully immersed right to the very end. It’s a short novel and I wished there was more—always a good sign.

By Jonathan Cullen,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Sunsets Never Wait as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The weight of secrets...
The courage it takes to sometimes speak the truth...

From the Amazon bestselling author of The Storm Beyond The Tides comes the personal saga of two people whose troubled lives intersect on the remote west coast of Ireland in 1981.

"...Emotionally charged and deeply moving..."― Christina McKenna, bestselling author of The Misremembered Man and The Disenchanted Widow

Winters are long on the windswept coast of Connemara, where Tara Doherty has come to live after the death of her husband. The isolation is all but unbearable until a mysterious tenant moves into the house at the bottom…

The Shipping News

By Annie Proulx,

Book cover of The Shipping News

Why did I love this book?

This is perhaps Annie Proulx’s best novel, and I’ve read them all. The proud winner of a Pulitzer Prize in 1994, The Shipping News is a page-turning account of Quoyle, a New York journalist who loses his wife in a road accident. Grief-stricken, he heads to a remote corner of Newfoundland, from whence his ancestors hailed. An oddball himself, he encounters some of the most eccentric characters you’ll find in any work of fiction. 

Annie Proulx, in her unrivalled mastery of language and descriptive passages, brings each and every one of them to vibrant life. Not only that, but her ability to create mysteries combined with plot twists made this, for me, a truly unforgettable read. I’ve learned a lot about characterization from her. It’s all in the detail.

By Annie Proulx,

Why should I read it?

4 authors picked The Shipping News as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Winner of the Irish Times International Fiction Award and America's National Book Award, this story features Quoyle, a failed journalist, a failed husband and a born loser who heads for a remote corner of Newfoundland with his two daughters and eccentric aunt.

5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in Belfast, Switzerland, and family?

9,000+ authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about Belfast, Switzerland, and family.

Belfast Explore 14 books about Belfast
Switzerland Explore 40 books about Switzerland
Family Explore 3,353 books about family