The best books about second chances, from an author who’s on her fifth chance (and teetering on the sixth)

Who am I?

Something important I’ve learned as I’ve gotten older is that you get way more second chances than you might imagine. When I was young, I thought that every wrong decision would destroy the rest of my life. But now, as I hack my way through my sixties, I see so many surprising twists and turns my life has taken, most of them coming out of failure. In fact, the only things I truly regret are the times I played it safe. So I love books where people screw up, seem to be defeated, and then, voila, a ghost shows up! Or maybe a professional assassin. You just don’t know. 

I wrote...

Maggie Dove: A Mystery

By Susan Breen,

Book cover of Maggie Dove: A Mystery

What is my book about?

Maggie Dove suffered a terrible tragedy when her only child died twenty years ago. Since then, she’s been unable to move past the cold wall of grief that surrounds her. Until one day, Maggie finds her wretched neighbor’s dead body lying under the oak tree on her front lawn. The prime suspect is Peter Nelson, an angry young man who was in love with her daughter, many years ago.

Maggie loves Peter and is desperate to prove him innocent. So she forces herself back out into the world of her small Hudson Valley village, and as she investigates, she is swept up into adventure and romance. And danger. She finds herself with a second chance at life. Does she have the courage to grab it? 

The books I picked & why

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A Christmas Carol

By Charles Dickens,

Book cover of A Christmas Carol

Why this book?

This is the ultimate second chance book. A miserable old miser—Are there no workhouses?—is visited by three ghosts over the course of Christmas Eve. He has one night to change his life or he will be doomed to a tortured eternity. Will he do it? Well, yes. How could he not save Tiny Tim? But the ride is so joyful and well-written and Scrooge is so wonderfully miserable, and as many times as I get to the end, I’m always moved by the joy he feels when he gets his second chance. This is what I hope, that no matter how miserable I become (and hopefully not too miserable), that I will always have a chance to turn it around.

November Road: A Thriller

By Lou Berney,

Book cover of November Road: A Thriller

Why this book?

You would not think that a book about a sleazy (but incredibly handsome) man being chased by a hired killer would be an inspiring book about second chances, but it is. The story is set in November 1963. Frank Guidry is inadvertently involved in the Kennedy assassination and the powers that be want to shut him up. He’s running from a killer and he runs into Charlotte Roy, a young mother who, with her two daughters, is fleeing her alcoholic husband. They both have a lot of internal demons to grapple with, but along the way there’s a lot of sex and danger and some scenes that are absolutely haunting and when you get to the end, you just sit there thinking, yes. That feels exactly right.  

A Man Called Ove

By Fredrik Backman,

Book cover of A Man Called Ove

Why this book?

I do like curmudgeons. There’s something so vulnerable about them. You know that something bad happened in their life that made them that way and I automatically hope that something will heal them. Backman’s character is a classic curmudgeon, cut off from everyone. Ready to die. In fact, he keeps trying to die. The opening scene in which he goes to a store and argues with a salesperson about iPads (or as he called them, OPads) cracked me up and set the tone for the novel. And then, of course, against his will, he is drawn into the world around him and you really root for him. I love stories that make me care.


By Ling Ma,

Book cover of Severance

Why this book?

Sometimes second chances come with a steep price, which, in Candace Chen’s case, means the apocalyptic annihilation of the world’s population. I wouldn’t call this book a pick-me-up, though it is funny, but it is an incredibly moving story about what it means to move on. Ling Ma moves her characters between time, writing about Candace’s parent's decision to leave behind China and her own decision to stay in New York as the deadly fever takes hold. Some of the most beautiful writing is about New York City, a place I dearly love. “New York is possibly the only place in which most people have already lived, in some sense, in the public imagination, before they ever arrive.” 

The Shadow of Memory

By Connie Berry,

Book cover of The Shadow of Memory

Why this book?

First of all, it’s a mystery set in England and I love anything set in England, and if I were going to start over anywhere, and leave New York, which I will not do, it would be to go to England. So immediately I’m intrigued, and the details about Long Barston, Suffolk are just wonderful. But mainly I love Kate Hamilton, the protagonist of Berry’s novel, who is a smart (the sort of person who tells Beowulf jokes if she drinks too much), good-hearted, antiques appraiser who is starting over with a new husband, new job, new mother-in-law and new life. She feels like a friend, and I’m glad to go on her second chance journey with her. 

5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in England, survival, and neighbourhoods?

5,309 authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about England, survival, and neighbourhoods.

England Explore 647 books about England
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Neighbourhoods Explore 13 books about neighbourhoods

And, 3 books we think you will enjoy!

We think you will like A Study in Scarlet Women, The Yard, and The Wicked Boy: An Infamous Murder in Victorian London if you like this list.