The best novels that knock you off your ass-umptions

Why am I passionate about this?

People either love or hate surprises, but in a book, done well, they’re always welcome—whether we race to the last page to find them or they hip-check us along the way. I started my career writing comedy romance—comfort reads but with few surprises. Now in my novels, I make sure to give readers plenty they don’t expect, whether it’s a character who isn’t what s/he seems, a contradictory situation gradually made clear, or a jaw-dropping twist. Pulling off a successful surprise is one of my favorite parts of writing—therefore my love of books that take me somewhere I didn't expect.

I wrote...

The First Wife

By Muna Shehadi,

Book cover of The First Wife

What is my book about?

Five years after the abrupt disappearance of Holly Penny's adored ex-husband, Lyle Frederick, she travels to their favorite luxury resort in the Adirondack mountains for his funeral weekend, convinced he's still alive. The surprises start when she discovers Lyle's subsequent two wives have never heard of her, nor were they aware Lyle had been previously married for twelve blissful years—until everything changed. As unexpected revelations mount, Holly starts to wonder if Lyle is really still alive or if she's just having trouble letting go. And then everything changes again.

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of The Ivy Tree

Muna Shehadi Why did I love this book?

This is the only book I reread regularly (life is short, so many titles!) because it is gobsmackingly brilliant. The story is about a woman visiting an English country town who’s mistaken for a former resident and convinced to take that person’s place. It’s beautifully written, with great characters, typically compelling plot, but the twist! I gasped out loud the first time and have never failed to get chills on every reread. You don’t see the surprise coming, and yet it is absolutely logical and perfect. I keep trying to find someplace where Stewart trips up or gives it away, and there’s nothing. I bow down.

By Mary Stewart,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Mary Stewart, one of the great British storytellers of the 20th century, transports her readers to rural Northumberland for this tale of romance, ambition, and deceit - a perfect fit for fans of Agatha Christie and Barbara Pym.

'There are few to equal Mary Stewart' Daily Telegraph

'Mary Stewart is magic.' New York Times

Whitescar is a beautiful old house and farm situated in Roman Wall country. It will make a rich inheritance for its heirs, but in order to secure it, they enlist the help of a young woman named Mary who bears remarkable resemblance to missing Whitescar heiress,…

Book cover of The Lace Reader

Muna Shehadi Why did I love this book?

This book has everything, Mystical Irish lace, touches of magic, a lovely romance, chilling family dysfunction, and a fabulous extra character in the guise of Witchtown, USA—Salem, Massachusetts. Towner Whitney comes back to Salem for the funeral of a beloved relative and ends up having to cope with demons from her past in a gorgeous, evocative seaside setting. The ending was a complete surprise to me, one of those Whaaaat? moments that are so rare and so thrilling, and which I keep trying to get to in my own books!

By Brunonia Barry,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Drawn by family. Driven by fear. Haunted by fate.

Would knowing the future be a gift or a burden? Or even a curse...?

The Whitney women of Salem, Massachusetts are renowned for reading the future in the patterns of lace. But the future doesn't always bring good news - as Towner Whitney knows all too well. When she was just fifteen her gift sent her whole world crashing to pieces. She predicted - and then witnessed - something so horrific that she vowed never to read lace again, and fled her home and family for good. Salem is a place…

Book cover of Euphoria

Muna Shehadi Why did I love this book?

This book surprised me on all counts. I’m not crazy about historical fiction because real lives are seldom as beautifully crafted as fictional ones and often make for dull novels. I knew nothing about Margaret Mead and cared less about archeology. Plus jungles... ew. I’d make a dismal explorer! But this book gripped me with fantastic settings and characters, and a sexy love triangle juiced it up. The story also challenged my so-far unexamined ideas about the Western study of societies and civilizations and left me thinking some good deep thoughts long after I finished. A brilliant book that tries to do a lot of things and manages all of them.

By Lily King,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

The New York Times Top Ten Bestseller

From the author of Writers & Lovers, Euphoria is Lily King's gripping novel inspired by the true story of a woman who changed the way we understand our world.

'Pretty much perfect' - Curtis Sittenfeld, author of Rodham

In 1933 three young, gifted anthropologists are thrown together in the jungle of New Guinea. They are Nell Stone, fascinating, magnetic and famous for her controversial work studying South Pacific tribes, her intelligent and aggressive husband Fen, and Andrew Bankson, who stumbles into the lives of this strange couple and becomes totally enthralled. Within months…

Book cover of The Sparrow

Muna Shehadi Why did I love this book?

I do not like science fiction. I hate stories about aliens. The idea of sending people out into space to colonize planets makes me claustrophobic enough to panic. But I adored this book. I made two book groups read this one—they both whined massively . . . and then loved it, too. Far beyond the usual space adventure, this copes with important issues of society and faith, of relationships and commitments and loyalties, and how easy it can be to do “the right thing” without understanding or anticipating the consequences. A philosophical book dressed in adventure novel clothes. 

By Mary Doria Russell,

Why should I read it?

5 authors picked The Sparrow as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

'The Sparrow is one of my favourite science fiction novels and it destroyed me in the best way when I read it. It is so beautifully written and the construction of the narrative is masterful.'
Emma Newman, acclaimed author of Planetfall

Set in the 21st century - a number of decades from now - The Sparrow is the story of a charismatic Jesuit priest and talented linguist, Emilio Sandoz, who - in response to a remarkable radio signal from the depths of space - leads a scientific mission to make first contact with an extraterrestrial culture.

In the true tradition…

Book cover of Circe

Muna Shehadi Why did I love this book?

This is the first book in forever that I got completely lost in. One of the sad parts of becoming an author is that I always keep an analytical eye out for craft, for pacing, characterizations—in short, for what works and what doesn’t. I still adore reading, but it has become something of a professional exercise. This book, however, was one long, fantastic orgy of a story, which I devoured the way I used to devour novels as a girl, reading until my eyes swelled and my head ached and I smelled bad and looked worse, but still could not stop until I got to the end, and then I walked around in a dorky stupor for hours. You know, the really, really good stuff.

By Madeline Miller,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

The international Number One bestseller from the author of The Song of Achilles, shortlisted for the Women's Prize for Fiction

Woman. Witch. Myth. Mortal. Outcast. Lover. Destroyer. Survivor. CIRCE.

In the house of Helios, god of the sun and mightiest of the Titans, a daughter is born. Circe is a strange child - not powerful and terrible, like her father, nor gorgeous and mercenary like her mother. Scorned and rejected, Circe grows up in the shadows, at home in neither the world of gods or mortals. But Circe has a dark power of her own: witchcraft. When her gift threatens…

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Ballad for Jasmine Town

By Molly Ringle,

Book cover of Ballad for Jasmine Town

Molly Ringle Author Of Sage and King

New book alert!

Why am I passionate about this?

Author Novelist Editor Sociolinguist HSP (Highly Sensitive Person) Good witch

Molly's 3 favorite reads in 2023

What is my book about?

A human child raised by the fae is an uncommon thing. But Rafi was such a child.

Now grown, half-fae but mortal, he lingers on the edge of human society in Miryoku, a nearby town sharing a border with fae territory. He doesn’t want to join the human world properly; he just wants to play music with a local cover band and avoid the cruelest members of his fae family.

Then, he meets Roxana, and his world shifts. She’s a human metalworking witch, up for a friendly fling with Rafi before she and her twelve-year-old daughter move away from Miryoku…

Ballad for Jasmine Town

By Molly Ringle,

What is this book about?

A law-abiding metalworking witch and a form-shifting half-fae musician embark on a secret romance, but soon become caught in escalating tensions between fae and humans that threaten their hometown. The second story after the popular Lava Red Feather Blue comes alive in Ballad for Jasmine Town.

The town of Miryoku has ocean views, fragrant jasmine vines, and a thriving arts scene, including a popular nineties cover band. It also sits on the verge, sharing a border with fae territory, a realm of both enchantments and dangers.

Rafi has been unusual all his life: a human born to a fae mother,…

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