The best memoirs about troubled families and the secrets they keep

Why am I passionate about this?

I am a journalist with a background in performing arts and have spent much of my work life as a storyteller, fascinated by the process of knocking a narrative into shape, either for print or stage performance. My mother’s death prompted me to use those same skills to tell my own stories and the process has been the most satisfying of my professional life. As a memoirist of two books, my dreams have come true. My work has been shortlisted for awards, featured in national newspapers, special interest magazines, and by the BBC. I regularly speak to family history societies, book clubs, writer’s groups, and at literature festivals.   


I wrote...

Where are the grown-ups?

By Ruth Badley,

Book cover of Where are the grown-ups?

What is my book about?

The impact of a whispered family tragedy ripples across three generations in a coming-of-age mother and daughter true story. A frank examination of parent and child relationships takes the reader on an emotional journey from modern-day Dubai to 1960s North London, and back to the Jewish East End between the wars where Rose is expecting a baby. 

Part social history, part narrative memoir, themes of identity and inheritance in this most personal of stories echo the complexities and difficulties of family life we can all relate to. "As children we assume our parents are complete creations, but they too will misbehave, test the boundaries, make mistakes, stamp their feet, and shed tears before they become the men and women they need to be."

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of House of Glass: The Story and Secrets of a Twentieth-Century Jewish Family

Ruth Badley Why did I love this book?

A beautifully written and meticulously researched family memoir that made me question what I would have done to survive the turbulence and brutality of the Nazi era. Themes of antisemitism and identity continue to haunt four siblings - Jehuda, Jacob, Sender, and Sala - as they leave Poland behind to establish new lives as Alex, Jacques, Henri, and Sara in Paris.

An irresistible and complex personal story that I would happily reread because I devoured this page turner too quickly! At the heart of it all is Sara, the author’s mysterious, glamorous, melancholy grandmother and a shoebox of her treasured possessions. The author, a skilled journalist, adds power to the narrative with examples of populist divisive politics and the rise of nationalism in current times.

By Hadley Freeman,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked House of Glass as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The Sunday Times bestseller

'An utterly engrossing book' Nigella Lawson

'Remarkable and gripping' Edmund de Waal

'A near-perfect study of Jewish identity in the 20th century ... I don't hesitate to call it a masterpiece' Telegraph

After her grandmother died, Hadley Freeman travelled to her apartment to try and make sense of a woman she'd never really known. Sala Glass was a European expat in America - defiantly clinging to her French influences, famously reserved, fashionable to the end - yet to Hadley much of her life remained a mystery. Sala's experience of surviving one of the most tumultuous periods…


Book cover of Lowborn

Ruth Badley Why did I love this book?

The author’s account of grinding, unrelentless poverty and neglect, set against her eventual, miraculous escape to a different life made me cheer.

Bravely, Kerry Hudson returns to the scenes of many crimes committed against her to really understand why the past refuses to let her go and whether anything has changed for deprived families in those rundown British towns she grew up in.

In an early chapter the author recalls being pushed between two adults across a table. She thought it was a game, but her parents were in fact arguing over who should keep her. Neither was willing.

This is an important and shameful piece of British social history and an unflinching examination of a dysfunctional family with different recollections of the past. 

By Kerry Hudson,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

'Totally engrossing and deliciously feisty' Bernardine Evaristo

A powerful, personal agenda-changing exploration of poverty in today's Britain.

'When every day of your life you have been told you have nothing of value to offer, that you are worth nothing to society, can you ever escape that sense of being 'lowborn' no matter how far you've come?'

Kerry Hudson is proudly working class but she was never proudly poor. The poverty she grew up in was all-encompassing, grinding and often dehumanising. Always on the move with her single mother, Kerry attended nine primary schools and five secondaries, living in B&Bs and…


Book cover of The Life of Stuff

Ruth Badley Why did I love this book?

In the aftermath of a parent’s death, sifting through their possessions is a necessary but painful rite of passage. It can feel overwhelming and confrontational, especially if the relationship was difficult, as is the case here.

I loved how the author highlights specific objects from the detritus of her mother’s hoarding to piece together the hurts and distress of a woman she hardly knew. A complex mother and daughter story that comments authoritatively on the psychology behind hoarding and raises important questions about our material world and what our possessions reveal about our interior life.

I have written about some of these things in my own book and found this memoir at roughly the same period in my life. It stayed with me a long time after the final page. 

By Susannah Walker,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Shortlisted for the James Tait Black biography prize 2019

'This extraordinary, beautiful memoir gripped me from the first page.' Clover Stroud, author of The Wild Other

What do our possessions say about us? Why do we project such meaning onto them?

Only after her mother's death does Susannah Walker discover how much of a hoarder she had become. Over the following months, she has to sort through a dilapidated house filled to the brim with rubbish and treasures, in search of a woman she'd never really known or understood in life. This is her last chance to piece together…


Book cover of A Book of Untruths

Ruth Badley Why did I love this book?

Miranda Doyle makes sense of her life through a series of lies told to her and by her. It’s a fabulously original and shocking approach.

One of several siblings at the mercy of an explosive father and passive mother, her truth, as she admits, is also unreliable. I enjoyed how the writer breaks free to question the idea of truthfulness in memoir and her astute observations made me look a little closer at her family photos for the subtext, and to question their veracity. Terrifying episodes are recounted with verve and urgency, akin to a rollercoaster ride.

In an age of post-truth, fake news, and false narratives, the science behind lying sheds further light on the dynamics of this family and the narrator’s quest for closure.      

By Miranda Doyle,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

A Book of Untruths is a family story told through a series of lies. Each short chapter features one of these lies and each lie builds to form a picture of a life-Miranda Doyle's life as she struggles to understand her complicated family and her own place within it.

This is a book about love, family and marriage. It is about the fallibility of human beings and the terrible things we do to one another. It is about the ways we get at-or avoid-the truth. And it is about storytelling itself: how we build a sense of ourselves and our…


Book cover of The Glass Castle

Ruth Badley Why did I love this book?

The opening scene is one of the best you will ever read in the memoir genre. It serves as the catalyst for a hair-raising account of a chaotic, nomadic lifestyle where food and money are in short supply, midnight flits are frequent, but dreams are free.

Despite the inevitable disappointments and dangers associated with feckless, inadequate parenting, a strange kind of love and eventual acceptance propels the narrator and her siblings to break free and seek a more secure adulthood for themselves.  

This book has a special place in my heart because it taught me so much about writing craft, how to structure a story for impact, and how to bring scenes to life for a satisfying reader experience. A must-read for budding memoirists and enthusiastic readers of the genre. 

By Jeannette Walls,

Why should I read it?

21 authors picked The Glass Castle as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Now a major motion picture starring Brie Larson, Naomi Watts and Woody Harrelson.

This is a startling memoir of a successful journalist's journey from the deserted and dusty mining towns of the American Southwest, to an antique filled apartment on Park Avenue. Jeanette Walls narrates her nomadic and adventurous childhood with her dreaming, 'brilliant' but alcoholic parents.

At the age of seventeen she escapes on a Greyhound bus to New York with her older sister; her younger siblings follow later. After pursuing the education and civilisation her parents sought to escape, Jeanette eventually succeeds in her quest for the 'mundane,…


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Cold War: A Novel of the Berlin Airlift

By Helena P. Schrader,

Book cover of Cold War: A Novel of the Berlin Airlift

Helena P. Schrader Author Of Cold Peace: A Novel of the Berlin Airlift, Part I

New book alert!

Why am I passionate about this?

I first went to Berlin after college, determined to write a novel about the German Resistance; I stayed a quarter of a century. Initially, the Berlin Airlift, something remembered with pride and affection, helped create common ground between me as an American and the Berliners. Later, I was commissioned to write a book about the Airlift and studied the topic in depth. My research included interviews with many participants including Gail Halvorsen. These encounters with eyewitnesses inspired me to write my current three-part fiction project, Bridge to Tomorrow. With Russian aggression again threatening Europe, the story of the airlift that defeated Soviet state terrorism has never been more topical. 

Helena's book list on the Russian blockade of Berlin and the Allied Airlift

What is my book about?

Stopping Russian Aggression with milk, coal, and candy bars….

Berlin is under siege. More than two million civilians will starve unless they receive food, medicine, and more by air.

USAF Captain J.B. Baronowsky and RAF Flight Lieutenant Kit Moran once risked their lives to drop high explosives on Berlin. They are about to deliver milk, flour, and children’s shoes instead. Meanwhile, two women pilots are flying an air ambulance that carries malnourished and abandoned children to freedom in the West. Until General Winter deploys on the side of Russia...

Based on historical events, award-winning novelist Helena P. Schrader delivers an…

Cold War: A Novel of the Berlin Airlift

By Helena P. Schrader,

What is this book about?

Fighting a war with milk, coal and candy bars....

In the second book of the Bridge to Tomorrow Series, the story continues where "Cold Peace" left off.

Berlin is under siege. More than two million civilians in Hitler's former capital will starve unless they receive food, medicine and more by air.

USAF Captain J.B. Baronowsky and RAF Flight Lieutenant Kit Moran once risked their lives to drop high explosives on Berlin. They are about to deliver milk, flour and children's shoes instead. Meanwhile, two women pilots are flying an air ambulance that carries malnourished and abandoned children to freedom in…


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