The best books about family secrets

87 authors have picked their favorite books about family secrets and why they recommend each book.

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The Tiger's Wife

By Téa Obreht,

Book cover of The Tiger's Wife

This is a gorgeous, poetic, magical book, with a strong female character with a mission that is not about falling in love and having children. Although there are love stories in the book, they are unusual ones (as shown by the title) and that is not the main narrative arc of the central protagonist. I long for books where women do something other than fall in love, have children, or emulate men.


Who am I?

I have been thinking a lot about what feminism means for me. In this interview, I said, "I wish more authors would write about strong women, beyond the strength and importance of motherhood, but not just emulating traditional male behavior." I feel that this is the kind of strong woman I am, as a woman forging a non-traditional path in mathematics. I have been on something of a mission to find books like this, and particularly ones written by women. I find such books frustratingly rare, so I wanted to recommend a few that I have found. There is more to being a woman than falling in love and having children.


I wrote...

X + Y: A Mathematician's Manifesto for Rethinking Gender

By Eugenia Cheng,

Book cover of X + Y: A Mathematician's Manifesto for Rethinking Gender

What is my book about?

A brilliant mathematician examines the complexity of gender and society and forges a path out of inequality. Why are men in charge? After years in the male-dominated field of mathematics and in the female-dominated field of art, Eugenia Cheng has heard the question many times. In X + Y, Cheng argues that her mathematical specialty -- category theory -- reveals why.

Category theory deals more with context, relationships, and nuanced versions of equality than with intrinsic characteristics. Category theory also emphasizes dimensionality: much as a cube can cast a square or diamond shadow, depending on your perspective, so too do gender politics appear to change with how we examine them. Because society often rewards traits that it associates with males, such as competitiveness, we treat the problems those traits can create as male. But putting competitive women in charge will leave many unjust relationships in place. If we want real change, we need to transform the contexts in which we all exist, and not simply who we think we are.

A Woman Is No Man

By Etaf Rum,

Book cover of A Woman Is No Man

In a 2019 interview with NPR, Etaf Rum—the daughter of Palestinian immigrants who was born and raised in Brooklyn, New York—said one of her struggles in writing the book was the fear that she was in a way confirming stereotypes about Arabs and Middle Easterners, including “oppression, domestic abuse, and terrorism.” Thankfully Rum overcame these struggles to deliver a courageous, beautiful, and incredibly authentic debut novel that follows the lives of three generations of Palestinian-American women trying to find their voices and identities within the confines of patriarchal and conservative milieus. In a way, the struggles of Rum and her characters mirror the battles that young people throughout the Middle East have been waging against tyranny and oppression since the start of the Arab Spring in 2010.


Who am I?

Sam Dagher is a Lebanese-American journalist and author with more than 15 years of experience reporting on the Middle East and its people. He has lived in Baghdad, Beirut, and Damascus and worked throughout the region. Sam has been committed to telling the region’s stories from the ground up and in the process shedding new light on the root causes of war, extremism, and migration.


I wrote...

Assad or We Burn the Country: How One Family's Lust for Power Destroyed Syria

By Sam Dagher,

Book cover of Assad or We Burn the Country: How One Family's Lust for Power Destroyed Syria

What is my book about?

From an award winning journalist specializing in the Middle East, this groundbreaking account of the Syrian Civil War reveals the never-before-published true story of a 21st-century humanitarian disaster. Assad or We Burn the Country examines Syria's tragedy through the generational saga of the Assad and Tlass families, once deeply intertwined and now estranged in Bashar's bloody quest to preserve his father's inheritance. By drawing on his own reporting experience in Damascus and exclusive interviews with Tlass, Dagher takes readers within palace walls to reveal the family behind the destruction of a country and the chaos of an entire region.

The Daughters of Mars

By Thomas Keneally,

Book cover of The Daughters of Mars

The Daughters of Mars provides a unique account of war through the lens of two sisters from New South Wales who serve as nurses on an Australian ship carrying soldiers wounded at the Battle of Gallipoli in Turkey.  After the ship is sunk, the sisters end up nursing on the Western Front.  The novel is a page-turning, authentic account of the personal and professional experiences of Australian nurses dealing with the horrific impacts of war.


Who am I? Why this topic?

Both of my grandfathers served in WWI. Growing up on their stories, I had a keen interest in WWI. A lover of history, I attended an exhibit at the Smithsonian called The Faces of War that focused on prosthetic masks made by artists during WWI for men whose faces had been mutilated by war. Having always wanted to write a historical novel, I merged my interest in WWI with a newfound passion for these faces of war and wrote Day Lights the Bone (not yet published). The novel is set in a military hospital in Wandsworth, England, during the final months of WWI. I am a professor at Hamline University in St. Paul, MN, where for many years I taught and served as Director of The Creative Writing Programs.


I wrote...

Rainy Lake

By Mary Francois Rockcastle,

Book cover of Rainy Lake

What is my book about?

In Rainy Lake, author Mary Rockcastle invites the reader to savor the sights, sounds, and smells of summer at her parents' lopsided lakefront cabin during the 1960s. From the landscape of her memory, Danielle Fillian paints a sensitive and wise family portrait of summers filled with fly-fishing, swimming, water-skiing, new friendships, and a deepening first love. But with the intrusion of the Vietnam War and the rumblings of the civil rights movement growing steadily nearer, this sheltered vacation community is forced to acknowledge the harsh realities of the wider world.

How Much of These Hills Is Gold

By C. Pam Zhang,

Book cover of How Much of These Hills Is Gold

I was sold on this book the moment two tiny little girls scooped up their dad’s dead body, put it in a bag, and started toting his remains around the west, his decaying bones clacking about in there wherever they went. This gold rush story is retold from the standpoint of two girls haunted by a past that was never theirs to begin with—and carries a subtle darkness that is beautiful to sink into.


Who am I?

I’m just a girl who fell in love with French literature: Les MiserablesThe Count of Monte CristoThe Phantom of the Opera. And then the associated Gothics: Dracula, A Christmas Carol, A Picture of Dorian Gray. Then I ran out. Apparently, there are only so many gothic novels one can find in 18th- and 19th-century writings—and I even read several of the more obscure ones. But I wasn’t done with the genre yet. I wanted one more gothic novel, with all the mystery of Edmond Dantès and with all the philosophical complexity of Jean-Valjean—but with a strong female protagonist and a lush Americana setting. So I wrote it myself.


I wrote...

Obscurity

By Elle Griffin,

Book cover of Obscurity

What is my book about?

Set amidst the wild palms of 1790s Louisiana, the widow St. Vincent appears in the wake of her husband’s death the wealthiest plantation owner in the South. But strange occurrences ensue in her wake and the town becomes obsessed with their superstitions about her. As they attempt to unravel the widow’s secrets, we find she knows something of their secrets as well and the philosophical underpinnings of their pasts all surface to haunt them all.

I’m publishing my novel as a serial, releasing one chapter a week exclusively for my newsletter subscribers here.

Blood-Tied

By Wendy Percival,

Book cover of Blood-Tied

When Esme Quentin’s sister, Elizabeth, is assaulted, Esme discovers that her sister has a secret. Who is the elderly, Mrs Roberts and what is her connection to Elizabeth? Esme’s attempt to unravels the sixty-year-old family mystery becomes a hazardous mission and she has to reassess her perception of blood ties.


Who am I?

I inhabit the past. You may find me lurking in my four-hundred-year-old Devon cottage, or spot me thinly disguised as the formidable Mistress Agnes, a good wife of a certain age who leads a somewhat chaotic life during the mid-seventeenth century. I write, I read, I research, I share my passion, I write some more. My life revolves around reading, writing and researching history. Having spent the past forty-five years unravelling my own family’s story and loving both historical and crime novels, what could be better than a book that combines all these elements. I have to say that if genealogy was as dangerous a career as some of these books imply, no one would be advised to take it up!


I wrote...

Sins as Red as Scarlet: a Devon Town in Turmoil

By Janet Few,

Book cover of Sins as Red as Scarlet: a Devon Town in Turmoil

What is my book about?

Sins as Red as Scarlet is the unfolding of the lives of those whose prejudices and fears were shaped by the turmoil of plague, of war, and of religious dissent. The novel sheds new light on the true story of three impoverished women who were condemned to death in 1682 for the crime of witchcraft.

I particularly wanted to draw modern parallels, so in the novel, we also meet Martha, who is living in a slightly alternative version of 2020. Sixteen-year-old Martha, herself a bullies’ target, undertakes a school local history project. Probing the motivations and beliefs of Bideford’s seventeenth-century residents, Martha comes to understand how past events might lead ordinary people to become the victims, the accusers, or the accused.

Moonglow

By Michael Chabon,

Book cover of Moonglow

This is a memoir of sorts, but a fiction book nevertheless. Again, the philosophy of life is shown through the dying grandfather. The book highlights the sometimes blurry lines between right and wrong, but also standing up for what is right, questions of personal sacrifice for the common good, and more.


Who am I?

This list is specifically “secret” philosophy books. There were plenty of novels (Victor Hugo, Milan Kundera, Robert Pirsig) that I love, but they don’t hide the fact that they’re significantly philosophy books. My degree is in philosophy (BA, UCLA), with a special interest in ethics, ethical questions. I still really love the marriage of fiction and philosophy especially when it’s done subtly and beautifully. I am the author of three books: Approaching the Natural, Raising Healthy Parents. and Six Truths. I hold a BA in Philosophy from UCLA, am a public speaker, podcaster (What Sid Thinks Podcast), certified nutritionist & running coach, Oxygen Advantage breathing instructor, and founder of Small Steppers


I wrote...

Six Truths: Live by These Truths and Be Happy. Don't, and You Won't.

By Sid Garza-Hillman,

Book cover of Six Truths: Live by These Truths and Be Happy. Don't, and You Won't.

What is my book about?

Everyone wants to be happy. Everyone. We certainly have opinions about what choices someone might make to get there but we absolutely want happiness, and as much of it as possible. Six Truths is simple, accessible, cutting edge, edgy, and most of all, necessary. Sid Garza-Hillman has taken all he's learned as a nutritionist, philosopher, speaker, podcaster, Small Steps coach, ultramarathoner, father, and husband, and distilled it into six truths. Six truths that, if you live by them, will deliver you a happy life.

In Six Truths, Garza-Hillman, uses his usual funny, smart, no BS approach to helping you live your best life.

Ivory's Story

By Eugen Bacon,

Book cover of Ivory's Story

Ivory Tembo is a wonderfully dynamic character, brought to life with sensitivity and fascinating insight. The story is set in modern-day Sydney where a killer stalks the night, with Ivory Tembo the officer investigating the brutal murders. Extraordinary character development unfolds in just a few pages, from Ivory’s fractured youth growing up in foster care, to an emotionally vulnerable young woman, to her present-day tough, determined persona that serves her well as a detective. Forced to delve into her heritage, she is supported by a vibrant cast who bring folktale to life. With the help of a medicine woman, the mystery ventures into the supernatural, taking Ivory on an instinctive journey to unify two worlds.

Who am I?

I adore the SFF genre for its scope of limitless creativity. In particular, I look to both read and write books that incorporate contemporary issues, represent marginalised sections of society, challenge stereotypes, and generally make you think – themes that don’t shy away from tough topics, while interspersed in plenty of colour. In my own epic fantasy series, Blood Gift Chronicles, themes include wildlife and the environment, social justice and marginalisation, magic, animism, and dragons. I have a definite soft spot for complex women and girl protagonists and am excited by the range of voices coming through in the genre. I hope you enjoy my recommendations as much as I have.


I wrote...

Return of the Mantra (Blood Gift Chronicles)

By Susie Williamson,

Book cover of Return of the Mantra (Blood Gift Chronicles)

What is my book about?

16-year-old Suni has always known she is different. She and her mother, Mata, live a secretive life on the edge of society, hidden from the tyrant King and his autocratic rule. Her father abandoned them to work in the King’s crystal mines. In a land ravaged by drought, where the natural world is forsaken for profit, Mata follows the old ways of the Mantra, which the King has outlawed. When tragedy strikes, Suni is cut adrift. She sets off to find her father. Will she also find the destiny Mata wanted for her?

This award-winning, character-driven fantasy adventure chronicles Suni’s search for justice and her own identity, as she finds herself at the centre of a desperate bid to save her homeland.

The Couple Next Door

By Shari Lapena,

Book cover of The Couple Next Door

What I love about this story is the never-ending assortment of twists and turns. Just about anybody could have done it in this whodunnit, and we follow Detective Rasbach who whittles it down as we try to stay one step ahead, but never quite manage it.

Anne and Marco go to dinner next door leaving Cora in her crib with the baby monitor on. Anne checks on her every half hour. Should be safe. Shouldn’t it? Until they return home to discover the baby is gone. Who took her and is she still alive? Kidnapping or murder? Along the way, we discover that Anne’s parents don’t respect Marco and they are also quite rich. 

There’s also something about the neighbor’s marriage that isn’t quite normal. The story unwinds with an unexpected conclusion, that either satisfies or horrifies you.


Who am I?

For thirty-five years I spent my life in boardrooms, financing motion pictures with major Hollywood studios and learning the inside-out of law firms. I’ve also had a love for mysteries where I have to guess what’s going to happen next. My favorite authors keep me in suspense and stay a step ahead of me to the very end. I began my career as an author seven years ago. I added my own dose of modernized Shakespearean stories and the twists, turns, and suspense of life at the highest echelons of corporate America. I don’t aim to shock, but I do aim to surprise and keep you turning the pages. Obsessively.


I wrote...

Odell's Fall

By Norman Bacal,

Book cover of Odell's Fall

What is my book about?

Odell Moore has it all. Respect as a top African American attorney, Manhattan penthouse, and wealth. He plays by the rules. Always in control. All that's missing is love—until he falls for Dee, the daughter of a prominent Alabama senator. And that is when his life begins to fall apart. Odell's protegé, Jackson Sherman, joins forces with the senator to pull at the strings of the marriage, all driven by Jackson's blind ambition, to do anything and risk everything to join Odell atop the ladder of success.

Love, jealousy, and deceit become interchangeable as Jackson spins a web of intrigue that entangles the two lovers, threatens the marriage, and eventually turns Odell's life upside down. There can only be one outcome: murder in Odell's penthouse. But who did it? Be prepared for shocking revelations to the very last page.

The Last House on Needless Street

By Catriona Ward,

Book cover of The Last House on Needless Street

The Last House on Needless Street gets my recommendation because of the deeply unsettling house where most of the story takes place. Located at the end of the street, on the edge of a dark forest with boarded-up windows and falling into disrepair, this house is the ultimate in creepiness. The story of a serial killer, a child who has been kidnapped, a very disturbed protagonist who is haunted by his horrible mother and a black cat imprisoned in the terrifying house. Each page is creepier than the next and the ending shocked me speechless.  


Who am I?

I have a passion for novels with creepy settings, because I grew up in a haunted house and also spent my summers at a cottage on a lake with a long history of hauntings. I’m very familiar with the sensation of someone coming up behind you but when you turn around, nobody’s there, with lights flickering and the sound of unaccounted for footsteps, with shadowy corners, and chills running down your spine. As a child I loved to explore dark woods, abandoned buildings, and hold seances. As an adult I still explore these kinds of settings through my own writing and through the reading of some very creepy novels.  


I wrote...

What You Never Knew

By Jessica Hamilton,

Book cover of What You Never Knew

What is my book about?

Told in alternating points of view between one living sister, June, and one dead, May, What You Never Knew is a story about family secrets and lies. After the death of her older sister, June returns to Avril Island, her family cottage, which she believed her mother had sold thirty years before. Once there June learns of her mother’s decades-long affair, her father’s suspicious disappearance, and the many ghosts which haunt Avril Island.

Verity

By Colleen Hoover,

Book cover of Verity

This book was a real page-turner for me. The story had a creepy element that Ms. Hoover managed to convey brilliantly, while beneath the mystery there’s believable chemistry between the male and female leading characters.

This book is a masterclass on how to layer the essential elements of good storytelling seamlessly. She’s woven a strong plot, three-dimensional characters, and a nice little twist.


Who am I?

As an avid reader, I’ve been reading novels longer than I’ve been writing them. Despite possessing an eclectic taste in fiction, I promised myself this year only to read current, chart-topping novels. And to that end, I must admit, it hasn’t been easy. There are so many unfinished novels on my kindle reader! I’m still stuck in the past. I adore the classics—from George Eliot to Somerset Maugham, Du Maurier, and Steinbeck. I’m just naturally drawn to descriptive language and exotic settings. The novels I reviewed, however, managed to hold my interest up to the last page. If I possessed half of these authors’ talent, I’d be blessed. 


I wrote...

Uncovering Love

By J.J. Sorel,

Book cover of Uncovering Love

What is my book about?

To escape an abusive ex, Scarlet Black takes on a new identity and accepts a role masquerading as an admin assistant. She moves to a secluded mansion in a small English coastal village working for the reclusive billionaire, Daniel Love, whose wife has disappeared under mysterious circumstances.

Scarlet soon forms a connection with her troubled but handsome younger boss, and together they descend into a torrid relationship. The deeper they delve into each other the more insatiable they become. The problem is if she breaks from her undercover role her ex, a rogue policeman, will find her. But if she stays, after winning the trust of this guarded and damaged man, the deep bond they’ve formed will be shattered.

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