The best books about museums

1 authors have picked their favorite books about museums and why they recommend each book.

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The Murder Room

By P. D. James,

Book cover of The Murder Room: An Adam Dalgliesh Mystery

It is hard to resist a detective who is also a poet. Such wordy pursuits, mingled with crime detection, loudly declare sensitivity and left-brain-right-brain involvement, a perfect combination in the elegant, exceedingly attractive Adam Dalgliesh. (My own detective is named, in part, after him.)

All the Dalgliesh mysteries are marvelous. However, in The Murder Room, the detective’s new relationship with Emma Lavenham comes to a critical point. As the description says, “as he moves closer and closer to a solution to the puzzle, he finds himself driven further and further from commitment to the woman he loves.” The poor dear.


Who am I?

I have been reading mysteries since childhood. You know the sort of thing: Trixie Belden, Nancy Drew, Enid Blyton books, The Bobbsey Twins. The desire to profoundly understand the battles of good versus evil, the delicious gathering of clues, and the hope of solving the cases never left me. As I grew, I began to read the adult-themed greats, and dominantly the women of crime fiction. I couldn't possibly count the number of mysteries I have read. Then, seven years ago, I was violently moved to write them as well. My “real” job as a journalist was little different. In a way, every story, every interview subject, has been a little mystery to unravel. 


I wrote...

Adam's Witness

By Joanne Paulson,

Book cover of Adam's Witness

What is my book about?

When newspaper reporter Grace Rampling learns that a gay choir has been kicked out of its venue — the Catholic cathedral — she decides to confront church officials. But she gets more than she bargained for when she literally stumbles over the corpse of a high-ranking cleric. Minutes later, Detective Sergeant Adam Davis strides into the church to take on the investigation...and sees Grace with her wild auburn hair rising from between the pews.

She is his primary witness and a potential suspect in the case. Grace is therefore legally off-limits, forcing Adam to fight a fierce attraction even as he races to unwind a potential hate crime and high-profile murder.

Museum of the Missing

By Simon Houpt,

Book cover of Museum of the Missing

This book looks at thieves, liars, manipulators and of course the art itself. There’s a section on damaged goods, which taps into one of my obsessions about the difference in time and effort creation versus destruction takes. 

It’s full of pictures, ironic given that most of the pieces depicted are lost, never to be found. The Gallery of Missing Art is beautifully reproduced, and includes such masterpieces as Strindberg’s “Night of Jealousy”, so we can look at the works and marvel. But knowing that these pieces are…somewhere? Hidden away for a small audience, or perhaps destroyed? That’s heart-breaking.  


Who am I?

Shirley Jackson award-winner Kaaron Warren published her first short story in 1993 and has had fiction in print every year since. She was recently given the Peter McNamara Lifetime Achievement Award and was Guest of Honour at World Fantasy 2018, Stokercon 2019 and Geysercon 2019.  She has also been Guest of Honour at Conflux in Canberra and Genrecon in Brisbane.

She has published five multi-award winning novels (Slights, Walking the Tree, Mistification, The Grief Hole and Tide of Stone) and seven short story collections, including the multi-award winning Through Splintered Walls. Her most recent short story collection is A Primer to Kaaron Warren from Dark Moon Books. Her most recent novella, Into Bones Like Oil (Meerkat Press), was shortlisted for a Shirley Jackson Award and the Bram Stoker Award, winning the Aurealis Award. Her stories have appeared in both Ellen Datlow’s and Paula Guran’s Year’s Best anthologies.


I wrote...

The Grief Hole

By Kaaron Warren,

Book cover of The Grief Hole

What is my book about?

When I was writing The Grief Hole, a novel about a woman who knows how you’re going to die by the ghosts who haunt you, and her battle with Sol Evictus, a charismatic singer and art collector, I visited the New Jersey State Museum with family. There were a number of artworks on show there that resonated within the novel, and with the choices Sol Evictus makes. He only collects paintings and sculptures with dark inspiration, such as The Sempstress, by Richard Redgrave, Bruegel’s Massacre of the Innocents, and the photographs of Dina Gottleibson.

There I saw Adolph Konrad’s “Summer Afternoon’, where a large, white house dominated the painting. It seemed to loom over the people sitting, stone-faced, at a table in the overgrown garden in the foreground. Around them, behind them, between them, were ghosts; pale, transparent figures. Being Sol Evictus, most of his pieces are stolen, and I loved researching art theft as I wrote.

Aru Shah and the End of Time

By Roshani Chokshi,

Book cover of Aru Shah and the End of Time

I love this book because Roshani Chokshi introduces the vibrant gods, goddesses, and demons of Indian mythology to young readers by making it relatable with pop culture references, laugh-out-loud humor, and wild-ride adventures! Aru Shah is a regular middle-schooler from Atlanta, Georgia and unbeknownst to her is a reincarnation of a major character from one of India’s epic myths. The jaw-dropping part—she accidentally awakens the God of Destruction! Did I mention there’s a feisty and sardonic pigeon named Boo, too? 


Who am I?

I was born and raised in Mumbai, India, and as a kid I loved to read. But I never saw myself—an Indian girl like me—represented in children’s books before. I didn’t realize how much it affected me until I began writing my first novel at age 23. When I did, I wrote the entire first draft with white characters and set it in a western country. I believed my Indian culture and my experience as an Indian kid was not worth writing about. I was so wrong! Now, with the novels I write, I’m passionate about representation, especially South Asian representation because all kids deserve to see themselves and their cultures in the books they read.


I wrote...

Rea and the Blood of the Nectar (The Chronicles of Astranthia, Book 1)

By Payal Doshi,

Book cover of Rea and the Blood of the Nectar (The Chronicles of Astranthia, Book 1)

What is my book about?

Rea Chettri is a 12-year-old girl living a simple, if boring, life on the tea plantations of Darjeeling, India. Rea's life gets turned on its head when her twin brother, Rohan, goes missing. Determined to save him, Rea embarks on a secret adventure into the enchanted world of Astranthia. Rea must grapple with dark truths of her past, discover her true self, learn what has happened to her brother, and save Astranthia from a potentially deadly fate. But the clock is ticking. Can Rea rescue Rohan, save Astranthia, and live to see it all?

“A gateway into pure imagination, with a fast-paced plot that will hook you and characters that will endear you. A wonderful debut.” - Kacen Callender, National Book Award winner for King and the Dragonflies.

Strange Magic

By Syd Moore,

Book cover of Strange Magic

Most authors put their notes about what the book is based on at the back. Syd Moore puts it right up front—the true story of a witch hunt hysteria in England. And once that story’s in your head, it colors everything that follows in this paranormal mystery set around an Essex witch museum. Most of the laughs (and there are plenty) come from the wry and witty heroine of this intriguing mystery, packed with information about witchcraft past and present.


Who am I?

I believe that magical systems and worlds based on folklore and existing magical practices feel more “real” to the reader... and are a lot more interesting. As an avid Tarot reader, I’ve taken some deep dives into the esoteric magical traditions and symbols behind the cards. I’m still coming up for air on the topic. I’ve been fortunate enough to be able to channel this arcane (and let’s face it, not otherwise very useful) knowledge into my own witch and paranormal mysteries. I hope you enjoy the witchy mystery novels on this list!


I wrote...

Bound: A Doyle Witch Cozy Mystery (The Witches of Doyle Cozy Mysteries)

By Kirsten Weiss,

Book cover of Bound: A Doyle Witch Cozy Mystery (The Witches of Doyle Cozy Mysteries)

What is my book about?

In a family with two witchy sisters, Karin is cursed with a lack of magic. But when she finds a body in flighty, big sister Jayce’s coffee shop, a dark enchantment begins unraveling. And Karin and her small mountain town will never be the same.

As Karin works to untangle the murder, the knottier the mystery of her small mountain town becomes. Why are hikers vanishing in the nearby woods? Why are some people cursed with bad luck and others with good? And what is Jayce’s handsome new lawyer hiding? With her sister’s fate hanging by a thread, Karin struggles to untangle the truth, and death stalks ever closer…

From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler

By e. l. konigsburg,

Book cover of From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler

In this book, a sister and brother escape the horrors of suburban Connecticut and take refuge in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, where they discover an art mystery that leads them to a wealthy surrogate grandmother. Beyond the iconic setting, this story has an irresistible only-in-New York feeling to it, so that you can’t help believing it all might have really happened, or still could happen.


Who am I?

Growing up in California, I was enchanted by the idea of New York City—largely due to the visions of it I found in the books on this list. I’ve now lived in NYC for 20 years and love matching real locations with their versions in my imagination. In my time in the city I’ve been a staff writer for Newsweek Magazine, an editor at Scholastic, and a freelancer for many publications including The New York Times and The Washington Post. I’m currently working on a second novel. 


I wrote...

If You Were Here

By Jennie Yabroff,

Book cover of If You Were Here

What is my book about?

Tess used to be normal – or at least she knew how to fake it. Then her mentally disturbed mother started showing up at Tess’s fancy Manhattan prep school, which turned Tess into social cyanide. Tess manages her anxiety with long runs through Central Park, although her nights are increasingly haunted by strange, disturbing visions. Then her best friend Tabitha drops Tess without warning. Before Tess can begin to cope with losing Tabitha, a horrific tragedy happens, and Tess is blamed. Now, she must fight to find out the truth, all the while wondering if her visions were really a prophecy, or if she is going to end up in the grip of an uncontrollable mental illness just like her mother.

Ophelia and the Marvelous Boy

By Karen Foxlee,

Book cover of Ophelia and the Marvelous Boy

Karen Foxlee is—hands down—one of my favorite writers ever. She writes so beautifully and compassionately about what it feels like to be lost or sad or afraid, and Ophelia and the Marvelous Boy is no exception. This retelling of The Snow Queen takes place in a snowbound museum filled with arcane objects. The main character, Ophelia, is grieving the loss of her mother. And even though she doesn’t consider herself very brave, she volunteers for a quest that will change the world—and begin to heal her heart. I love this book for its gentleness, its beauty, its snowy cosiness, and its powerful portrayal of a girl moving within—and through—grief. 


Who am I?

It took me a long time to realize that the books I write have always (always) been about trauma. (I write fantasy, so the link wasn’t immediately apparent to me.) But now that I’ve seen it, I can’t unsee it. Likewise, it took me a long time to notice that all my favorite magical books were the ones that seemed to be trying to find a new language for the terrible things that can happen to and around us. Magic provides a powerful language for psychological pain. It can make it more real. It can make it more digestible. It can help us to see it more clearly. Fiction tells lies that make reality bearable and understandable—and magical fiction is no different. Which is why it will probably always be my favorite kind.


I wrote...

The Sisters of Straygarden Place

By Hayley Chewins,

Book cover of The Sisters of Straygarden Place

What is my book about?

Seven years ago, the Ballastian sisters’ parents left them in the magical Straygarden Place, a house surrounded by tall silver grass and floating trees. They left behind a warning saying never to leave the house or go into the grass. Ever since then, the house itself has taken care of Winnow, Mayhap, and Pavonine—feeding them, clothing them, even keeping them company—while the girls have waited and grown up and played a guessing game. 

Until one day, when the eldest, fourteen-year-old Winnow, does the unthinkable and goes outside into the grass, and everything twelve-year-old Mayhap thought she knew about her home, her family, and even herself starts to unravel. 

Otter in Space

By Sam Garton,

Book cover of Otter in Space

I’m a big fan of mixing books about space facts with space fiction. So, after reading all about space facts little ones can read about Otter’s fictional space adventure. Have you ever dreamed of flying to the moon? Well after a trip to the museum, where Otter does not get the space rock he so desperately covets, Otter does! An elaborate moon-landing plot evolves. Otter will build his own rocket, fly to the moon and get his own moon rock! Teddy and Giraffe are tasked with special missions, although Otter feels like he ends up doing most of the work. Kids will love Otter’s adventurous spirit, whilst adults may well sympathize with the Otter Keeper, responsible for such a mischievous creature!


Who am I?

I’m a science fiction and fantasy children’s book author, who loves everything about space and science fiction. I’ve been fascinated by space ever since I was little; mesmerized by clips of Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin walking on the moon. As a teenager, War of the Worlds by H.G Wells was my favorite book! My daughter’s complete lack of interest in space inspired me to write a space adventure series. How could I make space entertaining? When it comes to children, I’m a big fan of mixing space facts with a dollop of space fiction, so I hope you will enjoy the collection of books on this list!


I wrote...

Amelia, the Merballs and the Emerald Cannon: Book Three: Amelia's Amazing Space Adventures

By Evonne Blanchard,

Book cover of Amelia, the Merballs and the Emerald Cannon: Book Three: Amelia's Amazing Space Adventures

What is my book about?

One winter’s day I showed my daughter a map of the solar system. Her eyes glazed over… How could I make this fun for her? Hmmm. An alien from Pluto called Uglesnoo. Now, what would Uglesnoo be doing on Earth? He’s here on a quest to save his sister! And this quest will take him and Amelia to the moon, sun, and all the planets in the solar system! Amelia, the Merballs, and the Emerald Cannon is the third book in Amelia’s Amazing Space Adventures. In this crazy adventure, Amelia and Uglesnoo must travel to Mercury to pick up flying shoes. The Merballs of Mercury are friendly until an asteroid hits the planet.  Amelia and Uglesnoo find themselves in trouble once again!

The Hollow Places

By T. Kingfisher,

Book cover of The Hollow Places

The Hollow Places follows Kara, who has returned to her childhood home in North Carolina, as she takes over running her uncle’s museum of eccentricities after he’s injured. If you love nature-based horror as much as I do, this is a must-read–when a portal opens up in the museum, Kara goes through it into a willow-filled, marshy world of rivers and doors and terrifying, hungry creatures. She has to find a way to protect her home from this new world, which seems desperate to spill into hers and consume it, leaving it hollow. 


Who am I?

I'm a horror writer based in Colorado, and I spent my childhood in a variety of wild, untamed places. Horror that uses location as its antagonist is one of my favorite things because I understand how quickly–and easily–a beautiful place can become sinister. It’s not enough to go to a scary place; these books are about what happens when the scary place starts to grow roots inside you, how it changes you. I have written two books that deal with this to some extent, the first about an abandoned coal mine, and the second about Antarctica, and if you like any of these, I hope you’ll consider trying one of mine! 


I wrote...

To Break a Covenant

By Alison Ames,

Book cover of To Break a Covenant

What is my book about?

Moon Basin has been haunted for as long as anyone can remember. The ex-mining town relies on its haunted reputation to bring in tourists, but there’s more truth to the rumors than most are willing to admit.

Clem and Nina form a perfect loop―best friends forever, and perhaps something more. Their circle opens up for a strange girl named Lisey with a knack for training crows, and Piper, whose father is fascinated with the mine in a way that’s anything but ordinary. The people of New Basin start experiencing strange phenomena―sleepwalking, night terrors, voices that only they can hear. And no matter how many vans of ghost hunters roll through, nobody can get to the bottom of what’s really going on. 

The Aviary

By Emily Shore,

Book cover of The Aviary

In a world where beauty is bought and sold on the streets, sixteen-year-old Serenity has spent her whole life in hiding in order to avoid being taken. But, unfortunately, nothing ever stays hidden for long. She is snatched from her home and sold to the highest bidder. Now she’s a Bird, forced to live in The Aviary – an elite museum where girls are displayed as living art by day, and rented out to paying customers at night. In no time Serenity becomes one of the most coveted exhibits – The Swan – and learns that in order to stand any chance at finding her family again, she must play her new role to perfection. She didn’t anticipate how her feelings for the cold, yet charismatic, museum director, would complicate things.  

This story is such a unique and interesting take on a dystopian future, and Shore writes her world beautifully.…


Who am I?

Young Adult fiction has always been special to me. I think it’s because I started writing my first book, Alive?, when I was a teenager. There’s an added richness to YA stories; somehow the characters always feel so much more vulnerable, more unpredictable, and more real. My fascination with dystopian stories came after I first read The Handmaid’s Tale, and I’ve been hooked ever since. Whether it’s zombies, kids being forced to fight to the death, or people living their lives inside a virtual world, I’m in! I have three published books about the zombie apocalypse, and am currently working on an exciting new YA dystopian story, which I can’t wait to share!     


I wrote...

Alive?

By Melissa Woods,

Book cover of Alive?

What is my book about?

Everyone knows the first rule of the zombie apocalypse: Don't. Get. Bitten.

Unfortunately Violet has never been great at following the rules. Within minutes of meeting her first zombie, it has taken a chunk out of her arm. Fortunately for Violet, she doesn't die. Unfortunately —she's not exactly alive, either. Now she will need to learn to control her cannibalistic urges, and hide what she is from the other survivors. And the real zombies? They still want to eat her, too. Surviving the zompocalypse is tricky when you play for both teams.

Mightier Than the Sword

By Rochelle Melander, Melina Ontiveros (illustrator),

Book cover of Mightier Than the Sword: Rebels, Reformers, and Revolutionaries Who Changed the World Through Writing

This book will not only teach you history about different people from diverse backgrounds, it will give you tips on how to write so that you can start changing the world with your own words. This book is a great bedtime book so that your children can learn about some of history's great writers.

Who am I?

Over the past several months, I have had the pleasure to work with amazing authors who, like me, have debut children's books that were released in 2021. These books range in topics, from overcoming your fears to transgender to history, to cute rats that will let your imagination run wild. Being a kid myself, my parents read every night to me. These are books that like mine, are filled with representation that was lacking in those books that were read to me.


I wrote...

I Am Odd, I Am New

By Benjamin Giroux, Roz MacLean (illustrator),

Book cover of I Am Odd, I Am New

What is my book about?

Through the eyes of 10-year-old Benjamin Giroux, I Am Odd I Am New is his view of his life as a child on the autism spectrum, living in a neurotypical world. Benjamin was diagnosed with ASD at the age of 8. He was bullied, by his peers, some unknowingly. As a writing assignment in fifth grade, Benjamin poured his heart out in a heartbreaking, yet encouraging poem. From feeling odd to understanding that everyone is odd, or different in their own way.

The book takes the reader on a journey of self-reflection. The illustrations by award-winning illustrator, Roz MacLean, beautifully bring Benjamin’s words to life right in front of your eyes.

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