The most recommended books that are a story within a story

Who picked these books? Meet our 31 experts.

31 authors created a book list connected to story within a story, and here are their favorite story within a story books.
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Book cover of American Mermaid

Carolyn Purnell Author Of Blue Jeans

From Carolyn's 3 favorite reads in 2023.

Why am I passionate about this?

Author Historian Color-lover Avid eater

Carolyn's 3 favorite reads in 2023

Carolyn Purnell Why did Carolyn love this book?

Julia Langbein is an art historian who specializes in nineteenth-century popular humor. Of course, just because someone studies comedy, it doesn’t mean that they’re funny. Luckily for us, Langbein is hilarious. American Mermaid is, in turns, smart, cheeky, cynical, beautiful, silly, ridiculous, and profound.

I couldn’t put it down, but I know that its quick-read quality was deceptive. American Mermaid, with its story-within-a-story structure, must have taken incredible skill to fine-tune and layer. With this caliber of debut, I can’t wait to see what else Langbein has in store for us. 

By Julia Langbein,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked American Mermaid as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A MOST ANTICIPATED BOOK OF THE YEAR • "Sublime." —New York Times Book Review

"Brilliantly sharp, funny, and thought-provoking, the gripping story of a woman trying to find her way in our chaotic world." —Madeline Miller, bestselling author of Circe

Broke English teacher Penelope Schleeman is as surprised as anyone when her feminist, eco-warrior novel American Mermaid becomes a best-seller. But when Hollywood insists she convert her fierce, androgynous protagonist into to a teen sex object in a clamshell bra, strange things start to happen. Is Penelope losing her mind, or has her fictional mermaid come to life, enacting revenge…

Book cover of The Brothers Karamazov

John A.A. Logan Author Of The Survival of Thomas Ford

From John's 3 favorite reads in 2023.

Why am I passionate about this?

Author Novelist Rebel Escape artist

John's 3 favorite reads in 2023

John A.A. Logan Why did John love this book?

I had read most of Dostoyevsky’s other novels twenty-five years ago. I decided then to save up this book for a rainy day. 

The Brothers Karamazov is on a vaster scale than Dostoyevsky’s other novels, less concentrated along one line of supreme intensity. And yet, all the power still bursts forth, in moments where the innards of the characters seem to explode outward, penetrating the reader’s soul. It is hard not to be conscious of the fact that Dostoyevsky wrote this novel following the death of his own three-year-old son. The novel seems to constitute a re-piecing-together of the author’s mind, and, as this was his last book, a final statement on life and death, love and loss.

The book holds a colossal power, quantum neutron-star-like depths wrestling crazily on the page, but underlying that, the restraint still of a great and overwhelming sense of order in the things of…

By Fyodor Dostoevsky,

Why should I read it?

4 authors picked The Brothers Karamazov as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Winner of the Pen/Book-of-the-Month Club Translation Prize

The award-winning translation of Fyodor Dostoevsky's classic novel of psychological realism.

The Brothers Karamasov is a murder mystery, a courtroom drama, and an exploration of erotic rivalry in a series of triangular love affairs involving the “wicked and sentimental” Fyodor Pavlovich Karamazov and his three sons―the impulsive and sensual Dmitri; the coldly rational Ivan; and the healthy, red-cheeked young novice Alyosha. Through the gripping events of their story, Dostoevsky portrays the whole of Russian life, is social and spiritual striving, in what was both the golden age and a tragic turning point in…

Book cover of The Slow Regard of Silent Things

Kris Branham Author Of Breaking

From my list on getting magical powers.

Why am I passionate about this?

I've spent my life feeling out of place in this world which had me diving into novels since I was a little girl able to read. I was increasingly drawn to the supernatural dynamic in shows and novels. On top of that I am neurodivergent which means that I have spent years in and out of my own forms of darkness and self-doubt. As an author I wanted to create a world for characters that struggle with the same issues I struggle with and help them heal and grow through their trials. My hope has always been that in the course of my stories I can help a reader heal as well. 

Kris' book list on getting magical powers

Kris Branham Why did Kris love this book?

Oh my goodness, can I just say this is my favorite book?

It follows a girl living underground in an abandoned city under a school of magic. This story is on my recommendation list because of the trauma I endured in it. I know, I know, this sounds horrible but let's keep this short, sweet, and to the selling point.

It's Rothfuss, who is one of the greatest writers of our time. It’s a novella so it's not a huge time commitment. If you have ever struggled with depression, anxiety, or just feeling out of place around others just get this book. I promise.

Auri’s soul will take flight in its own right as she is one of the most precious, and tortured, souls ever to be written. The magic in this series is incredible. You learn magic by learning the true name of an element which can only be…

By Patrick Rothfuss,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Slow Regard of Silent Things as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Discover #1 New York Times-bestselling Patrick Rothfuss' epic fantasy universe of The Kingkiller Chronicle, in this illustrated companion novella, The Slow Regard of Silent Things.

"I just love the world of Patrick Rothfuss." -Lin-Manuel Miranda

Deep below the University, there is a dark place. Few people know of it: a broken web of ancient passageways and abandoned rooms. A young woman lives there, tucked among the sprawling tunnels of the Underthing, snug in the heart of this forgotten place.

Her name is Auri, and she is full of mysteries.

The Slow Regard of Silent Things is a brief, bittersweet glimpse…

Book cover of The Little Country

Nancy M. Bell Author Of Laurel's Quest

From my list on magic and myth in our everyday lives.

Why am I passionate about this?

I love horses and I love the magic that exists in the world. I have always been drawn to both. My maternal grandmother had the ‘second sight’ as they called it, and I have inherited that from her. My books and poetry reflect my sincere belief that magic and wonder are alive and well and that we need to nourish them by acknowledging their existence in our everyday lives. The miracle of life, the sun rising and setting every day, the dance of the stars and moon across the sky, the glory of the northern lights—who can claim that isn’t magic? 

Nancy's book list on magic and myth in our everyday lives

Nancy M. Bell Why did Nancy love this book?

de Lint creates a magical mix of myth and reality that is totally believable, his characters stay with you long after the book is done. The glowing mists of magic lingering long after the pages are closed. He makes you wonder if what you think you saw out of the corner of your eye is actually real. 

By Charles de Lint,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

When Celtic folk musician Janey Little discovers a secret manuscript in an old attic trunk, strange and frightening things begin to happen. Janey’s perilous story, and the one she is reading—about spunky adolescent Jodi Shepherd, beset by the witchery of the evil Widow Pender—expertly weave two separate plot threads. A steadily mounting tension makes two small seaside villages in Cornwall come alive with danger, magic, and mystery. One of de Lint’s best-loved novels, The Little Country is a fantastic escape dealing with ancient standing stones, the power of music, and the warmth of true friendship.

This Triskell Press e-book contains…

Book cover of Hit Man

Joseph Guzzo Author Of Mousetrap, Inc.

From my list on inspired me to become a writer and my son a reader.

Why am I passionate about this?

My first job upon graduating from college was working for an invention-marketing firm. This wasn’t my intention; armed with a degree in journalism, I was ready to take on the world. Unfortunately, the country was enduring a recession, and after six months of unemployment, I was happy to be offered a copywriting position. So often during the two years I spent there, I would think to myself, “This could make such a great novel.” It took me a while—and with more than a few rejections along the way—but inspired by the writers and books I’ve included in my collection, I finally got around to penning my own tale.

Joseph's book list on inspired me to become a writer and my son a reader

Joseph Guzzo Why did Joseph love this book?

Lawrence Block has written, I don’t know, 33,000 books? That’s inspiration alone. But in Keller, the mononymous title character of Hit Man and star of numerous short stories, he compels readers to root for someone who’s not exactly committing good deeds. I find that intriguing, and Chapel Fox, the antihero of my story within a story, travels down a similar road. You’ll find yourself cheering him on. You shouldn’t.

By Lawrence Block,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Hit Man as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Keller is an ordinary man - who kills people for a living. But then a hit goes wrong, and more than one life is at stake...
'Absolutely riveting ... Block is terrific' Washington Post

Keller is an assassin - he is paid by the job and works for a mysterious man who nominates hits and passes on commissions from elsewhere. Keller goes in, does the job, gets out: usually at a few hours' notice. Often Keller's work takes him out of New York to other cities, to pretty provincial towns that almost tempt him into moving to the woods and…

Book cover of Bats of the Republic: An Illuminated Novel

McKenna Miller Author Of Wyrforra (Wyrforra Wars)

From my list on with weird writing styles.

Why am I passionate about this?

I’ve been reading and writing stories for as long as I can remember—and the weird ones have always been my favorite. I discovered many of my favorite books by wandering into my local library, telling the librarian about my strange reading interests, and allowing them to set me up with literary masterpieces of the most unusual kind. Once I knew how to bend the rules of genre and form to create something original, I took to creating my own weird stories, and have been doing so ever since in my novels, short stories, D&D characters, and bedtime stories for my bird.

McKenna's book list on with weird writing styles

McKenna Miller Why did McKenna love this book?

Bats of the Republic is by far one of the most engaging, unique reading experiences I have ever had the delight to enjoy. The breathtaking art decorating every page (and I do mean every page, from the copyright page to the back of the dust jacket) enhances a deep and intriguing story.

One of my favorite parts of this book is that every piece of writing you encounter comes from one of the characters in the story. This makes for a completely immersive experience as you flip through maps, examine drawings of new animal species, and even uncover a few secret messages. Dodson’s incredible art and one-of-a-kind narrative style create a complex, deep world that I couldn’t help but fall in love with.

By Zachary Thomas Dodson,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Bats of the Republic as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

"Archetypes of the cowboy story, tropes drawn from sci-fi, love letters, diaries, confessions all abound in this relentlessly engaging tale. Dodson has quite brilliantly exposed the gears and cogs whirring in the novelist’s imagination. It is a mad and beautiful thing.”
--Keith Donohue, The Washington Post

Winner of Best of Region for the Southwest in PRINT’s 2016 Regional Design Awards

Bats of the Republic is an illuminated novel of adventure, featuring hand-drawn maps and natural history illustrations, subversive pamphlets and science-fictional diagrams, and even a nineteenth-century novel-within-a-novel—an intrigue wrapped in innovative design.

     In 1843, fragile naturalist Zadock Thomas must leave…

Book cover of The Fisherman

Carmilla Voiez Author Of Starblood

From Carmilla's 3 favorite reads in 2023.

Why am I passionate about this?

Author Goth Horror nerd LGBTQ Autistic

Carmilla's 3 favorite reads in 2023

Carmilla Voiez Why did Carmilla love this book?

I loved this book so much that I lost sleep while reading it. Like the main character, Abe, I feel most at peace while I’m near water. Abe uses fishing to fill a void after his wife dies. I use it to cleanse my thoughts; it can get a bit busy in my head sometimes.

The book is about loss, healthy and unhealthy choices, friendship, betrayal, and scary monsters. It includes four of my favourite things: engaging characters, beautiful writing, water, and horror.

Horror is my comfort blanket, and this book is full to the brim with it; lots and lots of cosmic horror coupled with sorcery and monsters: some huge and others human, many dead and some alive.

By John Langan,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

In upstate New York, in the woods around Woodstock, Dutchman's Creek flows out of the Ashokan Reservoir. Steep-banked, fast-moving, it offers the promise of fine fishing, and of something more, a possibility too fantastic to be true. When Abe and Dan, two widowers who have found solace in each other's company and a shared passion for fishing, hear rumors of the Creek, and what might be found there, the remedy to both their losses, they dismiss it as just another fish story. Soon, though, the men find themselves drawn into a tale as deep and old as the Reservoir. It's…

Book cover of The Fraud

Jenny Linford Author Of The Missing Ingredient: The Curious Role of Time in Food and Flavour

From Jenny's 3 favorite reads in 2023.

Why am I passionate about this?

Author Editor Journalist Bookworm Cheese lover

Jenny's 3 favorite reads in 2023

Jenny Linford Why did Jenny love this book?

Zadie Smith’s first ‘historical’ novel does not disappoint. This is a wonderfully written, witty, richly imagined, characteristically idiosyncratic book.

This intriguing book is set in the nineteenth century and peopled with historical figures—the now little-known novelist William Ainsworth, his housekeeper, the fascinating Mrs. Touchet, Charles Dickens, Andrew Bogle, a man born into slavery in Jamaica, who becomes a key witness in a real-life Victorian cause celebre.

Intricately structured, at its heart one finds a powerful, compelling story within a story which gives a force to the book. The issues raised within the book—racism, colonialism, woman’s rights, populism, fake news—resonate in our times. A book to set you thinking.

By Zadie Smith,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

The instant New York Times bestseller.

From acclaimed and bestselling novelist Zadie Smith, a kaleidoscopic work of historical fiction set against the legal trial that divided Victorian England, about who gets to tell their story—and who gets to be believed

It is 1873. Mrs. Eliza Touchet is the Scottish housekeeper—and cousin by marriage—of a once-famous novelist, now in decline, William Ainsworth, with whom she has lived for thirty years.

Mrs. Touchet is a woman of many interests: literature, justice, abolitionism, class, her cousin, his wives, this life and the next. But she is also sceptical. She suspects her cousin of…

Book cover of Moonflower Murders

L.C. Blackwell Author Of Too Young To Be This Old

From L.C.'s 3 favorite reads in 2023.

Why am I passionate about this?

Author Artist Advertising creative Reader Walker

L.C.'s 3 favorite reads in 2023

L.C. Blackwell Why did L.C. love this book?

Susan Ryeland, former publisher (and hero with Atticus Pund in The Magpie Murders), runs a small hotel with her boyfriend in Greece. When a couple visit and describe a murder in their daughter’s wedding hotel, and on the same day—Ryeland’s intrigued. 

Susans’s former client and the writer/creator of the Atticus Pund series knew the victim and writes a book about the murder (Atticus Pund Takes the Cake). It convinced the couple’s daughter that the man convicted is innocent. Now she’s missing. Ryeland leaves Greece to investigate. 

Horowitz is a mastermind of mystery, famously so. And this book is as full of the twists, turns, and clues as The Magpie Murders which I loved. The complexity and the characters are re-delivered. Fantastically!!

By Anthony Horowitz,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Pre-order the brand new Anthony Horowitz novel The Twist of a Knife, coming August 2022!


'Absolutely loved it. So clever, just masterful stuff.' Richard Osman

'A beautiful puzzle: fiendishly clever and hugely entertaining. A masterpiece.' Lucy Foley, author of The Hunting Party

'You have to hand it to Horowitz: the guy never fails to deliver a total page-turner. We LOVED it.' Richard & Judy Book Club

Retired publisher Susan Ryeland is running a small hotel on a Greek island with her long-term boyfriend. But life isn't as idyllic as it…

Book cover of Walking with Shadows

Alan McDermott Author Of Run and Hide

From my list on thrillers that kept me reading all night.

Why am I passionate about this?

When I was at school, reading was a chore. We were given books that held no interest and told to dissect the author’s words to find a deeper meaning. It put me off reading for years. It wasn’t until I came across a thriller that I discovered my love of books, and I’ve been hooked ever since. There’s nothing like mounting tension to get you flipping the pages, and I try to do that in my books. 

Alan's book list on thrillers that kept me reading all night

Alan McDermott Why did Alan love this book?

What I loved most about this was the story within the story. A famous author is travelling back from a convention in Brazil when his plane goes down. The only other survivor is a young boy, not quite in his teens. In order to reach safety, they must battle not only Colombian drug runners and other nefarious characters, but the jungle itself.

By Luke Romyn,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Walking with Shadows as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

"This is one of the best stories I've had the pleasure of reading in a long time. I highly recommend it."—Vigilant Reader Book Reviews

A plane crashes in South America, leaving only two survivors.

Reclusive author Jonas Drake stumbles from the fiery wreckage of the crashed 747 and meets Jeremy, a young boy struggling to come to grips with the loss of his mother. Hunted by F.A.R.C. insurgents chasing them for ransom, the pair flee into the rainforest with no plan and almost no hope.

Desperate to distract Jeremy from the nightmares surrounding them, Jonas tells him stories from his…