I do the same thing whenever I revisit Jane Austen’s works. I sit down thinking I’m really in the mood to re-read Emma, and before I know it I’ve read three of her six novels, at which point I might as well go ahead and finish them all.
I’m always delighted to find an author worth binge reading. For me, sometimes this looks like great literature (Stegner, Austen).
More often, it’s an author whose books are fun, entertaining, and compulsively readable, like the following:
In the idyllic small town of Three Pines, Quebec, where people don’t even lock their doors, a beloved local woman is found in the woods with an arrow shot through her heart. The locals believe it must be a hunting accident, but the police inspector senses something is off. The story is constructed as a classic whodunit but it feels like anything but, with its deliberate pacing, dry wit, and lyrical writing. A stunningly good first novel. Still Life is the first in a series that keeps getting better. Great on audio.
Penny's mysteries are alternately centered in the cozy village of Three Pines and the wider world. For this excellent follow-up to the game-changing Bury Your Dead, Inspector Gamache returns to Three Pines to solve a murder that's intimately tied to the world of fine art. The story is built around the concept of chiaroscuro—the contrast between dark and light that's significant in some artists' works, and in all our natures. It may sound obtuse, but Penny probes with a light hand. It works. More info →
There was never a question I'd continue with the Inspector Gamache series (although I will say that book 3 wasn't my favorite) but the series moves to the next level in this sixth installment, in which Penny finally brings a plotline she's only hinted at in previous books front and center, and it is riveting.More info →
De los Santos novels have all the characteristics of good binge reads: good storytelling, likable characters, and beautiful writing. (They're not terribly challenging, which makes them that much easier to speed through.) This is a great place to start with her work. More info →
This is the standalone sequel to Love Walked In, but go ahead and read them in order. (Belong to Me has higher ratings on Goodreads, but I enjoyed Love Walked In more. Though comfortably predictable and a little too feel-good for some people's taste, it's well-written, intelligent, and thoroughly readable. This would make a great beach read. More info →
This isn't as strong as de los Santos' previous works but I still thoroughly enjoyed it. A lovely depiction of an unusual friendship across many years, and a thoughtful exploration of the complexities of love, grief, and human nature. I wish this novel's finale didn't veer into over-the-top territory, but I still love its vivid portrayal of friendship in the college years and beyond. More info →
Moriarty's works are compulsively readable: whenever I get my hands on a new one I inhale it in two days. This is the novel that made me love her: I spreed through it like it was the fluffiest chick lit, but found myself mulling over its themes for weeks after I finished. (I wrote a little about that here.) More info →
Moriarty's latest novel focuses on three Aussie moms who have children in the same kindergarten class. We know from the prologue that the book culminates with a murder at the school’s trivia night fundraiser; what we don’t know is who, or how. A satirical take on the strange relationships of kindly moms, told in an unusual format (reminiscent of Elin Hilderbrand in parts). Darkly comic: pay close attention to how adroitly Moriarty addresses domestic violence. More info →
This story about three Australian women whose lives intersect in unexpected ways is packed full of secrets. Moriarty addressed dark topics here, but her tone remains light and witty, and she manages to weave in interesting notes—the Berlin wall, the myth of Pandora, the Snow White fairy tale. I loved this on audio: the Australian accent was delightful. More info →
This Gothic mystery is slow to build but those who persevere will be rewarded. The plot flips back and forth between World War II and the 1990s, but not in the way you'd expect. The setting is a crumbling old castle, which contributes to the story's creepy (but not quite scary) feel. Some readers think this is Morton's best work. More info →
If the Brothers Grimm wrote The Secret Garden, this is what it would have been like. This sprawling family saga gets a little unwieldy at times, but I can't say I minded much. History, fairy tale, family drama, and Gothic mystery rolled into one. More info →
This is my favorite Morton novel. A daughter is determined to unravel a longstanding secret before her mother dies. As the daughter follows the clues, the story flips back and forth in time between today and the years before and during World War II, including the London Blitz, which Morton recreates so vividly you can almost hear the bombs dropping. Filled with twists and turns that will keep you guessing to the end. More info →
Sarah Addison Allen's novels share common elements: they're Southern, small-town, and uniquely magical. This is the book that hooked me on her writing. The romance is cheesy, the magic impossible, but put them together and it sings. A few love scenes are a little racy (ahem). If you’re not down with supernatural food or a magical apple tree, skip this one—but you should know how many readers call this “a wonderful surprise.” A must-read for fans of The Language of Flowers. More info →
Allen wrote Garden Spells in 2007, and eight whole years later—in January 2015—she published this sequel because readers kept asking her what happened next? and she was eager to revisit the Waverly sisters. Not quite as enchanting as Garden Spells, but still worth reading. More info →
Sparkly Southern women, screwed-up family relationships, and magical realism mark this novel. One woman's unique magic is that the specific book she needs in her life right then mysteriously appears—on her bedside table, on her desk at work, in her handbag. That's enough to win me over. More info →