Books that are better together: books that approach similar topics from completely different perspectives

Books that are better together: books that approach similar topics from completely different perspectives

Some books are better together, and in recent weeks on the blog we’ve been purposefully pairing favorite books that benefit from being read as companions.

So far in this series, we’ve covered the following:

• 8 terrific novels paired with 8 illuminating nonfiction picks to elevate your reading experience.

8 hot new releases paired with 8 backlist titles that will have a much shorter library waiting list.

16 favorite novels for book clubs.

For today’s list, we’re pairing books that approach similar topics from completely different perspectives. When read together, this practice allows you to get more out of your reading experience because you can more fully understand the themes, topics, and the world we live in.

I hope you find something YOU love today. Happy reading!

Missing Papers

Behold the Dreamers by Imbolo Mbue
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Something In Between by Melissa de la Cruz

Mbue’s novel details how two families’ lives become intertwined in 2007 Manhattan. Family #1 is that of immigrants from Cameroon: a dishwasher, his wife, and their young son. Their lives are changed when the husband scores a job as a chauffeur for wealthy family #2. But in the wake of the 2008 Great Recession, there’s plenty of trouble to go around for both families.

The perils of missing immigration papers links this with De la Cruz’s YA novel. When Jasmine wins a big-deal college scholarship, her immigrant parents are forced to reveal the truth they’ve been hiding: their visas expired years ago, and they’re staying in California illegally. To keep things interesting, de la Cruz throws a cute boy in Jasmine’s path, as well as some best friend drama.

Click here to buy Behold the Dreamers: Amazon | B & N
Click here to buy Something in Between: Amazon | B & N

Literary Sliding Doors

The Versions of Us by Laura Barnett
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Maybe in Another Life by Taylor Jenkins Reid

In Barnett’s imaginative novel, Eva and Jim’s relationship plays out in three alternate versions, each interesting and believable, exploring the ramifications of a single decision Eva makes after running over a rusty nail with her bicycle in a Cambridge street.

Reid’s romance is similarly plotted but decidedly more light-hearted. When Hannah moves back to her hometown of Los Angeles, she spends a night on the town with an old friend. The decision she makes at the end of that night changes her life, and in alternating chapters, we find out exactly how.

Click here to buy The Versions of Us: Amazon | B & N
Click here to buy Maybe in Another Life: Amazon | B & N

Black Lives Matter

The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas
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How It Went Down by Kekla Magoon

Thomas’s 2017 work has been called “the Black Lives Matter novel,” for good reason. At age 16, Starr Carter has lost two close friends to gun violence: one in a drive-by; one shot by a cop. The latter is the focus of this novel: Starr is in the passenger seat when her friend Khalil is fatally shot by a police officer. She is the sole witness.

Magoon’s 2014 novel chronicles the aftermath of another racially charged shooting: a 16-year-old African American is shot and killed, with the shooter claiming self-defense. In THUG, we experience the story through Starr’s eyes; in this novel, Magoon unfolds her story in multiple—and sometimes conflicting—perspectives.

Click here to buy The Hate U Give: Amazon | B&N
Click here to buy How It Went Down: Amazon | B&N

Childhood in South Africa

Born a Crime: Stories from a South African Childhood by Trevor Noah
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Hum If You Don’t Know the Words by Bianca Marais

In his recent memoir, The Daily Show star does a masterful job of alternating the deathly serious with the laugh-out-loud funny, sometimes even combining the two, in his collection of coming-of-age essays about his South African childhood. His mischievous childhood and unconventional youth provide wonderful fodder for sometimes scandalous and always entertaining stories. (Bookish PSA: Trevor Noah is phenomenal on audio.)

In Marais sets her novel in 1970s Johannesburg. In this time and place, race is everything, yet two people who are completely incompatible in apartheid-ruled South Africa—a young white girl and an older black woman—are thrown together following the 1976 Soweto Uprising and develop an unlikely and meaningful relationship.

Click here to buy Born a Crime: Amazon | B&N
Click here to buy Hum If You Don’t Know the Words: Amazon | B&N

Disappearing Acts

Manhattan Beach by Jennifer Egan
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The Wife, the Maid, and the Mistress by Ariel Lawhon

Egan’s new novel opens with a twelve year old girl accompanying her father to visit an important man on Brooklyn’s Manhattan Beach. As a teen, her father disappears without a trace. Years later, when her path again crosses with this successful (and shady?) man, she realizes he may be connected to her father’s mysterious disappearance, and resolves to untangle the mystery.

Lawhon’s historical novel is based on a real-life unsolved mystery: the 1930 disappearance of a New York Supreme Court judge, and the three women he left behind when he vanished. Lawhon cooks up an interesting (and page-turning) theory to explain what really happened—and what each woman knew about his fate.

Click here to buy Manhattan Beach: Amazon | B&N
Click here to buy The Wife, the Maid, and the Mistress: Amazon | B&N

Secrets and Second Wives

Stay With Me: A Novel by Ayobami Adebayo
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Silver Sparrow by Tayari Jones

Adebayo’s debut Stay With Me is a powerful, emotional debut about love, family, and marriage set against the backdrop of the turbulent political climate of 1985-2008 Nigeria. The story begins with Yejide’s mother-in-law arrives at her door with a guest in tow: her husband’s second wife, that she didn’t know he’d married.

In her third novel set in Atlanta, Jones writes about the link between two African-American half sisters, one legitimate and one secret, only one of whom knows the other exists. That is, until the secret of their father’s second marriage starts to force its way into the open.

Click here to buy Stay With Me: Amazon | B&N
Click here to buy Silver Sparrow: Amazon | B&N

Spy Girls

The Alice Network by Kate Quinn
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Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein

Quinn’s historical novel opens in 1947, with society girl Charlie St. Clair setting off on a desperate hunt to find her beloved cousin Rose, who mysteriously vanished during the war.Her inquiries lead her to Eve, a cranky old woman, who Charlie soon discovers has intimate ties to the first female spy network, and who may have personal and professional reasons for tracking down Rose—and getting revenge in the process.

Wein’s historical novel (marketed as YA, but a good read for all) begins when a British spy plane crashes in Nazi-occupied France; the two women on board are best friends. Wein’s first-in-a-series is a moving, wonderfully written tale of female friendship, heroism, and wartime. Read carefully: there’s more than a little mystery here, and more going on than meets the eye.

Click here to buy The Alice Network: Amazon | B&N
Click here to buy Code Name Verity: Amazon | B&N

Love Your Town, Make It Worth Loving

What I Found in a Thousand Towns by Dar Williams
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This Is Where You Belong by Melody Warnick

Because of her career as a touring musician, Dar Williams has visited lots and lots of towns. In this prescriptive, story-driven book she shares what she’s learned from three decades of touring about building communities: how government, local business, and the arts can work together to make a town work. (Or not.)

Warnick’s research-based and story-driven book addresses the same topic from a different angle: you live where you live. Now what? Her premise is that when it comes to loving the place you live, you have a lot more power than you probably realize. People who love their communities don’t just live in great places, they’re also extremely proactive about the ways they engage in their communities—and Warnick provides a practical, actionable list for you to put into practice in your own town.

Click here to buy What I Found in a Thousand Towns: Amazon | B&N
Click here to buy This Is Where You Belong: Amazon | B&N

Which pairing are you most excited to read? Can you think of any great match-ups to add to this list? Please tell us about them in comments!

16 comments | Comment

16 comments

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  1. Amy says:

    I’m most excited about the Trevor Noah and Bianca Marais pairing. I live in Zambia (missionary running an orphanage) and with the vote coming before Parliament in South Africa in August I feel this is a good time to read these books and gain some perspective on the situation.

    Thank you for all the research you put into this amazing list!!

  2. Allison says:

    What a surprise to see a book by Dar Williams! I was such a fan in high school and college, though I haven’t followed her closely in recent years. She’s always made interesting observations through her music, I have to think that a book written by her would be much the same. Great list!

  3. Jennifer says:

    I’m excited to read What I Found In a Thousand Towns. I read This Is Where You Belong several months ago and enjoyed it. My husband and I have had several job transfers over the years and have been kind of reluctant to invest in community because we’ve always been of the mindset, “Well, how long are we going to be here?” But it’s time to stop thinking like that; we need to make more of an effort.

  4. Leanne says:

    It’s no surprise that the three books I have read from this list are all 5-star ratings on Goodreads (Maybe in Another Life, The Hate U Give, Stay With Me). I don’t think I have ever had anything less than 4-stars from a book you recommended.

  5. Kathleen Skinner says:

    When I recently read The Alice Network, I was put in mind of Code Name Verity. I’m so glad you paired these two books! They are both great reads and I think they enhance one another.

  6. Katie says:

    This whole bracket has been great! I’ve added lots of titles to my TBR.
    Anne, or anyone really, do you have criteria for adding books to your TBR? My list is So. Long. and I add many titles every week. But I feel like I need to start being picky or else the majority of those titles will just get lost and never read. I tend to pick titles that are fresh in my mind or fresh on the list when I go to find a new read.

  7. Katie says:

    Oh, add The Sun is Also a Star to that “missing papers” pairing! It’s a little on the fluff and romance side, which sounds odd because it’s built on such a serious premise, but it’s good. The teenage protagonist’s family is about to be deported, and she spends her last day in America trying to find a legal loophole that would let them stay…and falls in love with a boy she meets and spends most of the day with, further complicating her impending departure.

  8. Sheree says:

    These are some fantastic combinations! In most cases, I’ve heard of one but not the other, so it’s worked out perfectly for me 🙂 Thank you so much for putting this together and sharing!

  9. S says:

    Love the pairings and so many of them appeal to me! I have read a good portion of the list but none that form a pair – looking forward to some more great reads!

  10. Mandy says:

    Hi Anne,
    Longtime blog subscriber; I love the idea of doing pairings like this. I am curious what you thought of “The Versions of Us”? The blurb made it sound so interesting, and while I still find the premise fascinating, I think the execution was lacking. The ever-changing chapters for the three storylines was difficult to keep straight. It might have worked better if Barnett had isolated the book into three separate sections, each encompassing one version of the story. My question, I suppose, is did you find it difficult to follow the three storylines as it is currently written?

    I’m about to start “Maybe in Another Life,” and am holding out hope that this one will be a better fit with my reading style. 🙂

    • Anne says:

      I loved the structure of The Versions of Us. I read the galley on kindle and did do a little flipping back and forth—this is NOT one I would want to do as an audiobook. I didn’t love this book because I found the end of the story (or the ends of the stories, perhaps?) depressing, but many readers have loved this. (I talk about this in more detail in episode 63 of What Should I Read Next, in which I recommend this book to Elise Cripe: https://modernmrsdarcy.com/63-episode/ )

      I hope that helps!

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