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book recs, The Vanishing Season

Must-Have Debut Mysteries of 2017

This week, The Vanishing Season launched into the wide world, and I am profoundly grateful for all of the support I’ve had along the way. I am especially grateful this morning for readers who are willing to take a chance on a new author. There are so many books to choose from, and time is precious, so we newbies are unspeakably delighted whenever someone gives us a read. In that spirit, here are three 2017 crime novel debuts that are a treat for your eyeballs:

The Dry, Jane Harper

If you haven’t yet picked up this winning debut by Australian author Jane Harper, then run right out to do so. It’s the story of Federal Agent Aaron Falk who returns to his hometown after a long absence to attend the funeral of his once-close friend, Luke. Amid the worst drought in a century, Falk investigates Luke’s death and reluctantly addresses the buried secrets that bound him to his friend. Atmospheric and compelling.





See What I Have Done, by Sarah Schmidt

Sarah Schmidt’s debut novel is a reimagining of the Borden murders of 1892, which captured public imagination when their daughter Lizzie was accused of the crime. The book is told by four people: Lizzie, her older sister Emma, the maid Bridget, and an inscrutable stranger named Benjamin. Lizzie’s guilt or innocence continues to be a source of debate years on, and Schmidt uses that uncertainty to clever advantage in bringing to life one of history’s most famous unreliable narrators.




My Sister’s Bones, by Nuala Ellwood

Kate is an investigative journalist working in war-torn areas like Iraq and Syria. She returns home for her mother’s funeral and must deal with her sister Sally, who has developed a problem with alcohol. The first night home, Kate is awakened by a terrible scream… This book packs a wallop as it explores multiple kinds of trauma, from the kind born of a rough childhood to the PTSD that results from covering wartime atrocities. The survivors here are doing the best they can to make it through the day, even as several of them harbor dark secrets. 

book recs

Foundational Reading: 10 Books That Stayed with You Over Time

I take something away from almost every book I read, but some have become part of my DNA. Here, in no particular order, are ten books that have changed how I think about life in some way.

The Gift of Fear, Gavin DeBecker

DeBecker does threat evaluation and security for celebrities and rich people, but his advice is valuable for everyone, especially women. If you think you’re in danger, you probably are, and you should listen to that voice telling you to get the hell out of there.

A Girl Named Zippy, by Haven Kimmel

This delightful memoir made me laugh so hard I cried, when it wasn’t alternating with breaking my heart. It’s a beautiful lesson in voice and storytelling.

Christie’s classic caper has been retold many times.

And Then There Were None, Agatha Christie


A masterwork in misdirection from one of the finest in the biz. I couldn’t believe it when this was assigned reading for one of my high-school classes. It was an acknowledgment that entertaining books could be worthy of serious study too!

The God of Small Things, Arundhati Roy

A transporting tale that’s not about small things at all; it’s about family and identity and the death of dreams, all in such evocative language that I could smell each scene.

Ladykiller, Ed McBain

This fast-moving story takes place in one day, in which the detectives of the 87th Precinct receive a message that says, “I will kill The Lady tonight at eight. What can you do about it?” McBain’s mysteries always have really satisfying answers, and this one is one of the best.

The Stranger Beside Me, Ann Rule

You could not make this story up and be believed. A true-crime writer gets assigned to do a book on an ongoing series of murders, only to discover the culprit is her friend Ted. Ted Bundy is an archetypal serial killer at this point, and Rule provides one of the most intimate portraits of the man. I get something new from this book each time I read it.

 Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Roald Dahl

This book was one of my first loves. I think I read it twenty times in fourth grade alone, and not just because it has chocolate in the title. I loved the imagination of the Chocolate Factory and crazy Mr. Wonka, but I think I loved the part where the nasty, self-absorbed kids got what was coming to them even more. Fiction—the only place where one can truly get what one deserves.

The Sound and the Fury, William Faulkner

I needed to buy a Cliff Notes explainer to help me understand this novel the first time I read it, but after I caught on, I was blown away by the way the story of the family is interwoven through the various voices of its members.

Consciousness Explained, Daniel Dennett

What an audacious title! Here is one of the greatest mysteries of the universe—where did consciousness come from? Dennett gives it his best educated guess in this highly readable philosophical tour-de-force.

To Kill a Mockingbird, Harper Lee

This was another revelation assigned school reading did not have to be about torturous subjects that a fourteen-year-old girl could not relate to on any level. I grew up in an entirely white environment, and this book was one of my first exposures to the idea that America’s racial history is painful and ugly. Scout’s narration made that accessible to me at the time. These days, I try to get my stories about USA race relations from authors of color, but To Kill a Mockingbird was an initial shove in the right direction.

I always need recommendations for new books to read! What’s a book that has stayed with you over time?