The Mysteries and Thrillers My Friends Recommend

Approaching the beginning of October, I reached out on Facebook to find all novels thriller and mystery. I love these genres but have barely scratched the surface! I was excited for the variety of recommendations my Facebook friend gave, and it was fun to see which books resonated with different people. So, courtesy of my acquaintances new and old, here is our October reading list.

All things Agatha Christie

It seems one can’t go wrong with Agatha Christie. I have not yet approached these standards of murder mystery! I found this Amazon author’s page helpful in exploring my options with Christie. Do you have a favorite book of hers?

Gillian Flynn: Sharp Objects and Dark Places

We’ve all ready Gone Girl, right? I guess I finished the book and just sort of forgot about the author. I enjoyed the book, although sometimes all of the hype before the story leaves me a little let down after I finally finish it. One quality I like about these stories is how the truth of the crime stares you in the face the entire time, but the events throughout the story fill you with self-doubt. The answer to the mystery somehow sneaks up on you!

Gaslight Mysteries

This murder mystery series has a midwife as a main character. Any time there is a midwife, you can expect a female centered plot. Bonus: the title of each book has “Murder” as the first word.

Double recommendation for Child 44
-Sara, seconded by Rikky

This Child 44 Trilogy must be incredible. The comment section below this recommendation left few details, just a strong insistence that I must read it. There is also a movie? Somehow this is my first time hearing about the books or movie!

Darkly Dreaming Dexter

Amazon tells me that devout fans of the show might not love the books. But then again, most people who read a book first always hate the tv version. A freaky book to get you in the Halloween spirit.

Final Girls

Kate says “I just finished Final Girls and it was the best book I’ve read in 2017. There were so many wonderful twists and turns. I had no idea whodunit until they revealed it. I read a lot of mystery and thriller so I like to think I’m good at this. Trust me you will enjoy it. It’s the perfect end of summer, beginning of Halloween season read. If you read it lemme know your thoughts!! I’ve been dying to talk about it.” I’m sold.

Tony and Anne Hillerman Books

These books will transport you to the stillness of the west and the sinister mood of not knowing who in your small, close-knit community can be trusted. This police procedural models the inefficiency of “the system,” and the need to keep your bits about you at all times. I ready Skinwalkers just after moving back from out west, and the spooky superstitions are told with the candidness any Navajo will tell these tales with.




The Beekeeper’s Apprentice, or, On the Segregation of the Queen
-My recommendation

A Mary Russell novel, the first book of this series introduces Sherlock Holmes and his partner, not sidekick, but partner in solving mystery. I retired-ish Holmes takes on only cases than interest him, and starts the novel guiding and teaching Ms. Russell. By the end, she is able to keep up, and even wins a few matches of chess against the infallible Sherlock.

The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo Series
-My recommendation

The Millennium trilogy is by far my favorite series of books I have ever read. Larson’s writing is captivating, and the main character Salander is such a badass. If you enjoyed the movie, Swedish or English, trust me, you won’t be able to put these books down. I do like the new books, continuing the series under a different pen. They don’t have quite the same impact on me as the originals, though.

All of Ruth Ware’s books
-Recommended by Sara and seconded by me!

I have become such an intense fan of Ruth Ware and everything that she has written. I loved “In a Dark, Dark, Wood,” but I was addicted to “The Woman in Cabin 10.” Ware’s characters are ferociously independent, but the events that lead them to risk are so relatable. A bachelorette party, a work trip, a high school reunion. We all pretty much do all of those things at some point, and they are usually considered safe and pleasant experiences. After finishing “The Woman in Cabin 10,” the gruesome murder of Kim Wall was discovered. I couldn’t get over it because I had just finished this book and been living in the mindset of the protagonist, a journalist who is kidnapped my a murderous owner of the ship. Ruth Ware’s books are almost too real.


Thanks to all of the recommendations, friends! Do you have any favorites that I missed?


Related: A Collection of Book Lists
Related: True Crime

Books I Read This Summer

Well this is it, folks. Summer is officially dead to me. I’m in meetings all week, and as far as I’m concerned it’s fall. I will wrap myself in bright sweaters and soft leggings each evening, seeking premature cold-weather comfort to stifle the chill of being in the frigid air condition cell all day.

Maybe I’m being dramatic. Let’s reminisce about the summer! It was too short and I was too busy, but I did my part of escapism and read several novels. Here are the books I read and the journeys I read them during.

Handmaid’s Tale
I started this before I was out for the summer, but it was solidly summertime! Dark and horrifying, drawing eery parallels to modern times, this was not a light summer read.

Hillbilly Elegy
This was also not a light summer read, but my timing was appropriate. Reading about the struggle and consequential political defense of working class whites, I read this while visiting my hometown in southern Indiana. Many of the economic factors described in the book have happened exactly in my hometown, and reading this helped me understand some viewpoints I have always railed against without trying to understand.

Woman in Cabin 10
This was a haunting summer read that I have found even more chilling since the news of this true crime case. I devoured this book, even trying to read it slowly and stretch it out, it only lasted three days. I loved Ruth Ware’s book “In a Dark, Dark, Wood” and this did not disappoint.

A Man Called Ove
This book is tender and sweet, and brings joy and laughter where you least expect it. Featuring a crotchety old man, a mangey cat, and loving neighbors, this book brings the solemnity of age and joy of youth. This is a read that everyone can enjoy.

The Lying Game
I couldn’t get enough of the Ruth Ware books! As soon as I saw that she had another book out, I begged our hosts in NYC to take me to a bookstore. I visited two or three before I found it, and in true form, finished it in two or three days. Ware’s thrillers are so captivating and the main characters are so relatable, I really can’t bring myself to put them down.

The Beekeeper’s Apprentice
I am still working on this one. Think Sherlock Holmes meets young scholarly woman. In this story, the beginning of the Mary Russell Series, Sherlock and a young woman have a platonic and professional friendship where they study and conduct science experiments together, and work side-by-side as sleuths solving cases. These mysteries are tame, not scary, but thoughtful and interesting. Mary Russell is a headstrong independent woman, showcasing traits that were not popular in women during that period. It’s a feminine take on the Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s originals, set in the countryside instead of the city, happening during wartime in the early 20th century.




Book Lists

“Everyone is always looking for the next good book to read.” That’s what my mom told me when I expressed surprise at the popularity of all the posts about favorite books. I have written lengthy descriptions about my favorite Summer Re-Reads and detailed reflections about popular books on controversial topics, such as The Handmaid’s Tale or Hillbilly Elegy. The Wonder Of is unrolling a new Book Lists page as a central location for all of the book lists that we publish. If you just finished a great novel and want to find one in a similar theme, check for more from our Nature Week Book Club or maybe What We Read on Vacation.

The Book Lists page will be regularly updated and reorganized, so be sure to keep checking back. If you’re curious, I’m reading this book now. What are you reading?

What We Read on Vacation

The 9 books read by 6 people during an 11 day vacation.

Kristy packed New Lanark in Search of Utopia, a book about important historical figures from her hometown. She was busy on this trip and didn’t have much chance to read.

Kurt listened to music in his downtime, and didn’t pack a book.

Anthony read Mingus: A Critical Biography, about the great jazz bassist Charles Mingus.

Thor normally out-reads us all, but I didn’t see him touch the copy of Get a Financial Life: Personal Finance in Your Twenties and Thirties that Mom gave him. Instead of reading, during his downtime he wrote.

Kendra started with The Kindness of Strangers, a Lonely Planet travel book and collection of short stories. The short stories were kind of hard for us to get into on this trip. What was not difficult to get into was the gripping The Woman in Cabin 10 which she knew must be good when I devoured half of it on a four hour plane ride. While she waited for me to finish the thriller, she read Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, and when she had finished all of these and realized she was bookless for a 6 hour car trip with the whole family and a 4 hour return flights, she picked up book one of A Game of Thrones which has kept her occupied during our many hours of transit back in Chicago. Kendra was definitely the most dedicated reader on this vacation!

Kelsey read over half of  The Woman in Cabin 10 on the plane. She tried to savor it and read less than a chapter a night, but Kendra new it must be good and rushed her so that she could read it. When Kelsey finished the book on day three of an eleven day trip, she went and bought A Man Called Ove, which she is also breezing through.


Nature Week Book Club!

John Muir is wilderness famous. With parks and trails named after him, his legacy is a permanent part of American history. This collection of short stories is the easiest insight in to his writing and philosophy on natural preservation. In his stories, he urges readers to not only take part in a great appreciation for nature, but to actively strive to preserve it.

Processed with VSCO with f2 preset

My photo from Muir Woods

I started reading Desert Solitaire by Edward Abbey while living in the Southwest, and Abbey showed me how to slow down and notice the native animals and native rocks and native people in a thoughtful way. When exploring the west, he showed me how to peel away the unnecessary layers of “protection” and go out into nature with only what I needed, in an effort to know the land a little better. His criticism of the National Park System is paralleled by an acknowledgement of its importance- all spoken from the voice of a Moab Park Ranger/ New Yorker. In fact, the friend that recommended the book to me was at the time a Moab Park Ranger/ New Yorker. It is interesting how nature can pull people away from the glamour and appeal of the big city. I loved Desert Solitaire so much that I am currently reading this Collection of Short Stories by Abbey. When searching for these links, I found these Files on Edward Abbey, published by the Federal Bureau of Investigation! Presumably these investigations regard his dissent for the system and maybe acts of eco-terrorism? That is pure speculation, I suppose I need to read these. Related: Journeys of Simplicity, featuring “Traveling Light with Edward Abbey.”

Life in the Woods by author Henry David Thoreau is an American classic. I am embarrassed to say that I have not read it! Any way of life, city or otherwise, during the age of the industrial revolution seems very back-to-nature in our 21st century eyes. With that perspective, in fact, I would argue that the pioneer lives featured in Little House on the Prairie really harken back to nature. Back to Thoreau, his writings are early sources for the environmentalist movement, and like Edward Abbey after him, he was comfortable criticizing the system in place to utilize and preserve nature.

I have always written off my dad’s love for Foxfire books, in part because I didn’t know what they were about and in part because when you are a kid you think your parents are boring. As an adult, though, I realize that my parents and I share an affinity for good books and information, a mutual appreciation for nature and a desire to acquire new skills devoted to a greater sense of self-sufficiency. NPR has a great article about how Foxfire came to be. On the topic of long-term hiking accounts being turned into movies… A Walk in the Woods will soon be made into a film. This narrative details the trek through the Appalachian trail. I have not yet read this, but my sister has and loves it. This is now her bucket list hike. Of course, you can’t talk about books about the great outdoors without talking about Wild. This book is Cheryl Strayed’s account of hiking the Pacific Crest Trail… solo. If you haven’t read it, you might have seen the movie. I know many avid backpackers are annoyed by this book, because they think it makes light of a serious situation, and because it has inspired many people who are unprepared and inexperienced to try this trail themselves. I certainly wouldn’t admit to this book being my first exposure if I was chatting with other hikers on the PCT given the harsh criticism many have given it. All of that criticism being taken into account, however, this book is a story of nature being used as a metaphor for life, and of championing months of meditation through solo hiking. Since reading this book one year ago, I have now taken 2 backpacking trips, and am making a third this week. The “elite” hikers may criticize this story, but it was the first inspiration for me to take my hikes from day trips to multi-day explorations.

“Named after a bioluminescent fungus that glows in the hills of North Georgia on certain summer nights, Foxfire started in 1966, when an English teacher in Rabun County was having a difficult time engaging his students. Out of ideas, he let the kids design the lesson. They chose to publish a magazine that would document the mountain culture all around them.”

With my growing interest in understanding the struggles of Appalachian people, I am inclined to read the whole series. They also have books specific to the topics of music, folk remedies, and of course, pickling and preserving. You can also visit the Foxfire museum and headquarters! I might have to plan a trip for Dad and I.


Intro to Nature Stories: I was raised to have an appreciation for these types of books. Growing up, I read the survivalist stories Hatchet and Touching Spirit Bear. Before that, I had engulfed Where the Red Fern Grows, where all the action happens outside, and of course Little House on the Prairie. As I said before, any pioneer life feels downright in touch with nature because… well, back then you had to be.


Other book lists: Summer Re-Reads, Dystopian Novels that Warned You this Was Coming, and The Most Relevant Book

The Most Relevant Book

Have you heard people talking about the Hillbilly ElegyThe Economist says, “You will not read a more important book about America this year.” It is being recommended to help understand our nation’s divide and the recent political climate, and is being made into a movie!

I am currently reading the book, even though I am familiar with the communities described by the author, J.D. Vance. I have been surprised by two things while reading this: One, I know these people and scenarios. They are familiar. I can put names to the certain characters that appear in each scenario. I know a firey grandparent that believes any kind of personal education is the way to self-betterment, who also rails against the system that over-educates and under-utilizes young people. I can think of a number of families wrecked by alcohol and normalization of violence. I have had many friends who were raised by grandparents because their mom had them when she was somewhere between 15-22 and just wasn’t ready, and having a kid made it harder to be ready. All of these social factors impact education and job viability.

The social/working structure described in the Midwestern towns in this book reflects the ones I have observed in every Indiana town I have lived in. The author calls the region of these trends the “hillbilly highway” and describes the migration of “hill people” from… well, the hills of Appalachia to the growing suburban hubs of the Midwest. These hubs centered around steel factories and coal mines. My own family has always had at least one foot in the oil industry in some way, and my dad still works for an oil company. These hubs also started to close as production demand and value decreased. My dad was laid off at a company during the recession, and I can think of two other very close friends who also watched their dads deal with a career ending abruptly as a result of the changing economy. These lifestyle changes impact the entire household, and when someone loses a job and benefits and the regularity of a full time work schedule, there is definitely a disphoria that affects the individual who has lost that consistency.

I would like to clarify that I have never thought of the people I love and grew up with here in the midwest as hill people, but the hill people of J.D. Vance’s world draw many parallels with the people I love here in the rural Midwest, and considering all of these class factors helps to explain the world views of my family that, as a young, urban, liberal woman I have often struggled to accept.

I have been thinking a lot about the effect of growing up in a rural place (often conservative environments) and moving to an urban center, especially since that is exactly what I have done, but also because many people and art forms that are important to me have followed a similar trajectory. For example, at a festival I participated in last week, I was chatting with two friends and top-notch musicians about their background, and they revealed that each of them grew up in small, conservative towns. They are not angry at their red towns or bitter about their upbringing. They love and respect it, even as young men currently living in large metropolitan areas. They can identify those people that they love, even the ones who come off as being on “the wrong side.” They see and understand what that side is and why it exists, and what factors shaped those views. It helps that they both have anthropological perspectives attached to their view of these communities. Maybe that is the important thing, anyway, to just step back and take it all in, instead of passing broad judgements about who is right and wrong in an argument or debate. It also helps that their beloved art form, folk music, is a tradition born out of traditional roots and thriving in urban epicenters. In a way, genres like folk and blues thrive because they have followed the same trajectory that we as young rural transplants have made.

On the flip side, I have close friends who are endlessly furious at our little state of Indiana for voting the “wrong” way, introducing ludicrous bills restricting the rights of people who don’t look like the majority and the state leaders. I listen to their bitterness inactively, because I have spent years being angry and fighting and railing against my family, but I know that force and aggression don’t change minds, and I can finally see that these ideologies are not mindless acts of hate. I have seen my family change their minds- really, no one should be completely and forever stuck in their current point of view, and people who are informed and take note of their current reality will make informed decisions regarding their reality. For example, my mother recently evolved her view regarding education and access to resources surrounding birth control. She is religious, but is also the mother of two daughters. She has seen that even in a community that is very religious, many women become pregnant at a young age and don’t have an opportunity to become independent or manage their own life and income. She also knows that finally, for the first time, those unplanned pregnancies are decreasing, and women have control over the trajectory of their life. So she may not ethically agree with some of the more controversial aspects regarding access to birth control, but she believes that institutes like Planned Parenthood are providing a necessary service to women, and providing them with education at the very least. This evolution of opinion didn’t happen because I was angry and kept fighting with my family. These changes of opinion (and I have had many of my own) happen from a careful observation of how our society functions, and from noticing what works and what doesn’t.

This awareness of other people’s world views often manifests itself in the arts. Musicians exploring these themes in their own lives and work will often explore these elements using folk traditions. One example of this is “Michael Conway,” a song he written about the exploitation of rural people in need of work and money. As much as this strikes us as a white, blue-color, “hill people” problem, this affected different migrations in American history, and this song follows the life of an Irish-American immigrant name Michael Conway. The song calls the copper mining community of Butte, Montana the, “richest hell on Earth,” referencing a new perceived high standard of living, which was traded by unknowingly forfeiting good health and long life.



My next read? The Unsettlers, seemingly related, maybe even telling the reverse story. Why are the urbanites jumping off the grid?

Related: Dystopian Novels that Warned You this Was Coming

Related: Summer Re-Reads

Dystopian Novels that Warned You this Was Coming

Or, a manual for navigating dystopian present/future.

When I first read 1984 by George Orwell, I was pretty spooked. Soon after, I watched it performed as a play and I was even more spooked. I told my dad that it scared me a little bit, especially the TVs with eyes (webcams) and ears (Amazon Echo) and how they invaded what a person did even when they were alone- their private moments and thoughts. My dad responded with a cool “You think that’s terrifying? How about reading 1984 in 1983?” Touché, Dad, touché.

Fahrenheit 451 was my assigned summer reading one year in high school. I was worried it would be boring, but I LOVED it. It felt so relevant and the writing seemed contemporary and engaging to me, even as a teenager reading a book written in the fifties. If you love books or hate fire this story will freak you out in a way that makes you question the role of technology and government. To be honest, I was super scared of the kindle for years just for this reason- I thought it would overpower hard copies.

Speaking of my fear of the kindle, I am now reading The Handmaid’s Tale for free on my beloved device. I don’t need to tell you much about why this is relevant or frightening. I want to always live in a society where women are treated as equal counterparts in the workplace and have complete personal control over their own bodies.(This protest hits a little close to home!) Also, The Handmaid’s Tale has parallels withFahrenheit 451, in the “banned and burned books” department.

The Hot Zone is not sci-fi or a dystopian story- it is real life. Every member of my family has now read this book, which is a strange thing for a household to bond over, but we can all carry informed conversation on the topic of wide-spread epidemics and the hysteria surrounding Ebola and Zika. These diseases don’t go away- this informed account of Ebola was written in 1995.

Slaughterhouse Five Do you ever feel like you are unstuck in time? Things are going backwards or the past has moved forward? This is a war story, among other things. It is also absurd, thoughtful, and humorous.

One of my favorite myths is about the original radio broadcast of War of the Worlds as a special Halloween episode in 1938. As the story goes, people heard the broadcast and thought it was actually happening! Not many people, though, as the broadcast was not received by a large number of people. Despite its rumored ability to create mass hysteria, or perhaps, because of it, this story from the late 1800’s has continued to frighten us using every relevant form of media.

The Stranger avoid becoming disillusioned and dispassionate. Avoid guns, they are seductive and damaging. (Orange is the New Black won’t let us forget that.) Maybe avoid prostitutes/pimps for the same reason? Warning: the stream of consciousness will suck you in and confuse you greatly.



Related: Summer Re-Reads and In the Handmaid’s Head

In the Handmaid’s Head


I am totally engrossed in The Handmaid’s Tale. This show is SO FREAKY. When I am not drawing parallels between the lives of professional women today and the trajectory of our politics, I am dying to get in the head of these poor Handmaids, and learn what they are thinking. Of course… we can.

I just started reading the book! Now that I finished this one I can move on to a darker novel. My sister is currently reading The Handmaid’s Tale, while keeping up with current episodes of the show. We watched the latest episode together last week, and she explained that the book and program move at different paces, and the sequencing of the store is off. A relationship or event has occurred in once, but has not yet appeared in the other. This gives her a funny foresight into each story, and many events are not entirely unexpected.

Another thing affecting her anticipation of “what next” is the fact that we don’t know how much will be covered/revealed/invented in the tv show compared to the novel. Come on, are any shows just one season anymore?

Summer Re-Reads

Do you re-read books? I don’t usually, but in the summer I get nostalgic and crave stories that I engulfed on past travels.

Regular Re-Reads

The Secret Garden  is a story that I read almost every summer. I was probably 10 years old the first time I read it, and I think I forgot how the story went and read it again a few years later as a refresher. Now, every summer while things bloom and leaves turn green and the world generally demonstrates good health, I yearn for this story of friendship and growing health, and the straightforward clarity that comes with this tone of youth.

Do you like to read sexy sciencey stories? Do you sometimes imagine what your life would be like if you designed medicines but also studied homeopathic remedies through the lenses of a cultural anthropologist? I do. If I weren’t a musician/teacher, I would hands down be a scientist/anthropologist. State of Wonder is science/ anthropology/ steamy/ jungle.

Euphoria was my attempt to read State of Wonder again. Not as good, but still sexy anthropologist. Some trippy/freaky love triangles going on here. A quick and dirty read.

A Moveable Feast is my travel book. I carry a hard copy (I know, I’m archaic) with me when I go somewhere new for an extended period of time. It’s my café book that says “I’m very comfortable traveling solo,” “I’m interesting but I don’t want to talk,” and “I’m American!” all at the same time. It is a great summary of the artistic process, detailing mental/physical cycles that affect artistic process and the complexities of living as a glamorous famous novelist on a poor “artist abroad” income. If you have ever wondered what living in Paris in the early 20th century, rubbing shoulders with artistic greats would have been like, this is a must read.

I started to read The Hobbit when I was pretty young (8, maybe?) and I just wasn’t ready. (I watched the crazy old cartoon movie version, though!) I was trying to read my dad’s beloved personal copy, passed down to him by family… and I lost it. I lost it for basically 12 years, and last summer I FINALLY FOUND IT. It was a big event- I was excited and proud that I had kept the book in tact buried in my room for so many years, my dad was appalled that I had been hoarding it for so long… also kind of over it because we had since purchased a new copy. Anyway, when I finally actually read it for real, I read it in Jamaica… which seems like a weird place to be reading Tolkein, but it was a blast! This was my first trip abroad, and my first true cultural learning experience. All of this was a bit of a shock to the system, in a good way, and felt like a fantasy. Reading a fantasy when I was living in such a dream like state was easy! I was feeling like a happy adventurer, and there is really no better way to describe Bilbo Baggins.

Other Ideas:

I have a friend who is re-reading all of the Harry Potter series…in Spanish! She learned Spanish growing up and is looking to sharpen her linguistic knowledge and skills. This is a very cool mission! I also know someone who once read Les Miserables in French.

When I was traveling abroad for a couple of months several years ago, I developed a deep appreciate for my Kindle. Having more downtime than I anticipated, and going through some personal trials, I immersed myself in new books every few days. I need to see if I can find my device download history from those two months in Europe, because I feel like I read 10-20 books during that time!

What’s New:

I and everyone else will be reading The Handmaid’s Tale this summer. My english teachers were always wonderful at supplying dystopian tales and feminist fables (The Lottery and The Awakening , anyone?) yet somehow this classic slipped by me. I am hooked on the Hulu series and will devour this book .

I read In a Dark, Dark Wood basically on one short flight, and recently loaned it to a friend enduring a brief internet installation crisis. She read it as quickly as I did, and ordered The Woman in Cabin 10 for us to share! The only reason I haven’t ordered it for myself is because the sneak peek in the back of the first book scared me so much while I read it alone at night that I couldn’t fall asleep for another hour! I guess I no longer have much excuse not to read this thriller!


What are you Reading?

2017-03-07 08.33.02 1.jpg

What are you reading lately?

I started reading Jungle of Stone a while ago, thinking that it might be the non-fiction, real life version of State of Wonder or Euphoria. It has more science and is less sexy than those novels, which is to be expected of the tale of explorers circa 1839. This book is chocked full of information and detailed accounts of historic expeditions… but truthfully, I can’t wait to move on to a fictional psychological thriller after this!

What are you reading? Do you read non-fiction for fun?