8 Books I Can’t Put Down

by | May 28, 2014 | Books


Sweat beads on my skin and drips down my back as I walk next to my mother-in-law making footprints on the shoreline, marking her birthday and chatting about the future.  Our once lonely beaches are slowly transforming into a landscape of bright colored towels, bikinis and bare-chested boys scooping sand for works of art.

Walking serpentine behind a row of ponytails and french manicures in beach chairs with open books on golden laps, I admit that the writer in me desperately wants a glimpse of the covers.

Are they reading something I haven’t read yet?

While the sun kisses my shoulders I want to read a page turner, a story I can devour not tolerate. And binge reading is completely appropriate when the only thing on the agenda is waiting for your skin to change color, yes?

Perhaps Annie Dillard says it best when she reasons, “Why are we reading if not in hope that the writer will magnify and dramatize our days, will illuminate and inspire us with wisdom, courage, and the possibility of meaningfulness, and will press upon our minds the deepest mysteries, so we may feel again their majesty and power?”


As the final bell rings on this school year and vans become carriers of vacationers instead of school children, I’m revealing the titles of my favorite summertime fiction books to take along in your beach bag, purse or carry-on. These titles are permanently on my shelves; stories I can’t part with because the words have somehow shaped me.


Mostly, great writing and storytelling motivate me as a writer. So if great writing is a priority for the books you purchase, here are my recommendations:

The Help by Katherine Stockett – I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that this one is responsible for inspiring me to write my own book.

Forgotten Garden by Kate Morton – I’ve given more copies of this book away than any other fiction title. I read this and became an immediate raving fan of Kate Morton

The Secret Keeper by Kate Morton – And then she wrote this one. My family postponed dinner during Christmas vacation one evening so I could finish it. Riveted.

Me Before You by Jojo Moyes – I asked Bonnie, my local bookstore guru for an “I can’t put it down book” for a trip and she delivered. I almost brought her flowers after I finished it. I hugged her instead and asked for another recommendation.

The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd – This recommendation made me skeptical if you want to know the truth. But, Bonnie delivered, it’s fabulous. I transposed several lines I loved in my “favorite sentences from books and new-to-me words” journal.

The Light Between Oceans by M.L. Stedman – I still think about the imagery in this book, every single summer. Maybe that is because I live on the Atlantic and we once lived in a coastal community near lighthouses. But I think the writing is that good.

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows – My agent, Chip MacGregor recommended I read this so, of course. And I loved it, every page of it. It’s about community and love and redemption, all through letter writing. Glorious! Agents who love to read are a gift not to be taken for granted.

Fortnight in September by R.C. Sherriff This one is a treasure, recommended by Kate Morton (see above) and the first purchase from my favorite store in London, Persephone Books. (I just discovered you can get it on Amazon when I wrote this post – sheesh.)

So, there you have it. My favorite go-to books that are dog-eared and smell like suntan lotion; the titles I most often recommend when someone asks me for a good summer read. And I realize that most of the stories take place in England or the South which isn’t a shock for those who know me.

What would you add to this fiction list?


Next week I’m sharing the most important non-fiction books God has used to shape my life. Stay tuned. For  book recommendations in other genres, check out my What I Read tab where I’ve listed titles by category.


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  1. Janel A

    loved the Guernsey one!! and I’ve started Secret Garden several times by Kate Morten, it looks amazing, but I haven’t committed to it. I always love ‘books to read’ posts…cause I love books.

    • Shelly Miller

      Me too, always love them. As far as addictions go, books are a good one to have, yes Janel?

  2. Deidra

    Well, I haven’t read any of these! Except for The Help. Thanks, Shelly!

    • Shelly Miller

      Oh wow Deidra, your comment just made this post worth it. Hope you enjoy reading some of these titles.

  3. Glenda Childers

    I just finished Wild by Cheryl Strayed.

    • Shelly Miller

      I haven’t seen that one Glenda, I’ll have to look it up.

  4. Glenda Childers

    And … how fun you made it to Persephone. My girls love that place.

    • Shelly Miller

      My favorite place to visit in London, well, at least for books. I remember your girls wrote a post about Persephone, didn’t they?

      • Glenda Childers

        Yes. You have a good memory. Persephone wrote about the post in their newsletter.

  5. Toni Gatlin

    Great list! Add to it ‘Bel Canto’ by Ann Patchett. One of the most beautiful, transfixing books I’ve ever read.

    • Shelly Miller

      I just recently read Truth and Beauty and have State of Wonder on my Kindle, both by Ann, but I haven’t read Bel Canto, although I’ve been curious about it. I’m going to get it Toni, thanks!

  6. Helen Gaskins Washington

    I loved Guernsey when I read it a few or more years ago…I kept hearing that they were making it a move with Kate Winslet but now I am not so sure. I love the Secret Keeper and if you can believe it…I still need to finish The Forgotten Garden…life took me away from it.Thanks for the other suggestions and reminders! My favorite fiction from the last two summers…The Night Circus and Where’d You Go Bernadette.

    • Shelly Miller

      I think Kate Winslet would be a perfect cast selection for a movie about Guernsey, don’t you Helen? I hope that happens. I keep seeing that book Where’d You Go Bernadetter? and wondered about it. Thanks!

      • Helen Gaskins Washington

        Bernadette…is hilarious…but as a disclaimer it does
        have a bit of language in it. But I saw it on so many list of people I respect their tastes, I couldn’t resist. Plus being from the Pacific NW and it is set in the Seattle area…it is such a funny depiction of some of quirks 😉

  7. Leigh Kramer

    I haven’t read Light Between Oceans or Invention of Wings yet but they’re both on my To Read list. I haven’t heard of Fortnight in September but if you and Kate Morton say so…

    Loved the rest of the books you mention here. Distant Hours is my favorite KM. I really can’t wait to see what she writes next! My all time favorite novel is A Prayer for Owen Meany. Other recent favorites: The Signature of All Things, Americanah, The Bookman’s Tale, Bel Canto, and The Rosie Project.

    • Shelly Miller

      I tried to read the Distant Hours several times and finally abandoned it. I don’t know why but that story bored me, I couldn’t get through it. I still have it though and your taste in books is similar to mine so perhaps I need to push through. I am actually reading A Prayer for Owen Meany right now. I love it! We’ve had it on our books shelves for over ten years and I am just now diving into it. It’s great isn’t it? Thanks for the suggestions, I haven’t read many of the titles you listed Leigh. I was curious about the Rosie Project, I’ve seen it on other lists . . I think Ann Bogel’s reading lists.

  8. Jody Ohlsen Collins

    I just started reading Light Between Oceans…found it at Goodwill. Two chapters in all I could think was, ‘man do people KNOW about this book?! Only reason I put down is ’cause I had to go to work.
    Your list is superb. Gonna have to find Kate Morton…

    • Shelly Miller

      I think you will love Kate Morton Jody, check her out when you have time. I have a huge credit at our local used bookstore so I love getting all these suggestions in the comments.

  9. Diane Bailey

    I love the Dove Keeper. Right now I’m reading the Book Thief and it is a wonderful page turner.

    • Shelly Miller

      Haven’t heard of the Dove Keeper Diane but both my kids have read the Book Thief. We actually own it, guess I should check it out.

  10. Sheila Dailie

    I’m listening to “The Invention of Wings” on audio. I’m almost looking forward to my next crazy two weeks of work since so much of it will be in the car! (where I listen!) After that I’ll see if our library has any of the others on CD.

    • Shelly Miller

      My best friend listens to oodles of books on tape. I’m too distracted, can’t do it but wish I could.

  11. Lynn D. Morrissey

    Thanks, Shelly. Always love peeking into your book beach bag! Gotta admit that I am not much of a fiction reader (though Im really trying to remedy that) and though there are some contemporary fiction works I love (but even those books are not considered quite so modern anymore, like To Kill a Mockingbird or Morris West’s novels. And right now I”m reading old classics like novels by Jane Austen, Jane Eyre, and honest to Pete: Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde when I was at our cabin over the Memorial-Day weekend. Actually if you consider that Stevenson wrote this in the 1800s, his narrative and metaphors are amazing and imaginative for the time. Ah well, call me hopelessly old-fashioned. But I would love to ck out the one Chip recommended. I’ve seen it at BN, and I love the letter-writing element. And the book I bought in London last time (also about letter-writing) was 84, Charing Cross Road by Helene Hanff. BTW, Sue Monk Kidd is an excellent author. Actually, I loved her earlier Christian memoirs. Her nonfiction works since are far afield from those.Thanks for the recommendations, and I just may surprise you and take you up on some! And I am still waiting for YOURS!!!!!
    Love you,

    • Shelly Miller

      I almost added Pride and Prejudice to the list Lynn, but then there is the Great Gatsby and Jane Eyre and Great Expectations and Anne of Green Gable. Thought I should do a classic book list too at some point.

      • Lynn D. Morrissey

        Oh actually, yes. I think you should. Many people today shy away from classic literature, because the language can be archaic or a bit awkward. But truth and the “human condition” are timeless. I also think many of the classics grapple better with moral issues, etc. Anyway…..I do think it would be a lovely idea to list them. =] Love you!
        And love those you mentione (though I’ve not read GG).

  12. Jillie

    Hi Shelly…Love your book list posts! Have jotted down 3 titles that sound like my kind of story. Just finished reading ‘The Book Thief’ which we discussed in Book Club yesterday. An excellent read by such a young author. Other favourites include ‘The Help’, ‘The Invention of Wings’, ‘Sarah’s Key’, anything by Rick Bragg, AND ‘The Kitchen House’ by Kathleen Grissom–I hope it becomes a movie someday. Also, ’12 Years A Slave’–both book and movie! Powerful! Books are my best friends!

    • Shelly Miller

      I loved Sarah’s Key too Jillie. I haven’t read Rick Bragg or Grissom either, so you’ve given me some food for thought. Thanks! 12 Years a Slave was such a powerful movie wasn’t it?

  13. Mary

    I will write these down and check the library for them. Budget is keeping my buying limited. I just discovered Susan Meissner this year. She has several our including “widows and orphans”. It is set in Minnesota and I could NOT stop reading it. I have read 3 of hers now and keep going back for more. She is a minister’s wife and an author. tells stories that relate to the real world.

    • Shelly Miller

      I haven’t heard of her Mary, thank you for telling me about Susan Meissner. I’m also a pastor’s wife who is an author so perhaps I may enjoy her thoughts.

  14. Kelly W

    Books that appeal to me: Still Life by Louise Penny (a charming Quebec murder mystery); Our Lady of the Lost and Found (Catholic themes and faith and oh so interesting); recently I enjoyed The Map of Lost Memories by Kim Fay (thought it would be predictable but was pleasantly surprised)… Thanks for sharing. I have a number of new books on my list & am excited to read!

    And Oh! perhaps you might also enjoy Traveling with Pomegranates – by Sue Monk Kidd & her daughter Ann Taylor. As my girls are young adults I found it very thought provoking.

  15. Nancy Ruegg

    This post (and all of the comments generated) equate to a gold mine for readers! Must return when I have time and list all of these wonderful recommendations. I’ve only read two of your eight, Shelly: The Help and Guernsey. Looking forward to checking out the other six. I would recommend Maisie Dobbs by Jacqueline Winspear. Also set in England–I think you’d love it, Shelly. Right now Steve and I are surrounded by boxes as we prepare to move. He’s retiring, and after forty years in Florida, we’re heading to the Midwest to be near family. (I know–we’re doing this backwards!) I probably won’t be here to comment for a few weeks, but I’ll be back!

  16. KristinHillTaylor

    I just asked my Facebook friends for fiction suggestions and then later saw someone share this post. It’s so helpful! Thanks!

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