There are limits to what one brain can handle—trust me on this. I’ve just had the most insane quarter of my career: two book releases in May (CROSSED in the Sweet Dreams boxed set, and WHAT LIES BEHIND, the 4th Samantha Owens book), an anthology release in June, two other book deadlines and a short story revision, and a renovation project on my house. Not surprisingly, my CPU hit maximum density a few weeks ago. I couldn’t think, couldn’t focus. I was a zombie.
So I did the only rational thing possible. I shut down my world, headed for a beach, and retreated into a stack of books. And boy, did I pick some winners.
I started with THE MARTIAN, by Andy Weir, a smart sci-fi thriller with a deep sense of humor. I loved this book, and it’s going to be a movie later this year, with Ridley Scott directing and Matt Damon starring. Not bad.
Then I moved on to domestic stories. Harlan Coben’s THE STRANGER was excellent, one of his best because of how relatable his characters were. And then I dipped back into my new favorite writer, Liane Moriarty. I’d already read THE HUSBAND’S SECRET and BIG LITTLE LIES, which are also populated with very relatable characters. Next up was WHAT ALICE FORGOT, possibly my favorite of all of her books, then THE HYPNOTIST’S LOVE STORY.
I found an interesting common theme throughout all the titles I read: they delve into worlds I am wildly unfamiliar with. When I read, I look for experiences that complement my own, not that I’ve experienced. Clearly, I’m not an astronaut, and I don’t have children who aren’t covered in fur, so I’ve never dealt with schools and sports and the attendant world. I find it all fascinating and a little bit frightening.
I find myself living vicariously through these stories, which is obviously what we all want to do when we read, right? Experience new things, learn about new locales, find common ground with characters we love and enjoy. It’s what makes reading such a fundamental part of life.
When I pick up a book, I want to be seduced. I want the story and the characters to infiltrate my world and sweep me away. To find the transcendence of a book you just can’t put down is the ultimate joy. I try to write those books, yes, but as a writer/reader, there is nothing more delicious than finding those titles. I’ve had years when only one or two books fall into this category, and then I have runs when everything I read is gloriously distracting.
Truthfully, it’s been a very good reading year. The first novel I finished in 2015 was STATION ELEVEN. I had to stop and put the book down a few times, realizing I was in the presence of genius. How often can you say that?
I found Deborah Harkness and Liane Moriarty and gobbled them up like candies. My favorite author, Diana Gabaldon, put out a new Outlander novel last fall. There have been some brilliant YA books: DISSONANCE by Erica O’Rourke, and RED QUEEN by Victoria Aveyard both started very promising storylines. The Grisha Trilogy (start with SHADOW AND BONE) by Leigh Bardugo was absolutely incredible, enchanting and fresh.
If you’re familiar with any of these books, you’ll see they are wildly different from one another. Some are fantasy, some are about women. Some are sci-fi, some are thrillers. The quality of the work isn’t limited to just one writer or genre.
Is story becoming better? Are writers becoming more talented? Is the zeitgeist playing into this?
Or am I becoming a better reader? Has writing seventeen novels of my own allowed me to find books I know will sweep me off my feet? Or have I finally grown up enough to select books that I know I will enjoy? I no longer read books because I’ve been told I must; I only read books that appeal to me, and, horror of all horrors, I put them down if they aren’t working for me. So a level of selection sophistication could be at play.
But to tell you the truth, with the amount of new work accessible every day, we’re lucky enough to have some serious cream rising to the top. And that, my friends, is the most exciting concept of all.
I highly recommend these books and would love to hear what books have been transcendent for you lately.
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J.T. Ellison is the New York Times bestselling author of thirteen critically acclaimed novels, including WHAT LIES BEHIND, WHEN SHADOWS FALL and ALL THE PRETTY GIRLS, and is the co-author of the A Brit in the FBI series with #1 New York Times bestselling author Catherine Coulter. Her work has been published in more than twenty countries. Her novel THE COLD ROOM won the ITW Thriller Award for Best Paperback Original, and WHERE ALL THE DEAD LIE was a RITA® Nominee for Best Romantic Suspense. She lives in Nashville with her husband and twin kittens, where she enjoys fine wine and good