Great Books to Read. 5 Books I’ve Read & 5 I’m Gonna Read.

Looking for a great book to read are you?  Who isn’t!  5 I’ve read, 5 I’m gonna read and reader recommendations.  

Karen Bertelsen sitting at a white marble Tulip Table with a small Siamese cat on her lap, looking at the back of a book.

Grade 6 was as good a time as any to become a woman.  There I was standing in the grocery store aisle,  long blonde hair pulled into two ponytails secured with big pink bobbles looking down at my dirty running shoes.  I had no idea what I was doing.  Before me was row upon row of unusual choices, none of which seemed to make any sense to me.

But I was a grown up now and I had to pick something. I’d asked around a little bit so I had a few recommendations but ultimately this was going to have to be a personal decision. All I knew was I didn’t want some product marketed to kids, I wanted the adult version.

As it turns out, the decision I finally made changed my life.

Black and white photo of the house the book The Amityville Horror was based on.


I went with The Amityville Horror.  The first grown up book I ever read.  It was absolutely terrifying.  There’s no way in hell I should have been allowed to read that thing in grade 6. But I’d finished all the Judy Blume’s so ….

That little paperback from the local grocery store scared the SHIT out of me.  Because of The Amityville Horror, my first job wasn’t eating other people’s potato chips and babysitting like every other teenager, it was slogging away packaging sunglasses for a friend’s father.  Who did not provide potato chips.

Babysitting?  Stay in a stranger’s house while their kids slept? Um, no.  I mean, I knew things now.  Houses could not only be haunted, they could try to kill you.

You see, at the time, The Amityville Horror was marketed as a true story.  It was based on the real life experiences of a family who moved into a home where the previous owner went nuts and shot 6 members of his family.  Enter the next family to move into the house and cue the paranormal activity.  Rooms filled with flies, people levitated, glowing eyed pigs romping through the house.  It was quite a step up from The Bobbsey Twins; Secret at the Seashore.

That book did two things.  It really did scare me to the point that I knew I was going to require therapy later in life.

And it made me understand what a page turner was.  The book was so scary I knew it was scarring me, but for some reason I couldn’t stop reading it.  I was compelled to read it every chance I got, mental health be damned.

Antique pine kitchen chair with a stack of books on it and around it in front of a white brick wall.

I’d say every 3 or 4 books I read now are ones I consider page turners.  The kind of books you find yourself thinking about throughout the day wondering when you can acceptably get in your pajamas and go to bed to read.

These next 5 great books are all page turners, but one of them is a STAND OUT.

Side shot of an antique chair with a stack of books on it, topped with a flow blue tea cup.
5 Great Books (I’ve read)

1. A Prayer for Owen Meany – This book captivated me when I first read it. I can’t remember when that was but it was probably 30 years ago.  ACK. What a horrible thing to say.  That’s when the book was originally published. As is often the case with John Irving novels, this one is based around a very unique character; Owen Meany. An incredibly small boy with a squeaky voice who believes he is a conduit of God. A Prayer for Owen Meany is my second favourite book of all time.  My favourite book is the Pulitzer Prize winning Western, Lonesome Dove. It took me 3 or 4 cracks at it before I could get through the first chapter but once I did?  Wow.

2.  A Man Called Ove – Here we go. THIS is the book. The page turner, the exceptional, the STAND OUT. I read A Man Called Ove after watching the movie based on it. The book follows the life of Ove, a cranky older man.   It is funny, touching, insightful and sad.  If you can only buy one book make A Man Called Ove the one.

3. Let’s Explore Diabetes With Owls I love David Sedaris. If you like funny you’ll love him too.  Sedaris has a dry humour that can sometimes bubble up from nowhere until you’re crossing your legs praying not to pee yourself.  His books are usually a conglomeration of autobiographical short stories.  Essays.  If you *haven’t* read David Sedaris before start with Me Talk Pretty One Day.

4. Manhattan Beach This was a, Yeah, it’s a pretty good book, to me. It got great reviews and according to the amount of stars it has on Amazon people mostly loved it. I did look forward to reading it every night but … it was just missing something for me. Not a lot.  If it was a person it wasn’t missing a major organ, just … maybe some necessary fluids.

5. Middlesex The most critically acclaimed novel on this list, not only did Middlesex win the Pulitzer Prize,  Amazon readers give it close to a 5 star rating. The book, published in 2007, which is when I read it, focuses on Callie a young Greek girl who at the age of 14 discovers she’s Intersex (formerly known as a hermaphrodite). It’s then that she becomes Cal.

Side shot of an antique pine chair in front of a white brick wall. 5 books stacked on the chair seat topped with a pair of reading glasses.

5 Great Books (I’m gonna read)

1. A Prayer for Owen Meany  Yup. I’m gonna read it again.  Like I said, it’s been almost 30 years since I originally read this book and declared it one of my all time favourites.  I feel like it’s time to read it again. I’ve reread lots of books, but this one I’m rereading on purpose so I won’t be surprised when I get halfway through it and think “Hey.  I feel like I know *exactly* what’s going to happen.  HEY. I’VE READ THIS BOOK ALREADY!

2. Eventide This book was on my books to read list LAST TIME. I keep saving it. It’s one of those “I want to save it books”.  Not everyone is an “I want to save it” kind of person, I realize. I was also the kid who would still have Halloween candy by mid-June.  Eventide is the follow up to Kent Haruf’s Plainsong. He has a quiet, subtle voice that allows even the most dramatic scenes to be told with a whisper, not a scream.

3. A Visit From the Goon Squad Written by the same author who penned the aforementioned “yeah, it’s a pretty good book” Manhattan Beach.  I’m giving author Jennifer Egan another go with this, the novel that won her the Pulitzer Prize.  It’s about an ageing punk rocker and record executive.  Based on that, chances of me not liking this novel are very slim.

4. Sing, Unburied, Sing Set in Mississippi’s past and present, Sing, Unburied Sing, is the portrait of a struggling family and the hope we all have to continue on no matter how miserable things get.  This is one of those critics darlings novels which can go either way for me.  I’m usually on board when it comes to critically praised books but most critically acclaimed movies leave me with the dry heaves.

5. Theft by Finding I mentioned that David Sedaris writes autobiographical short stories (essays). The reason he can do this so accurately is because he began recording his life in a diary at the age of 20 and hasn’t missed a day of writing since. Last year he published Theft by Finding, the first half of his edited diaries (1977-2002).  Yay!

Karen Bertelsen sitting at tulip table putting on a pair of glasses, looking at a stack of books in front of her.

I’m super-dignified in case you were wondering. 

I just wanted to mention as a side note, that the people who lived in the Amityville Horror house? The ones who claimed to have had all these paranormal experiences in the house? Well,  a couple of years after the book was published and people started to suspect it wasn’t actually true the couple agreed to take lie detector tests.  The husband and wife submitted to tests performed by 2 of the top Polygraph experts in the United States.  There was no indication of lying.


O.K., you know what to do now.  It’s time for you to give us your book recommendations. Feel free to include the first book that really grabbed you.  Metaphorically speaking of course.  I hope.

Have at it.


  1. Michelle says:

    I read a lot of Young Adult novels as I am part of a (Not so) Young Adult Book Club. I just finished Scythe by Neal Schusterman. It’s a science fiction look at the future where death has been conquered. It is very hard to put down. Interesting discussions at book club too. Worth the read.

  2. Pam says:

    Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine. I listened to this one and if you can, I think the audiobook version is just exceptional. Also I will always recommend Cutting for Stone.

  3. Cary Wade says:

    A prayer for Owen Meany is my all-time favorite book too! Did you see the movie? So disappointing :-( have you read Watership Down by Richard Adams? It is right up there as my favorite as well. You would love it.

  4. Sandra Lea says:

    The first book that ever grabbed me and still remains my favorite it To Kill a Mockingbird. I have to say I was not as impressed with A Man Called Ove as other people seem to be. I found it boring and predictable. My favorite more current book is The Goldfinch. I loved, loved, loved this book and plan to read it again.

  5. Jennifer says:

    Furiously Happy by Jenny Lawson
    A funny book about horrible things

  6. JennyW says:

    In grade 8 we had to read for 20 minutes before class started (“Silent Reading” they called it)
    I have no idea why a book about the Charles Manson murders was in the classroom book pile, but that’s what I read! I Followed that little charmer with The Amityville Horror, and then I would not be left alone in any house for a year!

  7. Debra Prince says:

    Probably my all time favorite book that I’ve read countless times is Shogun by James Clavell. I like all his books but Shogun is by far my favorite. Plus, it’s really thick so you get your money’s worth. Great characters and a look into an ancient civilization. (ok, it’s set in 1600 but their civilization is 1000 years old at that point so….) I also liked the Clan of the Cave Bear series except for the last book which seemed like an effort to fulfill a contract. My only complaint is that Auel tends to repeat herself a lot but the books are a good read especially the first three. Also, any books by Isaac Asimov but especially the series The Caves of Steel, The Naked Sun, The Robots of Dawn. And I just found out there are a couple more in this series I haven’t read so yay! Now I have more reading to look forward to.

  8. Thandi says:

    Okay Middlesex is an ultimate favourite of mine. His other novel The Virgin Suicides is also beautiful. The River Midnight by Lillian Nattel (sp?) is a beautiful book. The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay by Michael Chabon is a bit of a wrist breaker (it is enormous) but sooo moving, and you learn things about the post WWII comic book industry that you didn’t know you needed to know! Anything by Lauren Beukes. Zoo City and The Shining Girls are my favs of hers. Creepy, visually magnificent, a little otherworldly, and just enough social commentary to make you do a little socially aware fist pump. American Gods by Neil Gaiman. Anything by Neil Gaiman. His short stories are astounding. I could do this all day, but I have to do actual work now (THE HORROR).

  9. Judi Summers says:

    I filched A Tree Grows in Brooklyn from a stack of old books I found in my mother’s bedroom when I was 12 and 47 years later, I still remember every character’s name. It is superb.

    • Anna says:

      A Tree Grows in Brooklyn is one of my forever favorites. Many years ago we formed a mother/daughter book club and had our 12 year old daughters read the books that meant the most to us at their age. It was awesome to re-read this book and experience it with those reading it for the first time.

      I so look forward to these book posts. Of course, I love to see the lovely hens as well!

  10. Kathy P says:

    The Story of Edgar Sawtelle, by David Wroblewski is one of the best books I’ve ever read. By the author’s own account it took him about 10 years to write, and it was worth the wait. It’s one of those novels that make you stop after reading some passages just to savor the sheer beauty of the words. This novel is the first of a trilogy, and the next one should be forthcoming any time now. As an added plus, if you are a dog lover you will adore it. I consider this author one of the best living writers in America.

    • Angela says:

      Yes! That. Ok has haunted me since I finished the last page! the Art of Racing in the Rain is another great book for dog lovers.

      • Tina says:

        YES!!! I’ve owned 7 copies of Racing but end up always giving them away. I do dog rescue and it tore my heart.

      • Marilyn Billinger says:

        Yes, yes, yes to both of these. I, too, have given several copies of The Art of Racing in the Rain to friends and family. I have read it at least 3 times and listenedto the audio book once. EdwardSawtelle was one of those books I just didn’t want to end.

      • Brenda says:

        I’m another one that keeps giving away my copies of The Art of Racing in the Rain. I LOVE that book.

    • Beth says:

      I bawled my eyes out when I read that book! I mean harder than I bave ever cried reading a book. It was so good!

      • SueSchneid22 says:

        I bawled my eyes out, too. I will never forget it, but I don’t want to read it again. My heart was almost wrenched out of my chest the first time. But, I agree, it is such a beautiful story and such superb prose.

  11. Lez says:

    Nothing to do with books…did anyone else see a Camel’s head in Karen’s lap at first glance!? I did! I had to look twice to see it was actually her beautiful cat!

    (For those who haven’t read Owen Meany forgive my all caps … you’ll understand after you read A Prayer for Owen Meany – and you must read it!)
    Thanks for these recommendations Karen! Love David Sedaris too!

  13. Loli says:

    PS. Good to have you back. Missed you.

  14. Tina says:

    One of my all-time favorites is Sarum by Edward Rutherford. Along the same lines, I loved Pillars of the Earth by Follett. I lived in Europe for many years and made it a point of seeing all the things I’d read about.

    I also love everything written by Roberta Gellis and keep telling myself I’m going to wander through Roselynde again before I die.

    And, just for fun but engrossing, I love Marsha Canham’s pirate series, starting with Across a Moonlit Sea.

    Crap, I just love ALL books! Oh! The Bear That Ate My Pants!

    • SueSchneid22 says:

      Pillars of the Earth was such a great peek at life in the Dark Ages. I love historical fiction!

      • Marlene Eastman says:

        just finished Pillars of the Earth …. heading into World Without End … I love historical history too!!

    • Tina says:

      Then you’d both probably enjoy Roberta Gellis’ Roselynde series. They’re extremely well researched historical fiction with a lot of political information. They’re gripping and fascinating!

  15. Joanne Lewis says:

    I also love John Irving novels and might consider reading some again. Such strange and captivating stories.

    The first adult book I read was Valley of the Dolls, a long time ago. My mother had been reading it so I tried it, mostly for the title. Quite educational although I’m sure I probably didn’t know what I was learning since I was certainly NOT an adult!

    I’ll have to think about recommendations but I know I’ll be checking back later to see the other comments.

    Love your blog and all you do


    • Susan Claire says:

      Valley of the Dolls was also my first adult book-my mother noticed I was reading it, and said it was not suitable for a thirteen-year old, but since I was near the end she let me finish it. Seems so tame now!

  16. Gayle says:

    All The Light We Cannot See. Bel Canto. I am not a reader, but I enjoyed these.

  17. Loli says:

    First of all you look gorgeous! I love your outfit. Second of all I LOVED Lonesome Dove. I even had my husband detour to visit the Platte River (so beautiful) and stop in at Ogallala (so small) on our way to visit his mother in Iowa from California. It was a looong drive but so worth it. The book affected me so much. I have read a ton of books-thrillers, murder mysteries, Grisham, Koontz, King, Coulter, etc. A few stand out-The Time Travelers Wife, The Joy Luck Club, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.

  18. Elissa Burda says:

    Ok here goes. I have 2 favorite books that I have re-read since I was in my teens.
    1. A Town Like Alice by Nevil Shute. A romantic novel, sort of based on a story about a group of women and children Who were prisoners of the Japanese in Malaysia. The books spans from England to southeast Asia to Australia, and it has always fascinated me. I realized one of my bucket list dreams last year, when I spent time in Australia and visited every place mentioned in the book.

    2. Alas, Babylon by Pat Frank – written in the 1950s, a post-apocalyptic novel that was pretty much an early anti-nuclear war story – to this day I don’t know why no one ever made a movie from this book. It is a totally believable story about surviving after a catastrophe.

    So enjoy reading! Thanks Karen!

    • Julia says:

      Elissa- these are my two favorite books too! I think I’ve read A Town Like Alice 20 times.

      • Joan says:

        I loved “A Town Like Alice” too – first read it in one of my Dad’s Readers Digest Condensed books (remember those?) many, many years ago. Bought the paperback and have reread it several times. Nevis Shute also wrote a book called “On the Beach” which is set just after a nuclear war – a chilling novel worth reading.
        Love this blog and all the good ideas for good reads!

      • Donna says:

        The beach was made into a movie as well. Ava Gardner and Gregory peck? I think? Scary movie. I remember as a child in the sixties having civil defense drill where we were each given our tag around our neck with our personal information and then crawled under the tables for 15 minutes. Because of course a simple table is all the protection you need. Until you see that movie anyway

      • Elissa Burda says:

        A newer favorite too:
        A Discovery of Witches and the All Souls Trilogy – by Deborah Harkness

        A Great read!

      • tiffany says:

        enjoyed those too

    • Alena says:

      Hi Elissa,

      I read A Town Like Alice in the early 1980’s. It was one of the first books I read in English, writing down the words I did not understand and looking them up in a huge dictionary. It was a WONDERFUL book. Later, I also read On The Beach but I think I will never forget Alice. How cool that you were able to visit all the places!


    • Susan Wilson says:

      I also loved A Town Like Alice. As a teenager I read it more as an adventure story and wasn’t all that interested in the romance. I still have a copy and re-read it every few years.

      Karen – I recently read one of your earlier recommendations “The Night Circus” and loved it. It was absolutely NOT my usual kind of read, so thank you for that!

      But my first grown up book was “Three Men in a Boat” by Jerome K Jerome. Three gentleman travelling along in a barge in (from what I remember) Edwardian England, driving each other crazy. Gentle humour at its best. Must search out my copy now!

  19. Hi Karen, Thank you for the reading list. You make me feel smart that I actually had heard of some of the authors… Maybe it will light a fire under me so I will STOP binge watching reruns of Prime Suspect!

  20. Therese says:

    A favorite book…..Travels With Charley by John Steinbeck. He is a beautiful writer and I enjoyed several of his books, and others not as much. It is the story of the journey he took, with his dog Charley, across North America. I enjoyed it thoroughly because I have also travelled through almost every state, and I had encountered similar experiences that he had detailed so beautifully.

    You are very “well” read, so not sure if I have read books in the same league! I haven’t taken much time to read over life.

    Atlas Shrugged, by Ayn Rand would be my all time favorite book when I was younger. Now, not so sure. She has caused me some strife :).

    The Guns of Navarone. Fantastic. Never thought I would like it but couldn’t put it down.

    4,000 days: My Life and Survival in a Bangkok Prison . Could not put it down. A must read for anyone travelling in these countries!

    Watership Down. I think you would love this. It is the story of a colony of rabbits….

    Enjoy and I will check out some of your reads although I try to read the “Classics” and have a list going to cross off……


    • Tina says:

      I’ve read all of your selections except 4000 Days, which I will order now. We did a lot of traveling in Thailand, although I’m sure we had much different experiences. I like looking at my experiences through different eyes. Thanks for the suggestion.

    • Karen says:

      Oh dear. I felt really safe in Bangkok and we were there during a period of civil unrest with a travel warning, lol. I’ll look it up! ~ karen

      • Therese says:

        I felt totally safe too; running around at night in Bangkok/Chang Mai/Ko Samui etc. 6 weeks there. This 4k days is about a drug runner who gets caught. However, it made me REALLY watch my bags while we travelled!!! Yes, Watership Down. One of the classics on my classic list. Of course, being a rider, if you haven’t read Jilly Cooper’s “Riders”, you must. haha. One of our past team event riders closely resembles the leading bad guy… :).

    • Karen says:

      LOVE Watership Down. It is a classic.

      • Tina says:

        I think Watership Down holds a place in everyone’s heart! I fell in love with my (now ex-) husband back in 77 when he read it. He had never been (he said) much of a reader but was trying to expand his life. One evening we were each sitting and reading and I glanced over to see tears running down his face. That did it for me!

      • Ann Brookens says:

        I’m so sorry, but I REALLY didn’t like Watership Down. I think I was in my 20s when I read it “because it’s a childhood classic” that hadn’t come my way when I was a child. It didn’t live up to its hype in my opinion.

  21. bev out west says:

    Latest read: The Winter Palace. Eva Stachniak. I hadn’t heard of it until a German friend in Hamburg mentioned finding this title at a free library, especially that on the cover was “#1 Canadian Best Seller” – she’d read it halfway, non-stop, in German before writing to me. I had to find it! not the German translation but the original in English. I did, and I read it. It was a page turner but not scary. Historic fiction. Mostly fiction.
    First book that grabbed me: The Hobbit. Long before the movies. There are parts where I was *really* scared.

  22. stephanie says:

    swallows and amazons – what could be better than a sailboat, a rug, and a flask of lemonade…

    • tiffany says:

      one of my faves. still have my copy, donkey’s years old, re-read it last summer, even at 70 I still thoroughly enjoyed it. Most Enid Blyton ‘of adventure ‘series still enjoy reading yet again

      • stephanie says:

        I still have We Didn’t Mean to go to Sea, Swallows and Amazons, and The Picts and the Martyrs. I re-read them from time to time but never realized that Swallows and Amazons was written in 1930 although my copies are from the 50’s.

  23. Mark says:

    I have to agree with you about A Man Called Ove, it really is fantastic! It is also the only book I have read on your first list.

    One of my favourite books is the oldest book I own, The Good Earth by Pearl S. Buck (won the 1932 Pullitzer Prize).

  24. Dana says:

    I love David Sedaris! Just bought tickets to see him in Vancouver in May.
    I read a pile of books this winter, and really enjoyed Robin Sloan’s Sourdough.

    • Tiff says:

      Dana – you won’t be sorry you bought tickets. I saw him 6 years ago in Tampa & wasn’t sure what to expect – he was wonderful & told new stories!

  25. Amy says:

    A Confederacy of Dunces and To Kill a Mockingbird HAVE to be on your list 😘

    • Karen says:

      They are. This is the 7th edition of this list. :) ~ karen!

    • Tiff says:

      Confederacy of Dunces is in my top 5! I reread it once a year!

      • janpartist says:

        Interesting, Confederacy of Dunces was painfully worthless to me. I did really enjoy Lonesome Dove though after Karen’s recommendation.

      • Debbie says:

        I’m with you. I struggled through Confederacy but only because it was on a bunch of lists that said it was great. Really didn’t get it at all. Painfully worthless – perfect description of my take on the book.

      • J-Kat says:

        I was going to language school in Mexico and the man at the American book store recommended Confederacy. My room at the family’s house was on the top floor (if you’ve ever been to Cuernavaca, you’ll know how houses are built up hills), and I know the family heard me laughing out loud as I read it.

        I don’t like it when schools turn great books into required reading. I think they should be read for pleasure. Though, when I was teaching college English, the university required us to teach A Clockwork Orange one semester. I, and all the women in the classes, hated it, while all the guys loved it. I’d never read that one again.

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