I just came across an article by novelist Edan Lepucki, published in the Guardian a couple of years ago, with a catchy title: “Are you a page-turner or a page-hugger?”. Lepucki, recounting her days as a “very persuasive bookseller”, notes that some readers want a fast-paced, exciting story, some “long for a book’s language to give them pause, to slow them down with its rhythms and surprises”, and others (like me!) are “somewhere in the middle”.

I don’t need an action-packed plot, although I always enjoy well-timed, believable twists and turns. I need to feel that I’m learning something, whether it’s factual knowedge or an understanding of human nature. The books I abandon are poorly written (and that includes those that are pretentious, trying too hard to be “literary”), or their characters and situations don’t ring true. It doesn’t matter to me whether a book is fiction or nonfiction, as long as there is a sense of authenticity. And of course, some books just turn out to be boring, even though they push all the right buttons. (Sorry, Wolf Hall.)

Here are a half-dozen books published this summer that kept me turning pages, including a history book, a memoir, murder mysteries, and psychological thrillers.

9780345544803The Perfect Horse: The Daring U.S. Mission to Rescue the Priceless Stallions Kidnapped by the Nazis by Elizabeth Letts
If you’re a fan of narrative nonfiction by Erik Larson and Laura Hillenbrand, you’ll love The Perfect Horse. The suspense is not whether the Lipizzaner stallions will be rescued, but how — and at what cost. The Christian Science Monitor calls the book a “perfect World War II rescue story”, and I agree.

AllIsNotForgotten-WendyWalker-CoverAll is Not Forgotten by Wendy Walker
Walker, an attorney who specializes in family law, has written a disturbing and thought-provoking psychological thriller about the possible moral and legal implications of PTSD treatments, currently under development, that can erase memories of traumatic events. After fifteen-year-old Jenny Kramer is attacked at a party in her Connecticut suburb, she’s given a drug that obliterates her memory of the crime. I can’t say more without revealing key plot points, but if you like your fiction really dark (think Herman Koch), this is the book for you. Jenny’s psychiatrist, who narrates the book, reminded me of Koch’s vaguely sinister narrators.

0eb9d787dee2a96bd84e58dd82b1e459You Will Know Me by Megan Abbott
When I read an article on crime fiction in the Wall Street Journal that said Abbott’s “books are driven as much by intricate character development and rhythmic sentences as they are by plot”, I immediately brought home a copy of You Will Know Me. Set in the world of competitive gymnastics, Abbott’s eighth novel is a page-turner by anyone’s definition. Sixteen-year-old Devon Knox — and her parents — have their hearts set on the Olympics when a crime in their tight-knit community of gymnasts, parents, and coaches threatens to destroy their dream. I’d never read anything by Megan Abbott before, but now I’m hooked.

9780385540599We Could Be Beautiful by Swan Huntley
When Catherine West, the veteran of two broken engagements, meets William Stockton, the handsome son of old family friends, she thinks he’s the answer to her prayers. But is he? He seemed pretty creepy to me right off the bat, but Catherine ignores the warning signs — some subtle, some not so subtle. This debut novel — a very entertaining “beach read” —  is fun to read not so much because of its plot (which veers between predictability and ludicrousness), but because of Catherine’s voice, which is singularly funny.

9781101947012Dog Gone: A Lost Pet’s Extraordinary Journey and the Family Who Brought Him Home by Pauls Toutonghi
The title makes this book sound awful, I know — sort of like a hokey Reader’s Digest article. But trust me — it’s a lovely book, about much more than a lost dog. Virginia Marshall, brought up in an abusive home, wants to be the kind of mother she never had. After her adult son, Fielding, loses his dog Gonker on the Appalachian Trail, Ginny and her husband, John, devote every waking minute to helping Fielding find his beloved dog. I couldn’t stop reading this book, even though I knew from the title that Gonker would be found.  The author, who’s also written two novels, is the brother-in-law of Fielding Marshall.

y6481The Lost Girls by Heather Young
In 1935, six-year-old Emily Evans disappears from her family’s lake house in northern Minnesota, and the mystery is never solved. Two generations later, Justine inherits the decrepit house from her great-aunt Lucy, Emily’s older sister, and brings her two daughters there to escape her controlling boyfriend. Young does a masterful job connecting the present-day story and the story of the summer of 1935, building suspense that kept me reading late into the night. The New York Times says: “For all the beauty of Young’s writing, her novel is a dark one, full of pain and loss. And the murder mystery that drives it is as shocking as anything you’re likely to read for a good long while.”

What page-turners have you read this summer?




23 thoughts on “What’s a Page-Turner, Anyway?

  1. I think you and I are on the same wavelength with our appetite for page turners…I like a nice balance of plot and style as well.
    1) YES on your comparison of All Is Not Forgotten’s narrator to Herman Koch (especially the doctor from Summer House with Swimming Pool)…I felt the exact same thing and mentioned it in my spoiler discussion post. And – the “how far will you go to protect your kids” dilemma reminded me of The Dinner.
    2) Loved You Will Know Me as well and I also recommend The Fever by her. It’s based on a true story.
    3) Another book I read this summer that really hit the balance b/w plot and style for me was Siracusa by Delia Ephron and the somewhat darker Shelter by Jung Yun did the same thing for me earlier this year (and it’s currently holding my favorite of the year spot).
    Whew – sorry for the long comment!

    1. Thanks for the long comment — I appreciate it! I didn’t read your review of All is Not Forgotten when you first posted it because I hadn’t read the book yet and didn’t want to see the spoilers. Now I’m going to read it — I thought that book brought up so many interesting issues. It would be a perfect book club choice. Interesting that we both thought of Herman Koch! I can’t wait to read more of Megan Abbott’s books — I’ll definitely read Fever first. And I loved Siracusa — what a great vacation book. AND how did I miss Shelter? It sounds amazing — I’m picking it up today!

      1. Shelter is FANTASTIC – I really think you’ll love it! It’s a debut and I feel like has not gotten nearly the attention it deserves.

        Also – I 100% agree with you on Wolf Hall…I DNF’d halfway through…and that was long before I was comfortable DNFing.

  2. I’m somewhere in between also but mostly lean toward “page-hugging”. That being said, I really need a good page turner now and again. I crave it and your list has some I really want to read!

  3. I’m in a terrible book slump for most of the summer now, so I can’t say I’ve read any true page turners I think. I loved The Summer That Melted Everything, but to say that it was a page turner? 🙂 Lovely post!

  4. I’ve been dithering over “The Perfect Horse”, but now I’m going to buy a copy. It sounds wonderful, and you had me at “Laura Hillenbrand”. Have you read her “The Eighty-Dollar Champion”?

    This month I enjoyed “Textbook Amy Krouse Rosenthal” and Shauna Niequist’s “Present over Perfect”. And also, odd as it sounds, “Tarzan of the Apes”.

  5. I definitely fall somewhere in the middle, but I think I probably miss out on some of the page turners I’d likely enjoy because I’m a little gun shy with them. I feel like I’ve been burned so often with bad writing or predictable plots that I tend to seek out more literary novels…but I really do love to hunker down with a book that keeps me on the edge of my seat.

  6. ?Two big page-turners for me this season: Philbrick’s “Valiant Ambition” (a Jeff Waters recommendation) and Carr’s “The Devils of Corona,” a swashbuckling Spanish romance.

    And although i wouldn’t term it a page-turner, “Our Town” was fun to reread after a lot of years.


    PS–The aforementioned Jeff Walters did a wonderful job in leading us all through Kim’s emotional and affectionate farewell, no easy task.


    1. Googan, I loved Philbrick’s In the Heart of the Sea and Bunker Hill . . . I’m not sure if I’ll get to Valiant Ambition since Jeff gave me the play-by-play! The Devils of Corona is getting great press — I might have to pack it for our upcoming trip. Cheers! >

  7. I like both page turning and page hugging, I’ve learned. Right now I’m reading a collection of Rumpole short stories by John Mortimer that I’m meandering through but enjoying and this past week I finished a book that was a crime fiction book that I zoomed through and also enjoyed. It depends on the kind of book for me.

    I keep wanting to try Megan Abbott. I know our library has this one. Perhaps this will be the one I finally read of her.

  8. I am familiar with the term “page turner” but “page hugger” is a new one for me. I think I like both and it depends on my mood as to which I want to read.

    I have added “You Will Know Me” and “Dog Gone” to my TBR list. Both sound right up my alley!

  9. Oh great. Now I have at least two more books to add to my already teetering pile from your list…The Lost Girls and The Perfect Horse. They all sounded good but these two sounded best to me. I, by the way, think I am a savorer. I want to read a book which sweeps me up with its words.
    My Sunday Slon post

  10. I just finished You Will Know Me and that was a crazy page-turner! And although it doesn’t come out until next week Adnan’s Story was incredibly compelling. I’m not a big reader of non-fiction, but I could not put it down once I started it.

    If it’s possible for a book to be a page turner and a page hugger I’d say A Gentleman in Moscow was my favorite read of the summer- and a strong contender for favorite of the year. I couldn’t stop reading, but did not want it to end.

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