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50 Great Books That You Won’t Have Read in School

Perfect to help you reignite your love of reading.

By Hannah Bullimore

Perfect to help you reignite your love of reading

I am a complete book worm but I know that many of us lost our love of stories when we left school, or even had our love of books permanently wounded by the choice of texts offered to us at secondary school. There are millions of books in the world, so there really is something for everyone. As someone who reads 150-200 books a year, I like to think I can recommend a book for even the fussiest of reading tastes.

Rediscover your love of a good book, with this list of 50 amazing books, that you probably didn’t read in school…

 

1. The Secret History, Donna Tartt

This dark story of college clique gone wrong is a memorable, fast-paced novel with plenty of twists and turns. It’s a murder mystery told backwards and is an intelligent, highly enjoyable read.

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2. Homegoing, Yaa Gyasi

Tracking the ancestral lines of two women, one is sold into the slave trade, one marries a slave trader.

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3. An American Marriage, Tayari Jones

What happens when a man is falsely accused and goes to prison? This beautifully written and tragic novel follows the lives of a newly married couple who struggle under the weight of the ultimate miscarriage of justice.

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4. The Bluest Eye, Toni Morrison

This novel follows one girls struggle with her own identity in a world that constantly tells her she is ugly.

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5. The Hate U Give, Audrey Wells

This startling debut novel reveals the reality of police brutality against black people in America from the perspective of a teenage girl.

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6. If I Had Your Face, Frances Cha

Another fantastic debut, this novel follows the lives of young women in Seoul who are under immense pressure to be physically perfect at any cost.

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7. The Glass Woman, Caroline Lea

Set in historic Iceland, this novel combines magic realism with historical fact and is a highly unique and enjoyable read.  

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8. The Familiars, Stacey Halls

Set at the start of the witch trials, this story follows Fleetwood Shuttleworth as she struggles to carry a baby to full term at a time when any woman who didn’t do as her husband wished, could be accused of witchcraft.

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9. Chocolat, Joanne Harris

This series of novels interweaves magic realism with the story of a mother and daughter newly arrived in a small French village where they are less than welcome.

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10. The Historian, Elizabeth Kostova

A young woman searches for her father and uncovers a connection to the real Dracula. Using historical research, you’ll believe Dracula is real by the end of this fantastic novel.

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11. Clock Dance, Anne Tyler

A woman struggles to find her identity once her children are grown up. She becomes involved with a mother and daughter and shrugs off the responsibilities of her life to find a way to be happy on her own terms.

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12. The Dutch House, Ann Patchett

A brother and sister spend their lives wishing their mother would return. In her absence, they become obsessed with the family home and this obsession deepens when their father remarries and their lives are changed forever.

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13. The Yellow Wallpaper, Charlotte Perkins Gilman

This short story demonstrates the ways in which women were repressed for hundreds of years. A woman struggles under the restrictions of The Rest Cure which was used to ‘treat’ problematic women.

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14. A Great and Terrible Beauty, Libba Bray

The first young adult novel on the list, this wonderful fantasy novel follows the lives of Gemma Doyle and her school friends as they struggle against the expectations of society and stumble upon a magic world that is darker than they realise.

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15. Big Magic, Elizabeth Gilbert

Elizabeth Gilbert looks at creativity and the ways in which we can enjoy it by taking away the societal pressures of traditional success.

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16. Commonwealth, Ann Patchett

The events of a little girl’s christening change everything in this beautifully told and highly memorable book, one of Patchett’s best.

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17. Tender is the Night, F Scott Fitzgerald

Glorious parties in the French Riviera attempt to hide a marriage falling apart. This novel looks at the mental battles of life in the shadow of world war.

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18. Black Water Lilies, Michel Bussi

Set in the village of Claude Monet, this dark thriller uncovers the lives of the villages unusual inhabitants.

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19. The Truth About the Harry Quebert Affair, Joel Dicker

Full of twists and turns, this fantastic thriller includes a variety of characters and a fantastic final plot twist.

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20. Wild, Cheryl Strayed

A young woman wants to let go of the best and sets out on an unbelievable hike to prove to herself that she is capable and strong in this wonderful non-fiction book. Part travel writing, part memoir, this is a fantastic piece of writing.

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21. Names for The Sea, Sarah Waters

The true story of Sarah Water’s time living in Iceland, this is a homage to one of the most unusual landscapes in the world and is both highly enjoyable and packed full of amazing information.

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22. My Name is Lucy Barton, Elizabeth Strout

Recovering from a simple operation, Lucy Barton reminisces about her childhood and tries to reconnect with her mother in this heartfelt, literary novel.

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23. The Hoarder, Jess Kid

This highly unique novel follows carer Maud Drennan as she struggles to help her agoraphobic neighbour while dealing with her own trauma. It’s a brilliant read, unlike anything else I’ve ever read.

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24. The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, Mary Ann Shaffer

This is a novel with real heart. It is set during a period of history we don’t really learn about in school – when Guernsey was occupied by the Nazis and cut off from the rest of the UK. This is a romance, historical novel with humour, beautiful description and more.

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25. The Silent Companions, Laura Purcell

Look for something spooky? This is the perfect book for you. A historical ghost story with an interesting protagonist and some of the most shocking plot twists I’ve ever read.

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26. A Discovery of Witches, Deborah Harkness

A grown-up story of magic and mystery, this is a fantastic series with plenty of romance, mystery and intrigue.

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27. Professor Chandra Follows his Bliss, Rajeev Balasubramanyam

This book is a real breath of fresh air. It’s quirky, unique and follows a professor realising his hard work and academia has been a waste and he should have spent more time with his family and enjoying life.

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28. Home Fire, Kamila Shamsie

This beautifully written novel follows the experience of Isma as she finally makes her escape to America after raising her younger siblings in London. However, her she soon discovers that her younger brother has left to join the jihadists and there is little she can do to help the young man she has cared for since he was a child.

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29. The Librarian, Salley Vickers

Exploring life in the 1950s and the importance of the library for small communities and what it was like to be a young, single woman in England at that time.

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30. The Colour of Bee Larkham’s Murder, Sarah J. Harris

Jasper is a highly unique boy who can’t see faces, but instead sees colour. When his neighbour is murdered, the police assume his way of seeing and experiencing the world means he can’t help to find the culprit, but he ends up being the key.

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31. The Kindness of Strangers, Fearghal O'Nuallain

This collection of essays explores the experience of travelling the world and discovering new friends in the most unlikely of places.

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32. Spinning Silver, Naomi Novik

Set in a world of magic and intrigue, this is a fantastic fantasy novel marrying folk lore with adventure.

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33. The Turn of the Key, Ruth Ware

This fantastic crime novel follows a young woman going to work as a nanny in a distant part of the Scottish Highlands. The beautiful backdrop is the perfect backdrop for a Hitchcock-style story of twists and turns.

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34. To Love and Let Go, Rachel Brathen

This non-fiction book explores experiences of grief and how it changes us on a deeper level. It’s a heart-felt book in which Brathen offers a hand of kindness to anyone experiencing grief in their lives.

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35. Mindset: The New Psychology of Success, Carol Dweck

Those of us with a fixed mindset believe we can’t move beyond the limits of our own abilities, while those of us with a growth mindset believe with time and effort we can achieve anything. This detailed non-fiction book teaches us how to harness and make use of a growth mindset.

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36. The Guest List, Lucey Foley

Set on a remote island off the Irish coast, a wedding like no other is about to take place. The guest list is set, the party is about to begin but as the dark secrets of the guests are revealed, the joy of wedded bliss about to unravel.

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37. The Miracle of Mindfulness, Thich Nhat Han

Discover the power of mindfulness in this illuminating book by one of the world’s masters of mindfulness. Told in a nearly poetic tone, this book will help you to make every part of your day mindful.

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38. Melmoth, Sarah Perry

This spooky novel follows the story of a myth come to life – a figure in dark roaming the globe in search of someone to join her.

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39. The Chestnut Man, by Søren Sveistrup, Caroline Waight (Translator)

Not for the faint-hearted, this dark, epic crime novel follows the search for a brutal serial killer and the psychology behind his reasons for murdering.

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40. The Giver of Stars, Jojo Moyes

This beautiful historic novel is set in the deep South during a time when many of the homes in the area could only be reached on horseback. A group of intrepid women set out to deliver library books to those out of way families, facing derision from the local community.

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41. The Taking of Annie Thorn, C. J. Tudor

A truly sinister thriller that follows the disappearance of a young girl and the impact of her disappearance and reappearance. She comes back changed and now her brother, who once loved her, is more than a little afraid of this new version of Annie.

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42. Be a Free Range Human, Marianne Cantwell

If you’ve always dreamed of making a career doing the things you love, then this is the book for you. Find freedom and a steady income by making the things you love, make money. A truly inspiring read that started my own journey to self-employment.

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43. Three Hours, Rosamund Lupton

A school under siege from a mass shooter and just three hours to save them. This shocking, fast-paced novel is cinematic in its detail and a truly fantastic read.

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44. The Penguin Lessons, Tom Michell

The true auto-biographical story of a man who befriends a penguin and all the ways in which his life is changed by the friendship of this unusual bird.

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45. Red at the Bone, Jaqueline Woodson

Following generations of the same family, this story beautifully shows the changing experiences of women and POC in America. It’s beautifully written and a short but sweet read.

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46. Wide Sargasso Sea, Jean Rhys

Rewriting the story of Mr Rochester from Jane Eyre, this book takes a post-colonial look at Mr Rochester and his mad wife in the attic, giving voice to the woman locked away and forgotten.

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47. Into The Water, Paula Hawkins

A woman is murdered in a small town and the history of women being drowned for witchcraft reverberates through the ages in this startling and fascinating thriller.

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48. The Rosie Project, Graeme Simsion

Don Tillman is a professor of genetics and has never had much luck with love. Therefore he devises a plan to find his perfect partner using an algorithm, not realising that love simply doesn’t work like that.

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49. The Muse, Jessie Burton

Told between 1960s London and Trinidad, this beautiful story follows the search for truth as a 1930’s painting holds many mysteries.

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50. Different Class, Joanne Harris

Following the scandal and intrigue of a stuffy all boys school, this story is full of twists and shows Harris’s ability to create characters that you might not like, but you do want to get to know.

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