Award-Winning Suspense Author Shares Her Favorite Books

Sara J. Henry, author of Learning to Swim and A Cold and Lonely Place, shares five "important books."

Growing up I inhaled books, ranging from Jane Eyre to The Scarlet Pimpernel, but when asked about five books important to me, these sprang to mind—two “old” novels, two new novels, and one memoir.

Nine Coaches Waiting by Mary Stewart. This book is likely what set me on the path to writing suspense novels, with finely drawn characters, impeccable timing, and Stewart’s specialty: an ordinary woman thrust into extraordinary circumstances, doing the best she can. The characters feel as real to you as the people next door, and sometimes more so—you’re there, for every tense moment.

[Editor’s Note. Okay, that’s it, I’m moving Nine Coaches Waiting to the top of my TBR pile. Sara Henry recommends it and so does Emily Ansara Baines, who admits “Sometimes I just want to watch two crazy lovebirds kiss, houses exploding all around them, and know that in the end, everything is going to be just fine.”]

Cry Hard, Cry Fast by John D. MacDonald. My dad started giving me his Travis McGee novels when I was 12 or so, and the vividness and grittiness of the writing and MacDonald’s sheer storytelling ability captivated me. This one’s a stand-alone, the individual stories of widely disparate people caught up in a massive car collision, with scenes and characters that are still with me.

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Please Ignore Vera Dietz by A.S. King. I’d devoured King’s first novel, The Dust of 100 Dogs, and started reading this one on a train—it so moved me I had to set it down, and finish it the next day. For anyone who has loved, lost, been betrayed, suffered cruelty, or struggled with family issues—it’s all there. It grabbed my heart and squeezed, and never quite let go.

Memoirs of an Imaginary Friend by Matthew Dicks. I started this one lazy afternoon outside in my hammock, not really expecting to like it—it’s just what the title says, a memoir from the viewpoint of a young boy’s imaginary friend. But I loved this book, and I stayed in that hammock until I finished it.

The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls. Books speak to people in different ways, and a friend asked recently why this particular memoir meant so much to me. Of course it’s wonderfully written, but for me it offers two messages in particular: (1) no matter what your family or background, you can become who you want to be, and (2) you need to face your past before you can become truly whole.

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About Sara J. Henry, author of A Cold and Lonely Place

cold and lonely place sara henry

SARA J. HENRY’s first novel, Learning to Swim (2011), won the Anthony and Agatha awards for best first novel and the Mary Higgins Clark award. Her second novel, A Cold and Lonely Place—about which Publishers Weekly says, “Adding considerably to the compulsively readable mystery that unfolds . . . is Henry’s bone-deep sense of this terribly beautiful place”—is now available in paperback wherever books are sold.