Every family has a few skeletons in the closet. But in some families, the secrets run so deep that they unravel everything. We’ve collected some of the richest, most moving books featuring characters that discover life-changing family secrets. Check them out below, complete with publishers’ descriptions.
Letters from Paris by Juliet Blackwell
After surviving the accident that took her mother’s life, Claire Broussard has worked hard to escape her small Louisiana hometown. But these days she feels something is lacking. Abruptly leaving her lucrative job in Chicago, Claire returns home to care for her ailing grandmother. There, she unearths a beautiful piece of artwork that her great-grandfather sent home from Paris after World War II.
At her grandmother’s urging, Claire travels to Paris to track down the century-old mask-making atelier where the object, known only as “L’Inconnue” — or The Unknown Woman – was created. Under the watchful eye of a surly mask-maker, Claire discovers a cache of letters that offers insight into the life of the Belle Epoque woman immortalized in the work of art. As Claire explores the unknown woman’s tragic fate, she begins to unravel deeply buried secrets in her own life.
Miller’s Valley by Anna Quindlen
For generations the Millers have lived in Miller’s Valley. Mimi Miller tells about her life with intimacy and honesty. As Mimi eavesdrops on her parents and quietly observes the people around her, she discovers more and more about the toxicity of family secrets, the dangers of gossip, the flaws of marriage, the inequalities of friendship and the risks of passion, loyalty, and love. Home, as Mimi begins to realize, can be “a place where it’s just as easy to feel lost as it is to feel content.”
Miller’s Valley is a masterly study of family, memory, loss, and, ultimately, discovery, of finding true identity and a new vision of home. As Mimi says, “No one ever leaves the town where they grew up, even if they go.” Miller’s Valley reminds us that the place where you grew up can disappear, and the people in it too, but all will live on in your heart forever.
Family Tree by Susan Wiggs
From the #1 New York Times bestselling author comes a powerful, emotionally complex story of love, loss, the pain of the past — and the promise of the future.
Sometimes the greatest dream starts with the smallest element. A single cell, joining with another. And then dividing. And just like that, the world changes. Annie Harlow knows how lucky she is. The producer of a popular television cooking show, she loves her handsome husband and the beautiful Los Angeles home they share. And now, she’s pregnant with their first child. But in an instant, her life is shattered. And when Annie awakes from a year-long coma, she discovers that time isn’t the only thing she’s lost.
Grieving and wounded, Annie retreats to her old family home in Switchback, Vermont, a maple farm generations old. There, surrounded by her free-spirited brother, their divorced mother, and four young nieces and nephews, Annie slowly emerges into a world she left behind years ago: the town where she grew up, the people she knew before, the high-school boyfriend turned judge. And with the discovery of a cookbook her grandmother wrote in the distant past, Annie unearths an age-old mystery that might prove the salvation of the family farm.
Family Tree is the story of one woman’s triumph over betrayal, and how she eventually comes to terms with her past. It is the story of joys unrealized and opportunities regained. Complex, clear-eyed and big-hearted, funny, sad, and wise, it is a novel to cherish and to remember.
Everything We Keep by Kerry Lonsdale
Sous chef Aimee Tierney has the perfect recipe for the perfect life: marry her childhood sweetheart, raise a family, and buy out her parents’ restaurant. But when her fiancé, James Donato, vanishes in a boating accident, her well-baked future is swept out to sea. Instead of walking down the aisle on their wedding day, Aimee is at James’s funeral — a funeral that leaves her more unsettled than at peace.
As Aimee struggles to reconstruct her life, she delves deeper into James’s disappearance. What she uncovers is an ocean of secrets that make her question everything about the life they built together. And just below the surface is a truth that may set Aimee free… or shatter her forever.
A luminous debut with unexpected twists, Everything We Keep explores the devastation of loss, the euphoria of finding love again, and the pulse-racing repercussions of discovering the truth about the ones we hold dear and the lengths they will go to protect us.
The Light of Paris by Eleanor Brown
Madeleine is trapped — by her family’s expectations, by her controlling husband, and by her own fears — in an unhappy marriage and a life she never wanted. From the outside, it looks like she has everything, but on the inside, she fears she has nothing that matters.
In Madeleine’s memories, her grandmother Margie is the kind of woman she should have been — elegant, reserved, perfect. But when Madeleine finds a diary detailing Margie’s bold, romantic trip to Jazz Age Paris, she meets the grandmother she never knew: a dreamer who defied her strict, staid family and spent an exhilarating summer writing in cafés, living on her own, and falling for a charismatic artist.
Despite her unhappiness, when Madeleine’s marriage is threatened, she panics, escaping to her hometown and staying with her critical, disapproving mother. In that unlikely place, shaken by the revelation of a long-hidden family secret and inspired by her grandmother’s bravery, Madeleine creates her own Parisian summer — reconnecting to her love of painting, cultivating a vibrant circle of creative friends, and finding a kindred spirit in a down-to-earth chef who reminds her to feed both her body and her heart.
Margie and Madeleine’s stories intertwine to explore the joys and risks of living life on our own terms, of defying the rules that hold us back from our dreams, and of becoming the people we are meant to be.
When I’m Gone by Emily Bleeker
Dear Luke, First let me say — I love you… I didn’t want to leave you…
Luke Richardson has returned home after burying Natalie, his beloved wife of 16 years, ready to face the hard job of raising their three children alone. But there’s something he’s not prepared for — a blue envelope with his name scrawled across the front in Natalie’s handwriting, waiting for him on the floor of their suburban Michigan home.
The letter inside, written on the first day of Natalie’s cancer treatment a year ago, turns out to be the first of many. Luke is convinced they’re genuine, but who is delivering them? As his obsession with the letters grows, Luke uncovers long-buried secrets that make him question everything he knew about his wife and their family. But the revelations also point the way toward a future where love goes on — in written words, in memories, and in the promises it’s never too late to keep.
The Madwoman Upstairs by Catherine Lowell
In Catherine Lowell’s smart and original debut novel — hailed by Deborah Harkness as a “charming and memorable read” — the last remaining descendant of the Brontë family embarks on a modern-day literary scavenger hunt, using only the clues her eccentric father left behind, and the Brontës’ own novels.
Samantha Whipple is used to stirring up speculation wherever she goes. Since her father’s untimely death, she is the presumed heir to a long-rumored trove of diaries, paintings, letters, and early novel drafts passed down from the Brontë family — a hidden fortune never revealed to anyone outside of the family, but endlessly speculated about by Brontë scholars and fanatics. Samantha, however, has never seen this alleged estate and for all she knows, it’s just as fictional as Jane Eyre or Wuthering Heights.
But everything changes when Samantha enrolls at Oxford University and long lost objects from her past begin rematerializing in her life, beginning with an old novel annotated in her father’s handwriting. With the help of a handsome but inscrutable professor, Samantha plunges into a vast literary mystery and an untold family legacy, one that can only be solved by repurposing the tools of literature and decoding the clues hidden within the Brontës’ own novels.
A fast-paced adventure from start to finish for readers who devoured The Weird Sisters and Special Topics in Calamity Physics, The Madwoman Upstairs is a moving exploration of what happens when the greatest truth is, in fact, fiction.
Broken Pieces by Kathleen Long
Destiny Jones is doing just fine on her own, thanks. From her thriving one-woman carpentry business to the loving support of her small-town community, Destiny has constructed a life as sturdy and polished as her best cabinets. Twenty years ago, Destiny’s world collapsed when her mother died and her father, Albert, abandoned his daughter to pursue acting in New York. His devastating exit taught Destiny a lesson in self-reliance that has kept her safe — and alone — ever since.
Now Albert Jones is back, begging for a second chance. Destiny suspects he’s simply staging another performance, starring himself as the prodigal father. Should she act on her misgivings? Or listen to her inner child, who still yearns for a family? When Albert divulges a shocking secret, Destiny’s life will again be turned upside down.
Kathleen Long’s warm, wise novel reveals the armor that has protected us in the past is often the very thing we must shed to fully live and love.
The Good Goodbye by Carla Buckley
The first thing you should know is that everyone lies. The second thing is that it matters.
How well do we know our children? Natalie Falcone would say she knows her daughter, Arden, very well. Despite the challenges of running a restaurant and raising six-year-old twin boys, she’s not too worried as she sends her daughter off to college — until she gets the call that Arden’s been in a terrible fire, along with her best friend and cousin, Rory. Both girls are critically injured and another student has died. The police suspect arson.
Arden and Rory have always been close, but they have secrets they’ve never shared, secrets that reel all the way back to their childhoods, and which led them to that tragic night. Who set the fire, and why? As the police dig deep into both the present and the past, Natalie realizes that in order to protect her daughter, she’ll first have to find out who Arden really is, even if it means risking everything — and everyone — she loves most.
The House by the Lake by Ella Carey
Anna is content with her well-ordered life in San Francisco. But her world is turned upside down when her beloved grandfather, Max, reveals a startling secret: Anna is part of an aristocratic family who lost everything during World War II. What’s more, Max was forced to leave behind a precious item over 70 years ago in their estate in old Prussia. It’s now his ardent wish that Anna retrieve it.
Anna burns with questions as she heads for Germany: What memento could be so important to her grandfather? And why did he keep their history hidden? As she searches for answers, she finds herself drawn to Wil, a man who may hold the key to unlock the mystery. Together they discover that her family’s secrets are linked with an abandoned apartment in Paris, and these secrets go deeper than she ever imagined.
Alternating between 1930s Europe and the present, The House by the Lake illuminates the destiny of a family caught in the tumult of history.
Which of these books do you plan to read? Share in the comments!
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