Broadening My Reading Horizons-My Favorite Non-Romance Books

The bulk of the books I read are romances, which I imagine is the case for many of us. But I do read and like books in other genres, and I think it can be healthy to switch things up, expand your horizons, and cleanse the palate every once in awhile.  Plus, reading outside your genre can help give you inspirations and tools you can use in your own writing. So today, I thought I’d share with you all few of my favorite non-romance/non-fiction books.

East Wind: West Wind: by Pearl S. Buck

East Wind: West Wind  was written in 1930 and is the coming of age story of Kwei-Lan, a traditional Chinese girl from a well-to-do family in 1930s China. East and West, tradition and modernity,  meet and clash when she marries her betrothed, a Western educated Chinese doctor, and her brother marries a Western woman. Kwei-Lan learns to navigate all the changes and upheavals in her life, and changes and adapts to forge her own path in life, mixing East and West in a way that suits her and her family best.  Even though the book takes place 80 years ago, it still resonated with me on a deep level. Like Kwei-Lan, I sometimes struggle with balancing my Western upbringing and my Eastern cultural influences and values my family instilled in me.

Seven Myths of the Spanish Conquest by Dr. Matthew Restall

I had the extreme pleasure and fortune to be able to take a history class taught by Dr. Restall, who is considered to be one of the premiere experts and scholars of colonial Latin American history in the country. It also didn’t hurt that he had a British accent that was VERY appealing and he was easy on the eyes too. ;)  Seven Myths takes prevailing “myths” and beliefs of the Spanish conquest of Mexico and South America and through painstaking research and analysis, shows how popular misconceptions and oversimplification of that history came to be, and paints a more complex, complete, and accurate picture. For example, Dr. Restall discusses how despite popular belief that the Spanish came saw, and conquered based on their superior intellect and military might, the truth was they created alliances with local Native American tribes and used and exploited tribal rivalries already in place.

Dr. Restall’s class and book perfectly exemplify what I love most about history. History often gets boiled down to dates and events, but it’s so much more interesting and complicated than that. History is about people, their stories, and how history is shaped by social, political, cultural, religious, and economic forces. To me, the fact that Christopher Columbus sailed the ocean blue in 1492 is a lot less interesting than asking WHY he was sailing for the New World, and how an explorer from Genoa  came to sail under the Spanish flag. You tie that into the Age of Exploration, Europe’s growing demand and craze for spices, and the emergence of Spain as a global power, and THAT is a story I want to know more about. Don’t you?

Matilda by Roald Dahl

It might seem strange that I’m including a children’s book on this list. But Matilda was one of my all time favorite books as a child. Part of the magic of Roald Dahl is that he always writes from a child’s point of view, and the child is often fighting the odds by battling a much stronger and more powerful adult villain. In this case, Matilda must contend with neglectful and abusive parents, as well as Miss Trunchbull, her school’s hostile headmistress who doesn’t like children and abuses and bullies them every chance she gets. I applaud Roald Dahl for infusing Matilda with wit, courage, humor, and intelligence so she could stand up to her foes and emerge victorious. I remember thinking I wanted to be friends with Matilda after  first reading the book! It was my first exposure to strong capable heroines, and I haven’t looked back since.

Why My Third Husband Will Be A Dog by Lisa Scottoline

Lisa Scottoline is a former lawyer turned full time writer who writes legal thriller/mystery novels. But a few years ago, she started writing a column called “Chick Wit” for the Philadelphia Inquirer. Why My Third Husband Will Be A Dog is a collection of “Chick Wit” columns and original material. I find Lisa’s frank, open, honest, and humorous take on life refreshing and engaging. I like that she sees the humor in things and doesn’t take herself so seriously-which is something I personally need to work on. I look forward to reading about her escapades, along with stories about Daughter Francesca, Mother Mary, and Brother Frank, and her menagerie of pets (including a Corgi named Ruby who was put on Prozac) every Sunday. Her subsequent collections, My Nest Isn’t Empty, It Just Has More Closet Space, Best Friends, Occassional Enemies, and Meet Me At Emotional Baggage Claim feature columns and writing from both Lisa and her daughter Francesca Serritella. I enjoy reading about about their close mother-daughter bond, with all its ups and downs, and the love and affection between them is palpable and jumps right off the page.

All’s Fair: Love War, and Running for President by James Carville and Mary Matalin

As you all figured out from my post about Aaron Sorkin and The West Wing, I am a huge political junkie, which is why I found this book so fascinating. James Carville is a Democratic political operative, and his wife Mary Matalin is a Republican political consultant. It’s hard enough to keep political discussions respectful and civil, but imagine how difficult it is when it’s your profession, and your significant other, who is in the same field? I can only imagine how difficult it is not to bring your work home with you-literally. All’s Fair is the story of the 1992 Presidential campaign from the point of view of James, who spearheaded President Bill Clinton’s successful White House bid, and Mary, who was a senior operative and consultant on President Geroge H.W. Bush’s re-election campaign. The book is rife with stories from the campaign from the time the  announcement is made  until election night, and takes a candid, unflinching look at how difficult political campaigning is. It is grueling, non-stop, exhausting work, where much is out of your control, and the stakes couldn’t be higher-you’re helping elect the next leader of the free world. I found it so interesting to read about how strategy,technology, policy,  media, and personality come together, and how politics truly is a mix of art and science. It is truly an illuminating look inside our country’s electoral process.

Let Me Call You Sweetheart by  Mary Higgins Clark

Let Me Call You Sweetheart is the first book I checked out after graduating from the children/teen’s section of the library and venturing into the adult section. Thus, this book has a special place in my start.  Let Me Call You Sweetheart is the story of Kerry McGrath, a prosecutor from New Jersey who gets caught up in a murder mystery when she sees women who’ve undergone plastic surgery and look like Suzanne Reardon, a murder victim who died over ten years ago. The book had multiple POVs and kept me guessing the whole time. I had no idea who the bad guy would be and when it was revealed it literally was the last person I expected-I didn’t see it coming at all.  Looking back, this book taught me about plot and pacing. I now appreciate how difficult it is for mystery and thriller writers to construct a tight plot that will lead to the bad guy while still throwing in red herrings and twists and turns, all the while keeping the readers engrossed and turning the pages. This book also sowed the seed of my love for romance as a bit of romance starts brewing between single mom Kerry and Geoff Dorso, a defense attorney, (Having two lawyers who come at it from two different angles and opposite sides of the courtroom? Instant conflict!)  and as the case with Matilda, a strong female protagonist. I liked and admired Kerry as a heroine for her strength, her work ethic, strong moral compass, and how great a mom she was to her daughter Robin.

So tell me dear readers: Do you read other books in other genres besides romance? Share them with me down below in the comments! Always looking for book recommendations to add to my growing TBR mountain. ;) 

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20 thoughts on “Broadening My Reading Horizons-My Favorite Non-Romance Books

  1. Lisa, I also enjoy reading crime/murder mysteries and love Michael Connelly’s books, particularly those featuring homicide detective, Harry Bosch. He’s such a complex and fascinating character and I love how Connelly develops him over the course of the series.

    I also enjoy reading biographies/autobiographies, particularly of the actors/actresses of the Golden Age of Hollywood such stars as Maureen O’Hara, Tony Curtis, Lauren Bacall and Robert Wagner.

    • I remember Michael Connelly’s cameos on the TV show Castle. I’ll definitely have to check his books out! I can only imagine what a challenge it can be to continue to develop a character over multiple books and keeping things consistent and realistic. Makes me think of Eve and Roarke of the In Death series.

      Ooohh, I bet a biography of Lauren Bacall would be fascinating!

  2. Hey Lisa.

    I was just thinking about this topic a few days ago! I make an effort to read outside my genre. I write contemporary romance, and when I’m deep into working, I don’t want to read contemporaries. It throws me off when I read someone whose pace is faster or slower than mine. Because of that, a good chunk of my romance reading contains historicals and paranormals. Outside of romance, I bounce around. Last month I read the Hunger Games trilogy (better late than never) and I like thrillers (political thrillers preferred). I also like the occasional multi-generational saga like ‘The Oldest Living Confederate Widow Tells All’ by Allen Gurganus. And speculative stuff like ‘Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Slayer’. LOVED that.

    • Hi Laura! I have heard so many great things about The Hunger Games. I really should read it one of these days, lol. I find it fascinating how much the YA genre has grown, and how its popularity has exploded, starting with Harry Potter. HP, Twilight, and Hunger Games all started as YA, but EVERYONE ended up reading them.

      And you aren’t the first author who has said they can’t read in their own genre while writing for fear it could interfere with their own writing voice.

      Thanks for coming by!

  3. Great book choices, Lisa!!! Whenever I delve into reading outside romance, it’s usually for research purposes. But lately, to get more reading in during empty hours like when I’m driving, I’ve stepped into other worlds. The Host by Stephanie Meyer was one of those books and I’m excited the movie is coming out this weekend! Loved The Hunger Games series too! Biographies are great, especially when it comes to research. And then there are my pirate books. Woot!!!

  4. I really do quite a bit of reading outside my genre. Ancient manuscripts? Check. Medieval and Renaissance topics? You betcha. Children’s story books? Yep. Eastern philosophy and mysticism? Sure. Roleplaying and tabletop gaming? An almost embarrassingly small collection for a self-professed geek like me. In terms of fiction though? My science fiction and fantasy far outweighs my romance, a fact I’m quite proud of. :)

    • You are certainly a diverse and eclectic reader Jennelle! :) Unfortunately, I’m not a big SFF reader. The genre really doesn’t appeal to me. And I LOVE the Renaissance. Have you read April Blood by Lauro Marines? It’s a fascinating look at Lorenzo the Magnificent and Medici Florence.

  5. I I really enjoyed the first 4 books (5 if you count Without Remorse) of Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan series. The books are so much better than the films (sorry, I’m a Harrison Ford fan, but he was totally miscast in the part). The later books when the character gets involved in politics jumped the shark, but that doesn’t deflect from the strong start of the series. I just pretend the books starting with The Sum of All Fears don’t exist.

    Tailspin by Jean Zimmerman is about the Tailhook scandal in the Navy. Hard to believe it was written in 1995 and though women’s roles in the military have progressed in some ways (female pilots can now fly in combat), society and rape culture has not changed at all :(

    • Hi Kelly! Thanks so much for coming by and commenting. :) I’m sorry the rest of the Jack Ryan series were disappointing. I think your strategy is best-just pretend it didn’t happen. I did the same the with the movie Princess of Thieves!

      I vaguely remember the Tailhook scandal. And yes, it is so sad that we’re still dealing with those types of issues today. :(

  6. My latest most favourite read is The 1811 Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue! And I really enjoyed Charlotte Badger – Bucaneer written by her great great niece (or some such relative.) I’d love to have an ancestor like that!

    • I know a lot of historical romance writers who consider Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue a must have and invaluable reference tool.

      Charlotte Badger Bucaneer sounds really interesting!

  7. Matilda! Is it strange that I don’t find it strange at all that you’ve included a children’s book? No, didn’t think so. Haha. I’m no child anymore, but if you ask me about my favorite books, a majority of it will be the books that have comforted, encouraged, inspired me throughout my formative years (Aw, hi Jo, Anne, Gilbert, Prince Cedie and Princess Sarah, Mary, Dickon, The Little Prince, et al). I think I read Bridge to Terabithia way after college, I’ve only recently read Beauty and loved it, and The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making is still on my TBR pile. I love reading books about psychology and neuroscience, and if I could recommend two books to you, it would be Phantoms in the Brain by my former prof VS Ramachandran (best experience ever, being in a few of his classes) and Oliver Sacks’ The Man Who Mistook His Wife For A Hat. Very interesting to read about the fantastic and strange neurological disorders – what an insight into the human brain! Also, if you can find it, do try Shaun Tan’s The Arrival. It’s unlike anything I’ve read before. :)

  8. Hi Diana! xoxo Thanks for coming by and commenting!

    YES YES to Anne of Green Gables and The Secret Garden! I firmly believe every little girl should get to know Anne Shirley. and often give a copy of AoGG to elementary school girls as gifts.

    I will definitely give The Arrival, Phantoms in the Brain and The Man Who Mistook His Wife For a Hat a try. But first up is TFIOS. ;)

  9. I sometimes wonder if there are so many genres out there solely for the purpose of making sure there is always something to read, no matter what mood we’re in. I was so chuffed to see a Roald Dahl book in there – I’m glad I’m not the only one who dabbles back into books I enjoyed as a kid.

    I tend to mostly go the crime/mystery route (Kathy Reichs, PD James, Andrea Camilleri) or the Fantasy/Sci-Fi direction (Robin McKinley, JK Rowling, Charlaine Harris, and recently, Douglas Adams). When i can handle the darker side of things, I occasionally dip into some Graham Greene or John le Carre (though things never end well with spies). When I need total relaxation of the mind, it will always be the one and only James Herriot, with sick sheep and lame dogs to restore.

    My trouble at the moment is actually finding romances I really love – probably why I keep disappearing back into other genres to read!

    • Oohh then you’ve come to the right place Beatrice! lol. If you ever need recommendations, shoot me an email and I’ll be glad to give you some recommendations! :)

  10. psst….Children’s Literature was one of my favorite classes, one of my favorite times of day as a substitute teacher is read-aloud(unless my voice is threatening to give), and well, who doesn’t enjoy hearing a favorite children’s story being read to them? I also found I truly loved Lois Lowry as an author. We should not discount an entire genre because its “for kids,” after all, we still have the kids inside us that know life is more fun when you eat dessert first…now, go have some dessert, then make dinner;-)

    • Very good point dragontearsoflove! Sorry-didn’t mean to sound like I was disparaging or dismissing children’s literature. I loved Little Women, The Secret Garden, Anne of Green Gables, Roll of Thunder Hear My Cry, as a child and still love them.

      I still vividly remember reading Lois Lowry’s The Given. So traumatizing! lol

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