The Bibliotherapist is IN: Books for Empty Nesters

The days got longer, the nights grew crisp. Commercials for school supplies ran on a seemingly constant loop during nighttime TV. It was time to send the kids to school again. But say that your little ones are no longer so little. And rather than packing a lunchbox, you were packing shower caddies and a bed-in-a-bag. Because now they’ve gone off to college.

There’s lots to celebrate here: no more shuttling people to ballet and soccer, no more of the general noise associated with teenage children (slamming doors, hair dryers). But for those of you who are not clicking your heels about it, for those of you who are maybe finding the sudden silence in the house a little hard to take—don’t worry.

I’m the Bibliotherapist. I’ve got this one.

As part of my job as a Library Fairy, I do something I call “Reader’s Services,” which is another way of saying “Book Recommendations.” What I’ve found in my years of doing this is that different… well, personal situations might call for different reads. So now, I’m offering the same service for you. I like to offer a reader several different types of crime novels, in the hopes that at least one of them will work for whatever ails in your time of crisis. Now bear in mind, this is not a whole list of mystery novels featuring people in your situation (although I did manage to come up with one!). I’ve also stayed away from any crimes against children, detectives balancing work and family. Instead, I’ve come up with a list of diverting books you might want to try.

I’m concentrating on books about Great Second Acts, books about Grown-ass people doing Grown-ass things, amazing things and having adventures they could NEVER have while making sure everybody gets enough vegetables and to school on time. Another thing I kept in mind is that some of you might have many hours to while away, so I tried to find a couple of series that have lots and lots of books. Because sometimes, when you need bibliotherapy, the last thing you want is to have to make another decision.

Here are some Prescriptive Reading Suggestions for Empty Nesters:

The Unexpected Mrs. Pollifax by Dorothy GilmanThe Unexpected Mrs. Pollifax by Dorothy Gilman

Talk about your great second acts. Emily Pollifax is a senior citizen widow, at the end of her rope from the sheer boredom of it all. Inspired by the story of an actress who started her career late in life, she applies for a job at the CIA. Yes. The Old Lady becomes a Spy. What’s great about the Mrs. Pollifax books is that they are not so silly that they don’t hold your interest, yet not too serious, and they don’t provide too “intense” a reading experience. These are mysteries that dare to be funny and move with a quick, light pace. Also? There are about two hundred Mrs. Pollifax books (well, not really, but 14's pretty good), so if these work for you, there will be plenty to choose from.


The Bat by Jo Nesbo, Book 1 in the Harry Hole SeriesThe Bat by Jo Nesbø (Harry Hole Series)

On the other side of this equation, you might want a more “intense” read. You might want something a little more fast-paced, a little more meaty, a little more bloody. And for my money, nobody does this quite like the Scandinavian thriller writers, and Jo Nesbø's Harry Hole is just terrific. I find a particular tone to the Scandinavian procedurals that’s very different from an American or British mystery novel. Without ever being maudlin, there is a quiet, elegiac tone. This generalized melancholy in the background of a fast-paced thriller might be exactly what an Empty Nester craves. The other thing that’s great about this series is that Harry Hole often travels outside his native Oslo, Sweden to places like Australia and Hong Kong. And there’s lots of juicy crime, deeply disturbing psychological motives, and plot twists. The Bat is the first of the Harry Hole books, but one of the most recent to be translated into English and available. But my patrons seem to lose no pleasure even when reading these out of order. And while the Harry Hole books are not quite as plentiful as Mrs. Pollifax's, there are plenty to choose from, and more getting translated all the time.


In the Blood by Steve Robinson, a Geneological Crime Mystery featuring Jefferson TayteIn The Blood, Steve Robinson (Genealogical Crime Mystery Series)

While it’s true that I’ve stayed away from child- or family-centered stories, I think the Genealogical Crime Series by Steve Robinson is good middle ground. For those of you who might enjoy a more research-oriented mystery, In the Blood can fill up that Family spot, without the reader being forced to watch someone find a babysitter or deal with crimes against children. Jefferson Tayte is a genealogist who, ironically, doesn’t know who his own parents are. This is one of the most innovative occupations for an amateur sleuth that I’ve come across. Tayte uses his skills to uncover the mystery of an entire family bloodline that’s been erased from the records. For the current malaise that might plague Empty Nesters, I find that considering old Family Secrets from the Past can be particularly effective.


Desired to Death by J.M. MaisonDesired to Death by J.M. Maison
 (The Empty Nest Murder Series)

Until now, I’ve stayed away from what I call Illustrative Examples (reading a book about someone going through exactly what you are going through), but for this one, I’ll make an exception. J.M. Maison has penned a sweet, swift little book in which her heroine (the aptly named Maggie True) takes her Empty Nestage and turns her attentions to solving crime. And she manages two birds with one stone: Discovering the killer of a kickboxing instructor and siumltaneously Solving the mystery of What Does My Life Hold Now?

So Empty Nesters, fear not. The Bibliotherapist has your back. Great twists are around the corner. Even here in the Second Act.

Amy Eller Lewis is a writer and Library Fairy in Southern New England. She works at one of the oldest libraries in the country, which is definitely haunted. Follow her on Twitter @amyellerlewis or on Tumblr:

Read all of Amy Eller Lewis's posts on Criminal Element.



    Great list – I would also recommend Veronica Heley’s Ellie Quicke series.

  2. Samantha Cox

    Looks like a great reading lisst…

  3. Cheryl Peterson

    Excuse me – Oslo, SWEDEN????? Norwegians Jo Nesbo and Harry Hole might object…

  4. Benita Glickman

    Sounds like a terrific list.

  5. Cheryl Greenleaf

    Time to add another author to my favorites list.
    The Unexpected Mrs. Pollifax by [b]Dorothy Gilman [/b]sounds like a great read.[b][/b]

  6. Julia Munroe Martin

    Just stumbled on this (I’m the author of DESIRED TO DEATH written w/ a pen name). Thank you so much for your kind words & sweet review; Mrs. Pollifax has always been a favorite and it was a true thrill to see my book listed alongside.

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