I wanted a perfect Mother’s Day selection of books, but not about perfect mothers. Because bad mothers — in fiction at least — are more intriguing. So I asked myself: What books have bad mothers? And I answered in a whispery little voice: your own. Well, that was surprising. But yes, come to think of it, my novel Trust Me features two pretty interesting — possibly terrifying — young moms.  And in my upcoming The First To Lie? There’s a doozy in that one, too.

But that’s fiction. In real life, for so many people, our mom was the first one to hold us in her arms. The first person, too, who gave us food, and showed us the world, and taught us how to speak. How to communicate. Even if we pretended not to, we listened to what she said, and she shaped our lives. 

That power — the power of communication — is so elemental in motherhood. And so pivotal. In some relationships, it’s all love and laughter and Mozart and pizza, chocolate chip cookies and family dinners and bedtime stories on laps. But for others, it’s … well, take Margaret White, the mom in Carrie. Putting your child in a “prayer closet”? Stephen King recognized a bad mom when he wrote one.

Mrs. Bennett’s striving manipulation created one of Jane Austen‘s most controversial characters — at least she had her daughters’ survival in mind. If not, necessarily, happiness. Hamlet’s mom, there was a charmer. And will you ever look at a closet without declaiming: “No wire hangers!”? The Joan Crawford biography made Mommy Dearest a household epithet. And George R.R. Martin’s Cerce Lannister? Enough said.

The power our moms have over us, and fictional moms over their fictional offspring, is an intensely supercharged connection. When a bad one gets a hold of a main character, only the power of the pen on page can stop her.

If you got a good mom, lucky you! Mine taught me to trust my conscience, think before I speak, ask questions, be brave and never have a photo taken with a drink in my hand.

Fictional characters’ mothers teach them other things. Many of which are not that great. Here are some fictional moms you might not want to emulate, but we sure do love to read about them.

Sister Dear by Hannah Mary McKinnon | MIRA

Envy and greed are always powerful motivators. Especially if you can get someone else to do the dirty work. Sibling rivalries — or alliances — have never been so seductively misleading. McKinnon’s addition of a certain mom into the mix will have you turning the pages as fast as you can. 

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The Other Woman by Sandie Jones | Pan Macmillan

In this case, it’s not only her own mother, it’s her fiancé‘s mother. Sandie Jones’s clever sleight of hand takes the expected and twists it into a brilliant (and shocking) surprise. That is, if you think manipulative mothers are brilliant.

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Little Voices by Vanessa Lillie | Thomas & Mercer

Poor new mom. She’s only doing what she’s thinks is best to protect everyone. Do good intentions erase an unfulfilled personal desire? We all have our little secrets.  So sinister.

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Platinum Doll by Anne Girard | MIRA 

Clara Bow, Clark Gable, Howard Hughes … and a Hollywood mom. The girl who became Jean Harlow — that talent, that body, that brain, that hair — learns ambitions and desire and self-respect can be destroyed if your mom doesn’t really know best. If you’re a movie star, who do you really belong to? Your public, or yourself? Pro tip: don’t rely on Mom’s advice.

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The Manchurian Candidate by Richard Condon | McGraw Hill

This 1959 classic may be even scarier today than it was then. Its title became an instant shorthand descriptor. And Eleanor Shaw Iselin has got to be the ultimate bad mom. Pro tip number two: if your mom asks you, “Why don’t you pass the time by playing a little solitaire?”, be very afraid. 

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The Perfect Mother by Aimee Malloy | HarperCollins   

So hip, so Brooklyn, so trendy mom group — the May mothers all had their babies in the same month. So sorry. Not gonna work out as a few of them hoped. After you read what happens to baby Midas, you’ll never think about Prospect Park the same way — or about your best mommy pals. 

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Rodin’s Lover  by Heather Webb | Penguin

Yikes. Thanks, mom. A superbly talented artist is prevented from claiming her glory by her maman, while lover Auguste Rodin sculpts his place into art history. Aren’t moms supposed to be supportive? Webb’s thorough research also makes this insight into the art world of the belle époque truly memorable — and then there’s chere mere.

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Gretchen by Shannon Kirk | Thomas & Mercer   

What makes a mother, really? Only Lucy’s mother knows, and she has some pretty powerful reasons for not telling. But the secret is revealed after Lucy crosses paths with a creepy frenemy who forces her to face the truth. Whoa. The fabulously twisted mind of Shannon Kirk takes you places you never knew you wanted to go. 

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Darling Rose Gold by Stephanie Wrobel | Berkley 

This is as creepy as it gets, but I devoured it. As cinematic and disturbing as any book could be, you’ll find it impossible to turn off the vision in your mind, even as you try to figure out: Good Mom? Or Bad Mom? 

Read the BookTrib review Here.

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See? It’s not so terrible now, right? That your mom set a curfew and confiscated your comic books and made you eat Brussels sprouts. Now you love sleeping, you can get your own comics and you realize Brussels sprouts are delicious. This Mother’s Day is a time to make sure your dear mom is safe — and maybe send her a nice book.