If you're reading this right now, you may be wondering- "why is Riley posting about books?"- and I don't blame you! I have always loved to read, and over the past year or so, I've read (or listened to) more books than I have probably read throughout the rest of my lifetime. I wanted to put together a list of my favorites somewhere other than an Instagram highlight (almost like a reading journal, I guess?), and on the off-chance that there's some one out there with similar taste in books, I figured that I might as well share it.
Growing up, I always had a love/hate relationship with summer reading lists. My mom signed us up for every summer reading program in Baltimore County, and while I loved every minute of reading what I chose to read, I would get easily annoyed when I was assigned a book that wasn't something that I would have picked (looking at you, All Creatures Great and Small). With summer (sort of) coming up, I thought it would be fun to make this a "summer reading list" of books that I thoroughly enjoyed (and hope other people will, too).
A few things about this list that I want to share in case you're reading this for recommendations:
- I read/listen to mostly psychological thrillers/police procedural books/what most people probably think of as "beach reads." I'm not going to pretend to be a literary critic and if beach reads aren't your cup of tea, the majority of this list probably isn't for you (although there are a couple that fall outside the thriller genre)
- These are all fiction. I read mostly for entertainment/enjoyment, and while there are a couple non-fiction books I really love, I had to draw the line somewhere because this took me a lot longer to put together than I'd anticipated
- These are all books that I've read since my college graduation, and most of them are from the past year. If I read the book before this past year, I put a * next to it
-While I wouldn't consider every book on this list one of my favorites, if it made the list, I did find it very entertaining (and to me, that's what summer reading is all about). If you do read one of these- let me know what you think!
1. The One
This is probably my number one summer reading recommendation right now. Whether you love it (I did) or think it’s bordering on young adult fiction (my best friend told me it sounded like it was written for a middle-schooler), I am almost positive that you’ll be entertained. It takes place in an alternate universe where there’s a gene that can determine who your soulmate is, and anyone can find out their genetic “match” through a dating app for a small fee. There are five different story lines, so it reads a little like a TV show (also- just found out they’re making it into a TV show for Netflix). Oh, and there’s a serial killer, because, why not?
2. The Hunting Party
Kind of like a modern-day Agatha Christie (says someone who hasn’t read Agatha Christie since highschool), this is a murder mystery set at a hunting lodge (fancy) over New Year’s. A group of friends attends their annual college reunion, and one of them disappears. The book starts with a dead body, but it’s set up so that you don’t know who was killed (or who killed them) until the end. The story is told through each character’s perspective, which I don’t usually love, but I thought that it worked really well here/kept me guessing.
3. Gone or Wolf *
When I think about books that I have not been able to put down (think- reading at actual parties), Gone and Wolf are two that come to mind (although, the same could be said for most of the other books I've read by Mo Hayder, too) . In Gone, Detective Jack Cafferty is tasked with finding a missing eleven-year-old girl who was kidnapped during a car-jacking. In Wolf, a homeless man finds a dog with a note attached to his collar that says "HELP US," and Cafferty has to find out where the dog came from (before time runs out for the dog's owners).
Both of these books are race-against-time type scenarios, and the definition of "page-turners"- and even though they're from the same "series," they don't need to be read in order!
4. The Dreamers
Karen Thompson Walker
This is one of the few books I have on this list that wouldn’t fall in the “psychological thriller” genre, and to be totally honest, I’m not even sure if I’d categorize it as great summer reading material, because I didn’t think it was a “page turner” exactly (my sister said she thought it was boring, and kept waiting for something to happen, which I actually get), BUT- I loved it, because I thought it was written beautifully (almost more like a very long poem than a book, maybe?) A virus breaks out in a city in California where the sick/infected fall asleep and don’t wake up (as in- they don’t die, but just sleep continually and can’t be woken up). This book reminded me a lot of Blindness by Jose Saramango (also incredible), but it’s probably because it starts with a quote from Blindness. If you need a break from beach reads, this might be a good option.
5. The Other Woman
There’s a pretty good chance you’ve already seen this- I think it was a pick for Reese Witherspoon’s book club, which is probably where I found out about it- but in case you haven’t, I wanted to make sure I added this to the list. The main character, Emily, meets a guy named Adam, and they start dating and fall in love. When it comes time to meet Adam’s mother, she seems wonderful at first, but quickly turns into Emily’s worst nightmare. For me, this book was part romantic comedy and part psychological thriller, and I thought it worked really well- I couldn’t stop listening/reading. There are a couple of great twists, and I found myself really rooting for Emily throughout the whole thing (albeit terrified for her at certain parts).
6. The Circle*
When I went to grab a screenshot of the book cover, I found out that this book apparently is a movie now? I totally missed that- in any case, I read this book almost six years ago, but still remember so many little details from it. I remember making my mom and boyfriend (now husband) read it at the time, too. I still think about it from time to time, and it's almost eery how some of the scenarios presented in the book-universe are actual realities in today's world.
The Circle is set in an alternate universe where the main character, 20-something Mae, starts her new job at the country's most powerful, well-known internet company, the Circle. At first, it seems like the perfect place to work (think Google's campus- an incredible food court, fully-stocked dorms available at any time for employees who work late, a state-of-the-art gym, etc.), and the company is fully committed to the idea of transparency through sharing and connecting with one another. Over time, however, Mae learns more and more about the company and their "vision," and the Circle begins to feel more like a cult than a company.
7. In the Woods*
In the Woods is one of my all-time favorite books. I absolutely love Tana French because I feel like her books are not only exciting page-turners, but also well-written (again, not a book critic, so this is all in my humble opinion).
The book takes place in modern-day Ireland, and the main character, Detective Rob Can't Remember His Last Name, and his partner, Cassie, are assigned to solve the murder of a 12-year-old girl. The girl's body was found in the same woods where Rob's friends disappeared when he was a child, so there are all sorts of connections that occur throughout the book, and a ton of twists and turns.
I also loved Broken Harbour (same author).
8. Then She Was Gone
I’ve read a lot of Lisa Jewell’s books, and love most of them. I think that (for me, at least) she does a wonderful job with character development, which makes me genuinely care about what’s going to happen to the characters, and more invested in the story because of it.Ten years after Laurel’s teenage daughter, Ellie, disappears, she meets a handsome stranger, and they start dating. When she meets her new boyfriend’s daughter, Poppy, Laurel is shocked at her resemblance to Ellie. Laurel becomes obsessed all over again with finding out what happened to her daughter. I almost put my second favorite Lisa Jewell book on this list too (The House We Grew Up In), but it’s not so much a summer reading page-turner as a really good book (in my humble opinion) about a family and how they’re affected by their mother’s hoarding disorder over time.
9. Sometimes I Lie
Right now, I feel like every book synopsis I read says that it’s "for fans of Gone Girl and Girl on the Train", and I feel like barely any of those books have delivered. Gone Girl and Girl on the Train are incredible books, and I feel like it’s tough to come across books that are that good/surprising- but I think that Sometimes I Lie is one of them. I love whenever there’s an unreliable narrator, and we know from the beginning that we can’t take anything that Amber (our narrator) says at face value- she starts the book by telling us that she’s in a coma, her husband doesn’t love her, and she has a tendency to lie sometimes. The book goes back and forth between the week leading up to Amber’s coma, and 20-year-old diary entries. The twist at the end clicks everything into place, and made me want to go back and read it again to see what I’d missed (which I feel like is always a sign of a great book). (Sidenote- I’m about ¾ of the way through Alice Feeney’s new book, I Know Who You Are- it’s good, but I don’t think anywhere near as good as Sometimes I Lie).
10. Behind Closed Doors
Like so many of my other favorite books, Behind Closed Doors is so very creepy and made me so nervous at certain parts that I literally couldn’t stop reading (er.. listening). I think I finished this book within 24 hours. For me, I like a book so much more when I really love the main character(s), and I loved Grace and loved her sister even more. Grace is married to Jack, and everyone around them is in awe of their seemingly perfect relationship. But it becomes clear pretty quickly to the reader that something isn’t right. I’ll stop there, because I don’t want to give anything away, and I felt like the author did a great job jumping right into the story. As a side note- I read The Breakdown by BA Paris immediately after this one, and it was not for me. I started Bring Me Back, and wasn’t able to finish it, so this could have been a “one-hit-wonder” book by the author for me, but it’s easily in my top ten from this past year.
11. Behind Her Eyes
I LOVED this book. It’s very creepy, and it’s probably not for everyone- the ending is INSANE- but I was 100% there for it. The main character (or, rather, one of the main characters) Louise meets and kisses an attractive stranger at a bar, only to turn up at work the next week and find out that the stranger is her new boss. To make things even more awkward, she runs into his wife, Adele, while running errands, and the two become friends. But the closer Louise gets to David and Adele, the weirder things get- there is something WAY off about their relationship, and I got just as sucked in as Louise did (haha, as I’m typing this, I’m smiling thinking about how corny that line was- sorry). If you do end up reading this one, let me know your thoughts on the ending- you will be surprised. (Sidenote: Sarah Pinborough has written two other books that I've read- of those two, I really liked 13 Minutes, too, but not enough to add to this list!)
12. In A Dark, Dark Wood
My favorite of Ruth Ware’s books (although, to be honest, I never finished Mrs. Dalloway), and one of my favorite books EVER (but, again, could totally have to do with Imogen Heap’s Audible narration), this is the book that got me back into reading after almost a four-year break. It takes place at a bachelorette party (called “hen parties” by the English, which was a fun fact for me to learn) at a cabin in the woods, and I don’t want to say too much more that that for fear of giving something away, but this is one of my top picks for sure (sidenote- just found out while grabbing a photo of the cover that they’re making it into a movie).
13. The Girl Before
This story is told from the points-of-view of two different women Emma and Jane, on two different timelines. On a search for a new apartment, Jane finds the perfect spot- it's beautiful, spacious, and surprisingly within her budget- but then she finds out that there's an extensive (and very bizarre) list of rules/requirements the owner has set in place for tenants, and that the previous tenant (Emma) died there.
The story is bizarre, and at times, totally unbelievable to the point of almost being silly, but it's also very entertaining, and kept me guessing up until the end.
14. The Last Mrs. Parrish
There is a 99% chance that you've already heard of this book (it's another Reese book), BUT, if you haven't, and like domestic/psychological thrillers, I would start with this- so good! The book starts with Amber Patterson, an awful 20-something who becomes quickly obsessed with Daphne Parrish, a young socialite wife/mother that she meets at her gym. As Amber and Daphne develop a friendship, Amber's obsession with Daphne and her family becomes more and more insane- but I'll stop there before I give anything away (Sidenote- Liv Constantine's new book comes out next week and I can't wait!)
15. Hey Ladies
Michelle Markowitz/Caroline Moss
This book it told through one year of email threads between eight 20- and 30- something “friends” in NYC. While I can safely say that none of the women reminded me of my own friends (⅞ are categorically awful), I think that any 20 to 30-something can relate to being part of an email chain or group text about a bachelorette/weekend away/etc. that they with that they could unsubscribe to. This is NOT a thriller (although there were certain points where I wouldn't have argued with a character being killed off), and I definitely wouldn't call it one of my all-time-favorites, but I found it very easy-to-read and entertaining in a love-to-hate-these-characters kind of way (kind of like Bravo TV in a book).
16. Baby Teeth
This book is certainly not for everyone. To elaborate- half of this book is narrated from the perspective of a sociopathic seven-year-old child. If reading that hasn’t thrown you off, though, I’d definitely recommend this entertaining (but extremely creepy) book.
17. The Liar’s Wife
Usually, when a book’s cover has a tagline like “A gripping psychological thriller with edge-of-your-seat suspense,” it’s a red flag that it will be just the opposite. I’d read another book by the author that I liked a lot, though (The Reunion), so I gave this one a chance. I’m so glad that I did (it doesn’t hurt that the Audible narrator sounds like a Great British Baking Show judge, in my opinion). The main character, Ella, wakes up in a hospital after a hit-and-run, and is assured by the hospital staff that her husband will be there soon to take her home- but Ella doesn’t have a husband. There were a few edge-of-my-seat moments where I actually stopped everything I was doing as I listened and held my breath, and a huge twist at the end (where the loose ends were all tied up).
18. The Interestings
When people ask me about my favorite book and I'm too embarrassed to say Red Dragon or something by Gillian Flynn, I usually tell them this one. This is not a psychological thriller or a page-turner, but it is an awesome book (in my humble opinion) The Interestings follows six friends over the course of several decades from their meeting at summer camp to starting careers and families of their own. It's about friendships/relationships in general, and how things change and stay the same over time, and it hit close to home for me at so many different times.