Every once in a while, I pick up a book that’s so compelling I just can’t put it down until I reach the last page. Sometimes it’s because the book is flat-out amazing; sometimes it’s because the book is good enough and the plot is amazing.
Un-put-down-able books, for me, have certain qualities: great characters, strong narrative drive, a premise that hooks me. The writing is often strong (though “serviceable” will suffice, if you know what I mean), and it can’t be so dense or challenging that I can’t read it while I’m sleepy, or mentally exhausted.
The second category for the 2017 Reading Challenge—for those of you who want to put the “oomph” back in your reading life—is “a book with a reputation for being un-put-down-able.” Why? Because it’s fun. (Well, it’s usually fun—but every once in a while you may reach the last page of a breathtaking book, read the dud of an ending, and hurl it across the room. Readers, you’ve been warned. And if this has happened to you lately, tell us in comments.)
Need ideas for this category? I polished off each of these 17 books in 24 hours or less, because I couldn’t put them down:
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Abbott has a reputation for writing nail-biters but this is the first of her work I read. In her newest release, she builds her domestic suspense around an elite teen gymnast—an excellent backdrop for a creepy mystery because in this high-stakes world people will stop at almost nothing to get what they want. Abbott kept me guessing the whole way through: just when I thought I had the mystery figured out, she pivoted again. Recommended reading for fans of Mary Kubica and Gillian Flynn. More info →
Moriarty's works are compulsively readable: whenever I get my hands on a new one I inhale it in two days. Alice is 29, expecting her first child, and crazy in love with her husband—or at least she thinks she is, but then she bumps her head and wakes up on the gym floor, to find that she’s actually a 39-year-old mother of 3 who’s in the middle of divorcing the man she’s come to hate. She doesn’t know what’s happened to her these past 10 years, or who she’s become. She’s about to find out. I spreed through this like it was the fluffiest chick lit, but found myself mulling over its themes for weeks after I finished. More info →
This Gatsby-esque novel plunges you into the streets of Manhattan, circa 1938. Young secretary Katey Kontent and her roommate Evelyn meet handsome Tinker Gray by chance. The girls vie for his affection—until one impulsive decision changes everything. A beautifully drawn story of wealth and class, luck and fate, love and illusion. This novel pulls several shocking plot twists, and I deﬁnitely didn’t see that ending coming. More info →
The story starts ten years after Veronica's high school graduation, a few months after the movie left off. Veronica is called in to investigate when a girl disappears from a Spring Break party, but it soon becomes apparent this is no ordinary missing persons case, and Veronica is quickly pulled back into Neptune's seedy underworld. This wasn't high literature or anything, but it was so much fun (and had such good narrative drive) I didn't want to stop until I knew how it ended. More info →
I know a lot of Susan Meissner fans, and many of those readers cite this one as their favorite. The action goes back and forth in time between two women, a century apart, who are linked by a beautiful scarf and by their unlikely survival in two devastating tragedies in New York City. Meissner's tone makes this an easy, enjoyable read despite the tough subject matter, making it easy to polish off in a day. More info →
This fast-moving, cinematic thriller begins when the protagonist is kidnapped on his way home from meeting a friend, and is asked a strange question by his strangely familiar captor: "Are you happy with your life?" What The Martian did for space exploration, Dark Matter does for physics, and it works. Imagine the zaniness of Ready Player One, minus the video games or nostalgia trip. More info →
I devoured this in one sitting. Usually I don't think the premise sells the book, but this one does: Julie was kidnapped from her own home when she was thirteen, and eight years later, the mystery is unsolved. Her family assumes the worst but can't be sure. Then one day, the doorbell rings, and it's Julie. But as she settles in to her new, old family, inconsistencies begin to emerge in her story. Why would she lie? Is it really her? I couldn't resist turning the pages until I found out for myself. More info →
I never, and I mean never, would have picked this up on my own, and was surprised to love it. It’s a sci fi novel whose premise is pretty out there: it begins with a little girl falling through the earth and landing in the palm of a gigantic metal hand. Flash forward a few decades, and scientists begin to discover more body parts all over the globe. That's wild, right? But with its interesting structure and strong narrative drive, it works. I hear the full cast audio recording is terrific. More info →
It's trendy these days for every suspense novel to have a "shocking plot twist!" but this tightly-crafted novel makes your jaw drop time and again, without feeling gimmicky or manipulative. I was stunned as I slowly came to see that the story wasn't about what I thought it was about at all, and THAT is what you'll be burning to talk about. On a dark, rainy night, a mother lets go of her son's hand for just an instant. The devastating accident sets the plot in motion. Part police procedural, part domestic suspense, with the ring of authenticity, no doubt thanks to Mackintosh's own 12 years as a police officer. This is an emotional roller coaster of a book. (Sensitive themes ahead, so mind your triggers.) More info →
This was a summer reading guide top 5 pick. Janie knows her 4-year-old son Noah is not like other children. He's terrified of water. He asks for his "other mother." And he always, always wants to go home—even when he's in his very own bed. But one night, thanks to a late-night bourbon-fueled internet session, Janie stumbles upon the work of an eccentric scientist, and begins to confront the possibility that her precious son not only lived a previous life, he'd been murdered in it. You don't have to buy the premise to find this a satisfying read. More info →
I blew through this novel from my YA summer reading list, even though it's almost 400 pages. If you loved Eleanor & Park, it's not a read-alike, but the two stories have enough in common to make this a safe bet. More info →
This taut psychological thriller has great characters, F-bombs galore, and kept me glued to the couch for two days. It's the second (and perhaps the best) in French's Dublin Murder Squad series, which doesn't need to be read in order. The premise might be a tiny-bit far-fetched (although it's certainly interesting to think about), but if you go with it, you'll be rewarded with a great read. More info →
In this contemporary psychological thriller, a British single mother gives her 8-year-old son permission to run ahead a little on their evening walk in the park ... and he disappears, without a trace. MacMillan invites the reader to come along on the hunt for the boy, alternately focusing on police procedure and family drama. The tight writing and sharp execution made this hard to put down. I've seen a lot of comparisons to The Girl on the Train, but instead I'd recommend this one for Tana French fans (although it's much tamer on gore and language.) More info →
Imagine a happier Sliding Doors, with less cheating and more cinnamon rolls. When Hannah moves back to her hometown of Los Angeles, she spends a night on the town with an old friend. The decision she makes at the end of that night changes her life, and in alternating chapters, we find out exactly how. Like many Taylor Jenkins Reid books, this one is compulsively readable, but serious themes lay beneath the surface. More info →
Jane Eyre lovers, you can relax: while Faye—and her heroine, Jane Steele—draw serious inspiration from Jane Eyre, it's not a retelling. Instead, it's delightfully meta: our titular narrator tells us the inspiration to write down her story came from "the most riveting book titled Jane Eyre." This Jane is a wise-cracking, whipsmart, unconventional young woman who rebels against Victorian convention, but she has a heart of gold. Numerous winks to the original make this tons of fun for Brontë fans: Jane becomes a governess, there's a stand-in for Mr. Rochester, and of course, something important is locked away in an attic. Perfect for readers who love plucky Victorian heroines, like you'd find in Deanna Raybourn novels. More info →
I loved this book. A girl-next-door type suddenly finds herself in an elite California prep school, and has to figure out how to navigate this new privileged world while still grieving her mother's death. When she gets an email from an unidentified boy who calls himself "Somebody Nobody" offering to be her spirit guide to her new school, she doesn't want to say yes—but she really needs his help. A sweet and fun teen romance, but also a pitch-perfect portrayal of the grieving process. More info →
I finished this one on a weekday afternoon when I was supposed to be working, because all I wanted to do was finish this book. It’s a novel about teenagers, in love, but I suspect it's more for the adults who survived the teen years than the teenagers living through them. The framing makes all the difference to this one: pay attention to the way Rowell cites Romeo & Juliet. It matters. More info →
What books did YOU find completely un-put-down-able? What are you reading for this category for the 2017 Reading Challenge?