The pros and cons of Kindles are discussed at great lengths among bibliophiles. The conveniences of a light device and a vast digital library are great, but many readers prefer the physical feeling of reading an open book and turning its pages.
Amazon could meet readers somewhere in the middle with a future product.
Amazon released the first Kindle over a decade ago. The $399 device was thick and heavy with a physical keyboard – and sold out in under six hours. By 2010, e-readers were expected to kill off the sale of physical books, a shift quickly compared to the growing music streaming industry.
Today, print books are more popular than e-books, according to Statista, a recovery that many owe to the physicality of hardcovers that Kindles have yet to effectively replicate. By 2025, the global e-reader market is expected to shrink by $300 million.
“I’m a sucker for paperbacks,” Erika Semprem, a 23-year-old book influencer known as @theazereads told Insider. “But I do love that Kindles are more convenient. Instead of driving 25 minutes to the bookstore, I can purchase whatever book I’m in the mood for right away.”
Ten generations of Kindles later, Amazon says the latest Kindle Oasis “reads like real paper” with e-ink technology and fast page turns. As of 2019, over 90 million Americans own an e-reader, with the Kindle listed as the most widely-owned device.
If internal talks to make a foldable Kindle solidify, this could be the e-reader book lovers have been waiting for.
Most people in my life know me as that friend who’s always talking about her feelings. It’s true: I go to therapy, and I talk constantly to anyone who’ll listen about what I’m learning there; I use “I” statements; and I ask everyone, “How does that make you feel?”
The book offered me hands-on, research-backed interpersonal skills for building what the authors call “exceptional relationships,” which have six hallmarks: Both people can be more fully themselves, can be honest with each other, are willing to be vulnerable, can trust that self-disclosure will not be used against them, can deal with conflict productively, and will commit to each other’s growth and development.
I decided to test out some of the book’s lessons on one longstanding personal relationship and one new one – my best friend, and a person I recently started dating – to see what it would change.
I saw the fruits of my labor in less than a month. Here are some of the most valuable strategies I learned.
1. Stay on your side of the net
When my best friend recently told me about a summer trip she’d planned that didn’t include me, I immediately assumed it meant that she doesn’t like traveling with me. But I reeled in my melodrama and recalled one of the book’s lessons: Stay on your side of the net.
According to the authors, there are three realities in the interpersonal cycle: the other person’s intent, which only they know; their behavior, which is observable by both parties; and the impact of that behavior on you, which only you know. Imagine it as a tennis court, where there’s a net between intent and behavior. In assuming my friend’s motives, I was playing on her side of the court – over the net.
When you stay on your side of the net, you remain in your own reality and let the other person know you’re not judging their character or asking them to change their personality. This leaves room for them to hear what you have to say and tell you more about their intentions.
2. Express a ‘pinch’ before it becomes a ‘crunch’
Recently, I expressed to the guy I’ve been dating that something he did made me feel unappreciated. I told him it wasn’t a big deal, but that I wanted to talk about it while it was a “pinch” (a mild offense) so it wouldn’t become a “crunch” (a major conflict).
Before we chatted, I took Bradford and Robin’s advice of stating the intent of my feedback – to offer him more insight into how I operate and what I need from a partner, and kept the no-big-deal issue at hand from spiraling into something bigger.
3. Offer behaviorally specific feedback
Pointing out observable behaviors is crucial to good communication, as it allows the other person to share their motives.
If I tell my friend, “You don’t want to take a trip with me,” I’m setting the conversation up negatively. But if I say, “You’ve recently planned a bunch of trips but haven’t invited me on any,” I’m merely stating something observable, which allows for vulnerability where we can both talk about our needs and intentions.
4. Try the 15% Rule
Stepping 15% outside the “Zone of Comfort” means offering information about yourself that is slightly uncomfortable but not too risky, to see how the other person will respond.
With the guy I’m seeing, I disclosed some personal past experiences. I wasn’t stepping into the “Danger Zone” – where there’s a likelihood of him reacting negatively or me feeling like I’ve said too much too soon – but I was getting myself closer to the “Zone of Learning,” where I can gauge his reaction and decide if I feel safe sharing more.
Face the fear
The principles of “Connect” can be applied to any relationship, but I found I was just as nervous trying these tactics with my close friend as I was with a new romantic partner. After all, it’s human to fear that if someone really knew you, they’d reject you.
But I learned it’s entirely worth it. In less than a month, I experienced newfound closeness in both of these relationships. Maybe best of all, I improved how I communicate, and gave myself permission to evolve and be more fully myself.
Michelle Juergen is a Los Angeles-based freelance writer, editor, copywriter, copyeditor, and ghostwriter. She often overshares her feelings on Instagram to anyone willing to read her lengthy captions.
Beach reads used to be known as mindless, mass-market paperbacks with shirtless men on the cover that we’d throw in our bags, read for an hour, and never care about again. But now, beach reads are an escape, whether your toes are in the sand or not. They take us on vacation, into a new world away from our stresses.
My mark of a good beach read is one with a fully consuming story. Many of these books are ones I’ve read in a single day (or a single sitting), and every one of them pairs perfectly with a day off. Whether it’s a delightfully cheesy romantic comedy or harrowing nonfiction, every book on this list has the potential to whisk you away and make any day a vacation in the sun.
Of course I had to include this one. It’s about two polar-opposite writers staying in neighboring beach houses for the summer, one a romance writer and the other trying to write the next Great American Novel. Faced with writer’s block, they decide to swap topics and spend the summer teaching each other the ins and outs of writing their genres, all while competing to publish their own book first. With plenty of romance, scenes that might make you cry, and an interesting (and accurate) inside look at the process of writing a book, this is an easy one to read in the sun.
Irresistible beach read quality: The enemies-to-friends-to-lovers storyline.
A beach read that feels like a reality show
“One to Watch” by Kate Stayman-London, available at Amazon and Bookshop
Okay, I’ll admit it. I watch “The Bachelorette” every single week. If you love watching the show’s smart, strong leads who know exactly what they want and refuse to settle, then you will absolutely love this book. Bea is a plus-sized fashion blogger who gets asked to be on a “Bachelorette”-like reality show. She sees it as an opportunity to grow her brand and show that plus-size women deserve the spotlight, too. Between internet drama and conniving producers, this book is more entertaining than a reality show.
Irresistible beach read quality: The can’t-look-away drama.
A charming, sexy rom-com
“Take A Hint, Dani Brown” by Talia Hibbert, available at Amazon and Bookshop
First of all, every Talia Hibbert book belongs on this list. Her romances are known for their sensitivity and steam, but they’re also such enjoyable reads that any one of them is perfect for a relaxing beach day. Danika has no interest in a relationship but asks the universe for the perfect friend-with-benefits. So when a video of sexy security guard Zafir carrying Danika out of a building goes viral, they decide to fake a relationship to promote Zafir’s charity (and help Danika secretly seduce him behind the scenes). I loved Dani’s intelligence and the anti-toxic masculinity storyline around Zafir. Have you ever teared up because a book was so naturally inclusive that it felt like a breath of fresh air? You might once you grab this.
Irresistible beach read quality: The steamy romance.
An emotional yet adorable romance
“The Happy Ever After Playlist” by Abbi Jimenez, available at Amazon and Bookshop
This one starts out a little cheesy, but there’s something so endearing about it that got me hooked. Sloan lost her fiancé two years ago and is still struggling to get her life together when she finds a lost pup named Tucker whose owner, Jason, is on tour in Australia. The two exchange texts and calls, their connection growing as their meeting grows near. But being an international star, Jason might not have time for a relationship and Sloan could end up heartbroken again. This book is super dramatic and full of scandal, giving it all the summer romance vibes you need.
Irresistible beach read quality: A super cute dog — and a dog owner who’s not too bad looking, either.
The tale of an unexpected Hawaiian vacation
“The Unhoneymooners” by Christina Lauren, available at Amazon and Bookshop
Christina and Lauren (the co-authors) have written a bunch of fun rom-coms but this is my favorite because it’s absolutely hysterical. Olive (who thinks love is gross) and her sworn enemy Ethan put aside their mutual hatred for an all-expense-paid Hawaiian honeymoon after food poisoning hits everyone in her sister’s wedding besides them. When they run into her boss, the entire vacation revolves around pretending to be loving newlyweds. It’s adorable and fast-paced because of the constant (and hilarious) complications that arise.
Irresistible beach read quality: The witty banter.
The day I opened this book, I did absolutely nothing else besides getting to the bottom of what the heck was happening in these pages. Lowen is a budding writer, brought to the Crawford home to finish writing Verity’s book series after a car accident left her in a waking coma. While doing research in Verity’s library, Lowen finds an autobiographical manuscript with haunting admissions, so devastating that she chooses to keep them a secret. This is a rollercoaster of lies that will have you trying to guess the truth until the last page.
Irresistible beach read quality: The need to know the truth gets stronger with every lie.
“Gone Girl” is undoubtedly the most famous of Flynn’s novels but “Sharp Objects” is my favorite to recommend as a beach read. It’s a bit shorter — and so twisted that you have to finish it in a day. Camille is an investigative reporter returning to her small town to cover the murder of a young girl. She’s staying with her hypochondriac mother in her childhood bedroom and must unravel some psychological twists in order to uncover the story. This is an incredibly suspenseful thriller and you’ll need the sun to balance out all the dark secrets.
Irresistible beach read quality: A disturbing past that feels all too real.
Anna is spending the summer in the Hamptons on a nannying gig, in a community on edge after the New Year’s Eve disappearance of Zoe Spanos. Anna, who is constantly reminded of her resemblance to Zoe, begins to dig deeper into the unsolved case. Two months later, she finds herself charged with the manslaughter of a girl she’d never met. The book bounces between Anna’s confession and the summer as it unfolds, with an ending that will throw you for a loop — I really thought I had this one all figured out but the last 10 pages blew me away.
Irresistible beach read quality: The true-crime feel.
Blythe is determined to be the warm and loving mother she never had. She’s convinced that something is wrong with her daughter, even though her husband says she’s exhausted and just imagining things. When her second child is born, the connection between herself and her children is strong and beautiful, until their lives are forever changed. This is another one that demands to be read in one sitting as everything you’ve accepted is eventually overturned. The book’s short chapters have you turning the pages faster and faster as you navigate haunting memories, trauma, and the legacy of motherhood.
Irresistible beach read quality: The ending that will make you want to throw the book in the ocean.
Historical fiction beach reads
A page-turning exploration of one woman’s life
“The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo” by Taylor Jenkins Reid, available at Amazon and Bookshop
This was the first book I read in a single sitting and it’s one I recommend to everyone. Evelyn Hugo is an A-list Hollywood actress who is finally ready to tell her story, but only to one little-known journalist. In this book, we get to hear Evelyn’s story of rising to fame in the ’50s, leaving the business in the ’80s, and marrying seven husbands (all for different reasons) along the way. Taylor Jenkins Reid writes characters and stories that are so vivid, you can’t believe they’re not real. This book is fascinating and a little heartbreaking, and when everything comes together in the end, it might become your new favorite.
Irresistible beach read quality: The desire to know who the love of Evelyn’s life was.
Just when you think you’ve read every World War II story there is to tell, this book comes into your life. It’s about French women’s role in the war — from secret messengers across country lines to wives forced to house German soldiers as bombs drop around them. While 600 pages might warrant a week-long beach stay, I read this in two days and cried twice. It is so achingly beautiful and so hard to pull away.
Irresistible beach read quality: The constant action of women fighting to survive.
A historical tale set in Scotland
“The Skylark’s Secret” by Fiona Valpy, available at Amazon and Bookshop
In 1940, Flora embarks on a forbidden romance that brings even more tension into a home rocked by devastating changes in the community. Many years later, Flora’s daughter, Lexie, returns to the village with her own daughter to learn about her mother, their past, and the sacrifices made in her name. This multi-generational story is about war, love, and learning from and about our past. The family dynamics — and facing that which lays hidden behind them — make this book so beloved by many.
Irresistible beach read quality: The connection between the generations of women and their homeland.
A fictional account of a real, often-overlooked woman
Maggie O’Farrell’s magical writing elevates an already fascinating book into one that you’ll hold close long after the summer is over. It’s historical fiction, based on the little-known (but real) story of Agnes, found in the footnotes of “Hamlet.” In 1580s England, Agnes is a gifted healer, both feared and sought-after, who settles down with her husband and has three children. When her son, Hamnet, dies at age eleven, Agnes’ husband writes a play called “Hamlet.” You absolutely do not need to be a Shakespeare buff to love this story and appreciate its rightful place in history.
“With the Fire on High” by Elizabeth Acevedo, available at Amazon and Bookshop
The only place Emoni has to let go of her stress is the kitchen, making food that everyone agrees is unparalleled. With a dream to be a chef and an opportunity just out of reach, Emoni needs to find a way to balance her dreams and responsibilities. This one is about hardships: Young motherhood, the harshness of the world, and balancing everything you love. It’s a very character-driven novel, so prepare yourself to become emotionally invested in Emoni’s happiness and success. Elizabeth Acevedo might not be capable of writing anything that’s not incredible, as every book of hers I’ve read has blown me away.
Irresistible beach read quality: The food in this book will make you hungry in real life.
A queer enemies-to-lovers royal romance
“Red, White, and Royal Blue” by Casey McQuiston, available at Amazon and Bookshop
Alex Claremont-Diaz is the first son of the White House with a lifelong nemesis — Prince Henry of British royalty. When Alex confronts Henry at a royal wedding, the story is leaked to the tabloids and the best solution is a publicity stunt: a fake friendship between the two. As Henry and Alex begin to fall in love, the truth threatens to destroy the President’s reelection campaign and even the relations between Britain and America. I love a good queer romance but the added royal aspect, the snarky wit between the boys, and the fun development of the relationship make this a must-read for the summer.
Irresistible beach read quality: The heart-swelling romance.
A competitive and sweet first-love story
“Today Tonight Tomorrow” by Rachel Lynn Solomon, available at Amazon and Bookshop
For all four years of high school, Rowan and Neil hate each other, bitter rivals and complete opposites. When Neil is named valedictorian, Rowan finds one last chance to beat him in a scavenger hunt/ninja assassin game played by all seniors after graduation. The plot spans 24 hours, which keeps this book moving quickly. It’s easy to laugh and root for these two as their faux-hateful banter turns quickly to friendship despite years of sworn rivalry.
Irresistible beach read quality: The balance between pure fun and deeper feelings.
A truly adorable, romantic high school adventure
“To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before” by Jenny Han, available at Amazon and Bookshop
Lara Jean does not tell boys that she has a crush on them. Instead, she writes each one a letter and hides them all under her bed. Somehow, these letters have been mailed and all her past crushes, big and small, are confronting her about them. It’s highly amusing because of the reappearance of every crush — from her sister’s ex-boyfriend to her first kiss many years ago. The story is very cute and light, so you can relax in the sun as Lara winds through sisterhood and her past loves towards a romance that leaves you smiling.
Irresistible beach read quality: A light love story to make any beach day brighter.
A summer beach read set in picturesque Italy
“Love & Gelato” by Jenna Evans Welch, available at Amazon and Bookshop
After her mother passes away, Lina finds her mother’s old journal while spending the summer in Tuscany to get to know her father. Suddenly no longer focused on leaving, Lina begins to follow her mother’s writing through Italy’s streets and discover her secrets with the help of a charming local boy. It’s a summer story of family, first love, and discovery. My favorite quote is “People come to Italy for all sorts of reasons, but when they stay it’s for the same two things… love and gelato.”
Irresistible beach read quality: The adorable love story accompanying the uncovering of long-kept secrets.
Contemporary fiction beach reads
A novel of two very different journeys
“The Vanishing Half” by Brit Bennett, available at Amazon and Bookshop
The Vignes sisters ran away from their small, southern Black community at 16 and moved on to very different lives; one sister moving back home with her Black daughter; the other passing for white, marrying a white man — and telling him nothing of her past. When their daughters’ lives intersect years later, they begin to uncover the decisions and lies of their mothers. This book is about race, but also exploration, identity, desires, and how our past influences it all. There is so much about this book to love that I read it twice.
Irresistible beach read quality: The stark differences of two sisters with the same upbringing.
This is a coming-of-age story about the friendship between Bunny, a too-tall Olympic hopeful, and Michael, her closeted, home-schooled neighbor. Bunny is desperate to fit in and hide from her father’s alcoholism while Michael is trying to navigate his sexuality while meeting up with men on the internet, the two taking solace in each other’s company. With really intelligent writing that keeps you interested in the characters, it’s an unapologetic and unflinchingly honest telling of two teens seeking human connection.
Irresistible beach read quality: A tender look into the victories and downfalls of two misfits.
This book gets interesting from the first scene, where Emira, a young African-American woman, is accused of kidnapping Briar, the white child she babysits, while walking around the grocery store. Alix, the blogger mom of the child, tries to right the situation that quickly gets farther and farther out of control. Emira and Briar are hugely loveable characters that contrast heavily with the supposedly well-intentioned Alix, making this an entertaining read as well as a broader commentary on race, class, and influencer culture.
Irresistible beach read quality: How true-to-life the story feels.
A story of fighting for what you love
“Things You Save In A Fire” by Katherine Center, available at Amazon and Bookshop
Katherine Center is so good at writing hardships that leave you feeling hopeful. This one is about Cassie, one of the only female firefighters in her firehouse. With rundown facilities, no funding to fix them, and an environment that borders on toxic, the men aren’t thrilled to have a woman join the crew, even though she’s more competent than most of them. When the handsome new guy is the only one nice to her, Cassie has to constantly remind herself that she doesn’t date firefighters. Katherine Center writes stories that have you rooting for the main character with every part of your heart and soul, and this one is true to form.
Irresistible beach read quality: The protagonist’s complete badassery.
A classic-feeling beach read with secrets galore
“Winter In Paradise” by Elin Hilderbrand, available at Amazon and Bookshop
Elin Hilderbrand is basically the ultimate beach read writer, churning out smooth reads that end in cliffhangers. After the sudden, tragic death of her husband, Irene travels to St. John to investigate the unusual circumstances in which he died, stumbling upon the secrets of a man she may not have known as well as she thought. I loved this for a summer read because the characters are easy to understand, the drama keeps you interested, and there’s just enough romance to have me rooting for love.
Irresistible beach read quality: The tropical tourist destination setting.
Non-fiction beach reads
A historical crisis told in an intimate way
“The Splendid and The Vile: A Saga of Churchill, Family, and Defiance During the Blitz” by Erik Larson, available at Amazon and Bookshop
This book is a highly researched history about Churchill’s actions and reactions in Britain during the WWII era. It follows him as well as his family and friends through the fear surrounding London as Hitler kills 45,000 Britains in a bombing campaign, having invaded Holland and Belgium on Churchill’s first day as Prime Minister. Erik Larson writes history like an unfolding drama, so you’ll find yourself learning and invested in the story.
Irresistible beach read quality: The diaries and formerly classified intelligence reports.
A true story about the mothers of our heroes
“The Three Mothers” by Anna Malaika Tubbs, available at Amazon and Bookshop
This is the story of the mothers who raised and shaped Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X, and James Baldwin. Faced with Jim Crow-era racism, little has been previously said of the incredible women who taught these men the beliefs of justice and equality that would change the world. The book is filled with love and compassion, bringing the experience of Black women and mothers into the conversation while truly demonstrating their vital significance in the ongoing fight against oppression.
Irresistible beach read quality: The untold stories of three extraordinary women.
A fact-filled presentation of a frustrating bias
“Invisible Women: Data Bias in a World Designed for Men” by Caroline Criado Pérez, available at Amazon and Bookshop
In nearly every aspect of our society, women are systematically ignored. From the way crash test dummies, voice recognition software, and even medicinal dosing have been designed, the data that drives nearly every aspect of our lives revolves around men. This book can be a little appalling as the well-researched case studies shed light on an unconscious bias in our society that might start to feel more and more obvious as you learn more about it.
Irresistible beach read quality: The data to back up every claim.
A true story about women who glow
“The Radium Girls: The Dark Story of America’s Shining Women” by Kate Moore, available at Amazon and Bookshop
As soon as I found out about this phenomenon of “The Radium Girls” I dove headfirst into this book. During the First World War, they were working in factories to get radium — a newly discovered magical drug — into the hands of the public. The girls were covered in radium, literally glowing from the chemical all over their bodies after leaving their coveted jobs. But when they began to fall ill, the factories ignored their claims that it could be from the radium. It’s the story of a fight for workers’ rights, one that saved so many lives because the women demanded to be heard. It’s also such a remarkable story that it’s easy to forget it’s true.
Irresistible beach read quality: The tension created from fighting for what’s right.
If you’re shopping for a book lover, Barnes & Noble offers gift cards that can be used both online and in store. You can purchase a card with a pre-set amount, or choose your own amount up to $2,000. After receiving a gift card, you can activate it by calling a toll-free number or go online to activate and use it instantly.
Once activated, using the gift card is easy, so knowing how to check your card’s balance is a must. Fortunately, Barnes & Noble has three different ways to check your balance.
How to check your Barnes & Noble gift card balance online
If you want to check your balance online, you can access your balance through the company’s website.
2. Hover your mouse over the Stationery & Gifts tab at the top and select Gift Cards in the drop-down menu.
3. Select Check Gift Card Balance in the center of the page.
4. Enter the card or validation number, along with the card’s PIN.
5. Click Check Balance. The amount will display below the button.
How to check your Barnes & Noble gift card balance by phone
Barnes & Noble also gives you the option to call their toll-free number to check your balance. Dialing 1-800-295-3029 will connect you to an operator who will ask you to enter “8” before entering your gift card number and the pound key. You’ll be instructed to enter your PIN before being told your card balance.
How to check your Barnes & Noble gift card balance in-store
You have the option to go into a Barnes & Noble store to check your balance. At the bottom-right corner of the Barnes & Noble website, there’s a search box to help you find the nearest store.
A Barnes & Noble associate at the help counter or register can help you check your balance; you just need your gift card to provide them with your card number and PIN.
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Thriller books are naturally enticing, fast-paced fiction reads with notorious plot twists.
The best thrillers offer plenty of suspense and mystery throughout the novel.
This list has a wide variety of popular books, including crime and psychological thrillers.
Known for their shocking twists and turns, thrillers have taken the book industry by storm over the last several years for one clear reason: They make reading really fun. Thrillers stand out as gripping stories in a world where so many things compete for our attention. They build up fast and grip us tightly as we navigate shadowy hallways and unsolved murders, eliciting an adrenaline rush just from turning the page.
Almost half the books in my personal library are thrillers. I love the “can’t-put-it-down” feeling of a tense plotline and a twist that makes me want to throw a book at a wall (that’s a good thing – I swear!). I’ve read the vast majority of the books on this list and added the rest based on the rave reviews from other thriller book nerds. Whether it’s a deeply psychological thriller narrative, a fast-paced YA mystery novel, or a crime thriller too scary to read at night, there’s a book on this list for every thriller lover.
A psychological thriller with an electrifying twist
“Before She Knew Him” by Peter Swanson, available at Amazon and Bookshop
Speaking of throwing books against a wall, this was the first book I ever chucked when the plot twist was revealed — one that I didn’t even know was a possibility until I reached the climax. Henrietta has finally found some stability between her bipolar medication and her new home with her husband. When they go to the neighbor’s house for dinner, Henrietta notices a unique trophy that definitely belonged to someone who was killed two years ago. Torn between the comfort of her new life and her weakness to find the answer to this unsolved case, Henrietta quickly unravels far more than she bargained for.
Thrill factor: A plot twist that will have you rethinking the entire book.
A thriller with multiple truths
“The Silent Patient” by Alex Michaelides, available at Amazon and Bookshop
There are four stories here: The one the jury decided, his, hers, and — completely separate — the truth. I love books with “solved” murders that push us to read on to uncover the real truth. One night, Alicia’s husband returns home late from his job. She shoots him five times in the face and never speaks again. Confined to a psychiatric ward, Theo — a criminal psychotherapist — is determined to get Alicia to talk and uncover why she murdered her husband. Digging into Alicia’s past reveals that there are many things that can drive us to do the unthinkable.
Thrill factor: Being sure of the truth just before new information is revealed.
This one was particularly enticing and dark, the secrets running far deeper and with more complexity than I expected. It’s been 10 years since Laurel’s then-15-year-old daughter, Ellie, disappeared — and Laurel has never given up hope of finding her. Laurel is swept up in a romance with her new boyfriend and finds herself meeting his nine-year-old daughter, who looks exactly like Ellie did at that age. This is a tightly wound ball of thriller chaos that is so much fun to unravel as you read.
Thrill factor: A plot that catches you completely off guard.
A deeply psychological thriller
“Behind Her Eyes” by Sarah Pinborough, available at Amazon and Bookshop
On Monday morning, Louise discovers her (very married) boss is the same man with whom she shared an amazing kiss at a bar just days ago. Though assuring her it will never happen again, David can’t keep his eyes off Louise. What ensues is a complex yet comprehensible web of manipulation and a twist that had me nearly yelling “WHAT?!” by the end.
Thrill factor: A baffling realization hiding in the final pages.
Blythe is fully committed to being the warm, nurturing mother she never had, but she’s convinced that something is wrong with her new baby — she doesn’t behave as other children do. As her husband dismisses her fears, she begins to question her sanity. When her second child is born, the familial connections are undeniable…until a devastating event has Blythe (and the reader) questioning everything. Best described as a tour de force, this is an extremely fast-paced thriller that’s easy to devour in a day.
Thrill factor: A whiplash-y plot that launches you straight into the story.
An unsettling marital thriller
“Behind Closed Doors” by B. A. Paris, available at Amazon and Bookshop
Jack and Grace are the epitome of true love, radiating elegance, wealth, and charm, all while never being apart…ever. It’s hard to get to know the mysterious Grace because she can’t meet for coffee, she never answers her phone, and one of the bedroom windows seems to have bars on it. This is one that masterfully incites panic into a reader, worrying about the characters and desperately needing to know what happens.
Thrill factor: The graphic descriptions in the already chilling scenes.
This is a guilty pleasure of a thriller: fast, dramatic, and satisfying. Kate had a picture-perfect life with her husband and daughter — until her husband left for a woman half his age. Tish is gorgeous, luxurious, and only a little suspicious of her new husband’s previous infidelity. She plans a romantic getaway to fend Kate off, but love and revenge are powerful weapons that tear plans apart.
Thrill factor: The dark humor that ramps up the intensity.
A psychological thriller that will leave you speechless
With an unreliable narrator and more lies than you can count, this thriller is perfectly constructed and the plot is a baffling rollercoaster. When Amber wakes up from a coma, she can’t remember what happened, but she suspects her husband has something to do with it. This book alternates between the present, the week before her accident, and Amber’s childhood diaries to help us piece together a brilliant psychological twist.
Thrill factor: The subtle inflections the narrator assigns to each character.
A dark yet elegant crime thriller
“Behind the Red Door” by Megan Collins, available at Amazon and Bookshop
Megan Collins became well-known for her debut thriller “The Winter Sister,” but I’m here to proclaim that “Behind the Red Door” is the one that should really be in the spotlight. I have never read a thriller that featured characters with such complexity or one where I said “oh NO” out loud so many times. When Fern hears the news that a woman named Astrid has gone missing, she’s sure she knows her. Fern’s husband is sure that it must be from Astrid’s infamous kidnapping 20 years prior, which happened just outside Fern’s childhood town but of which she has no memory. When Astrid starts appearing in Fern’s nightmares, Fern grapples to understand if it’s a dream or a memory with the help of her psychologist father.
Thrill factor: The main character’s unreliable memory.
If you have yet to be pulled into the Netflix adaptation, resist and pick up the book first! This is the creepiest yet most believable stalker thriller, packed with so many insane developments that you think it can’t get any wilder…until it does. Told from Joe’s perspective, the book depicts his rapidly growing obsession over a woman he meets in a bookstore, one that morphs and twists as Joe stops at nothing to make himself the center of her world. Joe is the most messed up fictional character I’ve ever encountered, making this book a fabulously creepy thriller to grab.
This thriller gripped me so much that I read the second half all in one shot and finished at 3:30 a.m. It’s about a serial killer and abductor who whispers to children to lure them away from safety. The Whisper Man has been locked away for 20 years, but the patterns of his crimes are emerging once again. The book also threw in a couple of mini-twists at the end that made reading until the very last page exciting.
Thrill factor: Wanting so badly to protect the characters.
An alluring marital thriller
“My Lovely Wife” by Samantha Downing, available at Amazon and Bookshop
In this creepy thriller where we never learn the narrator’s name, a married couple does everything married couples are “supposed” to do: Settle down, buy a house, have a kid, and grow horribly bored with their lives. With the thrills building up in nearly every scene, the secret ingredient that keeps their marriage alive is getting away with murder.
Thrill factor: The layers upon layers of secrets behind every character.
Rachel’s true-crime podcast gained notoriety after it helped set an innocent man free. When a note begging for help is left on Rachel’s windshield, it launches an investigation into the past and present, exploring a town disrupted by a rape trial and a drowning accident from 25 years ago. This is an especially perfect thriller for true crime lovers — it swirls you quickly into the center of this plot and keeps you strapped in for the ride.
Thrill factor: The two separate (yet intertwined) mysteries
This heartbreaking story about familial tragedy is as deep as it is twisty. Matt returns home after a night of partying to be informed that nearly his entire family was killed by a gas leak in their hotel in Mexico. Though it seems like an accident, one FBI agent believes otherwise, but won’t disclose why. The deaths make national headlines because this isn’t the first time Matt’s family has been thrust into the spotlight: his brother is currently in prison for the murder of his high school girlfriend — a murder the public believes he didn’t commit. When Matt returns home to bury his family, the connections between his brother’s case and his family’s accident begin to emerge.
Thrill factor: That “look over your shoulder” feeling.
A domestic legal thriller
“A Good Marriage” by Kimberly McCreight, available at Amazon and Bookshop
This domestic thriller is just as emotional and insightful as it is surprising and exhilarating. Lizzie spends long hours working at her law firm after her marriage slowly crumbled apart. When she gets a call from Zach, her old friend who’s currently being held on suspicion of killing his wife, Lizzie knows she has to drop everything and help him. As she begins to piece together what happened to Zach’s wife, she finds that maybe their idyllic marriage wasn’t so great after all.
Thrill Factor: The marital drama and endless secrets.
An indisputable thriller staple, this is a great one to pick up if you’re just getting into the genre because it will introduce you to some of the nuances of thrillers on which many others are based. In this book, Amy goes missing on her and Nick’s fifth wedding anniversary. Dealing with the town breathing down his neck and haunting diary entries from his wife, Nick begins to spin a web of lies around his wife’s disappearance.
Thrill factor: Carefully sculpted plot twists.
A full-throttle, high suspenseful mystery thriller
I ignored my family during the holidays because of this book, and I’m not sorry about it! While driving home through Colorado, Darby is caught in a blizzard and forced to wait the storm out at a highway rest stop, stranded with four strangers. When she goes to her car to try and get a signal, she notices a child locked in a cage in the back of a van. Far from police help, Darby must figure out which person is the kidnapper and get the child and herself to safety. This was the tensest I have ever felt reading a book.
Thrill factor: The high-speed action scenes.
A thriller of multiple marriages (and multiple truths)
“Too Good To Be True” by Carola Lovering, available at Amazon and Bookshop
With three points of view (and none of them entirely reliable), “Too Good To Be True” is a thriller about two marriages and the secrets that can uproot well-laid plans. Skye is overjoyed to be engaged to Burke, her seemingly perfect boyfriend who, in a series of letters to his therapist, reveals that he’s married and deviously manipulating Skye. The third perspective is of Heather, Burke’s ex from 30 years ago. It’s a twist-filled read that will leave you wondering how well you know those closest to you.
Thrill factor: The feeling of an emotional car crash waiting to happen.
A book with a jaw-dropping reveal
“The Wife Between Us” by Greer Hendricks & Sarah Pekkanen, available at Amazon and Bookshop
This is a thriller that thrives on your assumptions. It lets you assume that you’re reading the story of a jealous woman, obsessed with her ex-husband’s new wife, just to turn everything on its head halfway through this impeccably constructed book. Even when you know something is coming, the twists in this tangled love triangle are utterly shocking.
Thrill factor: Questioning our own assumptions.
A thriller almost too wild to believe
“When No One Is Watching” by Alyssa Cole, available at Amazon and Bookshop
Sydney is tired of the gentrification of her Brooklyn neighborhood, the homes changing and her neighbors moving faster than she can keep up. She decides to start a deep-dive into the neighborhood’s history with her neighbor Theo, but what they uncover instills paranoia and fear as what they once thought were conspiracies are slowly revealed to hold hidden truths. This one is a wild ride with a pile of twists that happen all at once.
Thrill factor: The conspiracy theories that might actually be true.
When you open this book, make sure you have no plans for the rest of the day — the first 20 pages or so ease you into the story and the rest of the book is a dead sprint to the end. Little-known writer Lowen has been hired to finish Verity’s well-loved book series after a car accident left her in a waking coma. While looking for outlines or notes in Verity’s office, Lowen discovers a horrifying autobiographical manuscript that depicts Verity’s darkest secrets, kept from her husband and children. This thriller is one gripping scene of action after another, barrelling towards an ending that will have you shoving this book into your friends’ hands so they can experience the wild ride for themselves.
Thrill factor: The inability to choose which lie to believe.
This book is unassumingly murderous, exciting, and fun. Anya is a fashion editor with an envious wardrobe, a flawless social media presence, a soaring career, and a stack of bodies of those who almost got in her way. When Anya’s desire to be friends with Sarah, her coworker, turns into an obsession, the intrigue may turn fatal. There is an unreasonably large amount of murder in this story, which is exactly what kept me interested.
Thrill factor: Anya’s conniving ability to get away with murder.
A suspenseful mystery of a missing woman
“I Am Watching You” by Teresa Driscoll, available at Amazon and Bookshop
Ella nearly intervenes when she sees two recently released convicts flirting with two young women, Anna and Sarah. After Ella decides to mind her business, Anna goes missing — and Ella is still riddled with guilt one year later. But now someone is sending Ella threatening letters, and the gaps in Sarah’s account of that night grow wider as Ella realizes someone knows where Anna might be. This is one where the intense plot twist threw so many readers for a loop and settled with a satisfying resolution.
Thrill factor: The psychological distress of the protagonist.
I was not in the least surprised to learn that Kit Frick is also a poet. This book is teenage heartbreak mixed in a swirl of emotional prose and confounding thrills. Told between then and now, Ellory returns to her senior year of high school riddled with guilt, anxiety, and loss. As you read, you’ll sort through the lies to find the truth to Ellory’s pain. The whole book leads up to discovering the event that tore apart the main character’s world, so you always have the feeling that something is coming… but you never know what might be around the corner.
Thrill factor: A potentially unreliable narrator.
A compulsively readable YA thriller
“Lies You Never Told Me” by Jennifer Donaldson, available at Amazon and Bookshop
This is another book that I finished in one sitting, the two seemingly unrelated storylines leading to a climax so shocking, I’m not sure I even blinked until I finished the book. It follows Gabe and Elyse, complete strangers with similar secrets. They each fall for the wrong person and make one bad choice that spins their lives out of control. When you have no clue what you’re looking for, a thriller’s twist can hit you like a brick wall (in a good way!) and that’s exactly what this book did to me.
Thrill factor: Two different tales with unsettling similarities.
Fans of “Riverdale” and high school thriller will undoubtedly devour this YA novel. The cheer squad at Sunnybrook High was disbanded after the death of five cheerleaders, all unrelated but close together. Five years after the deaths, the community is finally ready to move forward — except for Monica, who just discovered letters and an old cell phone in her stepdad’s desk. I accidentally read most of it in one sitting just because the story flows so smoothly.
Thrill factor: The flashback snippets providing little clues.
An investigative YA thriller
“A Good Girl’s Guide To Murder” by Holly Jackson, available at Amazon and Bookshop
In this YA thriller favorite, the case is already closed. Sal Singh murdered Andie Bell five years ago. Everyone knows he did it — except Pippa, who chooses to investigate the murder for her senior year project. As she begins to uncover long-buried secrets, there might be some who need the truth to stay buried lurking in the shadows. If you love true crime, murder mysteries, and unstoppable young women, this is the perfect easy-read thriller to grab.
Thrill factor: The feeling of investigating alongside the protagonist.
A thriller version of “The Breakfast Club”
“One of Us is Lying” by Karen M. McManus, available at Amazon and Bookshop
This YA thriller uses spectacular character development and dramatic, unreliable rumors to create a whodunnit thriller that will keep you guessing until the very end. On Monday’s detention, five students walk in and one never walks out. Simon, now dead, planned to post high-profile secrets about the others the next day, making the other four students murder suspects in the ensuing investigation. There’s a lot of depth to this book besides the thrill ride, which makes it even more satisfying to read.
Thrill factor: The equal probability of every suspect’s guilt.
Riley Sager has published four great thrillers so far but this one’s my favorite. In this spooky and paranormal haunted house thriller, Maggie returns to restore the recently inherited home that made her family famous. Her father wrote a non-fiction bestseller based on their family’s three-week stay in the home before they were forced to flee in the night. Not only was Maggie too young to remember what happened; she doesn’t believe any of it is true. I genuinely had a great time reading this thriller — it was so much fun to feel the fear and expose the truths of this house alongside Maggie.
Thrill factor: Skepticism and doubt mixed with a foggy memory.
Ruth Ware is another notorious thriller writer and this is my favorite of her books so far — and was actually too scared to read it alone at night. It takes place in a technologically advanced home in the Scottish Highlands, where Rowan is hired as a live-in nanny and earns an outrageous salary. Told in the form of a letter from Rowan to her lawyer, she recounts the events from her arrival at the home to the death of one of the children. This story is so immersive and scary that I had to remind myself more than once that it’s just a book.
Thrill factor: Technology’s role in generating unease.
The tale of a spooky motel
“The Sun Down Motel” by Simone St. James, available at Amazon and Bookshop
This book is filled with so many vivid and borderline violent scenes that build tension throughout the story. Viv works at a 1982 roadside motel to pay for her move to New York City. As the secrets of the motel and its guests begin to reveal themselves, the nights seem to grow darker and darker. Once I finished this book, I felt like I could exhale for the first time in days — I was so satisfied with the resolution.
Thrill factor: Realizing that the deeper the shadows, the more secrets that can hide within.
Many old friends and admirers of Naomi Wolf are horrified. The great figurehead of 1990s “third wave” feminism, who bestrode the highest pinnacles of literature and politics to become an inspiration to a generation of young women, has morphed into something other than the Naomi they thought they knew.
Wolf was the author of The Beauty Myth, a classic text that seemed to define the dichotomies of late 20th Century womanhood, and which became the first of her eight New York Times best-sellers. The book’s global popularity was enhanced by the dazzle of the author’s own persona as a product of Yale and Oxford who seemed to feel the pain of other women, in spite of her own obvious privileges.
With her apparently impeccable Democratic credentials she stood at the shoulders of Bill Clinton and Al Gore during their respective presidential campaigns, imparting her counsel as a trusted adviser. It was a time when great significance was discerned by many in every word that Wolf wrote or uttered. “The Beauty Myth was a really big deal and it was really smart, it did land her a lot of fame and a lot of plaudits” says Rosie Boycott, feminist pioneer, member of Britain’s House of Lords and co-founder of Virago, Wolf’s publisher. “She was clever and a good speaker and very competent and she rode a big wave.”
As a public intellectual, Wolf was never far from the drama or the headlines, whether writing in 2004 that Harold Bloom, the famous literary critic and her college professor at Yale, had made unwanted sexual advances on her 21 years earlier, or getting arrested at an Occupy Wall Street protest in 2011 while dressed in an evening gown. (She happened upon the protesters while exiting a red-carpet event, she later wrote, and was advising them about their First Amendment right to use a megaphone.)
But lately a very different Naomi Wolf has emerged in the wake of an embarrassing academic scandal that has undermined her literary reputation, while raising serious questions about publishing ethics and doctoral examinations. A few weeks ago, she posted video of herself in the firing position, pumping out bullets from a powerful weapon as she underwent firearms training deep in the woods. “Naomi you need help. This is too weird, ” responded Katha Pollitt, the New York columnist and author.
Pollitt is not alone in her concern. During recent weeks, as Wolf has aligned herself with figures from the political far right and turned on Joe Biden for taking America on a path to totalitarianism with his strategy for fighting Covid-19, her liberal allies have been aghast. “I daily get texts from friends and former friends telling me to ‘stop’. One just messaged ‘you’re doing incalculable harm.'” she complained on Twitter, where she bombards her 142k followers with messages about vaccine side-effects, the profits of big pharma and the negative impact of masks on children. Benjamin Ramm, a liberal thinker and documentary maker, was an admirer of Wolf and thrilled when she endorsed as “timely and valuable” his 2011 paperCitizens: A Manifesto. He laments her current outlook as “very sad”, saying “I’ve seen her wade deeper into a conspiracist whirlpool.” (Wolf did not respond to Insider’s interview request or a list of questions. As of Saturday, her Twitter account had been suspended.)
When Wolf was invited onto Tucker Carlson’s show on Fox News in February, he could barely conceal his delight at the unexpected guest before him. Noting that she was a “faithful lifelong Democrat”, he said she was “undoubtedly losing friends by being on this show tonight.”
Her political transformation reached a new apogee in May when she enjoyed a love-in with former Donald Trump strategist Steve Bannon on his WarRoom podcast. “I appreciate your help,” she told the field marshal of the American right, as she thanked his followers for the “support and help and resources” they are giving to her ‘Five Freedoms’ campaign against vaccine passports, mandatory masks and emergency laws. Bannon, in turn, lauded her efforts and promised “we are going to have you back on.”
Wolf has taken her protests across America, from Maine to Oregon, where she identified “a fascistic atmosphere” and compared Covid rules to Jim Crow laws.
“I find her transition horrifying,” says Boycott, a founding editor of ground-breaking feminist magazine Spare Rib and former editor of British Esquire and several national newspapers. “The moment she lost her grip on the intelligentsia because of a lazy error she had to find a new world to fit into where facts don’t matter and that’s the world she has gone to. Of course, she would become a superstar within it.”
That “lazy error” stems from Wolf’s University of Oxford thesis, which in 2015 fulfilled her dreams of holding a doctorate. The 495-page document was finally made public last month. It came with an embarrassing attachment: over nine pages and arranged in 63 bullet points, it set out 93 corrections and clarifications, from simple typos to serious howlers. This extended erratum slip was all the more remarkable for having been submitted by the internationally-famous author in 2020, five years after examiners had passed her work, granting her the right to use the prefix ‘Dr.’
Furthermore, the DPhil, an exploration of the laws on homosexuality in 19th Century Britain and the life of Victorian poet John Addington Symonds, was the basis for Outrages: Sex, Censorship & The Criminalization of Love, Wolf’s latest book. (The release of the thesis was held up until the book’s publication, a common practice in academic publishing.)
So flawed was some of the scholarship behind Outrages, that Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, the book’s original American publisher, pulped it.
At some universities, the book has become a case study in how not to do historical research. Dr Robin Mitchell, associate professor of history at California State University Channel Islands and an author on 19th century history, said her students were transfixed by Wolf’s mistakes. “They were terrified of making an error that consequential. I felt like they got the responsibility to getting it right more than she did.”
Dr Matt Lodder, senior lecturer in art history, uses Wolf’s book in his “Introduction to Academic Writing and Research” course at the University of Essex. “She didn’t read her sources properly, she failed to properly interrogate the existing literature, and she only sought evidence for a predetermined conclusion, rather than trying hard to disprove her hypothesis,” he says. “The very idea that a published book can be ‘wrong’ is really quite a novel idea to young undergraduates, and Wolf’s book provides such a perfect, distilled encapsulation of that.”
Things began to unravel for Wolf in 2019 when she was interviewed about Outrages by Dr Matthew Sweet, a presenter on the BBC radio show Free Thinking. The exchange, in Studio 8A at the top of the BBC’s Broadcasting House in London, is excruciating. Wolf said she “found several dozen executions” of gay men extending into the late 19th century, claiming “this corrects a misapprehension…that the last man was executed for sodomy in Britain in 1835.” Sweet, who also holds a doctorate from Oxford, told her: “I don’t think you are right about this.”
He pointed out that “death recorded,” which Wolf had interpreted as an execution, was a term reflecting a crime punishable by death that was commuted to a custodial sentence. He referred Wolf to digitally-archived contemporary newspaper accounts of cases mentioned in her book.
Sweet says his discovery of the errors “took an hour on the Internet” scrolling on his laptop from his sofa. He thinks they should have been spotted not just by the author but by those who read her book manuscript and examined her DPhil.
On the radio Wolf came off as contrite and embarrassed. But afterwards she quickly shifted to accusing Sweet and her critics of trying “to whitewash LGBTQ+ history”.
Baroness Helena Kennedy, a human rights lawyer who fact-checked Outrages, admitted that she too had misunderstood “death recorded,’ but that the sentence still amounted to a “sword of Damocles” over the head of those convicted. The controversy was “a rather nasty British display of tall poppy syndrome,” she suspected. “I am sure there is a high level of sexism in the mix, with a dismissal of female scholarship, and a territorial claim to certain kinds of subject matter.” It was all just an “academic brouhaha,” Kennedy said.
But the whole thing erupted again early this year after Virago, Dr Wolf’s British publisher, released the paperback edition with only minimal correction.
“I’ve never been so angry about a book,” said Dr Fern Riddell, a specialist on the Victorian era and its attitudes to sex, in a 31-tweet thread on the book’s errors and troubling omissions. “I know from experience the paperback is when you put your errors right. She hasn’t,” Riddell says. “Her indifference to these stories, the misleading of her readers, and her decision to commit historical fraud are some of the most disgusting and egregious actions I have ever witnessed another author willfully commit.”
Virago says that it is “satisfied that Naomi Wolf had her book checked by scholars of the period.”
The Outrages case raises questions over publishing ethics and whether Britain’s doctoral examination system should be reappraised. “Given that the claims she was making in the doctorate were radically at odds with a well-known and established literature on 19th Century homosexuality, then it should have been absolutely interrogated very closely,” says Tim Hitchcock, professor of digital history at the University of Sussex, whose Old Bailey Online archive was misunderstood by Dr Wolf.
In a statement, Oxford said: “A thesis is a product of its time, and factual matters arising after its publication can be addressed separately by its author attaching clarifications or in further works.”
“SMOKING GUNS EVERYWHERE”
That Wolf completed the thesis at all was a surprise, even to her. A Yale graduate, she arrived at Oxford in 1985 as a Rhodes scholar and describes it as “the place that radicalised me”. Her experiences of “an encrusted, smug, disdainful, contemptuous, and inward-looking institution” helped to inspire The Beauty Myth. Raised in San Francisco in a liberal and scholarly family, she wanted to emulate her grandmother, a professor of sociology, and gain a doctorate. But her adviser told her it would be “difficult to defend” her angry and polemical writing before Oxford’s examiners, and so she “left in a rage” and turned the thesis into an international bestseller.
Then, in middle age and as a celebrity writer, she found herself back in the City of Dreaming Spires and riding her bicycle through its hallowed streets, having been invited to complete the DPhil that she failed to complete a quarter of a century earlier. Her thesis, “Ecstasy or Justice? The Sexual Author and The Law, 1855-1885,” was examined, passed and placed for posterity in Oxford’s historic Bodleian libraries.
Some feminist writers who have followed Dr Wolf’s career say her misuse of data is nothing new. “Belatedly people are asking questions that should have been asked a very long time ago,” says Joan Smith, whose book Misogynies came out around the same time as The Beauty Myth. She remembers confronting Wolf at a TV studio over The Beauty Myth’s use of statistics on deaths from anorexia. “She said she spoke to a doctor…who ran a clinic which was largely for patients with eating disorders and he told her what percentage of his patients had eating disorders and she applied that to the entire population of the UK. I thought it was complete nonsense.” Wolf’s misuse of statistics became the subject of a paper in Eating Disorders, an academic journal.
Wolf’s next book, she says, will be called Step Ten, based on her contention that America is on the brink of fascism, as a result of responses to Covid. “A much-hyped medical crisis,” she claims, “has taken on the role of being used as a pretext to strip us all of core freedoms.” It is a sequel to a dystopian book Wolf wrote in 2008, The End of America: Letter of Warning to a Young Patriot, in which she examined 20th Century dictatorships and what brought them about.
But back then, her focus was on the hidden intent behind post-Sept. 11 anti-terror laws and it was Republicans who worried her. In a piece promoting the book, headlined “Fascist America in 10 Easy Steps”, she wrote: “It is my argument that, beneath our very noses, George [W.] Bush and his administration are using time-tested tactics to close down an open society.”
Wolf’s taste for conspiracy theories is longstanding. She has suggested that Edward Snowden was a government plant, questioned the veracity of ISIS videos showing the beheadings of kidnapped Westerners, and posited that the Scottish independence referendum was rigged. She detected a secret agenda in the decision to send American troops to Liberia to coordinate the international response to the Ebola epidemic. It gave the disease a “direct vector into the U.S.”, she claimed online.
More recently she has subscribed to conspiracy theories on the dangers of 5G. “Since November I’ve been noticing weird things happening in the clouds and also been noticing some strange group consciousness in Manhattan,” she observed in a YouTube video on the supposed “huge health hazard” resulting from 5G rollout. She compared Covid adviser Anthony Fauci to “Satan,” described vaccine champion Bill Gates as “a monster capable of mass experiments on humans” and claimed that children wearing face masks are losing the ability to smile. “I’m seeing kids with their lower faces hanging inertly, absolutely unmoving facial muscles, when they take their masks off,” she tweeted.
When she recently complained that “progressive” friends were trying to “shame/bully me for talking to conservatives about liberty,” Wolf argued: “How can I stop doing what I’ve always done?”
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Humans seem hardwired to consume and enjoy stories. Fictional stories shape the way we think, affect how we act and influence our choices.
One study revealed that “good storytelling” increased cooperation within a Filipino hunter-gatherer population. And Alexander the Great slept with a copy of Homer’s Iliad next to him every night, a fictional story he used as a blueprint for his conquests. That story drove his choices and changed history.
The average adult spends about 6% of his or her time every day engrossed in fictional stories. Evolutionary theorists have attempted to understand why humans are so eager to consume fiction. But a nonfiction writer doesn’t need to know “why,” only “that.”
By leveraging this human proclivity for powerful stories, nonfiction writers can vastly improve the quality of the books they’re writing.
Narrative nonfiction and emotionally powerful prose
Narrative nonfiction, also known as creative nonfiction, is a style of nonfiction writing that uses an approach similar to fiction writing. For example, the nonfiction book might follow the story arc very precisely and have a clearly defined beginning, middle, climax, and end.
The primary purpose of fiction is to entertain. There are many advanced skills writers can use to up the entertainment value of their business books. These skills include emotionally powerful prose, changes in rhythm, smooth shifts in pacing, and vivid descriptions.
The way to learn all these advanced methods is to read a lot of fiction.
I’m a big fan of narrative nonfiction. Whenever someone wants a book written, I try and persuade him or her to use this method of writing if possible. My purpose when working with writers is to ensure the book they are writing will be read from beginning to end. Making the book entertaining is key.
Leverage the five senses
Description using the five senses is an excellent way to suck your reader into your story. The more engrossed your reader is, the deeper the emotional impact of your narrative.
This applies to business books, memoirs, general nonfiction, self-help, and many other nonfiction subgenres.
Too much description, however, can make a book boring. The way to learn what is “too much” or “too little” is to read a lot of popular fiction. The best fiction books use the senses of taste, smell, and touch to bring the readers into the story and so involve them emotionally.
Brand perception has a lot to do with emotional responses, so this is a vital skill to learn when writing nonfiction.
Pick up the pace and capture the interest
Whether you’re telling an anecdote or writing about your life’s story, modifying the pacing of the story goes a long way towards evoking powerful emotions in people.
Thrillers are particularly good at this, especially near the end of the story. Two writers who do this expertly are Harlan Coben and Lee Child.
By shortening sentences and paragraphs, you immediately accelerate the narrative pace. The same is achieved by shifting quickly from scene to scene.
If you were writing a sales book, you could make readers inch forward in their seats and grip their books (or e-readers) a little tighter by writing a fast-paced anecdote of a million-dollar deal. You could jump back and forth between the manager, the salesperson and maybe even the spouse waiting outside their child’s school, eagerly awaiting a call to know if the deal went through – or if they just lost the house!
Not only will the chapter be exciting, but it will also be memorable.
Anything can be turned into a story if you know how
Once, I worked with an author who had very little to write about other than a short system.
So, we hacked away and worked out how to fill the book with narratives and emotional beats from beginning to end. What began as a lukewarm book quickly became a riveting read.
It does take a bit of smart thinking to figure out how to add emotionally powerful narratives to a book. Reading a lot of good fiction teaches you how to do it and pays off when your business book flies off the shelves.
Author Malcolm Gladwell has written six popular books, including “Talking to Strangers,” “David and Goliath,” “Outliers,” “Blink,” and “The Tipping Point.” He was a staff writer at The New Yorker for many years and is now the host of the Revisionist History podcast. During our conversation, Gladwell explored the themes from his new book, “The Bomber Mafia.“
Even though you never set out to become a writer, what made you decide to pursue this career path?
I always follow not the path of least resistance, but the path of most fun. I kind of stumbled into writing. I just found it incredibly pleasurable and effortlessly fun, and I found that I looked forward to waking up every morning to go to work. And so I thought, “Well, why would I ever do anything else, then? I’ve solved the problem.”
Why were you so captivated by the story of the Bomber Mafia and what made you decide to write a book on this topic?
I went to Tokyo a year and a half ago and stumbled across this little museum dedicated to the fire-bombing of Tokyo by the US Air Force in 1945. I was so moved, upset, and blown away that I wanted to tell the story behind this one night in March of 1945, when the US Air Force essentially burned a big chunk of Tokyo to the ground. A hundred thousand people died.
So I began digging into the history and I told a little piece of the story in my podcast, Revisionist History. But when I was finished, I realized that I hadn’t even scratched the surface and that there was a much richer story to tell. And that’s how I ended up deciding to write the book.
Back in 2013, when I interviewed you for your book “David and Goliath,” you said, “You learn more from the difficult times than from the good times.” How was the Bomber Mafia’s failure a lasting contribution to society, even though it led to mass death?
The Bomber Mafia were a group of airmen in the 1930s, stationed at Maxwell Air Force Base in Alabama. They were trying to reform war, and they believed that you could fight wars entirely from the air. They also thought that you ought to be able to drop bombs with such precision that you could bring an enemy to his knees – without killing hundreds of thousands of civilians, without destroying cities, without having costly land battles, and without doing any of the kind of extraordinary carnage that we saw in the First World War.
So they had this dream. The dream didn’t work in the Second World War, but in the 60 or 70 years since then, we have come a lot closer to what the Bomber Mafia was talking about. We haven’t had wars nearly as deadly as the First and Second World War. We’ve engaged in limited military conflicts, where we were able to target who we wanted to hit.
Now, I’m not suggesting that this resolves all the moral questions around the military escapades of the United States in the last 60 or 70 years. However, the Bomber Mafia said there ought to be a way to pursue military objectives without killing hundreds of thousands of civilians. And we’re certainly a lot closer to that today than we were in the Second World War.
One of the themes you explore in the book is the collision between morality and technology. What lessons can we take from how the Bomber Mafia approached technology and the principles they stood for?
The reason I love the Bomber Mafia so much, is they were a group of people who were engineers and pilots. They were the kinds of people who would be working in Silicon Valley today. So they had a strong belief in technology, but at the same time, they had a very strong moral grounding. They believed that technology had to be used in accordance with ethical principles, and they took their ethical obligations as seriously as they took their technological fascinations.
That’s rare. I can’t find anyone in Silicon Valley who has that same nuanced approach to technology, who really does seriously ask the question, “Is this technology going to be used in a way that advances human welfare?” That was the only reason the Bomber Mafia were pursuing this dream of a new kind of war. It wasn’t because they thought it was cool or they were going to make money, it was because they thought it would save lives. That’s the lesson of the book – that we need these types of people in those positions.
What is your best piece of career advice?
This is a piece of advice I borrowed from my friend, and he says, “Always have a project.” And what he means is, don’t let your job dictate 100% of what you do. Always have something that you’re pursuing for your own reasons, that satisfies you in a different way, that you’re the boss of, and that you have control over.
If your job doesn’t allow for that, then you need to go off and do something on the side. You’re often a better judge of what is the best and most productive use of your time than your manager or superior.
Whether it’s delivered by a pool-water-logged paperback or an audiobook on a long road trip, a mystery book’s mix of intrigue and psychological suspense improves any activity – be it a long road trip or folding the laundry.
Below, you’ll find 20 of 2020’s best mystery books, according to tens of thousands of Goodreads readers. The list includes everything from the latest Cormoran Strike novel to an unsettling “Get Out”-like tale of gentrification in Brooklyn.
If you’re looking for an audiobook, you’ll also find the Audible version of each title on its Amazon page.
Book descriptions are provided by Amazon and Bookshop and lightly condensed.
Check out the Goodreads Awards for best mystery and thriller books in 2020:
On an island off the coast of Ireland, guests gather to celebrate two people joining their lives together as one. The groom: handsome and charming, a rising television star. The bride: smart and ambitious, a magazine publisher. The cell phone service may be spotty and the waves may be rough, but every detail has been expertly planned and will be expertly executed.
But perfection is for plans, and people are all too human. As the champagne is popped and the festivities begin, resentments and petty jealousies begin to mingle with the reminiscences and well wishes.
And then someone turns up dead. Who didn’t wish the happy couple well? And perhaps more important, why?
“Home Before Dark” by Riley Sager
by Riley Sager (button)
In this chilling thriller, a woman returns to the house made famous by her father’s bestselling horror memoir. Is the place really haunted by evil forces, as her father claimed? Or are there more earthbound — and dangerous — secrets hidden within its walls?
25 years ago, Maggie Holt and her parents, Ewan and Jess, moved into Baneberry Hall, a rambling Victorian estate in the Vermont woods. Three weeks later, they fled in the dead of night, an ordeal Ewan later recounted in a nonfiction book called “House of Horrors”.
Today, Maggie is a restorer of old homes and too young to remember any of the events mentioned in her father’s book. But she also doesn’t believe a word of it. When Maggie inherits Baneberry Hall after her father’s death, she returns to renovate the place to prepare it for sale. But her homecoming is anything but warm. People from the past, chronicled in “House of Horrors,” lurk in the shadows. And locals aren’t thrilled that their small town has been made infamous thanks to Maggie’s father. Even more unnerving is Baneberry Hall itself.
Alternating between Maggie’s uneasy homecoming and chapters from her father’s book, “Home Before Dark” is the story of a house with long-buried secrets and a woman’s quest to uncover them — even if the truth is far more terrifying than any haunting.
“The Sun Down Motel” by Simone St. James
Upstate New York, 1982. Viv Delaney wants to move to New York City, and to help pay for it she takes a job as the night clerk at the Sun Down Motel in Fell, New York. But something isnʼt right at the motel, something haunting and scary.
Upstate New York, 2017. Carly Kirk has never been able to let go of the story of her aunt Viv, who mysteriously disappeared from the Sun Down before she was born. She decides to move to Fell and visit the motel, where she quickly learns that nothing has changed since 1982. And she soon finds herself ensnared in the same mysteries that claimed her aunt.
“When No One Is Watching” by Alyssa Cole
by Alyssa Cole (button)
Sydney Green is Brooklyn-born and raised, but her beloved neighborhood seems to change every time she blinks. Condos are sprouting like weeds, “FOR SALE” signs are popping up overnight, and the neighbors she’s known all her life are disappearing. To hold onto her community’s past and present, Sydney channels her frustration into a walking tour and finds an unlikely and unwanted assistant in one of the new arrivals to the block — her neighbor, Theo.
But Sydney and Theo’s deep dive into history quickly becomes a dizzying descent into paranoia and fear. Their neighbors may not have moved to the suburbs after all, and the push to revitalize the community may be more deadly than advertised.
When does coincidence become conspiracy? Where do people go when gentrification pushes them out? Can Sydney and Theo trust each other — or themselves — long enough to find out before they too disappear?
“The Wives” by Tarryn Fisher
by Tarryn Fisher (button)
Imagine that your husband has two other wives.
You’ve never met the other wives. None of you know each other, and because of this unconventional arrangement, you can see your husband only one day a week. But you love him so much you don’t care. Or at least that’s what you’ve told yourself.
But one day, while you’re doing laundry, you find a scrap of paper in his pocket — an appointment reminder for a woman named Hannah, and you just know it’s another of the wives.
You thought you were fine with your arrangement, but you can’t help yourself: you track her down, and, under false pretenses, you strike up a friendship. Hannah has no idea who you really are. Then Hannah starts showing up to your coffee dates with telltale bruises, and you realize she’s being abused by her husband. Who, of course, is also your husband. But you’ve never known him to be violent, ever.
Who exactly is your husband, and how far would you be willing to go to find out? And who is his mysterious third wife?
“The Searcher” by Tana French
Cal Hooper thought a fixer-upper in a bucolic Irish village would be the perfect escape. After 25 years in the Chicago police force and a bruising divorce, he just wants to build a new life in a pretty spot with a good pub where nothing much happens. But when a local kid whose brother has gone missing arm-twists him into investigating, Cal uncovers layers of darkness beneath his picturesque retreat, and starts to realize that even small towns shelter dangerous secrets.
“The Boy from the Woods” by Harlan Coben
30 years ago, Wilde was found as a boy living feral in the woods, with no memory of his past. Now an adult, he still doesn’t know where he comes from, and another child has gone missing.
No one seems to take Naomi Pine’s disappearance seriously, not even her father — with one exception. Hester Crimstein, a television criminal attorney, knows through her grandson that Naomi was relentlessly bullied at school. Hester asks Wilde — with whom she shares a tragic connection — to use his unique skills to help find Naomi.
Wilde can’t ignore an outcast in trouble, but in order to find Naomi, he must venture back into the community where he has never fit in, a place where the powerful are protected even when they harbor secrets that could destroy the lives of millions… secrets that Wilde must uncover before it’s too late.
“One by One” by Ruth Ware
by Ruth Ware (button)
When the cofounder of Snoop, a trendy London-based tech start-up, organizes a weeklong trip for the team in the French Alps, it starts out as a corporate retreat like any other: PowerPoint presentations and strategy sessions broken up by mandatory bonding on the slopes. But as soon as one shareholder upends the agenda by pushing a lucrative but contentious buyout offer, tensions simmer and loyalties are tested. The storm brewing inside the chalet is no match for the one outside, however, and a devastating avalanche leaves the group cut off from all access to the outside world. Even worse, one Snooper hadn’t made it back from the slopes when the avalanche hit.
As each hour passes without any sign of rescue, panic mounts, the chalet grows colder, and the group dwindles further…one by one.
“The Devil and the Dark Water” by Stuart Turton
by Stuart Turton (button)
A murder on the high seas. A remarkable detective duo. A demon who may or may not exist.
It’s 1634 and Samuel Pipps, the world’s greatest detective, is being transported to Amsterdam to be executed for a crime he may, or may not, have committed. Traveling with him is his loyal bodyguard, Arent Hayes, who is determined to prove his friend innocent.
But no sooner are they out to sea than devilry begins to blight the voyage. A twice-dead leper stalks the decks. Strange symbols appear on the sails. Livestock is slaughtered. Anyone could be to blame. Even a demon.
And then three passengers are marked for death, including Samuel.
With Pipps imprisoned, only Arent can solve a mystery that connects every passenger. A mystery that stretches back into their past and now threatens to sink the ship, killing everybody on board.
“Long Bright River” by Liz Moore
by Liz Moore (button)
In a Philadelphia neighborhood rocked by the opioid crisis, two once-inseparable sisters find themselves at odds. One, Kacey, lives on the streets in the vise of addiction. The other, Mickey, walks those same blocks on her police beat. They don’t speak anymore, but Mickey never stops worrying about her sibling.
Then Kacey disappears, suddenly, at the same time that a mysterious string of murders begins in Mickey’s district, and Mickey becomes dangerously obsessed with finding the culprit — and her sister — before it’s too late.
Alternating its present-day mystery with the story of the sisters’ childhood and adolescence, “Long Bright River” is at once heart-pounding and heart-wrenching: a gripping suspense novel that is also a moving story of sisters, addiction, and the formidable ties that persist between place, family, and fate.
“All the Devils Are Here” by Louise Penny
On their first night in Paris, the Gamaches gather as a family for a bistro dinner with Armand’s godfather, the billionaire Stephen Horowitz. Walking home together after the meal, they watch in horror as Stephen is knocked down and critically injured in what Gamache knows is no accident, but a deliberate attempt on the elderly man’s life.
When a strange key is found in Stephen’s possession it sends Armand, his wife Reine-Marie, and his former second-in-command at the Sûreté, Jean-Guy Beauvoir, from the top of the Tour d’Eiffel to the bowels of the Paris Archives, and from luxury hotels to odd, coded works of art.
A gruesome discovery in Stephen’s Paris apartment makes it clear the secrets are more rancid, the danger far greater and more imminent, than they realized.
Soon the whole family is caught up in a web of lies and deceit. In order to find the truth, Gamache will have to decide whether he can trust his friends, his colleagues, his instincts, his own past. His own family. For even the City of Light casts long shadows. And in that darkness devils hide.
“You Are Not Alone” by Greer Hendricks and Sarah Pekkanen
by Greer Hendricks and Sarah Pekkanen (button)
Shay Miller wants to find love, but it eludes her. She wants to be fulfilled, but her job is a dead end. She wants to belong, but her life is increasingly lonely.
Until Shay meets the Moore sisters. Cassandra and Jane live a life of glamorous perfection, and always get what they desire. When they invite Shay into their circle, everything seems to get better.
Shay would die for them to like her.
She may have to.
“Troubled Blood” by Robert Galbraith
by Robert Galbraith (button)
Private Detective Cormoran Strike is visiting his family in Cornwall when he is approached by a woman asking for help finding her mother, Margot Bamborough — who went missing in mysterious circumstances in 1974.
Strike has never tackled a cold case before, let alone one 40 years old. But despite the slim chance of success, he is intrigued and takes it on, adding to the long list of cases that he and his partner in the agency, Robin Ellacott, are currently working on. And Robin herself is also juggling a messy divorce and unwanted male attention, as well as battling her own feelings about Strike.
As Strike and Robin investigate Margot’s disappearance, they come up against a fiendishly complex case with leads that include tarot cards, a psychopathic serial killer and witnesses who cannot all be trusted. And they learn that even cases decades old can prove to be deadly….
“Unspeakable Things” by Jess Lourey
by Jess Lourey (button)
Inspired by a terrifying true story from the author’s hometown, a heart-pounding novel of suspense about a small Minnesota community where nothing is as quiet ― or as safe ― as it seems.
Cassie McDowell’s life in 1980s Minnesota seems perfectly wholesome. She lives on a farm, loves school, and has a crush on the nicest boy in class. Yes, there are her parents’ strange parties and their parade of deviant guests, but she’s grown accustomed to them.
All that changes when someone comes hunting in Lilydale.
One by one, local boys go missing. One by one, they return changed ― violent, moody, and withdrawn. What happened to them becomes the stuff of shocking rumors. The accusations of who’s responsible grow just as wild, and dangerous town secrets start to surface. Then Cassie’s own sister undergoes the dark change. If she is to survive, Cassie must find her way in an adult world where every sin is justified, and only the truth is unforgivable.
“Winter Counts” by David Heska Wanbli Weiden
A groundbreaking thriller about a vigilante on a Native American reservation who embarks on a dangerous mission to track down the source of a heroin influx.
Virgil Wounded Horse is the local enforcer on the Rosebud Indian Reservation in South Dakota. When justice is denied by the American legal system or the tribal council, Virgil is hired to deliver his own punishment, the kind that’s hard to forget. But when heroin makes its way into the reservation and finds Virgil’s nephew, his vigilantism suddenly becomes personal. He enlists the help of his ex-girlfriend and sets out to learn where the drugs are coming from, and how to make them stop.
They follow a lead to Denver and find that drug cartels are rapidly expanding and forming new and terrifying alliances. And back on the reservation, a new tribal council initiative raises uncomfortable questions about money and power. As Virgil starts to link the pieces together, he must face his own demons and reclaim his Native identity. He realizes that being a Native American in the twenty-first century comes at an incredible cost.
“Blacktop Wasteland” by S.A. Cosby
A husband, a father, a son, a business owner…And the best getaway driver east of the Mississippi.
Beauregard “Bug” Montage is an honest mechanic, a loving husband, and a hard-working dad. Bug knows there’s no future in the man he used to be: known from the hills of North Carolina to the beaches of Florida as the best wheelman on the East Coast.
He thought he’d left all that behind him, but as his carefully built new life begins to crumble, he finds himself drawn inexorably back into a world of blood and bullets. When a smooth-talking former associate comes calling with a can’t-miss jewelry store heist, Bug feels he has no choice but to get back in the driver’s seat. And Bug is at his best where the scent of gasoline mixes with the smell of fear.
Haunted by the ghost of who he used to be and the father who disappeared when he needed him most, Bug must find a way to navigate this blacktop wasteland… or die trying.
“The Night Swim” by Megan Goldin
by Megan Goldin (button)
Ever since her true-crime podcast became an overnight sensation and set an innocent man free, Rachel Krall has become a household name―and the last hope for people seeking justice. But she’s used to being recognized for her voice, not her face. Which makes it all the more unsettling when she finds a note on her car windshield, addressed to her, begging for help.
The new season of Rachel’s podcast has brought her to a small town being torn apart by a devastating rape trial. A local golden boy, a swimmer destined for Olympic greatness, has been accused of raping the beloved granddaughter of the police chief. Under pressure to make Season 3 a success, Rachel throws herself into her investigation ― but the mysterious letters keep coming. Someone is following her, and she won’t stop until Rachel finds out what happened to her sister 25 years ago. Officially, Jenny Stills tragically drowned, but the letters insist she was murdered ― and when Rachel starts asking questions, nobody in town wants to answer.
Electrifying and propulsive, “The Night Swim” asks: What is the price of a reputation? Can a small town ever right the wrongs of its past? And what really happened to Jenny?
“And Now She’s Gone” by Megan Goldin
by Megan Goldin (button)
Isabel Lincoln is gone.
But is she missing?
It’s up to Grayson Sykes to find her. Although she is reluctant to track down a woman who may not want to be found, Gray’s search for Isabel Lincoln becomes more complicated and dangerous with every new revelation about the woman’s secrets and the truth she’s hidden from her friends and family.
Featuring two complicated women in a dangerous cat and mouse game, Rachel Howzell Hall’s “And Now She’s Gone” explores the nature of secrets — and how violence and fear can lead you to abandon everything in order to survive.
“Confessions on the 7:45” by Lisa Unger
by Lisa Unger (button)
Selena Murphy is commuting home on the train when she strikes up a conversation with a beautiful stranger in the next seat. The woman introduces herself as Martha and soon confesses that she’s been stuck in an affair with her boss. Selena, in turn, confesses that she suspects her husband is sleeping with the nanny. When the train arrives at Selena’s station, the two women part ways, presumably never to meet again.
Then the nanny disappears.
As Selena is pulled into the mystery of what happened, and as the fractures in her marriage grow deeper, she begins to wonder, who was Martha really? But she is hardly prepared for what she’ll discover…
“First Girl Gone” by L.T. Vargus and Tim McBain
by L.T. Vargus and Tim McBain (button)
The girl’s chestnut hair sways gently in the shallow water, her skin is cold. Grains of sand decorate her beautiful white cheeks like freckles. First, she was taken from her family, and now it won’t be long before she’s taken by the tide…
Kara Dawkins is missing. One minute she was sitting on a park bench, her coat wrapped around her against the biting cold. The next minute, she was gone.
Her mother is beside herself with worry. Did she run away, or was she snatched? Does anyone know she’s been sneaking out at night, or about the secret hidden inside her jewelery box?
But then another girl’s body washes up on the beach a few days later, in the exact spot where the last trace of Detective Charlie Winters’ missing sister was found years ago. It can’t be a coincidence, not in a town as small as this. By taking Kara, someone is re-opening the wounds of the past and setting a deadly trap. And unless Charlie steps forward to take the bait, many more innocent victims will follow…