Riot Headline 10 Exciting Books to Read this Summer

Escape Reality with these 20+ Books You Can’t Put Down

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Mikkaka Overstreet

Senior Contributor

Mikkaka Overstreet is from Louisville, Kentucky by way of Saginaw “Sagnasty”, Michigan. She has been an educator since 2006 and earned her PhD in Curriculum and Instruction in 2015. By day she is a mild-mannered literacy specialist. By night she sleeps. In between, she daydreams, writes fiction, and reads books. She currently lives in North Carolina with her husband and cats.

It’s the perfect time for a list of books you can’t put down. Clearly, we are living in a near-apocalyptic hellscape. If you’re like me, the only way to survive is to stop doomscrolling and escape reality periodically. Consequently, a big fat stack of engrossing books is just what you need.

I have always used books as a means to escape life or just to experience a different life. I’m the person who always has a book in her bag. Unsurprisingly, I was also the kid whose mom MADE her go outside to play. I would go, but I always smuggled a book under my shirt.

Still, we’re talking about a very specific kind of book today. This list is dedicated to the books that make you burn dinner. These books keep you up past your bedtime because you just have to read one more chapter. Of course, you soon realize you’re still awake at 3 a.m. when there are no chapters left.

According to NBC News, getting lost in a book this way is actually good for you. Reading fiction teaches us empathy and actually pushes us to grow and change. Furthermore, reading fiction increases one’s sense of belonging, while boosting social skills. There is even research to suggest that reading voraciously can help you live longer.

As much as I love to read, I know that I am far from up-to-date on my TBR. Thus, I turned to my Facebook friends for ideas. The following books are certified unputdownable by me or someone I know who has actually read them.

YA Books You Can’t Put Down

Cover image "Me (Moth)" by Amber McBride.

Me Moth by Amber McBride

There’s something about books-in-verse that make them difficult to put down. This beautiful coming-of-age tale is no exception. After Moth loses her family in a terrible car accident, she feels lost and alone in her aunt’s home. But it all changes when she meets a kindred spirit in the lonely, depressed Sani. Together, they embark on a road trip that will lead them to surprising truths.

The Black Flamingo by Dean Atta Book Cover

The Black Flamingo by Dean Atta

So, did I mention that I find novels-in-verse particularly challenging to put down? This Time Magazine Best YA Book of All Time and Stonewall Book Award Winner is another great example. Michael is gay, multiracial, and tired of trying to fit in. In this fiercely proud story about identity and self-acceptance, we can all discover how to be more authentically ourselves.

cover of The Weight of Blood by Tiffany D. Jackson; black and white photo of a Black prom queen drenched in red blood

The Weight of Blood by Tiffany D. Jackson

Full disclosure: I don’t know anyone who has read this book yet. However, I would read Tiffany D. Jackson’s grocery list and, undoubtedly, be both enthralled and disturbed by its contents. Based on the Goodreads reviews, this book is every bit as engulfing and unsettling as her previous works. Maddy, a biracial teen who has been passing as white in a racist town, attends her high school’s first integrated prom. Apparently, it doesn’t end well. I cannot wait to lose sleep over this one.

cover of scythe

Scythe by Neal Shusterman

According to an English professor friend of mine, he “didn’t want to do anything but live in that story world until [he] finished” this book. Said world is one free of sickness, war, and misery. In this world where nobody dies, scythes take lives to keep the population under control. We follow two teenage scythe apprentices who are not keen on their new roles. Unfortunately, they can only embrace their profession or risk losing their own lives.

Nonfiction Books You Can’t Put Down

cover of On Her Own Ground: The Life and Times of Madam C. J. Walker

On Her Own Ground: The Life and Times of Madame C.J. Walker by A’Lelia Bundles

As a Black woman, I learned Madam C.J. Walker’s name when I was pretty young. Sitting in the kitchen with the hot comb on the stove, hair grease on the table, I heard about the first female self-made millionaire. She was the child of formerly enslaved parents who amassed wealth during a time when women, and especially Black women, had few rights. Furthermore, she made her living revolutionizing Black hair care. Friends, if that doesn’t hook you, I don’t know what will. This excellent biography has been adapted into a Netflix miniseries as well.

Burnout cover

Burnout: The Secret to Unlocking the Stress Cycle by Emily and Amelia Nagoski

I know what you’re thinking. A self-help book that you can’t put down? As if! I would’ve thought the same and I, too, would’ve been wrong. This book came to me a few months ago at a point when I felt so burnt out that it was a chore getting up each day. Luckily, I picked up this gem on audio and now I can’t stop telling women and femme folks to read it. It’s a fabulously scientific treasure trove wrapped in an engaging narrative structure. Trust me, you will feel seen and validated, even if you still feel burnt out.

cover of Find Your Way Back

Find Your Way Back: How to Write Your Way Through Anything by Javacia Harris Bowser

Full disclosure, I consider the author of this book to be one of my writing mentors. As the founder of See Jane Write, Javacia Bowser Harris supports women writers and provides us a safe and encouraging community. In this collection of essays, Javacia shares stories from her journey — including how she wrote her way through cancer.

just mercy bryan stevenson cover

Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson

You’ve probably heard of this one, especially since it was made into a movie starring the delectable Michael B. Jordan. Gorgeous live-action leads aside, this book is beautiful and heart wrenching. I distinctly remember sitting next to a stranger on an airplane sobbing uncontrollably, while steadily turning the pages. Bryan Stevenson tells the story of founding the Equal Justice Initiative, an organization dedicated to defending the legal system’s most vulnerable and targeted victims. Centered on a case of a Black man sentenced to death for a crime he didn’t commit, Just Mercy shines an unflinching spotlight on how the poor and minoritized are victimized by the system alleged to protect them.

Romance Books You Can’t Put Down

Cover image of "The Spanish Love Deception" by Elena Armas.

The Spanish Love Deception by Elena Armas

Booktok strikes again! This relatable book has kept many Tiktokers turning pages late into the night. After Catalina lies about having an American boyfriend, all of her family and friends eagerly look forward to meeting him at her sister’s wedding. Desperate to save face, Catalina searches for someone willing to play the part and travel with her to Spain. Enter a handsome coworker that she can’t stand and not one but two of my favorite tropes: enemies-to-lovers AND fake dating to actually falling in love!

Normal People cover

Normal People by Sally Rooney

I took Normal People to the beach over my wedding anniversary and devoured it in a matter of hours. I’m not even sure I liked it, I just had to know what happened to the characters. The story follows two extremely flawed individuals as they navigate friendship, love, sexuality, and trauma over many years. Somehow, they keep returning to each other. Again, I don’t even know if I was rooting for them. I just couldn’t put the damn book down. Apparently, the book has been adapted into a TV show, which I refuse to watch because I’m sure I’ll be hooked.

cover of The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo

The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid

Classic Hollywood comes to life in all its complexity as we follow actress Evelyn Hugo through her decades of fame. Masterfully moving between Evelyn’s past and her present-day interviews with a talented journalist, Reid keeps readers intrigued throughout. Just when we think we understand Evelyn, the past and present collide in a shocking reveal. Even while confronting sexism, racism, and homophobia, Evelyn is a powerhouse. She might be morally questionable at times, but you’re going to love her.

Fantasy Books You Can’t Put Down

Book cover of Under the Whispering Door

Under the Whispering Door by TJ Klune

TJ Klune seems to know the way to my heart. After I read The House in the Cerulean Sea, I immediately wanted to read it again. Instead, I picked up this one and realized I loved it even more. Under the Whispering Door is an absolutely beautiful exploration of death and love and life, with a great message and lovable characters. You will feel all the feelings, but won’t be able to stop reading because you have to unravel the mysteries and learn the fates of your new fictional BFFs.

The Midnight Library by Matt Haig book cover

The Midnight Library by Matt Haig

Several of my Facebook friends recommended this book for this list and, having read it, I wholeheartedly agree. In it, protagonist Nora Seed is able to access her alternate lives through books in a mysterious library. After attempting suicide, Nora wakes up in a library that serves as a space between life and death. Haig deals beautifully with the complexity of life and death. Furthermore, for all of us who ever wonder “what if?”, Haig offers an intriguing rabbit hole to fall down.

cover of The Ten Thousand Doors of January by Alix E. Harrow, showing a gold doorknob surrounded by flowers against a black background

The Ten Thousand Doors of January by Alix E. Harrow

Do I love books where doors lead to unexpected places or do I just love doors? Considering how much I love Alice in Wonderland, I think it’s the former. Anyway, I will reflect on that in my own time while you’re voraciously reading this gem. January is a multiracial girl under the care of an old white dude who likes collecting “exotic” treasures. When January finds her father’s journal, she learns that she is more unique than she ever imagined. Suddenly, she is pitted against her guardian’s shadow organization as she tries to find the door that will lead her to her true home, while the collectors try to destroy all of the secret doors.

Thriller, Horror, and Mystery Books You Can’t Put Down

the cover of Hidden Pictures

Hidden Pictures by Jason Rekulak

What’s more frightening than children? As an educator, I can definitively say that the answer is nothing. Nothing is creepier than spooky kids. Mallory learns this when she takes a job as a nanny. Though she loves Teddy immediately, things go awry when his artwork grows increasingly disturbing. Soon, Mallory is convinced that Teddy is a conduit for something supernatural and sinister.

cover of the housemaid

The Housemaid by Freida McFadden

Okay, I may have a caveat to my previous assertion: rich people are truly terrifying. A woman becomes a housemaid for a rich family. She finds that the wife is an asshole, the husband is downtrodden, and the kid is a pawn. But here’s the twist: the housemaid has a dark secret that her suburban antagonist doesn’t know about. Who should you root for? Who can be trusted? Readers won’t know until the very last page.

cover of The 7 1/2 Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle by Stuart Turton

The 7 1/2 Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle by Stuart Turton

One of my favorite humans told me about this one and I 100% trust her judgement. In this whodunnit tale, Evelyn Hardcastle is murdered at 11 p.m. everyday. Readers follow Aiden’s perspective as he wakes up each morning in the body of a different guest at Blackheath. He has eight days to identify Evelyn’s killer and break the cycle. You won’t be able to put this book down until you unravel this twisty mystery.

Book Cover for Good Neighbors

Good Neighbors by Sarah Langan

I don’t typically enjoy stories about suburban white people being terrible, but I couldn’t put this book down. Like with Normal People, I can’t be sure I actually like the story. However, it includes a compelling mystery and spooky vibes, which hooked me in nonetheless. When a poor family moves into a “nice” neighborhood, their new neighbors quickly turn against them. Accusations fly, violence and mob mentalities take over, and people die. Now that I wrote this summary, I think I love/hated it. Either way, it’s a page turner.

Cover of Mexican Gothic by Silvia Moreno Garcia

Mexican Gothic by Silvia Moreno-Garcia

If you love the creeping dread of Shirley Jackson’s works or have never forgotten how yellow wallpaper can slowly drive a woman mad, this is the book for you. A wealthy socialite is called to a secluded manor to check on her cousin. After the cousin’s marriage to a dashing stranger, her letters home were concerning enough to warrant a visit. Soon, however, our protagonist finds herself just as paranoid and trapped as the cousin she sought to save.

Humorous Books You Can’t Put Down

nothing to see here cover

Nothing to See Here by Kevin Wilson

I was not prepared for how funny and engaging this book was. Recently, I shared it in a post on great audiobooks, but I’d be remiss not to include it here as well. Our protagonist, a lovable underachiever, is manipulated by her former friend and secret crush into taking a nanny job. The children belong to the friend’s rich, senator husband and his now-deceased first wife. Oh, and the kids happen to regularly spontaneously combust. Yes, it is as weird and wonderful as it sounds.

convenience store woman by sayaka murata cover image

Convenience Store Woman by Sayaka Murata

This international bestseller follows a woman in her mid-thirties. She has never fit in nor has she ever been able to meet her family’s expectations. The one place she truly enjoys and understands is the convenience store where she’s worked for 18 years. Finally, she’s pushed to make a change amid pressure from her family and coworkers. The sharp irony and lovable heroine will keep you turning the pages of this heartwarming novel.

cover of no one is talking about this

No One is Talking About This by Patricia Lockwood

So, I don’t know how to describe this book at all. I haven’t read it, but people are encouraging me to do so ASAP. What I do know is that David Sedaris said he’s not laughed so hard at a book in a long time and I trust his funny bone. Our protagonist is a social media influencer of sorts who grows to believe that her thoughts are being controlled by a multitude of voices. I have no idea what that means, but I am definitely intrigued.

Historical Fiction Books You Can’t Put Down

cover of Velvet Was the Night by Silvia Moreno-Garcia, showing the up-close face of a brown-skinned woman wearing large sunglasses and smoking a cigarette

Velvet Was the Night by Silvia Moreno-Garcia

Yes, this is the second book by this author on this list. However, it’s so different from Mexican Gothic that I had to include it. Moreno-Garcia has a gift for writing books you can’t put down. She once again weaves a tale rich in Mexican history featuring a complex female protagonist. Think Elinor Oliphant is Completely Fine but with noir vibes, hitmen, secret agents, and Russian spies.

The Immortalists by Chloe Benjamin

The Immortalists by Chloe Benjamin

When I asked my friend what made this book unputdownable, she said it was like how I felt about Normal People. Her exact words were, “same reason, the characters. Also not sure I liked it!” In this family saga spanning five decades, we follow the four Gold children. In 1969, each of the siblings learns when they will die from a traveling mystic. This shapes their choices as they grow into adulthood.

Cover of Pachinko by Min Jin Lee

Pachinko by Min Jin Lee

The paperback of this book is almost out of stock on Amazon as I type this, if you need any evidence that it’s a page turner. It follows Sunja from her teenage years in early 1900s Korea. She falls in love and becomes pregnant by a wealthy man. Unfortunately, he is married. Sunja instead marries a minister and leaves to accompany him to Japan. Her son’s powerful father, however, will not accept her decision without a fight.

There you have it. You have everything you need to escape reality at your convenience. If you need even more great recommendations, try these other Book Riot lists: