Riot Headline 10 Exciting Books to Read this Summer

Fast-Paced Reads That Made Me Neglect Life

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Steph Auteri

Senior Contributor

Steph Auteri is a journalist who has written for the Atlantic, the Washington Post, Pacific Standard, VICE, and elsewhere. Her more creative work has appeared in Creative Nonfiction, under the gum tree, Poets & Writers, and other publications, and she is the Essays Editor for Hippocampus Magazine. Her essay, "The Fear That Lives Next to My Heart," published in Southwest Review, was listed as a Notable Essay in Best American Essays 2021. She also writes bookish stuff here and at the Feminist Book Club, is the author of A Dirty Word, and is the founder of Guerrilla Sex Ed. When not working, she enjoys yoga, embroidery, singing, cat snuggling, and staring at the birds in her backyard feeder. You can learn more at and follow her on Insta/Threads at @stephauteri.

I’ve always been a fan of doorstoppers. Books I can sink into for days on end. Worlds in which I can linger, making the real one fade away. Titles that encourage me to think more deeply about the world around me.

When I fall in love with one of these books, I am almost in a state of grief when they end. I wander around in a daze, pick up new titles, read a few pages or a few chapters, and then shove those books aside in frustration because they don’t hit in quite the same way. I slide into a reading slump, juggling five different titles, all of which I feel meh about.

Even if some of those five titles are good, I still struggle to find the ease I found with the previous title. But the gloriousness of what I just read almost dooms every subsequent read.

At times like these, I need something light — the literary equivalent of a snack — to snap me out of it. Usually, this means I turn to my favorite, horror, or maybe a new graphic novel.

But sometimes, I end up reading something different, something so fast-paced, I can’t put it down. Something plot-driven where, at the end of each chapter, I am absolutely desperate to know what happens next.

These are some of those titles. The ones that knocked me right out of my reading slump and allowed me to embrace my TBR again.

book cover of Finlay Donovan is Killing It by Elle Cosimano

Finlay Donovan Is Killing It by Elle Cosimano

This comedic thriller is the first in a series, each one of which is just as laugh-out-loud funny as the one before it. In this first installment, Finlay Donovan is a divorced single mother and a struggling novelist, completely at her wit’s end. But when she’s accidentally hired as a contract killer, life suddenly becomes a lot more exciting, and inspiration for her next book is suddenly close at hand. The twists. The turns. The belly laughs. They all knocked me right out of my reading slump. I just gasped out loud when I saw that book number four is coming in 2024. Eeeee!!!

cover of No Exit by Taylor Adams, featuring blizzard conditions as seen through the front of a car windshield

No Exit by Taylor Adams

I don’t usually read straight-up thrillers, but a fellow Book Rioter recommended this one and, on a whim, I picked it up. I was immediately engrossed and ended up reading it all in one sitting. In this book, a young woman finds herself stranded at a remote highway rest stop in the midst of a blizzard, alongside four other strangers. When she heads outside to make a phone call, she discovers that in the van parked next to her car, there’s a child locked up in an animal crate. Who does the van belong to? Which one of the folks she’s cooped up with is a kidnapper? What can she do and who can she trust?

The Last Days of Jack Sparks book cover

The Last Days of Jack Sparks by Jason Arnopp

In this comedic horror (one of my favorite sub-genres), asshole journalist Jack Sparks is researching a book on the occult when he ends up going viral for mocking an exorcism. After that, a creepy video shows up on his own YouTube account, and after that…well…no one is quite sure. This book purports to be his accounting of what may or may not have been his final days. I love a good supernatural mystery, and this one had me guessing throughout.

Book cover of The Woman in the Library

The Woman in the Library by Sulari Gentill

Gentill, a former corporate lawyer turned crime novelist, came up with an interesting premise for this book within a book. I won’t reveal too much about it; I don’t want to spoil it for you. What I can tell you is that the bulk of this book revolves around four strangers who happen to be sharing a table in the reading room of the Boston Public Library when they hear a scream. Someone may have been murdered — but no one can find a body. As the story spun out, I was fully invested in figuring out who the murderer was. But each new clue only left me (and the main protagonist) more confused. A fun, frivolous ride.

Jackal by Erin E. Adams book cover

Jackal by Erin E. Adams

In this supernatural thriller, a young Black woman very reluctantly returns to her predominantly white hometown for her best friend’s wedding. But when her friend’s daughter disappears in the woods on the night of the wedding, our protagonist is thrust back into memories of a trauma she experienced when she was just a teen. Skeptical of the cops’ ability to find the girl, she takes matters into her own hands and soon discovers an unsettling secret: children have been going missing in these woods for years. All of them Black. All of them girls. But who — or what — has been taking them? I love it when a book compels me to solve a mystery alongside its plucky protagonist.

cover of Vera Wong's Unsolicited Advice for Murderers by Jesse Q. Sutanto; illustration of an old Asian woman peeking through window blinds

Vera Wong’s Unsolicited Advice for Murderers by Jesse Q. Sutanto

In this fun, comedic thriller, the aging owner of a tea shop in the middle of San Francisco’s Chinatown comes downstairs one morning to find a dead body in her establishment. Unimpressed by the police department’s approach, she decides to take matters into her own hands. Just as with her previous books (Dial A for Aunties and its sequel, Four Aunties and a Wedding), Sutanto brings all the LOLs — and some surprising feels — in the midst of a fast-paced mystery that kept me guessing.

Small Game by Blair Braverman cover

Small Game by Blair Braverman

A good read for fans of Yellowjackets, this novel is about a reality show gone wrong. When four strangers are tapped to participate in a show in which they compete to survive for six weeks in a remote location, the main protagonist — a professional survivalist — figures she has it in the bag. But when the film crew doesn’t show up one morning, the cast members aren’t sure whether it’s a new challenge or a terrible sign that they’ve been abandoned. I was so hungry to know how it all turned out, I couldn’t stop reading!

the drift book cover

The Drift by C.J. Tudor

This last one is a recent read for me. I took it with me on a long weekend trip to D.C., where I was attending a conference, and I finished the whole damn thing before returning home. This post-apocalyptic thriller takes place during a pandemic and its aftermath, cycling through three different points of view. Each of these three characters is introduced to us while in a moment of imminent danger, and I couldn’t stop myself from racing through the chapters so I could see how it all came together in the end.

For more fast-paced reads, check out this list of 10 more page-turners.