10 Absolutely Gripping Books to Read in the New Year

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Kate Krug


Kate is a 2011 Drake University grad, where she received her BA in magazine journalism. A hopeless romantic with a cynical heart, Kate will read anything that comes with a content warning, a love triangle, and a major plot twist. Twitter: @katekrug Blog:

Gripping books. Page-turners. Unputdownable reads. We’ve all encountered those gripping books to read that just immediately hook us and don’t let go until the last page. Whether it’s a character that we relate to, a whodunit where we just have to know who did it, or a plot with so many swerves it feels like a Formula 1 track — there’s not much better than finding another book that just scratches the itch for what we’re wanting to read at that moment.

I don’t know about you, but 2020 and most of 2021 have been full of reading slumps. Books that have immediately captured my attention from the very first page have been few and far between. But when those lightning in a bottle moments have happened? Good LORD they’ve been fantastic.

While our specific definitions of “gripping” might differ from person to person, this list is a collection of recent gripping books to read from across different genres, YA to adult, and with diverse casts of characters. These are the kind of books you want to just devour in one sitting, even if that means pulling an all-nighter (you don’t have to, obviously, but the desire is there).

No Gods, No Monsters by Cadwell Turnbull cover

No Gods, No Monsters by Cadwell Turnbull

Realism mixed with fantasy makes for an absolutely captivating social commentary that felt more real than ever these past few years. When Laina learns that her brother has been shot and killed by the Boston PD, everything feels all too familiar — another case of police brutality. But something deeper is happening. Monsters are real, and they’re ready to show themselves to the world. What’s even scarier is that they’re not afraid to take down as many humans as possible.

Lean Your Loneliness Slowly Against Mine book cover

Lean Your Loneliness Slowly Against Mine by Klara Hveberg

Rakel has always been the studious type — more comfortable with numbers than in groups. Her quick but quiet mind attracts the attention of Jakob, an older teacher at her Oslo university. Despite Jakob’s marriage, they become romantically involved. As time goes on, Rakel’s health declines and she’s forced to take a good look at their relationship and what it truly was. When you can make fractal mathematics sound like the most lyrical song — that’s talent.

You've Reached Sam cover

You’ve Reached Sam by Dustin Thao

Get your tissues ready. Julie and her boyfriend, Sam, had their future perfectly mapped out. But their plans are derailed when Sam dies and Julie’s world is turned upside down. Julie calls Sam’s phone in an attempt to hear his voice again through his voicemail. Then someone picks up. That someone is Sam. And he continues to pick up when she calls. As Julie witnesses the pain and grief Sam’s family is going through, she feels guilty about keeping the calls to herself. Will she spill her secret?

Rock Paper Scissors cover

Rock Paper Scissors by Alice Feeney

Set in Britain, Adam and Amelia are a typical married couple — but they’ve been having some difficulties for a while. Adam lives with face blindness and is unable to recognize the people closest to him, including Amelia. When the couple suddenly wins a getaway to the Scottish Highlands, they decide to use it as an attempt to rekindle their marriage and celebrate their tenth anniversary. But there’s something wrong, very wrong. The trip is a setup. And if it’s up to one of them, the other won’t make it back from the trip.

the cover of Blue-Skinned Gods

Blue Skinned Gods by S.J. Sindu

When Kalki is born, he shocks everyone with his vivid blue skin. Believing that Kalki must be an incarnation of the Hindu god, Vishnu, his family begins making a living off of the people who travel great distances just to see him. As Kalki grows up, he goes through tests to prove divinity and although he technically passes, Kalki has his doubts. This leads him on a quest of self-discovery, and where else to find oneself than NYC?

cover of Vita Nostra

Vita Nostra by Marina & Sergey Dyachenko

Sasha and Farit meet by chance while she is on vacation. Despite the fact that Farit gives off an air of something that she can’t quite nail down, Sasha can’t help but feel drawn to him — going as far as performing a task for him with potentially scandalous consequences. In just a few days, Sasha comes to consider Farit a leader and a mentor, and he convinces her to move to a remote village to attend a boarding school. Even though she barely knows him, there’s something about her connection with Farit that Sasha can’t explain.

crying in h mart book cover

Crying in H Mart by Michelle Zauner

One of two nonfiction titles on this list, this book struck a particular chord in me — also being Korean American — but it can be appreciated no matter your background. In her memoir, Michelle talks about her upbringing, from being one of the few Asian kids in school to her parents’ high expectations to her identity as an Asian American.

cover of Guilty Admissions, which shows ivy covering a brick wall

Guilty Admissions: The Bribes, Favors, and Phonies Behind the College Cheating Scandal by Nicole LaPorte

Chances are that you have at least heard of the Varsity Blues scandal, an event that exposed A+ celebrities such as Lori Loughlin and Felicity Huffman, and the story spun by a college counselor, Rick Singer. Singer specifically targeted desperate, wealthy families obsessed with keeping perfect images and willing to do anything to get their kids into the best colleges in the country.

cover of Never Saw Me Coming, featuring a close-up of a young woman's face in sepia tones

Never Saw Me Coming by Vera Kurian

If you’re also absolutely enthralled by true crime, this book reads like one. A college professor and renowned psychologist, who strongly believes that psychopaths are misunderstood in today’s society, creates a clinical study to test the theory. Seven university students who fit the textbook definition of a psychopath are chosen to participate. But things go horribly wrong when one of the students is found dead and the remaining participants look SOL. The only trick is they have no idea who else is involved in the study.

cover image of Hostage by Clare Mackintosh

Hostage by Clare Mackintosh

If you’re here for twists on twists on twists, this is the book for you. Mina is a flight attendant who has recently been chosen to participate in the first-ever nonstop flight from London to Sydney. That’s 20 hours in the air; 20 hours with absolutely nowhere else to go. They’ve prepared for this day — they have a plan if something goes wrong. Well, obviously, something goes wrong. When Mina is slipped a note threatening to kill her family, she makes the decision to help hijackers take over the plane.

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