The best books that feature competitions to (literally) die for, that aren’t The Hunger Games

Who am I?

Games, challenges, and riddles. Who doesn’t love ‘em? Who doesn’t love to imagine, from the safe distance of your armchair (or couch, or car, or bed, or wherever you read) themselves in the characters’ shoes and imagine what they would do? We certainly do—so much so that we went ahead and wrote a time travel series based around them. There are few things more captivating than a high-stakes game, in which competitors grow rapidly under the pressure of a rapidly ticking clock, tight constraints, and sometimes deadly circumstances. The following list is a sampling of books (mostly young adult, with one exception) that fall in this category. 


I wrote...

The Time Trials

By Jon McConnell, Dayna McConnell,

Book cover of The Time Trials

What is my book about?

Walkman-toting, guitar-playing Finn Mallory blames himself for his parents' deaths and would do anything to turn back time and set things right. So, when he's recruited into a secret club at his new school that specializes in competitive time travel games, Finn sees a world of opportunity open before him. The games, however, are far from benign. Competition is cutthroat. Scenarios are rigged. And the mysterious timekeepers who organize it all have no qualms about using—or disposing of players—to suit their own sinister plans.

Now Finn must decide who he can trust while making peace with his past if he's to have any hope of leading his team to victory and surviving his junior year.

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of Scythe

Dayna McConnell Why did I love this book?

Citra and Rowan, two ordinary kids in a post-mortal world, are thrown for a loop when they’re recruited as apprentices to a scythe. What’s a scythe, you ask? Well, in this world, it’s a lot more than a farming instrument. In this dystopian society in which people don’t die, a scythe’s job is to select the unlucky few who must be sacrificed in the name of controlling the world’s population. As Citra and Rowan adjust to the scythe lifestyle and begin to form a bond (a very compelling “will they/won’t they” relationship that spans this YA series), they’re blindsided yet again: they’ll be competing—against each other—to earn the title of a licensed executioner. The world-building in this series was riveting, original, and detailed without being overwhelming. 

By Neal Shusterman,

Why should I read it?

6 authors picked Scythe as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it. This book is for kids age 14, 15, 16, and 17.

What is this book about?

"A true successor to The Hunger Games." Maggie Stiefvater

In a perfect world, what is there left to fear? A chilling and thought-provoking sci-fi novel from New York Times bestselling author Neal Shusterman.

A dark, gripping and witty thriller in which the only thing humanity has control over is death.

In a world where disease, war and crime have been eliminated, the only way to die is to be randomly killed ("gleaned") by professional scythes. Citra and Rowan are teenagers who have been selected to be scythes' apprentices, and despite wanting nothing to do with the vocation, they must learn…


Book cover of The Night Circus

Dayna McConnell Why did I love this book?

Celia, abandoned by her magician father, and Marco, an orphan, are raised by mysterious surrogates and trained in the arts of “new” (Celia) and “old” (Marco) magic, with the understanding that they will someday compete against another powerful magician. As they come of age, their worlds collide at the Night Circus, a magical venue that only opens under cover of darkness, and Marco is forced to acknowledge his intense feelings for Celia; but another realization sets in quickly after: Marco’s mysterious opponent is none other than the one he loves. This novel will wrap itself around you with its lush prosh and dreamy setting. 

By Erin Morgenstern,

Why should I read it?

16 authors picked The Night Circus as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

THE TIKTOK SENSATION

Rediscover the million-copy bestselling fantasy read with a different kind of magic, now in a stunning anniversary edition to mark 10 years since it's paperback debut.

The circus arrives without warning. It is simply there, when yesterday it was not. Against the grey sky the towering tents are striped black and white. A sign hanging upon an iron gates reads:

Opens at Nightfall
Closes at Dawn

Full of breath-taking amazements and open only at night, Le Cirque des Reves seems to cast a spell over all who wander its circular paths. But behind the glittering acrobats, fortune-tellers…


Book cover of The Inheritance Games

Dayna McConnell Why did I love this book?

What young adult novel is complete without an orphan, or several? This book follows Avery Grambs, who (like our Finn Mallory) is getting through high school on scholarship without a dollar to her name until she’s mysteriously bequeathed an entire fortune by some random, deceased millionaire. Here’s the rub: Avery has to move into this mysterious benefactor’s estate, which she’ll be sharing with his dispossessed family, who are none too happy to see her. Riddles, puzzles, and codes abound (as well as all kinds of tropey goodness) in this young adult first-in-series. 

By Jennifer Lynn Barnes,

Why should I read it?

7 authors picked The Inheritance Games as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

1.5 MILLION COPIES SOLD OF THE #1 BESTSELLING SERIES!

Don't miss this New York Times bestselling "impossible to put down" (Buzzfeed) novel with deadly stakes, thrilling twists, and juicy secrets -- perfect for fans of One of Us is Lying and Knives Out.

Avery Grambs has a plan for a better future: survive high school, win a scholarship, and get out. But her fortunes change in an instant when billionaire Tobias Hawthorne dies and leaves Avery virtually his entire fortune. The catch? Avery has no idea why -- or even who Tobias Hawthorne is.

To receive her inheritance, Avery must…


Book cover of Caraval

Dayna McConnell Why did I love this book?

Scarlett has always wanted to attend Caraval, a mysterious game/performance that often incorporates an audience member and blurs the line between reality and fantasy. She finally gets her chance just as she’s on the cusp of marrying and moving away. But Scarlett’s in for far more than she bargained for: the audience member chosen for this round of Caraval is her beloved sister, who is whisked away and must be found before the conclusion of Caraval’s five nights. This first-in-series is chock full of fantasy, adventure, and romance.

By Stephanie Garber,

Why should I read it?

6 authors picked Caraval as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it. This book is for kids age 13, 14, 15, and 16.

What is this book about?

***The Sunday Times bestseller***

WELCOME TO CARAVAL, WHERE NOTHING IS QUITE WHAT IT SEEMS . . .

Scarlett has never left the tiny isle of Trisda, pining from afar for the wonder of Caraval, a once-a-year week-long performance where the audience participates in the show.

Caraval is Magic. Mystery. Adventure. And for Scarlett and her beloved sister Tella it represents freedom and an escape from their ruthless, abusive father.

When the sisters' long-awaited invitations to Caraval finally arrive, it seems their dreams have come true. But no sooner have they arrived than Tella vanishes, kidnapped by the show's mastermind organiser,…


Book cover of The Selection

Dayna McConnell Why did I love this book?

Classism and competition meet in this young adult first-in-series. Thirty-five poverty-stricken girls compete for a chance to swap out their down-and-out lifestyles for a chance at wealth and prestige. Being “selected” means winning the affections of heart-throb Prince Maxon and being allowed to live in some pretty fabulous new digs (it’s a palace!). But what happens if the selected one doesn’t want to be selected? That’s the case for America, our protagonist…until she actually gets to know the prince she’s won. Some have said this series is The Hunger Games meets The Bachelor, and I couldn’t agree more. 

By Kiera Cass,

Why should I read it?

5 authors picked The Selection as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it. This book is for kids age 12, 13, 14, and 15.

What is this book about?

Thirty-five beautiful girls. Thirty-five beautiful rivals...

It's the chance of a lifetime and 17-year-old America Singer should feel lucky. She has been chosen for The Selection, a reality TV lottery in which the special few compete for gorgeous Prince Maxon's love.

Swept up in a world of elaborate gowns, glittering jewels and decadent feasts, America is living a new and glamorous life. And the prince takes a special interest in her, much to the outrage of the others.

Rivalry within The Selection is fierce and not all of the girls are prepared to play by the rules. But what they…


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Coyote Weather

By Amanda Cockrell,

Book cover of Coyote Weather

Amanda Cockrell Author Of Coyote Weather

New book alert!

Who am I?

Author Reader Dog walker Lapsed academic

Amanda's 3 favorite reads in 2023

What is my book about?

Coyote weather is the feral, hungry season, drought-stricken, and ready to catch fire. It’s 1967, and the American culture is violently remaking itself while the country is forcibly sending its young men to fight in a deeply unpopular war.

Jerry has stubbornly made no plans for the future because he doesn’t think that, in the shadow of Vietnam, the Cold War, and atomic bomb drills, there is going to be one. Ellen is determined to have a plan because nothing else seems capable of keeping the world from tilting. And the Ghost, who isn’t exactly dead, just wants to go home to a place that won’t let him in, the small California town where they all grew up.

Coyote Weather

By Amanda Cockrell,

What is this book about?

Coyote weather is the feral, hungry season in California, when everything is drought-stricken and ready to catch fire. It's 1967 and the American culture is violently remaking itself while the country is forcing its young men to fight in a deeply unpopular war. Jerry has stubbornly made no plans for the future because he believes that, in the shadow of Vietnam, the Cold War and atomic bomb drills, there won't be one. Ellen's determined to have a plan, because nothing else can keep the world from tilting. And the Ghost just wants to go home to a place that won't…


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