The best books you’d never think were so compulsively readable, but are

The Books I Picked & Why

All Thirteen: The Incredible Cave Rescue of the Thai Boys' Soccer Team

By Christina Soontornvat

Book cover of All Thirteen: The Incredible Cave Rescue of the Thai Boys' Soccer Team

Why this book?

I posted about this book on social media last year and called it one of my favorite reads, ever. A large handful of friends said it was one of theirs as well. There’s something about this book—deeply absorbing, compulsively readable, and edge-of-my-seat emotional—that just clicks. There’s even a kind of genius in the title itself, letting us know ahead of time that every one of the Thai boys’ soccer team stranded in that underground cave (a story you might remember from the news) were safely rescued at the end of the ordeal. From that vantage point, you can really just sink in and absorb this amazing story from every one of the many angles Christina Sonntornvat tells it. Bonus points for being something that kids and adults will love.


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The Passion of Dolssa

By Julie Berry

Book cover of The Passion of Dolssa

Why this book?

A healer and a matchmaker cross paths in 12th century France, and….zzzzzzz, right? Or so I thought, until I tried this Printz honor book, a piece of gorgeously written historical fiction that turned out to be a complete page-turner and attention-grabbing thriller. I’m a big TV watcher, so when I say that I was turning off the TV at night to spend more time with this book, you can take that as a 5+ star review. It’s one of my favorite YAs, and for what it’s worth, could just as easily have been shelved as an adult title. 


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Mary's Monster: Love, Madness, and How Mary Shelley Created Frankenstein

By Lita Judge

Book cover of Mary's Monster: Love, Madness, and How Mary Shelley Created Frankenstein

Why this book?

Holy moly, what a beautiful book. Take a look at Lita Judge’s social media just to absorb her varied and stunning artwork. Then pick up this title about a teenage Mary Shelley and dive in. The novel is written in free verse, with over three hundred black-and-white watercolor illustrations, the kind of thing I sometimes have to force myself to stop and absorb. But with these, I happily took my time, enjoying the art as a full part of the storytelling, which is spare, beautiful, and begging to be gobbled up


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The Remains of the Day

By Kazuo Ishiguro

Book cover of The Remains of the Day

Why this book?

Unlike other titles on my list, I had a natural affinity for this material before I ever read the book. The movie adaptation is a real favorite, and I also love stories about the upstairs/downstairs world of big, staffed houses. Still, this quiet novel compelled me in ways I didn’t expect. Part of it was about Ishiguro’s gorgeous writing, for sure. But even more specifically, it was about his genius for character. I’ve always been interested in the parallels between acting and writing, and The Remains of the Day felt a bit to me like watching a great actor at work. 


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Lonesome Dove

By Larry McMurtry

Book cover of Lonesome Dove

Why this book?

Lonesome Dove is ostensibly about an 1870s cattle drive from Texas to Montana. As premises go, that one isn’t exactly a huge draw for a lot of people I know. But Larry McMurtry does an amazing job at winning readers over with his writing, story, and characters. Once the actual cattle drive begins (and to be honest, you need to stick with this one a bit to get to that point), the whole book really takes off. This one really set the mold for me, in terms of books that might surprise you if you give them a chance. 


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