If you’re anything like me, you’ve been biding time until winter break to crack into those riveting books you always hear about and rarely have time to read. Well my fellow readers, the time has finally come. Our few weeks of freedom are just around the bend, and if you’re looking for just the right book to curl up with by the fire, this article is for you. Even if you’re not a big reader, these captivating novels are worth a shot!
The Alienist by Caleb Carr (1994)
If you’re looking for a thrilling page-turner this winter break, look no further! Carr’s gripping murder mystery begins in New York City in 1896 when yet another boy prostitute has been found strangled and mutilated. Police commissioner Theodore Roosevelt--yes, the Theodore Roosevelt--puts his old partner, Lazlo Kreizler, on this seemingly unsolvable case. Carr keeps us on the edge of our seats, taking readers through the steamy streets of New York and the dynamic technological atmosphere of the criminal justice system as Kreizler builds a psychological profile of this brutal serial killer.
Behold the Dreamers by Imbolo Mbue (2016)
Imbolo Mbue’s debut masterpiece is a brilliant syzygy of culturally opposed lifestyles. Amidst the 2007-2008 economic crisis, a married couple immigrating from Cameroon gets an exclusive look inside the lives of the top 1% in America. When Jende Jonga secures a job as a chauffeur for the wealthy Edwards family, he moves his wife, Neni, and son, Liomi, to Manhattan in pursuit of a new life. On top of raising her son, Neni studies relentlessly to be a pharmacist and struggles amongst her American peers, both at school and in social engagements with the wealthy. Mbue expertly divulges the hardships of immigration, cultural discrimination, corruption in education, and marriage in this riveting exposé of modern systems of oppression.
Station Eleven by: Emily St. John Mandel (2014)
In this post-apocalyptic page-turner, Mandel grapples with the significance of art, love, and societal structure in a world lacking civilization as we know it. The novel begins in modern-day Toronto when eight-year-old Kirsten Raymonde witnesses the death of the infamous Arthur Leander on stage during their performance of King Lear. Jeevan, the EMT who failed to resuscitate Arthur, tries to explain the death to Kirsten, but before the dust from this tragedy settles, a sweeping flu-pandemic begins taking lives all over the world, resulting in total societal collapse. Flash forward 20 years and we see Kirsten trekking across Northeast America in horse-drawn carriages with a travelling symphony comprised of roughly 20 surviving actors and singers performing theatre. Kirsten spends her days in pursuit of clues about the mysterious life of Arthur and obsessing over some strange comic books he had given her, entitled Dr. Eleven, which bear an uncanny resemblance to the events transpiring in the novel. Meanwhile, we also see the struggles of survival for Jeevan, who stays locked in an apartment with his disabled brother, regretting his former career as a sleazy paparazzo, until they run out of supplies, forcing his departure. Mandel beautifully incorporates mystery and romance into this existential tragedy and leaves readers contemplating our most fundamental values.
The Gilded Razor by Sam Lansky (2016)
In this brutally honest memoir, Time magazine editor Sam Lansky spills all of the darkest details of his teenage battle with addiction. As an academically adept senior at a prestigious Manhattan prep school, Lansky has set his sights on an Ivy League acceptance and a wildly successful future. After his parents’ devastating divorce and the near-abandonment of his father, Lansky’s addiction to prescription pills spirals into a whirlwind of pleasure-seeking in the form of increasingly harder drugs and audacious affairs with older men. Lansky details routines of sneaking out for raging rich-kid parties, carrying around a crack pipe and a bag of crystal meth in his wallet, and even making a living as a paid escort. Lansky writes vividly about his most vulnerable moments to make for an effortless read so captivating that you’ll forget it’s nonfiction.
The Lying Game by Ruth Ware (2017)
In this psychological thriller, Ware explores shifting loyalties when a dark secret from their past brings four women back together in Salten, England, where they once attended boarding school together as best friends. Kate, Isa, Fatima, and Thea spent their years at school playing The Lying Game--their own secret competition for telling the best lies--until their expulsion following the mysterious death of Kate’s father, Ambrose, the school art teacher. 17 years later, when Kate finds something horrific on the beach, she calls for the help of her friends, who return to the little beach town, flooded with memories of their deceptive games. After years of building an entirely new life in London, Isa, a lawyer and mother; Fatima, a physician and practicing Muslim; and Thea, an anorexic alcoholic, find out a scandalous truth about Ambrose’s death and must evaluate where their loyalties lie. Ware’s novel feels familiar to anyone who has ever had a group of best friends with honest characters depicting the journey from girlhood to womanhood, and the scrutiny of personal values that comes along with it.
Geek Love by Katherine Dunn (1989)
I know what you’re thinking, and no, this is not a book about some cheesy high school nerd romance. In this fantastic piece of fiction, Dunn tells the complete story of Olympia “Oly” Binewski, a bald, hunchbacked albino from a rather unique family. Her parents, Al and Crystal Lil, own and operate a travelling freak show circus, called Binewski’s Fabulon, and go to great lengths to ensure their children are born “freakish” in some way. Of her surviving siblings, Oly’s first brother, Arty, “The Aqua Boy,” has fins in place of limbs; her sisters, Iphy and Ellie, are conjoined twins; and her youngest brother, Chick, has telekinetic powers. The story jumps around in the timeline of Oly’s life to disclose everything, from her dysfunctional upbringing to her nonexistent relationship with a daughter she sent to a convent in hopes of giving her a better life. Dunn’s novel continually questions what is “normal” and how we, as a society, romanticize the “abnormal,” while keeping our own insecurities under wraps.
Everyone’s a Aliebn When Ur a Aliebn Too by Jomny Sun (2017)
If you’re not up for a long novel, Jomny Sun’s touching little picture book only takes about an hour to read, and it is well worth the time spent. The concept is simple: a gentle alien visits earth on assignment and makes observations about nature, animals, and humanity. Sun writes in both hilarious bluntness and eloquent thoughtfulness as he examines the most fundamental parts of life. From cover to cover, this little “aliebn” will have you laughing, crying, and contemplating what it means to exist. If you’re in the mood for some light food-for-thought or need a gift idea for a friend or family member this holiday season, Sun’s moving imaginings will not disappoint: what it lacks in length it makes up for in depth.
Whether you’re a regular reader looking for some new literature to tear through or just simply out of things to watch on Netflix, these masterpieces will impact you long after you close the cover.