Unfortunately, finding this golden trifecta isn’t always easy, so I’ve rounded up a few of my favorite books that more than fit the bill. Check them out below!
A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara
Sigh. Oh, A Little Life. This bad boy is a whopper from start to finish, and one that’s nearly impossible to put down. What begins as a seemingly predictable story about four male friends who graduate from a prestigious university quickly devolves into a psychodrama that is so highly detailed and so carefully crafted that it will quite literally take your breath away. Not for the squeamish or faint of heart, the novel deals with the heavy themes of childhood abuse, gender identity, sexuality, socioeconomic inequity, and much, much more.
Outlander Series by Diana Gabaldon
If you want to get lost in a great new book series, I’d suggest taking a look at Outlander by Diana Gabaldon. You might be familiar with the name as it’s now a very popular TV show, but let me tell you, the books are so much better. They follow Claire Randall, a time-traveling nurse from the 20th century who meets and falls in love with highlander Jamie Fraser when she accidentally makes a trip to 18th-century Scotland. What I love about this series is that each book is written with a ton of moxie, merging the romance genre with historical fiction, adventure, and fantasy elements. Plus, the surprises really pack a punch and have elicited a fair share of gasps(!) from me.
Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides
As SNL‘s Stefon would say, this novel has everything. Focusing on the story of Cal, who is coming to terms with their gender identity, Middlesex covers a lot of ground, zooming from pre-war Greece to midcentury Detroit, 1970s California, and beyond. While the geography is expansive and richly detailed, what captivated me when I first read the novel was how it explored the nuances of generational trauma, situating each and every character within the context of those who came before them and those who will come after. A fascinating read, especially for those who like a little history and science thrown in with their prose.
Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel García Márquez
When you talk about books with absorbing plots, it’s hard to skip over Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel García Márquez. In my opinion, this is his best book, tracing as it does the love story between protagonists Florentino Ariza and Fermina Daza. It’s gripping and utterly sumptuous as it paints both their romance and the colorful world in which they live. Though it can sometimes lean a little heavily on the shmaltz, the sincerity with which the novel is written saves it every time. A must-read for folks eager for a juicy romance.
Bel Canto by Ann Patchett
If you’re looking to be swept up in an emotionally charged book, I highly recommend Bel Canto. In part inspired by the very real Lima Crisis of 1996, the novel centers on a group of political dignitaries taken hostage by a contingent of young terrorists. The situation drags on for months, and though Patchett could’ve spun the yarn into a typical suspense thriller, she instead chooses to explore the relationships that form between the two groups of people. What’s mesmerizing about the book for me is how organically these connections develop and how much you’ll actively root for them as a reader. Pro tip: Get the Kleenex ready!
Last Night in Twisted River by John Irving
Truly, any Irving novel could’ve made this list, but my personal favorite is Last Night in Twisted River, a thrilling read about a father and son who flee a small logging town after a fatal accident they may or may not have caused. What ensues is a decades-long story, part cat-and-mouse chase, part coming-of-age saga, and part reflection on what it means to write and tell stories. As with any book by this master storyteller, River is dense with memorable characters, meticulously crafted plot, and absolutely dynamite language.
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