In May Cobb’s nail-biting new thriller, The Hunting Wives, newcomer Sophie O’Neill joins an exclusive, conspiratorial clique of wives in Mapleton, Tex., whose Friday nights light up with their private skeet shooting club, followed by barhopping. Fueled by alcohol, rage, jealousy, unhappy marriages, and blind lust, the women indulge in adultery and raunchy sex, until a teenage cheerleader winds up dead and Sophie becomes the prime suspect. Wild plot twists keep the pages turning right up to the surprise ending.
There’s nothing quite as intoxicating as bingeing on a delicious book. Being lost in the pages of guilty pleasure novel can be so transporting. And I find these kinds of books to be the best kind of escape, especially in close-quarter pandemic times, because they simply make the outside world evaporate for a spell.
I’m most drawn to page-turnery, propulsive reads that are also whip-smart with a side of social commentary that goes down like honey. Here are 10 of my favorites:
Emily is poised to have the man of her dreams. She’s engaged to dishy Adam, a seemingly perfect man who would make her the envy of many women, but Adam comes with baggage in tow: his sly, cunning mother, Pammie, who is not quite ready to let her son go. Razor-sharp, fast-paced, and scrumptiously wicked, this is a twisty portrait of a smothering mother/son relationship with an ending that’s shocking.
In this sun-soaked novel set in Mallorca, Jenn and Greg embark on their yearly vacation together—a week that is supposed to be filled with romance, swims in the warm ocean, strolls through open-air markets, and lazy dinners at their villa. But this year, their blissful trip is threatened by the arrival of Greg’s teenage stepdaughter, Emma, and her handsome boyfriend, Nathan, who stirs in Jenn a desire that threatens to pitch the week, and all of their lives, into disaster.
Mean girls are the best girls, and in Flynn’s debut adult thriller that’s been described as “Heathers meets I Know What You Did Last Summer,” the new mean girls in town are Ambrosia “Amb” Wellington and Sloane “Sully” Sullivan. Amb is beckoned to her 10-year college reunion with an invitation accompanied by an anonymous note that reads: We need to talk about what we did that night. Cutting between the present-day reunion, where danger lurks around Amb and it becomes increasingly clear someone wants revenge for her past misdeeds, and her college years with the hypnotically dark and powerful Sully, Flynn takes toxic female friendships to a bold new level.
4. The Jetsetters by Amanda Eyre Ward
This gorgeous, sumptuous novel opens with Charlotte Perkins, 70 and long ago widowed, at her best friend’s funeral. With the passing of her friend, it seems that life might be drained of all adventure, but when Charlotte wins a “Become a Jetsetter” contest by submitting an essay about a long-ago love affair, she wins a 10-day cruise around the Mediterranean, inviting along her estranged adult children, in the hopes of patching the family back together. Both slyly funny and heart wrenching, this is the ultimate dysfunctional family vacation novel. It’ll make you cry and laugh at the same time, all while cruising through swoon-worthy coastal ports.
In this irresistibly sexy and propulsive novel set in London, the year is 1922 and Frances Wray and her widowed mother are forced to take in boarders following WWI, which has left them in an economic bind. Desperate to hold onto their suburban mansion, they welcome in a young married couple. But the arrival of the tenants, the very bohemian Lillian and Leonard Barber, spells, at first, intrigue, and later, disaster, as a bond between Frances and Lillian takes hold, followed by a murder and a pulse-pounding investigation.
6. Would I Lie to You? by Aliya Ali-Afzal
Another dazzling novel about how economic hardship forces someone to make impossible decisions. Faiza grew up with modest means, but now has an enviable life she’s crafted with her banker husband, Tom, three kids, and a posh circle of friends. But when Tom suddenly loses his job and Fazia keeps spending to keep up appearances, the money evaporates. In a moment of panic, she lies to Tom about the money and has six weeks to replace 75,000 pounds before her life unravels. It’s bingeable, with wry social commentary throughout. I rooted for Fazia and could not put this book down until I found out what happens.
Sager’s back with his latest—a compulsively readable and unbearably tense thriller about a rideshare gone horribly wrong. It’s the early 1990s and movie-obsessed college student Charlie accepts a ride home to Ohio from Josh Baxter, a handsome stranger she meets at the campus ride board. Charlie’s looking to split from college after the murder of her best friend at the hands of the Campus Killer, and Josh is heading home, presumably, to look after his sick father. But Josh’s odd behavior has Charlie wondering if he is, in fact, the Campus Killer. And what ensues is an electrifying, white-knuckle road trip fizzing with Hitchockian film noir references and a twist so shocking I literally gasped out loud.
8. The Insomniacs by Marit Weisenberg
In this immersive, propulsive YA novel that’s been described as “Rear Window meets John Hughes,” 17-year-old competitive diver Ingrid is recovering from a dive injury that’s left her with an unrelenting case of insomnia. One night, while gazing out her window, she spies her former best friend and long-standing crush, Van, awake in the dead of night, too, and the pair lock eyes. Wracked by sleepless nights, Van and Ingrid try to solve the mystery of their insomnia and get sucked into an even darker mystery about their upper-middle-class neighborhood. Weisenberg’s intoxicating prose and intricate plotting make for a swift, delectable read.
Every single book in Kepnes’s dizzying blockbuster series meets the very definition of a guilty pleasure. You is one of those rare novels that I honestly did devour in one sitting, completely held hostage by the charming, psychopathic bookseller, Joe Goldberg, who becomes obsessed with the beautiful and brilliant Beck, the object of his stalking and manipulation. The reading experience is akin to zip-lining. This wickedly dark tale will have you simultaneously rooting for and cringing against its whip-smart narrator.
“It was supposed to be the perfect week away…” reads the ominous tagline for Stage’s latest thrill-ride. Sisters Imogen and Beck reunite with their high school friend, Tilda, for a week of backpacking and camping at the Grand Canyon. The once-tight trio has drifted into different directions—geographically and emotionally—ever since a terrible event (dubbed “The Thing”) happened one night in college. Instead of a relaxing escape into nature, they find themselves on a descent into terror as it becomes unnervingly clear they’re not alone on the trail. You won’t blink until you read the last line.