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My Favorite Thrillers

I recently completed the gazillionth draft of my novel (and by gazillionth I mean seventh) and after two clean read-throughs I felt like I was ready to start searching for an agent.

My main criteria for an agent, other than getting someone who knows what they're doing, is finding one that gets me and my manuscript. So I set about searching for the agents of my favorite thrillers. This required some research because (1) I am horrible at remembering the names of books I've read, even if I loved them, and (2) I read a lot of books.

So I turned to my Goodreads bookshelf and luckily was able to sort my list of read books by the rating I gave each of them. Turns out, I'm pretty stingy with a five-star rating (only 40 books to date have earned the distinction). To get five stars, my mind pretty much has to be blown.

Only 6 of the 40 five-star books could be considered psychological thrillers, the genre of my novel. I tend to be more lenient with the self-help and skill building books I read because if I take away just a couple nuggets of wisdom, I'm thrilled. I've also been pretty generous in rating some of my favorite childhood books like The Secret Garden and The Giver because they've had such a lasting impact on me. As for thrillers, I've read so many that the bar's been set pretty high.

That said, a few have made the cut. If you're into thrillers, here are some of my favorites from the last few years. I linked each to their Goodreads page, if you're interested in a more detailed synopsis than the single sentence I've afforded each below.

We Need to Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver

To sum it up: A mother explores the potential role her hatred for her teenage son played in his murder spree.

Why I loved it: I love to be disturbed and this was one of the most disturbing books I've ever read. Maybe the most disturbing. I read it while pregnant with my son, which really amped the creep factor up. Kudos to Shriver for pulling off a character who hates her own son (even when the poor guy was in utero) but is still somehow relatable.

Behind Her Eyes by Sarah Pinborough

To sum it up: A messed up love triangle that will keep you guessing.

Why I loved it: Reading this book is an experience. First of all, it's hard not to get invested in the heroine, whose life starts improving after we meet her mid-slump... but things start to slip away again and that is just so deliciously frustrating. What really took this from a 4-star to a 5-star book for me were the constant guessing games throughout and the mind blowing conclusion that I only suspected seconds ahead of reading. I sat in a daze after finishing, soaking in and processing what I'd been dealt. There's a small supernatural element to the plot, which normally isn't my thing but did the trick for me here. My Goodreads review is two words long: "Holy shit."

The Kind Worth Killing by Peter Swanson

To sum it up: Things go from bad to worse when an unhappily married man gets duped by a alluring psychopath.

Why I loved it: I love when a character Fs up real bad and pays for it. I also love (and love to hate) the two main female characters in this book. Plus, this book is Twist City.

Defending Jacob by William Landay

To sum it up: An Assistant DA fights to keep his idyllic family together when his teenage son is accused of murder.

Why I loved it: Secrets, secrets, are no fun... except they are SO fun, especially revealed in just the right doses and intervals like those nailed by Landay in this book. I'm always up for delving into the nature vs. nurture debate when it comes to mental health, and anything that makes me explore my loyalty as a parent is intriguing. Plus, I enjoy a little well done courtroom drama.

A Simple Plan by Scott Smith

To sum it up: Three dudes wreak havoc on their lives trying to hide the 4 million bucks they find in a plane wreck.

Why I loved it: The relentless challenges the main character was up against made it hard to put my Kindle down. It's one of those books where you want to yell at the characters: "No! Don't do that, you idiot! Not! That!" But also, you kind of want them to do that because not doing it would be boring.

Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn

To sum it up: It's always the husband... or is it?

Why I loved it: Okay so even if you're not into thrillers, there's a good chance you've already read this book and/or seen the Ben Affleck movie based on it. It's pretty much my ideal thriller. Absolutely disturbing female lead but still somehow likeable (am I alone in finding something to like about Amy Dunne?). Flynn even pulls off the alternating narrators so well that you don't mind the flip-flopping (there are no aww, this guy again? moments). Let's not forget the writing - it's pretty, it's clever, and it's accessible but also literary (there's debate on this, but as far as thrillers go, this is about as good as it gets for me). Plus, The cherry on top? An ending that makes you go WTF.


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