Whether you’re a sucker for fantasy, fiction, or mystery, this reading list has it all. 

With the holidays coming around, lots of us look forward to a relaxing break in our busy lives. Have you been feeling burnt out? One great way to combat any accumulated stress is to give yourself some TLC. And to many people, this means getting cozy with a good paperback.

Calling all bookworms: let’s be real—it can be insanely difficult to walk into the book store or library and choose a book on limited time. There are too many options! That’s why I always love getting book recommendations.

A holiday break is a wonderful time to catch up on your recreational reading and get away from the chaos of reality. I mean, getting down and dirty with a good book is categorically the opposite of grinding your chem homework into the night. Let’s get into it.

Fantasy/sci-fi reading list

Black Water Sister

Set in Malaysia, Zen Cho’s Black Water Sister tells the story of Harvard graduate Jessamyn Teoh. Our protagonist grew up in the United States, but is anticipating a move to Malaysia (where she hasn’t been since childhood).  Through the story, Jessamyn begins to hear a voice in her head, and pushes it away, assuming it’s just stress. Soon after, she realizes that the voice is her estranged grandmother, Ah Ma. 

Black Water Sister features gods, ghosts, spirits, and family secrets. As the novel develops Jessamyn involves herself with all sorts of evil business tycoons, while balancing taking care of her father and entertaining her Aunt’s friends. Meanwhile, Jessamyn’s estranged grandmother spies and threatens to spill Jessamyn’s secrets (namely, that she’s in the closet) to her family. 

The Night Circus

The Night Circus tells the story of a rivalry between two forms of magic: old versus new. After her mother’s suicide, five-year-old Celia Bowen is left at an office—namely, Prospero the entertainer’s office. Prospero is Celia’s estranged magician father. 

Prospero isn’t keen on raising Celia, but is fascinated with her “new magic” knowledge. Author Erin Morgenstern takes readers along a competition-fueled journey with a splash of a love affair, as our two magicians face each other in a duel to death. If you’re into funky, magical tales, add this one to your reading list. 

Imaro

Imaro is a novel based on African traditions that illustrates the story of a young man’s struggle to find acceptance with his people. Throughout the story, he tries break free from the isolation and violence he’s continually faced. 

This heroic fantasy is set in Nyumbani, which in Swahili, means “home”. Imaro, the protagonist, is a warrior and an outcast, and travels across Nyumbani, searching for home. Throughout the story, author Charles Saunders teaches us about tribal tensions and histories, and unique perspectives based on current and recent African conflicts. 

Servant of the Underworld

Based in an Aztec empire pre-Spanish conquest, Servant of the Underworld takes us along the journey of Alcatel, a high priest of the dead. Alcatel must investigate the death of a priestess. However, he finds himself in a sticky situation, as his brother is a main suspect (with whom he incidentally doesn’t have a great relationship). 

This story details a battle between gods—the old and the new—and is essentially murder mystery meets political strife. Additionally, author Aliette de Bodard provides readers the chance to grapple with real, human themes such as family struggle and cultural identity. 

Mystery reading list

Twisted Tea Christmas

Lauren Childs’ Twisted Tea Christmas is a Christmassy mystery that takes place in Charleston, South Carolina. Theodosia Browning, a tea shop owner, is catering a Victorian-themed party for Miss Drucilla, one of the most wealthy women in town. Then, at the party, Miss Drucilla reveals to Theodosia that she’s planning to donate all her money to charity. 

Unfortunately, Miss Drucilla is speaking too soon—Theodosia finds her dead, with a syringe sticking out of her neck. Theodosia and her sommelier, Drayton Connely are put to the task of investigating the murder. If you love holiday-themed goodies and have a soft place for murder-mystery, look no further. 

The Snowman

The Snowman combines mystery and thriller genres as we’re taken on the investigation for “the snowman”. After the first snowfall of the year, a boy named Jonas discovers that his mother is missing, with only one piece remaining: a pink scarf.  The pink scarf happens to be outside, around a snowman’s neck—a snowman who mysteriously turned up in the yard. Author Jo Nesbø brings us along on detective Harry Hole’s investigation, which leads him to “The Snowman Killer”, and neither of the two is ready to back down.  

The Box in the Woods

The Box in the Woods is part of The Truly Devious series, and brings readers along on this camp murder adventure. Author Maureen Johnson provides readers with a thrilling yet comedic, campy thriller. 

Our protagonist, Stevie Bell, is no typical teen—her hobby is solving crime. So, when Stevie gets the invitation to investigate old murders at a Sunny Pines summer camp, she’s thrilled. Better yet, she’s allowed to bring friends. Stevie and her gang spend the summer investigating previous murders and developing a true crime podcast. 

Fiction reading list

A Special Place for Women

If you’re a looking for book that’s entirely juicy and witty yet discusses culturally-relevant themes—such as feminism and elitism—add this one to your reading list. The novel features narrator Jillian Beckley who is an unemployed journalist living in Brooklyn, New York. Jillian doesn’t have many friends, but she does have a crush on a magazine editor.

Meanwhile, an exclusive, secretive club exists in New York, filled with a group of powerful women. The club is called Nevertheless, and screams “elite”. In an effort to impress her crush and save her career, Jillian decides to infiltrate, and hopefully expose the club. A Special Place for Women is more than just a juicy novel, though—the author, Laura Hankin, describes it as “genre-bending”, which we see when there’s a shocking twist about two thirds in. 

What Comes After

What Comes After, by JoAnne Tompkins, is a fictional drama that has a splash of mystery. In Washington state, two families are recovering from the tragic murder-suicide of two teenage boys, Daniel and Jonah. Isaac and Lorie (the boys’ family members ) are left to heal. Meanwhile, a pregnant girl emerges from the woods and into their lives. 

Evangeline is 16-years old, homeless, and pregnant, and ends up staying with Isaac and his dog, Rufus. As the story unfolds, we realize that Evangeline has some crucial information about what happened to Daniel and Jonah. If you love books filled multiple perspectives and timelines, this one must go on your reading list. 

Plum Rains

Throughout Plum Rains, readers watch a trio of characters develop as individuals and together. The trio consists of Angelica, Sayoko, and Hiro. Angelica is a Filipina nurse who’s living in Japan on a work visa. She is the caretaker for Sayoko, who is an elderly Japanese woman (and about to turn 100) with an incredibly mysterious and secretive past. 

When Sayoko receives a present, we meet the third member of our trio. The third character, Hiro, is a prototype robot, and essentially a caretaker that is supposed to educate itself to anticipate Sayoko’s needs. Author Andromeda Romano-Lax brings us a powerful combo of science and historical fiction which allows readers to comprehensively think about immigration, artificial intelligence, and potential futures. 

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