8 Mind-Bending Books You’ll Be Thinking About for Days

Sara Roncero-Menendez
May 26 2021
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Have you ever been stuck in a book rut? No matter how you try, you can’t seem to find your way back to that elusive reading groove you were enjoying not so long ago. I know I’ve hit that literary wall a few times before, and it’s the worst. While there are plenty of ways to get back into the habit, my favorite is finding a book so engaging you can’t put it down. But where to find these excellent novels, the tomes that will keep you up at all hours and leave you feeling fulfilled? I have just the list for you! Check out these eight engaging reads sure to blow your mind.

The Shimmering State
by Meredith Westgate

Memory is a tricky thing—even when mind-altering pharmaceuticals aren’t involved. Lucien and Sophie first meet at the Center, a rehab facility for people who abuse Memoroxin, a drug that lets people re-download memories. But the chemistry that these two individuals feel might hint that they’ve met before, something totally possible since they can’t remember how they got to the Center in the first place. THE SHIMMERING STATE is the kind of hypnotic speculative fiction that slowly draws you in before you see just how the narrative cage is going to lock you into the suspenseful story of two people trying to piece their lives back together.

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The Shimmering State
Meredith Westgate

“Cinematic, dreamlike, at times brutal yet poignant.” —Frances Cha, author of If I Had Your Face

“Meredith Westgate has an extraordinary ear, not only for the stories we tell ourselves in order to live, but for the ways that we endlessly revise them to suit the new selves we continue to construct.” —Adam Wilson, author of Sensation Machines

A luminous literary debut following two patients in recovery after an experimental memory drug warps their lives.

Lucien moves to Los Angeles to be with his grandmother as she undergoes an experimental memory treatment for Alzheimer’s using a new drug, Memoroxin. An emerging photographer, he’s also running from the sudden death of his mother, a well-known artist whose legacy haunts him even far from New York.

Sophie has just landed the lead in the upcoming performance of La Sylphide with the Los Angeles Ballet. She still waitresses during her off-hours at the Chateau Marmont, witnessing the recreational use of Memoroxin—or Mem—among the Hollywood elite.

When Lucien and Sophie meet at the Center, founded by the ambitious yet conflicted Dr. Angelica Sloane to treat patients who’ve abused Mem, they have no memory of how they got there—or why they feel so inexplicably drawn to one another. Is it attraction, or something they cannot remember from “before”?

Set in a city that seems to have no memory of its own, The Shimmering State is a graceful meditation on the power of story and its creation. It masterfully explores memory and how it can elude us, trap us, or even set us free.

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And Again
by Jessica Chiarella

Jessica Chiarella’s AND AGAIN asks an important question: Would you give up your life to have a perfect body? It might be tempting to have every blemish and imperfection erased from your physical existence, but it might not be worth it. Hannah, David, Connie, and Linda get the chance to try it out as part of a pilot program where they get brand-new bodies and soon find it’s not quite the fresh start they planned. Gift artist Hannah has to relearn how to make art, David finds himself confronting old and dangerous habits, and both Connie and Linda are forced to readjust to worlds that have moved on without them. A moving character study about what makes each of us unique, this novel will have you deeply invested in each of the protagonists’ lives, to the point where you’ll be sad to say goodbye on the last page.

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And Again
Jessica Chiarella

What would you do if you had a second chance at life?

Hannah, David, Connie, and Linda have been given the second chance of a lifetime—genetically perfect bodies as part of a medically advanced pilot program seeking FDA approval. Their new bodies are exact replicas of their old selves—without the deadly illnesses they suffered from. Even better, their imperfections have been erased. Blemishes, scars, and wrinkles have all disappeared, their bodies are pristine, their vision is impeccable.

Yet the fresh start they’ve been given is anything but perfect. Without their old bodies, their new physical identities have no memories. Hannah, an artistic prodigy, has to relearn how to hold a brush; David, a Congressman, grapples with his old habits; Connie, an actress whose stunning looks are restored after a protracted illness, tries to navigate an industry obsessed with physical beauty; and Linda, who spent eight years paralyzed after a car accident, now struggles to reconnect with a family that seems to have built a new life without her.

As each tries to re-enter their previous lives and relationships, they are faced with the question: how much of who you are rests not just in your mind, but in your heart and your body? In the spirit of Never Let Me Go and The Age of Miracles, And Again is an exciting debut about identity, second chances, and the courage to start life afresh.

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The Startup Wife
by Tahmima Anam

If your reading rut was brought on by overly saccharine “love conquers all” plots, then do I have the book for you that switches up that trope. THE STARTUP WIFE seems to start in the conventional way: girl meets boy at a funeral, girl gives up her job at a lab to marry boy, girl develops a social media platform that takes the world by storm. Okay, so not conventional at all, but this typical idea that love and success go hand in hand very quickly dissolves. Asha Ray develops the app WAI (We Are Infinite), which lets people do alternative rituals, a concept developed by her husband, Cyrus. But when Cyrus gets all the credit and a pandemic starts to warp the world, Asha finds herself in an unexpectedly precarious situation that will change everything.

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The Startup Wife
Tahmima Anam

“Tahmima Anam deftly uses humor to explore both start-up culture and the institution of marriage in an utterly charming and genuinely thoughtful way.” —Rumaan Alam, author of Leave the World Behind

Newlyweds Asha and Cyrus build an app that replaces religious rituals and soon find themselves running one of the most popular social media platforms in the world.

Meet Asha Ray.

Brilliant coder and possessor of a Pi tattoo, Asha is poised to revolutionize artificial intelligence when she is reunited with her high school crush, Cyrus Jones.

Cyrus inspires Asha to write a new algorithm. Before she knows it, she’s abandoned her PhD program, they’ve exchanged vows, and gone to work at an exclusive tech incubator called Utopia.

The platform creates a sensation, with millions of users seeking personalized rituals every day. Will Cyrus and Asha’s marriage survive the pressures of sudden fame, or will she become overshadowed by the man everyone is calling the new messiah?

In this gripping, blistering novel, award-winning author Tahmima Anam takes on faith and the future with a gimlet eye and a deft touch. Come for the radical vision of human connection, stay for the wickedly funny feminist look at startup culture and modern partnership. Can technology—with all its limits and possibilities—disrupt love?

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Firebreak
by Nicole Kornher-Stace

Nothing like a little dystopia to get you back in the reading mood. FIREBREAK follows Mallory, a streamer living in a battleground of a corporate civil war in what was once America. Her game of choice is SpecOps, a war game that lets Mal take down enemies and make enough money to afford water and the rent on the hotel room she shares with eight people. But when she finds out the game’s super-soldiers are not what they appear to be, she will go on a mission to fight for what’s right, even if that means making powerful enemies. FIREBREAK is parts Ready Player One, Black Mirror, and Cyberpunk 2077, but at the core highlights that no matter how advanced we get, people will still fight for justice.

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Firebreak
Nicole Kornher-Stace

One young woman faces down an all-powerful corporation in this all-too-near future science fiction debut that reads like a refreshing take on Ready Player One, with a heavy dose of Black Mirror.

Ready Player One meets Cyberpunk 2077 in this eerily familiar future.

“Twenty minutes to power curfew, and my kill counter’s stalled at eight hundred eighty-seven while I’ve been standing here like an idiot. My health bar is flashing ominously, but I’m down to four heal patches, and I have to be smart.”

New Liberty City, 2134.

Two corporations have replaced the US, splitting the country’s remaining forty-five states (five have been submerged under the ocean) between them: Stellaxis Innovations and Greenleaf. There are nine supercities within the continental US, and New Liberty City is the only amalgamated city split between the two megacorps, and thus at a perpetual state of civil war as the feeds broadcast the atrocities committed by each side.

Here, Mallory streams Stellaxis’s wargame SecOps on BestLife, spending more time jacked in than in the world just to eke out a hardscrabble living from tips. When a chance encounter with one of the game’s rare super-soldiers leads to a side job for Mal—looking to link an actual missing girl to one of the SecOps characters. Mal’s sudden burst in online fame rivals her deepening fear of what she is uncovering about BestLife’s developer, and puts her in the kind of danger she’s only experienced through her avatar.

Author Kornher-Stace’s adult science fiction debut—Firebreak— is loaded with ambitious challenges and a city to save.

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An Ocean of Minutes
by Thea Lim

What would you do to save the person you love? When Polly’s boyfriend, Frank, gets a deadly disease, she agrees to go years into the future as an indentured laborer so he can get life-saving treatment. However, despite their plans to meet up, Polly gets rerouted further in time, unable to find Frank, and becomes lost in her new home so different from what she left behind. A mix of romance, sci-fi, and drama, AN OCEAN OF MINUTES puts a futuristic twist on an immigration story, following Polly into a bizarre world of the familiar and terrifying. This kind of high-concept premise is sure to intrigue, and the deeply moving prose will have you desperate to get in one more chapter before putting it down.

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An Ocean of Minutes
Thea Lim

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She Would Be King
by Wayétu Moore

Sometimes, the best reads are the ones that take you on journeys you could have never imagined existed. SHE WOULD BE KING follows the lives of three characters: Gbessa, an exile who is left for dead after being branded a witch; June Dey, a plantation slave with supernatural strength; and Norman Aragon, the child of an enslaved Jamaican and a British colonizer, who can disappear. They all meet in a settlement in Monrovia, using their strange gifts to bring together the new settlers and the indigenous peoples. This magical-realism reimagining of Liberia’s formation draws on African history and cultures to highlight essential truths and perspectives that will have you approaching the world, and world history, in a whole new light.

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She Would Be King
Wayétu Moore

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The Passage
by Justin Cronin

If there’s anything the pandemic has shown us, it’s that the world can change very quickly under the right circumstances. In the world of THE PASSAGE, everything changes overnight when a military experiment with vampirism escapes and wreaks havoc. This dystopian nightmare puts FBI agent Brad Wolgast in the dangerous position of needing to protect the youngest member of the experiment, six-year-old orphan Amy Harper Bellafonte, if there’s any chance of saving humanity. An epic tale of chaos, hope, and everything that falls in between, this book will have you glued to your seat from start to finish, and then immediately compel you to get the next book in the series.

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The Passage
Justin Cronin

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Catherine House
by Elisabeth Thomas

Sometimes a great read manages to sneak up on you. Its premise might not be the flashiest, its characters not the most heroic or villainous, but there’s just something about the story that grabs you and refuses to let you go. That’s CATHERINE HOUSE in a nutshell—a gothic novel whose atmosphere will ensnare you as soon as you start reading. The titular Catherine House is a strange college, where students who are selected don’t have to pay a dime but must swear not to engage with anything from the outside world, ranging from pop culture to family, for their stay there. That works perfectly for Ines, a girl on the run, but she soon finds that she might have walked into a terrible situation with no way out.

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Catherine House
Elisabeth Thomas

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Photo credit: iStock / patpitchaya

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