Lisa Unger is the best-selling author of Last Girl Ghosted, Confessions on the 7:45, and many other thrillers. Her latest novel, Secluded Cabin Sleeps Six, follows three couples during a getaway weekend that turns harrowing.
Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë (1847)
I read this Gothic masterpiece too young to discern its layered commentary on feminism, class, and religion, but was transported into its whirlwind of mystery and romance, and the poignancy of Jane's coming-of-age. A strong young heroine, a brooding lord, a Gothic mansion — teen catnip. Buy it here.
Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier (1938)
Rebecca made me want to write thrillers. It's the foundation for a continuing theme in my work: the ordinary girl in extraordinary circumstances. A young woman spontaneously marries an older widower and moves to his estate in this deftly written blend of mystery and romance. The husband's dead wife looms large, and the creepy housekeeper Mrs. Danvers may be one of the most memorable villains of all time. Buy it here.
In Cold Blood by Truman Capote (1965)
Capote gave me permission to be the writer I wanted to be: someone who could explore darkness with deep empathy. The first true-crime book ever written, and groundbreaking for its unflinching exploration of the criminal mind. It's as propulsive as it is beautiful and strange. Buy it here.
The Temple of My Familiar by Alice Walker (1989)
This multinarrative, time-spanning masterpiece is a lyrical, enthralling examination of the African diaspora experience in America. Walker's prose always entrances, but it's her bone-deep knowledge of her characters, her gift for empathy and compassion, and her weaving of the mythical with the modern that make this book so involving. Buy it here.
Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers by Mary Roach (2003)
Fair warning: There are things you will not be able to unknow after reading this book. Richly researched, darkly funny, and absolutely unsentimental about all the ways in which we decay, it's a surprising and engrossing exploration of humanity. Buy it here.
Deep Survival by Laurence Gonzales (2003)
Through adventure narrative and scientific exploration, Gonzales dives into the biology and psychology of people who find themselves in extreme circumstances and survive. A unique blend: harrowing adventures, the riveting science of survival, and useful advice on how to get yourself out of all sorts of trouble. Buy it here.
This article was first published in the latest issue of The Week magazine. If you want to read more like it, you can try six risk-free issues of the magazine here.