8 Books That Made Me Gasp Out Loud

Published on 10/25/2023

Reading tends to be a quiet hobby, unless you’re listening to an audiobook, of course. But there are certain books that come along and shock you completely, making reading a louder hobby than you ever expected it to be.

I’m talking about those gasp-worthy books, the ones that keep you on the edge of your seat and desperately trying to inhale air. There are twists and turns, moments that tug on your heartstrings, and events you never expected the characters (or author) to be capable of.

Here are the eight books that left me gasping out loud, and disturbing everyone in my vicinity.

1. The Prison Healer - Lynette Noni

I have never gasped out loud as much as when reading ‘The Prison Healer’ series. I had always considered myself a fairly quiet reader, these gasp-worthy books aside, but this made me rethink that.

It’s also the ideal series for people easing into fantasy reading, as there’s little magic to begin with, and it develops slowly.

Lynette must have had meticulous planning for these books, as she had so many hints and clues tucked away that would later prove to be important. Aside from events, I was also gasping at the incredible sexual tension between the two main characters, and their pithy dialogue.

“Seventeen-year-old Kiva Meridan has spent the last ten years fighting for survival in the notorious death prison, Zalindov, working as the prison healer.

When the Rebel Queen is captured, Kiva is charged with keeping the terminally ill woman alive long enough for her to undergo the Trial by Ordeal: a series of elemental challenges against the torments of air, fire, water, and earth, assigned to only the most dangerous of criminals.

Then a coded message from Kiva’s family arrives, containing a single order: “Don’t let her die. We are coming.” Aware that the Trials will kill the sickly queen, Kiva risks her own life to volunteer in her place. If she succeeds, both she and the queen will be granted their freedom.

But no one has ever survived.

With an incurable plague sweeping Zalindov, a mysterious new inmate fighting for Kiva’s heart, and a prison rebellion brewing, Kiva can’t escape the terrible feeling that her trials have only just begun.” - The Prison Healer by Lynette Noni

2. Grown Ups - Marian Keyes

Don’t worry, this article won’t be filled with only fantasy recommendations! I’ve got a few special fiction novels in the mixture. It’s almost harder to make a regular fiction novel gasp-worthy, as you can’t rely on dragons or hunky Fae men to do it for you.

Well, ‘Grown Ups’ kept me gasping all the way through, every single time I reread it. I’ve read this novel about five times by now and I can’t wait to read it again! I love Marian Keyes's books, and this might just be my favourite.

I gasped at the audacity of certain characters. I gasped at the unusual relationships. I gasped at the painful experiences of some of the characters. All of the secrets are on the table this time, and it’s going to be one heck of a ride.

“They're a glamorous family, the Caseys. Johnny Casey, his two brothers Ed and Liam, their beautiful, talented wives and all their kids spend a lot of time together--birthday parties, anniversary celebrations, weekends away. And they're a happy family. Johnny's wife, Jessie--who has the most money--insists on it.

Under the surface, though, conditions are murkier. While some people clash, other people like each other far too much . . .

Still, everything manages to stay under control--that is, until Ed's wife, Cara, gets a concussion and can't keep her thoughts or opinions to herself. One careless remark at Johnny's birthday party, with the entire family present, and Cara starts spilling all their secrets.

As everything unravels, each of the adults finds themselves wondering if it's--finally--the time to grow up.” - Grown Ups by Marian Keyes

3. Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow - Gabrielle Zevin

I can’t get this book out of my head. It was such a poignant glimpse into the gaming industry, the cost of creativity, and the value of friendship. There is one very specific moment in this novel that made me gasp out loud, but several other smaller moments that surprised me and tugged at my heartstrings.

This isn’t a story about the romantic love between two people, but rather your love for ambition, your love for creating, your love for being somewhere more than you are. It’s a bittersweet story and one I want to recommend to everyone I know.

“From the best-selling author of The Storied Life of A. J. Fikry: On a bitter-cold day, in the December of his junior year at Harvard, Sam Masur exits a subway car and sees, amid the hordes of people waiting on the platform, Sadie Green. He calls her name. For a moment, she pretends she hasn’t heard him, but then, she turns, and a game begins: a legendary collaboration that will launch them to stardom.

These friends, intimates since childhood, borrow money, beg favors, and, before even graduating college, they have created their first blockbuster, Ichigo. Overnight, the world is theirs. Not even twenty-five years old, Sam and Sadie are brilliant, successful, and rich, but these qualities won’t protect them from their own creative ambitions or the betrayals of their hearts.

Spanning thirty years, from Cambridge, Massachusetts, to Venice Beach, California, and lands in between and far beyond, Gabrielle Zevin’s Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow examines the multifarious nature of identity, disability, failure, the redemptive possibilities in play, and above all, our need to connect: to be loved and to love.” - Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow” by Gabrielle Zevin

4. Fourth Wing - Rebecca Yarros

I have never seen a book get the attention that ‘Fourth Wing’ did. I have no doubt that it’ll become an industry lesson on how to successfully market a book. I read this book cynically expecting it not to live up to the hype, but it was truly that good.

It had all the elements of an excellent fantasy novel. Romance ✓ Academic setting ✓ Underdog ✓ Constant surprises that made me scared to turn the page and lie awake at night in terror ✓

This novel is fast-paced and keeps you calculating and guessing. I gasped at several points in the novel, most notably a few chapters from the end (if you know, you know) and there was even a special gasp reserved for the very last page.

“Twenty-year-old Violet Sorrengail was supposed to enter the Scribe Quadrant, living a quiet life among books and history. Now, the commanding general―also known as her tough-as-talons mother―has ordered Violet to join the hundreds of candidates striving to become the elite of Navarre: dragon riders.

But when you’re smaller than everyone else and your body is brittle, death is only a heartbeat away...because dragons don’t bond to “fragile” humans. They incinerate them.

With fewer dragons willing to bond than cadets, most would kill Violet to better their own chances of success. The rest would kill her just for being her mother’s daughter―like Xaden Riorson, the most powerful and ruthless wingleader in the Riders Quadrant.

She’ll need every edge her wits can give her just to see the next sunrise.

Yet, with every day that passes, the war outside grows more deadly, the kingdom's protective wards are failing, and the death toll continues to rise. Even worse, Violet begins to suspect leadership is hiding a terrible secret.

Friends, enemies, lovers. Everyone at Basgiath War College has an agenda―because once you enter, there are only two ways out: graduate or die.” - Fourth Wing by Rebecca Yarros

5. Throne of Glass - Sarah J Maas

If I could recommend one fantasy series to people, it would always be ‘Throne of Glass’. This is the series that got me hooked on fantasy, and I am counting down the days until I reread them all.

This book has its fair share of twists and turns. There are plenty of reveals over the seven (yep, seven!) books. You learn more about people, you question who the enemy is, and you get blown away by a badass female protagonist time after time.

The later books in the series especially had me hooked. And the final book, ‘Kingdom of Ash’ should never be read on public transport. Please, take my word for it.

What’s especially fun with these books is that they don’t follow the typical plot structure of building up to just one event per book, but rather keep you constantly on your toes and don’t rely on filler chapters. You also come to care about so many characters so it’s very stressful when they’re fighting - especially when they’re fighting each other!

“In a land without magic, an assassin is summoned to the castle. She has no love for the vicious king who rules from his throne of glass, but she has not come to kill him. She has come to win her freedom. If she defeats twenty-three murderers, thieves, and warriors in a competition, she will be released from prison to serve as the King's Champion.

Her name is Celaena Sardothien.

The Crown Prince will provoke her. The Captain of the Guard will protect her. And a princess from a faraway country will befriend her. But something rotten dwells in the castle, and it's there to kill. When her competitors start dying mysteriously, one by one, Celaena's fight for freedom becomes a fight for survival-and a desperate quest to root out the evil before it destroys her world.” - Throne of Glass by Sarah J Maas

6. The Truants - Kate Weinberg

This book was quite stressful to read, and yet so enjoyable. I was kept on my toes, and I had no idea who I could trust. You’re really taken along for the ride with the protagonist, Jess, and her surprises are equally yours.

It’s a murder mystery and yet so much more. I gasped out loud at the revelations, shocking turns of events, and the poor behaviour exhibited by many. It was surprising and yet so real.

“People disappear when they most want to be seen.

Jess Walker has come to a concrete campus under the flat gray skies of East Anglia for one reason: to be taught by the mesmerizing and rebellious Dr. Lorna Clay, whose seminars soon transform Jess's thinking on life, love, and Agatha Christie. Swept up in Lorna's thrall, Jess falls in with a tightly knit group of rule-breakers--until the dynamic among the friends begins to darken. When a tragedy shatters their friendships and love affairs and reveals a terrible secret, Jess must face the question she fears most: What is the true cost of an extraordinary life?” - The Truants by Kate Weinberg

7. The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo - Taylor Jenkins Reid

This book feels a little different to the others on this gasp-worthy list, and yet it managed to surprise me several times. I love many of Taylor Jenkins Reid’s books, and yet this is the one to make the list.

It’s a thrill to be immersed in this tale of Old Hollywood and yet have it paralleled by the modern setting, as Evelyn recounts her story with brutal honesty. There were some twists and turns, and the biggest reveal is waiting until right at the end, as you wonder how Monique fits into it all.

“Aging and reclusive Hollywood movie icon Evelyn Hugo is finally ready to tell the truth about her glamorous and scandalous life. But when she chooses unknown magazine reporter Monique Grant for the job, no one is more astounded than Monique herself. Why her? Why now?

Monique is not exactly on top of the world. Her husband has left her, and her professional life is going nowhere. Regardless of why Evelyn has selected her to write her biography, Monique is determined to use this opportunity to jumpstart her career.

Summoned to Evelyn’s luxurious apartment, Monique listens in fascination as the actress tells her story. From making her way to Los Angeles in the 1950s to her decision to leave show business in the ‘80s, and, of course, the seven husbands along the way, Evelyn unspools a tale of ruthless ambition, unexpected friendship, and a great forbidden love. Monique begins to feel a very real connection to the legendary star, but as Evelyn’s story near its conclusion, it becomes clear that her life intersects with Monique’s own in tragic and irreversible ways.” - The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid

8. The Poppy War - R.F. Kuang

I think the most surprising aspect of this book is how successfully it tore me to pieces. I am still recovering from reading ‘The Poppy War’ series over a month ago, and a decade from now, I’ll still be recovering.

I gasped at the atrocities. I gasped at how the protagonist slowly lost her humanity to the war. I gasped at the cruelty of humankind. I gasped when I realised there was no way this series was going to end happily!

This is one of the most intelligent and well-constructed fantasy series I have ever read, but I warn you that it is not for the faint of heart. Don’t expect any romance, just pain, pain and more pain. But the friendships are quite beautiful so there is that.

Read it in the safety of your own home, preferably with a hot water bottle and cup of tea.

“When Rin aced the Keju—the Empire-wide test to find the most talented youth to learn at the Academies—it was a shock to everyone: to the test officials, who couldn’t believe a war orphan from Rooster Province could pass without cheating; to Rin’s guardians, who believed they’d finally be able to marry her off and further their criminal enterprise; and to Rin herself, who realized she was finally free of the servitude and despair that had made up her daily existence. That she got into Sinegard—the most elite military school in Nikan—was even more surprising.

But surprises aren’t always good.

Because being a dark-skinned peasant girl from the south is not an easy thing at Sinegard. Targeted from the outset by rival classmates for her color, poverty, and gender, Rin discovers she possesses a lethal, unearthly power—an aptitude for the nearly-mythical art of shamanism. Exploring the depths of her gift with the help of a seemingly insane teacher and psychoactive substances, Rin learns that gods long thought dead are very much alive—and that mastering control over those powers could mean more than just surviving school.

For while the Nikara Empire is at peace, the Federation of Mugen still lurks across a narrow sea. The militarily advanced Federation occupied Nikan for decades after the First Poppy War, and only barely lost the continent in the Second. And while most of the people are complacent to go about their lives, a few are aware that a Third Poppy War is just a spark away . . .

Rin’s shamanic powers may be the only way to save her people. But as she finds out more about the god that has chosen her, the vengeful Phoenix, she fears that winning the war may cost her humanity . . . and that it may already be too late.” - The Poppy War by R.F. Kuang

Ready to taunt your own emotions with these gasp-worthy novels? There’s nothing quite like a book you can’t put down, that keeps you reading late at night and clings to your consciousness when you finally fall asleep. These gasp-inducing novels will give your heart rate a good run, and might even convince you’re smartwatch that you’re working out as you read. Good luck!

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Welcome to Symptoms of Living! A place where I like to relieve myself of the barrage of thoughts and ideas filling my mind. Here I'll take a look at various topics, from books to BPD, series to self-harm, there's nothing that we can't, and shouldn't, talk about.

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