This is a list of some of my favorite books. It is by no means complete…but I try to add to it here in there when I’ve completed something worth recommending…
Albom, Mitch. The Five People You Meet in Heaven & Have A Little Faith.
Even though Albom’s biggest literary success comes in the form of Tuesdays with Morrie, my two favorites are The Five People You Meet in Heaven and Have A Little Faith. The Five People You Meet in Heaven is fiction, and is the story of how each of our lives touches the lives of many others, similar to the theme of Jimmy Stewart’s classic film “It’s a Wonderful Life.” Have A Little Faith was deemed as the “best nonfiction book of 2009” by Oprah. It follows the lives of a rabbi and a church pastor, and how they interacted with Albom and what he gained from their teachings. Both books are moving, sentimental, and touching.
Austen, Jane. Pride and Prejudice.
The story of Elizabeth Bennett as she faces class distinctions, marriages, upbringing, wealth, and relationships, has remained a well-loved classic of English literature. The love story between Elizabeth and Darcy is one filled with misunderstandings and misinterpretations with regard to their own pride and prejudices. Austen brilliantly depicts Elizabeth’s admirable and strong personality and she illustrates it well through Elizabeth’s dialogue and the verbal exchanges she engages in throughout the book. Elizabeth is an intelligent, witty, and strong woman for her time. It is my all-time favorite book. Steph’s Scribe recommends all of Austen’s works: Sense & Sensibility, Northanger Abbey, Persuasion, Emma, and Mansfield Park.
Bank, Melissa. The Girls’ Guide to Hunting and Fishing.
Melissa Bank brings contemporary wit and situations to her book. In this text, we follow Jane Rosenal as she grows and develops over the years in this collection of developing short stories that build this novel. This book garnered much acclaim; Bank and Helen Fielding of Bridget Jones fame, have been credited for establishing what is known as “Chick Lit.” Bank’s book is rife with intelligence, as she covers dating, loneliness, love, and the trials one must face with relationships.
Berg, Elizabeth. Three favorites: Say When, The Year of Pleasures, and Open House
Elizabeth Berg’s Say When is told from a man’s perspective. He recounts his wife having an affair and we see it all through his eyes. It was interesting because the woman was the “bad guy” in this scenario, and the husband was the one waiting, desperately wanting his wife to return to him. I enjoyed that Berg painted the wife as a bit aloof and tough to like. This perspective made it even more interesting. Steph’s Scribe also recommends a couple of other Berg books: The Year of Pleasures and Open House, which was an Oprah book club selection. In 2013, Berg released Tapestry of Fortunes, which I recently finished and also enjoyed.
Bronte, Charlotte. Jane Eyre.
Bronte’s first-person narrative of orphaned Jane Eyre covers Jane at Lowood School and continues as Jane’s becomes a governess to Mr. Rochester’s daughter” Adele. The book has themes of love, morality, understanding, and forgiveness. After a series of circumstances and after Mr. Rochester and Jane fall in love, the book takes a dark turn for a spell, but eventually ends with Jane and Mr. Rochester together. Their love story comes full circle. Bronte’s masterful storytelling in first-person keeps the reader tuned-in to the stories that Jane tells from her perspective, often matter-of-factly, of her life at Thornfield Manor.
Bronte, Emily. Wuthering Heights.
In Wuthering Heights, Bronte depicts two tormented lovers, in this part mystery, part ghost story, that is labeled a romance. This story is haunting for a few reasons: the nature of the characters, especially of the brooding Heathcliffe, is brilliantly written; the cruel fate that drives Heathcliffe and Cathy apart is emotionally written; and the struggle for them to continue their love that goes beyond the grave is chillingly written. These factors combine to make Emily Bronte’s novel a classic of literature, and one of the best romances ever written.
Brown, Dan. The Da Vinci Code.
Oh, the hoopla over this book! People!! It’s a work of FICTION, not NON-FICTION! Lighten up! It’s a fantastic mystery told with aspects of historical fiction that make it feel like you’re reading non-fiction, but you’re not! Brown creatively weaves in and out of history, yet forms his own modern-day story. It’s really a fantastic read–gripping, suspenseful, nail-biting. I was turning the last page at 4:30 in the morning because I couldn’t put it down. If you haven’t read it, do yourself a favor, and enjoy every minute of this longstanding bestseller.
Chopin, Kate. The Awakening.
Kate Chopin’s novel, The Awakening, tells the story of Edna Pontellier, a young, married woman with children. When she is on vacation with her husband, she meets a man named Robert with whom she falls in love. This love that she has for Robert makes her more aware of herself, as she uncovers who she is and what her particular wants and needs and interests are. She makes a decision against all conventions, and we see a woman take control of her own destiny. This book caused a stir in its day because of its sexual tones and the outward behavior of an extramarital affair. We see the development of Edna as an independent woman, no matter how tragically it ends.
De Rosnay, Tatiana. Sarah’s Key.
I think what I liked best about Tatiana de Rosnay’s memorable work of fiction entitled Sarah’s Keyis its movement. I admire a writer who can make me want to turn the page, quickly. I found myself devouring every word Ms. de Rosnay wrote, wanting to know more, wanting to learn more, wanting to understand the characters and what happened—and happens—to them all. Her writing is swift, often curt, with added punch. The brilliance of this novel is Ms. de Rosnay’s ability to bridge two time periods—present day and the 1940s in occupied France. And even more stunning is her ability to make us give a damn about the characters from both time periods. As an engaged reader, I cared about all the characters. I refuse to divulge one single element of this plot to readers. The haunting images Ms. de Rosnay paints for us combined with a sense of present-day hope haunt us and compel us to read on. Additionally, this book, its characters, her images—they all kept me up at night. I fell asleep one evening only to wake in the middle of the night with the plot weighing heavily on my mind. Sixty pages remained, and I was caught up in wonder. How would this story end? What was the author going to leave me with on the last page?
DiCamillo, Kate. The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane.
Edward Tulane is a selfish, toy, porcelain rabbit that is loved by his owner, Abilene. However, Edward’s selfishness and inability truly to offer love in return, causes him a series of troubles. In this beautifully crafted story told by Kate DiCamillo, Edward transforms, as a series of misadventures pass him along from owner to owner. DiCamillo’s storytelling is masterful. Michael Patrick Hearn of The New York Times described DiCamillo in his review of Edward Tulane from 2006 this way: “DiCamillo’s style often echoes the rhythms and aspires to the grandiloquence of Victorian or Edwardian children’s literature. More important for a young audience, she is a refreshingly graceful storyteller with a finely tuned ear for the discerning detail.” DiCamillo’s melodic graces as a writer captured my attention immediately. Two of DiCamillo’s other books, Because of Winn-Dixie and The Magician’s Elephant, are also favorites–and ones to share with the whole family.
Dickens, Charles. A Christmas Carol.
There aren’t many novels that have captured the hearts and imaginations of readers like Dickens did with A Christmas Carol. This fantastically witty, amazingly creative, well-told story comes to life year after year. Readers are treated to Scrooge, a memorable character in action and name, and his encounters with ghosts who try to save his soul, and make him a better person during the days he has left. The transformation of Scrooge is enlightening and enjoyable. It delights us and warms our own spirits. From this story, we quote often Scrooge’s words, “Bah! Humbug!” and those of Tiny Tim, “God bless us everyone!”
Fraser, Laura. An Italian Affair.
I’m not usually a memoir reader, but this one is captivating. From the second Laura Fraser begins to tell her story in the second person “you,” you are captivated and are forced, in the best way possible, to take this journey with her–the journey from hurt to love to embracing yourself and feeling good about yourself. There are certainly disappointments along the way, but Fraser’s realistic approach to romance and storytelling adeptly chronicles her need to get away and start over … and over.
Gregory, Phillipa. The Other Boleyn Girl.
Through Philippa Gregory’s novel, The Other Boleyn Girl, readers are treated to Henry VIII’s court, and the story of Anne Boleyn as told by “the other Boleyn girl,” her sister, Mary Boleyn. In this graphic novel that showcases the fictional insights of Henry VIII’s obsessions, sexual desires, and madness, Gregory craftily weaves this story. Gregory’s ability to go inside the character’s heads is a treat; historical fiction has never been so much fun.
Gruen, Sara. Water for Elephants.
I loved everything about this book, but mainly it was Gruen’s vivid writing that brought this memorable story to life. Her ability to cleverly describe things made me feel like I could really “see” the circus and Jacob and Marlena and Rosie. I absolutely adored it and was immediately sucked into this book that I admittedly avoided because from the outset, it didn’t have any immediate appeal to me. However, I was wrong to avoid it. From the first line of the book, I wanted to know what happened to Jacob. Additionally, Gruen’s handle on the depression era was brilliantly drawn through her characters, their actions, their language, and the settings throughout the book. I also saw the film in the theatre, but trust me when I tell you this: you must read the book first. My favorite novel of 2011 thus far.
Haigh, Jennifer. Mrs. Kimble.
Haigh, a graduate of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop has written short stories, and this is her debut novel. This story tells the story of three women who marry the same man. No one knows too much about the husband, Ken Kimble, as he disappears and changes. The women later learn the truth about him, and each of the three women is memorable. Certainly an interesting read. Haigh’s style is melodic and she sucks you in right away.
Hillenbrand, Laura. Unbroken.
The story of Louis Zamperini, from Olympic contender to World War II veteran, is one that you will find inspiring, disturbing, eye-opening, and unbelievable. Hillenbrand’s research and writing of this book is remarkable, as she takes us through Louie’s life and the many turns of events in it. He survives and overcomes many obstacles in his life, which makes this book an absolute page-turner. Angelina Jolie is directing the movie by the same name that comes out Christmas 2014. To read my full review of Unbroken, click here for You Are What You Read.
Hoffman, Alice. The Museum of Extraordinary Things
I’m not going to lie about this one–I was on the fence for many chapters while reading this book. Hoffman’s prose is extremely detailed and descriptive, and the book is low on dialogue between the characters. However, that being said, the melding of history and fiction is always exciting, especially in this drama. I found myself constantly looking things up to see what was real and what wasn’t. The story is interesting, and is definitely creative. I enjoyed being taken back to Coney Island in 1911 to an unusual museum with a cast of characters that includes a conniving and manipulative professor, the professor’s daughter who doubles as a mermaid, and a Jewish boy who is conflicted about his father.
King, Stephen. On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft.
While I am not a fan of the creepy horror and suspense novel, I am a fan of Stephen King. This book is one of the few written by a writer for writers that offers inspirational anecdotes and tips. Talk of his “toolbox” and his passion for writing, coupled with a memoir of his life, make it an interesting—and informative—read. I recommend it to any aspiring writer.
Lawn, Beverly, ed. 40 Short Stories: A Portable Anthology.
This collection of short stories has proven worthy of being included in my Anthology. Hemingway’s “Hills Like White Elephants,” Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s “The Yellow Wallpaper,” Gabriel Barcia Marquez’s “A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings” are among the illustrious pieces included in this book.
McEwan, Ian. Atonement. New York: Doubleday, 2001. Print.
This haunting story by Ian McEwan centers around young girl’s (Briony’s) misjudgment, jealousy, and naivety about the relationship between her sister, Cecilia, and her boyfriend, Robbie, and the dastardly sin she commits of wrongly accusing Robbie of a crime. Briony ends up repenting this sin for her whole life. The book, both provocative and descriptive, takes place before, during, and post World War II. McEwan’s messages of guilt, misunderstandings, and misinterpretation, leave a lasting impression. This story is not easy to forget.
Miller, Sue. The Good Mother.
This novel’s subject, characters, and themes remain troublesome, even twenty-four years after it was written. When Miller wrote this compelling, sexually descriptive and revolutionary novel, times were different than they are now. This novel’s frankness combined with the revelation of the character’s innermost sexual thoughts and actions, and their repercussions, rocked women of all kinds, including the feminists, the non-feminists, and those in between. The portrayal of Anna Dunlap as a divorced woman whose world is turned upside down when she takes a lover and ultimately loses custody of her child is shocking, infuriating, and depressing. Miller writes in an exacting manner the slow, torturous downfall of Anna, and we, as flies on the wall, watch it happen the same way we slow to watch a car accident on the side of the highway. It is painful and maddening.
Morgenstern, Erin. The Night Circus.
All I can say about this beautifully written novel is this: pay attention to the lyricism of the prose. It’s marvelous. Morgenstern’s story is inventive, interesting, and well told. She weaves together characters that are in a sense, very mystical. At the heart of the plot is a love story, and incorporated into that are twists and turns. As I read it, I couldn’t help but feel like I should be sitting around a fireplace, snuggled under a blanket, having someone read this to me. The construction of the story has inspired me to write my upcoming novel in a thoroughly creative manner, and it was all inspired by this captivating book.
Moyes, Jo-Jo. The Girl You Left Behind & One-Plus-One.
I have not read Me Before You, although I know it’s a big best-seller. I typically steer clear of sad stories. Therefore, I decided to enter the world of Jo-Jo Moyes by way of two of her other books: The Girl You Left Behind (couldn’t put it down) and One-Plus-One (great character development and storytelling). I love Moyes’s writing style; she has the ability, through her description and care she takes with her characters, to effortlessly make you feel a part of the story. I became so wrapped up in her characters that I truly missed all of them when the stories were over. Allow yourself to be swept into her worlds, and enjoy every minute of it.
Munro, Alice. Open Secrets.
This collection of short stories focuses on women. Munro is at her best as she describes stories about enduring love; long lasting secrets; two childhood friends who recapture their lives; and a woman in Canada who devises a plan to escape what could be a serious fate. Munro’s description and illumination of people, places, and cultures makes her someone to read and with whom you may want to become better acquainted.
Picoult, Jodi. Change of Heart.
Picoult’s book features controversial and modern subjects; this one focuses on the death penalty and religion in the United States. The story is told by four characters that rotate telling the story, so as a reader, we are privy to thoughts of these four characters. One is a priest, one is an attorney, one is a mother whose daughter and husband have been murdered, and the other one is a prison inmate. Thought provoking and memorable, Picoult’s storytelling wraps its arms around you and pulls you in immediately.
Pilcher, Rosamunde. Coming Home. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1995. Print.
Rosamunde Pilcher is one of my favorite authors. Her book, Coming Home, is charming from beginning to end. Pilcher is full of description; she takes her time telling a story. The story takes place around World War II in Cornwall, England, so the setting is lovely. In this novel, we follow Judith, the main character, as she goes to boarding school, grows as a woman, and experiences tragedy and romance. This was a best-selling novel for Pilcher. She retired from writing in 2000. Another favorite of mine by Pilcher is her noteworthy novel entitled The Shell Seekers, which sat at #1 on the New York Times Bestseller list for 30 consecutive weeks in 1988.
Shreve, Anita. Stella Bain.
Set in World War I, a woman serving as a nurse in France awakens after a bombing and doesn’t know who she is. She adopts the name Stella Bain, and then goes in search of her real identity. Through her search, she learns things about her past, and awakens to a sense of despair. With the help of a doctor she encounters in London, she finds her way back to herself…and to love.
Shreve, Susan Richards. Daughters of the New World.
Shreve begins the novel in 1890 when Anna comes to America from Wales to work for a physician in Washington, D.C. Anna’s daughter, Amanda, then becomes the main character of the book, and we follow the three generations of women that follow her. This is yet another book on my list that focuses on women, their relationships, their trials and tribulations, their successes and their fears. This one has stayed with me since I read it in 1994; I have passed my copy along to many friends.
Stockett, Kathryn. The Help.
Kathryn Stockett’s first novel was a huge success and the film of of the same name is due in theatres in August of 2011. The Help takes place in Mississippi during the 1960s when an educated young woman named Skeeter comes home from college to live with her parents. Her mother wants to see her married, but Skeeter has career aspirations to become a writer. She starts a job at the local paper writing about household tips and enlists the assistance of her friend’s maid, Abileen. From there, the story progresses, and Skeeter has a big, secretive idea up her sleeve, however, she can’t do it alone and must enlist “the help” to make it come to fruition. Filled with both infuriating and tender moments with regard to race relations in the south, this book will certainly leave you wanting more.
Tyler, Anne. Ladder of Years.
I have read this book twice at different times in my life. There is something about Pulitzer Prize winning author Anne Tyler that is gripping. Her descriptive language is instrumental to her storytelling, but I think the success of her books has more to do with her characters. In this book, the main character is Delia Grinstead, who (literally) walks away from her family while on the beach in Delaware. At 40, Delia is lost. She doesn’t have a sense of purpose and she does not feel wanted or needed by her family. The story begins as she attempts to forge her own life, and leave her family behind to discover herself. While some of Tyler’s characters can be quite quirky (i.e. Muriel in The Accidental Tourist), Delia seems rather levelheaded, which is why this book intrigues me. Even normal people can do the unimaginable.
van Praag, Menna. The Dress Shop of Dreams
This quirky fantasy was a fun, light, and creative read. I loved the quirkiness of each of the characters, the bit of magic thrown in, and the way the story neatly ties together, because guess what? Sometimes we like a neat little package that makes us happy.
Wharton, Edith. Ethan Frome.
Wharton, who won the Pulitzer Prize in 1921 for The Age of Innocence, wrote Ethan Frome in 1911. Ethan Frome is another of the literary tragedies written in Wharton’s style of dramatic irony. The characters of Ethan, Zeena, and Mattie are a fabulous study in character development. Ethan is a sad character, and we get to know him most; however, Zeena and Mattie are sad, too. This triangle of love and entanglement climaxes when we see Ethan barraged with guilt over his feelings for Mattie, his wife Zeena’s cousin who has come to live with them. In a strange twist of fate, an ironic ending comes to pass. Wharton offers us a melancholy look at emotion, love, and guilt, and the repercussions of it all.
White, E.B. Essays of E.B. White.
Known as one of the best essayists and prose writers of our time, E.B. White’s clear, concise style of writing is apparent in his collection of essays. A long-time writer for The New Yorker, E.B. White showcases his talents in this collection, namely in the form of “Goodbye to Forty-Eighth Street,” “Death of a Pig,” and “The Geese.” White’s writing is contagious. His deliberate prose is low on adjectives and adverbs, yet beautifully communicates his insightful observations and nuances of them, as well.
Winton, Tim. The Riders.
On a recommendation from one of my friends, I picked up a copy of The Riders. This story, by Tim Winton, makes it to my list for its bizarre storytelling. The strange melding of the actual story with fantasy in this book is intriguing. The story is about a man, Fred Scully, who goes to Ireland to fix up a house. As it nears completion, he awaits the arrival of his wife and child, who are back at home selling their home in Australia. When Scully arrive at the airport to pick them up, only the daughter comes off the plane. From this point on, Scully and his daughter traipse all over Europe trying to find his wife, who has vanished without explanation or communication. This story of desertion, loss, and the panic to understand something that perhaps can never be understood, won Winton a finalist award for the Booker Prize.
Zusak, Markus. The Book Thief.
It’s been made into a film, high school students are reading it, and it’s narrated by Death. How much more of recommendation can I give it? What you will love most about The Book Thief is its narrator, the narrator’s capacity to tell a good story, and Zusak’s skilled writing. Effortless…flawless…intriguing. You will enjoy your romp with Death. It’s a beautifully told story about a remarkable girl during a remarkable time in Hitler’s Germany.
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And…if this list doesn’t suit you, why not try a novel by a Marylander…
Annabelle Marco and Michael Contelli are both only children of Italian-Americans. Next door neighbors since they were both five years old, they both receive their parents’ constant attention and are regularly subjected to their meddlesome behavior. In high school and then in college, as their relationship moves from friendship to love, Annabelle finds herself battling her parents, his parents, and even Michael. She feels smothered by them all and seeks independence through an unplanned and unexpected decision that she comes to regret and that ultimately alters the course of her life, Michael’s life, and the lives of both of their parents.
Set in Annapolis, Maryland, New York City, and London, England, in the 1980s and 1990s, Beneath the Mimosa Tree examines both Annabelle’s and Michael’s journeys over the span of ten years as we hear their alternating voices tell the story of self-discoveries, the nature of well-meaning families, and the sense of renewal that can take place when forgiveness is permitted.
Francesca Milli’s father passes away when she’s a freshman in college and nineteen years old; she is devastated and copes with his death by securing a job working for the Bay City Blackbirds, a big-league team, as she attempts to carry on their traditions and mutual love for the game of baseball. The residual effect of loving and losing her dad has made her cautious, until two men enter her life: a ballplayer and a sports writer. With the encouragement of her mother and two friends, she begins to work through her grief. A dedicated employee, she successfully navigates her career, and becomes a director in the front office. However, Francesca realizes that she can’t partition herself off from the world, and in time, understands that sometimes loving someone does involve taking a risk.
Two years after receiving the horrifying news of her husband Gil’s death, Milly Foster continues to struggle to find her way out of a state of depression. As a last-ditch effort and means of intervention, Milly’s parents convince her to run their successful Inn during their absence as they help a friend establish a new bed and breakfast in Ireland. Milly reluctantly agrees; when she arrives at the picturesque, waterfront Inn Significant, her colleague, John, discovers a journal written by her late grandmother that contains a secret her grandmother kept from the family. Reading her grandmother’s words, and being able to identify with her Nana’s own feelings of loss, sparks the beginning of Milly’s climb out of the darkness and back to the land of the living.