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There are books that I love, my five-star books. Some of my all-time favorites are Saint Maybe by Anne Tyler, Echoes by Maeve Binchy, and One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez. But you know, those aren’t the books I recommend to people. Maybe because in college I had some friends read Saint Maybe with me and they hated it and it broke my heart. I hold those stories too close and I am afraid for other people to be disappointed. Or they are just not mass-appeal sort of stories.
But there are books I recommend, over and over again, to people. So if you’re looking for a great new read, here are some I recommend to you, too!
The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell – My best friend, the English professor, recommended this book that she teaches a couple years ago. I was hesitant because it is science fiction, and that is not usually my thing (although it’s growing on me slowly). I found, though, that this novel wasn’t really about the sci-fi issues but about sex, religion, and linguistics. Life is found on another planet, and a group travels there to connect with the alien species, learning their language and culture. It’s absolutely fascinating. I wasn’t sure how I felt about the book when I finished it; it’s not exactly happy and uplifting. But it’s stuck with me, causing me to think over the story and topics again and again, and I often recommend it to my friends who have any interest in sci-fi (especially the Catholic pals).
Cinder (and the rest of the Lunar Chronicles) by Marissa Meyer – There’s a reason this young adult sci-fi series, full of fairy-tale retellings, has been so wildly popular. The characters are vivid, lovable, and funny. The romance factor is there, but clean. The stories are fast-paced and classic good versus evil. I’ve recommended it broadly to friends, family, and even my husband. I will admit that Scarlet, the second book in the series, is my least favorite and may make you wonder if you want to keep reading. But the answer is YES. Keep reading. Cress and Winter are well worth the ride, and you need to read Scarlet for the complete story.
A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving – I don’t think I’ve ever read a more beautifully crafted novel than Owen Meany, Irving’s 1989 novel with pretty much the most gorgeous first line ever, next to Charlotte’s Web: “I am doomed to remember a boy with a wrecked voice—not because of his voice, or because he was the smallest person I ever knew, or even because he was the instrument of my mother’s death, but because he is the reason I believe in God; I am a Christian because of Owen Meany.”
Every action, every line in Owen Meany is there for a reason; the ending will take your breath away after you journey through childhood and into the young-adult lives of Owen and narrator John. It is a long read, but in my opinion, pretty much perfect.
Wortham Family Books (Julia’s Hope, Emma’s Gift, Katie’s Dream) + The Country Road Chronicles by Leisha Kelly – This is all one series; I’m not sure why it’s split into two series names. But if you like Christian or inspirational fiction at all, you should read all these books! They are set during the Depression, as Samuel and Julia leave Pennsylvania on foot for Illinois, going toward the promise of work and a home with their two children. The novels chronicle the new life Samuel and Julia make. The neighbors, who have 10 children, are a source of crazy throughout the books. I truly adored reading all these books, and I was heartbroken when Leisha Kelly died in a car accident (with her 16-year-old son) in 2011. So these are her only books (other than one published in 2010 that I am just seeing and will have to read) – and a delight and treasure in the world of inspirational fiction.
Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott – If you are a writer and for some reason have never read Bird by Bird, you need to remedy that immediately. I insist. I still get great amusement that Lamott’s book was first given to me by the then-editor of the Religious Herald newspaper, the Virginia Southern Baptist publication where I interned one summer. Because Lamott is not shy about her use of, ahem, strong vocabulary. But her voice is stellar, and I love the simple advice she gives to writers. I know many have the same enthusiasm I have for this, but if you haven’t read it for some reason, get your hands on a copy!
The Passage by Justin Cronin – I would be the first to tell you that I don’t do horror. The only Steven King book I’ve read is 11/22/63, because I don’t like being scared and I am afraid of his other books. (And there was plenty of gruesome in that one, too, but enough good time-travel story to balance it out.) My husband stormed through The Passage, though, and then insisted I read it, too. The librarian at his school described it to him as “a vampire novel, but not teenage vampires kissing.” This is much less a vampire novel and more about a science experiment gone wrong in a not-distant future. Cronin’s detailed explanation of life inside a small colony and the band of people who venture outside it is breathtaking and vibrant. There is a small chunk of 50-100 pages that might make you want to quit; it’s necessary information for the rest of the novel. But the last, oh, 600 pages will fly by. I think this is a pretty mass-appealing read about human nature, science, and fear.
I asked on my Facebook page about books my friends there find themselves recommending a lot, and here are the answers I got.
- The Dark Is Rising series by Susan Cooper; The Enchanted Forest Chronicles by Patricia C. Wrede – Jen D.
- Tam Lin by Pamela Dean – Erin S. (I talk a little bit about Tam Lin in my fairy tale retellings post)
- The Memoirs of Helen of Troy by Amanda Elyot – Camilla M.
- Nefertiti by Michelle Moran – Ashley T.
- Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon – Jennifer Y.
The only one of those books I’ve read is Tam Lin, so I guess I have a list for me, too!
What about you? Are there books you recommend often?