Laying out my favorite books is strangely nerve racking. Why is that the case when, ostensibly, everyone should be allowed to have their own taste in books? It is probably because naming a favorite book can say so much about a person.
Choose a dark tome and people might think you are too dark and twisty. Name a lighter, more chick lit-type read, and you come across as shallow and vapid. So, we put forth the books we hope will show the character traits we want the world to see the most and closet-read our REAL favorites.
I am going to be honest; I take great pains not to do that here. This is a complete list of the books I truly love. I am still searching for THE one favorite, but this list reflects several aspects of my reading life including my taste and the genres I prefer. My ultimate test is whether or not a book stays with me and has me thinking about it months or even years later. I also really like flawed but likable characters and an epic journey or struggle. These books fit that bill.
There are no spoilers below – just a short summary and then a couple sentences about why that book made the list.
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The Road by Cormac McCarthy
Summary: A young boy and his father trek across post-apocalyptic America, encountering horrific situations and struggling to survive as they grapple with the meaning of life and how one can bring good into a world in despair.
Why I Loved It: One of the measures of a good book to me is if I can’t put it down. This one is in that category for sure. I think I read it in one sitting as it was compelling, well-written and had all my favorite elements – an epic journey with good vs. evil themes plus characters I loved and am rooting for. I also adore a post-apocalyptic setting. I loved the innocence and goodness of the boy as juxtaposition to the cruel world. Some might think that simple and overdone but it worked for me in this book.
Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows
Summary: A story about a small community on the English Channel Island of Guernsey during the German occupation during WWII. Told entirely through letters, (called an epistolary novel), this novel depicts a close-knit community and their struggle amid difficult circumstances.
Why I Loved It: First, I adored the writing style of discovering the story through letters between the characters. It did take some time to get into, which is a cardinal sin for me normally, but books like this have taught me I do need to invest time in a book. This book achieves something I find to be difficult to accomplish while also being my favorite thing in a book – laughter AND tears. The characters, some of them very colorful and highly relatable, are beautifully described and my heart ached for them as they faced the ultimate evil of the Nazi movement.
The Spellman Files Series by Lisa Lutz
Summary: The Spellmans are a family of private investigators, running the Spellman PI agency out of their dilapidated home while raising their three children. The series mainly focuses on their middle daughter, Isabel, who works for her parents as an investigator.
Why I loved It: I stumbled upon this series after reading and thoroughly enjoying The Passenger (also by Lisa Lutz) – an honorable mention for my favorites list. I struggle for words on this one. It’s funny, clever, and a very unique take on a mystery series. I am not even sure if this book HAS a genre? That made me love it even more.
Girl with the Dragon Tattoo Series: Books 1-3 by Stieg Larsson
Summary: Mikael Blomvqist, an investigative reporter fresh from being accused and convicted in a very public libel suit, is asked to investigate a cold-case disappearance of a young girl of a prominent family on a secluded island. Relishing the chance to lay low after the public trial, Blomvqist takes the case and starts digging, enlisting the help of Lizbeth Salandar, a woman whose background is rough and her trust in other humans is low.
Why I loved It: This one took me almost half of the book to get into as the author engages in a slow build to develop the characters and tell their backstories from the beginning. At first I wondered why their backstories, and particularly Lizbeth’s is so relevant and then when things start coming together, it is quite literally unputdownable. Dark and with a very interesting anti-hero in Salandar, the mystery and cold setting along with how her back story develops as a part of and intertwining with the plot make this book uber-compelling for me.
Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurtry
Summary: At the end of their Texas Ranger days in South Texas, cowboys Augustus McCrae and Captain Woodrow McCall take a cattle drive north to Montana, encountering Indians and Mexican bandits along the way. An epic story with rich characters and heartbreaking story lines that stuck with me long after I finished.
Why I loved It: I am a true Texan born and raised so this one is a given for me. Still, it has all my favorite elements – quirky, funny characters, strong women, and stunning adventure. McMurtry is so effective a story-teller, I could almost taste the cattle drive dust in my mouth as I read. The mini-series came out when I was 13, and I have great memories of watching it in my living room with my mom and siblings. I did not seek out the book until later so this is a rare time that I watched and loved the movie BEFORE the book. It is also on my favorite movies of all time list but that is a post for another day.
Great Expectations by Charles Dickens
Summary: Pip grows up poor and with many influences on his life including a chance encounter with a dangerous criminal and a female peer whose aunt is colorful to say the least. Still, influences on young lives work to shape you and Pip is shaped for sure.
Why I Loved It: This is my favorite classic and the only Dickens work where, in my opinion, his wordiness did not damage the story for me. Filled with interesting and colorful characters, the story’s twists and turns kept me turning pages.
Into Thin Air by Jon Krakauer
Summary: This is the tragic telling of the 1996 climbing year on Everest which resulted in one of the deadliest accidents of all time on the mountain.
Why I Loved It: Another one that I could not put down. I think I devoured this one in a matter of a couple hours. I am not the hugest nonfiction fan but Krakauer books don’t read like what I would consider regular nonfiction. I was totally enthralled and fascinated by these climbers who are not only willingly putting themselves in harms way, but actually pay thousands of dollars to put their bodies through agony. What makes these people do this? Why would you willingly go up there knowing the odds? Clearly, these people have something in their DNA that I do not have and that made this story that much more compelling for me – to have a sort of window into that world. I also loved that Krakauer was actually there and found the resulting conflict from the book and the differing perspectives of survivors to be a quintessential example of how the truth can change based on the teller.