Some recent favorites
A Piece of the World by Christina Baker Kline
The Way Life Should Be by Christina Baker Kline
The Man Who Invented Christmas by Les Standiford
Love Walked In by Maria de los Santos
Albom, Mitch. The Five People You Meet in Heaven & all his books
I pretty much love anything by Mitch Albom, but The Five People You Meet in Heaven is my personal favorite. Albom dives into the idea of how our lives touch others, even in the smallest of ways. This story will leave you feeling touched, enlightened, and thinking deeply about how you touch the lives of others. I absolutely love it and had my interpersonal communication class read it.
Austen, Jane. Pride and Prejudice.
The story of Elizabeth Bennett as she faces class distinctions, marriages, upbringing, wealth, and love, 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 pride and prejudices. Austen brilliantly depicts Elizabeth’s wonderfully strong personality and it is especially noticeable through Elizabeth’s dialogue and exchanges she has throughout the book. Elizabeth is an intelligent, witty, and strong woman for her time. It is my all-time favorite book. Steph’s Scribe also recommends all the Austen books: 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.
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.
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.
Davis, Jill. Girls’ Poker Night & Ask Again Later.
I loved both of these books by Jill Davis, a former writer for David Letterman. Davis has a knack for telling lighthearted stories with both punch and a wicked sense of humor. While reading Ask Again Later on the beach, I started laughing so hard I began to cry and my whole family asked if I was okay. I couldn’t help myself; Davis knows just how to throw a zinger in right in the middle of normal conversation. I can see why she wrote for Letterman.
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 own. 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!”
Gilbert, Elizabeth. Big Magic.
This book is for all creative-types out there. We all need to hear what Elizabeth Gilbert has to say about Big Magic. It’s good stuff, you guys. I absolutely love this book. If you know someone who is trying to balance the day-to-day life with the creative life, give them the gift of this book. It’s wonderful and it reaffirmed why I work the way I work and why I write on the side. I can’t stress enough how important it is to hear what Gilbert has to say about creativity in general and how we manage it.
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.
Gruen weaves a particularly good story; it’s well researched and well told. You will escape into the circus, a sort-of fairy tale, mystical life which is brought to life by realistic characters and their ability to know what’s right and good. And the elephant will become your personal hero.
Hillenbrand, Laura. Unbroken.
But when we read something as amazing as “Unbroken,” we can’t imagine hearing the story in any other way. Laura Hillenbrand, the author, goes about her craft so meticulously and elegantly, revealing the story at a melodic, somewhat haunting pace, that we cannot tear ourselves away from Louie’s predicaments. We are swept up in his story, and at the end, are left marveling at both his incredible journey and Hillenbrand’s grace as a storyteller.
Hoffman, Alice. The Museum of Extraordinary Things.
I loved this book takes place in the first decade of the twentieth century and is centered around a love story between a boardwalk freak show mermaid act and a photographer, with a murder-mystery included. The writing of this story is breathtaking, and Hoffman weaves a story that you won’t be able to put down.
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.
Kline, Christina Baker. Orphan Train.
This book was absolutely riveting. It’s told in present day and then in the past. Amazon says this: “Moving between contemporary Maine and Depression-era Minnesota, Orphan Train is a powerful tale of upheaval and resilience, second chances, and unexpected friendship.” Contemporary storytelling meets the orphan trains of the early 1900s. You will love it.
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.
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.
The story revolves around a circus that appears in the middle of the night, but it’s not your average circus. It is filled with magic, illusionists, and contortionists. It’s dark and lovely at the same time. It’s about manipulation and control. But at the very heart of it is a love story, though it’s a very different one, indeed. Morgenstern’s prose is sure to captivate you and leave you wanting more of her glorious storytelling.
Moyes, JoJo. The Girl You Left Behind, One Plus One, Me Before You.
JoJo Moyes is one of my favorite contemporary writers of today, and I model my own writing after her brilliance. She is exceptionally great with dialogue, which allows you to get straight to having a relationship with her characters, and falling in love with them. I particularly loved The Girl You Left Behind, as it passes from current time to Nazi Germany. It’s a great story, and amazingly, has a happy ending. I was sobbing by the end of Me Before You (which was made into a film, and it’s not a bad take on the wonderful book), and One Plus One is a lighthearted romp with a child prodigy in math.
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.
Shreve, Anita. The Stars are Fire.
I don’t know what to say about this book except this: you will love it, and it will be hard to forget. I was so sad when she passed away a few years ago. She gave us some unforgettable fiction, including this one.
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.
Sinek, Simon. Start with Why.
My fall special topics class for our newly created agency was required to read this book. Sinek is a great speaker and he understands the “why” behind what people and companies do to be successful. This book is replete with fabulous examples and underlying philosophies that will help you understand why you do what you do. I highly recommend this book for business people and creative types alike. You won’t want to miss out on Sinek’s great interpretations and quotes.
Sparks, Nicholas. The Notebook.
This classic book, the one that really put Nicholas Sparks on the map, is a book we all should read, especially those who are about to marry. It’s so special, and the story is one that will never go out of date, because love—deep love—means forgiveness, kindness, and understanding.
Standiford, Les. The Man Who Invented Christmas.
There were no Ba-humbugs coming from my lips while reading this gem of a book. I loved every second of learning about Charles Dickens and the six weeks leading up to A Christmas Carol. Standiford also packs in so much Victorian history that we get a sense of what life was like when Victoria, Albert, and Dickens himself were making history. I’m totally biased here, however, because A Christmas Carol is probably one of my two favorite all-time stories. It just doesn’t get better than this wonderful tale of old Ebenezer Scrooge and his epiphany that perhaps he does have time to be a better man.
Stockett, Kathryn. The Help.
Gosh, I loved this book about three women, told in alternating perspectives. Two women are hired help (Abilieen and Minny) and one is a college graduate (Miss Skeeter) who sets out to write a book about the situation in Jackson, Mississippi in the 1960s. There’s plenty of drama and humor in this book, and it took Ms. Stockett five years to get it into a publisher’s hand after 60 rejection letters. You will enjoy this beautifully constructed stories about prejudice and friendship.
Trigiani, Adriana. The Shoemaker’s Wife.
I enjoyed reading this sweeping story of Italian immigrants loosely based on the history of the author’s own grandparents. From the mountains of the Italian Alps to New York City to a small town in Minnesota, the characters and sights covered in this novel will allow you to become a part of a different time and place when the world was a different place, America was growing, and World War I loomed. The truth of the matter is this: a good book will never let you down.
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.
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.