A list of recommendations, hopefully annotated. Please leave comments, especially if you are shocked to your core that I would recommend/neglect a certain title.  This isn’t meant to be a thorough list, just some of the best of what I’ve read in the last few years. The all-time favorites list will have to wait.

Adult Fiction

  • Atkinson, Kate. Read her. Love her. Try to stretch out reading her books as long as possible but fail miserably. (I’m saving Emotionally Weirdfor a rainy day.)
    • Behind the Scenes at the Museum. Pay attention & you will be rewarded.
    • Case Histories,  One Good Turn, When Will There Be Good News? and Started Early, Took My Dog.  A little mystery, a lot of character study, delicious twists.  Each mostly stands alone, but I think they’re better together.
  • Bennett, Alan.
    • The Uncommon Reader. The Queen becomes a reader – fiction for people who like books about books and books about reading.
  • Brooks, Geraldine.
    • Year of Wonders. Unputdownable. Heart-wrenching from the first chapters. Imperfect ending, but worth the time.
  • Chabon, Michael.
    • The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay. A keeper, one to reread. Unexpectedly enthralling – who knew I could fall in love with a story about comics? But of course it’s so much more.
  • Collins, Wilkie.
    • The Woman in White. Classic mystery, thrills, and superb cast of villains.
  • Colwin, Laurie.
    • Happy All the Time. I honestly don’t remember anything about this book except that it was an excellent comfort read, not in a fluffy feel-good sense but more in a good, tasty meal sense. I need to read more of her books.
  • Eliot, George.
    • Middlemarch. Massive – but well worth the effort. A classic that deserves to be read.
  • Enger, Leif.
    • Peace Like a River. While I can’t explain why it took me so long to finish this, the perfection of the tone, characters, and ending were worth the wait.
  • Goodman, Allegra.
    • Kaaterskill Falls. Solid cast of well-developed characters. Inner turmoil, but never depressing.
  • Gulland, Sandra.
    • The Many Lives and Secret Sorrows of Josephine B. Excellent historical fiction. First in a trilogy, all engrossing.
  • Hornby, Nick.
    • High Fidelity. Try the audiobook. Perfect for what it is.
  • Jerome, Jerome K.
    • Three Men in a Boat. The audio book is pitch perfect and had me howling.  Afterwards, try Connie Willis’ To Say Nothing of the Dog.
  • Lahiri, Jhumpa.
    • The Namesake. Immigrant family story centered on one boy with an unusual name. Excellent audio version.
  • Lansens, Lori.
    • The Girls. Alternating points of view, conjoined twins. Absorbing.
  • McEwan, Ian.
    • Atonement. Perfect and wrenching. None of his others live up to it, for me.
  • Meloy, Maile.
    • Liars and Saints. A compact – without feeling short – family saga.
    • A Family Daughter. Pleasantly turns Liars and Saints on its head.
  • Patchett, Ann.
    • Bel Canto. Lulls you into a false sense of security, just like the characters. Good audio book.
  • Robinson, Marilynne.
    • Gilead. Slow and thoughtful, this made a great audio book.
  • Rosoff, Meg.
    • How I Live Now. More crossover YA, this has great tension and characters.
    • What I Was. All of her books are deliciously between adult and young adult; this is a fascinating story with a frustrating narrator and a great use of setting.
  • Russell, Mary Doria.
    • A Thread of Grace. Quality historical fiction that doesn’t fall prey to predictable plot turns or characterizations. Kept me on my toes. Tearjerker alert.
    • The Sparrow. Sci-fi, but really more about spirituality and culture and language. Highly recommended.
  • Sayers, Dorothy.
    • Gaudy Night.  The entire Lord Peter Wimsey series of mysteries are sheer genius, and you should read them in order (start with Whose Body? but they improve by leaps and bounds). This is the pinnacle.
  • Seth, Vikram.
    • An Equal Music.  Tense and fascinating characters, and descriptions of playing and listening to music that will have you looking up everything they play.
  • Shriver, Lionel.
    • The Post-Birthday World. If you like books where you dislike the characters, this is perfect for you. I don’t, but I was so caught up in the conceit and the writing that I didn’t notice I hated them until the end.
  • Smith, Betty.
    • A Tree Grows in Brooklyn. Don’t be like me and put this one off. Well-deserving of classic status. Good tearjerker, too.
  • Smith, Zadie.
    • On Beauty. If you like Howards End, this is for you. I didn’t much care for White Teeth, but this one hooked me.
  • Tey, Josephine. I recommend every last one (that I’ve gotten my hands on) but here are my top three. Mysteries for the person who doesn’t really like them.
    • Brat Farrar. Is he? Isn’t he? I want to be IN this book.
    • Daughter of Time. Bed-bound detective. Centuries-old crime. Delicious.
    • Miss Pym Disposes. You could learn how to create characters just by reading Tey.
  • Walton, Jo.
    • Farthing. Alternate history + a murder mystery.  Followed by Ha’Penny and Half a Crown.
  • Willis, Connie.
    • The Doomsday Book. Time travel + the plague = page turner.
    • To Say Nothing of the Dog. Much lighter, with fun references to Sayers, Christie, and, of course, Three Men in a Boat.
    • Blackout and All Clear.  Two halves of one tangled story of time-traveling historians in WWII.

Adult Non-fiction

  • Fisher, MFK.
    • Serve it Forth. The first I’ve read of her “collected gastronomical works” – and what a relief to know there are more. Who doesn’t like to read about food?
  • Kingsolver, Barbara. Assuming you’ve made your way through all her fiction…
    • Animal, Vegetable, Miracle. Gardening, canning, turkey sex…this has it all.
    • High Tide in Tucson. Excellent essays.
  • Rosenthal, Amy Krouse.
    • Encyclopedia of an Ordinary Life. I want to own this so I can flip back through it.

You’re never too old for a good children’s book. Here are some good-for-adults children’s and YA books. I’m a firm believer that if you don’t have a high opinion of books aimed at non-adults, you just aren’t reading the right things.

  • Abadziz, Nick.
    • Laika. If you’re looking for a graphic novel/total tearjerker/story about the first dog in space, this is for you. I’m not an animal person, but wow.
  • Anderson, M.T.
    • Feed.   What every dystopia novel ought to be.
    • The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing.  Brilliant. Smart with perfect humor and horror.  In two volumes – The Pox Party and The Kingdom on the Waves.
  • Doctorow, Cory.
    • Little Brother.  For librarians, tech geeks, and fans of civil liberties – with plenty of plot and humor.
  • Donnelly, Jennifer.
    • A Northern Light. Excellent historical fiction, especially for fans of books and writing.
    • Revolution.  For a completely different flavor of historical fiction, mixed with a dark but redemptive modern story.
  • Fisher, Catherine.
    • The Oracle Betrayed is a solid mythology-style fantasy with nicely complex characters and plot twists. Watch out for the ending, it will hook you into the equally engrossing Sphere of Secrets and then the third installment…
  • Ibbotson, Eva.
    • The Countess Below Stairs. Mildly fluffy historical fiction with a heart. The audio is great.
  • Schmidt, Gary D.
    • The Wednesday Wars. Shakespeare, baseball, cream puffs. Really a cut above. Seriously. Just go read it.
    • Okay for Now.  The sort of book where you don’t want it to end.  And I’m not lying.
  • Selznick, Brian.
    • The Invention of Hugo Cabret. Just take a look at the pictures and then try to put it down.
  • Sfar, Joann and Emmanuel Guibert.
    • The Professor’s Daughter. The mummy equivalent of Lord Peter Wimsey, a reckless girl, Queen Victoria swimming the Thames, and prison escapes. A good reason for graphic novels to exist.
  • Tan, Shaun.
    • The Arrival. A wordless, fabulously illustrated story about travel, immigrants, and being an outsider. Did I mention the illustrations are to die for?
  • Thompson, Kate.
    • The New Policeman. Music, Irish folklore, lost socks, and the mysterious disappearance of time…If you like this, try the sequel, The Last of the High Kings.
  • Turner, Megan Whalen.
    • Start with The Thief, then The Queen of Attolia, then King of Attolia, then A Conspiracy of Kings and don’t blame me if you fall in love with Eugenides along the way. If you like a bit of mythology and a plot full of intrigue and deception.