Wednesday, May 11, 2011

No Better Fiction Than This

I'm excited to dive into this first category! Check here first to learn more about my love of books and the categories I'll be exploring in the coming weeks.  I read way more fiction than nonfiction and have many opinions on what I read. For the most part though, I like to be entertained. I read a lot of "fluff" that fits the bill but is unlikely to make my list of faves. Hmm. Perhaps I should do a favorite fluff category too? Ooh! And a Guilty Pleasure category and a...

In any case, here are the general market fiction books that stand out in my mind as my favorites. The ones that I keep rereading and recommending to others. The ones that have moved or taught me. The ones that made me laugh or cry.

In alphabetical order:
Beach Music- Pat Conroy Tear jerker. Made me want to live in Italy in the worst way. This was the first of Conroy's I ever read and it still captivates me.

Black and Blue- Anna Quindlen Unflinching portrayal of domestic violence and the lengths a woman will go to in order to protect her son. A real page turner with an unsettling ending. Quindlen is a wonderful writer no matter which subject she tackles.

Bridget Jones' Diary- Helen Fielding Modern take on Pride and Prejudice, I related to Bridget's plights and her quest to find a man who would love her just the way she is. The movie and its sequel are great but you can't beat the book.

The Distant Hours- Kate Morton My words will not do justice to this sweeping Gothic-inspired mystery. It switches between WWII England and the 1990s but not in the typical fashion. The writing was beautiful, the plot fast-moving, the mystery unwinding to the very end.  I loved getting to know Edie, her mother's secret, and the Sisters Blythe.  Morton has written 2 other novels and I can't wait to tear into them!

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society- Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows -I resisted reading this for a long time but then a friend gave it to me for my birthday.  It still took me 5 more months to crack it open but the moment I did, I was hooked.  Correspondence during post-WWII England and Guernsey.  As characters get to know each other by letter, we get to know them too and you can't help but root for each one.

The Help- Kathryn Stockett-I definitely fell into the camp of people that lurved this book. I was prepared not to as I typically dislike books that get a lot of hype but I was quickly drawn in by these characters.  I couldn't help but picture each woman with her distinct voice and wonder whether the Southern society would cut them apart or bring them together.  It also made me wonder how I would have really responded if I'd grown up during the Civil Rights era.

The Historian- Elizabeth Kostova  I didn't intend to read a book about vampires but I was mesmerized by this account that traces the history of Dracula, leading our heroine to believe that he lives even today. The sociologist in me appreciated a good research project and what we can dig up when we search our past.

I Know This Much is True- Wally Lamb A brother watches over his twin who is schizophrenic and tries to keep his own life from falling to shambles. People tend to rave about Lamb's first work She's Come Undone, and not necessarily because it was in Oprah's Book Club, but to me, I Know This Much Is True is his finest work.

Juliet by Anne Fortier I savored this novel which wove between past and present, uncovering the lineage and true story of Juliet and her Romeo.  There was mystery, suspense, and present day romance, all set in Italy.  Absolutely magical.

Like Water for Chocolate- Laura Esquivel Loved the magical elements as well as the recipes in this tale of a Mexican family at the turn of the century.

The Magic Hour- Kristin Hannah I first thought of the movie Nell when I read this book's description.  A feral, mute child is discovered.  A child psychologist tries to help her and, in the process, forms an unlikely bond.  It was the first time I read Kristin Hannah and she quickly became a favorite.  Hannah excels at exploring female relationships and here we have sisters and foster mother-foster daughter. 

My Sister's Keeper- Jodi Picoult I became an instant fan of Picoult after reading this and I raced through the rest of her books. While I haven't liked her more recent work, My Sister's Keeper remains compelling and thought provoking.  Picoult writes about controversial subject matter, turns ethics on its head, and leaves you wanting more. When I read the last few pages of her books, I have to reread them a few times because the twist is so subtle, I'm sure that it can't be the actual ending.

The Poisonwood Bible- Barbara Kingsolver Set in 1950s Africa, this story focuses on a Baptist missionary family. It started out slow but then I was hooked. Kingsolver's characters have no easy answers and the reader is drawn in to their plight, wondering if this is a family that can be saved despite themselves. While there are certainly spiritual themes at work, I don't consider this to be Christian fiction, which is why Poisonwood Bible is presented here.

A Prayer for Owen Meany- John Irving If you ask me to name my #1 favorite book, A Prayer for Owen Meany has been my answer for well over a decade now. The rich characters, compelling plot, and spiritual undertones- I cry nearly everytime I read this wonderful novel. Hollywood tragically attempted to bring the story to the big screen with "Simon Birch" but there's no way to capture a character like Owen Meany outside of your imagination. Irving's other work can be hit or miss so if you've read something else and thought "meh," don't let it prevent you from reading this.

Special Topics in Calamity Physics Marisha Pessl You will need to talk to someone when you finish, so call me! Very unusual writing style and unique main character. Add a huge plot twist and you'll see why discussion is a must.

The Swan Thieves- Elizabeth Kostova   After inhaling The Historian, I hoped that The Swan Thieves would have a similar effect and it did.  Kostova is an author worth paying attention to. Art history, the confines of mental illness, the patient-psychiatrist relationship, and how a painting comes together...all melded together in a captivating way.  I didn't want it to end.

The Thirteenth Tale- Diane Setterfield Simply fascinating from start to finish! The mystery kept me guessing the whole way through and when I finished I felt the need to go back through and figure out what clues I'd missed the first time around.

While My Sister Sleeps- Barbara Delinsky Molly always lived in the shadow of her older sister, Robin. Tragedy strikes when Robin is discovered unconscious on the roadside by another runner and then found to have had a massive heart attack and is now brain dead. Secrets are revealed and bonds are tested as the family grapples with difficult decisions and faces letting go. Delinsky deftly handles end of life issues.

White Oleander- Janet Fitch Infinitely better than the movie, a heartbreaking story.

Stay tuned for more reasons why Leigh Likes Books:
  • Favorite Fiction (General Market) (today)
  • Favorite Christian Fiction (5/13)
  • Favorite Nonfiction (General Market) (5/16)
  • Favorite Christian Nonfiction (5/18)
  • Going to the Classics (5/23)
  • Best Book Series (5/25)
  • Childhood Faves (5/30)
  • Books I Used to Like that Now Make Me Cringe (6/1)
Agree? Disagree? What are your favorite fiction (general market) books?

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  1. oh, i am so not a reader anymore! i did enjoy both the guernsey literary society and both wally lamb books. i love love love barbara kingsolver, but gave up on the poisonwood bible about 50 pages from the end! and i wanted to like like water for chocolate but found myself no fan of realismo magico. again.

    i loved the girl with the dragon tattoo trilogy:)

  2. Hmm their is a couple on here I've seen on a couple list...I might have to add them. I really liked my sister's keeper. I think Plain Truth was my favourite though.

    I think one of my favourite general non-fiction was the Birth House by Amy Mckay but I have a thing for midwifery...and I'm canadian so it kind of combines those too with a historical, fiction look at birthing history set in Nova Scotia. I really liked Outlander too, Diana Gabbaldon, not so much the rest of the series though. There really isn't much good Fiction where the main character is a nurse...(even if it is the wrong century)

    I'll definitely be coming back here next time I need something to read...I have Kate Morton out from the library right now.....

  3. Well none of these are one my lists, but I will definitely have to try some of them out. I obviously have different tastes than you, but that is ok. Suzanne I have read the first book of the Girl with the dragon tattoo trilogy and I am starting the second today. I love them so far. I like fiction that helps me escape the realities of this world and it sounds that you like books that explain the realities of this world. I commend you Leigh, I don't like to cry especially for books or movies, but the older I get I am getting a little more girlie.

  4. I love so many on your list, but sadly, I have never read "A Prayer for Owen Meany." One of my best friends recommended it years ago. I may have to tackle it this summer.

    Great list!

  5. I would have to add Rosie Dunn , later published as Love, Rosie by Cecilia Ahern and Rebecca by Daphne duMaurier... although the latter may qualify better as a classic...

  6. My all-time absolute favorite is Five Smooth Stones by Fairbairn. It's remarkable.

    I'm excited to add some of yours to my to-read list!

  7. I really liked The Thirteenth Tale, too.

    The Help is on my list before I see the movie. I saw the trailer and it looked awesome!!

    My favorite fiction is anything written by Jane Austen and Return of the Native by Hardy.

  8. @Suzannah, I've heard much about the Girl with the Dragon Tattoo books but it sounds too gritty for my liking. I like to escape the horror that I see at work- though hopefully I haven't seen anything as bad as what's depicted in the books!

    @Jenn, I loved Plain Truth! Salem Falls and Keeping Faith are my other favorites by Picoult. Those endings make me second-guess everything! I haven't heard of Birth House so I'll add that to my list. I will be discussing Outlander in the Favorite Series section. They're lengthy but I love those books.

    @Brownie, I like fiction that helps me escape reality and I would certainly put some of these in that sense. I read quite a bit of Fluff Books for escapist reading but none of those are so excellent as to make it on this particular list, but enjoyable nonetheless. To each their own!

  9. My all-time absolute favorite is Five Smooth Stones by Fairbairn. It's remarkable.

    I'm excited to add some of yours to my to-read list!

  10. I really liked The Thirteenth Tale, too.

    The Help is on my list before I see the movie. I saw the trailer and it looked awesome!!

    My favorite fiction is anything written by Jane Austen and Return of the Native by Hardy.

  11. you HAVE to read east of eden. please.

    other than that - love these books {cried when i read the help & thirteenth tale}...and many of them are on my to-read list.


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