Throughout our lives, we get known for lots of different things, some good, some bad, some mortifying. I’ve had my fair share. But only a few things have stuck around throughout childhood, adolescence and adulthood. The preacher’s daughter. The loud, skinny girl. The friend to ask for book recommendations.
I like that last one. It’s one of the main reasons why I love writing for That’s Normal so much: getting to recommend books and watch those recs go out to wide audience. Knowing my favorites made it to someone else’s favorites lists is a huge source of pride for me. I love to watch you guys fall in love with the books I love.
So, in an effort to keep my ego as large as possible, this post is an on-going list of book suggestions. All the best ones I can think of. My favorites. My go-tos. My re-reads and my best reads. And it starts off the way any good book suggestion book should: with the ones I would recommend to anyone.
Books for Everyone
These are the books I would recommend to the follwing people without reservation: Sam Heughan, my Mammaw, my 12th grade AP English teacher Mrs. Herring, Bekah, my non-reading friends, my 10 year old daughter, my dad and Stephenie Meyer. In other words, everyone.
The Book Thief by Markus Zusak When Death wants to tell you a story, you sit up and pay attention. Beyond the emotional aspects of this book that left me thrilled and joyous and broken, I was excited to see a young adult book that works as almost a roadmap for literary criticism. Sometimes the parallels and metaphors and themes are blatant and pulled out for you, but it’s always beautifully written.
The Lumatere Chronicles by Melina Marchetta Start with Finnikin of the Rock but don’t stop there. In fact, I should amend this to say: every book by Melina Marchetta is for everyone. But The Lumatere Chronicles are my favorites. The Lumatere series might be your first foray into fantasy, or even young adult books, but it most definitely will surpass your expectations. No one writes like Marchetta. These are my ultimate re-reads, and truthfully my favorite books.
Me Before You by JoJo Moyes Just in case there was any question about how much I love this book, yes, I would recommend it to my dad AND my Mammaw AND Sam Heughan. For more reasons why check out this post.
The Turn of the Screw by Henry James was, for years, my only answer to “What’s your favorite book?” I love nothing more than a dubious narrator, and The Governess reigns over all for that title. Part ghost-story, part-memoir, all genius, this book of mine has more notes in the margins than my Riverside Shakespeare. At less than 150 pages, you can read it in an afternoon, but it stays with you for a long while.
American Gods by Neil Gaiman You may have heard things about this book … like how it’s about old-gods-and-new, or the journey of a man named Shadow, or how it’s coming to TV soon, but you don’t know until you read it just how great it truly is.
The Lies of Locke Lamora by Scott Lynch Look, I know my “rec to anyone” list is mostly full of fantasy novels, and there are lots of
crazies people who don’t like fantasy, but I’m telling you … READ THIS BOOK. Scott Lynch created with Locke Lamora one of the greatest characters of all time. But the book is just FUN. Terrific fun. Entertaining doesn’t even begin to describe it. Pick it up. You won’t put it down.
Wonder by RJ Pallacio This one is going down as must-read children’s lit for every age. You’ll laugh, cry and finish this book with something that we all need a hefty dose of: empathy. Make your kids read it, but read it yourself as well.
Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi is one of the most unforgettable, powerful and important books I’ve ever read. I had a friend once ask me why I believe fiction is important, and I answered: EMPATHY. Just that one word. Sure, there are lots of other reasons to read fiction, but stepping into someone else’s experience, seeing their humanity through the power of the written word and the glorious imagination of the human brain is what makes being human so amazing. Homegoing is one of the books that brings that home (pun unintended).
The Hating Game by Sally Thorne Do you need us to recommend our TOP BOOK OF 2016 anymore than we already have? No. You don’t. This is a perfect book, a perfect romance novel and will soon by a perfect movie.
Circe by Madeline Miller was the highly-anticipated follow up to Song of Achilles and lovers of the classics and mythology (like ME) were in no way disappointed with this honest portrayal of Odysseus’ witch.
I got inspired to write up this section but a little but of interesting Twitter fun yesterday. One of my tweets in the #AskELJames twitter chat got a lot of attention (for a nobody), and one of the things I wanted to use my 15 minutes of twitter fame for was to tweet out GOOD erotica or romance novels by authors who don’t treat readers and critics like trash. So, in an effort to do that, I’m going to give you my favorite go-to romance/erotica authors and books. Go forth and read trash, my friends.
The Romance/Erotica Section
Charlotte Stein writes some of the sexiest and best first person erotica I’ve ever read. I consistently go back to her short stories when I want a quick, steamy read. My favorites of hers are Sheltered, Make Me (omg the best MMF of ALL TIME), Power Play, Never Sweeter (reviewed here) and Beyond Repair.
Captive Prince by CS Pacat is one of my all time FAVORITE series, up there with Lumatere Chronicles for sheer amazingness. I can’t recommend it enough, even though it doesn’t really belong in the romance section, and it definitely doesn’t belong in the erotica section, I don’t have a category for OMGALLTIMEFAVES that incorporate high fantasy, adventure, LGBTQ themes and slave kink. I just don’t. But that’s one of the best parts of this series: it’s genre bending and fave crossing, and I can’t recommend it enough.
The Neighborly Affection Series by M.Q. Barber … is like comfort food reading to me. It doesn’t matter what kind of reading mood I am in, or how long it’s been since I read them, Henry and Alice and Jay make me happy.
Christina Lauren writes (write?) the most perfect erotic romance novels just … full stop. If you are into dirty talkers, snarky heroines, indulgent but not scary kinks, then you cannot go wrong. My personal favorites are Beautiful Stranger and Dirty Rowdy Thing.
Sarah MacLean is the queen of regency romance. Bekah mentioned her as well in her book suggestions because she is Just. That. Good. If you’ve never read historical or regency romance novels, start with Sarah’s Numbers series. They have enough contemportary notes in the them to keep a skeptical regency reader from being pulled out by anachronistic details. I love her so much I can’t even pick a favorite, but just know that the reveal at the end of No Good Duke Goes Unpunished FLOORED me.
The Magpie Lord is the first in what I like to call my new favorite genre: gay wizard regency novels. KJ Charles is a really talented author who blends a bit of fantasy, erotica, romance and horror into a super fun series.
Cara McKenna writes my real life type (blue collar hotties) without resorting to stereotypes or over-used tropes. Her books are hot without making you wish the hero was a little more flush. Best of hers: Willing Victim (Southie Boston boxer with a mean kink), Hard Time (prison romance with HOT LETTERS) and Her Best Laid Plans (Is that a hot Irish bartender? Yes, yes it is).
Play by Kylie Scott is the 2nd book in her Stage Dive series (about what else but a hot foursome rock band and the women who win them over from their whoring ways), and it is SO so SO so fun. Mal and Anne are sweet and hilarious and super hot.
The Original Sinners by Tiffany Reisz. I’ve been suggesting you guys read The Siren since one of my very first posts on That’s Normal. The books in this series are more erotic suspense thrillers than they are romances, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t romantic. That you don’t pull for happily ever afters for your favorite pairings. But whatever your pleasure, you will be fully immersed in the sinners’ world.
Fever Series by Karen M. Moning. Do we need to talk about Barrons and Mac anymore than we already have? Read these books already. The whole series will take you a week, tops, and you won’t stop talking about it for … oh, at least five years. If we are any indication.
Priest by Sierra Simone is one of my TOP FIVE romance re-reads. I read it all the time. It’s so hot. It’s scorchingly hot, and taboo and just delicious. Simone writes really descriptive erotic scenes, and doesn’t shy away from atypical scenarios. I love her books, but Priest is my favorite.
Beverly Jenkins writes some really great historical romances, and Forbidden was my first of hers, and remains my favorite. Set in the Old West, she writes romances for people of color, and I cannot get enough.
Young Adult Novels and Series
I don’t feel particularly qualified to MAKE a list like this because
- I haven’t read all that much YA in the past year and a half.
- I didn’t even start reading Young Adult books until after I read Harry Potter and Twilight.
- For the most part, the ones I read directly after that had been unduly influenced by those book series.
- So my favorites are often some of the most popular, the ones you’ve read already, and nothing new.
- Also, when I love a young adult series enough, it becomes a part of my ultimate favorites list (See The Lumatere Chronicles) and no longer needs the categorical distinction.
So what in the heck is this list about anyway?
It’s the young adult series and books that stand out to me. There is something special about these books that goes beyond the tropes that @broodingYAhero loves to skewer. (Sidenote: go follow!!!!) I’m including my favorite series also that wrap up beautifully and make me swoon and feel happy and want to hug things.
My Favorite Young Adult Books (Stand-alones)
Chime by Franny Billingsley is the kind of book that you might not have heard of, but will totally surprise you with how much you love its unusualness. It’s fantasy: with themes of old clashing with new, magic mixing with industry and the newness of young love. It surprised me when I read it, and it holds up years later as a stand out.
Two Boys Kissing by David Levithan doesn’t just make it onto my list for the statement or the themes, but for how completely unputdownable it is. You find yourself going on the 32-hour kiss journey with them, unable to wait or pause or give up until they do. And (spoiler alert) they don’t.
Forbidden by Tabitha Suzuma gets the grand prize of book that ruined me the most. It’s technically YA, but GOD DON’T EVEN TRY TO READ THIS UNLESS YOU ARE ABOUT TO JUMP INTO A KIDDIE POOL OF KITTENS AND XANAX. Horrible and heart wrenching, and how can you not rec a book like that? Honestly, I don’t like PAIN BOOKS … books that dramatize or sensationalize or capitalize on trigger issues. I have no need to rattle your bones with the mother of all non-happy-ever-afters. Forbidden is not an “issue book.” It’s a book that takes something you never thought you needed to re-think, and makes you prickly with feelings as it forces you to re-think it.
Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell continues to be my standard for how YA novels can turn those teen conceits on their heads. Nothing like you expect and everything you expect at the same time, Park and Eleanor are nostalgia and brand new.
Jellicoe Road by Melina Marchetta … because there’s no one better, and this novel is everything you want a young adult novel to be. You may not love this novel, but you won’t know that until you hit the last page. You may not know where this novel is going, but you won’t regret the journey.
The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas didn’t debut at NUMBER ONE on the New York Times Bestseller list, go on to spend a record amount of weeks there, win numerous awards and become a highly anticipated feature film because it’s not worth reading IMMEDIATELY.
Autoboyography by Christina Lauren is another must-read for anyone who grew up in a faith tradition with wonky ideas about sexuality and purity culture. I love (present tense) it so much.
My Favorite Young Adult Book Series
The Graceling Realm Series by Kristin Cashore: Despite the fact that fantasy is easily my favorite genre, I think it’s really hard to do it well (especially in the young adult category). Graceling gets it right … and keeps getting it right as the series goes on with Fire and Bitterblue. A believable world, an unbeatable heroine (or two) and super swoon.
The Arcana Chronicles by Kresley Cole: OUR FAVE KC takes probably one of the biggest pop culture buttons … apocolypse (plus cannibals and zombies and natural disasters) and gives us something completely new to overshadow and encompass it all. The Arcana Chronicles are inventive, strange, surprising, dangerous, HOT and did I mention HOT? She builds a world that is ancient and contemporary and gives us a love triangle that we can truly get twisty about. And it’s NOT OVER YET.
Angelfall by Susan Ee … I almost hesitate to put this on my list because as a debut novel, Angelfall was incomparable, and as a series, was slightly disappointing. But I can’t NOT include it because the story still wrecks me, and I loved the first book so much.
Unearthly by Cynthia Hand: I see over there in the Teen section, looking at all those angel trilogies and wondering if they are at all worth your time. Let me help you: they aren’t. Except Unearthly. Perfect hero. Perfect amount of drama. Perfect ending. LOVE LOVE LOVE. #BeholdTuckerAvery
The Infernal Devices by Cassandra Clare … because ok, I like the Shadowhunters books, but these are on a whole other level, and I like making Nikki think that steampunk is a thing, and because Will-Tessa-Jem is the greatest love triangle of all YA time.
The Wolves of Mercy Falls by Maggie Stiefvater: These were some of the first YA books I read after Twilight, and I couldn’t help but compare the werewolf aspect to what I was used to with the OG JORTS WOLFPACK. And well … Jacob Black has got NOTHING on Sam Roth.
Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor: If you’re looking for mythos and irrefutable love and tragic circumstances and star-crossed love … you can’t get any better than this series that begins with, “Once upon a time, an angel and a devil fell in love. It did not end well.” I will defend Akiva and Karou until the end of time as one of the greatest YA love stories that was ever written.
You guys … there are MANY MANY MORE. This list was, in it’s original form, TWICE as long as it is now. I had to take a weed whacker to it, and I’m not happy about it. But then again, it’s not like we aren’t constantly recommending young adult novels to you, so you won’t be without for long.