Last week, I discussed how I feel many of the books I love go overlooked or under-appreciated. It made me think about specific books that I love that I think deserve a bit more love from the reading community. These books have made me think about who I am, question my beliefs, and contemplate my life and my choices. They’re books that make me happy.
So, here is a list of some of my favorite books that you may (or may not) have heard of:
1. Spider’s Bite by Jennifer Estep (first book of The Elemental Assassin series): I talked last week about why I love fantasy books, so I’m going to start there. In this case, we find Elemental witches and wizards in the fictional city of Asheville. There is a very clear hierarchy of the weak and the powerful, the wealthy and the poor, and nearly everyone in the city is notoriously corrupt. Insert main character Gin Blanco, a seemingly cold, powerful Ice and Stone Elemental (a rare set of abilities since most possess one kind of Elemental magic) who happens to spend her nights as one of the city’s best assassins called the Spider. She is also resilient, determined, and fiercely protective of her loved ones. With each book, Gin becomes more vulnerable and complicated as the truth of her past and the reality of the present come to light and interconnect. She is independent, manipulative, incredibly intelligent, and yet still relatable. She’s only human, driven by feelings, making mistakes and a complex hero I always root for.
2. Some Girls Bite by Chloe Neill (first book of The Chicagoland Vampires series): Please ignore the fact that the title is awful and read this book. Protagonist Merit is a graduate student at University of Chicago walking home from campus after 3AM when she’s attacked by a vampire. Instead of getting killed, Master vampire Ethan saves her by turning her into a vampire as well. When I describe the main plot, it sounds dreadful. However, the most beautiful part initially for me was Merit’s reaction to being a vampire. She couldn’t care less that Ethan saved her life. Instead, she’s annoyed that he didn’t ask her consent to turn her into a vampire (or to unenroll her from UChicago…but she’s a vampire, so technically she’s ineligible to be at a graduate school for humans.) Merit, her best friend Mallory, and the many of the other vampires, witches, shifters and more that our protagonist encounters are snarky, funny, and intelligent as they stop bad guys from wreaking havoc on the city. Neill creates this incredibly complicated and structured hierarchy for this world of vampires and other creatures that endlessly fascinates me. There is always something more to learn with each new book. The characters are interesting, strong and complex, wonderfully flawed and genuine.
3. Falcondance by Amelia Atwater-Rhodes (third book of The Kiesha’ra series): I have read almost all of Amelia Atwater-Rhodes’s books, but Falcondance is by far my favorite and the Kiesha’ra series is my favorite universe of hers for me to enter. No vampires here, but instead a complex society of shape-shifters that completely enamored me from the first page. Each of the five books of this series follows a different protagonist and builds from the previous one, adding an ever deeper knowledge and exploration into the lore of this world the author crafts. It is endlessly fascinating and complicated and leaves me wanting more of the characters, their lives and their societies when the fifth book comes to an end.
4. Midnight’s Daughter by Karen Chance (first book in the Dorina Basarab series: Going back to vampires briefly, Karen Chance is amazing. I read Chance’s Cassandra Palmer series first and was wowed by the depth of the world she created for her main character of the same name. It’s incredibly layered and very clearly imagined and articulated. When Chance explains the facts of her created world, you believe her. The incredible and ridiculous things her protagonists such as Dorina get into come off as ridiculous, but they make sense as well. Dorina Basarab is a “dhampir” (half-vampire, half-human) and is lucky to have survived as long as she has through the intense rampages of anger and violence many dhampirs experience that immensely shortens their longevity. Dorina is ruthless, snarky and sometimes bitter, but she is also kind, understanding, and clever. She’s also the daughter of one of my favorite characters from the Cassie Palmer series, Mircea Basarab, so that’s a plus.
5. One of Those Hideous Books Where the Mother Dies by Sonya Sones: I know, the title caught me immediately too. I remember opening the book and being shocked that the book is written exclusively in poems. I am not good with poetry in the slightest, neither writing it nor reading and understanding it. However, Sones writes in such a clear and engaging voice about complicated characters, situations and events that drew me in despite my aversion to poetry. I have read this book at least a dozen times because I can read it quickly and still cry at the end as Ruby sobs before a deformed tree that recently took a student’s life when he drives drunk on a rainy evening. It’s heartbreaking, genuine and incredible.
6. Stargirl by Jerry Spinelli: Many of the people I know read this book when they were young. It was a book I often saw on the shelf in bookstores, but never picked up. I read Spinelli’s Crash in the sixth grade. Only when I was a junior in high school hanging out with friends I hadn’t seen in months did I see this book on one of my friend’s bookshelves. “I’ve never read that,” was all I said, and then I watched her immediately take it and put it in my hand. It’s a book that left an incredible impact on me just as Stargirl herself did on everyone she met in Arizona. Stargirl is a new student who is not afraid to be herself in the new environment. It traces the shifts in high school popularity and the struggles of peer pressure and conformity with an authentic, delicate brilliance that made me overjoyed when I heard of the sequel, Love, Stargirl.
7. The Eyre Affair by Jasper Fforde (first book in the Thursday Next series): This book is so fascinating. I’ve read it once, and it’s like (500) Days of Summer where I finished it and needed to immediately experience it again. The rundown: in an alternate 1985, the Crimean War is still being fought, gangs have formed and are fighting over the authorship of Shakespeare, and war-veteran-turned-literary-detective Thursday Next is on the hunt for a criminal mastermind terrorizing the literary world of Jane Eyre. The plot is incredibly quirky and out there, but my mom bought me this because one of my favorite books is Jane Eyre. The way Fforde explores Brontë’s novel and literature in general is fascinating, and this book is the beginning of a series! I’ve only read the first one, but I like to hope that they just get better and better with each installment.
8. The Realm of Possibility by David Levithan: This is the first book I read by David Levithan and it is incredible. Levithan explores 20 different perspectives in one book through song lyrics, free verse, lists, narrative and some mixes of these styles. Each is unique, powerful, and compelling. I can’t explain anymore. Just read it.
9. 13 Little Blue Envelopes by Maureen Johnson: I had a long argument with myself over which Maureen Johnson book to choose with which to end this list of recommendations. After many deliberations, I came to choose the first books of hers that I read. It immediately captured me. The story follows seventeen-year-old Ginny as she ventures across Europe. Where she goes is determined by the instructions enclosed within each of 13 little blue envelopes, written by her wild and recently-deceased Aunt Peg. While I am not spontaneous and often struggle to relate to characters or situations that are, Johnson’s tale made sense and it worked. The characters and the writing style she uses are fascinating and quirky much like the author.
Honorable Mentions: The Bermudez Triangle by Maureen Johnson, Anna and the French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins, I’d Tell You I Love You, But Then I’d Have to Kill You (first of the Gallagher Girls series) by Ally Carter, Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs (a Kenyon alum who is coming to give a talk April 1!), and The Lover’s Dictionary by David Levithan
That is just a short list of my favorites and books that have made a large impact on me. It was difficult to choose, especially because the majority of my bookshelf is not in my general vicinity. I also love to read and like every proud bookworm, I struggle to answer questions like “What is your favorite book?”
Do you guys have any books you love and would recommend to us at HCK?