No matter how many books you read, there are always a few that stay close to your heart. Whether that's the book you read a month ago which you just can't let go of or a series you've had a lifelong friendship with, these are the books that inspire you. They lift you up when you're sad. They're your best of friends (and sometimes your worst when they make you ball your eyes out.). You can't help but return to them again and again.
My list of favorites has changed a lot over the years. Middle Grade books like thetwo Percy Jackson series and The Land of Stories were once a part of the list and are no longer. Some series like the Talon Saga and Red Queen were once favorites but I have since read even better books. Check out my list of favorites from four years ago.
Below is my most recent list of my absolute favorite books. These books make it into my "top-ten." You can also check out a list of honorable mentions at the bottom of the page. (the links below will take to the listed portion of this post).
Number One: The Lunar Chronicles by Marissa Meyer
Release Date: Cinder: 2012/Scarlet: 2013/Cress: 2014/Winter: 2015/Fairest: 2015/Stars Above: 2015/Wires and Nerve Volume 1: 2017/Wires and Nerve Volume 2: 2018
Pg. Count: Cinder: 400/Scarlet: 454/Cress: 552/Winter: 827/Fairest: 222/Stars Above: 400/Wires and Nerve Volume 1: 238/Wires and Nerve Volume 2: 324
Summary: The Lunar Chronicles is a series of fairy tale twists set in a future timeline where the world has undergone yet another world war, the continents have all allied with one another (each continent ruled by one government), and the moon has been populated and formed a country called Luna. Now, a pandemic rages across Earth killing everyone in its path, and the only solution for the young Prince Kai left grieving after the death of his father might be marriage. After all, the evil Queen Levana seems to have the cure. And the princess died in a fire in the nursery long ago...or did she?
Why I Like It: Marissa Meyer is a master of fairytale twists. Every time I re-read these books I find new hidden elements of the fairytales in the books (like the orange love bug that Cinder rides the ball!). Meyer doesn't just tell the tales in a magical fairytale world, she twists them into a sci-fi fantasy with cyborgs and androids, adventure, and love and humor. I love the characters, the sarcasm, and the banter (not just between enemies-to-lovers but between friends!!!). I could stay in this world with these characters forever. The Lunar Chronicles is an inspiration to me. I read it for the first time around the same time I began to plan my own fairytale twist series. Though my tales are nothing like Meyer's, I am constantly inspired by Cinder, Scarlet, Cress, and Winter and hope my heroines will someday inspire others.
Fun Fact: The ten-year anniversary of Cinder (the first book of The Lunar Chronicles) just passed. How exciting! Check out the ten-year anniversary celebration: Cinder's Adventure: Get Me to the Wedding.
Number Two: Serpent and Dove by Shelby Mahurin
Date Published: Serpent and Dove: 3rd September 2019/Blood and Honey: 1st September 2020/Gods and Monsters: 27th July 2021
Page Count: Serpent and Dove: 513/Blood and Honey: 536/Gods and Monsters: 624
Summary: In a society where witches are hunted because of who they are and the powers they are born with, one witch is forced to marry a member of the church society that hunts them down to escape death. The two begin to fall for one another, but the witch has to re-learn her magic to protect herself from her greatest enemy but knows doing so will alienate her from her husband. When more puzzle pieces fall into place and other enemies rise up against the witch, her family of friends, as well as the church and country, it becomes clear that the battle is between more than just one witch and the man she has married.
Why I Like It: The series has the worldbuilding of the Grishverse series (with French culture), similar characters and feel to Sarah J. Maas books, the plot of The Talon Saga with witches instead of dragons and a dash of Mahurin's own imagination. It was slightly less explicit than Sarah J. Maas books (which I appreciated) without losing the humor and maturity. Plus I fell deeply in love with the characters, particularly the protagonists. They played off one another as well as those in The Talon Saga and I loved the sarcastic stubborn heroine. Plus the other characters were amazing as well. I didn't want to leave any of them behind.
Fun Fact: I have a brand new, never-been-read copy of Gods and Monsters. I was given a $5 gift card while in line at Barnes and Nobles. When the book went on sale, for half price (after I'd read it), I bought myself a copy for a grand total of about $6.
Books Like It: The Talon Saga, A Court of Thorns and Roses, Shadow and Bone Trilogy, Six of Crows Duology, King of Scars Duology, Red Queen Series, The Selection Series, The Caraval Trilogy, The Cursebreakers Series
Number Three: Little Thieves by Margaret Owen
Date Published: 19th October, 2021
Page Count: 512 pgs
Summary: Vanja is the goddaughter of two goddesses: Truth and Death. She is also the penny thief that has been robbing many of the noble of late. And the Prinzessin Gisele (but only when she wears the magical pearls which she stole from the REAL Gisele). Oh... and her maid, Marthe. She has been playing "find the lady" with these cards for so long that when a prefect shows up at one of the nobles' houses looking for the penny thief with magic and training at his back, she is sure she can keep doing so until she has enough money to make her escape. That is, until she is also cursed to turn to gems in two weeks by a third goddess. But surely she can still do it all on her own right? Unless the fiance of the woman she's pretended to be (or more correctly, one of them) comes back into town demanding the wedding, and there happens to be more going on there than she originally assumed.
Why I Like It: Strong female characters are the best and Vanja is no exception. Vanja is stubborn and sarcastic and the source of great humor and inspiration but she is not the only reason to love the novel. The novel is also a great fairytale twist both close and far from the original tale with random elements from the tale included. It also has an AMAZING plot. There are so many things going on at once that the novel could have been terrible but Owen manages each of the elements really well and the novel comes out great. I never saw anything coming and for the first half of the book still thought the book was about Vanja's curse and connection to her godmothers. Finally, I really love the romance in the novel. There is a slow-burn romance between the two main characters that is done flawlessly and I love that it's not "sex, sex, sex!" There is plenty of reference to sex but often in connection to the protagonist's lack of knowledge which was hilarious and really enjoyable.
Fun Fact: I put this on hold at our local library when it was still "on order" (before it was released). I was the very first person in our library to read the copy of the book. What a lucky person I am.
Number Four: The Grishaverse Books by Leigh Bardugo
Date Published: Shadow and Bone: 2012/Seige and Storm: 2013/Ruin and Rising: 2014/Six of Crows: 2015/Crooked Kingdom: 2016/King of Scars: 2019/Rule of Wolves: 2021
Page Count: Shadow and Bone: 358/Seige and Storm: 435/Ruin and Rising: 422/Six of Crows: 465/Crooked Kingdom: 546/King of Scars: 527/Rule of Wolves: 592
Summary: The Grishaverse books are actually three series set at different times and in different parts of the same, Grisha-filled universe. While Shadow and Bone tells the story of Alina Starkov, the sun summoner that everyone has been waiting for, Six of Crows is the story of a heist pulled off by six awesome adventurers (some might call them criminals) and King of Scars follows Nikolai Lantsov as he takes over as king and does his best to save his people and kingdom while battling beasts from within. With each addition, more characters are added who all appear throughout each of the three series.
Why I Like It: Bardugo is one of the best at worldbuilding which makes sense since she's had three series (and seven books plus additional "guides") to do it. Her world does so well on-screen because it is masterfully created in the books. I never felt like I was getting too much information or having things "author-splained" (like mansplained but for authors) to me. The world unfolds easily over the three series until you can't help but want more of all your favorite characters and the world you've been trapped in for days.
Fun Fact: The series (or rather three series) is now a TV show. Two of the three series have been combined to create the show which is so far, largely accurate to the book and Grishaverse timeline. Possibly due to the author's involvement in the creation of the show. She even has a cameo!
Number Five: The Book of Lost Names by Shelby Mahurin
Release Date: July 21st, 2020
Pg. Count: 388 pgs
Summary: 85-year-old Eva Traube wakes up one morning to find a picture of something in a newspaper she thought she would never see again. It is the book of lost names and so long ago, it was lost to her. Now, the man with it in his library is looking to return it. This starts her journey. She will travel to get the book but she will also show us how the book came about before it was lost to time. In the process, we meet her father who was taken to a war camp, her mother who followed her to free-France when her father was taken, and Remy, who helped her forge papers for thousands of Jews needing an escape.
Why I Like It: Everything about this historical fiction is astounding. The characters amaze me. I fell in love with them from the get-go and never lost that feeling. Plus, Eva Traube is such a great heroine fighting for justice. The plot is beyond what I could imagine. There were so many twists I didn't see coming and I never knew what was around the next bend. And the historical accuracy was awesome. Each thing was exactly what I love in the best historical fiction. I waited for six months or so to read this and was not disappointed.
Fun Fact: The characters in the book and their stories are fictional but many of the details Harmel writes about are true including the details about their document-creating processes. She even has the "book of lost names." When she was writing about what pages the characters were putting code on, she could turn to the pages herself and discover the words written there.
Number Six: Gilded by Marissa Meyer
Date Published: 2nd November, 2021
Page Count: 512 pgs
Summary: Serilda can't help but lie. It's not her fault—she is, after all, cursed by the god of lies (or is it a gift?)—but sometimes those lies get her into trouble. Like when she lies to the Earl King about being able to spin straw into gold. That maybe wasn't her best move. Now the Earl King forces her to come back to his palace every full moon to spin the straw into gold for him and Serilda's only way out is the young boy who can do it for her. Only she may have to pay a price. How long can she keep up her lie? What happens if the Earl King finds out what she is doing? And how can she defeat the Earl King and save the Kingdom?
Why I Like It: I love all of Marissa Meyer's books but especially her fairytale twists. This one was a little bit different than her others. Though Heartless was set in Wonderland (or at least a Wonderland that Meyer created), The Lunar Chronicles were set in our world (though in the future). Gilded is set in a medieval-like world of Meyer's creation, though. The first true "fairytale" world. Gilded is also the first to include an actual reference to sex (though not explicit). What I loved about the book though, were the characters, mystery, and spookiness. Like I say, it was different than her other books. The spookiness added something that I hadn't seen before and I loved it (just as I had in House of Salt and Sorrows) and I loved the mystery (there were many plot twists I didn't see coming). Plus the characters were awesome. Gild, is one of my favorite Meyer characters yet (except for Iko and Thorne) and I loved Serilda too.
Fun Fact: This is the only Marissa Meyer book so far with characters that obviously have sex. She may have intended her characters to be doing so. There might have been subtle implications I have missed in the past. This is the only one where the characters are shown to have done the deed.
Number Seven: The Downstairs Girl by Stacey Lee
Release Date: August 13th, 2019
Pg. Count: 374 pgs
Summary: Jo is an ordinary girl. Only the world doesn't see her that way because she is Chinese. When her boss fires her (killing her dreams of making hats for a living), she is forced to find work elsewhere. Meanwhile, she begins to submit columns to the newspaper printer that lives right above their head. Only, she must do it anonymously. If anyone were to find out, including the printers (who don't know she's living in their basement), there's no telling what might happen.
Why I Like It: Lee does an excellent job of illuminating history while telling a beautiful story. Her characters are masterful, her plot takes turns I never saw coming, and all the while she fights for a better world today by telling the stories of yesterday.
Fun Fact: The book has won a ton of awards including being a New York Times bestseller, "best book of the year" in Publishers Weekly, and the Crystal Kite Award. (check out the full list on the author's site)
Number Eight: Cursed by Thomas Wheeler (illustrated by Frank Miller)
Release Date: October 1st, 2019
Pg. Count: 416 pgs
Summary: Cursed is a spin on the King Arthur legends...only with the lady of the lake as the heroine. In Cursed, Nimue, a fae with incredibly strong powers unheard of elsewhere, must bring the sword of power to Merlin. Meanwhile, her people are being slaughtered by the church and she is falling for a human—Arthur. With the world falling apart around her, she will have to make some tough decisions about who or what is most important to her.
Why I Like It: Cursed takes you into the world it's written in. Between, the gorgeous illustrations and the well-described sword fights, the book makes it so that you cannot put it down. Maybe it has a magic of its own. If so, I loved to be a part of it.
Fun Fact: This is the first-ever illustrated chapter book I have encountered and it is amazing. Frank Miller (illustrator) also happens to illustrate the Netflix original TV show based on this book. It is a live-action with plenty of gore and guts but the creators still manage to throw in his illustrations.
Number Nine: The Writer's Lexicon by Kathy Steinemann
Release Date: March 20th, 2017
Pg. Count: 318 pgs
Why I Like It:
Fun Fact: There are three Writer's Lexicons in all. I own the first and the Writer's Body Lexicon (though I haven't finished reading the Body Lexicon yet). These books have been the most helpful of all my writing aids in editing my book.
Number Ten: The Botanist's Daughter by Kayte Nunn
Release Date: July 31st, 2018
Pg. Count: 400 pgs
Summary: This book is very similar to The Lost Apothecary (which is why I read it). Two women seize their futures and rewrite the past as they search for a mystical flower hidden in the mountains (or is it the canyons??) of Chile. In the 1800s, Elizabeth must travel from England to find the flower, completing her father's mission for him. He died and left the challenge up to her despite the deathly obstacles it presented thanks to the evil man who also chases the flower (for less noble causes of course). In present-day Australia, Anna (a gardener) finds a mysterious box in the walls of her late grandmother's house and decides to follow the trail it leads her on...all the way to England. With intertwined family trees, botany, mystery, and romance, this book is not one you'll want to pass up.
Why I Like It: The Botanist's Daughter stood out to me for many of the same reasons as The Lost Apothecary. It has strong women in a time where women were not challenged to stand up for themselves or take their lives into their own hands. Both of these timelines, however, follow powerful women who do take their lives into their own hands and stand up to anyone who gets in their way. The books are inspiring. I also love how these books (particularly The Botanist's Daughter) explore the idea of identity and purpose. As I read them, I was unsure what I wanted to do with my life just like some of the characters. I was at a fork in the road wondering whether to take the harder (more exciting) path or the one I had been on for some time. These women challenged me to follow my dreams and go after what I wanted. Powerful characters in well-written books can do that!
Fun Fact: Kayte Nunn is originally from England. She then lived in the US and finally lives in Australia now. That is why her books are harder to get ahold of than most. But the difficulty is worth it!