When we travel, we all have certain essentials that we just can’t leave home without. Way at the top of my list, alongside my passport and my iPhone is my eReader. I just can’t be without a book … ever. The morning we were leaving for our honeymoon, while my husband and I dashed around, getting ready for two weeks in Bali, I decided to download three new books for the trip when all of a sudden, my eReader froze. I panicked. I didn’t have time for this. I troubleshooted, tried all the suggested tricks to revive it but nothing worked. I couldn’t leave home without my eReader and lugging three books around wasn’t really compatible with my carry-on only travel style. So, on our way to the airport, we had to stop for a new eReader and I scrambled to get on the WiFi at the airport to get my new device up and running and to download my books. I made it just in time for the 14-hour flight from Toronto to Seoul. Phew!
In honour of World Book Day on April 23 (so declared by UNESCO on the anniversary of the date that both Shakespeare and Cervantes passed away, to promote reading, publishing and copyright), I have compiled a list of 20 of my favourite books. My top three favourites of all time are Rebecca, Crime and Punishment and Lust for Life. But this list, while not exhaustive, features some of the best books I’ve read, books I could read over and over again. What are your favourite reads? Please leave a comment and let me know – I’m always on the hunt for my next unforgettable read!
1 Rebecca by Daphne DuMaurier
FROM THE PUBLISHER: Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again. With these words, the reader is ushered into an isolated gray stone mansion on the windswept Cornish coast, as the second Mrs. Maxim de Winter recalls the chilling events that transpired as she began her new life as the young bride of a husband she barely knew. For in every corner of every room were phantoms of a time dead but not forgotten—a past devotedly preserved by the sinister housekeeper, Mrs. Danvers: a suite immaculate and untouched, clothing laid out and ready to be worn, but not by any of the great house’s current occupants. With an eerie presentiment of evil tightening her heart, the second Mrs. de Winter walked in the shadow of her mysterious predecessor, determined to uncover the darkest secrets and shattering truths about Maxim’s first wife—the late and hauntingly beautiful Rebecca.
2 A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini
FROM THE PUBLISHER: Born a generation apart and with very different ideas about love and family, Mariam and Laila are two women brought jarringly together by war, by loss and by fate. As they endure the ever escalating dangers around them-in their home as well as in the streets of Kabul-they come to form a bond that makes them both sisters and mother-daughter to each other, and that will ultimately alter the course not just of their own lives but of the next generation. With heart-wrenching power and suspense, Hosseini shows how a woman’s love for her family can move her to shocking and heroic acts of self-sacrifice, and that in the end it is love, or even the memory of love, that is often the key to survival. A stunning accomplishment, A Thousand Splendid Suns is a haunting, heartbreaking, compelling story of an unforgiving time, an unlikely friendship, and an indestructible love.
3 Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden
FROM THE PUBLISHER: Speaking to us with the wisdom of age and in a voice at once haunting and startlingly immediate, Nitta Sayuri tells the story of her life as a geisha. It begins in a poor fishing village in 1929, when, as a nine-year-old girl with unusual blue-gray eyes, she is taken from her home and sold into slavery to a renowned geisha house. We witness her transformation as she learns the rigorous arts of the geisha: dance and music; wearing kimono, elaborate makeup, and hair; pouring sake to reveal just a touch of inner wrist; competing with a jealous rival for men’s solicitude and the money that goes with it. In Memoirs of a Geisha, we enter a world where appearances are paramount; where a girl’s virginity is auctioned to the highest bidder; where women are trained to beguile the most powerful men; and where love is scorned as illusion. It is a unique and triumphant work of fiction—at once romantic, erotic, suspenseful—and completely unforgettable.
4 Sarah’s Key by Tatiana de Rosnay
FROM THE PUBLISHER: Paris, July 1942: Sarah, a ten year-old girl, is brutally arrested with her family by the French police in the Vel’ d’Hiv’ roundup, but not before she locks her younger brother in a cupboard in the family’s apartment, thinking that she will be back within a few hours. Paris, May 2002: On Vel’ d’Hiv’s 60th anniversary, journalist Julia Jarmond is asked to write an article about this black day in France’s past. Through her contemporary investigation, she stumbles onto a trail of long-hidden family secrets that connect her to Sarah. Julia finds herself compelled to retrace the girl’s ordeal, from that terrible term in the Vel d’Hiv’, to the camps, and beyond. As she probes into Sarah’s past, she begins to question her own place in France, and to reevaluate her marriage and her life. Tatiana de Rosnay offers us a brilliantly subtle, compelling portrait of France under occupation and reveals the taboos and silence that surround this painful episode.
5 Life of Pi by Yann Martel
FROM THE PUBLISHER: After the sinking of a cargo ship, a solitary lifeboat remains bobbing on the wild blue Pacific. The only survivors from the wreck are a sixteen-year-old boy named Pi, a hyena, a wounded zebra, an orangutan—and a 450-pound royal bengal tiger. The scene is set for one of the most extraordinary and beloved works of fiction in recent years. Universally acclaimed upon publication, Life of Pi is a modern classic.
6 Sister of My Heart by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni
FROM THE PUBLISHER: Anju is the daughter of an upper-caste Calcutta family of distinction. Her cousin Sudha is the daughter of the black sheep of that same family. Sudha is startlingly beautiful; Anju is not. Despite those differences, since the day on which the two girls were born, the same day their fathers died–mysteriously and violently–Sudha and Anju have been sisters of the heart. Bonded in ways even their mothers cannot comprehend, the two girls grow into womanhood as if their fates as well as their hearts were merged. But, when Sudha learns a dark family secret, that connection is shattered. For the first time in their lives, the girls know what it is to feel suspicion and distrust. Urged into arranged marriages, Sudha and Anju’s lives take opposite turns. Sudha becomes the dutiful daughter-in-law of a rigid small-town household. Anju goes to America with her new husband and learns to live her own life of secrets. When tragedy strikes each of them, however, they discover that despite distance and marriage, they have only each other to turn to. Set in the two worlds of San Francisco and India, this exceptionally moving novel tells a story at once familiar and exotic, seducing readers from the first page with the lush prose we have come to expect from Divakaruni. Sister of My Heart is a novel destined to become as widely beloved as it is acclaimed.
7 Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoyevsky
FROM THE PUBLISHER: Mired in poverty, the student Raskolnikov nevertheless thinks well of himself. Of his pawnbroker he takes a different view, and in deciding to do away with her he sets in motion his own tragic downfall. Dostoyevsky’s penetrating novel of an intellectual whose moral compass goes haywire, and the detective who hunts him down for his terrible crime, is a stunning psychological portrait, a thriller and a profound meditation on guilt and retribution.
8 Fall of Giants by Ken Follett
FROM THE PUBLISHER: A thirteen-year-old Welsh boy enters a man’s world in the mining pits. . . . An American law student rejected in love finds a surprising new career in Woodrow Wilson’s White House. . . . A housekeeper for the aristocratic Fitzherberts takes a fateful step above her station, while Lady Maud Fitzherbert herself crosses deep into forbidden territory when she falls in love with a German spy. . . . And two orphaned Russian brothers embark on radically different paths when their plan to emigrate to America falls afoul of war, conscription, and revolution. From the dirt and danger of a coal mine to the glittering chandeliers of a palace, from the corridors of power to the bedrooms of the mighty, Fall of Giants takes us into the inextricably entangled fates of five families—and into a century that we thought we knew, but that now will never seem the same again. . .
9 11/22/63 by Stephen King
FROM THE PUBLISHER: On November 22, 1963, three shots rang out in Dallas, President Kennedy died, and the world changed. What if you could change it back? Stephen King’s heart-stoppingly dramatic new novel is about a man who travels back in time to prevent the JFK assassination—a thousand page tour de force. Following his massively successful novel Under the Dome, King sweeps readers back in time to another moment—a real life moment—when everything went wrong: the JFK assassination. And he introduces readers to a character who has the power to change the course of history. Jake Epping is a thirty-five-year-old high school English teacher in Lisbon Falls, Maine, who makes extra money teaching adults in the GED program. He receives an essay from one of the students—a gruesome, harrowing first person story about the night 50 years ago when Harry Dunning’s father came home and killed his mother, his sister, and his brother with a hammer. Harry escaped with a smashed leg, as evidenced by his crooked walk. Not much later, Jake’s friend Al, who runs the local diner, divulges a secret: his storeroom is a portal to 1958. He enlists Jake on an insane—and insanely possible—mission to try to prevent the Kennedy assassination. So begins Jake’s new life as George Amberson and his new world of Elvis and JFK, of big American cars and sock hops, of a troubled loner named Lee Harvey Oswald and a beautiful high school librarian named Sadie Dunhill, who becomes the love of Jake’s life – a life that transgresses all the normal rules of time. A tribute to a simpler era and a devastating exercise in escalating suspense, 11/22/63 is Stephen King at his epic best.
10 Lust For Life by Irving Stone
FROM THE PUBLISHER: The most famous of all of Stone’s novels, it is the story of Vincent Van Gogh—brilliant painter, passionate lover, and alleged madman. Here is his tempestuous story: his dramatic life, his fevered loves for both the highest-born women and the lowest prostitutes, and his paintings—for which he was damned before being proclaimed a genius. The novel takes us from his desperate days in a coal mine in southern Belgium to his dazzling years in the south of France, where he knew the most brilliant artists (and the most depraved whores). Finally, it shows us Van Gogh driven mad, tragic, and triumphant at once. No other novel of a great man’s life has so fascinated the American public for generations.
11 Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte
FROM THE PUBLISHER: A classic coming of age story, “Jane Eyre” is the tale of its title character, a poor orphaned girl who comes to live with her aunt at Gateshead Hall. While there she endures great emotional and physical abuse at the hands of her aunt and cousins. Jane subsequently ships off to Lowood, a Christian boarding school for poor and orphaned girls. The conditions at the school are quite brutal. The students are subjected to cold lodgings, poor food, inadequate clothing, and the harsh rule of the administrator, Mr. Brocklehurst. The maltreatment of the students is eventually discovered and after some changes life becomes more bearable. She eventually finishes her coursework and spends a period of time as a teacher at the school. After leaving Lowood she gains a position as a governess at Thornfield Hall working for Edward Rochester, a man whom she will eventually fall in love with. “Jane Eyre” is the story of one woman’s struggle to overcome adversity. The novel was revolutionary in its day for its examination of the internal conflict of its protagonist and for the way in which it addressed the themes of class, sexuality, and religion in the mid 19th century.
12 All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr
FROM THE PUBLISHER: From the highly acclaimed, multiple award-winning Anthony Doerr, the beautiful, stunningly ambitious instant New York Times bestseller about a blind French girl and a German boy whose paths collide in occupied France as both try to survive the devastation of World War II. Marie-Laure lives with her father in Paris near the Museum of Natural History, where he works as the master of its thousands of locks. When she is six, Marie-Laure goes blind and her father builds a perfect miniature of their neighborhood so she can memorize it by touch and navigate her way home. When she is twelve, the Nazis occupy Paris and father and daughter flee to the walled citadel of Saint-Malo, where Marie-Laure’s reclusive great-uncle lives in a tall house by the sea. With them they carry what might be the museum’s most valuable and dangerous jewel. In a mining town in Germany, the orphan Werner grows up with his younger sister, enchanted by a crude radio they find. Werner becomes an expert at building and fixing these crucial new instruments, a talent that wins him a place at a brutal academy for Hitler Youth, then a special assignment to track the resistance. More and more aware of the human cost of his intelligence, Werner travels through the heart of the war and, finally, into Saint-Malo, where his story and Marie-Laure’s converge. Doerr’s “stunning sense of physical detail and gorgeous metaphors” (San Francisco Chronicle) are dazzling. Deftly interweaving the lives of Marie-Laure and Werner, he illuminates the ways, against all odds, people try to be good to one another. Ten years in the writing, a National Book Award finalist, All the Light We Cannot See is a magnificent, deeply moving novel from a writer “whose sentences never fail to thrill” (Los Angeles Times).
13 Circle of Friends by Maeve Binchy
FROM THE PUBLISHER: It began with Benny Hogan and Eve Malone, growing up, inseparable, in the village of Knockglen. Benny—the only child, yearning to break free from her adoring parents…Eve—the orphaned offspring of a convent handyman and a rebellious blueblood, abandoned by her mother’s wealthy family to be raised by nuns. Eve and Benny—they knew the sins and secrets behind every villager’s lace curtains…except their own. It widened at Dublin, at the university where Benny and Eve met beautiful Nan Mahon and Jack Foley, a doctor’s handsome son. But heartbreak and betrayal would bring the worlds of Knockglen and Dublin into explosive collision. Long-hidden lies would emerge to test the meaning of love and the strength of ties held within the fragile gold bands of a…Circle Of Friends.
14 Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson
FROM THE PUBLISHER: Bryan Stevenson was a young lawyer when he founded the Equal Justice Initiative, a legal practice dedicated to defending those most desperate and in need: the poor, the wrongly condemned, and women and children trapped in the farthest reaches of our criminal justice system. One of his first cases was that of Walter McMillian, a young man who was sentenced to die for a notorious murder he insisted he didn’t commit. The case drew Bryan into a tangle of conspiracy, political machination, and legal brinksmanship—and transformed his understanding of mercy and justice forever. Just Mercy is at once an unforgettable account of an idealistic, gifted young lawyer’s coming of age, a moving window into the lives of those he has defended, and an inspiring argument for compassion in the pursuit of true justice.
15 Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand
FROM THE PUBLISHER: In boyhood, Louis Zamperini was an incorrigible delinquent. As a teenager, he channeled his defiance into running, discovering a prodigious talent that had carried him to the Berlin Olympics. But when World War II began, the athlete became an airman, embarking on a journey that led to a doomed flight on a May afternoon in 1943. When his Army Air Forces bomber crashed into the Pacific Ocean, against all odds, Zamperini survived, adrift on a foundering life raft. Ahead of Zamperini lay thousands of miles of open ocean, leaping sharks, thirst and starvation, enemy aircraft, and, beyond, a trial even greater. Driven to the limits of endurance, Zamperini would answer desperation with ingenuity; suffering with hope, resolve, and humor; brutality with rebellion. His fate, whether triumph or tragedy, would be suspended on the fraying wire of his will. Unbroken is an unforgettable testament to the resilience of the human mind, body, and spirit, brought vividly to life by Seabiscuit author Laura Hillenbrand.
16 The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah
FROM THE PUBLISHER: In the quiet village of Carriveau, Vianne Mauriac says goodbye to her husband, Antoine, as he heads for the Front. She doesn’t believe that the Nazis will invade France…but invade they do, in droves of marching soldiers, in caravans of trucks and tanks, in planes that fill the skies and drop bombs upon the innocent. When a German captain requisitions Vianne’s home, she and her daughter must live with the enemy or lose everything. Without food or money or hope, as danger escalates all around them, she is forced to make one impossible choice after another to keep her family alive. Vianne’s sister, Isabelle, is a rebellious eighteen-year-old girl, searching for purpose with all the reckless passion of youth. While thousands of Parisians march into the unknown terrors of war, she meets Gäetan, a partisan who believes the French can fight the Nazis from within France, and she falls in love as only the young can…completely. But when he betrays her, Isabelle joins the Resistance and never looks back, risking her life time and again to save others. With courage, grace and powerful insight, bestselling author Kristin Hannah captures the epic panorama of WWII and illuminates an intimate part of history seldom seen: the women’s war. The Nightingale tells the stories of two sisters, separated by years and experience, by ideals, passion and circumstance, each embarking on her own dangerous path toward survival, love, and freedom in German-occupied, war-torn France–a heartbreakingly beautiful novel that celebrates the resilience of the human spirit and the durability of women. It is a novel for everyone, a novel for a lifetime.
17 Uncle Fred in the Springtime by P.G. Wodehouse
FROM THE PUBLISHER: Frederick Altamont Cornwallis Twistleton, Fifth Earl of Ickenham, better known as Uncle Fred, is back “to spread sweetness and light” wherever he goes. At the request of Lord Emsworth, Uncle Fred journeys to Blandings Castle to steal the Empress of Blandings before the ill-tempered, egg-throwing Duke of Dunstable can lay claim to her. Disguised as the eminent nerve specialist Sir Roderick Glossop, and with his distressed nephew Pongo in tow, Uncle Fred must not only steal a pig but also reunite a young couple and diagnose various members of the upper class with imaginary mental illnesses, all before his domineering wife realizes he’s escaped their country estate.
18 The Girl with Seven Names by Hyeonseo Lee
FROM THE PUBLISHER: An extraordinary insight into life under one of the world’s most ruthless and secretive dictatorships – and the story of one woman’s terrifying struggle to avoid capture/repatriation and guide her family to freedom. As a child growing up in North Korea, Hyeonseo Lee was one of millions trapped by a secretive and brutal communist regime. Her home on the border with China gave her some exposure to the world beyond the confines of the Hermit Kingdom and, as the famine of the 1990s struck, she began to wonder, question and to realise that she had been brainwashed her entire life. Given the repression, poverty and starvation she witnessed surely her country could not be, as she had been told “the best on the planet”? Aged seventeen, she decided to escape North Korea. She could not have imagined that it would be twelve years before she was reunited with her family. She could not return, since rumours of her escape were spreading, and she and her family could incur the punishments of the government authorities – involving imprisonment, torture, and possible public execution. Hyeonseo instead remained in China and rapidly learned Chinese in an effort to adapt and survive. Twelve years and two lifetimes later, she would return to the North Korean border in a daring mission to spirit her mother and brother to South Korea, on one of the most arduous, costly and dangerous journeys imaginable. This is the unique story not only of Hyeonseo’s escape from the darkness into the light, but also of her coming of age, education and the resolve she found to rebuild her life – not once, but twice – first in China, then in South Korea. Strong, brave and eloquent, this memoir is a triumph of her remarkable spirit.
19 An American Tragedy by Theodore Dreiser
FROM THE PUBLISHER: A tremendous bestseller when it was published in 1925, An American Tragedy is the culmination of Theodore Dreiser’s elementally powerful fictional art. Taking as his point of departure a notorious murder case of 1910, Dreiser immersed himself in the social background of the crime to produce a book that is both a remarkable work of reportage and a monumental study of character. Few novels have undertaken to track so relentlessly the process by which an ordinary young man becomes capable of committing a ruthless murder, and the further process by which social and political forces come into play after his arrest. In Clyde Griffiths, the impoverished, restless offspring of a family of street preachers, Dreiser created an unforgettable portrait of a man whose circumstances and dreams of self-betterment conspire to pull him toward an act of unforgivable violence. Around Clyde, Dreiser builds an extraordinarily detailed fictional portrait of early twentieth-century America, its religious and sexual hypocrisies, its economic pressures, its political corruption. The sheer prophetic amplitude of his bitter truth-telling, in idiosyncratic prose of uncanny expressive power, continues to mark Dreiser as a crucially important American writer. An American Tragedy, the great achievement of his later years, is a work of mythic force, at once brutal and heartbreaking.
20 Before I Go to Sleep by S. J. Watson
FROM THE PUBLISHER: S. J. Watson makes his powerful debut with this compelling, fast-paced psychological thriller, reminiscent of Shutter Island and Memento, in which an amnesiac who, following a mysterious accident, cannot remember her past or form new memories, desperately tries to uncover the truth about who she is—and who she can trust.
7 Comments on Best Books List: 20 Books I Could Read Over and Over Again
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[…] Suggested by Natalie DiScala of Oh! Travelissima […]
BeachyApril 23, 2017 at 8:40 pm (6 years ago)
Have read most of these books and fully agree with your choices, however another book I have read several times and love is “The Shell Seekers” by Rosamunde Pilcher and you can’t forget “Thorn Birds”.
Love your site, Natalie, have followed your husband for years and your is a nice compliment to his. I live in Manhattan Beach too – so hope to see/run into you and your adorable Son at some point!
NatalieMay 13, 2017 at 12:34 pm (6 years ago)
Thank you so much for the compliment and the recommendations! Would love to meet you as well – Manhattan Beach is so small, you never know when you’ll run into someone! 🙂
Suzanne MoutisMay 1, 2017 at 8:15 pm (6 years ago)
Oh, Natalie, you know I love Rebecca too! Also Death in Kashmir by M.M. Kaye, The Case is Closed by Patricia Wentworth, The Daughter of Time by Josephine Tey, The Ides of April by Lindsay Davis and An Inquiry into Love and Death by Simone St. James.
NatalieMay 13, 2017 at 12:35 pm (6 years ago)
I miss talking about books with you! -xo
Maryann AbairMay 12, 2017 at 11:03 pm (6 years ago)
Love your choices Natalie. I am also a fan of The Shell Seekers and The Thorn Birds. What Alice Forgot, Orphan Train and The 19th Wife are also very good. I have my original copies of Heidi and The Secret Garden which was the book that started my lifelong love of reading.
NatalieMay 13, 2017 at 12:37 pm (6 years ago)
I will have to check all of those out – thanks for the recommendations, Maryann! Heidi and The Secret Garden were childhood favourites of mine, too!