I have always loved to read. When I was a kid, I’d cruise through books like nobody’s business. My favorites back then were The Boxcar Children, Nancy Drew, Trixie Belden, The Babysitter’s Club…okay, I had lots of favorites.
I still love to read. There are plenty of great business books out there, as well as motivating ‘I’m going to conquer the world!’ books, but fiction will always be my first love.
As I look over this list of my top 5 books, I realize that I definitely have a type. I’m drawn to books with incredible characters that truly make the book what it is. Strong plots and stories are important elements, but none of these books would be as great as they are without the people that make the story.
If you love stories with heavy subject matters, yet validating and heart-warming threads throughout, I highly recommend each of the following books.
‘The Brother’s K’ by David James Duncan
My list of books doesn’t have any particular order other than this being my steady #1 choice. If someone asks me, “What’s your favorite book?” my response will always be, “The Brothers K.”
I always follow that up by telling people that it starts off slow but that’s what allows such phenomenal characters to develop. Once you get 100 pages in or so, you’ll be hooked by the stories of four brothers who live very different but interwoven lives. And though I’m really not a fan of baseball, there’s something about the sport that lends itself as a solid backdrop for growth, courage, and change.
The sometimes dark subject matter is offset but heartwarming and funny stories as each brother comes of age over the years. This is a book I will always treasure and as I write this, I’m thinking about picking it up yet again.
‘Beartown’ by Frederic Backman
This book is simply astonishing. I’ve read several of Backman’s books and this is my favorite, hands down. It definitely includes heavy subject matter that can be hard to read at times, but the commentary on the culture in this tiny isolated Swedish town is relatable to anywhere in the world. As conflict rises, the characters reveal their true colors in ways that are unsettling, inspiring, and touching all at the same time. I’ve never felt so connected to a group of characters in any book I’ve read. I felt proud of some and dismayed by others, but both pulled me right into the world of Beartown.
‘A Stranger in the Kingdom’ by Howard Frank Mosher
If The Brother’s K didn’t exist, this would top my list as #1. I’m a nostalgic person, so the fact that I discovered this in my adolescence but still treasure it to this day may play a role in that statement. But the people I recommend it to continue to enjoy it immensely, so I know it withstands the maturity test.
Set in 1950’s small-town Vermont (who doesn’t love Vermont?!), this book weaves in racism but it’s once again about the people. Told from the perspective of thirteen-year-old James Kinneson, A Stranger In the Kingdom is the story of a boy who grows up the summer that a new preacher – a black man – comes to town. James learns more about his town and the people in it during that one summer than he had his previous 13 years. The book is full of characters like wild backcountry cousins who hold secret cockfights in their basement, a highly educated and progressive newspaper editor for a father, and an incredibly talented but shiftless older brother who is faced with the challenge of stepping into his legal legacy when tragedy strikes and a stranger needs defending.
As with all the books on my list, this story is heartwarming and tragic at the same time. This is probably the book on my list that is most approachable for a wider audience.
‘A Tale for the Time Being’ by Ruth Ozeki
When I finished this book, I immediately sat down and wrote a letter to Ruth Ozeki. I never sent it (because I’m a chicken), but I wanted to be sure and let her know how much it changed my reading life.
Fair warning, if you don’t like dark or strange then this book may not be for you. But if you generally LIKE dark, strange, and phenomenal things then I recommend you pick this up right away.
For me, it was literally awe-inspiring. I found myself feeling elated, sad, giddy, worried, and so many other emotions while I read this book. If you’re sensing the trend in my titles, it’s the characters that make this book golden. Oliver is pure gold and the most endearing in the whole fabulous bunch of wonderful characters.
The Chief Inspector Gamache Series by Louise Penny
Okay, so this isn’t ONE book — it’s a lot of books! And as someone who does not typically read mystery novels, let me preface this by saying that these are NOT just mystery novels.
The characters and the setting of this series are what drew me in and made me never want to leave again. Penny created the tiny fictional town of Three Pines that fans (myself included!) find so cozy and inviting that we all dream of stumbling upon it someday, just as the characters in the books do. Though it’s almost humorously riddled with murders, Three Pines somehow remains a beacon of a simpler life that so many of us dream of in this age of distracted culture.
A bistro with mouthwatering menu descriptions, people who you desperately wish were real so you could be friends with them, and page-turning subplots are the dominant features that just so happen to have a mystery incorporated into the background of what stands out as center stage.
If you want a fun read that you can’t put down, try the first book in the series, Still Life, and you’ll see what I mean!
I hope this has inspired you to pick up one of these books! If you’re on Pinterest, follow my ‘Books I Love’ board and I’ll follow you back so we can get new book recommendations from each other!