1. Five Quarters of the Orange, Joanne Harris. I borrowed this book from a teacher in high school whose name I no longer remember, and I fell in love. I haven't read it since my junior year of high school, so I'm a bit fuzzy on the details of the plot, but I remember how it made me feel. The story is narrated by a young girl whose tortured mother is frequently ill. The mother loves to cook, and there are many recipes and descriptions of food, which is most likely a factor in my love for this novel, as well as the curious and intriguing characters.
2. The Mercy of Thin Air, Ronlyn Domingue. The novel is set in the 1920s and starts with the death of the narrator, Razi. Razi opts to remain in the "in between," a space between the living and whatever lies beyond. I'd consider it a love story, as it jumps from Razi's own love story to the story of Amy and Scott, a couple that Razi is haunting almost 75 years later. The language is beautiful and I am completely sucked into the world contained within these pages every time I read it.
3. Velva Jean Learns to Drive, Jennifer Niven. Velva Jean's story is set in Appalachia, in a land of mountains, music and simpler times. Velva Jean is ten when her mother dies and her daddy takes off, leaving Velva Jean only with her siblings and her mother's last wish, for her to "live out there in the great wide world." Velva Jean has dreams of moving to Nashville and becoming a famous singer, but those dreams are shut down when she marries hooligan turned preacher Harley Bright, at 16. I was completely immersed in Velva Jean's story, and was genuinely upset when the book ended. I continued to visit Velva Jean, Johhny Clay, Butch and the Woodcarver for days after in my mind.
4. Paint it Black, Janet Fitch. If you have read or seen White Oleander, you know what a gifted storyteller Janet Fitch is. Dark, twisted and dramatic, Paint it Black begins with the suicide of Michael Faraday. lover of Josie Tyrell. As she struggles to cope with his death, she forms an unexpected connection with his mother, Meredith, whom she is both fascinated and repelled by. This story is powerful, if painful to read at time.
5. The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane, Kate DiCamillo. Edward Tulane is a china rabbit. Yes, this is a children's book, but it is so good. Edward is quite satisfied with himself, and despite having a loving child to care for him, his heart remains cold. The book takes us on a journey through the bottom of the ocean, to the fireside of a hobo's camp, to the bedside of a dying girl, to a china doll shop. At the end of it all, Edward finally realizes the most important thing: to let himself love and be loved. "If you have no intention of loving or being loved, then the whole journey is pointless."
6. The Handmaid's Tale, Margaret Atwood. I had no idea what this book was about when I started it (for some reason I didn't even look at the back cover), and to be honest, I wasn't all that interested in reading it. That changed right away. This novel is set in the Republic of Gilead, which is dominated by a repressive Chrisitan fundamentalism. The main character, Offred, is a handmaid, which means she has been chosen to bear children for important men whose wives are not performing properly. As a protagonist, she's a bit passive, but we have to remember that she has effectively been oppressed and shamed into submission. If you enjoy dystopian literature, give this a read.
7. City Boy, Jean Thompson. City Boy follows newlyweds Jack and Chloe as they struggle to build a life together. As Jack tries to become the perfect husband for Chloe, jealousy and misbehavior lead to the dissolution of their marriage. Mesmerizing and incredibly emotional, this book was hard for me to put down and left me feeling a bit empty. While that might sound like a bad thing, I love books that make me feel anything, whether it be joy or sorrow.