1. The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein
Told from the perspective of a race car driver’s aging dog, the book is packed with so much heartfelt human insight. I still can’t reread it without tearing up. It’s a beautiful, wonderfully written book.
2. Heart-Shaped Box by Joe Hill
William Morrow Paperbacks; Written by Stephen King’s son, it’s one of the best books of the last 20 years. The novel is a tightly wound, unnerving psychological thriller. It’s absolutely stunning and goes so far beyond what is being published in that genre right now. It’s the only book that’s actually given me nightmares.
3. A Long Fatal Love Chase by Louisa May Alcott
It’s one of those sensational, Enlightenment-style, angsty romance adventure novels that keeps you going until the very end. I’ve read a few different places that those sorts of stories were Alcott’s passion, but the Little Women series is what paid the bills.
4. Little, Big by John Crowley
It’s an amazing book that takes the whole historical tradition of fantasy and pushes it into the postmodern era. It follows the life of Smokey Barnable, the love of his life Alice, and their family as they wrestle with the strangeness of the world and life around them. A legitimate masterpiece.
5. The Wasp Factory by Iain Banks
One of the best, albeit strangest, books I’ve ever read, the novel has a highly unreliable narrator with a past not revealed until the very end.
6. Ella Minnow Pea by Mark Dunn
The “Novel in Letters” is a sweet and itty bitty read that English geeks will love! It’s a utopian-to-dystopian story told with progressively fewer letters in every chapter. I recommend it to all of my friends.
7. The Piano Teacher by Elfriede Jelinek
Jelinek won the Nobel, but the novel itself is nevertheless underrated. It’s a soul-crushing dissection of an abusive relationship within rape culture. Most of the novel lives in a morally gray area, forcing the reader to take sides in something utterly disgusting. It isn’t very uplifting, but it is absolutely essential because of the uniqueness of its style and the importance of its subject matter.
8. Wild Seed by Octavia Butler
This is one of many examples of the awesome and provocative creativity of Butler’s writing. Although Kindred and Parable of the Sower have received much praise,Wild Seed is as equally well-deserving. It was creative and inspiring, uncomfortable and thought-provoking, and one I will definitely revisit!
9. The Mysterious Island by Jules Verne
Despite it’s significant contribution to modern sci-fi and mystery writing, it’s routinely omitted whenever influential books are mentioned.
10. The Unbearable Lightness of Being by Milan Kundera
It is a beautiful and incredibly underrated book. It’s a mixture of the most heavy philosophical ideas I’ve ever read with a wonderful and heartbreaking love story.
11. I’ll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson
It was my favorite novel of 2014. It is so compelling and beautifully written that I gave up highlighting my favorite lines. It also deals with important topics, like grief, family, and LGBTQ issues.
12. Hate List by Jennifer Brown
The book deals with a high school student struggling in the aftermath of a school shooting. Despite the weight of the subject matter, it’s a great read. It’s full of emotions — sad ones, happy ones, and suspenseful ones. Although Brown writes a lot of YA novels, she writes about important issues that will interest all ages.
13. Mama Black Widow by Iceberg Slim
It’s a disturbing yet fascinating look at what it’s like to have the odds stacked against you: being gay and black and facing abuse, drugs, and prostitution. This is a side of the LGBT and African American communities no one talks about.
14. Every Day by David Levithan
It’s an amazing read about identity and who one truly is. The main character changes bodies each day, so you never know what will happen.
15. The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern
It’s my favorite book of all time, and I can’t believe it’s not super popular. About a magical circus open only at night, it offers a new take on magic and love, and it’s beautifully written. Plus, the plot and characters pull you in and beg you to read the the entire book in one sitting.
16. The Lost Wife by Alyson Richman
A beautiful story set before World War II, it tells the story of a young couple that fall in love and are set on two different journeys due to the war. The imagery of their experiences not only makes you feel as though you’re there with them, but it will awaken your very soul.
17. The Book of Lost Things by John Connelly
It’s one of the best books I’ve ever read. It’s a twist on classic fairy tales — more specifically, the scary kind — but it’s really all about growing up and the loss of youth. Touching and poignant, but not overly sappy or sentimental, it’s just shy of 400 pages and an overall great read.
18. A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving
It’s written as a first person narrative, which just adds to its awesomeness. It’s a beautiful story, the characters are developed flawlessly, and its conflict is incredibly personal and compelling.
19. Jessica Darling series by Megan McCafferty
I followed the series religiously throughout high school, and I can never find anyone who knows what I’m talking about when I reference it. The books are a great coming-of-age series. I think everyone should read them.
20. Fearless by Eric Blehm
Everyone has been reading American Sniper, which is a good choice, but I think this one is better. It tells the story of Adam Brown, a troubled teenager who completely turns his life around when he decides to become a SEAL. The struggles that Adam goes through during his training and once he becomes a SEAL are unimaginable, and his life is one that everyone should know about. A truly great read.
21. I Am the Messenger by Markus Zusak
Everybody knows Zusak for The Book Thief, but this novel is just as beautiful and powerful. It reminds anyone who feels stranded in their twenties that you don’t need to be famous or anything special to make a huge difference in the world. All you need to be is kind.
22. Out Backward by Ross Raisin
It’s a fascinating story told from the unreliable perspective of a delusional English farm boy with a proclivity for sexual violence.
23. Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs
It’s very different and definitely on the supernatural side, but it’s really, really good. Once I started reading it, I couldn’t stop.
24. The Testament of Gideon Mack by James Robertson
I’ve thought about this book at least once a month since I read it years ago. About a minister in Scotland who doubts God’s existence, it’s one of those books that sticks with you.
25. The Knife of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness
It is probably one of my all-time favorites. Taking place in a world where everyone can hear your thoughts, it’s a beautiful take on the classic coming-of-age story.
26. Private Peaceful by Michael Morpurgo
Technically a children’s book, it’s the most moving and life-changing book I’ve ever read. It tells the story of two brothers during the First World War. It really is such an amazing book, and I tell everyone to read it.
27. Firefly Lane by Kristin Hannah
The relationship between best friends is very complex but always special. This book takes you through the lives of two women and shows how, when things get tough, sometimes all you want is your best friend by your side.