The 25 best novels of all time
There are countless lists on the Internet claiming to offer the definitive 100 Books to Read before you Die, Sci-Fi’s Top 20, The 50 Greatest Romance Novels, and so on. The problem is that they generally aim at being terribly impartial and eclectic so as to cover all bases, meaning they benefit few readers since most of us have fairly specific tastes.
For example, I have very little time for sci-fi and fantasy, and I won’t touch a horror. They’re simply not the sorts of novel I enjoy. I’m generally a fan of the classics, of comedy, of romance, of Christian reads, and of the historical novel.
I’m going to share with you my favourite 25 books to date. I’ve called it The 25 best novels of all time simply because such titles are what people look for when searching for reading lists. So yes, it was a shameless attempt at drawing you in! I’m not going to concern myself with worrying if my list is diverse – it’s simply my list, which may afford some suggestions to the like-minded reader.
So here are the books, in no particular order, because ranking them would be too hard. Browse the list (I’ve divided it into Classics, Contemporary, Christian, and Historical) and I hope you might come across a good suggestion for your next read…
LOVED it. A strong contender for favourite novel. Gaskell has been described as a cross between Dickens and Austen, offering 19th-century social commentary as well as romance. A woman from rural south England travels with her parents to the industrial north…
2. The Prisoner of Zenda – Anthony Hope
A good old-fashioned adventure story. Royalty, mistaken identities, swordplay, captivity, honour, romance.
3. Northanger Abbey – Jane Austen
Truly delightful. The best of all Austen’s novels to my mind.
Fun, fun, fun. This is a light-hearted, easy read.
5. Jane Eyre – Charlotte Brontë
It has everything: injustice, a journey, passion, intrigue, windswept moors, and a happy ending (and I am two-feet-in when it comes to happy endings!).
6. Anna Karenina – Leo Tolstoy
Epic! More engaging than War and Peace, it describes memorable, complex characters whose journeys towards either destruction or redemption are powerful and haunting.
A true romp of a read if ever there was one. A small band of English aristocrats use disguises to smuggle Frenchies destined for the guillotine out of revolutionary France. The group’s leader marries a French actress, but things aren’t what they seem…
8. Bleak House – Charles Dickens
A little hard to get into to begin with, but absolutely worth the effort. If you tried Dickens when you were young and found his style hard to read, try again now you’re older – it might be the olive scenario: as a child it’s ridiculously awful, but as an adult you discover it’s super tasty.
9. The Pilgrim’s Progress – John Bunyan
This is the allegory to end all allegories. Written in the 1600s from a gaol cell, it is inspired and inspiring. It tells the story of a man named Christian who leaves the City of Destruction to make his way to the Celestial City. If I had to choose just one favourite book, this would be it.
There is a bit of everything in here. Funny, touching and thought-provoking by turns, it’s a modern-day tale about suburbia, love, friendship and family.
11. The Shadow of the Wind – Carlos Ruiz Zafón
This was such a refreshing read. The style is so different from anything else I’ve ever read. Set in Barcelona, it’s a wonderfully atmospheric mystery. It is quite dark in places. The characterisations are fabulous and often downright funny.
12. The Pirate’s Daughter – Margaret Cezair-Thompson
This is a story about the illegitimate daughter of Hollywood legend Errol Flynn. Set in Jamaica, it offers up great historical and place detail. You never know in what direction the plot is going to go.
13. Easter Island – Jennifer Vanderbes
I have only read the first few chapters of this, but am going to go out on a limb and recommend it, as I have high hopes for it. Vanderbes has great ability to say much with few words. The plot: beginning in 1912, two British sisters travel with the older sister’s husband to Easter Island on a scientific expedition …. I won’t say more, as I don’t yet know more!
Far better than the movie, which I also liked. It is so well written, and I found Skeeter – who is bold and timid in turn, not a great beauty, career-minded but not overly independent and a little unsure of herself – to be a refreshing sort of heroine.
15. Love’s Shadow – Ada Leverson
Set in Edwardian London, this is a fun, witty novel about a bored socialite. It is one of those books where you wouldn’t mind being told about the contents of a bin because the author’s style of writing about it would be so utterly engaging.
Serious, subtle, illuminating, steering clear of melodrama while dealing with an important topic. Set in central Europe in the Middle Ages, men and women branded as heretics by the Catholic Church risk everything to learn for themselves what the Bible has to say.
17. Glimpses of Paradise – James Scott Bell
An unexpected treat. The first couple of chapters may seem clichéd, but stick with it, as it gets much better and the plot takes surprising turns. Set in 1920s America, it begins in small-town Nebraska and ends in Hollywood.
18. A Man Called Blessed – Bill Bright & Ted Dekker
I learned about ‘stepping off cliffs’ in faith from this book. The story revolves around a Jew, a Muslim and a Christian, and a race to find the Ark of the Covenant in present-day Middle East.
19. A Voice in the Wind (part of the Mark of the Lion series) – Francine Rivers
This was my stepping stone into Christian fiction. It tells the story of a Christian slave girl in the Roman Empire. It is a love story I don’t think I’m likely to forget.
This was read to me as a child, and I loved it, and then I read it as an adult and loved it on a whole other plane. What a masterful storyteller Lewis was – his style is so deceptively simple. It’s almost unfair the degree of talent he had, but thankfully he shared it with the world!
21. Highland Hopes (part of the Blue Ridge Legacy series) – Gary E. Parker
This is the first book in a family saga trilogy spanning the twentieth century. The descriptions are beautiful. It is set in the Appalachian Mountains, an area that has always fascinated me.
22. The Daughter of Time – Josephine Tey
This is historical detective work at its best, on probably the best historical mystery ever: Richard III and the princes in the Tower. In light of the recent discovery of Richard’s bones in a parking lot in Leicester, I imagine there will be renewed interest in this book.
23. Sunne in Splendour – Sharon Penman
This is another Richard III novel, offering great historical detail about the man and the period, as well as a love story.
This is a period romance and mystery. An Englishwoman meets a gentleman who seems to be everything she wants. He then disappears. Her relatives believe she made him up.
25. My Last Duchess – Daisy Goodwin
This book took me by surprise. An American woman marries an Englishman at the end of the 19th century and must adapt to conservative English life. Then an old flame re-enters the scene. It kept me guessing till the last page.
It is always difficult making a definitive list – of anything. You feel certain you’ve forgotten someone, you battle between what you would enjoy now and what you enjoyed then, and it’s difficult to whittle it down to so few. Accordingly, here are some honourable mentions, because it would have been nice to include them in the main list:
- Possession – A.S. Byatt (wow)
- Gone with the Wind – Margaret Mitchell (majestic)
- Rumpole of the Bailey – John Mortimer (champion of the underdog, scourge of judges, and husband to She Who Must Be Obeyed)
- Thunder of Heaven – Ted Dekker (a thriller, beginning in the Amazonian jungle)
- To Kill a Mockingbird – Harper Lee (so famous for good reason)
- Lorna Doone – R.D. Blackmore (epic love story!)
- Storm – Reg Grant (about Martin Luther)
- The Ishbane Conspiracy – Randy, Angela and Karina Alcorn (a modern-day Screwtape Letters)
- Refiner’s Fire – Sylvia Bambola (politics, Christianity, and twins who have never met)
- David Copperfield – Charles Dickens (part autobiography)
If you feel you have one or more book suggestions for me in return, that would be lovely!
For more ideas, you could visit my Pinterest board “Books and me” at http://pinterest.com/megabigail/books-and-me/