I decided that I wanted to do something a little different, so today’s post is going to be about my 10 favorite stand-alone books. In a couple weeks I’ll do a similar post, but on my 10 favorite book series. Now, as you have probably already gathered, I read a lot. There are so many books that I love, so I knew it would be hard to narrow the list down to just 10. To help myself narrow things down I gave myself some criteria that each book would have to fit in order to make it onto the list.
The first, and most obvious, thing is that I have to love the book. The second thing for this list is that the book absolutely must be a stand-alone novel. No sequels, series, trilogies, or anything like that. The third thing is that I have to have re-read each book on the list a minimum of 5 times. The reason for this is because I re-read my books all the time, in fact there are very few books that I’ve read that I haven’t ever gone back and re-read. In fact, most of the books on this list I’ve read way more than just five times. The last thing that I kept in mind while making this list was “if I could only read/re-read 10 stand-alone books for the rest of my life what would they be?”
Although this list is numbered 1-10, the books are not listed in any particular order. I’ll go through each book, describe what it is about, and include a little bit about why I love it. Without actually trying my list ended up including a range of kids’ books, YA books, and adult books. I am a firm believer that just because a book is geared towards a certain age group doesn’t mean that they can’t be enjoyed by all ages. The “kids” books included on this list may be written for a younger audience, but the writing itself is extremely well done and the stories are very enjoyable. I still re-read all of the books on this list (including the kid’s ones) on a regular basis, and I have several book loving friends that love and read them as well. Now let’s jump in to the list!
1) Daughter of Venice by Donna Jo Napoli: This book has been a favorite of mine since the day I read it for the first time when I was thirteen. Set in Venice in 1592, this book is about a noble girl named Donata. During this time in history girls of her class rarely received education or left their homes to explore the world around them. In noble families only one son and one daughter will be allowed to marry, and Donata (like all younger daughters) will be sent to a convent. Donata longs to see the Venice that her brothers get to see, and so one day she disguises herself as a boy and sneaks out of the Palazzo to explore Venice before she is sent away.
One of the reasons that I love this book so much is because of the relationship between Donata and her sisters. Donata has one older sister, a twin sister, and two younger sisters. The friendship and bond between the girls is well written, realistic, and extremely refreshing when most YA books portray sisters as fighting and arguing the majority of the time. Another reason why I love it so much is because the main focus is not romance. This book focuses on women and their role in society, and it does so in an interesting and captivating way. There isn’t a single character in this book that I don’t love, which is not something I can say about any other book I’ve ever read. If you only read one book from this list, this one should be it.
2) The Two Princesses of Bamarre by Gail Carson Levine: When I decided to make this list I knew I had to include a book by Gail Carson Levine. Levine has written so many amazing books, the one most known being Ella Enchanted, and over the years I have read and loved every single one. It might technically be cheating to include this book on the list, because technically it is a part of Levine’s “The Enchanted Collection.” This collection includes all of the fairytale style books Levine has written, but each book stands alone and none of the characters appear in the other books. The “collection” was also put together after the books were already published as stand-alone books, so that they could be sold in a box set. Which is why I don’t feel too badly about including this book.
The Two Princesses of Bamarre is about two sisters. The older sister, Meryl, is the brave one. She has spent her life being Addie, the main character’s, protector. But one day Meryl becomes ill with a magical sickness, to which there is no cure. Addie has always been afraid of everything, a trait she has inherited from her fearful father (the king). But Addie’s love for her sister sets her on a quest to find the cure.
There are several reasons why I love this book, the most obvious one (as you’ve probably already guessed) being the relationship between the two sisters. When I first read this book it reminded me a lot of the relationship between my sister and I. My sister isn’t fearful like Addie is, but Addie did remind me of my sister. Another reason why I loved this book so much was because of the world it was set in. This is a fantasy book, and I loved the detail Levine put into creating the world. Addie’s gradual transformation throughout the book into a more confidant person was another thing that I loved about it. Lastly, I loved that this one did not have a perfect “Happily Ever After” ending. That might seem like a weird thing to love a book for, but the ending was just so perfectly realistic. It wasn’t a happy ending, but it also wasn’t a sad one.
Another thing that I love about this one is the memories I have associated with it. When I read it the first time I loved it so much that I wanted my sister to read it, but I also loved it so much that I didn’t trust anyone but myself to actually touch the book. So my sister made me read it to her, and she loved it so much that every time I tried to put it down and stop for the night she begged me to keep reading. I ended up reading it to her in a single sitting, staying up late into the night. To this day that is one of my favorite memories. If you have never read a Gail Carson Levine book then do yourself a favor and pick this one up. Don’t be put off by the fact that it is meant for readers 12 and under, you can’t judge a book by its cover… or by its intended audience.
3) Pharaoh’s Daughter by Julius Lester: Set in Ancient Egypt during Ramesses II (also known as Ramesses the Great) reign, this book follows a Hebrew girl named Almah as she saves her baby brother Moses ( from the soldiers sent to kill him and goes to live with him in the palace.
The first half of the book is told in Almah’s point of view, and the second half is told years later in Moses’ point of view. To those that know me, it is no secret that I love Ancient Egypt. This book is one of the most well written and accurate (not completely, but more so than a lot of others) books set in Ancient Egypt that I’ve ever read. It is a pretty short book, but I absolutely loved it. I’ve read it so many times that my copy has completely fallen apart. Almah is such an interesting main character, I loved her strong will. Another thing that I loved about this book was the unique take on the story of Moses. You definitely don’t need to be religious to enjoy this one though!
4) The Heretic Queen by Michelle Moran: This book is adult historical fiction, and also set in Ancient Egypt. This book follows Nefertari, the most beloved wife of Ramesses II.
One of the things I love most about this book is how Moran isn’t afraid to tackle issues like the Pharaoh having multiple wives, and slavery, head on. This book focuses on the politics just as much, if not more, than it does on romance. Ramesses II has always been my favorite Pharaoh and Moran gives a detailed and captivating take on the early years of his reign. While not completely historically accurate, Moran still does a brilliant job of keeping things as accurate as possible while still being interesting. If you love historical fiction than this book is a must read.
5) The Forbidden Wish by Jessica Khoury: This book came out at the beginning of this year, and is the most recently published book to make it on this list. I bought The Forbidden Wish the week it came out, at the end of February 2016, and since then I have read this book from start to finish six times. It’s that good.
This book is about Zahra, a “jinni” whose lamp gets discovered by Aladdin. Not only is it an absolutely amazing retelling, but it puts a truly unique spin on the classic tale. I don’t want to go into too much depth about this book here, because I already have a full review on this one. You can find the review here
6) Goddess of Yesterday by Caroline B. Cooney: This book takes place in Ancient Greece, at the beginning of the Trojan War. The story follows Anaxandra as she is kidnapped from her small island home as a child and brought to live as a companion to King Nicander’s crippled daughter, Princess Callisto. But just as Anaxandra is starting to adjust to her new life her new home is attacked by the king of Sparta, Menelaus (The original husband of Helen of Troy before she ran away with Paris). Anaxandra takes on the identity of Callisto in order to survive.
This book was beautifully written. Cooney’s version of Helen has always stuck with me. All of the stories/myths/legends about Helen of Troy say that she was the daughter of a god, and the most beautiful woman in the world. Cooney’s version of Helen is, in my opinion, the most original and realistic. This version of Helen is spoiled and vain from being told her entire life that she is the most beautiful woman in the world. This Helen is also sharp and manipulative, a result of being repeatedly kidnapped throughout the years by men who wished to marry her. Most stories of Troy portray Helen as a kind person, beautiful on the inside and out. But I’ve always been partial to Cooney’s version of Helen.
The plot of this book is well written, and full of twists and turns. I love the creativity of this retelling, and Anaxandra’s point of view throughout the novel is addictive. This is a plot and character driven novel, and I promise that if you read it you’ll love it just as much as I do.
7) I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith: Set in 1934, this book follows 17 year old Cassandra over a period of six turbulent months while her entire life, her family, friends, and the world she lives in changes around her.
This book is eccentric in all the best ways. I absolutely adore Cassandra’s family. Her father used to be a well-known writer, but now just wastes his time doing cross words while his home falls apart –literally- around him and his family scrapes together anything they can find for food. Cassandra’s stepmother is artistic and a free spirit, she’s well loved by Cassandra but the marriage between her father and stepmother is starting to fall apart. Cassandra’s older sister, Rose, is determined to escape poverty even if it means marrying a man she doesn’t love.
There are so many other great characters in this book; each and every one is well rounded and captivating. The writing itself is wonderful, the flow and style keeps me constantly turning the page no matter how many times I re-read this one. This book may be classified as YA, but in my opinion it is so much more than just a YA novel. This one is an absolute classic, and the story is a timeless one that you’ll love no matter how young or old you are.
8) Summer Sisters by Judy Blume: Judy Blume is a well-known author of both YA and adult books, and this particular book is one of her adult ones. This book starts off following Victoria in her childhood as she is befriended by a girl named Caitlin, and follows them through their lives well into adulthood.
The ups and downs of their complicated friendship has always resonated with me. In this book the main character, Victoria, felt lucky to be the one Caitlin chose to befriend as a child, but as the girls grow up Caitlin’s constant casual betrayals add up until things finally come to a head one shattering summer. But despite the complicated relationship between the two women, when Caitlin calls Victoria asking her to be her maid of Honor Victoria accepts. I think one of the reasons I’ve always loved this book so much is because the friendship between the two girls is so real. We have all had that one toxic friend, or relationship. If you’ve ever had a complicated friendship, one that you know you should have just walked away from but never could, then this book is for you.
9) Angels Turn Their Backs by Margaret Buffie: This book is a supernatural YA thriller about a 15 year old girl who develops agoraphobia after her parents’ divorce and her mother moves her to a new city and a new home.
This book was given to me in high school by my sister, and I don’t think she realized then how much this book would mean to me. When I was around 14 years old I started to suffer from anxiety and extreme panic attacks. Reading this book was the absolute first time I discovered an accurate description of what I was experiencing and feeling each time I had a panic attack.
The issues that the main character has to deal with, family members getting exasperated and telling her to “just get over it”, people treating her like she was merely attention seeking or crazy, and her own feelings of inadequacy at not being able to control her panic were all things that I was going through myself. This book made me feel understood for the first time in regards to my anxiety and panic, and for that reason alone I will always cherish this book. Of course the supernatural element to the book was unique and another thing that I loved about this one. The characters and plot itself were well written and interesting. Overall this book was the complete package for me, and I’ll never grow tired of reading it.
10) A Handful of Time by Kit Pearson: Kit Pearson is a Canadian author; in fact she’s from Vancouver Island! All of her books are absolutely amazing, so it was hard to pick just one.
A Handful of Time is about a girl named Patricia that gets sent to stay with her cousins for the summer. But Patricia doesn’t fit in with her cousins and feels more alone than ever. One day she discovers an old watch hidden under a floorboard, and it takes her back in time to the summer her mother was her age. One day the watch stops, and Patricia has to learn to face the present.
It is hard to put into words the reasons why I love this book so much. Kit Pearson has a unique way of perfectly capturing universal moments of childhood, this one being the feeling of not belonging and learning to face that feeling head on. All of Kit Pearson’s books are magical; they bring those moments in your childhood back to life over and over again.
Thank you for sticking with me throughout this list, and I hope that you will be able to find a couple books from this list that appeal to you. Personally, I love reading lists like this because it is a great way for me to branch out and discover books that I may have overlooked otherwise. I hope that this list can do the same for you.