Shayla’s All-Time Favorite Novels and Why You Should Read Them

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This was such a fun blog post to write! I truly enjoyed compiling a list of my all-time favorite novels. Some of these I read in college, others at age 16, and a few in the last couple of years. All the photos are mine, and I own all these books. I’d love to know which ones you need to read!

1. Misery by Stephen King

To this day, nothing terrifies me more than this story. Whether it’s the book itself or the movie version with Kathy Bates, I have to hold my breath during that hobbling scene. I mean, sweet Lord.

Why you should read it: You’ve been devouring current King novels and want to delve into his old school tales. You also loved the movie and want to see how it compares.

2. Mosquitoland by David Arnold

Why isn’t this a movie yet? Seriously. What’s going on here? Who do I need to yell at? David, just tell me and I will give them a thousand reasons why it needs to be in production right meow.

Why you should read it: You’re ready for some laughs. After reading one too many thrillers, it’s time to give your racing heart a break.

3. The Good Girl by Mary Kubica

The very last page—my Lord. I just sat there with my mouth agape in total silence while everything registered. This psychological thriller, thankfully, will be a movie soon. And I’ll be in line at the theater with my popcorn going, “I know the author of this book.”

Why you should read it: You enjoy thrillers with flawlessly written POVs and desire a shocker of an ending.

Related: An Encouraging Interview with NYT Bestselling Author Mary Kubica

4. The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova

I read this in college and was completely mesmerized. This isn’t just a novel—it’s an epic adventure. It took Elizabeth ten years to write this, and the book sold more copies on its first day in print than The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown. The book has won three awards and will always be one of the greatest novels ever written—fight me.

Why you should read it: You love Dracula, folklore, and the representation of good versus evil.

Related: Interview with New York Times Bestselling Author Elizabeth Kostova

5. Hope of Ages Past by Bruce Gardner

I had the honor of working on this epic novel, and I will always place it as the number-one greatest novel I’ve ever had the honor of working on. Hands down, the research involved in this book deserves the highest accolades.

Why you should read it: You want to be swept away into the mid-1600s, where there’s war, adventure, and yes, love.

6. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

To write a book that altered history is unimaginable to me. But that’s what the lovely Harper Lee did with this novel: she forced the south to take a closer look at racism in the 1960s.

Why you should read it: You haven’t read it since high school and can’t remember a thing about it. You also believe we live in a time that needs a solid reminder on prejudice.

7. Frankenstein by Mary Shelley

Mary Shelley—or the inventor of science fiction, if you wish—was 19 when she wrote this eerie tale. She had some eccentricities (like keeping her late husband’s heart with her); but she showed up her husband and Lord Byron when it was time to write a ghost story. To me, she’s just fascinating and so is this beloved gothic novel.

Why you should read it: You’ve watched several movies about Frankenstein. Maybe you’ve dressed up as the monster for Halloween. But you’ve never actually read the book.

8. Dracula by Bram Stoker

I was 16 when I read Dracula. There’s a gruesome scene wherein Dracula is—surprise!—drinking blood from a body and it was written with such gritty detail, that it made me feel sick to my stomach. To me, that was unforgettable—that a book could cause that kind of physical reaction.

Why you should read it: You’ve read plenty of vampire novels—sparkly and not-so-sparkly—but you’ve never read the original.

9. The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald

Honestly, everything Fitzgerald wrote was just pure art. I really can’t compare his writing style to anyone else’s. There’s a reason this book is known as the Great American Novel.

Why you should read it: People often disappoint you, and you’d like to relate to someone who experienced the same thing. Plus, you love jazz, old sport.

10. A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith

I was in college when I read this novel. The writing swept me away, and I forgot to hand in my homework because I was so enthralled by Francie Nolan. (The above book is my grandma’s copy.)

One US Marine said of Smith:

I can’t explain the emotional reaction that took place in this dead heart of mine...A surge of confidence has swept through me, and I feel that maybe a fellow has a fighting chance in this world after all.

Why you should read it: It’s a coming-of-age story based in Brooklyn with a headstrong female lead. ’Nough said.

11. Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes

I read this at a very young age, and remember crying when I realized what had happened in the end. Even at that age, I knew there was something fabulous about Keyes’s writing style in which the protagonist starts out unintelligent in his writing and grows more educated as the novel progresses.

Why you should read it: You like sci-fi but want those heartstrings pulled.

12. Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll

Did you know this is a banned book? Truth. This story has been a huge influence in my life. In fact, my LLC is entitled Curiouser Editing. I watched the Disney version a hundred times before I read the book, which made me fall in love with Alice, the Cheshire Cat, and the White Rabbit even more.

Why you should read it: You’re too serious and need some nonsense in your life.

13. The Circle by Dave Eggers

A sci-fi thriller unlike any other. I read this last year and was terrified. You want to talk about the modern-day 1984 on steroids, this is your winner.

Why you should read it: You’re a bit of a conspiracy theorist when it comes to Google, Facebook, and Apple. Like, what all do they really know about you?

14. Peace Like a River by Leif Enger

Again, another one I read in college. The difference here is that I had to study this novel as well as annotate it in Advanced Creative Writing. You’ll love the little sister in the novel—she’s a genius and writes poetry.

Why you should read it: You believe in miracles, but it sure has been a while since you’ve seen one.

15. Journey to the Centre of the Earth by Jules Verne

When I was 11 or so, my principal noticed I kept reading the same books over and over again. I wasn’t branching out with other genres. He grabbed a worn copy of this Verne novel and said, “Give this a try.” I was engrossed immediately. It was the first time I truly remember seeing everything an author wrote—my imagination ran wild.

Fun Fact: Back when I volunteered at my old high school, a teenage boy refused to read. He hated every book sent his way. I made it my mission in life to find a genre he would enjoy. Lo and behold, I rediscovered the copy of Verne’s novel I had read many years ago. I gave the book to him, and what do you know? He finished the book and said, “Did Jules write any others?”

Why you should read it: You saw the movie version(s) with Dwayne Johnson and/or Brendan Fraser and thought, “The book surely must be better than this, right?”

16. 1929 by M. L. Gardner

I had the honor of editing this beautiful novel, and I’ll never forget how the author, a dear friend of mine, would talk about her characters as if they were real. “Oh, that is so something Arianna would say!” she’d quip to me. I realized I wanted to be the same way with my own writing: I wanted my characters to be as real to me as Jonathan, Caleb, and Aryl are to Gardner.

Related: M. L. Gardner’s 1929: A Quick Review

Why you should read it: You love historical fiction and want to drown in all things Jazz Age and Great Depression eras.

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17. Animal Farm & 1984 by George Orwell

Two different books, I know. But you can’t have one without the other. I recommend reading Animal Farm first so you understand how communism works (“All animals are equal, but some are more equal than others”), and then dive into 1984 to see what the reality looks like.

Why you should read it: You like to discuss politics and want to see how 1984 relates to our current society.

18. An Abundance of Katherines by John Green

This YA novel is, in my opinion, the best from NYT bestselling author John Green. (Yeah, better than The Fault in Our Stars. Again, fight me.) The best friend to our protagonist is hilarious; there’s a delightful road trip; and somehow, Green managed to use footnotes in a novel in a glorious way.

Why you should read it: You’ve read The Fault in Our Stars and want to read more John Green novels without crying.

19. Dark Matter by Blake Crouch

Another technothriller! If I could use any word to describe this book, I’d say mindbending. “Are you happy with your life?” Those are the last words Jason Dessen hears before the masked abductor knocks him unconscious. You’ll be instantly gripped with this one.

Why you should read it: You’re fascinated by time travel, but you want something more.

20. 11/22/63 by Stephen King

I tried so hard not to have King on here more than once, but you have to understand: this is by far one of the greatest novels I’ve ever read. It’s so different from his typical horror novels. As some of you know, I have an obsession with the JFK assassination, and so does King. What if things turned out differently? What if JFK wasn’t assassinated?

Why you should read it: You want to read King without having nightmares.


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An expert editor, seasoned writer, and author-centric marketer, Shayla Raquel works one-on-one with authors and business owners every day. A lifelong lover of books, she has edited over 300 books and has launched several Amazon bestsellers for her clients. Her award-winning blog teaches new and established authors how to write, publish, and market their books. She is the author of the Pre-Publishing Checklist, The Rotting (in Shivers in the Night), and The Suicide Tree. In her not-so-free time, she acts as organizer for the Yukon Writers’ Society, volunteers at the Oklahoma County Jail, and obsesses over squirrels. She lives in Oklahoma with her two dogs, Chanel and Wednesday.