If you’ve been a bibliophile since words first became stories then you know the all too real struggle of maintaining a growing collection of old favorites, new additions, and the ever-growing To Be Read. The size of my shelves has ebbed and flowed over the years, and so have their contents. At least four times in my history, I’ve had to choose which books would move to a new home, box them up, and re-organize. That doesn’t even count my annual (or more frequent) downsizing. Needless to say, any book that has survived more than twenty years on my personal shelves deserves some attention.
Now, I’m going to focus solely on singular releases rather than complete series (that could be a whole other post) and I’ve decided to cut this off around when I left middle school. Some of my picture books are still stashed away at my Mom’s, but we’re focusing on which ones follow me around. Because, at the end of this, that has to mean they carry some level of recommendation.
AUDREY, WAIT! by Robin Benway. To be honest, this isn’t the first copy of this book I owned because I gave it away as a present to a friend. Since my newer one has the original cover, however, I’m not complaining. Prior to buying my own book, I checked this hilarious coming-of-age tale from the library three times. I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve read it. After breaking up with her rocker boyfriend, Audrey finds herself the subject of a hit song, speculative tabloids, and too much drama. So she’s here to set the record straight. At one point, I took all the songs from the chapters and put them together in a playlist (they’re awesome). This book has such a relatable, likeable protagonist, great friendships, a fat cat, and it’s one that I pick up anytime I need a laugh because where else am I going to LOL over ventriloquist dummies?
GREEN RIDER by Kristen Britain. Another library book that eventually made its way home, I devoured this fantasy novel more than a few times during my Lord of the Rings phase. I loved the headstrong Karigan who is entrusted with an important message and a dangerous ride to help save her country. I think this was probably as close to a horse girl moment as I got, but it also included archery so very much for me. Britain’s lush descriptions of the land and culture were rich, and it was one of my early tastes of political intrigue and complex plots. I did read the second book in the series but not any of the ones after that so something about this call-to-action called to me. (Probably because it reminded me of Quest for Camelot). It’s been a while since I’ve read it so I could be due for a ride back through its pages—just to see if the magic is still there.
A LITTLE PRINCESS by Frances Hodgson Burnett. One of the few true classics to last this long and make it this far, this was my first copy—given as a gift from my godmother and it included a locket. I definitely had a bit of a phase where I was obsessed with literary orphans, and this book not only has some of the most devastating plot twists a young girl can handle but also some key empowerment in building yourself back up from what tries to destroy you. I loved the 1995 film adaptation and enjoyed finding the differences between the book and film, and I think I even used this for a reading report at one point. What, perhaps, I related to the most was Sara Crewe’s use of her imagination to escape the ordinary or the difficult. Again, it’s a been a bit since I’ve read the book (and I know much of the material is outdated or hasn’t aged well culturally), but I’ll always think of it with fondness.
GLASS HOUSES by Rachel Caine. Obviously, this is a well-loved book. Most of the first chapter is falling out and the spine is basically broken, but I wouldn’t trade it for a new one. At one point, I did own the entire 15-book series but made the (stupid) decision to get rid of them—except for the first. During the height of my vampire obsession, I found solace in mysterious Morganville, Texas in a house with four unlikely roommates. I still associate the taste of chili and Coke with this book. Claire, the 16-year old protagonist, is one of my favorites because she’s scary smart, but still makes dumb decisions. The pacing in this novel is also unbelievable. Some of my inspirations in settings or other parts of my writing have come from this book and its impact on my life. Plus, I bonded with my best friend over this series as we traded paperbacks. It still brings in the thrills, chills, and adventure every time I return to Morganville.
THE SIGHT by David Clement-Davies. When I tell you I was obsessed with this book. Other people may have enjoyed Warrior Cats or Redwall, but this was my epic animal fantasy. Because, yes, I had a wolf phase, too. A wolf pack in the Carpathian Mountains tries to survive a curse caused by a prophecy. It has multiple viewpoints and so many devastating twists for a nine-year-old to suffer through. Larka, one of the viewpoints, appropriately balances the hope and heaviness of the Chosen One mantle. Unlike in other stories I was reading, the family conflict surrounding this prophecy and curse allows for more drama than if Larka was just suffering on her own. The book, as I remember, also has deeper themes about environmentalism and man’s impact on nature. I did read Clement-Davies’ Fire Bringer, but those deer didn’t capture my imagination in the same way. I spent many hours sitting in my butterfly chair with this book.
LOOK FOR ME BY MOONLIGHT by Mary Downing Hahn. If I’m in my late-20s and talking about a book I read in middle school in an interview then it must have had an impact. Not only was this a different shift from the paranormal romances I was drowning in (happily), but I still find new things to be horrified and enjoy when I read it again. Cynda, a dreamy and somewhat bitter child of divorce, goes to stay with her father, stepmother, and little brother at their inn in wintery Maine. They receive an unexpected guest who begins to romance Cynda with poetry, long glances, and commiseration—but the mysterious Vincent may not be as kind as he seems. This is a fast-paced Gothic that hits all the right notes and really plays with its characters and their desires. Reading it again once I was older, I noticed a lot more commentary on age differences and predatory behaviors from older men over younger women than I did when I was actually closer to Cynda’s age. This proves that some things can only be seen in the rearview—for the better.
BUNNICULA: A RABBIT-TALE OF MYSTERY by Deborah and James Howe. While technically not my copy, I did inherit this from my grandmother’s library and it has always been one of my favorites. I’ll also credit it as one of the beginnings of my vampire obsession. You start a kid out with a vampire rabbit that attacks vegetables and they’re bound to go down the bloody pipeline. Harold and Chester make for entertaining protagonists as they investigate whether the new bunny is attacking the produce or not. The conflict between the friends is relatively low-key (this is for young readers), but it makes sense to have it revolve around belief. The ignorant family circles in the background, but I was in it for that vampire bunny and I still am.
DRACULA by Bram Stoker (adapted by Stephanie Spinner). This is part of the Step-Up Classic Chillers adaptations for young readers, and the other gateway book to horror from my grandmother’s. I even have a photo of my stepdad and I reading it together on her couch. The tale is a classic—Jonathan Harker travels to Transylvania to help Count Dracula with some paperwork, discovers the man is actually a vampire, and then must rally his friends and fiancée in England to prevent the Count from taking over. As a kid, I was obsessed with the illustrations of the Count (obviously inspired by Bela Lugosi) and his monstrous brides, and the attacks on Mina and Lucy never failed to horrify. It was a book I read on countless dark nights. Eventually, of course, I read the actual novel and was shocked to learn it was written in the epistolary style and not a straight-forward narrative. Either way, this book definitely set a flame in my young heart for vampires.
THE 10TH KINGDOM by Kathryn Wesley. When this miniseries was originally airing, my mom actually called the toll-free number and ordered the box set of the two-VHS tapes, the soundtrack, and the novelization. While the soundtrack has sadly been lost to the abyss of time, I still have the others and the novelization is only slightly worse for the wear. This is great since it’s out of print. My favorite fantasy story about a waitress, her bumbling father, a prince in disguise, and a wolf in therapy trying to save a fantasy world from the Evil Queen differs only slightly from the on-screen version and mostly captures all of my favorite moments. Honestly, reading the book is like watching it and—after how often I’ve watched it—I can basically hear the show anyway as I read. Even if I know exactly what’s going to happen, I’m still enthralled and taken in by the magic. Not much has changed in that regard from when I was little.
More than a few books have been lost over the years. I’ll age out of the audience and lose my fondness. Never read them again. Need to save space during a move. After over two decades, however, these books have stood the test of time and made it. Maybe I’ll eventually talk about some of the ones that didn’t but still take up space in my mental shelves or books I’d buy again if I had a young reader to cater to (rather than my own heart). Until then, I can always turn back the pages and try to capture who I used to be when those pages were a brand-new adventure waiting to be discovered.