Books to Recommend to Friends

It seems like at least once a month I get asked by friends to recommend a book. I actually love doing it because I am such a fan of a good book and I want to share them with others. Yesterday though, a friend told me she was going on vacation at the end of the week and was looking for a good book and I drew a total blank. It got me thinking that I really should just make a list of my favorite books. You know, the good ones that I like to recommend to friends. Get out a pencil my friends, I'm sure there is something you haven't read yet on the list that you are going to want to add.

Scroll to the end for an updated list of a few more favorites!

Update 2022! I've got 50+ more books I'd recommend to friends broken down into categories like "better on audiobook" or "good beach read" PLUS a great list of books I'd recommend for book club that are sure to have some great discussion! Find that post here!

Books to Recommend to Friends

beach reads, historical fiction books in a library

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I joined GoodReads forever ago, but kind of forgot about it. Problem is, I forget a lot of stuff, like what I've read, so I started keeping track of the books I read and the books I want to read. You can find me there.  I'm using the summaries of the books from GoodReads and Amazon because, well, they just do it better than I could. All credit goes to them for the wonderful summary you will find below in italics. I will add my two cents in as well because it's my blog and I can. While I have 10 books highlighted, if you read my little blurbs, you will find a few other book recommendations hidden inside there too. 

Don't miss this post: How to Find What to Read Next

1. 11/22/63 by Stephen King

Life can turn on a dime—or stumble into the extraordinary, as it does for Jake Epping, a high school English teacher in Lisbon Falls, Maine. While grading essays by his GED students, Jake reads a gruesome, enthralling piece penned by janitor Harry Dunning: fifty years ago, Harry somehow survived his father’s sledgehammer slaughter of his entire family. Jake is blown away...but an even more bizarre secret comes to light when Jake’s friend Al, owner of the local diner, enlists Jake to take over the mission that has become his obsession—to prevent the Kennedy assassination. How? By stepping through a portal in the diner’s storeroom, and into the era of Ike and Elvis, of big American cars, sock hops, and cigarette smoke... Finding himself in warmhearted Jodie, Texas, Jake begins a new life. But all turns in the road lead to a troubled loner named Lee Harvey Oswald. The course of history is about to be rewritten...and become heart-stoppingly suspenseful.

So, this book is long. Really long. And it's Stephen King and I don't actually read horror, which is all I thought he wrote. It's not. It's different. It's an interesting story that really does hold your attention for as long as the book is. I do like to hold a book, but many times I thought that this one would be better on an ereader.  It's thick. Did I mention that? Side note, this books has been turned into a TV show. I tried to watch the first episode and I didn't love it. This goes back to the old saying that the book is always better.

2. Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Coast Trail by Cheryl Strayed

At twenty-two, Cheryl Strayed thought she had lost everything. In the wake of her mother’s death, her family scattered and her own marriage was soon destroyed. Four years later, with nothing more to lose, she made the most impulsive decision of her life. With no experience or training, driven only by blind will, she would hike more than a thousand miles of the Pacific Crest Trail from the Mojave Desert through California and Oregon to Washington State — and she would do it alone.
Told with suspense and style, sparkling with warmth and humor, Wild powerfully captures the terrors and pleasures of one young woman forging ahead against all odds on a journey that maddened, strengthened, and ultimately healed her.

This book made me want to hike mountains and got me all girl-powered up. I actually felt like I had some idea about hiking and what it took to hike the PCT after reading it. I'm sure reality is different than me just reading about it, but whatever.

3. Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls

A tender, moving tale of unconditional love in a family that, despite its profound flaws, gave the author the fiery determination to carve out a successful life on her own terms.

Jeannette Walls grew up with parents whose ideals and stubborn nonconformity were both their curse and their salvation. Rex and Rose Mary Walls had four children. In the beginning, they lived like nomads, moving among Southwest desert towns, camping in the mountains. Rex was a charismatic, brilliant man who, when sober, captured his children's imagination, teaching them physics, geology, and above all, how to embrace life fearlessly. Rose Mary, who painted and wrote and couldn't stand the responsibility of providing for her family, called herself an "excitement addict." Cooking a meal that would be consumed in fifteen minutes had no appeal when she could make a painting that might last forever. 

Later, when the money ran out, or the romance of the wandering life faded, the Walls retreated to the dismal West Virginia mining town -- and the family -- Rex Walls had done everything he could to escape. He drank. He stole the grocery money and disappeared for days. As the dysfunction of the family escalated, Jeannette and her brother and sisters had to fend for themselves, supporting one another as they weathered their parents' betrayals and, finally, found the resources and will to leave home. 

What is so astonishing about Jeannette Walls is not just that she had the guts and tenacity and intelligence to get out, but that she describes her parents with such deep affection and generosity. Hers is a story of triumph against all odds, but also a tender, moving tale of unconditional love in a family that despite its profound flaws gave her the fiery determination to carve out a successful life on her own terms. 

For two decades, Jeannette Walls hid her roots. Now she tells her own story.

Before you think I'm jumping on the bandwagon because there is a new movie out, rest assured that I read this book more than a decade ago. I actually liked everything that she's written so check out The Silver Star and Half Broken Horses too. 

Once you devour those, Hillbilly Elegy by J.D. Vance and Educated by Tara Westover are in the same vein and are good ones to check out too.

4. Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand

On a May afternoon in 1943, an Army Air Forces bomber crashed into the Pacific Ocean and disappeared, leaving only a spray of debris and a slick of oil, gasoline, and blood. Then, on the ocean surface, a face appeared. It was that of a young lieutenant, the plane's bombardier, who was struggling to a life raft and pulling himself aboard. So began one of the most extraordinary odysseys of the Second World War. 

The lieutenant’s name was Louis Zamperini. In boyhood, he'd been a cunning and incorrigible delinquent, breaking into houses, brawling, and fleeing his home to ride the rails. As a teenager, he had channeled his defiance into running, discovering a prodigious talent that had carried him to the Berlin Olympics and within sight of the four-minute mile. But when war had come, the athlete had become an airman, embarking on a journey that led to his doomed flight, a tiny raft, and a drift into the unknown. 

Ahead of Zamperini lay thousands of miles of open ocean, leaping sharks, a foundering raft, thirst and starvation, enemy aircraft, and, beyond, a trial even greater. Driven to the limits of endurance, Zamperini would answer desperation with ingenuity; suffering with hope, resolve, and humor; brutality with rebellion. His fate, whether triumph or tragedy, would be suspended on the fraying wire of his will. 

This should probably be number one on my list because I recommend it to EVERYONE. It is a fabulous book. I could not put it down and then I passed it on to my husband and my oldest son who also devoured it. I think it should be required reading. It's just that good. Don't bother with the movie, it did not do the book justice. However, if you want something to go along with this book Boys in the Boat by Daniel James Brown is a good parallel. 

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5. The Light Between Oceans by M.L. Stedman

A captivating, beautiful, and stunningly accomplished debut novel that opens in 1918 Australia - the story of a lighthouse keeper and his wife who make one devastating choice that forever changes two worlds. 

Australia, 1926. After four harrowing years fighting on the Western Front, Tom Sherbourne returns home to take a job as the lighthouse keeper on Janus Rock, nearly half a day's journey from the coast. To this isolated island, where the supply boat comes once a season and shore leaves are granted every other year at best, Tom brings a young, bold, and loving wife, Isabel. Years later, after two miscarriages and one stillbirth, the grieving Isabel hears a baby's cries on the wind. A boat has washed up onshore carrying a dead man and a living baby. 

Tom, whose records as a lighthouse keeper are meticulous and whose moral principles have withstood a horrific war, wants to report the man and infant immediately. But Isabel has taken the tiny baby to her breast. Against Tom's judgment, they claim her as their own and name her Lucy. When she is two, Tom and Isabel return to the mainland and are reminded that there are other people in the world. Their choice has devastated one of them. 

This is another one of those books that has been turned into a movie and without seeing the movie, I can probably safely say that the book is far better. I loved this book. I recommended it to everyone non-stop for more than a year. I still recommend it. It's fabulous. Read it.

6. Orphan Train by Christina Baker Kline

A captivating story of two very different women who build an unexpected friendship: a 91-year-old woman with a hidden past as an orphan-train rider and the teenage girl whose own troubled adolescence leads her to seek answers to questions no one has ever thought to ask.

Nearly eighteen, Molly Ayer knows she has one last chance. Just months from "aging out" of the child welfare system, and close to being kicked out of her foster home, a community service position helping an elderly woman clean out her home is the only thing keeping her out of juvie and worse.

Vivian Daly has lived a quiet life on the coast of Maine. But in her attic, hidden in trunks, are vestiges of a turbulent past. As she helps Vivian sort through her possessions and memories, Molly discovers that she and Vivian aren't as different as they seem to be. A young Irish immigrant orphaned in New York City, Vivian was put on a train to the Midwest with hundreds of other children whose destinies would be determined by luck and chance.

The closer Molly grows to Vivian, the more she discovers parallels to her own life. A Penobscot Indian, she, too, is an outsider being raised by strangers, and she, too, has unanswered questions about the past. As her emotional barriers begin to crumble, Molly discovers that she has the power to help Vivian find answers to mysteries that have haunted her for her entire life - answers that will ultimately free them both.

I read this book in one sitting and cried through the last half of it. It was such a fabulous story based on historical events. It's not a deep book and could probably be classified as a YA book, which means that it makes a good beach read without the fluff. 

7. The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd

Hetty “Handful” Grimke, an urban slave in early nineteenth century Charleston, yearns for life beyond the suffocating walls that enclose her within the wealthy Grimke household. The Grimke’s daughter, Sarah, has known from an early age she is meant to do something large in the world, but she is hemmed in by the limits imposed on women.

Kidd’s sweeping novel is set in motion on Sarah’s eleventh birthday, when she is given ownership of ten year old Handful, who is to be her handmaid. We follow their remarkable journeys over the next thirty five years, as both strive for a life of their own, dramatically shaping each other’s destinies and forming a complex relationship marked by guilt, defiance, estrangement and the uneasy ways of love.

As the stories build to a riveting climax, Handful will endure loss and sorrow, finding courage and a sense of self in the process. Sarah will experience crushed hopes, betrayal, unrequited love, and ostracism before leaving Charleston to find her place alongside her fearless younger sister, Angelina, as one of the early pioneers in the abolition and women’s rights movements.

Inspired by the historical figure of Sarah Grimke, Kidd goes beyond the record to flesh out the rich interior lives of all of her characters, both real and invented, including Handful’s cunning mother, Charlotte, who courts danger in her search for something better.

Sue me for adding another historical fiction book to the bunch, but it's kind of my jam. The same author wrote another good one called The Secret Life of Bees. That's worth picking up too.

8. Still Alice by Lisa Genova

Still Alice is a compelling debut novel about a 50-year-old woman's sudden descent into early onset Alzheimer's disease, written by first-time author Lisa Genova, who holds a Ph. D in neuroscience from Harvard University. 

Alice Howland, happily married with three grown children and a house on the Cape, is a celebrated Harvard professor at the height of her career when she notices a forgetfulness creeping into her life. As confusion starts to cloud her thinking and her memory begins to fail her, she receives a devastating diagnosis: early onset Alzheimer's disease. Fiercely independent, Alice struggles to maintain her lifestyle and live in the moment, even as her sense of self is being stripped away. In turns heartbreaking, inspiring and terrifying, Still Alice captures in remarkable detail what's it's like to literally lose your mind...

This book was fascinating to me because we have a family history of Alzheimer's disease. I feel like it gave a really interesting perspective on the disease. I hear this one is a movie too. Apparently, I have good taste in books because people like them enough to make them into feature films.

9. Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn

On a warm summer morning in North Carthage, Missouri, it is Nick and Amy Dunne’s fifth wedding anniversary. Presents are being wrapped and reservations are being made when Nick’s clever and beautiful wife disappears. Husband-of-the-Year Nick isn’t doing himself any favors with cringe-worthy daydreams about the slope and shape of his wife’s head, but passages from Amy's diary reveal the alpha-girl perfectionist could have put anyone dangerously on edge. Under mounting pressure from the police and the media—as well as Amy’s fiercely doting parents—the town golden boy parades an endless series of lies, deceits, and inappropriate behavior. Nick is oddly evasive, and he’s definitely bitter—but is he really a killer?

This was a fun suspenseful read that had lots of twists and turns. It's never going to be a classic, but it was a good book to read to escape from life. I also liked the author's book Sharp Objects and Dark Places.

10. The Hiding Place by Corrie ten Boom

At one time Corrie ten Boom would have laughed at the idea that there would ever be a story to tell. For the first fifty years of her life nothing at all out of the ordinary had ever happened to her. She was an old-maid watchmaker living contentedly with her spinster sister and their elderly father in the tiny Dutch house over their shop. Their uneventful days, as regulated as their own watches, revolved around their abiding love for one another. However, with the Nazi invasion and occupation of Holland, a story did ensue. 

Corrie ten Boom and her family became leaders in the Dutch Underground, hiding Jewish people in their home in a specially built room and aiding their escape from the Nazis. For their help, all but Corrie found death in a concentration camp. The Hiding Place is their story.

While I'm not usually a fan of re-reading books, this is one that is probably long overdue for a re-read. I read this book when I was in high school and it was an amazing story of faith from a woman who let her light shine in the darkest place. 

I always love a good book recommendation so feel free to add your favorite book below in the comments. You know the one...the book you are always recommending to friends. I want to hear it!

Updated March 2021 to add these titles as well. They have been a few of my favorites in the past few years and you are going to want to add them to your list!



More Books I'd recommend to my friends!

Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens
The Nightengale by Kristen Hannah
Salt to the Sea Ruth Sepetys
Before We Were Yours by Lisa Wingate
The Giver of Stars Jojo Moyes
Lilac Girls by Martha Hall Kelly
The Water Dancer by TaNehisi Coates
Bear Town and Us Against You by Fredrick Backman
City of Girls by Elizabeth Gilbert
American Dirt by Jeanine Cummins

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Judy said...

Your book recommendations are quite interesting in by the scope of their genres and years which they were written, I took notes.
One of my most recommended books is WILD:From Lost to Found.... I've read the book 3 times. Each time I've read it, I always come away with renewed vigor and encouragement that I can accomplish whatever I put my mind to. I remember that all of the strength I need is within me.
I frequently recommend Madeleine L'Engle's: A Wrinkle In Time. I have read the book numerous times since I was a freshman in high school. Every time I've read it, I've discovered a different interpretation, a different slant on life and always infused with the sense of the magical and enchanting.

Anonymous said...

Read most of the books on your list and can't wait to read the rest! I would add a prayer for Owen Meaney,The Kite Runner,No Water for Elephants and The Life of Pi.

Karla said...

I add a hearty "yes" to The Nightingale and Where the Crawdads Sing, and add my favorite book recommendation: The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon. It was my most surprising favorite read of 2022, although written in 2003. I recently found out that its been on the banned book list a few times over the years due to language and religious viewpoint. I'm a pastor's wife and I never found it offensive. Go figure.

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