Not a definitive listing, just some of my favorite standalone novels.
My best friend gave me a copy of this book because she thought it was amazing. Well, she was not wrong and I thoroughly enjoyed this book. The writing is wonderfully light and charming. Mary Ann Shaffer had a long career as a librarian, bookseller, and editor; so it is not surprising her story deals with the uplifting nature of literature. Annie Barrows, her niece, finished the manuscript after Shaffer fell ill. Told over the course of nine months, the narrative is written as a series of letters exchanged shortly after the end of World War II. The Society began as a spur of the moment alibi to explain to the Germans why they were breaking curfew. Over the course of time, the Society becomes an actual literary society whose main source of food is pie made from potato peelings. The main character is Juliet Asthon, a writer who is contacted by the Society and begins a life altering correspondence. However, the weakest part of the narrative is when Juliet visits Guernsey in person. The letter format does not fit with this part of the story and drags down the pacing. Aside from that problem, this is a funny, moving, and enjoyable book that moves quickly.
The Guernsey Literary & Potato Peel Pie Society, Dial Press, 2004, 9780385340991
2. Chesapeake–James Michener
This is an American saga that cover roughly four hundred years of history. A majority of the events in the novel occur on the East Shore of Maryland and around the Choptank River. While Devon Island is actually fictional, its location would be roughly north of Todd’s Point. Michener probably chose this location since he lived in and around this area. Throughout his writing career, Michener made his name by crafting sweeping historical sagas based in areas around the world. He continues this tradition by depicting the history of the Chesapeake starting with the Native Americans to the then modern time of 1970. The novel opens in the early 1600s with Edmund Steed joining Captain John Smith on a journey across the Atlantic in order to escape religious persecution. Steed carves out a life in the New World and establishes a familial dynasty. Along the way, Michener weaves in subplots about pirates, planters, slaves, abolitionists, and politicians. Michener attempts to explain history through the eyes of the average people actually living out the events. One major flaw with this book is that the social forces of the time are embodied rather literally and are overly dependent upon a retrospective depiction.
Chesapeake, Dial Press, 2003, 9780812970432
3.To Kill A Mockingbird–Harper Lee
To Kill a Mockingbird is a classic pies of American literature that nearly everyone reads or flips through at least once. Published in 1960, this Pulitzer Prix winning novel explores racism and justice in 1930s Southern America. Lee’s narrative focuses on the gut instinct of what is right and wrong, and contrasts it with the just following of the law. This contrast is illustrated in the characterization of attorney Atticus Finch when he represents an innocent black man is accused of raping a white woman. The action in the novel is narrated through the eyes of Scout, Finch’s daughter. During the trial, Atticus and his children face down a lynch mob, the children are stalked, and a drunk is killed at knifepoint. This is one of the most eloquent literary appeals for tolerance and justice in society. Instead of holding on side above the other, Lee does her best to depict both sides of the bitterly divided Southern society. This book is a compassionate, dramatic, and moving depiction of a tumultuous point in American society. It was probably my favorite book on my High School assigned reading list. The writing is wonderful and it is considered a classic piece of literature for a reason. The 1962 movie is worth watching.
To Kill A Mockingbird, Harper Modern Classics, 2006, 9780061120084
4. Memoirs of a Geisha–Arthur Golden
I know incredibly little about Japanese culture and pre-World War II history. As such, I have no idea if the depictions in this novel are correct or just artistic embellishments. However, I like the relative uniqueness of the story and setting. A majority of the novel takes place in the popular geisha district of Gion in Kyoto, and the author frequently mentions actual places visited by geisha and their patrons. The last third of the book is set in the Amami Islands and a suite at the Waldorf Towers in New York City. Memoirs of Geisha details how Nitta Sayuri became a geisha. At the age of nine she is sold into slavery and ends up at a renowned geisha house. Over the course of the novel, she is transformed from a naïve girl into one of the most popular geisha in Japan. This is a world where appearance is paramount; virginity is sold to the highest bidder; and love nothing more than illusion. I thought the main character was compelling and her story is both moving and sad. And I do not think this novel is romantic, it is a sad story about a young woman who latches on to the only person who shows her kindness. The movie is a gorgeous adaption.
Memoirs of a Geisha, Random House, 1997, 978067978158
5. Nine Coaches Waiting–Mary Stewart
For a long time, I refused to read anything by Mary Stewart after I finished her Merlin Series. I absolutely despise her depiction of Merlin; I take my Arthur retellings quite seriously. However, one summer, I stumbled upon this book in my College’s Library and decided to give it a try. Nine Coaches Waiting is a suspense and Gothic Romance novel that was originally published in 1958. The narrative takes place in the late 1950s, making it a then-contemporary novel. Stewart’s vast literary knowledge and background becomes apparent via extensive references to Cinderella and Jane Eyre throughout the narrative. This story follows 23 year old Belinda “Linda” Martin after she is hired as a governess for the nine-year-old Count Philippe de Valmy. After an accident in the woods nearly kills Philippe, Linda begins to wonder if someone has deadly plans for the young boy. I will not reveal more in order to not spoil the ending, but this is an excellently crafted novel. Stewart relies upon suspenseful twists and subtle conversations in order to move the narrative forwards, there are little-to-no action sequences. My main problem with the novel is Linda making observations about people’s questionable behaviors. I would have preferred it if the reader was able to observe these actions and draw their own conclusions.
Nine Coaches Waiting, Chicago Review Press, 2006, 9781556526183